BattleTech Godsbarrow Miniature painting Miniatures Tabletop RPGs

Housekeeping updates

Hark! A wild round-up appears. I usually find writing housekeeping posts super boring, but things have been quiet here and I wanted to post a little update on the irons I have in the fire. (This post wasn’t boring to write.)

Godsbarrow and the Gilded Lands book

I haven’t posted any new Godsbarrow material here in months, but not because I’ve lost interest in my setting — I’m still working on it every day!

I really want to put out a second book, so the new stuff I’ve been writing is all part of The Gilded Lands: Godsbarrow Guidebook 2, which will hopefully be out this year. (I published The Unlucky Isles: Godsbarrow Guidebook 1 [affiliate link], in November of last year.)

So far my experience with the first book is holding true: about 50% of The Gilded Lands is new material. Revisiting and expanding it is a hoot. The best days are the ones where I get a wild hair about something, write it, and it feels like I’m just describing something that already existed because it fits the setting so perfectly. (On the days I’m just not feeling it, my “safety valve” is doing the bare minimum: jotting down a name, tweaking a snippet of text, etc.)

All of my Godsbarrow energy is going into fleshing out the Gilded Lands.


My #dungeon23 project, the Black Furnace, is ticking along nicely. I write a room a day (which is the whole idea), and I’m currently about 75% done with level 2.

So far the pace is manageable, and the empty room safety valve is there for days when I need a break. Even if I don’t finish my megadungeon (not my plan, but you never know), I’ve already designed my largest-ever dungeon.

Miniature painting

I’m still working on BattleMechs, just much more slowly than I was in January. This is the third of my “do it every day” long-term projects, and at any given time one of the three is just getting prodded along without any meaningful progress. Right now, that’s painting.

Once Lark and I play a game with all eight painted minis, I’ll be more motivated to finish the next four.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Godsbarrow Old school Tabletop RPGs

First level of the Black Furnace complete

I’m quite enjoying #dungeon23 so far. Having 1/3 empty rooms is a fantastic safety valve, allowing me to bank the fire of inspiration for days when I’m feeling it.

Dungeon23 logo created by Lone Archivist and released under a CC BY 4.0 license

Although it’s now day 40, level 1 of the Black Furnace is “only” 35 rooms — because this dungeon has five entrances, and I wrote those up first.

Notes about level 1

Here’s a stitched-together photo of level 1, with wing A on the left and wing B on the right. Wing A is the home of the cult of Hürak Mol, which performs some vital dungeon functions whenever the Black Furnace is in the mortal world — and, by keeping the faith, and even more vital function: keeping long-forgotten Hürak Mol from being entirely forgotten, and thereby still alive. Another faction, the bone automatons, claims part of this wing and is often at odds with the cult.

Level 1 of the Black Furnace (February 9, 2023 draft)

Wing B is largely in disrepair, but is home to two warring factions: the corpse-drivers, fungal beings who hollow out fresh corpses and pilot them like little “flesh-mecha,” and the lichenate, a hive mind moss-entity that worships a moss god on a lower level (who I haven’t written up yet). This wing is also full of malfunctioning and dangerous creations of Hürak Mol, which is another reason why the cult from wing A doesn’t spend much time here.

You can see my love of interconnectivity on this map. There are two ways down to level 1: the main entrance (S1), which offers an immediate choice of wing A or wing B, and the chimney (S3). Wings A and B have one sub-surface connection point (the long corridor to the north). Both wings connect to level 2, and the S3 chimney also leads straight down to level 4.

I’m also trying to pack in lots of the other stuff I love about a good megadungeon: factions, weird and gonzo elements, a nod to practicality (especially where it pertains to giving players information that lets them figure out what a level/wing is all about), an emphasis on new monsters, temptingly dangerous objects, and a mix of stuff that looks worse than it is and stuff that’s much worse than it looks, among others. Some bits I had a lot of fun with: the prison (9), a mirror that duplicates whatever you put in front of it in an internal pocket dimension (7), a magic oven (15), an abomination that extracts hearts (18), a waterfall that whispers portents (26), and a long hallway full of incredibly suspicious-looking clay statues that mostly just want to help new arrivals (27).

As this is a draft, I’ve left some work for Future Martin — random encounter tables, stat blocks, random item and magic item tables, and the like. Those feel like roadblocks in the moment, and the last thing I need is roadblocks. This is already the largest dungeon I’ve ever written up, and I don’t want anything sapping my momentum.

I also know from publishing my first Godsbarrow book, The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], last year that I’ll be revising this dungeon if I ever take it further than a notebook full of maps and a spreadsheet. My approach is to get the raw ideas down, have fun with it, and tidy it up later.

On that front, the Black Furnace is definitely consuming almost all of my Godsbarrow processor cycles — or at least, it is for now. But while that’s slowing down my work on Godsbarrow Guide 2: The Gilded Lands, neither project is an obligation so I’m not treating them as obligations. I still work on them both every day, and there will come a time when the balance will swing back towards the next book.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Godsbarrow Old school Tabletop RPGs

The Black Furnace level 1-A

Today I finished the draft of the first area in my #dungeon23 project, the Black Furnace.

The Black Furnace’s servants’ quarters

Level 1-A is the servants’ quarters, home to the cult of Hürak Mol. It’s accessible from one of the Black Furnace’s five entrances, and connects to level 2 and level 1-B.

I can’t remember the last time I drew a proper dungeon map, and I don’t think I’ve ever written up a dungeon this size before. I’m enjoying sitting down each day with no clear idea of what’s next, and just having fun with it.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Godsbarrow Old school Tabletop RPGs

#dungeon23: off to the races!

I’m not sure all my notes (many rolled in Tome of Adventure Design [affiliate link]) will survive the next steps, but I’m off to the races with #dungeon23. Weep at my terrible handwriting!

Sketching out the surface level of the Black Furnace: five entrances, with notes

I like megadungeons with multiple entrances and verticality, so the Black Furnace has a main entrance, two chimneys (which can be used as dangerous entrances), an observatory side entrance, and a collapsed garden/cave that also allows ingress.

Today’s room was S1, the main entrance: a huge black kiln with three ways down to level 1 (one of which also leads to level 2).

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Godsbarrow Old school Tabletop RPGs

#dungeon23: ground work

I’ve juggled things around a bit since my initial #dungeon23 post. With less than 24 hours to go until my first room, it’s time to lay the last bits of ground work for the Black Furnace.

Dungeon23 logo created by Lone Archivist and released under a CC BY 4.0 license

The thing I’ve changed up is mapping: I bought a graph paper notebook (4 squares/inch) and a Jujutsu Kaisen pencil mat, and I’m going to do some — or maybe all — of the mapping myself.

My #dungeon23 mapping notebook all stickered up and ready to go

I still might use some of Dyson Logos’ gorgeous maps later on, but for the entrances I need to blaze my own trail. I have an idea of what the dungeon looks like on the surface, and how many entrances it has, and I want a significant vertical element available early on; all of that points to mapping out the first level myself.

Origins of the Black Furnace

When I open the book for a published dungeon, there are few things I like to see less than pages and pages of backstory. That’s usually enough for me to put it down and/or never run it.

But ya gotta have some backstory, or at least I do, to hang your hat on. I don’t need a meticulous ecology that makes logical sense, but I want to know why the dungeon exists, or why the first bit of it was created, if that’s more applicable; and I want to know its themes and key ingredients.

Here’s what I already know about the Black Furnace, which appears as an adventure site in The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]:

  • Rises from the earth during times of great strife
  • Sprawling subterranean maze
  • Realm of a long-forgotten god
  • Maw which releases ancient monstrosities into the world
  • Reappearance bodes ill for Brundir

That’s the grist for my mill, and those are my touchstones to keep me reasonably focused. But I need to flesh that list out a bit before I write my first dungeon room/location or I’m going to wind up rambling in eight directions, none of them productive.

The larch

All it took to get my creative juices flowing was a few rolls on the Religions table in one of my favorite random-creation tools, the Tome of Adventure Design [affiliate link]. I rolled the name Her + ak + Mol and instantly knew I had the heart of the Black Furnace: the god who created it.

I put a bit of English on that name, started writing…and the rest of it flowed out of my half-formed notions, the notes I’ve taken over the past month, and the raw creative flow born from knowing this god’s name.

Why does it exist?

In Godsbarrow’s earliest days, the gods warred openly against one another. Their need for new and ever more powerful weapons was insatiable, so the deity Hürak Mol (they/them, pronounced “HOO-rak mawl”) built a great kiln, and a furnace beneath it, and began forging, shaping, and birthing artifacts, monsters, and engines of war. This fell place was known as the Black Furnace.

With every creation, Hürak Mol gained power through the other gods’ reliance on them. Where most gods grew strong because of the number of their mortal worshipers, Hürak Mol thrived on the needs of Dormiir’s many gods.

Which meant that as the world stabilized, and the gods withdrew from the mortal realm, preferring to bask in their power or fight each other through proxies, Hürak Mol was no longer needed.

Their power diminished until Hürak Mol became little more than a small god, half-remembered and largely ignored by the other gods. Before they could fade away entirely, Hürak Mol infused the Black Furnace with their deific power and caused their great kiln and subterranean complex of forges, fires, and chimneys, as well as their servitors, raw materials, and small cult of devout worshipers, to sink beneath the earth.

The Black Furnace was not seen in Godsbarrow for many centuries. Hürak Mol was entirely forgotten by the people of Dormiir.

Where has it been?

The Cult of Mol the Timeless has survived within the tunnels of the Black Furnace for untold centuries. Generation upon generation of worshipers have tended the Black Furnace, banked its fires, and — most importantly — remained fervent in their devotion to Hürak Mol, ensuring that they do not fade away entirely.

Hürak Mol, for their part, slumbers in god-sleep in the depths of the Black Furnace, their ancient, war-filled dreams forming part of the Wraithsea.

The Black Furnace is a god-realm, not subject to the laws of physics nor entirely bound by notions of time or reality. It somehow sustains the life within it, and time passes much more slowly inside its tunnels — until it returns to Dormiir. Infused with Hürak Mol’s power, the dungeon itself can sense when there might be enough strife in the world to return Hürak Mol to their former glory.

When this happens, the cult seeks to wake up Hürak Mol. Cultists work the forges and kilns, birthing monstrosities into the world and forging dark artifacts. They attempt to recruit new members. They spread a gospel of war and chaos — the fertile ground Hürak Mol needs to awaken from torpor.

It has appeared in different places throughout Godsbarrow’s history, and done so often enough to become the subject of legends throughout the world. Thus far, the Black Furnace has always remained in Godsbarrow for a time and then, responding to the ancient dictates of its creation, sunk back beneath the earth to await the next moment when Hürak Mol’s return might be realized.

Fuck yeah

That’s what I needed to feel confident heading into day one of #dungeon23!

I’ve got some evocative, partially-formed notions of what the Black Furnace looks like (or parts of it, at least). I’ve got reasons for just about anything to be part of it, as it has been accessible to the denizens of Dormiir many times over many centuries. Hell, there’s room for gonzo science-fantasy stuff, too.

I have at least one faction in mind, the cult, and it’s likely to be a fractious one. (Who could possibly agree on how to stay devoted to a sleeping god for untold centuries without becoming divided over the specifics?) It’s accessible via the Wraithsea, which is a whole other avenue of ingress and egress (sort of). That means the Arkestran Dominion likely has a presence here, or has at some point.

It also has agency, because the second it appears — which it already has — the weirdoes who live there starting making fucked-up monsters and shit, fanning out across the countryside, and spreading the gospel of Hürak Mol. Hell, they want people to find the dungeon; they’ll tempt anyone they think could be useful with promises of unimaginable power (and be telling the truth about it, although the trade-off isn’t going to appeal to everyone).

The dungeon and its core inhabitants have a direct connection to the PCs’ actions, too: Wiping out the cult would kill Hürak Mol. Aiding the cult would wake up Hürak Mol. If they survive long enough to reach the lowest levels, the PCs will encounter a god. The longer the dungeon stays in Godsbarrow, the more messed-up shit is going to leak into Brundir.

I love it when a dungeon has potentially world-shaking implications, yet can be accessible to 1st level D&D characters. That’s what I wanted out of the Black Furnace when I came up with it, and having jotted all this stuff down I like how it’s coming together.

I’m stoked to explore the Black Furnace this year and see what comes of it!

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Godsbarrow Old school Old School Essentials Tabletop RPGs

#dungeon23: The Black Furnace

Sean McCoy‘s #dungeon23 challenge has been making the rounds on Mastodon: Every day in 2023, write one room of an old-school fantasy megadungeon (or whatever similar project tickles your fancy). I’ve been intrigued, but felt like I didn’t really need another project next year — until this morning, when the puzzle pieces fell into place.

Dungeon23 logo created by Lone Archivist and released under a CC BY 4.0 license

These days I do best with long-term projects that I can 1) work on every single day, no exceptions, and 2) just “check the box” if I don’t have the energy today. That means projects with lots of variety in their components, and which can survive banking the fires — basically only working on them in the most technical sense, like a dab of paint or writing a single name — while I recharge my creative juices or deal with life’s curveballs.

This is how Godsbarrow got created, and how I’ve worked on it daily since March 2021. It’s how I wrote and published The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]. It’s how I work on my 40k miniatures. It prioritizes continuation, completion, and realistic expectations — and it’s baked right into #dungeon23. There’s tons of variety (365 rooms!), and writing “Empty room” is a 100% valid and necessary component of any megadungeon.

Sean’s longer write-up makes that explicit, and it’s what really sealed the deal for me. After many past false starts, I’m going to take a run at creating my first megadungeon: the Black Furnace, my favorite dungeon that I’ve mentioned in my Godsbarrow material.

My WIP simple spreadsheet, as of December 10, 2022

My approach

I get the appeal of working on #dungeon23 in a physical notebook with hand-drawn maps; that will produce a lovely artifact at the end of the year, and it hearkens back to the origins of the hobby. But my handwriting is terrible, I won’t always have that notebook handy, I know drawing dungeon maps is a roadblock for me (I always get too deep in the weeds and then abandon the project), and ultimately whatever I produce is likely to be something I want to publish — so why make more work for myself by doing it by hand?

Once I knew that, the rest of my path became pretty clear. Here it is in rough form, as it stands now:

  • Google Sheets: I’ll be creating my megadungeon in Google Sheets. Easily updateable and editable, always available, and already digital.
  • Dyson Logos’ maps: I’m going to use some of the wonderful maps created by Dyson Logos — specifically, the ones Dyson has generously released with a royalty-free commercial license. If I finish my dungeon and like it enough to publish it, this makes that possible.
  • OSE: Old School Essentials is my old-school system of choice, and the game I’d most likely use to run a megadungeon, so that’s sorted. And OSE has a third-party license for published products that looks entirely reasonable, so I’m covered there as well.
  • Dungeon stocking: That also means I can use the OSE rules for random dungeon stocking, which I quite like. That breaks down to 1/3 empty rooms, 1/3 monster, 1/6 special, and 1/6 trap.
    • I might also use the method from AD&D 1e, which comes up in Courtney’s PDF (the next bullet).
  • Random generators: I love random generators, and with 365 rooms to write (even if 122 of them are empty!) I’m going to need plenty of inspiration. There are a billion tools for this, but I’ll start with two.
  • A snazzy logo: Lone Archivist created a free #dungeon23 logo pack (as well as one for sci-fi projects) with a CC BY 4.0 license.

That’s the how, but what about the what?

The Black Furnace

I created the Black Furnace when I was designing the Unlucky Isles, and I like how it turned out. Even though it’s only a region-level sketch, that’s plenty to get me rolling on room-by-room creation (which is one of the things I love about region-level sketches!):

This black stone kiln the size of a large house, its soot-covered iron door always warm to the touch, rises from the earth during times of great strife. It was thought to have receded from the world centuries ago, but in recent days trappers and woodcutters who work the Hulawe Hills claim to have seen this fell edifice, and those who have gone to look for it have not returned. Folk tales say that it’s the entrance to a sprawling subterranean maze, or to the realm of a long-forgotten god, or a maw which releases ancient monstrosities into the world. In truth, the Black Furnace is all three of those things, and its reappearance bodes ill for Brundir.

From The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]

That’s got all the bones I need for #dungeon23: A sprawling subterranean maze: check. The realm of a long-forgotten god, which hearkens back to one of my favorite modules, Tomb of the Iron God [affiliate link]: check. A maw that spews monsters, which is already giving me all sorts of ideas: check. And potential region-level, world-shaking implications, which I love in a dungeon: check.

In the spirit of drawing from my first Godsbarrow and proto-Godsbarrow ideas for worldbuilding, I’m going to reuse, remix, and draw from the megadungeon I started designing back in 2016, Marrowdark. (I’ll likely use that name for something else in Godsbarrow — maybe even a dungeon; it’s the ideas I’m after here.) Some of the rough clay in those notes has already made its way into wider Godsbarrow, notably the null slimes of Middenglum, and I want to explore more of its themes.

Many thanks to Sean McCoy for kicking this off, and for posting about it well in advance of the start date! I needed that time to get my ducks in a row and think things over, and now I’m excited to get rolling in January.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Old school Tabletop RPGs

An overlooked OSR gem: Lesserton and Mor

Lesserton and Mor (paid link), written by Joel and Jeff Sparks of Faster Monkey Games, is a product that I don’t think has received its due. It’s a fantastic, unique, flavorful, and versatile sourcebook for a premade city and its neighboring open-air megadungeon, and it’s incredibly cool. (Update: And it’s now free in PDF!)

For starters, just look at this glorious Peter Mullen cover:

The late, great Steve Zieser did all of the interior art, and his style — like Mullen’s — matches up beautifully with L&M’s “dirty British fantasy” aesthetic.

The hook

L&M has an awesome premise: The ancient city of Mor, “mankind’s proudest achievement,” was sacked by barbarians, and then destroyed in a mysterious cataclysm. The refugees of Mor made their new home next door, and grew that ragged settlement into the city of Lesserton — “the adventurer’s paradise,” a home base for those brave and foolhardy enough to venture into Mor to claim its riches.

Lesserton is fully described in L&M, from districts to buildings to personalities to laws. But Mor is not — Mor, you make yourself. It’s even possible to roll it up as you play, creating new hexes and populating them as the PCs venture into unexplored territory (along the lines of my own Hexmancer).

What’s inside

L&M is a shrinkwrapped bundle, old-school style: a wraparound cardstock cover, unattached to the three booklets inside. The loose cover doubles as a map of Mor, intended to be filled in as you go. Inside are three books: a ref’s guide to Lesserton, a thinner players’ guide to Lesserton, and a guide to rolling up your own Mor.

Lesserton reminds me of WFRP’s Middenheim (paid link) and Terry Pratchett‘s Ankh-Morpork — two of my favorite fantasy cities — but it’s also its own animal. It’s populated by a ragtag mix of people, including many part-ork (“orkin”) folk descended from the original invaders of Mor, and home to all manner of gambling houses, pubs, and brothels. (“Fantasy Mos Eisley” would also be decent shorthand.)

The Referee’s Guide to Lesserton plumbs its depths rather well, and packs a lot of stuff into 68 pages. It’s not chaff, either — it’s stuff you’ll actually use at the table (like another of my favorite city books, Fever-Dreaming Marlinko [paid link], which I’ve written about on Yore).

There are regular pit fights, places to rob, weird shops where you can buy weird shit, normal shops that will sell you adventuring gear, and on and on. There’s a whole section on carousing, which I now realize I missed in my look at carousing in D&D from 1977 to present, and it’s great.

I loathe homework in RPGs, but I love players’ guides to settings; for me to be happy, players’ guides need to be extremely well done, or they’re just homework. The Player’s Guide to Lesserton is extremely well done. For starters, it’s 16 pages long.

What’s the city like? One page, boom. Where is X? There’s a map on the back cover. “I want to get shitfaced.” Covered. “I got too shitfaced, where do they take drunks here?” Covered. “Where do I gamble/drink/fuck?” Covered.

Also covered are lots of things that feel very Lesserton to me. For example, Brinkley’s Assurity Trust will, for 100gp, sell you a bumblebee pin that signals to the orkin tribes who live in Mor that there’s a ransom for your safe return. That’s brilliant! L&M is full of touches like that; it’s designed for play, not just reading (or worse, endless, droning setting-wankery), and it shows.

Finally, there’s the Referee’s Guide to Mor, plus its companion map. This booklet (28 pages, also a great length for what it needs to do) opens with useful background on Mor — what was where, what sort of city it was, and the like. That gives you a good foundation for improvisation during play.

The balance of the book is a framework for generating your own version of Mor, hex by hex, either in advance or on the spot. Random terrain, random buildings, random encounters, special areas (caches, dead magic zones, excavations, etc.) — pure hexcrawl goodness. It even covers generating the orkin clans who call Mor home.

Awesome possum

Put it all together, and L&M is a hell of a toolbox. To stretch the toolbox analogy a bit, it’s like a toolbox that contains some top-notch tools you’re likely to need, as well as the parts to make the ones it’d be more fun to create yourself, and an owner’s manual to help you make the most of both.

I rarely hear anyone talk about Lesserton and Mor (paid link),  which is a shame — it’s a true gem of a setting. I rate it a 10/10, and heartily recommend it.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Old school Tabletop RPGs

Doodle Temple and Gormand’s Larder: illustrated DIY dungeon generators

Doodle Temple and Gormand’s Larder, both illustrated by Cédric Plante, are two of the coolest gaming books I’ve bought in recent memory.

They’re both dungeon generators, but instead of random tables, they consist entirely of Cédric’s beautiful illustrations. And they’re weird. I love weird! Mundane dungeons are boring, and neither of these books will turn out a mundane dungeon.

Doodle Temple is for making a peculiar temple, while Larder covers a small dungeon/lair. There are no stats or rules, just pictures of what to roll and indicators for what die roll produces what result. Totally system-neutral.

But oh, those pictures! They’re creepy, esoteric, graceful, twisty, sometimes quite dark, and above all they’re imaginative. I can’t flip through these books without thinking about what they might mean in-game, and how my players might react to them.

They’d work well in just about any old-school fantasy campaign, and probably in other genres, too — there’s nothing about the temple, for example, that wouldn’t fit right into a sci-fi game. Fantasy-wise, they’d be a perfect fit for a darker setting, which I wouldn’t have guessed beforehand.

Doodle Temple

(I didn’t have great light for these photos, so please ascribe any oddities to me, not Cédric.)

Doodle Temple opens with rooms and dungeon dressing (larger version):

What do the doors and windows look like?

And what lives there?

This is my favorite creature in the book, but it was by no means easy to choose just one. The temple denizens are all equally strange and wonderful.

Gormand’s Larder

The Larder is in black and white, and ups the creepy factor quite a bit. Here’s the foyer and its potential denizens and dungeon dressing (larger version):

You don’t need a written room description — it’s all there, clear and detailed, including the contents of the chamber.

What happens when you eat that weird thing in the recipe room? Why, this, of course!

This dude hangs out in the meat zoo. The meat zoo. I’m going to have weird dreams about this room.

On the whole, Larder feels more distilled. It’s denser with ideas, and the skin-crawl factor appeals to me, as does its strong sense of place. Doodle Temple is more loosely themed, and instead of lots of small pictures, you get fewer illustrations, but they’re larger and in color.

For Doodle Temple, Cédric collaborated with Benjamin Baugh, Ian Reilly, and Edward Lockhart; for Larder, Baugh was his sole co-contributor. Hats off to all of these folks, especially Cédric, for coming up with such a nifty idea and executing it so well.

If I had to pick just one, it’d be Larder, but I’m glad I don’t have to pick just one. Gormand’s Larder and Doodle Temple both get starred entries on my big list of Lulu RPG recommendations. I highly recommend them both!

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
D&D OD&D Old school Tabletop RPGs

Dungeon stocking in OD&D vs. Delving Deeper, plus The Strategic Review

My copy of Delving Deeper just came in the mail, and after a thorough skim I quite like it. I was after a retroclone that hews as closely as possible to OD&D[1] (paid link),  and at first blush DD seems to fit the bill.

But when I got to the section on dungeon stocking, it looked pretty different from OD&D. Let’s poke that bit and crunch the numbers, like I did with B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord dungeon stocking.

OD&D vs. Delving Deeper

Both games assume that the GM is placing some things by hand before switching to random generation. In OD&D, that’s tricks, traps, and important treasures; in DD, it’s just important treasures (more on this later on!).

Here are the odds in OD&D:

  • Monster: 16.67%
  • Empty: 59.25%
  • Monster with treasure: 16.67%
  • Unguarded treasure: 7.41%

Here are the odds for dungeon stocking in DD:

  • Monster: 22.22%
  • Empty room: 44.45%
  • Treasure guarded by monster: 16.66%
  • Unguarded treasure: 8.34%
  • Treasure guarded by trap: 2.78%
  • Trick or trap: 5.56%

First, treasure: You’ve got a 24.08% chance that a given room contains treasure in OD&D, compared to a 27.78% chance in DD — basically the same. That’s awesome, because it indicates a similar balance of risk vs. reward, and a similar incentive to explore, in both games.

The first four categories in DD’s table correspond to the four categories in OD&D, so we can compare apples to apples in those cases — and they’re really close. The biggest difference is the chance of an empty room (without treasure), which is a whopping 14.8% higher in OD&D than in DD. That just about covers the increased chance of meeting a monster, finding a trap, or finding trapped treasure — the latter two of which aren’t options in OD&D’s chart.

And that’s the biggest difference, of course: DD’s two additional categories, which aren’t present at all in OD&D. Since Delving Deeper’s goal is “faithful emulation of the original 1974 edition,” where did those extra categories come from, and why are they there?

I have two guesses, one reasonable and one perhaps a bit more fun.

The reasonable one

My best guess as to the origin of those two categories is that DD’s authors wanted to provide a clarified take on OD&D’s system for random dungeon stocking, which entailed backing into the parts that OD&D doesn’t randomize.

OD&D includes a section called “Tricks and Traps,” and also notes “It is a good idea to thoughtfully place several of the most important treasures.” Those directives map pretty well to DD’s two “extra” categories.

It’s also significant that, unlike OD&D, DD only proposes that the GM place the “principal treasures” before rolling for the rest of the level — not tricks and traps. If you’re not going to stock those by hand, then they need to appear on the chart.

Legal “cover” may also come into play, too. By presenting stocking differently than OD&D, DD establishes a degree of variation between the two systems. At the same time, the percentages are mostly close enough that OD&D’s intent is preserved.

The Strategic Review

The fun guess involves pure speculation. When I was reading the DD section on dungeon stocking, the categories rang a bell — I thought I’d seen them in an early issue of The Strategic Review. Here’s the relevant chart from Gary Gygax’s article on random dungeon generation for solo play in issue #1:

Bingo! Those categories are almost identical to the ones in DD. The biggest difference is “Treasure guarded by trap” in DD vs. “Special or empty” in TSR; I’d argue those are pretty similar. (Crunching the percentages, they line up almost perfectly with OD&D, with a bit of fuzz factor in order to fit in the additional two categories. They don’t line up as perfectly with DD, but they’re still pretty close.)

I don’t know if Delving Deeper took that TSR article into account, but I do know that it encompasses the 1974 boxed set, Chainmail, and “some ‘zine commentary of the time (most particularly the FAQ that appeared in The Strategic Review and the unofficial untested thief as it appeared in The Great Plains Game Players Newsletter).” Given that the FAQ didn’t appear until issue #2 of TSR, contemplating an article in TSR #1 seems reasonable.[2]


Like B/X and Labyrinth Lord, Delving Deeper’s approach to dungeon stocking incentivizes the same play style as the system found in OD&D. Some treasure is unguarded, and about the same percentage of rooms in both games contain treasure.

Delving Deeper does a great job of breaking down the math used to stock an OD&D dungeon, and then matching it quite closely in the four categories that both games share. It then formalizes a part of the dungeon stocking process — tricks and traps — that OD&D leaves informal, and adjusts the percentages to make everything fit.

In a vacuum, that makes DD dungeon stocking look different from OD&D dungeon stocking — more traps, fewer empty rooms. But it’s not apples to apples, because DD expands the random generation system to encompass more dungeon elements.

It’s hard to directly compare OD&D’s combination of manual placement (tricks, traps, and principal treasures) and randomization to DD’s more fully randomized approach, which only involves manual placement of the big treasures. One GM might stick traps in 10% of her dungeon rooms, while another only traps 5% of chambers.

On the whole, it seems like it would have been easier to follow OD&D’s example exactly, sticking with four categories and matching the percentages more closely. But on balance I like that Delving Deeper attempts to fold the rest of the dungeon stocking process into one table, and that it does so by remaining faithful to OD&D’s intent — and, perhaps, to Gary’s take in The Strategic Review.

Update from Simon Bull

Over on G+, Simon Bull commented on writing this section of Delving Deeper:

DD V3-V4 were written, largely, mid 2013 to mid 2014–so a while back now–but being “legally different” to the original was an ever-present design consideration throughout.

I can remember spending a lot of time trying to get the dungeon stocking probabilities “just so”. I was aware that EGG’s expanded dungeon stocking article in the SR included the possibility of random traps and, although I don’t remember my precise rationale now, it probably helped me to “justify” adding traps to V4’s method of randomisation.

I can also remember being a bit dissatisfied with V4’s frequency of empty rooms, but I figured it was the least disruptive way I could add traps into the mix.

FWIW, I do consider the random dungeon stocking section–and particularly randomisation of monsters–a bit of a weakness in V4. However, I have done a lot a more thinking about it since then, and this element of game is presented far more cleanly in V5.

Thanks, Simon!

[1] “OD&D” can sometimes be a fuzzy term. Is it just the three original booklets? Those three plus Supplement I: Greyhawk (paid link)? All seven LBBs? What about the FAQ in The Strategic Review #2, or the prototype thief class that appeared in a fanzine before it was published in Greyhawk? I’m most interested in the three original booklets plus the FAQ, so that’s what I have in mind in this post.

[2] While I’m out on a limb, given that Gary published this article in 1975, just a year after OD&D came out, I wonder whether or not the percentages for “Special or empty” and “Trick/trap” in TSR #1 might not be pretty close to what he used in his home games when stocking a dungeon level. I have no way of knowing, but it’s fun to think about.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Books Tabletop RPGs

The Night Land seems ripe for gaming

I just started reading William Hope Hodgson‘s 1912 weird fiction work The Night Land (paid link ; also available as a free ebook). I’m interested in it in large part because the setting sounds fabulous — and rather well-suited to gaming.

I say “sounds” because I’m not that far into the book yet. It’s a strange animal: It’s almost 600 pages long, there’s no dialogue (and, based on reading about the book, there won’t be any later on, either), and the prose isn’t conducive to quick reading.

What piqued my interest was the snippets on Wikipedia, and tell me this doesn’t seem like it’d make a great setting:

The Sun has gone out and the Earth is lit only by the glow of residual vulcanism. The last few millions of the human race are gathered together in a gigantic metal pyramid, nearly eight miles high – the Last Redoubt, under siege from unknown forces and Powers outside in the dark. These are held back by a shield known as the “air clog”, powered from a subterranean energy source called the “Earth Current”. For millennia, vast living shapes—the Watchers—have waited in the darkness near the pyramid. It is thought they are waiting for the inevitable time when the Circle’s power finally weakens and dies. Other living things have been seen in the darkness beyond, some of unknown origins, and others that may once have been human.

Something about this reminds me of James MacGeorge’s Black Sun Deathcrawl, which is part of what made me want to dig deeper.

The Redoubt is basically a city-dungeon (composed of over 1,300 individual cities), or a Shadowrun arcology on a grand scale — eight miles tall, and five miles wide at the base. I have no idea how feasible it would be to try to model the whole Redoubt as a dungeon in-game, but I’d love to see it done.

As for the Watchers, check out this gallery of Stephen Fabian‘s Night Lands artwork. It’s great imagination-fuel, even if you ignore the Night Lands aspect entirely.

I don’t know if I’ll finish The Night Land, as it’s competing with a million less-dense things I could be reading, but I’m looking forward to getting to the weird bits.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.