Just a quick post to let anyone following this blog know that it has not been abandoned completely. The Stars without Number campaign mentioned in the previous post has been progressing nicely for twenty sessions; the system has been easy to use and the challenge of putting together a sci-fi game (a first for me) has been refreshing. At the same time, work continues apace on my second adventure module. All the mapping, keying, adventure hooks, and faction information is done and just the random encounter tables, bestiary, and treasure description remain to do.

As usual, my goal in the coming months will be to post here more often. The realist in me, though, has a pretty good sense of the odds on that resolution being fulfilled.

With the imminent razing of Google+, I suppose it’s time to dust off this blog and reaffirm yet again an intention to post more frequently. To be honest, I’m not optimistic about the chances of that – I don’t enjoy wasting my time writing content someone else could produce and I’ve neither the hubris nor lack of self-awareness to mistake an idea new to me for one new to the larger community. Who knows, though? Perhaps with age I’ll lower my standards.

In the meantime, and perhaps in example of, here are my answers to Zak S.’s OSR Guide for the Perplexed. If nothing else, it should provide a useful metric by which to judge whether this site is worth purging from your blog roll.

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me

Take the Rubies from the Demon’s Eyes

Given that subsequent questions provide ample space to praise specific OSR advice, mechanics, and content, I’ve decided to use this question to highlight an article that captures the zeitgeist of the movement instead. This is the same spirit that runs through early Renaissance writing: a “fuck you” to authority and the slavish imitation it encourages coupled with confidence that the new blood can produce their own masterpieces equal to any of the classics.

2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark

Complex rule systems limit imaginative solutions in favor of the predefined, often get forgotten at the table, and inevitably lead to absurdities or gimmicky exploits; simple rule systems supplemented by an individual dungeon master’s ad hoc rulings are superior.

3. Best OSR module/supplement

  • Supplement: Richard LeBlanc’s D30 Sandbox Companion; this is an excellent resource for populating hexes, towns, NPC lists, etc. I’ve been especially fond of using the tavern name generator to name ships. Veins of the Earth and Yoon-Suin are also great, but a bit harder to use at the table.
  • Module: Death Frost Doom (Revised); I don’t run modules as a general rule, but this one is an exception because it hits that balance of risk-and-reward for players exactly right while having real stakes for the larger setting. Broodmother Skyfortress also hits some of these notes, just not quite as strongly.

4. My favorite house rule (by someone else)

Goblinpunch’s inventory house rules ( and; this is the sanest method of encumbrance tracking I’ve ever encountered, making player choices meaningful without bogging things down in the counting of pounds (or gold pieces)

5. How I found out about the OSR

For years I tried to satisfy my RPG itch with video games and that led me to read a site called the Escapist for reviews and the like. One day they introduced a series called “I Hit it with My Axe” with Zak S. To be honest, the series itself did nothing for me – I’m old and the editing struck me as … idiosyncratic – but it led me to the blogosphere and from there to Google+.

6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy

I am partial to Meatshields! ( to generate hirelings, but it’s probably more appropriate to highlight Roll20, Hangouts, and Discord, since those resources are fundamental to allowing the online gaming that makes up 90% of my engagement with the hobby.

7. Best Place to talk to other OSR gamers

Google+ was the clear answer to this question for the past several years. I’m not sure what the answer will be going forward: back to the blogs, another social network site like MeWe or Facebook, Reddit, or Discord servers. Maybe all of those and more.

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games

As the introduction implies, you won’t find me talking about anything anywhere most of the time. If you want to know where I’m lurking, the answers are as follows:

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough

I don’t have one and don’t have it in me to pretend otherwise.

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG

I don’t have one? I suppose if you don’t consider non-retroclones OSR (being just OS), then AD&D 1E and B/X could count.

11. Why I like OSR stuff

I’m starting to feel like this is a waste of time – the answers to the first two questions cover this fairly well and now we’re just belaboring the point.

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet

The first would be anything produced by Sine Nomine (Kevin Crawford’s company), especially Stars without Number; his work is consistently excellent and I doubt this is news to most people reading this blog entry. Another thing would be the truly staggering amount of quality work, both artistic and otherwise, created by Luka Rejec. The first time I saw his drawings, it was obvious he was gifted and everything since then has cemented that impression.

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be

Everyone knows the usual suspects, so I will instead name a blog that I found only recently and have enjoyed immensely: Cavegirl’s Game Stuff ( The monsters are amazing and definitely worth stealing.

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is

The most useful things I’ve created are the random generators on my blog (, especially the weather tool. I’m also partial to my short module called Automata Run Amok available for free at RPGNow, both illustrated and edited by Luka Rejec (see my note about him above; his contribution raised the level of my work)

15. I’m currently running/playing

Two weeks ago, I finished running a four year, 221 session, 884 hour online AD&D 1E campaign (although it will likely continue in some form after a hiatus). As a diversion during the current downtime, I will begin a Stars without Number campaign in a couple of weeks. I have also run an after-school AD&D game club for the past four years (and previously ran a 3E D&D club for five or six years in the early 2000s). In terms playing, I participate in an intermittent weekend online AD&D game and pick-up games every now and then.

16. I don’t care whether you use ascending or descending AC because

The only people invested in the fine points of combat resolution mechanics are game designers and rules lawyers. Otherwise, it’s six of one or a half dozen of the other.

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice

Illustration by Steve Zieser.

automata-title-pageThis blog has suffered severe neglect in recent months, although my RPG-related activities have continued unabated. Besides my ongoing first edition campaign (which recently surpassed five hundred hours of play), I have also been working hard on converting some of that game’s early adventures into publications. The first such adventure is the incident at the tinkerer-wizard Talessin’s tower (see the annotated play reports: first session and second session).

That work is now complete and my first adventure module, Automata Run Amok, has gone live on DriveThruRPG as a PDF with print versions to follow as soon as possible both there and on (spiral bound in the latter case!). This module is being offered for free (PWYW) as an appetizer for what I hope to be a series of publications. Here’s the marketing copy blurb for this adventure:

Out-of-Control automata have driven a wizard from his shop. He would like the PCs to solve the problem (without damaging his creations) while his rival will pay for evidence of the wizard’s dabbling in forbidden knowledge.

This is an adventure suitable for four to five low-level characters written to be compatible with OSRIC and early editions of the world’s most popular RPG.  In addition to full details on a tinkerer-wizard’s tower overrun by rampaging automata, this module includes:

  • Random tables to generate elements of a bustling port city situated in the tropics and titles for books on both magic and techno-magic
  • Twenty unique magical items of variable usefulness and danger with which to tempt players
  • Several unique NPCs and monsters, from a clock maker revolutionary to a brain floating in a machine animated by the spirit of a long-dead racist dwarf
  • Eight illustrations by the wondefully talented Luka Rejec

This twenty-page adventure should provide between four and eight hours of Old School fun. Enjoy!

Here’s a link to the page to “purchase” and download the module.

Colchester Castle under Construction

Colchester Castle under Construction

It’s been quite a spell since my last post, so I thought it might be a good idea to check-in to confirm that this blog is still a live project and to outline some plans for the next few months. There has been a logical reason for the prolonged delay since my last update, leaving aside general laziness and a busy summer schedule. This issue was that the next section of my commentary covers the Dwarven people and there were too many spoilers for my ongoing campaign to address that subject. While some of those secrets have yet to be discovered, my players have made significant progress in their investigation of Curabel’s Ancient Dwarven civilization and it will now be easier to cover that subject here without spoiling the campaign.

With this problem no longer holding things up, I will relaunch the campaign setting Bible annotation shortly. In addition, a number of additional random generation scripts written in Perl are almost ready for upload here — these will cover non-classed NPCs (compatible with just about any system) and treasure package generation (potentially useful in other games, but designed for AD&D 1E). Based on the site traffic, the random weather generator has been the most popular post on this blog, so I think these might also be of interest. Finally, I will also start posting annotated play reports from my ongoing campaign that has just reached its 66th session (covering 264 hours of weekly gaming).

Anyway, that’s enough planning — now it’s time to bring some of these ideas to fruition.

Portrait of Larry's dwarven fighter, Thorfus

Larry’s dwarven fighter, Thorfus

One of the original players in the Curabel campaign, Larry Hamilton (Follow Me, and Die! on G+), has an OSR/RPG blog and he recently posted a very complimentary summary of his experiences in the campaign along with a link to this site. Since his post deals more with the actual play of the campaign, something that I will not be addressing until after working through the preparatory material, it actually serves as a pretty good preview of the direction this blog will be taking. In addition, his site is generally worth a look for anyone interested in old-school role-playing.

Image by Steve Zieser.

Image by Steve Zieser.

My intention with this blog, Dwarven Automata, is to discuss Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (mostly first edition) and OSR (however defined) gaming using concrete examples from the campaigns I run both online via Roll20 and in the flesh. I also hope to post random generator scripts to aid in the creation of similar campaigns, although that will likely be somewhat delayed since my personal versions of these programs include copyrighted material that will need to be changed for web publication.

While some assumptions and theories about role-playing games may be implicit in the material posted here — and perhaps even explicitly remarked upon at times — I have very little interest in edition wars, game theory debates, or whatever outrage du jour has caught the attention of the wider RPG blogging world. This is a small, personal project that will remain grounded in my experiences prepping and running AD&D/OSR campaigns and I imagine it will bore most people to tears. You have been warned.