Oaks & Rivers in the Greenwood

This #Greenwoodnesday I’m going to ressurrect a rather recent G+ post to talk about tables and charts in #LincolnGreen.

To be different and gimmicky, as is my wont, the game uses coins instead of dice. There are lots of reasons why coins are better suited to the game than dice. Chief among them is the fact that you don’t fiddle with little granular bonuses and penalties. This or that. Yes or no. Saved or lost. That’s all you get.

But when you’re working on a chart of a table, you sometimes get a bit wistful for a little granularity. It’s not that coins can’t produce large numbers. They’re basically binary number generators. One coin can get you a d2. Two coins can get you a d4. Three coins, a d8. Four coins, a d16. Five, a d32. Six, a d64. And so forth. But it’s a little cumbersome and makes for uninspiring charts:

  • 0000 An abandoned cart.
  • 0001 A shepherd/shepherdess seeking a lost lamb.
  • 0010 A poor knight with a weighty debt.
  • 0011 A wealthy abbott.
  • 0100 The king’s warden
  • 0101

It’s a little flat, not quite the #LincolnGreen aesthetic, and rather hard to read if you’re not practiced in binary digits. And perhaps most importantly, it tries to work around the coins weaknesses rather than playing to their strengths.

Let’s play to their strengths.


You’re playing in the Wolves’-Heads tradition of #LincolnGreen and you want to randomly roll up your species. Let’s say it’s an early playtest with only 32 species available. I could hand you five coins and tell you to throw them one at a time to build up a binary digit between 0000 and 11111, and we could consult our list of 32 species to find which one corresponds to that value.

Or I could build you an Oak, like the one I started making in the image below. Start at the trunk and climb your way up. As you reach an branch, answer the question or throw a coin for your answer. Yes and heads to the left, no and tails to the right.

A chart in the form of a badly drawn oak tree.

(Note: In the illustration, heads is called piles and tails is called crosses, period appropriate terms I’ve been toying with using.)

  • Are you covered in fur or hide? No, thank you.
  • Are you covered in feathers? Hmm, I’m not sure. I’ll throw. Heads! 

(At this point, we note that Eppy is fallible and accidentally reversed the order of the following branches. So we pretend the branch to the right is really to the left, move on with our example, and remind Eppy in the comments that this is precisely why he has an editor and should let someone else do the actual graphics.)

  • Are you at home upon the lakes & seas? Yeah, that sounds lovely.
  • Can you soar? Throwing again. Crosses. I guess I’m… no, fuck that, I soar. I want be a goose, damn it!

The strength of the Oak is that it takes what would otherwise be a block of 32 randomly assorted animals and sifts them into the answers to a series of yes/no questions. That way you can take each question as it comes and decide there if you want a particular answer or you want to trust in your coins. And, as our example has shown, you can even trust the coin, and then tell it to fuck off when you suddenly realize that’s not the answer you wanted.

Another strength is that you can further divide each branch into as many limbs as you wish without affecting the probability of the parent branch. On this oak, half of all species thrown are mammals, but we don’t have to have just 16 mammals to make that work. We could divide that part of the oak into 32 or 64 species and still have half of the thrown species be mammals.

We don’t have to stick to powers of two. Some branches may divide further than others. And we can have branches lead you to new oaks if we really need something big (and we might for the species in Wolves’-Heads).

Enough about oaks, let’s talk about Rivers.


Let’s go back to our random encounter table example, because who doesn’t love a random encounter?

  • 0000 An abandoned cart.
  • 0001 A shepherd/shepherdess seeking a lost lamb.
  • 0010 A poor knight with a weighty debt.
  • 0011 A wealthy abbott.
  • 0100 The king’s warden
  • 0101 …

You’re rolling on it, and the merry folk are praying for a wealthy abbott, but you get the poor knight. That’s wonderful! Much mischief can be and has been made of this poor knight! Good Sir Richard at the Lee.

A little while later, you roll again, again hoping for a wealthy abbott, and again rolling the poor knight. Oh Sir Richard, what troubles have you found now? Ne’er mind that, let’s adventure.

Later still, another roll, another lack of abbott and another poor knight. Goddamnit, Sir Richard! Will you take a hint and steer clear of the Greenwood?

Let’s fix this. Instead of a binary number before each encounter, let’s put a circle ◯ or two.

An abandoned cart.
A shepherd/shepherdess seeking a lost lamb.
A poor knight with a weighty debt.
A wealthy abbott.
◯◯  The king’s warden

Now we’ve got a River. To use this River, we throw a set number of coins and count the heads. Let’s say this River wants us to throw three coins. This will give us a number between 0 and 3, with 1 and 2 being the most likely. Now, starting at the head waters (in this case, the abandoned cart) we count down a number of entries on the river equal to what we just threw. Where we land is our encounter—cross off one of its circles and encounter away.

When next we throw on this River, we ignore any encounters that have had all their circles crossed off. So let’s say that in our first encounter we threw 0 heads, so we found that abandoned cart. When we go back to the river, it should look like this:

An abandoned cart.
A shepherd/shepherdess seeking a lost lamb.
A poor knight with a weighty debt.
A wealthy abbott.
◯◯  The king’s warden

And now our lamb-seeker is the head waters. We start our count from there.

Some encounters have more than one circle, like the king’s warden. In this case, they act as a single entry when counting down the river, but stick around for future throws as long as they have empty circles left.

We could make a very likely encounter that only happens once with something like this:

Friar Tuck
Friar Tuck
Friar Tuck

The stout friar takes up all of three entries, making him very likely to occur, but once he does, cross out his circle and skip all those entries from then on.

We can also plug instructions into the rivers—branches and tributaries that change their structure once big events happen, or simply an instruction to clear out all the crossed circles and start the river afresh. Along with that, rivers can have unique encounters that only occur once and are never refreshed. Like the one time Prince John makes the mistake of strolling through the Greenwood alone.

One of the strengths to rivers is that they are less about if something will come up, and more about when. Especially if you keep the number of coins you’re throwing low, in the 2 to 4 range.


How about an oak where you absolutely must throw all the coins first and then order them! That may be of some use. To stick with the game’s theme, we’ll call this coppicing.

Image comes from english Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coppice

Let’s say you coppice an oak at 4 coins. That gives you 16 possible end results. If you throw all the coins first, you end up with one of five combinations:

  • 0 Heads & 4 Tails
  • 1 Head & 3 Tails
  • 2 Heads & 2 Tails
  • 3 Heads & 1 Tail
  • 4 Heads & 0 Tails

If you’re allowed to order these however you choose after they are thrown, 0 Heads & 4 Tails can only lead to 1 of the 16 results. Same with 4 Heads & 0 Tails. But 1 Head & 3 Tails can reach 4 different results among the 16 total. As can 3 Heads & 1 Tail. And 2 Heads & 2 Tails can lead to 6 remaining results.

So you could set up an oak where the rare results happen only when you throw either 0 heads or 0 tails. When you throw those, you’re stuck with the result. Throwing only 1 head gives you the choice of 4 different uncommon results. Throwing only 1 tail does the same. And throwing 2 of each gives you the choice among 6 common results.

There might be some fun to be had there. Say we make a reaction table out of an oak coppiced to 3 coins that results in something like this:

  • 0 Heads & 3 Tails — They fight.
  • 1 Head & 2 Tails — Choose one:
    • (Heads/Tails/Tails) They stand wary, gripping what weapons they can.
    • (Tails/Heads/Tails) They greet you warmly, but prepare to ambush you.
    • (Tails/Tails/Heads) They challenge you to a wager or competition.
  • 2 Heads & 1 Tail — Choose one:
    • (Tails/Heads/Heads) They are polite & hope that you will swiftly be on your way.
    • (Heads/Tails/Heads) They offer you trade or gifts.
    • (Heads/Heads/Tails) They haughtily pass you by.
  • 3 Heads & 0 Tails — They flee.

Eight possible results. Two are locked once the coins are thrown. Otherwise, the Warden has their choice narrowed to three possible results.

If the Game Warden wishes, they can choose not to reorder the coins, letting them order themselves as they fell, and roll with the result.

Or, and this is the part I’m most excited about, they can put their finger on the scale and really shift the probabilities around. I can see a Warden thinking, “Here’s a rough bunch of ne’er-do-wells. I’m going to put one coin down right now as a tail and throw the other two.” Now they’ve got a one in four chance of fighting (3 Tails), a one in four chance of a less hostile reaction (2 Heads & 1 Tail), and half of the time they’re going to be preparing for a fight or a wager of some sort (1 Head & 2 Tails).

I fucking love math.

Alright, that’s enough for this #Greenwoodnesday. Now seek thee the comments to tell me I need an editor and someone else to create my graphics.

I Got Your Initiative Right Here, Buddy. #LincolnGreen #Greenwoodnesday

We’ve all been there. The sheriff’s dullard slams the gaol door at the very same moment you’re fleeing from your cell. Neither of you wants to be rude, so who has the right of way? Who yields to whom? This #Greenwoodnesday we examine the importance of etiquette when shit goes down in #LincolnGreen.

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The Game Warden’s Coat of Arms #LincolnGreen #Greenwoodnesday & #rpgtheoryJuly

In the spirit of #rpgtheoryJuly, I’m using this #Greenwoodnesday to talk about the role of visual aids in game development. That is to say, how I find visual aids help me to clarify my design in my own skull, even if they might not make it into the final game.

To that end, I present to you, the Game Warden’s Coat of Arms:

Aliud potissimum facere iudicium sensibilium

The Game Warden’s Coat of Arms

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Updating the #LincolnGreen Bibliography This #Greenwoodnesday

A little over two years ago I put together a tentative bibliography for #LincolnGreen and posted it on G+. My intent at the time was to update it as my research drew me to wondrous new sources. But, as you know, G+ isn’t the best place to store something you intend to return to over the course of several months or years. So this #Greenwoodnesday I have plucked the original post out of G+, brushed it off, updated it a bit, and placed it here.

This is post is very much a living document that I will update from time to time with more sources as I either stumble across or recall them. When I can, I shall add notes to explain each inclusion and to rave about how they shine.

If you have any suggestions for good material on Robin Hood, medieval outlawry, or bold adventure, feel free to share them in the comments below!

Podcasts & Audio

Medieval History for Fun and Profit featuring Dr. Alice Rio & Dr. Alice Taylor.
Medieval Death Trip

➸ The Robin Hood episode of BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time


The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle.
Robin Hood, A Mythic Biography by Stephen Knight.
Robin Hood (Myth and Legends) by Neil Smith.
Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody.
The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley.

TV & Film

Robin Hood from Disney, and the clear inspiration for both the Wolves’-Heads and Scamps traditions in the game.
Robin & Marian so good.
Robin of Sherwood TV series and inspiration for the Children of Herne tradition in the game. Highly recommended.
The Adventures of Robin Hood the 1938 film featuring Errol Flynn—those costumes!
Robin Hood the 1922 film featuring Douglas Fairbanks—those sets!
The Little Hours because those nuns would’ve made amazing merry folk!
Crossbow from the depths of 1987. It’s about William Tell rather than Robin Hood, but that would be no stretch for the game and I could include it for the theme song alone!
Fact or Fiction, episode 4, “Robin Hood.”


Sabbatum by Rondellus.
Legend by Clannad, the soundtrack to the Robin of Sherwood TV series, and thus inextricably tied to the mystical elements of this game.


Tunnels & Trolls from Flying Buffalo. This one’s a bit hidden. It’s more of an inspiration for the design philosophy.
Misericord(e) by Emily Care Boss.
IronClaw, Usagi Yojimbo and Myriad Song from Sanguine.
Prince Valiant: The Story Telling Game Coins! In truth, aside from the coins and adventurous spirit, these games don’t have a ton in common.
Fantasy Wargamming edited by Bruce Galloway.
Torchbearer by Thor Olavsrud & Luke Crane.
Apocalypse World by D. Vincent Baker, because of that damn Read a Sitch move.
Amazons also by D. Vincent Baker, much of which I have pauperized in #LincolnGreen.

Websites & Other References



The Supernatural & Other Strangeness in #LincolnGreen

Like any folklore still surviving in modern popular culture, the Robin Hood legend has been retold in almost innumerable ways. Some of these ways are brilliant and nuanced, allowing you to explore your own relationship with its themes and morals. Some are brimming with romance and swashbuckling action, that quicken your heart. Many traipse along in levity, lending you excuse to wallow in the pure joy of adventure. A few drift into dark, mysterious places that raise your gooseflesh. And one is directed by Ridley Scott.

It is not my intention to make all of these possible through #LincolnGreen, but there are two takes on the legend from the past 50 years that I absolutely want to include: the anthropomorphic and the supernatural. This #Greenwoodnesday we’re going to highlight some key features of these two traditions. Read More

#Greenwoodnesday Archive: Principles and Lord Poxley in #LincolnGreen

What follows is an old G+ post from November of 2014, from the earliest stages of #LincolnGreen design. I’m rescuing it from the depths of G+ largely for archival purposes. In the two-and-a-half years since I originally wrote this, much has changed in how all this information is presented to the players. The fundamental principles remain the same, but I’ve broken them up into oaths, questions, and gests, and spread them throughout the game so that they are touched upon at several times and in many ways, rather than just at the very beginning.

So enjoy this glimpse into the past and design process, but know that it is currently out-of-date.

Here’s a little look under the hood of  #LincolnGreen .

Over the last two weekends, I’ve had the pleasure of running some #LincolnGreen  playtests at both Metatopia and JiffyCon East. Both went quite well. The Metatopia one was a bit shorter and more of a highlight reel of the mechanical bits of the game, but it laid the groundwork for the JiffyCon one. For instance, I’m in love with using Robert of Loxley as the big villain (particularly because fuck that deposed nobleman bullshit) and I think I just might use him as such forever hereafter.

Thanks to Vincent Baker, we all have to write GM principles for our games now. That’s fine. I can do that. But here’s a thing that happens when I do.

Playtest Handouts_Page_3

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The Glorious Butt System

At long last, #Greenwoodnesday finally brings us around to #LincolnGreen‘s much vaunted Butt System. So, let’s talk about butts.

Here we shall consult that most sage of the merry folk, Maid Merriam-Webster for the third and fourth definitions of butt:

(3) butt


Definition of butt

  1. : a large cask especially for wine, beer, or water
  2. : any of various units of liquid capacity; especially : a measure equal to 108 imperial (see 1 imperial 4) gallons (491 liters)

Origin and Etymology of butt

Middle English, from Anglo-French but, bout, from Old Occitan bota, from Late Latin buttis

First Known Use: 14th century


(4) butt


Definition of butt

  1. a : a backstop (such as a mound or bank) for catching missiles shot at a target
    b : target
    c butts plural : range 5c a shooting butt

Origin and Etymology of butt

Middle English, partly from Middle French but target, of Germanic origin; akin to Old Norse būtr log, Low German butt blunt; partly from Middle French bute goal, target, mound, from but target

First Known Use: 14th century

14th century is a bit anachronistic for the original Robin Hood tales, but so is Prince John, King Richard, Maid Marian, and Friar Tuck, really.  So I’m not going to worry too much about that, especially when so delicious a phrase as “Robin Hood won a butt of stout ale by shooting a butt in the sheriff’s tourney” can be used.

The Butt System in #LincolnGreen is all about competitions, be they wagers, contests or tourneys. It is a way to resolve those moments when one of the merry folk tests their mettle against some other champion or boastful traveler. These events are so very common in the folklore. Modern adaptations like to use battles and action to feature Robin’s legendary ability with the bow, but it could be argued that originally, aside from hunting the king’s deer, the focus of Robin’s prowess was archery as a sport.

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Crosses, Piles & Saves

Continuing my efforts to rescue #Greenwoodnesday posts about #LincolnGreen from the depths of G+’s not-very-searchable archive, here’s one from March of 2016 about throwing and saving. A chunk of this has been rewritten to reflect changes in the system since then and edited for format.

#LincolnGreen is turning out to be quite an extravagant game to play. It recommends that everyone bring one to two days’ wages to the table to use as randomizers. Assuming, of course, that everyone playing is a medieval master carpenter.

Coins, Crowns & Crosses

Every player should have about six pennies on hand to play. They can make do with just one, but it’ll be a bit easier with a few more. Instead of dice, you throw pennies and count the crowns and crosses. For most cases, crowns are what you’re looking for, but not always.
I’ll get into some of the fun bits regarding saving throws soon, but let me just take a moment to say how much I love the binary power of yea-nay questions. I’ve got a question-based character creation system that lets you either answer each question with your heart or by throwing a coin and treating crowns as yeas and crosses as nays. Allowing for completely random builds, completely deliberate builds, and everything in between, all at the player’s whim.

UPDATE: A little bit of research has revealed that the face opposite the cross on a coin was known as the pile, and that this name may be a reference to an arrow or spear. I refuse to ignore such apropos symbolism: Crosses & Piles is it.

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Gests & Experience in #LincolnGreen

This #Greenwoodnesday I’m going to talk about the Gest of #LincolnGreen and how it fits into advancement, resolution and pacing.

But first, what you need to know about The Gest of Robyn Hode:

↣ It’s one of the oldest written records of the legend of Robin Hood, but nowhere near the oldest tales told of gode Robyn.

↣ The G in gest is pronounced like the G in gif.

↣ Gest does not mean guest, but rather a noble deed or exploit, or a story told of such a deed or exploit.

And what you need to know about #LincolnGreen:

↣ It’s my Robin Hood-inspired game.

↣ In it, the term points refers not to numbers or tallies, but to facts in the game fiction. Much like a point in an argument.

↣ Points Established are points previously agreed upon in the game to be true.
↣ Experience Points are not an ongoing score of how close you are to the next level, but rather a specialize form of Points Established that describe your experiences and grant you certain benefits. More on this below.

↣ Game Warden or Warden is the term for GM.

↣ In the game, you don’t accomplish things with rolls, you accomplish them with points. To hunt the king’s deer, you tell the Warden how you plan to do it. Then the Warden takes in all the points and decides how successful you are. If there’s danger afoot, you might need to make a saving throw or two, but you won’t throw anything to find out if you managed to hunt a deer. Read More

#Greenwoodnesday Retrospective: Rescuing #LincolnGreen Posts from the Depths of G+

For a social network product from a company most famous for its search engine, G+ has rather lackluster search capabilities. As the good folks of the Internet have pointed out to me, whatever its merits are as a place to discuss and journal my design efforts, it is an unreliable archive. In the hopes of better preserving my progress on the #LincolnGreen game, every Wednesday I make a #Greenwoodnesday post on G+, I’ll re-post it here along with a companion post from the past (with some edits to update the design). Today, let’s stroll in the Greenwood back to September of 2015, wherein I stumble upon a mechanic found in the typesetting of Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood:

Hey, it’s #Greenwoodnesday!

I have a version of Howard Pyles The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood much like the one pictured below. I’d like to do your eye a disservice here and draw it away from the gorgeous Pyle illustrations and towards that square of italicized text on the lower right. You probably cannot see it from here, but it’s a spoiler. The text is crammed full of them. Little notations on what is happening or just about to happen in the story.
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