Heeding Gygax’s Admonition


From Advanced Dungeons and Dragons “Dungeon Masters Guide” pg. 37

The context for this admonition is found in the preceding paragraph:

Game time is of utmost importance. Failure to keep careful track of time expenditure by player characters will result in many anomalies in the game. The stricture of time is what makes recovery of hit points meaningful. Likewise, the time spent adventuring in wilderness areas removes concerned characters from their bases of operations – be they rented chambers or battlemented strongholds. Certainly the most important time strictures pertains to the manufacturing of magic items, for during the period of such activity no adventuring can be done. Time is also considered in gaining levels and learning new languages and more. All of these demands upon game time force choices upon player characters and likewise number their days of game life…YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.

Armed with a free evening, the Donjon Fantasy Calendar, and a design goal for my calendar, I created the “common” calendar for the campaign I’ve been running at Better World Books in Goshen.

The Calendar

Lunar Cycle

Ahurzda and Chel are the two moons of Anthan. Their lunar cycle is 8 days and 22 days. Each season starts when Ahurzda and Chel are both full moons. Mid-season is when Ahurzda is a full moon and Chell is a new moon. The lunar cycle of Ahurzda tracks to a week, and Chel tracks to a month. The year is 16 months long (and 352 days long).

Weekday Names

  • Amunday
  • Ryday
  • Ramaday
  • Loeday
  • Thulday
  • Fyrday
  • Setday
  • Sullenday

Month Names

  • Winter’s Fang
  • Winter’s Heart
  • Winter’s Belly
  • Winter’s Tail
  • Spring’s Breath
  • Spring’s Hope
  • Spring’s Laugh
  • Spring’s End
  • Summer’s Word
  • Summer’s Fire
  • Summer’s Furnace
  • Summer’s Flight
  • Autumn’s Song
  • Autumn’s Embrace
  • Autumn’s Feast
  • Autumn’s Fade


Matthew Colville’s “Time and Calendars” Youtube video inspired me to hunker down and the work on my calendar.

Since I have been running sessions at the bookstore with different adventuring groups, I’ve realized that I need to get my day to day time-tracking in order so I can better track the moving pieces of the campaign.

We have run six 0-level character funnels run in the environs of Bitterweed Barrow, all while a 1st level group continues exploring the somewhat larger surroundings of Bitterweed Barrow.

The next step is to write out the current campaign timeline (and as extra credit backfill the campaign blog posts).

Further Reading

People continue to reflect on Gygax’s Admonition:

I would recommend googling “YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.” and looking for other posts as well.

Expanding on My Procedures for Open Table Gaming

I’m responding to some questions by irken][nvader on my previous blog post.

I would love it if you can fill in some details about a few things:

  • can you expand on: “Set expectations about DCC (and old school gaming)”
  • what about: “Look for connecting pieces”
  • why “Assume that I may need to run something different”, and how different? Different adventure? Different world/campaign? Different game?

Set expectations about DCC (and old school gaming)

When new players join the table, I recite something along these lines:

We will be playing a Dungeon Crawl Classics character funnel. Each of you will have 4 fragile characters to start. The goal is to make it through the dungeon with at least one of them alive. In campaign play, the survivor(s) would be your character(s) in further adventures. It won’t be easy, and you should think of your characters as pawns. Don’t risk them all at once.

My Dungeon Crawl Classics Agenda and Advice post has more on this topic.

Look for connecting pieces

I have run 3 funnels in Bitterweed Barrow. Joan has run 2 more. Each funnel creates a few possible subplots or ideas.

In each of the funnels, Joan has been the consistent player. To help connect characters from one funnel group to another funnel group, I look for things to connect.

A holy writ discovered in one funnel will come up later and may inter-relate with a map from another funnel.

Assume that I may need to run something different

At present, when I show up at the game store, if I have quorom (me and 2 other players), I’m going to run DCC. I have a primary crew, that is presently in the Tower of the Stargazer. My assumption is I will run that.

If there are players without characters, I’ll do what I can to incorporate some new level 0 characters. Otherwise, the table has one shared character (Obexa the Agent being a key example).

I’m going to encourage them to begin hiring hirelings and henchmen. There is wisdom in having more than 4 characters in your group.

If I don’t have two players from that group, I’ll run another funnel. I’m building up Bitterweed Barrow to be a place where people are coming to seek their wealth (see my “Guess Who’s Coming to Bitterweed Barrow” blog post for these procedures).

I also make sure that I’m bringing the following to each session:

  • 30 or so random characters
  • My copy of Barrowmaze Complete
  • Extra pencils
  • Extra dice

My Procedure for Facilitating Open Table Gaming

I am 7 sessions into a drop-in Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) campaign that I run at my local game store – Better World Books. I have made a personal commitment for the foreseeable future that whenever possible I will run an open table RPG session at the game store.

My Procedure

On Friday check my schedule, if it’s open:

Set aside at least two hours of solid preparation time to:

During commutes to work:

On game day (Thursday):

  • Show up at least 15 minutes beforehand
  • Bring pencils, character sheets, dice, paper, rulebooks
  • Create an open and inviting table
  • Set expectations about DCC (and old school gaming)
  • Assume that I may need to run something different
  • Say yes an awful lot; require luck checks
  • Take some notes


What is Working

Regular Schedule

The regular schedule is mission critical; Every week is optimal. I also run regardless of who is present.

Open Table

Keeping the table open – I have now played with at least 13 new players, introducing them to DCC and my interpretation of old school gaming. Each table has different dynamics; Seeing the camaraderie build over the session is rewarding. I do my best to ensure that I have an open and inclusive table.

Writing Session Reports

I’ve made a personal commitment to writing extensive session reports and sharing them across different channels. I also want people to see my session development process. James Maliszewski’s Grognardia posts are my inspirations. He developedDwimmermount, his megadungeon, session by session; Encoding lessons learned into the random tables, encounters, and history of Dwimmermount.

Writing Random Tables

I have found writing random tables helps my campaign preparation. I think about different directions the campaign could go, but don’t commit to going there.

Joining the Road Crew

The thing that tipped the scales in my decision to run a FLGS open-table game instead of a house game was the Goodman Games road crew program. The table appreciates the small tokens of appreciation sent by Goodman Games. It also builds in accountability into my proces.

Focusing on the Campaign and not the Characters

Yes, I think about what the King of Elfland demands of his patronee; Or how stealing a few silver coins from a road side shrine can have dramatic consequences. But my focus is on making sure I understand the campaign world as it emerges. That I can convey that understanding to the players. And that the players can build assumptions and take actions based on their understanding.

Start Them at 0-Level

New players start with a handful of 0-level characters. They are mixed with the seasoned 1st level characters. I have found this works, and the players grow attached to their survivors.

It also means that there is a steady influx of characters, implying that no characters are foundational for the campaign. The world goes on without them.

When in Doubt, Call for a Luck Check

Players are always coming up with plans; Some more outlandish than others. But DCC provides a perfect mechanic to address these brilliant plans; Call for a Luck check. Either roll under or hit a DC. Regardless it lets them know that Luck is important.

Sidebar: I am contemplating adding the DCC Lankmar “Fleeting Luck” rules to the game, but don’t know if that is yet the style I am after. I’ll test drive it in another funnel.

What Have I Done Differently

I have a deep love for campaign play. Characters developing. Growing a shared narrative amongst friends.

For years I kept trying to force a campaign by orchestrating schedules and clearing times that we could play. That is a lot of work. Now the requirements for this game are: I am running a game on Thursday, come if you are able.

This flips my previous dependency on others. If the game captivates the players, they will make time for my game.

I’m seeing the emergence of the campaign I desire. Seven sessions is the longest campaign I’ve run since running The Red Hand of Doom in 3E.

Working Through Beliefs for Burning Sanctuary

I’m working with a first time Burning Wheel player. He sent me a rather lengthy email about his character for our upcoming Burning Sanctuary.

I think some of this might be helpful for those considering Burning Wheel. With the player’s permission, I am reposting these questions.


As expected, he provided a rather lengthy section on beliefs as well as some reasons behind those beliefs.

Proposed Belief

  • I need to retrieve this <artifact, promissory note, message, military intelligence, etc?>that was confiscated by the Abbey and deliver it Ranulf de Gernon
    • Leaving this vague for now…
  • Serve Ranulf until it becomes clear that he can’t advance my status or finances any further or you catch the eye of a superior lord.
    • Does only one of the first two beliefs need to exist or is this okay as is? The first belief exists nested in the second.


I love the specifics of the 1st belief. To strengthen it, it needs to incoprorate a reason. Why is he delivering the McGuffin to the Earl of Chester? What does he hope to gain?

With that in place, the player can remove the next belief “Serve Ranulf until it becomes clear that he can’t advance my status” and focus on something else; perhaps an ethos belief.

There is more discussion about other beliefs as well as guiding-light discussion. All told an excellent bit of work from the player.

Character Problems

I loved the “Character Problems” section. At this point, he is the first player to share the nature of his beliefs, instincts, and traits. In doing so, he begins to give shape to the campaign.


Is it inappropriate or gamey to start with a relationship with a major player when you’re just a reputable village tradesman? Should the relationship be with some courtier or middle rank instead?


I love the relationship with Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester. You spent your resource points (as per the rules). For 15 resource points, you could have a relationship with King Stephen or Empress Matilda.

In spending the resources you are telling me and the table that you want Ranulf de Gernon to play a role in the upcoming campaign; And you want to have guaranteed access to him (and starting with an amicable disposition).


Why not just go from merchant to magnate for the fourth lifepath instead of smuggler?

  • It would make more sense for Ranulf to work with a respected merchant magnate, likely with court experience, then to work with a lowly merchant smuggler.
  • However, it seems more interesting to me to start small-time with B2 resources and work up instead of just having a huge B6 resources immediately. The smuggler can do more things outside of social and financial situations. Seems more flavorful as well.


I agree that it will be more interesting to start with a small-time B2 resources and claw your way up. It also adds complications to Ranulf de Gernon, Earl of Chester. He has a relationship with someone ill-reputable.

It creates an asymmetric and unstable relationship – a relationship in motion.

Burning Sanctuary

I’m looking to leverage the situation of the English Anarchy. I have not given much consideration for non-human character stock.

What’s the big picture? What’s going on in this setting that makes it ripe for adventure. What’s changing, evolving, declining?

British Isles

14th Century English Isles

The Norman barons had once sworn to install Empress Matilda as Queen of England. But upon King Henry I’s death in 1135 they, along with the church and people of London, raised Stephen of Blois to King of England. Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou fled England.

Though supporting King Stephen, the barons have used this time to expand and tighten their holdings in England and Normandy. A Welsh rebellion has succeeded, as King Stephen focused on England and Normandy.

Both the Earl Robert of Gloucester (her half-brother) and King David I of Scotland (her uncle) have declared for Empress Matilda. King David I of Scotland has broken his earlier treaty, once more invading northern England. The Earl of Gloucester is in open rebellion.

Stephen has responded to these revolts, by attempting to seize control of Gloucester. Part of that campaign has been the siege and capture of Shrewsbury.

What’s the world’s culture? What are the cultural analogs? Analogs can be taken from historical earth, current events or fantasy works.

Its 12th century Northern Europe. Serfs are bound to their lords manor. Knights follow a complicated code of chivalry, established by the papacy to better shape their aggression.

There is a general chaos as Norway, Denmark, and France cope with civil wars and succession conflicts.

What’s the conflict in which the characters are involved? What are the sides? What’s wrong?

Three days ago, you declared sanctuary at Shrewsbury Abbey. Per the law of the land, you have 40 days to either confess your sins or abjure the realm. You have surrendered your possessions. Per the charter of Shrewsbury Abbey, you are free to move about the abbey’s holdings; a few fields for sheep.

Yesterday, King Stephen hanged over 100 knights that had defended Shrewsbury. But the castellan of Shrewsbury, Willian FitzAlan, managed to escape and join in rebellion.

It is September 1st, 1138 A.D.

What physical place does this conflict take place in? What ecology, environment, place?

12th century England. Keeps and castles dot the landscape, many wooden motte and bailey, though a few are stone fortresses. Connecting pockets of civilization are trails and roads, some reminders of the Roman empires. Ancient burial mounds dot the fields. The old forests remain, a reminder of past eras.

What’s the name of the most important place in this setting?

Near the heath and hills of Wales is Shrewsbury, a city with an abbey and motte and bailey castle. It is along the river Severn.

What’s the name of a faraway place that folks talk about, dream about or mutter under their breath about?

Rome, the divine seat of power and progenitor of the empire of the eagles.

Who are the antagonists? Who is opposing the goals of the characters?

There are two major factions:

  • King of England, Stephen of Blois
  • Empress Matilda, claimant to the Crown of England

King Stephen

  • Matilda of Boulogne, queen consort of King Stephen
  • Bishop Henry of Winchester – Brother of King Stephen
  • Count Eustace IV of Boulogne – son of King Stephen
  • Archbishop of Canterbury Theobald of Bec – appointed by King Stephen
  • Earl Ranulf de Gernon of Chester – loyal to King Stephen, though upset at loss of holdings to Scotland
  • Pope Innocent II – supported by letter King Stephen’s claim
  • Roger of Salisbury – Chancellor of England, Bishop of Salisbury
  • Miles of Gloucester – loyal to King Stephen, though he is reconsidering

Empress Matilda

  • Henry FitzEmpress – son of Empress Matilda
  • King David I of Scotland – uncle of Empress Matilda
  • Earl Robert of Gloucester – half-brother of Empress Matilda
  • Count Geoffrey of Anjou – husband of Empress Matilda
  • William FitzAlan – Castellan of Shrewsbury and Lord of Oswestry
  • Brian Fitz Count of Wallingford – loyal to Empress Matilda

Imagine all of the characters are standing a room/ruin/field with the antagonists or their minions. What do the antagonists want from that meeting? What do the characters want from that meeting?

King Stephen demands your loyalty and assurances of such; Be they hostages or holdings. You will take up cause against Empress Matilda and fight to ensure that Eustace is his heir.

Empress Matilda has similar demands, though she seeks Henry FitzEmpress as her heir.

Alternately, imagine the characters standing at the scene of some great disaster or calamity clearly caused by one of the antagonists. What’s the disaster? How did it happen? What are the characters going to do about it right now?

The peasantry has been taxed to its breaking point; Starvation is rampant and disease lays waste to villages. Banditry and worse are the result of two nobles fighting for the scraps of a decaying kingdom.

What type of magic exists in this world?

Lets talk about this. I am thinking of Faith and at least Folklore from the Burning Wheel Codex.

This will be a table conversation.

What character stocks are in play in this world? Which are restricted and why?

  • Humans are the dominant character stocks. It is said that the Welsh are the descendants of the Elves.
  • Trolls haunt the hills and fens.
  • Great wolves live in the ancient woods of the world.

I’m up for including others.

What cultural traits apply to the characters of this game world? Pick three character traits for each culture.

  • Anglo-Saxon: Folksy, grumbler, charitable
  • Anglo-Normand: Refined, tall, arrogant
  • Welsh: Beautiful singer, rebellious, charitable
  • Scottish: Rugged, independent, boisterous
  • Irish: Rugged, artsy, story-teller

What’s your resources cycle? 1 month, seasonal, 6 months, annual? What’s the game world’s currency? Who collects the taxes? What do people do for work? what’s the major economy?

Resource cycle is seasonal. The kings taxmen collect the taxes. Pound, pennies, and farthings. The major economy is agriculture. Most people are peasants or yeoman scratching out a meager living.

Material world: what weapons and armor are available? Are some weapons and armor restricted to certain cultures or character stocks? What property is available? are resources and gear otherwise restricted?

Firearms and plate mail are not available.

House Rules for upcoming D&D 5E campaign

Following up on my post on building a set of D&D house rules, here are the current rules that I want to use, along with their intended purpose. The overall guiding principle is that I want players to consider combat as a dangerous, unpredictable, and costly option.

Table of Contents

  • Ability Checks
  • Aftermath of Combat
  • Conversation Reaction
  • Exploding Criticals
  • Firing into Melee
  • Hazard System (Time Management)
  • Healing and Recovery – pending; Slowed recovery times
  • Life Drain – pending; Based on 5E but slower recovery
  • Loyalty – pending; Based on 5E DMG
  • Massive Damage
  • Morale
  • Missile Fire While in Melee – pending
  • Pushing Spellcasting – pending; Rolemaster and Burning Wheel inspired
  • Ritual Magic
  • Scripted Combat – pending; Inspired by BWG, D&D 2E yet cribbed from 5E DMG
  • Spellcasting While in Melee – pending
  • Where We Last Left Off

Ability Checks

When you fail an ability check, you may choose to succeed at cost. If you fail by more than 5, choosing success will come at a major cost.

Intention: Sometimes failure is boring, or the player really wants it. If that is the case, I’m willing to give it to them, at a cost.

Aftermath of Combat

After any combat, each character that engaged in combat must either:

  • Spend a turn resting
  • Ignore resting, making a Constitution save (DC 8 + number of rounds of combat) or gain one level of exhaustion.

While spending a turn resting, a character may:

  • Spend one (1) hit die to regain hit points
  • Cast non-ritual spells
  • Perform other non-strenuous activity

Intention: To highlight that combat is exhausting and has a potential opportunity cost.

Conversation Reaction

Not all encounters need start with drawing swords. If characters choose to engage in a conversation, the GM will determine their starting disposition – friendly, indifferent, or hostile.

Once the players get to the point of their request or demand roll the applicable Charisma (perception, persuasion, or intimidation) check as applicable. Then consult the table for the response.

Extracted from the 5E Dungeon Master’s Guide p244
DC Friendly Indifferent Hostile
0 Do it if no risk/cost No help nor harm Opposes action might take risk
10 Do it will accept minor risk/cost Do it if no risk/cost No help nor harm
20 Do it will accept major risk/cost Do it will accept minor risk/cost Do it if no risk/cost

Exploding Criticals (Old House Rule)

When you roll a critical hit, roll your attack again and increase your critical hit range by 1. If this would be a critical hit, roll again and increase the range again by 1, and so on. Once your roll is not a critical hit, the number of critical hits you achieved is the number of extra times you roll damage.

Example: Fath, an elf fighter, wielding his longsword (d8+3) is attacking an ogre. He rolls a 20 on his attack. A critical hit. Fath needs to see if his critical explodes; He’ll need a 19 or 20 to continue exploding; The roll is a 19. Fath’s player grabs the die and rolls again; This time he’ll need an 18, 19 or 20. He rolls an 17. So close.

Fath’s final damage roll is 3d8+3; one die for base damage, one for the ciritical, and one for the first explosion.

Intention: Because ever-increasing chances of doing damage builds an interesting excitement; Once I start rolling my odds keep getting better. How lucky will I be?

Firing into Melee (Inspired by DMG 2E Revised p132)

When firing into a melee, any attack that requires a to hit roll might hit unintended targets. Count the target of the attack and any potential targets adjacent to the intended target.

For each target determine their chance value, doubling the chance for the intended target. Then randomly determine which target is hit based on the weighted chance.

Target Size Chance Value
Tiny 1/4
Small 1/2
Medium 1
Large 2
Huge 4
Gargantuan 8

An attacker may take a -5 to their to hit roll to avoid any chance of hitting an unintended target.

Intention: I want to highlight that firing into melee is unreliable and dangerous. I could grant disadvantage, but the nuances of random means that leaders can have meat shields to better save themselves.

Hazard System

I will be using the Brendan S’s Hazard System; Though perhaps with a few adjustments.

Intention: My goal is to expand the elapsed campaign time. I want changes in the world around the players. I want careful consideration of all resources.


An injury occurs when you…

  • Drop to 0 hit points but aren’t killed outright.
  • Fail a death saving throw by 5 or more.

See page 272 of the DMG for the chart.

Intention: To add combat induced complications. To call attention to the fact that combat heroics are not without cost.

Massive Damage

If you take half of your maximum hit points (or more) in a single attack, you must succeed at a DC 15 Constitution save or suffer system shock (see DMG p273). If you fail your save by 5 or more, roll system shock with disadvantage.

Transcribed from the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide p273
d10 Effect
1 Creature drops to 0 hit points.
2-3 Creature drops to 0 hit points but is stable.
4-5 Creature is stunned until the end of its next turn.
6-7 Creature can’t take reactions and has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks until the end of its next turn.
8-10 The creature can’t take reactions until the end of its next turn.

Intention: Keep ratcheting up the notion that “combat is dangerous”; Under the existing rules dropping to 0 hit points buys you quite a bit of time before you die.


Creatures might flee if…

  • Surprised
  • When reduced to 1/2 its hit points or fewer (for the first time in the battle)
  • Has no way to harm opposition

Group might flee if…

  • All are surprised
  • Group’s leader is incapacitated, killed, captured, or removed from the battle
  • Group is reduced to half its original size with no losses on opposing side.

Check morale by having the creature or group leader make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw.

Note: Player characters need never make morale checks. Henchmen, retainers, and hirelings must make morale checks.

Intention: I don’t want combatants to fight to the death; Draw attention to the fact that few people would fight on to the bitter end.

Ritual Magic

Any spell may be cast as a ritual. Spells that have the ritual tag may be cast as a ritual as per the existing rules. Otherwise, the following rules apply.

To cast a spell as a ritual, you must:

  • Spend viz or arcane reagents in GP value equal to 10 x spell level2
  • Reference a ritual (or spell) book that has the spell
  • Have the ritual casting feat or class feature

Intention: I want make ritual books

Where We Last Left Off

At the beginning of the session, one player should give a brief retelling of the previous session. That player’s character gains inspiration. Any player that wrote up a session report for the previous session gains inspiration.

Intention: To help refresh everyone’s memory of what happened last week.

Building a Set of D&D House Rules

I have very fond memories of D&D 2E combats:

* Firing into melee
* Declare actions, roll initiative, then resolve; Repeat each round
* Spell casting disruption
* House ruled exploding criticals
* System shock
* Limited healing

Combat in 2E was chaotic and dangerous – not Rolemaster dangerous – but more so than later incarnations. And 4E was an unmitigated slog fest of predictability.

This is one reason I love the Burning Wheel combat system; Shit goes sour fast. And diving into Fight! or Range & Cover is something to carefully consider. But Burning Wheel is not in the running for the game I’d run.

So as I prepare for my next campaign short-lived multi-session game, I’m looking towards the 2E rules for inspiration and how they would map to a 5E game. I am also looking around for other things I want to add to the game.

Burning Wheel’s spell mishap is crazy awesome; My character summoned imps on a few occassions. We would kill the imp and extract the essence to make baked goods that never went stale.

I like the idea that spells are predictable if you cast them “by the book”; But you want to remove or reduce a somatic or verbal component, you need a casting check. If you cast a spell while an enemy is threatening you, you are tempting fate.

I’m also balancing the idea of Torchbearer‘s resource management, Brandon S’s Hazard System, and 1E DMG advice; “YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT” (1E DMG page 37). Jeff Rient’s Timeliness is next to Godliness has an insightful perspective on this topic.

All of this is to say, I am after a game in which combat is a viable option. However, its unpredictability encourages players to find alternate solutions. What I am after is hinted at in Torchbearer:

If you think the players have come up with a good idea—a smart use of their gear, spells or even bodies—then there is no need to roll the dice for test, no need to spend a check and it doesn’t cost a turn.

In other words. Make time important. Make conflicts cost more time. Make the cost salient. All of which is there to encourage players to solve problems without resorting to combat and to a lesser extent direct conflict.

And there-in lies the game design. What about the game do I want to make important. And shape the subsystems to hammer on what is import.

But as with any system, if you change something, pay attention to the ripple effect. For example, since I’m discouraging direct conflict, I’ll need to review the expectations of combat; And one of those is encounter XP.