Thursday, February 9, 2017

Alternative players' map for D1-2, Descent into the Depths of the Earth

For your possible enjoyment, here is a custom players' map for the old TSR modules D1 and D2 from 1978. These modules were later republished together as D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth in 1981 and appeared again, with some modifications, in GDQ 1-7, The Queen of the Spiders from 1986.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW! If learning details of the contents of these modules would ruin your enjoyment of them as a player, please stop reading.

The map is a player handout that guides the PCs from the lower levels of the Halls of the Fire Giant King (module G3) through a vast region of the Underdark to the great Drow city of Erelhei-Cinlu situated within a great vaulted dome of rock. In general the route runs northwest and represents a trek of 55 miles through underground tunnels of various sizes. In addition to the main route, the map shows a number of branching side passages that extend several miles west or east; if explored, the PCs will discover that these lead to other regions of the Underdark. The DM's map reveals much more of this vast underworld, including numerous chambers and a subterranean sea. However, the modules themselves only provide detail on encounters within the zone covered by the players' map.

Original players' map from D1-2.
In form, the players' map is essentially a cropped version of the DM's map but with key details erased. It is laid out on a hex grid of the same dimensions as the DM's and the passages and encounter areas (which correspond exactly to individual hexes) are identical to those on the master map. In this sense, the map is truly a players' map: it shows what a table of careful players would produce from having their PCs explore the region and from carefully noting the results on a piece of graph paper.

But at the same time it's clearly intended to be something of a prop: an object that, through the kind of suspension of disbelief that animates RPGs generally, immerses players in the game world.  Within the fiction of the modules, the map is supposed to have been dropped by a fleeing Drow noble (see G1-3 Against the Giants, p. 29). (In The Queen of the Spiders, it's asserted that one of the Drow deliberately left the map behind — something to do with complicated rivalries between Drow factions.) We can only presume, therefore, that it is a map of Drow creation, and details of the handout support this notion: specifically, ten or so symbols that appear within the hexes marking keyed encounters. These symbols don't appear on the DM's map. From the players' perspective, they are possible clues to what will be found in those hexes. The first one is an eye: if the players go there, they will discover a Drow guard post. The second looks like an octopus: it's a pair of Mind Flayers. Another looks like a spider... well, you get the idea. In addition, the map shows the quickest path through the Underdark from King Snurre's hall to the vault of the Drow: it is, in other words, basically a Google Maps itinerary, showing only what the Drow in G3 would need to get from their homeland to the realm of the Fire Giants. Its content, in other words, is clearly intended to support the fiction of the module.

But in that regard, its form leaves much to be desired. How many medieval maps have you seen on a hex grid? And why would a Drow cartographer use possibly ambiguous symbols when such a simple map could easily be supplemented by text?

I'm a DM who likes props, although I don't usually have the time to make many. When (if?) my players encounter the villains behind the giant raids, I wanted them to have something like Thror's map from The Hobbit: an object they'll scrutinize for clues and have their characters cast Comprehend Languages on. 

This is the result of a few hours of work during a recent snow storm when game night got cancelled. 

My alternative map is intentionally inexact in terms of distances, so careful players may still want to make their own hex map to conform to the DM's master map of the route through the Underdark. The general direction of passages and the intersections remain faithful to the original. I figure this would have been a map drawn in haste from memory, highlighting key locations and main routing alternatives from the Drow city to the surface. 

Since this is supposed to be a Drow map accidentally left behind, I decided that it would have been more likely for its creator to have made notes rather than used symbols to give the map's user(s) an idea of what lay along the route. Therefore, I've replaced the symbols with eight numbered locations, each with a one- or two-word description, in the hope that these will be just as interesting for players to puzzle over. To make the writing appear exotic, I grabbed a free font called Drow Angular, which replaces roman characters with Drow-y ones. The numbering system is pretty easy to figure out so clever players might easily catch on without having a PC cast Comprehend Languages. I began the numbering with the last area the PCs would see, since the map represents the perspective of the Drow who left their Underdark home to venture to the surface; the PCs of course proceed in the reverse order, from location 8 to location 1 — that is, from the lower right hand corner to the upper left — in their quest. From top to bottom the numbered locations are:

1. "The Vault" (encounter area Y2-55 on the DM's map)
2. "Children" (encounter area U2-48)
3. "Great Gate" (Q2-49)
4. "Mad Fish" (L2-41 and L2-42)
5. "Svartjet" (W-27)
6. "Slave Warrens" (Q-19 and Q-18)
7. "Ancient Foes" (M-12)
8. "Last Outpost" (D-3)

(N.B. Encounter area A2-31 is not shown on this alternative map. It's marked on the original players' map but since it involves a chance meeting with Deep Gnome scouts there's absolutely no reason for a Drow to have placed it on her/his map!)

I'm posting two versions on Google Drive for others to use: one with a parchment background, another in plain white in case, like me, you want to print it out, crinkle it up, soak it in tea or coffee, and bake it in the oven to get that old-timey effect. Enjoy! Feedback welcome.

Credits: Created in Keynote. Drow Angular font by Daniel U. Thibault from Old Parchment background by George Hadon at

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Braunstein! An Appreciation

Disclaimer: I have no connection with James and Robyn George or with Olde House Rules. I purchased Braunstein! on a whim on 4 January 2015 — before it went on sale! — in large part because several RPG bloggers whose tastes resonate with my own had written positively about Pits & Perils, a game produced by the same authors which I have not yet read.

Braunstein! Rules for 1:1 Scale Historical Adventure Games, by James and Robyn George.  N.p.: Olde House Rules, 2014.

Braunstein! is a rules-light, easy-to-learn role-playing game intended for adventures and campaigns set in medieval Europe. 

It takes its name from the fictional nineteenth-century German town that served as the setting for an early experiment in role-playing conducted by wargamers in the Minneapolis-St Paul area in the late 1960s. Wargamers took on the roles of individual inhabitants of the town and played out scenarios incidental to the Napoleonic Wars campaign in which they were embedded. Dave Arneson played in the original Braunstein run by David Wesely and later created his own medieval fantasy variation called Blackmoor. To handle conflict in Blackmoor, Arneson adopted a set of rules for simulating medieval combat written by Jeff Perren and Gary Gygax. Gygax would eventually play in Arneson’s game and the rest, as they say, is history. The Braunstein era was the critical moment that brought the future co-creators of Dungeons & Dragons together and created the conditions for the emergence of an entirely new game genre: the RPG.

Braunstein! with the exclamation mark does not claim any connection to those early experiments, other than in spirit and style. Indeed, the old typewriter font and no-frills layout in which the interior text is presented recalls someone’s typed-up houserules from the 1970s, or perhaps the first edition of Tunnel & Trolls or an early Judges’ Guild product.

In content, however, Braunstein! is entirely new. It is not in any sense a “retro-clone” or effort to emulate an actual game. It might better be described as a set of generic rules for running a game set in Europe between Late Antiquity and the Renaissance: roughly from AD 300 to 1500.

The system is very basic. The core mechanic involves rolling 2d6 to meet or exceed a target number determined by the judge’s estimation of the difficulty of a task. Seven is easy, nine is moderate. (Landing a telling blow in combat is considered moderately difficult.) This mechanic is to be used to determine the result of any action whose outcome may be in doubt.

Character creation is similarly streamlined. Player characters may have, of course, whatever backstory the player desires, but in game terms they are defined by three key attributes: Literacy, Social Class, and Luck.  The first is an either/or kind of thing: literate characters receive a bonus to knowledge checks; illiterate ones, a bonus to Luck. 

In addition, each character must belong to one of three Social Classes: the clergy, the nobility, or the commons.  (Braunstein! assumes all player characters begin as itinerant adventurers and borderline outcasts; thus, one does not play an archbishop, an earl, or a wealthy merchant, but rather a priest, bastard child, or peasant.)  Although Braunstein! does not tell us this explicitly, many readers will undoubtedly recognize this tripartite scheme as reflecting the notion of the Three Estates. Itself of ancient Indo-European origin, the division of society into those who pray (oratores, sacerdotes), those who fight (bellatores, milites, pugnatores), and those work (agricultores, laboratores) was fundamental to the way medieval society saw itself. It was never an accurate description of social solidarities or dynamics and became less and less so as time went on, but it was essential to the way people saw the world they lived in. Incorporating it into the lineup of character traits is a nice touch. (The term Social Class is a rather unfortunate one, however, as “class” inevitably connotes distinctions based on wealth, which misses the idea of the Estates entirely.) Although there are no specific mechanical effects from Social Class, this character trait encourages players to acknowledge — and, it is to be hoped, roleplay — a central element of the medieval worldview.

The last, and most important, player character trait is Luck. Luck is a resource which players draw upon to improve their characters’ chances of success in risky situations; it is also the meter that determines how close a character is to death. To use gamerspeak, it is both hero points/bennies and hit points. As a player, you draw points from your character’s Luck pool to gain a bonus when attempting a dangerous task, even after the dice have been rolled. You also spend Luck to prevent your enemy’s attacks from becoming fatal ones. You may keep on adventuring when you run out of Luck, but if you then take damage, you will die.

And that’s pretty much it. There are many other details, of course: the mechanics of armour and arms (including early black powder weapons), a rudimentary magic system which boils down to summoning spirits to do one’s bidding, a simple encumbrance system, means for improving a character through the accumulation and spending of experience points, and guidelines for beasts, NPCs, poisons, traps, and other adventuring hazards. All of these subsystems are very simple. Armour, for example, is an either/or proposition. If you have it, it will prevent an otherwise fatal blow from killing you, but then requires repair or replacement.  (This recalls the “Shields Shall be Splintered” houserule that is popular is some OSR games.) There is no messing about with armour types, which in my view is a very elegant simulation of a basic reality of medieval warfare: any protective gear that had a real chance of protecting you from a direct blow from weapons of war had, by definition, to be heavy armour. “Light” armour was just what was worn by people who couldn’t afford the real stuff, and no one in their right mind would wear it into a serious fight if they had an alternative. Wisely, then, Braunstein! doesn’t attempt to distinguish between mail, lamellar, or plate armour of various designs; if you have armour appropriate to the setting, you are protected, you are slower, and you cannot sneak around. Simple.

The rest of Braunstein! is devoted to creating a setting for a campaign, or “chronicle.” The authors propose a simple periodization of the medieval period: six centuries of Dark Ages followed by about five centuries of the Middle Ages. They also provide, in an appendix, a brief timeline of events from AD 313 to 1500 which they hope will be useful to the GM or “judge.” I suspect it will not.  The timeline is too brief, the events lack explanation, and their selection seems too arbitrary. (There is at least one egregious error as well: the completion of the Reconquista is Spain is pegged in 1212; the actual date is 1492, when the last Muslim stronghold of Granada fell to the forces of Aragon and Castile.   Note: This has been fixed by the authors in a recent update. — Peter C.)  The importance of some events, such as the Black Death, is indisputable, but it seems odd to mark the Norse raid on Lindisfarne in 792 yet make no mention of the Hunnic or Mongol invasions.

In the end, such shortcomings hardly matter, for the authors encourage us to seek the trappings of the setting in history books — and rightly so, for as they write, “history is the best, and most richly-detailed, setting of all!” This is an injunction to hit the library and to create your own campaign setting — something I wish more RPGs would do. Another plus: Braunstein! invites players to create characters originating from outside European Christendom — a great way to encourage players to experience a medieval European setting as strange and exotic (and potentially threatening and intolerant).

Braunstein! is written in clear language, although an additional round of proofreading would have caught a few typos, awkward constructions, and missing words. The text is accompanied by woodcuts and early engravings from early modern printed works now in the public domain.  The overall aesthetic is, to my eye, very charming.

In sum, Braunstein! is a well-crafted rpg that compares favourably with the many other recent efforts to create extremely rules-light systems.  Quite a few of these are free; Braunstein! is not, but nor is it prohibitively expensive. It costs less than a coffee at Starbuck’s and will bring you considerably more pleasure.  Braunstein! would be an excellent introduction to RPGs for novice players, as the rules are brief and easy to learn. It could also be used in educational settings to create historical simulations.

Ideas for Braunstein!

Braunstein’s elegant simplicity opens the path for minor tweaks that could adapt the game to your players’ tastes.  Here are three ideas:
  • adding ways to recover Luck, other than resting. Luck was a character stat in the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks of old, and in those it was often possible to regain Luck in the middle of an adventure by drinking potions or accomplishing certain quests. Perhaps a stiff drink might provide temporary Luck points. Another possibility might be to allow players to spend experience points (XP) to replenish Luck.
  • incorporating the possibility of success with consequences. The core mechanic could be tweaked such that, say, rolling the target number exactly indicates success but at a cost, to be determined by the judge (sort of à la Dungeon World).
  • adopting something like a D&D 5th ed.-style death saving throws subsystem to make taking damage when you have 0 Luck less final for player characters.

Finally, I think Braunstein! could serve as a fine interface between rules systems in FLAILSNAILS games.  While spur-of-the-moment translation between OSR-type game mechanics takes place fairly easily in most FLAILSNAILS games, characters created using very different systems might be difficult to manage. It would take all of 30 seconds to convert any PC to a Braunstein! character — essentially, it would mean assigning the PC a Luck score — and then it would be ridiculously easy to use Braunstein’s core mechanic to handle task resolution. In fact, I like this idea so much I may just try it someday....

Braunstein! is available at Drivethrurpg.

Friday, October 10, 2014

What was that person hanged for? A historically accurate gameable for your Renaissance campaign

What was that person hanged for?

Die roll (d%)
1 - food
2 - horse
3 - livestock
4 - money



1 – arson
2 – buggery
3 – breaking and entering
4 – rape
5 - sodomy

These figures, based on data from late sixteenth-century Essex, England, only represent hanging offences and so do not include executions by other means, such as drawing, hanging, and quartering (for treason), beheading (for treasonous nobles), or burning at the stake (for heresy and women guilty of petty treason).

Source: Ian Mortimer, The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England (London: Vintage Books, 2013), 308, citing data from the Essex assizes in F. G. Emmison, Elizabethan Life, vol. 1: Disorder (Chelmsford: Essex County Council, 1970).

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Errour, a monster

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, considered by some to be “the first major work of fantasy in the Western world,” is an unfinished epic poem first published in 1590. It’s mostly a long — some might say interminably so — allegory exploring various forms of virtue by recounting the adventures of various questing knights. It also contains a pretty kick-ass monster against whom the Redcrosse knight faces off right at the outset: Errour.
Henry Ford's illustration of the Redcrosse knight and Errour
from Andrew Lang's The Red Romance Book (1921)
      Errour is half woman, half snake; for Spenser, she is an allegory for doctrinal error and falsehood. In game terms, Errour is a dream encounter a referee may use to challenge the taken-for-granted or unexamined beliefs of any character. This has obvious applications with regard to clerics and paladins, but could serve equally well against an atheistical thief, wizard, or fighter. Whenever a PC is acting like they have it all figured out (or even just when you're sick of their smug assuredness), let them meet Errour.

Detail from Cynthia Sheppard's cover to the Grindhouse
edition of Lamentations of the Flame Princess (2011)
Errour appears when the target PC — the smug one — sleeps. The PC awakens to see a dark, cavernous hole that has inexplicably appeared nearby. (The referee is advised not to inform the players that this is taking place in a dream.) About 70 ft. down a winding, uneven passage lies Errour, who will sally forth one round later to attack the target PC and his or her allies. During this encounter, all members of the party may act normally save the target PC, who retains her or his hit points but otherwise has only the abilities of a zero-level human commoner. The dream ends when either the target PC or Errour is slain, at which point the target PC wakes up. If the PC was in combat with Errour when the dream ended, s/he gains 1d3 temporary points of Wisdom for the next 24 hours. If the PC was in flight or hiding from Errour when the dream ended, s/he loses 1d3 points of Wisdom for a week. The status of any other PCs involved in the target PC's dream encounter is reset to the moment before the dream; i.e., they retain all the hit points, spells, ammunition etc. from before, as if the encounter had never occurred. The PCs earn no XP from the encounter.
       If the target PC lost points of Wisdom as a result of the encounter, there is a 50% chance that the dream will recur when s/he sleeps again. It is quite possible that in these subsequent dream encounters, the other players will decline to help the target PC for purely metagame reasons; after all, what's in it for them? No treasure, no XP. That's fine! The target PC must nevertheless face Errour as described above, bereft of all abilities save those of a zero-level human. All Wisdom point losses are cumulative. The dream cycle ends only when the PC gains points of Wisdom as a result of facing up to Errour in combat.

Errour for Swords & Wizardry

Hit Dice: One greater than the level of the target PC
Armor Class: 8 [12]
Attacks: Tail sting (1d8 + poison) or constriction (2d4) or or taunt (see below) or vomit (see below)
Special: Poison, constriction, taunt, vomit
Move: 9
Alignment: Chaos
Challenge Level/XP: n/a

Poison: Save vs poison or suffer a -1 penalty to all attacks and saving throws. The effects of multiple stings are cumulative.

Constriction: target must succeed on a saving throw or be held immobile in Errour's coils and take 2d4 points of damage each round. Errour may only constrict one creature at a time and her movement decreases to 6 while doing so. Creatures with combined Strength scores of 30 can force Errour to uncoil and release the victim in 2 rounds, but cannot take other actions during that time.

Taunt: Errour can taunt the target PC, mocking her or his beliefs. This will always be done in the target's native language. The target must succeed on a saving throw or suffer a -2 penalty to all attacks, saving throws, and ability checks for the duration of the encounter.

Vomit: Once per day, Errour can spew out 4d10 small, slimy, gibbering creatures that look like misshapen snakes and frogs to harry her attackers. Her vomit spew has a range of 20 ft. These creatures (AC 8 [12], hp 1, Move 6) cause no damage but as long as at least 4 of them are harrying a creature, the latter suffers a penalty of -1 to attacks and saving throws and cannot cast spells. When Errour dies, her spawn immediately explode, covering creatures within a 5 ft. radius in foul smelling ichor.
Arms of the Serpent by Caroline Jambour

Errour for D&D 5e

Large aberration, neutral evil
Armour Class 12 (natural armour)
Hit Points Equal to those of the target PC, plus 1d8 hp
Speed 30 ft.
   STR      DEX      CON       INT       WIS      CHA
14 (+2)   16 (+3)  16 (+3)  18 (+4)  10 (+0)    8 (-1)
Skills Athletics +2, Deception +4, Perception +6
Senses Truesight 120 ft., passive Perception 16
Languages Any known by the target PC
Challenge n/a
Multiattack. Errour can use any two of her attacks each round.

Tail sting. Melee weapon attack: +4 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. 
Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) piercing damage and the target must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or become Poisoned.

Constriction. Melee weapon attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: Target must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or become Restrained, taking 2 (1d4) points of damage each round after the first.

Taunt: Errour mocks the target PC's beliefs in his or her native tongue, as long as the target is within 30 ft. The target must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or have disadvantage on all rolls for the duration of the encounter.

Vomit: Once per day, Errour can spew out 4d10 small, slimy, gibbering creatures that look like misshapen snakes and frogs to harry her attackers. Her vomit spew has a range of 20 ft. These creatures (AC 12, hp 1, Speed 20) cause no damage but as long as at least 4 of them are harrying a creature, the latter has disadvantage on all rolls and cannot cast spells. When Errour dies, her spawn explode, covering creatures within 5 ft. in foul smelling ichor.

Errour, by the book

Errour appears in Book I, Canto i of The Faerie Queene. All references are by book, canto, and stanza.
Medusa concept art from the God of War video game

Errour lives in a "hollow cave / Amid the thickest woods" (I.i.11), which is where the Redcrosse knight finds her. Una, his companion, warns Redcrosse that she is "a monster vile, whom God and man does hate" and Una's dwarf cries, "Fly fly ... / ... this is no place for living men" (I.i.13), but Redcrosse is a paladin with Intelligence as a dump stat, so he goes right in anyway. 
      The faint light of his glistening armour reveals her hideous shape: 
... his glistring armor made
A litle glooming light, much like a shade,
By which he saw the ugly monster plaine,
Halfe like a serpent horribly displaide,
But th'other halfe did womans shape retaine,
Most lothsom, filthie, foule, and full of vile disdaine.
And as she lay upon the durtie ground,
Her huge long taile her den all overspred,
Yet was in knots and many boughtes upwound,
Pointed with mortall sting. Of her there bred
A thousand yong ones, which she dayly fed,
Sucking upon her poisonous dugs, eachone
Of sundry shapes, yet all ill favored:
Soone as that uncouth light upon them shone,
Into her mouth they crept, and suddain all were gone.  (I.i.14-15)
So, yeah, she's basically a yuan-ti halfbreed avant la lettre, but with an eery twist: she has a thousand vile offspring that she's nursing and then swallows when Redcrosse shows up, presumably to protect them.
Illustration by Walter Crane from an 1894 edition of The Faerie Queene. Errour can be seen at bottom.

      So the fight begins, and although Errour seems to win initiative in stanza 16, her tail sting attack misses and in stanza 17 Redcrosse  lands a good blow with his sword. Then she switches gears:
Much daunted with that dint, her sence was dazd,
Yet kindling rage, her selfe she gathered round,
And all attonce her beastly body raizd
With doubled forces high above the ground:
Tho wrapping up her wrethed sterne arownd,
Lept fierce upon his shield, and her huge traine
All suddenly about his body wound,
That hand or foot to stirre he strove in vaine:
God helpe the man so wrapt in Errours endlesse traine. (I.i.18)
 Special attack: Constriction! Cf. Snake, giant (constrictor) in the Monster Manual (1979), p. 88-89.
      Unable to use his weapons, Redcrosse is in dire straits. Una advises him to strangle Errour before she can strangle him, and so he grabs for her throat.  At which point she unleashes another gruesome surprise:
Therewith she spewd out of her filthy maw
A floud of poyson horrible and blacke,
Full of great lumpes of flesh and gobbets raw,
Which stunck so vildly, that it forst him slacke
His grasping hold, and from her turne him backe:
Her vomit full of bookes and papers was,
With loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke,
And creeping sought way in the weedy gras:
Her filthy parbreake all the place defiled has.
As when old father Nilus gins to swell
With timely pride above the Aegyptian vale,
His fattie waves do fertile slime outwell,
And overflow each plaine and lowly dale:
But when his later spring gins to avale,
Huge heapes of mudd he leaves, wherein there breed
Ten thousand kindes of creatures, partly male
And partly female of his fruitfull seed;
Such ugly monstrous shapes elsewhere may no man reed. (I.i.20-21)
Apparently she has some kind of breath weapon akin to projectile vomiting that includes slimy misshaped sightless amphibians. (Those "bookes and papers" are a reference to the polemical tracts that Spenser associated with religious error.) Redcrosse is "choked with the deadly stinke" and weakens — seeing which, Errour brings forth her offspring once more:
She poured forth out of her hellish sinke
Her fruitfull cursed spawne of serpents small,
Deformed monsters, fowle, and blacke as inke,
Which swarming all about his legs did crall,
And him encombred sore, but could not hurt at all. (I.i.22)
According to A. C. Hamilton, "sinke" here could refer either to her womb or organs of excretion. Considering that she swallowed her kids in the first place, the latter makes more sense. So basically she defecates on the knight. Good thing his armour seems to protect him from the "deformed monsters" at his feet — Spenser takes a whole stanza to reassure us that they don't bother him more than a cloud of gnats does a shepherd. Evidently these are low hit-dice monsters.
      They do get his ire up, however, and somehow Redcrosse gets his sword arm free and lops old Errour's head right off — critical hit! — amidst great spewing of "cole black bloud." Then comes a gruesome sight:
Her scattred brood, soone as their Parent deare
They saw so rudely falling to the ground,
Groning full deadly, all with troublous feare,
Gathred themselves about her body round,
Weening their wonted entrance to have found
At her wide mouth: but being there withstood
They flocked all about her bleeding wound,
And sucked up their dying mothers blood,
Making her death their life, and eke her hurt their good. (I.i.25)
Yeah, that's right: her kids try to regain the protection of her digestive tract but, frustrated, end up drinking her blood. In fact, they drink so much that in the following stanza they explode, "bowels gushing forth." So ends the encounter. The Redcrosse knight remounts his steed and continues his journey with Una and the dwarf in tow.      

Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Edited by A. C. Hamilton. London and New York: Longman, 1977.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Vitruvian character sheets for old-school D&D

On a whim I whipped up some OD&D and Swords & Wizardry character sheets for a forthcoming one-shot of Rafael Chandler's excellent Bad Myrmidon. As I had ancient Greece on my mind, it seemed only fitting to make use of da Vinci's Vitruvian man as a template. Those Renaissance guys had Antiquity on the mind much of the time.

There are male and female versions. I wish I could credit the creator of the Vitruvian woman image.  It's from a Hebrew-language website displaying many variations on the da Vinci original but without any attributions that I can find.

The versions for OD&D use a to-hit bonus rather than a THAC0 or equivalent ('cuz that's how I roll). Alignment is replaced by Deity.

Vitruvian OD&D character sheet (male)
Vitruvian OD&D character sheet (female)

In the Swords & Wizardry edition below, the placement of Charisma is open to question, but it serves as a convenient fig leaf if nothing else.

Vitruvian S&W character sheet (female)
Vitruvian S&W character sheet (male)

Since we're on the topic, there's a nifty system-neutral Vitruvian character sheet over at and a charming Tunnels & Trolls sheet at Trollhalla.

Of course I'd really like all my character sheets to look like Logan Knight's, but alas we don't all have that kind of talent.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Great D&D Moments in History: Ritual Casting in 15th-Century France

In March 1408, University of Paris theologian Jean Petit stood before a audience of distinguished notables assembled in the royal residence in Paris and described how an evil duke had had the third-level spell cause disease cast on King Charles V of France:

Charles VI
The duke made the acquaintance of an apostate monk, a knight, a squire, and a servant who knew how to go about the devil’s own work. He ordered them to do a thing that would destroy the king and to accomplish this he gave them the use of a castle at Lagny-sur-Marne.... He also gave them a sabre, a sword, and a gold ring.      One morning at dawn these four men left the castle and traveled a quarter of a league to a field where there was a thicket. The monk told the other three to wait there until he called for them and went a little way off by himself, carrying the sabre, the sword, and the ring. The monk drew a figure on the ground and placed the sword inside it on the right, the sabre on the left, and the ring in the middle. Then he stripped himself to his shirt and began reading aloud from a book. Soon a devil appeared. It picked up the sabre and put it down again. Then came another devil, wearing red. It picked up the sword, swung it around, broke off the tip, and told the monk that the thing was done. After this the monk returned to the other three men, and they all went back to the castle.
The gibbet at Montfaucon (top right)
     The following night, the four men left the castle again and went to the gibbet at Montfaucon, where they cut down the corpse of a newly hanged man and put it in a sack on the back of a horse.... Afterwards they placed the ring in the corpse’s mouth and passed the sword and the sabre into its anus. Then they said to each other: “It is done.” After this they went to the Duke of Orleans and told him that shortly there would be some news.

      Soon afterwards, when the king was at Beauvais, he fell gravely ill, so that his hair and his nails fell out.... And from that time on the king was ill, as is known throughout the whole realm, which is a pity. And it is well-known to everyone that the Duke of Orleans was to blame for this illness.
And you thought the sorcerous rituals in Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa were weird


The evil duke in question was none other than Louis d'Orléans, the king's own brother.   According to Petit's line of reasoning, Louis' heinous use of sorcery (among other crimes) justified his murder, in November 1407, by associates of John of Burgundy in a Paris street.

Most everyone else thought it was rather because Louis had slept with John's wife and siphoned off the financial support John had formerly received from the royal treasury.


A report of Petit’s speech by Thierry Le Roy in Louis Douët-d’Arcq, ed. “Document inédit sur l’assassinat de Louis, duc d’Orléans (23 novembre 1407),” Annuaire-Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de France 2 (1864): pt. 2, 6–26, quoted in Eric Jager, Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014), 194–95.

Image credits

Charles VI of FranceCodice Ms. Français 165, Maestro di Boucicaut (detail). Biblioteca Universitaria di Ginevra. Reprinted in De Vecchi-Cerchiari, I tempi dell'arte, volume 2 (Milan, 1999) via Wikimedia Commons.

Montfaucon: Execution of disciples of Amaury de Chartres outside Paris, from the Grandes Chroniques de France, illuminated by Jean Fouquet of Tours circa 1455–1460.  Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, département des Manuscrits, Français 6465, folio 236.

Murder of Louis d'Orléans: Meurtre du duc Louis d'Orléans, par le Maître de la Chronique d'Angleterre, circa 1470–1480.  Paris, Bibliothèque National de France via Wikimedia Commons.

OD&D character sheet for new players

This is a character sheet I created for a game I ran at GottaCon in March 2014 using the Dungeons & Dragons booklets from 1974, recently reprinted by Wizards of the Coast.  I advertised the game as an homage to a classic and, anticipating that some players might be unfamiliar with old-school practices, wanted a character sheet that explained as much as possible.  I also wanted a sheet that might be appealing and useful to younger players, three of whom showed up at the table.

OD&D character sheet