THE SERPENT SONG HYMNAL: My Collection of Tables & Such for Running BX Dungeons & Dragons

I like this illo because it looks
like the heads are singing

Since running the "More Wine!", the wine cellar-turned-dungeon, I have been collecting various tables & rules that I always reach for when running the game. 

I have collected these into a document I call, The Serpent Song Hymnal.

If you have been around the old-school scene for a while, its really nothing surprising but I found it nice to have it all collected in one spot for my own reference. Its kinda feels like assembling my own lightsaber.

My aim is for it to be a living document that evolves as I run games, scratch out well-used results, add new ones, and add/subtract whole tables. It is also not intended to be a new RPG ruleset or anything like that, but more my reflection of BX D&D. The way I butter my toast.

I do have a sort of player version as well. This document is more d6 tables concerning the backgrounds of various classes and the "spin" I like to give them as well as generating equipment rapidly. But I've not quite settled on what I'm reaching for when I'm helping players. Some tables might need to be more concerned with motivations like what I did with Lair of the Lamb.

Here is the fighter for example:

FIGHTER (All receive: Sword, Dagger, Shield, Gambeson)
D12, W13, P14, B15, S16

1. Barbarian     Battle Axe, Horned Helm, Oil Flask (2x)
2. Hunter         Bow, Arrows (10x), Snare (2x 2:6 trigger)
3. Guard        Spear, Manacles + Keys, Whistle
4. Errant Axe, Javalins x 2, Chain
5. Mercenary     Bastard Sword (1 or 2 H), Chain
6. Bastard        Loyal Squire (follower), Ancestral Claim, Chain

ROOKS: A Kenku Cleric Class

Found this from some notebooks I had. Dated around 2016 which I think was when I was just getting an inkling about the OSR.

I love a good cleric class because they should be weird and unique and have built-in "goals" but often they get reduced to "healer". So here is a chaotic cleric class:


Domains: thieving, relics, theater, air

HD, Saves: As cleric

Armor, Weapons: As thief (cannot use sentient magic objects or those with a "purpose")

Alignment: Chaotic because they do not build only barrow/take/steal

Holy Symbol: thieves tools

Belief: To create new things/beliefs/magic ect is to create new ways to "sin"✤. Copying old sins is fine because while they should be avoided, they also already exist. Once no new sin can be created in the world- these raven folk will be gifted wings and the ability to fly.

Of particular importance is hunting down sentient magic objects and destroying them regardless of the alignment of that object. Because the objects often control other beings, which then build institutions, and that creates new sins.

"Something old, never new/Something borrowed, best its blue"

Borrowed Magic: May choose from the following 1st level Illusionist spells in addition to normal Cleric spells: Auditory Illusion, Glamour, Phantasmal Force, Spook, Wall of Fog

✤ What is the list of sins? Well just borrow a collection of them from other religions in your world

PAINT THE (VILLAGE) RED: A General Purpose Carousing Table


What self-respecting old-school blog would be complete without a carousing table? 

This is part of an effort to build my own pamphlet DMG, The Serpent Song Hymnal, which is a collection of tables and such that help me adjudicate games. I feel like doing this sorta thing was popular circa ~2009?

To improve the table, I think I would try to rewrite it to better match the specific campaign I was running so that it is a mechanism by which the PCs would come in contact with more named NPCs, factions, and whatever constitutes the "law", and maybe also more visitation from the gods/spirits in a Clash of the Titans sorta way. Maybe make it a d30 table which feels like a 2012 blog thing.

But I think the below is good enough for your generic dungeons. And please excuse the choppy wording- it was originally formatted for a column taking up half a page.


During downtime between sessions, the character spends 1d8 x 100sp, gains that much XP 1:1, and then makes a Save vs Poison:

  • If you fail the Save vs Poison then roll a 1d20 and consult the table below. 
  • If you do not have enough money to cover your carousing, then lose all your money, gain only 1/2 the XP, and roll on the table below.

1. What Happened?!: No memory of the night before. Lose all your money & a random valuable item.
2. Chug! Chug! Chug!: Consume a mysterious potion: (1-2) -1d6 hp, (3-4) Gaseous Form at the start of the adventure, (5-6) soft glow
3. Light. It. UP!: Burn down (1-2) your fav inn (3-4) the other fav inn (5-6) the blacksmith’s
4. New Ink is… (1) lame (2) blasphemous (3) on your face (4) misspelled (5) a map? (6) metal!
5. Magic Beans: 3 items replaced with 1 alleged magic bean (1:6 one bean is magic)
6. Outlaw!: Now all the king’s men are looking for you; few in town will deal with you
7. Pig!: Rebuffed advances of a MU & now cursed as a swine; Save vs spells next week 
8. BASTARD!: Insulted, your hirelings leave
9. Lover! Romantic Interest creates (1-2) jealous ex-lover, (3-4) angry parents.
10. Your Large Public Painting is (1-2) a defacement (3-4) slanderous, (5-6) immoral
11. Arrested: D6 x 100sp to bribe your way out or jailed until a bribe can be paid.
12. Enigmatic Gift: Its true nature remains unknown until a critical moment
13. Did That Seem Undercooked?: Save vs. Poison or gain a parasite
14. Gourmet Experience: (1-2) Mildly addictive, (3-4) +1 to CON, (5-6) Hallucinogenic.
15. Recent Convert: Replace class abilities with 1st level cleric for next adventure
16. Duel Challenger: Prepare to face a skilled opponent next week.
17. Mysterious Patron: Gain a mysterious benefactor who offers assistance in times of need for a price
18. Fame Backlash: Your newfound reputation attracts unwanted attention. Roll 1d6: (1-3) Annoying fans, (4-5) a 0-level camp follower, (6) Bounty hunters.
19. Strange Markings: Gain +1 RxN checks with occult enthusiasts, but -1 with religious types.
20. Divine Visitation: Experience a moment of clarity. Gain a prophetic vision related to your next quest.

DEVOTEES OF ORCUS: Hobgoblin Monks the Erasers of Afterlife Identity

More microblogging from the scrap pile.

I think the following might be one of the single best things I've written to make a BX monster seem fresh:

Monster Shaggy Humanoids: Bugbear monks are removing objects of identity from the human dead rendering them “lost” in the afterlife; Orcus approves of this

I don't say this because I think I'm an amazing adventure writer, but because this sentence is something that really satisfies a lot of requirements I have for good monster design of a type:

  1. it gives the monsters an activity other than just seemingly standing around when they encounter the PCs.
  2. it points toward a cultural bit that gives them a greater depth.
  3. especially for humanoid monsters, it involves religion and brings the afterlife a little bit more to the forefront of the game
  4. points toward something outside of the dungeon/place/plot they currently are involved in: "Wait if bugbears are doing this here, have they been doing this elsewhere? And for how long? And is this important? Should be be keeping tabs on this?"
Good stuff.

UNTITLED PROJECT: When The Church Can't Hear God

In an effort to "microblog" more and just get ideas out there, I've been going back through fragments of post not-yet-complete. 

May be a good setting for OD&D or pending the arrival of Fantasy Medieval Campaign. Maybe I should also mix this with Vermis. At any rate here is the setup in which I think I initially trying to create a setting where "law" is evil and "chaos" is good in a sorta inversion to D&D.


LAW: Steeple-punk pseudo-Catholic church that...

  • all-powerful and numerous
  • ...hoards artifacts
  • ...imprisons angels
  • ...can no longer hear god
  • ...believes those who can are demons
  • ...manifest low-level magic, but no longer can perform big miracles

CHAOS: peasant revolts, downtrodden prophets, hidden savors, "heretical" knights who...
  • ...can hear god
  • ...and often go mad
  • ...speak in tongues but not understood
  • ...few in number but manifest singular, but power magic
  • ...face infiltration from demons
  • ...face jealousy from angels
  • ...know god is trapped/inhibited
Those that hear the voice of god can only know after they die?

CON JOB: Brief Reflections On Convention D&D

A last reflection on my con experience a few months back. Never hit post so thought I'd get it up later than "never".

CON Games are an interesting species of game to me because they feel like a sorta "exhibition one-shot". Maybe I put too much pressure on myself to rep BX D&D, ensure people have a good time, and ensure folks don't think I suck at DMing. For ReaperCon 2022 and 2023 I ran Through Ultan's Door and Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier.

I wanted to give people a micro experience with BX from rolling characters to dungeon delving. Rolling characters to showcase the speed of old-school D&D and dungeon crawling to showcase player-driven adventuring, instead of laying out signs painted with arrows toward the end.

The point of rolling characters is it showcases the speed with which characters can be created in BX. For both of my games, 6 players were about to roll complete characters with equipment and small backgrounds in ~25 min.

My two con games were four hours. But I really wish I had planned them for 3. First, because playing for 3 hours means you generally give folks a 1-hour "break" for them to do other things before the next slot starts. And second, it helps not to go overly long if it turns out it is not something folks are really into.

To me, the most difficult thing about con games is sticking the "landing" particularly when using dungeons which are more geared toward a more methodic 3-5 game session. By sticking a landing, you give the player the feeling of a completed arch and a sorta sense of accomplishment. For the Ultan's players that was getting the mark after a fight with the priests and follows of a rival god. For the Tomb Robbers players that was releasing then pledging loyalty to the Red Queen- a short narration gave them a sense of what that choice meant.

I can't decide if it is better to run something between a large battle map or a much smaller modular dungeon like the one Frank Mentzer supposedly ran in public games (redrawn here by Dyson Logos). 

And next year I will try and ask folks two things they liked and one thing they would want more of in a game just to better understand what folks want from a convention game.

TO SUN SATURATED ISLES 03: Adventuring in Cuccagna

In the sun-soaked isles this week, my regular character Skleras is taking a bit of a rest after losing his hand to a geo-thermal vent. So, I rolled up two additional characters and set off with the rest of the party to investigate the palace of the missing Sea King.

Velveteen la Bleu (sibling to Neuf): STR 10 DEX 12 CON 15 WIS 13 INT 11 CHA 10 HP 8 (7+1); notable starting equipment- a smuggle bunny.

Velveteen was able to help the party enter through other routes into the palace and eventually stumble into a large hallway with a monstrous octopus. With an auspicious start of firing off an arrow that hit with a natural 20 and for 6 damage, he was stabbed through the head for 10 points of total damage by the devil-fish.

The party moves through the palace coming upon several large ugly fish buried a sandy hallway. After dispatching these ugly fish and cutting them open for fillets, out slides...

Ambrose de Iles (landless noble): STR 14 DEX 13 CON 13 INT 13 WIS 07 CHA 14 HP 9 (8+1); notable starting equipment- a worthless title (PC NOTE: Absolutely one of the best characters I have ever rolled)

Ambrose is on a quest to gain enough money to buy back his title or at least improve the claim the title pertains to in order to increase the title's worth. He is wasteful but honest.

He is also dead too. 

The reason for his death is climbing atop a large idol AD&D Player's Handbook style and prying out the ruby. It took him a few turns at which point several 7ft tall crab men were alerted to the party's presence. With precious seconds ticking by Ambrose pops the ruby out!

A strange pale heavy fog emerges from the opening covering Ambrose!

Save vs. Poison...rolls...5...

Ambrose's body slides off the statue, hits the soft sand floor, and is devoured by crabmen while the rest of the party absconds with the ruby.