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With the imminent razing of Google+, I suppose it’s time to dust off this blog and reaffirm yet again an intention to post more frequently. To be honest, I’m not optimistic about the chances of that – I don’t enjoy wasting my time writing content someone else could produce and I’ve neither the hubris nor lack of self-awareness to mistake an idea new to me for one new to the larger community. Who knows, though? Perhaps with age I’ll lower my standards.

In the meantime, and perhaps in example of, here are my answers to Zak S.’s OSR Guide for the Perplexed. If nothing else, it should provide a useful metric by which to judge whether this site is worth purging from your blog roll.

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me

Take the Rubies from the Demon’s Eyes

Given that subsequent questions provide ample space to praise specific OSR advice, mechanics, and content, I’ve decided to use this question to highlight an article that captures the zeitgeist of the movement instead. This is the same spirit that runs through early Renaissance writing: a “fuck you” to authority and the slavish imitation it encourages coupled with confidence that the new blood can produce their own masterpieces equal to any of the classics.

2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark

Complex rule systems limit imaginative solutions in favor of the predefined, often get forgotten at the table, and inevitably lead to absurdities or gimmicky exploits; simple rule systems supplemented by an individual dungeon master’s ad hoc rulings are superior.

3. Best OSR module/supplement

  • Supplement: Richard LeBlanc’s D30 Sandbox Companion; this is an excellent resource for populating hexes, towns, NPC lists, etc. I’ve been especially fond of using the tavern name generator to name ships. Veins of the Earth and Yoon-Suin are also great, but a bit harder to use at the table.
  • Module: Death Frost Doom (Revised); I don’t run modules as a general rule, but this one is an exception because it hits that balance of risk-and-reward for players exactly right while having real stakes for the larger setting. Broodmother Skyfortress also hits some of these notes, just not quite as strongly.

4. My favorite house rule (by someone else)

Goblinpunch’s inventory house rules (http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2013/11/armor-and-inventory.html and http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2013/11/armor-and-inventory-jr.html); this is the sanest method of encumbrance tracking I’ve ever encountered, making player choices meaningful without bogging things down in the counting of pounds (or gold pieces)

5. How I found out about the OSR

For years I tried to satisfy my RPG itch with video games and that led me to read a site called the Escapist for reviews and the like. One day they introduced a series called “I Hit it with My Axe” with Zak S. To be honest, the series itself did nothing for me – I’m old and the editing struck me as … idiosyncratic – but it led me to the blogosphere and from there to Google+.

6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy

I am partial to Meatshields! (http://www.barrowmaze.com/meatshields) to generate hirelings, but it’s probably more appropriate to highlight Roll20, Hangouts, and Discord, since those resources are fundamental to allowing the online gaming that makes up 90% of my engagement with the hobby.

7. Best Place to talk to other OSR gamers

Google+ was the clear answer to this question for the past several years. I’m not sure what the answer will be going forward: back to the blogs, another social network site like MeWe or Facebook, Reddit, or Discord servers. Maybe all of those and more.

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games

As the introduction implies, you won’t find me talking about anything anywhere most of the time. If you want to know where I’m lurking, the answers are as follows:

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough

I don’t have one and don’t have it in me to pretend otherwise.

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG

I don’t have one? I suppose if you don’t consider non-retroclones OSR (being just OS), then AD&D 1E and B/X could count.

11. Why I like OSR stuff

I’m starting to feel like this is a waste of time – the answers to the first two questions cover this fairly well and now we’re just belaboring the point.

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet

The first would be anything produced by Sine Nomine (Kevin Crawford’s company), especially Stars without Number; his work is consistently excellent and I doubt this is news to most people reading this blog entry. Another thing would be the truly staggering amount of quality work, both artistic and otherwise, created by Luka Rejec. The first time I saw his drawings, it was obvious he was gifted and everything since then has cemented that impression.

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be

Everyone knows the usual suspects, so I will instead name a blog that I found only recently and have enjoyed immensely: Cavegirl’s Game Stuff (https://cavegirlgames.blogspot.com/). The monsters are amazing and definitely worth stealing.

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is

The most useful things I’ve created are the random generators on my blog (www.dwarvenautomata.com), especially the weather tool. I’m also partial to my short module called Automata Run Amok available for free at RPGNow, both illustrated and edited by Luka Rejec (see my note about him above; his contribution raised the level of my work)

15. I’m currently running/playing

Two weeks ago, I finished running a four year, 221 session, 884 hour online AD&D 1E campaign (although it will likely continue in some form after a hiatus). As a diversion during the current downtime, I will begin a Stars without Number campaign in a couple of weeks. I have also run an after-school AD&D game club for the past four years (and previously ran a 3E D&D club for five or six years in the early 2000s). In terms playing, I participate in an intermittent weekend online AD&D game and pick-up games every now and then.

16. I don’t care whether you use ascending or descending AC because

The only people invested in the fine points of combat resolution mechanics are game designers and rules lawyers. Otherwise, it’s six of one or a half dozen of the other.

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice

Illustration by Steve Zieser.

Postojna Cave

Postojna Cave

The latest automated generator I have created for my AD&D 1E campaign is based on the tools for creating random caves and cave systems found in Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess’s wonderful Veins of the Earth. Specifically, my script creates up to fifty random caves with indications of entrances, exits, distance between caves, etc. A DM can string these entries together to create a natural cave complex more-or-less on the fly.

My script is not a perfect recreation of the VotE system, though, and produces slightly more specific results in terms of cave dimensions and other features that I found necessary for my own use at the table. As Patrick Stuart described it when I shared this tool with him: “you’re kind a crazy because you’ve taken something specifically designed to work through the immediate intuitive spatial relationship of the dice as they are rolled in front of you and turned it into a raw-data readout, which is something I would never do, but, well people are odd and I’m glad you’re happy.”

If that sounds like something that would make you happy — or prove useful in your campaign — give it a try and let me know if you have any suggested improvements!

________________________________

Sample Output (see generator page for explanation/details):

Cave #2
Width in Appropriate Units: 10″
Length in Appropriate Units: 17″
Height in Appropriate Units: 10″
Entrance Location: Roof
Largest Exit Location: West
Largest Exit Width Size: 7′
Largest Exit Height Size: 6′
Number of Other Exits (Each 1/2 Size of Previous): 5
Directions of Other Exits: Roof East Floor East Floor
Length of Exit Routes (Turns): 1 2 1 1 2 8

__________________________________

Mountains: More than a Speed-bump, less than Survivalist Porn?

Recently, my AD&D 1E campaign involved some travel and exploration within a mountain range, including scaling one particular peak in search of a dragon’s lair. My preparation suggested two possible approaches to mountaineering by-the-book: the dry application of a movement speed penalty (DMG) or a hyper-realistic treatment that assumes both a detailed area map and skill system that I don’t use (Wilderness Survival Guide). Faced with those extremes, I decided to put together my own system that offered a bit more than a speed bump but still adhered to the “keep it simple” ethos of early editions and the OSR. I make no claims to realism or balance, but it worked pretty well for a couple of sessions and can probably be modified to cover other “hazardous terrain” situations.

Mountain Terrain Assumptions: Movement and Time

  • Movement across mountainous terrain: 1/4 Speed
  • Climbing Mountains (Average): 4 hours to tree line; 6 hours from tree line to peak

Mountain Exploration Process

Below the Tree Line

  1. In addition to normal encounter checks, roll a d6 for each hour of the climb
  2. On a result of 6, the party encounters a special event; roll 2d6 on the event table below
  3. Roll another d6 to determine which turn within the hour the event occurs

Above the Tree Line

  1. In addition to normal encounter checks, roll d6 for each hour of the climb
  2. On a result of 5 or 6, the party encounters a special event; roll 2d6 on the event table below
  3. Roll another d6 to determine which turn within the hour the event occurs
  4. Roll another d6 to determine if the special event coincides with an encounter

Special Event Table

2 Rock slide! All party members save vs. paralyzation or tumble 10′ (d6 damage); save again or continue tumbling d4x10′ (4d6 damage); repeat until dead or successful save.
3 Path split by chasm with no obvious means of crossing; width of chasm is 4d6x10′ (add another d6 for every result of 6); depth of chasm is 8d6x10′ (add another d6 for every result of 6)
4 Path split by chasm with weathered bridge (20% chance it is a rusted automaton collapsed to form bridge); roll d6 for each character crossing — on the second result of 6, save vs. paralyzation or fall unless secured (see above for width/depth of chasm)
5 Path obliterated by rock slide creating treacherous terrain; d6 for each character crossing and save vs. paralyzation for all fails or tumble 10′ (d6 damage); save again or continue tumbling d4x10′ (4d6 damage), etc.
6 Sheer wall impedes progress; thief or grappling hook needed to scale with rope required for others to follow (height of face: 4d6x10′, rolling again for each 6 result); if no means of ascent, an hour detour to find alternative route.
7 Sheer wall with overhang impedes progress; thief or grappling hook to scale (thief skill at -15%) and rope needed for others to follow (see above for height of face); if no means of ascent, an hour detour to find alternative route.
8 Cave with 60% chance of lair (roll on random encounter table immediately); 20% chance that cave is a shortcut to higher/lower area, cutting off one hour of travel.
9 Drop-off next to path leaving only a narrow ledge; roll d6 for each character passing and on third result of 6, save vs. paralyzation or lose footing; fall is 8d6x10′, rolling again for each result of 6.
10 Path split by swift-moving stream cascading down mountain; treacherous footing means d6 roll for each character crossing with every 2nd result of 6 requiring a save vs. paralyzation or fall (d4x10′ distance).
11 Exposed section of path where wind whips around mountain; cannot effectively communicate for d6 turns, otherwise safe.
12 Large rock dislodged from above path; randomly determine targets in character group and roll to hit as 7HD monster (can target any number of targets within 10′ of each other); 2d6 damage on hit and save vs. paralyzation to avoid fall (d4x10′ feet)

Notes on Table:

  • Improvise strength check if characters tied together with rope and some succeed and others fail required saves
  • Cross off events as used; replace table items as needed with new events between game sessions
  • Above tree line, roll for random encounter with special event (i.e., ambushes utilizing special event feature)

Some Considerations

All of this is meant to be random and loose — and that also means there will be a lot of minutiae to adjudicate in the moment. Still, I found this more satisfying than just making the trip take longer or needing to map out the entire mountain and place interesting features ahead of time.

Cover of Saddle-stitch print version

Luka Rejec’s beautiful cover in the flesh!

Having approved the proofs from both DrivethruRPG and Lulu.com, my low-level OSR adventure module is now available in print from those vendors. I am quite happy with this as someone who, while regularly purchasing PDF resources, only makes use of things for which I have physical copies. As someone who has worked in digital publishing for more than a decade and whose dissertation was written in XML before that was cool, my Luddite tendencies when it comes to books sometimes surprises even me — heck, I’ve never managed to read in eBook in all the years that I have been producing them for a paycheck!

Leaving aside issues of hypocrisy or technophobia, though, there are some real reasons to check out the print version of Automata Run Amok. Chief among these is that the map key portions of the module (see my previous post) were arranged on purpose to take advantage of the two-page spread. That explains the following features:

Interior spread from Saddle-stitch print version

Interior spread (Map Key)

  1. The map key portions of the module are oriented differently than the rest of the adventure (landscape versus portrait) and the spreads are flipped so that you can turn the book and read straight down across the gutter.
  2. All keying information appears on the same spread as the relevant mini-map (the map appearing in the top-left of the spread when you hold the book sideways).
  3. Visual information trackers and commentary for section of the map key always appear at the lower-right of the page spread.

While I have been happy with the comments on the layout of the PDF version to date, I think these choices show my print prejudice and my future publications will likely save these flourishes for a print-only layout since they add little to the reader’s experience when viewed in a digital format. Lesson learned!

Links to Print Versions

Detail of illustration by Luka Rejec

Let’s take a look under the hood … (Art by Luka Rejec)

Last week I published my first RPG product, an OSR module entitled Automata Run Amok designed to be an introductory adventure for low-level characters. I’ve been pleased with the reception so far and, barring unforeseen circumstances, there will be a much more substantive follow-up publication next year. Before going to work on that new project, though, I thought it might be good to discuss explicitly some of the design choices that shaped Automata. This post is the first in a series to tackle that subject and it focuses on that topic of perennial debate at the heart of most modules: map keys.

Platonic vs. Aristotelian Map Keys

There seem to be two schools of thought on keying maps for published RPG adventures. In more traditional products, like many of those created in the early days of the hobby by TSR, map keys read like the authors were transcribing the platonic ideal of a play-through for that module: copious text lays out the details of each location with the assumption that every Dungeon Master aims for the same tone and style of information management, that the DM has carefully read and at committed much of the product to memory, and that the group consists of well-behaved players who will dutifully listen to and absorb those details before acting. Everything needed to run the location is present, somewhere in the text, but there’s very little indication that the writers concerned themselves with the realities of variable humans interacting with their creations in real-time. An example of this would be the key entry for the Earth Temple in The Temple of Elemental Evil:

Example Page for The Temple of Elemental Evil

May Zuggtmoy help you if you need to know who and what is in the Earth Temple quickly while running ToEE …

The alternative to this ‘Platonic ideal’ approach is what I guess could playfully be described as Aristotelian — an empirical approach to map key information design based on observation and direct experience of what really happens at the gaming table. There have likely been examples of this throughout the history of the hobby, but the explosion of small publishers and other hobbyists dissecting and philosophizing about RPG design has intensified the drive to innovate the map key. Of course, like anything based on observation and direct experience, this innovation has led to a number of competing and idiosyncratic approaches. I will not even attempt to describe this variety except to say that, generally, these methods favor the hierarchical arrangement of information based on its perceived importance to play and the use of formatting to provide visual cues so DMs can quickly parse what is being presented. My work in Automata Run Amok borrows shamelessly from what I feel to be the best examples of this ‘Aristotelian’ map key design, distilling the practices and recommendations I have encountered over the last few years into what I hope is something solidly useful if not innovative.

Dissecting a Map Entry from Automata Run Amok

So, what does it mean in practical terms for my module to employ ‘Aristotelian’ map key design? That will be easier to explain by grounding the discussion in a specific example from the publication and then explicating how it embodies my design philosophy. Let’s look at the first entry in the key, which describes the public part of a tinkerer-wizard’s shop that has been overrun by out-of-control automata:

Map Key example for Automata Run Amok

Some Aristotelian Key Entries (Click to Enlarge)

This makes an excellent example for three reasons: there is quite a lot of stuff for characters to investigate, its default state is rather static in terms of opposing NPCs and monsters, and it integrates some non-key elements of the module like its random tables and timeline. Even before diving into those details, though, notice how certain items are called out using color or styling (i.e., italics and bold-face) while the key entry largely consists sub-headings and bullet lists to create a clear hierarchy of information. Comparison with the entry for the second room shows that this layout is consistent so that, once the Dungeon Master learns the module’s visual vocabulary, he or she knows everything necessary to parse subsequent entries on-the-fly.

Now let’s walk through each element of the entry:

  • Room number, name, and dimensions (larger red font): As the only non-black font in the module, the red titles for each entry clearly divide up the key’s entries instead of relying on spacing alone to convey this information. This allows the DM to find the entry’s beginning quickly and jump back-and-forth between the text and map without losing his or her place. The number’s purpose should be self-explanatory, while the name of the room simultaneously provides a shorthand indication of what kind of location is being described and makes sure there’s enough text for the red font to stand out. Finally, the dimensions are given in the top line since the player group’s mapper (remember, this is an OSR module!) will need this information. My habit when Dungeon Mastering is to give mappers the information they need early in the description unless there is a logical reason — such as a huge chamber or attacking monsters — that would prevent someone from quickly eyeballing the size of the room. That allows them time to sketch and revise even if the party is prone to moving along quickly from location to location.
  • Brief evocative phrase (italic font): Quite a bit of the debate surrounding RPG map keys involves boxed text and I tend to agree with the argument that blocks of read-aloud for the DM are largely useless or even counter-productive at the table. It constrains the tone of the game to whatever the module author thinks is appropriate for a “typical” group and assumes a level of patience and attention to detail among players that I have rarely encountered in an individual let alone an entire party. However, ditching boxed text does limit the module author’s opportunities to convey the non-visual elements of a room that would be immediately evident — its smell, sounds, and general feel. My compromise is this evocative phrase, which describes the flavor of the room yet still allows the DM to couch that information in whatever tone or style fits their gaming group. For example, this particular room has “shelves of arcana and pungent herbs” — in other words, it’s a crowded shop of curios of mysterious origin suffused with the smells of magical ingredients. My opinion is that a DM doesn’t need more than this to describe the room in appropriate terms according to the needs and attention span of their player group.
  • Subsection detailing room occupants (if any; bold-face header with bullet list of details): Once the DM has been given the top-level information about the room’s dimensions and feel, the module’s key consists of subsections presenting information in a hierarchical list from most to least important. Since the first thing players (and DMs) will want to know is whether a room contains living creatures to either speak with or kill, those are covered in the first subsection entitled “Occupants.” The shop room in the key above is typically unoccupied, but this subsection is still present because there is a chance of encountering monsters (monkey automata) or NPCs (robbers) as the adventure’s timeline, as outlined earlier in the module, advances. When appropriate, this description of the room’s occupants will also cover the likely reactions along with references to the module’s bestiary. A good example of this comes from the alchemy chamber later in the module:

Occupants:
• The first time the party enters the tower, a single monkey automaton (AC:6; HD:1+1; #ATT:2; DAM:d6; Bestiary 1) is in this chamber collecting the last two acid vials (the remainder are already piled on the catwalk near the ladder). Hearing the group enter, it will climb the wall and perch above the door – making a last few squeaks in the process
• When the first party member enters the room, the monkey will attempt a surprise attack and toss one of its acid vials (2d4HP direct damage; 1HP splash within 1’). Any counterattack will cause it to scamper over to the other side of the wall and toss another vial; a successful counterattack will cause it to leap onto the catwalk (which provides 25% cover from missile attacks)

  • Subsection listing and describing exits (bold-face header with bullet list of details): Once the players know whether there’s anything in the room, the next thing they need to know is where the available exits are located and whether those exits are barred, locked, or otherwise impeded. This is also the next thing the party mapper will need to know once the outline of the room is sketched and therefore appears towards the beginning of the entry.
  • Series of subsections listing items of interest (bold-face headers with bullet lists of details): The last thing a DM must provide players is a list of miscellaneous items within the room that can be interacted with or investigated. My intention here is that only the headers would be shared during the initial room description and that the additional information detailed in the bullet lists would only be disclosed if the party spends time (i.e., expends resources) to look more closely at the item in question. So, in our example, the DM would let the party know that there are shelves covered in items, a counter, and a closet in the shop. In most cases, I imagine, the party will be interested in seeing exactly what’s on the shelves and choose to spend a turn investigating those; at that point only they would learn that these contain objects “artfully arranged to look cluttered with no labeling,” including several large crystals (one of which is valuable), spell components if a magic user is doing the searching, and something special from the random magic item table. Similarly, if the party or member thereof spends a turn investigating the counter, they will find the shelf underneath with the book and money-box.

So that basically demonstrates my Aristotelian style of map keying, which leverages visual cues and the hierarchical presentation of information to make running the adventure at the table a smoother experience requiring less preparation. The page layout supports the structure of the key entries, with each two-page spread in the module containing all the entries relevant to the map (an innovation lifted from Maze of the Blue Medusa) and trackers with check-boxes and blanks for the DM to note the passage of time, defeat of enemies, and other changes to the location (suggested by my editor and illustrator, Luka Rejec). When printed out, all of this information would be visible at once and (hopefully) easy to interpret even with the reality of excited players, imperfect recall of module details, and a tone that in my experience inevitably oscillates between epic and farce.

Quick Summary of Map Keying Practices

  1. Consistent ‘visual vocabulary’ across all map key entries
  2. Hierarchical presentation of information (from possible threats to miscellaneous objects to investigate)
  3. Front-loading of information for mapper (dimensions and exits)
  4. Use of ‘evocative phrase’ as substitute for boxed text to convey non-visual information not specifically associated with items in the room (i.e., the ‘flavor’ of the location)
  5. Subsections for each item in the room with which players can interact; bullet list details only shared with players if they expend resources (time, light source, random encounter rolls, etc.)
  6. All key entries appear on same two-page spread as map that references them along with visual tracking tools to keep track of monsters defeated and similar things

[If any of this sounds interesting, please pick up a PWYW copy of Automata Run Amok at DrivethruRPG; if you have any feedback — including reviews — please let me know!]

automata-title-pageThis blog has suffered severe neglect in recent months, although my RPG-related activities have continued unabated. Besides my ongoing first edition campaign (which recently surpassed five hundred hours of play), I have also been working hard on converting some of that game’s early adventures into publications. The first such adventure is the incident at the tinkerer-wizard Talessin’s tower (see the annotated play reports: first session and second session).

That work is now complete and my first adventure module, Automata Run Amok, has gone live on DriveThruRPG as a PDF with print versions to follow as soon as possible both there and on Lulu.com (spiral bound in the latter case!). This module is being offered for free (PWYW) as an appetizer for what I hope to be a series of publications. Here’s the marketing copy blurb for this adventure:

Out-of-Control automata have driven a wizard from his shop. He would like the PCs to solve the problem (without damaging his creations) while his rival will pay for evidence of the wizard’s dabbling in forbidden knowledge.

This is an adventure suitable for four to five low-level characters written to be compatible with OSRIC and early editions of the world’s most popular RPG.  In addition to full details on a tinkerer-wizard’s tower overrun by rampaging automata, this module includes:

  • Random tables to generate elements of a bustling port city situated in the tropics and titles for books on both magic and techno-magic
  • Twenty unique magical items of variable usefulness and danger with which to tempt players
  • Several unique NPCs and monsters, from a clock maker revolutionary to a brain floating in a machine animated by the spirit of a long-dead racist dwarf
  • Eight illustrations by the wondefully talented Luka Rejec

This twenty-page adventure should provide between four and eight hours of Old School fun. Enjoy!

Here’s a link to the page to “purchase” and download the module.

Temple Ruins

Temple Ruins

Just a quick note that +Follow Me, and Die! has posted an interview about my experiences with RPGs and our ongoing Roll20 campaign on his blog: Click here to read it.

Dolphin or Devil Fish?

Dolphin or Devil Fish?

[This is the sixth post in a series of session summaries (i.e., a play reports) for the first campaign I have run in the Curabel setting. Each summary was written by one of the players, but I am adding my own ‘DM Annotations’ on these write-ups before uploading them here. These annotations will mostly call attention to bits of the summaries that will be significant later in the campaign (with links to relevant summaries to follow as they are posted) or else explain my rational for my game-mastering choices.

Please note that the summary will be displayed as regular text and my annotations as block quotes throughout.]

Session Six: April 23, 2014

This summary was written by Brian, who played the human cleric in service to the dwarven deity named Xen’Teler (who figures prominently in later sessions). Brian participated in the campaign for the first twenty or so sessions. This particular session wraps up the adventure in the ancient dwarven bathhouse, with the party defeating the Bullywugs and their Devil Fish master in order to appease the goblins guarding the tunnel to the tomb the group seeks.

Frog feet patter on stone in the distance and the party seizes the moment to organize themselves for the battle to come. It is a gruesome engagement, for both the Frog-Men and adventurers. Axel receives a grave wound, but, at the end of the skirmish, there are six dead frogs. The party loots the bodies for a longsword and the small amount of gold that they have.

This was a fun little battle. The bulk of the Bullywugs charged the group from the east, cornering them in the stairwell chamber – the stairs leading up having been blocked by the goblins and those down flooded. During the fighting, a couple of the Bullywugs flanked the party by swimming through the flooded lower level and coming up the stairs. Fortunately, Ir’Alle was able to drop these attackers.

Fearing for their injured allies, the party decides to head back to a safe place to rest. On the way back to the Goblin leader’s room, the party regroups with the remainder of their allies in the large hall and the women they saved. Fires are built to protect us from any assault and Ir’Alle manages to call on the favor of his God, Xen’Teler, and heal Axel. However, soon after the party begins resting, a crossbow bolt is fired. One of our frog enemies pokes his head through the door leading eastwards, but quickly runs in fear. Guards are on red-alert for the rest of the night, but fortunately, no attack comes.

At this point, the Bullywugs have suffered serious casualties and the Devil Fish leading them is growing uneasy. They decide not to abandon the bathhouse just yet, though, preparing an ambush to the east. Not mentioned here is the fact that the party knew one more prisoner, a young woman recently married, is still in the hands of the Bullywugs. Their decision to rest before pushing forward leads to her death, which has unforeseen consequences that reverberate through many sessions and leads to political turmoil in the city above.

On the following day, the decision is finally made to go through the double doors through which the Frog-Man had poked his head. Upon entering, the party sees a large chamber complete with frescos (much more risqué than the previous ones encountered), deactivated Automatons, and the mutilated body of the prisoner who was missing from the cells. Due to of heat vision, the party is alerted to the presence of two enemies hidden behind the Automatons, who are quickly dealt with. Upon closer inspection of the Automatons, it is found that they are pretty much the same as the warrior contraptions that were encountered earlier, albeit much more fancy.

The mutilated body of the prisoner was arranged to catch the attention of the party as they entered – there was even a message scrawled on the floor in her blood about the group being too late. This was meant to distract the party’s attention and give the hidden enemies time to strike. The group was not distracted by this ploy.

With only one way to go, the group moved forward. Passing through the doors before them, they encounter the leader of the Bullywugs and three of his minions. However, there is also something in the water. This strange creature cast magical spells on the party freezing the paladin in place, and the party begins to fall like wheat before a scythe to the Bullywugs. The battle is long and gruesome, but ultimately the party of brave adventurers stands victorious over the ruin of their enemies. On the leader, the party finds a scroll, a flask, and five gems of stunning beauty. However, the victory was to be short lived. The creature in the water, a Devil Fish, that previously cast its vile magic upon the adventurers, returns — this time looking for the party’s help. There is a statue that it wanted, a strange stone carving standing beside the small pool of water. The creature claims that it houses the spirit of one of its ancestors, kept alive to guide his people through challenging times. If we help to move it, we can keep the gem in the statue. After much deliberation, Sthorm bravely drinks an elixir found on the body of the Bullywug leader (allowing underwater breathing) and dives into the depths.

[An early Hold Person spell from the Devil Fish (Ixitxachitl) almost turns this battle into a TPK, taking the party’s paladin and one of the dwarven warriors out of the fight. However, the Bullywug commander is distracted trying to push the strange statue into the water – which it fails to do – thereby giving the party time to pick off all the enemies without being overwhelmed. Ultimately, it turns out to be fortunate the paladin is incapacitated since the party is able to make a deal with the devil fish without dealing with his objections. This cooperation with the Devil Fish also has implications later in the campaign, opening up possible approaches to a future problem that would have not been available if they simply killed the creature.]

 

Sthorm brings the statue to where the Devil Fish requires it and gains a fist-sized gem in return. With our riches in hand and in the company of the freed prisoners, we leave the bathhouse battered and bruised. We returned to the goblin warren and leave with a small sack of supplies, the enchanted Morningstar named “Midnight Star”, and directions to the ancient dwarven tomb.

This was quite the treasure haul, easily providing enough funds via the gem to cover training costs for everyone who gained a level. In fact, the party never really found itself hurting for funds after this point, except for the occasional scramble to pool funds as training costs increased with level. The party soon finds out the gem is more than it seems to be, a fact that brings them quite a bit of attention from the city authorities (both good and bad).They also have the goblins’ blessing to pass through their warren and enter the tunnel leading to the ancient dwarven tomb – where they hope to find the mysterious key the dwarf Desric has hired them to recover.

Upon returning to the surface, the group manages to make a city guard suspicious, but they also manage to deliver the two women from the prison to their homes. Everyone agrees that the women will meet with the party on the following day to tell the tale of their kidnapping so that the adventurers can learn more of the Bullywugs’ plans. With that, the party retires to their townhouse for some much-needed rest.

Nothing else ever came of the Bullywugs – the remaining creatures fled with their Devil Fish master after the last battle and returned to the waters beyond the city via the sewer system. In fact, the Devil Fish has the party’s water-breathing thief maneuver the statue through a hole in the large chamber (hidden among the machines once used to heat the bath water) leading to the sewers. The meeting with the former prisoners and their families, though, does turn out to be important – especially the introduction of the dead prisoner’s bereaved husband.

Earlier this week, Richard LeBlanc shared his OSR time tracking tool on G+. It was an excellent resource, but not quite what I needed for my current campaign. Using his sheet as a model, though, I decided to create my own version optimized for dungeon exploration in the ongoing AD&D 1E campaign detailed elsewhere on this blog (I will likely create another specialized sheet the next time the group embarks on wilderness adventures). Creating the tracker specifically for my campaign allowed me to highlight those exploration activities I find myself most often needing to record as well as add sections for tracking rounds.

CurabelTimeTracker

Link to PDF: CurabelTimeTracker

Link to Adobe Illustrator File: Google Drive

Here is a quick explanation of the document’s contents:

  • The header allows the DM to record the date (both real and according to the in-game calendar), adventure location, and campaign session number. My own inclination is to use a new sheet each session. I make a quick G+ community post with various bookkeeping information the day after a session, and this tracker has already proven easier to use then tally marks on notebook paper (not to mention the greater granularity of information).
  • Below the header is the first major section of the sheet (each section being indicated by double horizontal lines). This first area is for recording the time spent on activities typically measured in turn increments. As with Richard’s sheet, I use six-piece pies (each representing one hour of in-game time divvied up into ten minute turns). However, instead of generic recording forms that could used for any activity, I went ahead and created dedicated subsections for the specific activities I tend to track: Exploration (i.e., movement), in-depth area searches, casual examination of areas, resting, treasure collecting, destroying doors, memorizing spells, ten round combats, and spells. A few of the activities I am less likely to mark as distinct activities are grouped based on the typical time they take to complete.
  • Next, the middle section of the sheet has areas to record activities that most often take place in increments of one round (i.e., minute) divvied up into blocks of ten — which would be equivalent to a pie slice in the upper area. I wanted somewhere to record this information in the tracker document because these one minute activities tend to add up but often happen in fractions of one turn. A great example of this are listening checks — if you have six rounds of combat and four listen checks spread across a four-hour gaming session, that’s equivalent to a turn and there should be an easy way to track that alongside those activities that are normally a full turn in length.
  • Finally, the bottom section of the document has places for recording the use of limited resources such as light, rations, water, and spells. Light and spells are setup to allow turn-based recording, while the rations and water are simple check-boxes since they are normally exhausted at a rate of one per day for each adventurer.

Fully aware that this document is derivative of Richard LeBlanc’s original and specialized to reflect the peculiarities of my campaign, I still hope there are some who find it useful.

Roman Bathhouse Mosiac

One of a number of mosaics that inspired my description of the dwarven bathhouse now occupied by warring factions of goblins and bullywugs.

[This is the fifth post in a series of session summaries (i.e., a play reports) for the first campaign I have run in the Curabel setting. Each summary was written by one of the players, but I am adding my own ‘DM Annotations’ on these write-ups before uploading them here. These annotations will mostly call attention to bits of the summaries that will be significant later in the campaign (with links to relevant summaries to follow as they are posted) or else explain my rational for my game-mastering choices.

Please note that the summary will be displayed as regular text and my annotations as block quotes throughout. Also, my original intention was to post my next random generator this week, but it needs a bit more polish. Sorry for the delay on that.]

Session 5: Wednesday, April 16, 2014

This is the second session summary written by Larry, who still plays the dwarven fighter Thorfus Ironhand. You can find his blog here: http://followmeanddie.com/.

After healing up several of our intrepid adventurers purchased lock boxes and hid them about the rented townhouse, each to store his loot. (It was determined that a 12″ x 6″ x 6″ lock box can hold 3024 coins at 7/cubic inch.). We then re-stocked oil and other supplies.

It may be worth noting that my campaign uses a house-ruled version of an encumbrance system that apparently has its origins in Lamentations of the Flame Princess (although I stole the idea from some intermediary blog). Items generally occupy one slot and a character’s allotment of slots are determined by both strength (1 backpack slot per point) and dexterity (1/2 quick inventory slot per point). 100 coins fill an inventory slot, so this chest has a capacity of 30 items. Incidentally, it’s funny that this particular session summary came up this week – one of the players asked after last week’s session (#93) to buy some large chests for his wagon and wanted to know how much they could hold. Somewhat miraculously, I came to the same basic conclusion.

Sthorm stopped an old woman on the street and asked about crime, and learned of the Mad Dogs, the local crime syndicate. They sell drugs and the son of one of the lords of the city recently died of a drug overdose. She pointed out that a lot of seedy types, who might be Mad Dogs, hung around the general store nearby.

As is often the case in AD&D, the party’s thief was the first one in need of finding a trainer for second level. This was the immediate impetus behind the group’s investigation of the local criminal element. Of course, I also used this opportunity to lay out another adventure hook – the young noble’s overdose – although the party never investigated that particular event any further.

Sthorm made contact with a member of the thieves’ guild, a woman named Adwissa who along with her husband runs the general store near our town house. The store is called Wright’s Mercantile. Sthorm learned that it was a good thing that we spared the lives of those who attempted to rob us on our first day in the city since they have some connection to the Mad Dog gang (which controls the thieves guild).

The opportunity to reward the party for their unorthodox decision to spare the lives of their would-be bandits was satisfying – although I would have been equally happy to complicate their search for trainers if they had done the natural thing and left their enemies to bleed out. In the end, the party discovered that Efam and Gartric were the illegitimate sons of some high-ranking member of the Mad Dogs but not who that person was in particular.

The entire party then went looking for Efam’s brother, Gartric. He was still convalescing at the small Ark Shrine. Galron preached the way of righteousness to him and seemed to make him think. Galron then healed him. Galron did cure disease on an old man, so if he had a disease, he does not now.

Contrary to appearances, Gartric was not swayed by the paladin’s preaching. He just thought it would be unwise to insult the warriors that kicked his behind, chose not to turn him over to the authorities, and even arranged for his healing.

We then went to the townhouse to rest for the return to adventure the next day.

We met up with Kottar and Sturloc the crossbowmen at the Flotsam and Jetsam, and located Kilmar the lantern bearer. Kilmar was all set to use his new trident to slay bullywugs, but Galron dissuaded him since he had no armor. Kottar and Sturloc wanted 5 gp for this day in the sewer instead of the normal 1gp. We made a deal of 1 gp now and 2 more gp each if we found treasure.

These three NPCs turned out to be very long-lived. Kottar and Sturloc are still with the party serving as hirelings while Kilmar left to become Galron the paladin’s squire when that character’s player decided to switch to a magic-user. For a while the party believed Kilmar died fighting an undead infestation in a small village (another adventure hook they ignored), but recently news arrived that he may be alive and a prisoner of dark elves – providing yet another hook, this time baited with the group’s feeling of obligation to their former lantern bearer.

We then went to the street in front of the university. The street was more deserted than normal due to rain. It is a cool 80 degrees.

When we got into the sewer, we noticed that the first chalk mark we found now had a big X over it and every chalk mark until we got to the wet slope where we tied off a rope to go down safely.

As a DM, I find that making slight changes to a dungeon/adventuring environment implying the interference of outside forces when the party returns after an absence can be very rewarding. Players often get into a mindset where they believe these locations, even if they are obviously dynamic, are self-contained and that each victory they achieve fills up a progress bar towards completion. The reality – or even just the possibility – that new challenges and opponents could wander into their playground makes it clear that these secret places are still part of a bigger world.

When we got to the big room with pillars where we met the goblins before, we say a pile of 6 dead bullywugs, and a dead half elf, gnome, and halfling. The goblins informed us that these new adventurers attacked them when the goblins asked if they were there to help fight bullywugs. The goblins thought they were us. The goblins killed three adventurers and captured two more. Then the bullywugs came, and the goblins did a number on them this time.

Here the group sees examples of dynamism in the dungeon environment itself (i.e., the war between the goblins and bullywugs doesn’t pause when they leave) and in how the dungeon environment interacts with the outside world (i.e., rival adventurers). Now, without imposing an arbitrary deadline for completing the adventure, the party naturally starts treating time as a limited resource – after all, if they waste too much of it, who knows what other new complications will arise?

There is a shaman type with the tattoos that looked like the ones that glowed on the one goblin and we learned can cause a big explosion when the goblin nears death.

A handy bit of information about the goblin shamans that the party was lucky to discover second-hand; of course, this also meant that their original mediator with the goblins was dead now, but the group still managed to convince the new shaman that they should be allowed to continue their mission.

We inquired after the two prisoners and learned that they were a half orc named Ermengarda and a gnome named Walteris, both fighters. These other adventurers were there at the behest of Talessin and were looking for stone blocks. They were reluctant to tell us what they were sent to find, but we told them we could not help them without information.

Again, the party is forced to deal with the consequences of their actions. In this case, that action was selling the gorilla corpse to Talessin and carelessly mentioning their discovery of an ancient dwarven bathhouse underneath the city. As a rival or their new employer (Desric the dwarf), Talessin immediately hired his own adventurers to swoop in and get the rewards – although that didn’t quite work out.

We convinced the two prisoners to help us kill bullywugs and the goblins reluctantly agreed, but they will not let any of us leave until the bullywug boss and the devil fish are dead.

The goody two-shoes paladin detected evil and learned that the half orc is evil but the gnome is not.

We got their weapons and armor from the goblins and headed back to the balcony.

The group is now a traditional first edition party with the hirelings and NPC associates equal in number to the actual player characters.

We went through the double doors into the big room and ran into two bullywugs that attacked, but we easily defeated them. During the fight, Sthorm attempted to hide in shadows and sneak behind them, but one of the bullywugs impaled him with a spear. Galron saved him before he expired and Ir’Alle healed him so that he is now under his own power.

There was a bullywug on the lower level between the stairs that the archers were shooting at, and one managed to hit it. Axel ran around to the north and came down the stairs and killed it. Axel lit a torch so that the crossbowmen can see to keep an eye on the double doors.

This time the party was ready to deal with the layout of this two-story chamber, rushing to secure its entirety and prevent the kind of flanking that hurt them during their last foray.

We searched the remaining rooms to the south on the upper level and learned that they are saunas.

We came down the southern stairs and worked our way around the south wall and found a door in the middle of the east wall and it opened to a room with some blocked stairs to the north, and a door to the south. There was a bullywug guard in the middle of the room. It was surprised and bolted to the door on the south and pounded on it. We swarmed it and Axel took it down.

We opened the door and met a bullywug. We slew him and discovered a key around his neck. There were four locked doors in this hallway. We opened them. One held a dead man, we later learned was David. Two were empty. The last room held an older woman and a girl, Jocassa and Em. One of the empty cells held another woman, Kaitlyn, but she must be with the bullywugs being tortured. Jocassa said that they were taken from the canals and had been there several days, but not weeks.

This introduced another group of important NPCs, although only Em still figures into the game these days. The party was clearly delighted at being able to rescue innocents, which was good information for me to have as DM in terms of anticipating what kinds of adventures hooks the group was likely to pursue.

Jocassa told us of an opening in the NW corner of the lower level of the big room hidden behind some junk. She also told us of an idol that the big bullywug keeps with him. It is evil and spoke to her mind. It told her that all land dwellers must suffer the wrath of Lysander, the sea deity that embodies the fickle and violent nature of the sea. This deity is usually worshiped by pirates, etc. She also said that the devil fish spoke to her mind in the same way.

This new information about the devil fish and their goals continues to build on information from the very first scene of the first session of play when the party’s boat encountered a ship sunk by devil fish on its way into Midmark harbor. What was previously a general threat to the city now seems a much more real and personal now that the group has rescued NPCs who suffered because of these creatures.

We sent the women upstairs to one of the sauna rooms on the south with Walteris the gnome to guard them since the goblins won’t let us leave.

We then went to the opening behind the junk. Sthorm found a set of chimes set as an alarm, but easily removed them. We moved the junk, which was placed for ease of moving to cover or uncover a 5′ opening.

Thorfus lead the way and we found that it became a standard ten foot passageway, leading to a four-way intersection. To the east and west were doors. To the north is what could be a room.

We elected to go to the door to the west and found a lone bullywug with a glaive guarding a junk-filled stairway going up and a flooded stairway going down. Axel and Thorfus charged in but failed to hit it. Ir’Alle stepped into block the water filled stairway. After much thrashing about, the bullywug wounded Thorfus, but Thorfus cleaved it’s skull in twain.

Naturally, next session will include some Bullywugs flanking the party using a flooded lower-level of the bathhouse (where the heating mechanism for the pools were located) and climbing up the submerged stairs. The party was not completely surprised by that development, though, showing that they are beginning to consider the strategic opportunities and threats built into a dungeon’s layout.

We then heard the sound of approaching bullywugs from the norther passage of the junction.

Will our adventurers prevail? Will the bullywugs bully their way to supremacy? Tune in next week for more of the exciting adventures of our heroes.

It’s nice when you can end on a cliffhanger like this.

So far, we have killed six bullywugs, rescued two adventurers and two female commoners, and only two party members have been wounded. One of the wounded was knocked down, but has been healed enough to be mobile.