Author Archives: Solomoriah

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…

Basic Fantasy RPG at QuinCon 29

by Solomoriah

Quincon 29 BFRPG DSC_3538

This last Saturday the 19th I ran a Basic Fantasy RPG session at QuinCon 29 in Quincy, IL.  My pass said “Special Guest” and they really made me feel welcome.  Three of my regular players, Jason Brentlinger, Josh Eaton, and Chris Wolfmeyer joined me, along with Rob Cook (a former player whose schedule sadly doesn’t work with ours these days) and three players I didn’t previously know: Craig Philips, Jared Thrapp, and Richard Rittenhouse.

I chose Castle D’Angelo from my upcoming Strongholds of Sorcery multimodule.  It’s an insane romp, and I knew there was no way they’d finish it, but it made an excellent introduction to the game for those not familiar with it.  I should mention at this point the incredible debt I owe to Stuart Marshall and J.D. Neal, who contributed extensively to the adventure.

Highlights of the session:

The charge of the boars at the very beginning was quite funny, actually.  After taking a few shots at them, the player characters let them pass outside and closed the outer door.

Barthal, played by Richard Rittenhouse (I hope I have that right) peeked into the keyhole of the room into which an NPC fled, and made his saving throw against the poignard she shoved through it.  Got to keep his eye… good move.  I loved his characterization of Barthal as a halfling who loathed humans.

Barthal again, escaping the ire of the madman with the dominoes and getting drops of alchemist’s glue in the hair of his feet.

A well-planned illusion by Morningstar, played by Chris Wolfmeyer, allowed them to set the wild boars in the ground floor of Roland’s Tower against the wandering band of Nazgorean Frogmen that threatened them, and then Lucas, played by Jared Thrapp (I think, if I didn’t get the names mixed up) finished them off with a fireball.  I think they were relieved to have something they could hit.

Bork, played by Craig Phillips, was hilarious to start with (“basically he’s a moron,” Craig said about the character), but when he failed his save against the “crazy wave” (part of the adventure) I told him that Bork was convinced he was the smartest character in the group.  He has an Int of 5, if I remember rightly.  Craig played it to the hilt, jumping in to examine all the apparatus and all the magical books, even though his character couldn’t read.

Apoqulis, played by Rob Cook, failed his save also, and his character became a pathological liar.  Chris Wolfmeyer immediately reminded me that I had done that to Rob’s character in our regular game once before.  I let it stand, and he was almost as funny as Craig… especially since nobody realized he had changed.  So when he said he could no longer heal anyone, they took him seriously.

Toward the end, on a hunch apparently, Jason figured out that Remove Curse would cure the insanity of a single victim, and he cured an NPC who could give them useful information about the castle.  We were ready to wrap up then, so I gave those who were interested a brief rundown on how the adventure would play out.

Everyone who attended signed the sheet for credit in the module, so all those guys will be listed as playtesters starting with the R12 release of Strongholds of Sorcery.  I gave out free copies of the Basic Fantasy RPG Core Rules, signed by me; my regular players declined, so I could give those copies to someone else, which I appreciate.  I also donated two copies of the Core Rules and the original proofs of BF1 Morgansfort and BF2 Fortress, Tomb, and Tower to the QuinCon charity auction, all signed of course.

It was great.  I’m definitely planning to return next year, and I think I’ll go hard-core and run Slaver’s Fortress from AA1 Adventure Anthology 1 next time.  Give ’em something to hit.

Are Magic-Users Too Weak?

by Solomoriah

It’s a refrain I hear (or read) over and over again.  Magic-users are too weak, especially those first-level magic-users.  Imagine, just one spell a day… then all they do is stand around and be useless.

Except, that’s not how it works.  Let’s discuss as an example a party with four characters:  Darion the Fighter, Apoqulis the Cleric, Barthal the Thief, and Lucas the Magic-User.  They’re on their very first adventure together, investigating the Olde Island Fortress.

Darion has 1d8 hit points, and is armored in chain mail (as he could not afford plate mail for his first adventure).  Apoqulis is armored the same way, and has 1d6 hit points.  Assuming no special bonuses, with shields in hand they each have AC 16.  Barthal is in leather armor, and while he can’t use a shield, let’s assume he has a Dexterity bonus of +1 (he is a Thief, after all), making his AC 14.  Lucas is unarmored, AC 11, but of course he’ll be at the back of the party, out of reach of most monsters.  Being unarmored also means he has the fastest movement rate, 40′, so he can outrun the other party members.  Recall that when a bear is chasing you, you don’t have to outrun the bear, just your comrades…

So they enter the dungeon, and shortly they encounter a group of four goblins.  Now, goblins have 1-1 hit dice, so each of them has an average of 3.5 hit points.  Rather than deal with the details, let’s just say each has 3 hit points.  We’ll be nicer to the adventurers and round their hit points up, so Darion has 5, Apoqulis and Barthal 4 each, and Lucas 3.  The goblins do 1d6 damage, or 3.5 points on average, while Darion, Apoqulis, and Barthal average 4.5 points each.  Finally, note that goblins have an armor class of 14.

So they fight.  Without digging too deeply into the numbers, the adventurers have only a slight advantage over the goblins; the odds are in their favor, but it’s quite likely that the fight will be over in four or so rounds, with at least some of the survivors being injured.  Should the adventurers win, remember that Apoqulis does not yet have a healing spell available.

Most merciful GMs will allow a starting magic-user at least one offensive spell.  If Lucas has Magic Missile, he can probably kill exactly one goblin.  If he has Charm Person, he can take control of a goblin and at least remove him from the fight, if not actually turn him against his comrades.  If he has Sleep, it may be all over for the goblins in the first round.

If Lucas casts his one spell, and it’s anything other than Sleep, he probably removes one goblin from the fight.  His friends are still fairly likely to be injured; when the fight is over, one way or the other, they will probably need to withdraw from the dungeon to return another day.

And on that other day, Lucas will again have one spell available.

If Lucas has Sleep, well, it’s entirely possible the adventurers will breeze by the goblins without suffering any harm at all.  After Barthal trips lightly through the sleeping goblin’s ranks, slaying each in his turn, the adventurers can move on to the next encounter, and it is possible that Lucas will indeed stand around doing nothing while they fight.  Of course, the smart thing for Lucas to do is to carry some daggers for throwing, and use them to whittle down the back ranks of their next group of foes; his chance of hitting at first level is equal to all the other characters, after all, so why not?

At higher levels the comparison holds out.  For instance, assume the party is now 5th level.  Each of the adventurers has a magic weapon, and probably some form of magical protection (armor, ring, etc.)  If, in the course of gaining 5 levels, they have found any magic-user-only items such as wands, naturally Lucas has received them.  Meanwhile, the number of hits each of the “heavy hitters” can sustain has been multiplied by 5 times, so now they can fight much longer.  But still, by the time Lucas has exhausted his own magic (five spells, one of which might blow away a large monster or a group of smaller ones), the adventurers should be ready to call it a day.

If you find, in your game, that it doesn’t play out that way, ask yourself why.  Have you allowed the fighter and cleric to receive powerful magic weapons and armor, making them into walking tanks that deal death without suffering a scratch?  If you did that, did you also allow the magic-user to receive items of comparable power?

Before changing the rules to make the magic-user more powerful in an attempt to achieve parity with the other classes, you should consider whether the rules are really unbalanced, or whether you have (intentionally or otherwise) stacked the deck against the magic-user in the first place.

Single Creator Syndrome

by Solomoriah

Adventure writing is like any other form of writing in many ways.  For instance, every writer has a style, and with experience you can recognize it.  Style shows not only in the words the author chooses, but also in the concepts and philosophies he or she promotes.

Really, there’s nothing wrong with having a style, but it’s important to avoid letting your style make you too predictable, especially if it’s an adventure you’re writing.

I don’t know how many times, in discussions held in person or online, that a GM has said “I don’t use monster X because I don’t like it.”  Sometimes it’s a game mechanical thing, sometimes its more a factor of the monster’s imaginary ecology or role or backstory.  It really doesn’t matter why, though.

So the GM whose existence we are imagining creates a new adventure for his group of regular players.  They all know him, so they know his style.  And in the course of the adventure, an NPC hints at the presence of a vampire (for instance) and all the players think, nah, our GM doesn’t like vampires, and they don’t even take it seriously.

I call this “Single Creator Syndrome.”  It’s the opposite of the defect often called “Design by Committee,” but while perhaps a bit less lame, it’s still a defect.

I’ll digress a bit, into the world of fiction.  One of my favorite science fiction shows was Babylon 5, and anyone who is a true fan of the show knows that many of the episodes, including basically the entire last season, were written by one man, J. Michael Straczynski.  He’s one of my favorite all-around writers, and the show was a masterpiece.  But in the final episodes, wrapping up the aftermath of the Shadow War, I noticed that the main characters all seemed to hold the same beliefs.  Not just similar beliefs… they all believed exactly alike, to the point that I couldn’t have reliably told you whether any particular quote was from G’Kar or Captain Sheridan or Delenn.  The reason is simple… they all shared Straczynski’s beliefs.  Single creator syndrome.

Back on topic.  I’ve also heard many GMs say that they never use adventure modules.  That’s too bad, really, because using an adventure module written by another author is one of the easiest ways to escape from Single Creator Syndrome.  Oh, sure, you may still go through and change some things you really don’t like, but the overall adventure will still be in the author’s style instead of in yours.

Another, harder, way is to create NPCs who hold beliefs that disagree with yours, and then don’t let them be just cardboard cutouts.  Do some reading.  Read things written by people you don’t agree with, and remember that, in any reasonably large and expansive fantasy world, there should be at least a few people (or dragons, or whatever) who believe just like that.

Stretch a bit.  Use the monsters you usually don’t like, or which for some reason you’ve just omitted.  I hardly ever use giants, a weakness I’m trying to overcome.  It’s not that I dislike giants, I just never think of them when I’m choosing monsters.  So I’m strongly considering running J.D. Neal’s Saga of the Giants adventures (found on our Downloads page) as a way to overcome that weak point and surprise my players.

The point is, don’t let yourself fall into a rut.  Whether it’s a matter of running an adventure module, or changing things up in your dungeon design, don’t let Single Creator Syndrome take the fire out of your game.

Dungeon Ecology, and Other Religious Beliefs

by Solomoriah

I remember reading about the idea of having a proper “dungeon ecology” in the RPG magazines of the early 1980’s.  The fantasy RPGs of that era all included random dungeon generation tables, and many GMs would simply draw a map and then start rolling to fill in the rooms; this would lead to things like the stereotypical “dragon in a 10’x10′ room.”  So the RPG magazines of the era began publishing articles about planning your dungeons, really thinking about where you put the monsters, what they ate, even how they got air to breathe.

And yeah, this was an improvement, and a big one.  Not only was a sensible, logical dungeon design more pleasing to play, it allowed the players to actually reason about the adventure.  Having met an orc patrol, they might suspect the presence of a lair, for instance; or an encounter with a monster seemingly held prisoner behind a locked door would result in a search for its secret entrance.

Of course, this was more work, but it was worth it.  After all, everyone said it was, so it must be so, right?

Thus “dungeon ecology” became a thing that everyone was supposed to do.  All monsters had to make sense in the context of the imaginary environment, all treasures had to be reasonable, and all parts of the dungeon had to be assembled logically.

The only problem with that is, the real world doesn’t work that way.  So why should the fantasy world?

I’ve seen many old buildings where the arrangement of at least a few of the rooms makes little or no sense.  I recall an old school building where the third floor rest rooms were like handball courts, a few toilets lined up along one wall, sinks on another, and a bunch of empty space.  I think they were converted classrooms.  In another building, a staircase goes up to a blank wall where a doorway was closed off some time in the past.

I’ve seen large houses subdivided into offices, or apartments, or both, with varying degrees of strangeness left from the conversion.  I lived in such a house once, where I had a good lock on my main door keeping people out, but no lock on the attic stair door; that attic being connected directly to the other upstairs apartment.  They could have slipped in to my apartment and robbed me (though they’d have gotten little for the effort) or I could have done the same to them.  Of course, I put a lock on that door.

The point is, life is messy.  Plans get changed, items get repurposed.

Well, the true believer in dungeon ecology would say, then you need to think about that too.  When you design a dungeon, think about all the different creatures that lived there and how they would have changed or expanded the dungeon.

Gah.  That gets complicated fast, and there’s a better way.

Random tables.

Seriously.  Any adequately complex dungeon design of this sort, put together with all that deep thinking (which is hidden from the players, of course) will look pretty random in the end.  So go with the flow.  Roll up your rooms using the random design system of your choice (there’s one in the BFRPG Core Rules), and then go through the design with your map in front of you and think about what parts are pure nonsense.  Dragons in 10’x10′ rooms, for instance.  Rearrange, or change, whatever really doesn’t work, but don’t sweat the details.

Creating a dungeon shouldn’t be so much work that nobody wants to do it.  So why make it that way?

Note:  There’s another good reason to use random rolls at least part of the time for adventure design.  Stay tuned next time for “Single Creator Syndrome.”

Swords & Wizardry

by Solomoriah

I can remember when I first saw Mythmere’s announcement of Swords & Wizardry on the Dragonsfoot forums.  I had a long familiarity with Mythmere’s work, gained by too much time spent on Dragonsfoot, and I expected anything he set out to do would be good.  I downloaded that early version and was suitably impressed.

It has been suggested that, on this Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, we should post something of use in an S&W game.  So here you go:

One of the most wonderful things about true Old School games is their broad interchangeability.  Any of the adventures, and many of the other materials, available on the Basic Fantasy RPG downloads page (and for that matter, in our Showcase and Workshop areas) should be usable in a Swords & Wizardry game with few or no actual changes, and the same applies to using S&W materials in a BFRPG game.

Converting a monster from S&W to BFRPG?  Take the S&W ascending AC figure and add 1 to it (necessary to line up with the different combat progression in BFRPG).  Taking a monster from BFRPG to S&W?  Subtract one from the AC, or if you like descending AC, subtract the AC from 20.  Most of the other stats will work directly, or with similar minor adjustments.

Not sure how to do it?  Ask, in the comments here or in our forum.  We’ll help you with the transition in either direction.

I’d like you to meet my friend Alan

by Solomoriah

Alan's Characters 800 DSC_9699

If you were to flip through the Core Rules, or Morgansfort, or Fortress, Tomb, and Tower, you’d find among the playtesters a fellow named Alan Jett.  I met Alan in high school, back around 1982; he was introduced by a mutual friend, one of the first players in my first RPG group, and in no time, not only had Alan joined our group, but we were playing at his house.

Alan was very reserved normally; I’ve known a number of people who described him as unfriendly, in fact.  He was really just rather shy, a consequence of being, well, nerdy.  Like me, unsurprisingly.  It was in the game world where he really opened up, though, and we got to see him the way he wanted to be seen.

One of his very earliest characters, possibly his first, was a human fighter named Faldren.  Faldren joined a party of adventurers who got lost in the Great Desert and ended up exploring some lost pyramid.  Faldren was a front-line fighter whenever he got the chance, fighting alongside Thorin the dwarf.  (No, neither of those names are particularly original.  Give us a break, we were kids.)

Late in 1983, having played what seemed like forever (as everything that lasts more than a month does at that age), we changed to a more “advanced” game, and I let Alan bring Faldren into that game.  We experimented with other systems too, superheroes and science fiction and other kinds of fantasy.  I soon realized that you never really see what someone wants to be until you play an RPG with them.

Alan wanted to be a hero.  He had hoped to serve in the military, but he had the sort of medical issues which would prevent that.  In real life he was a bit of a gun freak.  He hunted, something I never did with him (or anyone, hunting never appealed to me).  He’s the guy who convinced me to see the movie Shocker… someday I have to watch that one again.

I did what he wanted to, but could not.  I spent four years in the Air Force, gaining valuable experience that led to my current job.  When I got out and came home, we picked up the game as if we’d never quit.  I was still running “advanced” adventures, but I began to get an urge for something more, well, basic.

So, along with the rest of my game group, Alan became one of the playtesters for Basic Fantasy RPG.  He had two characters, sometimes played together when the group was too small, sometimes played separately; the miniatures pictured here are the ones he used.  One, a human fighter named Kyron Ristan, was almost the reincarnation of Faldren, even coming from the same dusty land of Kel south of the Great Desert.  The other was his dwarf cleric Tybrinn.

Like every other character I ever saw him play, they were heroes.  Another player in my group had the bright idea to play a necromancer, but he was very careful to keep the true nature of his powers secret as he knew if Alan’s characters learned what he was, he’d likely end up dead.  Alan was like that, no tolerance for evil.

In October 2012, days away from his 47th birthday, Alan succumbed to the cancer that he had been battling for several years.  He is missed at my game table and in my life.

Special Snowflake Syndrome

by Solomoriah

EDIT 1/26/2020:  This was originally posted in 2013; in the years since then, the meaning of “snowflake” as an epithet has changed, at least in the USA.  I’m not going to edit the post, but I do want to make sure that everyone understands that, in this article, “snowflake” is not intended to point a finger at people who believe in either liberal or conservative politics.  Rather, snowflake is used in the original sense, i.e. someone who wants to be “special” or “unique.”

While talking with a GM who is trying to bring his modern players into Basic Fantasy RPG, he mentioned how his players complain about the lack of class and race options in the game.  I won’t quote the player, as I don’t have his permission to do so, but in effect he said he didn’t feel his character was unique; he even indicated envy of another player who was apparently allowed to play a bugbear crusader.

This is, to me, an indication of something called “Special Snowflake Syndrome,” and sadly it happens in the real world almost as often as in games and fiction.  I visited the TV Tropes page on the subject and found this little tidbit:

Whether a character is interesting has nothing to do with how esoteric his background is and everything to do with how well he’s played.

I’ve mentioned in another post that, in the Old School, we (GMs) don’t write story.  Story is what happens when the players take up their dice and walk into our world.  Well, that sword has two edges… in the Old School, player characters don’t begin as special snowflakes, all unique.  They become that way by being played.

I am in no way saying you shouldn’t allow players to have characters of supplementary classes or races in your game.  What I’m saying is that you, as the GM, set the tone for your world.  Don’t allow a player to bring in a half-dragon shaman/acrobat just because he or she wants to be special and unique.  If you have many half-dragons in your world, and you allow shamans and acrobats (and you allow them as a combination), then yeah, you should expect your players to want to try that combo.  But don’t allow them just because the players beg and complain.

I played a character once, in a different game system, who was a human fighter.  He was the first character I played for any length of time, and to begin with, other than some decent ability rolls, he was hardly anything special.  But as time wore on, he became that way.  He did a service for the elves, and they gave him an uncommonly intelligent horse; he was fool enough to eat the heart of a strange creature that was half dragon, half basilisk, and upon surviving (one saving throw, at a penalty, and I was sweating bullets) he gained an extra measure of strength and an aura of power that awed ordinary people.  He could force a morale check by frowning, if his opponents had only a couple of hit dice or less.

He didn’t start out special.  He earned it, and by extension, I earned it.  It’s a far more interesting story than anything you can apply to a beginning character in your favorite modern game, because it actually happened (in the fictional sense, anyway).

What’s the difference, you ask?  If I had brought him in with those features already, and I tried to read the background to the GM or the other players, they’d be like, yada yada.  But the other players were there when we saved that elven village (they all got something too) and they were there when he foolishly ate the monster’s heart (and they were almost as interested as I was in the result of my saving throw).

We, that is, my group and I, all remember that classic adventure from the old days where everyone has the option to sit down and eat at the ghostly banquet.  You choose to eat each food, or drink each drink, as you see fit; each thing you eat or drink has some effect on you.  Some were good, some were bad, some were good if you made your save and bad if you didn’t, and if I remember right one was good if you failed your save, and neutral if you succeeded.  Some of the characters who went through that adventure (when I ran it for my “new” group a year or so back) are still around; one never needs to eat (but may if he wants to), while another can use ESP once per week.  Those characters, and their players, earned their dose of awesomeness in actual play.

Special snowflake syndrome is irritating enough in real life; why should we encode it in the rules of our games as well?