Saturday, December 4, 2021

Second Grid Initiative

In a recent episode of Nerd's Variety RPG Podcast, the host Jason had called for listeners - on reward of a DriveThru gift card - to call in and speak to their preferred initiative system when playing RPGs. I did not win - congratulations to the winner! - because Jason disqualified everyone of whose rugged and dashing good looks he was envious - but I did call in and I did speak to an initiative system that I used in an old homebrew - one which I called the Second Grid.

While, admittedly, this rule was used for a more action-themed RPG, where combatants in a melee act individually rather than by side, as with most OSR systems: it still may have its place to inspire - see below, an adaptation of the rule from the homebrew that fits within an OSR framework.

See as follows, copied and pasted from that old homebrew, with bits renamed or mildly rejiggered to reflect B/X attributes and terminology:

Sleeping Genie and Lady; John Tenniel

Action Points

Each character has a number of Action Points equal to 2, modified by the character's Dexterity, to a minimum of 1.

Thus, a character with a Dexterity of 16 would have 4 Action Points where a character with a Dexterity of 5 would instead only have 1.

Order of Action

Order of actions in a Combat are determined by the Second Grid. Each character – on its Initiative – declares an action and spends a number of Action Points proportional to the task being accomplished.

  •  If the AP cost of the action is equal to or less than the Action Point pool of the acting character, the action is resolved immediately.

  • If the AP cost of the action is greater than the Action Point pool of the acting character, the action is resolved at the top of the character's next Initiative.

Note, a character performing an action that requires more AP than in the pool, thus, may be interrupted or may find their target has moved when the swing falls!

This concluding the action, the referee marks down the number of Action Points spent. Note, the character’s AP pool is not reduced – instead, a running tally of how many each combatant has spent total is maintained. At this junction, the referee checks to see which combatant has the smallest total – thus, has spent the fewest Action Points. That character takes the Initiative – it is that character's turn to act.

Continue in this fashion until combat is concluded.

Ties in Initiative

At the start of a combat, all characters will have 0 AP spent. To break the tie and start the combat, each character should roll 1d6, modified by Dexterity, and the referee should roll 1d6 for all enemy groups - sorted logically. The winner of the roll goes first, then chooses to whom to pass the Initiative after. 

The referee should record names to tally Action Points in this order. 

Subsequently, if two characters have the same total actions spent – the referee is encouraged to go in the same order as had been established at onset.

On Your Initiative

When a character is in the position of having spent the fewest actions (or having been determined as such in the tie-breaker) - they are considered to have the Initiative and may take an action. These actions are, basically, as follow.


A character may move up to their tactical movement; half, if moving over difficult terrain. Moving costs 1 AP. 

A Blow on the Head; Albert Robida

If moving in a straight line - the character may declare a Charge. When charging, a character may make an attack as part of the move: combing the two and spending AP proportional to both - thus, moving alone would cost 1 AP, but charging with a sword strike would cost 3 (per the Attack rule below). Likewise, generally speaking, a charge should resolve immediately - not after - representing the momentum of the swing.


A character may make an attack.

  • An unarmed strike costs 1 AP.
  • A one-handed melee weapon strike costs 2 AP.
    A quick-reload weapon shot, such as a bow or most thrown weapons, also costs 2 AP.
  • A two-handed melee weapon strike costs 3 AP.
    A slow-reload or wind-up weapon shot, such as a sling or crossbow, also costs 3 AP.

Dropping a weapon - that is, letting it fall to the floor at your feet - is a free (0 Action Point cost) action.

Access Inventory

A character may attempt to access items in their equipment as an action.

  • Un-sheathing a weapon costs 1 AP.
  • Easy-to-access items, such as belt pouches, cost 2 AP.
  • Sheathing a weapon costs 3 AP.
    Placing an item in an easy-to-access space likewise costs 3 AP.
  • Stowed items, such as the backpack, cost 4 AP - both to place and retrieve.

Cast a Spell

A character may cast a spell in combat. The AP cost of the spell is 1 plus the spell level: so, Sleep (a level 1 spell) would cost 2 AP where Cure Disease (a 3rd level spell) would cost 4.

Optionally, all spells - regardless of Action Points - manifest at the top of the casting character's next Initiative, allowing for strategic interruption.

Still Is Sitting; John Tenniel

Miscellaneous Actions

This action list is by necessity not exclusive - as the creativity of a player out-paces the margins of this text. In the event of a player action not falling into the above categories, the referee is encouraged to make a ruling according to what makes sense.

That said, when in doubt: 3 AP.

Why is this called "The Second Grid"?

The reason this is known as the Second Grid – the referee is encouraged to put graph paper down, writing the names of each combatant on lines. Then, for each action point – put an X or a check through a box to the right of the name. This way, it’s very easy for the referee – visually – to determine who has spent the least and thus has the Initiative. 

Below, provided, an example of play - combat between a warrior and wizard ambushed by a squad of kobolds:

Two adventurers, a Warrior and a Wizard, are delving along a cavern corridor when they come across a group of small, snarling dog-men - Kobolds! Roll for initiative!

Ref: Initiative rolls please?

Warrior: 6!

Wizard: 3...

Ref: Alright - I rolled a 5, Warrior - the initiative is yours.

Warrior: How many do I see?

Ref: Five - armed with spears and shields, but wearing no other armor.

Warrior: Kobolds are chumps! With my zweihander at the ready, I charge the group!

Warrior rolls, hits,
and inflicts damage.

Ref: One of the kobolds goes down. Who's next, Warrior?

Warrior: I'll pass to the Wizard.

Ref: Wizard - you're up.

Wizard: Are they carrying ranged weapons that I can see?

Ref: No - only flint-headed half-spears.

Wizard: Alright. I'm going to move backward - up towards the ledge - get out of the way. Warrior's got this.

Ref: Alright - it's the kobolds' go.

Remaining kobolds attack the warrior. Two hit - 6 damage.

Warrior: With flint-headed spears?

Ref: You're the one who charged in outnumbered!

Ref: Wizard - you're up.

Wizard: I'm casting Sleep.

Warrior: Don't waste Sleep on these guys! It was lucky rolling.

Wizard: There are too many of them. Too many chances for luck to strike again!

Ref: Ok - it's the kobolds again...

Warrior: Do I get another turn?

Ref: Yes - but because of your charge and the big weapon, they're moving more quickly than you are to react.

Warrior: Gotcha.

Remaining kobolds attack again.
One hit - 2 damage.

Ref: Wizard, you're up again - so your spell goes off.

Wizard rolls for hit dice.
Remaining kobolds all fall into deep slumber.

Wizard: Time for some throat-slitting; grateful for that spell yet?

Warrior: Nope.

What do you think? 

Dynamic and intriguing, lending a tactical aspect to otherwise an formulaic combat experience? Or a bad excuse to justify how much money I spent on miniatures back in the day? 

Let me know! 

Delve on, readers!

Shriek of Timidity; Gustave Dore

Public domain artwork retrieved from and adapted for thematic use. Attributions in alt text.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Holiday Traditions with Jason Bonus Episode:
Holiday Traditions with Jason!

(Or on YouTube!)


Part of the Christmas tradition at my house is watching bad Christmas movies: and who better to discuss bad Christmas movies (or bad movies in general) with than Jason from Nerd's Variety RPG Cast! Hang out with the two of us for an hour or so to learn about some holiday films you likely haven't seen - and maybe one or two you'll want to start seeing.

Have selections of your own? Let me know about them with a message on Anchor:

Theme Music by XTaKeRux, Free Music Archive:

Show Notes

  • 00:00 - Intro and Apology
  • 01:00 - Theme
  • 01:27 - Good Morning, Mr. Christmas!
  • 03:56 - Kicking it Off with Charles Shultz
  • 13:30 - Taylor Finnish-es It Off
  • 17:32 - Jason Thins the Herd
  • 21:28 - Jimmy Stewart and Pals
  • 26:14 - Henson for the Holidays
  • 30:24 - Various Interpretations of A Christmas Carol (and why the Muppet Version is the best)
  • 36:05 - Ralph Bakshi? (Rankin and Bass)
  • 39:58 - Jason Gets some Action
  • 43:45 - Taylor Reminisces about Chuck Norris
  • 45:35 - A Rocky Transition
  • 45:43 - A Robert DeNiro Christmas
  • 46:35 - Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
  • 48:49 - Manuel Trazazas Gonzaullas: Texas Ranger
  • 50:13 - Wrapping Up Our Picks
  • 50:56 - Put Into a Trance(r)
  • 55:37 - Outro
  • 56:56 - Theme and Legalese


    Jason Connerly, Nerd's RPG Variety Podcast (

    Saturday, November 27, 2021

    The Heqet

    Flies and bugs and fish come up,
    but the toad, it floats and haws.

    Flies and bugs and fish swim up,
    but the toad, cold blood gives pause.

    The mun'gu said that the stars were lining;
    the mun'gu says while the spears are shining;
    and Zuzu calls.

    Flies and bugs and fish draw up,
    while the toad sharpens his claws.

    - Excerpt from the Third Song of the Sunken Choir

    Slimy Skin and Brumal Blood

    The Heqet are small – four feet high on average – but heavy, possessing cords of sinuous muscle to rival the strength of a man half again their stature. They take the visage of frog-like creatures, their legs and arms spindly – no neck – belying considerable strength. They are cold blooded, and thus move little, but breed rapidly, as true frogs. They can croak, but are often quiet, and take advantage of their aquatic propensities whenever able. 

    The Heqet speak their own language - incorporating clicks and croaks of various tones that are difficult for Humans or Demihumans to imitate.

    Encountering the Heqet

    Socially, the Heqet congregate in four categorical types: the nature of these types - and the four ways in which the Heqet can be encountered - determines the number appearing:

    Enc. Type Chance Scouts Breeders Mundunugu Toadlings
    In Lair 20%* 3d6 x 10
    2d4 2d4 x 5
    Patrol 3-in-6 3d10 1d4-1 ~ 2d6
    Pilgrimage 2-in-6 2d10 1d4-1 1d4+1 2d4
    War Party 1-in-6 3d6 x 5
    1d4 2d4 2d10-2

    Lair chance is 20% for the Heqet - probabilities given for different encounter types are used when the encounter occurs outside the lair of the Heqet.

    Two Bulls and the Frog; J. J. Grandville
    Amphibious: All Heqet can breathe underwater in fresh or brackish environments. Additionally, all Heqet have a swim speed of 120' (40').


    Heqet Scouts
    Armor Class: 7 (6 with Shield)
    No. Appearing: Special
    Hit Dice: 1 Save As: Fighter 1
    Move: 60' (20') Morale: 7
    Attacks: 1 Weapon
    Treasure Type: K
    Damage: 1d6 Alignment: Chaotic
    Frequency: Uncommon
    Chance In Lair: 20%

    Heqet scouts make up the bulk of Heqet colonies – roughly 2/3 of the population. They are four feet in height, rubbery skinned, and wear armor made of intertwined leather and cork wood plating. They tend to carry shield and spear.

    Leap: Scouts may – in lieu of moving – leap: covering 30’ of ground immediately. If using this ability to charge into combat, the Scout gains a +2 bonus to attacks in that round only. 


    Heqet Breeders
    Armor Class: 6 No. Appearing: Special
    Hit Dice: 2 Save As: Fighter 2
    Move: 60' (20') Morale: 9
    Attacks: 1 Slam
    Treasure Type: J
    Damage: 1d4 Alignment: Chaotic
    Frequency: Rare
    Chance In Lair: 20%

    Heqet Breeders are a subset of females bearing eggs. Though not in cold weather – Breeders will broaden in span, taking up almost twice the width as typical, and release eggs which then implant into the skin in an irregular pattern. Tadpoles develop in pockets along the skin for 1d4 months and are birthed from said pockets as fully-formed as Toadlings. Thereafter, the breeder sheds her skin and, a month later, is able to renew the process. There is little attachment to young among the Heqet – Breeders are not protected, as such, over other warriors, but their mobility is impaired by the process.

    Leap: Breeders may – in lieu of moving – leap: covering 20’ of ground immediately. If using this ability to charge into combat, the Heqet gains a +2 bonus to attacks in that round only. 

    Breeders tend to be unarmed – but may take up arms if available when under threat. Similarly, Breeders do not wear armor – they don’t fit in it – but the thickness and roughness of skin during the breeding cycle provides medium armor (Armor Class 6) equivalence.

    Surniame Toad; Unknown Artist


    Heqet Mundunugu
    Armor Class: 9
    No. Appearing: Special
    Hit Dice: 2 Save As: Elf 1
    Move: 60' (20') Morale: 9
    Attacks: 1 Staff
    Treasure Type: ind (lair)
    Damage: 1d4 Alignment: Chaotic
    Frequency: Rare
    Chance In Lair: 20%

    Mundunugu are the spirit leaders of the Heqet. They are sworn to Chaos and bound to the dark power Zuzu, adorning themselves in his chimeric likeness. No to Mundunugu look quite the same in their spirit garb. Mundunugu are magic users: commonly employing Curse and Hold style magic. They may cast spells under water.

    Leap: Mundunugu may – in lieu of moving – leap: covering 30’ of ground immediately. If using this ability to charge into combat, the Heqet gains a +2 bonus to attacks in that round only.

    Of Mundunugu garb – 2-in-6 Mundunugu have garb and adornment sufficient to qualify as light armor, which increases their Armor Class to 7.


    Heqet Toadlings
    Armor Class: 9
    No. Appearing: Special
    Hit Dice: 1-1 Save As: Normal Man
    Move: 90' (30') Morale: 6
    Attacks: 1 Slam
    Treasure Type: Nil
    Damage: 1 Alignment: Chaotic
    Frequency: Uncommon
    Chance In Lair: 20%

    Toadlings are the wandering young of the Heqet. Toadlings mature quickly – evolving into their next state after only a few months – but during the first portion of their lives, they have the facilities of toddlers.

    Leap: Toadlings may – in lieu of moving – leap: covering 15’ of ground immediately. There is no benefit on a charge for a Toadling.

    Toadlings tend to be unarmed – but have been known to throw rocks: which qualify as Sling (-2 to hit) where all targets are treated as being one range increment further than they are.

    Spoiler Alert!
    The Deeper Lore section contains some notes to help a GM (me) to run Heqet in a way consistent with the archetype they are supposed to fill and some of the inspirations behind their creation. If you play in (or want to play in!) a game GM'ed by me, beyond this point will ruin some of the mystery for you for both Heqet and for most of the sentient races: having some impact in the game world that isn't immediately available outside of player character discoveries.

    Deeper Lore

    The Heqet are a vice race - their Chaos Seed being granted and imbued by the sin of Sloth. The entropic entity associated with Sloth is Zuzu - the Storm Lord and the Bringer of Famine - whose locusts consume what they did not grow and who disappear, sleeping for years at a time until such opportunity arises to feast on the labor of others again. As to how the Heqet came into being, this is a curiosity regarding the other entity - the Rabisu - whose spirited undeath is fueled by the emanations of Zuzu as well.

    Frog Man Anthropomorphic Toad; Michael Hourigan

    The Rabisu are vampiric in nature - they lurk in the darkness, pained by daylight, and feed on the life essence of the naturally living: parasites - some seen as cursed for it; others wildly blessed - who are granted presence, eternal, at the cost of others around them. Thralls held by the Rabisu tend to be, themselves, cattle - their warm blood feeding their lords.

    Among the Rabisu are many powerful lords - but the most powerful among them, in argument with Zuzu, with whom he saw himself co-equal, was cursed. Zuzu sunk the lands around the vampire king's domain, filled the fallow fields with swamp and salt - precluding him from walking his own estate, salt and water being the fundamental elements of birth and of natural life. And from those bogs, so also were the vampire king's thralls cursed - their blood made cold, their skin made rubber - that the vampire king might be reminded that the life that flowed through him was not his own and again, condemning him: dooming him to rely on the machinations of these slow, indolent minions and the capricious Zuzlings (the personal impish messengers of Zuzu, himself) for basic sustenance.

    Though very few know the story to this day - Heqet, thus, were almost at first a cruel joke: a punishment for the hubris of lesser evils. Regardless, the Heqet find themselves in the service of Rabisu frequently, if only for their entropic association - as they make good servants. They can count on their masters not feeding on them, remaining themselves at full strength and at times, their captains and chiefs might even assert to be co-equal to the vampire lord they serve! And they can easily go where the Rabisu cannot - into the waters that birthed the world.

    Likewise to this day, the Heqet are highly distasteful to the Rabisu. 

    In a literal sense, of course.

    Melilot; Charles Henry Bennett

    Public domain or open license artwork retrieved from and Pixabay and adapted for thematic use. Attributions in alt text.

    Wednesday, November 24, 2021

    Completing the Unboxing: Part 1 - Fate Accelerated Edition Episode 11 - Completing the Unboxing, Part 1: Fate Accelerated Edition

    (Or on YouTube!)


    Part one of two, reviewing the books sent to me as part of the prize package of winning the Biggus Geekus 50th episode drawing. I read, react, and primarily talk trash regarding to the Fate Accelerated Edition softcover, all the while chasing my twin two-year-olds around in the yard and on the sidewalk by our house. 

    Did I get it wrong? Did I give them too much guff, or did I miss something I should have specified? Tell me about it on Anchor!

    Theme Music by XTaKeRux, Free Music Archive:

    Show Notes

    • 00:00 - Intro, courtesy Joe of Biggus Geekus!
    • 00:31 - Theme
    • 00:58 - FATE: Accelerated Edition
    • 27:42 - Foiled! (Randy of Biggus Geekus)
    • 30:58 - Jason Teaches Us How to Summon a Succubus
    • 32:47 - Karl, the GMOlogist, Reacts
    • 38:07 - Outro
    • 38:18 - Theme and Legalese


      Biggus Geekus Podcast:



      Jason Connerly, Nerd's RPG Variety Podcast (

      Karl Rodriguez, The GMOlogist Presents! (

      Saturday, November 20, 2021

      A Door a Dozen

      Secret doors are a hallmark of the dungeoneering experience. How much more fun is finding a treasure hoard than to have found it after having found it in a secret place? How much more rewarding, knowing others must surely have missed it before you didn't! And one of my favorite things with secret doors: coming up with fun, special mechanisms with which they open - and thematic yet sign-posted descriptions that may allow the player to find it with no roll being made.

      That said - it's not always easy (or feasible) to come up with a thematic and unique secret door on the fly: so herein provided - a dozen secret doors (and the secret behind their opening!)

      1d12 Secret Door
      1     Table In the Floor
      In the center of a space is a table - supported by a single leg in the center, affixed to the floor where it stands. Optionally, something may be atop the table - a cloth, votive or otherwise, alternative folderol. The table will turn, however - if a character attempts it - and rotate: after three or four rolls, it becomes evident that the table is rising.

      The table is on a dais which - if rotated for at least 2 turns (1 turn, if two or more allies turn it together) - will rise, allowing egress into a hidden room below. Beneath the table dais is a chain leading down to assist with the climb.

      Mysterious Entrance; Leon Benett
          Ferrous Curtain Rod
      Against the wall in which the secret door is found can be seen hanging a thick curtain - suspended from rings along a metal rod running the length of the room. The walls are paneled and, if the curtain is closed, behind the curtain - a secret door, one of the panels, is open. The mechanism to the secret panel, however, is attached to a magnet hidden inside the suspending rod. If the curtains are opened, the panel will shut - concealing the egress; if the curtains are closed, the panel will open as the magnet moves to the other side.

      A character may detect this hole by prodding the curtain wall externally, noting a dip when they prod the section with the opening; by going behind the curtain without opening it; or by noting an odd sound that can be heard when opening or closing the curtain.
      3     Sliding Stonework
      Inlaid in the stonework of the wall is a false section of masonry, detectable by an observant hand, noting the mortar suddenly becomes smooth in that section, or by the temperature of the faux stones - which is slightly warmer than those around it.

      To open the door, one may push it in: but it will only go so far - not quite far enough to open. At that point, it can slide either left, right, or up. Left or right result in the door becoming stuck - up will allow it to click into a latch on the far side, securing passage through.
          Under the Surface
      In the center of a space is a tiled pool - 20' long by 10' wide by 10' deep: the bottom is white - the sides are a checker-board: black and white, in 3' hexagons. On one of the long spaces, however, a black tile isn't a tile at all - but instead a hole where a swimmer might swim through: shadows of the walls, poor lighting in the dungeon, and the distortion of its depth conceal it from casual observation. The party might find it if using a "full daylight" effect, which would eliminate the shadows; but throwing a non-extinguishable light source down into the water, or by prodding around the pools edges with a lengthy pole or a spear.

      Swimming through results in a short tunnel, water-filled, which terminates in a new space: the waterline of the new egress equivalent to that of the pool on the other side.

      Cistern Reservoir Water Storage; Pixabay user Free-Photos
          Arch Trapdoor
      The arched ceiling of the room is tiled with particularly large stones for an arch. Detectable by chance or by drafts influencing the smoke from a torch, one of these tiles is false - significantly lighter than the others - and can be pushed up. If pushed all the way - it will fall, the arch being on a slope, after all - and a falling block, though it will not break, may attract a wandering monster.

      Once open, though, a man with something to stand on can climb through with relative ease.
          Mouth of the Monster
      The sculpted head of a crocodile or similar monster, a headdress of some archaic make donned atop its stone head, sits, mouth closed, on one side of a chamber. Its eyes are closed and - if a character looks - they may notice four small indentations on the floor, where once a four-legged brazier stood. Ash stains or rust in the ruts may be present, included as hints for the party.

      If the party makes a material "sacrifice" - that is, by immolation, destroys an organic substance between the studs, the eyes of the statue open and the mouth slowly rises up, revealing a passage down the gullet. The trigger is not necessarily magical - could be heat-driven, based on the specific location and intensity of the flame. The mouth will remain open as long as the fire persists.

      Other potential hints to the presence of the secret door may include rails for the mouth to slide up on the wall or floor - as well as deep grooves in the statue, itself: deeper for the eyes and mouth than for the nostrils, etc. - to account for the joints concealed beneath.
          Illusory Pocket
      Ringing the plaster walls of a room is a wooden runner. Beneath the runner, below where a character might lean on the wall, but above the trim such that it might not accidentally be kicked or prodded with a scabbard, is a small section where the wall is not. Instead, by lighting (or magic!), an illusion of wall - the color continues, the texture to the eye, but the physical wall does not: such that a character patting the wall may find the hole. Depending on preference, the hole may be large enough to accommodate a squeeze - or, perhaps it simply hides a lever which opens a larger door, hidden in the corners and seams of the room's wall, proper.

      Optionally, include a mechanism in the space or surrounding rooms that may serve to elucidate the portal.
          Gate of Vines
      A wall of bars - or grated partition - is totally overcome with vines. Growing out from the mortar itself, they have totally taken over: forming a thick layer of green over the vertical space. In the ironwork is situated a hinged door - not even locked! - but the preponderance of vines has made the gate invisible.

      Potential mechanisms to detect the gate may be the elimination of the vines, wholesale (through Fireball or similar), or perhaps by noting a squeak while applying pressure in the vicinity of the gate (the vines will cause the gate to flex, its hinges causing the sound).

      InteriorOfThePrincipal Building at Kabah; Frederick Catherwood
          Put the Candle Back!
      In the wall near to a book case or other standing furniture is a candle holder - in which can be found a half-used candle. The candle is depressing a pin which - if the candle is removed, will retract, causing the book case to cycle like a revolving door, transposing anyone within 7 feet of its center to the other side of the wall. Another book case of similar contents and build is present on the reverse of the wall - and thus the door is once again hidden when the rotation is complete.

      The candle is outside the radius and is thus inaccessible from the other side of the secret door.
          Molding Fountain
      A fountain is embedded in the wall - water dripping rather than flowing - out of a gargoyle's mouth into a stagnant well - hemispheric, 18 inches or so in diameter. Mildew and mold grows atop the sides and across the surface of the water: obscuring view into the space. If a character reaches into the water and feels around, they will find a lip on the rear side - directly under the mouth of the grotesque: inside this hidden alcove is a pull chain which mechanically withdraws a pin, allowing the character to push the fountain inward: revealing entrance to a hidden space.

      Optionally - the fountain should start working again (that is, water should flow from the gargoyle's mouth rather than drip) when the door is in an open state.
      11     A Gap in the Fireplace
      Against one wall, a fireplace - wide mouthed without a lip or ledge - is embedded. Inside, where the flume lever might be, there is a second switch: one which, if turned, opens a panel to one side of the fireplace, the seams of which are obscured by soot, and allows egress into a hidden space.

      A player might find the space via a draft coming through the empty fireplace; by observing that embers, uncleaned, appear to have been blown in a singular direction, opposite to the draft; or by chance - thinking to open (or close) the flume and light a fire.
      12     Shadowed Portal
      When in an illuminated state, the room and wall seem entirely normal. Optionally, the referee may include a suspicious stone arch, as though a door was once there, that has been bricked shut. However, in the absence of light - magical, mundane, or otherwise - the arch is open: unsealed; providing a way through.

      The party may find the secret door if a character with infravision is scouting ahead, if a Darkness spell is cast (by mistake or by malice of a wandering magician), or - if presented with the optional hint described above - by chance if the torch flickers, as if the characters are resting in the space, exchanging a dying torch for a fresh one, seeing the masonry blocking the doorway likewise seem to fade in places where shadows fall as the light is dying.

      War Signal; Adolph von Menzel

      Public domain or open license artwork retrieved from and Pixabay and adapted for thematic use. Attributions in alt text.

      Saturday, November 13, 2021

      A Wheel and its Spokes (A Dungeon)

      Scale: 10 ft.
      Click here for a PDF version of this adventure!

      Trying out a new keying for locks, stuck, and secret doors.

      A little keyhole icon means the door is locked.
      A little "S" through the door means the door is secret.
      The other icon - which is supposed to look like a muscly arm - indicates the door is stuck and must be forced open.

      Let me know what you think!

      0 - Entry

      0A - Silver Hall

      A hall leads away from the entry stairs. 

      Along the walls are silver-lined torches, lit, along the walls: four on either side. 

      They will continue to burn indefinitely unless removed from the wall - in which case they will burn for 1 hour, same as any other torch. They are worth 30 gp each for their materials - regardless of whether they have been consumed or not.

      1 - North-West Chambers

      1A - Shocking Hall

      The walls of this hall are lined with reptilian iconography, carved into the walls. In the center of the room is hidden a false floor which, if triggered, will drop anyone on top of it 15 feet into an electrified pool of water. It is not deep enough to drown, but any character in the water takes 1d6 points of damage per round until they are rescued and must Save vs Paralysis (-2 penalty, if in metal armor) each round or be paralyzed for that round by the spasm-inducing current.

      1B - Ringed Pool

      A narrow pool rings this space. It is around six inches across, three inches deep, and is easily bypassed. The water inside is normal water, slowly flowing in a clockwise direction.

      1C - Baboon Menagerie

      The doors into and out of this space are stuck. Behind a series of bars in the center are 7 Rock Baboon (B41), seemingly trapped as though in a menagerie. On the east side, in among the baboons but affixed to the wall, is a suit of leather armor - magic, +1 - with an odd, sloping helmet. On the west wall, equally affixed, a polearm of master quality: +1 to hit, but non-magical and no bonus to damage. 

      Treasure Chest Chain Castle Brown; Pixabay user HOerwin56

      1D - The Iron Box

      Hanging from the ceiling - 20 feet above the heads of the characters - is a metal chest, suspended from the ceiling by a chain. 

      Encircling the room is an invisible staircase, which will allow them to climb indefinitely - the chamber having no physical ceiling: the chain being lashed to some further surface, just out of reach of the torchlight. Inside the locked chest is 600 silver pieces and 200 gold pieces.

      1E - Frilled Mosaic

      On the floor, a mosaic details the head of a lizard: complete with red frill. It is a bit chipped, but otherwise in good order.

      1F - Lizardman Bunkhouse

      This room smells. Four Lizard Men (B38) have taken up residence in it: littering the place with their nesting material. They are not aware of the secret door.

      1G - The Protoman's Office

      In side this room is a writing desk - slightly wrong in proportion to a human. Against the far wall is a chest - dramatically under-filled with 100 sp. In the desk can be found a pouch with three Cat's Eyes (10 gp each) and three Amethyst (100 gp each)

      1H - Fresco Pool

      The north and south walls of this space are lined with columns. There was once a fresco between them - but it has since decayed to the point where it is impossible to tell what was depicted, apart from a blue color. In the center of the room is a pool. A five headed Hydra (X33) is sleeping in the water.

      2 - North-East Chambers

      2A - A Ghoul's Dining Hall

      Near the center of the space, there is the skewered remains of several adventurers. They have been skewered by a trap in the room - when triggered, anyone within 10 feet of the doors to the south-west must Save vs Paralysis or be crushed between two masher-like sections festooned by spikes that come together, having sprung out from the flanking walls.

      Four Ghouls (B35) are eating the remains of the adventurers remains. Two of the ghouls wear expensive wedding bands - 700 gp each - one wears a gold chain (1,000 gp), and one of the dead adventurers is clutching a bedecked holy symbol - prominent emeralds - worth 1,300 gp. The Ghouls are aware of the trap and may (2-in-6) attempt to use it to their advantage, if pressed.

      2B - Hall to Nowhere

      A carpet - moist, mildewing at the sides, runs the length of this room.

      2C - Troglodyte Den

      Three Troglodytes (B44) have taken up residence in this space. They are resting, not having made it their home yet, but the room still reeks: smellable from the hall beyond to an observant character.

      2D - South Prison

      This room consists of iron-barred alcoves: seemingly with no entrance. The one to the south contains humanoid bones; the two to the north contain a single Hobgoblin (B36), each, who - as the party approach, are playing a simple board game akin to Backgammon: calling their moves to one another from across the way. 

      Prison Jail Rustic Pennsylvania; Martin Dubreuil

      2E - North Prison

      Along this hall are several iron-barred alcoves. The bars have no doors or other visible mechanisms of egress. In the easternmost are 2 Berserkers (B32) - in the center, 3 more Berserkers. They woke up here recently and don't recall how they got there.

      2F - Spider Alcoves

      The alcoves opposite to the double door contains a statue of a humanoid - artfully carved - but missing several pieces to damage. To the north, the alcoves are obscured by spider webs: excepting another statue, visible easily in the north alcove: its eyes glitter in the torchlight: one is a harlequin opal (100 gp value), the other, a matrix opal (50 gp value). 

      A single Black Widow (B42) spider lurks among the webs, hidden and waiting. 

      2G - Flaring Gate, North Side

      A brazier sits, unlit, ringed with pearl discs but filled with oil-smelling charcoal, sits between two locked doors to the south. 

      A character interacting with the charcoal may trigger a pressure sensor on the floor which will drop an ignition source into the charcoal: causing it to flare up, destroying half the pearls and forcing any character interacting with the brazier to Save vs Breath or take 1d8 fire damage. Characters thus affected may have to Save for flammable gear carried above the waist.

      The pearl discs are worth 110 gp.

      2H - Flaring Gate, South Side

      A brazier sits, empty, between two locked doors to the north. 

      The wall above it is blackened with ash.

      2I - Revelatory Statue

      A statue - artfully sculpted - stands in the alcove to the east, facing west. If it is turned to face east, the secret door to the east will open.

      2J - Waiting for the Ferryman

      Two statues carved to seem haggard, wearing rags, flank a skeleton on a raised, lidless coffin. The skeleton wears scale mail and is in a weird position: as though tossing and turning in slumber. It never moves when under observation, but will change position when observed at different times.

      If 2 silver coins are placed on its eyes, it audibly sighs - as if in relief, and shifts into a supine position. From that point, for the next 1d4 days, any character in the room is invisible to any Undead. Note, not undetectable - just invisible.

      3 - South Chambers

      3A - The Welcome Desk

      To the east, a brown-black stain runs along the floor, close to the south wall. To the west, an alcove with a desk in it: behind which sits a long-rotted corpse in rusted scale armor. Five Robber Flies (B41) lurk in the shadowed corners of the alcove. The corpse has a key to the door to the east - if the party can get past the Robber Flies - but the key is rusted and old: it will break off in the lock on a 2-in-6 chance.

      3B - The Lectorium

      Lecterns with stools line this room - smashed and tossed about, as though the once orderly space was released into the care of apes. Among them, 7 Pit Vipers (B42) have nested.

      3C - North Storage

      Several crates and chests are open in this room - they contain only cobwebs and dust.

      3D - South Lockers

      Eight Lockers line the north wall - coat hooks, the east. One coat hangs - in the pocket of which can be found 70 gp. If the lockers are opened, a cool whistle will emerge from them, which echos in the space: for every other locker opened, roll for a wandering monster: drawn by the noise.

      4 - Secret Hall

      4A - Treasure Trove

      Beyond the secret door is a double pendulum trap: characters moving southwards will - both at five feet and ten feet in - have a chance to trigger one of two pressure plates, causing a bladed pendulum to swing down, alternating sides on each swing, the trap having reset itself with the momentum of the first. Each pendulum does 1+1d10 damage, striking with a THAC0 of 15 - however each can only target one character per round: thus, if a group of 5 were to charge through, at least 3 would make it through safely.

      Beyond the traps is a hoard of treasure, piled among two skeletons (an Elf and a Human) - with suspicious damage to their bones in keeping with a slashing, crushing attack. The hoard contains the following:

      • 12,000 sp
      • 400 gp
      • 1 jade trinket (10 gp value)
      • 2 blood sapphires (100 gp each)
      • 2 diamonds (500 gp each)
      • 1 Potion of Giant Strength

      5 - South-West Chambers

      5A - Junction

      The center of the junction in the hallway at this point is marked by a statue, looking up. Above is a hole in the ceiling - 10 feet by 10 feet or so - that is 40 feet deep. Interacting with the statue has a chance of triggering an anti-gravity trap: wherein the statue will suddenly look down and any character under the hole in the ceiling must Save vs Spells or fall upwards - into the hole. At the "bottom" of this fall is a Gelatinous Cube (B35).

      5B - Carpet Trap

      A rich red carpet covers the bulk of the floor of this room. In each corner is a statue - limbless, faces damaged and unrecognizable. If a character steps onto the carpet, they may activate its trigger, wherein it rolls up - capturing them inside. Save vs Paralysis to avoid, roll 2d6 once per turn to escape (if unaided externally). Modifying the roll by Dexterity - representing shimmying out, is a target number of 11; modifying the roll by Strength - forcing the rug open - target number 9.

      5C - Sculpted Entry

      To the west, a series of finely sculpted statues adorn the squared alcove. To the north is an iron gate, locked, but through the bars of which an observer can see into 5D. A lonely Elf (B35) is contemplating the gate. He has the keys to the doors between 2G and 2H - but he does not know that they key opens those particular doors - and is wondering how (or whether) to approach this locked gate, based on the beetles beyond. 

      Four Statues; Adolphe Terris

      5D - Oil Beetle Prison

      Shackles line the walls of this space, affixed to the wall. A trough is cut into the floor running through the center of the room. Six Oil Beetles (B31) are tittering about the sluice.

      6 - Northern Circle

      6A - Glowing Crest

      A drain rings the room - following its perimeter on all sides, six inches from the wall. A large crest, the shape of a shield, is positioned on the south wall - illuminated by a glow emanating from under the aforementioned drain. If a character interposes themselves between the glow and the crest, the crest opens outwards, dumping a wash of acid onto the floor. All characters in the room must Save vs Breath: on a success, they suffer 1d4 points of damage from fumes and the like; on failure, they suffer 1d6 points of damage each round for 1d4 rounds as it washes over them.

      The door to the west, locked, is iron. The door to the east is wood.

      6B - Shield Room

      On the west wall hangs a magic shield, +1. Beneath the shield is a square lockbox containing 800 sp.

      6C - Crystal Candle Room

      Twelve iron rings hold twelve crystal votive candle holders, shaped like flowers. The flowers, each, are worth 10 gp, but if candles are placed in them and lit, the chance of finding the secret door increases by +1-in-6 for every other candle lit: where it becomes evident that a section of wall is illusory.

      6D - Old Vault

      Several empty chests are strewn about this space. One remains closed, on its side, locked and trapped with a poison needle in the mechanism. It contains 600 sp.

      7 - Eastern Circle

      7A - Consequences of Choice

      All doors to this space are reinforced with iron and locked. If a character opens either the north or west door, bars slide across the backs of the other two doors to the space, preventing ingress or egress in those directions. The open door is considered stuck: allowing ingress, of course, but will be difficult to close.

      7B - Pickled Thoul

      Several barrels of pickled but still rotting ham are stored in the east portion of the room. A single Thoul (B42) sits atop one - sharpening a cutlass (treat as Sword). He arrived in a squire role to the Bugbear in room 7E: they do not know he is undead - his motives for the deception are his own.

      7C - Centerpiece Hall

      A mosaic floor forms a concentric octagon - 8 feet off the chamber walls. The mosaic depicts an ugly face: perhaps that of a corpse, or one distorted by pain.

      7D - Desert Locker

      The door to this space is stuck - warm air seems to seep from the creases and gaps in the door. If opened, a sudden gust will blow out, bringing with it some sand. The room inside is empty - but articles left in the room will, over the course of 24 hours, desiccate: leather is ruined, meat turns to jerky, and so on.

      7E - Bugbear Locker

      Four Bugbear (B32) have barricaded this door shut. They are resting - eating and playing a dice game - talking about the Thoul in 7B. They don't trust him, though think him a standard Hobgoblin.

      7F - Bucket of Shards

      At first glance, the room appears to turn south rather than north from the door. If a party continues southward, they will bump into a wall - triggering a trough of crystal slivers to fall on the floor. Any characters in the front rank must Save vs Breath or take 1d6 damage; any characters in the second rank must Save vs Breath or take 1d3; and hence, movement through the space - within 10 feet of the door, including into 7C, must be made cautiously. Moving incautiously requires a Dex Check, failure of which causes the character to slip and fall, taking 1d4 damage from the slivers.

      The north wall is illusory. Behind it is a small horde of 1,100 silver and 600 gold pieces. 

      Skull Skeleton Monochrome Dead; Peter Dargatz

      7G - Hidden Crushing Trap

      In the center of this space is a pair of crushed skeletons, one wearing a flattened suit of chainmail. One skeleton carries a set of keys - keys which will open the door between 3A and 3B. By entering the room, however, the party may trigger a trap: wherein the floor begins rising, taking 1+1d4 rounds to reach the ceiling: crushing anything remaining inside the space.

      7H - Shadow Locker

      A lone Shadow (B41) haunts this space. Tucked into a missing stone in the west wall, near the secret door to the south, is a strongbox containing 120 gold pieces and three round-cut andalusite: each worth 100 gold pieces.

      7I - Whistling Tunnel

      A whistling sound can be heard and a slight breeze felt in this natural tunnel - always coming from ahead of the party, no matter which way they go: dying down and starting up again if they pause in the space. All doors out of this space are obvious - no search is required - to find them from this side. However, upon exiting this space - there is a 2-in-6 chance that the party will exit from one of the three doors, randomly determined, instead of the natural egress point.

      A trail of 70 gold pieces leads from halfway up the north corridor towards the east corridor.

      7J - Old Foyer

      Broken furniture has been piled in the north-west corner of this room. A locked closet to the south-east contains a warm overcoat, slowly collecting dust, and a pair of boots which is surprisingly clean. The boots are enchanted - they will never tarnish and mud will slide off them with use - but they convey no other special advantages.

      8 - Western Circle

      8A - Quarry Refuse

      Crumbled marble - some appearing to have been a particular shape, but then damaged or perhaps mis-cut - is piled up in this space.

      8B - Adventurer's Hall

      This room is illuminated on the east and west walls by runes written in the Lawful script. To the west, "Adventure" - to the east, "Death". 

      Ruined Stairs at Neuss; Johann Wilhelm Shirmer

      8C - Rubble Room

      The ceiling of this space is indented - roughly in the shape of the room, 5 feet from the walls. A pile of stone rubble and broken bricks sits in the south-west corner.

      8D - Planning Space

      A decrepit table with a large chair at the head sits in this space. If the party enters from 8C, there will be a ghostly figure in the room - stalking or sitting, as deemed appropriate by the referee. 

      It will look at the party, vaporize, and then will not be heard from or seen again.

      8E - Hidden Egress

      The doors out of this space are obvious - that is, no roll is required to detect them from this side. If the party enters from 8D, a gentle chuckling can be heard in the air: then silence returns.

      8F - Slime Treasure

      In the center of this room appears to be a large Green Slime. It does not move - but is in fact illusory: tossing a torch or otherwise disturbing it will reveal its nature. Hidden behind the illusion is 300 silver pieces and a case containing scrolls of the following spells:

      • Detect Evil
      • Charm Person
      • Hold person
      • Read languages
      • Polymorph Others


      Open license or public domain images retrieved from Pixabay and the National Gallery of  Art and adapted for thematic use. Attributions in alt text.

        Saturday, November 6, 2021

        Dice Pool Roll Under

        Rolling under your abilities.

        One of the most controversial of ruling suggestions in B/X - nested snugly into the subsection, Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art on page B60 under the moniker that There's always a chance. This rule has become a default mechanism for some referees - it's simplicity and quickness at the table while differentiating characters more or less naturally capable luring them in - and has become anathema for others: it's emphasis on abilities defying the class-level focus of almost any other challenge in the game, it's swingy potential for a well-endowed character to fail while an incapable character succeeds (the "I loosened it up for you" hypothesis) puts them off. However - in recent vintage - I've come across a variant which may help to alleviate some of the tensions - rolling under using a d6 dice pool.

        My interpretation as follows:

        Pooling Under your Abilities

        When presented with a task - skill, talent, or otherwise - not covered by a rule but requiring a roll to account for potential of failure, the referee should, having considered the described manner of resolution, ask the player to roll a number of d6 proportional to the difficulty of the task compared to the efficacy of the proposed resolution mechanism:

        • Easy tasks, or tasks well achieved, roll 1d6.
        • Normal tasks, or perhaps easy tasks the method of resolution provided being questionable, roll 2d6.
        • Challenging tasks, or tasks being approached poorly, roll 3d6.
        • Difficult tasks, or tasks being approached entirely wrong, roll 5d6.
        • Impossible tasks, or descriptive equivalent, roll 8d6,

        If the result of the pool exceeds the ability score of the character rolling, the task fails. Otherwise, the task succeeds.

        Optionally, to represent the off-chance of failure even when doing something simple (or, I Missed My Mouth With The Cup syndrome), use single-explosion dice. Thus, an Easy task has a likely result of 1-5, but an unlikely result of 7-12; or a Difficult task has an average result of 17 or 18, but a potential (and highly unlikely) result of as much as 60.

        Sunk Upon the Ground; John Tenniel

        Credit where Credit is Due

        Note, as is most of the time with house rules, I did not originate this idea. Googling it to find the page on which page the "roll under" rule in B/X was, I found several social media platforms where this or a similar system was being discussed. Credit where credit is due, I am writing this article listening to the Biggus Geekus podcast. Kudos - Randy and Joe, for the interesting topic - and credit, DM Dastardly Dad for the great suggestion!

        Why write about it then, if it's already so popular, as you say? I think it's a neat idea - but what I didn't see was a detailed breakdown and mathematic scrutiny. Also - it's a great idea: why wouldn't I amplify it?

        How Do the Chances Look?

        Without the optional exploding die rule, the average roll for each of the respective pools are as follows:

          Minimum Average Maximum
        1d6 ) 1 3 6
        2d6 ) 2
        3d6 ) 3
        5d6 ) 5
        8d6 ) 8

        Thus, an average character (ability score 10) cannot fail an Easy task, would only fail ~8.3% of the time for a Normal task (requiring an 11 or 12 on 2d6), and would conversely fail ~47.2% of the time for a Challenging task. With this system, it becomes difficult to be impossible to pass: however the chance of failure changes rapidly as the curve becomes wider and wider. Also of interest - a character with a maximum score will never fail for Challenging tasks or below; where a character with a minimum score has at least a 50% chance for an Easy, the minimum score on the standard 3d6 stat array being 3.

        To expand, a character with a high or low ability has a chance to succeed on this scale as follows:

        Ability Easy Normal Challenging Difficult Impossible
        V. Low (4)
        16.7% 1.9% 0% 0%
        Low (7)
        100% 58.3% 16.2% 0.26% 0%
        Avg (10)
        100% 91.7% 50% 3.23% 0.03%
        High (13)
        100% 100% 83.8% 15.2% 0.11%
        V. High (16)
        100% 100% 98.1% 40%

        The numbers chosen were chosen for their relationship to the assumed 3d6 curve of character abilities: 13 is one standard deviation above, 16 two standard deviations above, 7 one below, and 4 two below. Swear To Me; Arthur Rackham You could create a spreadsheet function to produce more data - but the above, I think, provides a good illustration.

        Additionally, the percentiles are estimated - rounding conveniently for my brain - especially to the "Impossible" side of the scale: as rolling numbers less than 11 is almost statistically implausible: the likelihood of hitting those numbers being percentages of a percentage point. A character with an 18, for example - the nominal maximum in an OSR game - only has a 2.37% chance to succeed at an Impossible task.

        Introducing the exploding mechanic makes the math substantially more difficult. So - thank you, AnyDice, for doing it for me! The likelihood of success, based on high or low ability score, with exploding d6 (depth 1: that is, if you roll a 6 on your explosion roll, that second 6 does not, itself, explode):

        Ability Easy Normal Challenging Difficult Impossible
        V. Low (4)
        16.67% 1.85% 0% 0%
        Low (7)
        86.11% 58.33% 16.2% 0.27% 0%
        Avg (10)
        94.44% 91.67% 50% 3.24% 0.01%
        High (13)
        100% 97.22% 83.8% 15.2% 0.08%
        V. High (16)
        100% 97.69% 98.15% 39.97%

        At first glance, the numbers seem somewhat similar in some places. And this makes sense - for example, a character with an Ability score of 4 has no impact to an Easy task: if you roll a 6, eligible to explode, it doesn't matter: the roll has already failed and no explosion is necessary - thus, the chance of success is unmodified. However, it does introduce increased failure (albeit unlikely) for any other of the ability bands calculated: a score of 7, for example, on an Easy task would, if an initial 6 is rolled, only have a 1-in-6 chance to succeed as any other roll on the explosion would push the result over the ability score and into failure territory.

        Regarding the range and average of task rolls, incorporating the explosion mechanic, consider as follows (again, courtesy AnyDice):

          Minimum Average Maximum
        1d6 ) 1 4.08 12
        2d6 ) 2
        3d6 ) 3
        5d6 ) 5
        8d6 ) 8

        At a glance, the higher dice pools seem less phased by explosions than the lower ones, in terms of averages. That does make some sense - as the likelihood of the higher number of explosions, and thus higher results, becomes vanishingly small as it increases.

        Curiously - looking at some of the intermediary probabilities of success chances, it becomes impossible to have certain results. On an Easy check - 1d6 - obviously, you can never have a result of 6: because there will always be at least a +1 from the second die rolled. AnyDice, however, claimed that a 12 was also impossible on 2d6, or a Normal task, with exploding dice. At first, it seems plausible - there is only one way to get 12 on 2d6: two 6s, which would explode - but then if you think about it: you could have one 6, exploding by 2 to 8, and then roll a 4 on the other die: 8+4 is 12: so, at least one way to get a 12 on 2d6. I wonder if that's a glitch or if I simply entered an improper command. Similarly, I wonder if this would have impacted calculating the means...

        Lifted from the Ground; Gustave Brion
        On a final note, some of the probabilities at higher challenge tiers appear to be very close: which I would chalk up more to differences in how AnyDice rounded the results than to actual probability differences. Regardless - the chart does provide a good view into the way success or failure appears when using this method.


        I like this. I could see myself using this rule with the explosion variant. It's less swingy than 1d20, but still makes abilities matter. Likewise, the explosion acts as an equalizer: producing a setup where you can fail - but the likelihood of that failure is largely dependent on your ability and doing the task right. 

        There is room for some interpretation in the "would X work?" - speaking to defining the mechanism of the task - but that's what refereeing is all about. I ... probably would not call for any Impossible checks though. Waste of dice time.

        Delve on, readers!

        Public domain artwork retrieved from and adapted for thematic use. Attribution in alt text.

        Second Grid Initiative

        In a recent episode of Nerd's Variety RPG Podcast , the host Jason had called for listeners - on reward of a DriveThru gift card ...