Sustainable Necrotic Development

As I announced last week, big things are afoot here at Necrotic Gnome. I'm going to be at the Berlin Brettspiel Con this weekend, with the Quality Beast and Necrotic Gnome crew, and we're already planning for the next con: SPIEL, in October. (And then Dragonmeet in London, after that.) Together with the UK Games Expo in June, that'll be four con appearances for Necrotic Gnome this year! (That's up infinity% from the grand total of zero last year. *)

* Mathematical accuracy not guaranteed.

The other angle that we're exploring (massive thanks to the Quality Beast crew here!) is getting in touch with retailers to get Necrotic Gnome books beyond RPGNow and into shops. This is a big -- and super exciting -- step for me!

All in all, this year is about building things up ready for the next stage: the production of the deluxe B/X Essentials editions, and the Dolmenwood Campaign Book.

To that end, we're looking not only to future products, but also to the current offerings of Necrotic Gnome. As things stand right now, all physical books that we have on sale are produced as print-on-demand (via Lightning Source, via RPGNow). While this model has been a great way to get things going, its limitations are now becoming clear. A couple of examples:
  • Some books have specific physical requirements that are extremely costly via print-on-demand. An example of this is the B/X Essentials books, which I designed to be staple-bound. Unfortunately, this entails using the premium printing process of Lightning Source, which increases the manufacturing costs immensely.
  • Such high manufacturing costs, in turn are an impediment to selling to retailers at a fair discount. The only way to do this currently would be for Necrotic Gnome to sell books to retailers at a significant loss, which is clearly not a sustainable business model!
All things considered, there are a lot of good reasons to move away from print-on-demand. (And that's before we even start talking about production quality!) So we're starting to explore options for producing Necrotic Gnome books via traditional print runs, and all the advantages that will bring.

In the meantime, I'll be adjusting the prices of our books at RPGNow to reflect a more realistic business model. A couple of changes:
  • Some books will go up a little bit (like $1). This is to reflect recent increases in Lightning Source's printing costs. The prices of print-on-demand fluctuate a lot, and tend to increase in jumps, and of course without warning. (This is another good reason to move away from this model, to a more predictable one.)
  • The premium printed books will, unfortunately, see larger price increases. The reason for this is, as explained above, the outrageous production costs of these books via print-on-demand services (things are even worse at Lulu!). Until now, I've been making very little profit from sales of these books, which is something that I didn't mind doing as a hobbyist, but that doesn't make any sense from the perspective of developing a sustainable business. Basically, I'm going to start pricing the premium printed editions of books at premium prices that reflect the costs involved. (Makes some sort of sense, eh?)
Our aim is to find a traditional printer who can manufacture our books for a good price and according to our physical requirements for bindings, etc. We've already sent out our first request for a quote to a printer here in Germany. (If anyone has any advice or leads in this department, please get in touch:

Talking about prices (especially increasing them!) and business models feels a little gauche, honestly, but I want to be transparent about what's going on, the reasons behind it, and what we're aiming towards. Thank you all for your support and understanding in this matter! If you have any questions or advice on any of this, please feel free to contact me.

Necrotic News: Kickstarters, Newsletters, and Quality Beasts

Something has been brewing for a while here over at the Necrotic Gnome tavern*. And today is the time to unleash the news.

The Big News Is...
Necrotic Gnome is undergoing a bio-meld with another Berlin-based indie games publisher, Quality Beast. The aim of this fusion is to increase our pool of resources dedicated to producing amazing, crazy, creepy, and (above all) mossy stuff for your delectation. We have a lot of things in the works: a Necrotic Gnome website, a joint webstore, Necrotic Gnome presence at cons, and -- last but not least -- crowdfunding campaigns! We'll be bringing to life deluxe editions of hotly anticipated Necrotic Gnome products such as the Dolmenwood Campaign Book and the boxed set and all-in-one hardcover editions of B/X Essentials. And who knows… there may even be some plushie moss dwarfs or grimalkin in your fairy-infested future!

Dylan (Head of Game Development at Quality Beast) and I recorded a video at UKGE last month, explaining a bit about the collaboration, the B/X Essentials and Dolmenwood books, and what have planned.

Necrotic Gnome Newsletter...
To kick things off, we're starting a Necrotic Gnome newsletter. We’ll be sending out updates on new products, events, crowdfunding campaigns, opportunities to collaborate, and so on. The first newsletter (coming soon!) will include more details on some of the tidbits mentioned above.

You can sign up at

All For Now!
Thank you all for your support over the years. Without folks like you, Necrotic Gnome would never have left the spawning vat!

* The name "Necrotic Gnome" actually began life in an old campaign of mine as the name of a ratling tavern at the base of a giant trash-heap below a fantasy mega-city.

B/X Essentials: Monsters -- Out Now in PDF!

The long-awaited Monsters book for the B/X Essentials series is out! A completely fresh write-up of all Basic/Expert monsters, in a format optimised for use at the table. Check out the preview!

Here it is at RPGNow!

Illustrations by Andrew Walter, Luka Rejec, Mike Hill, Matthew Ray, Michael Clarke, Alex Mayo, Kyle Latino, Sean Poppe, Tom Kilian.

(Print and plain text editions coming soon!)

B/X Essentials: Devil Swine!

An interesting thing about the monsters in B/X is that, while most of them appear in other editions, there are some that are (as far as I know) unique to B/X. (Or the 1983 Basic / Expert sets by Frank Mentzer. Though there are even some B/X monsters that didn't make the transition to that revision.)

Of these Basic / Expert monsters that aren't found in other editions, my personal favourite is the devil swine. Evil, man-eating, lycanthropic swine.

So when it came to deciding what to have illustrated on the title page of B/X Essentials: Monsters, the devil swine came immediately to mind, as an iconic B/X monster. I've always pictured devil swine as intelligent, debauched, wannabe nobles. Here's what Luka Rejec came up with, from my description:

Copyright Luka Rejec, 2018

And here's the accompanying monster description from B/X Essentials: Monsters:

Corpulent humans who can change into huge swine. Love to eat human flesh. Lurk in isolated human settlements close to forests or marshes.

AC 3 (9 in human form), HD 9* (40hp),  Att 1 × gore (2d6) or 1 × weapon (1d6 or by weapon) or 1 × magic (charm), THAC0 12, MV 180’ (60’) / 120’ (40’) in human form, SV D8 W9 P10 B10 S12 (F9), ML 10, AL Chaotic, XP 1,600, NA 1d3 (1d4), TT C
  • Shapechange: Only at night.
  • Ambush: Prefer to attack by surprise.
  • Charm person: 3 times a day. Save versus spells at -2 or be charmed: move towards the devil swine (resisting those who try to prevent it); obey the devil swine’s commands (if understood); defend the devil swine; unable to cast spells or use magic items; unable to harm the devil swine. Killing the swine breaks the charm.
  • Charmed victims: 1d4-1 accompany a devil swine.

B/X Essentials: Plans for the Series

As an addendum of sorts to the general B/X Essentials FAQ, I wanted to discuss the future plans for this project. Anyone who's been following along with the development will notice that work on the core "clone" or rules reference for B/X is nearing completion. But that is far from the end of what I have planned for B/X Essentials; in fact it's really just the foundation.

The whole series is formed around the idea of modularity, with the Core Rules as the only really essential book. Based on Core Rules, a referee can run games in any number of genres or settings, simply by adding suitable classes, monsters, spells, treasures, and so on. So far, I've been working on providing the classic fantasy answers to all of these elements (the Classes and Equipment, Cleric and Magic-User Spells, Monsters, and Adventures and Treasures books).

But innumerable alternative books could be used in place of the standards, enabling the easy creation of a rules set for a specific campaign by simply mixing & matching available rules modules. So, for example, you could grab Core Rules + Sword & Planet Classes & Equipment + Lost World Monsters + Planar Adventures & Treasures to make an awesome, dimension-hopping, pulp campaign with laser swords and dinosaurs. (These are largely hypothetical books right now, but you get the idea.)

So that's the concept, and that's where I plan to head with this, once the basic "clone" aspect of the rules are complete. Here are some of the projects that are either in the works or that I have rough notes for. Some of these are being developed by other writers, to be published as rules modules in the B/X Essentials line.

Classic Series (mostly finished now)

  • Classes and Equipment
  • Cleric and Magic-User Spells
  • Monsters
  • Adventures and Treasures
Advanced Series
  • Advanced Characters
  • Druid and Illusionist Spells
  • Advanced Cleric and Magic-User Spells
  • Advanced Monsters
  • Advanced Adventures and Treasures
Genre Modules
  • Lost World Monsters
  • Mythic Japan Classes and Equipment
  • Mythic Japan Spells
  • Mythic Japan Monsters
  • Post-Apocalyptic Classes and Equipment
Rules Modules
  • Character Options
  • Downtime
  • Biological Magic
  • Elemental Magic
  • Necromantic Magic
Victorian adventures? Planar monsters? Wild West? Pirates? Science-fantasy? The possibilities are endless!

B/X Essentials: Adventures and Treasures -- Draft Text v0.1.0!

Illustration by Michael Clarke
What with B/X Essentials: Monsters being close to wrapping up, my thoughts are beginning to turn vaguely to the fifth book: Adventures and Treasures. This, by the way, will be the final book in the initial "classic" series, completing the core B/X rules reference.

The document is currently just a very basic outline, with only the wilderness encounter charts and NPC party generators being at all fleshed out.

You can view (and comment on!) progress here online.

B/X Essentials: Monsters -- Art & Layout Preview 2

I just got some pieces in from Matt Ray, and wanted to share another spread. I love that gelatinous cube!

About the Dolmenwood Campaign Book

So I've mentioned this thing before called the Dolmenwood Campaign Book, but I realise that its exact nature has not been laid out particularly clearly. Here goes... a sort of general FAQ!

Is a weird fairy-tale hex-crawl setting for B/X (and pals), invented by myself and Greg Gorgonmilk. To date, all information on the setting has appeared in serialized (and somewhat randomized) form in the zine Wormskin.

Each issue of Wormskin details fairly arbitrarily selected aspects of the setting: player character classes, descriptions of clusters of hexes, new monsters, historical exposition, optional rules for forest hex crawling, and so on. By its nature, however, the zine does not reveal the setting in any logical order. It is, essentially, a partwork.

All issues of Wormskin are available here.

Dolmenwood Hardcovers
Since its inception, the plan for Dolmenwood has always been to release the setting in its finished form as a set of full-size hardcover books: a player's guide (with all the new classes), a book of hexes, a book of monsters, and so on. The vagaries of life have meant that the process of writing these books has not been forthcoming. Until now!

The Dolmenwood Campaign Book
Will be the first Dolmenwood hardcover to be published. It is currently being written, and is about 50% done.

What will this book contain?

  • Background information on the setting: the forest's history, the various sentient races that inhabit it, the magical energies that permeate it, etc.
  • Details on the various regions of Dolmenwood and their unique features.
  • Descriptions of the factions that lurk in the forest, their aims and goals, and how they relate to each other.
  • Descriptions of all 184 hexes on the campaign map.

When Will It Be Published?
The plan is to publish it in 2019. We're looking into doing a Kickstarter to get enough funding for a fancy print run and lush artwork. It's looking like the book will clock in at 180+ pages, once finished.

Will It Include Content That's Already Appeared In Wormskin?
Some of the content of the Campaign Book has already appeared in Wormskin. For example, about 50 of the 184 hexes have been described in the zine, and detailed articles on two factions have been published. All of this information will be collated in the Campaign Book, where it will be re-edited into a cohesive whole.

What Content Will It Include That's Not Appeared in Wormskin?
Absolutely loads of stuff. Wormksin has just scratched the surface, really. For starters, there'll be over 120 new hex descriptions. This will be a complete campaign setting, with a detailed, adventure-packed hex-crawl, and fully fleshed out background information. And it will all be organised in a logical fashion, naturally.

Will It Include All Content From Wormskin?
Anything that doesn't relate to the setting background and the hex descriptions will not be included in the Campaign Book. It will not contain any PC classes or adventures, for example.

Will Wormskin Continue?
Once the Campaign Book is published, yes, the plan is for Wormskin to continue. Its role will be somewhat different, as there will be no further articles with hex descriptions or setting background. I'd imagine the zine's focus switching to support materials like adventures, encounters, NPCs, and general setting ephemera.

B/X Essentials: Monsters -- First Layout Preview!

Due to the incredible illustrating alacrity of Alex Mayo, I am able to show the first preview of a laid out and illustrated spread from B/X Essentials: Monsters today! The spread isn't 100% in its final form -- there's still a round of proofreading and fine-grained layout tweaking to come, but it gives a very good indication of how the finished book will look.

Beetles to Caecilia:

Caecilia illustration (c) Alex Mayo

B/X Essentials: Monsters -- Introductory Text

Close-up of the cyclops from the cover, by Andrew Walter

A major milestone has been reached: thanks to the assistance of my wonderful wife, Rachel, the layout of B/X Essentials: Monsters is complete! The next step is that I'll be commissioning illustrations from the usual rogues' gallery of artistic ne'er-do-wells. Publication is planned for mid to late July.

As a little taster of the book, I thought it'd be nice to present the introductory text, which provides a glimpse into the ideas behind my retelling of the classic B/X monsters. So, here you go:

This book contains all the standard Basic/Expert monsters, retold in a new format. As with all of the other books in the B/X Essentials line, the focus of the writing and layout is on ease of use at the table. This principle, when applied to monster descriptions, led to a format that is rather different to the standard. The main points of note are:

  • The basic description of a monster (what it looks like, how big it is, where it lives, etc.) is separated from other elements.
  • Other abilities and points of note are broken out in a series of bullet points, for easy reference. (Compare to the standard “wall of text” monster presentation in the original Basic/Expert books.)
  • Beyond the definition of the basic stat block (see adjacent), everything the referee needs to run a monster is gathered together in one place. There are no “see page X” references and no mentions of abilities that are described elsewhere.
  • In the stat blocks, the need to look up information in other places is also virtually removed: the full saving throw values for each monster are listed (instead of just the class and level of the chart to be consulted), and the attack roll needed to hit AC 0 is provided, allowing referees who are not averse to a little mental arithmetic to do away with the monster attack chart.

As always, I hope that this book plays a part in the furtherance of this timeless and beloved game and prove useful as a reference for those already familiar with its charms.

Gavin Norman, Spring 2018, Berlin.

All non-human monsters have 60’ infravision. (See B/X Essentials: Core Rules, p16.)

Spells such as charm person, hold person, etc. only affect humanoids (including humans and demihumans) of up to 4+1HD. Monsters in this book that are affected by these spells are: acolyte, bandit, berserker, brigand, buccaneer, bugbear, dervish, dwarf, elf, gnoll, gnome, goblin, halfling, hobgoblin, kobold, lizard man, medium, merchant, neanderthal, nixie, noble, normal human, ogre, orc, pirate, pixie, sprite, trader, troglodyte, veteran. Other monsters may be affected at the referee’s judgement.

Saving Throws Above 14th Level
Some powerful monsters save as a fighter of greater than 14th level. In these cases, the monster’s save values have been calculated by extrapolating the progression of the fighter saving throw chart to higher levels.

XP Value of NPCs
Some monster entries make reference to NPCs with levels in a specific character class. The XP values for such characters are not precalculated, as the exact value depends on several variable factors.
When awarding XP for defeated NPCs, the referee may use the following guidelines:

  • The Hit Dice of the character are equal to his or her experience level.
  • Spell casters are treated as having one special ability per two levels of spells they can cast (rounded up). For example, a character able to cast 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level spells would count as having two special abilities.
  • Magic items in the possession of the character may be counted as special abilities, if they play a direct role in combat.

Stat Block Format
AC: Armour Class.

HD: Hit Dice. Roll this number of d8s to determine each individual’s hit points. Followed by the average hit point value, in parentheses.
  • Asterisks after the HD number indicate that the monster has special abilities, for the purpose of XP calculation.
  • Modifiers to the HD (e.g. +3, -1) are applied to the hit point total, after rolling the appropriate number of d8s.
  • Some monsters are listed as having less than one HD, either as ½ (roll 1d4) or as a fixed number of hit points.
Att: Attacks usable each round. Square brackets are used to distinguish between alternative attack routines that a monster may choose from.

SV: The monster’s saving throw values. The equivalent character class and level are listed in parentheses afterwards (C=Cleric, D=Dwarf, E=Elf, F=Fighter, H=Halfling, MU=Magic-User, NH=Normal Human, T=Thief).

THAC0: Value required “to hit AC0”. This value may optionally be used to resolve the monster’s attack rolls, instead of referring to the attack chart based on its HD. To calculate the AC hit by an attack, subtract the result of the attack roll from the THAC0 score. For example, if a monster with THAC0 12 makes an attack roll of 9, it hits AC 3 (12 - 9).

MV: Base movement rate; encounter movement rate in parentheses. If the monster has multiple modes of movement, they are listed individually, separated by slashes.

ML: Morale rating.

AL: Alignment. If “any” is listed, the referee may roll randomly or choose the creature’s alignment.

XP: Precalculated XP award for defeating the monster.

NA: Number appearing. Two values are listed, the second in parentheses. These values are used as follows:
  • Wandering (dungeon): The first value indicates the number of monsters encountered roaming in a dungeon level equal to their HD. If the listed value is zero, these monsters are not usually encountered in dungeons. If the monster is encountered on a level greater than its HD, the number appearing may be increased; if encountered on a level less than its HD, the number appearing should be reduced.
  • Lair (dungeon): The second value lists the number of monsters found in a lair in a dungeon. If the listed value is zero, these monsters do not usually have lairs.
  • Wandering (wilderness): The second value indicates the number of monsters encountered roaming in the wilderness. If the listed value is zero, these monsters are not usually encountered in the wilderness.
  • Lair (wilderness): The second value multiplied by 5 indicates the number of monsters found in a lair in the wilderness. If the listed value is zero, these monsters are not usually encountered in the wilderness.
TT: Treasure type. The letter code used to determine the amount and type of treasure possessed by the monster(s) (see B/X Essentials: Adventures and Treasures). The letters listed are used as follows:
  • A to O: Indicate a hoard: the sum wealth of a large monster or a community of smaller monsters. Such hoards are usually hidden in the lair. For monsters with a lair encounter size (see NA, above) of greater than 1d4, the amount of treasure in the hoard may be reduced, if the number of monsters is below average.
  • P to V: If listed for an intelligent monster, indicate treasure carried by individuals. If listed for an unintelligent monster, indicates treasure from the bodies of its former victims.

Dolmenwood Campaign Book: Progress Report

Image by Orioto

I made a short post about the Dolmenwood Campaign Book last year. Several months have passed since then, and work has continued. Some info:

  • The draft text now stands at just over 50,000 words.
  • Of the 184 hexes to be detailed on the campaign map, 90 have now been written up. This means we're almost exactly at the 50% mark, in terms of the hex descriptions.
  • I've been working with a group of writers who have trodden the paths of Dolmenwood: Brian Richmond (of the superb Goatman's Goblet blog), Andrew Walter (Wormskin illustrator supremo), Glynn Seal (author of the Midderlands campaign setting), and Kyle Hettinger (author of one of the Dolmenwood adventures-in-the-works).
  • I'm in contact with a few more writers, who will hopefully also be contributing some hex descriptions to the setting.
  • The book currently comes in at 128 pages. This is in a single-column, dumb layout, of course. But this indicates that it's going to be a very nice, chunky book when it's all finished! I'd anticipate a final page count of 190-256 pages.
  • A bit more info on my ideas for the physical book: hardcover, full size, full colour, lavishly illustrated, professionally edited, traditional print run (i.e. not print-on-demand), fancy production (sturdy binding, ribbons, etc). All to be determined, of course, but I want to go all out on making this a beautiful book.

And an update on the table of contents:

Part 1: Dolmenwood

  • Introduction
  • Themes
  • Sentient folk
    • Mortals
    • Fairies
    • Demi-Fey
  • Regions of Dolmenwood
  • The Otherwold
    • Fairy Dominions
    • Paths and Doors to Fairy
    • Ley Lines
    • The Witching Ring
  • History
  • The Brackenwold Calendar
  • Languages
  • Religion
  • Magic
    • Geomancy
    • Magic Items
  • Commerce
    • Banking
    • Merchants
    • Peddlers
    • The River Trade
  • Ecology
    • Flora
    • Fauna
    • Fungi
  • Comestibles
    • Food
    • Drink
    • Pipeweed
    • Psychedelics
  • Factions and Powers
  • Faction Relationships
  • Campaigns
  • Rumours and Quests
Part 2: Hex Descriptions

  1. Monsters of Dolmenwood
  2. New Spells
  3. Gunpowder Weapons

B/X Essentials: Monsters: Cover!

Hot off Andrew Walter's trans-dimensional press -- the cover of the upcoming B/X Essentials book!

Dolmenwood: Trolls and Ogres

I've known for a long time that both trolls and ogres lurk in the Dolmenwood. I've also known that these beasts are somewhat different to their standard D&D cousins. New research has now revealed the following details about them -- adventurers beware! (Stats to be determined some time in the future.)

A race of hulking, obese monstrosities native to Fairy. In height, they are two to three times as large as a human, and many times greater in bulk. Their flesh is like clay and utterly hairless. If a limb is severed, it can be reattached without harm. The teeth in their great maws are flat, grinding molars. They do not eat flesh, but subsist solely on mosses. The profusion of moss in Dolmenwood -- and especially the prevalence of varieties infused with arcane energies -- attracts them to graze in the mortal world. Their most favourite delicacy is the flavour of moss that has grown on the corpses of sentient beings. This leads them to murder. The mere touch of a troll causes moss to take root and sprout in mortal flesh. Trolls are creatures of the dank and dark. Their greatest weakness, in the mortal world, is direct exposure to daylight, which turns them into stone within 3 rounds. Trolls are thus found lurking in shaded regions of the wood, often taking shelter in caves or beneath bridges during the daytime. They are slow-witted but devious creatures, whose voices carry the power of suggestion.

Likewise, are hulking and obese, similar in size to trolls. Ogres, however, are a twisted race of mortals. They are grotesquely hairy and exceedingly ugly. Fangs jut higgeldy-piggeldy from their wide mouths. Their heads are adorned with horns that vary from individual to individual: they may number one, two, three, or four, and may be stunted, twisted, or curled like rams'. Ogres are carnivores specialising in the digestion of humanoid flesh. They hunt mercilessly, delighting in rending sentients of lesser stature limb from limb, or in capturing them alive, to be later roasted over bonfires or boiled in great cauldrons. Their hateful and wicked nature makes them favoured servants of the Nag-Lord, in Dolmenwood.