Thursday, June 9, 2022

A d6 Resolution System for WhiteBox FMAG

(This is a train-of-thought posting, where no proper research was conducted. Surely a myriad of illuminaries have arrived at the same conclusions before. Please point sources my way, thank you!)

In recent games I have been fortunate enough to introduce several new players to the hobby of roleplaying games. Frankly, they are my favorite group to fish for. As much as I like the expertise of a commited and focused group of players tackling a demanding adventure, the delightful ingenuity from someone new to the medium is charming. They bring their own Appendix N of related media, minus past experience RPG baggage.

All of this to say that when playing Old School games with these neophyte players (B/X via OSE as of late), I see a lot of confusion about what rolls to make. And if they need to roll high or low!

Many systems have tried simplifying and streamlining things since. From new OSR inspired games that use roll-under ability score for all, to many other variants. Knave (everything's a save!), Black Hack (only players roll!), Macchiato Monsters (all is a risk die!)

Maryse Heilig
But despite delving into Knave and B/X or OSE, I find myself drawn to White Box FMAG. It has simplicity. It is well presented and laid out, with consistent artwork. It is readily available, and dirt cheap to get a printed copy! And more importantly, it is a constant invitation to lay out your preferences via rulings and house rules, stated numerous times throughout the text.

This post from 2009 (!) suggests using the Swords & Wizardry unified single Saving Throw (ST) for general task resolution.

BUT, I much prefer keeping things seprarate. The d20 to avoid and inflict danger (ST and combat). And a d6 for general task resolution. Since bonuses/maluses in WhiteBox are just up to plus/minus 1, let's use a simple d6. Target number is 5+.🦄

Having a relevant Background can give you a +1 to the task. And players can pour gold and weeks/months of downtime to gain new ones!
🦄🦄 So combined with a positive ability score maximally a player can stack a +2 to a roll.

Now some important caveats: keep rolling scarce, and avoid it in most cases in lieu of common sense. "Yes, you were a Butcher (background) and brought the Basilisk's carcass to the keep, so you are able to extract its eyes." OR "No, you cannot read or understand the runes in this archway since you don't know that area".

The outcome of this roll is not a binary YES/NO. Instead, since we are playing a TTRPG and there is a human brain running the fiction, I lay out chances and possible outcomes BEFORE any rolling is done. And this can be a YES/NO or YES/YES WITH CONSEQUENCES or YES/NO WITH CONSEQUENCES or whatever.

To the consequences. Everything is for grabs. Attack the character sheet. Most obvious...
1. Time. Task succeeds, but you are slow. Random encounter checks, timer, timer, timer.
2. Equipment. You force the door open with the crowbar, which ends up bent and useless in the process.
3. Future risk. You jump the chasm, but the bridge is damaged for your return.

🦄 With this I would reverse the usual Open Doors, Listening at Doors, Find Traps, etc. from the 2-in-6 to this 5+ to have equal odds, but a "roll-higher" instead.

🦄🦄 There are plenty of such d100 tables, from WHFRPG, to for instance Black Pudding, Shadow of the Demon Lord, etc. They inform setting and tone. As the effect is mild, there is no real risk of having less useful Backgrounds, as players have to come with interesting applications in each situation that comes up during play.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Ulflandia Play Report 1-3

This being a (long overdue) play report in our Ulflandia campaign, where the players basically tackle a single dungeon. Initially, there were no pretensions of evolving into a campaign, just to cleanse the palate after playing Willowby Hall. Things then snowballed, and we are now in the double-digit realm of sessions.

The avid reader will notice that this is Goblin Gully, an OSR classic. Used this Toadstool Gully variant instead of the original by Dyson Logos. Of course it ended up being easy to shoe-horn into Ulflandia, since the author of Toadstool was planning to use it in Necrotic Gnome's Dolmenwood anyways, and there are a lot of synergies between Ulflandia and Dolmenwood.

Goblin Gully is placed in hex #4626, in the Coblyns region.

Total play time for the 3 sessions: ~7.5 hours

The Cast

Higgley Halfling 1 (Copernico): cannibalistic gourmand; probably killed a wizard? (wears a wizard's hat and has wizard liver paté); collects ears.
Neem Thief 1 (iagson): suave thief; from the biggest distant city you never heard of; favors the crossbow.
- Calico Dwarf 1 (iagson), stout and with a broken broadsword
- Rana (Copernico), Magic-User 1, an alchemist's apprentice.


  • Two distracted Goblin sentries on top of the leafless tree, picking their noses and bickering. They spot the group and fire an arrow to Neem which brings him to the ground (0HP), luckily the suave Thief gets to tell the tale (made the save vs. death). This, the first roll of the game! Setting the tone...
  • Once the two sentries are bested by the group, Higgley questions a captive for details, stealing its bag of "magical shrooms". Giving into his meat devouring habits, the Halfling has to taste the goblin's calf! On the party goes, to the Gully
  • Drop halfling down to the bridge with rope. Down there, patroll of goblins approach and spot him! Rana the retainer flings herself down the rope too, doesn't catch the rail, and perishes at the bottom of the pit.
  • A series of confrontrations on the fragile bridge ensue, where the party comes out with the upper hand. Then, they decide to descend to the bottom, check that odd frog statue and loot Rana's body. In the process they discover and negotiate with a talking toad, Xaar, to drive off the goblins in exchange of future riches.
  • Group gets mushrooms from Xaar the talking toad, that allows them to create a (temporary) clone of themselves. Intellect and instincts of a dog, dissolves at nighttime. This proved invaluable to the group, and served as cannon fodder. The group's number is doubled!
  • Next room with glue and rope, and a trapdoor going down (Pretty glaring mistake on my end here. There is no trapdoor in the map, just a descending staircase. Oh well...). Fleeing goblins manage to gain a safe position by climbing up the rope (and pulling it up!). At this point the group goes back and forth, unclear on what the next move will be. Players moan and bicker and grovel.
  • Negotiation with the Goblin Prince. Goblins taken too many losses, and are willing to negotiate. "Want to go downstairs? Sure sure. Great treasure behind big door".

the goblin prince. just a negotiating voice for most of the game!

  • With a temporary and fickle truce in place, and a goblin mook to guide and oversee them, they descend to the goblins' barracks. This was a temple at some point, there's an altar, a big stone door, and carved reliefs and runes on the walls. Here I stole the hammer trap from Tomb of the Serpent Kings wholesale, and the group solved it by moving the altar!
  • All Hell breaks loose! Black Pudding released! The "clones" take the worst of it, the group scadoodles out of here fast like the wind, shortly followed by the Goblin Prince & co. Proceeds to add a Black Pudding to the overland encounter table...

capture of our Roll20 gaming board

Referee Commentary

  • Should have made the bridge combat more realistic, and give the structure a decent chance to break under that duress (with the consequent fall!).
  • My players like to overthink and plan zany endeavours. A lot! Sometimes have to push them to reach a decision.
  • The random mushroom bag obtained from the goblin sentries, with random effects, was an absolute kick. And Higgley would benefit from it for in-game weeks (sessions) to come...
  • As a mea culpa, I realize more and more that a shortcoming of my refereeing is not being impactful enough. "Bad" or risky player decisions should get the impartial outcome they deserve. Instead, I tend to get muddled in unneccesary and rocambolesque saving throws, x-in-6 rolls, etc.
  • I also failed to make the goblins whimsy and trickstery, instead resorting to the dull cannon fodder mooks stereotype.