Friday, December 24, 2021

Happy Needfest! The Digital Darlene Greyhawk Map

Over on the Flanaess Geographical Society facebook group, I noticed that Zach Henderson started to post a clean up of the original Darlene Greyhawk map. One of the things he did was to go through the map with Photoshop and removed all the hexes. A monumental task. 

I realized that you could digitalize that version and make a crisp clean copy of Darlene's original Greyhawk map. I started talking with Zach and it turned out he broke up his work out into layers. We exchanged files and I started to digitalize the text, fills, and symbols.

Using a variety of tools managed to turn nearly everything on Darlene into a vector. This allow arbitrarily small or large maps to be made from the file. Plus you get a smaller file size for various resolutions.

I then added a few requested bells and whistles like 6 mile hexes, and a black and white version.

I was able to export as SVG file containing most of the map. The only thing that didn't come through are the forest and mountain drawings. The digitization of those layers did not translate well into a SVG  file. But I managed to export the rest and sort it into proper layers usable with the free Inkscape  illustration software and most other illustration and mapping programs.

This is released under the Wizards Fan Content Policy and the few original elements I have are released under the CC-BY-SA-NC 4.0 license.

The main file is a layered PDF. In testing this I found many PDF readers to be hit or miss on their ability to turn layers off and on. Adobe Reader definitely works. 

Digital Darlene Greyhawk Map (PDF and JPGs)

Rob's Note: I been received errata on the map. I uploaded the fixed PDF. It is Rev 12b. Appreciate everybody who sent me errata on Christmas Eve. 

Rob's Note #2: I applied more errata. Fixing up settlement symbols because of the lack of clarity in the original scan. Also restored the missing i in White Fang Bay. Finally I sorted out the issue with the mountain and forest fills in the SVG file. They are now present. The PDF and SVG are now Rev 12c. The JPGs been all updated.

Here is a jpg export of the full map.

Digital Darlene Greyhawk Map (JPG)

Everybody have a happy and safe holiday and Merry Christmas to one and all.

Original Darlene Style

Six Mile Hexes

Greyscale version

Friday, November 26, 2021

GURPS Nordlond Bestiary Kickstarter

Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic is having another GURPS related kickstarter. This time it is a bestiary for his Nordlond setting for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. Nordlond as setting is centered around the culture of Norse Vikings. Normally a RPG supplement like this is fairly setting specific. Some of the creature that Doug has preview have norse origins. But he also repurposes many common DnD style fantasy monsters give them a viking twist. Making this work useful for expanding the number of creature the referee has for a Dungeon Fantasy or GURPS campaign.

Doug explains it best.

The Dungeon Fantasy RPG is purposefully generic: It is Powered by GURPS, after all. The Norðlond setting is not generic, borrowing from the literary tradition of the Viking culture. The sagas of looting, pillaging, and raiding for wealth and fame made a natural match for a game with a tag-line of “Smash Evil for Fun and Profit.”

Even with that in mind, the monsters here can be—and should be—repurposed and transplanted to other campaigns. Many of them are thinly disguised transplants from other cosmologies anyway: The nautamaðr is clearly based on the Minotaur; the Blóðughúfa, or “bloody hat” is the redcap, a fixture of Northumbrian folklore, perhaps derived or parallel to the Irish fear dearg, meaning “red man,” said to wear a red coat and cap.  Animals—normal, giant, and dire—don’t require any work to move between campaigns. Much as the player characters pillage loot, GMs should pillage the worked examples here to make their lives easier when running games in any campaign.

My view that this type of work for GURPS needs to be support and encourage. GURPS is great as a toolkit however it needs the same range of support as other similar types of RPGs for referee who don't have the time to sift through all the options. The Nordlond bestiary helps a lot with this.

The Nordlond Bestiary also has a enemies section of NPC characters to use in a campaign.

Nordlond Bestiary and Enemies

Friday, November 19, 2021

3D printed Miniatures and a JE Shields Kickstarter

 James Shields has been drawing art for the OSR and RPGs for a while. I have used several of his pieces in my projects and backed several of his kickstarters

He is always trying new things. For example a project creating stock art that allows you to mix and match different elements to create science fiction art. 

His latest kickstarter is also about something different, Uncommon Monstrosities It offers 3D model files suitable for 3D printing but with the miniatures sculpted in JE Shields' distinctive style. 

I think it is a neat idea. With 3D printing becoming more popular I figured that folks to know about this. Recently I made some figures with Heroforge and paid for a couple of stl files. A friend of the mind, Josh, had a 3D printer and made the models. The results were acceptable. 

Yeah I know the shield is bent weirdly but having the rest of the mini exactly how I wanted it was great. The shield issue resulted because you have to consider proper support when the model is printed partway. Anyway thank to Josh for printing this for me! I am in the midst of painting them and will show them off once I am done.

Best of luck to James and his Uncommon Monstrosities kickstarter  and hope it works out great!

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The original release of Dungeons and Dragons was a supplement.

It occurred to me recently that the original release of Dungeons and Dragon is best viewed as a supplement. Not to the Chainmail Miniature wargame but to the unwritten rules, systems, and methods the miniature wargaming community of the early 70s were using.

After reading Playing at the World, Hawk and Moor, and other accounts of early miniature wargaming I had a better understanding of why the 3 LBBs of ODnD were organized the way they were. It makes  sense to me to view it as a supplement to what folks were doing at the time. And why everybody else who got a hold of it was scratching their heads over the missing parts.

What got me thinking about this was thinking about my Majestic Wilderlands Supplement. This was written for Swords and Wizardry. I didn't bother explaining what hit points, armor class, and levels were. My target audience was hobbyists playing Swords and Wizardry and other classic editions. I assumed that they would "get" the stuff I left undefined. I did receive a few criticisms and comments early on about where was rest of the system was. I explained that it was a supplement to another game. Luckily for me it was free to download.

With all the interest generated in the history of our hobby with the Game Wizards, I figure this would a interesting insight when weighing the original release against later editions of Dungeons and Dragons.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Concerning the OSR, Everything is All Right.

Over the summer and recently I seen posts and opinions on the direction of the Old School Renaissance or OSR. Just keep in mind that due to how it came about. A result of discussion and sharing on the Internet combined with judicious use of open content like the D20 System Reference Document. Because of this, differences in content, tone, and feel are not only expected but inevitable. 

Everybody has equal access to the foundational material and the situation is such that one can do quite a bit within the time one has for a hobby. Even when it something more involved like getting a work in shape for publication. 

The result is that the OSR is confusing kaleidoscope of many voices doing their own things. Which is a good thing in my book as this ensure that your voice will be heard if you have the interest and time. Plus thanks to digital technology it only take a few hundred folks interested in particular take to keep it going.

The downside is that if you have a specific interest and it not being handled by anybody then the only recourse available is to do it yourself. Encouragement or promotion might work but the only way to ensure that something gets done is for somebody somewhere to pick up the available tools and starting making stuff.

Which why what I said back in 2009 is still true today, the OSR belongs to those who do.

Finally remember what you see, including myself, is just a slice of a much larger effort. With nearly 8,000 items on DriveThruRPG alone, I would not trust anybody's assertion that the OSR is about anything in particular other than it that probably originated in a theme or set of mechanics associated with the various classic editions of the world's most popular roleplaying game. 

But if you look at specific groups and specific individuals, like myself, then that will not be the case, and that there will be a specific focus. For me it been mostly about sandbox campaigns, hexcrawl formatted settings, letting players trash settings ,and when needed using rules based off of Swords and Wizardry. Other folks have their own focus.

One particular thing I want to mention that matured quite a bit since 2009 are virtual tabletops. Even after face to face gaming resumes it former place, the development of VTT software, like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds continue to allow people separated by geography or circumsantces to get together and play the games they like and love.  And the best part you can switch easily between a VTT and face to face when time and circumstances permit. Both start with the same material and require pretty much the same type preparation although there are differences in how the session are handled. 

As always Fight On! and have fun with the stuff. It yours to do as you will whether it is playing, promoting, sharing, or publishing. 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

August Roundup, Original Chainmail Reprint and Harn Kingdom Hardbacks


The other day I spotted the 3rd edition of Chainmail on print on demand at DriveThruRPG. This is a set of medieval miniature wargame rules written by Gygax and Perrin. It fantasy appendix was an important resource used by Dave Arneson, Gary Gygax, and other in the early 70s before the release of Dungeons and Dragons. 

It price was pretty reasonable at $8.24 so I bought a copy. This is what I got compared to the original. I found the overall quality very good and the image scans to be quite acceptable. Overall the PoD version is a good thing to have if you want to give the wargame or the fantasy appendix as part of a regular campaign.

The interior with a illustration.

print on demand


Harn Kingdom Hardbacks

I also got in my Kingdom of Kaldor Hardback from the Columbia Games Kickstarter. In effort to expand the audience for Harn, Columbia Games has decided to release a series of hardback books each highlighting a kingdom of Harn. These books each contain key articles relating to the kingdom. Typically the Kingdom article itself, and it most important city.

For the Kingdom of Kaldor hardback it contains a 60 page article on  the Kingdom of Kaldor, and a 70 page article on the City of Tashal. Both articles are the latest versions which includes details on the personalities of Kaldor as well as geography and history. Kaldor in particular has a looming succession crisis when it king dies. 

The city of Tashal has a long history starting when it was the Elven city of Meyvinel, continuing through when it was Kelapyn-Anuz the eastern outpost of Lothrim the Foulspawner to the present where it is now the royal city of Tashal, the seat of the Kings of Kaldor. Like all recent Harn city it contains many detailed floor plans of various building.

While pricey compared to other RPG companies offering, the strength of the Harn product line is it general utility. It focus on medieval fantasy means that is serves as a good foundation of ready to use content for many fantasy campaigns.

I like the loose leaf format to keep thing organized for reference. But I got the books through the Kickstater because they are easier to use when reading. Plus now that got the Kaldor hardback it looks to be durable as well. 

The Kingdom of Melderyn

Soon after I got the Kaldor hardback, Columbia has started a kickstarter for the Kingdom of Melderyn. While Kaldor is very much a Game of Thrones ground type setting, Melderyn has a long tradition of supporting and incorporating arcanist and mages within it's society. It also controls the main port of entry into Harn and its capital city of Cherafir sees merchants and travelers from throughout the known world outside of Harn.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The popularity of tabletop roleplaying and explosive growth in digital sales. Interesting DrivethruRPG numbers yet again.

 So recently I visited a Barnes and Nobles for the first time in forever. While looking through the store I came across this.

and in a bit of a surprise there was a table full of merchandising much of it typical of folks trying to follow the latest fad. 

So DnD and roleplaying are a thing again not longer relegated (for now) to a single shelf in the back corner of the science fiction and fantasy section.

So this got me thinking about something I haven't done in a while. Crunching the order numbers from my sales to get a sense of how DriveThruRPG and other Onebookshelf sites are doing.

I posted on this back in February of 2014 and in May of 2015

So this weekend I went through my sales and pulled the numbers. Also I wanted to see what effect the pandemic had so I did a month by month starting in December of 2019.

It is rare that a day goes by that somebody doesn't download a copy of the free PDF of Blackmarsh. So for my data, I can get a order number on January 1st (or the first of the month) and produce the above. But keep in mind that this doesn't show absolute sales only relative sales. Many order numbers are probably internal orders used to manage OBS day to day business. And these order are across the various various OBS storefronts like Wargames Vault. 

So it looks like Covid pandemic had an effect as April of 2020 and May of 2020 showed sales well above the usual month to month growth.  With 1,086,556 orders processed in April and 828,972 orders processed in May. 

Year to year, digital sales have achieved phenomenal growth and has grown by an order of magnitude (10x) since 2008. 

If folks want to crunch the numbers for themselves I provided a link to the spreadsheet below.

Order Numbers for DriveThruRPG

Here what I see when I run a sales report. I blacked out the customer #. 


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Food for thought concerning MegaDungeons

James over on Grognardia talks about the list of upcoming Greyhawk products that can be found in Dragon #55. 

Later in the post he focuses on this tidbit

As with most extensive dungeon complexes, much is developed and kept in the head due to actual play, and some areas are so difficult as to be impossible for those not used to our DM style.

A while ago I talked about Minimal Dungeons inspired by my reading up books on the early days of the hobby and this picture of Gary Gygax refereeing where we see part of his notebook.

Minimal Dungeons

Minimal Dungeon Redux

As food for thought, perhaps a megadungeon "fit for sale" shouldn't be focus on presenting a product formatted like a tournament style dungeon. A dungeon map with every room keyed and written with a description. Rather a megadungeon should be focused on teaching the reader how the author ran the megadungeon. Accompanied by any aides the author used whether it is a complete map, geomorphs, or a sketch. 

Keep in mind that the work for a dungeon (or even one of my Blackmarsh style sandbox settings) grows by the square of the area covered. A map twice the size is not twice the work but rather four time the works if one try to format it like a tournament style dungeon.

When it comes to the Greyhawk Dungeon, we do know that Gygax was able to teach how to run it at least once with Rob Kuntz. My opinion that any thing we can do as humans can be taught or at least explained to other humans. 

Personally I was able to do a lot with the map to Tegel Manor because of the numerous notes and the room labels. The key served as a reference to specific content like monsters, and treasure. Occasionally a room would have a paragraph if it was a special encounter. What Tegel was missing was commentary and notes by Bob Bledsaw on how he ran the adventure. Plus a page or two page introduction for novices to running a megadungeon or for less experienced referees would be a good thing to have. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Adventures in the original Wilderlands of High Fantasy.

 I made another map. This one showing where all the known adventures and supplements were set in Judges Guild Wilderlands of High Fantasy prior to it first shutdown in the early 80s. 

Note that some of the great JG Adventures like Dark Tower, The Thieves of Badabaskor, the ADnD modules, etc. don't have a Wilderlands location and largely presented as their own thing. Even some of the locations depicted in Book of Treasure Maps 1 to 3 don't have a Wilderlands location. But all the ones that have a location are noted on the below map. Just open the image in a new tab to get the full scale view. 

Plus many of the above modules gained a location in Necromancer Games Wilderlands Boxed Set and Goodman Games remake for 3.5.  For example Badabaskor is located in Hex 2906 on Map 2 Barbarian Altanis. 

Link to Map Image

Friday, June 11, 2021

OSRIC - Available on DriveThruRPG

Over the years the sites and means of sharing digital content have changed and OSRIC was among the early adopters. The First Edition Society started with using its website and then shortly used Lulu

Now the First Edition Society has released OSRIC and Monster of Myth on DriveThruRPG.

I hope this raises the visibility of the one of the two critical rulesets that ignited the Old School Renaissance as we know it today.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Random OD&D Tables updated

 I updated the random ODnD tables on to include the following

  • Updated Unguarded Treasure to the full range of level (1 to 13+)
  • Updated To add Generate Magic Sword Only
  • Added Dungeon Room Content Generation
Additional web based tools I have are

DnD Combat Simulator (only two folks whacking at each other but handles any edition)
Majestic Wilderlands RPG Tables (only treasure generation at the moment)


Saturday, May 8, 2021

Delvers to Grow: One of GURPS 4e long standing issues fixed

My friend Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic has launched a new kickstarter for GURPS called Delvers to Grow. It is a series of options and templates that allow players to quickly make GURPS characters at home and during organized play like conventions. It supports a variety of power levels Including "Exceptional" Character at 62 points, "Heroic" Characters at 125 points, as well as providing intermediate steps up to the 250 pt "Larger than Life" default of the Dungeon Fantasy RPG and GURPS Dungeon Fantasy.


Let cut to chase, GURPS as a system doesn't have a great reputation within the hobby. It it largely viewed as being pricey, complicated and a lot of work compared to other system and other generic systems. My opinion is that the problem is not because of the system but because of presentation. Most hobbyists i.e. potential customers of GURPS, don't have time to sit down with a toolkit to develop the system they are going to use for their campaign. They want to learn a few things, make some characters, make some adventures and get on with the campaign.

Delvers to Grow I feel is a major addition to the work that been done in the past decade to make GURPS more approachable. By making character generation for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG and fantasy campaigns, fast, quick, and easy.


 In 2004, GURPS 4th edition was released. In the new few years a series of excellent supplement was put out to support the major genres, like Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, and a major overhaul made superheroes campaigns in GURPS far more interesting than 3e. 

However the core books and initial supplements doubled down on GURPS as a toolkit. Which made GURPS 4e far less approachable than previous editions especially 2e. In addition GURPS 4e had a lot less of what I call ready made content lists compared to other RPGs, notably items like fantasy monsters and magic items. 

With 3rd edition this was largely solved by the shear scope of the line.

Starting in 2008 these issue were beginning to be addresed. The issue of ready made content was being covered by product lines like GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, GURPS Monster Hunter, and GURPS Action. While the accessibility issue was addressed in large part by the release of the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

Except for one fairly significant issue. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy and Dungeon Fantasy RPG were centered around starting out as 250 point "Larger than Life" characters. Whereas in previous edition and for more of the folks I knew who played GURPS the default was 100 to 150 point Heroic level characters. 

4th edition
3rd edition

This showed up in actual play when trying to use Dungeon Fantasy material especially the monsters. One had to be careful otherwise player characters would be overwhelmed. But overall both GURPS Dungeon Fantasy and the Dungeon Fantasy RPG were a win as far reducing the amount of work needed to run a GURPS campaign.

So Delvers to Grow?

Delvers to Go, make the Dungeon Fantasy RPG far more approvable. You decide on a basic approach to your character whether you are Swift, Strong, or Smart. Then start picking various packages of options to build up your final character. Unlike the the 250 point Dungeon Fantasy templates there are not a lot to write down for each keeping it manageable especially for first timers. 

For fans of starting out 250 point "Larger than Life" character, it an accessible way of customizing one character within the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

World in Motion: Breathing Life into your City State

 In my Majestic Fantasy Basic Rules, I touched briefly on the idea of that the setting has a life of it own. Most of I wrote was about prep, before and during the campaign. I didn't touch on things one can do at the table to breath life into the setting. This following is one thing that hopefully you find useful that makes players feel like they are part of a living breathing world with a life outside of what they do.

The specific issue I will be dealing with is life within a fantasy urban setting. The example I will be using will be based on Judges Guild City State of the Invincible Overlord.

One effective technique I use  is to develop a patter to describe what going on particularly in urban areas. I don't attempt to describe everything unless asked. I limit it to things that "caught" the attention of the PCs. The time you go downtown or to a crowded area look at what you notice as you go about your business. Then take a long look around at everything else. You will find that you have a natural filter that so that only certain things come to your attention. Because of this I feel comfortable in highlighting only a few details as the player traverse the city. If the players specifically want to observe in detail then I will paint the full picture around them.

To explain how I do this I made a graphics to illustrate what it is I do using the City State of the Invincible Overlord. The map I use is on the right and is fully keyed. The map the players see is on the right. Either laid out on the table, or up on the screen if using a VTT. There will be a marker on the player map to mark their current position.

The initial situation is that the party is current eating breakfast at the Seahawk Tavern. They decide to pay a visit to the Sorcerer's Supply House. I look at my map and figure out it would take four minutes to get there. Each square is a 120'. The party can move two squares a minute.

The urban encounter table I use has you rolling every minute. I will making six rolls: one to see if anything happens in the tavern while leaving, one to see if there anything going on outside of the tavern. Then four more to see what happens along the way. The reason for the first roll is that for the purpose of encounter the Tavern is it own thing. The reason for the second roll is that players don't know what they will find once they leave the tavern. So I roll to see if anything is going on when they exit. The rest are normal periodic encounter rolls.

I rolled the following.

  1. No Encounter
  2. Foreigner Urchins/Children To/from market/church/work Seeking/In a duel/fight/etc.
  3. No Encounter
  4. No Encounter
  5. No Encounter
  6. Thieves Guild: Pursecutting/Stalking a mark/etc.

This how it would play out.

click to view at full size

The players can deal with or ignore each of these situation as they see fit. It not uncommon for one or two players to decide they want to check out or deal with something while the rest of the party moves on. In which case I handle the split using a round robin technique. I will spend 5 to 15 minutes with a group and then turn my attention to the next group. Going back and forth as needed.

The Dots on the right hand map roughly marks where I would pause the party (or character token) and describe something.

It take some practice but highly effective in giving the players the sense they are part of a larger world. 

One problem I had until recently is the number of encounter rolls I needed to make. After running two campaigns using Adventures in Middle Earth, I really liked their journey rules. The most applicable part is where you roll for the number of events based on the length of the journey using a logarithmic scale. This means you will have journey 10 times a long before you get the twice the encounters. 

I am working on how this will work for a city adventure. The general gist so far is.

  • One the same street: 1d3-1 encounters
  • Within the same quarter: 1d4 encounters.
  • Across the city: 1d6 encounters. 

Afterwards I sprinkle the encounters along the player's route where they would make sense. Sometime it more or less evenly spaced. Other times they can be bunched up around a single block of buildings.

Hope folks find this useful.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Another Harn Day: The City of Azadmere and Kingdom of Kaldor Hardcover Kickstarter.

City of Azadmere

Columbia Games released their latest Harnquest the dwarven city of Azadmere. If you needed a dwarven city in your campaign this is the one to get. Compared to the original release the NPCs have been fleshed out and numerous adventure hooks been added to proved reasons for (mostly) human PCs to adventure there. 

Kingdom of Kaldor Kickstarter

Except in a few rare instances Harn has been presented as a series of loose leaf article designed to be placed in  a three ring binder.  Now that Columbia Game is nearly done refreshing and updated their entire list of Harn article, they decided to take selected articles and kickstart them as a limited edition hard cover book.

The first up is the Kingdom of Kaldor Hardcover. 

The Kingdom of Kaldor is an isolated large feudal realm in eastern Harn. Of all the different kingdoms on Harn, Kaldor has the most "Game of Throne" potential as King Miginith is growing more ill with no clear successor. The intrigue along with elements from the surrounding wilderness can make for a interesting campaign set on the Island of Harn.

The book has two articles bound into it. The first is the 60 page Kingdom of Kaldor Article and the second is the 70 page City of Tashal article. Tashal being Kaldor's capital and largest city.

For the Causal Hobbyists

The other benefit of the kickstarter that they are offering for $1, the Harnworld PDF, Harndex PDF, and the Harnworld Map PDF to ALL backer levels. So if you want to see what Harn is about this is a good way of doing so.

Wrapping it up

I enjoyed Harn for over 35 years not only for the setting itself but for the sheer amount of useful material it provide for any fantasy setting with medieval tropes. Harnworld and Harndex were useful to me in their original form 35 years ago and still just as useful in the current edition.

And if you want more Harn goodness check up the numerous fan uploads on and especially the Harn Pottage series.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Small Islands of Wonder, Magic and Society Part III

 Part II

After the end of the last post, the world of magic is dominated by clerics, religion, and divine magic. With the exception of the Elves and their allied culture where a tradition of arcane wizardry was developed along divine magic. 

As world rediscovered bronze and later iron technology. Arcane magic remained in the background. Cultures and religion proved to be a barrier but not an impenetrable wall. Independent discoveries and trade with the elves slowly spread arcane knowledge, spells, and rituals. Like in Earth's history the endless summer of small regional cultures doing their own things was to be shattered by the rise of the empires.

The Rise of the Viridians

Despite being divinely constructed and guarded by the Great Dragons, the entrance to Abyss that chromatic crystals guarded was a location in the world that could discovered and explored. Chance and circumstance combined with evil intent to allow a powerful wizard to steal one of the chromatic crystals, the Ebon Flame. The story of that wizard and the war against him is epic but is a tale for another time.

The theft of the crystal left a gap within the ward. and a thousand years later, the weakest of demons the Green Lords or the Viridians found the gap and they were just weak enough that they could use it to escape. Once free they sailed away and founded an empire. Soon other races including the Elves came into conflict with the Viridians and war broke out.

For magic, the Viridians had the first major independent tradition of arcane magic outside of Wizardry. Demons had no access to the divine as they considered themselves enemies of creation. So they developed arcane rituals into a high art including the development of the powerful 7th to 9th level rituals.  

The Rise and Fall of Empires

The Viridians did little to endear themselves to humans and the other races. They believe themselves to be lords of creations and sought to enslave whole cultures at every opportunity.  But their numbers dwindled and like neighboring cultures their realms experienced a rise, a fall, a dark age, and rebirth.  In both the Majestic Wilderlands and the Majestic Fantasy Realms there were three empires over the centuries. The downside of how the Viridians acted that for many cultures, arcane magic became associated with demons and evil.  It wasn't until the rise of the next great empire that arcane magic came into it's own.

That empire was the Ghinorian Empire in the Majestic Wilderlands, and the Bright Empire in the Majestic Fantasy Realms. Both considered themselves universal empire espousing ideals to appeal to all people regardless of cultures. Both had a dominant religion that preached these ideals as divinely ordained and both were highly successful in spreading to all corners of the main continent.

Like most religions in other cultures, the empire had a tradition of Arcanists subordinated to the church. One specialty found among others in various orders of scholars and monks. The success of the empire meant contact with many different cultures including the Elves and their tradition of Wizardry. And the Viridians and their tainted  tradition of arcane magic. This widespread contact lead to renaissance of learning and scholarship spearheaded by the church.

But as the centuries rolled on, the empire developed cracks and faltered. Both versions weakened by civil war, and both had their death blow delivered by barbarian invasions. In the chaotic centuries after the fall, the church shattered and it adherent left to fend on their own. The old arcanist used their knowledge of elven wizardry, the rituals of over a dozen cultures, and Viridian own tradition scrubbed of any demonic taint to create a new form of arcane magic, the Magic User. Freed by the demand and constraints of religion the early magic-users were able to prefect the new way of casting spells and teach it to others. 

Like a wizard a magic user performed mediations to memorize a spell form that could be filled with energy and released as spell. But instead of internalizing the forms, they made a crucial innovation of the spell book. The use of the spell book allowed many more forms to kept in a magic user's mind compared to a wizard. In addition it only took a short amount of time to rememorize new forms. Although the number and powers of the memorized forms depended on the skill of the magic orders.

The Magical Orders.

Art by Richard Luschek
The centuries after the empire's fall saw the rise of various magic orders. The Order of Thoth arose from some of the early magic-users banding together for protection. The Order of Sarrath was an alternative tradition of ritual casters that became an important part of the Ochre Empire one of the largest successor realms to emerge from the collapse of the Bright Empire. The various viking cultures developed an order of ritual casters using runes. Alongside these new order Wizards from the elves and their allies and Viridian artificers who used the old form of ritual magic to create magic items.

All of the orders are still finding their way. The present day of my campaigns in both the Majestic Wilderlands and the Majestic Fantasy Realms is set during the time where these orders are coming into their own. The turmoil's of their early history is past and each have established a place in their respective cultures.  

The wider world is also coming into its own as the various realms have move past the dark age after the fall of the empire. Commerce and finance has step alongside land as a source of wealth and power. And nobody know what the next few centuries will bring either for the realms or magic. 

The Mechanics

Magic Users

The same as any classic edition. Additionally magic users can cast 10 minute rituals from their spellbooks. The maximum level they can cast as a ritual is equal to 1/2 of the high spell level they can cast (rounded down). If a magic-user can cast 4th level spells they can also cast 2nd level spells as ritual. In this area magic-users regressed compared to the older ritual caster due to the focusing on memorizing spells. 

Order of Thoth

The same as magic users above. In addition they learn the Shield of Magic which confers 20% magic resistance per level until it maxes out at 100% at 5th level when they become a master in the order. I recommend limiting this to non-damaging spells that require a save like charm person. Not to spells like fireball or stinking cloud that create something else that does the damage. The Shield of Magic was developed to protect mages from being controlled as a slave by another mage. 

Order of Sarrath

This is a order of the ritual only spell casters known as Theurgists. As an official arm of an empire dedicated to worship of the dragon god of war and order (think lawful evil) these spellcasters learn to cast joint rituals. They can combine their caster levels for an increased spells effect. For example 5 5th level Theurgists can cast a 25D fireball.

Rob's Note: I have to admit, I thought this would work out better than it did. At the time I thought there were a fair amount of spells in the classic editions like fireball where they were more effective when cast by higher level magic users. This turned out the exception not the rule for the classic editions. 

But would out work out fine if 5e is being used. In 5e most spells are more potent when cast through a higher level spell slot.


This is another order of ritual only spell casters originated among the dwarves and human viking cultures who used runes. Instead of scrolls runecaster can scribe runes that function the same. Used the spell is cast and the rune disappears. The difference is that runes are more compact so Runecaster can make runewands or runestaffs with many runes on them. And they are more lasting than paper being carving into a durable material like wood or stone. Runes for a spell take up around three inches of length for a staff or wand. A three inch by three inch square on a flat surface.


Charms are like scrolls except they remain after being used. They cost double (money and time) what a scroll costs and half to recharge (money and time). They also can be activated by non-spellcasters as one-use magic item. For runecasters they are an advanced form of runes.

Wrapping it up.

My hope with this short series of essays on magic and society provide some useful insight and inspirations for your own campaign. The history of magic I outlined is not the only way it could have played out. With different premises and history turning in a different all kinds of interesting possibilities emerge. 

One thing to keep in mind if you believe that a magic utopia is inevitable. Once way to sidestep that issue to set the campaign prior to the time in which the utopia will happen. Everything has a beginning and Rome wasn't build in a day. 

Finally this material is also preview of the upcoming Lost Grimoire of Magic. The next book in my Majestic Fantasy RPG series with will debut late this summer after the Wild North is released.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Small Islands of Wonder, Society and Magic Part II

Part I

In my previous post I discussed the status of magic at the beginning of history within my setting, the Majestic Fantasy Realms. Here I will discuss the aftermath of the Dawn War and how it gave rise to the first great era of magic. 

Prior to the Dawn War all magic was arcane and ritual based. The gods were known as the Lords of Creation and functioned as guides, teachers and coaches rather than as a source of divine mystery. Their roles were to prepare the two races, humans and elves, for the roles they were to play in the newly created world. 

As recounted in the last post, the demons were imprisoned in the Abyss with the chromatic crystals and as a result magic in a concentrated form was cycled throughout the world. Providing a source of energy to cast spells within seconds instead of minutes.

Faith, Signs and Portents.

The Lords of Creations decided that their close presence to the mortal races was one of the primary causes for the rise of the Demons. After the Abyss was sealed, they withdrew from the world and only interacted with those who followed their philosophies. Communicating through signs and portents, they sought to teach through faith instead of direct instruction. In doing this they changed from being the Lords of Creation into gods with religion and faiths.

Their clerics became the first true spellcasters in the world. Those who developed or had the strong faith found they had power as well. They were given divine insight to use the new sources of magical power coursing throughout the world. Through meditation and prayer they could memorize specific spells. Developing the forms in their mind. Then while casting filling the forms with magical energy and finally releasing the form and energy as a spell. As the cleric became more experience their divine insight developed to allow them to cast more potent spells. 

However, power had a price, and that price was belief and faith. Belief in what they were taught and faith that it was right and real and not madness or the whisper of demons rising from the Abyss. Without faith and belief, there was no divine insight, without divine insight the ability to cast spell within seconds disappeared.

As religions developed and took hold, the Cleric became the dominate spellcaster overshadowing the old arcane ritual casters. A major contributing factor was the Shield of Faith, which made Clerics invulnerable against spells and rituals cast without a god's divine insight unless the spell manifested something in the physical world like fire, ice, stone, or lightning. In many cultures the ways of the old ritual based arcane spellcasting was lost. Except for one group, the Elves and their allies.

The Elves and Wizardry

Within a few generations only the elves preserved any memory of the time before the Dawn War. Like other cultures, the god also only spoke to the elves in signs and portents. But among the elves and their allies it did not developed into a full blown religion but into various philosophies one committed their lives too. Those who committed to one of the divine philosophies also received the divine insight to learn and cast spells within seconds. 

But because elves still remembered, they and their allies also still practiced and more important continue to develop the old arcane rituals. They learned how to cast rituals with divine insight separate from the forms they created in their mind with their daily meditations and prayers. They could cast divine rituals without a having to write them into ritual book.

And the elves and their allies developed a way to casting arcane spells within seconds called wizardry. Through a complex series of meditations, rituals, and study, Wizards could internalize spell forms to fill with energy to cast at a moment’s notice. However, it took practice and further study to be able to do their more than once a day and with more potent spells. Even then the Wizard were very limited in how many spells that could be internalize and the process of internalizing a form took years even decades. An issue that wasn’t present with divine insight. 

Wizardry did not spread far beyond the elves and cultures allied with the elves for two reasons, the laborious study involved which was fine for immortal elves but took up much of a human’s lifetime. The second and more tragic, was that many rejected interaction with the elves and their allies when elves began to contact others cultures again a thousand years after the Dawn War. The worldview of the elves and their allies was seen as godless to cultures dominated by religion. 

Hedge Mages and Arcanists

Magic in concentrated form flowed through everyday life. It would manifest in physical objects known as viz only to dissipate at dawn the next day. Creatures, some known as monsters, developed ways of harnessing magical energies to better survive. Outside of the elves, religion and the clerics were dominate but over the centuries people both within a faith and outside were continually rediscovering arcane magic and ritual spellcasting. Most times it was a curiosity and limited to a few weak rituals. In some cultures an underground tradition of Hedge Mages developed who lived on the fringes of society and passed down hard won rituals from master to apprentice over generation. Mostly making a living by brewing potions and elixirs for the few who found them. When the culture’s religion found out about them the reaction was nearly always negative and many died after being called heretics and apostates. 

Some religions allowed orders of arcanists to develop and catalog arcane rituals under the strict supervision of the religious hierarchy. Arcanists were rarely a separate order but instead a specialty among scribes, librarians, and record-keeper. 

The Dawn of the Magic User

As the centuries rolled on and history unfolded, chance and circumstance allowed cracks to form in the dominance of magic by clerics. In the next post I will conclude this series by talking about the events that lead to the rise of the magic-user.

The Mechanics
For Swords and Wizardry the cleric is as written. I have a few additional wrinkles like the Shield of Faith which acts as a form of limited magic resistance in the Majestic Fantasy RPG. 

Viz is the same as spelled out in the Basic Rules for the Majestic Wilderlands RPG. One viz allows the cast to cast a 1st level spells without losing it from memory or using a spell slot (if a wizard, see below). It also reduces the cost of creating a magic item. But a spellcaster can only keep so much viz intact without it dissipating at dawn. Generally equal to half their level rounded down plus their intelligence or wisdom bonus.

The Wizards works similarly to the D20 Sorcerer where the spellcasters do not have to memorize spells but instead learn spells known and cast them any way they want until their spell slots are used up for the day.

For Swords and Wizardry I went with the following table instead the one with the D20. They can cast arcane rituals with a spell level equal to 1/2 the high level spell they can case (rounded down). So Wizard can begin to cast first level arcane rituals at 3rd level when they learn how to learn and cast 2nd level spells. 

Spells Per Day

Spell Known

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Small Islands of Wonder, Magic and Society Part 1

On one of the posts I made on social media, Ian Borchardt created a great phrase for how I view magic's effect on the cultures of the Majestic Fantasy Realms.

One of the big problems is that magic in a lot of campaigns tends to be non-scalable, being focused in individuals. Thus I suspect that as a result the effects of magic would tend to cluster tightly, rather than spread through the society. Small islands of wonder in what is otherwise a less developed world (since there would be less incentive for overall development).

Over a decade ago I wrote a post speaking in general about some of issue surrounding magic and society.

Magic and Society (Feb 2010) 

I wrapped the post up with this.

There are a lot of dials here you can play with and the results is that many types of settings can result even when they share the same assumptions I am making. By doing this type of exercise you find yourself considering the different possibilities. This is can ultimately to a more interesting and fun game for you and your players.

Since then I done more work detailing my setting both as the Majestic Wilderlands and as the Majestic Fantasy Realms.  Hopefully a brief overview will serve as an example of some of the thing I touch on that post.

One the things I developed is the technology of magic. How was it discovered and how did it developed into its present form as outlined by the system. Currently the Vancian system found in ODnD's 3 LBBs. 

Originally in the Majestic Fantasy Realms level of magic was low, spells could only be cast through laborious 10 minute rituals. The range of spells was similar those found in the 3 LBBs of ODnD. Magic could be found in physical form as viz and that would allow a spell to be cast within seconds. Related spells could be cast quickly if made into a scroll or a magic item.

After the Dawn War, the Demons were imprisoned in the Abyss. Each of the surviving gods created a crystal. Nine of them were used to seal the entrance of the Abyss, and the tenth was the master Chromatic Cystal.

In order to power them, the gods had the crystals channel the ambient magic into their crystalline structure and then release it back out into the world. Creating a self sustaining loop the keep the demon imprisoned. A side effect this that were now flows of magic throughout the world. Concentrated enough to allow magical energy to be gathered quickly and released as a spell within seconds. 

The nine crystals "tainted" the flow emerging from them creating nine distinct forms of magic. Each form reflected the personality and powers of the god that created the crystal. These nine forms plus the original ambient magic became known as the Ten Arts of Magic.

Like our world's zodiac, they became associated with specific images and colors. The Claw (Black), The Eagle (Red), The Flame (Orange), The Forge (colorless, original ambient magic), The Hearth (Green), The Lantern (Purple), The Skull (White), The Storm (Indigo), The Tree (Blue), The Web (Yellow).

The Mechanics

So what does it means in terms of Swords and Wizardry? I created the following additions*

  • The maximum spell level the spellcaster could cast as ritual is determined by their level. 
  • Rituals take ten minutes to cast and require the presence of the spellbook.
  • Ritual spell caster can't memorize spells. 
  • The ritual spell caster had to have scribed the spell into their spell book. For pre-literate societies arcane spellcasters used natural media like cave walls, bark, stone, and sometimes dried tablets of clay to scribe mystical pattern that enabled to learn the spells. 
  • Magic items can be used in seconds within the time of a single combat round. Thus any spell used in combat had to be scribed as a scroll (or similar object), a wand, or a magic item.
  • One additional wrinkle I will touch on later is that if the ritual spell caster has viz, magic in physical form, then a spell can be casted within seconds. The number of viz needed is equal to the level of the spell. Viz is ephemeral and the spell caster can only maintain a number of viz equal to half of their level (rounded up) plus their intelligence bonus. Excess viz dissipates at the next sunrise, unless they have a special magic item called a Arcane Coffer.  
  • Spells are kept the as they are written in the book**. 
  • Each spells is associated with an art of magic. 
  • If cast with viz associated with a specific art or a spellcaster with a focus in that art. The spell has an increased effect***. 
*Rob's Notes: Ritual only spellcaster are deliberately designed to be weaker than normal vancian style magic-users. The only thing they are better at is that they are able to caster higher level spells at high level as ritual. A normal Magic-User can only learn to cast up to 4th level spells as rituals when they learn to memorize 8th level spells. 

**Rob's Notes: In the Majestic Fantasy RPG, I have rewritten some spells for clarity. Functionally they work the same as how they are presented in Swords and Wizardry.

***Rob's Notes: I was reluctant to this. Originally my idea was to have viz or a focus in an art equate to a +1 level caster bonus. A 8th spell caster with a focus in the Art of the Flame would cast fireball with 9d6 instead of 8d6. But it turns out there not many spells like Fireball in Swords and Wizardry, so I went through each spell and gave a small bonus effect if casted with a focus in an art or viz of that type. Usually increase in duration, range, etc.

Part 2

Monday, March 15, 2021

Farewell to Magic, A brief essay on the economics of a fantasy setting.

 In my previous post, I talked about how resolved the issue of how to price real estate for when my players want to buy not build. Along with sharing it here, I posted links on facebook and other chat groups I frequent. 

One poster posted an interesting comment about the lack of profit motive my post implied. One part stood out as a reminder of how I view the Majestic Fantasy Realms.

Without any profit there is no growth and they would stay in the Middle Ages forever.

Over the decades, even before the internet, sometime I got into debates over how a fantasy setting would work, especially with my friends who knew how I ran the Majestic Wilderlands. One thread of the conversation was the impact of magic. Some who I talked to believe that magic would guarantee prosperity, create what we would now call a post scarcity society.  

My counterpoint, that the Industrial Revolution wasn't just about about technology but also ideas of how people can organize themselves or conduct business with each other. Without those idea, all what would happen with magic is the lives of an elite few would get better while the rest of the populace would have marginally better lives like the introduction of the horse collar allow formally difficult to cultivate lands to be brought under the plow to grow food. I usually pegged the average effect of magic at 20% better.

But it was just a guess based on instinct on what I read about history.

Then a few years back, I read a book that I felt gave my opinion a little more weight. 

It called a Farewell to Alms: A brief economic history of the world. 

The thesis as far as my post goes, is that prior to the industrial revolution. Improvements in technology or society only resulted in a temporary increase in prosperity. With more food and better living condition, the birth rate rose. Within in a handful of generations, the population grew to the point where living conditions were no better than before, except now there are more people. 

One main reason is that the pace of technological and society productivity prior to the industrial age could not keep pace with the birth rate except in brief burst. Like the introduction of the horse collar allowed areas with thick heavy soils to be cultivated easily greatly expanding where crops could be grown.

In this regard magic is no different than technology. The spread of using magic throughout a culture would bring about a temporary prosperity, which will bring about an increase in birth rate, which over time would bring everything back to the way it was except now there are more people.

That is until conditions are such that ideas, technology, (and magic since we are talking fantasy) come together to form an industrial magical revolution. Where productivity increases outstrip birth rate for decades and centuries.

As I been saying for years to friends, the Majestic Fantasy Realms is set in the time period before all that happens. But it nice that my guess has better foundation in fact. 

It is a good book and I recommend it highly. It also goes into why the first industrial revolution happen which may provide inspiration for a different kind of fantasy campaign set during that time. If that interest you I recommend getting Susanna Clark's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. A story of English magic set during the Napoleonic Wars. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Construction and Real Estate in a Fantasy Medieval Setting

Once the treasure is won where can it be spent? One popular choice is to build or buy a stronghold, whether it is a lonely wilderness outpost, a crossroad inn, or a building in a bustling city state. 

Buying versus Building

If the campaign is set in a city or town, often there isn’t room for new construction. Instead the characters will have to purchase an existing structure or at the very least a vacant lot. 

Unlike the modern era, people in medieval and ancient time didn’t generally view the buying and selling of property as a means of profit. While specifics varied between cultures, examples include property viewed as a having a just price (see Thomas Aquinas), or the property was part of a bundle of rights individuals were due in their culture because of tradition, law, or social standing.

For my campaigns, I simplified this. Purchase of property in most cultures of my setting is viewed as an investment made for the income it produced. Not unlike buying a share of stock in a company. The value may go up and down based on larger events, but like a stock it has a specific value that is bought or sold at. Therefore, for these rules the price to buy a stronghold is the same as its construction cost. It reflects its fair price.

This sounds odd to a modern reader. In the modern era, a real estate developer will buy property, hire a contractor for construction and then in turn sell the property at a price higher than what the developer paid.

In the setting I created, there are no real estate developers. Those with the wealth to buy real estate and building would be outraged if somebody tried to sell them land or buildings for more than its fair value. 

Instead buildings are built as investments by those who plan to use them. A lord builds a castle as the lynchpin of a domain, a craftsman constructs or renovates a shop on a lot. 

When sold, the buyer pays only the actual value of the investment. What society considers at the time its “fair” value. Buying and selling at a profit is reserved for grubby merchants dealing in various commodities or luxuries like grain, spices, silk, or (gasp) magic items. Even then they are only tolerated not praised by the nobles, clergy, and peasants. 

Keep in mind that the fair value can rise and fall depending on local conditions. It also varies from its construction price if its use to produce income radically changes. 

If there is little difference in cost in buying versus building, why build at all? 

First because land and building are viewed as an income producing investment, the market is limited, people of the times are conservative about losing a source of income, and the property was often tied to a bundle of rights reflecting a social station in the culture like a knight’s manor. Loss of the property could mean the loss of one’s social standing. This meant the property you what may not be available at any reasonable price. Hence the need to build. In addition, if you build you also get to tailor the land or building to your specification rather than having to deal with already there.

It is possible to build at a cost lower than its fair value if you control the basic resources that are needed. Namely the right to harvest wood from a forest, and control of a stone quarry. Without needing to pay the market rate for lumber and stone, you can easily build at 75% of the cost or lower.

Not much in the way of mechanics in this post. But thinking about this and doing the research has allowed me to solve a long standing issue in how I run campaign. When PCs want to buy instead of build, what the price? And what the motivation of the NPCs selling the property? 

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade and Zine Quest #3


My good friend, Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor is in his last three days of his kickstarter, an adventure zine called the Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade. Written for Old School Essential it is a series of adventures around the various crypts of Lady Ingrade. It also part of Zine Quest, an effort by Kickstarter to promote various types of RPG zines. 

Tim has tapped me to do the maps. Here is a sample below.

It represents an evolution of my black and white style. I recently stumbled on a source for old screen tone, dry transfer sheets filled with patterns and symbol that were used prior to advent of illustration software and desktop publishing. I bought a few to fill in gaps in my collection and some of them are found in these maps. The ones below are scrubland, jungle, and tidal flats.