Opposed rolls in old school games

If two characters want to compete to know who wins a bras de fer competition, or if they are engaged in a game of cards or chess, or any other situation where there cannot really, or should, be a draw, both roll 1d6 and add their most appropriate ability modifier (strength for a arm wrestling, wisdom for domino, charisma for a duel of looks, agility for throwing darts, constitution to endure without breathing, intelligence to solve an equation, etc.)

If there is a tie, another roll is made until there is a winner.

Sometimes it is a good idea to put some tension into these competitions. In those cases, the winner will be the first to achieve 3, 5, 10 or even more victories, for example in a long desert marathon or to determine who finds more decorated stegosaurus eggs at the Volcano Festival.

duel of looks

Staggering vs. Critical Hits

I don’t like critical hits. Never liked. If your weapon causes its maximum natural damage, that’s a critical hit! This is specially true in games where damage is automatic, like Into the Odd, but it works the same in any game based on B/X and similar.

I hate critical hits, but most players expect a high result in their to-hit roll comes with an added benefit. I don’t see why it should be this way, it’s not as though it was obvious, as though natural twenties were a thing in the real world, but ever since Empire of the Petal Throne introduced the concept (natural twenty attack equals double damage), it’s been the expected among players.

So I won’t introduce critical hits in my games, but I don’t want my friends’ enmity, either. Having been playing Dark Souls for the first time, for most of this year, I thing a natural twenty can have a good effect: breaking your enemy’s poise and stagger him.

When you stagger your foe, he loses his next action, and your next attack against him is automatic, so you don’t roll. If you cause maximum damage, that’s your critic. If you cause minimum damage… well, sometimes you miss when you attack a staggered enemy in Dark Souls, because when you make him lose balance, sometimes he missteps or goes out of reach, and he’s still wearing his armor, right?

Note: Keep in mind that I play LotFP, a system where you don’t add neither your STR nor your DEX to your damage rolls, only to your attack rolls, which means all attacks can potentially deal as few as only one point of damage every single time.


  • A natural 20 staggers your foe. Staggering lasts one round.
  • A staggered foe loses his next action.
  • All attacks against a staggered opponent are automatic. Damage is normal.

Running away mechanics

These are some quick, easy and no-nonsense rules for running away that would work for most games.

If you are not engaged in combat, running away is automatic. You can be pursued, though.

If you are engaged in combat, in your next action you can run away. If your action takes place before your foe’s (in initiative order), you escape; if your action takes place after your foe’s, he can go after you.

If you are pursued, both roll 1d6, a roll of 1 or 2 adds a point. The first who get 3 points, wins (you escape or he catches you). In a draw, both roll and the lowest result wins.

If a chase doesn’t add enything to the fun, running away is automatic.

If you want to resolve a chase quickly, both roll and the lowest result wins in just one roll. In a draw, the player wins (or roll again if you prefer).

Avoid paranoia-driven dungeoneering

When players become too paranoid and start exploring the dungeon methodically, it’s sometimes fun, but when this behavior becomes too constant, specially when there’s no sensible reason to be extremely cautious (not all dungeons are tombs of horrors and grinding gears after all). Here are some ideas that could solve this situation.

The party

Set a timer

The mission must be completed under a certain number of turns, otherwise something happens and the players know it: when it’s 2 minutes to midnight the sect of evil orcs will kill the unborn in the womb to summon The Hand That Threaten Doom, the crazy wizard eats his pet bat and spread disease, the PC’s clothes and weapons turn to rags and scrap, the PC’s carriage turns into a pumpkin at midnight, the artifact only appears for a few minutes after sunset with a waxing moon before it returns to its dimension of origin, &c.

Something wicked comes

This is mostly arbitrary, but if the party spends more than two turns in the same room, a special random encounter check is rolled. If the d6 comes up 1 or 2, this special monsters or ghostly NPCs or something, appears, causing a drawback: “You are under arrest”, “You smell tasty”, “It smells funny, please make a saving throw versus poison; if you fail, you fall asleep”; falling asleep is too boring, though. Maybe this gas contains some mutagen agent which modifies the PC’s DNA, causing a mutation. Don’t abuse this or it becomes more boring than the alternative.

Rival party

Describe a few areas showing traces of another party of adventurers in the same dungeon. “It’s clear this party is not being methodical, but reckless, they really want to get to the treasure sooner than you. What are you gonna do?” The rival party works better if you introduce it, or its leader, beforehand, without specifying what its role in the campaign will be.

Rival Party

You’re not supposed to explore every inch

This works better in a wizard tower or a more linear dungeon, but with a lot of dedication, it can be used in almost any dungeon (but perhaps it’s not worth it). After a period of time, some parts of the dungeon are permanently blocked. For instance, water springs from the bottom of the tower, and you can only explore one or two rooms on each floor before it becomes impossible to explore another and have to go to the next floor; or opening a door permanently seals another, but make sure sealing a room won’t prevent the party to further explore the dungeon or move to the next level; multiple stairs, stairs in hallways, and teleportation pods are helpful.

Make traps reasonable and obvious

Traps should only be put in a room, door or item when it makes sense. Corridors full of traps induce paranoid behavior and should be avoided (unless, of course, it’s a special dungeon of traps or something). I have an ambivalent feeling for visible, obvious traps, I usually prefer classic, hidden traps, but telegraphed traps are useful when you really need to set a faster pace. If your players spend more time searching for traps than doing anything else, maybe obvious traps are for you.

Don’t measure time, measure turns instead

I quote what I wrote in Hidden Shrine of Setebos: “One turn equals a few minutes, maybe ten but that’s not important. Most standard actions take one turn. You don’t have to measure time rigorously. Ignore time, focus on turns.” This means that 6 actions add one hour, it doesn’t matter if six characters take one action each at the same time, in the same room, each one still adds one turn, total six turns or one hour, not because they spent one hour in the room, but because time is fictitious and malleable, which meants that after (6 x 8) 48 actions (specially actions that demand a roll), 8 hours have passed. Let’s just assume there is a lot of dead time between turns and separate actions. I hope it makes sense; in my head it does but it’s not easy to explain.

House rules | Defeat a foe in combat without killing him

Sometimes you want to immobilize, incapacitate or somehow defeat a foe in combat but you don’t want to kill him, and some games add complex mechanics to do that, while other doen’t add any mechanics at all.

Here’s an easy way:

  1. State your intention. “I want to immobilize him but not killing him”.
  2. Attack the enemy as normal, using non-lethal weapons or no weapons at all (punches and kicks might deal anything between a single point of damage to 1d4). When the target reaches zero or less hp, he’s defeated and you achieved what you intended to do.

If mid-combat you decide to try it, and the enemy has suffered damage from lethal weapons, you must use non-lethal weapons or your own hands from now on. But if the target reaches negative hit points, he’s dead, he only survives if he reaches exactly zero (then it’s a good thing to make punches and kicks deal only one point of damage, right?)

Of course, if you want to immobilize him so your friends can kill him, you have to use whatever grapple rules you have.

If you really need more complex rules that these, you know where to find your path to them, if you know what I mean.

Simplified Firearms Rules for LotFP and OSR games

In 70s and 80s D&D, mêlée and ranged combat was always an abstraction that kept the game simple and easy, but this ethos of simplicity over realism is broken in LotFP when firearms are introduced as an appendix.

One way to solve this is simply reskinning classic ranged weapons as firearms, and other is to integrate firearms into the general ranged weapons charts, and add special rules for each kind of weapon the same way rapiers, polearms or light crossbows are given.

Reskinned firearms

  • Pistols work like light crossbows
  • Arquebuses work like heavy crossbows
  • Muskets work like a long bow

Reskinned weapons deal the same damage and have the same ranges as their wooden counterparts. The only difference is that, if used to strike a person as a mêlée weapon, pistols deal d4 damage, and both arquebuses and muskets, deal d6 damage. Light crossbows and long bows maybe deal d4 damage, and heavy crossbows, d6, but perhaps they are damaged or destroyed if used that way.

Choosing between a classic weapon and a firearms doesn’t depend on which is better, but from an aesthetic point of view, with one exception, though: firearms are louds and should trigger a random encounter roll immediatly (if in combat, maybe a third faction arrives or waits for an ambush).

Integrated firearms

Get the PDF

These descriptions are based on, but changed from, the charts in the Firearms Appendix (Rules & Magic p. 157).

  • Pistols have a short, medium and long range of 25′, 50′ and 100′.
  • Arquebuses and muskets have a short, medium and long range of 50′, 100′ and 600′.
  • Pistols and arquebuses have -4 and -8 penalties to attack at medium and long ranges.
  • Muskets require a fork rest to shoot, getting -2 and -4 penalties to attack at medium and long ranged but cost more; lacking the fork rest, muskets get an additional -2 penalty to shoot (including at short range).
  • Pistols, arquebuses and muskets deal a damage of 1d8.
  • If the attack roll comes up a 1, the weapon explodes and deals d4 damage (pistol) or d6 damage (arquebus or musket) to its owner. The weapon must be repaired before it can be used again. Optionally, weapons are destroyed and must be replaced.
  • Pistols, arquebuses and muskets can be shot only once before needing a recharge; recharging takes 8 rounds for fighters and 10 rounds for all other classes.
  • Firearms are noisy. They trigger a random encounter roll immediatly, even if in combat.

Overland Travel Time for OSR games


Combat encounters are measured in 6-second rounds (or 10 seconds in some games). Dungeon exploration is measured in 10-minute turns. All that is common knowledge. What I propose here is that overland travel should be measured in 8-hour watches. So, one day of travel is composed of three watches.

Watch Time

Assuming a regular terrain, a party of adventurers can travel 13 km (8 mi) in a watch, or 39 km (24 mi) in 3 watches (24 hours), but this space and time equivalence is an abstraction, since it’s not impossible to continuously march during 24 hours (continuous march.) In reality the total travel time in a day is 8 hours of discontinuous march, as well as 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of diverse activities (food, rest, hunting, setting up camps, cleaning weapons, repairing equipment, exploring the terrain, surrounding impassable areas, preparing spells, &c.), all of them discontinuously distributed between 3 watches, or 24 hours.

Usually, watches are counted as complete even if only a fraction is considered. For example, if traveling from Townton to Citypolis takes between 16 and 24 hours, we can say that the travel takes 3 watches (up to 8 hours is one watch, more than 8 and up to 16 hours are two watches, more than 16 and up to 24 hours are three watches). Exact time is not important. Travelers will reach their destination at any time during the third watch.

If you need, if you really need to know the exact time, and I mean REALLY, you can use one of the following options. Otherwise, be pragmatic and stick to what’s been said above (it’s funnier!):

Easy Option: Roll a d8. A result of 1 means that travelers arrive during the first hour of the watch; a 2, during the second hour, &c.

Difficult Option: Use math. Take into account that 1 hour equals 1.6 km (1 mi) of discontinuous march, or 4.8 km (3 mi) of continuous march. If the distance was 45 km (28 mi), the travel would have lasted more than 3 watches (3×13 = 39, 39<45) but less than 4 watches (13×4 = 52, 52>45). Subtract the distance per full day (39) from the total distance (45): 45-39 = 6 (in miles, 28-24 = 4) and calculate how many hours or watches you need to travel the remaining fraction (6 km, 4 mi). In this example, we can travel the remaining 6 km in just over one hour without stopping. We don’t use discontinuous march speed because the fourth travel watch corresponds to the first watch of the second day. As the adventurers have just started the day, there’s no point in stopping to rest when the destination is in sight. If the arrival was during the second or third watches, or the destinations is not visible or otherwise unknown to the travelers, it would be reasonable to use discontinuous march speed, that is, rest, eat, &c. The fraction of 6 km, at a rate of 1.6 km per hour, would take 3 hours and 45 minutes to travel.

Actions in a Watch

The referee can roll random encounters or special events from 1 to 3 times per watch (adjusted to their campaign world’s necessities or preferred style.) Time during non-combat encounters is best kept in abstract, not affecting the 8-hour period, unless it becomes a really long encounter, like going into a dungeon or visiting a town, since the adventurers will spend a long time there. “Long time” also being an abstraction, anything from several hours to several days.

Food and Rations

Eating Rations: At least once per day. To keep things simple, each day, during the first watch, everyone in the party has to take one ration. Those who don’t will get a penalization of -1 to all rolls up to one watch after they eat. The next day, if again they don’t eat, this penalty increases to -2, and they lose 2 points of Constitution. The third day, this penalty increases to -3, and another 2 points of Constitution are lost. These detrimental effects continue to progress until the victim takes a ration and perhaps takes a rest (for a full watch other than their 8 hours of sleep, for a full day including sleep, or whatever makes sense.)

Food and Water: Bookkeeping is boring. Don’t separate water and food. Instead, keep rations abstracted as a combination of water and food (fruit and vegs, carbs and starches, dairy, protein, sugars and fats, water; it’s all included in tour rations.)

Scavenging: For each day of travel, one player (and only one player) rolls a d6. In a 1, the party found and collected enough food and water to make 1d6 rations. This activity is done during travel, so it doesn’t hinder advance. If a character has points in Bushcraft*, roll that instead, reduced in half, rounded down (1 to 3 points equal 1-in-6 chance; 4 and 5 points are 2-in-6 chance; 6 points are 3-in-6 chance.)

Forage and Hunting: During the first watch of any day of travel, one player rolls a d6. In a 1 or 2, the party successfully found enough food and water to produce 1d6 rations. If this activity is engaged in, traveling is not possible for the day, and an extra wandering monsters or random encounters check is done while the group is hunting or foraging. If a character has points in Bushcraft*, roll that instead, without penalty.

*LotFP skill system. You can easily adapt this to other systems, just be consistent.

Download as PDF.

Save vs actual death?

If your game is a little too lethal, you might want to consider a way to spare an adventurer’s insignificant life, just like when you burn ants with a magnifying glass, and allow one to preserve its life, just to see how its entire world collapses when you put one foot on its anthill.

But before going around saving lives, you have to let the players experience first hand the game and its world as it was designed. Maybe they will love it (as many of us do). But if character death is not part of the fun but to their detriment, something must be done. This is not very OSR, much less LotFP, but here it goes.

Save vs actual death… sort of

At the player’s choice, if his level 1 character dies in combat, once the encounter is over he has the option of sacrificing something in exchange for saving his life. Jeff Rients proposes a saving throw vs death, but I would skip that roll.

The character falls and is given up for dead, but miraculously he’s managed to keep 1 hit point. If at the end of the encounter a TPK has occurred, or if the fallen one is the first character created by the player for this campaign, this homemade rule is ignored.

Roll 1d3 or choose:

  1. Equipment
  2. Treasure
  3. Physical integrity

This loss must be significant, not trivial. The player decides what is sacrificed, but the referee can reject it and make a suggestion about the most appropriate loss. Some examples:

Equipment. Her favorite sword or magic weapon is broken. Her full plate armor is ruined. Her spell book has become unusable.

Treasure. Her bag of coins stopped the fatal blow, but her enemy has taken it. The great ruby was pulverized. The valuable wine bottles broke.

Physical integrity. Her knee is shattered, reducing her movement rate by 50%, and her Dex goes to the next modifier below (if her modifier was +2, now it is -1, if it was 0, now it’s -1, and so on). A frightening scar crosses her face and destroys one of her eyes (her Cha goes down to the next modifier below, and her attacks with ranged weapons, as well as her sight-related rolls, suffer a -1 penalty). Her dominant hand is cut (she cannot use two-handed weapons any more, her Tinkering rolls and similar are made with a d8, not d6).

Artwork: PUNCH Magazine and Clipart Panda

Rules & Rulings | I Don’t Have a Rule for That!

One of the principles of the old-school is the importance of ad hoc resolutions over strict rules, and the rules included in the manual can’t possibly cover all possible situations that arise in an adventure. The referee has the toughest job, and he doesn’t always have the mental acuity to invent an ad hoc rule; when that happens, the referee must (perhaps randomly) choose one of the following rules.

Random «I don’t have a rule for that!» Table

1d8 Ad Hoc Rule
1 Toss a coin
2 Roll 1d6, a 4, 5 or 6 is a success (6 is a total success, 4 is only partial)
3 Roll 1d20 under CHA or WIS; CHA and WIS are luck
4 All parties roll 1d10; the highest result wins
5 Add all of positive modifiers of each party, subtract the negatives, compare; the highest wins.*
6 1 in 6 chance to succeed
7 Rock, Paper, Scissors
8 Roll a secret d6, the player hast to guess the number (use d4 or d8 as you see fit)

*Rationale: luck grants you better abilities, so you’re lucky.

Download this table as a PDF.

And just because this has caused some confusion, I want to add that this table is more a statement than a gameable tool. That should be enough for you to intepret its message.

Wrestling Rules (Grapple)

[A revision of grapple rules can be seen here.]

  • Make an attack roll to grapple your foe
  • In your foe’s action, he makes an attack roll
    • If he is successful, he breaks the grapple but suffers 1d2 damage
    • If he unsuccessful or can’t act for that round, you deal him 1d4 damage and the grapple continues
  • Each round, your foe can try to break the grapple or suffer 1d4 damage
  • You can break the grapple at any time but it doesn’t deal damage
Note: These rules were extrapolated from the vampire-themed wrestling rules found on Vaginas Are Magic!