Playing the Rules Cyclopedia with the Landshut Rules

My 1991 copy of the RC is sitting on my shelf, smiling at me in its almost infinite wisdom. It knows, it just knows that it contains more material than probably anyone will ever need.

I haven’t played it often. But this will change. Because that game, that beautiful game, will become a whole lot easier to play. Of course, your mileage may vary.

I will use The Landshut Rules to play the Cyclopedia. Ayup, again, I’ll use ancient rules to play an old game. And it’ll be fun because that’s what always happens when there’s freedom. ’nuff poetry, let’s get started.

To recap the rules for adapting games to Landshut:

  1. If you’re playing a published rpg setting: roll attributes. Write down only extremely low and extremely high stats.
  2. Pick 5 or 10 skills from the rulebook (if the game uses skills)
  3. Pick 2d6 pieces of regular equipment/gear from the book, then lose 1d6 of them
  4. Pick 2 “Powers”: special equipment, spells, special abilities, connections, special backgrounds etc.
So, I roll 3d6 in order for STR, INT, WIS, DEX, CON, CHA. Every stat that’s 5 or lower is the weak version, every stat that’s 15 or higher is the strong version.
STR: 6. What I write on my character sheet: nothing
INT: 12. What I write on my character sheet: nothing.
WIS: 13. What I write on my character sheet: nothing.
DEX: 7. What I write on my character sheet: nothing.
CON: 12. What I write on my character sheet: nothing.
CHA: 10. What I write on my character sheet: nothing.
So, that character’s stats are average, nothing worth mentioning.
Next step: I’m picking a character class. Since we’ll be playing without XP, but with milestones instead, the “prime requisite” stat recommendation is not of interest here.
A Magic-User it is.
Next step: Hit Points. Magic-Users have 1d4 hp per level. I roll a 4. Good.
Next step: The Cyclopedia offers a skill list. I pick 5: Alchemy, Alternate Magics, Planar Geography, Ceremony and Mysticism. In play, these are interpreted freely as the opportunity arises.
Then: I pick 2d6 regular items: 10!
  1. Staff
  2. Dagger
  3. Backpack
  4. Iron rations for a week
  5. Rope
  6. Hat
  7. Fine clothes
  8. Lantern
  9. Oil
  10. Books
Now, I lose d6 of them: 3. I roll 1 d10 three times to find out which: the hat, the rope, and the dagger. So, my magic-user ends up with: Staff d6, backpack, iron rations, fine clothes, lantern, oil and books.
The last step: I pick two powers: My magic-user has a very fine sense of smell, and he can walk on fire and lava, with only 1 hp lost per round.
As usual, attacks are rolled with a 2d6. To this roll, add:
  • Fighters, mystics and dwarves: +level
  • Clerics: +level/2
  • Magic-Users, halflings, druids: + level/3 (round down)
  • Monsters: +HD
Armor adds hit points:
  • Suit Armor +15
  • Plate Mail +10
  • Banded Mail +8
  • Chain Mail +6
  • Scale Mail +4
  • Leather Armor +3
  • Shield adds +1 to armor
(Also: Because I think it’s cool, I add Jeff’s houserule for overclocking damage: for every 4 points the attack roll is higher than the enemy’s, bump the damage die up by one step)

Spells: Clerics, Magic-users and elves get Spell Points. Magic-users get 4+Experience Level points, all other casters get 2+Level points.  All casters can cast spells of any level. But a save is required to cast successfully and avoid paying Spell Points. A failed roll means you lose Spell Points equal to the spell level. If you don’t have enough Spell Points, the referee might allow you to pay the rest with hit points – at three times the cost. The referee might consider giving out treasure that increases Spell Points. This might be done to counterbalance the more costly higher level spells (compared to the old system). To record spells, casters can write, draw, etch, tattoo or paint the formulas on every suitable surface. 
I start with 1d4 spells: 3. Yes, this is way more than regular Basic. But we’re not playing very often, so I want to speed things up. I pick 2 1st level and 1 2nd level spell: Hold Portal, Magic Missle and Knock.
(I use the Homesian Random Names generator table for his name and get:)
So, I shift every consonant one step up: Uinsasreg. Better. Win Sasreq is his name.
A title? Sure: the Fearless.
So, this is what Win Sasreq the Fearless looks like:
Win Sasreq the Fearless
1st level magic-user
Hit Dice: 1d4
hit points: 4

Attack Roll: 2d6 > enemy

Spell Points: 5
Spells: Hold Portal, Magic Missle, Knock

Staff d6, backpack, iron rations, fine clothes, lantern, oil, books

Landshut gets played :)

My small Arnesonian-spirited ruleset, The Landshut Rules, is being played – and a few people even write about it. That’s so cool!

Alex Schroeder reports about his new campaign, inspired by Landshut.
Joel Priddy creates 5e characters, but for Landshut.
And the honorable OD&D Discussion forum is talking about them 🙂


Car Wars Classic – played with The Landshut Rules

MY 200th POST!

This is slightly modified repost of an article I wrote last year – before I had written down the rules we;ve been using for many, many years in our games – the Landshut Rules.

Before you continue, please do yourself a favor and download the digital edition of Car Wars Classic from the official publisher here:

1981, Steve Jackson published their seminal game, Car Wars. I bought the pocket edition about six years later, and we loved playing it. The one thing that slipped through our fingers was the content presented in chapter 4, simply titled “Characters”.

CW was a conflict simulation game, and the chapter on characters had one focus: to answer the question, ‘what happens when a vehicle is destroyed, but the driver survives?’ When the game was written in the late 1970s, it had never been the intention to write an rpg.

But still, players being players – they turned CW chapter 4 into a full roleplaying game. There were many groups in the 1980s who used the rules for roleplaying.

To quote the Car Wars book, page 48:

When a player wants to try something that isn’t covered by any of the skills in use in that campaign, the GM should fall back on “roll 2 dice and pray ” In other words: Require the player to roll 2 dice. The higher the roll, the better the result.

This is exactly the same method Arneson and the other Twin Cities grognards used.

How does the Car Wars Classic rpg work?

  1. A character has 3 “damage points” – “the first hit wounds, the second knocks unconscious, and the third kills. They can wear body armor, which adds DP”. Body armor adds 3 DP, Improved body armor adds 6.
    Again, this is exactly the way most Twin Cities games handled armor.
  2. Starting characters get 30 points to buy skills; one skill at base level costs 10 points. Using a skill at base level means rolling 2d6 and shooting for at least a 7. Every point beyond base level adds +1 to the roll and costs another 10 points. If a character does not possess a skill, the player rolls 2d6-4 for the skill check.
  3. Skill checks: 2d6+skill =7 or more
  4. Pistols inflict 1 to 2 damage, smgs 1d6 damage, rifles 3 damage, shotguns 2 damage – you get the idea.
  5. Skill contests are opposed 2d6+skill rolls; whoever scores 7+ AND is 5 points higher than their opponent, wins the contest.
  6. Hand-to-hand combat is needlessly complicated and thus not relevant for our purposes.

How would I tweak the system to work with the Landshut Rules?

  1. Three hits, and you’re out. That’s exactly how Landshut works, as well. So, no change there.
  2. Pick 3 skills from the list. Numbers are not important. You either have the skill or you don’t.
  3. That’s it. THAT’S IT!

So, let’s create a Car Wars character.

  1. A name: Greasemonkey Jones
  2. I pick 3 skills: Driver, Mechanic, Luck
  3. I choose 2d6 regular items: 4 – Light Pistol, Battle Vest, Backpack, Mini-Mechanic.
  4. Now, I lose 1d6 of them: 3 – I roll 1d4 to see what I’m losing: Mini-Mechanic, Backpack, Light Pistol are gone. All Greasemonkey Jones starts with is a Battle Vest.
  5. Now, I pick two powers: Look into the Maelstrom of the World for Answers, and the second one: Roll with the punches.
And I’m finished.
Greasemonkey Jones
Skills: Driver, Mechanic, Luck
Gear: Battle Vest
Powers: Look into the Maelstrom of the World for Answers; Roll with the punches.

That’s the Car Wars Classic rpg. Enjoy.

Recommended reading:

Buy it on Drivethru Fiction

Pimp my Landshut!

Advanced Heroquest art. By the great John Blanche. 1989.

So let’s say you created a character with the Landshut Rules. You want to play old style, white box fantasy with Landshut, so you created a character using the Landshut adaption.

Your character looks like this:

Splint Brackwater
Level 1 Fighting-man
XP: 0
HD: 1
HP: 6 +10
Attacks: 2d6+1
Can see in the dark like a cat. Someone high up in the hierarchy owes him a favor.

Sword, Plate Mail (counts as +10 HP), Iron Rations for 1 week, Backpack (leather), Water skin

Looking good, isn’t he?
But now your gaming buddy brings along that cool pbtA game called “Freebooters on the Frontier”, but you don’t want to learn new rules and you LOVE rolling against the referee.

Not a problem. Just steal the parts you like. It’s so easy with The Landshut Rules.
Here’s how:

Let’s say you like how the cleric in that game can be a “Defender of the Truth”: the move says, ‘when you face a threat that would do harm to someone or something of value to your deity, you may spend favor to gain temporary armor for as long as the threat persists, at a cost of 1 favor per 1 point of armor.”

Cool! Steal it! Introduce something called “Favor”. Guesstimate the number of Favor points the cleric character has, the player writes it down, done.


The fighter has a move called “Revel in Battle”. This move grants him the power to increase damage, to ignore the enemy’s armor, or to inflict a negative condition (stunned, hindered, etc) on your foe. The exact mechanisms are not important. The player writes this down. You make a ruling when it comes up in play. Done. The Landshut Rules (and similar ones) won’t break. They’re sturdy and take whatever you glue onto them. That’s the beauty of ancient-school gaming.

Taking that last move into consideration, your character now looks like this:

Splint Brackwater
Level 1 Fighting-man
XP: 0
HD: 1
HP: 6 +10
Attacks: 2d6+1
Can see in the dark like a cat. Someone high up in the hierarchy owes him a favor.
Revel in Battle: increase damage, ignore enemy’s armor, inflict a negative condition on foe.

Sword, Plate Mail (counts as +10 HP), Iron Rations for 1 week, Backpack (leather), Water skin

Ancient-school roleplaying: an exclusive Interview with grognard Bob Meyer

Bob Meyer is one of the original Twin Cities gamers. For many years, he („Robert the Bald“) played with Dave Arneson personally. And he keeps Dave‘s Blackmoor and his style of gaming alive.
AND: he’s one of the nicest people I know.

N: Bob, let‘s get right to it! Are you using hit points in your games?

B: No, at least not in the sense of D&D-like hit points. I simply determine a number of times a character can get hit before they‘re dead or dying. This depends on the setting. D&D captured the rules that Arneson invented, but it did not capture the style of play. The main thing was to make the game fun and challenging. David, not burdening the players with rules and tables, freed our imaginations to just do whatever we wanted to do.

N: D&D as it was published, contained quite a number of tables.

B: Yes, but it being published did not change our style of play, because David had already shown us how to play, and how to run games ourselves.

N: Do you use tables in your games? Just to get an idea: If yes, what kind of tables? Hit locations? Or experience points? Or movement? The reason I’m asking this is I still have the feeling that my system, as it is at the moment, is… too simple? And I’m wondering if introducing some tables, random or not, might help complicate (in a positive sense) matters.

B: Do not worry about any tables. My games (and rules) are much more free form. I find that adding rules and tables gives the players more distractions, and takes away from their immersion in the game. I tend to give players the benefit of the doubt. I tend towards a more favorable result to the players for anything that happens.

N: So you‘re playing „softer“?

B: No one has died yet, although there were a couple of times that a player really could have died. I just made them unconscious (with the help of a handy medical character or spell) for most of the rest of the adventure.

N: Are you using Dave‘s rules in your games?

B: I invented my own rules to give the same feeling to my games that we had with the original rules. The style of play is the same as in the pre-D&D days, but I changed some of the rules so that the players would not be “burdened” with the rules, just like in the old days.

N: I understand you have been using 2d6 in your games ever since you guys started playing and inventing roleplaying games. How do you use them? For instance, a character wants to jump across a chasm – do you use opposed rolls, or do you determine a number (secretly) the player has to roll on or over?

B: I use opposed die rolls for any actions that have serious consequences; whether it is an attack, or jumping over a chasm. This is just one way of adding randomness to actions, which more closely mirrors real life. There should always be doubt, and a chance of failure, for any action. The exact mechanisms, and way I determine results, I prefer to keep obscure by keeping them to myself. I often roll my dice at random times so that players do not know if they mean nothing, or will mean something, to the game.

N: Just yesterday, I refereed a session of a modern rpg. It has a crazy amount of special abilities and magic items and that kind of stuff – so many moving parts in fact that playing it was a mediocre experience, at best. What killed immersion in yesterday’s game was that my players looked at their character sheets whenever some sort of challenge appeared– because that game hands out „loot“ like candy. So my players looked at their sheets for answers, instead of looking into their character… interesting experience, but one I don’t want to make any time soon.

B: I understand your frustration. Many people like the structure of rules and assigned abilities. This takes away uncertainty and decision making that will be required in a game. I do not think this is bad; if they are having fun, then more power to them. But as you pointed out, this slows down and restricts the game.

N: How many special abilities, for instance, do characters in your games have?

B: Giving them a special ability, and a skill, and a profession (blacksmith, tanner, etc.) gives them plenty to work with. I take into account any experience they gain on adventures for actions they do. This gives benefits on die rolls and actions (more likely to succeed in combat, surprise, noticing important things, etc.). Players are free to keep track of everything themselves (found items, armor made from dragon skins, etc.). I expect them to remind me about anything I should know, which players tend to do anyway.

N: Do you offer the players lists of available skills and powers? How do they pick their characters‘ abilities?

B: I allow players to pick their own abilities, so that they will be involved in the process; and be more likely to remember and know what they can do without referring to a piece of paper.

N: What about magic?

B: I have never been a fan of magic, so this was a way to satisfy peoples desire for magic without having people depending on magic spells. I did relent later and allowed magic, and I had people pick the spells themselves for the same reasons as I gave for abilities. I did restrict magic in certain ways, so that it would not become predominate in the game. This seems to be working.

N: I also have mixed feelings about magic – I’m worried it unbalances the game, or at least makes it boring because it overpowers characters, so I tend to allow it, but it comes with inherent dangers. If a magic-user wants too much, it can seriously backfire on him. Do you have spell lists, or do you allow your players to come up with their own spells?

B: When I allow a person to use magic, I have them generate a list of spells themselves. I have not had to turn down any spells that a person wants. The players tend to self regulate when they are given responsibility. I restrict the number of spells they have, and require them to use some water from a well in Blackmoor castle as they use a spell. This limits the number of spells they cast.

N: Do you use character sheets?

B: I have not given the players character sheets or any indications of levels. Again, this gives them more of a sense of reality.

N: Bob, thank you so much for this interview!

B: Thank you, Norbert!

You know what I really love about being a roleplayer?

Every book, seriously every book, becomes a sourcebook. And as we’re “ancient school players”, (we’re playing Landshut Rules), we can start playing almost while reading the material 🙂

Best example: our Star Dogs game is fueled heavily by Strontium Dog, a comic that I really love. All I need to do is write down a couple of lines about whatever it is that strikes my fancy, and we can play. No stats. Just common sense and a feeling for dramatic appropriateness.

Let’s play Shadowrun 1e – with Landshut Rules

Shadowrun first edition – my love.

That game, like no other game before or after, changed my roleplaying world. When I first read it, back in 1989, I loved everything about it. Everything. Okay, the novelty of the dice pool system quickly wore off and we used our homebrew rules, but the world, the WORLD! I still love it. I really do. And while few of my players have lost their faith in SR1e, I’m not one of them. Shadowrun, to this day, remains my all-time, absolute, undisputed favorite setting.

So, let’s play Shadowrun with my Landshut Rules.

Using the rules for playing a published rpg setting with Landshut means following these steps:

  1. Roll attributes
    I roll 2d6; values of 4 or lower are bad; 10 and above are good.
    SR has six stats. I roll 2d6 for each of them:
    Body (4): fragile; Quickness (7); Strength (8); Charisma (8); Intelligence (5); Willpower (8). The only attribute I write on my index card is Body, or better: “Body: fragile”. All other stats are average and not worth mentioning.
  2. I pick the Archetype now
    hey, Street Shaman sounds about right. Or better, a sickly Street Shaman.
  3. Now, off to the skills
    I pick 5 of them, going through the SR1e skill list.
    Knife Fighting; Conjuring; Sorcery; Street Etiquette; Magical Theory.
  4. Then, I pick 2d6 pieces of regular equipment I roll a 5, so: Knife, Music Playback Unit, Simsense Player, Wrist Phone, Yamaha Rapier (motorbike)
  5. Now, I lose 1d6 of them 
    a 5. So, I start out with no equipment at all. Wow, that’s tough.
  6. Oh yeah, life style
    squatter. No money, no nothing.
  7. I get to pick 2 “Powers”: special equipment, spells, special abilities, connections, special backgrounds etc.
    Of course, I pick two spells:
    Hellblast (yeah, baby) and Heal Moderate Wounds
  8. Since I don’t have any cyberware installed, I still have Essence 6.
  9. Done.
So, ladies and gentlemen:
Steven ‘Glowfinger’ Hatman, Street Shaman
fragile body
Essence: 6
Knife Fighting; Conjuring; Sorcery; Street Etiquette; Magical Theory
Spells: Hellblast, Heal Moderate Wounds

Moves or Skills? On the freedom of wordspace

Let’s say there is a genre of roleplaying games that characterize player characters by a special set of ‘moves’ (special abilities that are triggered when something occurs in the narration). And let’s also say there’s another family of games out there that have their origin in one game that more or less defined British OSR.

The first genre of games is commonly known as ‘powered by the Apocalypse‘ (pbtA, because the game that started it all is Apocalypse World). The second kind of games is known as ‘using Troika!’ (with the exclamation point) or similar phrases (because Troika! is the game that started it all).

Both games are very much different from each other. One aspect I’d like to focus on today is that of ‘moves’ or ‘player character abilities’. Both pbtA and Troika! have them. But there’s a huge difference in execution.

A typical pbtA move:

Bend Bars, Lift Gates 
When you use pure strength to destroy an inanimate obstacle, roll+Str. ✴ On a 10+, choose 3. ✴ On a 7-9 choose 2. 
– It doesn’t take a very long time 
– Nothing of value is damaged 
– It doesn’t make an inordinate amount of noise 
– You can fix the thing again without a lot of effort

In pbtA, you roll 2d6 and add your Strength bonus. Then, your result determines how many options you can pick from the list.

A typical Troika! Advanced Skill:

1 Strength

In Troika!, you roll 2d6 and compare that number to your (Skill+Advanced Skill). If you’re on or under, you’re successful. There is no list to pick options from.

Basically, both abilities/moves/skills do the same: they tell you if your character’s effort is successful. But while the pbtA ‘move’ makes you choose from a list (thus, keeping your narration in-genre because every character with this move gets the same list), there’s complete freedom of narration in Troika!.

So what would happen if we transported the pbtA move to Troika!?

Let’s see:
The Troika! version would look like this:

1 Bend Bars, Lift Gates

No list to choose from. Just the pure skill.
To contrast that: in a pbtA game, if the character with the Bend Bars, Lift Gates skill/move rolls a 10, the player could narrate: “I try to rip the heavy wooden door off its hinges. I pull hard, and within seconds, it comes loose. It all happens really quietly, and I can even fix the door later.”

In Troika!, a successful roll for Bend Bars, Lift Gates, could look like this:
Player: “I step back a couple feet, and then I throw myself against that door. A crack appears, and I rattle that thing like crazy.
Referee: “You’re not trying to be quiet, aren’t you?”
Player: “Pah, I don’t care! Ooooooooooopen! You sonofadoor, oooooopen! And now I’m really pulling hard!”
Referee: “Seconds later, you have ripped the door out of its frame. And you know what? You rolled so well, nobody in the castle has even heard you.”

The Troika! version offers considerably more freedom for the player. And for the referee, as well. This freedom also means more potential for conflict, or unforeseen consequences.

So now the sixty-four thousand dollar question is: What’s better?

And the only correct answer is: whatever floats your boat. But that is so cliché, it hurts a little to even write it.