https://campaignwiki.org/rpg/ This page lists the most recent journal entries related to role-playing games (RPG). There are some more pages on the related German page (Rollenspiele).

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Free games I wrote:

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2020-08-05 Episode 32

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Talking about how I misused a basilisk once and how I want to use it instead: like a terrible tank weapon, poisonous, with harsh save or die effects so that lateral thinking is required to get rid of it.



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2020-08-04 Combat posture

Today I had an interesting interaction with Pepe Andre on Discord. We were talking about combat maneuvers. You know my stance. When Pepe Andre said that they wished they had a fast rule for knocking torches out of hands, for example, I said my rule would be: nobody knocks torches out of Conan’s hands while he still has hit points.

It does make for (faster but) boring fights, but that suits me fine: the interesting question should be how to avoid a fight, or how to make it very short, not how to make it interesting. If we make it more interesting, it’s going to take even longer.

Pepe Andre then said they still like tactical decision that go beyond movement and positioning. A fair point! But perhaps there are different solutions to satisfy this desire. What if players and enemies could decide upon one single posture at the beginning of the fight?

Brom says: “This fight I’m going all-out.” We look at our list of RPG postures and find that “all-out” means +2 to hit and -2 to AC, for the entire fight. If that makes the fight shorter, great. If that makes the fight riskier, great.

Lydia says: “This fight I’m going to harass the steel agent in order to make an opening for Olga.” We look at our list of RPG postures and find that “distracting enemies” means you roll to hit AC 9 and if you make it, the partner you named at the beginning of the fight gets +1 to hit and +1 to damage, and the distracted party gets -1 to hit and -1 to damage. Could be important against well armored opponents? Then again, we need to compare this to flaming oil, where successfully throwing it at somebody (ranged attack to hit AC 9?) does 1d8 damage now and 1d8 next round, so that explains why there’s quite a bit going on.

In any case, writing up such a list of postures could be interesting. Something cool to share with friends, something that colours the fights at your table, something to highlight how rogues actually cooperate on the battlefield.

All you need to do is explain to your players that you want combat to be fast and furious and that it’s hard to adapt tactics and it would take forever at the table so let’s just do it once per fight, when we start.

What do you think?

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2020-08-04 A role-playing game for kids

Somebody wondered what to play with their kids. They said: “even simple D&D is complex … They want gratification with minimal effort.” Fair enough! So do I. 😅

I’d suggest Lasers & Feelings, or variants thereof. There are super simple: you have two stats that are connected: lasers or feelings, sorcerer or sellsword, and you pick a number between 2 and 5 for where you are on the scale between the two. Thus, if you are Spock, pick 5. On a test, roll a d6 and see on which side it lands on: for Spock, a result of 1–4 means a success when using lasers, a result of 6 means a success when using feelings, and a result of 5 means you get a special insight. There are many variants of this game, they vary in the two attributes they pick, and the adventure and setting guidelines. Most of them are one page affairs.

If the kids are older and they want D&D, switch to a version from the eighties: Moldvay’s Basic D&D, or Old School Essentials, or Basic Fantasy RPG. These games have elves, dwarves, halflings, magic users, fighters, thieves, red dragons, orcs, a cover showing a dragon, Moldvay’s Basic D&D even says Dungeons & Dragons on the cover, and all of them are simpler than D&D 5E.

If it doesn’t have to be D&D, then use something like Lady Blackbird, or Classic Traveller.

Lady Blackbird has single page character sheets that include all of the rules, and premade characters, and some adventure suggestions. Just keep adding to the setting and you should be good to go for a long campaign, or run a tight ship and you can play through it in one session. Up to you.

Classic Traveller is the classic sandbox: generate a subsector, think of some patrons and quests, factions, enemies and potential allies, and go.

What do you or would you play with kids?

Links to pages on this blog:

Links to elsewhere on the web:

Links to web applications:

Hex Describe is particularly well suited for classic D&D and old school variants like Moldvay’s Basic D&D, Old School Essentials, or Halberds & Helmets.

Comments on 2020-08-04 A role-playing game for kids

On Mastodon, I got a few more suggestions!

@urbanfuzzy suggested Hero Kids. “Simple D6 system that you can throw most stories at.”

@Whidou suggested Searchers of the Unknown, and Dungeon Romp. For younger audiences they also liked The Supercrew, “because it lets them draw their own super-hero. Dead simple rules and short games too.” And Pirates! Apparently it’s for cool for kids and beginners, “even if you may want to tone done the killing and drinking a bit.” 😅

@JasonT suggested Amazing Tales and said “my friend loved playing Amazing Tales with his 4 year old.”

My experience with very young kids at the table is that they usually just try to draw whatever is happening and their parents roll dice and decide what happens, but if this game manages to pull a four year old kid in, then that’s great!

– Alex

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2020-07-30 The Mines of Chillhame

I’ve dropped the ball on D&D for far too long. Let’s get back to it. We’re reading The Gathering Storm by Adrian Bott, for D&D 3.5, with an eye to running it using Halberds & Helmets. Chillhame is the first adventure, part two, where the player characters get to explore some stuff underground.

One hook for the part are missing children. Who doesn’t want to rescue missing children? As a player, I recognise a plot hook when I see one. There’s also John’s tomb, which might possible have his magic sword. The tomb has a missing words puzzle. I’m not so sure how I’d run it. In D&D 3.5 you would use the Decipher Script skill. But taking your time to carefully clean the tombstone also reveals everything. Not much of a puzzle, I guess? I like the thought, though.

There are two hobgoblin tribes in the area and there’s signs of combat near the tomb. This is good. One thing leads to another. With various skills checks players can discover the thing you want them to discover anyway: two trails, a woodland trail and a hill trail.

The woodland trail leads to a hobgoblin camp. The hobgoblins drawings are cool, they look like tattooed punk biker hobgoblins. There are traps guarding the camp, so it pays to approach it carefully. This is the camp of Split Ear and his eight hobgoblins, plus some non-combatant hobgoblins (children). I wonder whether I’d use them. Are hobgoblins mythical monsters, grown from rotten trunks and mud pits, or are they simply humans under another name? I don’t know. I think I’d run them as tattooed punk biker humans. And so I’ll have to make plans for players trying to resolve the situation: the hobgoblins are acting like bandits, do the get hanged? What about the hobgoblin children? Is there at least the option of settling them somewhere? Giving them control over the old mill after kicking out Jim Oakenbough? This is going to be a tough one.

Once the players go to the mine, I like how Jim Oakenbough shows up again and tries to intimidate them. And if you return from the mines, he’ll try to kill you.

And with that we get to the mines!

The mines are under the control of the second hobgoblin tribe, the Talks-with-Fists band. There are side entrances, a grate covering a ventilation shaft, a test shaft, there are tracks to find, and empty bottles in the buildings outside. I like how there’s a hobgoblin drunkard right at the beginning who can be questioned.

The mine has a mine cart that works! Yay!

I don’t like how some of the references here are wrong. The ventilation shaft ends in area 4 on the map but the text says area 6. The mine cart says that the path it takes depends on the setting in area 7, which say south, which the map says is area 9, but the text says area 5. What is going on, here? But worse: those extra entrances don’t help the party sidestep anything. That’s why I’d ignore them.

Similarly, I don’t think there’s much of a point to the spider encounter. Drop it.

So here’s I think what we need:

  • traces of Jim’s activity, the bottles in the building
  • tracks leading into the mine
  • the drunkard sleeping near the entrance
  • the mine cart as a trap and a cool visual
  • a camp with three hobgoblins
  • the room where the kids were kept previously, including the markings they left
  • the ghost, because it draws the party further in
  • the lift shaft, because of the cool visual

I’m not sure how to explain the shaft, though: the hobgoblins on the lower level seem to have no way back up unless somebody pulls them up in the lift? That’s not a smart position to be in. I’d probably add at least a ladder inside the shaft and maybe the lift is permanently broken, lying down there, smashed?

Anyway, at this point we have three things pointing to the next level: the remaining hobgoblins, the kids, and the ghost.

The second level of the dungeon is flooded mine tunnels, which is excellent visuals as anybody who has seen Aliens knows.

Down here are two hobgoblins standing guard in 13d which isn’t on the map. Oh well. And then there’s the boss, with two more hobgoblins, and some hobgoblin children.

Finally, two things to discover: diving under water to find the last child in a cul-de-sac, and the weakened wall that allows players to break through into the actual underworld. There’s Grobni the Surveyor, a duergar.

I wonder how to run a duergar in combat with their ability to enlarge themselves. Do I recompute the stats on the fly? How did the old editions handle that. In the AD&D monster manual it says they can also enlarge themselves. Weird.

Returning to the surface and warning the village of the invasion to come is cool but I think we’d also need to add a bit of dungeon material just in case the players go investigating. They need to see more than just a door that’s magically locked. How did Grobni expect to get back? Can’t he open the door? I’m sure he can! The players need to see those duergar barracks, I think.

Well, and there you have it. We’ve reached pages 45 and 46 with a discussion of the aftermath: how the villagers are going to react, how to push them to evacuate, how to proceed if the players are going to warn the rest of the kingdom, and so on.

I think at this point I should have a pretty good plan set up on how to drive the players before the army if they refuse to do what the text implies: take the evidence to Saragost and warn the villages along the way.

That’s the next chapter: Raising the Alarm.


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2020-07-30 Drifting without a campaign

Things are still up in the air. We played two sessions of Finsterland. We’ll play the end of the second intro adventure next time, and possibly start with the creation of characters for Katzhulhu/Cathulhu. I was hoping that these weeks without having to referee would recharge my batteries. I’d be reading The Drow War and be enthused about an invasion from evil spider elves from the depths of the earth. But… not yet. No yet.

I’m starting to get that familiar feeling where I’m reading a ton of pages, I’ve reached page 117, started skimming the house of the Colombe Mansion, and… I don’t know. Nothing. I don’t feel excited about running this.

So now what. As far as I remember my creativity isn’t good when “powering through.” Excitement doesn’t come with hard work. So I could turn to Hex Describe. That always seems to work because it’s open ended, the stuff requires me to connect the dots, so to speak, and that’s an initial form of engagement, at least. And then I’m slowly drawn in.

Alternatively, I’m still fascinated by Silent Titans. I’m easily influenced I fear and now that I’ve read “The Ramanan Sivaranjan Awards for Excellence in Gaming 2020” mentioning Silent Titans, I’m once again interested.

Here’s what he says:

The world Patrick describes and Dirk illustrates in his abstract style is so thoroughly weird and unique. I was worried it was perhaps too weird: how do you even run this thing? But no, that was a foolish concern! I’ve been running this adventure straight from the book! It’s worked out great. – Ramanan

That sounds promising. Perhaps I should just use it with the Into the Odd rules that come with the book. No weird translation to Halberds & Helmets.

Perhaps, as a first step, I should start reading it again. See whether it grabs me.


Comments on 2020-07-30 Drifting without a campaign

I ran a Mausritter adventure a few weeks back for my group. It’s rules are basically Into the Odd with a few variations and I quite liked its simplicity, though it did take a bit getting used to the “you just roll damage” combat, it DID make combat so much less of a drag on the session, and rewards planning ahead (getting the initiative/surprise really makes a difference).

Derik 2020-07-31 11:42 UTC

It’d be interesting to see for sure. I played in a play by post campaign for a while using Into the Odd and I ended being on the “those” people – started missing turns and then just faded away. (I’m sorry!) I don’t remember much about the combat system, which means it was probably OK enough because it just got out of the way, or the referee was so skilful it just didn’t register.

I also read some of your recent blog posts and noticed the part about watching out for foxes (and then seeing them again!) – so cute! I’m also the kind of person that wakes up at night and goes to look at the street because we used to sometimes see a fox, but not any more. It seems that this summer they picked a different den.

– Alex 2020-07-31 13:12 UTC

I’ve been running it using Electric Bastionland, which I realised after the fact might be subtly different than what’s presented in the book. (No levelling, for example.) I think Patrick wrote things based on an earlier iteration of the rules. No matter, it’s all quite similar and simple.

The adventure is relatively easy to run straight from the book. The dungeons in particular. The overland has a lot of stuff going on, and I think making your own notes as you play is probably useful and good.

I wish there was maybe more interconnection between NPCs and more stuff pushing you to explore the Titans beyond their being an obvious source of treasure. (https://www.pillowfort.social/posts/1592634)

Ramanan 2020-07-31 19:14 UTC

Yeah, right now I’m skimming back and forth and trying to imagine how it would work at the table – do your read the poetic prose to players or do you translate it to English? Do you cooperate at the table in giving meaning to words like “ego machine”? I fear the translation on the fly to German…

– Alex Schroeder 2020-08-01 09:17 UTC

I would often just read the bullet points out to the players straight up. The descriptions are often quite terse. Also some of them are so wild I think you need to because they describe something so abstract or nonsensical.

Ramanan 2020-08-02 11:21 UTC

I have Silent Titans, but find the art (and especially the maps) aggressively offputting. I just can’t see myself looking at it while running a game, and the maps are... just too confusing. I feel like arty maps really get in the way of readable/usable maps.

Derik 2020-08-02 13:47 UTC

I totally get that! I wrote about it last year:

… so then I leafed through Silent Titans and felt that it was even more abstract, even less usable, less showable, nothing I could look at and interpret as a map, or an image of a creature, or a location, but a jumble of things that provide an emotional reaction, a jumble of something, a weirdness, and I don’t deny that it fascinates me, but at the same time it’s also a bit in that line of art I like less, that I find less useful for a product that I don’t just buy to be entertained but to aid me at the table, to be useful in a very specific way. – 2019-05-15 The purpose of art in a RPG product

– Alex 2020-08-02 14:49 UTC

I think the whole space is meant to be kind of unintelligible. I think the maps work at conveying that idea. They are more art than traditional maps. I think this is fine, though: the dungeons are pretty simple and all structured identically. It’s not really an adventure about dungeon crawling exploration. I actually just show the players the maps because they are too pretty not to share, and they don’t really reveal much because they are so abstract.

Ramanan 2020-08-03 02:41 UTC

Ah, interesting! That would cut one of the annoyances I often have with referee-facing art that you can’t show to players. If the map is art and the art is inspirational and navigating the map isn’t part of the challenge, then you might as well share it.

Perhaps I also have a wrong impression about the nature of the thing. I used to think: this is a great psychedelic mini-setting, urban adventure, wilderness, dungeon crawl, all in one, twenty sessions worth of material – when it could just as well be five very simple and small psychedelic dungeons in a weird town, one or two sessions for each.

I’m going to read a bit more today and see how it goes.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-08-03 05:35 UTC

I am curious about other ways to run it. I’m 5 sessions in, and have been trying to run it like I would any other adventure. But I’m not 100% sold that works. The random travel in the regions above the Titans feels a bit too random. I have been trying to think of other approaches that make it feel less like slot machine travel in play. I suspect you could borrow ideas from the story game scene and do a lot more hard framing of things. There is a lot going on in the book, and lots of ways to approach playing I suspect.

Ramanan 2020-08-04 19:26 UTC

Ah, now you’re really making me want to give it a try! 😀

– Alex 2020-08-04 20:38 UTC

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2020-07-23 Improvising Dungeons

@Yoric was looking for hints:

Does anyone have experience on improvising dungeons? I’ll be running a (largely narrative) campaign soon and it’s likely that a dungeon will be involved at some point. I feel comfortable about all the colonialism, politicking, backstabbing and losing illusions this campaigns revolves around, but I have never been into dungeoneering, so I’m a bit lost there. Any hints?

I said:

I think if you need to improvise it, start with a bunch of lists: a bunch of themes (roll once per dungeon); a bunch of encounters that you can adapt to the theme on the fly (prepare maybe ten, enough for two sessions), some traps (six?), some tricks (stuff people can figure out), some lore (for players to discover), and some cool one-off treasure items (possibly named). One page max, I’d say. Then keep adding as you scratch stuff off.

Then I decided to put by foot where my mouth is and give it a try, and I got two pages. I used Hex Describe for inspiration, of course.

(Sadly, two pages make this a bad fit for the One Page Dungeon Contest.)

OK, let’s try this.

I think the important part is that you can’t roll too many dice, look at too many tables because you’re improvising at the table. That allows me to make two or three rolls, at most? And then off we go!

Map Let’s take the first map, pick the first theme (bandits), no mission because the players stumbled upon it while hex crawling, but they’re on the way north to the temple of Orcus, uh... time to roll some dice!

Monsters? 2! Giants, surrounded by friends. OK, bandits and giants? Troll? No, can’t be befriended. Ogres? Too easy. Let’s go with wood golem. A kind of mech, but for fantasy bandits. It’s large. Inside is a Fernton “the poker” Feneath, operating the golem. 4 HD, AC 4, 1d10 damage with it’s maul. Boss monster, surrounded by ten bandits. 1 HD, AC 7, 1d6.

Next one. Tricks and Traps. 1! A big monster from the old days. One of those garbage eating puddings or compost heaps. Intelligent. Malevolent. Can infect people. Fernton avoided infection but has used it infect people, to make them talk, to turn them into spies. It doesn’t always work. But people are talking about a curse turning people to plant zombies in the two neighbouring villages. The compost Barblefarf will attempt to charm you if you’re within 30 ft. Let’s place it in room 11. In the top left is a pit, with a steep incline leading down there. Fernton avoids coming too close. Not sure what room 12 is. A prison cell? Somebody Fernton wants to talk to. An rider for a merchant. Filibus. Not F again. Lidibus the messenger, carrying a letter for Ydia (not Lydia), informing her of the death of her son Egekil.

Magic items... should I roll? No, I’ll pick. The necklace of dharma. Should Fernton wear it? How about a number two. Uglus the minor mage. His spells are... magic missile, mediocrity (a 60ft ray of clumsiness reducing a target’s Dex to 3, adjusting AC and ranged attacks appropriately), tar pit (turn a 10ft × 10ft area into sticky black slime, immobilizing 1d4 people, save vs. spells to jump out of the area before you’re affected), 3d4 hp. I just made those spells up, they look OK.

OK room, rooms. Look at the map again. I see... a hideout under a ruined stone tower. The ingress to room 1 is inside the tower. The ingress to room 8 is a hidden path through some thorny bushes at the foot of the hill. It’s the favourite entrance for the halfling brothers... Uh... Borneo, Bamoler, Isaan, Kolered. These are the bandit spies. Accomplished sneaks. They’re keeping guard outside. Chances are they saw the party and weren’t seen by them (remember 5 in 6 to hide outside). They live in room 9. So, write that down... four halfling beds in 9, dirt and thorny branches in 8, straw and some shelves for wet boots in 1.

3 is where they keep the wooden golem. The passage from 1 to 3 is big. Room 2 is huge weapons for the golem. Mech lances to spear a coach. A ballista. Room 3 has the giant maul. All the work space stuff to work on wood. Vials. Glass. The book on wood golem construction. Needs the capture and staking of a dryad. This is fucked up.

4 is the place where Fernton sleeps. Secret door into the workspace.

5 & 6 could belong to Ferton. What the hell is he keeping in there? His lover? Uglus the minor mage? Is Uglus his childhood friend, the one who came back to rescue him from serfdom after running away from wizardry school? I think so… Two best friends forever. Perhaps they have a relationship, perhaps not. So let’s make 5 the lab and library and 6 is where Uglus sleeps.

Uhm. 13 is the common hall. This is where they eat and sleep and roast their meat. 14 is the kitchen and larder.

7 is already harder to reach. Hm. Not sure. Secret stuff to be determined later. What else? Number 10 is still empty. Maybe something weird to protect people from Barblefarf the compost heap’s singing charms… A leather helmet with dark goggles and covering the wearer’s ears. There are four such masks, here. If you don’t wear them, you’re going to roll a save vs. spells as you open the door to 11.

Allright… That didn’t take too long. Probably too long for improvisation at the table. Gah! This makes me unhappy.

How many bandits in total? 20 bandits encountered in groups of 1d6 unless the alarm is raised, the Uglus the minor mage, the Fernton “the poker” Feneath and his wood golem, Barblefarf the compost heap, Lidibus the messenger, the halfling brothers Borneo, Bamoler, Isaan, Kolered.


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2020-06-22 One Page Dungeon Contest

Remember the One Page Dungeon Contest? Good times!

The deadline for the 2020 edition is coming up!

The submission deadline for the
2020 One Page Dungeon Contest
is July 15th, 2400 UTC


Comments on 2020-06-22 One Page Dungeon Contest

Hi! Deadline bumped back to the 15th.

– v 2020-06-29 23:43 UTC

Applied! 👍🏻

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-30 03:35 UTC

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2020-06-22 Chillhame

All right, let’s get to it. We’re reading The Gathering Storm by Adrian Bott, for D&D 3.5, with an eye to running it using Halberds & Helmets. Chillhame is the first adventure. Thus, I’m expecting goblins, maybe giant rats. 😀

Page 24 tells us how the rest of the text is going to be structured. I like it: locations, plot events, events (i.e. optional events that you can use when your players want something to fight – and I know it sounds cheesy but sometimes that’s exactly how it works), non-player characters, information to be gathered, and a discussion of the aftermath. This makes sense and I like that it isn’t all structured like the Paizo adventure paths, which are primarily map based, with introductions for the book and for each section, making it hard for me to find stuff that wasn’t strictly based on the map. Where do you look for the stuff you half remember?

Page 25 tells us about the big conflict between the island of Chillhame and the neighbouring country of Caldraza, which is one of the upcoming destinations in the campaign, so that’s interesting, but also somewhat buried in more paragraphs.

Page 26 starts the adventure. The players all appear near some standing stones. A goddess speaks some stuff and points the players in the right direction. Player characters can be resurrected at these nodes and the circle of stones is one of these places. I like the idea that there are nodes where magic is stronger than usual and thus magic users and elves are both interested in taking it over. That also means, I think, that powerful magic users should have built a tower here, or there should be an elven fortress, or a former fortress, right here. Perhaps I’m going to skip all of this but retain the idea that sometimes magic users and elves have extra powers in their homes.

Page 27 has shadow goblins attacking. That doesn’t sound very interesting. The player characters must soon leave the island or the land bridge sinks beneath the waves as the tide rises. If the players stay, nothing happens. All of that I’ll skip, I think.

Page 28 has two sections with information, both structured as skill checks. That never felt very good to me as a D&D 3.5 referee. I think I’ll have to reread these sections, prepare a list of villager names, and have players learn all these things in free play. In an old blog post of mine from 2012 I talk about social skills, and in a blog post from 2011 I talk about enjoying acting at the table. That’s why I’m looking forward to writing down a bunch of names, the thing these people might be interested in, and letting players interact with them.

Page 29 introduces the local bully, Jim Oakenbough. I think I won’t be needing all those D&D 3E stat blocks, but I can skim it and learn that he’s a good fighter, he’s friendly, but his voice has menacing undertones. There’s a subplot about a dead tax collector. All in all things that can be condensed to two or three paragraphs, I think.

Jim Oakenbough is a F2 with leather armour, bow and arrows, sword and shield, AC 6.

Page 30 has the stat blocks of three of Jim’s companions. OK. There’s also the stats of two guards, an older one, tired, hates himself, and a younger one, eager, shrewd. I like this setup. It’s going to be interesting to have the players interact with them all.

Hal Betram, taciturn, smelly. Tom Cucksmere, always eating chicken and drinking wine. Jacko Fenn, laughing about his own jokes. all of them F1 with leather armour, bow and arrows, sword and shield, AC 6.

Davan Gaskell is a F4 with chain armour, bow and arrows, sword and shield, AC 4. Morton Gimbert is a F1 with leather armour, bow and arrows, sword and shield, AC 6.

I think weapon choice, like rapier instead of sword, crossbow instead of short bow, and all the specialised equipment useful in combat – remember tanglefoot bags? – makes combat tedious. I do like the treasure they carry and the short explanation provided, like “silver chalice stolen from a church (90gp).”

Page 31 has three locations, the shop, the inn, and the windmill. It’s nice to be able to add some colour to descriptions. The problem is going to be to condense three or four paragraphs into a sentence or two, I think.

I think this is where players can learn all the info bits from earlier pages. The Golden Nugget is run by Bernik and Jinnie Oakenbough. Bernik is Jim’s brother. Mother Bailey is a suspicious old woman.

Page 32 has the guard dogs, a nice trap, and mechanics for a fight, I like it. All of it is verbose, but I’ve already bought the book many years ago so there’s no use complaining.

Use the stats for wolves and war dogs: HD 2+1 AC 7 1d6 F1 MV 18 ML 6 XP 200.

Treasure chest: nail trap, 1d6 to anybody nearby, plus automatic tattoo. The crest of Saragost on the chest makes it clear that this is stolen property.

Page 32 has the old church and father Bronson. I no longer have clerics in my game. So the cleric can be a retired fighter.

Father Bronson has a deep voice and mutton chops. He is a F2 with plate armour and shield, mace +1, AC 1.

And with page 34 we’re off to the first excursion, the tomb of Starkweather John and the first hobgoblin camp. Next time!


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2020-06-21 The Gathering Storm

I’m planning to see whether I can use The Gathering Storm by Adrian Bott, the first book in The Drow War trilogy. It’s written for D&D 3E and I’d be using the material for my Halberds & Helmets house rules, that is to say, a B/X D&D, with established characters around level 5, and players bringing two or three characters on an adventure, for a total of around 10–15 characters per session.

I’m considering to blog my notes as I go through the book. What can I say, I like a structured approach. I think it helps me focus. And if I pull it off, it might make a nice resource for somebody else to read through, and an interesting window into the mind of another referee preparing and adapting about thirty adventures (if we ever get that far!) for their game – and perhaps it’ll get me back into the groove given that I put one of my campaigns on hiatus.


With all that in mind, let’s start skimming this 256 page book! 😀

Page 4 has a summary of the ten adventures in this book. That’s how it’s going to be: each book has ten adventures with player characters ending on level 10 by the end of the first book, on level 20 by the end of the second book, and then things get turned up to eleven as player characters go up to level 30 by the end of the third book. Or so it says! I’m excited.

The summary on page 4 tells me what I need:

  • a region (the island Chillhame) with a stone circle to start the adventure
  • a local village (Bronce) that acts as the hub for some low level adventures
  • a walled seaport city, mighty, ruled by a council (Saragost)
  • more villages to warn (or clear) in the region
  • another city, a den of thieves or worse (Crescent City)
  • a temple in a swamp
  • a maze beneath a former thieves’ guild
  • a bank in this city, with a vault
  • another country across the sea (Caldraza)
  • a capital of said country (Beacon City)
  • a haunted forest
  • a palace of black glass (?)
  • a world underground full of drow

All of this is very exciting.

Pages 5–11 talk about the various regions of the setting, which I don’t need. Pages 12–13 talk about the drow and the elves of the setting, which I don’t need either, I think. Pages 14–19 talk about the pantheon, which I won’t use. Pages 20–22 talk about the Starborn, which is that the player characters are reincarnations of ancient heroes or something like that. I’m definitely not going to use that. Let’s hope the adventures still work!

My earlier campaigns in the same setting used some place names from the Wilderlands of High Fantasy (Lenap, Ghinor) and ignored a lot of the setting material, too.

Page 23 talks about nodes, which is definitely something I already have, and victory points, which is important to the overall flow of the campaign, which I love.

All right, that’s 23 page skimmed and not too many notes taken. 😀

Next up: the starting region, the starting village, and the starting adventure. We’ll see how much of that we can use for a party of 10–15 characters of levels 3–5.


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2020-06-21 Campaign End Talk

Last Wednesday my Razor Coast campaign arc reached it’s boss fight finale: the kraken Harthagoa rises and threatens Port Shaw with destruction. We already started with the ships fighting their way into the harbour last session, we had some mass combat, it was exciting. Session 60! So the kraken rises... the players split up, some of them taking their loyal dragoons and their pirate crews to fight their way into Fort Stormshield, other’s taking the temple militia to hold back the fish-people in the city, and others climb onto red dragon (a player character who had found a scroll of magic jar and had pulled it off against a red dragon) and their flying carpet, and flew into storm, facing the demon. One player pulls out their medusa monocle and looks at the kraken from up close – and I roll a 1. Failed saved vs. petrification!

In short, it was epic, it brought closure, it was cool... And then it was time to say the words I dread saying. I told them that I was feeling uninspired, that I had no further plans for the campaign. I had been thinking about ending it a few times now, in fact.

It still makes me sad when I think of all the “alpha players” I had over the years. You know the ones: they have endless energy, they are full of silly ideas, the jump up and down as they talk, they inspire everybody at the table with their energy. You can have at most two of these at a table, I know. It’s hard when have them but I also miss them when they move away or have to take care of their kids or whatever. One or two of these and some more chilled players is great for a trad. campaign. I’ve had them clash, and it’s true that they are tiresome, but at the same time, if have just casual players, or players pressed for time, then that’s also not great. And so I was feeling the campaign blues.

I was surprised when the players then all said they liked the campaign, when they listing unexplored corners and roads not taken, suggesting a summer break, one of them volunteering to run a campaign (German goth steampunk, skill based) for a bit and another for offering to set up a board-game-via-video-conferencing. Feeling better already. 😅

This is something I feel is important when talking to a group of people. Somebody mentioned this online somewhere: you are bound to have shy people; you are bound to have very enthusiastic talkers; how do you make sure everybody is heard?

  • explain that you’re going to ask them all, that you want to know what they’re thinking
  • go around the table and ask each one, individually
  • clarifying questions are OK, short and affirmative comments showing that you understand are OK, everything else is saved for later

This works really well. I’ve started doing this at work, too. I mean, if you’re doing daily stand-up meetings, then it’s basically the same thing: everybody gets the time to say what they want, everybody is there to listen. That’s how we avoid the conversation getting bogged down by the two or three most vocal people at the table because that’s not good.

OK. So, in two weeks it’s going to be a board game, and then in four or six weeks it’s going to be a campaign of goth steampunk run by one of my players. We’ll see whether I get my enthusiasm back. And if I don’t, then sixty sessions is a good campaign. Magic items like a petrifying medusa monocle, or characters that have taken a red dragon, are basically a sign that perhaps the campaign is out of control, haha.

I wonder, though. Why did I loose my enthusiasm? Specially since the game has been doing better these last few sessions. I think the problem is that the players I have enjoy being entertained, they come to talk and roll dice and see what’s up, and that’s OK, but it’s also not very exciting. Or perhaps I did the sandbox wrong, since I basically wanted to run a sandbox with an overarching plot of two demon coming and threatening the town: first the shark demon Dajobas and then the kraken Harthagoa. Perhaps this put a lot of pressure on players. Whenever they came back to Port Shaw, something was on fire. Maybe players started to put aside their own agendas, started feeling that here was the plot, the magic rails of adventure. It’s definitely not what I intended to happen, but here I was. It’s only when players started listing all the things we hadn’t explored that I realised that they had kept track of all the lose ends.

Anyway, food for thought. I’m thinking something about snake people, Set worship, Svartalfheim, elves of the netherworld, nagas, the plane of shadows? I should read that that Drow War trilogy by Adrian Bott: The Gathering Storm, The Dying of the Light, and The Darkest Hour. 🤔


Comments on 2020-06-21 Campaign End Talk

Sounds like a good campaign end to me. If you’ve still got enthusiasm for the same sandbox world, why not restart with new level 1 characters in an unexplored area of the map. Make the existing characters retire as heroes and become back story for the world.

Giles Roberts 2020-06-21 06:52 UTC

Yeah, good point! I’ve been doing this for a few years, now. I ran the first campaign in this setting in 2008, using D&D 3.5 at the time. In 2012 I wrote a blog post about the persistent campaign setting where I refer to Rob Conley’s Sandbox Fantasy blog post in the same year:

So for me the most important points in running a Sandbox Fantasy are

  1. Players should be allowed to have a meaningful impact on the setting both large and small.
  2. The results of past campaigns serve as background for the current campaign.
  3. The focus on establishing their legacy solves many of the problems of high level play.

– Rob Conley, 2012

Good stuff. We’ll see.

– Alex Schroeder, 2020-06-21

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– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-22 12:19 UTC

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