Sunday, January 10, 2021

OSR: The Calaveras Campaign 11, 12, 13

This is an ongoing Knave Macchiato Monsters campaign, a smallish sandbox of sorts with new players to the hobby. Read what happened before here.

The cast of characters:
Solbion (iagson) - dwarven smith apprentice of the city of Falkcrest. On a sabbatical year, seeking to see and experience the world.
Nerisse (Mo) - redhead bow-woman, who wakes up in the first visited dungeon without any memory of how she ended up there. Has some newly discovered Fae-powers.
Angan Enge (Copernico) - beastman of the Biber Hills, assigned by Rhys to accompany the adventurers.
Hirelings/Animals - Sprig, the freelancer astrologer-wizard

Session 11

After seeing the phantom, illusion, ghost or hologram of the robed elder in the last session, we get an immediate random encounter with reptilians (troglodytes) carrying a sack to "Old Gregg", wanting to pass by the PCs. Their reactions is weary and rude, but not necessarily hostile. They move north, past the ghost/illusion of the wizard's warning, without giving much information to the party.
The next room, circular and with a the rug in the center. The players avoid stepping on it, seeing the troglodytes did that too when carrying the sack. It has passages in all cardinal directions, and they go for the studio room to the left. Exploring it reveals tiny people in jars, and a scroll of diminution as treasure retrieved.
Returning to the rug room, and going further to the north. They have the suspicion the troglodytes moved to the doors to the east. Unfortunately, they are locked. To the west, however, they see some bodies at the end of the corridor. Wisdom makes the PCs avoid them and trace back their steps. Next, they decide to check the second corridor to the west, opposite one of the locked doors.
There's a pit, and behind it a pile of treasure. Solbion jumps to retrieve that, only to find out that it's an illusion. Instead, there is a peacock's feather, and instructions on how to enter the realm of Ynn...! Returning, they notice (by dropping a torch) that at the bottom of the pit there is a pool of water and a skeleton floating on it. Again, caution prevails and they decide to ignore the valuables...
Back in the room with the rug, last cardinal direction to check out is east. They find the statue of a hunter flanked by two hounds. The statue itself flanked by some (mildly glowing mirrors).

Solbion has the clever sense to pass the open room by ignoring the statue and mirrors, looking into the floor to avoid unwanted reflections. Dwarven cunning! Unfortunately some steps ahead, past an arch with serpent motifs reveals a fearsome foe, yet another giant spider. Spells fling, spear jabs, but its a lone one this time, so they hurt it and it manages to escape through a crack in the ceiling, after a poor morale roll.

Proceeding to two rooms that get explored, but not interacted with!
First, a big room with several chipped statues of old nobles, and corridors and locked doors going in all directions. The body of a chocked dead dwarf near an archway. Then, a "control room" with a stone boulder on a corner, and 6 numbered levers. Again, the party ignores that, and prepare to rest for the night.

Session 12

Group wakes up cold from the metallic floor in the control room. Angan's condition due to the spider's poison is debilitating, the hill-man starts the day coughing blood. Lesson: don't get bit by any spider!
Almost immediately his acorn necklace starts flaring with heat for an instant. A signal? A cry for help? An enchantment? All of these are unclear for now...
They continue exploring North, following the underwater noise in search of the reptiloids. There's a skirmish with three troglodytes near the sandy river bank (they are aggressive from the get to). Decent use of glue by Nerisse to blind one, the corridor as a choke point, and some spells make this a short affair. The adventurers have the upper hand this time around. Tumcool, one of the troglodytes, agrees to present Old Gregg to the group. Angan hopes the troglodytes might have an antidote or cure for his poisoned condition.
They meet with Nancy, an albino troglodyte, takes the offering the adventurers bring: the body of the dead dwarf they found a while back. Sadly, the troglodytes are not able to provide help regarding the poison, only freak the PCs out with their primitive "fresh meat" diet and hanging fish... Old Gregg is even less helpful!
Moving back to a known location, they are able to capture the spider with a well-placed Roots spell by Angan, and Nerisse's ability to put it to sleep. Then the coup de grace, the carcass might help to concoct an antitoxin with the right tools, perhaps? Sprig suggests that...!
Finally, they decide to move towards the corridor where they found the dead dwarf. A stone archway with tree and root motifs carved serving as ominous entrance...

Session 13

Last we left off.... out heroes scoundrels were exploring the archway. Solbion advances as much as possible, torch in hand. With the flickering light he's able to see black roots all around, their density increasing as the corridor advances.

Angan thinking himself a naturalist druid from the nearby Biber Hills, decides to step forward, all care to the wind. The roots animate, and grab his legs, twisting and squeezing painfully! He suffers some damage, Solbion and Nerisse quick to the rescue.

Another strategy then: Nerisse uses her fae-ability to hover above the ground (and the roots!), tied by the waist by a rope. On the other end both Angan and Solbion hold tight.

Safe enough! Passing by the roots is harmless for her. Moving forward, the roots thicken, and she's able to see an ascending staircase. Going up, she sees a big space, thick with vegetation, almost a jungle. In the center, a big bronze buddha-like statue? And... movement on some branches? Monkeys? Babys!
Nerisse wants none of this, and quickly traces back.

Now on the corridor with the roots, she's able to retrieve... some big black tomatoes! The graffiti at the entrance of this place was right! And we all know what players do when presented with rare food/drugs/substances...

Their pupils and eyes turn pitch black, they recover some stamina (HP), and.... Solbion develops an addiction. How fitting for a dwarf! He convinces the group to advance and get more tomatoes: "QUICKLY!". Fortunately the roots seem non-aggressive to black-eyed individuals.

Finally, they find a space of black trees. A garden. In there, a bucket and more tomatoes! In searching and harvesting them, a shadowy figure appears. No-nonsense, it wants the intruders dead!

A lengthy combat ensues. The creature seems immune to parley, reason, or willing to flee. Angan uses his Roots spell to start rearranging the vegetation in the room, creating for himself and his companions a "safe" patch in the center of the room. Solbion ignites one of the trees, to be able to track the shadow even better. Unfortunately Nerisse suffers the most getting her Str drained (gulp!). But the party has the upper hand, once again, since they are resourceful and are in a 4 to 1.

With the shadow gone, they take a minute to recover, check the room, and find several goodies (including a secret door and a chest) that we will reveal next session.

Referee Commentary

For session 11: on about fifteen turns of exploration I was only able to roll a random encounter once, right at the beginning of the session, these pesky troglodytes. As a consequence exploration felt static at times, void of urgency or tension. But such are the trappings of randomness.

The dungeon has some very interesting locales and encounters, like for instance the hunter's statue with the mirrors. It genuinely annoyed my players and made them be paranoid about that and future statues in the underground complex. Oh, and the layout of this adventure (the PDF) is brilliant, like every Necrotic Gnome product. I was running this pretty much as we go, only having done a cursory skim of the material beforehand.

One point that surprises me is that two PCs have spellcasting at their disposal, yet they get rarely use it during the game. Not sure why that is? Perhaps free-form casting is too intimidating for them? Have to try and remind them that this is a possible option in their arsenal.

All in all, we are having a tough time to cram OSR dungeon exploration. Our sessions are quite short, and the players have a hard time to decide a course of action. For instance Mo is losing interesting in these kind of procedures and game. Seems to favor (light) puzzle solving, and more role-playing and politic interactions. So I will have to think what to do about this.


  • Daniele - woman-at-arms, sword & board.
    Mauled to a pulp by an animated serpentine statue in session 4.
  • Pancho - guy with a lance, and a tendency to grab shiny stuff in front of him.
    Dropped from great height by a giant eagle in session 5.
  • Ber - a goat granted by Rhys the beastwoman shaman.
    Eaten and scratched to death by fungal goblins in session 7. Instrumental even after death.
  • Zemalayu - carrying a crossbow and knows some spells. Ranger-like. Face heavily scarred and mutated. Speaks through some tattoos.
    Bitten dead by giant spiders from the Glenry Wood and their poison in session 10.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

2020 ends, 2021 begins

Well into the year by now, but the nice disconnect of the holidays has kept me away from screens and RPG games. A good number of light boardgames (King of Tokyo, Azul, Splendor, etc) were enjoyed these days with the few close family members I was able to see.

What a bizarre year this has been. I'm extremely fortunate on how good it was for me personally, but also professionally stable. And for that I'm thankful.


This year I enjoyed some games, but the circumstances in the world have also kept others from happening:

  • I continue to play a whispers bard Oswald Lach in a 5e campaign, Tomb of Annihilation. We should finish the campaign within the next months, I reckon.
  • It saw my Knave Stonehell play-by-post tables fizzle after some slow exploration of the first levels.
  • Played a couple session in IdleDoodler's Barrowmaze open table. Good fun, and still going strong. The time just doesn't fit my schedule too well.
  • The Calaveras campaign picked up with some old friends new to gaming. Knave at first, we've moved to Macchiato Monsters.
  • We had a stint at the Stygian Library with Electric Bastionland characters and rules.
  • Tried Microscope for one sitting, and I definitely want to toy more with it, and Kingdom.
  • Played a bit (more) of Magical Murder Mansion with Macchiato Monsters, and the guys really want to continue playing that.
  • Played a solo session of Ironsworn and enjoyed the experience. Might blog about it in the future.

The Blog

31 articles published. Some with useful ideas. But more importantly a repository of them for my future reference and use. And I like the "dead" nature of blogging. Seems archaic and ancient, even in the OSR circles, where Twitter and Discord seem more predominant. Here are my four posts of 2020 I myself liked best:

The Future, 2021

First, about TTRPG purchases. Seeing how much I play and use, I will stop buying products and backing Kickstarters. Doing so at a much lower pace. This has been in my head much before Grognardia's piece, which echoes my thoughts like a megaphone. In my future, less is more. Might even consider giving some physical stuff away, or trying to sell it.

Second, about my gaming. The 5e game will wrap up in a few months. The Calaveras campaign will continue, but most likely at a tortoise pace even if I try to revitalize it. I will try to join or launch an open table to have a weekly game in the OSR space, beer & pretzels style. Perhaps OSE and Stonehell, but who knows. I'm also eagerly eyeing Mothership, but need the right group for me to take a stab at it. Solo Ironsworn will continue as well.

Third, the blog. The stream of thought dumping in this space will continue. At what pace, no idea, 31 posts a year seems like a lot. I will keep my focus on TTRPGs, might do a stint into other media I enjoy. Blogger will be nuked by Google, but hopefully not in 2021.

Anyhow, as we say around here, good slip to 21!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Game Mechanic Ideas 1

At any given point, I must confess, I have at least 2-4 half finished game hacks in my drafts folder. On top of that, I've purchased plenty of systems which I never intent to play wholesale, but instead get a kick of the brilliant mechanic here and there. Let's say pilfering material.

I guess this is one thing that draws me to the OSR and its DIY attitude.

In reality these half baked system ideas never get to be finished, or not fully. Least of all played. There are some exceptions like Knave++ (a messy collection of house rules), and the ugly Into the Dungeon+GLOG mash I had to concoct for a game. But the things further down in this article are pretty much in raw form.

Even if I say I'm running a Macchiato Monsters game (or Knave, B/X or something else), I change the rules left and right all the time. Surely everyone I know in our space does this. The day players start quoting Kevin Crawford's tweets in my Scarlet Heroes/SWN/Silent Legions game I'll skin myself with a butter knife.

Anyways, find below a list of the game mechanic ideas & concepts I've been considering lately, in no particular order. Nothing novel here. Lots pilfered and regurgitated from several places. They will be of more use here than in my draft folder. Maybe someone takes inspiration and fleshes things out.


1. Keep Knave classless, and add extra slot systems

What is this?

Outlined here


-I still think this idea has some merit. I really, really want to develop this further.
-Could force filling these new slots through in-game training or items collected.
-Keeps Knave classless, as it should be! I have grown disenchanted of Knacks at character creation. Instead I would give players more item tables to roll at start. And the option Wizard/Thief/Fighter -> 1x Magic/Faith die, 2x Areas of knowledge, or 1x Martial die.
-Could make for a tactile experience with a well-designed character sheet where players can place the different dice, cards for the hirelings, magic items, etc on it. See Mausritter.

2. Track Wounds/Hearts instead of HP

What is this?

Instead of tracking HP, count Hearts (if you like descending/subtracting) or Wounds (if you like ascending/adding). Personally, I prefer the latter. Each is roughly 5 HP in B/X terms. A Wizard gets with 4, Thief with 6, and Fighters with 8. No levels, rock&roll.

Get hit by a weapon? That is 1 Wound. Was it a polearm? 2 Wounds.

Has the benefit that it can be represented on the character sheet with a placed die.


-A la Index Card RPG. Goal is to simplify math and speed up play.
-Nothing innovative here. Really the same as treating HD=Hearts, and giving the Fighter types one extra HD on even levels.

3. HP are Relationships

What is this?

HP doesn't represent your character's stamina, attainable wounds, or health. Instead, each point represents a cultivated, nurtured relationship.
When reaching 0 HP, your PC turns an outcast, barren of any relevance in the social and political landscape. Create a new character.


-Read this as a conversation in a Discord server recently, and thought it a clever idea.
-Probably too detached from my usual gaming preferences. But for a highly political game systems this could be promising. Or for a PbtA game. Does Monsterhearts do this... ? goes check PDF

4. Deck of cards for the Magic-User

What is this?

M-Us and Clerics don't get to choose or roll for their starting spells. Instead, the player gets handed a regular deck of 52 cards. Starting spells are determined by drawing a number of cards equal to 1 + their Intelligence bonus or Wisdom bonus, whatever is highest. Minimum starting spells is one.

Each suit of the deck is mapped to a set of spells (hearts are clericy-, diamonds are wizardy-, clubs are druidy-, and spades are witchy spells). Draw one card for each starting spell and note those cards as your starting spells.
I imagine these spells pretty much working a la Wonders & Wickedness. With DCC scalability perhaps to account for card number drawn.
When casting a spell, draw a card from the deck to see its effect (number is damage, or scales the effect). Red has a backfiring effect (no miscast, spell still works, just... chaos comes into play, a setback or side-effect), black means things work as expected.

Rings/wands/staffs mess up with the drawing of cards, and how interacting with the deck works. For instance a wand can reduce miscasts to only hearts, a ring lets you store a card, and a staff lets you draw two cards and keep the one you prefer when casting a spell.


-Leans into some isometric play at the table between players, they can interact with different systems depending on their class. Neat make for an interesting dice-less system for M-Us.
-Needs a lot of fleshing out, in terms of random tables for the spells, chaos/backfiring effects and similar systems.
-I also like the idea of M-U players having a physical prop at the table.

5. One roll combat resolution

What is this?

Exactly what it says in the tin.
Replace round by round combat with just a single opposed roll to resolve conflict. Account for surprise, bigger numbers, environmental advantages, better weapons, etc as part of that roll.


-Combat is very streamlined in most OSR games, and seen as a failure state for the players, better avoided.
-Some combats can be puzzles in and off themselves, so there is a cost to this. But arranging free-form combat (which I really like) is complicated, and in my limited experience some players can tune out.
-Avoid wasting everyone's time at the table by just doing a quick resolution roll and move on. Tax resources (HP, equipment, food) on outcome.

6. Clerics are Godbinders

What is this?

Turn religion into a facet for the entire party to contribute to, not just a dedicated class. As per Arnold K. Godbinders replace Clerics in a B/X like game.
Now, the difference between a spirit, ghost, demon, or god are just technicalities. Semantics. Point being, the Godbinder can summon such an entity to ask for owed favors. Or be asked to pay the bill.

I envision this working similar to the 5e Warlock, flavor-wise. Involved entities. But I lack a defined mechanic to track the favors, and (randomly) generate the bound gods. Probably the Godbinder can only keep up to Wisdom modifier # of gods in their pocket.


From Die Issue #2

Monday, November 23, 2020

OSR: Burrowwurm

Enter the Burrowwurm

Materializes in the guts of an innocent individual who gets their first sin by killing another innocent without motif or benefit. The sinner has to feed on eggs for a full moon after the killing. Hence Burrowwurms can proliferate within the members of upper layers of society (noble children, and other families that can afford all those pricey eggs). Or in times of war. Or in a family of chicken farmers. The Burrowwurm comes to existence, just like that.

Diminutive at first, the wurm keeps crawling and growing within the host's guts, insatiable. Contrary to belief, Burrowwurms are not necessarily creatures of evil. Too dim-witted, they are however germinated from the purest evil. It's their gestation puddle, not their essence.

A kid that starts inexplicably drinking gallons of milk, and eating like a pig is a huge sign of a latent Burrowwurm inside them. It has to be dealt hastily, and with efficiency. Arduous task, if the kid is to remain alive after the cleansing.

Sunlight kills the Burrowwurm. Milk attracts it. This is obscure and bizarre knowledge, appropriate for a sage or long-forgotten tome. That is why past a certain size threshold they dwell underneath the surface, creating tunnels and passages without rest. The surface area will experience increasing intermittent mild earthquakes.

(Un)justified Devotion

Molekin, roachlings, slugfolk, and earth & mud elementals all could suffer from the delusion of taking the Burrowwurm for a minor deity. Or an envoy of one at the very least. At the Deftowurm size, who could blame blem? In a sense, they are right in their devotion of absurd power.

For instance, molekin are creatures of sheer law and obedience. Taking the most despicable and unwanted jobs in a society: sewer maintenance, dung collecting, corpse collector. You name it. Scattered in local colonies, they have an inclination to worshiping worms and maggots, recognizing the resemblance with the molekin lifestyle. And a Burrowwurm will be a magnet to the buggers, if they ever have the honor to come across one. Despicable, yet mighty. Shrines will be opened, prayers chanted. Out of an inner instinct, almost unconsciously. Sadly, the buggers end up as more fodder for the wurm.

Andrea Chiampo

Burrowwurm Stages

  • Hatchling (1-2 HD): still inside the host's guts. Lure it by hanging the victim upside down, and putting a bucket of fresh milk inches away from their open mouth. It may take minutes, but the Burrowwurm should bait. Snake-sized, and as thick as a pinky, it's a matter of pulling it out. Painful process for the host, but they'll survive.
  • Grubewurm (3-6 HD): size between a dog and a small pony. Host gets killed in a brutal manner, their bulging stomach missing adequate space.
  • Minewurm (7-10 HD): size of a stallion up to a small elephant. Territorial, creates complexes of tunnels in search of underground calories.
  • Deftowurm (11-19 HD): size of a whale, and then some. Causes local earthquakes.
  • Postmortem (20 HD): a chrysalis, with uncertain outcome. A town-sized butterfly? Prodigious intelligence and telepathy. Maybe those molekin weren't wrong all along...?

Burrowwurm finds some tasty adventurers
A Deftowurm finds some tasty adventurers


HD: 1-20 HD (see "Insatiable Growth" in Special).
Omen: varies on size. A corpse with their abdomen area exploded. Shaking ground.
Appearance: a wrinkled worm with sucking teeth-filled maws
Number Appearing: solo
Wants: food, milk
Armour: as chain.
Movement: Normal. Burrow through flesh and soil as Normal. After 11+HD, also stone and metal.
Morale: 10 (assuming 12 will never give up combat)
Saves: as fighter
Attacks: 2 attacks, as polearm
  • Insatiable Growth: Eat, burrow, destroy, annihilate. Size, growth, and Burrowwurm are synonyms. At the start of every week, roll a d20. If the number rolled is higher than the Burrowwurm's current HD, it gains 1 HD. If the Burrowwurm was damaged in that time, roll 2d20 and choose the highest value.
  • Sunlight Aversion: slowly dies when in contact with sunlight. 1HD permanently lost per exposed minute. HD lost this way get regained when out of the light at a rate of 1HD per hour
  • Regurgitated Gravel: (requires 7+ HD) 3 times/day the wurm can puke gravel and rocks. As lightning bolt, but force damage.
  • Swallow Whole: (requires 7+ HD) replaces one of their attacks. Can target a single creature to save or be swallowed whole, causing death in one turn.
  • Tunneling: (requires 11+ HD) Burrowwurms of a certain size can burrow through earth, soil, rock and metal. This creates a shifting lair, as tunnels are created and collapse with the wurm's passing.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Calaveras Campaign Map


This is where our Calaveras campaign is taking place.

Every hex is 6 miles. There is sea to the west, and this map (roughly the size of Switzerland or the Netherlands) is where the adventure unfolds. There is more land to north, east, and south, so nothing is preventing them of going off limits. The focus is on three autarchies, where nations of equivalent power but different philosophies struggle for power. Natural catastrophes have been destabilizing the landscape. Plenty of dungeons and holes in the ground to recover riches and gain glory & fame.

The game started with gold=XP, but has shifted to defined goals when we changed to Macchiato Monsters. These goals get discussed at the beginning of each session, and we have a list that both me and the players can reference at all times.

To ease my work and preparation, I have dotted the landscape with known OSR modules and adventures. In here you will find: The Hole in the Oak, Tomb of the Serpent Kings, Bone Marshes, the canyon level of Stonehell, Castle Xyntillan, Tower of the Stargazer.

Every hex has an obvious landmark that gets revealed when the group simply goes to a given hex for the first time. These are interesting adventuring locations, towns/cities, etc. Then, if they decide to spend significant time and explore that hex, they get to uncover an additional "hidden" location. Six mile hexes are vast, but this is a sensible compromise that works for us and our 2-3 hour sessions.

Each terrain area has their own encounter table, usually 2d6. Entries are different and unique between for example the four different forest regions in the map.

In addition I started using a similar method as what is described here to track potential drama with the party (and making use of the prevalent Usage Dice of Macchiato Monsters). I have a list of potential drama that is likely to catch up with the party, and roll each between sessions. If the day fizzles from Δ4, the drama catches up with the party (or is no longer relevant, another adventurer group solved it, etc).

And... that is all! I might post the encounter tables or start putting the hexes in the blog, if they get a second pass to depart from the "mad scientist's scribbles" state they're at.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

OSR: The Calaveras Campaign 9, 10

This is an ongoing Knave Macchiato Monsters campaign, a smallish sandbox of sorts with new players to the hobby. Read what happened before here.

The cast of characters:
Zemalayou (iagson) - carrying a crossbow and knows some spells. Ranger-like. Face heavily scarred and mutated. Speaks through some tattoos.
Solbion (iagson) - dwarven smith apprentice of the city of Falkcrest. On a sabbatical year, seeking to see and experience the world.
Nerisse (Mo) - redhead bow-woman, who wakes up in the first visited dungeon without any memory of how she ended up there. Has some newly discovered Fae-powers.
Angan Enge (Copernico) - beastman of the Biber Hills, assigned by Rhys to accompany the adventurers.
Hirelings/Animals - Sprig, the freelancer astrologer-wizard

Session 9

A lesson is learnt from the night skirmish with the fungal goblinoids (and Ber the goat's demise). The group barricades the windows and lower doors of the sergeant's building to have a safer rest for the night.
With a fresh morning start, they go to the nearby Quartermaster's building, two-story as well. There are also evident signs of struggle in the building. Broken windows on the lower floor. Blood stains on the main door. Individuals with bows and crossbows and red leather vests get out of the upper windows, pointing their weapons to the adventurers! Bandits? Brigands? Guards? Agents?
Through parley, the reaction of both groups is wary, but not hostile. Ultimately these individuals understand there could be a mutual benefit in avoiding conflict. And potentially working together? Nerisse asks for answers to her Fae past nature and origin. If someone inside that building can provide any insights about the Fae. Well, it turns out these red vests are traveling with an individual named Sprig, that could help her for a price...
Sprig, art from OSEs Rogue Gallery I
There is some back and forth with the negotiations. Tension drops very slowly. And an accord can be struck. Sprig, turns out, is an astronomer-wizard versed in the Sylvan language. Claims to know Nerisse's origin to be intertwined with Ynn, and a passage to that place could be uncovered in the very near future... Sprig is interested in the characters. And apparently only associated with the red vests for this job. But why are the red vests here? What do they want? Turns out that the juicy delobia, currently at the watchtower with the manticore.
Now to plotting and scheming. The group puts Ber's corpse on the courtyard, and cover it in oil. In the hopes it drives out the manticore as bait. Then the group of seven (our party and the red vests) takes cover in the different buildings, missile weapons ready. And the thing takes the bait.

Angan has spent the last hour preparing his Roots spell to bind the flying manticore to the ground, but with the side effect of binding and immobilizing himself in the process (this takes the HP cost down to something manageable).
And it works! The flying beast is immobilized for some seconds when it approaches the goat. They pepper it with projectiles, ignite the oil, and make a general mess. One of the red vests perishes in the assault, being caught by one of the tail's spikes. We see the heavily wounded beast flap its wings away from the tower into the horizon, leaving the area.
Delobia gets handed to the remaining red vests, and Angan finds an obsidian spear in the tower. Objective done! Sprig, seeing the utility of the party, offers to tack on and show them the entrance to the Hole in the Oak, just south in the forest...

Session 10

Sprig leads to the site in the Glenry Wood, south of the Biber Hills. Or where he recalls have read it being in the dusty tome at the academy...? Answers to Nerisse's background await, as well as a wizard's lair to potentially pilfer for reagents and items. Bozurah the Imperishable!
Crossing the forest, Angan takes the lead to make sure the group keeps on track with Sprig's vague indications and general instructions. Thick webbing becomes evident as the group advances, hanging from the trees like rotten fruit. Obscuring, and covering the way like strong, fixed curtains. With the choice of push forward (for a faster arrival) or taking a detour to avoid the thick webbing, the group decides the former. And...

Four crab spiders jump the group. The adventurers are carrying torches and have an attentive Angan in the front, so there is no surprise. A deadly skirmish ensues, spells are chanted, bolts are shots, and Zemalayu is bitten by one of the spiders, dropping dead on the spot (SECOND PC DEATH). Angan is bitten too, and will have to worry about the poison later, but can carry on. The survivors manage to kill and scare the spiders away, but have to run away themselves, the murmur of something bigger coming to the site. Zemalayu's body, alas, stays there as a free meal for whatever is coming next.

After a jog through the forest, adrenaline levels dropping with the recent horror behind them, the group resumes their journey. Arrival to the Hole in the Oak glade occurs before nightfall. Time seems to slow down, a silence is cast among the unnaturally thick roots scattered around the bare oak. Near the tree, a dwarf examines an interesting graffiti "The most delectable night-tomatoes grow down there". After proper introductions, Solbion joins the group. 

With clever use of ropes and equipment, they are able to descend down the hole between the roots. In there, the natural tunnel and a bit of exploration reveals a left-handed leather glove, a message among the moss covered wall "NOLLY'S KINGDOM", green glowing roots covering the path to their right. So they decide to take the left. Which reveals a corridor, a ghost, phantom, or illusion giving a cryptic and broken message...

Wizard, from the Hole in the Oak module

"That was, friends, Bozurah the Imperishable!", suggests an excited Sprig.

Referee Commentary

I was very proud on how the group handled the conflict with the manticore. They allied with the red vests and Sprig to get to the common goal, and used a good assortment of preparation, spells, positioning and fire to deal with the scary foe. Handling that recklessly could have ended much much worse for them. They then went on next session to do the complete opposite with the giant spiders... I also decided to make the spider's poison a little bit less immediate, but something they will have to solve in the next 24h.
Macchiato Monsters narrative goals are very not OSR. Or rather, they are taking a bit of muscle effort to define between me and the players. Some seem to obvious or trivial, and we have in general a hard time agreeing on them (or harder than I'd like, anyways). 

We are getting better and faster at resolving the flexible and free-form spellcasting, as predicted. And I really like the freedom and creative problem solving it provides.


  • Daniele - woman-at-arms, sword & board.
    Mauled to a pulp by an animated serpentine statue in session 4.
  • Pancho - guy with a lance, and a tendency to grab shiny stuff in front of him.
    Dropped from great height by a giant eagle in session 5.
  • Ber - a goat granted by Rhys the beastwoman shaman.
    Eaten and scratched to death by fungal goblins in session 7. Instrumental even after death.
  • Zemalayu - carrying a crossbow and knows some spells. Ranger-like. Face heavily scarred and mutated. Speaks through some tattoos.
    Bitten dead by giant spiders from the Glenry Wood and their poison in session 10.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

OSR: The Calaveras Campaign 8

This is an ongoing Knave campaign, a smallish sandbox of sorts with new players to the hobby. Read what happened before here.
Before this session 8 there was a coup d'état orchestrated by my players. They wanted to change systems from Knave to something new, claiming they were moving past its simplicity and ad-hock rulings. Granted, I could have pushed for Knave++, or concocting a set of satisfying house rules to achieve the same effect.
But in the end decided to offer them Old School Essentials and Macchiato Monsters to pick from. To my surprise, they chose the latter. We re-rolled the characters, but keeping their experiences and place in the world, and we put them at level 2.

The cast of characters:
Zemalayou (iagson) - carrying a crossbow and knows some spells. Ranger-like. Face heavily scarred and mutated. Speaks through some tattoos.
Nerisse (Mo) - redhead bow-woman, who wakes up in the first visited dungeon without any memory of how she ended up there. Has some newly discovered Fae-powers.
Angan Enge (Copernico) - beastman of the Biber Hills, assigned by Rhys to accompany the adventurers.
Hirelings/Animals - Ber (a goat that can carry some of their stuff)

Session 8

We open with the group entrenched in the nearest possible building, the barracks, after the fierce attack perpetrated by the flock of crows. Thankfully, Zemalayou had a fair douse of sense in tossing silver coins to distract the creatures for their escape. Even if previously explored, they decide to give the barracks another swipe for treasure and clues, taking in the fact that the space hasn't been sacked before. Unfortunately, no treasure, clues or riches around.
Angan takes note of the overflooded latrines to the north, connecting with the barracks. The stench of mud and feces  in the floor is hard to overcome, but peeking inside the space the beastman takes note of a closed wardrobe. He decides the promise of the unknown is worth the effort, and enters the area, disturbing the fecal mud... and getting his boots stuck in the process! Whilst trying to escape, he notices a tiny child-sized hand filled with pustules coming out of one of the over-flooded latrines. An evil grin cast in his direction, a fungal goblin has seen some tasty prey. Another stinky foe is emerging too, making them two. Nerisse sends one to sleep with her (newly acquired powerful) fairy dust, whilst the other is assaulted by Angan and Zemalayou's crossbow. For now, safety, but the group now knows that it is not alone here.

Fungus goblins, illustration taken from the Gourmet Street zine

Leaving the barracks, they go see the Grime guards they left outside with the delobia. Turns out, all but one left to explore the Quastermaster's building to the East. The guard was left behind to check for his drugged companions (the ones from the basement) and the delobia barrel. Angan asks for directions, and gets a menacing response from the guard. They already got things under control. Best check either the tower or the Sergeant's offices South of the camp. Group decides the latter.
In the Sergeant's building: broken windows, place has been sacked. Only intact is the taxidermy of a huge dog (a mastiff) in the room, with a strange purple coloration in the tongue. They decide it sure is cursed, enchanted, trapped or worse, so they transport it out of the house and want nothing to do with it. Further exploration of the edifice, they find a bedroom in the second floor (sacked), and a studio/office. Nerisse finds a missive from Lastleaf, king of Grime, named the Eternal, explaining why these hills have been abandoned after the catastrophe, and what the regent's plans are for the neighboring kingdoms. What the players decide to do with it, is unknown yet.
The kitchen on the first floor has no food, but some hidden wine with some magical properties that Angan experiments with. But so far it's unclear to the beastman what it's purpose is, other than it colors his ears in flashing rainbow colors for as long as the kick of the alcohol is in his mouth.
While Angan and Nerisse are busing looting the premises, Zem is keeping watch through the broken windows, loaded crossbow in hand. It is then that Zem sees the tower lurker, an adult manticore butchering what's remaining of the drugged guards, taking the barrel of delobia back to the tower.

Night falls, group takes Ber the goat into the sergeant's bedroom to rest for the night. Watches are assigned. Angan goes first. Soon after hearing the first snores of his companions, stench and mad laughter catch the beastman. Peeking through the window he sees... 6 fungus goblins, who start to explore and raid the building they are in! Combat ensues, but the party has the high ground and missile weapons. They take a beating, and Ber the goat almost perishes in the process. But this time the group has the upper hand, and dispose of the goblinoids.

Referee Commentary

Transitioning to Macchiato Monsters took a full session creating characters (between games 7 and 8), but this is likely due to the inability of my players to do their homework and read what I send them. There is, however, more involvement in the Machiatto Monsters process, with the traits as well as the free-form spell words requiring (my) referee input.

During play the characters seem rich, more complex and resilient than standard Knave or B/X scoundrels. But we did struggle with the free-form spells (even though it only appeared once/twice in play), and how to adjudicate them. My gut tells me that it's something one has to get experience and comfortable with, and we will warm up to it.