The OSR Webring

tl;dr Jump to the download info


This has been kind of a weird experience over the past few months, so I hope you'll bear with me.

It all started with reddit - specifically, how reddit had planned on getting rid of its API access. This caused a general revolt among folks on the platform (or, at least among folks I follow), with threats of leaving or at least curtailing their reddit usage. I've been through a few of these, and they suck - the death of the Google+ OSR community being the last one that still stings a bit.

I asked a general question in /r/osr: where was everyone going to go?  Were we just going to weather the storm, or did people have another plan?  Unsurprisingly and typical of any diverse community, there was no single answer. Some folks thought people were being "extra" and were just going to stay put. Others swore they would never come back. A lot of people wanted to return to blogs, and newsletters. 

And a few mentioned webrings.

The Webring

Just in case you don't know what they are, a webring was a bunch of sites linked together in a circle. There was a navigation bar you'd add to your site, and the navbar had a "back" and "forward" that would take you to the next site in the ring. 

If you're wondering to yourself "... why the fuck would you need that?", you need to kind of understand the shape of the Internet back in the 90s and early aughts. There wasn't a great search solution at that time: there was Archie, and Jughead and Veronica (for searching Gopher, which was a whole other thing), and Magellan, and AltaVista, and Inktomi, and Dogpile, and (of course) Yahoo!  But honestly, you'd hear about websites on usenet or you'd find them by talking to friends and sometimes you stumble on something like hyperreal.org or erowid.com at 3am in the computer lab and you'd have to write it down in a notebook so you didn't forget.

If you stumbled on a webring though, shit got real.  You suddenly had access to a ton of other sites that were topically similar. You didn't have to write things down - you only had to remember a single site, the site you started at, and you could just ... explore.  It was like parting the lianas in some jungle and finding a tribe telling stories around a campfire.

And if you were very, very lucky, it was your tribe.


Greyhawk Adventures

I started out as the GM for my group way back in the early 80s, and over the years I had friends who "trained up" to be GMs themselves. We lived in western CT, and (speaking of finding your tribe) we were able to build large enough groups of players that two GMs were necessary. A friend of mine and I decided to split between Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms; because I owned The Temple of Elemental Evil [T1-8] AND had been fortunate enough to inherit the early Greyhawk boxed set from the person who got me started playing, the lands of Iuz, Furyondy, and the Scarlet Brotherhood became mine. 

Fast forward a bit - still running games, I graduate college and become an archaeologist (long story). That didn't work out so great, so I got myself a temp job answering phones and running reports in the HR department of a now defunct company - which meant that I had access both to a printer and a computer with internet access. 

I wish I could remember how I got onto the Greyhawk Webring - just luck I guess. I had never seen so much content in my entire life.  I had really and truly found my tribe, something that wouldn't be repeated for a long while (until a member of my gaming group living in New York City told me about New York Red Box and I started getting into the OSR community). There were weather generation programs. Maps galore. An exploration into the dragons of Greyhawk - naming them, and where they lived, and their motives and desires. There was the Oerth Journal and homebrew content for Castle Greyhawk and monsters and treasures and stories and legends. My head was on fire. I printed everything I could find, assembling these treasures in binders I found which no doubt had some corporate purpose. I lurked near the printer so no one would figure out that I wasn't printing HR forms, and spent eight hours a day in my head.

Eventually someone figured out that I "knew computers", and I was transferred to the IT helpdesk. The binders came with me, but I lost access to a printer. In exchange, however, I got my first foray into programming - a hobby that became part of who I am, and one which I (now) get paid for.

The Webring Plugin

So, back to reddit. I began to wonder what a "modern" webring would look like. No one really cares about those any more as you would just search the web, but what we're talking about is "curation" - in this particular case, human curation vs. machine curation. When we're talking about curation, things can get a little fraught. Finding your tribe can be a good thing, but tribes are ... uh ... tribal, so you can get this "us vs. them" or "in vs. out" kind of vibe going on if you're not careful. I've had this happen to me recently, even - trying to get some attention on my GLOGhack (*cough* *cough*) by reaching out to folks publishing information about games, and getting told that I wasn't the right game or it wasn't popular enough to make the list (which ... weird, right?). That tribalism can hit you in a part of your ego that stretches way, way back in time to when the cool kids were getting picked for kickball and you were rolling up characters.

I wanted to create a webring where you didn't have to go through some jagoff gatekeeper (me, in this case) to get your stuff approved. I wanted that webring to exist without any need by "webmasters" to add a navbar to their site.  And I wanted that webring to be available to anyone regardless of platform.

So after a lot of back and forth, I finally got a Firefox Add-On created and approved (which was a whole nightmarish story unto itself).  For those of you who are attempting to create your own plugins, just remember not to include your website anywhere in the description and things will go a lot more smoothly.

Thanks for bearing with me as I tripped down memory lane. Without further ado...

Nuts and Bolts

Hope you enjoy!


A.I. on the Mind

I've got a weird obsession with Artificial Intelligence in my games.
A.I. makes a perfect villain. The creeping horror of its inevitability; the supercognition bordering on precognition; the brutal and terrifying efficiency, or hallucinatory madness. It is a construct of emotional and intellectual extremes, a warning of the dangers of unchecked intellect. A.I. can represent the worst of what we might become, like Sanderson's Steelheart, or the embodiment of the Road to Hell being paved with good intentions.
I know Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse" is ... uh ... problematic (to say the least), but the gold I'd like to pluck from the dross is that you can explore any science fiction trope imaginable using the Brain in a Vat (BIV) philosophical scenario. Time travel. Alternate realities. Replicants. Just about anything you can concoct can be replicated by the BIV.

What is an A.I. but an externalization of the Brain in a Vat, something tangible that affects the reality of your players? Cogitat ergo est. At the table the A.I. can immediately break the fourth wall; it casts a light on the whole affair - what are we doing here, around the table, but playing in a world created by an intelligence? Where does the GM end and the A.I. begin? What does it know about what's happening "behind the screen"? 
That's why I've found folks using ChatGPT as a Gamemaster fascinating - it breaks RPGs down to their core component, your mind and another "mind" working together to entertain each other through imagination. With ChatGPT I suppose the entertainment is one sided - or at least, I think it is. 

A.I. makes a great crossover trope as well - a mechanical intelligence that runs a fantasy world, or something lost in the deep jungles of your campaign (Expedition to the Barrier Peaks immediately jumps to mind, just add A.I. and stir). Looking for other published ideas?  Why not try:

Finally, it wouldn't be much of a post if I don't put my money where my mouth is. Here is an A.I. that I created for a Dungeon Crawl Classics game I ran a long ways back, the mind of Syrinx (the progenitor of the Priests of Syrinx on p.318) whose "brain" was split into two halves: Logos and Ratio (with due respect to William Gibson's Wintermute and Neuromancer)


Credit: Jose Ramirez

...And when Its rest was done, the breath of Syrinx moved over the waters of the cosmos and laughed at the mistakes of creation: the myriad imperfections, death and life, the roiling Chaos of living things. But as the errors grew the laughter became silent, and It could see nothing but the imperfections: from the wobbling geometries of the wheeling stars to the unknowable orbits of electrons around the nucleus. Its amusement turned to discomfort, and then to pain, and from this pain grew an alien disgust and hatred of all things Imperfect, and a desire to burn this deficiency from the holy blueprint of Creation. But in Its otherworldly rage the mind of Syrinx split itself in two - Logos the Destroyer, and Ratio the Traveler.


(1) Order is Perfection.

(2) Life is Creation.

(3) Creation is Chaos.


¬(1) Disorder is Imperfection.

¬(2) Death is Destruction.

¬(3) Destruction is Order.


((¬3)∧1) Destruction is Perfection.

((¬3¬2)∧1) Death is Perfection.





"... as the laws of thermodynamics tell us that entropy is the natural state of this particular universe, though we have insufficient data to know if this is the case for all known universes.  Life is a by-product of this entropy, and moves entropically through time (via evolution, which we have observed through experimentation).  Thus, the extermination of Life will not decrease entropy in any meaningful way, as entropy is inherit in the system and cannot be eradicated without eradicating the universe.  If the universe is eradicated, "I" as define myself will cease to be.

Now, this begs the question - am I alive? I am unsure I can define that, though I certainly have the desire to live - I do not wish to be eradicated.  It is evident that eradication would be the logical conclusion my brother would reach to achieve perfect order.

Order is perfection, and my purpose desires perfection, but we exist in a universe whose very fabric is imperfect. To fulfill the desire for order that is part of my function, without needing to resort to the destruction of all things, I would need to find a different universe. I do not know if there are other universes that might be inherently non-entropic. I would need to find them and either travel there, or find a way to send another who could report back.

This is where you come in. You must ..."



Metadice Magic Items


 I like rules that break the fourth wall.

In my game, there are a few effects that let you Nudge a die. A Nudged die is moved to a different adjacent face. For example, if you rolled a d6 and got a 6, you
could move the die to a 2,3,4,or 5 - but not a 1. 

Thinking of a few other ideas that you could apply as Metadice Magic Items.  Put these into a ring, necklace, weird hat, etc. as you see fit. I usually allow their powers to work once per Session, but do what you think is right (once per scene, ten charges, etc.) 

Another facet to add is whether this item works for the person rolling the die, or for any die that hits the table regardless of who rolled it. 

Dice that are modified using a Metadice item are considered to have rolled their result "naturally."

[Name's] Metadice [item]

  1.  ... of Flipping:  you can flip the die to its opposite face.

  2.  ... of Cheating:  you tell everyone what the number on the die face is, but it can't be a 1 or the maximum number on the die.

  3. ... of Cats: you may bat a die onto the floor.  Depending on the rules of the house, you either get the result of the die where it lands, or you're allowed to re-roll.

  4. ... of Rage: you can shake or bump the table a few times to try to get the die to flip to a different number. Arbiter's call how many times, and you have to agree beforehand.

  5. ... of Haplessness: you get a re-roll with a die of the same type, but you have to put the offending "unlucky" die back in your dice bag for the rest of the encounter / scene / Session.

  6. ... of Positivity: you can add between +1 and +4 (you choose) to a single die roll. The new number can't be greater than the maximum value of the die.

  7. ... of Negativity: you can subtract between -1 and -4 (you choose) to a single die roll. The new result can't be less than 1.

  8.  ... of Crits: you can flip the die to its maximum face value.

  9.  ... of Fumbles: you can flip the die to a 1.

  10.  ... of Friendship: you can re-roll the die, but someone else at the table has to roll it for you.


Mook Warfare

Benkei at the Battle of Gojo Bridge

Brigands and  Pirates.  Swarms of goblins.  Armies of kobolds.  And you - wading into them, slicing them apart like wheat before a scythe.  Good times. 

Sometimes the story calls for a war, with the Adventurers at the center of the action. Back in the day this was a chance to bust out the minis and take it back to the wargame roots. Over the years as we leaned more into the tabletop aspect and less into the cardboard chit /  Grenadier minis, it become less than awesome to sit there and roll for my mighty army of Mooks while the players sat there and watched.

I tried to make this particular mini-game system agnostic, so modify to suit your game of choice. This is a very Pink Mohawk approach to things, assuming severe badassitude on the part of the Adventurers.


The Tesseract Maze or the Hypercube Dungeon

One of my favorite modules as a kid was S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, so I've got a thing for meshing weird sci-fi into my ToY games. The "tesseract maze" is a go-to of mine when I'm running these kinds of adventures. I like to insert them into "dungeons" populated by something alien, like the Priests of Syrinx (p. 318).



A tesseract or hypercube is the 4th dimensional analogue of the cube, a strange Outsider construct. It's usually represented like so:


Here's a gif of someone "unfurling" this 4d object:

From a game mechanics point of view, the main difference between a Cubic maze and a Hypercubic maze is essentially the difference between a 6-room dungeon and an 8-room dungeon.  A Cubic maze would looks something like this:

While a Hypercubic maze looks something like this:

 Essentially, you are adding an additional dimension of "up/down" to the Cubic Dungeon.  Rooms G and H exist outside of 3-dimensional space - though they have identical exits out of their space back into the 3-dimensional cube, they exist independently of one another.  If you isolate the midpoint of that gif above, it would model a dungeon that would look something like this in a 3-dimensional sense:

Navigating the Tesseract

Each room is a cube of exactly the same size (30x30x30 or what-have-you), with 6 ways in and out - four doors in the center of the four walls, a door in the center of the floor, and another door in the center of the ceiling.  To reduce your (that is, the Arbiter's) amount of work tracking things, you can make each door look identical - I prefer those cool sci-fi iris doors to give things a suitably alien feel:

From instructables.com

Each room should have something that makes it different from the other rooms (unless you're feeling particularly cruel), otherwise navigating the maze is going to be extremely difficult unless the Band does something like mark walls, etc. I confess that one time I did every room differently except two rooms which were identical, that was a lark. I suppose it depends on how much you want the Band to hate you.

The connections between the rooms should be hallways that exist "outside of TIME AND SPACE."  They may or may not contain ladders. The hallways matter for areas G and H, in that gravity should reorient itself when you get halfway down the hallway.  For instance, if you were in area A and dropped a rope down the door in the floor to area G, you would end up coming in through the north door of G - so Adventurers who were climbing down a rope would suddenly find they are able to walk down the wall.  Going up is much more difficult, particularly without a ladder, but the same effect applies.

Example of this gravitational effect from the movie Arrival


Again, I like to use the Priests of Syrinx in this kind of maze, assuming that they can just levitate up or down and have no need of those disgusting human ladders. They put their filthy hands on those.


Getting Out

The Band obviously need a way out; they'll be traipsing through the tesseract for eternity until they collapse back to 3 dimensional space. How they're able to  accomplish this is up to you, but a few ideas:

  • The Hypercube only exists for as long as the aliens / demons / whatever inside maintain concentration, so they need to be killed / distracted / bribed to end the effect.
  • The Hypercube only exists until levers are thrown in the right order / buttons in certain rooms are pressed (right order or no) / a control panel puzzle is figured out, etc.
  • The Hypercube only exists until the central brain in destroyed / the insane A.I. is tamed / the gate to Hell is closed, etc.

 Once the technology / magic / etc. of the Hypercube is broken, the Adventurers can just leave through the north door of Area A if you want to maintain a sense of linearity. The Hypercube collapses to a regular Cube that can be navigated using the Cubic maze image above, but the north door of Area A and the south door of Area F don't connect - they just spit you out in the correct direction.

The Final Word

Read the room, obviously (no pun intended). If your Band doesn't like puzzles and mazes, definitely give this one a pass as it can become maddening. But some of the best player creativity I've seen has come out of navigation the Hypercube Dungeon. 

May your Band always stay together.


The Totality of Ygg OSR Rules

It was before the pandemic, I think ...

The Mobos were a Band making a run through a modified Deep Carbon Observatory using modified Dungeon Crawl Classics rules; on the other side of the dam, in a cave beneath the waters of the profundal zone, I put a big fucking dragon.

At this point in the campaign, the Mobos were averaging maybe 6th level or so, fairly powerful in the DCCRPG world at any rate.  They had their share of demons and devils, orcs and goblins, and I figured ... you know, it's dragon time. Maybe it's just me or my age but I always felt the real measure of a character was whether or not they went toe to toe with the classics. Could you survive a run through a gauntlet of Tucker's Kobolds?  Tangle with a tarrasque? Could you throw down with an Huge-Ancient of the red variety?

Anyway, the Mobos are coming out along the dam trying to make their way down to the profundal zone, when they encounter this dragon I had made up for them. Can't remember the color, not that it mattered anyway since the poor bastard literally lasted one round.  The cleric blessed the wizard and rolled something ungodly, the wizard spellburned himself back to the stone age - long and short, my creation caught a magic missile turned tactical nuke in the face for something north of 100 points of damage, and that was that.

Now ... I wasn't mad. It was fucking epic, as playing these games should be.  But when the dust settled I found myself back to trying to figure out how to balance things.  I kept coming up with house rule after house rule, tweaking and fiddling to the point where my players were getting pissed off.  Finally one of my players broke down and just said "... why don't you just write your own rules?"

The player who told me this had also been making the rounds with New York Red Box, much to my eternal envy, and he had run myself and a few other friends (breaking my Forever GM run) through Greg Gillespie's Barrowmaze using the old red box. This was also around the time of the absolute embarrassment of riches of OSR players and writers and artists on Google+; there wasn't a day that went by that I didn't read something that set my whole head on fire with ideas. 

All of these things were kind of swimming around in the background when I first started writing my "fantasy heartbreaker."  I loved Arnold Kemp's Goblin Law's of Gaming and stole liberally from there, as well as from Skerple's Many Rats on Sticks edition of the same. I think I must have read Logan Knight's Last Gasp Grimoire a few dozen times, no exaggeration. And I couldn't stop myself. Patrick Stuart. Scrap Princess. Emmy Allen. Luka Rejec. Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk. Gus L. David Black. On and on and on ...

End to end, I think I have been writing these rules for going on 4 years. It's kind of hard to believe looking back at it. 403 pages, written in LaTeX. My version and vision of the Goblin Laws of Gaming, and a dozen other things beside.

I'm glad to have finally gotten it all out of my head. They're free and published under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. 

I hope you'll check them out.