On the B/X-ification of Classes

As part of the work on the future B/X Essentials: Advanced Characters book (previously mentioned here), I've found myself reading a lot of AD&D material. With my general B/X obsession, AD&D isn't something I've looked at in great depth for quite some years, so it's been very interesting to observe the contrast between the two rules sets. On the surface, just reading through the class descriptions, the rules are, for the most part, the same, and the level of complexity doesn't seem so much greater. It was when I came to directly comparing the AD&D classes against the B/X classes, though, that the differences stood out rather sharply.

My aim with the Advanced Characters book is not merely to clone the AD&D material, but to present classes that slot cleanly into B/X. This has several aspects:

  1. Rules: Obviously, the classes must not use any rules that only exist in AD&D (good and evil alignment, for instance).
  2. Complexity: The classes must not be any more complex than the existing B/X classes, in terms of the number of class abilities or the mechanical complexity of those abilities.
  3. Power: Generally, AD&D amps things up from B/X. The majority of classes have higher HD. Some classes start play with multiple HD. I want my converted classes to be in line with B/X power levels.
  4. Rarity: In AD&D, some classes are clearly way more powerful than others. The paladin is a prime example: unlimited use of detect evil, and a continually active protection from evil, 10' radius are the most obvious super-powered class abilities (and both from 1st level!). In order to make classes like this less commonplace, AD&D introduces an additional mechanism: stringent ability score requirements. Only with super lucky rolls can a player select the paladin class, making them exceedingly rare. (This, in turn, was the genesis of the "alternative rolling methods" arms race. But that's another topic.) This concept of class power vs rarity doesn't exist in B/X to anywhere near the same level (the most stringent class requirements are the halfling's CON 9, DEX 9 -- hardly a harsh limitation), so my converted classes should not rely on it.
  5. Overlap: Each class should have a clear niche, and its own set of unique abilities. The core B/X classes (especially the core 4 human classes) each have a very clearly defined niche, and can do things that other classes cannot. Adding more classes to the mix, a degree of overlap is inevitably going to creep in, but my aim is to keep this to a minimum, and to make sure that each class retains a niche. There's a tendency in AD&D classes to be able to do everything another class can do, plus X, Y, Z. I want to avoid this.

With the above in mind, I started writing up some B/X-ified versions of AD&D classes. The question was, though, what exact yardstick to use to ensure that I was achieving the goals I'd set? Eyeballing and play testing are, of course, necessary, but to address the points of complexity and overlap, I quickly came upon a very different, rather unusual, and highly effective method.

One of the prime directives of B/X Essentials is that (as far as possible) all material relating to a topic should appear on the same page or spread. Thus, a very effective measure of the rules-complexity of a topic is simply: how much space does it take up when laid out?

In the basic Classes and Equipment book, the class descriptions have all been painstakingly edited and laid out to fit exactly onto a single page or spread each. For example, the most complex B/X classes (according to the "how much space?" definition of complexity):

The cleric class -- turn undead requires a lot of explanation

The thief class -- there's a lot of those % skills
So, if it's possible to fit the whole description of every B/X class onto a single 6" x 9" spread, including all required tables, it should also be possible to fit any new, additional classes within the same space constraints. It was when I started to attempt this that I truly realised how much complexity there is in some of the AD&D classes! Some of them required a huge amount of trimming. But this process of trimming to fit on a spread forced me to consider two things:

  1. Which abilities can be simplified? (i.e. so that explaining them takes less words and/or tables.)
  2. Which abilities are really the core of this class, and which can be removed?
Thus, my aims of complexity and overlap were neatly addressed by this process of rough layout. As a result, I think the classes I'm coming up with are much closer to true B/X-ifications of AD&D material than other, previous attempts at this.

As an example, here's a laid out preview of my B/X-ified paladin class:

I'll be putting out an official call for play testers soon, but if anyone has any feedback on the paladin, please feel free to comment!

B/X Essentials: Downtime

Following on from the announcement of the Post-Apocalyptic book for B/X Essentials, I have another book to announce today:

B/X Essentials: Downtime

Written by Courtney Campbell.

This book is a rules / genre expansion for B/X Essentials that can be used in any fantasy campaign where the group wants to add some more detailed options for the time between adventures.

The traditional Basic/Expert rules largely focus on two things:
  1. Adventuring in dungeons.
  2. Adventuring in the wilderness.
The rules are, however, very sketchy on what characters do in between these two activities, upon returning to the safety of their home town. This book provides loads of options for fun (and profitable!) stuff to do in that period, inspired by Gary Gygax's famous admonishment: “YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT”.

Here's a list of some of the stuff covered:
  • Markets and haggling.
  • Orgies and carousing.
  • City navigation.
  • Locating specialised mercenaries, hirelings, and side-kicks.
  • Optional rules for training.
  • Investments.
  • Arena fights.
  • Theft, crimes, and punishment.
  • Detailed rules for consulting a sage.
  • Gaining influence (political, economic, spiritual, etc).
  • Constructing unique vehicles.
  • Magical labs.
The draft text of the book is finished, and I'll be looking for proofreaders to look over it soon!

B/X Essentials: Post-Apocalyptic Classes and Equipment

As I mentioned recently, there are lots of expansion books planned for the B/X Essentials line. Obviously, a lot of the ideas mentioned in that post are in the state of "planned but purely notional", at present. In this post, however, I want to announce a book that is currently in the works. Without further ado:

B/X Essentials: Post-Apocalyptic Classes and Equipment

Written by Chance Phillips.

This book is a modular replacement for the standard B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment, replacing the classic fantasy classes with new classes inspired by media such as Mad Max, Planet of the Apes, and Tank Girl. Likewise, in place of medieval / fantasy equipment, this book contains rules for guns, mashup vehicles, and salvaged technology.

This book is 100% compatible with the B/X Essentials: Core Rules, and can be slotted in alongside any other B/X Essentials books.

The draft text of the book is almost finished, so play testing will commence soon. Get in touch if you're interested in running some post-apocalyptic adventures with the B/X Essentials rules!

To further whet your whistles, here's a preview of the table of contents:

Character Classes: New classes for post-apocalyptic settings.
  1. Biker
  2. Cardinal
  3. Gladiator
  4. Inventor
  5. Marksman
  6. Monkey
  7. Motorist
  8. Prepper
  9. Soldier
Languages: A brief description of the various languages that are prevalent in different enclaves, as well as the pidgin trade tongue often used by travelers.

Money/Bartering: An explanation of how value and wealth is represented after the collapse of fiat currency, and a system for bartering.

Equipment: A wide selection of firearms, armor, and other gear.

Vehicles: A vehicle creation system and rules for driving in combat.

Mercenaries and Specialists: Listings and stats for the various types of mercenaries and hirelings that players may want to hire.

Wasteland Survival: Rules for surviving the various hazards of the wastelands, from radiation to extreme cold and heat.

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: summon@necroticgnome.com)

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 necroticgnome.com.

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.

B/X Essentials: Monsters -- Writing Complete!

It's been a long, hard haul, but I'm delighted to announce that my completely fresh Open Game Content rendition of the classic Basic / Expert monsters is complete!

The complete text is online here.

What's new about this?
Haven't there been a zillion rewrites of these monsters for all different editions of D&D since the dawn of time? Indeed there have! But my new rendition is a bit different. The major focus is on usability as a reference during play:
  • Bullet points formatting: The original B/X monsters are written up in a "wall of text" style, making it rather difficult to pick out all the pertinent information quickly during play. My new write-ups break down each monster's description into a set of bullet points, making it much simpler to get an overview of the creature's abilities, at a glance, and much quicker to jump to the text for the appropriate ability, as needed.
  • Everything in one place: There are no "see X" references to be seen. Everything you need to run each monster is right there in one place. This means that you never need to flip back and forth between pages to look up rules for monsters' abilities. (For example, the description of the rules for monsters' swallow whole ability is repeated in the description of each monster that has that ability.)
  • Terse writing: Phrasing is kept minimal, for rapid reading during play.
  • Full detail: And yet these are full write-ups, not merely super minimal stat blocks. The full information is presented, including descriptions of the monsters' appearance, habitat, behaviour, and so on.

So what's next?
Proofreading is beginning, then it'll be onto layout, illustration, and then publication as the fourth book in the B/X Essentials product line. (More information on B/X Essentials.)

Necrotic Gnome One Page Dungeon Contest Prizes

Necrotic Gnome Productions is proud to sponsor the esteemed One Page Dungeon Contest in its tenth year!

Necrotic prizes in the treasure hoard:

  • 1 print-on-demand collection of B/X Essentials. (Core Rules, Classes and Equipment, Cleric and Magic-User Spells.)
  • 5 PDF collections of B/X Essentials.

Forthcoming Adventures in Dolmenwood

As I mentioned last year, there are several new adventures set in Dolmenwood in the works. My own adventure (the one about a fairy banquet, market, and ball) has unfortunately fallen by the wayside, as I've had to focus on other things. However, two other cats have come up with the goods. Here's what we have in the works.

(Both adventures are suitable for 1st - 2nd level adventurers, and are expected to come in at around 40-45 pages. To be published in digest-size print and PDF.)

The Fungus That Came To Blackeswell
By Yves Geens

What's that you say? Doesn't an adventure with that name already exist? Didn't Bryce Lynch write a glowing review of it and include it in his "the best" category? Why yes, you are correct! This adventure was published some years back as part of the Psychedelic Fantasies line. I read it at the time and it immediately shouted "this could be set in Dolmenwood!" to me. I suggested this to the author, Yves Geens, and he obliged by coming up with a new edition of the adventure, specifically set in Dolmenwood.

Check out Bryce's review of the original version of this adventure here.

Synopsis: An isolated village in the sodden lowlands of Dolmenwood is overrun by fungus of a wildly varied and nefarious nature. The inhabitants are reduced to either vicious fungal drones or cowering shut-ins. Can YOU save the day (should you care to)? How can YOU profit from the unfortunate situation (should this be your thing)?

Status: Draft layout almost finished. Play testing to begin soon.

The Wicked Child of Swynethorp
By Kyle Hettinger

Synopsis: A young lad, the son of a minor lord, has gone insane, running amok in the local village. Rewards are offered, doctors and priests are consulted, but none can figure out what ails the boy. The sinister truth will take adventurers into a strange mirror world, ruled by a fairy lordling dubbed The Prince of Looking Glasses. Can YOU restore the lad to sanity and claim the reward (should you care to)? How can YOU profit from the unfortunate situation (should this be your thing)?

Status: Draft layout in progress. Play testing to begin semi-soon.

Looking for Dolmenwood Play Testers!

Edit: I also posted this on google+, and the response has been swift and vigorous! The need for play testers has now been met :)

Looking for play testers!

There are two Dolmenwood adventures in the works, and both are nearing the stage where they'll be in need of some play testing. I'm looking for a few DMs who would like to run these adventures and give feedback. I'm looking for detailed feedback (on how the adventures work in play, along with any suggestions for things that could be tweaked), more than just a simple "it was fun".

In return for your help, you'll be credited in the module and will get a free PDF copy and at-cost print-on-demand copy of the finished thing.

If you're interested, send me a line (comment here, email, g+).

B/X Essentials: Monsters -- 70% of the way!

I've not written an update on the next B/X Essentials book (the book of monsters) in a while, but it's progressing slowly in the background. I've created a list of all the B/X monsters now, including sub-types: it comes in at 207 monsters. I've currently finished write-ups for 148 of them, so am around 70% of the way through.

The end is now coming vaguely into sight!

The work-in-progress document is shared online here.

B/X Essentials Compatibility License

I've been asked several times, recently, about some kind of licensing for others to publish products compatible with B/X Essentials. Thus...

B/X Essentials Compatibility License and Logo

The full text of the license follows. Please get in touch if you want to use it and have any questions!

This license allows unaffiliated, third-party publishers to release products declared as compatible with and for use with B/X Essentials. The following terms apply:

1. Your product's title cannot include the name "B/X Essentials" or the acronym "BXE".
2. You must include the compatibility logo somewhere on your product's cover (front or back).
3. You may use any of the compatibility logos included in the zip file along with this license (the standard logo, the inverted logo, the greyscale logo, or the inverted greyscale logo), whichever suits the visual needs of your cover best.
4. You may, optionally, place a plain box behind the compatibility logo, for clarity.
5. The compatibility logo must not be displayed so as to form part of your product's title.
6. The compatibility logo must be displayed smaller in size than your product's title.
7. The compatibility logo may not be colourised, made transparent, or have its aspect ratio (width vs height) altered.
8. Your product may not use the B/X Essentials trade dress.
9. You must not in any way state or imply that your product is an official B/X Essentials release.
10. Your product's legal text must contain the following: "B/X Essentials is a trademark of Gavin Norman. The trademark and compatibility logo are used with permission of Necrotic Gnome Productions, under license."
11. You must make an effort to ensure that all rules mechanics used in your product are compatible with the Basic / Expert rules, as presented in the B/X Essentials series.
12. You agree to take legal responsibility for your product, including copyright or trademark infringement claims.
13. Use of the license is free of charge.
14. After publication, you must provide a copy (PDF or print) of your product to Necrotic Gnome Productions.

B/X Essentials Print Bundle

As you've probably noticed, there's a big sale on at RPGNow right now.

In addition to all the Dolmenwood and B/X Essentials PDFs being 33% off, I thought I'd add an additional special deal:

Get all three B/X Essentials books in premium print at $2 off each.

That's $7.99 each, $23.97 for the set.

Wormskin issue eight out now in PDF!

  • The secrets of the witches of Dolmenwood -- The Sisters of the Chalice and the Moon.
  • Guidelines and charts for camping wild in the woods.
  • d30 generator for strange waters.
  • Monsters of the Wood: brainconk, jack-o'-lantern, ochre slime-hulk, pook morel, wronguncle.

If you just want the PDF, get it now at RPGNow! (Print + PDF bundle coming soon!)

Wormskin Issue Eight Art Preview

Progress report on Wormskin 8:

  • All art is in.
  • Layout is almost finalised.
  • Should be going into print setup soon!
Now a little art teaser. A grimalkin collecting firewood, by Thomas Novosel. I love blue cats.

B/X Essentials: Editable Text Editions

The plain text edition of B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells is now online and available for use in your own house rules docs and retro clones!

RTF docs at RPGNow:

  1. Core Rules.
  2. Classes and Equipment.
  3. Cleric and Magic-User Spells.

There are also Google docs of all finished B/X Essentials books.

B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells: Out Now!

I am proud to announce the publication of the third B/X Essentials book: Cleric and Magic-User Spells!

What is this?

  • A retelling of the classic Basic / Expert spells from 1981, presented in a swanky new format.
  • All the cleric and magic-user spells in a slim 34-page booklet.
  • Designed with one thing in mind: use at the table. No important mechanical info hidden away in blocks of text. No spells spanning pages (no page flipping while reading a description!).
  • Delightfully illustrated by a bevvy of old-school art-vagabonds.
  • Available as a fully linked PDF or a print/PDF combo (with saddle-stitched option for that "lays flat on the table" goodness).

Where is it available?
Why, here! http://www.rpgnow.com/product/231649/B-X-Essentials-Cleric-and-MagicUser-Spells

Here ends the player-oriented section of B/X Essentials. The next two books (Monsters and Adventures and Treasures) will complete the game with the referee's rules.

B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells: Cover!

(C) Illustration Andrew Walter
What can I say? The full, psychedelic majesty of Andrew Walter, unleashed.

B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells: Almost Done!

The last few illustrations for the book are coming in! Pieces from Kyle Latino and Sean Poppe can be seen in the layout preview above.

This is always the most exciting part of a project for me, seeing it finally all coming together. The green squares that I use as image placeholders during layout being replaced with actual artwork.

This is going to be a really nice looking book. And a book that I've always wanted myself for use at the table. A 34 page, digest-size booklet containing just the B/X cleric and magic-user spells. And loads of artwork.

Publication planned for early February.

Dolmenwood: Where Can PCs Get What They Want?

Following on from my recent world-building article, which posed a series of questions on where different items and services can be acquired in a campaign setting, this post provides answers (or at least hints of answers) to those questions in the Dolmenwood setting.

Many of these things will be elaborated upon in future issues of Wormskin or in the in-development Dolmenwood Campaign Book.

People / beasts for hire:

  1. Hirelings: Castle Brackenwold, Prigwort, and Lankshorn are the most likely places.
  2. Torch-bearers / porters: Villagers in any settlement marked on the map may be willing.
  3. Mercenaries: Serious military hirelings can only be located in Castle Brackenwold.
  4. Sailors: River sailors congregate in Dreg and the docks at Fort Vulgar.
  5. Dogs (war / guard / hunting / etc): Castle Brackenwold or Prigwort.
  6. Mounts: Castle Brackenwold. There are no serious horse markets within Dolmenwood. (Farm animals and ponies are sold at the market in Prigwort.)
  7. Guides: Villagers in any settlement marked on the map may act as guides in their local area. Guides with a wider knowledge of the forest are best found in Prigwort or Castle Brackenwold.
  8. Other specialists (assassins, spies, blacksmiths, alchemists, etc): Generally, Castle Brackenwold is the place to look for such people. The most famed alchemist in Dolmenwood is the enigmatic Madame Thornwaif.
  9. Engineers and building crew: Castle Brackenwold or larger cities to the south.


  1. Gambling dens: The infamous gambling halls of Chateau Shantywood are supposedly the finest in Dolmenwood. Nearby Dreg also has all manner of gambling possibilities.
  2. Bars / pubs: Any settlement, but Prigwort is most renowned.
  3. Exclusive clubs: One establishment that is open to non-nobles (indeed, anyone who can pay the exorbitant membership fee) is the Sardineers Club, a heavily fortified and ensorcelled pleasure barge that plies the dubious waters of Lake Longmere.
  4. Ball rooms: Outside of village barn dances and private functions of the nobility, nothing is really found within Dolmenwood.
  5. Bath houses: The fairy bath house of the Hag-Queen Thorn-Rosy is the most fabled location. Otherwise, the Oaf in the Oast, in Prigwort, is popular.
  6. Brothels: Chateau Shantywood and Dreg offer all manner of possibilities.
  7. Guilds / orders / colleges / secret societies to join: The Thieves’ Guild of Castle Brackenwold (said to be somewhere in the catacombs beneath the city). The witches are open to accepting women of the right kind to their sect. The Church of the One True God is always open to those of a pious nature. The Royal College of Sorcery has a minor presence in Castle Brackenwold. (It is not normally possible for a PC to join the Drune, as membership is hereditary.)


  1. Herbs (wolfsbane, garlic): The Man of Gold apothecary in Lankshorn and Wyrmspittle the Herbalist in Prigwort sell all manner of common herbs.
  2. Potions: Both the Man of Gold apothecary in Lankshorn and Wyrmspittle the Herbalist in Prigwort both sell magical healing salves of minor degree. Madame Thornwaif may have such items for sale, if she can be located. Otherwise, consultation with a witch is your best bet.
  3. Items that grant bonuses against special attacks (poison, disease, paralysis, energy drain, etc): Both the Man of Gold apothecary in Lankshorn and Wyrmspittle the Herbalist in Prigwort both sell a small selection of such items.
  4. Alchemical / lab equipment for magic item creation: Some items could be bought or commissioned in Castle Brackenwold, but much would need to be imported from the south.
  5. Enchanted armour or weapons: Truly enchanted items are not commonly for sale.
  6. Fancy clothing: Brandybiles, in Prigwort, tailors the most fashionable attire in the region.
  7. Gems / jewellery: For high-end pieces, Spathewhat’s, in Castle Brackenwold, is the top choice. The Sea of Stars jeweller’s shop in Prigwort trades in les expensive items, especially unset gems.
  8. Customised clothes (sigils, insignias, etc): Brandybiles in Prigwort is the best bet for customised items.
  9. Weapons and armour sized for small characters: Armourers in Prigwort and Castle Brackenwold can be commissioned for such work. Specialist moss dwarf armour types can only be bought in (or ordered from) Orbswallow.
  10. Weapons and armour of exceptional make (that grant bonuses): The bladesmith in Lankshorn is said to craft the finest swords in the region.
  11. Customised weapons and armour (engraved, insignias, etc): Blacksmiths in any settlement could take on such work, but the bladesmith in Lankshorn is renowned as the finest choice.
  12. Land for sale: The whole forest of Dolmenwood is the property of the Duke. Leaseholds on plots in the vicinity of Prigwort, Odd, Dreg, and Meagre’s Reach can be bought from the Ducal Surveyors’ Guild in Castle Brackenwold. Land in the debated lands to the north of the forest can be acquired on a freehold basis.
  13. Booze / pipeweed / drugs: Prigwort is top choice for all kinds of alcohol. Pipeweed of average quality can be bought in most taverns throughout the wood (it is all imported from the south). Various psychedelics (including fungi) are sold by peddlers, witches, and (notoriously) the Man of Gold, in Lankshorn. The moss dwarf village of Orbswallow is renowned as producing the finest pipes in the region.
  14. Unusual equipment (telescopic poles, repeating crossbows, caltrops, etc): Military suppliers in Castle Brackenwold may be able to order specialist items of this kind. There is no “one stop shop” for this kind of stuff.
  15. Alchemical items (smoke bombs, acid, etc): The enigmatic Madame Thornwaif may be able to manufacture such items, if her laboratory deep in the woods can be located.
  16. Poisons: Dolmenwood is rife with poisonous fungi, which are sometimes sold on the black market. Wyrmspittle the Herbalist, in Prigwort, sometimes has such items. Witches are another possible source.


  1. Teachers / trainers: The most renowned members of various classes are as follows. They may be willing to teach PCs:
    • Warriors: Lord Borrid the Huntmaster (his lodge is in the south-west of the forest). Sir Waverly the Orange (unbested in any jousting tourney; dwells between Castle Brackenwold and Fort Vulgar).
    • Thieves: The Masterful Shydewicke (aka “the Shade”) is without a doubt the most famed thief in Dolmenwood, though his whereabouts is a mystery. The infamous undead highwayman Dewidort of Smerne could also be included in this category.
    • Magic-Users: Mostlemyre of Prigwort (specialist in meta-magic and dweomer-raveling), Merridwyn Scymes (vivimancer), the Lady Ygraine (illusion and fairy magic), Paronax the Enwisened of Blackeswell (dimensionalist). Professor Woglemain of the Royal College of Sorcery office in Castle Brackenwold. The High Priestesses of the witches and the Drune Aegis could also be included here, though they seldom have dealings with those outside of their respective sects.
    • Clerics: The Bishop of Brackenwold is the religious authority in the region. The famed Friar Baldry the Nonchalant wanders the paths of Dolmenwood. The Venerable Laurenne (a living saint) is known to come to Dolmenwood for special quests.
  2. Patrons / quest givers: The Bishop of Brackenwold may sponsor expeditions to rediscover or restore lost shrines. Mostlemyre of Prigwort may hire people to gather odd components for magical procedures. If one can get in the good books of a witch, she might pay for psychedelics or other magical components.
  3. New spells to learn: Most wizards undertake research on their own; spells are not commonly bought and sold. The wizards mentioned above in teachers/trainers may be open to swapping spells or scrolls.
  4. Magic item identification: Mostlemyre of Prigwort offers this service.
  5. Deciphering unknown languages: Philontimus the Wizened, resident in Odd, is a sage specialising in dead languages and ancient religion. Lord Malbleat is a recognised authority on foreign tongues.
  6. Maps: Overviews of the main roads, settlements, and geographical features can be bought in Castle Brackenwold. Detailed maps of Dolmenwood as a whole are not commonly available. Detailed maps of specific areas exist in libraries (Castle Brackenwold, Harrowmoor Keep).
  7. Knowledge about history: The libraries of Harrowmoor Keep are famed repositories of lore, and the Lady Harrowmoor a renowned expert. Philontimus the Wizened, of Odd, is famed for his knowledge of ancient religious practices.
  8. How to overcome unusual effects: Consultation with a witch or with Mostlemyre of Prigwort are the best options.
  9. Plant / fungus / monster identification: Madame Thornwaif is a renowned expert on the flora and fauna of Dolmenwood, along with their uses in alchemical brewing. The location of her residence is not common knowledge, however.
  10. Rumours: Any tavern in any settlement.
  11. True names: The Lords and Ladies of Fairy may possess such secrets, but would only betray them to mortals in exchange for outrageous gifts (or in times of extreme need). The Lady Ygraine is said to have the deepest knowledge among mortals of fairy-kind.


  1. Get a curse removed: Witches are famed for their powers to curse and uncurse.
  2. Get wounds healed: Witches are rumoured to possess arts of healing. Also see Potions, above. There are said to be a number of lost shrines in the forest with healing powers. (Clergy of the One True God are not generally clerics, and thus have no miraculous powers.)
  3. Specialised healing (diseases, blindness, etc): Witches are rumoured to possess arts of healing. There are also said to be a number of lost shrines in the forest with healing powers. (Clergy of the One True God are not generally clerics, and thus have no miraculous powers.)
  4. Resurrection: Is only known in religious mythology. It is not a service that one can buy.
  5. Auguries and divination: Witches.
  6. Get armour / weapons / other gear repaired: A blacksmith in any settlement can perform basic repairs.
  7. Sell valuable items at a good price: Castle Brackenwold and Prigwort are the best places to sell items, due to the number of potential buyers (merchants and/or specialist establishments).
  8. Sell highly unusual items: Shadwell and Furrougby Esquire, in Castle Brackenwold (specialist in art, antiquities, and curiosities), is a popular location among treasure hunters.
  9. Sell magic items: Selling items is difficult. One of the wizards of renown (see teachers, above) may be interested in specific items. Witches sometimes exchange magic items for services.
  10. Sell questionable loot without any questions asked: On a small scale, the taverns of Dreg are likely places to find fences. For larger items, the Thieves’ Guild in Castle Brackenwold is the best bet (if one can find them).
  11. Safely store money / treasure: Branches of the Emeraude Bank exist in Prigwort and Castle Brackenwold. For storage in personal property, the services of Greydobe, master locksmith and safesmith (Castle Brackenwold) may be acquired.
  12. Money changing: The Emeraude Bank provides this service (see safe money storage, above).
  13. Get tattoos: The Roost, in Dreg, is a seedy establishment, but has a talented tattooist.
  14. Teleportation: Not a commonly available service, but Mostlemyre of Prigwort would be a good starting point to ask.
  15. Magical warding of a building / location: A Guild of Enchanters operates in the region, providing such services. Their guildhouse in Castle Brackenwold can advise on the costs and contractuals.
  16. Raise attributes / recover lost attribute points: A witch may be able to heal lost points or provide a charm to temporarily increase attributes. Fairy magic is said to be able to permanently increase one’s natural aptitudes.