Response to “Read-Aloud Woes”

by Solomoriah

Over at Angry Hamster Publishing, Liz wrote about her love-hate relationship with read-aloud text (what we call “Boxed Text” in Basic Fantasy adventures).  I tried to post commentary on her blog about the subject, but it thinks I’m a robot.  (Can you imagine?)  So first, visit Angry Hamster for her perspective on the situation:

Read Aloud Woes

And next, you can read mine:

For adventures distributed by the Basic Fantasy Project, I always require what we call “boxed text.”  As a GM, I only use it sometimes, and when I do I paraphrase what’s there.  Why do we require it?

Because of secrets.

See, if you write fluffy descriptive text in the middle of the GM’s bit, and the GM is describing the room to the players, it’s tempting to just read what’s there.  But imagine this bit appearing in the GM’s description of a room:

This fine parlor contains two large comfortable chairs toward the right rear of the room with a table between them.  The table has a single drawer, and inside it is a dagger +1, +3 vs. undead.  The back wall is covered floor-to-ceiling in overloaded bookshelves; there are several scrolls and one rare book, as listed below, scattered among the other books.  Each turn spent searching yields a cumulative 10% chance per character searching that one will be found; the GM should roll randomly to determine which one is discovered each time the roll succeeds.  On the floor is a large, ornate rug, somewhat moth-eaten but still impressive.  There is a fireplace roughly centered on the right-hand wall, and that wall is covered in paintings depicting different members of the Baron’s family.  Behind one of them (the painting of Hilda, the Baron’s third cousin once removed) is a small wall-safe containing 122 PP and a ring of fire resistance.  The left-hand wall is dominated by a huge mirror centered on the wall; on either side of the mirror is a painting of a pastoral landscape.  The mirror is, in fact, a secret door, opened by means of a slightly-protruding brick hidden behind the right-hand landscape painting.

Okay, now try to read out just the parts the players can see from that description without giving away the locations of the treasures or of the secret door.  Unless you are more skillful than me, you’ll naturally pause as you skip over those bits, giving away that there is something there.

Breaking it apart makes it much easier to avoid giving things away, and as a bonus, you can also break up the different interesting bits into separate paragraphs so that all relevant info is easy to find.

Like this.  First, the boxed text:

This fine parlor contains two large comfortable chairs toward the right rear of the room with a table between them; the table has a single small drawer.  The back wall is covered floor-to-ceiling in overloaded bookshelves.  On the floor is a large, ornate rug, somewhat moth-eaten but still impressive.  There is a fireplace roughly centered on the right-hand wall, and that wall is covered in portrait paintings.  The left-hand wall is dominated by a huge mirror centered on the wall; on either side of the mirror is a painting of a pastoral landscape.

Next, the GM’s part:

Inside the drawer of the small table is a dagger +1, +3 vs. undead.

There are several scrolls and one rare book, as listed below, scattered among the other books on the bookshelf.  Each turn spent searching yields a cumulative 10% chance per character searching that one will be found; the GM should roll randomly to determine which one is discovered each time the roll succeeds.

The mirror is, in fact, a secret door, opened by means of a slightly-protruding brick hidden behind the right-hand landscape painting.

The paintings on the left-hand wall (around the fireplace) depict different members of the Baron’s family.  Behind one of them (the painting of Hilda, the Baron’s third cousin once removed) is a small wall-safe containing 122 PP and a ring of fire resistance.

… and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done exactly what I just did here to a dungeon room description in a submitted adventure.  Usually the author of the adventure has provided all that is needed for the boxed text, but has just not organized it.  Even if you NEVER read the boxed text literally, isn’t it nice to have the non-secret part boxed out for you to use in creating your own description?

Why not add X to the game?

by Solomoriah

This is an answer to a question I get a lot, and I’ve answered a lot… and saying the same thing over and over is inefficient.  So from now on, when I get the question, I’ll point the questioner here.

One of the secrets of the success of Basic Fantasy RPG is the fact that I had a clear vision of what the game needed to be.  Four classes, four races, brief equipment list, manageable spell list, enough monsters to keep you busy without getting too weird, and so on.  I had what I called a “coverage target,” that is, a list of things that the game had to have.  I made a point of adding very little that was not on that list.

The rule I used was simple.  Many people would send me email messages that said “Your game is really good, but it would be great if it had X in it” where X might be sorcerers or half-dragons or whatever.  Very few people repeated the same request; when I saw a request being repeated, that was an indication to me of something I should consider adding.  Consider carefully, mind you… very few things got added that way.  It’s why we have (brief) wrestling rules, for example, rather than none at all as was common in the 1981 era that BFRPG seeks to emulate.

Any X that was requested by just one guy?  No, not getting in, sorry.  Even when several people asked, I was really careful.

One thing in particular I am always careful of… new classes.  It is so hard to create a new class that is not objectively better or worse overall than the core class it is closest to.  Balance is hard, people, especially in a game that embraces the “linear fighter, quadratic wizard” situation (look it up, it’s interesting reading).

The Basic Fantasy RPG Core Rules will probably never include more than the four classes and four races you find in the current edition.  Keeping the game compact, and providing those “cool” bits as supplements, helps to keep the feel and style of the game consistent and familiar.

Review: Sheet Yourself

by James Lemon

Note: this review is for the iOS version; there is an older version for Android
Note 2: I was given a promo for this app in exchange for writing a review

There are numerous RPG-related apps for rules reference, character development and management, etc. available, although most seem to be for Pathfinder and the like, rather than OSR-focused games. The only OSR-focused one I’ve used until now is Purple Sorcerer’s Crawler’s Companion, a very useful as well as well-maintained and updated app. Today I’ll be taking a look at SparkNET’s Sheet Yourself, a system-neutral app to create and manage characters as well as spells, abilities, weapons, or pretty much anything else you’d need to keep track of.

When you first open the app, you’ll be prompted if you want to use iCloud to backup/sync your sheets. Next there is prompt for a short video that highlights the app’s features. At four and a half minutes it’s not terribly long, but you may want to skip and dive right into the app. The video can always be accessed in the app’s menu.

By default you’ll see a couple entries, one of each type of common things you’d likely create and want to keep track of in a game. You can tap on any of these to quickly see what information is shown for each sheet.

If you only want to view one category of items, you can tap the menu icon at the upper left and then tap which category to view. Slightly confusing is that in this menu there is a Menu button at the top; tapping this brings up the option to view the intro video, access SparkNet’s social media, and view your iCloud backups. This is also where you’ll add any new sheet types or campaigns by tapping the “+” at the upper right.

What’s nice about this app is that it’s truly system-neutral. It doesn’t assume you’re playing any specific game, and you can literally type in anything you want. This is also its downfall, as you’ll first have to type in everything. You’ll spend a lot more time setting up everything you’d need for your game(s), but once in you can easily re-use those items for any sheet in the app.

To create a new item you’ll tap the “+” at the upper right. By default it will set it as a Character type; to change this you’ll have to tap “Character”, the second-from-the-bottom button; this is kind of confusing, as I would think the type should be under/over the name at the top. Related is the naming; by default the name is also “Character”; for those new to the program you may think this is where the sheet type is set, rather than actually the name of this sheet/item.

If you want an image, you can tap the person icon (shouldn’t it be a generic photo/camera icon since you can set an image for a weapon, spell, or anything else as well?) to either choose an image or take one with your camera. Once you set an image however, you can’t remove it, only choose a new one.

You can also link the sheet to an existing campaign here. However once you link to a campaign there’s no option to un-link it (at least as far as I could tell); so if you need the sheet un-linked you’ll have to duplicate it and then delete the original.

If you need to email the sheet you can use the email icon at the upper right; it will compose an email with the sheet as an attachment (as a file with a .sheet extension); the email text provides links to the Sheet Yourself program on both iOS and Android. As a test I sent this email to myself to see if the file could be read with a text editor, but unfortunately it can’t be; so if you need your sheets and possibly hours of typing accessible outside of the program you’re out of luck.

As mentioned above, you’ll have to type in everything, at least at first. Luckily there is a duplicate/copy option, although it isn’t obvious. On the main screen, tap the pages icon at the upper right corner of the item you want to duplicate; you’ll be prompted and then tap “Yes” to duplicate the item; it’s a true duplicate, even in name (I do wish it’d add “2” or “copy” at the end of the name), so you’ll need to edit that first just to know which one you’re working on and don’t accidentally edit your original sheet. At least the duplicated item won’t be linked to any campaign if the original item was.

If you need to delete one or more sheets you’ll need to do it from the main screen by tapping the Pencil icon at the upper right. Be sure you really want to delete something, because once you tap the Skull & Crossbones icon on a sheet it’s deleted, no confirmation asked!

In general I’m not too big on relying on technology for my RPGs (beyond PDFs on a tablet), however like any aspect of technology I can see where this app can be convenient as well as a possible hindrance. As there’s no free version of Sheet Yourself nor any way to demo it I can’t tell you if it would be a helpful app or even a vital part of your game. I’ll be curious to see what future updates and fixes the app receives.

My Reply to “Who’s Afraid Of The OSR?”

by Solomoriah

I honestly don’t remember how I ended up reading Smiorgan’s post on the Department V blog, but no sooner was I reading it than I felt compelled to reply.  At first I planned to post a comment there, but those who know me, know that brevity is not my strong suit.

So here I am.

First of all, let me say that it is an interesting post.  One of the first things that stood out to me was this quote by Ron Edwards:

I suggest that the systemic differences among many OSR games, even the retroclones, are so profound that they exceed the community ideal of compatibility, which then must be papered over by claims of some kind of homogeneity.

I know Ron is supposed to be some kind of gaming expert, but honestly, what the heck is he talking about?  I routinely use materials (primarily adventures) written for Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, and Swords & Wizardry (not to mention the classic games on which they are modeled) in my games, converting materials on the fly.  Claims that the systemic differences are “profound” is, well, a profound overstatement.

More to the point, though… Smiorgan provided a list of things he (I think it’s he) says could be changed to make D&D-like games more palatable to modern players.  Let me say that I tried pretty much all of those things, and found the results wanting.

Back around 2002-2003 or so, about the same time Castles & Crusades was being developed, I wrote a set of core rules intended for use with spells and monsters from any edition of the classic game.  I called my rules “Project 74” and my plan was to achieve compatibility with classic materials, much as I just now described, while including modern features.  I didn’t go after Smiorgan’s list, of course (as it was just now written) but rather followed along with the list written by Mark “Kamikaze” Hughes titled “What’s Wrong with AD&D.”

I took his list of complaints, which surprisingly after more than ten years is still at the same URL, as a list of things to correct.  I boiled the rules of those classic games down to a sort of mechanical ideal, “refactoring” (to use a programming term) the rules to make them more “sensible.”  I addressed Mark’s list with my own philosophical statement, still available on my website.

In my opinion, I did a very usable job of creating a rules-light, semi-modern game system that managed to retain D&D-isms like class and level while having a full skill system.  I made an effort to make all game mechanical systems properly “first class” (in a programming sense) so that the rules would have few special cases.

The game was not satisfactory.  Oh, I ran my ongoing campaign, set in the world I created back in 1982, using those rules, and things went along well enough.  But there were things that just felt wrong.

I could give an exhaustive list, if I felt like racking my brain long enough (remember, I last played with these rules around 2007), but I’m not going to that much trouble.  Rather, I’ll point out the one thing that really stood out to me.

Opening doors.

My game had a unified skill roll system.  Every “difficult” action other than combat was resolved using a standardized core mechanic; this was similar to the D20 method, but arguably the same thing as in games like RuneQuest, where percentiles are rolled for everything.  The end result was that the party half-ogre with 17 Strength was actually not a lot better at knocking down doors than the party dwarf, also with a +2 Strength bonus (Project 74 used a similar attribute-to-bonus mapping as BFRPG).  Yeah, I gave the half-ogre a bonus because he was big, but I also had to assign bonuses or penalties (for easy or hard doors) using larger numbers than I generally assigned as “situational modifiers.”

I could have messed around with the numbers, sure; but it was by far simpler to switch back to the classic 1d6 roll to open a door.  Each bonus was worth 16.7% instead of 5%, and the adjustments were very obvious.  I wrote down in my last version of Project 74 a new rule that even allowed for changing the die size as an indicator of difficulty.  Though it’s not in the BFRPG rules, it’s exactly the method I use now, as it works beautifully.

Why didn’t I write it down?  See my post on this blog entitled “Metarules” for an explanation of that.

It might be tempting to think I’m a true grognard, i.e. a grumbler, one who loves the classic games with a religious zeal.  I’m not.  I’m working on a game called “Realms of Wonder” right now, a fantasy game set in a world that differs markedly from the kind of world defined by games like Labyrinth Lord or OSRIC, or of course BFRPG.  Mechanically the game is a lot like the kind of game Smiorgan seems to want, and I expect it to be a lot of fun… breaking the player’s expectations usually is.  I wrote another game, shared on my website but never actually published, called Variant V; it owes more of its DNA to RuneQuest than anything.  I ran that campaign for several years.  The point is, I like the classic class-and-level games for their own merit, not because they are the only kind of game I want to play.

Do I have a point?  Yeah, I think I do.  Trying to “fix” the classic rules is a mistake.  They aren’t broken… they’re just different.

New Stuff and More New Stuff

by Solomoriah

If you’ve been following us on the forums, Google+, or Facebook you’ll know we’ve released a number of things in print recently.  Of course, the 3rd Edition of the Core Rules and the Field Guide were the big news, but on Christmas Eve we released David Gerard’s DC1 Tales of the Laughing Dragon, making Dave the third author (after myself and J.D. Neal) to have a multimodule published in his name.

So today I updated the print versions of BF1 Morgansfort; most of the changes are just errors that we corrected, but it also contains the adventure-expanding changes that came out of a negative review by Alex on the Cirsova blog (see also the followup post).  Let me say that I didn’t just “cave in” and change things because someone didn’t like them… read the long discussion on the forum if you don’t believe me.  No, I really saw what Alex was talking about, and was not happy with the results.  So I fixed it, and in so doing made the whole Cave of the Unknown better.

I also updated the cover of that adventure, going “darker” mainly because that’s the mood I find myself in.  I also colorized Nathan Nada’s cover, with his (long ago) agreement; it’s a great piece, and I in no way think I improved it, but I wanted the whole cover to look a bit “richer” if you know what I mean.

Finally (for now, anyway), sometime before Easter I have every expectation that we will release J.D. Neal’s JN3 Saga of the Giants in print.  It is a GREAT BIG adventure, as big as the Core Rules, and I think it will be one of the best bargains out there.  Heck, it’s already free, and that’s a heck of a bargain.

There’s more to come beyond that even.  Strongholds of Sorcery, by myself, Stuart Marshall, and J.D. Neal, is about 85% complete.  I’d love to see in done by next Christmas… it’s a great set of adventures, combining the tricky and very bonkers Castle D’Angelo, the classic horror-movie with some twists that is called House of Coldarius, and the strangely deadly Tower of Light.

And there is the ongoing development of Adventure Anthology 2AA1 has proven surprisingly popular, but then I should have known that a book of short adventures would be well received.  Everyone needs a fill-in here and there, and that’s what the Adventure Anthology Series is all about.  We’re still looking for submissions for the second book in the series.

So if you’re not a forum member… why not?  Remember the answer to the human verification question is

Join us, and jump in!

What Changed in the 3rd Edition Core Rules?

by Solomoriah

I keep getting asked that question… so… here’s how I answered on Google+ earlier:

The 3rd Edition Core Rules add two magic items, a handful of monsters, a page of sample traps, and one additional official combo class (Elf Magic-User/Thief) which was in the Gnomes supplement previously.  Besides that, a bunch of new art was added, a number of errors corrected, and a couple of things clarified.

The most important thing to understand is that new editions of the Basic Fantasy RPG Core Rules do NOT make older editions “obsolete.”  I know there are some people with 1st Edition books who still use them, and they are playing the same game as the rest of us.  My players all have 2nd Edition rulebooks, and they don’t need new ones… the 2nd Edition books will work just fine indefinitely.

New Print Releases!

by Solomoriah

As of this moment, the 3rd Edition of the Basic Fantasy RPG Core Rules and The Basic Fantasy Field Guide are both available on and! distribution will follow shortly, and both books have been submitted to will have both hardback and paperback editions. will have only paperback versions, and as they supply, that’s what they’ll have as well. will eventually have both hardback and paperback editions; note that RPGNow hardbacks are a bit bigger than Lulu hardbacks.

All our items, including the new releases, are here:

Note:  You may need to go to the second page to find the new releases.

Here are the links to

Basic Fantasy RPG Core Rules 3E

The Basic Fantasy Field Guide

Coming in 2015

There’s more to come!  I anticipate the release of both J.D. Neal’s adventure series JN3 Saga of the Giants and my own multimodule BF3 Strongholds of Sorcery sometime in 2015.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we managed to get J.D.’s adventure out by Easter; mine will take longer, but I have high hopes that it will make it out before Halloween.  House of Coldarius, one of the adventures in Strongholds of Sorcery, is very appropriate to Halloween, so that’s why I’m aiming for that date.  And depending on submissions, it’s entirely possible that AA2 Adventure Anthology 2 might be in print for Christmas 2015.  So stay tuned!

Wayward Kickstarters

by Solomoriah

Just spent some time on Tenkar’s Tavern looking at the Wayward Kickstarters.  Take a look here:

Wow.  Just, wow.  What makes anyone think that paying a WRITER and/or ARTIST in ADVANCE for something that isn’t remotely ready yet is a good idea?  And I’m saying that as a writer.  Seriously, don’t send me money for something until I have it to the “ready to edit” stage.  At that point, any reasonably good editor can sort it out; but up until then:

(a) How do you know I’ll get it done?

and (b) How do you know it’s not a steaming pile of poo?

But I know my own limitations; I would never start a Kickstarter for something I didn’t at least have a WORKING prototype of.  Given that, and the fact that I know you can successfully bootstrap a project WITHOUT a Kickstarter… well, you can rest assured I’ll probably NEVER start one.

Or put any money into one.  No matter how cool it sounds.

I honestly can’t believe the people who say they’ll write a “next generation” or “innovative” or just “cool” RPG if you just send them some money.  Gah.  If you have such a game in you, write the darn thing, and get your friends (you do have some of those, right?  Cool.) to help playtest it.  THEN, and only then, figure out how to get paid for it.

And at that point, when the game already exists, yeah, you can ask for funds.  Or just, y’know, PUBLISH it.  Print on demand is the way of the future… use it.  Traditional publishers are a pain (you have to convince them your work is valuable before they’ll publish it, but how can you convince them if you’ve never had a chance to sell any?) and vanity presses are money sinks for the foolish.,, and all offer ways to get your book into print at basically no cost to you… and the first two offer standard packages of professional editing that you can avail yourself of if you need it, at predictable rates you could attempt to fund if you need to.

I don’t believe in Kickstarters.  You get people to give you money, but they’re just gambling on whether or not you’ll deliver.


by Solomoriah

You see a 15 foot square room.  It has two regular chairs, two rocking chairs, and a comfortable-looking sofa.  A rug lies diagonally on the wood floor, and in the center of the rug is a chest.

100_5502 Checking It Out

You may recall my post back in March 2013 about the passing of my good friend Alan.  Tonight his widow came by and brought me his footlocker.  It was locked, and nobody knew where the key was.  She asked me to return the empty box and any private papers I might find, and told me to keep whatever else I found.

I tried to pick it, but apparently I’m a wizard rather than a thief.  And no, I don’t know Knock.  So I got out my drill and started in on the keyhole.

It spun about three times and unlocked.  Go figure.

100_5509 Now Open

As you can see, I had my familiar helping me.

I unpacked the materials carefully.

100_5515 Contents

Two complete sets of Basic Marvel Super Heroes, one original and one of the updated version (which I didn’t know existed).  Some random D&D materials, from AD&D 1E and BX up to 3E.  Some Forgotten Realms materials, including a box from the 1E version with just the transparent map films inside along with random unrelated materials.  A complete set of Star Frontiers (the original, from before they rebranded it “Alpha Dawn.”  A bunch of comics, mostly Warlord and Conan.

More importantly, to me, I found papers he wrote himself.  Mostly his character sheets, from games I’ve run over the years.  I remembered them all.

But the thing I was looking for wasn’t in his footlocker at all… it was in a binder she handed me almost as an afterthought.  The dungeon he was designing.  It was handwritten, a one-level dungeon map (around 40 rooms or so) and a four page key to the dungeon.

I’ll be publishing it.  Since it’s short, it will probably show up in AA2.

Now I have a hankering to play me some Star Frontiers…