Underworld rules

One of my perennials is a kludge of 3LB OD&D with Chainmail filling out some of the lacunae it was clearly meant to fill.  It doesn’t draw anything from later editions.  If I can’t find it in OD&D or Chainmail, I just make something up.  The resulting mess is what I use for Faz.  These are the rules for basic Underworld matters like doors, lighting, etc., which are just expanded a bit from the original rules in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.


The Underworld is Chaotic and while it recognizes its own, it is supernaturally opposed to incursions from the surface world. The air is thick and miasmal, the portals are obdurate, and every corridor, grotto, and nook is pervaded with a sovereign tenebrosity which bedevils delvers without bothering the Underworld’s own partisans in the slightest. The stone itself resents the presence of outsiders so that treading the labyrinth is a miserable slog.


All distances in the Underworld are in feet rather than yards. Whenever a distance is indicated as inches, convert it to feet, with 1 inch equaling 10′.

Underworld movement, quite slow by the standards of the upper world of sanity and light, is measured in 10 minute turns. In 1 turn, a figure can move twice, so that a light footman could move 240′ in 1 turn. This movement rate assumes cautious exploration with mapping, cursory inspection, and so on.

Time spent on active searching, loading treasure, focused hearkening, employment of the ESP spell, and so on will slow movement as determined by the referee.

If fleeing or otherwise abandoning circumspection, a figure can move four times per turn, so that a light footman expeditiously buggering off could move 480′ through the Underworld in 1 turn.

[My current encumbrance system is basically deciding if a character is Light Foot, Heavy Foot, or Armored Foot, then eyeballing what it’s carrying and moving it a category up if it seems appropriate.  Very precise methodology.]


Secret passages may be located through active searching on a die roll of 1-2. Elves locate secret passages on a referee die roll of 1-4 rather than the usual 1-2 for other characters. Even if not actively searching, an elf passing by a secret passage will sense the presence of something odd on a referee die roll of 1-2.


Underworld doors are peevish and do not open for delvers by a mere push or turn of a handle. They must be forced open, with a die roll of 1-2 indicating that the door opens; smaller, less effectual characters like hobbits may require a 1. Up to three characters can attempt to force a door at once, but any characters engaged in door-opening are ill-prepared to bring themselves quickly to bear against menaces on the other side.

Open doors will, if given the chance, redress their grievances by slamming shut at the first opportunity. They can be wedged open with the iron spikes ubiquitous in delver supply shops, but on a die roll of 1-2 will contrive a method of closing anyway.

On the other hand, doors will cheerfully open at a touch and stay that way for Underworld dwellers unless held shut or otherwise barred.


Underworld traps are fickle and unreliable, triggering as intended on a die roll of 1-2. Unlike doors, traps find both delvers and Underworld dwellers to be equally aggravating and will, if their caprices are suitably tickled, unleash upon either faction.


The Underworld is dark, and not the sort of darkness that gimlet-eyed little strivers can pierce with keen night sight or the like. Either a light source or the infravision spell must be employed if delvers are to see.

There are two main methods of illumination available to delvers: torches and lanterns. The torches and lanterns typically purchased for use on Underworld delves are manufactured by dwarves and Martians respectively and are both affordable and well suited to their specialized purpose.

Torches offer reasonable illumination out to about a 20′ radius, beyond which it is difficult to see much at all. A torch burns for about an hour, more or less, and will usually not go out if exposed to a breeze or dropped for a moment in a puddle. Dwarven torches put off relatively little smoke and soot; nonetheless, they are not considered ideal as primary sources of illumination for a delve, although they are undeniably useful when circumstances call for the targeted application of open flame.

Martian hand lanterns are peculiar oil lamps generating a gas which burns without a wick. They illuminate well out to about a 30′ radius and less well for a bit beyond that. Furthermore, a cunningly crafted lens allows the projection of a beam twice that distance and illuminating a 10′ spot. These lanterns may be quickly shuttered without extinguishing the gas within and, because they do not use a flame, are not undue hazards if dropped or shattered. For a nominal fee, a lantern may be refilled to last for the duration of all but the longest delves. Accordingly, they are quite popular.

A character may theoretically fight with a torch in one hand and a weapon in the other, although doing so in narrow corridors while flanked by comrades may prove less than practical. It is virtually impossible to fight while holding a lantern; for the sake of game play, it is generally assumed that the lantern has been quickly placed somewhere out of harm’s way, although certain spells and effects may disturb it in the unlikely event that the referee remembers. To be on the safe side, judicious delvers generally secure the services of at least one link-boy so that, barring his gruesome demise, such matters need not trouble them.

Those delvers determined to tote around flammable liquids may purchase lamp oil. Note that this substance is not specifically developed for weaponized uses – typically the target must be doused, then open flame must be applied. Such instances will be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, and will obviously work to some effect if pulled off. The author notes that there are probably reasons that the annals of heroic man-to-man combat are not replete with tales of short-range indoor Molotov cocktail deployment.


It is axiomatic that delvers will cast spells of spectacular concussive effect in tightly enclosed spaces. This must be handled as it arises, but in general the detonation of fire balls and lightning bolts in insufficiently capacious venues will end poorly.  Or very well, depending on one’s attitudes towards depilation, deafness, and epidermal integrity.

Well, that fucking sucked.

Fuck This

You may have heard that several counties in southern West Virginia are federal disaster areas after floods washed away homes and cars and killed a bunch of people.  My county is one of them.  We live a baseball’s throw from the Kanawha River and are very lucky that our house is in a flat area far enough above water level that we got off unscathed.  But some of the scenes from our outlying towns are pretty shocking; I grew up in hurricane country and that’s about the only thing I’ve seen to compare.  It’s pretty heartbreaking but all I can really do right now is throw stuff in the relief supply receptacles that have popped up everywhere.  (Although I’m also currently fending off my girlfriend’s attempts to talk me into fostering one of the displaced puppers in the now-completely-overwhelmed animal shelter.  I’m at fuckin capacity now, seriously.)

I was taking my time dicking around even before this shit happened so I can’t blame my laziness on the floods but it does put an extra layer of damper on one’s desire to write about weird little fuckhead dwarves.  To top it off, apparently we’re expected to get slammed with heavy rains again, so hopefully we’re as lucky this time around.

I will update as soon as I have something worth posting.  In the meantime I will be re-reading one of my big Dwarf-Land inspirations, the greatest gaming product ever written, GURPS Goblins.  (My life is littered with regrets but perhaps my most bitter is that I’ll never have an opportunity to run it.)

Determination of wandering monster level

The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures has a matrix for determining what Monster Level Table to roll on whenever wandering monsters are encountered.  It or something like it should be familiar to most folks who play early editions of D&D – if you’re on the 3rd dungeon level, you’ll probably encounter 3rd level monsters, but you may encounter lower or higher level monsters instead.

The default matrix in UWA is harsh – a third of all encounters on the 1st dungeon level, for example, will be with 3rd or 4th level monsters – things like gargoyles, wraiths, sorcerers, mummies, trolls, and other creatures that will make short work of a 1st level party.  I’m not a balance junkie but that’s a recipe for frequent massacres.  Accordingly, I’ve decreased the chance and severity of encounters from deeper dungeon levels.

I’m also using percentile-based tables to reflect the fact that some monsters are more common than others, and instead of “roll 1d6 to figure out what level table you’re rolling on,” I’m wrapping it all up in one table for each dungeon level.  Streamlining the determination to one roll also makes it a simple one-step process to implement a specialized encounter table for a particularly-themed region – write down “areas x thru xx use the ____ Encounter Table” and there you go.

This first image below is the raw “what level is the monster we encountered?” table, adjusted to keep encounters vaguely level-appropriate more often than not.  I will not be rolling on this table during play, but I’ve used it to develop the percentile templates.

Monster Level Table

The second image includes a template for each dungeon level or region’s encounter table.  The categories are assigned percentage values reflecting the raw table.  So, 50% of the Level 1 table will consist of various Level 1 monsters, with chances reflecting how common that monster is in the dungeon; 33% will consist of various Level 2 monsters, etc.  These are the tables on which I’ll actually be rolling.  (I’m only really working with my Underworld’s first three levels in any detail right now, so I’ll develop the tables for the lower levels if/when necessary.)

Monster Level Templates

I think this system and these values are more reflective of what I’m going for than the default tables.  I’ve similarly re-jiggered the magic item determination tables for a distribution that makes more sense in my game, but that was just a matter of shifting numbers on the initial table.

Since there really aren’t many tables in OD&D and there’s no remotely unified resolution system, it’s pretty easy to dick around and adjust things to get the game you want without weird unintended cascade effects.  So there’s something to be said for a clunky, incoherent system of discrete “modules.”  Yay inelegance!

Faz Underworld: Martian rat-men

These skull-faced midget bastards are a major presence on the 1st and 2nd levels of the Faz Underworld.  PCs in the upcoming campaign will start at 4th-ish level and are expected to mostly bypass those dungeon levels in favor of greater and more rewarding challenges, but the rat-men are happy to set upon weakened delvers limping back to safety.

Martian Rat-Man

OD&D combat matrix with weapon type adjustments

A few years ago, right after having read the Ryth Chronicle, I developed my own “alternative combat system” to-hit matrix which integrates the Greyhawk supplement’s weapon type vs. AC table.

This matrix assumes use of the original Men & Magic rules re: armor types, magical shield adjustments, lack of Dexterity adjustment to AC, etc.  I don’t know how useful it’d be in a campaign making full use of the Greyhawk rules, as it wasn’t designed for that.  It’s in case you want to run a base 3LB campaign with non-variable weapon damage but some reason to pick one weapon over another, and you don’t want to adapt the Chainmail system.

I remember noticing some differences between some of the values on my matrix and those in the Ryth Chronicle matrix but at the time, it didn’t seem worth it to do much sleuthing as to a few 5% variations for flails and military picks or whatever.  I have not become more inclined to look into it since then.

The image quality is shitty but I’m not sure where the original digital file is.  Once I print something out, I usually just work with the hard copy and am less than diligent about keeping track of where the original file gets off to.  So this is like a second-generation scan.[ODD] Abbreviated Combat Matrix, Notes[ODD] Abbreviated Combat Matrix

Alignment languages

Most people junk alignment languages as soon as they start developing a new campaign.  I don’t.  In general, I retain legacy artifacts from old games except to the degree I find them utterly unworkable (e.g., thermal infravision).  I’m not a partisan for immersive roleplaying in D&D; I’m fine with the abstract, “wargamey” aspects of the original, even or especially when it feels like a Braunstein/Dungeon! hybrid.  I find it fun to look at something that initially seems retarded and try to intuit some way that it makes sense within the game’s overall framework.

Thus, years ago, I made peace with alignment language and wrote up a short, flimsy in-game justification.


The cosmic Law­/Chaos conflict is a real and accepted part of the game world, and one’s position ­- conscious or not -­ has supernatural consequences, one of which is the ability to speak an alignment language.

Within Faz, a cosmopolitan metropolis, one may find cults of all alignments operating more or less openly, with priests and lay adherents of such cults displaying their allegiances to varying degrees. Where this causes conflict, such strife occurs mostly along sectarian lines rather than for strictly alignment­-based reasons, although obviously there is some correlation.

Most characters are assumed to have undergone a Rite of Alignment at some temple upon attaining the appropriate age, even if that character is not currently a member of that (or any) cult. In addition to solidifying a certain broad ethical stance, the Rite confers the ability to speak an alignment language. Even individuals who were never thus initiated (for instance, benighted Underworld dwellers without the benefit of parochial education) eventually pick up the ability to speak an alignment language after a sufficient period of evincing a particular ethos.

Use of alignment language in public, or as a means of vetting strangers, is not forbidden, but is considered somewhat tacky and bothersome in the same way as insistently posting political memes might be in the real world.

If a character changes alignment, whether magically or through the consistent exhibition of behavior emblematic of another alignment, he or she loses the ability to speak an alignment language until either the performance of a new Rite of Alignment – presumably at a temple more in line with his or her new beliefs – or the passage of time.  (The latter is a matter of Referee discretion but depends to some degree on the gusto with which the new alignment is exemplified by the character.)

Erol Otus God Battle
Replace the right side with space otters and this is how I see Ragnarok in Cyclopeana.

My very few B/X house rules

Willingham TarantellaI like the Moldvay/Cook B/X rules as written.  B/X is the best edition to play right out of the box and people should be able to sit down and do that without reading 10 pages of house rules.  Anyone who wants one can get a searchable, legal .pdf of the Moldvay Basic rulebook for $5, or a hard copy on eBay for not much more, so everyone can easily be reading the exact rulebook that I’m using without having to track down a 5th printing of the 3LB.

OD&D is where I kitbash, and that’s really a sub-game for its own sake as far as I’m concerned.  It’s not necessary with B/X and I minimize it.

As a practical matter, most of what I tell players about the B/X rules for my games is about what I’m not changing, like alignment languages, or those hostile Underworld doors that give preferential treatment to monsters.  I do have (very brief) in-game explanations of those things, as they aren’t intuitive and people aren’t used to them anymore, but no one’s obligated to read them.

Also, if I see something that was omitted from the rules, like the missing detect invisible spell, I provide that info when it comes up.

My actual changes to the default rules are very, very few:

I use the optional rule allowing players to reroll 1s or 2s on their initial hit die.

Not all speaking monsters speak the language of their alignment.

Infravision just lets you see in the dark.

I use the optional rules for variable weapon damage and morale checks.

Annnnd that’s it.  My actual house rules are significantly shorter than the lead-up to my house rules.  Not counting optional rules, they’re two sentences.  So if and when I get to run this on the internet, it seems B/X would be the option that makes it easiest on prospective players.

(My understanding is that “Labyrinth Lord” is a straight-up copy of either B/X or BECMI, and that people play it, but I don’t think I’ve ever read it and have literally no interest.)