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.

Burning Wheel Procedure Guides on Roll20

I was just watching Adam Koebel’s intro to Burning Wheel on his Roll20 channel, it turns out he’s using the BW procedure guide that I wrote a while back! I’m working on an updated and expanded version, but if you want the most recent edition, check out the downloads tab.

A New Home

Welcome to the new online home of Questing Beast! I’ll be using this site to showcase maps, drawings, game design ideas, and everything else that doesn’t fit too well into the Youtube channel. We’re still under a bit of construction, so stay tuned as I add more content. Happy questing!