Tuesday 31 October 2017


A note to anyone checking this blog:

I've moved my blogging activity to https://necroticgnome.com/blogs/news.

This blog will remain indefinitely, but will likely not receive any more updates.

Saturday 7 October 2017

Dolmenwood: The Book of Monsters So Far

Since the announcement of the work on the Dolmenwood book of monsters in Wormskin issue seven, I've been meaning to write a quick blog post about it.

First some details about what is planned:

  1. A hardcover book of monsters for the Dolmenwood setting. (The first in the line of Dolmenwood hardcovers.)
  2. Probably a full-size (A4 / Letter) book, for the more flexible layout possibilities that offers.
  3. PDF and softcover editions as well.
  4. 100+ monsters. (I'm setting 100 as the minimum goal. The final total may well end up higher -- I have a long list of possible ideas.)
  5. All monsters will be unique to the Dolmenwood setting. As those familiar with the monsters presented so far in Wormskin know, this may, of course, include Dolmenwood reinterpretations of classic monsters of myth or D&D. Check out the Dolmenwood take on dragons (wyrms) in Wormskin issue six, for example.
  6. Heavily illustrated. The dream here would be to have an illustration for every single monster. The über-dream would be for those all to be full colour illustrations. This basically depends on money, as commissioning 100+ illustrations will be expensive. Doubly so, if they're colour pieces. I'm considering setting this up as a kickstarter, when the time comes.
  7. The book will probably contain encounter charts for the different regions of Dolmenwood. (I'm not 100% decided on this yet.)

And secondly, just for fun, here's the list of monsters that I currently have written up. They number 49, so we are already pretty much half way to the initial goal of 100 monsters. Monsters in bold are new creatures that have not appeared in the pages of Wormskin.

  • Addercorn thrall
  • Antler wraith
  • Barrowbogey
  • Black tentacles
  • Bog salamander
  • Bog zombie
  • Boggin
  • Brainconk
  • Brambling
  • Centaur
  •   Bestial
  •   Sylvan
  • Devil goat
  • Drune
  •   Audrune
  •   Cottager
  •   Drunewife
  • Elf
  •   Lord/Lady
  • Fairy horse
  • Flammbraggyrd (by Andrew Walter)
  • Gelatinous hulk
  • Giant snail
  •   Psionic
  •   Rapacious
  • Gloam
  • Goatman
  •   Crookhorn
  •   Longhorn
  •   Shorthorn
  • Half-goat
  • Incantophage mushroom
  •   Fruiting body
  •   Sporeling
  • Kelpie
  • Mogglewomp
  •   Domestic
  •   Wandering
  • Moss dwarf
  •   Commoner
  •   Fighter
  •   Mould oracle
  • Nightworm
  • Nutcap
  • Ochre slime-hulk
  • Redcap
  • Root thing
  • Scrabey
  • Scrycke (by Yves Geens)
  • Sodder
  • Witch
  •   Witch
  • Witch owl
  • Woodgrue
  • Wyrm
  •   Black bile wyrm
  •   Phlegm wyrm
  •   Blood wyrm
  •   Yellow bile wyrm

More news as development happen!

Wednesday 4 October 2017

B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment: Illustrators and Layout Previews

I finished the layout for B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment over the weekend. That means two things:

1. Illustration is under way
I've commissioned a cover and twenty internal illustrations from the following imaginative folks:

  • Andrew Walter
  • Thomas Novosel
  • Matthew Ray (don't think he has a website, but he's known around the old-school D&D scene)
  • Michael Clarke
  • Tom Kilian
  • Luka Rejec
  • Sean Poppe

  • Twenty pieces and a cover is actually one illustration less than appeared in Core Rules. However, there are a lot more larger pieces in Classes and Equipment, including three two-page spanners.

    It's going to be a visual feast!

    2. I can share some previews
    Just a couple of spreads that don't involve illustrations (that don't exist yet), for the moment:

    The cleric class. Everything on a single 6" x 9" spread:

    The basic equipment list, including armour, weapons, and all associated combat stats:

    More news as progress happens!

    Sunday 1 October 2017

    B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment -- Table of Contents Preview

    Since the draft text for B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment was completed two weeks ago, I've been working on the layout. One thing took me by surprise: this book is longer and more difficult to lay out that Core Rules was. The cause? The number of large, complicated tables. It's been a lot of fiddly work getting big tables like the class level advancement tables and the sea vessel charts to fit nicely on these small, 6"x9" pages. But: I have done it. The rough layout is complete. All the text of the book is cleanly set up on pages and spreads and I'm now going through tweaking things to look nice.

    It's a fun process. I'll share some preview spreads, once things are looking more finalised. (And especially once illustrations start being put in place!)

    But for now, here's a little preview in the form of the table of contents. Some notes:

    • Each of the class descriptions (including all required information and charts!) fits on one or two pages. Guaranteed no page flipping required!
    • The basic equipment lists -- adventuring gear, armour, and weapons -- are all presented on a single spread (including all related combat stats). Again, no page flipping! Everything you need when going shopping is all in one place.
    • The book comes in at 44 pages long. That's 10 pages longer than Core Rules. (This surprised me. I wasn't expecting it to be that much longer.)

    That's all for now. I'll post more updates as I progress! The planned late Nov / early Dec publication date is looking accurate.

    Sunday 24 September 2017

    Dolmenwood: Future Directions

    As was announced in the latest issue of Wormskin, the Dolmenwood zine, the intention for the setting has always been a set of hardcover books. In the early days, the amount of work required to achieve this goal was daunting, so we conceived of the idea of publishing the setting piecemeal in issues of a zine. Thus was born Wormskin.

    However, after seven and a half issues of the zine (issue eight is half written), the dream of those hardcovers has not disappeared. The amount of work required to get there is also greatly reduced: Wormskin issues 1 to 7 amount to about 350 A5 pages of material that will eventually be collated!

    So here's what I have planned, roughly:

    1. The book of monsters. Containing 100% new monsters for the Dolmenwood setting, including those that have already been published in Wormskin. My aim here is to have at least 100 monsters in the book and for each to be accompanied by an illustration. (This latter aim will make it expensive to produce!)
    2. The book of hexes. Descriptions and features of every hex on the Dolmenwood campaign map.
    3. The referee's guide. Containing all of the charts and setting background.
    4. The player's guide. New classes and player-facing setting information.
    It's possible that some of these chunks of content may end up being split differently and that some of the books may be combined. This will only become clear as writing progresses.

    Work on the first book (the book of monsters) is already under way. I have over 40 monsters fully written up at present, so am over a third of the way to completion. My aim is to get this first book published in the coming year and then to move onto the book of hexes.

    So, for those readers who have always wished for a "Wormskin omnibus" or such, this is going to happen, but in a much more polished form than simply slamming all of the zine issues together, back to back!

    I'll post updates as progress happens.

    A note on Greg Gorgonmilk
    This post was originally intended just as an announcement of the work on the Dolmenwood hardcovers. However, in the last days, a grand furore has erupted around Greg Gorgonmilk, co-originator of Dolmenwood, along with myself.

    I don't want to prolong the controversy, but can announce that Greg will no longer be involved with Necrotic Gnome Productions or the Dolmenwood campaign setting. I will be the sole Dolmenwood author, going forward.

    I'm happy to discuss the background to this decision in private, but don't want to open a public debate on the topic here on the blog.

    Saturday 16 September 2017

    B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment -- Draft Text

    One Sunday in August, I announced the second book in the B/X Essentials line: Classes and Equipment. Since then, a huge amount of progress has been made on the book. The draft text has been finished, various people have been helping out proofreading it, and I'm now most of the way through getting the text into its final form.

    The text is freely available here online. (100% Open Game Content for all the tinkerers out there!)

    One of the major aims of this projects has been reorganisation and clarification. I was very pleased with my achievements in these areas in the first book -- Core Rules -- but I must say that I'm even happier with how Classes and Equipment is shaping up. Some examples:

    Look at the dwarf class. Seems simple enough, right? But then look at where the information is collated from. The main class description is on B9. The XP and HD advancement table for levels 1-3 is on B8. Of course, the chart for advancement beyond 3rd level is on X5. Then the description of the class features for levels 3-14 is on X7. Then you have the table for saving throws on X24 and the attack table on X26. And then the dwarf's ability at finding traps is hidden away on B22. And the rule about dwarves and other demi-humans having an improved chance when listening at doors on B21.

    That's a lot of really scattered information, right? My layout aim for the character classes in this book will be to present everything relating to each class together in one place, on a single page or spread.

    Look at the weapons table. A simple thing, but it collates all the information from B20, B27, X9, and X25.

    Look at the section on water vessels. This is my pride and joy with this project. The information is gathered from X9-10 and X63-64, so it's not too spread out in the original. But it's so densely presented in the original Expert book that it's very difficult to quickly extract information about different vessels or situations. What's more, there are a lot of contradictions and ambiguities. All of this has been cleared up. (Which was a lot of work!) For example, how much does a troop transport cost? (X9 and X63 give conflicting values.) What happens to a sailing boat in high winds? (There's an obscure mention that it's treated the same as a galley and then a dense description of running ahead of a gale on X63 and a small rule about shipping water on X64.) How many catapults can be fitted on a large sailing ship? (X10 and X63 contradict each other.)

    As is doubtless clear, I love B/X, but honestly, the information about sea vessels in the Expert book is really awfully presented and appears to have not been proofread.

    So, just a few examples, but I hope that makes clear how the presentation of the original rules can be improved upon! (I know some people doubt this.)

    Wednesday 13 September 2017

    B/X Essentials: Core Rules -- Print Editions Available Now!

    The first book in the B/X Essentials line is now available to buy as a print / PDF combo at RPGNow (and pals)!


    There are two editions:

    1. Premium edition. Staple bound (lays flat on the table!), 6" x 9", premium colour.
    2. Standard edition. Perfect bound, 6" x 9", standard colour.
    The premium edition is (obviously) the fancier of the two. The binding means it's able to lay flat on the table, which is great for use during play. The premium printing also means that the text and illustrations are just that bit crisper. That said, the perfect bound edition looks great too and is a bit cheaper.

    Here they are side by side (difficult to tell the difference at this stage):
    (My floor and a couple of dice for scale.)
    And here are a few interior shots of the premium / staple bound edition.

    All the XP rules on the left-hand page.

    All the encounter rules on the right-hand page here.

    Rules for chases in dungeons, wilderness, and at sea, all on one spread.

    All the basic combat rules on one spread.

    People who have already bought the PDF edition: I've sent out a coupon so you can get a print copy minus the price of the PDF.

    Sunday 3 September 2017

    B/X Essentials: Core Rules Now Available in PDF!

    Illustration (C) Tom Kilian

    The first book in the B/X Essentials line, Core Rules, is out!

    The B/X Essentials line is a restatement of the classic Basic/Expert fantasy adventure gaming rule set, distilled down to its purest essence and given a fresh, new presentation:

    • Basic and Expert rules seamlessly combined.
    • Streamlined presentation optimised for ease of reference during play.
    • Meticulously researched; a guaranteed 100% accurate rendition of the classic rules of yesteryear.
    • Carefully clarified, ironing out ambiguities in the original rules.

    This first book lays out the core rules of the game, including: encounters, combat, dungeon and wilderness exploration, seafaring, spell casting, and magical research.

    It's lavishly illustrated with the powers of Michael Clarke, Tom Kilian, Thomas Novosel, Matthew Ray, Luka Rejec, and Andrew Walter. (The image above is a sample illustration from the book, by Tom Kilian.)

    Right now, only the PDF edition is available, but fear not: print editions are coming soon! People who purchase the PDF edition now will be sent a voucher to upgrade to the print edition, when it becomes available.

    Click here to buy B/X Essentials: Core Rules at RPGNow.

    Additionally, a plain text edition of the book is available online as a google doc and here as PDF / RTF files. The plain text edition is provided as an aid to others who wish to create their own house rules documents or retro-clones (please read the Open Game License, at the end of the document, carefully!).

    Saturday 26 August 2017

    B/X Essentials: Update and Core Rules Cover

    A couple of updates on my B/X Essentials project:

    Firstly, the basic content (text and charts) for the second book in the series, B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment, is now complete! The document is available to view online here. Like the first book, my aim has been to compile and collate the information in as usable a way as possible. Some sections have been massively clarified, when compared to the original B/X rules. See the sections on water vessels and castle construction, for example, which were pretty vague, confusing, and even contradictory, in the original Expert rule book.

    Secondly, in preparation for publication next month, the cover for the first book, B/X Essentials: Core Rules, is done! The beautiful, colourful illustration is from the hallowed hand of Andrew Walter.

    Illustration (C) Andrew Walter

    Sunday 20 August 2017

    B/X Essentials: Encumbrance Preview!

    I recently received the first batch of finished illustrations for the first book in the B/X Essentials line: Core Rules. This batch included one of the largest pieces in the book, which slots into a very odd-shaped space on the spread where the (optional) encumbrance rules are explained. I'm extremely happy with how this spread looks as a whole, now that the illustration is in place. Have a look:

    (Click to enlarge.)

    In addition to marvelling at the delightful art by Thomas Novosel, I'd recommend comparing the explanation of the encumbrance rules here against the original rules (see page B20).

    Encumbrance -- as specifically explained in B/X -- is one of those rules that seems simple enough, on the surface, but once you start trying to figure out exactly how it's supposed to work, things gets pretty confusing. To be fair, the B/X books are generally very clearly written. There are areas, though, like this, that are not at all clear, without some prior understanding of what is being described. I've made a great effort to clear up any areas of confusion or ambiguity like this, in B/X Essentials. I hope this spread provides a good example of this and of how the presentation of the Basic/Expert rules can be improved upon.

    Thursday 17 August 2017

    B/X Essentials: PDF Preview!

    Work continues on the B/X Essentials project! (Introduction to the project here.)

    1. As you may perhaps have noted, the project now has an official name. B/X Essentials. (Thanks to David Perry for the suggestion.)
    2. The first book -- B/X Essentials: Core Rules -- is completely written and laid out and is now being illustrated. Publication (in print and PDF) is planned for September.
    3. Writing on the second book -- B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment -- is nearing completion. v0.5.0 (online here) presents complete rules for character creation, classes, and basic adventuring gear. Work on sea vessels and hirelings is under way.
    4. Plans are afoot for a third book in the series -- B/X Essentials: Advanced Characters. This will provide rules for characters in the vein of AD&D, with separate race and class and the time-honoured profusion of additional character classes, all designed for use with the core B/X rules.
    Now, as to the title of this post, I thought it was about time to give people a glimpse of the inside of the fully laid-out book!

    So, here's a four page preview of the PDF. This is the entirety of the combat section of B/X Essentials: Core Rules -- the complete B/X combat rules on two spreads.

    About B/X Essentials

    The B/X Essentials project is a reorganised, clarified expression of the classic Basic/Expert rules, with the focus on ease of reference at the table. The goals and guiding principles of the project are as follows:
    • 100% accurate rules clone. B/X Essentials, unlike other clones or games inspired by B/X, goes to great efforts to be 100% accurate to the original. Nothing is altered. Nothing is added. Nothing is removed.
    • Organised for quick reference. The text of B/X Essentials is consciously kept concise and is broken into logical chunks, each with a header and contained on a single page, making quick reference possible. I believe this is the clearest expression of the Basic/Expert rules available to date.
    • Clarified rules. The original rules are delightfully straightforward, but there certainly exist areas of confusion and ambiguity. (Check out the rules for encumbrance, wilderness chases, or sea vessels, for example.) B/X Essentials presents greatly clarified descriptions of these rules.
    • 100% Open Game Content. In addition to fancy, fully illustrated print / PDF editions, the B/X Essentials rules are released in a simple text format licensed as 100% Open Game Content (under the OGL). The fresh expression of the B/X rules can thus be freely used by other people for the creation of their own house rules documents and B/X-inspired games.
    Common questions:
    • How does B/X Essentials compare to the original B/X books? The main (and major!) difference is that the rules for Basic and Expert play are combined, rather than being split across two books. Also, as mentioned above, B/X Essentials is written as a quick reference, presenting a clarified and better organised presentation of the rules. Areas of ambiguity or contradiction in the original rules are cleared up.
    • How does B/X Essentials compare to Labyrinth Lord? LL also presents a restatement of the classic B/X rules, however its text is, in many places, far too verbose and meandering to be really useful as a quick reference. Also, as noted above, B/X Essentials is a 100% accurate clone whereas Labyrinth Lord introduces several changes to the rules. In B/X Essentials, clerics do not get a spell at 1st level!
    • Where can I get it? A beautifully illustrated print / PDF edition of the first book in the series (B/X Essentials: Core Rules) is available here. The Open Game Content text of the project (including current work-in-progress on unpublished books) is shared online here.
    • What print formats are available? The primary format is US Trade (6"x9") paperback (perfect- or staple-bound) with a fully-linked PDF. So, yes, this is a small form factor presentation of the B/X rules! The Open Game Content rules are also available in a simple text format.

    Sunday 6 August 2017

    Announcement: Basic/Expert Classes and Equipment!

    Following on from my Basic/Expert Core Rules project, I've started working on the companion volume: Basic/Expert Classes and Equipment.

    v0.1.0 is out, containing the following things:

    • The cleric class.
    • The dwarf class.
    • Basic equipment lists, including weapons and armour.
    • Lots of placeholder section headings.

    The document is shared online here.

    As before, feedback is encouraged! Feel free to comment directly on the google doc, comment on this post, on G+, or contact me privately.

    (This document has subsumed the old Basic/Expert Equipment and Hirelings doc.)

    Saturday 5 August 2017

    Basic/Expert Core Rules -- Illustrators, Publication, and Further Plans

    I've been a bit quiet on my Basic/Expert Core Rules project over the last two weeks. In this case, though, no news is good news. The layout is finished and the book is now in the hands of a super talented bunch of illustrators. I'm super excited to announce that I have the following folks on board:

    This is going to be a great looking book!

    I plan to publish Basic/Expert Core Rules in September, all going well. It'll be released in print and PDF, along with a text-only version for others to take a use as a basis for their own house rules / games.

    But, what's next?

    Yes, there will be a "next" with this project. Following directly on from Basic/Expert Core Rules, I've started work on the next in the series: Basic/Expert Classes and Equipment. This will be "character creation" part of the series, with all the rules for creating and equipping a B/X character. Again, this book will focus on a clean, easy-to-read and -reference rendition of the B/X rules. All the information about each class (including saving throw and combat charts) will be presented in one place.

    In addition, I'll be doing an expanded book (probably called Basic/Expert/Advanced Classes and Equipment) that will contain all of the Advanced character options from AD&D 1st edition. So there you'll find assassins, illusionists, rangers, paladins, half-elves, gnomes, multi-classing, and so on. All presented in a way that's 100% compatible with the B/X core rules.

    I also have ideas for future books in the series, but for now will leave those unstated. Their creation depends on how well-received the first two books are, essentially.

    All for now!

    Wednesday 5 July 2017

    Basic/Expert Core Rules: Looking for Proof-Readers

    Edit: the response has been much quicker than I expected and I think I have enough people helping out now. Thanks to everyone who's offered their assistance!

    As I mentioned yesterday, I'm working on a layout for the B/X Core Rules book. To ensure maximum quality and rules accuracy, I'm looking for some people to read through the laid-out PDF and give feedback on errors.

    So, if you're passionate about B/X, a real pedant for grammar and/or rules, and would like to help out with this project to create a clean, clear, 100% accurate rules reference, please get in touch! (Comment on this post, contact me on Google+, email me at the address in the sidebar on the right.)

    In return for your assistance, I'll put your name in the credits of the book and you'll get a free copy of the fancy-looking, illustrated PDF, when it's done.

    Fight on!

    Tuesday 4 July 2017

    Basic / Expert Core Rules: Layout in Progress!

    Wow, this project has happened so quickly -- and almost out of nowhere! -- that it feels weird to say that I'm working on a properly laid-out version of the document and talking to illustrators about filling it with beautiful art! And yet, that is the current state of affairs.

    And, I must say, I'm super happy with the results. I believe this book is a real step up from either Labyrinth Lord (my current go-to B/X clone) or the original B/X D&D books, in terms of ease of reference. All the rules for each topic are collated into one location and presented on a single spread (no page flipping!). I was actually surprised, combing through B/X in such detail, as I did, to discover how many little rules were hidden in out-of-the-way locations. In my book, all these orphans are reunited with their families.

    As a little indicator of progress and a hint at how things are laid out, here's a preview of the book's table of contents.

    I'm hoping to publish it in PDF and print form (digest size) some time this summer! Alongside, I'll release a plain text (RTF, I guess) document of the rules, fully OGC, for other people to play with.

    Saturday 24 June 2017

    Basic / Expert Core Rules: Initial Finished Release!

    I've reached a major milestone with the Basic / Expert Core Rules project, which I announced the other day: with a blustery Saturday morning and v0.7.0 of the document, I've reached the point where I consider the core rules document tentatively complete! (Of course, that's not to say that it really is complete. It's entirely possible that I've missed really obvious things out.)

    The Documents
    Yes, it's become three documents now.
    1. Basic / Expert Purist Core Rules: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1cdbkwE7i2t9ONJZjrO5ausQVHzq_o2rHV1SjVYzYlbc
    2. Basic / Expert Augmented Core Rules: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1qVj20Y0mlDIvMYSls54fTBUGxx8UGyjXR7JaR9IkkyA
    3. Standard Combat Charts: https://drive.google.com/open?id=19jMX-mopwwOQzuUVB9hquDsdAW0QlE-lbmwM49-h2eo
    1 is the real core. 2 is the core plus a few extra, optional rules to clarify certain situations. 3 is the standard attack and saving throw charts. (I separated those out as all those tables were making editing the other docs sluggish!)

    Project Goals
    1. A rules document that focuses on quick and easy reference for experienced players. Existing clones vary in the readability of their presentation, especially regarding ease of quick rules reference during play.
    2. A 100% accurate clone of the Basic / Expert rules. Existing clones modify certain elements of the rules, so a really pure clone is missing.
    3. A 100% Open Game Content version of the combined Basic / Expert rules, presented in a plain text format. This can serve as a foundation for house rules documents and tweaked rule sets.
    4. A document containing purely the rules of the game, not including character races/classes, equipment lists, spells, monsters, etc. These commonly vary between campaigns, so are better presented in a separate booklet.

    Checking Everything
    So now the basic document is complete, I want to make sure that it achieves the goals set out above. Goal 3 is already done (see the OGL at the end of the document), but the other goals will require some checking. This is where input from other people -- especially B/X aficionados -- would be really appreciated. Given the scope of the project (see the goals above) is anything missing, when compared to B/X? Is anything wrong?

    And Then What?
    Once I'm happy that the documents have met the goals I've set, I'll publish them properly, in the following forms:
    1. A laid-out PDF, focusing on usability. No fancy graphics or artwork.
    2. A raw text document for others to use and edit to their hearts' content.

    ...and then, if I feel like going further with this, I do rather fancy doing up nice, illustrated editions. I might also get to work on a standard equipment document to go with it.

    Sunday 18 June 2017

    Jungle Megadungeon: Monsters Part 4

    A few more monsters which may be encountered in or around my imaginary snake-cult temple ruins in a jungle megadungeon...

    Winged Serpent
    HD 3, AC 5, Att: bite (1d4 + poison), Mv 120’ (40’) (flying), Ml 8, Al N, XP 80

    Originally bred by the snake-cult's sorcerers, these beautiful yet deadly monsters still nest in treetops around the temple complex, hunting in the jungle below. Their sinuous, 7’ long bodies are azure with yellow diamonds; their feathered wings are white with violet tips; their eyes are indigo with yellow slit-pupils.

    Poison: a victim who fails a save becomes rigid -- utterly paralysed -- within 1d6 rounds. Death follows, after three turns.

    Crystal Serpent
    HD 6 (damage and energy resistance), AC 1, Att: bite (1d8 + poison), Mv 120’ (40’), Ml 10, Al NE, XP 1,070

    10’ long cobra statues of pure, transparent crystal, constructed by sorcery and placed as guardians around the tombs of the temple complex. Passing under the watchful gaze of a crystal serpent requires a save versus spells; failure awakens it to attack.

    Poison: one who fails a saving throw versus petrification, when bitten, is instantly turned into crystal, along with all equipment. (The spell stone to flesh can restore characters who suffer this fate.)

    Damage resistance: non-magical piercing or slashing attacks only inflict a single point of damage (plus STR bonus, if applicable).

    Energy resistance: crystal serpents are unharmed by mundane fire and take half damage from magical fire.

    HD 5 (plus 10hp per head), AC 6 (body) / 3 (heads), Att: 3-5 x bite (1d6 + constriction), Mv 120’ (40’), Ml 9, Al N, XP 500

    12’ long, rainbow-banded, multi-headed snakes bred by the cult of Thaa as companions and guardians. Hydrals are not poisonous, but their multiple heads attack in unison each round, making them dangerous opponents. Each head may target a separate opponent, within 5’.

    An individual hydral has between three and five heads. Each head has 10hp, separate to the creature's main hit point total. Attackers may choose to target a head specifically, in which case damage is subtracted from that head's hit point total. If all heads are killed, the hydral is slain.

    Constriction: if two bite attacks hit a single opponent in a round, the hydral’s body and tail wrap around and begin to tighten around the victim. The target suffers 1d8 damage per round and a -2 penalty to attacks and Armour Class. Only one target can be constricted at a time.

    New Project Announcement! Basic / Expert Core Rules

    Sounds like another clone! (Rejoice / weep.)

    Well, sort of. Here's what I have planned:
    1. A rules document that focuses on quick and easy reference for experienced players. Existing clones vary in the readability of their presentation, especially regarding ease of quick rules reference during play.
    2. A 100% accurate clone of the Basic / Expert rules. Existing clones modify certain elements of the rules, so a really pure clone is missing.
    3. A 100% Open Game Content version of the combined Basic / Expert rules, presented in a pure text format. This can serve as a foundation for house rules documents and tweaked rule sets.
    4. A rule set augmented with commonly used rulings for situations not covered by the core Basic / Expert rules. All such additions are clearly marked as optional extras.
    5. A document containing purely the rules of the game, not including character races/classes, equipment lists, spells, monsters, etc. These commonly vary between campaigns, so are better presented in a separate booklet.
            So, as you can see, this isn't a clone in the same sense as Labyrinth Lord, say. It's a partial clone, focusing purely on presenting the core rules of the game in an easy-to-reference form. The project was born out of my frustrated love for two existing B/X clones: Labyrinth Lord and LotFP. The former is my game of choice, but (to be honest) the way the core rules are written and laid out is a mess (e.g. check out Attacking and Melee Combat on p53). LotFP, on the other hand, while impeccably written and laid out, modifies the core B/X rules in quite a few ways, so isn't much use when running a B/X-based game.

            The other reason for this project is simply that I really enjoy playing around with this kind of thing :)

            So far, I've written up two sections:

            1. Basic combat procedure.
            2. Other combat issues.

            The text is a chimera of Labyrinth Lord, LotFP: Rules & Magic, and my own writing. (Thanks to the Open Game Content generosity of Daniel Proctor and James Raggi!)

            v0.1 is online now. Check it out!

            As the "v0.1" specifier indicates, this is a super early, incomplete version. There are lots of sections still to write and lots of things still to do. (For example, I need to go through and compare everything with B/X to check for errors / omissions.) Bearing that in mind, though, feedback on the document is most welcome! Feel free to comment on the document directly or send me a message.

            (I plan to do a properly laid out PDF version, too, but only once the basic text is finished.)

            Friday 16 June 2017

            Jungle Megadungeon: Monsters 3

            I'm on holiday on a Greek island. I'd been planning to do a bit of writing for the next issue of Wormskin, during some period of lounging beside the pool, but the blazing hot weather just isn't conducive to thoughts about a dank, moss-festooned forest. So instead my thoughts have returned to the megadungeon in a jungle that I started planning a while back. Here are some more monsters that might be found lurking in or around the ruined snake-cult temple.

            Alabaster Serpent
            HD 3, AC 5 (reflexes), Att: bite (1d4 + poison), Mv 120’ (40’) (slithering / climbing), Ml 9, Al N, XP 65

            Slender, 5’ long serpents of pure white, with eyes of violet, bred by the snake cult as dangerous guardians. These snakes are no longer found in the wild, but the priests of the cult placed many inside clay jars, in suspended animation, to attack any who disturb them.

            Poison: a victim who fails their save versus the venom of an alabaster serpent enters a state of violent spasms, losing one point of DEX per round until death (when DEX reaches 0).

            Mummified Crocodile
            HD 8, AC 6 (scales), Att: bite (2d6 + drowning roll), Mv 120’ (40’) (on land / swimming), Ml 10, Al N, XP 1,560

            Husks of great river reptiles, stuffed with reeds and incense, their eyes replaced with opals engraved with hieroglyphics of death and magic (worth 300gp each). These monsters lurk submerged in rivers, ponds, and canals around the temple complex, waiting to attack intruders.

            Surprise: lying beneath the water's surface, a mummified crocodile is easily overlooked or mistaken for a log. They surprise on a roll of 1-3.

            Drowning roll: if within 10’ of water, a victim of a bite which inflicts 8 or more points of damage must save versus paralysis or be dragged under. On subsequent rounds, they cannot attack and suffer automatic bite damage. A successful STR or DEX check is required to escape.

            Path Guardian
            HD 2+2 (death cry when killed), AC 9, Att: 2 x claws (1d6), Mv 120’ (40’), Ml 10, Al NE, XP 47

            The reanimated corpses of local, tattooed tribespeople, captured and sacrificed to the snake goddess for trespassing on the lands claimed by the cult. Their final hours of life saw them tied to totem stakes with thongs of crocodile leather, force-fed potent psychedelic poisons, and left to die. In death, they were decapitated and long, bronze barbs inserted into their hands to act as claws. They lie inert beside the totem where they were sacrificed, but rise to attack any who venture near.

            Death cry: upon death, a path guardian’s chest splits open, emitting a piercing wail. This triggers a wandering monster check.

            Sunday 21 May 2017

            Dolmenwood: Fairy Blades

            I've started work on the next Dolmenwood Adventures module: a scenario for 1st or 2nd level characters revolving around a fairy banquet, dance, and market. Therefore, I'm coming up with information on what one can buy at a fairy market -- a fun project! Here's a little preview: the weapons that are available at one of the stalls.

            The Blade Seller
            Blades crafted by fairy smiths (known to be magical). By their nature, they carry a +1 enchantment and another glamour (see table)*. There is no way of perceiving a weapon’s glamour before purchase.

            Type (cost, damage)
            Knife (100gp, 1d3)
            Delicate spiderweb engravings
            Inflicts +2 damage to mortals.
            Dagger (200gp, 1d4)
            Fine tree branch lattice inlays of gold
            Animals are suspicious of the owner (-2 to reaction rolls).
            Dagger (200gp, 1d4)
            Crackles with blue sparks when touched
            When in darkness, glows like the moon.
            Shortsword (400gp, 1d6)
            Glistening with dewdrops
            Once drawn, cannot be sheathed unless blooded.
            Shortsword (400gp, 1d6)
            Appears old and battered, but is actually perfectly sharp
            3-in-6 chance of the owner not being recognised at a casual glance.
            Rapier (400gp, 1d6)
            Engraved with fine images of unicorns at play
            Become obsessed with thoughts or mortality and entropy.
            Longsword (600gp, 1d8)
            Rimed with frost
            The owner’s natural scent is replaced with that of blossom or cinders.
            Longsword (600gp, 1d8)
            Inlaid secret runes of fairy silver
            +2 to saves vs cold.
            Scimitar (600gp, 1d8)
            Wreathed in moonlight
            The owner suffers from sleeping irregularities -- sleeping for exactly 2d6 hours (roll per night).
            (This may be too little or too much.)
            Broadsword (600gp, 1d8)
            See in moonlight as if it were daylight.
            Bastard sword (800gp, 1d8/2d4)
            Pitch dark metal
            Alignment shifts one step toward Chaotic, over the course of a month.
            Two-handed sword (1,200gp, 1d10)
            Perpetually occluded by shadows
            The owner develops a taste for the refined and decadent. (One who already has such tastes may tend toward depravity.)
            * The proprietor says that “mortals call them magical”, but fairies themselves do not conceive of items such as these as being enchanted.
            ** True fairies (e.g. elves, grimalkin; not including demi-fey) are unaffected by these glamours.

            Sunday 14 May 2017

            Wormskin Issue Six: Coming Soon!

            The sixth issue of the Dolmenwood zine, Wormskin, should be out in the next couple of weeks. At 75 pages, it's by far the biggest issue yet!


            • The Fairy Lords of Dolmenwood, by Gavin Norman with hints of Gorgonmilk. Discusses sixteen fairy lords who have some interest in Dolmenwood.
            • The Brackenwold Calendar, by Gavin Norman. The accompanying article to the free Dolmenwood calendar PDF.
            • Prigwort and Surrounds, by Gavin Norman. Descriptions and points of interest in seven hexes around the town of Prigwort.
            • The Baker’s Dozen, by Gavin Norman. A little adventure scenario involving an enchanted bakery.
            • The Gingerbread Grimoire, by Gavin Norman. Four yeasty, gingerbready spells of enchantment.
            • People and Places of Prigwort, by Gavin Norman and Andrew Walter. Inns, taverns, brewmasters, wizards, and high-class tailors -- all can be found in the town of Prigwort!
            • Spirituous Beverages, by Gavin Norman. A little generator, in the fine Dolmenwood tradition, for the fine, spirituous produce of Prigwort.
            • Monsters of the Wood, by Gavin Norman. A Dolmenwood take on the kelpie of folklore (ignoring the AD&D version of the monster) and four local species of dragon (the black bile wyrm, phlegm wyrm, blood wyrm, and yellow bile wyrm).
            Featuring illustrations by: Andrew Walter, Thomas Novosel, Sean Poppe, Kelvin Green, Rory Walker, Paul Gallagher.

            Cover by Matt Hildebrand

            Coming soon!

            Friday 14 April 2017

            Dolmenwood: Grimalkin Tweaks

            Image result for cheshire cat

            I've been running a couple of parallel campaigns set in Dolmenwood, since the autumn, and have finally got to see the grimalkin class presented in Wormskin issue one in play. The class is a lot of fun: what's not to like about a fairy cat which can fight, pick locks, and cast spells and has three different shapes to shift between?

            However, I've noticed a few issues with the class, in play:

            1. Grimalkin are small: around 3-4' high, about the same size as trad D&D halflings. Like halflings, they can only use small weapons, but they don't gain the associated benefits of being small, namely: an AC bonus when in combat with large creatures.
            2. The main means of transition between the humanoid form (estray) and the moggy form (chester) is the consumption or avoidance of town rats. While this is a charming idea, I've found it troublesome in play, for several reasons. Firstly, in my experience, when PCs are in town, the presence or not of rats is rarely something that comes up explicitly. Of course, the referee could bear this in mind, if a grimalkin PC is present, but it's not a part of the usual course of a game session. Secondly, whatever the PC may think, the player wants to stay in estray. In chester, the grimalkin's class abilities are greatly reduced and the state would be avoided by most players. This leads to the non-cat-like behaviour of avoiding rats! This, for me, is the main issue with the mechanics as written. Thirdly, if the character is avoiding rats "like the plague", that means they should avoid going into town. This presents logistical difficulties: does the grimalkin PC stay in the forest when the others in the party go shopping in town? Do they not sleep in the inn with the others? It encourages a "split the party" mentality, which is hassle to deal with. In the end, I've found that I've just completely ignored the whole rats thing, which is a shame.
            3. Though the PC grimalkin in my games has never got into chester (yet), I do notice that the abilities of that form are a little vaguely defined.
            4. While transitioning back to estray from chester just requires either alteration magic or stopping eating town rats, the transition back from the third form -- wilder -- is far more difficult. It requires a potion made from obscure ingredients which -- as the grimalkin in this state is highly chaotic -- the character's companions would have to attain and administer. As wilder is something of an "emergency state" for a grimalkin, this difficulty in changing back to its more civilised form seems ok, in and of itself. The issue here is more theoretical: without companions to look out for it, how would a grimalkin ever transform from wilder back to estray?
            So, I've been thinking of trying out the following tweaks:
            1. This is simple. Just give grimalkin the same AC bonus as halflings get: +2 when attacked by a larger-than-human creature.
            2. Fixing the issue with rats requires a larger change to the class. What I'm thinking of has several aspects. Firstly, to restore the cat-like glee at killing rodents, I'd specify that grimalkin compulsively attack rats (including giant rats), unless a save versus spells is successful (in situations where the character tries to suppress the instinct). Secondly, I'd undo the connection between eating rats and going into chester. Instead, we could say that (continuing the theme of certain types of magic triggering a grimalkin's transformations) every time a grimalkin in estray is targeted by transformative magic, there is a 50% chance of it entering chester. To come back, a further application of alteration magic can be used or (for sake of playability) the character reverts at dawn. I'd also stipulate that a grimalkin can willingly enter or choose to remain in chester. A willing transformation would take 1d6 rounds. (All of the PC's clothing and equipment melds into its body, when in chester.)
            3. We can say that a grimalkin in chester is intelligent and can understand language, but can only respond in yowls and meows. The addition of a claw/claw/bite attack routine (d2 damage per hit) also seems reasonable.
            4. I think simply saying that a grimalkin in wilder has an X-in-6 chance per some period of naturally (spontaneously) reverting to estray would fix this theoretical issue. For playability as a PC race, I'd make this pretty lenient: a 1-in-6 chance per day, say.
            I'll be interested to try out these tweaks to see how they work in practice and if they address the issues I've had with the class.

            Thursday 23 March 2017

            The Weird That Befell Drigbolton: A Bit About the Layout

            If you've not heard the word on the street about the impending fall of a star into Dolmenwood, check out this post first!

            Now that we're on the same page, I wanted to share a few ideas on what went into the layout design for the adventure. I wanted to create something that's as usable at the table as possible. Of course, there are many different ways to approach this and I don't claim to have found the perfect solution or anything like that, but I did put quite a lot of thought into it. Here are the main concepts:

            1. No chunks of information split across spreads. In book form, it's possible to view two pages of information at once (the left page and the right page) -- one spread. Anything that splits across spreads requires page-flipping. In an adventure, where the DM needs a quick overview of information and the ability to quickly scan and absorb chunks of description, page-flipping is a real drag. (Aside: I'm actually continually surprised how few RPG layouts pay any attention to this. The D&D 5 books are, for example, terrible in this regard.) So, while some of the longer sections of content in TWTBD span multiple spreads, this is consciously kept to a minimum and no individual chunks of information (i.e. individual or connected paragraphs) do so.
            2. Boxed-text summaries. As is to be expected from an adventure, a large part of the book consists of wilderness or dungeon area descriptions. Some of these are very minimal, but some describe relatively complex scenes with a lot of "moving parts", so require more text to fully describe. All area descriptions begin with a short paragraph of boxed-text. This does not play the role of read-aloud text for the players; it provides the DM with a brief summary of the area. The intention is that, once the DM has fully read through the module, these boxed-text summaries will aid as a memory jog for what's in each area.
            3. Further details in headed paragraphs. Leading on from the boxed-text summaries of the adventure areas, further points of interest are elaborated in short sections, each preceded by a heading. This makes them very easy to quickly jump to when players say they want to investigate a certain feature of a location.
            4. Monster stats. A simple thing, but worth noting: monster stat blocks are standardised and all begin with the name of the monster highlighted in a character style which is only used for that purpose. Again, this makes them easy to visually pick out and jump to.
            5. Cheat sheets. Finally, I created three cheat sheets summarising all locales in the adventure, one for the titular hamlet of Drigbolton, one for the surrounding wilderness, and one for the main "dungeon" locale of the adventure. These are not included in the printed book -- instead they're a separate PDF designed for home printing. Each cheat sheet consists of a map marked with numbered locales and very brief summaries of each marked location, along with the page number (in the main book) of the full description. In this way, the cheat sheets form the "backbone" of running the adventure, with the book referred to for more detail when the PCs investigate different areas. This kind of high-level summarising is something that I often feel is lacking in published adventures and I hope these pre-made cheat sheets will be a useful addition to this adventure!
            So, there you have it. I really hope that the thought that I put into the layout pays off and makes the adventure easy to run. The book is intended to look nice, too, of course (and Andrew's artwork certainly looks wonderful!), but the main intention is that it's usable as a gaming artefact that will provide quite a few sessions of fun exploration into the weird. I'm looking forward to hearing what people think of it, once it's out in the world...

            Coming soon! (Still waiting for those print proof copies to arrive...)