Thursday, 20 July 2017

Held Kinetic Energy in Old School Combat Arenas

So you're running an old-school game and you want a set-piece fight. The rule-set doesn't like that.

The complexity is dumped into set design, chunky monster actions (like picking people up and throwing them, putting them in strange altered states) and whatever parts of the meta-text might show up in the fight (one monster is special friends with another and gets upset when they die, there are factions within the fight who want slightly seperate things).

A lot of the 'set design' of set-piece Old School fights come down to the stored kinetic energy hidden in elements of the environment.

A PC has to be able to do something to the environment that will unleash stored kinetic energy and hopefully act upon a seperate part of the battle space in a predictable yet unexpected way

Two fictional examples here;

The first is John McTiernan movies, especially the attack on the rebel base in Predator;

If you look at that long scene you'll notice that many of the times when a member of the main cast performs an action to alter the environment, it has an effect which is witnessed, usually by another main character, in a different part of the environment, and which often directly affects it. So the space of the scene is stitched together by this river of movement and action, the characters are connected to each other by kinetic effects which escape their frame of origin.

Die Hard has a bit of this as well, The Hunt for Red October. Not sure about the rest.

And the second is all Pirate Movies;

Thinking about it, its astonishing how much effect the kinetic qualities of a large sailing ship have on the general aspect of Pirate Movies.

(I am looking at the pseudo-kinesis of a heightened fictional pirate movie rather than age-of-sail movies. In real life rope costs money and you want to avoid it being cut, and there are limits to what physics can do.)

A ship as a whole is an environment under complex kinetic pressures, it is an engine designed to harness movement-energy from the sky. It has almost everything we would want from an old-school set-piece battle.

Multi Dimensionality - you can be up in the sails, on the deck, down in the ship itself, or in the sea. All completely different environments, all connected to each other in intuitively obvious ways.

Kinesis - all the ropes are under strain and there is always rope, you can climb up or down, cut ropes and have them pull you up, drop sails or ride them down, swing pretty much anywhere and, most important, almost always tie things to other things.

Meta Elements - a ships crew already has a hierarchy, there are specialist rules, you can see who is in charge, a decapitation strike on the captain or a last-minute negotiation is always a possibility. You are a complex, visible and intuitively graspable social system which the DM doesn't have to spend a lot of time having to explain.

The Pirate Ship even has a built-in 'not-dead-but-largely-out-of-the-fight' status with someone being knocked off the ship.

And the environment as a whole is doing something as you fight on and in it. Several things. The first of which is that it is floating, and if it stops doing that then you are in fucking trouble.


There must be some kind of i

If we were to work backwards, stating that we want kinetically complex and interconnected environments, could we create a kind of ideal concept generator for OSR set-piece fight scenes? What would we get?

Windmills and Watermills - they have the blades or wheel and they have an inside with lots of stuff moving about that could be interrupted and messed about with. They have a big grinding thing you can chuck someone in and ruin the corn. The watermill has a river nearby.

Forges or anything based around fire. Large scale metalworking has those big contained crucibles that can be tipped, possibly channels of molten metal that can be diverted. The annoying ending to the last Hobbit movie had a lot of that.

Actually the 'We're just smelting a giant statue here and its nearly, _right this moment_, finished so don't have a fight here' scene is a good idea. Especially if the giant statue is eeeevil.

Dams or anything holding back a large pressure. Complex lock gates could work as well, though they are rather slow. This is non-optimal as it seems to reduce everything to one disastrous action, but that could be interesting in its own way.

Anything with a living process at its core that has its own logic and could get out of control, or where control of it could be manipulated. Maybe a chemical process like a brewery?

The shipyard with the ship about to launch. You've got the whole business with the rigging, the ship escaping into the water and whatever happens after.

The building site, especially if they are building something tall and *heavy*, things to fall, drop, cut, release, swing on and cause to interact with each other.

Mass transport scenes, especially with = big round barrels that can tip and roll, teams of horses that are straining on things, ropes holding things that can be cut, cranes hoisting things. usually this will happen at a margin between two environments or/and two social patterns, so the nomads of the sand ocean can be shouting at the river-thanes while the giant tortoise gets lose and the glue barrels roll from its back. Giant Animals are a kind of sub-ship only available in high fantasy. Now instead of worrying about the wind or whatever you are thinking about how this big animal is going to react to whatever is going on around it.

A traffic jam in an urban environment might be an interesting space for a big fight.

Of course I've nearly forgotten the parade, which shows up in so many action movies. A huge, moving para-reality acting adjacent to the main one, with its own costumes, roles and its own giant complex objects that it is moving about.

I don't think I've ever seen a D&D scene or fantasy action sequence in a giant protest, with crowds of protesters and law enforcement and all the crap they throw about, even though we have those all the time.

PORTALS! Like every Derping Age (early-21stC) action movie. Someone has opened a portal, and possibly there is more than one, so now we can hop about between the portals and things can fall in and out of them with ridiculous physics affects. Up on one portal side is down or across on another so leaping across _into_ one leads to you falling down out of another

Magic of course lets you replace ropes and tackle with almost any kind of element. Maybe the poetic chanting of the verse monks is keeping this kinetically complex temple/object up in its position and if you interrupt or _change_ the chants then its configuration will shift. Maybe the virgin sacrifice you are here to stop is whats keeping the silver tower spinning in place, but you can only stop it from inside the silver tower.

And I nearly forgot the classic Rope Bridge.

Any more...?

(I throw this one open to the floor.)

Oh, and all this crap is still going on; (FREE BLATHER AT THE BOTTOM IF YOU READ ALL THE WAY DOWN, AGAIN)


Rob Monroe
Sean McCoy
Reece Carter


A. Miles Davis (Anson Davis)

Are all up for Judges in 2017

Best Adventure

Kiel is up with 'Blood in the Chocolate'

You can see my review of that here.

Best Cartography

Jez is up for 'The Cursed Chateau'

Best Electronic Book

Paul Baldowski was nice to me at a Con so vote for;

The Cthulhu Hack: The Haunter of the Dark

Best Free Product

'Santa is Dead' by In Search Of Games, is up.

This has a lot of OSR collaborators and fellow-travellers in it.

And Veins of the Earth by Scrap and I is up for;

Best Monster/Adversary

Best Rules

Best Writing


Product of the Year





(Scrap gives no fucks about this but I do.)

Here's the big voting button, click it to go vote;

Monday, 17 July 2017

I Need A Simpler Mouse Control Subsystem

You wake up.

"Was it good? That must have been a good reward."

"Did you fugue? You know if you fugue you have to report it."

You are wearing a white coat and a mask. Before you is a gigantic glass mouse-maze, so wide you can't see the other side. There must be a million mice inside, but they can't find each other. Off to either side are rows of workers in white coats and mirror-masks. The person speaking to you is one of these. 

In Front

 An old-style TV monitor on an expanding metal arm.
·        Embossed on the monitor; "THIS IS YOUR MOUSE".
·        Flickering on the screen is a closeup of a white mouse, somewhere in the maze.
·        The mouse has a chip in its head.

A ribbed, clear plastic tube which ends in a pill container.

A set of brass controls.
·        Embossed on them is; "ACTIVATE YOUR CONTROLS IN PAIRS".
·        The Controls are;


·        Liquid Mirror-Men patrol.
·        Alternating rows of doorways.
·        One type marked; ‘REPORTS’
·        The other labelled; ‘MOUSE CONVERSION’

Controlling Your Mouse

·        Each round the PC must choose to activate two controls.
·        Each activation gives two positions on the chart.
·        Draw a line between those positions.
·        Play until the line crosses itself or forms a loop.
·        If the line forms a loop, they are given a Reward Pill.
·        If the line crosses itself an ALARM sounds and RED LIGHTS flash. The Mirror-Men take them to a ‘MOUSE CONVERSION’ reactor






Reward Pill

Taking the Reward Pill causes you to black out. Move to ‘Reality Gallery’.

Making a Report

The room is dark. The door closes and locks behind you. You feel a sense of falling. Move to ‘Wolf Multitude’

Anything Else

Failing to Control your Mouse, Causing Disruption or any other activity means the Mirror Men drag you to a ‘Mouse Conversion’ reactor. You  feel yourself shrinking and transforming. A vacuum tube opens in the centre of the reactor and sucks you down. You wake up in ‘Diagnosis’.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Terrible System

I'm playing with this idea for a d66 system.

Its so awkward and strange that I'm thinking of calling it the 'Terrible System'.

The d6 can give you

- A 1 to 6 range. Nice and chunky, the basis for the LotFP skill system.

- That neat 2d6 curve between 2 and 12, the Apocalypse World roll, and quite story-gamey as it keeps things close to the centre.

- the d66 roll, patchy and swingy as FUCK. 36 numbers between 11 and 66 with big gaps of numbers it won't produce.

Character Generation

The basic concept for Character Generation is inverse or negative stats that you roll over.

Roll a d66 for each stat in sequence. Re-roll any results of snakeyes or boxcars.

(I did try to find a way that could produce stats in the middle of the range, in a similar way to the 3d6 system for D&D. Couldn't find a convenient one so ultimately just said fuck it and went with a flat roll.)

The stats are;

WEK - Physical weakness.

CLU - Clumsiness.

FRA - Frailty, a synergy of physical and mental.

ASS - Assholery, your ability to fuck up a social situation.

STU - Stupidity, a synergy of you lack of education, memory and discreet analytical power.

FOO - Foolishness, the gross bluntless of your awareness, both of yourself and of the world around you.

A thing I like about this is that it has some of the neatness of a roll-under d20 system but rolling to beat your own weakness has a pleasurable and slightly silly feel.

Damage is based on the Logan Knight grit/flesh boundary, with grit coming back fast, like modern hitpoints, and flesh requiring healing over time.

Initially, damage suffered is *added* to frailty. This could indicate physical or mental trauma, anything that makes a character less able to go on. If your frailty hits 66 then you either break down, give up or run away.

Any further damage is added to Weakness

When Weakness reaches 66, a character is dead.

Buffs and Boosts

So armour should probably add to your max frailty as it keeps you alive and stops you from gaining weakness. Since Frailty is cleanly has a psychological element then stuff like fashion or particular clothes, drugs, and general other moral elements could also add to this.

Strange Dice Artefacts

So far, like most roll-under systems its kinda neat and tight and a bit strange and awkward when it comes to complex opposed situations.

I'm wondering what other strange dice artefacts you can create with two d6?

There's the idea of a kind of dual-level result where the target is a number between 1 and 6, and you have to match that target with both d6. The first deciding if you get a raw physical pass and the second deciding... something? Maybe the nature of the consequence?

I suppose it could go You Do What You Intended/With the Result You Expected

Though that makes no sense if you _don't_ achieve what you intended and _do_ get the expected result.

Plus it has nothing to do with those funky stats I worked out.

Any of you have any ideas for funky d6/d6 dice mechanics.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

The Fucking Ennies

Are we going to win?

Well, 7th Sea had eleven and a half thousand backers to its kickstarter, so probably not. But if we win more than one I promise to let Raggi do something dumb at the podium.

I am out of clever shit to say for this month so I am going straight to OSR Circlejerk mode;


Rob Monroe
Sean McCoy
Reece Carter


A. Miles Davis (Anson Davis)

Are all up for Judges in 2017

Best Adventure

Kiel is up with 'Blood in the Chocolate'

You can see my review of that here.

Best Cartography

Jez is up for 'The Cursed Chateau'

Best Electronic Book

Paul Baldowski was nice to me at a Con so vote for;

The Cthulhu Hack: The Haunter of the Dark

Best Free Product

'Santa is Dead' by In Search Of Games, is up.

This has a lot of OSR collaborators and fellow-travellers in it.

And Veins of the Earth by Scrap and I is up for;

Best Monster/Adversary

Best Rules

Best Writing


Product of the Year





(Scrap gives no fucks about this but I do.)

Here's the big voting button, click it to go vote;

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

A review of 'The Land of Darkness'

This is a dark and beautiful book pretty much designed for RPG enthusiasts. Its based around a series of fragmentary translations, themselves broken into fragments.



"One day, at the foot of the tree, I saw a creature like the lizard called izaya. It had two hands and two feet. You would think that God most high had brought it from Paradise. It seemed as if it were made of the purest red jacinth, so translucent that you could see through it, and pure polished gold, the like of which I have never seen in this world, as if it were crafted with the greatest art and skill. I was amazed when I saw it. My companions, mounted on their horses, surrounded it. It gazed at us with eyes that seemed to be weaving a spell and turned its head towards us, right and left, but it did not move and paid no attention to us whatsoever."


Its separated into the urbane, reasonable and human point of view of Ibn Fadlan and the somewhat more sketchy, fantastical, bullshit-ridden stories of a variety of other writers.

I should say something about Fadlan first. It's rare in texts of this kind for the people involved to come across quite as people in the modern sense. Fadlans account of his doomed mission  reads like a poetic documentary report.

Sent by the Caliph (if the book has a secondary theme its that sometimes the Caliph is going to ask you to do some crazy shit) to pick up some money from a ruler near the Volga that he hasn't seen for a while, then to take that money to the king of the Bulgars in the far north so he can build a castle to defend himself (and presumably the Caliph at a distance) from Jews, things go wrong quite quickly.

The guy who has the money doesn't want to give it up and the Caliph didn't give Fadlan an army to get it with. One straggler is tricked and imprisoned, the rest of the mission eventually give up and decide to go on without the cash.

"we saw a land which made us think a gate to the cold of hell had opened before us."

"The local people, with whom we were on friendly terms, urged us to be prudent as regards clothing and to take large quantities. They made it sound very frightening and serious. When we saw the reality with our own eyes, however, we realised that it was twice as bad as had been told."


"When the day came for us to set out, I said to them: 'O people! The kings ghulam is with you and he knows everything that is going on. You are carrying letters from the caliph and I am quite sure that they mention the 4,000 musayyabi dinars that are intended for him. You are going to a foreign king. He will demand this money.'

'Don't worry about that,' they said to me, 'he won't ask us for it.'

I warned them and said:

'I know that he will demand it.'

But they would not listen."


After many adventures, they finally reach the King of the Bulgars;

"And what has happened to the money mentioned in these two letters?'

'It was impossible to collect it' I answered. 'There was not enough time and for fear of missing the season for reaching your country, we left it to be brought later.'

'You all came together and my master [the caliph] paid all your expenses, and the only reason was so that you could bring me this money to have a fortress built to protect me from the Jews, who have tried to reduce me to slavery. As regards the presents, my ghulam could perfectly well have brought them.'

'That is quite true,' I said, 'but we did what we could.'

Then the king said to the interpreter:

'Tell him that I do not recognise these people. I only recognise you [i.e. ibn Fadlan], for these other people are not Arabs. if the caliph - may God aid him! - had thought that they could have obtained the same results as you could, he would not have sent you to protect my interests, read my letter and listen to my answer. I shall not demand one single dirham from anyone else but you. Hand over the money; it will be better for you.'

I left him and went out in consternation and much saddened. He was a good-looking man, stout and full bodied, who inspired respect. He was like a great barrel speaking.

I left his presence, gathered together my companions and told them what had passed between the king and myself.

'I warned you about this,' I told them."

Yes, and then you wrote an entire epic travel chronicle which lasted a millennia so even a thousand years later people in a nation you would never have imagined can turn to each other and say; "Wow, those guys with Ibn Fadlan, what a bunch of tools. He warned them."


As a view of a dark, alien, near-magical world through the eyes of  those strange to it, it has few comparisons. Ice bursts barrels and freezes rivers, dark forests are full of bees, apples and the bones of giants.

Always the fearful and useful Rus, raging in their boats, indefatigable, almost undefeatable, each able to battle three normal men.



The Rus take a Muslim-ruled city. All the Muslim men are forced into the Mosque and held captive.

"A Christian civil servant named Ibn Sam'un, who lived in the city, acted as negotiator between the two sides. He made an agreement with the Rus that each man should be ransomed for 20 dirhams. The more intelligent Muslims agreed to this arrangement, but the rest did not, maintaining that Ibn Sam'un was trying to imply that Muslims were of equal value to poll-tax paying Christians. Ibn Sam'un therefore broke off negotiations. The Rus put off their massacre, hoping to get at least this small amount. When it was not forthcoming, they put them to the sword and slew them to the last man."


The blades of the Rus are so valued that, after they leave the people of the city creep back, dig into the graves to gain access to the swords and sell them.

At the end of the world are a people are so shy and fearful that they won't trade directly, they leave trade goods lying out on the snow, you must place down your offer, then leave, if they accept, when you come back your offer will be gone and you can take what remains. But they won't trade for sliver, which they do not value, only for beads.

Imagine going to a place where the night is so short that you can't even boil water in the time it takes
and the sun wheels across the sky like a turning mill, crossing frozen rivers that have burst their banks, wearing so many clothes you can hardly move, and trading with people you can't see for the skin of an animal you have never seen before.


In more adventures from 'questionable things the Calpih has asked'. A different caliph has a dream that the apocalypse wall that Alexander the Great built to imprison the monster-giants of the people of Gog and Magog, is breaking.

So he tells his interpreter Salim; 'Hey, you know that giant apocalypse wall at the end of the world that everyone knows is there. Go and check on that for me would you. I just had a dream about it.'

According to Ibn Khurradadhibih, this is Salm's report. It reads exactly like an early D&D module, right down to the measurements.

"Next we reached a city named Ikah (Hami), which is ten farsaks in circumference and has gates of iron which are closed by lowering them. Within the confines of this city there are fields and windmills. It is in this city that Dhu al-Qarnayn [Alexander] camped with his army. It is three days march from there to the Barrier. Passing fortresses and small towns, on the third day one reaches the Barrier. The chain of mountains forms a circle. It is said that Gog and Magog are enclosed within. The people of Gog are taller than those of Magog; their heights vary between a cubit and a cubit and a half.

Then we reached the high mountain surrounded by fortifications. This is the Barrier of Gog Magog. There is a ravine 150 cubits wide through which these people used to sally forth to infest the earth, until it was sealed by Dhu al-Qarnayn. The Barrier was built in the following manner.

First the earth was excavated to the depth of 30 cubits and foundations were laid, built of brass and iron, up to the level of the ground. Then, two enormous piers were raised, 25 cubits wide and 50 cubits high; at the base a projection jutted out 10 cubits beyond the gate, one on each slope of the mountain, to the right and left of the ravine.

The whole construction is made of iron bricks sheathed in brass, each of which is 1 1/2 cubits long and 4 fingers thick. An iron lintel 120 cubits long and 5 wide rests on the two great piers, and its ends extend 10 cubits beyond them. This lintel supports masonry built of iron bricks sheathed in brass that rises out of sight to the summit of the mountain. I estimate the height to be roughly 60 cubits. It is crowned with thirty-seven iron crenellations, each armed with two horns that curve inward towards each other. Each crenel is 5 cubits long and 5 wide and 50 high and 5 thick. The uprights of the doors swivel on an axis that is in proportion to the lintel.

The whole structure is so solid that not a breath of wind is felt either through the door or from the mountainside, as if it had been made in a single piece. On the portal, 25 cubits from the ground, there is a bolt 7 cubits long and a fathom round, and 5 cubits above the bolt there is a keyhole, even longer than the bolt itself, and the two wards are each 2 cubits long. Above the lock hangs a key 1 1/2 cubits long and 4 spans in circumference, with twelve iron teeth, each the thickness of a pestle. The chain holding it is 8 cubits long and 4 spans round, and the ring by which it is attached to the door is like the rings on a piece of siege machinery.

The threshold of the door is 10 cubits wide and 100 cubits long, not including the part that runs under the pillars. The part that just out is 5 cubits wide. All these measurements are given in the cubits known as 'black cubits'.

Near the gate there are two forts, 200 cubits square. To the right and the left of their gates two trees have been planted and a stream of fresh water runs between the two forts. The instruments that were used in the building of the wall were preserved in one of the forts: enormous iron cauldrons, like those used for making soap, iron ladles and tripods, each of which can support four of these cauldrons. There are also the iron bricks left over from the construction of the wall, fused together by rust.

The responsibility for guarding this gate is hereditary, like the caliphate, and runs in the family of the commander of these fortresses. He rides out every Monday and Thursday in the early morning, followed by three men, each equipped with a hammer. One of them climbs a ladder, which is leaning against the door, and when he reaches the top step, he strikes the bolt with his hammer. Then, if one applies one's ear to the door, one hears a muted sound like a nest of wasps. Then everything falls silent again. Towards midday, a second blow is given and the same sound heard, but a little louder. In the afternoon, they strike the bolt again, with the same result. The commander only retires at sunset. The point of these blows is to tell those on the other side of the door that the guards are at their posts and the let them know that Gog and Magog have made no attempt against the door.

Near this place there is a large fortified area, 10 farsakhs wide and deep, in other words the area measured 100 farsakhs square.

Sallam said;

'Having accompanied the commander on one of these sorties, I asked whether the gate had ever suffered any kind of damage. I was told that there was only one small crack no bigger than a thread.

'Have you no fears concerning the door?'

'None,' they said. It is 5 Alexandrian cubits thick, each of which equals 1 1/2 'black cubits'.

I took the knife from my boot and began to scratch the crack, from which I obtained half a dram of dust, which I tied in a handkerchief so show Wathiq.

'On one of the panels of the door, there is an inscription in letters of iron, which gives the following words in the original language:

"When the promise of my Lord comes, He will make it powder, and the promise of my Lord is true."

'The general appearance of the building is strange, becasue the yellow layers of brass alternate with the black layers of iron, so that for the most part it is striped horizontally.

'It is still possible to see on the mountain the mould made for casting the doors; the place where the tin and the copper were melted together; the cauldrons, apparently made of brass, each with three handles, together with their chains and hooks for the purpose of hauling the brass up to the top of the Barrier.

'We asked the guardians of the gate whether they had ever seen anyone of the race of Gog and Magog. They told us that one day they had seen several of them on top of the mountain, but a violent wind had thrown them back to their side. Seen at a distance, their height did not appear to be more than a span and a half.

'Seen from the outside, the mountain has no plateau or downward slope; it has absolutely no vegetation; there are no trees or plants to be seen; it stretches into the far distance, steep, smooth and white in colour."


In more general news, the Ennie Awards are now open for voting. Click the image for a link;

I will probably do an actual full post about these in a day or two.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Fewmets, (& UK OSR Meeting Report)

"'It is the Burden of the Pellinores,' siad the King proudly. 'Only a Pellinore can catch it - that is, of course, or his next of kin. Train all the Pellinores with that idea in mind. Limited eddication, rather, Fewmets, and all that.'

'I know what fewmets are,' said the boy with interest. 'They are the droppings of the beast pursued. The harbourer keeps them in his horn, to show to his master, and can tell by them whether it is a warrantable beast or otherwise, and what state it is in.'

'Intelligent child,' remarked the King. 'Very. Now I carry fewmets about with me practically all the time."


Adventure is a better word than story. It contains within it a necessary, and rather complex, duality which is easy to understand once experienced but difficult to explain.

Ad-Venture. Basically, something that will oppose your will, your plan, your desire, your action. When, in Mallory, all those armoured guys are running about the place looking for the 'Adventure of the Forest Savage' or whatever, they are looking for this thing in the Forest that will oppose them, it doesn't have to be a particular thing while you are looking for it, you don't know what it is yet.

(In that sense, the players are often on more of an adventure than the PCs. The PC's have reasonable in-world reasons for what they are doing, they want gold or glory or to defeat the bad king or whatever. The Players want an ad-venture, they want to do something where rich and complex and interesting circumstance and agents oppose them.)

A good adventure usually produces a story, but a story is not the specific aim of an adventure.

Its inherent to the  nature of wanting an adventure that you cannot be absolutely certain how it will turn out, or even what it will mean, and this indeterminate nature is central to the experience, and so the intent, the aim, is not an end but a process.

A story is a product, an adventure is a process.

Everyone involved in an adventure, the players, the DM, the PCs even, and possibly the NPCs, understands that they are involved in something the end of which is not clear and the meaning of which is to be decided. We wish to be in a state of active indeterminacy, a state of awareness and action, rather than reflection, a state in which the shape and meaning of events is being worked towards or struggled for, rather than in a story, which is just the after-action report of an adventure.

I don't like it when (especially OSR) developers start talking about their 'story'. We got rid of it for a while but it has been seeping back in. It sets up a false polarity between the DM and the players and a false moral economy in which you are trading bits and pieces of player activity and player freedom for the 'story'.

"I want to let them do this, I want to let them feel empowered..."

('empowered' in these conversations always has a mediocre tinge because it ends up meaning 'empowered like the heroic character in a story', or 'empowered to do something socially responsible')

"..but it might damage the story. How much should I let my players risk the story to have fun? We loved telling stories about the last session, how can I make sure we have another good story to tell after this session?"

Once you accept the tacit terms of this rhetoric player freedom becomes inherently opposed to the intended product of a game - the story, it is understood as an occasionally-useful but fundamentally disruptive force, something that prevents everyone getting what they want and so, even if regarded sympathetically, it will always be regarded in its negative capacity, as something to be managed and its negative aspects reduced while maximising the good.

But, if you assume the intended product of a game is an adventure, (and an adventure fundamentally cannot be a product, really it is a state, a process, a mode of being), but if ad-venture is the intent of the game, then  that absolutely cannot be accomplished without a  high degree of player freedom. Their freedom is like the battery, lightning bolt, the necessary active animating force which turns the till-then, passive and reactive elements of the game into a living thing. Like a person putting on clothes, freedom of action wears the rules and ideas of the game and makes them an adventure. Players must be free to be opposed.

And yes you can say that a story is something you can change in the middle of it. But it still must have a particular end, and it is a quality of a story that everything in it should connect. It is like a snake which we run our hands along from head to tail. The snake may writhe and twitch, change its position, its tail may flick back and forth, and we do not know exactly where its tail may be at the end, but we know that when we have finished, everything will have been connected to everything else in one smooth flow of muscle and motion, and there we are, a good story, in which everything makes coherent sense, everything leads into everything else in a smooth but occasionally unexpected way and where you know which part is the beginning and which the end. A good story but not necessarily a good adventure.

Go to the middle of the snake and break its spine, or to the beginning and step on its head. Now its a bad story, but it could still be a good adventure.

Saying we play for the story is mistaking the signifier for the signified. As is pretty common in human thinking because an abstracted, describable signifier can be easily communicated and traded and worked over, and you can tell what it is and how it works.

An active, lived, process, while you are in the middle of it, animating it, is a different thing, harder to describe, harder to see exactly what it is, harder to communicate or trade except through sharing the experience, and as usual we mistake the re-cognated describable element, the fewmets, for the living process which is the true aim, the questing beast.


And now the news.

I've been trying to put together these meetups where the low-level UK OSR creators and publishers can get together with the aim of combining forces for Cons, Media, Distribution and whatever else. Yesterday was my first attempt at that.

We were aiming for this;

And got this.

Because only Chris and I turned up.

We are literally pretending to be reading in this image.

Well, good news, a few things were decided by UNANIMOUS CONSENT.

I am now God-Emperor

Chris is Sigillite

And believe me we talked a loooooot of shit about ALL of you.

I am going to try the whole thing again. This time a general OSR meetup, in which I hope to talk to as many publisher and creators as possible, at the second half of October, somewhere in or near London so that southerners can attend.






Right now we are looking at nailing down an exact date when the most people will be available and getting somewhere to meet.

I am not opposed to hiring somewhere if enough people are going to turn up.

If anyone has any good ideas about where to meet in london then you can leave them here in the comments, in the G+ thread for this post or in the UK OSR CREATORS COMMUNITY.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Comparing Three UK OSR Games

These are the only three I have on me. I know Paolo has his Adventure Fantasy Game and Paul Bladowski made the Chthulu Hack.

Interesting thing about these three is that they are all exactly the same page size and the same publishing format. A5, stapled softcovers. Perfect for mailing.



All three use a two-column layout in the book but TBH is on its own in terms of page dress, layout, titling, fonts and spacing. It's much clearer to read and its much easier to find what you are looking for quickly. This aided by the fact that its extremely short.

Of the other two ItO is perhaps slightly easier to read, though they are pretty close together. Both are consistently dual-column, Troika has a funky numbering system.

Just checked and ItO has full contents titles on EVERY page describing what is on them so Chris wins second-best.


In TBH character generation, rolling a very high stat means the next roll is on reduced dice, making it more likely, or almost certain, that those with exceptional qualities will have mediocre qualities as well. Though the reverse is not true.

ItO has its cross-comparison of stats to equipment, meaning those with crap stats at least have exciting stuff. This also provides a quasi-equivalent to a 'Class' and history for the character, and deals with the equipment question quickly.

Troika is the odd one out here, stats are random, there are 36 totally separate classes, all strange, there are no broad class groups, the classes also give you a particular history, role and unique equipment loadout, a little like ItO but much more specific.


TBH - Could be based on per-session, per-adventure or per-level depending on campaign.

Troika - Based on resting and reflecting on what you have learnt, skills advance with use so there is no real 'levelling' system as in D&D.

ItO - There are only five or six levels, depending on how you count and reaching them is based on surviving an increasing number of expeditions, a neat element is that training your own apprentice and keeping them alive is an essential part of levelling up.

A commonality of these systems seems to be a very fluid approach to levelling in which, we assume, the players and DM would have some kind of negotiation or conversation about what reasonably includes 'an expedition' or 'a risky expedition'.

There is not much 'defensive writing' about levelling in any of these, not much defensive writing, that is stuff warning you not to do stuff, about anything really.

You could, if you wanted to, make a kind of soft social-justicy, vaguely anarchist, James C. Scottish argument here about very rules-light systems minimising authority structures and necessitating flat and collaborative social arrangements because there is simply not enough to argue about and because the necessary lacunae in rules description silently urge the players and DM to work together to resolve problems of mutual description without ever demanding that they work together in a flat social structure. Guidance through silence and opportunity rather than through warning and control.


An interesting element of all three is that levelling up means a series of rolls against basic stats which could lead to those stats going up by a point depending on luck and how low they are.

A consequence of this is that original characters, who often start out quite janky, at least in their basic stats, will ultimately end up becoming much more 'even'. Getting better doesn't necessarily mean getting a lot better at stuff you are already good at, but improving stuff you are *not* good at to become a more well-rounded character.

Its hard to get high level and stay 'janky'.

(A 'janky' character, as I see it, is one whose basic stats and most immediate abilities present sharp "swings" of ability; there are some things they are very good at and others they are going to be very bad at, so in imagined play the player is always trying to move the character into situations where their positive abilities will be useful and out of ones where they will be vulnerable. The Janky character puts you in a necessarily active relationship with the world.

I suppose jankyness also has something to with a character clearly not being optimised, being something of a bricolage, not immediately or obviously useful and not embodying a direct flow of energy from the heroic ideal.)

(Also, will anyone ever do a game where perishable skills and stats are a big deal? IRL when you fail to use a slot of skills you lose them.)


ItO and TBH both use a d20 'roll under' mechanic for most things. Like a stripped-down, miniaturised version of D&D. TBH is most like D&D and has a lot of fiddly bits in a manner reminiscent of that game, ItO is a lot simpler and abstracted

Troika is a 2d6 system rolling either under a thing, like TBH and ItO, for unopposed rolls, or in combat, rolling 2d6 and adding stuff to roll over your opponent. Troika has a lot more weird shit you can do with your dice.

I think this is based on the system in old Fighting Fantasy books? That should probably be on the cover, or at least on the adverts or something;

"A rules-light RPG that combines the best of the old Fighting Fantasy system with Hipster Planescape!"

Something that may be of slight interest to Americans is that when D&D was hitting the UK, d20's were relatively rare and Games Workshop didn't think enough people would own them to form a large market, but they thoughts everyone had d6's, so that's why the dominant die in UK gaming is the d6. (About 1000 individual d6's in the case of Warhammer.)


Homies be trippin when it comes to initiative system design, oh the webs we weave when we divide time into parcels and pieces.

TBH has an initiative system like one I first became aware of in one of Arnolds game; everyone rolls and there are only three states; people who passed go first, the monsters go next, and people who failed go last.

Clearly Daniel Sell is NOT a fan of traditional initiative systems because he's come up with this crazy whole thing where you put dice in a bag with different creatures and characters having different coloured dice and one die being the 'end of round' die.

This means its theoretically possible to have a full round of action that goes MONSTER-MONSTER-MONSTER-ENDROUND, or HERO-HERO-HERO-ENDROUND or STARTROUND-ENDROUND, or any combination or that.

So that means that combat and things that happen in combat are _really_ unpredictable. If you get into a fight you are stepping into a period of strange and uncontrollable time.

ItO's initiative system in full; "On your _turn_ a character can move and perform an action. When it is unclear which combat side should act first, the character at the head of the group must pass a DEX save to secure the first action."

Like a lot of Chris-rules this curls up quite a lot of complexity and assumed modes of action within a very small space.

"When its unclear which combat side should act first," so - based on every fucking thing you remember from playing D&D ever and on everything you know about the details of the imagined world, and then if that’s not obvious then its a save by one person.


TBH - To attack, roll below your own STR or DEX depending if Melee or Ranged. When attacked, roll below STR or DEX to avoid. PC damage is based on class, monster damage on HD.

TBH has a monster damage table but when you are rolling your own then I think you should have all your bonuses or whatever handy.

As usual, TBH feels like a miniaturised version of D&D rather than anything else. It does have this cool rule for large weapons - large weapons add +2 for every roll, so with it being a roll-under system they are harder to hit with but do more damage when they do hit.

Troika - EVERY melee attack is an opposed roll with the winner doing damage, and either party can win.

Take a second to let that one sink in and for it to combine with the initiative rules above.

So you could, in theory, kill everyone in the room in a single round of initiative, but you can only initiate your own attack when your initiative thingy is pulled out.

And yes this works a lost less well for shooting, in which cast its an opposed roll vs an evade skill, which they probably don't have. And there's no indication as to what to do when shooting an unaware opponent in the back.

Troika has its own damage table for super-swingy logarithmic, (or possibly exponential? I'm not really sure exactly what either of those two words mean) damage. Weapons can be slow and sensible tortoise weapons that do a reasonable chunk of damage each time but with a low ceiling, or they can be Flaky Captain Fuckoff weapons that supermurder people on a high roll. (Daniel you should put these on the back cover in the new edition.)

Troika seems to produce big, wild swingy fuckoff fights that (probably) end quickly because everyone is potentially hitting everyone each time. The combat logic is going to be really different with everyone attacking when attacked.

ItO - EVERY attack does damage to someone with the amount varying by weapon and creature and then altered again up or down a die size based on advantages, vulnerabilities and whether you are fighting a detachment.

This seems to take the ruthless combat-as-an-endstate idea implicit in LotFP where most fights are  either ruthlessly effective ambushes or crushing attritional grinds and just simplifies and expresses it directly. Well that gets things out of the way relatively quickly. ItO is terrible for modelling complex tactical combat situations, but it isn't really for that.


I don't care enough about armour to go looking it up.

Ok I will briefly.

TBH  -You gain access to certain kinds through your class, each provides ablative hp during a fight, then wears out, then regenerates after? This is modelling tiredness I think. Its a slightly uncomfortable mechanic.

Troika - Only four levels of armour and each modifies an incoming damage roll.

ItO - You get maybe one point of damage reduction. Armour is either posh, which gives you the reduction without any other take-backs, or 'shield armour' which does the same job but you need a hand free to use it.

Ok I still don't care about armour. None of these rules are terrible but none of them are great enough to make me give a shit. ItO's Shield/Modern division is interesting but that’s about it.

Maybe its hard to model passive benefits in an interesting way in a rules-light system?


TBH - Zero hp takes you out of action, if you don't get healed then if your side wins the fight you roll on the 'Out of Action' table which only fully kills you on a 6. If you survive the table you get an extra 4hp, which is kinda nice.

The idea of both gaining and losing things from getting fucked up in a fight is an interesting one, like in life you take physical and psychological damage, but you also get smarter, craftier and nastier.

Troika - Zero puts you down and you die on the next round unless healed, below zero puts you dead. Simples.

ItO - Losing all your hp means damage is applied to STR, at this point you need to start making STR saves while any future attacks whittle down the same STR value you are saving on. If you fail that save you are in a state of 'Critical Damage'.

If you have 'Critical Damage' you need an allies aid AND a short rest and can't do shit till then. If you don't get them you die after an hour. If your STR ever reaches zero you die.

As usual, Chris wins for elegance. Hp come back after a short rest but damage to STR takes time, its an able simulation of the difference between physical wounds and fighting capacity with a small number of elements in play.

Daniel wins for simplicity.

TBH surprisingly soft, the 'Out of Action' table only kills you on a 6.


TBH - actually goes further than the others despite being about half as long. We have a little backpack on the character sheet, breakdowns of the rules (you can carry equal to your STR) and an innovative mechanic of Usage Die for perishable materials.

Troika - "Ok you can carry twelve things." Simple again. If you go over twelve you get increasing negatives to your rolls. There is a neat mechanic where to grab something out of your pack you roll a die and try to get above the number of the line it is on, meaning people 'pack' their stuff by arranging it in order of usefulness.

ItO - "FUUUUCCCKK THIIIIISSS SHIIIIT. You have stuff. There, job done."


TBH - Memorisation, a Spell Book AND Spell Slots that are actually kind of effectively Spell Points, man I did not like that in D&D 5e and I don't like it now. This is surprisingly complex for a rules-light book.

Again, this is like miniaturised, not necessarily abstracted, D&D. We even have a little two-page spread of Arcane AND Divine spells for you Magic-User equivalent and your Cleric-Equivalent.

Troika - Char Gen decides if you are a Magic User of any kind, they are all individually different. Casting means burning Stamina and making a test to avoid a fuckup.

The spell list applies to all classes and seems to have drawn a lot from Wonder and Wickedness, my favourite magic system.

ItO - Everything is bound up with 'Arcanum', so acquiring magic is exactly the same as acquiring treasure with the power of the 'magic' being attached to the danger of the treasure. Downsides and limitations are tied up with the specific object rules. Magic is tied to object so if you lose the object you lose the magic. WIL saves needed to dick around with the effects. Again, an elegant simplification.

(I still haven't gotten over that Bone Magnet in DCO, I mean come on guys I specifically wrote 'Cartlidge'.)


Both Troika and ItO end up dividing the character elements in a curiously similar ways, even though they are evolved from different directions.

ItO starts somewhere around D&D and reduces all the stats into;

  • hp/STR to handle physical capacity and consequence.
  • DEX to handle subtle abilities or those emerging from but separate to, the body.
  • WIL to handle ethereal, conceptual, quasi-magic stuff that may emerge from somewhere else, and may not directly physically interact with the body but can affect the character.

Troika has;

  • Stamina - to handle physical consequence.
  • Skill - to handle almost all abilities and actions.
  • Luck - to handle anything non-physical or anything undescribed.

And of course TBH has the canonical stats.

Its curious how all of these seem to reduce down to three schema or 'spheres' of modelling the way a character interacts with reality, the core body, where most consequence is felt, the dexterous, moving or employed body, and the ethereal, intangible, cognitive or mysterious element.


The award for trade dress, layout and knowing what to call your fucking game goes to The Black Hack. Who on earth would not want to play something called that?

(Into the Odd really needs a new name. The best I could come up with were "Into Ruination" and "Wrecked Reality Factory". Or maybe "Wrecked Reality Bastion"? "Bastion of Wrecked Realities"?

That’s probably it, make the subtitle of the next edition either "Into Ruination" or "Bastion of Ruined Realities" and put 'powered by into the odd' as a diddly little small title like they do with 'powered by the apocalypse' games.

"Ruined Reality Bastion"?)

The award for invention and originality in world creation goes to Daniel Sell who aces that one as shown through Char Gen, Objects, Monster Lists and Magic. The award for best magic and best monsters also go to Daniel. Hipster Plainscape for the win. (It's somewhat unfair as TBH doesn't have a world.)

The Award for Knowing How to Write Rules goes to Chris McDowall, though its a much closer contest. Daniel re-awakening the FF ruleset and all the weird stuff he does with it is a bold challenge, but its still a bit more patchy than ItO. You can see why the French like ItO.



  • It’s extremely, ultra-short compared to the other two and its primary difference is that there is no suggested world to go along with the game, the only things that come even close are the monster list and basic items to purchase which, like the rest, are utterly bare-bones.
  • Monster HD bonus showing up as relative negative to PCs roll is curious and odd.
  • Warrior - 1 attack per level? (how does this link with the fighting system?)


  • Spells are good and fun. Some very innovative ones - Read Entrails - the depth of an answer being decided by the power and complexity of the creature is V cool. Gives you a good reason to find and kill very weird creatures
  • Tongue Twister is better than 'Silence'.
  • The skill system is arguably a mess but it could be argued that it is an inventive, adaptive, improvisational mess.
  • If the purpose of the game is to imagine an imaginative game a long way from D&D then Troika might be the winner
  • (At least he put the 'to hit' chart in again at the back)


  • (One thing TBH and Troika could both do with is a really good, really readable introductory adventure in the same format as the game that someone new can pick up and use. ItO is the ONLY one to include, not just an example of play, but a goddamn ADVENTURE. Consider the small size of the rules, including adventures with the game should be a primary draw for these rulesets.
  • ItO's char gen and equipment page is a masterpiece of brevity. The starter package tables cross-hatching of equipment to stats is genius.