LET THERE BE LIGHT: Making Light More On/Off

The Problem: Generally drawing a dungeon map as you go only to the extent of the light source radius is a pain. And other players tracking who has the torch is "meh" as well. Most players don't like to track torches or give up a weapon or shield. The actual benefits of using a torch or lantern are pretty vague in BX as are the detriments of darkness (the below taken from Old School Essentials). 

  • Darkness: Characters will usually want to bring a source of light with them on underground expeditions. Typical light sources enable normal vision within a 30’ radius.
  • Torch: A torch burns for 1 hour (6 turns), clearly illuminating a 30’ radius. Torches may also be used in combat (melee, 1d4 dmg).
  • Light and Surprise: Characters or monsters that carry a light in a dark environment are usually unable to surprise opponents because the light gives their presence away.
  • Suprise in BX D&D: 

    • Each side that is not already aware of the other’s presence rolls 1d6.
    • Monsters: The referee rolls for monsters. PCs: One player rolls for the adventuring party as a whole.
    • Results: A result of 1 or 2 means the side is surprised.
    • Effects of Surprise: Both sides surprised: There is simply a momentary confusion—neither side has any advantage. One side surprised: The side that is not surprised gains a one round advantage. The surprised side cannot act that round.
I think we can also infer a few other things about sight, light, and darkness from spells and monsters:
  • The Light spell: "Blinding a creature: By casting the spell upon its eyes. If the target fails a saving throw versus spells, it is blinded for the duration. A blind creature cannot attack."
  • Invisible Stalker: "Surprise: On a 1–5, unless target can detect invisibility."
  • Pixie: Invisible: Naturally invisible, but may choose to reveal themselves. May remain invisible when attacking: cannot be attacked in the first round; in subsequent rounds, maybe attacked at –2 to hit.
But anyone whose ever been in a cave, unlit alley, or dark basement knows that the need and desire for light is strong. So I would like to compress the above rules into a sort of toggle: With Light or No Light. This I think makes it easier to judge and incentivizes the PCs to use light sources:

Vision: as normal up to radius
Search: +1
Suprise: on 2 in 6; can't surprise others
Encounter: begins at the radius
Combat: as normal up the radius

Vision: vauge impressions, large features
Search: impossible
Suprise: on 5 in 6; can surprise others
Encounter: begins at 1d6 (1-2 10', 3-4 20', 5-6 30')
Combat: cannot attack only grapple (or maybe -4 to-hit)

DAVID WESELY: The Godfather of RPGs

Darwin's finches by Gould.jpg
Finches by Chuck Darwin

Despite what you read on the internet, D&D was NOT birthed from a wargame*. D&D arose when Gary Gygax was invited to a game Dave Arneson's Blackmoor which was a spin-off of David Wesley's Braunstein game.

Here is an old post from Pits Perilous who interviewed Wesley about the Braunstein game. Which is a great companion piece to the documentary The Secrets of Blackmoor and the book, Playing at the World.

* Its combat system certainly was, but not the idea of roleplaying individuals delving a dungeon under a castle. You switch any skirmish-size combat system into D&D and it will still feel like D&D.

THE CHARACTER SHEET: A Framework For Your Players


The above picture is of the character sheet I created for my BX Castle Xyntillan game. The images are from Nate Treme's awesome Highland Paranormal Society Patreon.

Because the players for my Castle Xyntillan game have come from 5e, I really wanted to make sure I had a character sheet that would, in part, convey the focus of BX (and old-school) play in my eyes and have all the numbers they would need to assess risk or perform actions.

LEFT: Character Description
Pretty standard. The usual lines for name, level, class, race, etc were left as one big blank box because I agree with the idea of leaving as much white space as I can for doodling. Likewise instead of trying to somehow anticipate all the background information that too is a big white box.

Background: Now the one thing I did change was adding a 2-in-6 roll for "use of background".  The Advanced Genre Rules of OSE provides a table of possible character backgrounds similar to those found in the 1e DMG. Players seem to like to have descriptors of their lives before adventuring, so the die roll helps define what they can do with it. Not high because if they were successful, then they wouldn't be adventures.

So between class, background (2-in-6), WIS, and INT, a player has a good assessment of what a character knows and to what extent they know it.

RIGHT: Equipment & Burden
Slot-based equipment tracking is my preferred method. And at the top of the sheet, I've tried to include broad categories of how many slots weapons, armor, treasure, and equipment take up. I think equipment, its standard, and imaginative use, are core to the old-school experience. Equipment defines us in the modern-day and I am very sure even more so in "ye olden days". As mentioned, equipment assists in imaginative play because it gives a player additional tools to resolve encounters.

A big problem handing out a party Bag of Holding, a common practice of 5e, is that individual players lose track of the variety and number of tools they have. The only things left in front of them on their character sheet are weapons, magic, and character abilities. With 5e, these are often all 80% combat-focused. So combat is 90% the answer. But if you realize you have a 50' rope, marbles, a bell, and rations? Well, an alarm, distraction, or ladder could be created. All very interesting.

But I did not place it in the center because it would be too much blank space. However equipment, and here "BURDEN", needs to be thought of first before combat. So it has a far more prominent place. I switched equipment and encumbrance to "BURDEN" because I wanted the character to be weighed down by the literal and metaphorical. Both treasures and sins are heavy. And because we have a slot-based system its easy to make those equal.

The hands at the top are to give the player a couple of "free slots" but also to reinforce a basic and important choice about what you are carrying in your hands. Light is important, but so could a weapon or shield. Kinda prevents that "juggling" were players have 2-4 items almost floating around them.

Finally, for new players understanding that equipment is important and what is needed can be daunting so here is a "fast pack" determined by Gygax to be the basic equipment a player needs:
"Gax" Pack (9 slots total)

CENTER: Exploration, Save Throws, Health, and Combat
In the end, this section is what I want players' eye to wander to the most and to consider the most. And I want players to also consider each "module" in that order. As a player in BX D&D:
  1. Exploration is performed at a certain rate hindered by your armor and BURDEN
  2. Exploration Actions can uncover important features: traps, secrets, and enemies
  3. Save Throws are often a result of exploration actions and "Death" is put at a high position
  4. Heath is affected by Exploration, Exploration Actions, and Save Throws
  5. Combat can occur, but it should not be the first thing considered in an encounter
So, exploration is front and center for the players. They see that armor and BURDEN affect that and its an important choice: heavy armor (4/6 slots) is more protective but cuts hard on speed and how much you can carry. This also (hopefully) encourages hireling use. Hirelings can spread the weight of equipment, treasure, and be extra hands in a fight.

Exploration Actions are an attempt to unite all the various "sensory rolls" in BX: force doors, hear, and find things.  I hope it immediately prompts players to investigate the space specifically, beyond "I roll preception/INT". Again, I hope that actions also make players think about how they can improve their chances. Space was also left for additional exploration actions or extra sensory perceptions.

Save throws are a classic in D&D and players, especially new ones, to old-school play need to be made aware of their prominence in the game. Saves personify risk and truly occupy a game space between exploration and combat. They are free-form like the former but often result in damage or death like the latter.

Health is at risk with all of the above and even before a player gets into a combat situation, their health might have been modified by a poison needle, pit trap, or magic ward. Why crowns? I don't really know. I wanted some variation of the flaming heart, but this weirdly works. I did want hit dice to be a more prominent number because I use it for grappling: PC HD roll vs. Opponent HD roll; modified by STR/DEX; highest wins.

SUMMARY: In short, I want players to focus on what their characters are doing in-game; that cause and effect and less how all of their character parts work like a Swiss watch. So I tried to create a character sheet that helps that by focusing on in-game actions.

SHRINES: Clerical power on a budget

Mea Culpa | Blasphemous Wiki | Fandom
Mea Culpa Shrine from Blasphemous

In response to my Twitter post on Castle Xyntillan, The Byzantine chimed in to comment and through the magic power of the internet, I was lead to their very nice post on shrines. This is used in their Xyntillan campaign and I think I will add it as well.
  • Beautific Sun (Rakehell setting)
  • Brass Sun (Rakehell setting)
  • Selenite Host (Rakehell setting)
  • Wheel of Fortune

The basic idea is that a person or party makes a sacrifice (5/10/15 gp) at a shrine and the party (or at least all the believers of that deity) gain a first level spell (and more) (in D&D terms; in GLOG terms its 1 spell die). Now the only person who can cast that spell is someone who worships the deity, but they can bestow it to anyone in the party. Should the party want more than one, well they will have to split along religious lines.

Or you could organize your deities along oppositional lines and you can only blessings from several shrines as long as none of the deities are not in opposition to each other.

But this shrine idea got me to revisit the concept of slot-based encumbrance as "BURDEN" which could also measure the weight of sin. So what about piety? The most slots of BURDEN you devote to a god, the more rewards you receive from them.

You could carry multiple gods around, resulting in a wider range of spells, but all lower levels. Or you could become a devotee to one god and gain deeper more powerful access to spells.

Maybe druids would be those who devote slots to a particular element and gain spells and powers based on a shared keyword like "fire" or "water".

BEGINNING SPELLBOOKS: Get Wizard's Going Quick

I think second to picking equipment, spell selection is the second thing that slows character creation down. So I looked through the level 1 spells and created themed spellbooks. I tried not to repeat any of the spells so each book is unique. The addition of the level 2 spell is to incentivize getting there.

Interestingly, while Readings on Astral Combat contain the most combat-oriented magic and therefore the most powerful, I think the other three books actually solve problems that might stimy level 1 BX PCs or lead to the greatest reward from an early dungeon.

Its might also be interesting to write a dungeon using obstacles implied by level 1 spells.


Ultra Violet Grasslands (now ENnie nominated!) by Luka Rejac is a wonderful book that distracts you so much with beautiful evokative art that you might miss some of the awesome rules tucked away in there. One of my favorites is below: SPELLS ARE INVENTORY TOO


A character in UVG can carry about 10 significant items. So spells can take up slots just like any other item, tool, or weapon. Spells carry a psychic weight which encumbers the character. And this makes sense in my experience. One can be so occupied with a problem that it literally weighs you down. But riffing on that, why stop at magic? 

Magic items could also take up extra encumbrance due to the psychological weight of carrying them despite their size- like Frodo and the Ring at the end of LotR. Elric's Stormbringer might be another. A good candidate might be the Deck of Many Things- just a deck of cards, but the weight of its potential fate-changing power is great.

More mundane items could do the same thing. For instance, if your PC is carrying the decapitated head of a ruler. A head might take up 1 slot, but the psychological weight could make it greater. Extending this further, what about sins or breaking of oaths? 

Every time the PC sins or goes against some aspect of their background, oath, or pledge- they have slots taken up. It's an additional tangible way the player can understand and experience their choice without resorting to taking negatives on to-hit and skill rolls.

This I think is quite interesting.

EDIT: Also would be good for "obligations" the PCs might pick up. Non-trivial things they know they should do but aren't getting around to doing. This might be particularly useful in a hex crawl.

EDIT2: Could also be used for curses like lycanthropy or ghoulification. Each aspect of the curse would be listed as its own set of 1-3 slots. Again representing the burden of the knowlege the PC carries about thier inner desires.

Well, if you can't get rid of it you can make it smaller via compartmentalization. Options include:
  • Complete your obligation (removal)
  • Seek holy intervention to pardon your guilt (removal)
  • Undertake a quest (removal)
  • Wear an object or talisman or keepsake (compress from X slots to 1 slot) but NPCs know your sin
  • Give in to the desire or curse (compresses from X slots to 1 slot) but DM controls your actions
SUMMARY- I think I really like this idea. It is a way to add player choice in how PCs manifest and deal with psychological guilt/curses/desires/transgressions/sin etc. It promotes its exploration without putting it at the center of the game. And it has a real meaningful (but not intrusive) game impact.