Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Rondel: A roundless initiative system for LotFP and other OSR games


The concept of "the round" is such a bogus, tacked-on concession to the tabletop nature of the hobby, isn't it? But when combat starts there seems to be no better way to simulate the second-by-second ferocity of deadly warfare than the board-gamey but fair division of action into turns and rounds. Different games have approached this dilemma differently. For example, fifth edition leans into the boardgameyness, making the combat so much fun that you don't mind that its a separate thing. Free-form systems such as Apocalypse World give the GM total control over what happens next in combat. Neither of these work for me—I'm not a good enough GM for Apocalypse World systems, but I'm not smart enough for fifth edition. I need a system that is impartial, but still gives combat some organic unpredictability.


For this variant, you will need to print out the circular track below and find one marker of a different color for each player and some extra markers for the enemies. If you're an old-fashioned gamer like me, you might have some Looney Pyramids as pictured above floating around (excellently suited for the purpose), but wooden markers or even d6's will do in a pinch. The only requirement is that they are easily identifiable and stackable.


To begin combat, stack the player and enemy tokens on top of each other on the starting segment in a randomized order. The character whose token is furthest behind in clockwise order on the track gets the next action. If there are multiple tokens on the same segment (such as at the beginning of combat), then the topmost token gets the next action. After completing an action, the token belonging to that character will move clockwise some segments on the track (see below for more details). Because the number of segments moved  will vary, characters may be able to take two actions in a row or skip other characters in action order.

A monster will have a number of tokens equal to the number of attacks it would normally receive in a round. If there are multiple units of the same type, consider allowing them to "pool" their tokens together, choosing which individual unit takes the action when their token comes up.


Surprise: The tokens belonging to any characters that are surprised move clockwise 5 spaces at the beginning of combat and use their surprised AC until their first action.

Movement: Move clockwise three segments plus total encumbrance points (maximum of ten segments) to run up to 25' (five squares/hexes on a battlemap or to an adjacent "zone" if using theater of the mind). Assume that most monsters have two total encumbrance points.

*Note: Using this system, characters do NOT move and attack in the same action. If the character wants to move, they will have to be prepared to pay the opportunity cost.


On a hit, move clockwise a number of segments equal to damage dealt (max of ten).

On a miss, move clockwise a number of segments depending on the weapon:

Minor weapons: 3
Firearms: 3
All other Melee weapons: 4
Great weapons: 5
All Ranged weapons : 5

*Note: If the defender of an attack has a shield, spear, polearm, lance, using any other weapon that would make closing distance difficult, or actively parrying, move clockwise two extra segments on a miss (maximum of ten segments). This penalty is not cumulative.

Parry: Move five segments clockwise. Parrying grants AC bonuses as normal until the character's next action. As mentioned above, any attack on a parrying defender also moves clockwise two extra segments on a miss (maximum of ten segments).

Spells: Move clockwise five segments plus spell level minus intelligence modifier (magic-users and elves) or wisdom modifier (clerics), to a maximum of ten segments. If the character has taken any damage since their last action, a spell cannot be case. The spell does not take affect until the caster's next action. If the spell's duration refers to rounds, place a reminder token five segments clockwise per round from the target's segment when the spell takes affect. When the target reaches or surpasses the segment with the reminder token, the spell's effect ends. If the spell has no target, place the reminder token five segments clockwise per round from the magic-user's location.

Holding: Move five segments clockwise. As per normal Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules, an action may be reserved to perform some condition is fulfilled before the character's next action.

Any other action: move clockwise five segments minus any relevant ability modifier (to a maximum of ten). For example, manipulating the Cube of Leng for an action would cost five segments minus the character's intelligence modifier, grappling would cost five segments minus strength modifier, aiming is five segments minus wisdom modifier, and so on.

The GM may decide to increase or decrease the number of segments needed for more or less complicated actions if needed. I recommend three segments for simple actions and seven segments for complicated actions.

Design Goals

My design goal with this is to maximize the feeling of a more organic combat while minimizing the number of extra rules needed. Everything is based around five segments per action to aid in memory. Hopefully, everything is logical enough that it isn't a chore to remember all these details.

The idea of using a circular track to determine who takes the next turn is definitely not new. In boardgaming parlance, it is called a "rondel." The rondel system has been used in many boardgames before to great affect (I got the idea for this variant after playing a game of Patchwork with my wife). In fact, this whole system is very similar to the variant described in supplement III to the original game with the rondel being used to greatly ease calculation and everything being adapted for use with the excellent Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules.

Here is a google doc with a copy of the rondel and the cheat sheet that you can print out and use in your games if you're so inclined:

Friday, August 21, 2020

So you want to make an island

If you run a game for long enough, eventually your party is going to buy a boat. It’s not even their fault—there is only so long that a person can hold off the allure of the sea. If your party starts sailing,  you are going to need an island. Here is a fun little generator you can use to jumpstart your own ideas and create a cool island of your own for a loosely swords-and-sails themed game.

A man sitting in a large basin barely manages to stay afloat on the open sea

1. Roll nine six-sided dice (three red, three yellow, and three blue) and three twenty-sided dice (one orange, one green, and one purple) on a blank sheet of paper. 

2. Draw a squiggly line around the mass of dice. This is your island's coastline.

3. Draw a circle around each six-sided die and a star around each twenty sided die. Connect all the dice with lines. Make sure there's some good interconnectivity with at least a few loops as well as a dead end or two. 

4. The twenty sided dice comprise the island's "theme." For example, I rolled a thirteen on the orange die, a five on the green die, and another five on the purple die, so my island's theme is “the mollusks make weapons out of talking snakes.” Before moving on, it's a good idea to jot down some adventure ideas for your island. Using the example from before, perhaps the people who live on this island have found a way to make a powerfully explosive pearl by inserting the fangs of the talking snakes into a special breed of mollusk. Perhaps the people of the island might want the party to go to the forbidden lagoon to find more of these mollusks? Perhaps the snakemen are not pleased by these islanders' interference and vow vengeance? Perhaps the secret of the explosive pearl is highly sought after by a local trading company?

Keep the theme in mind when populating your Island. More often than not the randomly generated theme will beg interpretation or explanation. Be creative and have fun with it!





The birds




The shadows

are disguised as

purple goo


The native peoples




The flowers

sail with



The spiders

make weapons out of

talking snakes


The small mammals




The waves

secretly hoard



The goat people

play with

nuggets of gold


The fish


medicinal herbs


The trees




The fruit




The insects


large carved rocks


The mollusks




The caves


the body of a dead god


The whales


conch shells


The wild boars


a shipwreck


The ancient ones

make jewelry out of

buried treasure


The volcano

have rituals involving

the stars


The sharks

carefully mutilate



The merfolk


an enchanted musket

5. Each of the six sided dice note a different kind of location. The number on the die represents what type of location it is, while the color of the die gives further refinement. For example, a blue die that rolled a 1 would represent simple grassland. Use the theme you obtained in step four to flavour each of your locations with an encounter wherever desired.


Easy travelling—it takes 1d6 hours to travel out of this location








Moderate travelling—it takes 1d12 hours to travel out of this location




Moderate jungle




Hard Travelling—it takes 1d30 hours to travel out of this location




Tall hills


Thick jungle


Settlement—it takes 1d12 hours to travel out of this location


Native peoples


Settlers from your setting’s main continent


Weird settlement (merfolk, aliens, people with stars for eyes, fringe religious group, etc.)


Landmark—it takes 1d12 hours to travel out of this location


Natural (unusual rock/coral formation, massive tree, a particularly breathtaking view, etc.)


Man-made (a lighthouse, a wall, an orchard, etc)


Weird (an ancient ring of stones, grove of trees bearing strange gem-like fruit, a gateway made of obsidian, etc.)


Challenge—it takes a minimum of 1d12 hours to travel out of this location, but the time can vary depending on the party’s ingenuity.


Inconvenient (massive flock of birds, maze of coral, tollway guarded by a man gone a bit loopy with isolation)


Hazardous (erupting volcano, razor grass, puffs of noxious gas emitted by plantlife, etc.)


Weird (tall rocks standing at an eerily regular distance that threaten to fall, malevolently intelligent crashing waves, illusory castle, etc.)

6. Each of the twenty sided dice also represent a dungeon location. Stick a dungeon you have handy on your island, make one of your own, or try my dungeon generator. The theme generated in step four may beg for some kind of explanation that you can answer with your dungeon. For example, if you rolled that the spiders abhor dreams, one of your dungeons could be in the webs of the eternally dreaming spider god, explaining why the spiders try to bite anyone who dreams on the island.

Here are some rough dungeon ideas for inspiration:


Massive stone head. Speak secret words to open it’s mouth, revealing a set of stairs that descend into the earth.


An anachronistic castle


The Verdant Palace. An immense mansion made of all organic materials grown seeming spontaneously out of the marshland.


A deep pit, feared and reviled by the residents of the island.


A lagoon. The very tops of a garden of statues peek out from eerily blue water


A cloud of goddam mosquitos surrounding an abandoned throne


A grove of strange trees. The stars here are in different positions


The caverns where they say old man Pete buried his fortune


A darkened valley soaked in permanent thunderstorm


A shipwreck left on the side of a tall hill for unknown reasons


Inactive volcano


A settlement mysteriously abandoned by its residents

7. Roll for how many hours it takes to leave a location and mark it near the location on your map. This represents how many hours travelling it takes for a party with normal encumbrance to move from that point on the map to any other connected point. This may mean that it could take significantly longer to travel in one direction than it does in the other location due to the differences in terrain or available paths. Don’t worry about it too much.

Congratulations! You’re done! You now have a cool little island to play on.

One final, very serious, note. I love pirate games. I love the idea of sword-and-sail. As a kid, Treasure Island was one of my favorite books, and as an adult I love naval adventure stories such as Typee, Moby-Dick, or Mutiny on the Bounty. If you’re lucky, you might even get me to admit that I secretly actually really like the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. As much as I love these things, the unfortunate reality is that the romance of the sword-and-sail adventure hides a dark past of colonialism, racism, and slavery. When you are running a sword-and-sail game, there is a fine line to walk. On one hand, even if you are an amazing GM and your group explicitly gave their consent to play in a game that explores these themes, you may find yourself dangerously close to crossing a line. On the other hand, completely ignoring it and whitewashing the problem is not the solution, either. I guess what I’m saying is be a sensitive, careful, and open GM. Be willing to listen, and game responsibly!

Friday, July 31, 2020

Playing Dice with Death

The Box Full of Boxes Blog wrote a fascinating post about how to handle re-rolling a character when one dies—a not uncommon occurrence in OSR play. While the standard rule (just to start a character over from level one) is perfectly good in some circumstances, in other circumstances you might want some way of getting player characters up to speed with the rest of the party as quickly as possible without negating death as a meaningful. Box Full of Boxes suggests several alternatives, including a funeral rule which I think is particularly excellent. 

I love little minigames, so my contribution is a risk vs. reward minigame you can use when rolling a new character after death or even at the start of a campaign. I wrote this with the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules in the standard 17th century setting in mind, but it should be easy enough to adjust this to your role playing game/setting of choice. Even 5e if you're heretically minded.

The rules
After you have finished rolling stats and chosen your character class roll 2d6 and mark the total. Keep rolling and marking totals until you either choose to stop or you roll the same total twice. If you choose to stop, add up all your totals and you start the game with the gross total x200 xp. If you rolled the same total twice, you start at level 1, but you gain a boon as compensation. Check the table for your class under the last total you rolled (the one that you rolled twice).

For example, I'm going to re-enter the game with a new fighter. My first roll is a 4. I can do better so I keep rolling and get an 8. Not daunted, I keep rolling and get an 11 and then a 10. If I stopped here, my gross total is 33, so I would start the game with 6,600 points. A level 3 fighter—not bad at all. My hubris gets the better of me though, and I roll again hoping to push myself to level 4. Blue skies be cursed, I roll an 8! Since I've already rolled a 8, I lose all my points and I start at level 1. I do get a boon, though. Since my last roll was a 8, I look on the fighter table under 8. My character starts with a 3-in-6 search skill, a decent compensation.

The Tables



Start the game with your father's sword. A humble-looking thing. Whenever

you roll a 1 for damage in combat using the sword, your body turns to mist,

allowing you to instantly transport anywhere within sight and rematerialize.

Does not work for anyone else.


When you were a child, a fairy taught you how to cast a random level 1

magic-user spell once per day


Gain +1 Strength or Constitution 


You have been blessed by the great one of the night of time. You can drink

water from a natural water source once per night to make a roll-under charisma

check. On a success, you grow moth wings and a flight speed of 15 feet per

round for 1d4 turns (the referee should make this roll in secret. Hopefully you're

not in the air when the effect ends!)


You have a poet's heart. In town, you can spend 150 sp on writing

supplies (mostly alcohol) and spend a week writing a poem to gain 300 xp

or a retainer at +1 loyalty (a fan of your work).


Gain elaborate Tattoos. They look very impressive, especially to sailors


You are eagle-eyed. Your search skill is 3-in-6


You sometimes fly into an uncontrollable rage. The first time you are damaged

in combat, make a roll-under wisdom check. If you fail, gain +1 to AC and +2 to

your to-hit rolls, but you must make an attack roll if possible for the next d10

rounds—even attacking allies if they are the only targets available!


Your tracking skill is 3-in-6. Spend a turn to make a tracking roll. On a success,

you can tell if any living being passed by an area and in which direction they

were heading.


One of your ancestors was a demon. If you die by flame, become a terrible flame

demon for 2d10 rounds before being dragged to hell [AC 15 AB +10 HD 8 HP 40

Att#3 Terrible flaming sword d12]


Whenever you shed blood, it rains in a 6 mile radius. The more you bleed, the more

it rains.



Gain a very loyal dog that will obey all commands.


You have befriended a cat that will visit you from time to time. Feed him/her/them,

and he/she/they will utter one sentence worth of information relevant to your quest.


After years without shoes, your feet are calloused and strong. You can carry 5

more items without gaining an encumberance slot. You don't need to wear shoes.


You've learned to cook a great mushroom stew. Your chance of foraging in forests

is increased to +3 in 6 and only reduces distance traveled by 1d4x10%. The stew

is so good that it restores 1d4 HP.


Gain +1 Charisma or Dexterity


Your middle toe is exceptionally long. Those in the know recognize this as

"thieve's toe," increasing or decreasing your cred depending on the social circle.


You can talk to birds. You have the option of taking a magpie as a retainer using

the normal follower rules. The magpie requires payment in shiny things equal to

an animal handler.


Gain a trusty Green cloak with many pockets. There's a 2 in 6 chance of finding

any small, mundane object within one of its pockets. It takes one round to search

your pockets. Cannot be used by any other character.


Gain a sturdy walking stick. You wouldn't dare go anywhere without it. It counts as

a small weapon and a 10' pole (but is not oversized). Cannot be used by any

other character.


Gain a lucky pawn chess piece. You will never lose a game of chess as long as

you use this chess piece as one of your pawns. Cannot be used by any other



Walls just make sense to you. If you stare at a wood, plaster, or stone wall up to

10 feet thick for 1d6 uninterrupted hours, you can pass through it.

Magic User/Elf


Gain a familiar cat (gain an extra level 1 spell slot) or raven (the raven can fly to

any known location and deliver a message one sentence long in an eerie croaking

voice. You can see through the raven's eyes.) If your familiar dies, you die.


Roll a second character. This second character can be a different gender or even

a different race. Every night, roll a save vs. magic. On a failure, you wake up as

this second character. Your two characters have no memory of each other.


Lunacy. Your eyes grow milkier as the moon waxes. On the night of a full moon,

you can attempt to cast any magic-user spell regardless of level one time. If you do

so, make a save vs. Magic. On a failure, cast summon instead.


You can speak to goats.


Your blood is thick and black. If anyone drinks your blood, they gain 1d6 hp, but

you lose 1d4 hp


You have a third eye. It doesn't do anything, but it looks mighty impressive.


You always float about a half inch above the ground.


You have an uncanny ability to find rare books. You can always tell in which direction

to find the most expensive book in a 6-mile radious


You can't die...or perhaps you have just forgotten how. You are so old that you've

forgotten most of your once-great magic. you cannot die unless you reach -20 HP

(you still fall unconcious at less than 0 HP). Your strength total is reduced to 3.


Your laughter gives people the heebie-jeebies. Whenever this player's character

laughs in real life during a session, the character laughs in the game, causing

everyone in a 10 foot radius to drop whatever they're carrying and lose their next

round in stunned silence. It has to be genuine laughter, though—no strategically

timed chuckles allowed!


You are three inches tall and were born in a tulip bulb. +2 AC, but you only gain

1 HP per level and cannot use weapons.

• Cleric


You have divine serendipity. If you pass a saving throw, all other characters who had

to make the same saving throw automatically succeed.


Glowing. You always slightly glow with holy light as long as you have at least one

spell slot remaining. 


You have Sampson's hair. Increase your strength score until it equals your highest

score, but suffer a permanent -10 to your strength score if your hair is ever cut.


You can make heretical books (expensive and rare) explode into flames at will.

Use rules for oil and flame on pg. 60.


Heretic. Your beliefs are deemed heretical by the church. You have the knowledge

of one random level 2 magic-user spell that you can cast once per day.


Your Latin is excellent. Very impressive to members of the clergy, where knowledge

of Latin is suprissingly uncommon or passable at best. You are automatically

conversational in any ancient or dead terrestrial language.


+2 to your wisdom score if you are not carrying any money or treasure


You can turn any human who has committed a mortal sin in the last 24 hours as

you would undead at +4 to their HD


Your status allows you to claim sanctuary in any church, although they don't have

to like it.


You can never lie. Anyone within 10' of you must make a save vs. magic to lie


You are myopic and require (somewhat rare and expensive in the 17th century)

spectacles. Any roll you make is at -2/-10% without them and they may fall off

when running (the spectacles used in this period did not have earpieces and were

prone to falling off). However, they grant +1 to your wisdom score and you can

cast one extra level 1 spell per day.