Thursday, January 9, 2020

Winter's Daughter Play Report and Review

"Delve into the fairy-haunted forest of Dolmenwood"
"The tomb of an ancient hero, lost in the tangled depths of the woods. A ring of standing stones, guarded by the sinister Drune cult. A fairy princess who watches with ageless patience from beyond the veil of the mortal. A forgotten treasure that holds the key to her heart."
"A romantic fairytale dungeon adventure for characters of 1st to 3rd level"

Spoilers, of course.

A few weeks back my group played the Winter's Daughter adventure module by Gavin Norman. It's the best thing I've played in awhile for that dark fairy forest vibe. The back story is evocative (and nicely broken into bite sized chunks that I was able to toss out as characters were introducing themselves), the dungeon is a simple tomb but contains a story that reveals itself. 

 However, the first encounter has nothing to do with the story and was almost my favorite part. I don't want to spoil it but the heroes are presented with a scenario that seems genre typical at first glance, but turns out to be anything but. My players were non-plussed and I felt like it was a brilliant introduction to the Drune and the forest setting at large. The first session ended with the heroes drifting like snowflakes out of a hole in the sky...

In the second session, the heroes found themselves in a frozen world, at the edge of a frozen lake, surrounded by dense forest, staring at a white marble tower in the middle of the lake.  At the front door were the doormen, a goblin on the shoulders of a hungry troll.  The goblin Griddlegrim said that they were not on the guest list but that they could join the party if they ate a magic mushroom.  The heroes obliged and were variously affected by the stuff: shrunk to 6 inches, purple skin, etc.

Image result for winter tower fairy fantasy
In the tower they met the Winter Princess waiting for her groom to arrive.  They made deal with her, returned to the tomb, and figured out safe passage into the the crypt.  Thus, the ancient lovers were reunited and the heroes emerged victorious, laden with fairy jewels.  A good time was had by all.

A highly recommend the module.  It is high on investigation, idiosyncratic detail and mystery, low on hack and slash (though there was a brutal battle on the lake with the troll, ending only when the troll fell through the ice).   This makes for an engaging adventure and also one that plays a bit more quickly.  With only a handful of actual fights, the action moves faster.  This could easily be a 6 hr one-shot (we did it in two 3ish hour sessions).  

A final note on the layout: Very easy to use at the table.  Info is in bullet points.  Descriptive words for each location at the top.  Bullet points for NPC/monster "reactions" (sometimes "Wants" or "Knows") make it very easy for the DM to give the roleplay a sense of direction.  I want all modules to be like this, which is why I've been running Hole in the Oak!  


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Rare Character Classes for Uncommon Dungeons

Although actual play time has been squeezed out of late due to impending fatherhood and home improvements, I continue to tweak my personal ruleset, Uncommon Dungeons, a mishmash of basic D&D, DCCRPG, LOTFP, and any number of houserules found across the blogland.  Recently I've been messing around with a document I call Uncommon Explained, which is meant to be an eventual rulebook as opposed to the stereo instructions style of my current minimalist pamphlet.  Slow going there.

In the meantime, my son is overdue to be born and I have fall ill with a cold, so I spent the day indoors writing up new classes for the game, to entice my friends away from Type V whenever we have have a chance to start a new campaign.

The intention of these classes is to offer the intrigue of something different without adding new mechanics.  I want to avoid the fiddly-ness of the D&D V classes.  The details of each class should encourage a particular style of play: bold and brash in the case of Cavaliers, skulking and careful for Rangers, savage and reckless for Barbarians, and in the case of the Accidental Hero (updated Alice), something completely different. 


 “Chaos will not corrupt me”
Apostate, Puritan, Avenger 

  • Hit Points d8 per level +1 Attack per level 
  • Demon Slayer: Roll War Dice as a Fighter vs Undead, Demons & Creatures of Chaos (d3, d4, d5, d6, etc) 
  • Save d20 vs all Fear & Mind Control 
  • Cold Stare: Know the true nature of a creature after 1 minute of intense scrutiny. Evil creatures are discomfited and may not lie (Charisma Save) 
  • Puritanical: May not Carouse for XP 
  • Cast spells of Order ≤ ½ level, rounded down Spell Points equal to ½ Level + Wisdom bonus 
  • Heal: 1 Spell Point = 1d6 Hit Points or 1 Attribute 
  • Banish: Witchhunters step forward & brandish their holy symbol to hold back undead & devils: 2d6 HD/Order of monsters cower for 10 minutes, or as long as the holy symbol is held before them. Attacking Banished monsters breaks the spell. Cost = 1 Spell Point. 
  • Divine Petition: Witchhunters can attempt to cast spells beyond their limits with a Wisdom Check, d20 + Spell Order. Failure = -1d3 points from a random attribute 
  • Begin with a Cold Iron short sword, Holy Symbol of Ygg, dagger, leather armor, waterskin, tinderbox, 1 ration, 5 torches, haversack (8 items, MV3, 90’) 


 Berserker, Wild Man 

  •  Hit Points d12 per level 
  •  +1 Attack per level 
  • Warp Fury: Toss aside all armor and slay! Add War Dice as Fighter to attack & damage and roll d20 for all Saving Throws. Barbarian is then weakened -1d on all rolls for 1 turn. 
  •  Illiterate 
  • Begin with a battleaxe, waterskin, tinderbox, 1 ration, 5 torches, haversack (5 items, MV4, 120’) 


“Heed the call of the Wild”
Huntsman, Scout, Warden of the Wood 

  • Hit Points d6 per level 
  • +1 Attack per level 
  • Sneak Attack a surprised foe: roll d24 for a critical hit 
  • Guile of the Fox: roll d24 Intelligence to Hunt, find Tracks & detect Traps. Roll d24 Dexterity for Stealth. 
  • Druidcraft: A ritual of one Turn casts a Spell of Order ≤ ½ level, rounded up 
    • 1st Order: Soothe the Savage Beast (animals will not attack), Speak with Animals, Purify Food & Water 
    • 2nd Order: Silence, Delay Poison, Charm Animal, Message, Obscuring Mist, Detect Invisible 
    • 3rd Order: Cure Poison & Disease, Locate Object, Resist Fire & Cold, Gust of Wind 
    • 4th Order: Feast, Speak with Plants, Summon Animals, Charm Monster, Wall of Fog 
  • Spell Points equal to Level + Wisdom bonus 
  • Begin with a bow, arrows, and dagger, leather armor, 50’ rope, waterskin, tinderbox, 1 ration, 5 torches, haversack (10 items, MV2, 60’) 


 “I challenge thee!”
 Knight, Noble, Chevalier

  • Hit Points d8 per level 
  •  +1 Attack per level 
  • Chivalric Challenge: The cavalier boldly challenges evil doers to change their ways, offering parlay & penance before. Foes check Morale. If foes choose to fight, the knight rolls War Dice as a Fighter and all allies gain +1 to attack. Cavaliers must be wearing plate armor and maintain a splendid lifestyle to use this ability. 
  • Coat of Arms: The cavalier’s reputation precedes them. Charisma bonus to Reaction Rolls from Lawful Creatures. Negative bonus for Chaotic creatures 
  • Begin with a sword, lance and dagger, plate armor, shield, helmet, heraldic tabard, horse, saddlebags (10 items, MV1, 40’) 

Accidental Hero 

"Alice then did something quite astonishing..."
The Alice, Alistair, Alison, 7th Son, Fool 

  • Hit Points d4 per level 
  •  Roll d24 on all Saving Throws (Hobbits roll d20) 
  • Roll d24 on 3 Tasks: Stealth, Tinkering, Climb, Legerdemain, Use Magic, Performance, Haggle, Find Traps, Wildcraft. 
  • EXASPERATION: In times of unusual stress Accidental Hero may become Exasperated. This Exasperation causes fate to take notice of the hero, and then to aid her. The hero says or thinks something like “Oh I can’t conceive how I ever fell into this deplorable circumstance!” or “We are indeed doomed and now birds will gnaw our eyes.” 
  • Roll a d4 on the Exasperation Table from “A Red and Pleasant Land”.  The die type increases at 5th, 9th, and 13th level.  Accidental Hero may express Exasperation once every real-time game hour (as games focus almost exclusively on stressful times, these represent the periods during which the gods are most likely to take notice). 
  • When gaining a level, roll on Alice Level Up Table
  • Begin with a book, wine bottle, tin of 6 biscuits, satchel (5 items, MV4 120’) 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Session #47-48: Doom of the Dire Boar & Return to Harrowmoor

TL:DR: Dire Boar defeated, Ent encountered, healed of disease, communed with a strange lake creature beneath the crumbling Harrowmoor Castle.  And Lady Chantrelle seems to have taken young Jacque to the Hall of Sleep.

Image result for faerie forest dolmenwoodThe earth shaking might of the Mother of All Boar was no match for the accumulated power of the Barrowmaze veterans.  As She approached bristles scraping the high ceiling of the cavern, the cleric Clonin retrieved an illuminated scroll from his haversack and intoned the syllables of power inscribed upon it.  Instantly, the paper turned to ash, then swirled around the massive beast which seemed to shrink as it charged squealing ever more high pitched as it's stature was reduced to that of it children.  A rough battle ensued between the party and the three pony sized pigs.  Clonin knocked his head against the cavern wall and lost consciousness before the last perilous porcine protagonist was butchered.
After gathering treasure and surviving a further attack from a returning singular of boars, the group began their journey back to Harrowmoor, clutching the cure for Erik's debilitating disease, the Cave Lily.  Travel was cross country and confusing in the dark tangle of the Dolmenwood.  They got lost and spent a cold night in conversation with a friendly tree called Rootbound who told them of the Elven Princes who once ruled the wood but are now more rare, and of the sinister Cold Prince, who was banished.  The old tree was particularly unhappy with the recent ruttings of goatmen amongst his roots. 
It took three days to find once again the high cliffs of the Groaning Loch, and it cost a gold coin or so to convince the loan fisherman they spied to ferry them to the castle.
Image result for luminescent waterReturning to the somber confines of Harrowmoor, the company first visited Dr. Prunesqualor, who obligingly brewed a medicinal poultice while intimating dark suggestions that the Lady Harrowmoor had been corrupted by dark forces and was no longer an adequate protector of her daughter Violet.  "Perhaps she needs to be removed from office," he murmured. 
The evening meal with the family of the manor began uneventfully, notable for the absence of the young lad Jacque and the mysterious Lady Chantrelle.  Presently, Resper and the learned men began to tell their tales, which fascinated the otherwise bored and tedious Lady of the manor.  Tales and wine flowed and suddenly it was the witching hour, with Violet long since sent to bed.  The strange lady bid they follow her lead, and, escorted by her clowder of cats, descended by a stair behind a bookcase in the study down down to a lake side cove for below the ramparts.
"Here is the source of my family's wisdom," she purred.
The moonlight caressed the waters of the cove and Erik felt compelled to sing a strange song that came to his mind unbidden, with words he did not understand.  The lake water began to shine with a luminescent light and nebulous shape rose to the surface, more light and presence than true physicality, yet the minds of the visitors to Harrowmoor were overwhelmed, wallowing in total sensory overload. 
They came to as the false dawn emerged and stumbled up the stair heavy of foot but enlightened by visions of cosmic import, a feeling that the brooding, skeletal claws of evil in the Barrowmaze was gathering strength again, opposed not by the Church (insular as it is) but by the wild chaos that was the Nag Lord.  Their conflict will bring ruin to those caught in between.
A night in seance with the "Forroth" was a taxing affair.  Though they planned to hurry after Jacque and Lady Chantrelle, who they assumed had absconded to the Hall of Sleep, but found that Sleep came heavy to themselves, sleeping a straight 48 hours once their heads hit the pillow.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Perplexed Questionnaire

OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire 
I realize I've been interacting with and playing OSR style D&D for a long time but have rarely contributed directly to that community.  Here goes.

  1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me: I'm going to go with "What I mean when I say dungeon crawl". There are so many, but this one represents a great mix of geekery and intellectualism that I really enjoy about the OSR. Too bad the image links are all broken now.
  2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark: Roll the dice in the open. Let the dice fall where they may (as long as its on the table. Floor rolls are always considered cocked). It saves you from yourself.
  3. Best OSR module/supplement: The most used module has been Barrowmaze. A solid 2+ year campaign.
  4. My favorite house rule (by someone else): Hazard System from Necropraxis. This has changed the way I run my game, especially dungeons, and now feels core to type of game I prefer to run, though I have renamed it the "Doom Die". Essentially, random encounters, time passing, depletion of resources, and dungeon dressing are folded into a simple d6 die roll. It works great for side initiative rolls as well.
  5. How I found out about the OSR: It's hard to remember exactly, so I looked back at the first few blogposts I made in 2010. I had watched the great edition wars rage across the forums, was kinda bummed when Dungeon magazine disappeared, observed the Pathfinder schism, was disheartened when Necromancer games decided they couldn't follow along, but I was a Type IV convert. I had grown tired of the fiddly, amorphous nature of 3rd, so I went all in. I was still playing and DMing 4th edition D&D (I even ran a 1-13 level campaign of it using the War of the Burning Sky modules by ENworld), but I was burnt out on how slow the combat went, and how players became so focused on their character sheets. And the type IV art direction was painfully uninspiring.
    I remember following a lot of ENworld forum chatter about streamlining/speeding up the game. Somewhere in there I found the AD&D3 pdf, a faithful reconstruction of the old AD&D players handbook down to the font, layout and art, but with streamlined 3e-ish rules. I never actually played it, but I think this was the first OSR game I ever picked up. Then I started reading Dndwithpornstars and followed that to lots of other blogs.
    The final flowering for me was Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. I had always dug the style of the DCC modules during the 3e era, and even ran one or two of their 4e mods, so when they announced this new game I dove deep into the beta rules, started running it and making up houserules on my own. I was happy enough, when 5th edition D&D was announced I wasn't that interested. In time I got tired of DCC spell charts, and my current group formed around playing the latest edition, but at this point I don't think I'll retake the reins of DMing typeV when the opportunity arises. I'll offer to run a simpler game instead.
  6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy: I use the Last Gasp generators a lot. I have a whole list of them in my bookmarks.
  7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers: Google Plus is/was great. Reddit /osr and /rpg is ok I guess.
  8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games: Where ever it all ends up.
  9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough: The DCCrpg dice chain was a great innovation that hasn't been expanded upon much. Variable attack bonus and mighty deeds for fighters is epic.
  10. My favorite non-OSR RPG: Back when, I loved to play Cyberpunk2020. A couple years back I had a great mini-campaign of FFG Star Wars.
  11. Why I like OSR stuff: It's an autonomous zone. It is intellectual and artistic creativity purely for it's own sake. And I've always been obsessed with D&D and at this point I like playing some version that I can basically do off the top of my head.
  12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet: I really like the new Knave rules, and I'm gonna start using them with my students. I really dig the B/X Essentials line and Dolmenwood from Necrotic Gnome. I don't play the game straight, but I love the organization and style of the B/X E. Really dig the weirdness of the dark fairy forest Dolmenwood setting.
  13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be: The classics: D&DwithPornStars completing the Monster Manual redraw/hack, a revived Grognardia, a regular Jeff's GameBlog, revived Middenmurk... oh just one?
  14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is: The heartbreaker homerules I've been running the last couple years. I even printed up some zine-style booklets. It's a kludge of all my fave OSR houserules. DCC + S&W + LOTFP etc. I've got two versions at this point, Uncommon (dungeons), and Uncommon Basic (which is maybe too basic, but is the one I've been tinkering with most recently).
  15. I'm currently running/playing: DMing a weekly game of my own Uncommon Dungeons (first in Barrowmaze, now in Dolmenwood); playing in a Type V D&D "Tomb of Annihilation" campaign.
  16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because: My only real connection to descending AC is the pop-punk song my friends recorded years ago that features the line, "My heart was protected by a low armor class". Otherwise, ascending AC is easier. I also don't like Saving Throw charts.
  17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice: 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Session #46: In the Valley of Beasts

Image result for hot springs island dire boar
A morning row across the misty loch brought the Conquerors of the Pit of Chaos to the forests beyond Harrowmoor.  They searched for a cure, for one of their number was cursed with a wasting sickness and the physician of Harrowmoor Castle swore the essential medicine was to be found within the inverted cave mushroom called the Flower of the Dark.
Setting off into the depths of the Dolmenwood, the group wandered north until they came upon a bog.  Turning south, they descended into the Vale of Wise Beasts.  Here they encountered a pair of friendly hares who spoke to kindly words and invited the visitors into their warren where a vegetarian feast was offered and rude shelter provided.  There were no cave mushrooms in this warren but the hares wondered if perhaps what they sought was in the Den of the Dire Boar (a fearsome beast), and offered the show the way.  The hares were friendly for they sensed that these pious men might challenge the shadow of the Nag Lord on these wooded lands.
The following day found the explorers of the Barrowmaze delving into a decidedly natural cavern, though obviously trafficked by very large beasts.  Bristles the size of small sticks littered the entrance along with bits of shattered metal.  A pike was found thrust haphazardly into the high ceiling of the tunnel.  An axe made of obsidian discovered in the muck.  Echoing through the caverns a deep throated grunting was heard.
Then disaster struck, a warrior clad in heavy metal plates was suddenly drawn and stuck fast to a dark boulder even as a pair of wild young pigs burst forth, demanding in their squealing ways for justification of this intrusion, a foolish pride, for was it not obvious that all hunters meet their doom at the tusks of the Mother Pig?
The party pleaded for peace, insisting they searched only for truffles, not violence.  Unconvinced, the
pair of piglets trotted off toward the growling grunts gaining volume in the northern reaches of the cavern.
Wary adventurers fingered the hafts of their weapons with perspiring palms....

Indeed, a little Hot Springs Island in the Dolmenwood.  Two great tastes...

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sessions 44 & 45: The Chaos Crypts of St Clewd & the Mysteries of Harrowmoor Keep

The Heroes of Barrowmaze got out of those crypts quick.  They returned to the prayer room to find the summoned wall of iron gone and the great para-dimensional worm nowhere to be seen.  But something had stirred the denizens of Clewd's crypt; not the seemingly living and conscientious Wardens of Clewd, but a shambling horde of zombified monks, seemingly starved for flesh.  The warriors thought of their responsibilities above ground and retreated from the fray, hustling back into the tunnel whence they came and to the surface.  None followed.
The rescued children were brought back to the town of Prigwort with much fanfare, despite their best efforts.  The youngest child, Bilbry, was warmly welcomed by his relieved family.  Many toasts were given and songs were sung in the Wrinkled Medlar Inn.
Image result for bruegel

The following day was blustery with rain, but the troupe left early with a horse and cart borrowed by the Heggid brothers (Mathias & Martin) from their old man.  Young Violet Harrowmoor rode in the cart with her dark companion, the boy Jacque, a surly boy who never smiled.  They arrived at he gatehouse in late afternoon, amidst a steady down poor.
The gatekeeper was named Steerpike, a surly type, but quick to raise the portcullis once he recognized the young heiress, who was brought refreshment and warm by the fire in the great hall.  Greetings from the relieved mother, Lady Harrowmoor, were strange and stilted, but that may have been the normal manner.  It was hard to tell.  The Lady was surrounded by cats, who followed her everywhere.  They cats seemed happy to see the little girl Violet.
Lady Harrowmoor rewarded the group with a large jeweled pendant, a lavish heirloom, and bade them stay the night as honored guests.  She wished to speak to them in her study on the morrow.
Upon request, Dangerous Dan was introduced to the castle apothecary, Dr. Prunesqualor, who informed the ailing warrior that the blight from which he suffered could only be cured with a tincture created with the juice of a inverted redcap, found growing in the ceilings of caves in the Valley of Wise beasts north of the Groaning Loch.  The doctor pointed across the tree tops from his tower window. "But beware.  The Court of the Naglord is not far beyond the Valley, and his beasts are vengeful of any slight."
Each of the rescuers of Violet were presented with their own room for the night, complete with fireplace and writing desk.  Dan looked out from his opened window across the courtyard.  The clouds had broken up and an early rising full moon shed its first silvery rays over the walls.  Turning, the warrior beheld a movement in the painting above his bed.  There was a large painting of a naked woman chained in a red room.  In her illustrative state she was yet gesturing, beseeching aid.  
After some deliberation, Dan discovered he could pass through and into the plane of the artwork, and he did so, making the acquaintance of the singular woman called False Chantrelle.  She begged to be set free, saying the she had been double crossed in the galleries beyond and only wanted to leave this strange treasure house behind.
Dan freed the woman, peeked into the patterned blue light of the room beyond, spying a blue skinned woman, and promptly turned and jumped back through the painting after Chantrelle, whom he then convinced to stay the night.
Image result for dolmenwood animalsLady Harrowmoor was bemused by her newly arrived houseguest, asserting that her uncle had loved the painting but that she had hardly paid it any mind.  The Lady was more interested in discussing the possible family tree of young Jacque, demonstrating his uncanny likeness to the last Lord of Ayarai, Jourdain, who disappeared along with his castle fifty years before.  She was certain that young master Jacque was actually the heir to his manse, a nearby place now known as the Hall of Sleep.
The group gathered supplies for a journey to the Valley of Wise Beasts.

Whew! Dolmenwood is very inspiring but a hassle to run.  There's a weird amount of detail and difficult to reference.  The hexes are tough to quickly grok.  I'm looking forward to getting the group back into a dungeon, but I think they are going to poke around in the forest first.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Knaves in the Moathouse

Image result for knave rpg
"What's a gambeson?"

Tonight I ran my wife and a buddy through the Moathouse using the new Knave rules, written by Ben Milton of Questing Beast.  They both were eaten by the giant lizard.  She got to dramatically rip her char sheet in two.
Fun session.
They both got into rolling up their traits before even stats and the inventory game was crucial.  As they found loot they kept dropping gear and debating if it would be useful later.
I also provided three random spells.  Increase Gravity was used very cleverly to collapse the damaged roof of the main hall on top of bandits.

The other houserules I used were a death and dismemberment table and a hazard die roll for initiative and encounters.  Worked great.
This was the first time the lil lady has had a character die in 5 years of gaming.  She fully enjoyed it.  I liked how fast and loose it was, especially compared to the slog of battles in our type V game (6th level in Tomb of Annihilation).
I'd like to use these Knave rules when I finally introduce rpgs to my after school club of 6th graders and I think I'll incorporate elements into my Uncommon rules.  I've been toying with a semi-level-less spell system...