Tuesday, April 28, 2020


I don't love Save or Die poison.  It's a bit to on off for me.  It's also not that realistic.  I often end up ad-libbing something less gnarly but more interesting.
How naming poison frogs helps fight their illegal tradeI saw this post from the Dungeons & Possums blog and got inspired(Thanks!) to make it a little more like my Death & Dismemberment table (also stolen from various blogs).
I use 2d6 instead of d10 gives a bit of a bell curve.  Adding a column for "Damage Type" meshes well with my ruleset and allows for some heavy duty damage that is not straight HP.  If "Hit Points" are rolled along with a condition penalty, that means it applies to all rolls. 
I also changed to static damage because I figure you are already rolling a bunch, why roll all the dice just to roll again? 
Finally, I automated it (see button below) and added that to my Uncommon Tables page.
I've added this to my Spells Etc supplement to Uncommon Dungeons and I think I'll use it.
Where to go from here?  Well I just had a thought that I could add a further column of "Presents as" for entertaining descriptions: "Foams at the mouth" etc.

Random Poison Table
First Ingredient
Second Ingredient
Damage type 
(if applicable)
Effect (failed save)
Hound saliva
Neon cave moss
Ettercap blood
Nux vomica buttons
Sap from a daisy
Bone dust
Demonsthumb petals
Virgin tears
Orange zest
Thryon berries
Black Lotus
Witchroot oil
Duergar gin
Abyssal slime
Graveyard soil
Riversnake venom
Royal ashes
Mandrake flesh
Henbane seeds
Milkweed stems
Toad bile
Hit Points
Hit Points
Hit Points
Euphoria (+1d bonus: rounds)
Nausea (-1 penalty: Turns)
4  damage
6  damage
Ill (-1d penalty: Days)
10 damage
Zonked (-2d penalty: Turns)
Unconscious: Turns
15 damage
Catatonia: Days
Instant death
Here's an automated version using the Meandering Banter generator.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Digital Drifting Dungeons of Highfell: Play Report Sessions 1-6

Highfell | tenfootpole.org
Product Placement

The Game:
We've played six times since Quarantine, about 2 hours each time.  Everyone is super familiar with my home rules document so things are really smooth.  My only hangup has been needing to look up monster stats for special abilities across several books.  I'm running HighFell pretty straightforward with minimal prep.  It's fun and definitely more light hearted than the Barrowmaze. 
We play using a combination of google hangouts and Roll20 (which allows a nice fog o' war feature for slowly revealing the map.  Best reason for roll20).  Pretty basic.  No tokens on the maps. Some people use the online dice roller.
We have 3 players & six characters but no wizard.  Keshar the Elfish Monk & Hewlan the Hobbit Cleric, Warren the Warrior & Nellus the Cleric, Puddle the Gnome Thief & Clutcher the Butcher.
Campaign Map

Sessions 1-2
The party was dropped off by the wizard Zanzibar from his flying carpet, given potions of Feather Falling and charged with collecting rare books.
They cleared the Forgotten Citadel of Kalgummer, discovering a Canterbury Cap, a pendulum hammer and Gygag's Cobbling for Beginners among other things. Upon descending to Kalguumer’s Crumbling Collegium they decided they were low on torches and food so they quaffed their potions of Feather Falling and jumped through a moon door.

Traditional games of the future

Sessions 3-4
Arriving back on the drifting isle via a bridge of fog, the group decided to forgo returning to the dungeon of Kurgammer, instead walking right through the shattered Front doors of Psyruque’s tower. Many spell components yielded great riches, but the aerial guardians chased their second level butts out of the tower. After reconnoitering, the group snuck back in and descended to the dungeon.
Flying citadel | Fantasy landscape, Dragonlance chronicles, Fantasy

Sessions 5-6
After some solid carousing, the High Fellers traded colored glass to the ravens for a ride to the Drifting Dungeon. Well armed and also 2nd level they thought they would do some aerial reconnaissance, but were driven back by the Wyvern of the Stormhold.  Gazakel's Dwimmerhold is a pale green, strangely shaped tower. They entered the Dwimmerhold through the second story, breaking in through a stained glass window. There were crystals and mysteries within, and foes without. Soon a small band of winged dragon-like men followed into the broken window, but found themselves in battle with the undead. The crew fell upon the dragon men and undead alike, hewing left and right. When the scales settled, the serpent fetishists faded back to their original forms, that of weakling men.This was the best tower yet. Short, weird, puzzles and interaction, roleplay and connections. The collapsing walls only on the bottom floor was a little weird, and the lesser stone statue was a bit too weak. Rolling lots of wandering monsters the second session really brought the place to life. Some of Highfell is a bit undercooked. I wish this tower map actually showed the second story windows mentioned in the outside description and shown in the illustration. I wish there was a bit more wizardly detritus in these tower chambers. But on the other hand, this time it was just enough to keep play moving and inspire crazy hi-jinks.  
Diogo “Old Skull” Nogueira 💀🎲 on Twitter: "Greg #Megadungeon ...
Luft Baboon

The party snuck in through a second story window and delved downward. Winged wandering monsters kept following them in the window, dragonmen, winged baboons, a giant toad, but a color puzzle completed, much loot was found, baboons were parlayed with (through interpretive dance), and a talking mannikin discovered it's desire to see the world. Now the Head of Gaz is being carried around, still holding its "air of death", and who knows what's next?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Uncommon Dungeons Design Document

I ran across this little concept outline for game designers.  Seemed like it was mostly for video game designers planning a game.  But I was procrastinating so I wrote it up for my ongoing game project.  I guess maybe it did clarify a thing or two.

Design Document

Game Identity / Mantra: 

Overload the dice-chain for swift & surprising adventures in traditional fantasy game.  

Design Pillars:

  • Push your luck
  • Strategic resource use
  • Weird dice & minimal math
  • Random tables sublimate tedious sub-systems 

Genre/Story/Mechanics Summary:

  • Swords & Sorcery
  • Traditional dungeon delving
  • Roll high in war, low in peace


  • Dice chain (d30, d24, d20) for roll-under mechanics (Saving Throws, Skills, Magic) 
  • War Dice for Warriors (+1d3, d4, d5 etc to hit/damage)
  • Spell Points & Dangerous Sorcery "push your luck" mechanics
  • Doom Dice for initiative, tracking time, resource expenditure, morale, encounters etc for Combat Rounds, Dungeon Turns, Wilderness Turns & Home Turns between adventures

Player Interface: 

  • Clever roleplay: interaction with the logic & spirit of the campaign world
  • Rolling dice
  • Risking more & powerful spells
  • Carousing, tithing, researching & feasting between delves
  • Drawing pictures, writing stories & other incidental play inspired art

Art Style: 

  • Classic 80’s line drawing like the Basic Red Box
  • Larry Elmore
  • Erol Otus
  • Peter Mullen  
  • Alan Lee
  • John Howe
  • Frank Frazetta
  • Ralph Bakshi


Development Roadmap: 

Platform: PDF & Print    
Audience: My friends & maybe some grognerds
Milestone 1: Playing the Game!
Milestone 2: Printing rulebook zines at work
Milestone 3: Magic booklet
Milestone 4: Final Digest book on Lulu
Milestone 5: Commissioned art
Launch Day: Maybe never?

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Jewels of the Carnifex: Uncommon Dungeons Playtest Report

I ran Jewels of the Carnifex (a DCCRPG from Goodman Games) for a couple of friends last month, before all the chaos.  The module was completed in two sessions.  Each player used two characters, playing my Uncommon Dungeons traditional style ruleset.  This post will include a variation on the play report I sent the dudes, then thoughts on the module and on my constantly evolving rules.

dccrpgart Instagram posts - Gramho.com

Play Report 

The motley crew of cleric, barbarian, monk, and wizard were fresh off the boat in Redgate, newly rebuilt outpost of the Middle Empire, in search of gold and glory in the newly thawed out lands of the Heartstone Valley.  They were soon hired by a mysterious patron, Zanzibar the Magnificat, who desired to find lost books of the elder empires from before the the Great Glacier swallowed the north.  He knew of a hidden temple of an ancient god hidden beneath the old town, a place of ancient lurking magic, where he hoped the tome known in the ancient writings as the Grimoire Nex might be found.  To facilitate entry, the magician ensorcelled the surface guardians into unnatural slumber so that his hirelings might descend the crumbling spiral stair.
The stairwell itself was the first obstacle.  Only judicious and decisive use of a levitation spell kept the masonry from collapsing.  Within, shadowy manifestations of pure evil reached out to sap their, strength, but the explorers did not tarry long.  The cleric raised his holy symbol high, holding back the darkness.  Further, 3 doors were discovered and explored.  Demon toads, ghosts and a crazed hermit were dealt with in divers manner, but eventually the inner temple was discovered, as were the mutated, ageless guardians, who seemed to regard themselves as servants of Light and Law, but were quite obviously corrupted by Chaos.
Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
In the aftermath of the battle with the misguided and mutated guardians of the under temple all was quiet and still but for the drip drop of water, the squelch of fungal growth underfoot. The cloying warmth and hothouse stench of the place remained.
Azazail the Scion of Light disintegrated (or ascended to heaven) under the blows of Dirk the Witcher. The bodies of the “Pious” melted away as time has caught up with them. All that remained was the huge black bladed claymore called “Executioner’s Wand”.  The barbarian hefted in appreciatively.
Over the vestal vault still loomed the massive rat-like idol of roots and bright green moss.
Natural looking flowstone stairs lead down into grotto below.  Some careful thievery and brutal smashing later, the jewels were destroyed, the demonic presence beneath the Red Keep consigned to another millennia of captivity.  After much thorough search, many treasures were found, including the grimdark Grimoire Nex, apparently a codex of demonology.
The under temple of the Old Chaos gods caused a great debate amongst the delvers who rid it of its corrupted defenders, posing more questions than it answered. If a scion of Law can be corrupted without knowing it, retaining their power, then how do they know if they truly do the work of the Lords of Light?
With heavy hearts and great misgivings, the five returned to the Blind Knight Inn, laden with treasures magic and mundane. The elfish cleric agonized over the conflicts of righteousness and doctrine, the wizard worried they were setting dark powers loose upon the land.
The party did not trust their patron, Zanzibar the Magnificat and perhaps he did not trust them, for he was in their private chamber when they awoke from slumber. Dirk the Demonhunter cast his steely gaze upon the inscrutable wizard. He was neither a creature of Chaos, nor a servant of Law. What were his motives? He would not say, only that the recession of the ice fields from the Heartstone Valley uncovered many lost and best forgotten secrets. It would be best if "the wise" would acquire such things. He paid for his book, the Grimoire Nex, still triple locked within its cumdach. On his way out he told of a tower he hoped to procure as his new base of operations as well as a "drifting island in the sky" where he hoped to find yet more scholarly works for his library.
In the weeks that followed, some of the party spent their gold irresponsibly while others spent their time researching and tithing.
The thief earned a mighty hangover.
Both wizard cleric and witcher crossed paths with the Paladins of the Crimson Cross, the religious order and knightly host who serve as the hand and fist of Duke Wolverhampton the Wanderer. The Middle Empire reclaimed these lands a generation ago, but in recent years the Duke and his paladins have sought to tighten their grip on the marches beyond the keep and the riverlands, with uneven success.
Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the CarnifexNext stop, the Drifting Dungeon of Highfell.

Module Rumination

I always enjoy the art, the maps and short & sweet nature of Dungeon Crawl Classics rpg modules.  They tend to be memorable and finished in a session or two.  I have wanted to run Jewels of the Carnifex for a few years mostly because I love the green Mullen cover.
It went well.  The handout map was useful.  The players were intrigued.  They spent some time back tracking and discussing before they finally discovered the Grimoire.  Only the backstory was fairly confusing both to myself and the players.  Of course that wasn't helped by my attempts to shoehorn the thing into my new campaign world.
Overall, I'd highly recommend this adventure, but it's really worth outlining (maybe a set of bullet points) what the final villain says and does.  Any time you are trying to run a battle and drop backstory it gets a little confusing for my DM brain.

Rules Ruminations

We played my evolving personal ruleset, Uncommon Dungeons.  I've been using this for a couple of years now and I am more and more comfortable with it.  It move quickly, each character type stands out and players are limited by resources (HP, ability scores, rations, torches, time etc) to a degree that we are finding fun and engaging as I have built in ways to "push" each of these limits.  Basically, the game has been calibrated to my taste and I'm having a great time.  Getting closer to making a semi-settled printing.

Good Times in Town

There are still a couple things to fiddle with:  Spending money between sessions! Carousing and the like. This is where a lot of great roleplaying can happen as well, and when I am most enthusiastic about collaborative world building. An optional roll to gain some more experience points, and a Haven Doom Die roll. This time it was Peace and Contentment, but other times the setting may change due to shortages, disasters, or discoveries.
I'm still fiddling with the numbers. I want to encourage Carousing but I don't want it to to be absolutely necessary to keep up xp. Angelo made a good point that one could easily save up and do it all at once. I've no problem with that. 1xp per 3gp ratio is a little silly in terms of math, but maybe that's ok. 1/2? The others 1/4?


The one piece that still hasn't stuck for me is combat phases. I have written and am trying to use B/X style combat phases.  The problem is that I keep forgetting to use it, so used to just saying "What do you do?"  When we have used it, I find it very satisfying.
  1. Initiative: Throw Battle Die (d6)
  2. Movement & Archery: Each side moves or shoots with readied arrow & spear
  3. Melee: Each side resolves Hand to hand attacks in initiative order
  4. Spells & Volleys: Each side resolves Spells (if no movement) & 2nd Archery (if no melee)

I like that there are opportunities to move and run separate from fighting. It also allows for high rate of fire for arrows axes, slings and spears. I think spells taking effect at the end of all that is an important limiter,  especially since my dangerous sorcery rules allow wizards and clerics to push far past their allotted spell points.  Magic is powerful, but it is not instant.

Rules of Magic

One big development is that I recently converted most the spell lists (haven't gotten to high Order cleric spells yet) to Uncommon rules, which helps settle things.  The conversion mostly consisted of setting damage dice and Saving Throw ability as well as one or two sentence descriptions. Duration is probably the most significant change.  Since I am using the "Hazard Dice" to track durations, all spells in Uncommon Dungeons are Rounds, Turns, Days, Weeks/Months, or Permanent.  These correspond to the Battle, Doom, Wilderness and Haven dice.  The spell ends when "Expiration" is rolled on the appropriate dice table.
Rounds may expire during Combat  
Turns may expire during Exploration 
Wilderness Turns consist one day 
Haven Turns indicates weeks & months


There is no need to convert monsters from DCC or any old D&D style rules. I mostly use Swords & Wizardry or AD&D stats if something isn't in a given module.

Heartstone Campaign considerations

For some of my players, it seems that the biggest question is about alignment and cosmology. I'll try to write up a bit about the Eternal Struggle between Law and Chaos.  I am mostly inspired by Warhammer and Moorcock's eternal champion books. My thought is that there is a state Church of Orthodox Law, but within that faith are numerous cults of various saints such as Ygg the Righteous, Cuthbert the Stalwart, Sigmar the Hammer of Empire and the Queen of Swords. On the other side are the Ruinous Powers, Chaos Gods who seek to pervert and destroy civilizations, represented by Khorne Slaughter God, Nurgle the Pestilent, Orcus Lord of the Dead, Slaanesh the Decadent, Set the Dark Serpent etc. Law and Chaos are in a state of eternal cosmic war. Caught in between are most living creatures and various supernatural entities that are worshipped: such as the Green Man, the Cold Prince, Crom on His Mountain, Ttoth Keeper of Secrets, Mother Mitra of Peace and Contentment, but these are not recognized religions, though many folk of the north pay them homage. As in all war, it is those with the least interest in the outcome who suffer the most. Great are the atrocities of the hordes of Chaos, and disturbing are the purges of the Witch Hunters of the Queen of Swords.
All in all, there's been some great gaming going on through these troubled times.  I'll try to write more about my burgeoning Highfell campaign as well as the TypeV D&D game I'm running for my students and friends kids.