WHAT'S IN A NAME? That Which We Call A D&D By Any Other Name Would Delve Just As Deep

The OSW: Old-School Wizardry

Like the rest of the greater D&D collective, I too have been reading, and then watching, the very good Delicious in Dungeon. And like many, I too, was struck at just how faithful it is to "old-school" dungeon-delving D&D. Dumb-struck when I learned the creator, Ryoko Kui, had no prior exposure to D&D, much less some old-school version like Moldvey BX.

It was actually hard for me to believe given how faithful the trappings (and traps) of Delicious in Dungeon are to AD&D in particular. Miranda of inplacesdeep suggested to me that the videogame Wizardry (1981), whose popularity outlasted Japan's introduction to Dungeons & Dragons*, could be one of the inspiration sources.

So I recently went looking for a Wizardry game manual PDF to see what commonality there was given that I have never played the game. Here is the link to the 1990 NES release of Wizardry: Proving Ground of the Mad Overlord. If I am correct after my 30 min of internet surfing, Wizardry was first released in Japan on the FM-7, PC-88, and PC-98 in 1985.

And wow... there is almost no substantive differences with AD&D. In fact, most differences I see had to have been made so that TSR wouldn't sue Sir-tech Software the publisher. So if you've not really mapped this particular rabbit hole with your 10-foot pole, here are some screen captures from the 1990 NES manual:

Character's Race: Those heathen humans... someone needs to bring them the word of CANT!

Six Abilities: Strength, I.Q., Piety, Vitality, Agility, Luck (which the word charisma which has origins in the meaning "gift from the gods")

Classes: Of particular note is that Lord, Samurai, Wizards, and Ninja require particularly good stats in multiple abilities similar the paladin, bard, monk, and ranger of AD&D.

Goal: Explore a vast labyrinth that you the player need to be mapping with help from a 0-19 x 0-19 grid system. What does this maze look like?

Magic: I won't take you through every single aspect, I do think you get the point and the links will take you directly to the PDF if you'd like to read the details. But the magic does offer another striking similarity.

In D&D terms you are starting with Magic Missle, Shield, Sleep, and a more novel "Locate" spell which is in a similar spirit, but more practical given the audience might need to check their mapping work.

Delicious in Dungeon Is Increasing Mega-Dungeon Appetites And Taste For Old-School D&D

Maybe that subtitle is a bit...more than I can chew (!), but I don't think its too far off the mark. I do love dungeons as both an excellent place to begin learning D&D and as a campaign environment for sustained play. Especially in our more busy, entertainment-competitive lives. Dungeons are imaginative spaces that both young and old can relate to and understand. And I am glad to see other media pick them up as environmental space to tell a compelling story. 

I think far too long the idea of dungeon crawling was just a boring, pedantic shuffle through grey corridors waiting for an ignoble death. Certainly, the past ~10+ years of the old-school scene as provided many counter-examples to that viewpoint**, but now Delicious provides a solid cross-generational reference to orient too. 

Delicious in Dungeon's first levels

EDIT: Here is the way better-illustrated game guide to Wizardry

* The most popular pen-and-paper RPG in Japan is Call of Cthulhu

** Some unfortunate reinforcement as well

THE KNIGHTS OF THE (OD&D) TABLE: Application to Arthurian Myth

The Death of Arthur

I was recently reading Peter Ackroyd’s Sir Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (written 1470) and was struck how its collective tales when taken together matched OD&D’s wilderness setup when it comes to castles, NPC rulers therein, and jousting. Also, it helped provide a rationale in my head as to why the cavalier is a subclass in AD&D given so much of early D&D is oriented in dungeoneering- why bring a horse? The Arthurian tales seem more likely an inspiration for this section of OD&D than many of the books in the Appendix N such as Three Hearts, Three Lions which feature a knight, but still are more a LoTR-style adventuring party.

This blog post is less concerned about the origin of these rules in OD&D and whether they can be used to help a DM create a campaign that gives the same feel. Now, yes, perhaps Mythic Bastionland or Pendragon would be systems better designed to support this particular genre. But if you just want to attach this component to an existing campaign or maybe just pull off 3-5 sessions, why invest time, energy, and money into a completely new system? Heck, even if you wanted to start a fresh new campaign, why switch to a new system when your table’s familiarity with D&D could help? On a more contemporary note, If you’ve gotten the Dolmenwood pdfs, like I did, then you know the knight class and house outlines provide a ready-made setting outside of Mythic Bastionland or Pendragon. 

Let’s look at a very good tool already provided by OD&D- the stronghold rules.

Here are what I think are a few interesting points in this block of text that will serve our purpose:

  • The ponds on the Outdoor Survival Game map are now castles 
  • Those castle encounters will be 50% hostile or 50% “neutral” which means PCs will have to explain themselves a lot. So courtesy is front and center in our campaign in keeping with the Arthurian tales.
  • Castle owners who are fighting men will demand a jousting match which is in line with the Arthurian stories about gaining renown through the testing of arms. Magic users, including, clerics might send PC on quests via geas spells. Certainly in line with the machinations of Merlin and Morgaine.
  • It is also noted that Patriarch’s are always lawful while Evil High Priest are always chaotic.
  • And while not prolific, intermixed among human opposition, is a fair bit of superhuman/supernatural occurrences. Again Morgaine and Merlin are natural examples of wizards/necromancers. The Lady of the Lake (and her predecessors) I would consider patriarchs. 
  • While evil priests are never directly referenced, there are one or two stories involving some knights that seem to rise from the dead or other unearthly enchantments. In fact Lancelot du Lake and Galahad have a whole “side quest” involving their adventure to far off lands but “because these stories do not involve their quest for the Grail, they are not recorded in the old books.”
  • And as the inhabitants of the castles? Well, 3d10 x10 inhabitants will man the walls split between ranged units and heavy foot. And a mix of magical creatures which while not a central component of Arthurian myths they are there in the periphery. The Questing Beast is a well known example, but also Galahad’s sword, hilt, and scabbard are made of various parts of fantastical snakes, fish, and wyrms.

The Structure of the Stories

Generally, the setup is 1 or 2 named knights questions across a densely castled countryside and/or cutting through a mysterious forest in search of renown or to right a wrong or by request or for revenge. Knights are often waylaid by battles, other knights, magic, duplicity, and, occasionally, God. Eventually each knight to able to over come those obstacles through feats of arms and maintaining a strong adherence to Christian virtues and chivalric code. Mostly. Because while these stories are rather “simple”, the characters often display more complexity than pop cultural interpretations of them would let on.

Here Is How I Would Run Dungeons & (Pen)Dragons

A Campaign for 1 or 2 Players and a DM: I always think its interesting that a lot of these stories actually involve 1 or 2 of Aurther’s knights and 2-5 other characters a long the way. So let’s go with that format which helps explain the setup.

Knighted PCs: The knights in the Arthurian story are already individuals of some note, so I think a good way to kick-off the campaign would be to start them at third level. Yes, heresy by “ye olde scool” standards, but we are leaning a little more into genre “setup”. This would place PC right below “hero” level (Level 4) and so makes sense that not matter what is going on, the PCs are at least questing for renown.

And as we have established we are using only 1 or 2 players so this will help a little bit with survivability. If back-up characters are needed, perhaps the DM can roll up a “round table” of alternatives.

By OD&D standards this would also allow PC to have a multi-attack ability against normal man-types which again is a common occurrence than the main characters of Arthurian myths can take on multiple normal knights/horsemen/footmen.

The Code of Chivalry: I found the Dolmanwood Chivalric code a little too brief. So poking around on the internet to see if someone has previously enumerated the various rules of the Code I found one text looking at the code from the Song of Roland which is also a great list to help create conflict by simple having the antagonists do the opposite of:

  1. To fear God and maintain His Church 

  2. To serve the liege lord in valour and faith 

  3. To protect the weak and defenceless 

  4. To give succour to widows and orphans 

  5. To refrain from the wanton giving of offence 

  6. To live by honour and for glory 

  7. To despise pecuniary reward 

  8. To fight for the welfare of all 

  9. To obey those placed in authority 

  10. To guard the honour of fellow knights 

  11. To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit 

  12. To keep faith 

  13. At all times to speak the truth 

  14. To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun 

  15. To respect the honour of women 

  16. Never to refuse a challenge from an equal 

  17. Never to turn the back upon a foe

Save vs Change: I might change the 5 saves to more the 7 deadly sins or remove “sloth” and “gluttony” as those don’t quite fit as much as the other sins.

The Relm:  Below I have a 6 x 6 hex map (with 6-miles hexes) made with the ever-useful HEX KIT and just dropped as many castles as I could with about 20 miles apart (which is the amount of land able to be held by these building one). Another interesting thing is that Arthur’s England is far from depopulated in contrast to the old-school mindset. Most of the stories involve knights running into many different castles and having some sorta of conflict occur there. Finally, I drop 2-3 other features on there for fun especially woodlands which were ever present in the tales and a hotbed of questing/adventuring. Start small and build out from there. Don’t try to do too much at the start. If you have Dolmenwood, just carve out a 6x6 chunk from there and add in the already present factions and standards.

Quest Goal: An object of importance like a grail, a philosopher’s stone, a sword, a book, or a famed necromancer’s hand & eye could be the ultimate goal, but again in several of the stories simple adventuring for renown was good enough. So let’s also create a table for the reason for a lowercase “q” quest:

Roll 1d20 to determine why you are questing:

  1. To avenge another fallen knight, 

  2. evict unlawful owners, 

  3. avenge a maiden, 

  4. avenge a king, 

  5. rescue a maiden, 

  6. rescue another knight, 

  7. appear as another knight/unknown knight to perform X

  8. participate in a tournament, 

  9. lay siege, 

  10. break a siege, 

  11. A case of mistaken identity, 

  12. To settle an argument, 

  13. Because you were kidnapped or beguiled to a quest

  14. joust over who’s maiden is hottest/virtuous

  15. To atone for a previously committed offense

  16. Prove you are the toughest

  17. Remove bandits at X

  18. To capture/hunt a famous beast

  19. Just to see what happens to you

  20. Because GOD said to (Roll 1d20 again)

A “quest” whose objective is defined above might be worth something like 1000 XP. Now it might be that more or less XP could be earned by depending on how close to the Chivalric code a PC remains in the completions of this quest. XP still could be awarded for the value of objects recovered/given too, but in response to the code money cannot be a focus.

No Gold: Yup. A key here would be that PC should turn down monetary rewards for gifts or other forms of aid. Perhaps if they need to buy something it has to be bartered, a favor extended, or maybe roll a d8 vs their current level- if at or below, then the NPC has heard of their great deads and aggress to help them.

Your Princess [Brother, Cousin, Sister, Aunt, Uncle, Niece, Nephew, or In-Law] is in Another Castle: I would also make sure that a few of the other castles contain relatives of the PCs. Even in Arthurian stories, blood relations were always causing trouble for our “heroes”. This is a very nice gameable element and one that also might put a damper on always reaching for the sword.

Conflict Resolution the Arthurian Way: And how is conflict mostly resolved? A test of arms! Yes, there is a lot of jousting (mainly with a spear interesting) and often if a knight was unhorsed it was time to draw swords. Often the knight could be wounded severely enough they have to be dragged to the nearest hermitage on a litter. Enter OD&D jousting rules. But really you could use the more well-known combat rules as well. I might throw in a little something like “if an attack roll beats the opponent’s AC by 5+, the opponent makes a save vs. Paralysis or is knocked down.”

God: The almighty above always knows what is in the heart of a knight. So if the PCs have been bad or broken chivalric code they are going to be in trouble when the powers above (or below) start calling.

Final Word (?): Send me your blog links!

TORCHES (6): A RPG Microblog Collection 2


1HD MONSTERS ARE GREATER THAN THEY SEEM: Traverse Fantasy talks about how 1 HD monsters are a special case in that they often take effort to kill than their 1 HD indicates. The resulting math indicates that a 2 HD monsters for instance is not equal to two 1 HD monsters but instead two 1/2 HD monsters.

PORK FACES & ROMAN DARTS: In 2d AD&D, MU could use darts. In my pre-teens, I thought that was a silly weapon- a little throwing dart? Here is a video with a more accurate presentation of what these darts were. I like the use of pork shoulder to represent the size/density of someone's face.

RULES-AS-CLASS: Pretty neat here how this person had divided the player rules into little pamphlets for each old-school class; maybe I should do Serpent Song this way.

ABILITIES SCORES AS CHARACTER REACTIONS ACTS UNDER STRESS: Love this post by Zedeck where he talks about how DEX is more reflex than balance; maybe I should do Serpent Song this way as I have always liked the idea of save throws as prime stats.

PROCEDURE FOR BUILDING FACTIONS from Dungeonfruit. I especially like the note about giving factions specific & proactive goals.

SHARP "ESS" WORDS: Social combat from Amanda P over at Weird Wonder. This seems like a fun little system that could be employed in a lot of places or maybe as a sorta downtime activity too.


Art by the fantastic DiTerlizzi

In reading Marcia's review of her experience with Shadowdark, I contemplated on how I run my own OSE games. This is also fresh on my mind because I am running Miranda Elkins' fantastic Nightwick. Its all about distilling things down to the interesting choice and eliminating the non-interesting one.

Basic Equipment: I am thinking about charging my players a flat rate for all basic dungeoneering equipment that is rolled into weekly expenses-- so 7sp a week for expenses plus ~3-5sp for pick of equipment

  • Not interesting:  Cost of equipment, especially down to coppers
  • Interesting: Scarcity (what if there is no 50' rope this week?) and how many slots PC dedicates to basic equipment

Light: Due to torch cost and number per slot, it is easy to carry a lot of torches.

  • Not interesting: Carrying enough light to last 12-24 turns- easily done
  • Interesting: When torches extinguish-- like in the middle of a fight or when the goblins you are negotiating with get mad; how many hands in the party are occupied by torches
This is why I prefer to use the overloaded encounter die to simulate inopportune moments when a torch is snuffed out- gust of wind, dripping slime, bucket of sand thrown by a sneaky goblin. And with regards to hands, holding a torch potentially lowers AC, removes a weapon, or makes spell casting delayed (need both hands). One saving grace: torches are an improvised weapon that do 1d4 dmg and are on fire.

Stuck Doors: I now commonly interpret the 2-in-6 chance as a basic surprise roll. If they players fail it, they make a loud noise and alert anything on the other side of the door, but open it next round.
  • Not interesting: Rolling a d6 over and over again to see if PCs finally break down a door
  • Interesting: Seeing if PC get surprise on whatever is on the otherside; if additional equipment is brought to deal with doors
I usually like the idea that a crowbar allows and additional 1d6 rolled per individual with one.

Rations: This is similar to the situation with light, its easy to carry enough food/water for 2-4 hours which is more likely the time frame of a dungeon delve-- not a camping trip.
  • Not interesting: Tracking both food and water separately for nominal circumstances
  • Interesting: How many PCs carry rations; will rations be used for other things (like distracting monsters) or saved to avoid fatigue
For me the nature of rations are both food and water abstracted. So if a player want to use food as a distraction, mark off 1 rations. If a player wants to douse a small fire, use 2 rations as you frantically empty out a water skin and try to put out the fire consuming the spell book.

Secret Doors & Traps:  Two dungeon features that are opposite sides of the same coin. Really I think Chris McDowall has written some of the best bits on this that boil down to "traps are puzzles" and not really "gotcha".

  • Not interesting: Situations where the PCs have to pick the exact right spot and roll a 1-2 in 6
  • Interesting: Adding in environmental clues or other sources of information that allows discovery by players investigating the fictional environment
Now, I will keep both rolls as a back-up for either PCs not having a good idea and/or a back-up for perhaps me being unable to convey the fictional environment properly in the moment.

Weapons: I've yet to find a really good way to do weapons simply outside of 1d6 damage for all types. I don't mind BX's variable weapon damage. And I do like some old rulesets sorta "first strike" if your weapon is larger than an opponents other wise smaller, lighter weapons strike first in subsequent arounds.

So here is what I have got so far: Using a weapon two-handed is a +1 to damage, using an off-hand weapon is +1 to-hit, and a shield is of course +1 AC. I do like that fighters with bows can shoot twice if they did not move and the "cleave" ability.
  • Not interesting: Weapon factors that are so extensive they require a separate rules discussion, trigger player obsession, and/or orient the whole of gameplay to combat
  • Interesting: What PCs chose to do with their hands: more armor, more weapons, or more light
So that is it for now, if you'd like to see more of my house rules here is my post on the Serpent Song Hymnal. I hope to have a sorta player version created sometime soon but I'm still trying to dial-in what my go-to "french vanilla" D&D is like.

NIGHTWICK ABBEY: The Purple Eater of People Session 85

Previously in Nightwick...

This week's adventurers:

Blossom (Rogue 6)
Mechtilde (Fighter 5)
Mayfly (Magician 5)
Liminal Space (Changeling 4)
Krupe (Cleric 3)
Thekla (Magician 1)


With a "smaller" party of 6, the group decided to hire on two woodsmen and one too-pleasant peasant. The two woodsmen are hired to occupy the front lines to carry Mechtilde's tower shields. And the too-pleasant peasant will be our link-light. Assman (Fighter 1) joins as well.


THE EVER-SHIFTING ABBEY: The party's first challenge is not from the creatures in the Abbey, but the Abbey itself! After stepping through the 3rd level mausoleum doors, the sunlight that normally filters in is cut off. Instead when the party looks back the exit out is instead another hallway. "Damn." The party decides to do a recon of the surrounding area just to get a better sense of the extent of the reorientation (PC NOTE: This was due to some last-minute cleric casting to save the party during their last delve).

CRYPT OF THE GUARDIAN STATUES: The party realizes they are in a familiar room that once contained two animated stone statues, now destroyed, but the dungeon section leads somewhere else when moving west. The goal is still to find (1) pieces of the golden skeleton and (2) steal the crown of Valax. The party heads south and finds themselves again in familiar territory: two double doors lead to a large room where they once roasted several cultists. Good news! The party decides to gamble and turn east to see if the rest of the dungeon has remained the same.

STAIRS TO LEVEL 4: Through ossuaries, the party crawls and finds themselves back in front of the entrance to level 4- huzzah! It would have been terrible to lose knowledge of that entrance. With a little more treasure hunting in the adjacent ossuaries, the party finds their first objective- a golden right arm! Now we have another piece of the golden skeleton to Mayfly's delight and the rest of the party's general unease.

HALL OF SINNERS: The party travels a little further east and hits a "T" junction that might indicate they are close to their goal. They travel through a south door and enter a room covered in murals. Most of the party has been here before, however, with Mayfly in tow they notice a new image on the wall. The party is treated to a scene where Mayfly is being handed a rat with a human-looking face.

Liminal: Oh! Let's test the potion of Rat Control that Halfdan gave us!

Mayfly: NO! <slaps the potion to the ground shattering it> NEVER DO THAT!

Rest of the Party: ...

Mayfly: ...anyways...um...nothing to see here we should move on...

The party turns south and moves through another familiar room with a well-worn path leading west and knows that by moving southward it should be the chamber of Valax.

THE CHAMBER OF VALAX: The party listens at the door and hears a beckoning. The party kicks open the door to reveal a small chamber containing a hovering statue, with green-floating eyes, and a floating crown. Blossom checks for traps and finding none, the party proceeds forward with confidence. 

Liminal is the first to cross the threshold only to have the Abbey floor open up beneath him! Landing hard (PC NOTE: 12 dmg!), our changing is then met with gushing blood at the bottom- the party scrambles to throw him a rope just in time. Laughter can be heard coming from the statue which heralds a swarm of scarabs- the party retreats, Mayfly casts Fireball (PC NOTE: 24 dmg) and Mechtile quickly dispatches the rest. More laughter from the statue.

The party ponders how to cross the pit and get back quickly. Luckily, Mechtile has had two hirelings carry tower shields the whole time through this delve and the party constructs a bridge involving the shields, 10-foot poles, and blood-soaked rope. The party crosses the pit, snatches the crown, and retreats as alarmed cultists come through the eastern door!


The net total for this session is: 554xp each & 400sp each (which includes collected silver coins and the crown).

Nothing really to do with this delve,
but just want to show off my miniature efforts

WHERE HELL COMES TO PREY: Running Nightwick Abbey 02

I have just completed DMing my fifth session of Nightwick Abbey, an OSE megadungeon authored by Miranda Elkins and illustrated by Chris Huth. These posts will be a continuing effort to document this campaign I dubbed Where Hell Comes To Prey. I might try to keep the subsequent summaries to just highlights instead of following my usual pattern of room-to-room player reports.


Our Sunday Congregation:
Miriam M1
Adum F1
Froggie Fr1
Callus C1
Asterion F1

Session 5 FEB 18 Highlights: 
  • Evil Still Prowls: In Nightwick Village, graves continue to be upturned and woodsmen killed; two hirelings are taken on by the party; off to the Abbey

  • YOU ARE PREY!Discussions with amalgams of animal and human are held; PC attempt to build sympathy and trust but instead are betrayed and led to a pit-trap; one hireling dies and Miriam is grievously wounded; a fight ensues and Froggie is mortally wounded but quick action to bind wounds save him from death; several pieces of jewelry are collected

  • Holy Water, Holy $*%^&!: After dropping Froggy off at the church, the party returns with a new magician, an astrologer, and student of Saffory’s Principles of Arcane Dueling; they decide to drop into the pit to explore some hallways; their exploration leads them to a room full of dead all bowed in silent prayer– broken by the cleric’s attempt to turn them; at failure, the dead swordmen’s draw their weapons and charge; holy water, baptizing fire, and some mighty hammer swings; however the Abbey takes its due with a vicious sword through the gut of one of the fighters (DM note: Nat 20 for 6 damage)

Communing With The Abbey: It was around session 03 that I finally was able to dial in the feel that I wanted out of Nightwick. For example in Session 03, I had restocked the West Tower Entrance with 9 Blind Dead since the room also has a statue, I had the players open a door to some sorta of ceremony interrupted. I gave the players a space to negotiate and they bluffed their way into one character being possessed. This encounter contains the eeriness and danger that as a player I've always felt the Abbey has- a lot of high-risk possibilities that drive tense action.

Perfect Timing (With Adjustments): And speaking of tense action, I think the 100 minutes continues to be a good format. It plays quick and I don't feel overly exhausted at the end of it. I do think however, I might need to start caping players out at a table of 4-6 players. Because I am trying to keep to a brisk 100-minute period, it does help to go more times around the table, more rooms are explored, and more encounters can be had. When the table is 7,8, or 9 players, you can't squeeze as much decision-making in the same time-period.

Session Worksheet: I hope to post a little later, but I do have a session worksheet that I have figured out works to keep me on track. The front is devoted to the following
  • Downtime- list the downtime options available
  • Village Happenings- how gossip about the PCs and about factions moving in the background
  • Hirelings- a few hirelings that are available
  • Any additional item
On the back, I write the players' names and just use it to take notes as the session progresses, including jotting down enemy HP totals and treasure gained. I am thinking about adapting Gus L's Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier Expedition Sheet which includes a marching order tracker, turn tracker, and treasure gained.

Downtime in Zyan:  Sticking to the motto of using what I already own, I leafed through this 'zine to understand what I could employ when a player wanted to invest in Rupert vanToad's trading company. I decided to treat as a sorta institution:
  • Tier 1: A greater number of basic goods
  • Tier 2: +1 additional suits of armor
  • Tier 3: Can be treated as a "city" in terms of types of weapons/armor/equipment found there

Nightwick is still a fantastic dungeon to run and I can't wait to get to it! If you are interested, Miranda is running her new Vance-meets-Dunsany crawl Cuccanga over on Start Playing