Mostly-system-agnostic posts that I still think are broadly correct or worthwhile - the ones that stick out in my memory and that I return to.
Re-reading these, I apologize for my verbosity. Hence the short summaries.
If someone were willing to read exactly five of my theoryposts, I would choose:
- Gauntlets and Embracing the Funhouse Dungeon
(2020) - Make different parts of your megadungeon "check" different
capabilities, to keep the challenge fresh and reward players who adapt.
- Never Show Them the Map (2016) - You wouldn't show your players the ground-truth map of your dungeon. Why would you show them your hex map? Learn from my mistakes.
- Wilderness as Dungeon Revisited (2019) - Think of, and stock, your wilderness as if it were a dungeon, with a 6-mile hex being a lot like a 10' square. Don't stock every hex; group them into "rooms" of the same terrain type.
- A Meaningful Campaign (2021) - Reading the context around Gygax's infamous "YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT" in the 1e DMG. Part of a recent resurgence in interest around Gygax-style timekeeping.
- What's the Point? (2018) - Why put up with all the annoying bits of OSR gaming? Because it builds character, that's why.
If you're willing to read still more, or are interested in a particular topic, here's an index organized by train of thought / "research area".
Making OSR Dungeons Work
- OSR Blogiography part 2 (2015) - A collection of links and advice on building good OSR dungeons. Sadly some links may be dead.
- Monstrous NPCs (2016) - If your game is dungeoneering-focused, spend your NPC prep effort on sentient monsters in the dungeon, not people in town. Learn from my mistakes.
- Space Hulk's Blips (2018) - Following the encounter distance roll religiously and letting random encounters stalk the party rather than engaging directly turns them into a source of tension and hard strategic choices.
- Fluff is Crunch (2012) - Provide customization to your players through fine distinctions in your equipment list (like hobnail boots vs soft boots) instead of choices inherent to their characters.
- Infravision and Mapping (2020) - If you must have infravision in your games, make sure you enforce the rule that you can't read or write using it (and then make sure your dungeons are complicated enough to require mapping).
- Gauntlets and Embracing the Funhouse Dungeon (2020)
Making OSR Wildernesses Work
- Never Show Them the Map (2016)
- Wilderness as Dungeon Revisited (2019)
- Wooded Hills as Default (2021) - Instead of dividing wilderness movement speed for bad terrain, use bad terrain as your baseline and multiply it for good terrain.
- My dead-simple weather system (2014)
- Conquest vs resource extraction
(2013) - Clearing wilderness is a pain in the ass, discourage your
players from attempting it until close to name level. Learn from my
- Attrition in the Wilderness (2016) - Wilderness encounters are too scarce for the frequency with which parties on foot recover spells and HP, leading to play that looks a lot like 3.x's five-minute adventuring day.
- Material components as a solution to this problem (2022) - Creating an independent measure of "total spells castable during this adventure" with choices around encumbrance and without reducing the total spells casters can bring to bear in any one encounter.
- Simpler Logistics (2020) - Imposing a layer of abstraction on wilderness mundane-resource management. Still not simple enough.
- BH2 and Lost Secrets of the Old Hexmappers (2021) - Analysis of the hex map from a Boot Hill module by Cook and Moldvay. Some features for your dungeon-wilderness.
Handy little systems when DMing
- Weather system (2014)
- Trouble queue (2015) - Make sure the consequences of your players' actions return to them eventually.
- Rumor mill (2020) - Procedurally generate juicy rumors concerning two or more important parties in town or the local dungeon.
- Random encounter deck (2021) - Have a deck of notecards representing monsters without a fixed location in each dungeon level; populate it from the random encounter table, then update it as things happen.