Expanding Landshut games: add cards

The Landshut Rules are rooted in fiction-first gaming – even if their grandfather, the Braunsteins and Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor, were invented by wargamers. My role model for gaming is Prof. MAR Barker, the inventor and author of Tekumel, and his way of roleplaying or refereeing:

The “Perfected Rules”, Prof. MAR Barker’s roleplaying rules, are at the heart of my Landshut Rules. THAT’s what they boil down to.

And that’s also the reason why they’re so stable and sturdy. They can take anything you throw at them. For instance: You can glue on randomizers. Like the cards from Matthijs Holter’s fantastic Archipelago III storygame.

A few days ago, I posted an article about playing Warhammer with the Landshut Rules. You could add the Archipelago cards. For instance, when someone is casting a spell. What happens? Replace the die roll with a draw of the cards. The riskier the spell, the more cards the player has to draw – and you, the ref, pick the one you like most.

Let’s say a wizard casts a Battle Magic spell. I’m the referee and say, ‘okay, Ben, draw four cards and give them to me” – or I could draw them myself, of course.

So the player draws these four cards:

And because my players know magic in a world that’s losing to creeping chaos is REALLY, REALLY dangerous, I pick this one here:

Oh, shoot.


I could use the Everway fortune cards. They’re similar to tarot and have a positive and a negative orientation. Let’s say I draw one card, Knowledge, but upside down:

Not good. Falsehood. So I let my creativity flow and say, “Ben, you got one tiny detail in the spell wrong. Maybe the spell has changed itself, you just don’t know yet. But the spell fizzles. And you… burst into flames. WHAT DO YOU DO?”

See, in games with lots of rules, I’d have to look up the rules for fire, and my players probably would start calculating the chances of the wizard to survive. In storygaming, and in storygaming-adjacent rules like Landshut, it’s the story that counts. Immersion, baby. I want you to sit on the edge of your seats, biting fingernails and/or shoving popcorn in your mouth to somehow cope with the tension. What will happen? If the wizard survives, will there be long-term effects? What do you mean, snakes seem to love him?

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!

Landshut Rules and MoldHammer: Brothers in gaming

…okay, it doesn’t get any cheesier than that title, I promise.
The reason why I like the MoldHammer rules so much is because they’re so similar to my Landshut rules, and really, there is no way back for me now. Even Into the Odd seems to be fiddly, with all its crazy hit points counting 🙂

So why do I think these games are so similar?

  1. Both use “hits” in the Arnesonian sense: not variable damage, but you simply count the number of times your character gets hit, and after a certain amount of hits (around 3 or 4), your character is either dead or dying.
  2. Both don’t have stats, but you can easily tack them on.
  3. Both can be used as generic rpg systems, even though the MoldHammer rules imply the typical Gygaxian setting. But the rules are modular, so you can simply ignore fantasy-type stuff if you don’t like it.
Are there differences?
  1. Yes. In combat: My Landshut Rules say “roll 2d6 + a bonus determined by the ref” against each other, higher rolls hits. MoldHammer gives each character a to-hit number you have to roll on or under with a d20.
  2. Landshut armor increases the number of hits you can take. MoldHammer armor is a save against armor number.
That’s about it. And that’s reason enough for me to think hard about starting a Landshut/MoldHammer background jam on itch. I’ll keep y’all posted.

2020 is the Year of Blackmoor

If you’re interested in the ancient times of roleplaying, in the roots of our beautiful hobby, then getting to know the work and legacy of Dave Arneson and Blackmoor should be on your bucket list. Better yet: play like Dave and the Twin City gamers did. We sure do, and I can only recommend it to every roleplayer (even and especially to folks new to the hobby who only know the modern incarnation of the game with the ampersand).

Halenar Frosthelm posted this on Mewe recently:

So do yourself a favor and celebrate 2020. Because it’s another year god has granted you life, and because it’s the Year of Blackmoor.

Apocalypse World, powered by ancient rules

My gaming buddy Wizard Lizard sent me his idea today:

Brainers & Hardholders

Take Apocalypse World’s color, strip out all of the rules. Keep the playbooks as classes, or even pregens with set stats, special abilities (pick a few and keep the rest to unlock through play or XP), use D&D-or-what-not rules as needed That’s a great idea because it reduces the Apocalypse World rulebook to its useful parts and gets rid of the unnecessary esoteric rules language thta plagues pbtA games.

In a way, that’s what Dave Arneson, Gary Gygax, Prof. MAR Barker and all the other early (war)gamers did: use literature as fuel for their imaginary adventures.

Of course, I will hack our Landshut rules to power Apocalypse World. Because nothing says DIY gaming like combining a post-apocalyptic setting with a set of rules that are named after a Lower Bavarian city founded in 1204.

Let’s convert Apocalypse World 2e to Landshut.

PLAYBOOKS/Character classes
Pick one of the many classes available, or roll 1d12 (and reroll if you get a 12) and create the character according to the rules provided in the playbook.

AW uses Cool (coolness, calm, collectedness), Hard (violent, hard-hearted, mean, strong), Hot (sexy, beautiful), sharp (sharp-witted, clever), weird (weirdo, psychic, genius, strange, uncanny), and something called Hx, the history a character has with someone. Each playbook (character class) has its own instructions how to distribute points between these stats; usually, they rank between -1 and +2.

Choose two moves of your playbook. Moves are special skills.

Each playbook comes with its own gear list.

A character without armor can take 3 solid hits before he is dying. Armor adds hits to that number.  Unimportant characters are dead or taken out after one hit.

The ref assesses your character’s overall ability for any task a hand, then he assigns you a die. This die type ranges from d4 up to d20, with a d8 being solidly average, d4 being really unskilled and d20 being really good, an expert.
Then he assesses the difficulty of the situation and assigns it a die, too.
Roll your die vs. the referee’s die. Higher number wins and gets to determine what happens.

Creating a Brainers&Hardholders character
I roll a 7: a Hardholder. Hardholders are “landlords, warlords of their own little strongholds”.
I flip through the book till I find the Hardholder playbook. Then,
I choose a name: Lang.
Looks: a man, wearing casual clothing, stern face, cool eyes, massive body.

Cool 0, Hard+2, Hot+1, Sharp-1, Weird+1.  This translates to:
A violent, good-looking, somewhat dim man with a strange sixth sense.

Leadership, Wealth

1 fuck-off big gun
kevlar vest (armor-1)

His holding “Fortress of Fortitude”:

  • population 200, most of them unwell and filthy
  • hunting, scavening, farming, manufacturing (tools)
  • tall, deep and mighty compound, stone, concrete and iron
  • makeshift and scavenged weapons
  • 4 utility vehicles
  • 4 battle vehicles
  • a band of 60 violent bastards (2 hits, fucking crazy hyenas)

So, this is my Brainers&Hardholders character:

Lang, a Hardholder
man, wearing vintage Adidas tracksuits, stern face, cool eyes, massive body.

A violent, good-looking, somewhat dim man with a strange sixth sense.

Gear: fuck-off big gun, kev vest

Moves: Leadership, Wealth

“Fortress of Fortitude”:
a tall, deep and mighty compound, stone, concrete and iron, population 200, most of my people are unwell and filthy, hunting, scavening, farming, manufacturing (tools), makeshift and scavenged weapons, 4 utility vehicles, 4 battle vehicles, a band of 60 violent bastards (2 hits, fucking crazy hyenas)


Playing all the games, ancient school style: Cyberpunk 2020

This post copies the structure of my last post – but applies my free kriegspiel, pre-school Landshut rules.
Today, let’s create a Cyberpunk 2020 character that will be played with rules that predate the game with the dragons.

CP2020 characters have Intelligence, Reflexes, Coolness, Technical Ability, Luck, Attractiveness, Movement, Empathy, Body Type.

Let’s say we roll these stats with 3d6:

Intelligence: 8
Reflexes: 15
Coolness: 8
Technical Ability: 12
Attractiveness: 8
Movement: 15
Empathy: 12
Body Type (strength, endurance, constitution): 17

I’m not interested in Luck points, so they’re not available in ma game.

Let’s also say that a stat below 5 is noticeably weak, and a stat beyond 15 is noticeably strong. If a stat is somewhere between 6 and 15, its average and thus: not worth being written down.

Our character then has the following noteworthy stats:
really strong, high endurance and constitution.

Let’s pick a character class first:
CP2020 offers these classes:

  • Solos
  • Netrunners
  • Techies
  • Medias
  • Cops
  • Corporates
  • Fixers
  • Nomads

Our character is not known for his exceptional IQ or coolness, so netrunners, techies, medias, corporates and fixers are right out. Solos, cops and nomads stay. This character is immensely strong and resilient, so I choose a career as solo.

Let’s pick skills next.
I pick all ten skills from the Solo career skills package:

  • Awareness/Notice
  • Handgun
  • Brawling/Martial Arts
  • Melee
  • Weapons Tech
  • Rifle
  • Athletics
  • Submachinegun
  • Stealth
  • Combat Sense

The ruling here is that whenever my character uses one of his skills, I’ll add +1 to the 2d6 roll.

So far, our character looks like this:
really strong, high endurance and constitution.

I pick (2d6 =) 5 gear items from the book.
1. Budget Arms Auto 3 pistol
2. Sternmeyer SMG 21
3. FN-RAL Heavy Assault Rifle
4. Knife
5. Kevlar vest

Now, I lose (1d6=) 2 of them:
the knife , Sternmeyer SMG 21

So this means my character starts with a Budget Arms Auto 3 pistol,  an FN RAL Heavy Assault Rifle, and a kevlar vest.

Next, I’ll pick 2 “Powers”. I decide to get two pieces of cyberware implanted:
1. Kerenzikov Booster Level 3 (I’ll be handwaving Humanity Loss in our games)
2. Smartgun Link

So, in closing, this is how our Arnesonian CP2020 player character looks like:

really strong, high endurance and constitution.

Awareness/Notice, Handgun, Brawling/Martial Arts, Melee, Weapons Tech, Rifle, Athletics, Submachinegun, Stealth, Combat Sense
Budget Arms Auto 3 pistol  
FN RAL Heavy Assault Rifle 
kevlar vest

Kerenzikov Booster Level 3 
Smartgun Link 

Blackmoor Week started yesterday

Dave Arneson

Blackmoor Week has started yesterday, and I can’t post as much as I like to. So, to make up for this, I’m collecting my thoughts (and rules) on Arnesonian gaming here in this post.

This is my kind of final interpretation of the way the Twin Cities gamers roleplayed before D&D.

This is how Car Wars fits easily into the category “Arnesonian gaming”.

And last, but not least, here are my Traveller rules, based on how Marc Miller plays it.

I’ll try to post more original thoughts on Arnesonian gaming tomorrow.

Play worlds, not rules, part 5: How we roll

In part 1, I took a look into how people played roleplaying games before any “official rules set” was published.
In part 2, I shared how we handle experience at our table.
In part 3, I  wrote about the dice rulings I use at the table.
In part 4, we looked at a short example of how old grognards are playing Blackmoor.

Today, I’m sharing the method we use – the way we roll (quite literally).

Let’s say you’re playing the Gray Mouser, one of Fritz Leiber’s beloved heroes:
Small (about five feet), thief, very good swordfighter, former wizard’s apprentice with basic magic skills.

You’re rolling 2d6, just like the Blackmoor crowd did back in the days (and still does today). 

Let’s say you want to climb a wall. Roll 2d6. Roll below average (under 7), and your achievement is below average. Roll really low, and something happens you won’t like. Roll around average, and nothing really changes, your climb is still not finished. Roll above average, and you move the situation into territory that’s advantageous to you: You climb the wall successfully.
Oh, and because you’re so light, I’ll add +1 to your roll without telling you.

Let’s say you’re caught in the middle of a deadly silent horde of skeleton warriors that are attacking you. This is what modern games would call an “opposed roll” – my skeletons against your Mouser. Because there are so many skeletons, I add +3 to my roll. 
Because you are such a good sword fighter, I secretly add +2 to your roll.
Higher roll wins. If I want to have a longer fight, this means you defeat a few skeletons. If it’s something I want to be over quickly, that roll determines the outcome of the entire fight. If it’s completely unimportant, I simply determine the outcome, probably slightly in your favor.

Oh, and what about Hit Points. On most days, I can’t be bothered. If I can, I use the old rule “three hits and you’re out”, plus/minus a few for especially tough or fragile characters. Unimportant opponents die after one hit – this includes groups of unimportant monsters. 

There you have it. The system I’m using at the table. This is not the system in a nutshell – it’s the entire, complete system.

Play worlds, not rules, part 4: short example of true Blackmoor gaming

In part 1, I took a look into how people played roleplaying games before any “official rules set” was published.

In part 2, I shared how we handle experience at our table.

In part 3, I  wrote about the dice rulings I use at the table.

Today, I hope you’ll enjoy the following video clip. Bob Meyer (2nd from left) was one of Dave Arneson’s first players – he truly witnessed the birth of our great hobby. This is a short clip from this year’s Gary Con, where Bob refereed a Blackmoor game. What’s of special interest to me is the “game system” Bob uses: opposing forces roll 2d6. Compare numbers. Higher side gets their way. This is as pure as it gets. I love it.

Video URL: https://www.facebook.com/BlackmoorCastle/videos/1092886334253130/

Play worlds, not rules, part 1: Juggling ideas for stone-age rpg sessions
Play worlds, not rules, part 2: Experience levels
Play worlds, not rules, part 3: Playing around with dice
Play worlds, not rules, part 4: Short example of true Blackmoor gaming
Play worlds, not rules, part 5: How we roll