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 (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.


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:

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.

Carnivorous Ape (AD&D 1E Monster Manual)

Carnivorous Ape (AD&D 1E Monster Manual)

[This is the fourth 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 Four

This game summary was written by Riese, who played the paladin Galron at this point in the campaign. Ninety-four sessions on, he’s still involved with the campaign, having just moved on to his third character (his second having fused itself with a giant mechanical worm that makes it difficult for him to continue traveling with the party).

The party was a bit smaller today at least in terms of minds.

Although I cannot recall the exact circumstances, I believe he is referring to one of the players missing the session and the impacted character being present but largely inactive.

We started off by going further into Kermit the Killer Frog’s lair, our light source dimly lighting a large open space (Kilmar the young hireling holds the lantern). The party notices they are on a balcony that has a river of sewage falling from it to a pool below and more croaking can be heard coming from the darkness.

Having the main entrance to the bullywug lair be on a balcony overlooking a large room with a central pool, two staircases to the lower level, and multiple exits was a conscious decision. As with the layout of Talessin’s tower in the earlier session, the idea was to provide interesting tactical choices to the group that wouldn’t be possible in the average 10’ wide corridor.

Soon, a weird shadow is spotted against one of the balcony’s walls – and reveals itself to be another vicious frog-creature. Galron charges and attacks it. He is joined swiftly by Thorfus who lands a hit. Galron, however, consistently fails to injure the creature. Axel also valiantly attacks with his axe. The battle creates a commotion, and soon more frogs are coming towards the party. Ir’alle, guarding the party’s flank, puts down one of the new frogs but it is clear we will be outnumbered soon …

The grim and desperate nature of low-level combat in early (A)D&D is illustrated nicely here. The Bullywugs, with their enhanced hiding ability and leap attacks, are the perfect enemy to exploit the layout of this chamber. Of course, part of the reason I like this kind of desperate combat is the sudden turnarounds in fortune that become possible when players are smart and lucky …

… HOWEVER GALRON’S FIRST KILL HAPPENS MOMENTS LATER! Thorfus murders a frog man, as well, followed soon after by Axel. Finally, Ir’alle scares off the remaining two by loudly proclaiming his faith! Unfortunately, Sthorm suffered a permanent injury … sorry about that …

Characters reduced to -6 or lower hit points are required to roll on a “permanent” injury table. The results indicate what part of the body is injured and are tied to ability score decreases and/or loss of limb use. I believe in having consequences when bad things happen and this house rule allows for that  However, the penalty doesn’t necessary need to last forever, so players are allowed to make a system shock roll a random number of weeks after the injury to recover completely.

A short while later, Thorfus kicks in a door and scares some goblins guarding the back entrance to their area of the bathhouse. After that, he locates the goblin chief’s old room and the party goes in search of loot. The party finds a large amount of it thanks to Thorfus and his dwarven stone-cunning ability. There is a wonderful amount of silver and one beautiful blue gem…

The treasure was hidden underneath one of the floor stones, a fact suggested by the odd arrangement of furniture in the chief’s abandoned room. Discovering the loot involved a nice mix of player skill (recognizing that the furniture arrangement was significant) and character skill (using the dwarven ability to recognize new stonework).

The party decides to retreat back to the surface after that haul. On the way, Thorfus beats the stuffing out of a carnivorous ape … but, THEN GALRON DEALS THE KILLING BLOW!! HIS 2ND KILL!!!!! Thorfus, however, was knocked down and needed to be carried out of the sewer (forcing the party to leave some treasure for retrieval later). We did get a bit lost in the tunnels but eventually found the ladder. Galron and Axel went to retrieve the loot, discovering that some guys in rags were messing with our coin, The two easily scare them off and take the ape’s corpse as well as the loot back to the ladder.

Another example of how dynamic a game can be when the DM trusts the dice. Even one carnivorous ape represents a potential TPK for a first-level party with injuries, but the random encounter roll indicated that one had found the party. A combination of low random hit points and lucky attacks, though, turned what could have been a disaster into another moment of heroism. The effects of enforcing my house-ruled encumbrance system are seen here, too, and almost result in the loss of the party’s loot to some sewer-dwelling beggars (almost indicated by a random encounter roll).

Back on the surface, the party sells the ape’s corpse for 300gp to Talessin. Later, at the Cock and Bull Inn, Ir’alle confronts an old man rambling on about the secret police and its excesses … Ir’Alle asks the man about the so-called Greycloaks and then pays him 2 silver to keep his mouth shut. The party retires to rest after splitting a total of 580 in both experience and gold.

After a successful delve, the party can now enjoy their rest and rewards. Of course, the throwaway bit about Midmark’s secret police (Greycloaks) will wind up having implications in future sessions …

Map of Paris (1569)

Map of Paris (1569)

When running city-based adventures, players will often ask NPCs for directions to random establishments that probably do not warrant a keyed location on your map prior to the question being asked (e.g., a random blacksmith, general store, inn, or bookseller). At that point, it is helpful to have some pre-canned directions to provide based on how rare the type of establishment they are trying to find is. I have uploaded a script to this site (available via the link or the menu below the site banner) that allows the user to pick the number of direction sets to generate and how many districts the city contains (although these can be quarters, neighborhoods, etc.). I should note one important debt: the descriptive content of the script is based on a blog post at Blog of Holding.

Here is how to use the direction sets generated by this script:

  1. It is assumed you already have: A city map indicating districts (or equivalent), each having at least one marked/named street
  2. When the players ask a NPC for directions, use the next set on the list you pre-generated.
  3. Determine (based on your campaign type, city size, etc.) whether the location sought is a common, rare, or unique location. Check the results to see if the location is in the current district or another as described in the entry. Technically, you could use the script for a single district city (just choose two districts from the drop-down and ignore district indications).
  4. The first direction entry in the result tells you how many blocks down the relevant district’s main street before the first turn in the directions. If you have more than one main street, role to determine which is being referenced; also either make a judgment call or roll to determine direction along street for block-counting purposes).
  5. Next, there is an indication of which direction the turn is off of that main street.
  6. There are then separate indications of how many blocks on the side streets and the number of turns (these details should be improvised and noted for later reference; ignore these if they don’t make sense given the nature of your city).
  7. Finally, there are a couple of short phrases to add some unique descriptive flourishes to the final location.

I hope some other DMs/GMs find this useful; let me know about any problems with the script and I will make corrections.

Final Note: The version of the script on this site is designed for pseudo-medieval/medieval settings (although it may work in other time periods). I will be releasing the source code to all my generators sometime this year, though, and it should be trivial for those familiar with coding to swap out the descriptions to better match their setting at that point.

Despite appearances, this blog is not dead and I will be posting regularly again shortly. This week there will be a new random generator for city directions (i.e., the party wants some mundane shop and you need to tell them how to get there) and then I will post the next entry in the session reports — we’re now up to 90 four-hour sessions (!) and beginning the campaign’s third calendar year (soon to be second year of play). Sorry for the long absence — if there’s anyone who cares — but I will always prioritize my DM responsibilities and sometimes that means this blog will suffer.

[This is the third post in a series of session summaries (i.e., a play report) 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 Three

Bullywugs, by pachycrocuta-d51ltb8

Bullywugs, by pachycrocuta-d51ltb8

It’s my turn to recap, so here we go!

This summary was written by Antony, who still plays the dwarf fighter Axel. He did not have much tabletop RPG experience, but picked it up very fast. This ability to pickup the game so quickly is especially noteworthy because he lives in England and plays from 1am to 5am his time and has rarely missed sessions.

We continue where we left off, outside of Desric’s shop after collecting the reward for handing him the plans to Talessin’s automatons. He told the party to go and see Elspeth [the proprietor] at the Cock & Bull.

All the names of NPCs and establishments in the City of Midmark were generated using a variety of random tables and scripts, most of which have now been posted to this blog.

Primarily, this happened one of two ways: for NPCs and places I know will be significant (or at least mentioned), I do the generation beforehand and flesh out some further unique details – this was the case for Elspeth and the Cock & Bull. For ‘surprise’ NPC appearances, like the random encounter with Ede Kynge mentioned in the next paragraph, I create large text files consisting of hundreds of NPC records. In that case, I just grabbed the first likely entry, which happened to be for a lamp maker. Alternately, though, I will take just the name and description of a random NPC from my list when the party seeks out a specific vendor or other individual (e.g., they want to find a locksmith, which shouldn’t be impossible in a large city, and I don’t have that specific NPC type at hand).

Before head over to the Inn, Galron stops an older man, hoping to procure a map of the city. The man, Ede Kynge, tells us that we are currently in the Adventurer’s Quarter, and that we can basically find anything we need along the main road here, West Copper Street. A paper market and bazaar are back towards the harbour, and Threehorn Way, an alleyway next to Desric’s shop, has an Alchemist’s.

Kynge, the proprietor of ‘Kynge’s Lanterns’, also urges Galron to try his shop as the Paladin is looking for a custom lamp. Further conversation reveals Talessin’s supposed involvement with foreign contacts, strongly hinted to be elves and perhaps not a good thing.

The party misread Kynge’s hints here – which were aimed at Talessin’s Imperial connection, although there was no reason for me to correct their mistake. The NPC, certainly, would be reticent to make such an inflammatory claim about a well-known wizard any more explicit.

After this, the party enters the Cock & Bull, where we find Elspeth the landlady. She doesn’t seem to think much of us, apparently having seen many a group in the employ of Desric, but offers us the townhouse behind the Inn, which we can rent for 30 Gold a month. The house, though sparsely decorated, is often used by adventurers helping Desric.

While renting rooms at an inn would have been adequate and within the party’s means, I thought it would help the group view Midmark as their ‘home’ if they had a more private (and somewhat more permanent) residence. At the same time, in more practical terms, having them rent a house also meant that NPCs hunting for the group could more easily track them down.

After some discussion, the party decides to trial it for a single night, paying a single gold (though Axel elects to stay in the Inn due to a lack of beds).

After a quick tour, Axel and Galron head out to run some errands, whilst the rest of the party stays at the Inn.

In this time, Ir’Alle approaches an elder elf, a sage called Ferri. He learns the location of a House of the Brotherhood [the temple for clerics of Xen’Teler, the dwarven deity], down at the harbour. In asking for people of importance in Midmark, he learns that Ferri is not a friend of Desric’s and suspects the Dwarf may be a supporter of the unease in the city towards its authorities.

This is an explicit reference to the tension between native islanders and colonial humans in Midmark. Ferri, whose mother killed herself after a long imprisonment by imperials prior to the liberation of the islands, is a strong advocate of the colonial aristocrats and their institutions – a ‘law and order’ type who sees any sacrifice of liberties as justified to prevent the return of the empire; Desric, on the other hand, is more understanding of the grievances of the native islanders (based partly on his research into the ancient dwarven empire’s treatment of their underclass as mentioned below).

Outside, Axel and Galron head first to the Alchemist’s. The shop is closed, but the owner, a rather attractive Halfling lady, humours us. Axel enquires after healing potions, but they are too expensive for the party to currently buy (450g each). The Alchemist begins to get annoyed, but calms down when we reveal our naiveté of such things, being new adventurers.

I tend to agree with DMs critical of ‘Magic Shops’ as something that cheapens the fantastical element of settings. There are always those who will purchase artifacts and magical items, collectors or various sorts and researchers, but having such items on shelves for the public to pick over seems wrong. However, I exempt from this items that could be explained via other means – like healing potions whose efficacy depends on alchemy rather than magic. These things are still expensive given the rare ingredients and secret knowledge needed to produce them, but they are completely natural phenomena.

We then head to the local Ark, whereby Galron donates a portion of his earnings to a friendly female cleric, hoping to secure discounted healing for the future. Axel matches the donation as a show of goodwill.

Back at the Inn, Thorfus asks a blacksmith [drinking in the common room] about acquiring better armour. The smith, Tylic Eraclid, admits he can only really do repairs, but recommends an elven armourer, Orsabet, down by the bridge.

I know some DMs and players look at this kind of ‘shopping simulation’ and see a giant waste of time. However, my experience is that when this type of play is used strategically, it enhances the players sense that they are dealing with a living world rather than a convenient backdrop for their heroics. Sometimes it is enough to tell players they can buy anything in the PHB for a 5% markup from nearby vendors (usually after they have already become acquainted with a city or town), but, as any traveler knows, shopping can be an adventure in itself and tell you quite a bit about a location. By the time they left Midmark, this group had a mental map key neighborhoods in the city and a list of contacts they could ask about items recovered in their adventurers — they treated it like a lived in place rather than a menu.

Sthorm also approaches Ferri, asking the Sage to appraise the book and wand he ‘acquired’ in secret from Talessin’s tower. He is unable to identify the wand, guessing that it could be defensive in nature. The book, he identifies for 70g, and cautiously reveals it to be a basic spell book, and offers to buy it for 270g. Sthorm keeps it for now.

The next morning, Axel ribs Galron about his actions towards the various women the previous day. Although he claims he is just trying to haggle and charm, we all know the young Paladin is a horny teenager. Axel offers to take him to a brothel, but he declines.

The party returns to Desric, where he offers us a job. After some bad luck, a party he sent to Xen’Khel half a year ago went missing. They had been on a mission to open a previously locked up area, but their disappearance destroyed any hope of finding it, as they had the only known key. Desric’s research turned up a second key though, and, several weeks ago, he sent Galdor’s Free Company to collect it from a tomb deep beneath the University in Midmark.

These paragraphs describe the moment when I introduced a rather big adventure hook – one that would eventually bring the party to the nearest mega-dungeon (the Xen’Khel ruin mentioned here). As the game approaches eighty sessions, the party is still dealing with the fallout of their acceptance of this job.

It is significant, though, that the hook actually consists of two parts – a starter dungeon located inside the current city and the mega-dungeon of Xen’Khel. That was purposeful and accomplished two things: first, it made the mission seem doable to the group despite their low level; second, it provided a natural place for a break from dungeon-delving between the starter and mega dungeons if they grew tired of that activity.

The tomb, a remnant of the ancient Dwarven city Midmark is built upon, is supposedly that of a high-ranking family. Galdor’s men managed to locate it, but turned back after they lost a man to trap.

Desric says that if we can finish the job, he would pay us 200g for the key, giving us looting rights to anything else we may find. The key is a disc, roughly 1’ in diameter, engraved with Ancient Dwarven runes. It is likely buried with the family matriarch. He gives us directions to the tomb, and also tells us that Galdor is staying at the Flotsam and Jetsam, near the harbour, should we need any more information.

Having some adventurers the party could pump for information before beginning their quest turned out to be a very good idea. When I ran this starter dungeon the second time, the group ignored this lead and had a much rougher time of things initially because they found themselves walking into the middle of a complex situation with no clues.

Sthorm privately asks Desric as we leave if he wants the book or wand, but the dwarf can only offer 50g for the un-appraised wand.

Following the main road towards the harbour, we stop of at Orsabet’s, where Thorfus commissions some chainmail, to be ready later that evening.

At Kynge’s Lanterns, Galron purchases a hooded lantern, made to hang from a pole, and several flasks of oil.

Next, the party stops at the paper market, where Sthorm seeks out a mage called Velten. He exchanges the spell book in order to get the wand appraised. Velten identifies it as a Wand of Magic Detection, and despite having minimal remaining charges, is probably worth 1000g or so.

The rest of the party finds Garviso, who sells maps, from which we purchase maps of the city and the island of Curmidden.

The group caught me a bit unprepared here – I hand-draw all my maps and didn’t have any scanned copies to share immediately. In addition, the city map contained a bit too much information and needed to be redone for their consumption. Since we were playing online, it wasn’t possible to scribble something for reference while they waited, so I apologized and promised to upload the documents to our campaign’s G+ community page during the upcoming week (which I did).

Ir’Alle takes us then to the House of the Brotherhood to pay his respects. The dwarven cleric he speaks to seems to have heard of him, as a human in a dwarven religion is a bit of an oddity. When asked if Ir’Alle can offer any assistance, the dwarf asks that we see if we can uncover a missing group of surveyors, patrons of the House, lost in a swamp near the city of Vargen.

Although I thought the starter dungeon was the natural next step for the group, the campaign is not a railroad and it was important for me that they had other choices. This adventure hook gave them another choice, although they never followed up on it.

After asking for further directions, we reach the Flotsam and Jetsam. Enquiring after Galdor, the man is brought to us. When asked about the tomb, he tells us it is dangerous, and it is probably better not to go at all. His group, although used to lighter work, are veterans, but they still lost a man to a revolving floor trap.

Further questioning reveals that they had to drive out a Goblin settlement in order to get to the tomb and that their path was marked in chalk, denoted by the initials GFC. He also claims the tomb was weird, full of odd stains and strange noises.

Understanding the significance of the chalk marks and not being surprised by the goblins’ presence were the big advantages of the party speaking with Galdor. The latter fact was probably especially important to making the party’s deal with the goblins possible and letting them avoid an unnecessary fight.

The party decides to spend the rest of the day preparing. We hire a pair of crossbowmen on Galdor’s recommendation, Sturloc and Kottar. The barkeep also points us towards an eager young boy, Kilmar, who we hire to be a torchbearer. Galron promises to buy the boy a proper weapon after the mission.

The party’s first hirelings! While my games as a teenager rarely (if ever) involved hirelings, I wanted this campaign to be a more authentic 1E AD&D experience in this regard – fortunately, some of the more experienced players already understood the benefits of hirelings. These two crossbowmen have been with the party ever since (although one has been possessed by an ancient Devil Fish spirit for the last twenty or so sessions) and the original players are very attached to them despite the fact that they rarely contribute except as treasure bearers. Kilmar’s fate, on the other hand, was not as fortunate.

Returning to Desric, the dwarf admits the tomb possibly could have automated guardians and strong magical protections and traps. In this time, Sthorm sells Desric the wand for a large sum. After Thorfus collects his armour, the party stays again at the Cock & Bull, finally deciding to rent the house for a month.

The next day, we meet the hired help at the sewer entrance, supplying Kilmar with a lantern and a backpack. Entering the sewer, the party finds itself in a chamber housing the remnants of Galdor’s camp, denoted by GFC C1/30.09 written on the wall. Following the only tunnel in single file, we head roughly south, following further chalked signs and descending deeper until we find a cave-in mentioned by Galdor.

Climbing down a steep incline, we see the beginning of the ruins, with what looks to be the mosaic walls of a dwarven bathhouse. The party notes the smell of salt water and something else more foul. Entering a large chamber, we can hear the sound of falling water, and (momentarily) the keen of what could be a wounded animal. Opening a door, Goblins suddenly appear behind the group, brandishing weapons and calling for us to leave.

The summary here glosses over the details, but I used these mosaics (and other architectural features of the bathhouse) to begin establishing the nature of the ancient dwarven empire. Primarily, I wanted it to be clear to the group that those dwarves used humans (and perhaps other races) as slave labor and had little respect for their dignity. This speaks to the importance, I think, of making sure important clues are repeated to emphasize their significance — as later comments reveal, the repetition of the motifs in the mosaics elsewhere eventually caught the party’s attention.

The goblin speaking members of the party manage to talk to the Goblin leader, discovering that we were thought to be Galdor’s men returning to finish them off. Because of this, and the loss of several warriors, the goblin tribe had lost its home to a band of ‘Frogs’, led by the ‘Bad Fish’.

This would be a large group of Bullywugs led by a Devil Fish. As mentioned in my notes on the first session, I had already established the threat posed by the Devil Fish via the wrecked ship encountered as the party entered the city. Meanwhile, I decided to use some of the racial notes on Bullywugs published on Hack & Slash’s blog, making them misogynistic sadists. Hack & Slash’s ecology piece on Ixitxachitl also figured into my conception of the Devil Fish.

After some discussion, the Goblins agree to let us into the tomb, but only if we help them retake their home in the main bathhouse from the Frogs. Following the leader into a smaller chamber, a second band appears from the room we tried to enter, effectively surrounding us.

The Goblin tells us how they have blocked most of the passages after several skirmishes, trying to force the Frogs into attacking from only a single direction. If we attack the Frogs, the Goblins will unblock one of those passages and ambush them from behind. In this time, we see another room with mosaic’s depicting the place of humans in the ancient dwarven kingdoms, that of possibly slaves and servants.

Here it starts to become clear to the players that they cannot make assumptions about who is an ally or enemy based solely on alignment – it’s probably also true that this is when the Galron the paladin’s player began to consider rolling an alternate character. I would not have actually penalized his character in this case — allying with the goblins served a greater good — but it’s possible he saw this situation as indicative of future problems.

As mentioned earlier, this is also where the benefit of repeating important facts/hints is made evident – the subject matter of the initial mosaics did not make enough of an impression for inclusion the summary, but the repetition of the theme caught Antony’s attention here.

We decide to assist the Goblins, and the leader takes us to a set of double doors to the East, following the flow of water. At the door, Galron sense evil beyond, and we push them open to reveal a balcony from which the water falls [into a pool in the large room below]. Upon the balcony, a rather crude and disgusting statue made from the body parts of slain Goblins sits directly in front of the doors along with a Frog.

The first evidence of the Bullywugs’ sadism in the form of some (goblin) body horror.

We attack it instantly, and, after a few seconds of struggle, the Goblin leader caves the creature’s head in with his morningstar. During the scuffle, Galron is able to detect the Goblins alignment. The Goblin turns out to be evil, rendering the paladin unable to assist it in any way, for fear of losing his powers.

At the beginning of the next session, this goblin will leave to accommodate the paladin’s restrictions, although the indirect help provided by the goblin’s flank attack goes ahead (with no penalty to Galron).

We end the session stuck with that dilemma, hearing a final croak from the darkness in the room beyond.

A little bit of a cliff-hanger to end the party’s first real dungeon-delve session.

"Feiernde Bauern" ("Celebrating Peasants"), artist unknown, 18th or 19th century

“Feiernde Bauern” (“Celebrating Peasants”), artist unknown, 18th or 19th century

Today I have posted a new Perl script to my blog that will generate hundreds of random non-leveled (i.e., commoner) NPCs in a plain text file, including basic physical characteristics, psychological features, and information about employment (the script is available here and from the header menu above). The program is a companion piece to the leveled NPC generation script previously published on this blog. While that script was for creating rival NPC parties and the like, this one is primarily for generating NPCs to drop into your campaign whenever your players drop into their local tavern to collect rumors or stop a random passerby on a city street.

Notes and Caveats:

  1. It would be remiss on my part if I didn’t acknowledge the influence on this script of Richard J. LeBlanc Jr.’s NPC generation charts in his D30 Sandbox Companion publication. I strongly recommend clicking that link and buying all of his D30 products in both PDF and print (the latter available here).
  2. There is one more NPC generator script yet to be uploaded: one that generates the entire population of various types of city districts including both leveled and non-leveled NPCs and using some of the demographic assumptions introduced in third edition Dungeons and Dragons. I will post that within the next month or so (it needs a bit more polish).