Thursday, January 25, 2024

OSR: Stonehell OSE Open Table 11-16

Noticed that I never finished this one, was rotting in my drafts folder. This is a continuation to the general notes on sessions 1-10, about 6 additional session of Stonehell. Note that each session was about 3 hours, excluding ~30 minutes at the start to buy equipment, get hirelings and generally get everyone in the ElfGaming mindset. We played online via virtual table-top.

The game broke down due to personal circumstances on my end, a couple of years ago. But since players were doing written reports/notes for each session, I can trace back some of those sessions and write down what transpired.

Since then, I've used some bits of Stonehell as individual dungeons in some of my games. Levels 2A and 2C to be precise. Such fantastic books, Stonehell are, they just work like that.

Stonehell spoilers ahead, be warned!

General Game Notes

Players explored many portions of the outdoors canyon and about 60-70% of Level 1 of the dungeon proper. That is but a tiny sample of the thing! I did regenerate content between delves, so rooms would fill up again between gaming sessions, but (after a player cleverly pointed it out) already mapped locations could be traversed at 3 x the exploration rate in B/X / OSE.

Parts explored of Level 1, where most of our games took place

General Game Notes

After each session, one player got the chance of writing a session report for a bit of extra XP. This helped with Stonehell being rather stingy with treasure in the first portions of the megadungeon. And to introduce new players (, or remind existing ones) to what had transpired before. I have my doubts that anyone read these reports, ever. I can however extract some anecdotes from the game:
  • Attracting the bear from the canyon is not harmful. And skeletons can be reduced with ease when Clerics with Turn Undead are available in the party.
  • Helpful kobolds (yay reaction rolls!) and the talking stone head with laser eyes provide a lot of helpful information early on to the party: where are the (neutral) Korners, where is a significant magic item in the level.
  • The party avoided conflict when possible: bribing orcs with food, and having a wrestling match for sport, giving commitments to noble dwarfs, shooing giant rats away by setting rubbish on fire, feeding fire beetles, etc etc.
  • Iron spikes were sorely missed with self-locking secret doors. The Keeper of Secrets' riddle was answered with success, granting generous coinage, potions of healing, and a wand.
  • One of the most dangerous areas, the crypts of 2B, were treated with the utmost care and respect. There were several kerfuffles with ghouls and zombies. The latter claimed a couple hirelings.
  • Party decided to purse "Da Dragon" around session 6. The Thief purchased a chicken with the intent to lure or tame it. And despite successful sneaking efforts, the feeding plot was a disaster. I changed the creature a bit, giving it a gliding ability and two baby lizards. All whilst making the environment closer to a hothouse (aka players couldn't see the ceiling). Still it was a neat battle, and a Light spell saved the day. With 5500gp in treasure, I believe this was the biggest score of the (short-lived) campaign.
  • The invisibility trees of the Canyon level almost catches the party once due to a random roll. Would have been a perfect score for the bandits, since the party had a good chunk of treasure. Luckily, the PCs fled with arrows on their heels.
  • The Wheel of Fortune claimed a(n unlucky) Halfling, Mylo. Curiosity and foolishness was the end of him. The body is carried back to town, giving a proper burial.
  • Green slime was lethal! And one very hard to deal with challenge for the party. Fear the Slime!
  • There was a schism in the kobold faction: one loyal to Skiff and the Korners, the other led by a human lady with kobold workers fed up with their conditions. The players latched onto this conflict, but an action/outcome never materialized.
  • Players started then to use the Korners as a second base of operations. There were clear indications that Level 2 would be explored in the coming sessions (before the campaign petered), on suggestion of a dwarf noble in search of a dining Hall.
  • For some reason the players latched to an encounter with a cow god/spirit. Opening a church to it and moving that agenda forward also seemed to be in the pipeline. I guess it was material ripe for memes :-)

General Lessons Learned

  • By making fresh hirelings available every week, and any equipment at standard rates (including Plate), the PCs were carrying a lot of material, were very resilient, and rarely challenged by the hardships of the Dungeon. At least that was my impression.
  • The feast-or-famine nature of treasure was much commented. I sensed some frustration from the players. But in my opinion, this is a feature and not a bug of Stonehell (and early B/X as an extension).
  • It is hard to keep up with the Treasure Economy, once it starts to hit. B/X as written has even a 2nd level PC capable of acquiring all the equipment they want, several hirelings, war dogs, etc. Imposing taxes, jewellers and banks, carousing rules, etc. are left alltogether to the imaginative Referee and obscure supplemental materials. And it is often met with resistance from the players. This remains in my opinion a sore point of my games, and I understand why many don't want to engage in Dungeons & Dragons & Accounting if it carves out from your 2-3 hours of session fun-time in the week.
  • The trip back and forth to the dungeon was hand-waved, but it meant that, for the most part, carrying treasure out was a trivial endeavour. A single overland random encounter check could have made sense here.
  • We used a Caller role - someone to discuss options within the players, and make final decisions towards me - the Referee. This all in all worked well, especially in online play. With its awkward silences, there is always someone other than the Referee moving things forward.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Secret Santicorn 2023: 6 Unusual Spells

Locheil asks for: A table of unusual spells - and no damage spells!

CW: some violent and nasty entries below! Proceed with caution.

1. The Cloth's Confusing Caprice

Toss onto the floor a fellow's handkerchief, bearing their gold-embroided-sigil. Their physical presence and visibility are requisites for this enchantment.

Upon repossession of the cloth, for as long as the fabric is in your pocket, the masses will confuse you with its true owner. This effect does not alter any physical appearance, only external perception.

2. Diabolic Foulish Renown

Inflict severe wounds or death upon three individuals, by your hand or your command.

Hurl the blades responsible for the deed into a well, alongside with three slaughtered chicken.

Henceforth, rumors and whispers of your ruthless malevolence shall echo across the land. Your name becomes synonym with dread and fear. Invitations will start pouring in, from coronations to galas, merchant halls, and any realm you deem worthy.

The effect persists for three weeks.

3. Defilement of the Cosmos

This spell demands an enclosed room. Does not work otherwise; the Sun and the Moon do not approve of your wretched intentions and scorn at your nefarious acts.

All entities and elements within the confines of the room traverse time by up to 11 hours and 59 minutes. The Caster must Save or be transported by exactly 11 days and 59 hours instead. If a one appears on the Save die, the Caster suffers aging by 11 years.

In this temporal flux, wounds will heal or kill. Food spoils or reverts to its raw materials. Plants shrink or burgeon.

Mainly, any consciousness hurtles forward or retreats.

4. Ghoulish Vengeance

Hang the deceased person from a tree for three days.

Insert a piece of jewelry worth at least 5000 gold pieces into their lifeless mouth, consumed by the spell.

Bestow one final kiss upon the corpse, gifting them your breath.

After the elapsed time they shall return to life, adorned with a flower-shaped scar at the place of your kissing. This much is known.

Should they fail to avenge their demise within three weeks, the scar will multiply like a ravenous pustule, transforming them into a devil of equivalent Level. This curse is irreversible and admits no reprieve.

5. Ancestral Family Shame

Kinship with the target of this spell is mandatory. Be it by Blood or by Law. Present either a pound of the former - yours or theirs - or a tome of the latter, this implement is consumed.

The victim gets to Save trying to resist this vile effect. If they fail, they succumb to imprisonment into a pocket dimension for a randomly determined time span. Never exceeding a week.

Fear not! During their internment, an Angel attends to their every need. Their cell is sumptuous: fine dining, wine and spirits, an opulent repose.

Upon completion of the sentence, they return to the location where the spell was cast.

6. The Canto

Upon repeated singing and reciting of ancient psalms, for no less than ten consecutive minutes, the Caster has a beguiling effect on a number of targets equal to their Winters divided by ten.

The subjects are charmed and will see the singer as an idol to be shielded and obeyed.

After a day, the charm effects wane, and the subjects must Save. Failure brings a sense of dread and betrayal to poison their hearts, wishing the worst and even instigating violence towards the Caster. 

Sunday, December 17, 2023

2023 Ends, 2024 Begins

I have done a few of these in the past (here and here). It is that time of the year, where Mariah Carey crawls her way back from the dead, we remember Sinatra was a thing, and we reflect on the year past.

This blog has been pretty quiet. That is because there has been very little gaming this past 2023. If nothing else, this drought has shown me a deeper appreciation for the times in my life were silly elf games were my biggest worry, and have reinvigorated me to make a return to them. The luxurious position to be able to revel in gaming. One day.

My free time has been reduced, and also that of my semi-regular group (The Calaveras, from which I've written before). Mental energy to arrange a new group or join an existing one has not manifested. And realistically since online games tend to exhaust me, in-person ones are a beast to arrange with my current life obligations.

Instead I have been avidly reading a decent amount of science-fiction and Russian classics. And I picked up on Magic the Gathering play, which I know is hypocrite given my distaste with WOTC to be throwing them some of my limited discretionary money. As a hobby I'm less invested. It is just so much easier to drop by the local club whenever I can make it, play and have a good time, and not drop by in the next month or two. There is less emotional investment. Less preparation. That is my personal experience.

In terms of role-playing games, my engagement was front-loaded to the beginning of the year. Covered was:

  • A dip into two sessions of story games (no GM/master of ceremonies).
  • Winter's Daughter by Gavin Norman. With Basic Fantasy
  • The Sky-Blind Spire by Michael Prescott. With Basic Fantasy
  • Microscope (two sessions)
  • One-off sessions at the local club: one of the Knock! 2 dust jacket cover [1] adventure, another of Mork Borg (never remember where the umlauts fall).

If some sessions materialize next year, given my recent affinity with science fiction media, I could see myself taking one of {Mothership, SWN, Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells} for a spin.

Be it as it may, I wish everyone a prosperous 2024.

[1] Disclaimer: I got a monster published in that magazine, and got paid for it. They are great books, but take my opinion with that in mind.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The Rule of Three

Might be a showing of my aging, culminating into a grumpy wizard.

Might be the limited attention span, after imposed hours on the blue teleprompters.

Might be that I've been serving as a conduit to people's first TTRPG experience.

Might be that my sessions are getting shortened due to busy lives.


I strongly believe elf games should strive to withhold The Rule of THREE.

Why? Easy to remember, not overwhelming. For some groups I ain't got no time for the last portion of Dungeons & Dragons & Accounting.

Some Examples:

Keep just three Classes: Fighter, Magic-User, Thief. Remove the Cleric, for good. Fine, if you are a heretic munchkin, or your players fund a violent coup, have three subclasses per class: Barbarian/Ranger/Warrior, Assassin/Thief/Tongue, Alchemist/Sourcerer/Wizard.

Three bulky items until your encumbrance goes way up, and you are slowed down.

Get a +1 for every 3 points above 10 on a stat, -1 for every 3 points under.

How many rations/torches make up an encumbrance slot? Yes, three.

Three types of armor: leather, chain, plate.

Three categories of weapons: light (daggers, slings, darts, etc.), medium (swords, bows, axes), heavy (polearms, crossbows, etc). If your group are munchkins, add tags, special abilities, conditions, and more to them.

There should be three roles in the party: Treasurer (keeps track of loot, encumbrances), Mapper (or journaler), Caller.

How many coins fit into an encumbrance slot? 300.

How many magic items can a PC carry until they get all twisted and corrupted by the eldritch forces imbued in their possessions? THREE

Three Alignments: Law, Chaos, Neutral

Three things expected from the GM: Builder (of adventure sites, worlds, fantasies), Referee (during actual play), Secretary (scheduling games, managing props, introducing new players to the mantle)

Three interesting NPCs in the homebase town.

Three starting adventure sites for the group's first delve.

Three warring and competing factions for the players to bite their teeth in.

Between gaming sessions, introduce three elements as potential hooks or enticing quests. Drama should catch up to them.

For every three rooms in the dungeon there should be: one empty (with clues, graffitis, dead bodies), one trap/special, one monster (lair, NPC, active outpost).

My biggest concession is to keep the six traditional stats: Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha. I just can't run away from them. Reducing it to three like your Into the Odds, Cairns, or Mausritters didn't provide a satisfying experience for my group in the past.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

On Spells, Mules, Canoes, Carts and Coin

If you check the sidebar to the left, you might have noticed that I list Basic Fantasy RPG as my poison of choice. Settling at this system as a chasis for any significant campaign play in the OSR style of gaming!

Anyways, my regular group of The Calaveras, where we jump on and off short games, story-games, etc. I'm currently running a campaign stitched from published adventures that were in my backlog, one page dungeons, and other materials. Now they are tackling The Sky-Blind Spire by Michael Prescott (Trilemma). Given the stitched nature of the campaign and our busy lives, the World and the base town of Amniposita have only been sketched out.

The characters stand at the moment at level 2 (had to enforce the rule of "can't gain two levels from one adventure" for the Dwarf Thief, so close to 3rd). They have a good change of coin! These vast amounts of wealth gained from previous adventuring are staggering. They throw off the local economy, bringing in throves of wealth.

So, how were those coins utilized and drained?

  1. The Elf Magic-User wanted to inscribe a spell scroll into their spellbook (Shield). 500gp
  2. After bribing some students at the Universarium in Amniposita, where the local Sage resides, the group found out that the Spire was in the middle of a lake. And potentially guarded by Undead? Total: 100gp
  3. Given the above (nautical nature of the location), they purchased two mules (40gp each), two carts (50gp each), two canoes (50gp each), and feeding for two beasts of burden for a week (1.4gp). Total: 281.4gp
  4. Given 2. they decided to hire two retainers, including a Human Cleric. Each requested, and was granted, 50gp upfront, plus a full share of treasure. Total: 100gp

This is only a dip on their wealth, but almost 1000gp evaporated just like that.

And I don't want to get into full accountant mode:

  • Taxing treasure brought back to town (I should, 10-25% seems plausible)
  • Or charging for upkeep costs (I hear 1% of current XP thrown around)
  • Or charging for a banker

I suppose there is no point to this post. Just wanted to get this in writing to remind myself that adventurer coin is there to be spent. Missing any carousing rules, or enforcing gold spent equals XP (not just recovered), there are still several avenues for wealth to be spent.

Also, Equipment Emporium is a great supplement, regardless if Basic Fantasy is your poison. Snatch it!

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Four Desert-Island Books

This touches on something I wrote about not long ago, namely how our collections look like, and their size. Running into the following video sparked some thoughts again:

I like this a lot! And find it a worthy exercise.

My Picks

1. The Tome of Adventure Design, Revised
2. Knock! Magazine, issues #1, #2, #3
3. Stonehell: Down Night-Haunted Halls (and Into the Heart of Hell if allowed to cheat ;) )
4. BECM Rules Cyclopedia from 1991


Some Considerations

Considered what I personally own, and what has been perused at the gaming table.

The author of the video above has some damn fine choices. Lots of overlap!:

1. The Tome of Adventure Design, Revised
2. Knock! Magazine, issues #1, #2, #3
3. Veins of the Earth or A Folklore Bestiary (cheating by providing two entries)
4. AD&D 1e DMG

These are some excellent books, by all accounts. Whilst I haven't cut my teeth with AD&D, and also haven't had the urge to add A Folklore Bestiary to my repertoire, I can understand their merit and inclusion.

In my opinion the best materials are those that provide (a) a ruleset, (b) randomizers for game generation, (c) an implied or explicit setting, and (d) in some cases rules for oracles, procedures, or solo play. Any book that gets close or reaches these four categories is a clear candidate. Doing everything at once well is almost unthinkable.

For example Maze Rats is great, because it is an easy-to-teach game (simple to pick up for neophytes), but also has a myriad of random tables. So it solidly covers (a) and (b). And it also has decent referee advice. On the other hand, Lamentations of the Flame Princess' Rules & Magic is great at (a) and (c), but severly lacks in (b), and needs extensive supplemental material to function at the table.

Some examples that condense a lot of the four categories, and are worthy contenders for a single book to take to a desert island are:

  • BECM Rules Cyclopedia from 1991
  • Some of Kevin Crawford's catalogue: Worlds Without Number, Stars Without Number, or Scarlet Heroes jump out.
  • Esoteric Enterprises by Emmy Allen.


What are yours? What did you get the most out of? Which island do you want to be stranded in?

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

On the OGL and OSR

I live! A bit salty that my regular diet of demonic cackling, cloud yelling, fist waving, and general resignation has to be interrupted to come back to the blog. Life is even better outside of the Matrix. And I rejoice at having morphed into a grumpy old cackling demon. So let me indulge here as well.

Oh wonder! A Fortune 500 corporation wants to encapsulate your imagination and put a price tag on it. Let's monetize and shoehorn micro transactions on your deepest desires and fantasies, on a private activity with accointances, friends and family. The eldritch tentacles of capitalism, oh my, find their way through your orifices to suck your brain.

Te amount of panic I'm seeing in some creators I follow on the sidelines is remarkable. If anything else, and with selfishness, this will serve to have an updated version of some of my favorite games, with a truly open source license. Because, never forget, OSR stands for Open Source Roleplaying. That is a long standing argument settled, right there. Since the birth of the OSR is unequivocally tied to the birth of the OGL license, this is irrefutable.

WotC has lost their little credibility and image over the last few years to become a pariah in the space. Ex-Micro$hoft execs taking over the C-level positions was already a screaming warning. But these shitshow already happened (to a lesser degree). Time is a flat circle yiddi yadda.

Human memory is damn short, and we tend to quickly forget and forgive via the limitations of our fruit-fly brains. This grumpy demon won't.