Feeling Foolish, Might Delete Later

Plans are drawn. 
Boots are donned. 
A step is taken. 

An Endeavor begins. 
One week.

Inspiral - A game about (not) making stuff

I've been feeling bad about not making (well, releasing) stuff, so today I made a game about (not) making stuff. It's unbalanced and untested, but I'm releasing it to remind myself that it's something I can do.


Maybe I'll Just Make A Dungeon: Map Refinement and Stocking

Welp, picking up where I left off (before a rapid fire mix of obsessions with multiple other projects, creative energy dips, all the while not really keeping up with RPG news or social sphere because it's increasingly all just a bit much, but that's how I roll these days) like nothing happened, because there's no reason not to. Though, my description of my process will be even more fabricated due to fuzzy memory of stuff I've already done, and my tone has completely changed, but I am a mercurial entity.


Step the Fifth: Refine the map with the Themes in mind

I next started to add detail to the map in a number of ways that just felt right, partly guided by the Themes, and partly just playing around with the tools Mipui has to create some more interesting layout. As mentioned in my last post, I identified the 8 "memorial statue chambers", as well as the central locked stairway to whatever lies below, and cut the existing downward stairway.

This also included removing some bits, fusing some rooms, together and tweaking the sizes of some rooms; I tended to standardize on 3x3 and 3x5, as well as the octagon-ish statue chambers, seeing this as a sort of Dwarven architectural grammar. It'll also help describing the spaces while running the game, as well as emphasizing the rooms that break this standard.

Where we left off from the post before last, slightly tweaked from the original Donjon output.

After the first round of refinement. Keep the 8th statue room a secret, eh?

I also placed icons for where treasures might be placed, both minor and major, just as a rough draft for thinking about how the map flow might work; how a party might progress through this space. I also played around with three thematic areas -  a throne room, mines, and a cistern, which I turned into a little maze of barred passages.

I can't remember if this was true of the Donjon output or if they were lost in the import to Mipui, but the map didn't have any secret doors, so I also started adding these in where they felt might be interesting, to make connections for loops, or to break up areas where the flow felt too open.

At a later point, but it bears mentioning here, while thinking about what types of rooms might exist in this dungeon, Industriousness was an obvious Dwarfy trope to lean into, so I imagined that each of the Siblings was associated with a type of Craft, and hence needed a Workshop. So that's 8 more rooms identified. You'll see them noted on later maps.

Step the Sixth: Jaquays It Up

I had the thought to visually block out areas of the dungeon in terms of accessibility to identify both chokepoints and the regions they separate.


Dotted lines represent areas that were only accessible by secret doors. This started to show some basic areas and got me thinking about the Zones in the dungeon - more on that in the next post.

But I realized if I really wanted to analyze the flow of the map, I may as well make a literal flowchart, so I fired up Lucidchart (well, my work account for it - don't tell anyone). I simplified "room complexes" which were groups of closely associated rooms which acted like one space, in terms of flow, relative to other complexes.

I made this a bit more complicated than it has to be by matching the lines with the actual shape of hallways and locations of entrances, though this helped visualize loops.

This helped me visualize the dungeon in a similar way to a "Melan diagram", and see how Jaquaysed it was, at least in terms of branching and looping. I think I made a few minor tweaks to the map as a result of this, but nothing extensive; my prior tweaking (and Donjon) did a pretty good job in this respect.

Below, I color-coded distance from the entrance (factoring in secret doors, especially those that only open from one side), to begin thinking about the high-level pacing of exploration; I could see how a party might progress through the dungeon over multiple sessions and/or expeditions. This can help in placement of monsters and traps, increasing the challenge as they explore deeper into the dungeon, to the extent that I wish; we still want a fairly flat (or spiky) difficulty curve in a good old school style dungeon.

At this point I felt pretty good about the general map flow, so I moved on to...

Step the Seventh: High-Level Stocking

For the purposes of this exercise, I wanted to put my trust in the BX stocking procedure. However, instead of using the process verbatim, I used a simplified procedure described in this B/X Blackrazor post which seems like a classic. 

Here's a peak at my notes from this process (in Workflowy, which is a completely indispensable online notetaking tool. All of my thoughts from the last decade that haven't turned into Google Docs yet live in there.)

I used Gavin Norman's Hole in the Oak as a touchstone, since I had it in hand and knew it was both faithful to BX and just darn well made.

I made a spreadsheet to easily break out the number of rooms of each type, as well as grouping treasure values:

I expect I'll be adding to this treasure total, however. I have some (optional) puzzley ideas I want to use that would feel bad for not rewarding the players, and there really isn't enough in this budget to cover them. 

There's also the question of supporting a scaling reward for the scaling difficulty feature of the dungeon, but there's an easy answer to that - the invading factions will bring valuable treasure with them; in most cases, literally carrying them. They might even start hoarding the dungeon's treasures the party hasn't found yet.

I manually assigned the treasure values to certain room types in a way that felt right - since I wanted some interesting traps, I put the highest value treasures behind them.

Next I started to look at placing the room types on the map by using tokens for Monsters, Traps, and Treasures on the flowchart, so I could easily move around and combine them.

Since the map needed to be pared down to hit 40 rooms, I'm not working on the sections at the bottom left and top right; I'll either come back to develop them as optional sections, or cut them entirely.

Step the Eighth: Foolishly Attempt a Revised Dungeon Stocking Room Typology

I started noticing where the traditional BX room types overlapped in definition and intention, and were fighting some of my existing ideas for certain rooms. Are the Memorial Statue rooms "Special" rooms? Are they Trapped Treasures? There's 7 of them, and that doesn't leave any room for other rooms of that type.

This sent me on a design philosophy tangent to identify a room typology that aligned more closely to how types of rooms are used in practice, but eventually realized it was silly to hold a practical procedure up to the epistemic standards I had in my head unless I devoted more energy to it. 

I do remember gaining some clarity on the real intent behind the traditional room types from the preface to Hack & Slash's Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design; though re-reading it now, doesn't really conjure the exact insight I seem to remember. It's still a great resource.

So I might return to this idea in the future, but for this project - whatever, I'll not hold myself too closely to the procedure, and it'll all come out in the wash. 

After distributing most of the tokens, and a peak at the next post topic - Zones!

Anyhow, physical pain from the posture I've put myself into while polishing this post is signaling that I'm putting more energy into it than I have in the actual dungeon over the past few months, so it's time to move on!

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere, and hold tight to what little warmth of human contact you can grasp.

Long live the Shards Of The Shattered Blogosphere Spinning Silently Yet Sparkling In The Exponentially Expanding Void!

Maybe I'll Just Make A Dungeon: Crystallizing the Central Features

Step the Fourth: Crystallize Themes, Central Features, Inhabitants, Brief History

Going into this project, I had a couple inspirational themes/central features:

  • The dungeon was of dwarven origin. I'm not sure why, but dwarven styled dungeons seem underrepresented in the OSR - at least, I don't know of any prominent OSR adventures that take place in such.
  • I want to play around with a style of "architectural puzzle" ala classic Zelda dungeons. This means these puzzles are in good working condition, and fits in well with the dwarven architecture trope. So the dungeon probably hasn't seen much ruination since its construction. It's pretty rare we get to explore non-ruined locations in OSR adventures. I enjoy the Mythic Underworld concept, but I have difficulty suspending disbelief especially if I'm responsible for actually building that underworld. More on that later, perhaps.

I want this to be a versatile module, which led to a couple more features:

  • It could be the first level of a larger dungeon, so it needs a connection down. But it also needs to stand on its own, so maybe that connection is sealed. But it can still be opened - the GM just decides what exactly is behind that seal. A kind of Quantum Prize.
  • I really want to see more in-built scalability of difficulty, and hence suitability for a wider range of character levels. So the dungeon in its "default" state should be on the order of other good examples of 1st-2nd level dungeons, and have good support for increasing difficulty.

Two further central features were inspired by the generated map itself:

  • I noticed the biggest rooms were all the same size and shape. This is obviously a quirk of the algorithm, but it did give me the idea that it is intended, and perhaps they were all of a similar purpose. These turned into "monument rooms", a large statue of a dwarf in the center, holding a valuable item, the room trapped in some way to protect it. There were 7 of these, which is an odd number... maybe there's a secret 8th in a differently shaped room?
  • Importing the map to Mipui, some of the Donjon-generated detail is lost, including which doors were locked and trapped, but interestingly it did transfer portcullises. I think dungeons could use more "windows" - ways to see ahead which could give hints at the dungeon's layout and "objectives" without allowing easy passage. So I decided to make most of these unopenable, at least from the side you're likely to reach first.

Preview of the next map-focused installment

Extrapolating from these themes

So the fact that the dungeon hasn't seen ruination also likely means it hasn't been inhabited by intelligent individuals since... what? What happened to the dwarves? I guess they're dead. Undead? Perhaps protect what they sealed below with their un-life? Ok, so some light ruination.

What if the items the statues hold in these monument rooms need to be collected in order to unseal it? That's 8 items. Kind of a lot. So maybe they aren't super challenging to acquire, but have a good variety of types of challenge. And the dwarves aren't a constant danger.

But what else is in there to give the party a challenge? They must be the first ones to open up this dungeon since it was sealed off. So let's style the majority of the wandering and inhabiting monsters after unintelligent dungeon dwellers; things that would fit through a tight, undiscovered entrance and have gone about their merry lives in darkness for decades. Normal rats and bats, spiders, oozes. And I really want to throw in some monsters from BX I think are underutilized: Cave Locusts, and Giant Geckos. And... Cats!

But we really need some kind of intelligent faction to interact with. And that was a perfect match for scalable difficulty. I'll include a number of factions that could begin inhabiting the dungeon after the party arrives. Challengers to the party's quest, and a first wave of more general dungeon inhabitants moving in. The GM can pick and choose between these to add spice and challenge.

So a rough history and outline comes together:

  • A small dwarf clan, maybe its head their 8 children, strike out on their own to create this stronghold
  • They Dig Too Deep, decide to seal away What Lies Below via these Macguffins, become undead in the process
  • The hold lies fallow until its entrance was rediscovered, the party arrives, and then a variable amount of challengers hot on their heels

So in a way, this module might examine the birth of a more typical Dungeon. I'm not sure how hard I'll lean into that concept, but it's there in some respect.

In reality, a lot of this took place in the back of my mind while working on various other bits of the adventure. I was going to start looking at further map changes in this post, but I really want to give that a lot of attention, so I think I'll cut this one off here.

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!

Maybe I'll Just Make A Dungeon: Getting Over Myself

Well, there was a time when I wanted to keep this style of writing off my blog, but it seemed to help me actually write instead of endlessly edit, so...

So I Want To Make A Dungeon? Just follow these [insert final number] simple steps!

Be Warned: This only superficially and sarcastically resembles a step by step procedure that I would recommend following. I may or may not revise it into one later. I've been working on this pretty much constantly since my earlier post, and so this is an artificially re-organized and dramatized version rather than a real-time log.

Step the First: Decide to really make something instead of constantly brainstorming on yet another amorphous project I get distracted away from and build up anxiety about not finishing

Return from an RPG info-sphere hiatus and come across a couple of genuinely inspiring posts on making dungeons at the equally indispensable Swamp of Monsters and Papers & Pencils. Remember Bryce's Black Maw experiment. Remember I saw a few neat dungeon-building "games" recently - Ex Umbra and Delve / Rise.

Think "Hey - maybe I'll just make a dungeon. I've never really done it before despite how much I've read about and thought about dungeon design. It might even be a nice, chill past-time exercise, like a crossword puzzle; just following procedures and progressively fill in some gaps. Some nice soothing distraction from our IRL hellscape."

Decide to keep it vanilla, trope-y, not get my head too high in the clouds with heady artpunk/OSR-envelope-pushing concepts. Focus on making something Bryce wouldn't pan. Use the lingua franca of BX and put my handy OSE books to good use. Keep it to one level (though we'll definitely want to have multiple floors/sub-levels for some good verticality. Every time I see a dungeon restricted to one lateral, level I nope out.)

Spend sometime revisiting  some old links and compiled dungeon design notes from around the blogosphere of the last decade (Philotomy's advice, Melan diagrams, Jaquaying the Dungeon, Goblin Punch's Checklist, Blackrazor's Stocking Method, a bunch of others), and honestly come up short on good fully "worked" examples of a well-rounded old school dungeon. (Fittingly, I saw only yesterday that Necropraxis agrees after reading the exact same posts that inspired this project. Though the recent Gygax 75 Challenge comes close. Note that I'm not sure I actually intend to fill this gap with this series - the dungeon itself takes precedence!) 

So less a simple, relaxing exercise, but between all the resources and my own design thoughts, I think we can work this out. 

Step the Second: Prevent Blank Page Syndrome AND Icarus Syndrome by just getting something concrete to start with

All of my backburner dungeon projects have started with ideas for central features and themes, or a rough shape of a map. Moon College started with the idea of a bunch of thematically related magic items. Its map was literally shaped around them.

And I've always assumed if I ever made a "whole package" dungeon that I'd be meticulously designing the map layout myself, (and I will almost certainly be doing that after this exercise). Starting from an "externally sourced" dungeon feels... pedestrian.

But partly inspired by the Papers & Pencils guide, and given the self-constraining nature of this project, I decided to turn things upside down and just start with a pre-made map. And not just any pre-made map. A random Donjon map.

I've always kind of written off Donjon as being too random and vanilla, and it really is, particularly the room contents. And you're also locked into its rigid generation rules.

However, after playing around with the advice from Papers & Pencils, I did find some sweet spots in the generator settings that spat out some layouts I didn't hate.


And! I discovered that Mipui, an online map editing tool we've been using in the Castle Xyntillan game I've been playing in, can import maps from Donjon.

Mipui doesn't have the most intuitive or... nuanced toolset, and it can be visually buggy and slow even with modestly sized maps, but it's definitely the most comfortable tool for editing old school dungeon maps I've found - at least online. And its image exporting is pretty good, if you don't need any fine detail beyond what the tools it supports. I definitely intend to reproduce the map in another tool, maybe Tiled, or actually hand-draw it, since that's another thing I haven't really done since childhood despite my latent, 1.6 decade-old (insert gasp and sigh of despair) Art & Design college major.

I also intend to produce two maps - one for the GM (with optimal iconography and notes for running) and one suitable for displaying to players in a VTT or cut up and assembled at the table while playing (no secrets). That's another pet peeve of mine - a lot of effort and artistry goes into creating some beautiful maps that only the GM gets to see! It doesn't take much to get those to a condition that they can be very simply used in Roll20, as long as you aren't using "S"s that stick out of walls, or crossing passages over each other.

So I generated a few Donjon maps and settled on one that spoke to me. It's far from great, but all we're really looking for here is a starting point for a dungeon that already has good looping, flow and multiple routes, and some good variety in layout.

The Donjon map imported to Mipui

Step the Third: Start tweaking, and then stop tweaking

Get rid of the most glaring absurdities. The passages that lead back into the same room, the ridiculously long linear corridors, the dead ends (should have used the "no dead ends" setting) - this isn't a funhouse dungeon.

Starting adding some flare and non-standard shapes. But don't get obsessive about the layout yet. I'll revisit how and why I refine certain aspects later.

Snip snip... ah, much better.

This step, at least, was nice and relaxing - in the same way as fixing up a wonky generated Minecraft village.

Many more steps to come - if I'm up for it. I've got an outline of everything I've done so far, but don't want to Icarus up this post before I Icarus up the dungeon itself.

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!


Monster: Dungeon Cat

Dungeon Cat

Not giant. Not magical. Just a cat. In a dungeon.

AC: As Plate (agile, small target)
HD: 1/2
Att: 2 x Claw 1d3-1, 1 x Bite 1d3-2
SV: Death: 3 Wands: 15 Paralysis: 1 Breath: 17 Spells: 18
THAC0 (AB): 18 (+1)
MV: 40' / 20' climb (anything but sheer surface) / 5' Jump (vertical or horizontal)
ML: 3
Al: (Chaotic) Neutral
XP: -13
NA: 1 (2d4)
TT: U, but no individual items larger than their head
  • Dungeon Cats have learned how to survive in their dungeon. They will slink into hidden nooks, hiss in alarm at approaching encounters, and if it likes the party, lead them through safe routes, secret doors, and traps they don't trigger.
  • 60' Darkvision
  • Always roll for reaction on each encounter, regardless of past meeting. 
  • They lair a small den beyond a hidden opening no larger than their head, that is itself in a secret area of the dungeon.

Dungeons need more cats. I'm sure this has been done a thousand times, but I almost never see them in modules. There are Familiars of course, but Dungeon Cats have no masters.

Dungeon Cats are already on every encounter table. They appear when you roll a result that shouldn't be possible, or just doesn't make sense.

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!

Maybe I'll Just Make A Dungeon

After a bit of a hiatus from keeping up with the RPG-sphere (and not feeling motivated enough to get any of my own projects - or 15 draft blogposts, or eleventy billion notional-but-potentially-gameable brainstorm/shower-thought notes - into a shareable state), I've been inspired by a few recent dungeon design posts, actually getting some good OSR dungeoncrawling under my belt, and playing around with some tools. Before I knew it, I've got a foundation for a dungeon that I like well enough to try to build out and complete.

It's fairly vanilla, likely only one level, and doesn't involve any particularly special concepts, but I want to try putting into practice some of the guidance I've accumulated over the years, as well as my own design gripes and druthers. Particularly since I've never really created a "whole package" dungeon, beyond a few small experiments, heady ideas for more high-concept projects, and Moon College.

And right now my pendulum has swung toward feeling like it's better to create gameable content and contribute to the B/X Commons than to work on hacks and systems, which is what I find myself usually inspired to do, but is more prone to Icarus Syndrome. Even if it ends up workmanlike; walk before you run and all that.

In addition to the dungeon, I'm hoping to refine some processes for both design and production that I will share either along the way or near its completion.

It will be a good-old, tropey Dwarf Stronghold (which I feel like is underrepresented these days?), focus on a gather-the-macguffins to unlock [a treasure or access to deeper dungeon at GM's discretion], and the working title is currently:

The Seven

and Dreg

No guarantees. My modus operandi is to get T-boned by something shiny in a nearby genre.

Problem-Solving Combat: Example in Cunning Knave

Spoilers for my players!

I've run three sessions of my first draft of Cunning Knave, and they've gone quite well. Only in the third session did we end up in an unambiguous combat situation, so I had an opportunity to see how the Problem-Solving Combat rules felt in play. I want to provide a summary here to give some concrete examples of what I'm talking about in Problem-Solving Combat: Breaking the Cage of "Roll Initiative", which includes part of the rules used here.

Imperfect memory has altered some things and some rough edges are smoothed over - don't take this as an exact log of events, but a combination dramatized play report and idealized example of Problem Solving Combat using Cunning Knave, with some commentary about how I adjudicated things on the fly.

I wrap up with a continuation of my thoughts on this style of combat from my initial post, which I think doesn't quite stand on itself enough to get my point across. I may follow this up with a third post on the topic, focusing on advice and procedures for generating and evolving interesting combat situations, for players to sink their problem-solving teeth into. And I intend to eventually release Cunning Knave into the wild as well.


Problem-Solving Combat: Breaking the Cage of "Roll Initiative"

I don't want to take the stance that this is an objectively better way to do things, but there's something in the water (maybe hydrogen, maybe oxygen?) that makes humans write toward that stance. I could go edit through everything and make sure I'm not, but that is a recipe for not actually publishing any blog posts. So take this as a blanket disclaimer: This is what I've found works for me, to evoke the kind of engagement I want with and from my players, compared to how I've seen and played other game systems run by other GMs. If it sounds good to you too, cool, see how you can integrate it into your games, and look forward to the indeterminate future when I release some public form of Cunning Knave.

The Cage of "Roll Initiative"

D&D-like combat rules are a black hole for what I find fun about OSR style gameplay. 

Yes, we all plan ambushes when we can, and try to out-think enemies.

But when we do Roll Initiative, a cage comes down over each player, trapping you in a very well-defined set of options - to the death.

Having default types of actions within combat discourages creativity. And If a player spends too much time thinking of a clever plan (which is harder than it should be since it's restricted within the framework of the combat rules), they're pressured into taking one of the default actions.

Strict turn order discourages teamwork. If one PC calls for the retreat, the enemies will likely act before the rest of the PCs can, which in the majority of cases means there's a good chance that one or more won't be able to get away. This fact pre-emptively discourages fleeing, along with plans involving more than one PC, across the board.

Yes, there are things like 5E's Help action, but that's almost worse - it converts a good idea (how are you helping?) into a mere modifier for a future action someone else is able to take, instead of, like, actually doing something interesting.

"But making combat deadly and standardized - even boring - helps push players to avoid it altogether, a central tenet of OSR play! And it's easier to ensure it's deadly by making rules that ensure it's deadly." This proposition isn't incompatible with combat being a Bad Idea. It's just that when we inevitably do end up in combat, I don't want to leave the "OSR style challenge" mindspace and shift into a Roll Off.

Of course all of this probably sounds familiar to anyone who groks Powered by the Apocalypse games. It's something I've always found that PbtA and OSR games have in common; an emphasis on presenting qualitative, rather than quantitative problems, in an unrestricted solution space. This is certainly true of OSR gameplay in general, but when it comes to combat, the vast majority of OSR rulesets seem to hew very closely to the wargame-rooted systems of the original games.

Wat do?

I think, if nothing else, Problem-Solving Combat can be distilled into a handful of guiding principles that can apply to most any RPG, and that's probably all you need.

  • Don't Roll Initiative - Just describe the situation and ask "What do you do?"
  • Don't Enforce an Order - Let everyone discuss a plan, team up on actions or establish a group tactic, then call for the rolls that make sense, in an order that makes sense.
  • Don't Just Attack - Use enemies to do interesting things that threaten the PCs.
  • Don't Stay Still - Present new challenges as every round evolves the situation.
  • Don't Stay Abstract - Concrete details are opportunities to seize.

It's tempting to say "well, if you want to treat combat the same as you do non-combat stuff, just don't distinguish it. Use the rules from non-combat stuff for combat stuff." I think, at least for me, this is a trap. Having a discrete mode signals to the players that their lives are at stake. And it is still nice to have some kind of framework for arbitration, rather than leaving it completely freeform. A procedure, for guidance, something to keep hold of as you navigate the dizzying tactical infinity.

On the other end of the scale, while permitting an open solution space, even the Move systems of PbtA games is too rigid a framework for my taste (for OSR style gameplay).

There are also systems that present combat as an open-ended challenge, but reduce them to a single roll. But Combat is such a rich source of interesting problems to solve that this seems like a loss.

So, like I do, I wrote a hack. Here is an excerpt of the WIP, which I'm calling Cunning Knave.

Combat in Cunning Knave

[For context, "Resolve" is essentially both Level and HP (Monsters' Resolve is their HD), and PCs begin with 1 Resolve. You can assume the system is otherwise very similar to Knave, for current purposes.]

If violence has become inevitable, a round of Combat begins.

The referee will describe the situation and what the enemies appear to be doing. The players are then free to discuss and plan any course of action, with the referee clarifying feasibility and likely consequences of failure, but not exact difficulty or potential complications.

Once the plan is clear, the referee will then call for any Rolls that are necessary for each PC’s actions in an order makes sense, applying advantage or disadvantage where relevant. Players may clarify details before rolling to attempt to gain advantage or negate disadvantage.

Just like outside of combat, very good plans or straightforward actions don’t require Rolls. And any intent can be attempted; disarming or capturing, driving off by intimidation, de-escalating to parley, retreating, and any approach can be utilized, not just attacking with weapons but utilizing other items or aspects of the environment, perhaps gaining advantage.

Once all the effects of the current course of action have been resolved, a new round begins; the referee will describe how the situation has changed, and the players may discuss their next actions.

Each round of combat should result in significant changes to the situation; combat is chaotic and quick and should not last more than a few rounds, often resulting in surrender or retreat after two or three. Try to avoid a straightforward exchange of blows, instead presenting a challenge unique to the type of enemy, their equipment, and the environment that might not be resolved by simply attacking or defending.


A physical attack requires an Opposed Roll against their Armor Target. A success reduces the enemy’s Resolve, usually by 1, but potentially more with particularly effective plans. An enemy at 0 Resolve is at the PC’s mercy, possibly dying.


Failing a Roll to attack, or taking particular risks in a hostile encounter may result in the PC being attacked. If a PC is attacked, they make an Armor Roll. A failure causes damage, depleting their current Resolve, usually by 1.

Traps and other types of incidental harm may also be considered an attack, and in certain dire circumstances, a PC may take damage directly with no chance to resist with a roll.

Attacks are usually physical, but could be mental or even emotional. These would trigger an Ability Roll other than Armor, such as Charisma or even Resolve itself.

At 0 Resolve, the PC is out of action until they can be safely attended to.


Wicked foes, traps, or other environmental hazards may outright kill a PC while they are out of action or otherwise helpless, if their companions cannot prevent it. If there is some chance that they could avoid certain death, the referee may call for a Resolve Roll to survive. If this is successful, the PC survives, but also takes a Dire Wound, which fills an Item Slot and reduces Resolve by 1, permanently.

Attacking foes directly is very dangerous. Look for safer ways to exploit the particulars of your enemies, equipment, and environment. 

I'll be following this post up with a concrete example of combat from a playtest with further commentary, and possibly a third with some more procedural advice on how to turn combat into a series of interesting challenges.

Related Resources

As with a lot of RPG blogging in this day and age, none of this is revelatory or original; I've just felt compelled to assemble a particular combination and reinterpretation of stuff I've ingested over the years. Among those influences:

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere. I even welcome "But this one system here does this one thing like you want!"

Long live the Blogosphere!

Just Some Advice for Running Low-Prep RPGs

From a sophomore GM of mostly old-school style games.
  • Top priority: Run what excites you, the GM. The game runs on your brain, so that energy influences every aspect of the experience. In its absence the game will fall apart sooner or later.
  • Don't expect your first (or 50th) game to be like Critical Role.
  • But if possible, watch/listen to an Actual Play video/podcast for the game or module to get familiar with its content, (one way) how to present it, and ways the players might respond.
  • Make your first games "one-or-more-shots"; a one-time thing with the option for a followup session. Don't worry too much about wrapping things up neatly; it's tougher than it seems.
  • Run a ruleset and module that's well-organized and easy to reference at the table. If it isn't and you still want to run it, reformat it in Google Docs and print out reference sheets. Prime example of a well-organized and presented ruleset: Old School Essentials. Examples of easy-to-run modules: Tomb of the Serpent Kings, Fever Swamp, Through Ultan's Door.
  • Have a discussion about expectations at the start of (or before) the game: what kind of game it will be, how it might differ from games the players have experience with, the "verbs" (what kind of activities you expect the characters to get up to), the tone, content notes. Discuss and use safety tools if there's any question of whether they might be helpful.
  • If you're interested in old school style gameplay, which generally emphasizes exploration and creative problem solving over satisfying storytelling or crunchy tactical combat, check out Principia Apocrypha for a bunch of advice. 
  • Part of why I like old school style games is that they're generally low-prep. Rules are usually simpler, you're not writing a grand, sweeping tale with a personalized character arc for every player, you don't need to know the population of every village in the kingdom or the name of every god. You're just some broke knaves in a dirty hole trying to get find treasure to pay for some armor so you don't get killed as soon as you set foot in the next hole. When the stakes are low, so is the prep; a little goes a long way.
  • Unless you definitely want a super-detailed world and/or plotted-out storytelling, you can cut down on prep with liberal use of random tables to fill in circumstantial details on the fly. In combination, they can even produce situations that are more interesting than you'd think to come up with on your own anyway. A superb, cheap, comprehensive source for random tables is Maze Rats (also a great rules-light old school style RPG)
  • My favorite note/prep organization app is workflowy.com - I'd be helpless without collapsible, draggable, hierarchical, nested notetaking. That said, it's not exactly effortless to reference or edit while running.
Normally I wouldn't think topost on such a basic/ubiquitous topic, but a local group is getting together soon to discuss GM prep, and I was taking notes to bring up for it. Suddenly, content!

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

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