28 March 2023

Swords and Wizardry revised now live on kickstarter


First unleashed onto an unsuspecting world in 2008, Swords & Wizardry has been revised and cleaned up. Coming out via kickstarter, it promises to wreak even more havoc in the future! Its rules will now available under the Creative Commons License (rather than the Open Game License). Kudos to Mythmere Game for doing this!


As mentioned recently here, this blog started out as a way for me to share my house rules for S&W. Many of those house rules were later incorporated into the Crypts and Things FRPG. So, to put it mildly, this game has a special place in my desiccated undead heart!


The kickstarter is now “live” here. Unsurprisingly, it’s already exceeded its official goal. I encourage you to check it out!

11 March 2023

Into the Unknown vs 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons

I learned about the Into the Unknown fantasy role-playing game last summer at the RPG Pub. Intrigued, I ordered it from DrivethruRPG (both PDF and print versions). When it arrived, I looked through it, liked what I saw, and considered converting my current World of Greyhawk campaign over to it. I did not do so at the time because a few of the changes looked like they would be a bit too much. Specifically, ItU adhered to a few elements from the “Basic” and “Expert” versions of old school D&D that did not seem to mesh well with the Greyhawk setting (e.g., three alignments, races-as-classes).


But when WotC threatened to pull the OGL a couple of months ago, I decided to make the shift away from “official” 5e D&D. Given the compatibility of ItU with 5e, it was easy to keep the things that I wanted from 5e for the sake of the setting (e.g., nine alignments, the distinction between races and classes) and continuity (the ‘sub-classes’ already selected by the players for their characters). Hence what we’re playing now is a kind of ItU-5e hybrid, with a few house rules mixed in.


I encourage others who like elements of 5e D&D but who also like old school D&D to check out Into the Unknown. There is a summary of the main differences between the 5e D&D rules and ItU provided on page 52 (Book 1) of the latter. I’ve reproduced and edited it below, along with some of my own notes (in a different font) to indicate some of the changes I’ve made for my campaign.


·    No race choice – These have been converted into their own optional classes.

o   I’ve kept the race-class distinction. But I’ve also kept the ‘racial classes’ as special classes for non-human characters of the appropriate race, renaming them ‘Dwarven Defender’, ‘Elven Mystic’, and ‘Halfling Wanderer’. I’m especially impressed by what ItU did for the ‘Elven’ spell list, mixing certain druid and magic-user spells into something that feels more ‘fey’ in nature overall than standard D&D.


·    No Sub-classes – To have fewer sub-systems.

o   We will be keeping those sub-classes (abjurer, battle master, etc.) that already have been used (see my forthcoming house rules post for more information).


·    Fewer classes – For similar reasons as above, ItU restricts itself to the original four core classes and relies on a new mechanic:

o   Class Features – A mechanical choice at 1st level that defines your class. It replaces sub-class and wide range of classes and feats, though it strives to be mechanically simpler.

o   Through the ‘class features’ mechanic, ItU divides priests into ‘cleric’ and ‘druids’ (with different spell lists), and also allows for quite different kinds of rogues and magic-users.


·    No Feats – To reduce decision points during character creation, to have fewer different mechanics in play and to augment the maxim that “anyone can try anything”.

o   We weren’t using feats already. (I so hate feats…)


·    No Skills – Replaced by “Proficiency Areas” to give fewer decision points in character creation and emphasize proficiency as meaningful aspects of characters.


·    Only goes to 10th level – most games never go beyond 9th level. ItU is focused on where 95% of the gameplay lies and supports the kind of play seen at those levels. The Companion rules, to be released later, will cover high level play.  


·    Simpler & fewer backgrounds – To keep decision points manageable, ItU has a smaller selection. It is simpler, yet allows flexibility to cover all bases.

o   ItU’s backgrounds are quite nice. When combined with the classes, it is possible to construct a wide range of different kinds of characters, but without all the “fiddliness” of standard 5e.


·    No Multi-classing – A simple multiclassing system will be found in the Companion.


·    Condensed weapons list – ItU folds many different weapons into basically being the same weapon mechanically, with differences between weapons being mechanically distinct.


·    Gold for XP – To give players incentives other than killing things on the way to completing an adventurer goal, ItU relies on Gold-for-XP as the main source of XP.

o   I’ve been using the “milestone” system for XP in my Greyhawk campaign and will continue to do so. That said, I’m quite impressed with the experience system presented in ItU. I’d certainly consider using it in a future campaign.


·    No spellcasting focus or trivial spell components – Detracts from simplicity.


·    Simpler encumbrance system – ItU tracks encumbrance in Stones and Items carried, rather than tracking pounds of many items.


·    Different overland travel system – ItU focuses on hex-based overland travel to focus more on the element of exploration and uses a simple unified track to manage encumbrance, weather, terrain, etc.

o   I quite like the travel system presented in ItU. It provides a simple but engaging mechanic for handling overland travel.


·    Reaction rolls – ItU’s default assumption is that initial encounter reactions have an element of unpredictability and that not all enemies necessarily want to fight you.

o   This is something I quite like in earlier versions of A/D&D, and I’m glad that ItU has a simple system for it.


·    Morale – All creatures have a morale score, reflecting that not all creatures will necessarily want to fight to the death.

o   I had developed an ad hoc morale system for my 5e game already, but I like ItU’s system better and have been happy to switch over to it.


·    Henchmen – ItU assumes the party may want to hire henchmen to help keep them alive and has basic rules to address this.


·    Harsher Healing rules – Hit dice for healing is a sparser resource.

o   PCs recovering all their hit points after long rests is one of the things that strikes me as the most ‘cartoonish’ about 5e. In ItU, PCs have to spend hit dice to recover hit points even after a long rest (although they gain ‘advantage’ in doing so if they spend their hit dice immediately after they rest).


·    Shorter Short Rests – These usually take only 10 minutes, but the GM may decide that different circumstances change the time required for long and shorts rests.


·    Proficient Saving Throws - All PCs add their proficiency bonus to any saving throw.


·    Simpler reach rules – Rather than having to track exact distance between opponents, battle map style, reach weapons simply provoke opportunity attacks when opponents move within 5 feet of you.


·    More coverage of improvised attacks – Since everyone can try anything, ItU has more focus on stunts and improvised attacks. It also encourages fighters to get creative by giving them proficiency with any improvised attack.


·    Time Tracking – ItU has a strong focus on time tracking to keep pacing in the game.

o   ItU’s simple but helpful time tracking system will be familiar to anyone who’s played B/X D&D or AD&D.


·    Full Compatibility – The changes made in ItU are balanced towards retaining full compatibility to 5e, so that a 5e character easily can join a game table playing ItU with no conversion needed and vice versa.

o   Anything that we’ve been using so far (e.g., spells, magic items, etc.) that are not in the ItU rules were simply be ported over to ItU.


One difference between 5e and ItU strangely not mentioned in the summary is that ItU uses only three alignments (Chaotic, Neutral, and Lawful). Obviously, it’s easy enough to stick with the standard nine alignments (which we’ve done in our campaign).


As I mentioned above, I’ve added a few house rules to ItU. I’ll post them here in the very near future.



10 March 2023

OSR miscellaneous items: Swords and Wizardry revised and Shadow Dark

For your OSR consideration:



I'll be backing this, even though I already have multiple copies of Swords and Wizardry (albeit most in storage due to restricted shelf space –- although the recent box set is sitting near two copies of Crypts and Things in my bedroom).

S&W got me into the ‘Old School Renaissance’ in a big way about 15 years ago. Indeed, this blog started as a repository for house rules and campaign notes for S&W (many of which eventually became incorporated into the S&W-based Crypts & Things).

I’m looking forward to checking out the revised version (with the new Erol Otus cover). And even if I weren't, I’d support the new version out of gratitude to Mythmere Games.


Also possibly of interest to gamers whose tastes tend towards the ‘old school’ side of things: the Shadow Dark role-playing game. The ‘quick start’ rules are free, and after a leisurely skim through them, I have to say that I’m favourably impressed overall. I like the game’s art and clean layout, as well as its motivating philosophy (especially its focus on keeping the game ‘moving’ at a brisk pace).


I thought that Shadow Dark might be trying to do (more or less) what Into the Unknown does: namely, provide a game that is fully compatible with 5e D&D (i.e., 5e-derived) but with some streamlined rules and an overall ‘old school’ ethos. But it looks like it’s something else: Shadow Dark is more of a (1980 era) Basic/Expert D&D inspired game (but with class and race separated) with a few mechanics inspired by 5e (e.g., 5e’s ‘advantage/disadvantage’ system, which I’m quite fond of) and other novel twists (e.g., a ‘real time’ torch rule). While I’m not sure I’d ever run it myself (although I certainly would not rule it out!), I think I'll be getting it any case. The random tables look cool and readily usable with other systems (S&W, ItU, etc.). 


(As an aside, I’m simply amazed that the Shadow Dark kickstarter already has raised over 800K USD [1.1 million CAD]! How is that possible?)

02 March 2023

Return to the Moathouse (Greyhawk campaign)


6.1 Return Journey to the Moathouse (Flocktime 11th – 12th)


The bold adventurers — Erik (the mountain dwarf fighter from the Lortmils), Althaea (the high elf wizard from the city of Tringlee), and the brothers Godric (the human rogue from the Barony of Shiboleth) and Cedric (the human cleric of St. Cuthbert) – set off from Hommlet. They are accompanied by Zert (a rough-looking sword-for-hire), Spugnoir (a scrawny, pale Suel wizard whose voice breaks whenever Althaea is nearby), and Vick (a mule – named after the brigand who converted to the faith of St. Cuthbert shortly before being was savagely slain by a gnoll).


After a full day’s march, the party makes camp near the Moathouse. Shortly before dawn, during his watch, Godric notices a large crow flying in suspicious circles around the campsite. Suspecting a malevolent motive in the corvid, he informs the others when they awaken. Althaea impatiently destroys the crow with a magic missile. She then casts “invisibility” on Godric. The rogue scouts ahead to the secret exit to the east of the Moathouse (knowledge of which was provided by Vick before his death). There he spots a figure behind some bushes atop a stony hillock. Sneaking up unseen on the figure, Godric slits its throat. The figure turns out to be a gnome. (Perhaps this gnome was involved in ambushing the party days ago, when they were en route to Hommlet for the first time?)  

The party converges on the hillock. They search the gnome’s body – Althaea even casts “detect magic” on the tiny corpse – but find nothing of note. However, upon the hillock is a concealed trapdoor. Godric casts “mage hand” and tries to open the door with it but is unsuccessful. Althaea casts “mage hand” and the two hands – working together in deft harmony – succeed in lifting the trapdoor!


6.2 Into the Tunnels beneath the Moathouse (Flocktime 12th)


Erik impatiently dashes up to the hole and looks down. The tunnel descends for twenty feet, with a rope ladder on one side. Below is a westward bound corridor. Godric descends the ladder and is soon followed by the rest of the band (except, of course, for Vick the mule, who is left behind tied to a nearby tree).


Cedric casts “light” on his warhammer – he aims to light the way for the others with the divine glow of St. Cuthbert. Godric scouts ahead of the rest of the party, relying on his ring of darkvision to see beyond the range of his brother’s bright weapon. Eventually Godric comes to two doors – one to the west and one to the north. The sharp-eyed scout notices faint purplish light seeping through the cracks of the northern door.


The rest of the party joins Godric. Straining his steely dwarvish thews, Erik pushes some spikes into the western door. Althaea and Godric work together again and use their floating mage hands to open the northern door. Beyond is a wide passage lit eerily with purple torches mounted on the walls. Three black-cloaked cultists stand guard. They start howling loudly, thereby alerting their comrades further north, and assault the intruders. Eventually six wild-eyed cultists appear. Combat ensues. Althaea casts a “web” spell. Zert finishes off one wounded cultist but appears to pull his blow against another. Erik is suspicious and shouts at the sell-sword to fight harder (or “I’ll smash yer stinkin’ skull in!”). But Zert merely laughs, noting that he actually succeeded in killing one of the foes, unlike the dwarf. Eventually three cultists are slain and the others flee to the northwest, out of the party’s line of vision. The party retreats behind the door and slams it shut.


Breathing heavily after the intense combat, Erik sets up his hunter’s trap and caltrops. Althaea and Godric cast minor illusions to conceal the trap and caltrops, and the party waits for five minutes before opening the door again.


A terrible battle follows. Nine cultists, two elite warriors, and a lieutenant wearing black plate mail adorned with the symbol of a burning eye all attack the party. The Moathouse forces are led from behind by a laughing, beautiful blond human who wears magnificent black plate mail, and wields a staff in one hand and a mace in the other. This, no doubt, is the baleful “Master” of the Moathouse! 

Zert proves to be a knave and cruelly stabs an unsuspecting Althaea with his sharp sword “Betty”! The traitor badly wounds her. He then swerves behind her and tries to distance himself from the rest of the party, presumably to harass them further while the cultists engage them from the other side. However, despite her pain, Althaea manages to slay the vile ne’er-do-well with a well-placed firebolt. 


During the subsequent combat, Godric casts a few “colour spray” spells, Spungoir launches a couple of magic missiles, and Erik caves in the skulls of the elite warriors with his deadly warhammer (in addition to battering a few cultists with one of the doors). A cultist steps onto the hidden caltrops and is subsequently slain. Others have their heads severed by Godric. The blond beast, however, swings his staff with deadly accuracy and force, nearly slaying Cedric. The righteous cleric is knocked out, blood seeping from his battered face. Eventually all of the forces of the Moathouse are slain by the party, except for the Master and one guard, who bash open the western door and then cravenly flee through it. 


The party tends to Cedric rather than pursue the Master. The priest regains consciousness and heals himself further by calling upon the benevolence of St. Cuthbert. Erik smashes Zert’s skull into a gory paste before taking “Betty” for himself. The party loots the other bodies. Of special note is the black plate mail that they recover from the lieutenant. Althaea, as usual, casts a couple of “alarm” spells. The party then rests for about an hour. Spugnoir, hyped up on adrenaline, keeps guard.


After recovering a bit, the party heads back to the exit. They discover that the trapdoor has been shut and the rope ladder cut! The party decides to return to the area in which they encountered the cultists. They explore the rooms that had been occupied by the Master and his followers. The area is lit by torches burning with an unnerving purplish light. Supplies of dried fruit, hard biscuits, salted meat, and crates of watery wine are found. 


6.3 The Chamber of the Master (Flocktime 12th)


With dashing aplomb, Godric picks the lock to the Master’s room. They find it to be a luxurious chamber. It is adorned with thick rugs, soft chairs, a couch, and the like. On a table are sweetmeats and bottles of fine wine. A brazier burns, filling the room with fragrant incense. In one corner stands a desk and chair. 

On the far wall is a disturbing tapestry that displays a menacing skull. Althaea identifies it as the symbol of the dark demi-god Iuz. The wizard recalls some basic information about Iuz: he rules the realm that bears his name to the north, and he disappeared mysteriously for a few decades – only to reappear less than a decade ago. Cedric notes that the Temple of Elemental Evil rose and fell while Iuz was gone. If Iuz was not involved in the Temple’s activities a decade ago, what are his followers doing in the Moathouse now? The elf and cleric scratch their heads in puzzlement, while Godric and Spugnoir shrug and consume some sweetmeats. The dwarf gulps down a bottle of wine and emits a loud belch.


In a cabinet Erik finds some rolls of black cloth, a gold chain with five opals, and an alabaster box with a strange unguent. Neither Cedric nor Althaea can identify the moist substance. Within the desk the party finds a letter to “Lareth” – presumably the name of the Moathouse’s “Master” – from the Hommlet traders Gremag and Rannos Davl. The letter warns Lareth about some “meddlesome adventurers.” It seems that the merchants are not merely slimy money-grubbers but also spies in league with Lareth (now known to be a follower of Iuz) and the Temple!

[Campaign information and previous log entries can be found here.]

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).