Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cryptid Wednesday: Spring-Heeled Jack

I wound up so busy last Wednesday that I missed out on giving you this entry in my series for Swords & Wizardry, which I had actually found the week before. I think he's good for the day before Halloween, though.

Spring-Heeled Jack

Hit Dice: 4
Armor Class: 7 [12]
Attacks: 2 claws (1d4 each)
Saving Throw: 13
Special: Fire breath
Move: 12 (18 leaping)
Alignment: Chaotic
Challenge Level/XP: 5/240

It is not clear whether the well-known Spring-Heeled Jack is a singular being or one of a variety of devils. In either case, it is a menace that dwells in towns and cities rather than the far-flung areas of the world. At first glance, bearing a cloak and hat, he is easily mistaken for a gentleman; but upon closer inspection his glowing red eyes and vicious claws distinguish him; reports of horns may or may not be accurate. Spring-Heeled Jack is capable of outleaping humans, hence his name; on foot he is no faster but he may close short distances in a series of quick leaps.

When he attacks, Jack is known for his blue-white fire breath. A gout of this breath will do 1d6 damage; if Jack breathes into the face of an opponent, they must make a saving throw (vs. poison) or be blinded for 1d6 turns. After he uses this fire he must wait 1d4 rounds before using it again.

Spring-Heeled Jack lives near settlements and has a habit of attacking lone travelers.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A different approach to languages

In the last session I ran of B2 Keep on the Borderlands, one of the players noted that a paucity of linguistic skills stopped the PCs from having any kind of non-combat interaction with the kobolds. Someone would have had to actively take the language, and the PCs present didn't have high enough Intelligence to get bonus languages. It's a picky and difficult thing, and monstrous languages are kind of a crapshoot where players make guesses at what might be useful.

At the same time, the ability to talk to monsters is one of the more interesting parts of D&D. As an RPG, players can strike any bargain or make up any trick they want; the monsters don't have to be bags of hit points that deal damage. So this is an area of serious potential for roleplaying if the language issue can be fixed.

There could be a solution closer than people think: alignment languages. I've written about them before, and I don't have the strong objections to them that many people seem to. They are often ridiculed in no small part because the Dungeon Masters Guide makes it clear that alignment languages are meant for relatively abstruse and philosophical discussion, with practical matters all but verboten. I think this is wrong-headed.

Alignment language could play a very interesting role as a lingua franca between humans and monsters. I think this might work best with a Holmes-style five point alignment where some monsters have different alignments, but continuing to take the Chainmail-style stance that alignments are basically "sides." This works well in Holmes because goblins, hobgoblins and kobolds are lawful evil while orcs, gnolls and bugbears are chaotic evil. That means a character can realistically talk to goblin-types but not orc-types, and vice versa.

The shift would be to make alignment languages fully functional tongues - LG being something like Latin, CE being akin to the Black Speech of Mordor, CG as Sindarin, etc. While they have a ceremonial use, they are widely known and more importantly are complete languages. The other change is to make them learnable by individuals not of that alignment. So a PC could speak the CG and CE languages - and it might be suspect - but it would certainly allow them to communicate with all CE creatures. Elves would get CE in addition to their alignment language, and dwarves get LE. This is more or less close to the creatures they can speak with per B/X.

This approach has two benefits. One is that there is a "level safety" to this; if kobolds are only encountered in this one cave, your 12th level magic-user won't have a wasted slot with "kobold" on his character sheet. Instead he'll have "Lawful Evil" or the in-campaign name of the same language. The second advantage is that it lets the referee play around with different monster archetypes without making things totally incompatible. What if your PC took Orc and Goblin as languages but all you run into are beast-men? Then the slot gets totally wasted. But if there's a Chaotic Evil language you can learn in addition to your own alignment tongue, you can talk with both orcs and beast-men.

Of course, this is something of a worldbuilding question - but so is the default D&D language situation. Having "Common" and various monster and alignment languages instead of pseudo-historical or historical human languages is a definite shift away from most fantasy works, especially post-Tolkien ones that revel in their worldbuilding. The best way to do this, IMO, is to turn these alignment languages into a worldbuilding tool instead of a hindrance. Figure out why there's a common language among kobolds, goblins and that evil empire.

The one other shift referees may want to consider is whether humans have the alignment language related to their own alignment, or the prevailing alignment of their home area. For instance, in a Lawful Good town - how would a Chaotic Evil fighter pick up the Black Speech? More likely he knows enough of Church Latin to get by. It's another layer of complication but once we take it up, it makes a bit more sense out of the whole concept.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Actual Play: B2 Keep on the Borderlands

  1. My wilderness encounter list (available here) came in handy. The party encountered bandits, dressed as clerics. It made initial sense because, in downtime, the curate at the Keep ran the traveling priest and his acolytes out and the party thief had tracked them. The bandits wound up getting beat with a quick Sleep spell.
  2. In looking for a new NPC to help them, the PCs managed to find an elf (as per the notes in the tavern of a wanderer) coming along with a merchant group. The elf knew the Sleep spell that came in handy, and when facing the kobold chieftain managed to use the Wand of Paralyzation (and in so doing identify it in the breach).
  3. The thief, who had not used most of his skills in four prior sessions, got to move silently, backstab and open locks - all successfully. The first two did a lot to take out the ogre, but once wounded the ogre batted one of the party henchmen, baseball-style, with a massive club. He was knocked directly into a tree branch and died. Another henchman bit the dust at the hands of one of the kobold chieftain's harem.
  4. The kobold chieftain is kind of living the pimp life. Huge piece of bling around his neck, five kobold women - wow. It's a very profitable encounter, beating both the hobgoblin and goblin chieftains for money. But not getting slaughtered on the way in took some doing. After one henchman fell in the pit, a TPK was likely if the PCs held their ground. They wisely retreated to the mouth of the cave and beat the kobolds there, then picked off rats - who were not rushing in to fight - from a distance. Good tactics, no dead PCs.
  5. The kobold cave was a lot of fun to run. It was good that the PCs went to it after several other caves and had some idea of what to do tactically to win.
  6. I'm wondering what I want to do with the factions, since there have been two deprived of leadership (kobolds, hobgoblins) and two removed (goblins, ogre). But I have a couple of weeks to make the power vacuums interesting.
The module's gotten interesting. I'm also starting to think about that point every B2 referee comes to - the eventual follow-up to B2. I had been thinking of Caverns of Thracia but it is another faction dungeon.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Wilderness Encounters for B2 Keep on the Borderlands

Doing some work for my next session, I've decided that B2 Keep on the Borderlands is really missing random wilderness encounters; it gets PCs to the dungeon more quickly but is problematic in terms of challenging experienced players. In the interest of making these wilderness encounters more interesting, I've taken some enemies from the Caves of Chaos that make sense as wandering scout parties and added some random encounters drawn from the Moldvay Basic rulebook and a couple borrowed from B3 Palace of the Silver Princess to round things out.

Wilderness Encounters for B2 Keep on the Borderlands

In doing this, I've tried to imply some new locations on and off the B2 map. I really feel like the existing map, where PCs can camp out with impunity as long as they stick to the road, sort of misses the "borderland" feel.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The First OSR Compatible Product!

You can now download the first ever OSR Compatible product. For Gold & Glory by Justen Brown is a 2e retroclone, reproducing the edition that defined most of my high school gaming. I've just downloaded it and skimmed it a bit, and the art is delightfully DIY (still better than the 1995 reissue art) while the system distills everything essential from the 2e PHB and DMG into a 318 page book.

The OSR Compatible website has been updated with a Products page that lists FG&G and will include all future OSR Compatible products. Also, Dan Hyland who did the layout on this book also did a .svg vector graphics version of the OSR Compatible logo, now available on the logo page.

On Holmesian Initiative


When two figures are brought into position 10 scale feet (or less) apart they may engage in melee. The character with the highest dexterity strikes first. If the Dungeon Master does not know the dexterity of an attacking monster he rolls it on the spot. Subject to the limitation of heavy weapons the two figures exchange blows in turn until the melee is resolved. If dexterities are within 1 or 2 points of each other, a 6-sided die is rolled for each opponent, and the higher score gains initiative — first blow.

Attackers who surprise an opponent or who approach him from behind always get the first blow. Characters who are wounded continue to strike valiantly until they are killed or the melee ends in their favor, unless they choose to break off the combat and flee. If combat is broken off, the fleeing party must accept an attack without any return on his part, the attacker adding +2 to his die roll for hit probability, and the armor class of the fleeing party can not include a shield.

- Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, Edited by J. Eric Holmes
The initiative rules above comprise the relatively simple "Dexterity based" rules from Holmes. It leads to a situation where combat takes place in a relatively static order, with each player announcing what they do in order by Dexterity. But as I've been thinking about it, the rule could actually work better in practice than the OD&D FAQ method of simply rolling off (which was duplicated in AD&D with some complications, and without them in Moldvay).

First: there is the question of monster Dexterity scores, which can be cumbersome to deal with. But monsters already have scores which are roughly on the scale of Dexterity - simply multiplied by 10 - in their Movement rates. In fact, this is probably the biggest utility those rates will have; chases are rarer than fights and it gives fast monsters a much more significant advantage. It's also less arbitrary than rolling Dexterity for a given monster. So the rule of thumb is movement rate divided by 10.

Second: This system works best if you treat every melee as an individual conflict. Rather than simply raffling through Dexterity scores each round, the referee should note which combatant went first and proceed through each mini-melee on the field. Dexterity is only referenced, and dice only rolled for ties, when first engaging an opponent. So three fighting-men taking on four orcs will be considered three separate melees, with the fourth orc having to compare Dexterity scores with the warrior he is going up against. But if a cleric arrives and wants to go up against the fourth orc, they compare scores again.

Third: For reasons of tension and balance, I think spell-casting should always be subject to a roll-off, and being hit in a round should stop a spell from being cast for the rest of the round. So if a magic-user is trying to Sleep a group of goblins, the one who reaches him can roll off to see whether it can try to attack the M-U and disrupt his spell. This accomplishes the goal that Gygax was getting at with AD&D initiative without the enormous difficulty.

Fourth: Note the attack of opportunity in the Holmes rules. It's worth noting that this actually accomplishes everything the 3.x rules were trying to do, again with far less complication. Let's say a fighting-man is trying to guard a magic-user behind him. An orc tries to sneak by and whack the magic-user. The fighter can try to enter melee with the orc, and if his Dexterity is 12 he gets a roll-off; if it's higher he enters melee with the orc. In those cases, if the orc tries to get to the magic-user and hit him, he has withdrawn from combat with the fighter and takes an attack at -2. So this really makes guarding a character or objective a function of initiative, which makes sense. Fighting-men are guards, but if only if they're fast enough and not already engaged.

Finally: When expanding Holmes, I think one of the natural moves is to give fighting-men extra attacks at higher levels. These can be treated as if the fighting-man is in melee against two separate creatures. So if a fighting-man at 5th level with 10 Dexterity is fighting an orc (MV 120 for Dex 12) and an ogre (MV 90 for Dex 9), the orc goes before him, but he goes before the ogre each time. If he had Dex 12, he would roll off once (for him versus the orc) and always go before the ogre.

With these points in mind, I think Holmes initiative can be the most straightforward way to run initiative in classic D&D. I'd still avoid the weapon speed rules which are a crude version of what wound up in AD&D, but it's worth using initiative with the tweaks.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

My RPG Profile

Since I only follow trends that don't result in post-grinding for 30 days at a time, here's an RPG profile.

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (online) include: B/X Dungeons & Dragons.

I would especially like to play/run: Over the Edge, Runequest

...but would also try: Classic Traveller, d6 Star Wars

I live in: Collingswood, New Jersey

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like: Caverns of Thracia, Holmes Basic Dungeons & Dragons, The Call of Cthulhu

2 or 3 novels I like: Dune, Elric of Melniboné, Les Misérables

2 or 3 movies I like: Bande à part, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Castle of Cagliostro

Best place to find me on-line: G+.

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's: Connected to the old school movement, by one of the pioneers of the hobby, or has a strong reputation.

I really do not want to hear about: Modernist RPGs and games with the "old school feel" that nevertheless are not actually old school. If you say "old school feel" you do not have it.

I think dead orc babies are a sign that you're playing B2 Keep on the Borderlands, and really unnecessary.

Game I'm in are like Murderhobos on the Borderlands

Free RPG Content I made for D&D is available here.

Free RPG Content I made for OD&D is available here.

You can buy RPG stuff I made about D&D here.

If you know anything about chivalric and medieval mythology it'd help me with a project I'm working on

I talk about RPGs on Google Plus under the name Wayne Rossi

I talk about RPGs on Original D&D Discussion under the name Cadriel

I talk about RPGs on Dragonsfoot under the name Cadriel

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Keying the Corridors

If you bought Dungeon Crawl #3, you know that there are several places located in the corridors where I've keyed the traps. I'm thinking more and more that this is a philosophy I want to use and see more of in published modules.

I've found in writing adventures for Dungeon Crawl that numbering rooms tends to lead to a "one thing per room" mentality to dungeons. You can only get so much detail into a single entry before you cause your reader's eyes to glaze over; but at the same time, there needs to be more in the dungeon than answers to "what is behind this door / in this room?"

A big part of this is the idea that there are interesting things in the corridors. After all, the stereotypical old school dungeon has 10' wide corridors; my office is narrower than that. A rat's nest that is in a room could just as we'll be in a corridor; a hallway can have niches filled with statues, or hollow areas where treasure or traps are hidden. Creatures, traps and puzzles in the corridors make for a more tactically rich environment.

A lot of creature types are well suited to corridor encounters. For instance, the "cleanup crew" - slimes, oozes, jellies - make a lot of sense in corridors. Rats and other creatures of unusual size, which I've talked about in the past as much more compact than the space they're usually given, are another good choice. Non-intelligent undead make as much sense in a corridor as anywhere else; why would a lumbering zombie prefer a room? Generally opportunistic creatures should logically be in hallways.

For mobile threats, one interesting wrinkle is to make their presence a numbers game. If there is a giant rat nest in a niche of the corridor, perhaps there is only a 2 in 6 chance that the rats are there. They can go in the wandering monster list for the rest of the time.

Obviously the corridor encounters won't have non-hidden, unguarded treasure, but the possibility of hidden treasures is real. A single gem in the base of a statue can raise the stakes of a dungeon permanently, with PCs vigilantly checking every possible location for treasure, at least until they find a trapped one, and of course pit raps, arrow traps etc are natural corridor hazards.

The intrigue is in the ability of PCs to avoid encounters. These should not be in places that can't be circumvented; instead they give certain paths a higher difficulty cost. Perhaps the players find a shortcut but there are shriekers, or green slime, or another obvious challenge. Or perhaps they found an empty giant weasel nest going down a hallway; do they risk counting on it not being home on their way back?

So you'll see more of this from me in the future. I'm curious what others have done with this and what you think of the idea.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cryptid Wednesday: Shadow People

This week's cryptid is an urban legend inspired by that feeling someone is following you.

Shadow People

Hit Dice: 3
Armor Class: 8 [11]
Attacks: Choking grasp (1d6/turn)
Saving Throw: 14
Special: Paralysis, choking grasp, immaterial
Move: 12
Alignment: Chaotic
Challenge Level/XP: 5/240

Shadow people are incorporeal beings that resemble typical shadows thrown by light, but are not themselves composed of shadow. They are physically distinguished by their glowing eyes. Most (75%) of encounters with shadow people are fleeting; they are seen for only a few moments before flitting away. They are not social and have no language, although some shadow people may make an eerie high-pitched noise.

When a shadow person does take an interest in a human, it is generally when it is twilight or later and usually when the human is alone. Solitary travelers and characters standing watch at night are particularly susceptible. If a character meets the eyes of a shadow person, they must make a saving throw or be paralyzed for 2d6 rounds. If the prey of a shadow person is thus immobilized, subsequent saving throws are made at -2 to the roll. After this, the shadow person will attempt to strangle the human; each round, the character must make a saving throw or take 1d6 damage. (No attack roll is made.) Magic-users and clerics may not cast spells while being strangled. A character who has taken damage this way will have the skin near their neck turned white until a Remove Curse spell is cast.

A shadow person's immaterial nature means it cannot be harmed by non-magical means. Magic weapons and spells do it full damage. Likewise, it may pass beyond any mundane boundaries (walls, doors etc) but is stopped by magical barriers, including Protection from Evil spells. It can be turned as a Wight, but is never destroyed by turning.

If killed, a shadow person leaves behind no remains.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Moldvay and Holmes, and Fighters

I've been running games using the Moldvay basic set recently, and using the variable weapon damage rules therein, which are basically similar to the ones found in Supplement I: Greyhawk except that Moldvay doesn't differentiate between damage to small, medium and large creatures.

In Moldvay at least, variable weapon damage enforces the use of swords. A Moldvay sword (or a Greyhawk or AD&D one) does 1d8 damage, or 4.5 damage on average. Since an average 1 HD monster has 4.5 hp, the Moldvay fighter with a sword will kill it in one successful hit (this is enhanced by the likelihood of +1 or more to damage due to Strength). In Holmes the monster hp amounts are the same, but the fighter will only do 3.5 points of damage to it (1d6), leaving it 1 hp.

With Holmes, an orc has AC 7 and the fighting-man hits it on a 12 or better (45% of the time). Moldvay orcs have AC 6, but an average fighter should have Strength between 13 and 15 (due to additional points from other scores) and likewise hits on a 12 or better. On the whole, a fighter should hit an orc every other round. So the Holmes fighting-man should kill an orc in 4 rounds, while the Moldvay fighter takes closer to 2. If we assume that the average fighter has 4.5 HP and AC 4 (chain+shield) and the orc does 3.5 damage, the Holmes fighting-man is likely to win with 1 hit point left, while the Moldvay fighter has a good chance of getting out without a scratch.

The Holmes rules are fairly pitiless for our fighting-man. There's a lower chance of Constitution bonuses to hit dice, no Dexterity modifier to armor class, and no Strength bonuses to hit or to damage. A Holmesian fighting-man with scores of 13 in each score has only a Dexterity bonus to hit with missile weapons, while a Moldvay fighter with 13s in all three scores has +1 to hit, damage, AC and hit points. Plus, the Moldvay fighter's sword does d8 while the Holmes fighter's does only d6.

Looking at this situation, where I've said before that Holmes is clearly the magic-user's favored system, Moldvay seems to favor the oft-overlooked fighter. But one simple tweak could change the whole game: running Holmes, which is strongly rooted in OD&D, with d6 for hit dice. The earliest printings of the rulebook didn't have this, per Zenopus Archives, and without following it we find our Holmes fighting-man is much more capable. Now he kills orcs at the same rate as his Moldvay counterpart, and we didn't need to use Strength bonuses or variable damage.

The side effect of this is that clerics, who can't use swords, find themselves more or less at parity with fighters at low levels. Of course, clerics advance more slowly in fighting, and more importantly they can't use magic swords - which are far and away the most common magic weapons. The parity is sort of a good thing, though, considering how few spells clerics get at lower levels; it's sort of like they start off even but fighters branch off to more fighty stuff while clerics go towards more cleric-type doings.

The other advantage that Holmes has is that it's not locked into the B/X ruleset which does not feature multiple attacks. Pretty much any multiple-attack rules the referee chooses can be worked more easily into Holmes, using 4th level ("Hero") as the trigger point. So while Moldvay does have advantages for the fighter, Holmes is probably more amenable to being tweaked in the right direction.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

More Troll Questions Answered

Because I like it (and don't like things like the 30-day challenge), I'm answering Top Ten Troll Questions Part Two.

(1). Should level drain take away one level of experience points from the character? Yes or No? If no, what should level drain do?

Yes. It should be reversible with some spell though.

(2). Should the oil used in lanterns do significant damage (more than 1 hp in damage) if thrown on an opponent and set on fire? Yes or No? If yes, how much damage should it do?

I prefer Holmes's rule of 1d8 on the first turn, and 2d8 on the second. It does a lot for a group's tactics to have the fire option.

(3). Should poison give a save or die roll, with a fail rolled indicated instant death? Yes or No? If no, how should game mechanics relating to poison work?

Poison is save or die unless specified otherwise. Specifying otherwise is good.

(4). Do characters die when they reach 0 hit points? Yes or No? If no, then at what point is a character dead?

I prefer that characters die when killed. I do sometimes use a d6 to determine how many rounds dying takes; if a character is taken below 0 hit points, the "negative" HP are factored into the die roll (i.e. at -2 HP you take d6-2 rounds to die). Magical healing is possible while dying, but no "I bind their wounds" - it's a mortal wound.

(5). Does the primary spell mechanic for a magic user consist of a "memorize and forget system" (aka Vancian)? Yes or No? If no, what alternative do you use?

Yes. Though I like the Holmes scroll rules, as I've discussed here multiple times.

(6). Should all weapons do 1d6 damage or should different weapons have varying dice (1d4, 1d8, etc...) for damage?

I go back and forth on this, because I mainly prefer OD&D and Holmes, but I also like different dice. If I'm running straight-up OD&D or Holmes, I use d6; when running Moldvay or S&W, I use variable damage dice.

(7). Should a character that has a high ability score in their prime requisite receive an experience point bonus? Yes or No?


(8). Should a character with an strength of 18 constitution get a +3 bonus to hit points, or a +2 bonus to hit points, or a +1 bonus to hit points or no bonus to hit points? And should other ability scores grant similar bonuses to other game mechanics?

Holmes and Moldvay agree: 18 Constitution gives +3 per hit die. My ideal is that Strength gives +1 to hit for 13 or higher (-1 at 8 or lower), and Wisdom gives similar bonus/penalty on save vs. spells. Intelligence gives you languages, and if you read this blog you should know I think that's a terrific ability.

(9). Should a character have 1 unified saving throw number, or 3 saving throw types based on ability scores (reflex, fortitude, will), or 5 types based on potential game effects (magic wand, poison attacks)? or something else?

The third most popular post in this blog's history doesn't lie: Save vs. Death Ray!

So on that basis alone, 5 saves, as long as one is Death Ray.

(10). Should a cleric get (A) 1 spell at 1st level (B) no spells at 1st level (C) more than 1 spell at 1st level?

B, no spells at 1st level. Clerics in older D&D should be gaining levels quickly. It also reduces the feeling that they are "heal-bots" that you get in AD&D, and makes their healing magic more of a valuable resource.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cryptid Wednesday: The Dingonek

With my diminished blog output the last month or so, I have been remiss with cryptid monsters for Swords & Wizardry. Here's a classic from Africa.


Hit Dice: 8
Armor Class: 2 [17]
Attacks: Bite (2d8), 2 Claws (1d8)
Saving Throw: 8
Special: Sting (1d4 + lethal poison)
Move: 12 (18 swim)
Alignment: Neutral
Challenge Level/XP: 9/1,100

Found in the most remote jungles and deepest swamps, the Dingonek is a creature that resembles a long reptile with a leonine head, massive walrus-like tusks, and a stinger at the end of its body (an average 15 feet in length). It is covered in armadillo-like scales that make it strongly armored.

A dingonek will not tolerate other predators in its territory, and has been known to quickly slay crocodiles and even hippopotami as well as humans who intrude. It fights ferociously, biting with its massive tusks. Prey that survive this must face its scorpion-like sting and save or perish from its poison.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

OSR Compatible Website and Logo

I set up the OSR Compatible Website today, and it's officially a published standard. The logo above, based off of Stuart Robertson's Creative Commons-licensed original, is my first stab at this; if anyone else wants to release an OSR logo via CC-BY-SA and email me (my gmail address is wrossi81), feel free to design any alternate versions you want.

In the mean time, any publisher can use it. I just ask that you include a box indicating compatibility (there are instructions here) and attribute the image to .

Once people have published books carrying the OSR Compatible logo, there will be a Products page with a listing of all products available.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Different Approach to Setting Design

This post is a reaction to Erik Tenkar's post here.

The biggest thing I learned when I did the OD&D setting series of posts earlier this year is that more can be implied about an RPG setting in a well-designed set of tables than from ten times as many pages of detail. More importantly, setting tables are immediately useful in a way that detailed books aren't.

In practice, if you have a relatively civilized pseudo-medieval sandbox, you will need to generate more than one small settlement. Rather than detailing out dozens of such areas, I think it's a valid approach to provide a set of tables and charts to randomly generate one on the fly. This obviously has to be a fairly quick procedure, but it's been done - in the Village Book 1 and 2, Castle Book 1 and 2, Temple Book 1 and Islands Book 1 from Judges Guild.

While there's a lot of love for the bare sketch of the Wilderlands setting, I think these six books imply an approach that I think is really worthwhile: a series of charts that help you put together details about a location quickly. The Wilderlands setting has interesting implied variations in civilization levels, and I think things like this could really be exploited to define a setting.

Setting should be something you don't see, like the air we breathe. Unless a game session is really saturated in details drawn from sourcebooks, the majority of the time the characters are just in "the world," and I've run a number of fine games with barely a shred of setting detail. The challenge of bringing setting to life is to use it in incidental ways - for instance, artwork and treasure might be recognizably from a particular era. "The statue depicts a general from the expansion of the First Empire" or "the brooch looks like it's from one of the Athean League states" are ways to provide impression of a rich setting without going and actually detailing it all out.

I really prefer the kind of setting where players can be slowly drawn into the details, possibly as outsiders. This is the traditional approach to Tékumel, but it's also very doable in a D&D world where the PCs are, almost by assumption, outsiders. This trope is very heavily backed up in the source literature: Conan is foreign to most of the countries he visits; Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are not natives of Lankhmar, Bilbo and Frodo both go abroad from the Shire, Elric is a stranger to the Young Kingdoms - it goes on and on.

For a referee, then, a series of tables and charts and lists replete with little bits of setting flavor can easily add up to much more than the sum of their parts. They make it easy for a sandbox environment to be constructed on the fly that is nonetheless completely appropriate for the world that it is set in. They also have the advantage that the setting detail thus provided is entirely encountered in play; the referee only needs a sketch of the history and these fragments of setting detail to weave a richer picture at the gaming table.

Of course, this is different both from the traditional setting books and the current trend which is to provide Wilderlands-style hexcrawls. I think that it would pair best with a minimalist setting more akin to the original Greyhawk rather than the hexcrawl approach the Wilderlands used, but I'd be interested to see it with either style of setting.