Author Archives: donjondo


Centaurs are pretty wild.

On the subject of centaurs, the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons says “Centaurs will be found in hidden glens. It is there that both their females and young are and where their treasure is hidden.”

OD&D also states “At worst these creatures are semi-intelligent“. B/X is pretty much in agreement and says they are “somewhat intelligent“. In both cases they seem closer to animal than man.

I realise that in a FRPG not everything has to follow the rules of nature or indeed make sense. But personally I just can’t get my head round the fact that they might reproduce, or indeed how. I’m more likely to have them be magical or divine creatures. Created as arboreal protectors by the Lord of the Forest or possibly chaotic liminal beings formed at the meeting of our world and the mystical.

Anyway… Centaurs. How do you do yours?

Caves of Qud – a noob’s guide

Caves of Qud is a science fantasy RPG and roguelike epic steeped in retrofuturism, deep simulation, and swathes of sentient plants. Come inhabit an exotic world and chisel through a layer cake of thousand-year-old civilizations. Play the role of a mutant from the salt-spangled jungles of Qud, or play as a true-kin descendant from one of the few remaining eco-domes: the toxic arboreta of Ekuemekiyye, the ice-sheathed arcology of Ibul, or the crustal mortars of Yawningmoon. Decide: is it a dying earth, or is it on the verge of rebirth?

I’m ashamed to say that although I’ve had Caves of Qud for quite a while, I’ve only recently started getting somewhere with it. I expect that like most folks who’ve tried it, I got killed pretty quickly, and left it for a rainy day when I’d have the time to get to grips with its wacky ways.

The thing is, it’s not actually hard to survive your first forays in Qud if you act like your life depends on it. Don’t expect to button-mash your way to victory when a troop of baboons takes a dislike to you. You best run!

To Freehold Games credit they’ve made Qud a lot more welcoming to newcomers than when I first started. There are now several pregenerated character types to help you get going.

Anyway here is my Noob’s Guide to Caves of Qud based on the things that I’ve picked up along the way. Who better to advise a noob than a noob mk II?

Let’s get going!

MOVEMENT (number pad)

Using the number pad on your keyboard (and not the cursor keys) is really useful for moving and interacting in the cardinal AND intercardinal directions (that is NE, SE, SW, NW). The thing is, your number pad may not seem to work. If you have a problem moving using the number pad, then give it your NUM LOCK a toggle and try again.


There are a few other controls which make movement easier, once you get used to them.

  • Walk (W)
  • Move to Edge (SHIFT+ENTER)
  • Move somewhere (CTRL+ENTER)
  • Stairs up/down (-/+ on number pad)

AUTO-EXPLORING (0 on number pad)

This function is a godsend. Not only will it save your fingers from doing the donkey-work of exploring every nook and cranny, but you can discover lore that’s engraved on everyday objects.

I would recommend trying not to provoke common Neutral lifeforms. If their faction becomes hostile to you, then you’ll not be able to auto-explore whilst they are in view.


Useful to show the positions of lifeforms in view, and the location of objects that you’ve discovered whilst auto-exploring. You can easily miss cave entrances in the wilds unless you use this feature.

Speaking of which, caves aren’t added to your Journal or World Map automatically. So if you find a cave, you can add them manually by opening your Journal (J) and Add (+ on number pad) an entry. This allows you to fast travel to it – handy, huh? You might as well give it a memorable name while you’re at it.

WORLD MAP (zoom out/zoom in -/+ on number pad)

As long as you aren’t lost on the surface, you can view and travel using the World Map. One square on the World Map is referred to as a parasang. Each parasang is equal to 9 game screens – there is one screen for each compass direction and one in the centre. Both the surface and sub-surface game screens are identical in size, so it’s possible to figure out where you are when you’re underground if you’ve been paying attention.


If you want a closer look at anything, then try LOOKING at it. It’s worthwhile looking at items in your inventory if you want an idea of how they might benefit you.


You can press SPACE to interact with things nearby. But if there’s more than one thing in a location, then it’s best to use CTRL+SPACE which is more thorough. NB You can interact with things in your location by choosing 5 (on number pad) as the direction.

Get (G), Open (O) and Chat (C) are useful interaction shortcuts.

ATTACK (Ranged: F then F. Melee: direction)

You can carry both ranged and melee weapons. So do so. But remember it will take a turn to Reload (R) your ranged weapon when your ammo is depleted. You can sometimes buy yourself some time by moving away as enemies won’t always follow your every move.

If you’re determined to fight things, and it’s daylight, then you may as well equip a 2nd weapon rather than carrying a torch. You won’t always hit with it, but it may help. Using a buckler shield on your arm, isn’t going to hurt either.


There are lots of things that want to kill you. If in doubt, SPRINT. Also remember to use cover to your advantage. You can sometimes throw enemies of the scent if they lose sight of you. But if you’re planning an ambush from behind cover, then you’ll need to Wait (5 on numberpad) until the time is right.

And don’t fight Baboons, Irritable Tortoises or Turrets. They are a nightmare in early game. Snapjaws aren’t too bad as long as you don’t let them swarm you. Crocs are your best bet for easy pickings.


By default you can’t attack non-hostile lifeforms – if you try, you just swop places with them. However you can Force Attack non-hostiles and inanimate objects. This can be used to destroy cobwebs and even break down walls.


Time is a great healer. If you’re in a bit of a bad way, you could either Wait a turn at a time (5 on number pad) or Wait til Healed (‘).


It doesn’t hurt to have backup. Depending on your character type you may be able to Beguile or Proteslyze lifeforms to fight on your behalf. But if not, you can always try to persuade them to be your companion through if your reputation with their faction is high enough.

If you do gain a follower, then it can be useful to give them a name (Interact with them to get the option). It helps you identify them when they’re amongst a group of their own kind. They’ll also appear friendly if you Highlight (ALT) your surroundings.


You will get thirsty so always carry some fresh water. If you’re running low, it’s not too hard to get hold of some by selling some of your bits and bob (see TRADE below). All the villages that I’ve been to seem to have a local dish which you can snaffle a sample of from their communal kiln. If it gives you any desirable special effects (see STATUS SCREENS below). then it’s worth buying the recipe from the villagefolk.

As far as Cooking and Gathering skills go, I think Butchery is more useful than Harvestry. Vinewafers are cheap and plentiful and not really that appetizing on their own. All the good recipes that I’ve discovered so far include some kind of jerky. So you might as well stock up as soon as you can. For maximum efficiency, you can even toggle your Butchery skill, so that you automatically do the business when you find a corpse. Mmm mmm!


There’s so much more to the game than first meets the eye. I’d recommend getting familiar with the following status screens. It could be a matter of life or death!

You can either use the appropriate shortcut key or press TAB to open your Inventory and then 7 or 9 (on number pad) to tab through the various screens.

  • Character sheet (X)
  • Equipment (E)
  • Inventory (I)
  • Skills / Powers (P)

If you think that something’s up with your character, then try looking at Active Effects, which is a sub-page of your Character Sheet.

There are other status screens which are useful, eg Journal (J) and Quests (Q), but I think they’re not so important very early on when you’re mainly concerned with trying not to die.


I found trading one of the most confusing aspects of the game at first. The unit of currency seemed to be the Dram, which is water, but items also had a value in $. Trading is done via bartering – which is fair enough – but having two currencies to factor in to the equation was mind-melting to my tiny peabrain. The thing is, the answer is really simple. There is only one. Drams are $. DOH!

When trading, the difference between what you’re buying or selling is rounded to the nearest Dram, but not in your favour. So when you’re selling more than you’re buying, you may as well offer slightly more than a whole Dram, and when buying more than you’re selling, slightly less than a whole Dram to get the best deals.


Drams of water may be the unit of currency but water is heavy. And not that valuable. 4 Drams of water weighs 1#. I’m not sure what the unit is called but that’s the symbol for it – knowing Qud it’s probably something like Dongras. So if you find that you’re getting weighed down, then try buying items that are worth more but weigh less than water and pay for it with Drams rather than bartering. But don’t spend it all. You’re gonna need some fresh water to drink remember! Oh and if you find you’re packing too much meat to carry . . . it’s worth noting that raw giblets weigh more than preserved meat. So make some jerky at your camp fire!


I made a PDF of the keys that I used to get me going. You can download it here.

For more info about Caves of Qud

Portable prezzies

Since I’ve been such a good boy this year, Santa delivered some prezzies a little early. What a good sport!

My old pal Ian Taylor of the East Neuk Irregulars was a Spanish Civil War aficionado. As a result the SCW has been on my mind of late as a potential project. Thankfully Bob Cordery has recently re-released Arriba Espana which now includes rules for playing the SCW with his Portable Wargame system. I’m particularly taken by the huge range of warring factions in the SCW but I admit I’m a complete greenhorn when it comes to who is who. I’d seen Bob’s La Ultima Cruzada recommended as a top-notch SCW sourcebook, so thought it would be a timely addition to my reference library.

And why get two, when you can have four? I must admit Bob’s The Balkan League came at me from left field. But in it he presents rules for matrix games, which is an area I haven’t explored yet, so will be interesting to see what’s what where that’s concerned. And Portable Naps? Well, in for a penny, in for a pound!

I’ve certainly got plenty to tuck in to this Christmas. May Santa be equally as kind to you. All the very festive best!

TMWWBK: The Battle of Saragarhi

The latest edition of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy features a scenario for The Men Who Would Be Kings on the North-West Frontier.

It is ‘The Battle of Saragarhi, 12 September 1897 – No fear of death’ by Eoghan Kelly.

Saragarhi is a famous last-stand of the Tirah campaign, when 21 Sikhs defended an isolated outpost against thousands of Afghan tribesmen.

10 Chanbara NPCs

I’ve been toying with Hex Describe over the last few days. If you’re interested in creating randomly-generated content for RPGs it’s well worth a look. As a project I thought I’d try using it to create some NPC motivations for the Chanbara RPG – a really sweet game set in a fantastical Japan in the era of the samurai.

This list is completely randomly generated so it’s not perfect. But it’s a good demonstration of the utility of these kinds of tools for adventure creation. It’s seeded with content from the Chanbara rulebook (p41) with a few tweaks – namely the addition of place and NPC names, and including Associates as the NPC in question.

  1. In Zagyunu there is a daimyo called Iwasaki that wants the wealth of a group of smugglers. However Iwasaki also needs to escape the influence of a major sect. SECRET: Iwasaki is in league with the undead.
  2. In Ryashi there is a daimyo called Fujii that wants the love of a member of a regional ninja clan. However Fujii also needs funds to defeat yokai. SECRET: Fujii committed a crime against a militant monastery or convent.
  3. In Chobeja there is a minister called Ota that wants an item owned by a minister called Miyamoto. However Ota also needs to gain influence over a local shrine. SECRET: Ota has been cursed by tengu.
  4. In Kyasuka there is an abbot called Tanaka that wants to impress a childhood friend called Sakai. However Tanaka also needs to repay a debt to an immediate underling called Taniguchi. SECRET: Tanaka has a love-child with a member of a regional ninja clan.
  5. In Hearita there is a noble called Sugiyama that wants to serve a minor lord called Sakamoto. However Sugiyama also needs to find an ally against a dragon. SECRET: Sugiyama has been replaced by a great lord called Noguchi.
  6. In Tohe there is a clan leader called Fujimoto that wants to discredit a martial arts society. However Fujimoto also needs to fulfil a duty to the Shogun. SECRET: Fujimoto has influence over a provincial governor called Kobayashi.
  7. In Hyuho there is a minister called Hirano that wants to conquer kitsune. However Hirano also needs to find a clan leader called Suzuki that is missing. SECRET: Hirano has inside knowledge about a regional ninja clan.
  8. In Gujibyo there is a noble called Sano that wants to eliminate a regionally influential temple. However Sano also needs to secure a legacy for a lover called Kojima. SECRET: Sano is under the influence of a lesser daimyo called Nishimura.
  9. In Gyamu there is a minister called Hara that wants the respect of a militant monastery or convent. However Hara also needs to prove their honour to a regionally influential temple. SECRET: Hara is selling information to bakemono.
  10. In Generyaji there is a parent or sibling called Ogawa that wants to ally with a kirin. However Ogawa also needs the help of a major daimyo called Matsuo. SECRET: Ogawa failed to assassinate the Emperor.

NB I think I’ve managed to iron out the most egregious bugs. I know the place names aren’t the best, and I haven’t bothered with NPC forenames for now. Gotta leave something for a rainy day.

Writing my first RPG adventure

Although I’ve run homebrew RPG adventures, I’ve never created a definitively finished thing. I have a proven track record of not finishing anything. So when I heard that the Storytelling Collective were running a workshop to help folks write their first adventure I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s designed to help you write, produce and publish a one-shot adventure over the course of a month. Hopefully it’s just what I need to help me get over the start line, never mind the finish line. Fingers crossed!

It’s day 1. So far, so good.

If you’re interested, you can find all the info here:

Der Golem

Watched Der Golem (1920) the other day to get myself in the mood for spooky season. The Golem himself seems largely played for laughs by my modern eyes but the film is a work of genius. The stylised sets, antiquated costumes and visual sorcery are spellbinding.

I must admit I was unfamiliar with Judenhut. They’re very pointy and topical for today!

Portable Wargame: Retreating house rule

I recently finished reading Donald Featherstone’s Advanced War Games (1969). I think it’s only fair to say that it’s a bit of a hotchpotch of wargaming ideas from the early years of the modern hobby. Having said that, I’m glad I’ve read it. Not only has it has helped me appreciate the pioneering work that Donald and his contemporaries contributed to the hobby, but it’s been a palate cleanser of sorts. When you strip things down to their nuts and bolts and see things with fresh eyes, it can help you build anew.

Donald presents extensive morale rules – 19 pages in all! There are tailored morale tables for Ancients, Medieval, 18th century, 19th century, colonial and American Civil War, each detailing the various factors which could be applicable during that period. However it was some of the possible outcomes that I was particularly taken by; troops retreating in good order and those retreating in disarray. These feature in military history time and time again, yet there seemed to be no rule to help actualize this in one of my current wargames of choice, The Portable Wargame by Bob Cordery.

In The Portable Wargame, retreating is one possible outcome of a unit being under fire – the other being the degradation of their Strength Point value. But when a unit retreats, the direction that the unit is facing seems to be left up to the player in charge of that unit. Given the choice I’m sure no-one would want to have their rear facing the enemy when there’s a chance that they could follow up, but history tells us that this could and did happen.

So here is a simple houserule for The Portable Wargame to determine the direction that a retreating unit is facing, when the quality, condition and situation of the troops are considered, inspired by the distilled ideas of Donald Featherstone.

Portable Wargame: Retreating

When a unit retreats, roll 1d6 to see if it’s conducted in good order.

  • If the retreating unit makes its target number, then it retreats in good order and does so facing the enemy.
  • If the retreating unit fails to make its target number, then the unit is routing and faces away from the enemy.

Target numbers:

  • Elite: 3+
  • Average: 4+
  • Poor: 5+

Modifiers to the dice roll:

  • Friendly Commander with the retreating unit: +1*
  • For each friendly unit in good order that’s on the flanks of the retreating unit (within 2 hexs of the unit’s initial location): +1
  • If the retreating unit has already lost half or more of its SP: -1
  • If retreating from artillery fire: -1

* If using Commander ratings as described on p39 of The Portable Wargame, then you could use the following:

  • Good Commander: +1
  • Average Commander: +0
  • Poor Commander: -1