The Bleak Holdfast of the Heartless Queen – out at DTRPG

I’ve just published my second adventure module — The Bleak Holdfast of the Heartless Queen. It’s currently $4 at DTRPG.

Back cover blurb:

“High above the snow line there is a castle on a crag. It is an object of fear and hatred, because the Heartless Queen holds court there and she is pitiless in her anger and host to terrible friends. Between the Frost Wyrms, the Ice Harpies, and the Frozen Thing that Guards the Bridge, even getting in is difficult.

Most locals stay as far away as they can, but between courage, pride, and burning vengeance there are always some willing to take a shot at it. And travellers from the soft, warm south might hear stories of the Queen’s fantastical treasures and be oblivious about the horrors that protect them.”

It’s built using Old-School Essentials as the rules reference, and I’ve roughly tuned it for 5-6 PCs of 3rd level or slightly fewer of 4th.

(added 26 April) Some prosaic notes for the prospective DM – the module features:

  • A 70  location adventure site with a complex multi-path (‘Jaquay’d’) layout
  • Several goals the PCs could have within that space
  • An unusual environment (a castle made largely of ice)
  • Several detailed NPCs, some of whom can be set against each other
  • Several distinctive creature and minor NPC types
  • An adversary roster to help you predict the castle’s response to disturbance

(if you’re intimidated by my recent productivity, it might help you to know that I’ve been working on this, and The Pit in the Forest, on and off since January 2020.)

The Pit in the Forest – out at DTRPG

I’ve just published my first actual adventure module — The Pit in the Forest. It’s currently $2 $3 on DTRPG.

Bryce quite likes it.

Back cover blurb:

In Claine Forest near Padduck Village there has appeared a pit. No-one knows where it came from, it just did. It is not so deep that you cannot see the bottom, but people fear it and avoid it. No-one who has climbed into it has come back, having been dragged beneath the surface by unseen hands.

A necromancer has come to the forest, seeking the pit. She does not quite know what she expects from it, but what she hopes for is protection from death.

It’s built for 5-6 PCs of levels 2-3, and to run under most OSR rulesets.

Collected resources for interesting magic items

I often find magic item ideas online or in books. I quite often want magic item ideas when running or prepping games. I often can’t find the magic items I found when I want them

So I am going to keep lists of them here.

tSoY-style Keys in AD&D 2e

Over on Monsters & Manuals, noisms dug some optional per-class xp rules out of the AD&D 2e DMG:

Fighters get XP for “defeating” enemies

Priests get XP for successfully using their powers, casting spells to further their ethos, and making stuff

Wizards get XP for casting spells to overcome “foes or problems”, researching things and making stuff

Rogues get XP for using their special abilities and, er, treasure

This sounds similar to (and was probably a direct ancestor of) “Keys” in the Shadow of Yesterday. There’s a pdf of that at — the list of standard Keys starts on p27.

I’ve had good times with Keys, but I’ve only used them in the kind of games (like tSoY) where we leap from scene to scene, resolving big conflicts in a single roll, and so forth. In a turns-and-rooms D&D game it would be harder to make them sing.

Some notes on fixing BX D&D

As Patrick Stuart notes, BX D&D is core to the OSR. It has clarity, it has concision, and it is very clearly “D&D”. It has a clear modern presentation in Old School Essentials. Sadly, it has some serious problems. Here are some fixes. Maybe later there will be more.

First, up the amount of gold needed to advance in level is absurd, unless you want advancement to be ponderous. I’ve mostly concerned myself with how to meet that demand, but if you read my articles about it you’ll find links that suggest other solutions. (the comments on those links are often good).

Specifically, look at the intro to Tomb of the Serpent Kings“Treasure amounts are balanced around the idea that 200gp is enough to level a single character”. That’s likely to be my model going forwards.

If you’re not writing adventures for others, I’d suggest you (a) give more than one xp per gp or (b) rescale all the level charts so they give the pace you want.

It’s not clear at all, in OSE or otherwise, how thief skills relate to the (obvious) ability of non-thieves to do those same things. James  V West has about twelve ways to fix that — start reading at

Requiring “Read Magic” to use scrolls is excessive. Give Read Magic as an unlimited-use ability to all Magic Users —

Three things on games and rules and conventions and precedent

First, read this paper — Beyond the Rules of the Game: Why Are Rooie Rules Nice? The main take away is that the children there are using ostensible rules that aren’t about what they claim to be about. They’re not about discrete, clear actions in the game, they’re about an ill-defined way of interacting “nicely”. And that’s more important than the literal rules.

The article is about children of decidedly modest years. We adults are much more sophisticated. Does that mean we’re also more confused by our own smoke and mirrors?

Next, read Shroeder on Tuovinen on D&D play as a system of rulings with precedent. Tuovinen’s thread wouldn’t load for me (Forge archive structure has changed?) but Schroeder summarise it thus:

One fascinating document is the discussion of Eero Tuovinen’s D&D campaign. There, he treats D&D rules as oral tradition. If people remember a rule, it is applied. If a new rule is proposed on the spot, it is applied and if it remembered the next time such a situation comes up, it is applied again. The rules are what people can remember. Slowly, rules fade out and new ones fade in. It’s a living, mutual understanding of how the game will be played.

Third, read this Twitter thread by John Harper on how Blades in the Dark is no more complex than World of Dungeons. Key quote:

They feel similar to me in play, but one text leaves it to the players to figure out all the steps and methods, and the other text spells everything out. …

I’m pretty sure Harper is wrong here. Most groups, if they took World of Dungeons as a text, wouldn’t explicitly figure out steps and methods. They’d figure out something, for sure, but it is not “steps and methods”, not in the sense that Blades’ rules consist of that.

Finally, go and write your own blog post explaining the important connection between the three articles above that I have failed to describe or indeed to know.

(Bonus activity, for the very eager and alive — (re-) read Patrick Stuart on how BX/Moldvay D&D is the common language that makes the OSR space work, and try to work out how it can be true, given the above)


Calibrating my BX treasure spreadsheet – desired hours per level

In a previous post, I described a method for placing treasure in BX games. It has several input parameters where the best value to use are not obvious.

First, we have desired-hours-per-level. This is a very subjective value, since it represents individual GM’s desires, but to publish adventures I need something that represents a typical desire.

I’ve trawled over sources in blogs and comments about my article, and I’ve come up with a default value of 14 hours per level. That’s derived from “four sessions of 3-4 hours each”.

(A related question is “how should this vary, if at all, across the levels”? I’ve ignored this for now, assuming that people want all levels to be of the same length.)

Now, I didn’t actually find many BX (or even clearly-OSR) sources. Not many people think in terms of hours-per-level, and when people say “sessions” they often don’t even hint at the length. So I’ve branched out a bit, into modern D&D sources too. And when session length is unspecified, I’ve assumed 3-4 hours of real playing time.

OSR sources:

Modern (or mixed) sources:

Question for readers – what do you think of this value? Would you like a published BX adventure to come calibrated to this?

Why bother having prep procedures?

Or, “why bother writing an article like my A tuneable method for placing treasure in BX?”.

In response to the article linked above, /u/deejax313 said:

“Alot of work to go through for a game.

Cant DMs just give treasure, get a sense of how fast the players are advancing, and then give more or less treasure based on how fast they like the players to advance?

You may as well just not play with XP and just say characters advance a level every three adventures.

You’re crunching numbers and working backwards to create a system to make a totally subjective choice happen.”

A good question. I have answers.

Continue reading “Why bother having prep procedures?”

A tuneable method for placing treasure in BX

There doesn’t seem to be clear agreement on how fast BX/Moldvay PCs should advance, but it’s clear that many people are unhappy with the rate of advancement that results. It tends to be far too slow, at least for busy adults who manage a three-hour session maybe twice a month. (See e.g. Becker’s general critique here and here, and a recent Reddit post on the meagre spoils of In Search of the Unknown).

I’m working on some adventures that I plan to publish, and I plan to stat them for BX because (as Patrick Stuart recently argued) BX seems to be the most-used system in the parts of the OSR I care about. There are often complaints about adventures supposedly statted for BX that they are far too light on treasure (see many of Bryce Lynch’s reviews).

I don’t want to use the standard treasure tables because (a) I’m using mostly custom creatures, (b) there’s controversy about how good they are, and in any case (c) I want to make a tool that we can all use to tune the rate of PC advancement without giving up on xp-for-gold as an incentive.

So, I have made a spreadsheet (Google Sheets version, Excel version), and explained how it works below. Unless noted, I’m getting any specific numbers from the Old School Essentials Rules Tome.

Continue reading “A tuneable method for placing treasure in BX”