Relevant Reposts: Combining D&D, OSR and Old School with freeform play

Two years ago, I posted the following article. In light of the continued success of FKR, I think it’s a good thing to repost it:
OK, so you have some edition of D&D at home. Or another old school game, Traveller, Bushido, I don’t know. Or any of the millions of OSR games (hint: Chris McDowall’s Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland is da shiat).

But now you’ve taken a look at the rules, and you’re not sure if you’ll ever be able to play that game. How is anyone supposed to remember all those things? Page upon page upon page of rules. How?

Freeform roleplay to the rescue!

You can still keep your books, there’s so much inspiration in them, you’ll see. What you want to do if you’re overwhelmed by the sheer amount of numbers and rules and pages is this:

  1. Create a character with the rules set you have. Don’t sweat it, there’s no need to stick slavishly to the rules in the book. Follow the character creation rules as well as you can. Boom, your character is ready to leap headfirst into adventure (or into the mouth of a green-faced stone demon face, as the case may be).
  2. Read this blog post: It contains everything you need to know to start playing NOW. The founding fathers of our hobby played like that, and what was good for them is good for us.
  3. Understand that rules are only a necessary evil. What’s important is the game, is playing with friends and family at the table, moving miniatures around (or not), scribbling, planning, laughing, acting. That’s the important part. Don’t let your imagination be drowned by tons of rules. Early roleplaying games didn’t rely on any rulebook — because there were no rulebooks yet. Play the world, not the rules.

Playing the Rules Cyclopedia with the Landshut rules, REDUX

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: 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 minor burns.
As usual, attacks are opposed 2d6 rolls. To this roll, you might add a very small bonus if a character is experienced in fighting, or has a good advantage over the opponent.
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.
Damage, injuries and wounds are determined by the ref, and should follow in-world logic. Also, the amount of pain or damage a character can take before falling unconscious or dying is pure in-world logic. 

Common sense, combined with genre awareness, is the key for every FKR game.

Win Sasreq the Fearless
1st level magic-user

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

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

War Bear, freestyle D&D version

Again, Hill Cantons, man!

This time, Chris’s war bear class. Awesome!
I’m rolling the stats, 3d6 in order, and switch them around till I like them, and arrive at this:

STR 14
DEX 12
CON 14
INT 10
WIS 10

Saves: roll on or under the most appropriate stat

HD: 1d8+2 = 8

Now, I’m opening my post “Quick rules for playing D&D, any edition” in a new window.

The war bear’s starting abilities:
– no armor other than a helmet, instead they have a base armor class + DEX bonus (DEX/3–3, round down)
– bonus +1 to hit and damage when using polearms
– after 1 day without seeing a polearm, lose 1 hp per day till you get your fix
– unarmed damage: 2 attacks per round with 1d4 damage each

OK, Armor: DEX bonus = 1; base armor class (descending AC) is 6; this translates to 13 (ascending AC), or 3 points above “naked” —> Armor is 3.
To-hit: roll on or under (9+HD) = 10

For everything else, use MoldHammer.

Plus, this house rule to speed up combat, BUT still keep the tension of a good dice duel, is really good:

Chaos Monk, freestyle D&D version

I’ve been on a D&D trip, lately.
And Hill Cantons, Chris Kutalik’s brilliant creation, Hill Cantons, man! Anyway, I digress. Chris posted his tongue-in-cheek Cahos Monk class a few years ago. I’m still in love with it. Its sheer Napoleon Dynamite-ness is breathtaking. I want to play a chaos monk, right here and now!

…and all the D&D versions I have sitting on my shelves are way too complicated.

So, I’m rolling the six stats, 3d6 in order, and switch them around till I like them, and arrive at this:

STR 10
DEX 11
INT 12
WIS 11

Saves: roll on or under the most appropriate stat

HD: 1d5 = 2

Now, I’m opening my post “Quick rules for playing D&D, any edition” in a new window.

Then, I’m taking a look at the Chaos Monk’s starting abilities:
– no armor allowed
– add (DEX/3 –3, rounded down), and +1 per 2 levels to armor
– use only lame weapons 🙂
– are only surprised on a 1 in 8, and only if “spoken to by a member of the opposite gender”

OK, Armor: DEX bonus = 0
To-hit: roll on or under (9+HD) = 10

For everything else, use MoldHammer.

The Black Hack: alternative combat rules


Player-facing rolls are not my thing. The Black Hack 1e very much is my thing because it’s so immensely customizable. I could, of course, go the Landshut route and simply handle combat with opposing rolls.

Or I walk this way: Taking a piece of rules from my very own Fabulous Heart of Mekron:

This method keeps the strict roll-under approach of TBH, but lets players and referee roll against each other (which I like).

Oh good Lord, please stop it: Woke D&D

But, but…he has wife and kids at home

The Wizards continue to ruin D&D with wokeness.

Just read this: 

  • orcs and drow are just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples”
  • “In recent reprintings of Tomb of Annihilation and Curse of Strahd, for example, we changed text that was racially insensitive”
  • “Curse of Strahd included a people known as the Vistani and featured the Vistani heroine Ezmerelda. Regrettably, their depiction echoes some stereotypes associated with the Romani people in the real world”
  • “And we will continue to listen to you all”
Okay. So orcs and the spawn of hell are suddenly people, too. You know, so it’s BAD if you kill them and take their stuff, shame on you! I also wonder what the hell they’re talking about, “racially insensitive”? In a fantasy game that takes place on an imaginary world? 

Oh, and now it’s obviously a no-go to take aspects of really existing people and things here on earth and use them in a game of imagination? I know a couple of Romani folks, and they give a flying fuck if anyone uses symbols or “looks” of their culture in a game. In a game!
By de-monstering monsters, everything becomes morally ambiguous, as someone on MeWe mentioned correctly. Everything is potentially “problematic” because they remove the important difference between good and evil. This has been a part of human thinking since the dawn of humankind: There’s good, and there’s evil. And there are heroes, however flawed, fighting against evil. Now, in their fervor to be politically correct and inclusive, Wizards is, basically, disregarding what it means to be human, what it means to play, what it means to be a hero.

They’re turning a fantasy game into politics.

Beating THE dead horse again

I know, I’m writing about that again and again and again. I know I’m repeating that stuff so often, it might bore some of y’all to tears.

I know.

But playing like the earliest roleplayers did, BEFORE D&D was published, BEFORE RULES were the be-all and end-all of gaming: That’s right up my alley, that’s what I do. It’s what I love doing. Take my Landshut Rules: a love letter to “pre-school gaming”. And still, people keep asking me for specific rules, for specific situations. And I keep replying, “whatever works for you, dude”, and this is the truth. At my table, with my people, things work that might fail abysmally in other groups.

Just keep the game going. Drop the rules. Go with the flow. Fly with the moment, and make it as complex or as simple as you as a group want it. This is your game. Your friends. Your time. Your creativity. Rulebooks are always just a suggestion, giving you ideas or hints.

That said, I’m beating THE dead horse again today: I’m quoting a five year old forum post (not written by yours truly):

Your descriptions sound very similar to the sort of gaming I’ve “discovered/fallen into” in the last few years. I also have very little interest in a lot of new RPGs and find myself more and more distanced from the hobby as its represented online/in rpg forums. The focus on rules minutia holds little interest for me, as does the strict division of gaming styles. For years I GMed a very lose historical occult investigation style game, where I pretty much abandoned any rulebooks in favour of a very quick and intuitive framework of a system I stole from a game from the early 80s, and generally just made rulings on the fly as they fit the situation. 
I heavily experimented with different forms of play (one game took place on a submarine, and I ended up separating the players into different rooms with the lights off, only able to communicate via walkie-talkies), one game was nothing more than a dinner party where everyone remained “in-character” for the proceedings. But the breaking point for me was getting back into miniature wargames a few years back, wherein I rediscovered my love, not just of painting minis, but also building scenery and creating elaborate gameboards. 
As simple PvP wargames bored me quickly, I began coming up with more and more elaborate narrative scenarios, and elements of RPGs began bleeding in. I became fascinated with that gray area where wargames and rpgs meet, and the different manner games could be combined into an overall experience. I brought in elements from Diplomacy, constructed overarching campaign rules that dealt with things like resources and troop training/replenishment, and came across some great naval battle rules that led to several months of high seas adventures, switching between ship to ship combat and regular combat rules for boarding parties. 
As time goes on, the term “gaming” for me has started to become an all-encompassing creative thing that doesn’t really match any singular modern definitions of rpgs/larps/wargames etc. I for one would love to hear more about how the old Tekumel games were run, particularly more specifics on what you looked for in players and what it meant to “get” Tekumel, or more specifically, the style of gaming you’re describing. I find it hard these days to get new players who are on board with this sort of free-wheeling creative approach, especially those indoctrinated by the last 20 years of very specific ideas of what an RPG is and the “importance of rules”.

Tristram Evans, 06-18-2015

This. So much this.

Warhammer with… MoldHammer

(art: John Blanche)

I’ve sung the praises of Rattlemayne’s MoldHammer rpg before (here, for instance), and I’ll do it today, again, as well.

To regular readers of this blog, it`ll come as no surprise that I’m a Warhammer fan. And OF COURSE, after writing a Warhammer hack for Risus and a Warhammer hack for the Landshut Rules,  I’m also thinking about how to run the best British game ever with MoldHammer rules. This should be as straightforward as anything – Warhammer was one of Rattlemayne’s inspirations when he wrote MoldHammer. (The other one being Moldvay D&D, which explains the name)


  1. Either use Warhammer 1e (the one, the only, and the best) to roll up a character. Disregard the WH attributes and simply pick one exceptionally high and one exceptionally bad stat and write it down. If you want more than one good stat, you have to pick one bad stat for each good one.
  2. OR you can use the Warhammer rulebook for inspiration – IF you do that, create your character with “Adventure Points“.
  3. Download Rattlemayne’s MoldHammer, if you haven’t already. Your character starts with either <3<3 (all ranger, rogues and academic careers), or with <3<3<3 (warrior careers).
  4. If you’re down to zero <3, use Mike Evans’s “Deadlier Dying” tables. I know, they’re forgiving, but seriously, I never liked the ultra-lethal approach of low-level old school games, I never played that way, and back in the days when we started roleplaying, we never knew anyone who played that way.
  5. Leveling Up: Use Arnold’s brilliant popcorn leveling. Increase your ❤ – if your ref is okay with that.
  6. Monsters: Forget about a literal translation from WH to Moldhammer. It can’t happen. So, translate the feeling. Give it a to-hit, armor, and damage (regular weapons do ❤ damage, bigger or better ones do <3<3). If you want variable damage, consider rolling  a d2 (coin) or d3.
  7. Magic! I have to admit, I got carried away a bit by the brilliant magic system of the GLOG.  Suddenly, all types of magic were inherently dangerous. That’s not only NOT true in real life, but also in Warhammer.The only wizards facing great dangers are Demonologists, Necromancers, and Evil and Chaotic magicians. They gain Insanity Points and Disabilities, or increase the chances of contracting Tomb Rot (necromancers, I’m looking at you).

    I also don’t want starting wizard characters with one measly Petty Spell – because we’re playing way too infrequently to make this fun.

    That’s why our MoldHammer Warhammer magicians start with (level+1) spell points.
    When you cast a spell, make a save (see MoldHammer), it get’s tougher the higher the spell level is. If you roll successfully, you cast the spell, and it costs you zero spell points. If you fail the roll, you still cast the spell, but it costs you (spell level) spell points.
    This is Warhammer, so I’ll allow wizards to sacrifice ❤ to gain 2 spell points.

So there you have it. Warhammer, played with MoldHammer.
An example character, rolled up with Warhammer 1e:

Name: Franz-Joseph Krauthuber
53-year old Human Wizard, Level 1

Skills: Sixth Sense, Identify Plans, Magic Sense, Rune Lore, Scroll Lore

To-hit: 10

Spell Points: 2

Learned Spells:

  • Cause Animosity (Battle Magic I): cast against creatures that are normally subject to animosity. Targets must save or attack each other
  • Fire Ball (Battle Magic I): one fire ball per level per combat round. If fired into a group, it hits (level)d3 creatures and causes <3<3<3 damage. Flammable targets suffer an additional <3. Can be dodged for ❤ damage.

Trappings: decent suit, soft shoes, knife tucked in belt, 27 gold crowns, ceremonial dagger, Wizard’s staff, Boots Leaping (+1d6 yards on any leap)