Thursday, January 18, 2024

What Else Have I Got in Me?

Brechewold's been done for a little while. Still incredibly pumped to have this labor of love out in the company of LotFP's marvelously creative body of work.

I'm definitely taking a breather from big projects. But I don't intend for this to be my only publication. What else has been rattling around in my brain?

Low-Hanging Fruit

Prison Island NY-1

This is my mashup of Escape from New York, The Warriors, Ninja Turtles, and all the trashy dystopian NY-centric fiction of my youth. I originally intended it to be set in a US conquered by Imperial Japan during World War II. I meant the prison island as a fuck you to the US Japanese concentration camps during the war, but the longer I sit with it the more I think that it probably won't be taken that way. And you know what? The US doesn't need any help from an Axis power to be shitty and fascist. So I'll probably rework the backstory.

Much of the material for this is done. I'd like to use it as an exercise to learn how to properly lay out a book myself. Right now it uses modified Into the Odd rules. I'm currently looking into whether it might benefit from using the Cy_Borg rules instead.

Kapuluan Kup

A short adventure detailing an aeronautical race through a tropical archipelago in the midst of civil war. Intended as an homage to Hayao Miyazaki and his love of vroom vroom planes. This will probably use its own rule set (modified Into the Odd unless I decide otherwise) and I'll likely just put it out myself. The main holdup right now is figuring out how to handle the mechanics of a long distance race.

Friday Night Frights

An anthology of simple setups for horror movie style one-shots, one per page spread. I love running these, like this one here.

Middle-Distance Fruit

Hamlet 2

I mean, the idea writes itself, doesn't it?

Brechewold sequel, tentatively "The Red Ledger of Brechewold"

I want to write a rare kind of adventure - one designed specifically for domain-level play. It would pick up after graduation and use the characters' student debt to draw them into working for the interdimensional entity that "underwrites" Brechewold's magical energy. Definitely more ambitious than the first book, and it would require domain management rules. I've never been incredibly happy with any that I've read before, so as daunting as it feels, I would likely write my own.

Pie in the Sky

Brechewold double-sequel, tentatively "The Green Mirror of Brechewold"

This would complete the trilogy of adventures and move play into the "intended" endgame of 80s Basic D&D - Immortal-level epic dimension-hopping shenanigans. Besides the name and the vague intention, though, I don't have anything for it yet.

We Are Not Alone

I wrote this board game during the pandemic about national competition during an alien invasion. The rules are complete and alpha-tested, but I don't know a thing about game balance or how to take this idea over the finish line.

Eldritch Grasp

This is a sort of proof-of-concept "two-level" board game, with some players as heavy metal wizards vying for power and other players as warriors working for the wizards. Alpha rules are done, but only a few of the multitude of player characters, monsters, equipment, and spells that this would require are written. Again, no idea how to get a board game made.

Lord of Heaven

This beast of an idea is set in a galaxy-wide space fantasy war. There would be two levels to it: a grand strategy board game in the vein of Diplomacy linked to a tabletop miniatures skirmish game that could help decide the outcome of the board game. No rules written, only vibes. 

Thursday, January 11, 2024

How a Brechewold Campaign Works

I have been delinquent in letting you know that Brechewold has been available from the LotFP US web store for some time. If you’ve been waiting to save on shipping, now’s the time. If you live outside the US and want a physical copy, go here, and if you want a PDF, go here.

I was never that interested in writing a book about sitting in class. I suppose I could have cracked the code to making fantasy school interesting, but I think most high school fiction agrees with me here. I’m sure there are ways to do it, but here’s the thing: school is kind of a railroad. If the focus of the game were the classroom, then everything would already be predetermined. There are far more student-directed educational models, of course, but I didn't want to convey that kind of vibe with Brechewold. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It would also necessitate entirely different mechanics, and I wanted to make a dungeon game. I could certainly imagine a guided-dungeon-as-lesson type thing, but for some reason that rubs me the wrong way. "Today's quiz is the flying axe puzzle room, students." I think the guided nature would run counter to the sense of discovery, my favorite part of D&D.

No, I'm far more interested in the "we're not supposed to be here" feeling. So here's the engine of the campaign I did write: PCs select courses at the beginning of the term, but their main function is to impart secrets that will hopefully entice players to investigate further. I like to think of the course catalogue as an a la carte rumor menu that should align with player interests since they picked the courses themselves. Each term will have one major investigation, so there's a ticking clock in the background: after four years (eight terms), the PCs graduate.

The courses also act as a way for PCs to begin building relationships with the professors. There's a web of intrigue going on behind the scenes, and in my experience players tend to side with the professors whose courses they've most selected. You'd be surprised how much loyalty picking an imaginary course from a list can create.

For a long time in my playtesting, I was using milestone experience. I don't think I'll ever use it again. It seemed like the obvious choice: at the end of the term, PCs pass their classes and level up. Graduating is about the closest real-life analog to leveling up most people experience. But it provided no incentive to explore and take risks. Even worse, it seemed to rob my players of forward momentum - they asked me several times, "So, what are we supposed to do next?"

So I went back to the old standby, XP for GP. It might not be the flashiest or most innovative reward system, and yes, it prioritizes greedy accumulation, but boy does it just work. I tried to put a little twist on it - PCs only earn XP for treasure they use to decorate their common room, hopefully evoking a feeling of a frat house full of junk that all tell stories of past glory.

This will be my last navel-gazing Brechewold post for now. Up next: what does the future hold?

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Into the Megadungeon

Just a quickie to let you know that if you're not following Ben Laurence's new podcast Into the Megadungeon, you are doing yourself a serious disservice. I'm sure his blog Mazirian's Garden has a wider reach than mine, but goodness gracious this is good stuff. So far, he's interviewed James Maliszewski, Nick Kuntz, and Gus L, and I've thoroughly enjoyed each. Don't sleep on it.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Brechewold Forest Design Notes (and Available Now!)

The Yellow Book of Brechewold is now available in print and PDF on Lamentations of the Flame Princess's EU online store (which ships worldwide), or just PDF on DriveThruRPG. If you're in the US and want to save on shipping, it should eventually be available from LotFP's US online store. If you pick it up, and especially if you use it, let me know what you think.

Besides writing a big ol' dungeon, another of my design goals for Brechewold was to “cook with all the flavors of vanilla.” There’s weird shit in there (or at least I hope so, or it doesn’t belong on a “weird fantasy” publishing label), but the weird shit serves to complement and enhance the classic shit rather than completely subvert it. 

And by classic, I mean largely pre-Tolkien/Moorcock/etc - things that would be classified as “medieval romance” rather than fantasy. I’m talking Arthurian legend, Robin Hood, Shakespeare, and the meanest fairies you ever met. And for the most part, I’ve tried to separate the classic elements into the forest and the more esoteric stuff into the school dungeon. There's a difference in tone, too - where the dungeon is creepy, the forest is often farcical. I think of the forest as a "medieval British Disneyland." There's exceptions to this - I think the fairy knights in the forest encounters are the creepiest thing in the book - but they're there to stand out rather than set the tone.

So, hopefully the feeling Brechewold evokes is a real artisanal, hand-churned vanilla sundae with a few sardines and habaneros mixed in that the ice cream shop didn't mention - but they're truly excellent sardines and habaneros. Contrasts in tone are a powerful tool for highlighting the really strange or dramatic parts of a setting. If everything is one note, there's no melody.

Some features of the forest:

  • Generators for the aforementioned fairy knights, plus original recipe knights.
  • Solitary giants and trolls in a variety of flavors. I decided that each troll has a season in which its power is at its height, and is less dangerous the rest of the year.
  • Speaking of which, there are encounter tables for each season. There are mainstays that appear throughout, but I wanted to create a rhythm to the year with the differences. I've never seen this done before, but I'm sure you'll correct me in the comments. Nevertheless, this was an idea I had all by my lonesome that I like a lot.
  • A coven of witches headed by Arthur's half-sister Morgause.
  • A band of outlaws that rob from the rich and give to the poor in service of their militant anarcho-syndicalism.
  • Shrines to misfit saints, like St. Demelza the Hard-to-Read and St. Cadwaladr Who Did Not Die Very Easily. They grant various boons.
  • A relic from the Last Supper (not that one).
  • Various native plants and other resources that have uses elsewhere in the setting or can be baked into a magic pie.

I'll write one more design post on the faculty and the engine that supports player choice - the course catalogue.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Design Notes for Brechewold's Big (Not Mega) Dungeon

At its heart, Brechewold is a failed megadungeon. Actually, it began life as this post, a way to quickly generate wings of a magic school. However, I’ve come to see random generators as best for smaller dungeons, where the results can be made coherent more easily. In a larger environment, especially where the generator must be repeated, things tend to take on a bland sameness, no matter the creativity of the random tables.

I set out to turn the original post into a completely keyed megadungeon. In my naïveté, I thought this might end up being a short pamphlet that I could put up on DriveThruRPG. Well, I got to 101 rooms, got tired, liked the symbolism of the number, and stopped. That’s big, but to me “mega” should evoke feelings of endlessness and incomprehensibility. We can argue over how many rooms it takes to create that feeling (300?), but I don’t think I hit it.

Still, I do think the dungeon is big enough for my purpose. It supports many delves and is dense enough to require several trips to the same location to explore it fully.

So, the center of a Brechewold campaign is the big ol’ dungeon below the castle in which the school resides, representing older, abandoned parts of the school and previous inhabitants of the site. It has seven levels. Do I need to say that if you read on you could spoil something for yourself?

I. Cellars - This is the most conventional dungeon, with a few booby traps, some neat tricks and boons, and an avoidable boss monster ghost. It’s training wheels for Brechewold and aimed especially at people who are new to old school play (most of my players).

II. Aviary - An experiment in building a concentric dungeon - in this case, concentric bird cages. There are helpful birds, dangerous birds, and birds in between. Most importantly, there’s a game of snakes and ladders - as in, you’re actually supposed to play the board game. There’s also a disgraced professor in hiding who could function something like a merchant, but the real secret on this level is the hidden armory of crazy staves, inspired by the scene in if…. when they find all the military-grade weapons and turn them on the teachers.

III. Orrery - This has the first of four secret sub-levels, a castle on Mars reachable by a magic carpet. It also contains a big anti-gravity orrery that clever players could use as an ambush, and two secret rooms: one that holds an item that makes the “end” of the dungeon considerably easier, and another where the eponymous Yellow Book resides.

IV. Antiquities and Alchemy - I’m pretty proud of the Dream Vault sublevel here, where some characters need to act in the real world while others act in a parallel dreamland to unlock a magic item. It’s the most Zelda part of the book. The alchemist’s laboratory is full of my favorite kind of dungeon shit: stuff the players know their characters shouldn’t mess with, but they can’t help themselves.

V. Archive and Ruins - This is where the school starts to give way to older inhabitants of the site, like a dwarf fortress and the tomb of a Celtic chieftain. There’s a dwarven gate to other dimensions operated by binary, which to me feels very logical for dwarves to do. Not sure how easy that will be to figure out. There are also some goblins running a diploma mill, of course.

VI. Demonium - I’m also very proud of the way to get into this level: you have to let your character be killed by an evil doppelgänger, which is some Metal Gear Solid type shit. This is where the dungeon really starts to take on a metaphysical Mythic Underworld character. There’s a gate to Hell, natch.

VII. Crystal Cave - This is where Nimue is guarding Merlyn trapped in crystal. You didn’t think he was really gone, did you?

Interconnectivity: One of the most important ways to make a dungeon really sing (and feel disorienting) is to provide lots of connections between levels. On the first level alone, there are less-than-obvious ways to get to every other level. In fact, there is an extremely easy way to get to the very end of the dungeon - It just requires a (literal) leap of faith and will hopefully feel obvious in hindsight.

I’ll be back next week with more about the book’s other components. On sale now at Gen Con, booth 2930.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

The Yellow Lamentations of the Brechewold Princess

Jesus, it's been too long. Has time truly progressed to this late date?

Here are my excuses:

1. Had a baby.

2. Any surplus energy has gone into Brechewold. Happy to report it is now done.

The Yellow Book of Brechewold will be published imminently by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. How imminently? If you’re going to Gen Con, James will sell you a book tomorrow. Sadly I will not be in attendance (see: baby). For the rest of us, it will be available on the web store August 11.

So what is it?

First of all, I think it may be the tamest and most trad-D&D book in the Lamentations catalogue. There are elves in it, for Christ’s sake. This makes me feel a bit inadequate, while at the same time filling me with a perverse sense of satisfaction.

Nevertheless, I think it was this description that sold James on the project: it is what would have happened if Jack Vance had written Harry Potter as a sequel to T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. There is a magic school founded by long-gone (?) Merlyn full of amoral scheming wizards and deep dungeons beneath. I think of the surrounding enchanted forest as a sort of medieval British Disneyland, with knights in shining armor, merry men, and the like. Hopefully Monty Python references are still cool in 2023.

I’ll be back with more Brechewold coverage later in the week. For now, check out the table of contents:

Saturday, November 13, 2021

People of the World, Spice up Your Life

 I have seen the Dune. It’s good, but, like all “content” now, too long.

The forms of many designs are quite nice (love the costumes of the imperial delegation at the beginning), but they forgot to color them in. I suppose I’m too infected by the lurid vision of Jodorowski’s Dune.

In fact, much about the new adaptation is beautiful yet muted - the cinematography, the storytelling, the performances. It makes good sense for a story about careful politics and intrigue, but I somehow still prefer the bad sense and wild life of Lynch’s movie. Call me contrarian. Of course, when it comes to depicting the idiosyncratic combat and warfare of the book, Villeneuve wins hands down.

Monday, June 14, 2021


Did you know Machiavelli looked like this goof?

Getting political has been the main way to keep higher-level play from becoming too easy or repetitive since basically forever in D&D. There isn’t much about it on the character sheet, though, so it’s not always clear how to do it. I’m going to try to break it down into straightforward steps that I’ve learned through trial and error.

Politics involve goals, power, and opportunity.


You can have politics in one hex, town, or even dungeon if there are individuals or groups with differing goals. However, completely incompatible goals like, “The ogre wants to eat livestock,” and, “the farmers want to keep their livestock,” won't usually result in politics, unless the PCs are interested in negotiating some sort of livestock-sharing agreement. Partially incompatible goals will allow for negotiations, diplomacy, and betrayal. If some actors actually have the same goals but for conflicting reasons, things will become even more complex.

What to do: When you write notes about the inhabitants of an area (including monsters), make sure you add, “and they want...” Make some goals incompatible, but others partially compatible, and still others the same but for different reasons.


Power is the ability to accomplish goals. It is rare for an individual to be able to accomplish all its goals alone. Politics, therefore, is, “the art of the possible:” that is, combining power until it is possible to accomplish a goal.

Power can come from different sources. They tend to boil down to belief, force, knowledge, and wealth (these mirror the four core classes of cleric, fighter, magic user, and thief nicely).

  • Belief can be religious, but it doesn’t have to be. Any ideal, ethic, or opinion is a belief, and the more widely they are shared, the more power they have. “The emperor rules by the Mandate of Heaven,” and, “a democratically elected government represents the will of the people,” are both beliefs that confer power.
  • Force can be overt, like armies, or covert, like assassinations. Fear of force can often be enough to accomplish goals.
  • Knowledge is the stretchiest category, but it often involves technical skill, secrets (i.e. blackmail), or (in D&D) magic or the occult.
  • Wealth means resources, either physical or monetary. In D&D, money isn’t different from any other resource. There is usually only one currency (gold pieces), and everyone values it, including monsters. In real life, money is a belief masquerading as a resource, but you don't need to get into that unless you have a very specific set of players.
Other axes of power are old vs. new and class vs. class. There are always established power centers struggling to stay at the top and upstarts threatening to dethrone them. There almost doesn’t need to be more of a reason for conflict than that. Furthermore, a high-status actor won’t usually betray their own class interest unless there’s a really good reason. Low-status actors will be more likely to betray class interests if they stand to gain from it.

What to do: Answer these questions for your setting: who holds power through belief? Who holds it through force? Who holds it through knowledge? Who holds it through wealth? Sometimes actors hold power through a combination of sources.

Then, ask the reverse question: who requires someone else's source of power to meet their goals? You will start to see who might attempt to ally with whom.


Actors will not always be able to wield their power to accomplish their goals right away. For example, the Bush administration inherited the power of force to invade Iraq, but they could not do so until they created public will through the belief in "weapons of mass destruction" and "ties to terrorism." Often, one actor making a move provides the opportunity for another to make a move.

What to do: As you play, look for conditions that give actors the opportunity to wield their power in their interest. I don't really have a system for doing this - I just ad hoc it. It helps to have all major goals written down in one place, so you can easily reference them.


Individuals will often pool power into organizations to pursue a shared goal. However, only the smallest organizations have truly uniform goals. There will always be differences of opinion, rivalries, and even those using the power of the organization for their own selfish ends. All organizations are essentially the same, be they clubs, churches, mafias, or kingdoms. The more powerful the organization, the more likely it is for individuals to join purely to advance themselves, with no regard for the organization’s stated project. 

What to do: In any organization you make, build in a few factions and rivalries. If it is powerful, include members who are purely selfish.

PCs First

An important thing to remember is that the PCs are the center of the campaign. If the players don't really seem interested in engaging in the politics of the setting, don't foist it on them. If it's fun for you, keep it humming in the background, changing the power environment that the PCs find themselves in. If and when politics becomes relevant to the PCs’ own goals (the most important goals in the game), they will engage with it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Tales of Brechewold

 A few stories:


One of my Brechewold groups has discovered a hoard of golden items in the dungeons: furniture, dish wares, decor, etc. They are the results of Ina the Alchemist’s experiments with the Fool’s Stone. However, they revert back to their original material when touched - a “reverse Midas” situation. They’ve already made good use of it. 

The Empty Knights (enchanted suits of armor) that guard the dungeons can be befriended if one places a literal heart of gold in their opened chest cavity. Upon hearing this, my players asked if there were any taxidermied animals in the gold collection. Of course there were (how could I say no?), so with a combination of an Unseen Servant, a little dissection, and some broom slap shots, they made some new friends.

This group also wants to use the magic forge in the dungeons to make magic weapons out of a troll’s iron heart, and it turns out that the troll most powerful in the forest in Autumn is Miser, who eats gold and silver. Well, they’ve swept some gold nicknacks into a bag, and are off to bait a troll trap.


Another group is more interested in forest economics than dungeon delving. They have secured a Series A round of funding from the lord of the nearby town Ygraine to start a guided tour company with noted local travelogue writer Steve Ricks. They have also convinced the bees of the Llewyn Family Meadery to unionize. They’re simultaneously bringing capitalism and socialism to Brechewold forest. The Merrye Bande of Merrye Outlawes, a group of anarcho-syndicalists, is therefore keen to make their acquaintance.


My third group has recently found out that Merlyn imprisoned a white dwarf star on Mars as a heat source to forge a replacement for Excalibur. The star is (understandably) disgruntled, and the group has convinced themselves that it poses them an existential threat. They are therefore considering their options to deal with it. Currently in the running are finding the gate to Hell in the dungeons and engaging in some demon negotiation, or recovering the elven relic the Jade Warning Bell, currently trapped in a dream dimension. It is said to be able to match the natural frequency of any matter, granting power over it.

Two thoughts: first, my friends and family rule at playing D&D. I’m consistently dumbfounded by the energy and creativity they bring to my simple play tests. Second, I’m really starting to think this book is shaping up nicely. You’ve been warned.

Friday, April 23, 2021

D&Dhammer Battle Report

Ok, let's see how this works. I put together two armies using stats from Old School Essentials:

Orcs and Goblins

  • Orc footmen (3 units): AC 13 HD 3 ATT +0 ML 8
  • Goblin archers (2 units): AC 13 HD 2 ATT +0 ML 7
  • Goblin spider-riders: AC 13 HD 3 ATT +3 ML 8 (I used the black widow stats. They have a poison attack, but I just decided to increase their attack bonus instead of dealing with that.)
  • Siege Stone Giant: AC 15 HD 9 ATT +7 ML 9

Using the number appearing from OSE as a guideline, this would represent about 180 orcs, 120 goblins, 10-20 spider riders? (the NA for black widows is 3, but that seems far too low), and 1-6 giants. However, there's no real reason this couldn't represent twice or three times those numbers. There's definitely room to use your best judgment and try to keep things proportional.

Vampire Lords

  • Skeleton horde (3 units): AC 12 HD 3 ATT +0 ML X
  • Brigand archers (2 units): AC 13 HD 2 ATT +0 ML 8
  • Giant bats: AC 13 HD 2 ATT +1 ML 8
  • Vampire knights: AC 17 HD 7 ATT +6 ML 11

The orcs and goblins had 17 HD of units and vampire lords had 14, but they also had the highest-stat unit and 3 that didn't need to check morale.

Round 1

Orcs win initiative. Goblin archers attempt to bring down the vampires' bats, since they're the only ones who can attack flyers, but miss. Bats go after the archers in retaliation, but miss too. Spider-riders hit the vampire knights, who hold morale. The vampires' archers hit the giant, who holds morale. The giant then throws a boulder at the knights, but it doesn't find purchase. Vampire knights charge the goblin archers, who manage to scramble and hide. Finally the orc footmen and skeleton hordes clash, and the orcs inflict two hits.

Round 2

Orcs win initiative again. Goblin archers hit the bats once, who hold morale. Vampire knights charge the goblin archers again, inflicting a hit, but the gobbos barely hang on. Giant goes for the knights, but misses. Bats miss the goblin archers, and spider-riders miss the brigand archers. Brigand archers rain their arrows down on their goblin counterparts, and the little greenskins finally break morale, wiped out since they've lost all HD (At this point, going by the rules I laid out in the previous post, the bats should be impervious to attack, but I'm going to argue with myself and say the giant is big enough to get them so I can keep going). Orcs wipe out the remaining skeletons.

Round 3

Vamps take the initiative this time. Brigands loose on the giant, missing with both attacks. The giant swats the bats out of the sky, wiping them out. Knights tilt at the giant, missing. Spider-riders scurry for the brigand archers, but can't inflict a hit. Orc footmen overrun the brigands, hitting, but the archers hold formation.

Round 4

Orcs regain the initiative. Giant misses the knights, knights miss the giant, spider-riders pull off a coup and hit the knights. Those pesky vamps hold morale. Brigand archers miss the giant. Orc footmen smash the rest of the archers.

Round 5

Vampires take the initiative, and with only the vampire knights remaining they manage to throw the orc footmen into disarray with a hit. Giant misses the knights, but spiders hit. High morale keeps the vampires hanging on.

Round 6

Vampires hold the initiative, and with a well-timed charge they force the giant into disarray. However, the spider-riders countercharge, sending the vamp knights into disarray. Orc footmen manage to reform their ranks.

Round 7

Vampires keep the initiative, manage to pull themselves together, and hit the spiders, who are thrown into disarray. The giant can't pull it back together. Orcs can't attack the mounted knights, since the knights are cavalry and too fast for the footmen.

Round 8

Vampires manage to keep the initiative yet again and rout the spiders, pushing them off the field. Since the remaining orc footmen cannot attack the knights, they just hurl insults at them. The giant can attack the knights...but misses.

Round 9

Vampires keep the initiative and I start to wonder if Google's dice roller is broken. The knights hit the giant, sending it into disarray. Since the orcs can't attack, they decide to quit the field. The vampires have won, but at a great material cost.

What I noticed:

  • Initiative is a harsh mistress. Winning 6 out of 9 times definitely gave the vamps the edge.
  • It has the same weaknesses as regular D&D combat - lots of misses and rounds where nothing really changes.
  • 1 HD footmen units are pretty squishy. I don't think this is necessarily a problem. They are basically shields, like linemen in football.
  • What would happen if the orcs had no units that could attack the bats? Battle over? I suppose the orcs could try to push their luck and take out as many units as they could before the bats became a big enough problem and they had to retreat. Fielding balanced forces that can deal with a number of threats will be important.
  • Similarly, when it came down to the vampire knights and the orc footmen, the orcs couldn't attack. This isn't necessarily a problem, but I might institute a rule that if cavalry attack footmen but miss, footmen can counterattack if they haven't attacked that round. However, I don't want to keep making situational rules like this that make the rules more fiddly.
  • It took about a half hour to do all the rolling and typing. It might be a little bit longer if I was narrating the battle at the table. That seems pretty good as an add-on to a campaign climax session. However, it could be a lot longer if players can't decide how to command their forces.
Overall, though, this does seem to hang together. I have a campaign now in its 6th year where things have moved pretty far into domain-level play, and the players barely use their character sheets anymore. I'll probably use this system with them before too long and try to refine it further. Some next steps: codifying magic some more, dealing with fortifications, and stuff like ambushes/surprise attacks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


Ah, the elusive mass combat system. I've overthought this for a long time. Just use regular monster stats, ya dummy!

Specifically AC, HD, THAC0/Attack Bonus, and Morale. Ignore everything else. Each unit is represented by the stats for one creature of the troop type. If there are several units of the same troop type, multiply the HD by how many units there are. If you're not sure how many individuals one "unit" should represent, use the maximum number appearing. Try to keep the HD numbers small but proportional.

No maneuvering unless you feel like it. The type of unit determines who it can attack (adapted from Matt Colville's Strongholds and Followers rules):

  • Footmen and big monsters: can only attack other footmen/biggies if any are on the field, followed by archers, and finally siege engines.
  • Archers and flyers: can attack anyone.
  • Cavalry, fast monsters, and siege engines: can attack anyone except flyers.
If you want to get a little more advanced, you could say that any unit that was attacked in melee (so like, attacked by footmen or non-ranged monsters) must pass a morale check (2d6) to attack a different unit (instead of the one that attacked it) that turn.

Roll initiative. Each side takes turns using units until none are left, and then roll initiative again. Ideally, this would happen alongside the PCs engaging in normal D&D combat against the enemy commander or executing a special mission.

Units make attack rolls as normal against each other. A successful "hit" reduces the defender HD by 1. 

Each time a unit is hit but has HD left, it must make a morale check, adding the total hits accumulated to the roll. If it succeeds, it may continue to act normally. If it fails, it is in disarray and may not act again until it passes a morale check. If a unit is hit while in disarray, it is routed and flees from battle.

I have two ideas for how to handle a unit reduced to 0 HD: 

  1. Wiped out immediately. Simple.
  2. It is only wiped out if it fails a morale check. I like that this would allow for units to hang on for heroic last stands. I worry that this would make low-HD, high-morale units punch too far above their weight. You would have to keep counting hits to add to morale checks.
Mindless units, like some undead, do not check morale at all but are automatically wiped out at 0 HD.

If a commander is on the field, all units add the commander's Charisma bonus to their Morale score. A 12 is still a failure.

In order for a spellcaster to use spells in battle, it must be at least 9th level and use up spell slots (of at least the spell level) equal to the HD of the unit it is casting the spell on. Adjudicate special creature abilities on a case-by-case basis. I haven't thought magic and special abilities through very well.

Even though this is simpler than a real wargame, it is still a lot to add on to a regular D&D combat, so you'd only want to run maybe one or two climactic battles per campaign like this. I'm taking a look at the War Machine rules from the Rules Cyclopedia to try to adapt it into something I'd use. It reduces a battle to one roll, but there's a lot that goes into determining the modifiers to the roll. I'll post my version of that eventually. Honestly, most of the time, you probably don't even need to roll for the results of a battle unless it seems like it would be close. Even then, if the PCs accomplish their part of the battle, their side should win unless it really doesn't make sense.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Only DM Advice in Brechewold, I Swear

A subject fraught with peril, to be sure, but I gotta admit I'm feeling good about this lil nug I wrote as part of the Brechewold intro:

This book does not present a plot. There is neither a predetermined conclusion nor a set path to follow. When DMing, I resist the temptation to think of myself as a storyteller. I am not telling a story. I am creating the conditions for and participating in a game of imagination structured by weighted chance. “Story” is what the players will tell when the game is over. I haven’t discovered a truly useful analogue to the role of a DM. Though it shares skills with storytellers, traditional game designers, teachers, theatrical directors, psychologists, and architects, it is a unique thing.

So, do not prepare a plot. Set the scenario. Provide enough information for players to make informed choices for their characters. Become familiar with the goals and personalities of the book’s NPCs, and then pay attention. Pay attention to possible conflict or convergence between players’ choices and NPCs’ goals. Pay attention when the players ignore certain undercurrents and allow NPCs to pursue their goals unhindered. Advance the scenario, updating the players with new information as their characters would learn it.

Above all, respect the players’ agency. They must be free to make any choice allowed within the confines of the setting and the comfort and fun at the table. Do not move things around in the imagined world to render their choices meaningless. The NPCs are allowed to be deceptive, but the DM is not. Err on the side of providing too much information if players are unsure what to do, but let them make the choice. Let them surprise you. Let them create chaos. Shed your preconceived notions and allow the imagined world to react naturally to players’ choices.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Some Brechewold Forest Spots


These are a few hexes that will be part of the preview chapter of The Yellow Book of Brechewold.

B1. Waterfall Mine and the Crone

  • Landscape: wet, pool-filled foothills leading to craggy mountains; the River Slither finds its source here

  • The River Slither is thin here but leads back to a pool into which a tall, slender waterfall empties

  • Barely perceptible, a set of narrow, overgrown stairs is carved into the cliff up the side of the waterfall, leading to a rough-bored mine entrance behind the falls

    • Entrance: moss and lichen crust the rocky opening, mist and mottled light from the falls. Ahead, a rickety ladder pokes out of a wide hole. Ten feet above the hole, a round trap door is mostly obscured by a layer of moss

    • Hidden Cache: 

    • Descent: an old wooden ladder leads down a 60 foot shaft with about a foot of water at the bottom; 1-in-20 chance of the ladder breaking on the way down, increasing by another 1-in-20 for each additional person who uses it

    • Mourning Ghosts: a swirling collection of 1d4+1 elf ghosts dressed in ancient garb, from the time fairies lived on earth. They mourn the death of King Mountain-Fears-the-Rain, not realizing that they themselves have died. They encourage others to join in the mourning, and will attack guests who try to leave

      • Elf Ghost: AC 6 [13] HD 1 HP 4 ATTACKS 2 (Hobbling touch: save or take d4 Dexterity damage, Distended jaw: save or take d4 Constitution damage (plus any change in HP)), immune to non-magic damage

    • Altar: a large rectangular slab of quartz ornately carved, on which rest offerings of flowers and candles occasionally left by questing fairy knights; anyone of fairy blood may leave a meaningful offering in return for ancestral guidance on a big decision

    • Elf-Silver Seam: an unlit old gold lantern (1,000 gp) hangs from the ceiling. If lit, it will illuminate a large seam of rare elf-silver, as strong as iron but may be used by elves

    • Tunnel: a rotting wooden catwalk leads the way over the waterlogged tunnel; 1-in-6 chance of breaking through a board and plunging into the water, which is infested with hallucinoleeches

      • Hallucinoleech: AC 9 [10] HD 0 HP 1 ATTACKS 1 (Bite: +3 to hit, save vs. poison or believe you are in your favorite place, never wanting to leave the water: -1 HP per turn spent there motionless and leech-covered)

    • Flood: The low chamber is flooded completely with glassy water; the ornate stairs and just-visible statues of griffins peeking above the water hint that this place is very different from the rest of the mine. In the center of the room is a chest with some of the king’s effects: elf-silver idols (2,000 gp), ceremonial gold headdress (3,000 gp), barbed whip, tinder that will light a fire even underwater (400 gp)

    • Tomb of the Warrior-King: the mummified remains of King Mountain-Fears-the-Rain are entwined in roots which have grown around him as a sort of sarcophagus. His shield is at his side (bronze, grinning sun motif). Before him is a stone pedestal carved with bell imagery with a neatly folded note on top: Had to nip in and borrow this, chaps. Return it in a flash. ~M. This is the true resting-place of the Jade Warning Bell (The Crystal Cave, p. )

  • Perched on an impossibly high peak is a little chocolate box of a cottage on chicken legs. This is the home of Mim the Crone of the Maiden, Mother, Crone coven

  • Fat, wrinkled, with wild hair and warts, she is nearly always naked; speaks like a sweet old lady in a Monty Python sketch until stressed, when she flies into a histrionic rage

  • She rides a somewhat uncooperative copper pot through the night, looking for children to cook and eat

  • Resources: elf-silver, hard as iron but won’t burn elves

C1. Bargaz and Saint Ophrenia the Only-Lightly-Singed

  • Landscape: a marshy, sandy, and desolate estuary

  • Bargaz, a cave-dwelling giant, is a mass of scarred, knotted sinew with raptor eyes and crooked teeth. He is naked save the large key he wears around his neck and drags a shillelagh behind him

  • The key opens the Smoking Mountain. His father was contracted to build the mountain, but took the key when the Knights of the Round Table refused to pay a pagan savage

  • Bargaz is one of three giant brothers who live in the forest, along with Balam (A4, p. ) and Bancroft (see Random Encounters, p. ). Each takes a different approach to humanity. Bargaz lives as little more than a wild predatory beast, believing that any semblance of civilization is mere pretense and a denial of the world’s true nature

  • The shrine to Saint Ophrenia, patron saint of third degree burns and disfigurement sits half-buried in sand among the rushes along a tributary to the River Lethe

  • The saint stands peacefully, holding a sword before her, sculpted to be wreathed in stone flame to commemorate the warrior-nun’s battle with the Dragon of Dyfed Mawr

  • Blessing: Those with grievous wounds earned in battle, particularly burns, may present an offering of vanquished foes in return for healing and making all your scars look really cool, giving you a mysteriously magnetic aura (+1d4 Charisma, up to 18)

D2. Watchtower and Saint Fagan the Unwise

  • Landscape: rocky crags, twisted oak and scrub pine

  • A ruined watchtower sits atop a rocky outcropping

  • A partially-intact stained glass window depicts Arthur and Guenivere presiding over feasting knights

  • Thanks to a rift in the fabric of this enchanted forest, once per month the house of the Fates teeters precariously on top of the tower in the light of a waning gibbous moon halfway between full and half

  • The Fates go by Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen in this part of the world. They sit at three looms, hopelessly trying to weave a single tapestry which covers every surface in the house, bunching and fraying in many places. They frantically attempt to coordinate, but are hopelessly confused. They may appear as wild-haired old women, radiant maidens, or any other form

  • They will each take one question, but their harried, distracted answers will only direct the questioner to a certain fold in the weave of Fate. Examination requires a save against magic. 

    • Fail: temporarily blinded and insane for d4 hours after glimpsing the incomprehensible underpinnings of the Universe 

    • Pass less than 20: the Fates have directed you to the wrong part of the tapestry, and what you see does not help you 

    • Natural 20: you find your thread weaving its way into the future and work with the GM to answer your question. Additionally, on one future roll that directly affects you (rolled either by you or the GM), you may choose the number rolled and reveal that you spied this in the tapestry

  • The Shrine to Saint Fagan the Unwise sits in the center of a set of stones placed in the River Lethe as a crossing. Fagan is the patron saint of doomed enterprises

  • His statue exudes youthful exuberance and overconfidence. It faces a waterfall, behind which is the old lair of a troll he attempted to convert to Christianity. He succeeded, but could not stop the troll from eating him anyway

  • The lair is strewn with piles of gnawed-on bones and coins, jewelry, and weapons worth 120 gp. 50% chance of finding one of the forest’s trolls rooting around (see Forest Encounters)

  • Blessing: for an offering of a valuable object acquired foolishly, the supplicant may choose to pass a roll with a 20% or less chance of success. Mark one use of the blessing. The next time the character wishes to use the blessing, they must roll above the number marked on a d4 or automatically fail the roll