Spell Lists for My OD&D/Dolmenwood Game


As I prep for my Dolmenwood game (using the retroclone Delving Deeper as my base), I’ve decided to keep some of the rules back from the players and introduce them as needed.

After all, none of the players have ever played OD&D before (and neither have I) so dumping all the rules on them means having them reading Delving Deeper from scratch.

But why? The rules of OD&D are simple. That’s the point. You don’t need to pour over rules to understand the game. There is no “system mastery.” There is exploration of the world and the choices your characters make… and that’s pretty much it. Apart from some resource management issues–which are in fiction concerns, not mechanics concerns–there is very little to know about how the rules work.

Further, I’m already pulling in rules from other games to add onto the game I’m building, and making changes to the game based on how I see the setting playing out. This is another feature of OD&D’s simple rules: Bolting stuff onto the game doesn’t change much else. But if the players read the Delving Deeper rules they’d find themselves reading rules that don’t match what we’re playing.

So, again, it makes sense to dole out the rules as required, and keep the fictional details of the setting (my description of the setting to the players) as the core entry point for the shared imaginative space we are creating.

With that in mind I decide to create shorter rules descriptions of the Magic-User and Cleric spells. I wanted to strip out the game mechanic portions of the descriptions so the spells would be punchy and evocative. I also gave the spells new name so they would conjure a bit more color for both magic in general and the setting of Dolmenwood in particular.

Here are the reworded 1st-level spells I’m handing out to the players as they make their characters.

First Magnitude Magic-User Spells

All Magic-User can cast the spell Sense Magic at will, allowing them to recognize the presence of any enchantment on a person, place, or object within range and sight. This spell does not take up a slot of memoriazation.

The Apprentice’s Radiant Shield: This spell prevents any enchanted or conjured creature from contacting the magic-user. Furthermore, attacks made against the magic-user by other chaotic types will be at a disadvantage for both melee and magic.

The Charm of the Sirens: Brings a single man-type completely under the influence of the magic-user.

Comprehend Languages: Enables the magic-user to read any language, cipher, message, map, or other written instruction apart from magical spells or command words.

Feramar’s Blight of Sight: Conjures a small bank of thick fog, impenetrable to sight, about 60ft in length and 20ft deep.

Galzar’s Transformation: The magic-user can assume the appearance of any creature of the same general size and shape as himself.

Harrowgrove’s Gate: Holds one door, gate, window, shutter, or other portal securely fast exactly as though it were locked, and only opened by the use of greater magic.

The Helping Ember: Causes an object or volume of space to be lit as if by torchlight.

The Medusa’s Mirror: The magic-user’s eyes become mirrored granting him immunity to dazzling and gaze attacks without impairing his sight. Moreover, any gaze attack attempted within 30ft will be reflected back at the attacker exactly as if they had looked into a mirror.

The Sandman’s Early Arrival: Causes a number of people or creatures to fall into a fitful slumber.

The Violent Shades of the Rainbow: Several seeing creatures are rendered unconscious by a dazzling glare of clashing colors. 

Cleric Meditations of the First Order

God’s Breath Reveals: The cleric can sense the presence of any enchantment on a person, place, or object within range and sight.

The Grace of the Devoted: After one minute of prayer the cleric can restore hit points to a creature or himself.

He Reveals What is Hidden: The cleric can sense the presence of any enchanted, conjured, supernatural, or undead creature, as well as any curse or malicious enchantment upon an object or place.

St. Eggort’s Taper: Causes an object or volume of space to be lit as if by torchlight.

St. Offrid’s Radiant Refusal: This spell prevents any enchanted or conjured creature from contacting the cleric. Furthermore, attacks made against the cleric by other chaotic types will be at a disadvantage with both weapons and magic.

The Purity of His Faith: Makes spoiled, poisoned, or contaminated food, drink, or Unholy water whole and suitable for consumption. Enough food for one dozen men or two weeks worth of rations are affected. 


A Player Map for Dolmenwood

Brackenwold-Abbey Player

I’ve fallen in love with the setting of Dolmenwood as described in the zine Wormskin.

I’ve been wanting to take the Original Dungeons & Dragons rules out for a spin for a while.

I’ve put all this together by starting up an online game using video chat on Discord to keep connected with people and kit-bashing the rules of Delving Deeper and Whitebox: Fantasy Medieval Adventure Game. (PDFs of each game are free.)

A full Kickstarter for Dolmenwood is on the way, but won’t be here for months. There is a lovely Game Master map of Dolmenwood that has been available for a couple of years, and while the Player Book for the Kickstarter will include a map designed for the players, until then I’m on my own.

So I went to the map application Inkarnate and built myself a couple of maps to set up the area closest to Castle Brackenwold to set up the campaign

Here are the results!

Without Hexes:

Brackenwold-Abbey Player

With Hexes:

Brackenwold-Abbey Hex

I’m giving the map without hexes to the players.

The hexes on the map match the hexes of the official Dolmenwood map linked to above.

In this map you’ll find that I have added little blue dots. These match the inns along the roads as described in issues of Wormskin. I’ve also removed the village of Orbswallow as found on the map because most humans don’t know much about the Moss Dwarves and know nothing about Orbswallow. And these maps are ostensibly maps they found have acquired in the city of Castle Brackenwold and are human-centric in their design and point of view.

The area mapped is very much a part of the Duchy of Brackenwold. The Duke rules it. The Dolmenwood map labels this part of the forest as “Brackenwold.” It is close to Castle Brackenwold. Travel routes are still in use between Castle Brackenwold to Lankshorn and Castle Brackenwold to Prigwort.

So it makes sense to me that this portion of the woods, at least in terms of human settlements and trade, is marked well enough.

However! Because the toxic, tainted magic has been sweeping across the woods for the last 300 years, one must always assume that what was true a year ago or even a month ago might not be true now. So though the roads and human settlesments are marked. (And the Abby is marked not only because everyone knows where the ruins are, but also the trade road from Prigwort to Fort Vulgar passes it) anything off the roads is fair game for all sorts of unknown weirdness.

While the map above is there to help orient the players, there will be much to add to the map as they proceed.

And when they travel beyond the areas shown the map, they will be on their own. In my view, once you travel beyond Prigwort or Lakeshorn you are heading into lands that most people in Brackenwold hear rumors of and hear tales of… but most folks have not ventured into those lands at all.

“…if you don’t like the way I do it, change the bloody rules…”


This had made the rounds for a while, but I think its worth keeping in mind.

Gygax here is speaking for himself. And I’m not posting it with the assumption that everyone wants from an RPG what Gygax wanted from an RPG.

You should be getting from an RPG what you want from an RPG.

But I think it’s worth remembering that lots of different people want lots of different things from RPGs. My pleasure might not be your pleasure. What you think is the fun an RPG can provide might be utter boredom to me.

What you think is broken play might be the bee’s knees at another table. And if we played together we might click right away, might find a way to make it work, or might bounce off each other and think, “Okay. nice try, but we really want different things.”

And all of that is fine.

Dave and I disagree on how to handle any number of things, and both of our campaigns differ from the “rules” found in DandD. If the time ever comes when all aspects of fantasy are covered and the vast majority of its players agree on how the game should be played, DandD will have become staid and boring indeed. Sorry, but I don’t believe that there is anything desirable in having various campaigns playing similarly to one another. DandD is supposed to offer a challenge to the imagination and to do so in many ways. Perhaps the most important is in regard to what the probabilities of a given situation are. If players know what all of the monster parameters are, what can be expected in a given situation, exactly what will happen to them if they perform thus and so, most of the charm of the game is gone. Frankly, the reason I enjoy playing in Dave Arneson’s campaign is that I do not know his treatments of monsters and suchlike, so I must keep thinking and reasoning in order to “survive”. Now, for example, if I made a proclamation from on high which suited Mr. Johnstone, it would certainly be quite unacceptable to hundreds or even thousands of other players. My answer is, and has always been, if you don’t like the way I do it, change the bloody rules to suit yourself and your players. DandD enthusiasts are far too individualistic and imaginative a bunch to be in agreement, and I certainly refuse to play god for them — except as a referee in my own campaign where they jolly well better toe the mark.

Gary Gygax, published in Alarums and Excursions #2, July 1975

Of course people have been chasing “the bloody rules” for decades. Which is why we have so many different ways of playing available.

Some people like one or two ways, some people love dozens. But as luck would have there are enough kinds of games available that most tastes can be catered to.

Pendragon Character Creation Booklet

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I have updated the King Arthur Pendragon Character Creation Booklet I posted over a year ago. (How did a year go by!!!)

The character creation rules are straight from the King Arthur Pendragon core rules with three exceptions from Book of Knights & Ladies:

  1. I have added the Regional Trait modifiers from Book of Knights & Ladies, because I like them and I want to emphasize for the players how different regions will influence a Knight’s Traits. (Even if they are all from Salisbury, such modifiers will make them aware different places have different modifiers.)
  2. I used the Cymric Luck Table from Book of Knights & Ladies to replace the Heirlooms table from the King Arthur Pendragon core rules. (The Cymric Luck Table is stranger and more evocative.)
  3. Finally, I incorporated the Culture Skills from Book of Knights & Ladies. For Cymric knights this means that all the starting knights have “Spear Expertise.” Spear Expertise combines the skills of Lance, Spear, and Great Spear under one skill, allowing Cymric knights to advance faster in those three skills.

I also added page of simple ordinaries for the players to use as models for their knight’s coat of arms.

We will still need to refer to the King Arthur Pendragon core rules when making a character. (For example, we’ll be using the Family History rules.)

But I wanted a document that would offer the players easy reference to details they would need when making their characters. Character creation is one of those places where things can really bog down and I want it to go as smoothly has possible at the table.

King Arthur Pendragon Pitch Doc

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My Monday Night Group is wrapping Silent Titans using the Into the Odd rules in the Monday Night Group. Soon we will be fishing around for something new to play. Several options are available. (As always!)

(For those who have been following this blog: we finished up my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign to great success. I have put the Traveller game on ice because I wasn’t happy with it. Notes coming on both of these items some day!)

One game I want to run for my players is King Arthur Pendragon using Greg Stafford’s amazing The Great Pendragon Campaign.

When I floated the idea of playing an RPG set with the mythic time of King Arthur one of my players gave me–well, not quite an eye-roll–but certainly nothing like strong interest. He added, when I asked him about this, “But if you like it, I’m down with doing it, because we always have a good time.”

I said, “Yeah, but this is kind of specific. Pendragon is about about digging into Arthurian legend. You don’t have be a scholar, but I you have no interest in Arthurian stuff you’re not going to have a good time.”

It occurred to me a few days later that when I think of “King Arthur” I might be thinking of one thing, and my fellow player might be thinking of something else. After all King Arthur is represented in so many ways, with so many different styles, tone, and over all effect. Le Morte D’Arthur, the musical Camelot, The Mists of Avalon, and more all are about “King Arthur”–but they are all very different!

So I followed up with another question. I asked, “When I say ‘King Arthur’ what are you thinking? What are your references?”

He replied: “The only thing I really know about King Arthur is this cartoon I watched as a kid where this team of high school football players go back in time and become Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and fight Moran   Fey.”

And I was like, “I have no idea what that is. But that’s not at all what I’m thinking about when I think ‘King Arthur.'”

To make clear what King Arthur Pendragon means to me I made a pitch document of five pages laying out the core concepts of what play is about, including recent history for the setting, a copy of character sheet, the core mechanics, and a desertion of the core conflicts that play is about in King Arthur Pendragon.

I wanted to emphasis the invasions and military conflict, internal family fighting, the fact that knights can be both good and bad, and that what kind of knight you are is what the game is about.

In short, I think many people might think that Arthurian literature is all about moral simplicity and that everyone is “good.” They might love a show like Game of Thrones and assume that Arthurian literate is the opposite of that series. But Game of Thrones is built from the on the same kinds conflicts that Thomas Malory used in Le Morte D’Arthur: hard choices, split loyalties, and dynastic struggles.

Old Empire: The General Setting

Bavraa Subsector Map.png

I’m using the name “The Third Imperium”–because who doesn’t love the name Third Imperium! I love the idea of layers of civilization rising and falling.

But my setting has nothing to do with GDW’s Official Traveller Universe.

Instead, we get this:


A thousand years ago the Long Night fell, leaving many worlds in ruins. Many worlds survived as well, but did so without the ability of space travel or communication with other worlds. 

Tales of the Old Empire remained, bolstered by ancient cities and space stations floating in the sky over head and seen at night.

But for the most part survival took precedence. Over time the artifacts of the past—those few that remained—became an unnoticed part of landscapes across a dozen worlds.

The world of Bavraa, however, though crippled by the Long Night, never stopped thinking and dreaming about the past glories of the Old Empire. The nobles houses of the Bavraa worked tirelessly to repair its fallen technology and reclaim the glories of previous generations.

Bavraa began a renaissance of the Old Empire 200 years when it began construction of its own Jump Drives.

Merchants and diplomats traveled to nearby worlds, announcing the rebirth of the Old Empire (or The Empire). In the time since it has expanded its reach, heading out across the Bavraa Subsection.

The nobles of Bavraa do not see themselves as starting a new Empire, but rather that they are building a seamless continuation of the Second Imperium. Or, as it is often called, The Old Empire.



Bavraa culture demands loyalty to the bloodlines going back to the Old Empire. Social status along genetic lines is a given and noble houses are intertwined in both family and loyalty. (Proper mates from outside the royal families are sometimes brought into the fold to ensure healthy gene pools—often without consent.)

The Bavraa noble houses are certain that they, and all the people of Bavraa, are the true heirs of the Old Empire and rulers of the worlds around them. And currently they are the only source of any interstellar technology in the region.



One hundred years ago the first scouts arrived from the Third Imperium. The scouts kept their distance, stunned to find several worlds had survived the Long Night and were rebuilding their interstellar technology independant of the Third Imperium.  Fifty years later the first envoys from the Third Imperium made contact with the leaders of various worlds.

Some contacts went better than others. 

The ruling houses of Bavraa declared as one that all worlds for twenty parsecs around Bavraa were off limits to all Imperial ships and troops. Any ships or troops bearing the Imperial Sunburst within those boundaries would be seen as declarations of war.



The native T’Kenkar of Davras, which had weathered their ice world’s hostile environment with ease and helped protect millions of humans over the centuries of the Long Night, invited the Third Imperium to establish a base on their world. They did this even though Davris falls within the boundaries Barvaa declared off-limits for the Third Imperium.

Most people believe the T’Kenkar did this to slow the advance of the Bavraa noble houses in their efforts to rule the subsection. But others note that the T’Kenkar are alien and mysterious and might have reasons no one can quite understand.

Emperor Gildun of the Third Imperium accepted this offer and awarded House Djaout a charter to establish a starport and trading base on the ice world.

Conflict—both hot and cold—broke out between Bavraa and Davras immediately. Duke Djaout keeps his troops on Davras. And no ships bearing the Imperial Sunburst are allowed to ply the space lanes. Instead, House Djaout keeps a low profile, using subsidized merchants and private contractors to carry out acts of espionage, trade, piracy, and covert war.

House Djaout has kept a low profile within the cluster, sponsoring ships that sail without the Imperial Sun and keeping his troops on Davras. Bavraa cannot–yet–prevent all trade and commerce between nearby worlds and the “Thirders” (as citizens of the Imperium are called). Over the past three decades more travellers and ships have arrived in Old Empire from beyond the Dead Worlds.

They are outsiders, sometimes welcome and sometimes not.  The rules are not always clear as to where Thirders fit into the social fabric in the Old Empire–and so danger arrives without warning on occasion. All of them know it is better to hide any symbols from the Third Imperium, and ships are repainted to remove markings of Third Imperium culture.

Such travellers work as merchants and soldiers of fortune as they make their way through the stars and across the worlds Bavraa hopes to rule one day.

But this does not mean the tension between Bavraa and the Third Imperium does not get hot. A year ago a ship activated its Jump Drive while docked at the B-Class starport House Djaout had built, causing a terrible explosion that shattered the starport and killed hundreds of people. The damage knocked the starport down to a C-class rating and it is now being rebuilt. No one claimed responsibility for the attack (if it was an attack), and while most people assume it was the work of House Itzcoatl of Bavraa, Duke Djaout has declared he has no proof to determine who was responsible and is still seeking leads. The noble houses of Bavraa offered to send aid. The duke refused it.

House Djaout has been tasked with destabilizing and delaying the efforts of Bavraa to unify the worlds around it under its rule. The Third Imperium is playing a long game. A full invasion would leave their home forces depleted and their troops months away. Instead, they want to build slowly, cripple the growth of the Old Empire where they can, and keep expanding at their own pace back home.

The noble houses of Bavraa, led by House Itzcoatl, know the Third Imperium is far away. They do not want to be so overt that they draw the attention and military might of their distant neighbor. If the noble houses of Bavraa can let the conflict remain calm and low key for enough time, they believe they can build a defense that will keep the Third Imperium at bay when they finally arrive in force.

And so piracy is sanctioned by both sides. Cover operations are always underway. Each side tries to curry favor and win the friendship of worlds within the subsection.

I Pitch Classic Traveller to My Group


My Monday Night Group is in a bit of flux. One player we have been holding a spot for after she finished getting her Legal Librarian degree ended up getting her first job in another city. Another Player has left the country for a few months to shoot a show.

We had just finished up another wonderful campaign of Unknown Armies 3rd edition, tried out Forbidden Lands (a blast!) before these two players bid farewell.

I wanted to keep going with my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign, but decided to wait until the Player currently in Budapest gets back.

With that in mind I pitched the four remaining Players in the group three games to keep us happy for the next few months. The games were:

  • King Arthur Pendragon
  • Classic Traveller
  • Sorcerer & Sword (the supplement for Ron Edward’s Sorcerer)

The Players all chose Traveller as the first of their choices. So we’re playing Classic Traveller.

I had sent out an email with a description of each game. Here is the game I sent out for Traveller:

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Traveller is Old School/Rules Light. Mostly conversation between Referee and Players, the Referee adjudicating rolls and outcomes on the fly. A lot like Lamentations in that most of what you end up doing is not covered on your character sheet.

The premise is that each of you have served in an mustered out of services of the Third Imperium, which is currently expanding outward and reclaiming worlds after The Long Night.

Many, many light years away, beyond countless parsecs of dead worlds, news has come of another area of civilization, lost for hundreds of years to your people. A new frontier not yet touched by the Third Imperium, and still holding lost wonders and treasures of the Old Empire.

A few expeditions have been launched, a few diplomatic missions, and a noble house has been sent to establish contact. But the peoples of the Old Empire have their own agendas and fights.

Each of you are men and women who have decided that you don’t quite fit in at home in the Third Imperium. And either from wanderlust, a need to know more about the universe, greed, a need to cause trouble, a desire to find a patch of space to rule, a path of vengeance that leads across lights years, or any other strong, emotionally grounded reason, you have decided to travel to this distant patch of space and see what there is to see.

I should make this clear now: Traveller does not have an experience system. You define the goals you want. I provided obstacles and opportunities and we find out what happens. The only thing that is going to matter at the table is what interests you in terms of what you want to get done. You make up a person who

a) feels like a real person and

b) is someone who chooses the life of exploration as established above.

Think in terms of the Western Territories after the Civil War or the Indian Subcontinent during the British Empire. (And all the problematic Colonialism that entails!) Mix this with a mix of worlds, some broken and poor, others still technologically advanced, along with politics, trade disputes, and you’re kind of on track.

Look to movies (and characters from the movies) like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Wild Bunch, Gunga Din, The Man Who Would Be King, as well as the series Firefly, and others for inspiration about the types of people we’re talking about. Where the characters fall on the moral spectrum is up to you all. We can have hard-bitten mercs or romantics searching for lost mysteries of the ancient past… and a mix of types. You decide this.

Fallen World Campaign [LotFP]–Twenty-Fifth Session


My Lamentations of the Flame Princess Fallen Worlds campaign is still going… but with long breaks on and off. One of the members of the Monday Night Group is in another city at school. And since the pleasure of the game is built from the weird alchemy of the players at the table, I’m content to wait until we’re all gathered. (We got in a few sessions in December when she was back in town on break.)

We keep playing games. All sorts of games! I’ve Refereed a few games along the way as well. (We just wrapped up several months of 5e which was a lot of fun. A lot of heavy mechanical lifting… which was fun! But I’m looking forward to mechanical simplicity again. More on that in posts to come.)

I started typing this post months and months ago, catching up on the Lamplighters as they began their foray into Qelong Valley.

There was a lot of ground to cover. In particular I want to look back at what worked and did not work as I sat myself behind the screen again. Several session have occurred since this post. But I wanted to get this up on the blog!

The Lamplighters made their way up the Qelong River in a boat they bought. They kept two squads of mercenaries they brought with them from earth (or, rather, their earth) and left the rest of them guard the Das Forscher. They reached a poverty stricken village and sought out information about the fortress further upriver they had heard about. But the village was under the control of cannibals who sprang out from hiding when the group was scattered. The combat ranged across the village as the PCs worked to regroup. They ended up losing some of their mercenaries. The found out that the land seemed poisoned by the aakom that powered the magical weapons lobbed over the mountains by the arch-mages fighting their war beyond the Qelong Valley.

I wasn’t particularly happy with this session. It was the second session I had really prepped out a fight and tried to have a set piece of action. (The first was the fight in the village of Bergenzel (aka Scenic Dunnsmouth) and that one went gangbusters.) I think the key is that in this fight they were fighting only for survival after being ambushed (that is, they were only fighting), whereas in Bergenzel they had an actual agenda (find and destroy the Spider Cult). In the Bergenzel fight they had chosen to go after the danger, could decide to press on with things got crazy (and they got crazy) or choose to abandon their goals, they found themselves in the face of multiple factions and had to sort out what was going on in the middle of combat. All in all there was more going on than the fight itself.

So, pro tip to me: A fight for the sake of a fight in and of itself (in other words, survival) is actually kind of boring in an RPG, but a fight where something beyond fighting for survival will be interesting–or at least have a  better shot at being interesting.

The Lamplighters continued upriver, but setting their boat ashore and working their way up through some marshland in order to avoid being seen by patrols from Fort Hawk. They saw villagers tending to crops a few hundred yards away. And then they saw Naga-kin (though they had never seen such beasts before so I did not name them) rise up from the waters and attack the villagers.

So, in contrast to the previous fight, the Players/PCs now had a choice about what to do. (Several, really.) They could try to sneak past the Naga-kin. They could engage directly to protect the villagers. They could head back to their boat and try to slip past the Naga-kin on the water. They could retreat from the entire situation. All-in-all, more possibilities and choices. 

Also, and I just realized this, the situation was not static as it has been in the village. In the village the the villagers were just going about their business waiting for an opportunity to attack someone. Nothing was in motion, and this cut down on the tactical and strategic elements the PCs could engage with (physically or intellectually) until the trap was sprung. And when it was sprung, the only thing to do was fight for survival. There were no moving part but their own skins.

But in this encounter, the PCs saw first the villagers, then second the Naga-kin attacking them. This meant that right off the bat something was happening that had nothing to do with them. The world was alive with its own energy and motion, and the PCs now had choices to make about getting involved or not.

This is an important lesson I want to carry forward in my own Refereeing: An encounter with a monster (cannibals, for example) is not interesting. An encounter with a situation is interesting.

I’ll point everyone to this post on encounters, particularly the point where Mike Wightman talks about rolling three times on the Classic Traveller Patron table and a final time on the Encounter table. He then lets his imagination cobble together a larger situation using these elements. As he wrote on another website:

Easiest way is with an example (note that this is using the 81 version of LBB3 – Starter Edition and The Traveller Book actually have much more comprehensive tables)

I roll on the patron table and get:

rumour, avenger, army

next I roll on random person encounter

workers, animal encounter (a roll of 6,n I take as animal or alien) and ambushing brigands.

I pick the starting encounter:

Lets say the players encounter some workers who are obviously agitated, discussion with them reveals that the industrial plant they have been operating has been closed due to rumours of some violent native beast, and that some hotheads are thinking of going to hunt the animals down. There is a rumour that the animals in question have highly valuable (insert whatever you want here – anagathic glands, valuable fur, expensive blubber – whatever).

Players may or may not join the hunt, but they have been seen talking to the workers.

Next encounter depends – if they go on the animal hunt then they may encounter the ambushing brigands who are also after the animals, or they may encounter the army patrol guarding the industrial site and containing the animals.

If they don’t go on the hunt they are approached by the avenger who has lost (family member, best friend, whatever will pull players in) and offers to guide the players past the workers/army guards to get to the animals.

If they went along with the workers they may still encounter the avenger being attacked by the brigands/army patrol.

It’s fairly organic – I may decide to change the encounter order in response to player actions, and reaction rolls may make things more tense than they need to be.

And at some point I have to generate the animal stats…

This method reminds me of the terrific work in Hot Springs Island, a rather extraordinary system-neutral OSR setting. (There are no stats in the setting, allowing the Referee to both choose what rules system to use, but to create the difficulty for the party as needed.)

Hot Springs Island is a point crawl of an island of several dozen hexes, as well as several specific sites mapped out in detail (cavern systems, abandoned observatories and so on). The setting has several recursive encounter tables the Referee uses to create encounters either ahead of time or on the fly. But significantly the encounter involve not a single creature or group of creatures, but members of several factions that live on the island in conflict with each other or encountering each other. You don’t just come across an ogre, you come across an ogre battling to take hold a treasure from lizard men.

Note that this makes, again, the environment feel alive. The Players learn about the conflicts between the factions on the island not because the Referee reads them a text box but because they encounter the factions in conflict right before their PCs’ eyes. They can choose to step into the fight on behalf of one side or another in order to gain allies, or to try to wipe everyone out.

Like Wightman’s method quoted above, the setting is not about creatures waiting for the PCs to come along and fight them, but creatures and characters with their own agendas and concerns. By finding them in the middle of their own actions and motivations the world opens up, giving “hand holds” both for information about the world and for the PCs to engage in these lives in motion if they so choose to. This means the game can spin out into unexpected directions.

The fight itself was fun for several reasons:

First, because the Player Characters had chosen to engage the Naga-kin in order to protect the villagers. They want to earn the trust of the villagers to get more information about Fort Hawk, and so they had their own reason to fight. (Instead of fighting only because some random monster wanted to fight.)

Second, the fight was rough. The PCs are now fifth level and had gotten used to their hit points keeping them fairly safe during combat. But the Naga-kin are tough (their high HD gives them bonuses to hit) and they gouged hit points left and right from the party. They were damaging the Naga-kin, but not at a rate fast enough to guarantee they’d survive.

Characters were close to death, some going unconscious, until the magic-user was one of the few characters with full Hit Points. But she had acquired the spell Time Stop back in the village of Bergenzel. She cast it, successfully stopping time in the universe for five rounds just as a Naga-kin was about to pierce here with a trident.

In those five rounds she managed to: Draw and drive her dagger into the neck of the Naga-kin in front of her (killing it), draw a pistol from the Cleric’s brace and fire at another Naga-kin (killing it), and fire Magic Missile at a third (killing it). All in all it was an awesome moment of D&D play.

It also proves my theory that the Referee shouldn’t be too worried about giving out cool candy to the Players Characters. Yes, there will be moments when they are really powerful (Time Stop is powerful!) but the Magic-User can’t cast it all the time and there will be times when pulling out the stops with an extraordinary power not only keeps the party from being wiped out, but allows for a fantastic, cinematic moment to take hold at the table.

What Do You Need to Play King Arthur Pendragon?

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A while back someone asked in a comment about which edition of King Arthur Pendragon to get and where to start with the game.

Here is my delayed reply:

First, the rules don’t change very much at all between editions, though there are a few changes that have solid impact from edition to edition. You could get third, fourth, or fifth editions and basically be playing the same game.

The 3rdedition core rules start the game in Salisbury in the middle of Arthur’s reign. This puts everyone in the middle of a period of Romance and Chivalry, which is what most people think of when they think of King Arthur. So there is an advantage in that. You are either a Cymric Christian Knight or a Cymric Pagan Knight, both from types from Salisbury. One might not think this is enough to differentiate PC Knights… but in fact the Traits and Passions do that job just fine.

There was a supplement for the 3rdedition called Knights Adventurous. It expands the places knights could come from, as well as much more information about the society and culture of the world. For example, there is information about creating a priest or monk, even though the text makes it clear that KAP is a game about playing Knights. So you can have a Knight from additional religions and different lands.

Magic in both editions is in the hands of the Game Master. There are no rules or mechanics for magic. The Game Master simply makes what he wants to happen happen. From the game’s point of view, magic is magical and is not to be understood by Knights and Players alike. It should be strange and mysterious. The Game Master creates magical effects as needed to create wonder and surprise.

The 4th edition took the 3rd edition core book, added the pages from Knights Adventurous, changed the text of these two books in a few spots, and added a system for Magic, allowing the PCs to be Magicians. In general, the game moves away from KAP as a game about Knights into a more general RPG of “People within an Arthurian Setting.” If you want a game more like this, this is the edition for you.

I have never tried to play the game this way, but I am not sure how the dynastic pressure to have children, a general structure of one adventure per session, and other elements of the core game work with Knights, Magicians, and Friars all traveling together. But many, many people are very fond of this edition.

Finally there is the 5thedition. It is the edition I recommend. (Currently edition 5.2). This book starts the players as Cymric Knights in Salisbury, with the option of being Roman Christian, British Christian, or Pagan Knights. The Magic System from the fourth edition is gone. And the game now begins in the years of Uther Pendragon’s reign, before Arthur is even born.

The KAP 5.2 core rules contain an appendix with the equipment and rules changes needed to advance the game into the decades when Arthur rules. But that said, if you wanted to jump into the middle of Arthur’s reign as knights, the third edition would be an easier way in. But that is no longer available in print. Ultimately, you’d get the 5thedition and then make adjustments to the time period you want to play in as required.

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Significantly, the core rules plug directly into The Great Pendragon Campaign. The GPC contains notes for running a KAP campaign starting in 485 (before Uther dies) into the period of Anarchy after Uther dies, into Arthur’s efforts to become king, the rule of Arthur, the introduction of Romance and Chivalry, the Quest for the Grail, and the fall of the Round Table.

The GPC also expands on the equipment, costs, and cultural changes through each historical “Phased” of the campaign. A group of players could, if they wished, read up on a specific section and start play in any era they wished.

Thus, here is my summation if you are interested in playing one of the best RPGs ever created:

Get yourself King Arthur Pendragon 5.2 and the Great Pendragon Campaign. With these two books you’ll have enough to keep you busy for years of play.

There are also several supplements available for the 5thedition of King Arthur Pendragon. One of them is the Book of Knights & Ladies. Like the 3rd Edition’s Knights Adventurous it is chock full of notes for building Knights and Ladies from different lands of different faiths.

The entire line of King Arthur Pendragon products has now reverted to Chaosium. (The rights were lost during a turbulent period at Chaosium years ago.) You can pick up a print edition of the core rules, as well as PDF editions of the Great Pendragon Campaign and other supplements here. Each description of each product also contains links to DriveThruRPG for print editions of the products.