D&D is, after all, a truly unique invention, probably as remarkable as the die, or the deck of cards, or the chessboard. — J. Eric Holmes, Dragon Magazine Issue 52

One of my little habits is keeping a commonplace book. A commonplace book was essentially a medieval scrapbook; as Wikipedia puts it, commonplace books were idiosyncratic journals “filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned.”

I keep my own “commonplace book” in a text file, filled with what I think are smart quotes about religion, politics, or whatever else I happen to be reading lately. And a big chunk of that is RPG quotes. Today, I thought I’d share part of my little collection with you.

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BX, ase, osr

During the Lulu 40% Off Fall Madness sale, I picked up Patrick Wetmore’s Anomalous Subsurface Environment, a megadungeon sleeper-hit getting rave remarks in every review I’ve read (the notoriously harsh critic Bryce Lynch, of tenfootpole, called it “an absolutely amazing setting and a wonderful dungeoncrawl. It hits all of the points I’m looking for: evocative & terse descriptions, imaginative settings, tricks & traps, new monsters, great multi-path maps, ‘naturalism’, factions, vermin. I could go on and on.”)

The critics are entirely right. If you buy one OSR product, buy this one. Buy it ahead of Stonehell, even, or Swords & Wizardry. I laugh out loud reading ASE. I laugh like the first time I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s all amazingly fresh, astoundingly creative. Go. Buy. This. Book.

To match my words to deeds, I decided to rewrite my character tumbler for Basic Fantasy for ASE (and for Basic D&D). The layout is the same, but the professions are all fresh and are, dare I say it, cleverer and more likely to produce amusing gameplay. I also took the liberty of crafting logos and slogans for the two pre-apocalyptic corporations that (SPOILER) unearthed the Anomalous Subsurface Environment—check all this out after the jump.

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Starting a new run of Hat Tip posts, linking to some of my favorite output from the firehose of OSR content I consume every day. Since it’s the start of 2014, I figure I’ll run long in this inaugural edition and hit my personal highlights of last year’s reading.

d12 Wandering Sorcerors—Dungeon Dozen: How to pick just one Dungeon Dozen post! They really are the Crown Jewels of the Old School Renaissance. But this pairs with the Anomalous Subsurface Environment like goat cheese and honey (my product of the year, incidentally), and generally encapsulates what makes Dungeon Dozen great.

“Surviving Levels 1-3 of Basic D&D”—Ben Lehman: Some fantastic strategy tips for players on how to survive Basic D&D’s insanely deadly combat. Reminds me of the lessons I had to learn playing rogulikes, and I sure wish my own players would take this to heart.

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The Compendium of Creepier Creeps

Continuing the feature begun with The Hollyshade a few months back, although this creature differs from that one in several respects: It was drawn in a Rhodia DotPad (less pretty, better paper); it’s inspired by reading The Dying Earth, and it’s much cuter. Oh, and it’s statted for B/X, not Basic Fantasy.

Like much of my output, this is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which allows you to share it or reuse it in nearly any context.

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BX, osr

I finally—finally!—started running Moldvay-Cook B/X recently. I went whole-hog: I printed out the pdfs, hole-punched them, carefully interleaved them with a few sheets of house rules, neatly separated each chapter with binder dividers. I even printed out the covers in full-color, and slipped them in plastic sleeves.

I am really living large. And I am loving this ruleset. But there’s just no getting around it: These rules are… idiosyncratically organized (at best). The key tables and rules are scattered across body text, in three or four chapters, and it really slows me down at the table.

The existing B/X reference sheets were all a bit too long for me; and perhaps more to the point, I decided I needed a B/X quick ref when I was away from a printer, and had only grid paper and pen. So I copied a bunch of tables. By hand.

This one has all the classics: Attack Matrices, a Fighter Saves chart, even a summary of the key rules about doors and light sources that I always seem to forget (A note on the doors: I wrote that 2/6 doors are stuck; I think I picked that up from Stonehell, not M/C. Ignore if you wish.).

Hope you find it useful!


.png version (warning: huge file)

.pdf version


As most of you probably know, Jack Vance died two weeks back.

I have no special knowledge of Vance’s work. I impulse-bought Mazirian the Magician a few months back, but never got around to reading it. But reading all of the moving obits Jack merited, I felt compelled to pick it up and try again.

I stayed up until 3 a.m. that night reading, and till 2 the next day to finish it. As a real adult now with a real job and an increasingly Twitterified attention span, commanding my attention that long is a real feat.

As it happened, I was running D&D that Friday for the first time in forever (and B/X D&D for the first time ever; my fellow OSR nerds, I beg forgiveness). Inspired by Vance, I remembered the fantastic Dying Earth Spells for D&D (which I first encountered on Untimately). I ran Stonehell in a haphazardly-imagined “Dying Earth”-lite, and I was entirely sold. I loved the dramatically-named spells, loved the setting, loved the whole bag.

But while I had a much-more atmospheric Magic-User/Elf spell list, the Cleric was stuck with the generic. “Resist Cold”. “Light”. “Remove Fear”. All fine enough in their way, but they didn’t quite fit in with “The Metamorphoun of Fire” and “Phandaal’s Polyglottal Lobe”.

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The pen-and-paper side of our hobby could really learn something from video games (see previous post).

I don’t mean in an off-putting, game-y, 4th edition way, either. The competitive pressure in the video game space is huge, leading to all sorts of interesting experiments. Because the pressure is more intense—and perhaps also because there are more consumer dollars supporting game makers—this experimentation happens much more quickly than the pen-and-paper side of the hobby.

One of my favorite minor innovations is Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid (pictured, right). When I picked FFX up around my 14th birthday, I was fascinated by it. To briefly summarize, the Grid was the best sort of metagame: You would gain Spheres, then spend those Spheres to advance your characters along a winding system of tracks. At various points the tracks would split, and you’d be forced to choose how your character would advance.

Leveling up was no longer a mechanical process, or just a choice of whether to learn a new move. Instead, I was moving around a map, I could take my characters wherever I wanted.

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Like most RPG aficionados, I’m working on my own game. It’s not ready (of course), nor do I anticipate it being ready for some time. Still, I’d like to share something of the game, the setting, and one of my favorite bits I’ve finished so far.

The Game is called Proper Motion: A Fantasy of Ptolemaic Space. That’s quite a mouthful, so let’s unpack it a little bit.

Proper Motion is a space fantasy game inspired by Spelljammer. Or at least by what I thought Spelljammer was when I read the elevator pitch: wooden ships sailing thru a boundless, infinitely-varied fantasy universe.1 Proper Motion is also the child of Mario Galaxy, whose universe of micro-planets uninhibited by ordinary physics still enchants me every time I think about it.

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Happy Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day! Although I haven’t played much of it, S&W strikes me as a great system—clearly written, it retains the spark of the Original rules while smoothing out some of the more incomprehensible quirks. Best of all, it’s eminently hackable; indeed, the S&W creators go farther than almost anyone in enabling you to hack your own system onto S&W.

Today, 137 other bloggers are all blogging about their love of the system. The S&W creators are also running a nice 25% off sale in appreciation; use the code SWApprDay at checkout.

I didn’t know how much value I could add as a system-critic. But I still wanted to pay the system the pretty compliment I think it deserves, so I’ve written a module for it! I’ve never written a S&W module before, and found it a pleasingly simple process: S&W is not fussy about the details of armor class asignment or XP values, allowing me to focus on writing.

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The Compendium of Creepier Creeps

Starting a new feature! These are creatures I’m creating and drawing in an awesome silver PaperBlanks notebook. Kudos to the Random Esoteric Creature Generator for helping make these possible.

First up: The Hollyshade. That this is possibly the best drawing I’ve ever done may show the limits of my artistic talent (other artistic output). This monster is statted for Basic Fantasy, but should be pretty easy to drop into other OSR games. Image and monster text are both CC BY 3.0, so feel free to repost/use in your own books.

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