Hackbut – Time and Movement

At long last, another proper blog post. I am picking up the series on my homebrew classic D&D rules. We were getting into the rules of play. Last time, we discussed experience and progress. For this post, we will look at time and movement.


I handle time reasonably straightforwardly. I define a Dungeon Exploration Turn as lasting ten minutes. A Combat Round, I set at ten seconds. The latter is perhaps a bit controversial. I follow Delta’s reasoning, which has served me fine.

What about time in the wilderness? When I wrote the version of Hackbut that we currently use, we played Castle Xyntillan, which does not include wilderness exploration. In our current campaign, Planet Karus, we do hex crawl. There, a turn takes up a full day, which, if needed, can be divided into two sets of three watches. (A full write-up of the wilderness rules we use in Planet Karus can be found here.)

A final unit of time that does get mentioned in Hackbut is downtime. Again, my use of this has shifted with the campaigns. In Castle Xyntillan, a downtime turn is always a week. In Planet Karus, we now use 1:1 timekeeping, so downtime lasts however much real-world time has passed.


Moving on to movement (sorry), the first thing to tackle is scale. The standard scale in the dungeon is 1 inch = 5 feet. Movement rates are expressed in inches. Dungeon maps use 10-foot squares. (In the wilderness, we use hex maps with a standard scale of 6 miles.)

In combat, you can move five times your movement rate in feet per round.

While exploring, careful movement, mapping, and checking for traps are assumed. You can move 100/3 times your movement rate (sic) during a turn.

Normal movement through cleared areas is at five times your exploration rate. Running is at ten times your regular movement rate.

Yes, these exploration rates are generous and prevent the need to count squares. But they are more realistic (again, see Delta’s many posts on the subject), which makes in-game outcomes more predictable. It also has the nice side-effect that in-game and out-of-game time elapsed while in the dungeon are more or less the same (if the referee keeps track of exploration turns, as they should.)

A side note on movement in the wilderness: as in OD&D, double your movement rate in miles per day. But we do something different, inspired by this lecture by Settembrini and taken from Outdoor Survival: we use movement points, which are spent when entering a hex. The movement rate is converted into one point for every three inches of movement you have. Each terrain type has a movement cost. This works very, very well. I highly recommend it. 

A final thing included in the rules is a box on zones and ranges for theater-of-the-mind-style play. This is a hold-over from our days playing The Black Hack. We don’t really ever use abstractions like this anymore, but we do play theater of the mind a lot. If everyone at the table is generous and reasonable, issues related to movement, time, and distance rarely, if ever, become a point of contention. In the grand scheme of things, they seldom matter that much. Only in high-stakes situations does it pay to be precise. Those are the moments when you won’t want to use abstractions anyway.

That’s it for time and movement. Next up, saving throws!

Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 22

We managed to sit down for a game of D&D just before the end of the month. Notably, the players have breached the third level of the campaign’s tentpole dungeon. They also ‘burned’ a tremendous amount of treasure to level up their characters.

In which a group of adventurers, led by Ploikal, the swift-footed mage, and his daring comrades embark on a treasure-seeking journey into the depths of the eerie Balok dungeon. They encounter giant rats and hostile albino neanderthals, manage to gather a modest haul of gems and silver pieces, and face a terrifying horde of zombies. Tragically, one of their own falls in the undead melee. Despite this loss, they return safely, their spirits lifted by the successful acquisition of treasures, which they celebrate with a legendary bender.

Read on over at

Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 21

A short but sweet session on my birthday, in which I got to kill two characters, both run by the same player. My players really really know me so well.

In which adventurers Kaplull, Gita, Xull, and Gorakal set out to explore The Balok, encounter a robot named Sterling, and face fierce bonecrushers. Tragically, Kaplull and Gita fall in battle. Amidst their losses, the group secures enchanted boots and a valuable figurine, returning home with tales of bravery and sorrow.

Read on over at

Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 20

The marathon D&D session I have been daydreaming about for a long time finally occurred last weekend. Six players and I spent most Saturday playing, only stopping for the occasional break and pizza. I was completely exhausted by the end, but we had a blast. Felt like old times. Below is the usual machine-generated summary of the play report.

In which an intrepid party of adventurers, comprising Ploikal, Xull, Gorakal, Konn, Kaplull, and Pholgon, embark on a daring journey through the treacherous landscapes of Buraith and beyond. Their quest leads them to the ruins of a crashed spaceboat and the lair of bone crusher dogs. Amidst encounters with ochre jellies, zombified Visitor soldiers, and formidable space crabs, the group skillfully acquires a trove of treasures, including valuable engine parts, ancient surgical tools, magical potions, and exotic weaponry. They skillfully navigate threats and surprises throughout their expedition, emerging unscathed and significantly wealthier. Their adventure concludes with a triumphant return to Batbeng, laden with spoils and eager for future escapades.

Read on over at

Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 19

We played another game the other night. Below is a short machine-generated summary. Click through to read the full report. This was a fully improvised affair. Players latched on to a tossed-off rumor about mysterious goings-on in the farmers’ guild hall, and wouldn’t you know it, they wanted to go “investigate.”

Planet Karus session 19, in which the party, comprising Konn and Ploikal, embarks on a stealthy heist at the Farmers’ Guild Hall, uncovering its secret as a base for a cult devoted to the harvest goddess Yiggub. Utilizing magic, invisibility, and summoned creatures, they navigate through guards and a sudden onslaught of skeletons, successfully looting treasure, including gemstone eyes from a statue, before making a narrow escape into the night.

Read on over at


1d100 Sword, Sandal and Planet Tropes

That previous list of planetary romance tropes was fun and useful, but Planet Karus is the kind of science fantasy where we are on an alien world that was once technologically advanced but has collapsed back into barbarism after a long-forgotten cataclysm of some sort. The level of civilizational development is now roughly similar to the ancient world: Mesopotamia, ancient Greece, Rome… So we need a list of tropes that smashes together the sword and sandal genre (also known as peplum) and planetary romance. So that’s what I got ChatGPT 4 to do for me, take the description of both genres as input, and generate 100 commonplace ideas for this sort of non-existent genre, which I might call sandal and planet going forward. Here they are below, unedited.

  1. Mythic Heroes in Space: Similar to Hercules in ancient settings, but now they’re interstellar adventurers with a blend of mythical strength and space-age technology.
  2. Ancient Ruins on Alien Planets: Discovering remnants of ancient, advanced civilizations on distant planets, echoing the ruins of Rome or Greece.
  3. Space Chariot Races: Adapting the iconic Roman chariot races into high-speed, anti-gravity vehicle competitions on alien worlds.
  4. Interstellar Gladiator Arenas: Combining the gladiator battles of ancient Rome with high-tech, interplanetary settings where warriors from different planets compete.
  5. Galactic Empires and Feudal Societies: Empires spanning multiple planets, with a social and political structure reminiscent of Ancient Rome or Greece.
  6. Mythological Creatures as Alien Species: Creatures from ancient mythologies reimagined as alien beings with unique abilities and cultures.
  7. Lost Technology as Magic Artifacts: Artifacts of lost alien technology that are perceived and used as magical objects by less advanced societies.
  8. Star-Crossed Alien Love: Romantic tales reminiscent of chivalric romances, involving characters from different planets or species.
  9. Planetary Oracles and Prophecies: Merging the concept of oracles and prophecies from ancient myths with alien worlds, guiding or misleading space adventurers.
  10. Space Odyssey: Epic journeys across the galaxy, echoing the travels and trials of heroes like Odysseus, but set in a vast cosmic landscape.
  11. Alien Colosseums: Enormous, technologically advanced arenas on alien planets where interstellar versions of Roman gladiatorial games are held.
  12. Interplanetary Councils of Gods: A pantheon of powerful beings from different planets, reminiscent of Greek or Roman gods, influencing or meddling in galactic affairs.
  13. Star-Faring Centurions: Soldiers or space marines styled after Roman Centurions, upholding the law of a vast interstellar empire.
  14. Celestial Charioteers: Heroes or gods traveling across the stars in vehicles reminiscent of ancient chariots.
  15. Desert Planets with Ancient Cultures: Worlds that mirror the sandy landscapes and ancient cultures of North Africa or the Middle East.
  16. Planetary Oracles and Seers: Individuals with the ability to predict or influence future events, regarded with awe and fear on various planets.
  17. Space Vestal Virgins: Guardians of sacred alien artifacts or knowledge, similar to the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome.
  18. Galactic Olympics: Interplanetary competitions that are a mix of ancient Olympic Games and futuristic sports, showcasing physical and technological prowess.
  19. Interstellar Trade Agoras: Marketplaces on different planets resembling the Agoras of Ancient Greece, centers for commerce, culture, and political discourse.
  20. Planetary Feuds and Wars: Epic conflicts between planets or star systems, mirroring the famous wars of ancient history, like the Trojan War or the Punic Wars.
  21. Mystic Space Priestesses: Revered female figures who combine elements of ancient priestesses and mystics with a cosmic perspective.
  22. Alien Beast Hunts: Extraterrestrial versions of mythological beast hunts, where heroes face off against strange creatures on distant planets.
  23. Galactic Senate Intrigue: Political maneuvering and power struggles within a grand senate or council, echoing the political drama of Ancient Rome.
  24. Starborne Philosophers: Thinkers and scholars who travel the galaxy, spreading wisdom and engaging in debates reminiscent of those in ancient Greek academies.
  25. Celestial Temples and Shrines: Sacred places of worship or significance on different planets, echoing the architectural grandeur of ancient temples.
  26. Intergalactic Chariot Convoys: Caravans or fleets of space vehicles, serving as the interstellar equivalent of ancient trade routes and caravans.
  27. Mythical Trials in Space: Heroes undergoing a series of trials or labors across different planets, akin to the labors of Hercules.
  28. Planetary Conquerors and Emperors: Ambitious leaders or emperors who seek to expand their rule across multiple worlds, similar to the conquerors of ancient history.
  29. Space Amphitheaters for Public Discourse: Forums or public spaces on planets where citizens gather to discuss and debate, akin to the forums of ancient Rome.
  30. Alien Oracle Networks: A system of oracles across different planets, each with their unique methods of divination and prophecy, interconnected in a cosmic network.
  31. Interstellar Epic Poems: Stories of heroic deeds and adventures, shared across galaxies in a style reminiscent of ancient epic poetry.
  32. Cosmic Spartacus Rebellion: A galaxy-wide uprising led by a charismatic leader, mirroring the historical figure of Spartacus and his rebellion.
  33. Alien Olympians: Powerful extraterrestrial beings who are worshipped or revered like the gods of Olympus, each ruling over different aspects of the cosmos.
  34. Galactic Legionnaires: Elite warriors or soldiers who serve in a spacefaring legion, maintaining order across planets, akin to the Roman legionnaires.
  35. Planetary Pythia: Mysterious figures on various worlds who serve as sources of wisdom and guidance, similar to the Oracle of Delphi.
  36. Spaceborne Epic Battles: Large-scale conflicts in space, evoking the grand battles of ancient epics with a mix of futuristic weaponry and tactics.
  37. Celestial Sybils: Prophetic women who offer cryptic predictions and guidance, respected and feared across different planets.
  38. Interstellar Agon: A term for the conflict or struggle central to a story, taking place across planets and involving a diverse cast of characters.
  39. Mythical Bestiary of the Stars: A collection of strange and wondrous creatures from different planets, each with its own mythology and lore.
  40. Galactic Colossi: Enormous statues or constructs on various planets that serve as monuments or guardians, reminiscent of ancient colossal statues.
  41. Space Oracle Stones: Ancient stones or artifacts scattered across planets, offering cryptic guidance or power to those who decipher them, much like ancient oracles.
  42. Planetary Gladiator Schools: Training academies on different worlds where warriors learn the arts of combat, echoing the gladiator schools of Rome.
  43. Star Wanderers: Nomadic tribes or individuals who traverse the cosmos, akin to the wandering peoples of ancient times.
  44. Interstellar God-Kings: Rulers of planets or star systems who are worshipped as deities, similar to the divine rulers of ancient civilizations.
  45. Cosmic Pantheons in Conflict: Rivalries and wars among different groups of deities or powerful beings, each controlling different aspects of the galaxy.
  46. Galactic Oracles and Curses: Mysterious curses or prophecies set by cosmic oracles that drive the destinies of planets and their inhabitants.
  47. Astronomical Myths and Legends: Stories and legends about the creation of stars, planets, and galaxies, mirroring the mythologies of ancient cultures.
  48. Alien Amphitheaters of Debate: Venues on different planets where philosophical, ethical, and political debates take place, reminiscent of the forums and public spaces in ancient Greece and Rome.
  49. Spaceborne Heroic Duels: One-on-one combat between heroes or leaders in space, drawing inspiration from the duels of ancient warriors and heroes.
  50. Planetary Vestiges of Ancient Empires: Remnants of long-gone civilizations on distant planets, echoing the ruins and relics of ancient empires on Earth.
  51. Celestial Augurs and Diviners: Individuals with the ability to interpret omens or signs in the cosmos, guiding spacefarers and planets, similar to Roman augurs.
  52. Interstellar Pilgrimages: Journeys undertaken by characters across the galaxy to sacred sites or planets, echoing religious or spiritual pilgrimages of ancient times.
  53. Galactic Senate Debates: Political and philosophical discussions in a central governing body, mirroring the debates of the Roman Senate or the Athenian democracy.
  54. Mythic Space Beasts: Enormous and legendary creatures inhabiting the vastness of space, akin to the mythical monsters of ancient lore.
  55. Star-Driven Prophecies: Foretellings that drive the fates of entire planets or galaxies, similar to the prophecies that played key roles in ancient myths.
  56. Alien Labyrinths and Mazes: Complex and mysterious structures on various planets, challenging adventurers like the labyrinths of myth.
  57. Cosmic Choruses: Groups or entities that narrate or comment on galactic events, similar to the choruses in ancient Greek tragedies.
  58. Planetary Founding Myths: Legends about the founding of colonies or civilizations on new planets, inspired by stories like Romulus and Remus or the founding of Athens.
  59. Interstellar Exiles and Wanderers: Characters banished from their planets, wandering the stars in a manner reminiscent of ancient heroes in exile.
  60. Galactic Dionysian Festivals: Extravagant celebrations or festivals on various planets, reflecting the revelries and ceremonies of ancient cultures.
  61. Celestial Oracles and Cosmic Visions: Mysterious figures who receive visions of the galaxy’s future, guiding heroes and empires, akin to the oracles of ancient times.
  62. Interplanetary Chivalric Orders: Knightly orders that uphold codes of honor and justice across planets, reminiscent of medieval chivalry blended with space exploration.
  63. Alien Cults and Mysteries: Secret societies or cults on different planets with rituals and beliefs echoing the mystery cults of ancient civilizations.
  64. Galactic Myth Retellings: Classic myths from ancient cultures reimagined in a cosmic setting, with gods, heroes, and creatures transformed into interstellar entities.
  65. Space Arena Champions: Warriors or heroes who gain fame and glory by competing in deadly games and contests held in space arenas.
  66. Planetary Epics and Sagas: Long, narrative poems or stories detailing the adventures and feats of heroes across the galaxy, akin to the epic tales of old.
  67. Interstellar Delphic Maxims: Wise sayings or principles that are respected across various cultures in the galaxy, similar to the maxims of the Oracle of Delphi.
  68. Cosmic Temporal Games: Competitions or challenges where participants manipulate time or travel through different eras, akin to the time-bending myths of ancient cultures.
  69. Alien Heroic Journeys: Characters undergoing a series of challenges and transformations as they travel across planets, reflecting the hero’s journey archetype.
  70. Spaceborne Tribal Alliances: Coalitions of planetary tribes or clans, forming alliances or conflicts that mirror the tribal dynamics of ancient societies.
  71. Stellar Oracles and Cosmic Enigmas: Mysterious figures offering guidance or posing riddles based on celestial phenomena, akin to the enigmatic oracles of ancient times.
  72. Galactic Conquests and Campaigns: Epic campaigns of spacefaring civilizations to conquer or explore new planets, mirroring the conquests of ancient empires.
  73. Interstellar Pantheons and Mythos: Diverse sets of deities and mythological stories that vary from planet to planet, each with unique cosmic lore.
  74. Alien Gladiator Rebellions: Uprisings led by gladiator-like figures against oppressive rulers on distant planets, inspired by historical revolts like that of Spartacus.
  75. Spaceborne Philosophical Schools: Centers of learning and debate on various planets, where philosophical ideas are exchanged, akin to the ancient Greek academies.
  76. Celestial Festivals and Galactic Games: Grand celebrations and competitive games held across the galaxy, echoing the festivals and athletic competitions of ancient cultures.
  77. Planetary Founders and Legendary Heroes: Founding figures of planetary colonies or civilizations, revered like the legendary founders and heroes of ancient cities.
  78. Interstellar Epic Quests: Long and perilous journeys undertaken by characters across the galaxy, seeking artifacts, knowledge, or destiny, similar to quests in ancient epics.
  79. Cosmic Sybils and Seers: Revered individuals who possess foresight or mystical knowledge, guiding characters and civilizations, akin to the sibyls of ancient myth.
  80. Alien Temple Cities: Sprawling cities on distant planets centered around massive temples or religious structures, reminiscent of ancient temple cities like Athens or Rome.
  81. Galactic Oracles and Astral Prophecies: Mysterious figures who interpret cosmic events and make predictions affecting entire star systems, echoing the role of oracles in ancient societies.
  82. Interplanetary Heroic Epics: Grand narratives that tell the stories of heroes’ adventures across different planets, inspired by epic poetry from ancient cultures.
  83. Celestial Monuments and Relics: Majestic and ancient artifacts or structures on various planets that hold significant historical or mystical value, akin to the monuments of ancient civilizations.
  84. Spacefaring Centurions and Commanders: Military leaders who command fleets or armies in space, drawing inspiration from the disciplined and strategic minds of Roman centurions.
  85. Alien Olympic Trials: Competitive events held on different planets, testing the physical and mental prowess of participants in a manner reminiscent of the ancient Olympics.
  86. Planetary Romance Sagas: Long and intricate tales of love, betrayal, and adventure set on exotic alien worlds, reflecting the depth and complexity of chivalric romances.
  87. Interstellar Political Intrigues: Complex webs of political maneuvering and subterfuge among different planetary governments, mirroring the political dramas of ancient republics and empires.
  88. Cosmic Temples and Shrines: Sacred places dedicated to various deities or cosmic forces, serving as centers of worship and pilgrimage across the galaxy, similar to the temples of ancient civilizations.
  89. Galactic Gladiator Legends: Stories of legendary gladiator figures who become heroes or symbols of resistance in various star systems.
  90. Spaceborne Oracle Cults: Groups or sects that form around the teachings or predictions of a particular space oracle, akin to the religious cults of ancient times.
  91. Interstellar Charioteer Races: High-speed races across the galaxy, where participants pilot advanced spacecraft in competitions reminiscent of ancient chariot races.
  92. Cosmic Pantheon Alliances and Rivalries: Alliances and conflicts among different groups of deities or powerful beings from various planets, akin to the intricate relationships of ancient mythological pantheons.
  93. Galactic Senate Oratory: Skilled speakers and debaters in an interstellar senate, drawing inspiration from the famed orators of ancient civilizations.
  94. Alien Heroic Odes and Ballads: Poetic compositions celebrating the deeds of heroes from different planets, similar to the odes and ballads of ancient poets.
  95. Planetary Cultural Festivals: Vibrant celebrations on various worlds that showcase the unique cultures and traditions of different planets, echoing ancient earth’s cultural festivals.
  96. Spacefaring Philosophers and Sages: Wise individuals who travel the galaxy, sharing knowledge and philosophies, much like the traveling philosophers of ancient times.
  97. Interstellar Archeological Expeditions: Missions to uncover the history and artifacts of ancient civilizations on distant planets, similar to the archeological explorations of Earth’s past.
  98. Cosmic Prophecy Fulfillments: Events unfolding across the galaxy that fulfill ancient prophecies, intertwining the destinies of planets and their inhabitants.
  99. Alien Myth Reenactments: Dramatic performances or rituals on different planets that reenact their myths and legends, akin to the theatrical traditions of ancient cultures.
  100. Galactic Epic Chronicles: Extensive narratives that chronicle the histories and mythologies of various planets and civilizations in the galaxy, mirroring the comprehensive chronicles of ancient times.
Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 18

I figured I could post summaries of our current campaign’s actual play reports here, seeing as how I write full reports on the campaign website anyway. These are generated with a little help from ChatGPT 4.

Session 18 was the first after a 29-week hiatus and the first in-person game since we switched to online play after the first lockdown of March 2020. It was a tremendous joy to do this while sitting around a table, slinging physical dice and all the rest.

Planet Karus session 18, in which the party navigates a series of challenges and encounters, such as dealing with large spiders, disarming traps, and fighting bonecrusher dogs. They find treasures like gold pieces, platinum machine parts, silver idols, and an unusual crossbow. The session concludes without any casualties, and the party successfully avoids detection by bearded pigs in a room they explore.

You can read the full report here for a detailed account of their journey.


1d100 Planetary Romance Tropes

Just a quick one—I fed ChatGPT 4 the planetary romance description on TV Tropes and asked it to generate a list of one hundred ideas commonplace to the genre. Here they are below. Maybe of use to some referees like myself who occasionally need a little help while prepping their next science fantasy or sword and planet D&D session.

  1. Ancient Alien Artifacts: Mysterious remnants of lost civilizations.
  2. Feudal Future: Societies with medieval-like structures in a futuristic setting.
  3. Lost Technology: Advanced, often misunderstood technologies from a bygone era.
  4. Alien Flora and Fauna: Unique and often dangerous wildlife native to alien planets.
  5. Interstellar Travel: Journeying between stars or planets, typically with advanced spacecraft.
  6. Mystical Powers: Characters with abilities that blur the line between science and magic.
  7. Planetary Romance: Epic adventures set on exotic, far-off worlds.
  8. Spacefaring Hero: A protagonist who travels and explores the cosmos.
  9. Alien Cultures: Interaction with societies of alien beings.
  10. Dying Earth: Worlds at the brink of ecological or cosmic collapse.
  11. Space Opera Elements: Galactic-scale drama and adventure.
  12. Chivalric Codes: Honor and valor in a futuristic context.
  13. Lost Colonies: Human settlements that have lost contact with Earth.
  14. Unexplored Territories: Vast, unknown regions of alien planets.
  15. Feudal Politics: Power struggles and intrigue in a space-age kingdom.
  16. Heroic Quests: Epic journeys with a significant goal or purpose.
  17. Cross-Planetary Romance: Love stories that span different worlds.
  18. Sword and Planet Combat: Traditional melee combat in a futuristic setting.
  19. Space Pirates: Outlaws and raiders in the far reaches of space.
  20. Hidden Civilizations: Secret societies or cultures on alien worlds.
  21. Space Castaways: Characters stranded on unknown planets.
  22. Revolutionary Movements: Uprisings against oppressive regimes.
  23. Interplanetary War: Conflicts that span multiple planets.
  24. Space Exploration: The discovery and exploration of new worlds.
  25. Alien Gods: Deities or god-like beings from other worlds.
  26. Cultural Exchange: The sharing of ideas and customs between different species.
  27. Space Knights: Warriors upholding a code of honor in space.
  28. Terraforming Projects: Transforming alien worlds to support human life.
  29. Alien Languages: The challenge of communicating with extraterrestrial beings.
  30. Psychic Abilities: Mind-reading, telekinesis, and other mental powers.
  31. Rogue Planets: Worlds drifting outside of any solar system.
  32. Space Tyrants: Ruthless rulers commanding vast interstellar empires.
  33. Ancient Prophecies: Foretellings that drive the plot and character actions.
  34. Galactic Mysteries: Enigmas and secrets spanning the cosmos.
  35. Alien Ecology: The study and interaction with alien ecosystems.
  36. Dimensional Travel: Movement between different planes of existence.
  37. Interstellar Empires: Massive, galaxy-spanning civilizations.
  38. Planetary Gods: Deities associated with specific worlds or celestial bodies.
  39. Space Nomads: Cultures and peoples who travel the stars without a home planet.
  40. Cybernetic Enhancements: Use of technology to enhance physical and mental abilities.
  41. Time Dilation: The effects of relativity on space travel and aging.
  42. Cosmic Events: Supernovas, black holes, and other astronomical phenomena.
  43. Space Colonies: Human settlements in space or on alien planets.
  44. Forbidden Knowledge: Information that is dangerous or forbidden to possess.
  45. Alien Alliances: Partnerships or coalitions between different alien species.
  46. Planetary Defenders: Heroes who protect a world from external threats.
  47. Space Monsters: Gigantic or dangerous creatures inhabiting space.
  48. Cosmic Balance: The delicate equilibrium between opposing cosmic forces.
  49. Star-Crossed Lovers: A love affair hindered by the vastness of space.
  50. Alien Religions: Belief systems and practices of extraterrestrial origin.
  51. Interstellar Trade: Commerce and trade between different planets.
  52. Space Academies: Institutions for training spacefarers and explorers.
  53. Alien Artifacts: Objects of unknown origin and purpose from other civilizations.
  54. Space Espionage: Spying and intelligence gathering in a galactic context.
  55. Biomechanical Technology: Integration of biological and mechanical systems.
  56. Galactic Federation: An alliance of planets or species for mutual benefit.
  57. Cosmic Lore: Ancient and mystical knowledge about the universe.
  58. Starship Battles: Combat between spacecraft in space.
  59. Alien Hierarchies: The social and political structures of alien societies.
  60. Space Mythology: Legends and myths set in the backdrop of space.
  61. Astro-Archeology: The study of ancient civilizations through their spacefaring remnants.
  62. Teleportation: Instantaneous travel between distant points.
  63. Artificial Intelligence: Sentient machines or computer systems.
  64. Galactic Prophecy: Predictions about the fate of the galaxy.
  65. Space Witches/Wizards: Individuals wielding mystical powers in space.
  66. Interstellar Diplomacy: Negotiations and treaties between different planetary races.
  67. Star-Crossed Species: Romantic or familial bonds between different alien species.
  68. Quantum Anomalies: Strange phenomena based on quantum mechanics.
  69. Celestial Phenomena: Unique and awe-inspiring events in space.
  70. Alien Bestiary: A collection of diverse and exotic alien creatures.
  71. Space Smugglers: Individuals who transport illegal goods through space.
  72. Cosmic Cults: Groups devoted to worshiping or venerating cosmic entities.
  73. Interdimensional Beings: Entities from different dimensions or realities.
  74. Space Outlaws: Criminals and renegades living outside the law in space.
  75. Galactic Ruins: The remains of ancient and powerful civilizations.
  76. Artificial Planets: Man-made or altered worlds.
  77. Space Archaeology: The study of ancient remnants in space.
  78. Hyperspace Travel: Faster-than-light travel through another dimension.
  79. Exotic Energy Sources: Unconventional and powerful forms of energy.
  80. Celestial Guardians: Beings or forces that protect the cosmos.
  81. Galactic Disasters: Catastrophic events that impact multiple worlds.
  82. Alien Enigmas: Mysteries surrounding extraterrestrial life and culture.
  83. Space Rebellion: Revolts against galactic authorities or regimes.
  84. Cosmic Consciousness: Awareness or intelligence that spans the universe.
  85. Interstellar Nomads: Groups or individuals who wander the galaxy.
  86. Planetary Mysteries: Puzzles and enigmas specific to a single world.
  87. Space Rangers: Law enforcement in the vastness of space.
  88. Astrobiology: The study of life in the universe.
  89. Galactic Cartography: The mapping and exploration of the galaxy.
  90. Alien Conspiracies: Secret plans or schemes involving extraterrestrial beings.
  91. Cosmic Artifacts: Powerful and mysterious objects from across the universe.
  92. Interstellar Refugees: People fleeing their home worlds for various reasons.
  93. Space Mercenaries: Soldiers for hire in interstellar conflicts.
  94. Astro-Engineering: The construction of massive structures in space.
  95. Galactic Legends: Stories and tales passed down through galactic history.
  96. Celestial Events: Occurrences in space with significant impact.
  97. Alien Philosophies: Unique and diverse ways of thinking from different worlds.
  98. Space Hazards: Dangers and challenges inherent in space travel.
  99. Interstellar Communities: Groups of species or civilizations living in harmony.
  100. Cosmic Destiny: The preordained fate or future of the universe or its inhabitants.

Year in Review – 2023 – Gaming Against Science

Not dead but dreaming. Welcome to the fourth year in review of this blog and the first post in over nine months. (Previous annual reviews: 2020, 2021, 2022.)

As the title suggests, my duties to science prevented me from blogging and, at some point, even from playing for the better part of the year. The heavy lifting on my Ph.D. thesis is now behind me, so I hope to reactivate the D&D campaign and become at least a bit more active here in the coming year.

But before all that, here’s the customary year-in-review post, with an overview of what we played, some play statistics specific to the current D&D campaign, games acquired, books read, the state of the blog, and a look ahead.

What We Played

Planet Karus

We played ten sessions of Planet Karus. This is my fully homebrewed sword and planet campaign, which we play with my also fully homebrewed classic D&D ruleset, Hackbut.

The campaign has a dedicated website, which should give you a sense of the sources I am tapping into and some of our house rules. Recently, I have also begun posting play reports. These are less fleshed out than those I used to do for Castle Xyntillan and contain no referee commentary. They are very much written for the players’ benefit and my own. But maybe some of you will still get something out of it.

Maybe in the future, I will share some bits from the campaign here, like I previously did with the wilderness monster and treasure method I developed to populate the campaign hex map. We will see.

In any case, this has been a lot of fun to run so far. It is a different experience from running published materials. It is more freeing on the one hand. Anything I fancy goes. At the same time, it is more daunting because I sometimes wonder what, if anything, to prep beforehand, particularly when it comes to wilderness locales. How much is enough? For this, I am always on the lookout for models to emulate. The constraint is that any examples I look to for guidance need to operate within classic D&D rules assumptions.


This year, we enjoyed eleven board game nights.

Across those, we played Skull (4 plays), Inis (4), Mission: Red Planet (Second Edition) (3), Quantum (3), Tigris & Euphrates (2), Cosmic Encounter (1), Kemet: Blood and Sand (1), and Power Grid (1).

This year’s new favorite has to be Mission: Red Planet. It scratches that dudes-on-a-map itch while remaining streamlined and, best of all, accommodates up to six players. It’s as if Cathala and Faidutti sat down to design a game specifically for our group’s needs.

A game of Cosmic Encounter in progress.

Play Statistics


We played eleven roleplaying game sessions. One to finish up the MOTHERSHIP: Bloom and ten sessions of Planet Karus, using my classic D&D homebrew ruleset Hackbut.

We basically stopped playing after June. That puts us at an average of a little under two sessions per month in the active period of play.


The number of players ranged from 1 to 3 (M = 2.3, SD = 0.6).

We added two new players to our group. So we now have a pool of nine players total. It is nice to have some fresh blood in the mix. The new players shake things up because they bring in their own assumptions, interests, and playstyles.

The top three players were responsible for over 70% of the attendance. That’s even higher than in previous years. I believe this may point to a narrowing interest in joining our group’s RPG sessions. But maybe it also indicates folks have other things going on that prevent them from playing.

Chart of player attendance.

Character Deaths

We had no PC deaths, only retainer deaths (four in total). Deaths per session ranged from 0 to 3 (M = 0.4, SD = 0.9).

The deadliest single session was #13, in which three heavy footmen succumbed to a swarm of giant plague rats while covering the retreat at the end of a very fruitful foray into The Balok.

The MilliWhack rating of the Planet Karus campaign’s 2023 sessions ranged from 93 to 174 (M = 125, SD = 26). Things are becoming way less deadly after a spiky beginning (see the chart below), probably mainly due to more careful play and a more capable party.

Chart of MilliWhack rating of the Planet Karus campaign to date.

Experience Points

The XP per session ranged from 0 to 4,847 (M = 1,120, SD = 1,357).

The most gainful session was also #13. As mentioned, three footmen died, but the party did abscond with many riches from the treasury of the late gremlin king Zaiden on the first level of The Balok.

We currently have a stable of nine player characters. Their levels range from 1 to 4 (M = 1.9, SD = 1.3). These characters have, between them, now acquired 20,644 XP.

Game Acquisitions

All of the below were either direct purchases or Kickstarter reward deliveries.

PDF Game Books: The Monster Overhaul, Mike’s World: The Forsaken Wilderness Beyond, X1 The Isle of Dread, Blackmarsh, Echoes From Fomalhaut #03: Blood, Death, and Tourism, Echoes From Fomalhaut #08: Welcome to Castle Sullogh, HYPERBOREA Ready Reference Sheets, Gathox Vertical Slum, Monster of the Week.

Most of the above were acquired to pilfer game content from for use with Planet Karus or as models to emulate, particularly for the wilderness section of the game. The Monster Overhaul was a Kickstarter delivery. An impressive GM tool, but not one I will be using because it has drifted too far off from classic D&D.

Physical Books: AD&D First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide (Easley cover), Vaults of Vaarn, The Scourge of Northland, TROIKA!.

Vaults of Vaarn I acquired for Planet Karus inspiration. Scourge of Northland and TROIKA! were Kickstarter deliveries. I continue to enjoy Fleming’s publications’ structure, art, and production qualities. TROIKA! was mainly purchased for completionism’s sake. It has really nice paper.

My Easley cover AD&D 1e DMG. I managed to grab a copy in a decent condition for a somewhat reasonable price. Now my three-book set is complete.

Board Games: Sidereal Confluence, Mission: Red Planet (Second Edition) and Modern Art.

Sidereal Confluence is a beast, and I have yet to bring it to the table. As mentioned, Mission: Red Planet is a new favorite. Modern Art we have yet to play as well.

Kit: ZucatiCorp Holmage Dice, DriveThruRPG Game Master Screen (landscape), Chessex Polycarbonate Dice Boot, selection of Mini Meeples.

The above was acquired mainly for use with our in-person marathon session, which I had to cancel. I now have snazzy custom referee inserts for the screen. The mini meeples were long on my list after reading this Reddit post.

The Holmage dice were a birthday gift. I have an actual set still in shrink wrap in my vintage Holmes box. These are for actual playing with. Although I think I still prefer my selection of Gamescience dice more.

My ZucatiCorp Holmage Dice before receiving the classic crayon treatment.

Books Read

Here I introduce a new section where I review the sci-fi and fantasy fiction I consumed over the year. As you will notice, I am, for the most part focusing my reading on the science fantasy and sword and planet genres. The idea is to immerse myself in the genre that best matches the feel I am going for with Planet Karus. I have found it is beginning to pay off in my ability to spontaneously improvise genre-appropriate content on the spot.

Novels: Swordsmen in the Sky, The Jewel in the Skull (History of the Runestaff, #1), While the Gods Laugh, Bazaar of the Bizarre, R.U.R., Servants of the Wankh (Planet of Adventure, #2), The Serpent (Atlan Saga, Volume 1 of 5), The Mad God’s Amulet (The History of the Runestaff, #2), The Dirdir (Planet of Adventure, #3), The Pnume (Planet of Adventure, #4), Red World of Polaris: The Adventures of Captain Volmar, The Sword of the Dawn (History of the Runestaff, #3), The Runestaff (History of the Runestaff, #4), The Eyes of the Overworld (The Dying Earth, #2).

If I had to pick a single book from this list to recommend, it would have to be The Dirdir. The extended sequence set in the alien hunting ground of the Carabas is one part Predator, one part Roadside Picnic, and a hundred percent terrifyingly awesome. (Close contenders were The Mad God’s Amulet and The Eyes of the Overworld.)

My copy of Red World of Polaris. Not CAS’s strongest stories, but of interest to those who are intrigued by his take on sci-fi.

Comics: Het Geheim van de Nitronstralen (Storm, #6), De Legende van Yggdrasil (Storm, #7), DEN Volume 1: Neverwhere, Stad der Verdoemden (Storm, #8), The Adventures of Red Sonja Vol. 1.

Here the pick is easy. DEN is a remarkable feat of psychedelic picaresque storytelling and mind-blowing art. I wish I could find more sword and planet comics in a similar vein.

My copy of DEN, which I managed to find at a reasonable price after long scouring the internet.


Blogging basically stopped after March. After the previous year in review, I posted once on how I determine the presence of monsters and treasure in the wilderness, and once on how I handle experience in Hackbut. I stopped making the time for posting because I needed to complete my Ph.D. thesis, which I did. So maybe things will improve on the hobby front in this new year.


The blog received 3,379 views (down by 517 compared to 2022) and 948 visitors (down by 159). A clear decline, likely due to the lack of posting and sharing posts.

The top posts were Wilderness Monsters & Treasure (163 views), CX Session #0 (140), CX Session #1 (112), CX Downtime (93), and CX Magic Swords (93).


After search engines (324 views) and Reddit (106), Beyond Fomalhaut (60), Seed of Worlds (31), and A Distant Chime (21) generated the most traffic to this blog. The usual thanks go out to them.

Looking Back and Ahead

Let’s finish by reflecting on last year’s resolutions, and make some new ones for the year ahead.

Last Year’s Resolutions

We did indeed finish MOTHERSHIP: Bloom which ended suitably grimly.

We played Planet Karus online, but as already stated, at some point, we basically stopped.

Our group continued to play board games once a month, pretty religiously. This has been, for a very long time, the backbone of our group, the thing that keeps us together, and I value it greatly

Blogging basically stopped as well.

Finally, the last resolution was to play an extended in-person game of D&D. We were all set to play a marathon Planet Karus session in mid-November, but I had to cancel at the last moment due to illness.

Upcoming Year

In closing, some resolutions for the new year. I will reactivate the Planet Karus campaign. A weekly game appears to be too tall an order, so we will try to convene once a month instead.

We will also continue our monthly board game night, of course.

I want to run that in-person marathon and have already sent out a new date picker. Fingers crossed that no act of god will prevent it from occurring this time around.

Finally, I hope to return to the occasional spot of blogging here. Monthly is probably still the best target. Less than that is equal to basically no target at all. More than that is very unlikely to happen.

That’s it for this year in review. Happy 2024.


Hackbut – Experience

I have more posts on running Castle Xyntillan on the old to-do list, starting with one on our single delve per session doctrine. But I realized there are a few basic rules details I’d like to jot down here so I can then refer to those. Specifically, on time and movement. So we are picking up the thread on the Hackbut homebrew rules series. In the rulebook, we have arrived at the chapter titled “playing the game.” The very first section, which precedes time and movement, is on experience. Let’s get to it.

Sources of experience

All XP in the game is gained from “looting stuff.” Treasure must be returned to a place of safety for it to count towards XP. Mundane items that are kept for use rather than sold do not net XP. Magic items do not net XP, ever. Each gold piece of treasure is worth 1 XP.

Side note on monster XP: I chose not to hand out XP for defeating monsters because I knew I wanted to disincentivize combat. An added benefit is that it reduces bookkeeping on my part. If I were to do monster XP, I would simply hand out 100 XP for each monster HD. In any case, not giving out monster XP has worked fine so far. Any slowdown in advancement is made up for by generous carousing rules, which I will detail some other time.

Dividing experience points

In practice, we tally treasure and commensurate XP at the end of each session. Players are then free to divide the XP between all characters that participated in that session’s expedition as they see fit. Hired help usually does not receive XP, unless they are classed NPCs, in which case a half-share of XP is mandatory.

Side note on dividing XP: Just letting players divide things however they see fit adds a bit of strategizing on a group level. They can choose to have certain characters advance quicker if they figure it would be helpful for the party as a whole. For example, getting that magic-user to the next level where they gain access to more powerful spells. It also adds a small amount of politics to the proceedings, players will petition others for giving more XP to their character. This is fun for our group and differences are usually settled amicably. But I would only recommend this approach to groups with a lot of trust between players.


Characters cannot advance more than one level in a single session. Any XP that exceeds the second level above their current one evaporates, and the character’s XP is left one short of the next level.


Finally, I also detail rules for multi-classing in this section. These are basically the same as described in Original Edition Delta. The only change I made is that I lowered the minimum score required in the new class’ primary ability to 13.

In practice, we have seen less than a handful of multi-classed characters so far. I am left wondering why. Perhaps the slow advancement is just not worth the extra abilities for the majority of the players in our group. If I were playing I know I would be all over a fighter/magic-user combo. Anyway.

That’s it for the rules on XP, advancement and multi-classing. Nothing shocking, I know, but at the same time, this is the little engine that makes the whole game run. A simple idea which has had far-reaching consequences for the hobby and beyond.

The next post will be on time, and possibly movement thrown in at the same time.