Maze Rats is Deal of the Day!

Maze Rats is Deal of the Day on DrivethruRPG! Get my best-selling OSR intro game for just $1.49! Today only!

From the product description:

The referee advice is gold. I know of few better sources for concisely explaining what to prioritize when running this sort of game.” – Brendan S, Necropraxis, Wonder and Wickedness

“I often quibble with RPG magic systems either being too complex or too restrictive, but this hit a great balance between flexibility and ease-of-use, while adding a special dash of creativity and Lady Luck.” – Ars Magisterii

Maze Rats is a light, brutal roleplaying game of fantasy adventure which is supported by random inspiration aplenty, which lends itself to a lighter, slightly whimsical tone. It is quick to learn, quick to teach, and easy to play,relying on player ingenuity and cleverness rather than a reliance upon the mechanics.” – Reviews from R’lyeh

Maze Rats is an RPG and sandbox toolkit for old-school-style adventuring. It contains a single, compact page of rules, a one-page character creation guide, a hand-drawn character sheet, and eight pages of 36-item random tables, rollable with two six-sided dice. Each page contains 9-12 tables, covering spell generation, monster generation, NPCs, treasures, cities, wildernesses, and dungeons. If you run (or have always wanted to run) open sandbox adventures, Maze Rats offers everything you need in a compact, easily-referenced format. Also included is two pages of advice for preparing and running open-world games in the OSR style.

The game system itself is 2d6 based. Character are extremely quick to generate, making it great for convention games, one-shots, or introducing new players. The game is highly lethal, and assumes a style of play where caution is essential to long-term survival. It is technically classless, but the leveling options allow players to specialize in fighting, thievery or wizardry or some mixture of the three. Magic is simple and chaotic, with new randomly-generated spells filling the magic-user’s head each night. Everything about the game is designed to be as clean, fast, and intuitive as possible, while driving players towards creative solutions rather than brute force (though brute force is always an option).

Buy it here!

How I plan to keep up with the OSR post G+

23245f5a35bdc2ed34d977cfa0404e27I’m unlikely to be using MeWe much. It’s not terrible, but it’s basically G+ without that platform’s best features. Also, I’m very much enjoying the shift to the blogs.

I’ve started using Inoreader to keep up with the OSR blogosphere. I plugged Ram’s OSR OPML into it and was set to go. I sorted the blogs into best and the rest, check in on the best every day, and skim the rest when I feel like it. It’s been incredibly freeing. The stuff I’m reading is as good as it ever was, it’s longer, more thoughtful, and by commenting on the post itself rather than on a separate platform the conversation stays focused and gets archived more permanently. It’s also motivated me to start writing posts in response to stuff I like, which is something I’ve never done before. To be honest, I’m enjoying this mode of discussion more than G+ in some ways. Also, the regular “OSR News” posts on Dreams of Mythic Fantasy keep you updated on everything you need to know.

If I want to just chat casually about the OSR I use Discord, usually either the OSR server or the DIYRPG one (which features an incredible 24/7 Gygaxian Democracy mill). That one is still semi-private, so I won’t be posting a link. I enjoy having long-form discussion and informal chat on two separate platforms.

The /r/rpg subreddit is good for getting the word out about new products but not so great for discussions. The range of assumptions and play-styles is vast, so you inevitably have to restart from ground zero explaining your approach every time you get into a discussion. The OSR subreddit is more focused but it’s never really felt like home. The brand new artpunk subreddit (not sure if it’s open to the public yet) looks to be the place to talk to the NeOSR/Adventure Game/Hipster DnD crowd, so I check in there periodically, but at the moment it looks like its biggest use will be to post the best new blog posts.

I’ve been posting more on Twitter recently, but that’s mostly to keep my Questing Beast followers updated on what’s going on with me and to reshare other OSR posts. There isn’t a lot of OSR conversion on Twitter and overall I think that’s fine. It’s a really anxious, high-strung platform.

Conclusion: BACK TO THE BLOGS! Get Inoreader or Feedly up and running, find a post you enjoy, write a response, and tell the original poster about it. 

If you want to contact me directly, my email is questingmaps at gmail.

Milton Dice: A transparent dice pool system

Here’s a fun dice pool system. I’ve tested it and it works fine. There was a discussion about it at one point on Michael Prescott’s G+ feed, I think, but now that that’s going away I want to preserve it somewhere. Someone else (maybe Michael) started calling it Milton dice so now that’s what it’s called.

  1. Your attributes and your skills give you a number of d6s to roll.
  2. The GM sets a target number to hit.
  3. Roll those dice.
  4. Add up the results on all the dice, but 4s, 5s, and 6s count as 0s. (So for example, you roll 4 dice and get 1, 1, 3, 4. Your total is 5 because the 4 counts as 0, and you just add up the 1, 1, and 3.)
  5. If your total is equal or greater than the target number, then you succeed.

What’s cool about this system?

  1. By only counting 1s, 2s, and 3s, each die has an average result of 1. This is because 1+2+3=6 and there are six sides on a die. It makes things really easy to calculate. If I’m rolling 5 dice, then my average result is going to be 5. Likewise, setting target numbers is easy. A TN of 5 will probably be hit by a character rolling that many dice. It has a pleasing transparency that a lot of dice pool systems lack, as Luka pointed out. The odds are a little funky in the 1 or 2 dice range, but it evens out nicely after that.
  2. You only have to add up 1s, 2s, and 3s, which makes the addition really fast.
  3. You can distribute 6 points around a d6 in other ways, like make 1 and 2 be worth 0, 3 and 4 be worth 1, and 5 and 6 be worth 2, but that gets confusing without custom dice. This uses the pips the dice already have.

Adventure Game vs OSR

Image by Ma-Ko
Image by Ma-Ko

Here’s a bit of an epiphany I had today. If I had to sum up the kinds of games I like to play in a single term, the term I’d like best wouldn’t be Old-School Renaissance, or Dungeons & Dragons, or DIY RPG, or even roleplaying game, but “Adventure Game.”

OSR Game: The term OSR often implies that the game is compatible with early DnD, which is often not the case for what I play and something I don’t really care about. Of course, to many people OSR means a style of play, but the term itself doesn’t really give you any indication of what that is. There’s too many steps from saying the term to getting someone to understand exactly what I mean by it.

D&D: Too imprecise and doesn’t exactly capture the kind of game I want, especially given the variety of ways the people play it now.

DIY Game: While I’m a big believer in DIY, it again doesn’t cover the style of play, only how people interact with it. There’s lots of people hacking games apart and reassembling them, but that’s no guarantee that I’ll like it.

Adventure Game: The term “Adventure” does a lot of heavy lifting for a single word, and covers the vast majority of what I enjoy.

  1. It implies authentic peril and the possibility of loss.
  2. It implies strangeness, travel, the unexpected, and the confusing.
  3. It implies variety and an episodic structure, a picaresque rather than a novel.
  4. It implies cleverness, ingenuity, and cunning rather than a bloody slog.
  5. It implies characters like Conan, Luke Skywalker, Elric, Hellboy or Fafrd.
  6. It’s short, simple, and isn’t obscure. Episodic-high-stakes-open-ended-lateral-problem-solving-fantasy-game might be more accurate, but good luck with that catching on.
  7. It evokes (in my head) a game that’s simple, unpretentious, and focused on fun at the table.

The argument over what to call the experimental, non-traditional side of the OSR is a bit silly, but good name goes a long way, and a clearer label than “OSR” for what we do here could make a big difference as we move into the post G+ phase of the movement, especially since books from this scene are finally starting to capture the public eye in a big way.

“Control Panel” Page Layout in the OSR

More and more books in the OSR have been making layout and information design a priority, in particular the “control panel” format that puts all of the relevant information from a single topic on a single page (or two page spread). It’s a term I first used on my video review of B/X essentials, but it seems to have hit a chord. Visuals often take priority, with flowcharts and diagrams replacing traditional text, in order to facilitate faster absorption of the information. I’ve put a bunch of examples below.

It got me wondering whether you could make an entire RPG in the form of cardstock handouts, somewhere between A4 and A5 sized. Player wants to play a wizard? Hand him the card with the magic rules and the card with the spell list. Going exploring on hex C12? The DM pulls out the card for that hex and places it behind the screen. Going shopping and need to see what goods are available at a high-end potion shop? Pull out that card and put it in the middle of the table.damagetable_design Dg32VG0U8AAXuhO flowchart_design strikepoints

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OSR Guide for the Perplexed – Questing Beast edition

There’s a questionnaire going around the blogosphere. In an attempt to get this blog going again, here’s my take:

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:

Goblin Punch’s essay on OSR-style challenges was the thing that really solidified in my mind what it was that I loved about OSR games.

2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:

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3. Best OSR module/supplement:

Probably the Hot Springs Island books. They aren’t perfect, but they take so many advances that the OSR has made over the last decade and wrap it all up in one place.

4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):

The one that I’ve used the most is probably Shields Shall Be Splintered.

5. How I found out about the OSR:

I don’t remember. I most likely stumbled onto blogs like Last Gasp, PDnDwPS, and Jeff’s Game Blog while looking for ways to reinvigorate my RPG games.

6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:

The links to wisdom, hands down.

7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:

Google Plus, for now.

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:

Twitter, Reddit, YouTube.

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:

The most important attributes of a GM are speed, impartiality, and decisiveness.

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:

The one I probably had the most fun with was the Faserip Marvel system.

11. Why I like OSR stuff:

I like having my problem solving skills challenges while in weird and unpredictable situations. I’m also a sucker for great worldbuilding, and no one does that better than the OSR.

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:

Troika! is a planescapesque fever dream of wonderfully flavorful classes and a distinctly British sense of humor. A Thousand Thousand Islands has some of the best writing and art I’ve ever seen in an RPG product, and details a super-refreshing non-western setting.

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:

I’m going to say Last Gasp Grimoire, but I try to never miss a post from Necropraxis, Goblin Punch, False Machine, and Cave Girl’s Game Stuff.

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:

Maze Rats, currently game of the month on Reddit. You get a complete OSR game and toolkit in a single pamphlet you can print out at home. I needed a game I could hand out to my 5th grade players, so I made it.

15. I’m currently running/playing:

Tomb of the Serpent Kings using Knave.

16. I don’t care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:

What’s there to care about?

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

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Reformatting The Halls Untoward

Michael Prescott, 2-page dungeon-maker extraordinaire, put out a crowd-sourced dungeon recently called the Halls Untoward. It’s pay-what-you-want on Drive Thru RPG and it’s really good, especially his fantastic illustrations. I’m planning on running it for my 5th-graders, so as usual I’m doing some reformatting. I’ve taken the minimaps of each part of the dungeon, cut them out, stuck them in the middle of a letter-sized page, and then cut out each room description and pasted them right next to each room. The original book is already pretty easy to use thanks to the minimaps, but the larger real estate of a letter page allows for zero information loss while eliminating page flipping and allowing for immediate visualization of each room’s layout and surroundings. Check it out.

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You want cities? I got your cities.

I just found the Paper Towns subreddit, which I’m convinced is one of the best RPG resources I’ve ever seen. It contains hundreds of high-quality paintings and drawings of ancient and medieval cities – just print them out and write a key over them or a random table, and you’ve got yourself multiple sessions of content. Players think completely differently when they can actually see the layout of their surroundings and can plan accordingly. Here’s a few of my favorite maps below.

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Great little port town. The details in the whole harbor/fort complex look especially interesting.

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The elevation in this one is great, as are all the ways around the rooftops and the twisting roads.

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Diocletian’s palace is basically begging to get robbed by some murderhoboes in the dead of night.

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I love how concrete and specific this one is. You get encounter hook ideas just looking closely at it.

The Labors of Hercules as OSR Obstacles

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Over at Goblin Punch, Arnold has been talking about what makes an OSR adventure, and in particular what a good OSR challenge looks like.

  • has no easy solution.
  • has many difficult solutions.
  • requires no special tools (e.g. unique spells, plot devices).
  • can be solved with common sense (as opposed to system knowledge or setting lore).
  • isn’t solvable through some ability someone has on their character sheet.  Or at least, it isn’t preferentially solvable.  I’m okay with players attacking the sphinx (a risky undertaking) if they can’t figure out the riddle, because risky-but-obvious can be a solution, too.

This has led to a great discussion on G+, and even a community dedicated to making up these kinds of tasks.

However, thinking about this keeps bringing me back to my favorite OSR adventure, The Labors of Hercules. In this episodic greek myth, which sounds exactly like something out of a DnD campaign, Hercules has to atone for killing his whole family in a drunken rage. His penance is to serve king Eurystheus for twelve years, and ends up accomplishing twelve tasks for him. What nearly all of them have in common is that they require Hercules to solve a difficult problem in an unorthodox way.

  1. Slay the Nemean Lion. The lion has an invulnerable hide. Hercules solves this problem by first sealing up one of the exits to the lion’s cave, so it can’t run away. Then he uses non-lethal damage and stuns it with a club, and then strangles it to death. In other stories, he shoots it in the mouth, which is another great solution. He wants to use its hide as armor, but of course he can’t cut it. Solution: use its own claws to skin the beast.
  2. Slay the Lernaean Hydra. The hydra lives in a cave in a toxic swamp, and it grows two heads whenever you cut off one. Solution: Hercules creates a breathing filter out of cloth and drives the hydra out into the open with arrows, then he burns each stump with fire to stop them growing back. In another version, he burns the heads with the hydra’s own venom, which is even better. After it’s dead, he dips his sword in its toxic blood, because hey, now you have a poison sword. After this point, king Eurystheus stops giving Hercules tasks to kill things, and has him start capturing things instead, which makes the tasks harder.
  3. Capture the Ceryneian Hind. The hind is so fast it can outrun an arrow in flight. Solution: Stalk it slowly and set a net trap for it while it sleeps. He then uses charisma to talk Artemis into allowing him to take the hind to the king.
  4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar. The boar is gigantic, dangerous, and very fast. It needs to be brought back alive. Solution: use the environment against it by driving it up a mountain into deep snow where it is immobilized until it can be tied up.
  5. Clean the Stables of Augeas. The stables are full of 1000 divinely healthy cattle, and the stables have not been cleaned in 30 years. Solution: Divert a river into the stables to do the work for him.
  6. Defeat the Stymphalian Birds. The birds are made out of bronze, can throw bladed feathers at enemies and have toxic dung. They live in a swamp. Solution: Shake a huge rattle that scares them out of the swamp, then shoot them with arrows as they flee.
  7. Capture the Cretan Bull. This one isn’t that interesting. Big bull destroying Crete, Hercules sneaks up behind it and throttles it until it passes out, then ships it to the king.
  8. Capture the Mares of Diomedes. This is a good one. Diomedes has bred fire-breathing, man-eating horses, which are wild and uncontrollable. Solution: visit Diomedes, but stay awake all night so he doesn’t feed you to his horses. Then cut the horses free, and drive them towards the end of a peninsula. Dig a trench through the peninsula to turn it into an island, trapping the horses. When Diomedes shows up, kill him and feed him to the horses, which temporarily calms them. Then bind their mouths shut and ship them off.
  9. Retrieve the Belt of Hippolyta the Amazon. The is the first genuinely social task, but Hercules just kills Hippolyta and takes it. Boring.
  10. Capture the Cattle of Geryon. Geryon is the three-headed grandson of Medusa, but the cattle aren’t particularly interesting. Hercules just kills Geryon and drives the cattle back. One OSR moment is when Hera (who hates Hercules) floods a river to prevent him crossing with the cattle, so he throws huge boulders in until the water level is lessened.
  11. Retrieve the Apples of the Hesperides. At this point, Eurystheus is just trying to set tasks that should be completely impossible. No one even knows where the apples are, and it’s guarded by a full-on dragon. Solution: Visit Atlas, who holds up the sky. Atlas knows where the Garden of the Hesperides is, but he can’t put down the sky. Hercules uses his strength to take Atlas’ place, and in exchange Atlas goes to get the apples. When Atlas returns, he’s decided he doesn’t want the sky-holding job anymore. Hercules asks him to take it back for just a second so he can adjust his cloak, and then walks off when Atlas falls for it.
  12. Capture Cerberus. A supposedly impossible task, but Hercules succeeds by being inducted into the Eleusinian Mysteries, and getting two gods to guide him into the underworld. He then gets Hades’ permission to take Cerberus by subduing the monstrous dog with his bare hands. Not a terribly creative solution. There are some great traps in the underworld, though: snakes that twine around your limbs and then turn to stone, and a chair of forgetfulness that prevents you from wanting to leave.

There’s lots of other stories in which heroes overcome problems with ingenuity rather than brute force. Theseus and the Minotaur, Perseus and Medusa, the Trojan Horse etc. It seems to be a running theme in greek myths, which is what makes them so entertaining.

Valley of the Kings

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I recently discovered the Theban Mapping Project, which is mapping all of the tombs in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. It’s amazing how similar many of the tombs look to DnD-type dungeons. Since the PDFs with the maps were scattered all over the site, I compiled them into a single document here.