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. 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)

ma-ko
*Notes:
-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.

Monday, March 15, 2021

OSR: Why is damage left as a die?

Going through recent adventures in the OSR space, it is very common to see an attempt at generic or system neutral statistics. This is done a lot, with armor as chain, saves as Fighter 1, etc. This is very useful if say, you are running your game for B/X but then change for Swords&Wizardy (different saves), or LotFP (different AC baseline).

An exhibit from the Dust Elemental in the remastered Stygian Library


BUT very often monster descriptions use original die size. D8 in the picture above. Why? Why not take instead an equivalent damage as sword, or damage as polearm? Main reason I can think for this vestigial limb to persist is that some monsters inflict greater (or different) damage than what standard weaponry allows, surpassing damage dice.

*End rant*

My solution would be to have extended weaponry values in the equipment section (grenades, bombs, pistols, muskets), or use damage from spells (which are meant to surpass mundane weapons).

Don't have a solution to this trend. Just my observation. What do you think?

Sunday, March 7, 2021

d10 Bulky Treasures

1. Rugs of exquisite quality, very bulky, each 10 x 10 feet if unfolded. Red background, with floral patterns in gold and purple.

2. Barrels filled with deliciously aged wine. Hanging from over a net, on the warehouse's ceiling (20' high). Be quick, or the smugglers will return!

3. Tablets with engraved religious scriptures, valuable for a sage, historian or church.

4. A golden bell, the size of a stocky dwarf. When carried, sudden movement, the slightest drop or altercation makes it ring, echoing through the dungeon. And attracting monsters!

5. Accurate sized portraits that almost come to life out of the canvas. A ghoul is disposing of them by throwing these pieces of art into the fireplace. Too many memories of past lovers.

6. Dragon carcass. Recently slain beast, still fresh. Has to be transported swiftly back to town to salvage as many parts as possible. The smell attracts other vermin in the dungeon.

7. Blue lotus flower: have to bring back absurd quantities! Sacks and sacks! Then, the petals are dried and treated by the local alchemist into a single vial of concocted poison.

8. There's a map of the stars carved on the cathedral's dome, details never before revealed elsewhere. Incredibly detailed, hard to read, and byzantine. You can spend time copying it (hard to see details from down here), or get up there, hire a mason, and chip the stone out. Or with enough paper and charcoal trace the whole thing out.

9. 2d6 delicate, crumbling scrolls. Have to be packaged individually in linens, and in a scroll case (light but obnoxiously bulky!)

10. An immovable ladder made of solid platinum. Fixed to the white marble ground.
Where does it lead?

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Solo: Sealed Library AP

These are my notes of a solo play-through of the Sealed Library, a solo game by Matt Sanders based off the mechanics of the Wretched by Chris Bissette (and their SRD). I'm a neophyte when it comes to solo or journaling games, with only a short stint into Ironsworn, but here we go.


Day 1 after the barricade. The diary of Junior librarian, Thaddeus Blocher. The doors and windows remain secure though the ceaseless banging and distant screams still fill me with dread. I tell myself some of the others left outside might have survived. Today, I must begin choosing and moving the most important works, or what remains of them, down to the catacombs. I hope my food and water will last until my task is complete.

Roll a 6 on the die.

Draw, in order, 7 of ♡, 2 of ♡, 7 of ♧, 2 of ♧, 5 of ♡, 7 of ♤.

Day 2 after the barricade. The diary of Junior librarian, Thaddeus Blocher. I first locate as if by miracle an exquisite tome with exotic flora and fauna, pages animating as I assay the work. An image of the Bürokraken within will haunt me in tonight's sleep. Next, I choose a tome by Aarimar Calvoso, in hopes to salvage the best poetry known to mankind. Paging through, masticating the words, my mind away from the library for a split second. A boulder smashing through the northern window makes me jump. The re-enactment of the Old Ones' Demise in the glass gone for good. Who will come behind me, to pick up the ruins? Who will rebuild? How often does the cycle repeat itself? To reassure myself I start barricading the main entrance with shelves of newer works, their worth no less significant.
heavy tablets, showing the decapitation of King Vlademar. He was the last monarch after the revolution of the three roses. A tyrant, yet responsible for paving the way for the more civilized ways: roads, hospitals, and the ancient shell that turned into this library. This will do for the day. When I return to rest for a few minutes, I find my bread moldy. Cutting the pieces and eating the scarce remains. My stomach protests like a band of angry cats.

Roll a 1 on the die.

Draw, in order, 7 of .

Day 3 after the barricade. The diary of Junior librarian, Thaddeus Blocher. A respite from outside. Have the invaders lost interest in our library, turning to other parts of the citadel? Did help arrive? During my search and cataloguing of the day, I run into the skull of Italvo Klakk, famed royal assassin. Judge and executioner of mischievous revolutionaries of her time. A person of unquestionable law, with what that rigid view entails. Her brain analyzed by our library. Her skull archived as a sign of warning for future generations.

Roll a 3 on the die.

Draw, in order, A of ♤, 3 of ♡, A of .

Day 4 after the barricade. The diary of Junior librarian, Thaddeus Blocher. With the first rays of light in the morning, a section of wall on the river side of the library springs a leak and destroys priceless works of calligraphic art. On the upside, I have now access to clean, cool water.
I think after clearing the classic philosophy section I need a rest. Negationismus seems like the worthier of them to save, if anything to prevent future generations to make our same mistakes. The invaders were able to drop from the cliff to our weaker roof? Have they employed cranes or other works of engineering to assail us? It is then and there, that an idea appears on my mind... what if I check the destroyed sector for further underground rooms? And then and there, I find the vault my masters claimed as only hope! It will take me days to figure out its opening mechanism. But there is hope now.

Roll a 6 on the die.

Draw, in order, 2 of , 3 of ♡, A of .

Day 5 after the barricade. The diary of Junior librarian, Thaddeus Blocher. My work must continue! The chamber of maps! I snatch one to save. From the stars, galaxies and the endlessly spanning Universum. Claimed to be a token sent form the lighthouse at the edge of the Universum. We are but a speck of dust. As a next stop, I have to move to the medical ward. Since magic flourished we made a prominent leap. A volume detailing salves and roots for common ailments and viruses seems the most valuable for our future. To the vault with it!

As I take these relics to the vault, I discover Master Justus resting dead on my return to the underground safe. I feel like a scavenging rat, picking his pockets for any valuables. Smoked beacon! If only I had been more thorough in guarding the kitchens... Tonight I'll feast! Passing adjacent cellars, a swarm of foul rats jump on me, surely judging me for stealing from the dead. I get repeatedly bitten until I find a safe place. These wounds will haunt me in the coming days.

After I calm down, and my eyes adjust to the dark, I see Master Braulis cold dead on the ground before me. A blade sticking from his back. Few paces away an invader, his neck trickling with blood from a wound caused by a letter opener. Braulis taught me the letters, and was the architect of my place within the library. He deserved a better death.

Baffled, depressed, and more alone than ever, I return to the main hall. The invaders have the audacity of unleashing scores of snakes through the cracked doors and windows. I have no alternative but to show them fire, always with the dread of adding their bites to my already festering collection from the rats. And the risk of scorching some precious volumes in the process.

Roll a 5 on the die.

Draw, in order, K of , K of ♡, J of ♤, Q of , K of .

Day 6 after the barricade. The diary of Junior librarian, Thaddeus Blocher. I wake up cold and tired, from my hiding place underground. How long have I been out? A wide-eyed, gaunt invader walks out in front of me, coming out from the cellars. How did he get here? We struggle, he with sword and me with my bare fists, meant for writing and not barbaric acts. I eventually win, but not without a bit gash on my side. I need some time to recover. But there is none to spare. Deep in the basement of the library, damp, and mold has claimed the legibility of many ancient maps and scrolls. Spores from purple mold fill your lungs. Hours later, you begin to cough up blood and hallucinate. I see my mother, before she had to abandon, her smell of lavender filling my nostrils. I don't blame her for what she did. Not now.

I move upstairs, to look through the Head-archivist Qualius' quarters. I find a bottle of fine Valindian wine in the lower drawer. He always had his vices, despite his virtues. I pour a third to my still open wound, and drink the rest in fast gulps. Alcohol gets to my head, and I am intoxicated again. I start scribbling all my sins on the walls. Maybe this will exempt me from judgement. I tumble down to the library proper. In a fall, I knock over a neatly stacked tower of books. As if calling to me, the open pages of a tome of restorative magick show up to me. I have little training in the arts, but I mumble the enchantment, which seals some of the blade's wound, but not all. Why didn't I pay more attention at the teachings from Braulis?

The kitchens? I already checked them, but what if there's something left? I go in quick pages, leaving a red trail behind me. Finally, I reach it, and start searching in a desperate fit. Sausages! They smell of rot. Might have gone bad? I need the energy, so down they go.

Not an hour later, I have a strong fever, unable to walk even. I hear loud thumps from the ceiling. I get sick. What's next...

Aftermath Debrief

  • Overall a great experience. Can't wait to try Sealed Library again, and other games in this Wretched SRD family.
  • My game was cut short by those 4 almost consecutive kings. Despite that, seems like a punitive game with many ways to lose, that state being the default and assumed outcome. Will make the few victories more joyous and unique.
  • Being in control of pulling the blocks gives a sense of self-inflicted perish.
  • It seems the game could run for several hours, I was at it for 1h30. If the A of is not placed at the top of the deck at the beginning. In the future, I'll try that.
  • Detailed journaling is an exercise I'm not completely fond of. I also chose direct digital notes, which are probably detrimental here. In future games I'll just jot down bullet point notes on a piece of paper as I go (just key details), and day-dream/meditate the rest.
  • How good is it on a second, third play? It seems there are a handful of plays here, before having to start the tinkering machine by changing entries on the cards, questions, etc.

d10 Fantastic Libraries

1. Tomes scattered across the towns' private homes. Volumes are crumbling, dry, and weathered, so they are to be presented and perused only with silken gloves. Membership requires a donated book to the library.

2. Twelve stories of impeccable architecture. Floors, shelves, and furniture made of glass. Clockwork automatons make sure there's not a single speck of dust. To be admitted and become a lifelong member you have to present a handful of gemstones.

3. Interconnected network of underground tunnels, filled with pipes and tubes. Whistling sounds resembling marimba. Music sheets, vinyl, and records of all music exists here. Mandatory silence in the premise, or the librarians will dispose of you. Free admittance, but the network is tricky to find.

4. Entrance through a forgotten closet with rejected tomes. Pocket dimension space behind it is infinite, full of rows of packed shelves. The first tome contains a thousand empty pages. The second just a single letter "A" on the first page. This continues on until all permutations have been reached. All works are here. Admittance and membership are free, but good luck finding the exit.

5. Inside the hollow of an enormous oak tree. Ran by a family of yellow dragons. Any book read is immediately scorched after consumption. No exceptions. No memberships, to be admitted you have to bring twice the number of tomes you are going to read in that particular visit.

6. Inside a citadel's bunker, under siege. Place is being destroyed by the detonations. Fine tomes and relics on demonology and astrology, could help bring any angel or demon forth. To enter you have to find a way past enemy lines.

7. A throne reaching the skies. A tower made of books, tomes, and stacked paper. The library is the collection. Hanging from their thumbs, for all to see, suffer thiefs, textbook scribblers, and loud rascals. Atop the throne sits The Despot, overseeing their collection. Membership requires an offered infant.

8. An archipelago amidst a restless sea, with the aquatic god-duo of ignorance and envy sluggishly pounding the land. On each island, a colony of gnomes resides within a mirror palace. Each gnome has memorized works, in alphabetical order, which they can recite. Trade goods, fuel, food, and tools will be taken in exchange. There are ancient feuds between the colonies. And there are the gods.

9. A collection of walled gardens. Admittance is completely free. Visitors are treated to tea, pastries, and the most exquisite cigars. The collections are writings, thoughts, and musings of other members, which can discuss under the most strict supervision, censoring, monitoring, and excessive advertising. Once you enter, you can't leave. If you leave, everything you ever did, said, or thought will be part of the gardens. Forever.

10. The lighthouse at the end of the Universe. The lone guardian gladly journals all happenstances that she oversees or cross her mind, as she pets her companion frog. She loves the quiet and reflective nature of her existence, but welcomes visitors to converse about history, ethics, and philosophy. Admittance is free, pastries encouraged. Good luck getting there, though.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Ten People You Meet in the Undergarden, Zine Review

This is my attempt at taking a look and reviewing the Zinequest 2 projects I backed.

Disclaimer

- In the interest of full disclosure I bought this with my own funds.
- I was a backer on their Kickstarter campaign and paid 5 US$ for the PDF version of the product in February 2020.
- 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.
 

Overall feel

Ten People You Meet in the Undergarden (TPYMITU from now on) is a 26 page-long zine (including front-, back cover, and notes from both autors), written and edited by Kari Aldrich and collaged/illustrated by Sam Mameli. The digital version is deceivingly arranged in spreads, which can mess up the page count. This Troika!-compatible volume has exactly what it says on the tin: 10 creatures you would meet in the Undergarden (reminiscent strokes of Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, and Gardens of Ynn), with collage art and extensive accompanying prose.
 

Full disclosure here, I'm not really familiar with Troika!, only having skimmed the game that I got in a bundle some time ago. So not very familiar with the underlying game and community. It feels the Troika! creators are more artistic, pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a TTRPG. I'm a bit out of my depth here, but I'll approach the material with an open mind.

TPYMITU is not affiliated with the Melsonian Arts Council.

Reading the digital version for this review, I was listening to a bit of Rachmaninoff whilst enjoying a cold one.

The Ten People

"A bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work' CLICK DING!"

There are 10 individuals presented here, with evocative collage art, and extensive descriptive prose. Reading them as short stories makes for the odd chuckle, and they seem taken straight out of (a less decadent and broken version of) Gardens of Ynn. One of my biggest criticisms in that work is the lack of things the players can talk to, so the Undergarden's denizens seem like an excellent fit on paper.
 
In order of appearance, we get the following:
  • Anne Fredd, shrub knight of the church
  • Geralmine, a mushroom mercenary in the city of broken clocks
  • Effum Deffum, a clockwork angler by the pond
  • François, a bird thief in town
  • Marcot Egglet, a spider archer on the bridge
  • Mrs. Hedgemaze, a hedgemaze
  • Arry Coole, a spider farmer near the castle
  • Mr. Whiskers, a cat merchant on the road
  • Broos Greenshoe, a bug cleric in the castle
  • Hom Tinsel, an elven carpenter in the tower

My favorites are probably François, Arry Coole, and Broos Greenshoe. But they all were interesting to read.

Example spread for Arry Coole

Prose is written in the second person (with some entries in third person instead). There are not really many situations that could be incorporated into a gaming table, at least not as is. No gaming material here. People from TPYMITU are inspiration, and give ideas to feed and ingrain into the referee's head. Some have merit, and could help me derive my own material for my games: a spider farmer that cares for their population making sure of their sustainable development, a sentient hedgemaze with powerful abilities, an book-rat of a bug that lets you into the castle's library by signing a ledger (you notice: previous entries only have an entrance date in them!). You get the picture.

The implied setting of the Undergarden is vague at best, just strokes here and there. We know that Mr. Alpred is a skilled clockmaker. Bietemoupe is a town. There is a half-ruined tower that is undergoing reparation work. A protected manor. Etc etc. There is even a library in the Undergarden, making the potential crossover between Ynn and Stygian Library a reality for us to enjoy.

Mien are useful words to understand the monster better, they help. To have a sense of these People's beefiness I quickly open the Troika! Numinous Edition and see that Dragons have Stamina 32, and Goblins 6. There is someone with Stamina 40 and 6 in TPYMITU, so a wide range. But gaming statistics hardly matter in this publication at all. They could've been removed, making perhaps a stronger zine.


This concludes the review.
 
I'm definitely out of my comfort zone with this one. There is almost no actionable material here, but some good food for referee thought. Reading the short stories was an interesting and picturesque 70 minutes, and the collage art was delightful at places. Might incorporate some of these into Ynn's encounter tables if I ever run that again.

Glad I got to do these (belated) reviews to sit down and read material like this, which otherwise would sit in my digital-folder-of-shame for eternity.