Old-School Essentials

Late last month the Old-School Essentials Kickstarter came through and I received my goodies. I backed for both the Rules Tome and the boxed set, along with the Advanced Fantasy expansion books, and I am really pleased I did. These are really gorgeous physical books:

Old School Essentials
Old-School Essentials from Necrotic Gnome

Obviously, I was already familiar with Gavin Norman’s outstanding work with B/X Essentials and so in many ways this was a “sure bet” Kickstarter. B/X Essentials was already a really nicely done retroclone, with a modular design which makes it unique among “Basic D&D” retroclones. I knew Old-School Essentials would be at least that good – really I backed the Kickstarter to see how much of an improvement an offset print-run could be as compared to the B/X Essentials print-on-demand books.

The answer is: a huge improvement. These books are physically beautiful. They’re sturdy and attractive, and are so well-presented that they could be placed on the same shelf as the latest books from WotC and Paizo and look as if they deserved to be there, despite the fact that their presentation is of an entirely different style to the “big colour hardback book”. This is an OSR product which is truly worthy of mainstream distribution, and if we are honest, there are only a few OSR games which we can say that about, in terms of their physical presentation.

I hope Old-School Essentials finds that mainstream distribution and enjoys mainstream success as a result, beyond the usual OSR audience which is familiar with the online distribution channels. It’s modular nature also lends itself to a line of supplements – genre rules for different fantasy genres, alternate classes and races, and so on. While I think experienced players don’t mind tinkering with the rules from an all-in-one book like the Rules Tome, the smaller, modular books in the boxed set invite newer players to see the system as consisting of pieces which can be swapped in and swapped out. I don’t think I appreciated how clever this was when Gavin first did it with B/X Essentials but I certainly see it now.

As fond as I am of Labyrinth Lord, with this printing I think Old-School Essentials has superseded it and now stands as the superior “reference retroclone” for Basic D&D. I think its succinct, modern presentation makes it an easier sell to younger players familiar with 5e or Pathfinder, as well as a superior reference text for Grognards.

More Great Maps by Great Mappers

I am not much of a mapper, but while trying to search for why there is an undescribed secret door on the eastern edge of the map of level 1 of the Palace of the Silver Princess in B1-9: In Search of Adventure (which I am running for my kids and their friends using my retroclone, First Five Fantasy Roleplaying), I came across some great fan-made maps of the dungeon by “Bogie-DJ” on DeviantArt:

The best part about these maps is not only are they gorgeous, but if you download the hi-res version via the link in the bottom right hand corner, they’re already perfect size for use in Roll20!

Ship Cannons in Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Note: I am basing this very heavily on a combination of rough estimates, Wikipedia, The Sealed Knot, and some helpful forum posts by other LotFP players.

As they soon plan to acquire a ship, my Lamentations of the Flame Princess group has raised questions about ship cannons. Although Rules & Magic includes rules for ships and ship combat, the latter only uses catapults and the like, not modern gunpowder weapons, and it would be faintly ridiculous in 1643 for my player characters to sail along in a galleon armed with catapults.

I have been asked how many cannons can the ship types in the Rules & Magic book carry, what types, how much do they cost, etc. The only real rules for cannons in Rules & Magic are the rules for “artillery” in the gunpowder appendix. Rather than provide a list of discrete types of artillery, artillery is an abstraction which scales up damage, size, and cost as you buy bigger and bigger pieces of artillery. That’s fine, but means that you can’t simply take a list of historical ship armaments and directly obtain the game stats for them.

For that matter, historical ship armaments, like other ship stats, were extraordinarily variable. There was no “standard” armament for a galleon or a frigate or any other ship type on the list in Rules & Magic. In the early modern era, warships were loaded with as many cannon as they could carry whilst remaining upright. In a few famous cases (e.g. the Vasa), warships were so overloaded that remaining upright proved impossible. With that as a disclaimer, we can still use historical ship armaments to get a vague idea of what a ship of each type could conceivably carry. We can also use the cargo capacity of a ship to estimate how many cannons and barrels of gunpowder it can carry, since a ship is essentially trading cargo space to carry weapons.

The problem is that LotFP uses an abstract encumbrance system for determining how much a person or a horse can carry, but ships carry cargo in tons. Rules & Magic specifies that each size category of artillery translates to 25 Encumbrance Points. Since my campaign is set in the English Civil War, what better resource to use than the Sealed Knot’s website to look at artillery size? Of these, the smallest two are too light to correspond to even the first size category of artillery in LotFP rules terms – since it takes 2 horses to comfortably pull the falcon, this is a good place to start as the “size category I” cannon. The LotFP forum posters probably came to a similar conclusion since “Falcon” is listed as the Size Category I cannon. The weight of a Falcon is estimated at 700lbs. An Imperial Ton is 2240lbs, so we could roughly say, therefore, that:

3 Size Categories of Artillery = 1 Ton of Cargo Space

Rules & Magic says that it takes one barrel of gunpowder per size category to shoot an artillery piece. This is a huge amount of gunpowder! In reality, the amount of powder used per shot depended on the weight of the shot, and the Sealed Knot has this at about 2/3rds the weight of the shot consumed in powder (other reading suggests that earlier on, a 1:1 ratio may have been used). A standard barrel of gunpowder (which didn’t really exist of course) in LotFP is 4 encumbrance points and gives 2500 measures of powder for musket fire. If I estimate the weight of a barrel of gunpowder by encumbrance points I would get approximately 110lbs, and if I estimate the amount of gunpowder contained by the number of shots, I get approximately 80lbs. These are completely uneducated estimates on my part as I have no direct experience with gunpowder, but broadly seems OK to me, although the barrels must be heavy. So, in terms of how much gunpowder a ship can carry:

20 barrels of gunpowder = 1 Ton of Cargo Space

And using the 3:2 ratio which is generally used:

1.5 Tons of Shot require 1 Ton of Powder

Armed with these three facts, players can estimate how many guns, powder, and shot their ship can carry. But what damage can they actually do? And for that matter, what ranges can the different cannon be used at? For this, I am modifying the final table given in this wonderful thread by the poster “Cutter” and adding how many “cannonballs” of ammunition for each of the cannons listed can fit into 1 ton of ship cargo space:

SizeTypeDMG (SHP)Short (‘)Med (‘)Long (‘)Shot per TonShots/barrel

Finally, the artillery rules do not provide prices for shot – just the artillery piece itself and gunpowder (by the barrel). So, extrapolating based on the price of a bag of shot (interchangeable for all firearms in LotFP) and how many musket balls there are in a ton, an estimate price for a ton of shot is:

1 Ton of Shot = 650sp

(This means that, by weight, shot is nearly as expensive as cannon themselves – this might need to be revisited since it seems counterintuitive)

So, we can resolve the question of how many guns and how much ammunition a ship can carry based on the cargo capacity in Rules & Magic. How many could the ship mount for use in combat? I think there are two options here – one is simply to research historical examples of armaments for the specific ship type being used, and the other, to embrace the over-optimistic spirit of the age with respect to quantity of armaments and sea worthiness. Following the logic of the latter, the ship can mount for combat all the guns it can carry (after all, wooden ships can be reconfigured with a little carpentry), once ammunition, gunpowder, rations, water and other vital supplies are also accounted for from the maximum cargo capacity. If you want to put to see in a ship bristling with guns and filled with gunpowder and shot, but with no food and water, so be it. That sort of decision has its own consequences, of course.


Ships can carry and use as many guns as they can carry, provided they also have powder and shot, based on their cargo capacity:

  • 3 Size Categories worth of artillery = 1 Ton of cargo space
  • 20 barrels of gunpowder = 1 Ton of cargo space
  • 20 barrels of gunpowder fires 1.5 Tons of shot; or
  • 1 Ton of shot requires 13 1/3 barrels of gunpowder
  • 1 Ton of shot = 650sp
  • All other prices as per Rules & Magic
  • Gun ranges (and shots per barrel and per ton) as per the table above

Review: Miseries & Misfortunes

The original Miseries & Misfortunes was a zine which hacked B/X to adapt it to an early modern setting. I’m definitely into early modern Europe as a roleplaying setting – it’s part of the appeal of Lamentations of the Flame Princess to me. So when I saw a Kickstarter for a revised and expanded Miseries & Misfortunes set in 1648 France, I backed it pretty quickly. I then ignored most of the updates except those pertaining to shipping and delivery (as I generally do – I am much less interested in Kickstarter updates for projects than creators seem to think I am, unless of course the project starts running late or going off the rails, then I do appreciate the updates). I then travelled back home for my Summer vacation and a whole bunch of packages from Kickstarters backed across the last 3 years all landed at once, so although they probably arrived spaced out over 6 weeks, I received them all at once upon my return. I have been reading through these in the order it takes my fancy, I have only recently gotten to Miseries & Misfortunes.

That’s no zine, that’s a full book!

What an absolute gem this revised version has proven to be! A 212 page paperback printed on quality paper which feels nice to touch, lavishly decorated with period engravings and nicely laid out with the right balance on most pages between white space and rich information. Perhaps more surprising to me, almost all of these pages are game materials – not information about the setting as I had half expected. A second book, entitled 1648, focussing on setting material, will be available in a few months. Until then, there are plenty of history books and online sources you can use to learn about France at this time. Besides, the real “value add” of this book to someone who knows the setting is how Miseries & Misfortunes skillfully adapts Basic Dungeons & Dragons into a game with truly comprehensive coverage of this historical setting. Anything I ever considered “gameable” about 17th Century France has been captured and distilled into simple, familiar OSR mechanics by Miseries & Misfortunes. The game covers romantic swashbuckling in the style of The Three Musketeers to rather grittier rough and tumble street fights in Paris during the Fronde to the nefarious supernatural conspiracies of the Affair of the Poisons to social combat fought out in the press and palace alike between the highest members of society.

An OSR game with a social combat system? Yes, and one which actually feels entirely mechanically consistent with the regular combat system at that. Likewise, the game includes rules for what is collectively called “magic” in classic Dungeons & Dragons but which is presented in a form which feels true to “magic” as practised in the 17th Century (with the arguable difference that in the game the magic might actually work). A new experience system is presented where each class (called lifepath in Miseries & Misfortunes) gains experience for achievements relevant to that lifepath, rather than killing things or collecting loot alone. These are notable differences to most OSR rule sets, but they are presented in a way which feels like a natural evolution from the original Basic Dungeons & Dragons rules. This is an OSR rules set which proves that you can build on the rules light foundations of the OSR to truly support another style of play altogether – not just to adapt essentially the same game to a new genre.

The treatment of magic and chymistry is particularly appealing to me. Rather than merely present a list of 17th century “themed” spells but otherwise retaining the basic Vancian spellcasting system of Dungeons & Dragons, Miseries & Misfortunes provides a system based on grimoires, drawn from a vast library of real sacred, secret, and forbidden texts drawn from history, each covering different magical fields and topics. The equivalent of “divine spellcasting” draws on religious texts, and “arcane spellcasting” on decidedly less wholesome works. Using the system you will be able to make potions and poisons, summon demons, and cast spells, just like the shady characters of the Affair of the Poisons did. Many historical RPGs struggle with the topic of magic, but by treating it within the context of the belief frameworks of the age in which Miseries & Misfortunes is set, the magic system feels “native” to the historical period, rather than an intrusion from fantasy.

The inclusion of a social combat system in an OSR game may cause some eyebrows to rise, but for the feeling Miseries & Misfortunes is aiming to evoke, I am convinced such a system is totally necessary. Further, the system is both easy to understand and interesting – and will facilitate plenty of emergent storytelling in play. It combines with points-based systems to track Reputation and Wealth. I found the Wealth system a little complicated to understand at first reading – and required a little bit of flicking back and forth to see how the various parts of the system seemed to interact, but I think I understand it now. In practice, the Wealth system is less abstract than the wealth system and purchase mechanics found in d20 Modern and I think it will be smoother in play. An abstract system is probably necessary to preserve an historical feeling in rules-light game set in an era where coinage is still highly non-standard and confusing and where player characters can come from any stratus of society – from the lowest of the marginaux to royalty.

When I first backed this Kickstarter I did so hoping for a book which I could occasionally raid for resources for my Lamentation of the Flame Princess game. What I got was far more than that – this is a game I am absolutely going to run in its own right. What’s more, it is a descendant of dear old Basic Dungeons & Dragons which manages to feel completely distinct from all the other descendants of Basic Dungeons & Dragons on my shelves. This game is proof that you can still do new and exciting things with an OSR base, whether you’d call the end product “OSR” or not.

I got my copy via Kickstarter, but you can buy the PDF at the publisher’s website. I expect the game will become available again in print around the time 1648 is complete, at least I hope so. There has already been one additional print-run on a limited pre-order basis after the fulfillment of the initial Kickstarter and the publisher’s GenCon booth, so there may be further pre-order runs soon too. Keep your eyes out, because this gem is well worth it.

What is Kotaku’s Problem with Gary Gygax?

That the creators of Dungeons & Dragons and thus the initiators of our beloved hobby, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, had many differences of opinion about their respective contributions to the game and that there was significant bad blood between the two of them understates things considerably. Before many gamers were even born Gygax and Arneson had even contested these differences in court. The controversy is not new, it has been with us for decades. So why was a Kotaku article covering this all like it was a new revelation all over social media this week?

The latest piece, Dungeons & Deceptions: The First D&D Players Push Back on the Legend of Gary Gygax, is just the latest in a series of articles which are very negative about Gary Gygax written by Kotaku columnist Cecilia D’Anastasio. If it was taken by itself, I might think “Fine, a gaming website is revisiting an old controversy for its younger reader base”, but this is not the only article aimed at Gygax and his “legend”.

The first piece specifically about Gygax which I noticed in this series was entitled Graphic Novel About D&D’s Creator Is Enchanting, But Falls Into A Familiar Trap, and is a fairly benign review for the most part. Despite describing the graphic novel as “an enchanting history”, it seems to really bother the author. “And yet, perhaps Gygax has enjoyed enough time on D&D’s altar of hero worship.” the article declares. The article rails against the primacy of the Dungeon Master and asserts this diminishes the contributions of players, an argument which reminds me of my kids asking me “How come there’s a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but no Kid’s Day?”. The author’s argument placing the contributions of Players vs DMs is ultimately made by asserting that the existence of the D&D community content platform tells us to whom D&D’s legacy really belongs (uh, yeah, Wizards of the Coast but I suspect that’s not what the article’s author meant), and ends with the quip, without source or reference offered, that “It was Gygax who originally fought against making the ruleset open source.”

Now, since no specific instance, citation, hyperlink, or other evidence is provided for this statement, I am left to speculate. Certainly, Gygax fought to retain control over his IP. Gygax and Arneson fought over it in court. TSR was certainly diligent in protecting its IP against Gygax once he had been forced out of the company. If the author is arguing that Gygax was protective of the D&D IP I would certainly agree with her. But the article claims “It was Gygax who originally fought against making the ruleset open source” and this just doesn’t make sense to me. Gygax didn’t own the 3e ruleset, the ruleset which was actually made open source with the OGL. Gygax was not part of Wizards of the Coast to fight against the ruleset being made open source. I don’t know what Gygax made of the OGL upon its first release, but I do know that he published a good number of OGL supplements and products, and that by 2002, he was giving interviews which praised the concept: “The D20 OGL is a very clever move too, as it provides support for the core system, brings in more players to it, and expands the fantasy base into other fantasy environments as well as into whole new genres.” I cannot therefore think of any basis for the Kotaku article to include this idea that Gygax fought against the OGL for any other reason except to conceptually drive a divide between the vast community of hobbyists and publishers who have produced OGL supplements for D&D and D&D-inspired games and one of the game’s co-creators, and to deny Gygax any of that part of the D&D “legacy”.

The second major piece in this sequence was an article principally about Gail Gygax, Fantasy’s Widow: The Fight over the Legacy of Dungeons & Dragons. This article isn’t really a hit piece, but it does reveal the rift between Gail Gygax and some of Gary Gygax’s children from his first marriage, and paints a pretty tragic picture of the current state of Gail Gygax’s world all around. The size and scope of the article makes it clear that some significant effort was expended in gathering the story. I am not arguing that the author went out of her way to make anybody look bad, but it seems to me that such a detailed article on what would generally be a pretty esoteric topic to most of Kotaku’s readership can only be the product of a fixation on the topic of Gary Gygax and his legacy.

Before this sequence of articles started, however, Gygax was also the target of Cecilia D’Anastasio’s ire in articles not specifically related to D&D. Her article The Struggle To Bring More Women Into Game Development, opens with the following paragraph:

Gary Gygax, biological determinist and creator of Dungeons & Dragons, once told a reporter for Icon magazine that “gaming in general is a male thing… Everybody who’s tried to design a game to interest a large female audience has failed. And I think that has to do with the different thinking processes of men and women.”


Gygax’s thinking certainly sounds sexist and outdated in the quotation (and indeed, this shouldn’t surprise us), but if you follow the link to the article from Icon magazine which the author provides, you find that the quotation has been selective so as to make Gygax appear worse. At least this statement, unlike the throwaway about Gygax fighting against the OGL, is supported with a link, albeit one which reveals the selective quoting. The full context from the 1998 interview is:

What about the strains of sex and violence throughout D&D? The fantasy women in the chain mail bikinis.
GG: It’s the same in comic books and on the front of the lurid covers of the old pulp magazines. Gaming in general is a male thing. It isn’t that gaming is designed to exclude women. Everybody who’s tried to design a game to interest a large female audience has failed. And I think that has to do with the different thinking processes of men and women.


Note had D’Anastasio included the sentence deliberately omitted in the middle “It isn’t that gaming is designed to exclude women.”, it would make using Gygax’s name as a proxy for chauvinists in the game industry awkward:

The women who contributed to the new essay compilation Women in Game Development, out July 1st by CRC Press, heard Gygax’s sentiments echoed both in their heads and in game publishes’ (sic) conference rooms. Many felt first-hand the effects of big gaming companies pushing their games to boys, a marketing tactic popularized around the mid-80s. But despite all the Gary Gygaxes who told them No, get out, they did it, and they’re helping others do it, too.


And later on in the article, discussing that the female authors of the book found that “Myst, Monkey Island, Donkey Kong, and–against Gygax’s proclamation–Dungeons & Dragons, were not only fun ways to pass the time, but crucial parts of their identities.” (emphasis added), as if it is a given that Gygax wanted female players excluded from Dungeons & Dragons.

I am not going to argue that Gary Gygax was not sexist, or that early D&D was not “biological determinist” (e.g. restrictions by race and gender in AD&D 1e), but both Gygax and his editions of the game came from a sexist age. Making Gygax the sole example of a male chauvinist voice seeking to exclude women in the Kotaku article about the struggle to bring in more women game developers is just ridiculous – especially when you consider that we’re talking primarily about the video game industry, and that the struggle is real and right now, years after Gygax’s death, not in a distant past where Gygax may have been personally influential in the matter. The article reports that, with respect to women in game development: “Incessant sexual and emotional harassment, along with imbalanced wages and constant doubt over their skill eroded these women’s mental health…” This harassment and wage inequality is not the fault of Gary Gygax, a dead man from another industry, but the fault of living people in the video game development industry right now. Perhaps Kotaku doesn’t want to name names in the video game industry, and thus prefers to use Gygax as a boogeyman to stand in for the actual bad actors? That doesn’t seem very fair to me, either to Gary Gygax or the actual victims of this harassment.

There are other, non-Kotaku articles by D’Anastasio about Gary Gygax as well. This review of “Empire of Imagination” has a pretty disgusting comment about Gary Gygax’s wife: “The thoroughly male world of wargaming, a world that, as Witwer chuckles, evaded the understanding of Gygax’s wife (whom, as rumor has it, he chose for her resemblance to a fantasy pinup girl in skintight armor)” (again, emphasis mine), and was written in 2015. I am guessing Gail Gygax didn’t see that before she agreed to be interviewed for D’Anastasio’s 2019 article Fantasy’s Widow.

For what it’s worth, not everything D’Anastasio has written for Kotaku about D&D is a hit piece on Gary Gygax. Dungeons & Dragons Wouldn’t Be What It Is Today Without These Women is very worth reading if you’ve an interest in the creation of some of the most iconic products of the “golden age” of TSR. D’Anastasio has also written some pieces praising 5th edition and it’s obvious she’s a keen gamer, since she’s also the author of a mini-supplement on DMSGuild (that’s an affiliate link).

Also for what it’s worth, every gamer with an interest in the history of the hobby (which probably describes most of the OSR), knows that Gary Gygax was far from perfect. Stories abound of drug and alcohol abuse, abusive parenting, infidelity, bullying, and obviously, fights over intellectual property. Even as a gamer, there probably is no “definitive Gygax philosophy” since his view of the game he co-created and the games inspired by it changed dramatically over time, and his advice to players and Dungeon Masters ranged from advocating almost “rules anarchy” to insisting that he personally was the definitive authority on all rules and everything between. Gygax wasn’t perfect, but he was the co-creator of a game which founded a hobby which millions of people love, including D’Anastasio herself. Reducing him to a click-bait caricature is unfair, as is using him as a stand-in for the sins and attitudes of others. This campaign to turn Gygax’s legacy into something dirty is unfair.

First Five Fantasy Roleplaying

My first post on this blog was about the 1991 Black Box Dungeons & Dragons starter set, which was my introduction to D&D and the roleplaying game hobby generally. I still believe this version of the game is an underappreciated classic. It covered dungeon crawling for levels 1 to 5. The box contained a rulebook, a DM’s screen which doubled as a folder for Dragon Cards (which restated the rules in single-page chunks for the most part), a large fold-out map of Zanzer Tem’s dungeon (adventure included with the Dragon Cards), and a huge set of fold-up paper miniatures for player characters, non-player characters, and monsters.

As previously discussed, I am running a D&D campaign for my kids and some of their friends, playing through the B1-9 super module. Although the Black Box version of the game had the “Thunder Rift” modules to accompany it, the same rules also work perfectly well for B1-9. Unfortunately, my old black D&D rulebook is nearly falling apart, and this classic is one of the few TSR-era titles which has not been made available on DriveThruRPG as PDF or print-on-demand. I wanted the kids to be able to have physical rulebooks they could hold and read both at and away from the game table, so I started looking to other options.

I love the Rules Cyclopedia but that is a cruelly large book to inflict on a 9 year old. It’s great it is available as print-on-demand from DriveThruRPG (you can pick it up via my affiliate link). Ultimately, my D&D campaign with the kids will progress to using the Rules Cyclopedia once their characters are high enough level, but a great introductory tome it is not.

Likewise, as much as I love Labyrinth Lord and Old School Essentials (or B/X Essentials as it still was when we started playing), both games present too much too soon for young beginners, in my view. The way Old School Essentials splits topic and contents across multiple books is convenient as a DM or as an experienced player, but I don’t multiple booklets is intuitive for young players. The main thing against these retroclones, though, was that both really strive to present B/X in a modern format, not the version of the rules as presented in the 1991 black box (which are subtly different from but closer to BECMI).

So, using Labyrinth Lord and Old School Essentials, I started to build my own retroclone, seeking specifically to provide a retroclone of the rulebook from my beloved 1991 black box. I wanted to make these rules available in print-on-demand so that players and DMs could have sturdy, gameable books, as opposed to my nearly falling apart original book, to play the version of D&D which introduced so many of us to the hobby. First Five Fantasy Roleplaying is the result.

My retroclone of the 1991 black box rulebook, with cover art by Payton Vaughn.

This is a 64 A4 page rulebook which includes everything the black box book had, with a few bonus features including the monster you see depicted on the cover here, and an index (definitely a missing feature from the black box book).

I found during actual play, it helped me to teach the rules to the kids if they had copies of the rules as well. It definitely speeds up character creation and equipment list shopping if everyone has their own copy! However, I didn’t want the kids to reference monsters during play. My solution? I removed the monsters, treasure, and dungeon design sections from First Five Fantasy Roleplaying and produced the First Five Fantasy Roleplaying Player’s Guide. This is a 32 A4 page rulebook which has everything players need to play the game and learn the rules, but doesn’t include any of the material you’d rather keep secret during play as the referee. Since it is almost literally the first half of the full rulebook, I made it available as pay-what-you-want on DriveThruRPG.

I’ve been a little bit shy about promoting First Five Fantasy Roleplaying mostly because I made it first and foremost for my kids and their friends and our home game. I also know it stands on the shoulders of some pretty tall giants. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a new print version of the 1991 black box rules, I am pretty sure you’ll like First Five Fantasy Roleplaying.

Cults of Chaos

Both my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign and my games of Basic D&D feature Chaos cults as adversaries for the player characters. Sometimes hidden in the shadows of respectable societies, sometimes open power centres in cities of wicked people, Chaos cults come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are great building blocks for world building. Although generally villains they can also be useful allies for more morally flexible parties.

Chaos Cults: Bubonica is the first of what I hope will be a series of zine-sized supplements for Basic D&D. The idea is that each booklet will feature a different Chaos god and different types of cults to that god which could be easily dropped into your game. Each booklet also incorporates some monsters, cleric spells, and an adventure locale.

You can buy Chaos Cults: Bubonica now on DriveThruRPG in print and PDF format!

I am working on two other Chaos Cults booklets which will hopefully be released in the next few months, and I hope more will follow.

Chivalry & Sorcery Essence

It has been my observation that most Chivalry & Sorcery fans relish in the perceived complexity of the game. I am not sure the game is actually very complex, at least in its actual mechanics, although there are certainly a lot of topics covered in the rules and the presentation of the rules themselves could be more accessible (something I hope the upcoming 5th edition rectifies where appropriate). I think the legendary tiny font size of the 1st edition of the game, necessary to fit in what by the standards of the time was a truly exhaustively complete set of rules, created a certain reputation for the game and C&S purists wear that reputation like a badge of pride.

And more power to them, I say. I have a lot of respect for people who play AD&D 1e “rules as written” too, because despite my enormous affection for Gygaxian prose, I am still not entirely sure I understand what the rules are for some systems (overbearing immediately comes to mind). Still, one of the reasons I am generally an OSR gamer and one especially drawn to Basic D&D and systems inspired by Basic D&D is that I quite like the simple, easy to play and easy to tinker with mechanics. I certainly like not being drowned in hundreds of pages of rules like I am when I try to play Pathfinder. Perhaps this is why Chivalry & Sorcery Essence appeals to me. Plus, at least until the 5th edition Kickstarter, Chivalry & Sorcery Essence is the only version of C&S you can currently buy in print (it is available as print-on-demand) unless you want to pay top dollar for a print copy of a previous edition of C&S proper.

Chivalry & Sorcery Essence shares the ability scores and the same basic concepts as Chivalry & Sorcery proper, but uses a different system, based around rolling under a success chance on a d20, rather than a d100. Of course the book does not have the exhaustive set of character options, equipment, or spells that Chivalry & Sorcery 4th Edition has, but it has a good selection and everything is simple enough that you can easily see how you could make or import your own. Simple enough that you can easily see how to tinker is a feature, not a limitation, to my taste.

The 44 page book includes all the rules you need to play, and an introductory scenario set in its own fantasy medieval campaign setting, Darken. Despite the rules being about the same size as the core of Basic D&D, there’s nevertheless a lot of options for character creation and advancement, a blow-based combat system which makes all your decisions count and is much more tactical and realistic-feeling than D&D, and even a mass combat system! There’s quite a lot to sink your teeth into even at the relatively small size.

There are a few “rough edges”. Some of the interior art is not high enough resolution for print – but most of it is very serviceable. The layout is also “serviceable”. This is a 2011 book, so it is unfair to judge it by the standards of some of the amazingly laid out OSR books of recent years. The game is designed to be played using a d20, but in some places a d10 is more appropriate (e.g. in character generation I’d rather roll a d10 than halving a d20 roll).

If you’re an OSR player who likes rules light systems but is intrigued by C&S I think you might enjoy Chivalry & Sorcery Essence. At the very least, it’s worth a look while you’re waiting to check out Chivalry & Sorcery 5th edition!

You can buy Chivalry & Sorcery Essence here via my affiliate link in PDF and print-on-demand format. Some of the artwork in the print-on-demand version is a little low-resolution but it is still nice to have in hard copy, I think.

Character Class: Nymph


Nymphs are semi-divine beings linked to natural places – forest glades, underwater grottos, lakes, mountain pastures, and so on. They are always female and take the form of beautiful human women. There are numerous types, or subraces, of nymph. Some are the dedicated handmaidens (and often lovers) of the gods, or their courtiers and attendants. Others are linked to the natural world and are the most likely types to be encountered by mortals. These nymphs are the ones who may become adventurers.

Adventuring nymphs are those who have not yet bound themselves to natural location. As such they can be called free nymphs. They are able to roam the world just like mortals, and they grow old and need to eat and drink just like mortals do. When they have satisfied their wanderlust, nymphs bind themselves to a particular natural feature – dryads to a tree or glade, naiads to a stream or lake, auloniads to a mountain pasture or vale, and oceanids to an ocean grotto or beach. Once they become bound nymphs, nymphs become ageless, and require no sustenance – they will endure so long as the natural feature to which they bound is preserved.

Nymphs are exclusively female, but can reproduce with males of any species, or even gods. Any sons they bear will be of the same species as their father, and any daughters they bear will be nymphs.

If a player wishes to play a nymph, they should also choose which subrace of nymph they wish to play – dryad, naiad, auloniad, or oceanid. Each has slightly different abilities as indicated below.

Prime Requisite

Wisdom and Charisma


Wisdom 8 or higher, and Charisma 12 or higher.


Nymphs cannot wear armour nor bear shields. Nymphs can use daggers, spears, javelins, staffs, blowguns, nets, slings, and whips as weapons. Nymphs can use any magical items permitted to clerics (except weapons), and any magical weapon of a type they can use.


Nymphs are powerful creatures and advance more slowly than other character classes.

LevelXPHit DiceLevel 1 Spells/day
36000No increase0
524000No increase2

Note that a “typical nymph” encountered as a monster may not be the equivalent of a level 1 nymph character. For example, a typical dryad is equivalent to a level 3 nymph character (levels 1 and 2 representing younger dryads).

Saving Throws

Note your saving throws on your character sheet as per your character level:

SaveLevel 1-4Level 5

Attack Table

Note what your character needs to roll on 1d20 to hit each Armour Class on your character sheet. This roll is modified by Strength for melee attacks and Dexterity for ranged attacks.


Special Abilities

Home Environment

In terrain similar to their home environment, nymphs never suffer ill-effects from bad weather or exposure. The terrain which is sufficiently similar to a nymph’s home environment for these purposes is determined by her subrace:

  • Dryads: Woods, Jungle
  • Auloniads: Grassland, Mountains, Hills
  • Naiads: River, Swamp
  • Oceanids: Ocean

Natural Armour

Dryads and auloniads have natural armour, their flesh as resistant to blows as the wood of the natural features they protect. They have an Armour Class of 7 prior to any Dexterity modifier.

Water Breathing

Naiads and oceanids can breathe underwater. Naiads can use this ability in fresh water, and oceanids can use this in saltwater.

Purify Water

Naiads can purify fresh water at will. This takes one turn for the equivalent of 6 water skins of water, thus it may take many turns for a naiad to purify a large body of water.

Discern Direction

When on land, Oceanids can always discern the direction of the shortest path to the ocean, and they also intrinsically know which sea or ocean is the nearest. When at sea, Oceanids can always discern true north, as well as the direction of the nearest landmass, and can thus be extremely helpful for navigators.


At level 2, a nymph gains the ability to charm. Treat this ability as the magic-user spell charm person. A free nymph can use this ability 3 times per day. A bound nymph can use this power once per round, and victims make their saving throw vs spells at -2.

Spell Casting

At level 4, nymphs gain the ability to cast cleric and druid spells, except those which affect good or evil. The level 1 spells a nymph gains the ability to cast are as follows (* indicates a reversible spell): cure light wounds*, detect magic, light*, purify food and water, remove fear*, resist cold, animal messenger, detect animals and plants, divine weather, find dangers, and faerie fire.

Shape Change

At level 5, nymphs nominate a natural form appropriate to their subrace: a dryad or auloniad would pick a plant which might be found in a forest or vale respectively, a naiad would pick a pond, spring, or similar, and an oceanid would pick a rock pool or coral. The player should nominate a specific natural form along these lines – no animal form is permitted. The natural form should be vaguely the same size as the nymph (although there are no restrictions on shape).

The nymph can change into her nominated natural form (and back again) once per day – the transformation takes one round in each direction. When she transforms, the nymph regains 1d4 hit points/level, up to a maximum of half the damage she has sustained (thus, she cannot fully heal herself by shape changing). The nymph cannot cast spells, attack, or take any other action in this natural form, except change back to her humanoid form. The nymph can still be attacked in this natural form, and can be hurt as usual. can hold this natural form for 1 turn/level.

Bind Soul

A nymph may choose to bind her soul to a natural feature of an appropriate type for her subrace. Once her soul is bound, the nymph becomes almost immortal, in that she ceases to age and requires no food or drink to survive so long as the natural feature to which she has bound her soul endures. She cannot move more than 240 feet away from the feature to which she has bound her soul for more than one turn, or she will die. If the natural feature to which she has bound her soul is destroyed or dies, the nymph will also die.


Nymphs can speak their alignment language, Common, the local human dialect, and Nymph.

Movement, Size, and Encumbrance

A nymph is the same size as a human woman, and can move as far and carry as much as  normal human characters.

New Spells

First Level Druid Spells

Animal Messenger

Range: 10’
Duration: 1 day per caster level
Reversible: False

This spell summons a tiny animal (bird, mouse, or insect) to the caster and compels it to act as a messenger for the caster. Once the summoned animal appears, the caster tells the animal the message. The caster then tells the animal who the recipient is, describes them in terms sufficient for the animal to identify them, and describes their general location accurate to one square mile. The animal must then travel to the recipient and deliver the message within the duration of the spell, or it will forget the caster’s instructions. If, after delivering the message, the animal still has sufficient time remaining within the spell’s duration, it can take a response to the caster. Note that while affected by this spell, the animal will be able to speak to the recipient of its message, but only for the purposes of reciting the message.

Detect Animals and Plants

Range: Caster
Duration: 6 turns
Reversible: False

This spells allows the caster to know the direction of an animal or plant of a type named by the caster so long as that animal or plant is within 120’ of the caster. The caster does not need to know the specific name of the actual animal or plant being identified, just the type of animal/plant. If there are no examples of the type named within 120’ then the caster discovers as much through the spell. This spell cannot be used to detect the location of intelligent creatures.

Divine Weather

Range: Caster
Duration: 12 hours
Reversible: False

This spell allows the caster to know the accurate weather of the area around them (to a radius of 1 mile per caster level) for the next 12 hours.

Faerie Fire

Range:  60’
Duration: 1 round/level
Reversible: False

A pale glow surrounds and outlines the subjects, making them hypervisible. Outlined subjects shed light that makes them visible in darkness. The spell may outline up to one human-sized creature per every 5 caster levels. The Faerie Fire does not cause any harm to the objects or creatures thus outlined. However, their greater visibility grants attackers a +2 bonus to hit them while the spell is in effect.

Find Dangers

Range: 5’ per caster level
Duration: One hour
Reversible: False

This spell reveals hazards to the caster. Once casting the spell, the caster concentrates on a single item or area (1 foot by 1 foot) for one round and immediately knows whether the item or anything (including creatures) in the area is dangerous. The caster will also know the degree of danger (e.g. immediately or potentially dangerous). Large items/areas can take multiple rounds to search for dangers using this spell.

Character Class: Faun


Fauns generally have the upper-body of a human, and the lower-body of a goat (although some, generally called satyrs, may be more human-like, exhibiting only minimal goat-like characteristics). They inhabit wild places, and are fickle, chaotic creatures. Fauns are exclusively male, although they can breed with nymphs and humans. Human women who fall pregnant to fauns give birth to fauns. Nymphs who fall pregnant to fauns have an even chance to give birth to a faun or a nymph.

Prime Requisite



Dexterity 8 or higher. A faun cannot have an Intelligence greater than 15, nor a Strength greater than 16. If the player rolls an Intelligence or Strength higher than these maximums, then they may trade them for points in other attributes as usual. A faun must be male, and cannot be of Lawful alignment.


A faun can use any weapon or armour made for their body type (remember that some fauns are more human-like than others). They can use any magic item not restricted to magic-users, and they can use any musical instrument (including magical ones restricted to other classes). Likewise, fauns can consume any magical food or drink and benefit from it, even if it is normally restricted only to other classes.


Fauns advance quickly compared to other races.

LevelXPHit Dice

Note that a “typical faun” encountered as a monster is the equivalent of a level 1 faun character.

Saving Throws

Note your saving throws on your character sheet as per your character level:

SaveLevel 1-4Level 5

Attack Table

Note what your character needs to roll on 1d20 to hit each Armour Class on your character sheet. This roll is modified by Strength for melee attacks and Dexterity for ranged attacks.


Special Abilities

Natural Armour

Fauns have natural armour, giving them a natural Armour Class of 8 when unarmoured. They can wear armour made of their body type, but only benefit from the armour if its Armour Class exceeds the faun’s natural Armour Class.

Amplify Emotions

At level 5, a faun gains the ability to amplify the emotions of another character using a musical instrument. This takes a full round, during which time the faun can do nothing else but play his instrument. The target must be able to hear the faun play in order to be affected, and is permitted a saving throw versus spells to resist the effect. The faun must declare which emotion/impulse/primal urge he is trying to amplify in the target (e.g. anger, love, hunger, fear, lust, etc). The target’s saving throw is modified by the faun’s level, with a cumulative -1 for each round the faun has been playing his instrument (including the first). For example, against a level 5 faun, the target gets a +4 to their saving throw on the first round, +3 on the second round, +2 on the third round, +1 on the fourth round, no modifier on the fifth round, -1 on the sixth round, and so on. If the faun is attacked, his playing is interrupted and he must start again from the first round. If the faun plays long enough (6 rounds or more), his music may even backfire and affect him! The faun himself must make the same saving throws as the target or be affected by his own music.

If the target (or the faun) fails their saving throw, then they become completely dominated by the emotion in question. The exact effects of this must be adjudicated by the referee depending on the target’s emotional state and the emotion/urge the faun was trying to trigger. If the target is a little angry with one of their allies, for example, then the faun’s music may make them so angry that they actually attack their ally. If the target harbours romantic feelings for another character, then the faun’s music may cause the target to forget all other tasks but the pursuit of their beloved, whom the target will indeed love with an all-consuming intensity even if the prior romantic feelings were mild. Once affected, the target remains consumed by the triggered impulse until they have acted upon it. Once again, the referee’s careful judgement will be required.


Fauns can speak their alignment language, the local human dialect, and Nymph.

Movement, Size, and Encumbrance

A faun is about the same size as a man, perhaps a little shorter due to his goat legs. A faun can move faster than a human but can carry less.

Weight Carried (coins)Speed (feet/turn)
Up to 300150