Actual Play

The Coming of Sorg – Classic D&D One-Shot – Part 2 of 2

After a break over August, our group is resuming the weekly remote D&D game. Attendance may be lower than over the past year and a half, because in our part of the world society is gradually reopening. For some of us at least, this means a return to something resembling a normal social life. As a result there are more diversions on Friday evenings besides logging on to Zoom and throwing some dice.

Anyway, for our first post-summer game I had nothing prepared and it just so happened we had the exact same group as during the last session, when we ended our play-through of The Coming of Sorg on a cliffhanger. As a result we decided to pick up where we left off. Good thing I had blogged notes, and also took photos of the battle map.

The Party:

  • Hetz Zuril, level 3 thief, carrying a potion of animal mastery, and a ring of regeneration
  • Baiar, level 3 fighter, wearing a girdle of giant’s might
  • Cobrynth, level 3 cleric, carrying a staff of mastery and a ring of telekinesis
  • Ralik & Tovak, heavy foot soldiers
  • Trisdik & Mazian, handgunners

Play Report:

We resumed at the moment when the party had penetrated the high temple had engaged in combat Vnaud the high priest, his acolytes, and the rhino-sized demon maggot known as Sorg. Long story short, Baiar the fighter and his two heavy footmen and two handgunners make short work of most of the acolytes. The thief Hetz Zuril takes out the high priest with a well-aimed crossbow bolt from a concealed position. Meanwhile Cobrynth the cleric uses his staff of mastery to compel a pair of acolytes to throw themselves at Sorg. The acolytes screamed in pain at the bile that spurted from Sorg’s wounds, and melted their daggers. The players concluded simply stabbing away at Sorg would not be the solution. The unfortunate dominated acolytes were then used as human shields against Sorg’s bile spit attack. Baiar closes the distance and aided by his girdle of giant’s might tips the demon from the altar it was draped over, and proceeds to bash it with the altar itself! Cobrynth, having run out of acolytes to control, uses his ring of telekinesis to levitate a piece of crumbled column from outside into the temple to plug up Sorg’s disgusting bile-spitting orifice. Sorg ultimately succumbs under the extreme violence inflicted on it but the party, but not before exploding in a mess of bile that destroys much of the arms and armor of the men standing close to it. At the end of it all, two men-at-arms have perished, and the remaining two have had their fill and ask to be let go, which Baiar graciously does.

Afterwards, the party heads outside and inspects the pool adjacent to the high temple. There they find the rapidly decaying corpse of an enormous fish-like demon. (It has perished with the departure of Sorg.) They then continue to what Cobrynth, who is a cleric of Deel, knows to be a brewery. Here they are surprised by a group of cultists led by a man named Len, who wears an eye-catching medallion.

An uneasy conversation develops. The party asks the cultists why they are holed up in the brewery. They say they are hiding from the emanations produced by the demon in the high temple, whom they believe is not the real Sorg but an imposter. The party say they have destroyed Sorg, which the cultists don’t believe. The party are confused as well, and try to confirm if the cultists are on the side of Sorg, or not. The cultists readily agree they are still fully on board with the idea of summoning the real Sorg. This, paired with the prospect of treasure in the form of the necklace worn by Len, is enough for Hetz to take a surprise shot at the leader. Len is severely wounded but not killed, and immediately disappears between the barrels. The acolytes attack but are made short work of by Baiar and his henchmen. Len retaliates by knocking out Cobrynth with a sneak attack of his own. Baiar digs through the barrels with his giant strength, locates Len, and unceremoniously ends his life.

They pocket the necklace. Cobrynth is revived with the help of Hetz’s ring of regeneration. And here we decide to end the adventure, for real this time. During the customary debrief, I explain what was in the other buildings. We talk a little bit about the different ways they could have approached the adventure.

Referee Commentary:

Some reflections on what happened during the session, in no particular order:

  • A high-level thief as adversary can be quite deadly, if ran correctly. I managed to resist the urge to have Len simply charge the player characters and instead had him hide so he could take pot shots at them. Made for an interesting dynamic.
  • The conversation with Len was the first time I tried to apply my “new” doctrine for running social encounters. After an initial exchange in-character, I ask the players what they hope to get out of the conversation, and I make sure they are clear on what the NPCs’ goals are. We then try to somehow resolve the scene swiftly, either by rolling some dice (typically a reaction roll from my end) and/or simply roleplaying a little more. This made the whole thing drag on much less than it usually did.
  • My players have developed a strong treasure-seeking reflex from many sessions in Castle Xyntillan under a xp-for-gold regime. This on-page adventure is very thin on treasure as written. Running it as a one-shot with pregens this is no big deal. But as part of a proper campaign it would definitely need some work.
  • I again ran combat in my “new” approach. At the top of each round I declare what monsters will be doing, then players declare what they are intending to do, we roll for initiative, and then we resolve each side’s actions in the order of movement, missile, magic, and melee. This makes for a smoother back and forth. Some players expressed that they like the extra gambling element that comes with having to declare before initiative is rolled. I should say though that I do allow players to adjust their course of action if events during the round have radically changed the situation. Within reason, of course. I am also not super strict with the order of actions, but I do think I will change them to the following: missile, movement, melee, and magic. This is roughly in order of how fast each action can occur.
  • This new approach to combat also opens the door to the possibility of interrupting a spell-caster, although I need to think some more about what it would take exactly. Being engaged in melee? Or also being shot at? Only if you take damage? Something to think about.
  • We also had an interesting situation with a character disengaging from melee. I rule that you use up half your movement if you want to get away safely, but then I had an acolyte catch up and get a bonus for attacking from behind. This maybe also happened because we use circular tokens on a battle mat and those don’t have a facing. Obviously, when you safely disengage from melee you should keep facing your opponent and so they might be able to catch up with you but they would not able to stab you in the back.
  • The dominated acolytes being used to block off Sorg’s bile spit attack was an interesting case to adjudicate. I decided they would simply block off one attack and then perish. But looking back I could have also treated them as cover, say for a -4 to-hit. And if the attack failed by that margin rule that the dominated acolyte was hit in stead.
  • Similarly, I had to think on my feet about how much damage a demon larva would take if it was bashed with an altar by a character wearing a girdle of giant’s might. I think I was really generous and went with three or possibly four dice of damage. But I could have also stuck with the general rule that a character using this magic item simply does double the normal damage. We were using the item descriptions from Delving Deeper in this game. Afterwards I cross-compared with Swords & Wizardry and Old School Essentials and it’s kind of interesting to see how they differ.
  • Come to think of it, Sorg should have probably only been harmed by non-mundane weapons. Oh well.

And that’s about it. This one-page adventure was an interesting experience to run. I think to make it really rewarding under a classic D&D framework, it needs more work from the referee, particularly on the front of treasure. I felt a bit dissatisfied when we finished, because after defeating Sorg there isn’t much else to do. In hind sight I should have just ended the game when the demon was slain, and narrated what happened during the mopping-up afterwards. But I did not have the presence of mind to do so. Better luck next time.


Hackbut – Encumbrance

Time for another Hackbut rules post. This one is about encumbrance and inventory management.

I considered sticking with the traditional way of tracking encumbrance, but none of the systems in the original editions felt right to me. They were either too abstracted, or too unwieldy. Of course, in contemporary old school D&D circles, slot-based encumbrance tracking has become a house rule many people adopt. We were familiar with this approach from playing The Black Hack, and liked it, so I decided to adopt it for Hackbut as well.

My goal with this particular iteration of slot-based encumbrance was to have a set of rules that would be easy to remember and adjudicate, something that would make inventory management meaningful and enjoyable, but also, to have something that would be compatible with the traditional movement rates, and weight allowances that go along with that.

Let’s get to the rules. Here’s a bullet-wise rundown. I’m sure a lot of this will be familiar to those versed in contemporary old school D&D gaming.

  • A character’s carrying capacity is a number of slots equal to 10 plus their STR mod
  • Most things take up one item slot
  • For on-the-fly adjudication purposes, slots are roughly equal to 1/3 stone, 5 lb, or 2 kg
  • When you exceed your capacity — and once again at every multiple of it — your movement rate drops by 3″, and physical rolls incur a cumulative -1 penalty
  • The first three slots are so-called quick-draw slots, readying an item from any other slots takes a round
  • Small items stack to a slot — most notably, 100 coins take up one slot
  • Items marked in the equipment lists as “oversized” take up two slots
  • Armor takes up a number of slots equal to its AC “bonus” (e.g. light armor, AC 7, takes up two slots)
  • We ignore clothing, worn items, and very small single objects for encumbrance purposes

And that’s it, basically. I will close with some further notes on my thought process here.

  1. I did not use the raw STR score because that’s too swingy. In general in Hackbut I use the ability score bonuses rather than the raw scores to ensure abilities don’t matter too much.
  2. I went with a simple progression between the MV tiers. In particular, the break point for MV 6″ is some times at 1.5 or 1.33 times the base capacity. I dialed in the slots and weights to a slot so that I could simply have breakpoints at each multiple of the base capacity. Again, easy to remember.
  3. The weight a slot is roughly equivalent to I dialed in by analyzing the classic editions, some of the main retroclones, but also OED and Knave.
  4. I played around with the number of coins to a slot to get a sensible single coin weight. I landed on 0.05 lb (0.02 kg). By comparison, Delta’s coins are 0.01 lb, and Knave’s are 0.05 lb.
  5. I believe I mentioned this in my series of posts on the equipment lists, but I determined slots for each item mainly by translating from the weights listed in Delving Deeper, and plugging holes where needed using Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy’s Equipment Emporium (PDF).
  6. Finally, keen-eyed readers may be wondering about the slots for armor. I admit this is a deviation from the classic editions. If I were to follow the weights listed, armor would have to take up roughly twice the slots I am currently using. But that is hard to remember, and also possibly too punitive under a system where a lot more stuff adds to your encumbrance than was the case in the original game. So I have made peace with the fact that my armor slots are on the lenient side.

Besides those already mentioned, I would also point to Necropraxis (a, b), Delta (a, b), and Coins & Scrolls as three other sources of inspiration.

And that’s it for encumbrance. Next time I will likely discuss how I handle retainers.


Hackbut – Equipment – Weapons & Armor

Continuing the discussion of Hackbut’s equipment list, after adventuring gear I now turn to melee weapons, missile weapons, and armor.

This, along with the missile weapons, are a part of the game I agonized over way too much. In particular, I fiddled with their damage and properties until each each was distinct from all the others.

The items on the list are basically a merging of the OD&D and B/X weapons lists. I wanted something that would be broadly compatible with the original editions. So I stuck to the original prices or took averages where editions diverged.

I also did not want to offer situational bonuses for specific weapons against particular types or armor, like for example OED does. I think that is adding a level of complexity that does not fit the simple and fast-playing game we want to be playing.

Melee weapons

Melee weapons
Melee weapons
  • I rationalized the damage as follow: 1d4 for small weapons; 1d6 as a baseline; 1d8 for two-handed weapons with reach or versatile weapons wielded in two hands; 1d10 for two-handed weapons with no reach. (I took some inspiration from Skerples for this.)
  • If it wasn’t obvious, “reach” means a weapon can be used to fight from the second rank. “Versatile” means the weapons can be wielded in one or two hands. “Oversized” means the weapon takes up two slots.
  • Pikes, lances, pole-arms and halberds are a bit of a mess in the original editions. I decided to make pikes and lances functionally the same weapon, with certain benefits gained when fighting from horseback. Halberds I used to model large axes that do not quite have reach. Pole-arms I used for the plethora of slashing/stabbing/hooking implements that do have reach.
  • The keen-eyed observer will see that spears are incredibly useful, as they should be. Note, however, that the 1d8 damage die is only rolled when using the weapon with two hands without reach.
  • The flail is the two-handed variant that might have actually seen some use in the late medieval and early modern eras. I designed it to basically be the cleric’s alternative for the fighter’s zweihander.
Two-handed flails (Paul Hector Mair)

Missile weapons

Missile weapons
  • The bows are balanced against each other by trading rate of fire for damage. (My rules don’t have multiple shots for regular bows like some of the classic games do. My combat round lasts 10 seconds. I follow Delta’s reasoning for this.)
  • The eponymous arquebus is the only deviation from “official” classic D&D weapons. I added it to the list because I wanted to add some early modern flavor to my game and guns are a big part of the battlefield in that era. However, I again went for simplicity, so it is basically a souped-up heavy crossbow that has an even worse rate of fire, and a heavier ammo kit. My main reference for this was the firearms appendix of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
  • Those “Ud” notes are usage dice (taken from The Black Hack) which are rolled after each combat. In my game, no-one enjoys counting individual missiles, except when they are remarkable in some way (magic arrows, silver arrows, etc.)
  • Edit (August 15, 2021): I should add missile weapons all have the same range. All missile attacks are at -1 for every 10 feet beyond the first 30 feet. Thrown weapons can’t go beyond 60 feet. (This, like so much else, was taken from Delta.)


  • Armor really is incredibly straightforward. The only deviation from the classic rulesets is the pricing, for which I followed Delta’s intervention to make chain and plate more expensive.


I’m sure there are more teeny tiny details that might catch your eye or you might think are odd. Suffice to say that I don’t think I left any aspect of each single item unconsidered.

Edit (August 15, 2021): To help my players get up and running quickly I created this guide to equipping your character. Somewhat inspired by Talysman (a, b) and The Alexandrian.)

That’s all for melee weapons, missile weapons and armor. The next post about Hackbut will most likely be about every OSR blogger’s favorite topic: encumbrance.

Actual Play

The Coming of Sorg – Classic D&D One-Shot – Part 1 of 2

We finished our first season of Mothership with Gradient Descent (it’s been a lot of fun). Our co-GM felt like a break and we had one more session on the calendar before hitting pause for the month of August. So I decided to run a one-shot using D&D (in the form of my homebrew ruleset Hackbut). Looking around for something simple to use, I ended up picking a one-page adventure site from Trilemma Adventures Compendium Volume I. The original PDF of The Coming of Sorg has been in my to-play folder for quite a while. It also comes recommended by Skerples. So I generated some 3rd level characters, slapped some stats on the module’s monsters, and we had a fun couple of hours seeing if our heroes could set things straight. Read on for a play report, and I will close with some commentary at the end.

The Party:

  • Hetz Zuril, level 3 thief, carrying a potion of animal mastery, and a ring of regeneration
  • Baiar, level 3 fighter, wearing a girdle of giant’s might
  • Cobrynth, level 3 cleric, carrying a staff of mastery and a ring of telekinesis
  • Ralik & Tovak, heavy foot soldiers
  • Trisdik & Mazian, handgunners


They approach the compound from the south. The wall has largely collapsed. Buildings are ruined. Mud is everywhere as well as the occasional decomposing body part.

They make their way to the dais, which used to function as the compound entrance. It is remarkably clean, except for a few scorch marks. Rusted chains lie at the foot its steps. Pillars on each side are engraved, noting anyone who passes through is blessed by Deel.

They carefully head around the east perimeter. They inspect a cave entrance at the other end of a pond. They dare not enter. Heading back into the compound they next check another cave entrance into which flows a small stream. They can see faint lights glimmer in the darkness. Cobrynth uses telekinesis to lob a length of wood into the stream. It disappears into the darkness. Nothing happens.

Hetz clambers up the sheer rock face without much trouble. Here he sees broken and defaced statues at each end of stairs leading up, hewn into the side of the hill. The steps are besmirched by evil scrawlings. Not a soul is in sight.

The thief drops down a rope for the rest to follow, but they opt to take the stairs in stead. About half way up the cleric and retainers are overcome by the curse resting on the steps. The retainers begin to scarf down all their rations and drink. Cobrynth flings flask after flask of holy water in every direction. Acting quickly, Hetz uses his giant strength to herd them all back down the stairs.

As they regain their composure, suddenly a loud bang and a bright flash of eldritch light emit from the high temple followed by an awful scream. Shortly after Hetz sees a massive jelly roll down the temple stairs. For a moment, it appears the thing is heading straight towards him, but it continues down the next stairs towards the party below.

Confronted with the monstrosity heading their way, Cobrynth raises his staff of mastery in an attempt to control it but fails. Hetz flings a flaming oil flask from above but misses. Baiar, aided by his girdle of giant’s might, tosses an enormous boulder at the thing but somehow also misses. The handgunners fire their arquebuses and one manages to hit. The ball simply ricochets off of the jelly. Meanwhile the jelly is frantically trying to grab someone with a pseudopod but fails. Cobrynth uses his ring of telekinesis to scoop up a couple of liters of water and douses the jelly with it, but it appears to have no effect either. Baiar and his heavy footmen move in to melee with the thing. Their weapons instantly dissolve.

At this point, the party decides to make a run for it. Thankfully, the creature is awfully slow. They make for the dais and reach it well before the creature closes the distance. It stops at the edge of the stairs leading up to it, apparently not willing or able to go any further. Cobrynth levitates a boulder within Baiar’s reach, and he tosses and hits the jelly. This projectile bounces off the thing without harming it either. Just when the party begins to despair about their chances of defeating the jelly, it begins to crawl off in search of easier pray.

Meanwhile, Hetz has silently snuck up to the high temple, two prepared flaming oil flasks in hand. He sticks is head into the doorway and sees an awful spectacle. The interior has been thoroughly trashed. A large group of cultists is fearfully chanting. They are lead by a thoroughly degenerate priest, and are stood around an enormous demonic maggot dribbling bile from a puckered maw. The thief does not hesitate for a moment and lobs his two missiles straight into the mob. They both hit an acolyte straight in the back of the head. The men crumple to the ground screaming, engulfed in flames. Pandemonium breaks out. Hetz disappears into the shadows.

Meanwhile the remainder of the party make their way up the rope left by Hetz, and carefully but decisively head up towards the high temple. When they reach the temple gate they see three cultists emerge from the doorway up ahead clearly looking for something or someone. Baiar and his men run up to engage them in melee. Cobrynth uses his staff of mastery once more and manages to gain control over two of the three men. They fling up their arms in obeisance. The third is stabbed in the back by Hetz who suddenly emerges from the shadows, and finished off by a mighty punch from Baiar.

Pressing their advantage, they send the two remaining cultists back into the high temple. Cobrynth has them tell the high priest that they succeeded in finding and killing the culprit. Satisfied, the leader turns his back to them to resume the chanting in service of the maggot that he refers to as “Sorg”. Right away, Cobrynth has the cultists stab their leader in the back. Again, pandemonium. The traitors are jumped by acolytes. The high priest, who has survived, begins to prepare a spell. The demon maggot stirs and aims his puckered, bile-dribbling mouth at the source of the disturbance.

Our heroes respond with no hesitation. Hetz emerges from the shadows to backstab the high priest. Baiar and his men run into the temple to lay in to the mob. The cleric follows a few steps behind, undoubtedly preparing some powerful miracle.

And we fade to black.

Referee Commentary:

It had been a while since I took place behind the proverbial referee screen and I must say I missed it. Playing is fun, but there’s nothing like the amount of thinking on your feet you need to do as a referee. This being a one-shot, with a very loosely described module, I found myself playing it loose myself as well. I tried to say yes more often, and in particularly in combat try to stay close to the flow of the emerging narrative and avoid getting too bogged down in details.

With regards to combat, I tried a different approach from the one we had been using in our Castle Xyntillan campaign (inspired by OED). We still used side initiative, rolled each round. But in stead of going around the table and resolving player actions one by one right away, I in stead first declared what the monsters would be doing, then had the players tell me what their intent was, and then roll initiative. After that, I would resolve actions for each side roughly in order of: movement, missiles, magic, and melee. (This is inspired by Robert Fisher, and Daniel Bishop.) On paper this should be slower than the OED approach. But in practice it’s about on par, and somehow makes combat feel a bit more dynamic, which I like.

We weren’t using Roll20 for this, obviously. And although the module map is gorgeous, I did not want to share it with players because I felt like the amount of detail would bog things down. So I set up a second web cam, pointed it at a dry erase mat and logged into Zoom twice. This is a trick I’ve seen some people use on YouTube and it actually works quite well. I know you can share a second camera from the same Zoom session, but I dislike the way it then makes videos of everyone else very small. I want to be able to see my friends when we play, after all.

The pregens I created were all level 3 characters. My method is somewhat influenced by OED. I did three for each of the four classes in Hackbut. Rolled 3d6 down the line for attributes, except for the prime requisite, which got 2d6+6. HP was rolled randomly (1s and 2s were re-rolled). Alignment was assigned randomly using 1d6: chaotic on a 1, lawful on a 6, and neutral for the remainder (clerics are all lawful). Names I also randomly assigned from a list created with the excellent Fantasy Generator. I let players pick whatever equipment from the standard lists they felt they need, as well as retainers to round out the party to a maximum of seven total. I did, however, determine magic items randomly using the method Delta sets out in OED, with a few minor tweaks so that it also works for clerics (he runs a game without). I used the Delving Deeper treasure tables for this. Just the act of assigning some items to each of these otherwise pretty faceless characters makes for some interesting choices for players to make. It works really well and I recommend others try it.

Creating statistics for the monsters and NPCs was next to no work at all. Seeing as how I use HD as a proxy for both attack bonuses and saves in Hackbut, all I really need to do is assign HD, AC, and attack damage. I used d6 hit dice this time around, and I must say I really like it because I can easily roll hit points on the fly that way, and combats go faster. I mostly used the Delving Deeper and OED monster listings as a frame of reference.

On paper, the module is all about faction play. Players being players, of course, they bypassed all the encounters tucked away in the lower-level compound structures, and went more or less straight for the high temple. Despite this, the thing is nice and atmospheric and at the pace we play I think we could maybe even get two 2-3 hour sessions out of it. But in this case we were going to stick to a one-shot, so when we were rolling into the big confrontation and we were hitting our customary end time, I felt it was fitting to end on a cliffhanger.

Update (September 14, 2021): We ended up properly finishing this adventure after all. Read on for part 2.


Hackbut – Equipment – Adventuring Gear

Let us continue the discussion of the equipment list in Hackbut. Last time around I provided an overview, this time I will cover adventuring gear. Below is the table once more.

Adventuring gear
Adventuring gear

I started with the White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game (WBFMAG) list. I really only removed or combined a few items. My goal was to have a list that wasn’t too long but would still contain most of the things commonly required for a dungeon delving expedition. The item descriptions I for the most part lifted from Old School Essentials, but I did make a few rules changes here and there.

  • I removed the wine bottle, scroll case, helmet, and tent. I list only one type of holy symbol, and only one type of rope (hemp).
  • I translated the capacity of the containers to match my 2 kg (5 lb) inventory slots, and tweaked each container’s canonical capacity somewhat.
  • I rejiggered a few prices. The price of garlic is dropped back down to the 5 gp it also is in OD&D. The class-specific tools I all set to 25 gp (so the spell book price is dropped down from 100 gp). This only seems fair.
  • I also rebalanced the numbers on those items that come in bundles. I primarily used the weights from Delving Deeper, and rounded the amounts that go into one slot to multiples of 5 (spikes, stakes, torches, rations).

With regards to the notes in the table, here are a few clarifying remarks:

  • “Non-encumbering” means what you think it does. These items are so light that they only start counting towards encumbrance when you carry ridiculous amounts of them, so for all intens and purposes they do not take up slots.
  • I don’t allow oil to burn of its own accord, so it requires a wick, or some flammable material (possibly a creature) needs to be doused and set fire to.
  • The “splash” weapon property rules text boils down to: Attack against unarmored AC. On a hit, listed damage is inflicted for Ud4 rounds. Target can use an action to try and prevent further damage for an additional roll of the Ud. Fumble: attacker has doused themselves. Crit: max damage on first round only.
  • As mentioned in previous posts “Uds” are usage dice — you roll the listed die size and if it comes up 1-2 you drop down to the next smallest size. I mainly use this for light sources. They are rolled each exploration turn (i.e. 10 in-game minutes).
  • “Oversized” means the items takes up two slots. Rope is heavy. Poles are long.
  • The rules for the special herbs and spices (belladonna, garlic, wolfsbane) I adapted from OED.

That’s about it! Next time I will cover melee weapons and maybe also missile weapons and armor.


Hackbut – Equipment – Overview

The next section to discuss in this series on my homebrew D&D rules is equipment. A big part of classic D&D play is about using tools to solve problems. From this perspective, picking equipment from the list is already playing the game. Not surprisingly, this section is probably also the one I obsessed over the most. In particular, I agonized over the specifics of the weapons list, what exactly to include as adventuring gear, and probably most of all, how exactly to dial in the encumbrance rules. I will probably devote a post to each of those topics. This post however serves as an overview of the section as a whole.

But before I continue, why don’t I just show the lists as they are in the current draft of Hackbut:

Adventuring gear
Melee weapons
Missile weapons

My starting point for the lists was (as always) those provided in White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game (WBFMAG). I also relied heavily on Old School Essentials, in particular for the adventuring gear descriptions, and the weapon qualities. I did do a lot of editing and tweaking. For example, I revised the weapon damage, and massaged the qualities as well.

Seeing as how my game is set in a pseudo-historical late medieval to early renaissance period, I had to have a firearm on the list. This is also where the name Hackbut comes from, it’s an early form of arquebus. I borrowed some description and detail from Lamentations of the Flame Princess for this one, but vastly simplified the rules.

Speaking of missile weapons, some will have noticed a “Ud” listed for the ammo — this is the usage die from The Black Hack. It is also used for some consumable items, although not as many as in The Black Hack itself. I feel like it only adds something when counting individual items is too much of a chore, and adding some unpredictability makes for a more exciting game. The main thing here would be light sources.

The prices listed are in gold pieces, and in many cases are a straight copy from the source material. The coinage in the game is also entirely standard, following the description in WBFMAG. I considered switching to a silver standard for more verisimilitude, such as how Delta suggests doing it, but I opted to not go down that route because it would mean constant conversion of treasure and prices in the modules I am running.

The one major thing changed in terms of pricing which some of you may have noticed are those of armor. Here I did follow the change suggested by Delta, and made plate armor in particular significantly more expensive. This adds a degree of verisimilitude and also makes it so that fighter players have something to strive for in the early stages of the game.

I’ll close by just briefly noting that my encumbrance rules take a slot-based approach. It is heavily inspired by Skerples’ GLOG hack, The Black Hack, Knave, and Brendan’s OD&D house rules, but also Delta’s stone-based approach. The whole thing is also fully aligned with the classic D&D movement rates. This took a ridiculous amount of time to get right, and I am still not 100% satisfied, but it has withstood over 25 sessions of play and hits a sweet spot between ease of use and meaningful choice. I will certainly dig into it more in a future post.

That’s it for the overview of equipment in Hackbut. Next time I will dig into adventuring gear.


Hackbut – Classes – Thief

What it’s all about (David A. Trampier)

So after last post’s discussion of the magic-user we’ve come to the final entry in this series on the character classes in Hackbut: the thief.

Out of the four, I’ve probably tinkered with this class the most. As is often pointed out, the skills-based nature of the thief is at least a little at odds with the spirit of early D&D. On the other hand, the sneaky dungeon-delving specialist does add a nice bit of sword & sorcery genre flavor. There was no way I wasn’t going to include them in my game.

As always, I’ll just note that all of Hackbut’s classes are based on Hungarian retroclone Kamazaták és Kompániák. And again I’ll point out that the saves are replaced with the unified save in WB:FMAG. Below are the further changes I made to this class specifically.

  • Only simple and light weapons are allowed (hand axe, club, dagger, spear, staff, short sword, short bow, light crossbow and sling). This is mainly to protect the fighter’s niche and reinforce the fact that the thief is not a front-line fighter. It was inspired by Brendan’s OD&D “rogue” class.
  • I use the term “sneak attack” (rather than, say “backstab”) and some language from OD&D (“silent attacks from behind”). This to allow for some looseness in the interpretation of what counts as such an attack.
  • The OD&D percentile-based thief skills are collected under a single “thievery” ability and operate on a d20. This was inspired by Homebrew Homunculus’s deep dive into thief skills. For disarming traps I borrow some additional language from OED (three tries allowed, traps are only triggered on a fumble). I also make explicit that this skill is only applicable to small devices (aka “treasure traps”).
  • The hear noise skill is covered by a bonus to “perception checks” (+1 every four levels). Perception checks are handled by rolling 1d6, adding your WIS mod, with success on a 5+.
  • Climbing is similarly treated as a bonus. As well as allow for attempts at climbing unequipped that would be impossible for others. (This is based off of how Delta handles it in OED.)
  • Finally I allow thieves of any level to try and use magic-user scrolls, provided they succeed at a save vs. magic. If they fail, the spell backfires in some amusing and possibly deadly fashion. This is once again taken by a blog post by Brendan on the LBB thief.

So yeah, as you can tell, this is a mix-and-match of elements from various interpretations of the thief in the glorious OSR blogosphere. I should probably add that I would have not been able to assemble this version if (a) people had not taken the trouble to blog their OD&D house rules, and (b) those blogs were not made easily searchable through the OSR search engine created by Brendan (of Necropraxis).

And with that, we’ve come to the end of this series of class write-ups for Hackbut. I hope they will be of use to fellow homebrew enthusiasts out there.


Hackbut – Classes – Magic-User

Russ does the best wizards (Russ Nicholson)

Next up in this series on Hackbut’s character classes is the magic-user. (The previous instalment was on the fighter.) Once again, the Kazamaták és Kompániák class serves as the foundation. As always, it is worth noting I replaced the classic saving throws with the unified save found in WBFMAG.

In the weapons permitted, I removed the sling and added the club. Historically, slings are actually among the hardest missile weapons to master. It doesn’t make sense to me that a wizard would have time to learn how to use one in-between all the arcane studying. Clubs, by contrast, are possibly the simplest weapon to use (a stick, basically) and furthermore, on the Hackbut equipment list they are free and do 1d4 damage. I see no reason why a magic-user wouldn’t be allowed to use them.

The rest of the things to note are all related, unsurprisingly, to spell-casting.

Starting spells, and gaining spells at level up, are basically as described in the aforementioned KéK blog post. I do, however, prescribe that such spells are determined randomly.

The spell list and spell descriptions themselves are from Delta’s excellent OED Book of Spells. The spell selection is classic but flavorful, and the description are streamlined and rationalized. This one comes highly recommended.

Finally, I tweaked the rules for memorizing and casting spells as described in White Box to be a little bit more flexible and forgiving. Taking a page from 5e, magic-users can memorize level + INT modifier spells from their spellbook. They can cast memorized spells by “expending” a spell slot, but the spell itself remains memorized for further use. Essentially, memorized spells and spell slots are decoupled. So yes, this does mean a magic-user can cast the same spell more than once, which I know is frowned upon in old-school D&D circles. However, the number of spells a magic-user can cast per day remains as per the original game, so some looseness aside, the system is no more powerful than before.

And that’s all there is to say about magic-users, really. Next time I will tackle the last of the four classes, the thief.


Hackbut – Classes – Fighter

Fighting-men doing their thing (Dave Trampier)

Continuing the series on the four classes in Hackbut, having previously covered the cleric, next up is the fighter. This is the simplest class in the game (not that the others are particularly complicated, but still). I buy into the notion that the fighter should be kept as simple as possible so that there is a clear go-to for new players, or players who just don’t feel like something too involved.

As with all the classes in the game, I have used Kazamaták és Kompániák as the base. It is worth noting the multi-attack ability. This is an adaptation of the rule in OD&D and first edition AD&D where fighters may attack creatures of 1 HD or less a number of times equal to their level. KéK tweaks this. The rule reads as follows:

They may attack multiple opponents, provided their combined HD doesn’t exceed the fighting-man’s own (e.g. a level 4 fighting-man may attack four 1 HD goblins, two 2 HD wolves, or a 3 HD crystal statue and a 1 HD cultist).

So the power level of creatures that a fighter can perform multiple attacks against scales with their level, without getting out of hand. When I saw this I was immediately taken with it, because it solves this strange break point at the 1 HD mark without unbalancing the game unduly. (I should add it is also listed as an option in the Castle Xyntillan stat blocks.)

In play, I have found one slight drawback to this ability is that players are prone to ask about enemy HD, which is an unwelcome intrusion of rules concepts into the game’s fiction. I do not expose HD to players (nor do I AC, for that matter). So I handle this by telling a fighter their options with regards to performing multiple attacks in a round. This works fine. And in any case the ability leads to fighter characters wading into melee ahead of other characters.

One other ability that I added is a +1 to open door checks and other feats of strength for every three levels the fighter has. (So it improves to +2 at level four.) Such ability checks in Hackbut are always 5+ on a d6. Everyone gets to add their STR mod, and fighters get a little boost. In play this means that fighters are typically the designated door-opener, and the first one in harm’s way. (I believe a version of this ability is also in OD&D and Moldvay Basic D&D.)

Fighters are the only class who get to use all weapons and armour. In addition it is worth pointing out I restrict the use of magic swords to fighters only. I believe the Greyhawk thief was able to use such swords, but I have dialed back the weapons they are allowed. When I first came to classic D&D I did not realise this, but magic swords are a major way for fighters to acquire special powers. And I have really come to appreciate that aspect of the game. Character advancement for a large part happens through the junk they acquire along the way, rather than marking off stuff on their character sheets in return for XP.

That’s all I have to say about fighters. Like I said, pretty simple. Next time we will cover the magic-user.

Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #26 – Peeping Bug

The Company:

  • Francesco (F4)
  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Amaranth (C5)
  • Leon (porter)

Loot: Sack of magic turnips & seed bag of “Miracle Formula”.

Casualties: None!


Hendrik talks to Father Brenard about annulling his marriage to Ronja the baker’s daughter. The preacher explains to Hendrik that he will need some grounds for doing so. They’re not heretics after all. For example, if Ronja was found to be unfaithful to her spouse…

Jürg has an artisan fashion the unbreakable glass dome into an impervious helmet.

Blérot, the masked “lumberjack” who has been hiding out with the company for fear of the wrath of mysterious men from the woods, is found one day in the company’s residence amidst the wreckage of furniture. It appears he is having increasing trouble controlling his chopping urges.

When Hendrik returns to his study one morning, he discovers his writing implements and signature seal have been misplaced by someone or something.

Before departure, they read The Guidebook to Historical
Curiosities, vol. 1, which they purchased a while back. They read about “The Oracle of Saint Blakemore” which is a fountain supposedly hidden somewhere in the grottos beneath the castle. It is said that whoever drinks from it may predict the future.

They also burn a small fortune’s worth of incense in front of the reliquary, and receive a vague but truthful omen about the upcoming expedition (which, dear reader, will be revealed in the report below).


A small but fairly powerful expeditionary force heads to the castle for once last time before the close of this year’s adventuring season. They only bring one porter with them.

Upon arrival, they pass by the spot where the late magic-user Heinz once planted a jumping bean. It has since grown to a beanstalk of over 10 feet high, and sturdy enough to carry the weight of a man. Its ceaseless dancing has caused the wall it grows against to begin cracking and crumbling…

They continue on to the grand entrance, and drag off the body of a fallen adventurer so that it won’t be resurrected by one of the two statues flanking the door when they enter.

In the vestibule they head immediately west and in the next room they head up the stairs. When they open the door at the top of the stairs they are greeted by the stern gaze of a crusader’s bust labeled “Medard”. Amaranth steps forward and locks eyes with the holy warrior. She is overcome by divine bloodlust, and begins to repeatedly croak something resembling “deus vult!” (Amaranth has no tongue. It’s a long story.) She also instantly recalls the names of three heinous fiends that reside in the castle whom she absolutely must slay: Serpentina, Runcius, and Merlerik. The remainder of the company collectively facepalm, groan “not another quest” and continue the current mission.

They check the room to the east. It is large, contains creepy shadows shifting about, and a large cracked mirror hangs from the wall. They do not like the look of the room at all (they’ve had bad experiences with mirrors in the castle so far) and decide not to enter but in stead head the other way.

They head west into the feasting hall. When they pass the door to the stairs from which they entered, they hear insect sounds coming from behind it. They are unnerved, but decide to continue on their way regardless.

In the feasting hall they take one of the doors leading north, and enter a massive hall decorated with weaponry and a ceiling reaching to the top of the next floor. A number of headless manservants are waiting with jugs of wine on serving platters. Faint sounds of a party can be heard from the balcony on the next floor. They bluff the manservants into serving them wine. Meanwhile they survey the room and identify both a battered suit of armor and a large sword hanging over the massive unlit fireplace as magical. Francesco nervously inspects the armor more closely, and notices it has an arrow lodged in its leg. They decide against pressing on, and leave the way they came.

They head back downstairs, and from there head west. They enter stables, and again from behind them they hear insect-like chittering, which again they choose to ignore. They take their time to search the stables, and Hendrik finds a magical lucky horseshoe. Then, they hear two men in conversation, approaching from the west. They pile into one of the stables and hold their breath. In walks the liche Aristide and the ghost of a bookish fellow whom they have not met before. The ghost is asking the lich about a book he’s looking for, by one “Flamel”. Aristide absentmindedly indulges the ghost, whom he refers to as “Merton”. He suggests they go up to the library and look for the book there. The two undead leave the stables, and the company are just about to breath a sigh of relief, when outside the door they hear Aristide greet someone named Gregor. The response is the sound of chittering. With mounting dread the company hear Gregor tell Aristide about the adventurers he has been following, and Aristide agrees he will return to the stables and kick the rabble out of the castle.

The company decides to make a run for it. They burst from the stable and run for the double doors to the north. However, its hinges turn out to be rusted shut. Meanwhile, Aristide, Merton and Gregor enter the stables at a leisurely pace. Merton approaches, mumbling something about a book. Meanwhile Gregor who to their horror turns out to be an enormous bug, shambling on his hind legs, hangs back. Aristide stands and lambasts the company from a distance. Hendrik pulls out the Staff of the Woodlands, taps the double door, which warp open in response. The company hurries into the courtyard, not daring to look over their shoulders. They run for the first door they see, and are relieved to find it opens without trouble. When it slams shut they are in a nondescript corridor, and take a moment to catch their breath.

”Gregor” eh? Sure, Melan, throw in some Kafka while you’re at it (Rich Johnson)

Relieved to find they are not being followed, they head down the hallway to see where it leads. It ends at a door in front of which the floor is littered with decomposing corpses. They don’t like the looks if that and so want to turn back when from a door to the south they hear a large group of men approach. They form up a line and brace themselves for what is to come.

A large group of undead noblemen enter the hallway and accost the company, demanding to know what they’re up to. Hendrik uses his considerable charm to bullshit his way out of their predicament, and even manages to get the noblemen to point the way to the nearest exit.

They head back into the courtyard but decide to press their luck rather than leave, and head north. They enter the hallway that they know leads into the donjon to the east. In stead, they turn west.

At the next door, Hendrik has a déjà vu. He sees himself enter the next room after this doorway and battle a bunch of ghouls who are guarding a valuable treasure. Bolstered by this vision, the company opens the door and finds themselves in a hallway with three doors. They check all of them for noises, and from behind one they do indeed hear ghouls fighting over what they assume to be their meal. But they also once again hear Gregor’s familiar insectoid chittering back from where they came. They have been followed after all!

They decide Gregor needs to be dealt with, and attempt to surprise him by bashing open the door behind which they presume he is hiding. The massive bug has however anticipated their return and is at some distance from the doorway. It looks at them attentively, clicking its mandibles. Hendrik has no compassion for the thing, whips out his wand of lightning, and zaps the creature with a massive bolt. Somehow it survives, runs at the magic-user, and begins to chomp at him with its mandibles. Francesco bashes at it with his halberd, and Hendrik lets fly several magic missiles. It’s all too much for the bug to take, and it explodes in a mess of gore and chitin.

The company scrape off Gregor’s remains, and return to the room with the ghouls. A simple plan is hatched. Francesco throws open the door while standing to its side, and Hendrik and Amaranth stand at the ready some distance from it. But before they can act, the ghouls are already upon them, clawing and biting and attempting to paralyze them. Miraculously, the company manages to withstand the onslaught. Hendrik kills a number of ghouls with a blast from his wand of cold. Francesco sweeps at the monsters with his halberd. Amaranth successfully turns away the remaining undead. Hendrik lets fly a fireball at the ghouls cowering in the corner of their room, killing several more. And the whole thing is ended with that old standby: magic missile.

The company searches the room, which appears to have been the abode of a gardener. Using Detect Magic they find a sack of remarkable turnips and a large bag of seed that is labeled “Miracle Formula”.

They load the loot into a wheelbarrow and begin to make their way out of the castle. In the hallway leading to the donjon they are barely able to avoid the notice of the ghost of Roberto the judge. The remainder of the way is smooth sailing, however, and several days later they return safely to Tours-en-Savoy.

Referee Commentary:

Thus ends the last session of this second season of Castle Xyntillan. I know this is beginning to sound like a stuck record but never did I think we would get so much mileage out of this module. Every session is a surprise, and plays out different than the last.

In this one, I rolled lots of random encounters (five in total). That drove most of the action. At one point, we had one random encounter following the party (Gregor) and then, when they decided to comb the stables, I ruled it would take them three turns. I roll three d6s and what do you know? Two come up a one. So now I had to improvise at the drop of a hat Aristide and Merton somehow bumping into the party. They managed to avoid their notice but of course it was inevitable that Aristide would bump into Gregor, and Gregor would of course alert him to the presence of the adventurers. All of this emerged completely organically and was an absolute delight at the table.

The “déjà vu” moment is how we decided to handle the omen players can get from spending 200 GP on incense burnt at the reliquary. The book says to provide a vague but truthful omen. However, I don’t see how I as a referee can actually predict the future of a given session without resorting to some degree of railroading, which is anathema to how I am running this thing. So I talked to the players and suggested it would be some kind of meta currency they could spend during the session to get a hint whenever they would like to receive it. Hendrik’s player, towards the end of the session, was desperate for some treasure and it just so happened they weren’t too far removed from a room with some significant loot. So I decided to narrate that premonition. Was a bit awkward but it worked out well enough.

The treasure in question was an interesting case that by the book tries to (I think) introduce a bit of player skill in getting the most out of it, but I decided to hand wave it and simply narrate how they would use the seed to grow money plants, and how the turnips would grow to enormous size. This was the last session of the season after all, and I just wanted to hand them the GP and XP and not have those dangling as loose ends.

By golly, a fifth level magic-user is a force to be reckoned with. Especially now that they have also collected a few devastating wands. A previous encounter with a bunch of ghouls lead to a near-TPK for a much larger party. But this time around they were able to avoid surprise and get off their devastating magic before succumbing to paralysis.

I got rid of my battle mat and simply kept track of combat using dry erase tokens and index cards with Fate-style “zones” scrawled on them. It worked out fine. I’m quite pleased with these new tokens I got — they are simply 1-inch diameter circles laser cut from 3mm thick opaque white PMMA.

We are taking a break from Castle Xyntillan for a while at least. But more than one player has expressed a desire to continue their explorations, so it is unlikely we have seen the last of the abode of the Malévols. It would be interesting to continue, not in the least because of Amaranth’s newly acquired quest!