Thursday, July 22, 2021

Magical Murder Mansion Review


- In the interest of full disclosure I bought this with my own funds. Paid 6.99US$ in October 2019 for the PDF version of this adventure.
- Nobody is paying for this review. All of the opinions you see are my own.
- Nobody is approving or reading this post before it goes up.
- I have no relationship with any of the authors of this product.
- Also, check my review standards for more context.

This thing contains spoilers (duh..), so if you're sensitive to them, stop reading!

    Enter the Magical Murder Mansion

    Let's take a closer look at Magical Murder Mansion, "A Challenging Funhouse Dungeon". Writing by Skerples, with fitting illustrations by Frenden, editing by Shane Liebling, and layout by David Shugars.

    My take here serves as both a review of the module, and the broad impressions of running the adventure over the span of two different groups and 15 gaming sessions. With the first group we ran 3 sessions before the game fizzled out, using Knave. The second group (The Calaveras) however, managed to clear the mansion in a whopping 12 sessions, with lots of shenanigans and fun, using Macchiato Monsters. Despite their extreme caution and cleverness, yeah, MMM is rather unforgiving:

    our body count: 3 PCs and 6 retainers

    Product Details Quality

    The PDF comes with bookmarks, and is easy to print and annotate, since it is completely black and white. This is a core strength of all of Skerples' products, and one I greatly appreciate. Font is big and easy to read, and there is plenty of space in the margins for my own notes and scribbling.
    Art is a  mix of Frenden's pieces, mostly monsters, and selected public domain works. The cartoon-like quality of the former is fitting for such a tonally light adventure. My only minor criticism is I would have appreciated more of it! I get that art is expensive, but more dynamic pieces, like the one on page 12, would've been a nice addition.
    About the map. It's utilitarian and annotated. Most room names are self-explanatory. From the inferred reading I learned (assumed?) that a square = 10 ft, but a scale on the provided maps would have been welcomed. We get map snippets of the relevant section accompanying the room descriptions. Nice!

    Skerples encourages us to read from cover to cover, and take copious notes. And thus that's what I did. Layout is clear and functional, monsters and magic items get some italics, and cross-referenced room numbers are bolded. But, I feel descriptions could get wordy, I would've appreciated key elements been bolded or underlined, to draw attention when skimming at the actual game. Or more generous bullet point use. Is this lack a decision to hand-force the referee read the module beforehand, perhaps?
    my mad method: traps in red, monsters in green marker, treasure underlined green, monster HD on margin, purple marker things to interact with

    About the Adventure

    This is a funhouse dungeon, citing inspiration in classics like Tomb of Horrors, Tegel, or White Plume Mountain. I've played the former, and ran the latter. However, MMM does have a distinct feature separating it from those touchstones. It tries to make sense and justify its bizarre attractions.
    There is a two page introduction, covering important bases: what this is, who is it for, adventure hooks, and also important details like unorthodox ways to enter the dungeon (since it's a mansion, there are many!). I wish other adventures would take notes of a nice introduction like this one. One thing I'm missing is an overview of the treasure and magic items, something I've complained about in the past, and where Necrotic Gnome took note. This is a minor quibble, and in fairness a ballpark to treasure in the dungeon is given, as well as assumed HP and damage levels for PCs. The introduction is well above most.
    The adventure proper is a hefty undertaking for any group, falling into the kilodungeon category in terms of size. 90 rooms of different sizes and content densities, and on the heavy side when it comes to interactivity.

    Careful and finessed danger telegraphing is demanded from the referee in this one. There are enough deadly traps, levers to pull, fountains to drink from, and statues/memorabilia to interact with, where failing to do so can result in dangerous or fatal outcomes. This is a must in MMM, given the sheer amount of such content. Players hate if things are capricious and absolutely arbitrary. Luckily there is a primer on how to run traps in an OSR game at the end of the product (akin to something like Quick Primer by Matt Finch).
    But on the flip side there are plenty of chances for the players to learn how the mansion operates, and what Mr. Nibsley favors. Carpets should be carefully poked, lifted and inspected. Ghosts are best kept at a fair distance. Also, there are plenty of chances to turn deadly traps (and in general the mansion) against its own denizens.

    It has enough absurd goodies in terms of magic items, laser guns, an accelerator, etc. to make it tougher to integrate into an existing campaign or running game, in case your players walk out with such treasure. There is good design here, several of the most bizarre and explosive curios are in the upper level. An option would be to replace that level with just room 90, also shortening the adventure after getting the four keys.

    Our Run

    Here I for the most part focus on the group that did the complete run, using Macchiato Monsters.
    As mentioned above, we ran for 12 gaming sessions. Players were ultimately successful (sans the overgrown graveyard), and secured the ultimate spellbook objective of MMM. For our slowness I blame both me and my players for taking our sweet sweet time to explore every corner of the MMM. They really left almost no room explored and interacted with. Also, our sessions are on the short side, I would say between 2-2.5 hours of actual game time.
    screenshot from Roll20; few rooms were left untouched

    A lot happened in our run. So for brevity's sake I'll condense some highlights here (in no order):

    • A sneaky doppelgänger infiltrated party, after the PCs returned to town for supplies leaving a dead retainer behind in the mansion. She's alive! (yeah...). We later had both the false retainer and a PC killed by reading a false tome with explosive runes. Self immolation; first and only TPK.
    • After blowing the blue whistle, unaware of what it would unleash, they summoned a blue behemoth. Causing great havoc amongst the veggie-mites, enough to distract them and steal their key. A PC had to play a bit the toreador role, though.
    • Sampling weapons of the futuristic armory (85: Weapon Alcove), one by one, to fend off against three not-so-hidden mimics. The rat-in-a-stick-shooting-laser-beams-through-eyes staff was a highlight for the players!
    • They convinced a complacent kiln-fired-zombie-maid to take an acid shower.
    • They used the garbage disposal sphere of annihilation hole to get rid off probably the biggest threat of the dungeon, the Callowfex, by meticulous and slow herding. This is after a previous PC died in there by the doppelgänger (see first point) pulling the lever at a capricious moment.
    • Deducing with careful note-taking, and thanks to careful reading of the 47: Record Room who the real Esmeralda is (19: Prison).
    • Quickly skadoodling out of the mole dragon's den with a pissed off and rampaging mole by "sacrificing" Sophie the thief hireling. All of this with pissed-off teeth eating feys on their heels.

    You probably can detect a pattern here. There were a lot of dangerous situations, and my players had great success in turning the mansion's traps against some of the most dangerous monsters. This emergent play is one of my favorite parts of the OSR, hands down.

    There were also a good number of "nope" situations. Where the players hesitated, decided to circle back to another section of the mansion, etc. They suspected furniture or another room feature and immediately closed the door, didn't pull the lever, etc. This of course got penalized with more random encounters, draining HP, abilities and so on. Their choice. But we had enough of these instances where I do wonder if the dungeon was too "passive". Or setting a timer to the adventure would have worked better: the manor will self-destruct in two days, the local authorities will seize the contents themselves, etc.

    To spice things up, and because I hoped to continue the game after MMM, I introduced a rival adventuring party. Against my expectations, the PCs ended up befriending them and joining forces to clear the upper workshop portion of the adventure.

    Growing Points

    A very few rooms could use some massaging. Nothing deal-breaking. Just careful reading and changing beforehand. For instance
    • 47, Record Room: this meta game gimmick has the trouble of voiding the players of useful information. Latest visitors are not listed, and I feel that could have helped the referee (for instance Esmeralda Spugs in room 19). In the first game, the group felt deflated. In the second I added that and it was a success.
    • 54, Art Gallery: there is a ton of information to hand out when describing this room and the paintings. The lack of doors to nearby rooms didn't help us resolve it.

    Non-talking monsters. There are perhaps too many, clearly outweighing those players can talk and negotiate with. My group had to deal with a considerable amount mimics, giant spiders and paper snakes. Perhaps granting a bigger role to the doppelgängers and the ghosts could have helped here? Making them proper factions? Not sure.

    Also, the aforementioned point of bolding or underlining of important room keywords to make the descriptions easier to parse during play is another quibble of mine.



    This concludes the review.

    The adventure has a clear goal in what space it's trying to fill, and it delivers in spades. Increased verisimilitude compared to other funhouse dungeons was something I liked and worked well, and the main adventure structure (with the 4 keys) was well received by my players. Deadly traps and situations are not too capricious or random; clever players will be rewarded. The whole adventure evokes a Saturday morning cartoon feel.

    Plugging MMM into an existing campaign is likely tough and not advisable (too many crippling traps, or wonky magic items). We didn't do it. Rather, it should be used as a singular affair for experienced players seeking some challenge. Removing the second floor and placing the spellbook directly after the 4 keys could make it a shorter run, perhaps for a single sitting? This is pure speculation on my part.

    The PDF version is more than enough, ideal for print & play, there's really no need for a physical version. Price to content ratio is a steal, and it belongs to any OSR collection as a masterclass in the space it's trying to fill: funhouse dungeons. Very much recommended.

    Saturday, July 17, 2021

    Gobbos, Goozs, Boblims

    Short, obnoxious, beligrant, capricious, numerous. Deal with one and five more will appear. They have many names: boblims, goozs, goblins, or the more widespread gobbos. Short, mean, with serrated teeth, fiery red eyes and colorful skin. Buggy green, vomit yellow, etc.

    Sunlight makes their eyes weep and skin burn and sprout festering boils. So they dwell underground, rarely venturing out at night in guerilla raids. Their red eyes are accustomed to darkness, and they can perfectly see in dim light.

    Their origin, a mystery for all but the fiercest sages or academics. (Keep this secret from your players unless there's a reason not to). A gobbo sprouts when a child is exposed to continuous inhalation to an underground mushroom's spores called the Green Dream. Makes them to stop growing, developing the characteristic qualities of a gobbo. Adults don't suffer this effect, instead giving them a mild hallucinogenic effect. Something to do with hormones, or lack thereof? Any big city pays good coin for a sack fresh Green Dream.

    So how do kids end up in mushroom infested caves? Delusions of grandeur from a minor Fae, who self-proclaim themselves King. Or Queen, Prince, Duchess or another made-up title. Let's stick with King for simplicity for now. A king without subject is like a land without water. So they do the deed. A few children go missing from the local village. Kidnapped by their soon-to-be King.

    Underground calories are a premium. Subsistence is met on a diet of mushrooms, roots and cabbage. In terms of preference, however, they get ecstatic on the thought of pink flesh. Cattle and dogs are ok. Pigs and humans are best.

    Despise cats, they think them devils in disguise. Will hunt them, skin them, and burn the bodies, leaving the pelts as warning for other cats all throughout their lair's entrance. (side note: sometimes right, 1:666 chance of cat being a minor devil like an imp).

    Gobbos don't respond well to authority. At all. Actually, a good strategy when running into the buggers is to ask who's in charge. Has a 1:6 chance of starting a heated argument, often escalating into fisticuffs among the little ones (allowing the PCs to flee). Obey the priests of the great grub, and of course the gobbo king, who's above all orchestrating this madness.

    Worship the great grub, a worm that should grow in size like they do in numbers. Looking for a Burrowwurm, yet gobbos don't really know what they're doing. It's a certainty that past some days their current grub will die, no matter the care taken. Gobbos clench to their unworthiness as the plausible cause. But the cycle repeats with a new grub. Who knows, perhaps someday they might be right? Few priests oversee this fanfare.

    Gold, silver, coins and gems will get indifferent stares from a gobbo. Value is in what's actionable: food (flesh), booze, weapons, toys. Their currency comes in three forms: teeth, toenails, dried dungs. Conversion rate is 7 to 15 to 1 (yes, you need a heavy sack of dried dungs for a single tooth). Gobbos hardly know how to count, so most exchanges are just eyeballed.

    Gobbos are numerous, their numbers ever growing like a colony of ants. Instead of relying in the local children supply, they use their hard-earned currency to sprout more siblings. More to that below. Kids Gobbos love the idea of siblings until it becomes a reality and it turns into a huge mess.

    Paizo's gobbos are more interesting than the Ha$bro ones

    HD: 1 (3hp)
    Armor: as leather (they're naked, but smol and fast), maybe shield
    Weapon: serrated bone, rusted dagger, club (d4), sling (d4) or bow (d6)
    Number appearing: patrol (d6), 2d6, 5d6
    Morale: 7 (9 with King)
    Intelligence: capricious toddler to teenage brat.
    Speech: like a 5 year old child who mispronounces their "s" as a "z".
    Drama die*: d6 new gobbos appear through cracks on the walls, hidden trapdoors, out of crates, etc.
    Want: fresh meat, grubs, shrooms, teeth, toenails, dried dung.

    Priest of the Great Grub
    (Otherwise like a regular gobbo.)
    HD: 2 (6hp)
    Morale: 8 (9 with King)
    Intelligence: entitled/spoiled child.
    Spells: cause fear, darkness (no light). Improvise some spell effects from the following: dancing bowels, castle of sand, spoil food & water.

    d6 Gobbo Trickz
    1. Bone Netz - 20' x 20' area, save vs petrification to avoid being trapped.
    2. Dissonant Bagpipes - bloody annoying, they have no clue how to play. Any attempt to cast a spell needs a successful save vs devices.
    3. The Hot Stick - a branding stick they stole from the latest farm raid. Glowing hot. Deals d8 damage, and if the target is hit they are either marked or if wearing metallic armor receive 2 extra damage (player's choice).
    4. Thunderplate - actually a big flat stolen shield. Acts like a deafening gong if struck. Reverberates, causing part of the ceiling to collapse. Applicable damage.
    5. Grabby Shiny Rock - cartoon-like oversized magnet. Takes metallic weapons, coins and other valuables from the PCs.
    6. Black powder - improvised or stolen, terrible quality. All flash, little bang. But deafening and obnoxious. Makes animals, beasts of burden, dogs or torchbearers flee.

    Fighting gobbos should always be a messy business, shenanigans ensuring. Spice up the encounter. There's tons of them, and more if PCs stay to fight back. They go for the kneecaps, balls, and toes (mmm juicy toenails). Good chances they'll bring their newest eccentric toy to the fray. Or whatever big and nasty creature they captured this week.**

    d6 Gobbo Shrooms & Plants
    1. The Green Dream - if inhaled by an adult has hallucinogenic effects. Save vs poison -2 to hit and AC. No effect on animals. For children see above.
    2. Tummy spore bomb - 30 ft cone. Save vs poison or vomit uncontrollably for a round, unable to act.
    3. Sweet Baby Blue - tiny plant that only grows underground. Mild sedative, any respectable barber is aware of it, paying up to 3d20gp for a sack of these dried plants.
    4. Firefly - an orange shroom that glows in the dark with fluorescent light. Treat like a lantern, but light is dim.
    5. Broomz - explode in d3 rounds after ingestion, causing 2d6 damage to anyone within 10' radius.
    6. Yellow Phoenix - put in teeth, nails, dung (or any fuel) to get a replica of a humanoid after d20 hours. Only a child fits in the flower. Extremely delicate, worth 1000gp to the right buyer.

    d6 Gobbo Kings
    Assume they all have the same stat block***, plus a couple special abilities.
    1. Erimea - face like a porcelain doll. Body of a fox, the size of a horse, with blue fur. Speaks in whispers. Wants to be the most beautiful thing in existence.
    2. Mooog - strong, muscular, dim-witted. Actually, Moog is just a troll.
    3. Fuh - Fae patron of untied shoelaces and other bitter annoyances. Likes to turn invisible and go to town with the latest prank. Probably the least dangerous of the lot.
    4. Bowie
    5. Three Nights - slick and elegant. Mysterious and dangerous. Deals in gossip and secrets. Seeking more capable minions, to step up the competitive fae political ladder.
    6. The Green Man - an actual honorable fae, worshiped in some human settlements. Religious roots. Wanted to stir things up a bit, start some mess to then clean it up his-self. Backfired tremendously, is now trapped within the colony of gobbos.

    * This is what ICRPG does, I think? Don't remember what it's called there. You essentially roll a d4 when combat starts, and after that many rounds shit hits the fan.
    ** Ogres. Domesticated giant centipedes, rats or badgers. Trolls. Ravaging swines. Geese. You name it.
    ** Don't have one at hand right now. Might add later. 4HD or so? Decent saves, few trickery spells?

    Reading List  

    This post is fueled by the most recent sleepless night (yesterday). With little research or care for coherence, I decided to just spitball those ideas. It might come in handy for a future campaign, or something. Here some sources that were rummaging in my mind:
    • A lot of the above was lifted from the Dungeon Craft youtube videos.
    • There's also been a few interesting recent takes within the OSR, like the one at Lost Pages or the one in the Knock#1 zine.
    • Terrible Beauty for Shadow of the Demon Lord.
    • I'm probably missing a gazillion excellent blog posts on goblins. Have any interesting take? Let me know.

    Wednesday, July 7, 2021

    The Single Biggest Bugbear in Gaming

    Deciding on a title for this blog post wasn't easy. Don't be fooled. This is both ramble and rant, with varied and disjointed thoughts on gaming groups and culture, and my recent experiences with them. Take the following words with that in mind. Or skip this one entirely.

    My gaming has come to a sudden halt. Personal circumstances have seen my days filled to the last minute. Average sleep these past weeks hovers around the 5 hour mark. I can function professionally, but that's about it. Hobby time has been squashed like a bug, and I get the odd half hour break here or there, when the moons align.

    How do people cope and find the time and energy to game? I'm not interested, at all, in the streamer superstar scene. All hell to the Manganiellos, Ann Wolls, Critical Roles and other actor fanfare. I want to know how the single mum with two kids gets a game going. How the guy with two jobs making minimum wage runs a game every week. And the person with insomnia and a gazillion responsibilities.

    This frustration conflates with several recent observations.

    I'am Pramudya


    Remains the beast of the game. Postponed games. Cancelled games. Shall we shift to next week or wait for Mike? Summer holidays, anyone? And so the innuendo continues. This is the main reason I (and I reckon many others) started running games, instead of playing. To dictate scheduling. Open tables, west-marches, and megadungeons help mitigate this, but are only a patch.

    Online Gaming (for the most part) Sucks

    The bulk of my gaming has been online. So I've encountered a fair deal of bizarre situations when dealing with both anons and friends in this medium. I get that remaining focused† is much harder when dealing with so many distractions at your fingertips. But still...

    I've seen people drop from a planned game 10 minutes in.

    I've had my fair deal of Irish goodbyes. I get that there's anonymity, but a short message signing off?

    I've had a player straight out tell me at the end of a session that during that same game they were in the background working AND getting high (what? seriously?!).

    Players throwing insults? Check.

    Players clearly not paying attention to a what is going on in the game? Check.

    Mitigations for online play could entail shorter sessions, everyone using cameras, rolling physical dice, avoid looking up rules, sharing visuals (maps, NPC portraits, etc). But it's tough to implement these without plenty of resistance from the gaming group.

    Face to Face?

    Yes please and thank you. But what if you can't host? Also, securing space in neutral ground (a café, bar, hobby shop) in my location is both expensive and impractical.

    There's a local meetup group! Hurray! Rejoice! But... the interest is almost exclusively dominated by 5e. Oh, I could still launch my game and bait some players? But the group shoves a ton of donation links and buttons to any announced games, even if you, the person running and hosting, objects. Makes my stomach irk. Oh, and taking whatever players sign up fastest on the platform (and not the ones you gel with) is mandatory. Yikes to byzantine bureaucracy.

    How do folks in my age group meet new people? In the age of the nerd one would think this is trivial, but the plague has exacerbated this problem. When approaching friends and colleagues I'm met with either courteous interest or a completely puzzled face. Got the feeling I slept through my younger years, and the deep pool that it can bring in from school and university.

    Getting 3-6 adults in the same room at the same time for 2-4 hours? Worthy of the highest of praises.

    Wat Do?

    I don't know.

    I will try to launch a game with The Calaveras (online), since we finished Magical Murder Mansion. With some adjustments, mind you. Have to prepare a pitch doc (all'Colville) of games I'd want to run. And try to play a couple times per month.

    But other than that, I'm drained.

    Perhaps a deeper delve into solo games? Yet many fall into the journal proposition, and there the blank page is a block. I'd rather take on something more passive (reading, watching), or take on a proper boardgame.

    I found the time and energy to write this post, so that's a win, right?

    EDIT: it appears, once again, that xkcd is reading my mind:


    † This, alone, is worth another rant on its own. Attention spans in the smartphone age with constant distractions flocking, is TINY. Multi-tasking kills absorption. But this has little to do with a gaming blog, alas...

    Saturday, May 8, 2021

    OSR: How much is a potion of healing in OSE?

    Inevitably, players will sooner or later inquire about purchasing or selling magic items in the safety of town. A lot of common advice dictates to leave such discoveries to adventuring, and ban mercantile activities of this sort. Otherwise, why risk the dungeoneering?

    These are just random my notes for OSE (or your B/X scoop or choice). Giving my inability to grok the game at first, and doing a cursory reading of the text I landed on something that wasn't obvious to me from the beginning.

    Enter the Alchemist

    An alchemist costs 1000gp/month in wages and they bring the following to the table if hired:

    Recreating potions: Based on a sample or recipe, an alchemist can produce a potion at twice the normal speed and for half the normal cost (see Magical Research).

    Researching potions: An alchemist may also research new potions, but this takes twice as long and costs twice as much as normal.

    A potion of healing is nothing more than a 1st level clerical Cure Light Wounds spell. And the magical research estimates the cost to make them a week of labor and 500gp/level in costs by a Cleric of 2nd level or higher. Assuming they have the recipe, the Cleric is no longer needed.

    N: number of weeks in a month

    Potion of healing Price = (N * 500 + 1000) / (N * 2)

    This yields 2 potions available per week, and no Cleric PC has to assist (this is my reading).

    Alchemists, I would reckon, are rare enough in most settings to be only present in larger towns and cities.

    The Calendar

    So, turns out that, as in many open games and the overused Gygax-attributed credo goes, a calendar is important for potions. The alchemist specialty gives wages in gp per month. But magical research is on a per week basis. How many weeks are a month in this world?

    Only with that answer we can get the price of healing potions.

    With an alchemist:

    Simplifying a month having 4 weeks -> 375gp/potion, 2 available per week

    Simplifying a month having 5 weeks -> 350gp/potion, 2 available per week

    Without an alchemist:

    Regardless of how many weeks are in a month -> 500gp/potion, 1 potion available per week (per PC Cleric actively working on it)

    Gustav Doré

    What Do?

    This is of course an abstraction, but an interesting guideline nonetheless. More than one alchemist could be hired? Magic might not be readily available in your world. What about the formula for the potion, is it common enough? Etc

    In my OSE Stonehell open table game I settled to 300gp/potion cost, with only 50% chance of availability each week. With an upfront (one-time) cost of 1000gp to bring the alchemist to town.


    1. Consider also this article as a good resource on how to price potions of healing in games.

    2. Also, while flipping through Electric Bastionland this morning, I found the general advice that TREASURE FOR XP should be bulky, expensive to the right person, and useless. On the other hand, TREASURE FOR GEAR, meaning items that will boost the PCs capabilities, should be useful for adventurers, but have otherwise little value. This is awfully untrue for potions of healing. They are both expensive and tremendously useful for everybody. Taking a magical vial to recover illness and wounds sounds too good to be true, and would be highly sought after by anyone with enough coin. Right?

    Monday, April 26, 2021

    Five Inspirations, Issue 1

    In no particular order, and with no cohesive fabric between them, here go five sources that have I have recently consumed, and provided great inspiration.

    As my disclaimer usually goes, these are things that I personally like, paid with my own money, and nobody is pushing my way. Other than the sophisticated advertisement apparatus of the tech giants, of course.

    1. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu

    Just finished this book, and my mind has been blown.


    This book contained, by a wide margin, the best writing I've had the privilege to read in all of 2021. And possibly including 2020 as well. My reading habit is certainly not what it once was, so take that statement as you will.

    The collection of short stories is insightful, paced, and thought provoking. Evocative writing flows from the page. There is so much sentiment and soul embedded in every single sentence. Fantastical elements, science-fiction and alternate history are blended with gusto. Doesn't really matter.

    The titular "Paper Menagerie" story had me literally crying, its themes of migration, culture, and heritage strongly resonating.

    "Good Hunting" was adapted for the brilliant Netflix show "Love Death + Robots", and deserves high praise. Industrialization, and our land and culture losing its magic.

    "The Perfect Match" could change its entity to Facebook, Alphabet or Amazon, appear on a newspaper, and I would strongly believe it true.

    "The Literomancer" is a gorgeously saddening story on the magic of words and language.

    "The Regular" tells in 50 pages a credible and engaging neo detective story.

    I could go on and on. Stories range from great to brilliant. There are repeating themes, heritage, language, communication, history, industrialization fantasy and futurism.

    This book is a must read. Broadened my view and mindset. Pick it up, and thank me later.

    2. NOD magazine, by John Stater

    Ran into this series of zines in the OSR space, where John Stater has consistently been throwing together very complete material. Mainly centered around his land of NOD, they include robust hexcrawls for OD&D, with interesting flavor, including bestiaries and interspersed articles. They are a tour of the world in terms of flavor and influences. You have your pseudo-european setting (issues #4-#7), but also one based on african mythology, another with east asian roots, and even a tour of Hell!

    The PDF pricing is extremely fair for the amount and quality of the content. I would highlight issues #7 and #34 from the dozen or so I purchased thus far.

    In all likelihood one of these will form the basis of what we do in The Calaveras campaign. I'm thinking of issues #19-#21. After we rebooted our game with 1 less player, we should be done with Magical Murder Mansion in a bit (it's taking us a while, but we're getting there...).

    3. Watchmen, the 2019 TV mini-series

    Swinging in quality from episode to episode, and very derivative from the graphic novel, I still enjoyed the first six episodes of this mini-series. The last third is a bit of a hot mess, losing its grounded reality, and going into realms that made my eyes roll... I would have dropped it if it wasn't for Jeremy Irons' performance. The original Watchmen graphic novel was a favorite of mine, so take that as you want.

    The topics are ominous and worryingly prophetic, given its release was end of 2019. Before the mask reality. Before the BLM movement exploded.

    Other than the great portrayal by Irons, I felt the secondary characters also had strong performances.

    4. A series of Bloomberg Quicktakes

    My failure to latch to the Expanse hype train has not prevented me from enjoying and consuming more quality science-fiction than in recent years. Books, serials and movies. I ran into this series of videos with interesting cutting edge technologies. Interesting topics.

    5. James Bond Movies

    Slowly making my way through the Bond movies of old, with Connery and Roger Moore on display. Man, pacing in these movies was completely different experience back then. Cheeky, campy, and a good deal of relaxed fun. Sometimes my pandemic brain can only take this amount of complexity, and I'm ok with that.

    Sunday, April 4, 2021

    OSR: Stonehell Rival Adventuring Parties

    There are good guidelines on Old School Essentials regarding the generation of rival adventuring parties (SRD here). And even a handy online generator to quickly have a new party created!

    But as useful as that is, I want to shake things up a bit...

    Generate a rival adventuring party with a dice drop, taking each of a kind from the full array (d4, d6, d8, d10, d%10, d12, d20) and reading all results at once from tables below. Let's assume the following example is for your favorite flavor of B/X, OSE, and for the Stonehell megadungeon.

    Mind that there are light spoilers for Stonehell in the entries below!


    d4-1 Thiefs
    Number of Thiefs

    d6 Fighters
    Number of Fighters

    d8 Level
    Party member level (HD).
    Divide by 2 (rounding up) unless in the levels of Into the Heart of Hell.
    Leader is one level higher.

    d10 Goal
    1. Treasure!
    2. Archaeological and architectural discoveries
    3. Document Stonhell's inhabitants and the most exotic creatures therein
    4. Holy quest to desecrate unholy shrines
    5. Extract a specific magic items or bizarre curio
    6. Make contact with the Vrilya
    7. Find an exit to the surface. Utterly lost
    8. Kill unaware targets with absolute impunity
    9. Capture a high level Magic-User (1-in-20 they know about the Plated Mage [3B,3C,8E])
    10. Redistribute wealth plundered in a stroke of altruism

    d%10 Additional Members*
    1. Magic User
    2. Magic User
    3. Cleric
    4. Cleric
    5. Dwarf
    6. 2 Magic Users
    7. 2 Dwarfs
    8. Magic User and Dwarf
    9. Magic User and Cleric
    10. Magic User, Dwarf, and Cleric

    d12 Unique Members
    1. Halfling
    2. Halfling
    3. Halfling
    4. Elf*
    5. Elf*
    6. Elf*
    7. Pack of trained wardogs (2d3, as normal wolf)
    8. Pack of trained wardogs (2d3, as normal wolf)
    9. d2 trained bears (can use basic equipment), smoking cigars
    10. d2 trained gecko lizard
    11. Ogre
    12. Troll, in search of the Great Hall [5C]

    d20 Oddity
    1. One of them is a doppelgänger
    2. d4 are lycanthropes, werewolves or wererats (they are aware of the inhabitants of [3A])
    3. They have a hefty bounty on their heads
    4. Religious zealots, blessed (consult the d6 rolled: 1/ St Ras [0A] 2/ Lady Chance [1A] 3/ Duke of Bones [1A, 1B] 4/ Father Yg [2B] 5-6/ The Emperor God)
    5. Are high on drugs, severe addicts. Hope Vaedium is the new hot narcotic
    6. Armed with imported muskets, pistols, and blunderbusses. Know enough to operate them
    7. Carry a cursed, chained magical tome. Dripping ichor and excreting fumes
    8. Hungry and out of food. See the PCs as a source of calories
    9. Roll on the section's random encounter table. Adventuring party at half HP, running away from that threat
    10. Members of obscenely wealthy & famed mercenary company. Sigil visible. Wearing expensive capes and hats. PCs' retainers check loyalty or refrain from attacking/flee
    11. Scarred and maimed delvers. 1-4 to surprise and detect/disarm traps, given extensive experience
    12. Carrying a monster carcass, to be sold to the gentlemen ghouls [4D]. Are the PCs a score too?
    13. This isn't the world they were born in
    14. Followed by a retinue. Consult results on d4+d8. Beggars, cooks, barber-surgeons, bards, prostitutes.
    15. Covered in flamboyant jewelry. 50% it's fake
    16. Have d6 tablet scrolls (each 100 coins heavy)
    17. Mercenaries of the Hobgoblin Occupational Army [2D]. Have orders to capture surface-dwellers if possible
    18. Tons of inter-party conflict. Betrayal at the slightest chance
    19. Have a magical compass that points to The Casino [7E]. If they have 4+ HD, they know where compass leads
    20. Corrupted, mutated (unaware to them, by the Nixthisis)

    -Magic Users and Elfs have sleep, and 2-in-6 chance of having whatever spell they need for the situation.
    -Clerics have cure light wounds and 3-in-6 chance of having the appropriate spell prepared.

    Friday, March 19, 2021

    OSR: Stonehell OSE Open Table 1-10

    Have been running an open table of Stonehell by means of OSE.
    Players come and go, we do 1 delve = 1 session, and they have to return to town before we finish the game.

    What follows are my highlights on how it's going after 10 x 3h sessions into this megadungeon.
    No detailed notes this time. I lifted myself of that burden by giving the players an XP incentive for writing those, and posting them on our discord. So far they've proved a great resource (?).

    Mild Stonehell spoilers ahead, be warned!

    Some Highlights

    • Party scared to hell and back to enter a soot-filled room.
    • Wulfa the fighter wrestling with the orcs, with members of the party betting behind.
    • Getting treasure from the Keeper of Secrets by using their wits.
    • Sheperd the zombies from the crypts to attack the giant fire beetles.
    • Methodically hiring a small army to (magically) blind and hunt the dragon.
    • Pools of hot water? Future saunas?
    • The group getting peppered by arrows coming from the invisibility trees when leaving from the dungeon.
    • Mylo the halfling dying due to peer pressure to spin the wheel of Lady Chance. The group quickly pulled funds together to make the Mylo memorial wing at the healing house back in town.
    • Portcullises posing the biggest threat in the dungeon.

    Stonehell Referee Notes

    • Dungeon is vast and dense. We have explored bits of the canyon and about half of level 1. Price to gaming ratio is just ridiculous. Stonehell should easily be 50$, the team who put this together is being robbed.
    • Awesome ideas abound! Probably Stonehell as written gets you 80% there, and filling in the remaining 20% with your own material is the way to go. Some new monsters were really good to read (e.g. doom lure), can't wait for them to appear.
    • That said, I have my gripes and terseness comes at a cost.
      •  ... factions are outlined, but are missing some strong motivation and extra oomph and flavor.
      •  ... some traps are just a "T" on the dungeon map, or secret doors a simple "S". Expanding this aspect is a must for the referee.
    • Treasure is scarce. Feast or famine. It's a design decision by Mr. Curtis, and I can see the reasoning behind and what it's trying to reinforce. But my players have complained about it, and it can get frustrating.
      •  ... have been giving extra XP for number of rooms explored in a session.
      • ... and for session reports. These are crucial given the open nature of our table to bring new players up to speed.
    • Stonehell could benefit from more loops and connections. Jaquays and Melan would wince at some of the sections.
    • Downtime is the big left-out in the OSR. There are a gazillion dungeons in the space. But common questions on how to pace and structure the game between delves is often neglected. Products and advice for this are missing. Although I get this is very personal from table to table: some people skip it, some allow magic items/potion purchase others not, etc. I don't blame Stonehell here, but it's just an observation.