Friday, May 29, 2020

Tales of Mordhearse Reloaded

This is a build up from the excellent work by vilecultofshapes, expanding on the player rules.
You can find his game on itch: Tales of Mordhearse Hyperlite.

It is extremely light. But in its simplicity lies the beauty. There are no to-hit rolls, like in Into the Odd. Roll d8 to get your HP and character class, so creating a character is done in a minute after a couple of rolls. Use current HP as a resolution system, with roll under (want an easy game? use a d10 or d12. hardcore mode? d20).

In just a couple pages we can taste the feel of the world of Mordhearse (a dying earth and Humanity of sorts). The version by vilecutofshapes has a sample dungeon and some spark tables to boot! But frankly, any ItO material should work just fine.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Electric Bastionland - The Stygian Library Job AP

We decided to take a break of the Knave games, since Mo was not available to play. So I had to organize a game quite ad-hoc, and fast. I proposed to give Electric Bastionland a try, with the following options on the menu:
  • Stygian Library - "Go into an infinite library to get a particular tome, or book of information (think Borges, with creatures etc.)"
  • Prison of the Worm Queen - "Investigate the disappearance of the Worm Queen in the Dwarmsgarden part of Bastion"
  • The Price of Evil - "Go fetch whatever valuables you can from a haunted house in the upper part of the city. The owners want to sell or destroy the property, but are afraid of the bad juju"
They picked the first one, so that's what we ran. They rolled some characters to begin with, and got

Smiff (Copernico) - a Deconstructor with a smelly dog and a murder lizard. A walking zoo.
Ural (iagson) - a Repressed Psychic who worked in a distant mine in Deep Country, and can appear invisible to one person.

They have a 10'000£ debt to repay to the Under-kin, a faction of androids in the Underground taking all discarded, mutated, and abused humans from the surface of Bastion. How that debt came to be is kept undisclosed. Their contact within the Under-kin is an embedded mouth entity in the sewers that goes by Matka-3QΩ.

2'000£ will be lifted from the group's debt, if they find any information incriminating a charity conglomerate known as the Redway Relief Fund. Your poster of supplying the food banks, going to the shelters and orphanages to help those in need. Oh, and they are all women wearing red&white garments.

To start, they are given the tip to visit the Burn Art Curio Bookshop, and ask for an entrance for the Stygian Library. All knowledge can be found there, but in its vastness lies the complexity. There, Drench, a fox mockery with a disdain for the manager (and any kind of productive work in general). He takes them to his Nth coffee break of the day, explains how the famed library has an entrance here, at the bookshop. When prompted for the entrance, he points the way, and wishes the group good luck.

Once inside, they starto to navigate the infinite Stygian Library. I decide on a target score of 25 for the Information they need. My line of thought is that it's not rough to find some sketchy bits or dirty secrets on the Redway Relief Fund, given its recent popularity within Bastion. The group's run ends up as follows after about 1h50 of exploration, and 2 hours of real play time.

A respectable 12 Information was gathered, and very quickly. Sweet! Perhaps I was too generous with some of those points? I reckon one more session will wrap this one up. Some session notes of this run (in very rough order):
  • Ringing the bell at the entrance brought a quartet of eccentric (but helpful) academics (Researchers), in search of books about (factual) recollections of dragons, and politics. They believe both are interconnected! Warnings of the Librarians are given.
  • The Mausoleum's sarcophagus is left intact (for sure a trapping!). A lost family of japanese tourists (Visitors) brings in a very wholesome interaction. They continue taking photographs, astonished by the sarcophagus.
  • The chained Lectern Book gives Kung-Fu powers to both, as they read the pages of this extraordinary tome. Only at the cost of 1 point of Strength, as their knuckles twist and bend in the process.
  • A pair of fighting Bookworms spill into the room, right when the pair is debating "where next?". There's some hesitation ("should we try our Kung Fu?!"), but they decide to retreat.
  • Ural fills in 7 bottles with colorful inks from the room with the Ink Vats. Smiff takes his sledgehammer to break some bolted chains and investigate musical books. Clues are obtained, but a gust of wind kicks in (all lights extinguished), and another Bookworm creeps in, this time wanting to dance. Smelly dog gets the worst of it, but decides to keep biting with a rush of canine adrenaline, and they defeat the maggot.
  • They finally arrive to a reading lounge, with sofas, tables, cigar smell, and a spiral staircase. After investigating the shelves in this area for a bit and getting some helpful information, the shelves at the entrance move and shift, closing the way they came from. Where to next?

Referee Commentary

  • The players seemed to like EB. Avoiding the to-hit roll was very well received. One of the players showed interest in more tactical combat. No surprise, they come from a wargame/models background.
  • I had little time to prep the game, and converted monster stats on the fly (based on gut instinct), and used 2d6 morale. This was sloppy, and at some point I might get some better conversion notes in place. Have to check the Bastionland blog again.
  • Forgot that mobs don't add their damage in EB, but you only take the biggest results. I'm just too used to Into the Odd!
  • For the smelly dog I used 2d6 for stats, assuming it was a Lackey. Not sure if that's the standard, but it worked well.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Sphinxes, the first of Sages, Zine Review

This is my attempt at taking a look and reviewing the Zinequest 2 projects I backed.
See some disclaimers at the end of this post.

Overall feel

Sphinxes: the First of Sages is a 16 page-long zine (including front- and back cover), focusing on... sphinxes! The PDF formatting is strange, since it uses two-page spreads for the body. The biggest appeal and draw for me to get this zine was the artwork and aesthetic. Given that, I recommend you check their Kickstarter campaign, which frankly is a bit scarce, to see the art by Alex Coggon and Charles Ferguson-Avery. As for other previous works, I own Into the Wyrd and Wild, which I consider a helpful toolkit for running forest-wilderness adventures.

Sphinxes has great layout. Each individual spread has thematic margins that emphasize the sphinx being presented. The art features really great sphinx pieces, where I think all but one are done by Alex Coggon. This means that a bit of cohesiveness is lost with the one by Charles Ferguson-Avery. The PDF has no bookmarking or layers.

Also, the title page has a typo: "Shinxes".

The zine suffers from rules inconsistency and lack thereof. The KS project page claimed loose 5e compatibility. Maybe? Since two authors worked on the zine, 4 of the sphinxes have very light rules (and some spells that follow DCC-like effects?), and the last sphinx has more robust statblock to be used during play (AC, HD, etc.).

Introduction and attributes

A first two-page spread covers an overview and introduction about sphinxes. The first page has rumored origins, their similarities and differences compared to dragons (the former are curious, the latter plain greedy), sphinx lairs and followers, and how to use them in combat. These overviews are a bit verbose and not descriptive enough. They could've been summarized in a few bullet points.

Sphinxes in Combat is particularly confusing. It sits mid-way between a system-less description of abilities and a mix of 5e and generic terms. Spells like Silence and Mage Hand are contrasted with "saving throws", "disadvantage", "save versus poison", and two spell descriptions, Eye of the Storm and Sundering Laughter that are lacking mechanical and thematic focus. Of note is also that these guidelines seem only relevant to sphinxes 1-4, not 5.

The second page is Physical Attributes of the Sphinx, with some lovely smaller drawings, showcasing the anatomy. Show don't tell! Writing could be trimmed here, in lieu of more sketches (feathers are described as treasures, why not show some?). For me the most interesting bit is the last paragraph, where time-halting pockets are described; reason why sphinxes can negate the passage of time. This can give some game-able material: can you bring your ally or PC in time, before they succumb to their incurable disease?

Actually, the final spread (pages 14-15) could have been pulled in to the beginning of the zine, to soften the introduction and provide a less dry point of entry to the zine.

The 5 Sphinxes

The meat and potatoes. We get 5 two-page spreads, each with their own sphinx, including individual (and gorgeous) pieces of artwork. Great layout, with margins matching each individual sphinx and their theme in the spread.

Some general notes on the first 4 sphinxes, and then I'll jump to the tone of each one. The 5th I will look at and discuss separately, since it follows different format and content.

The left page gets the name of the sphinx, together with art, and some keywords based on Virtues, Vices, Wants, and Speech. I really like these, concise and punchy, gives a good idea on how to run them.

Following are a few paragraphs riddled with more details, like lairs, mannerisms, history, and organizations they are each involved with. There are too many proper nouns (to locations, organizations, etc), and not that much game-able material. The structure is also a bit off. Perhaps adding a few categories "Description", "Lair", "Organizations", "Fierce Secrets" would have helped?
There is also the odd omission. For instance Naccalat reads "Naccalat is a scrupulous leader and hordes their followers like they do their treasure; feverishly. To join with the sphinx is to join a family that borders on fantastical cult.". Yet this camaraderie is not within the mentioned Virtues, Vices, Wants, and Speech, so it makes it harder to parse or understand. If the idea was to have an unreliable narrator, a clearer tone for the reader/referee would've been great.

The second page contains a spell, thematic to the sphinx presented. The format is not reminiscent of 5e, and it compared a result from d20+(one of Int/Wis/Cha modifier)+Level against a codified table with results and effects. Seems reminiscent of DCC, perhaps? Each is just too much for actual use for a single spell, and devoid of much in terms of mechanics. The higher results of the table would make a fitting boon, magic item, or scroll, for the sphinx to have in their lair (and to bestow on helpful PCs), so the effects can be repurposed that way.

In order, we get:
  • Zalar Vos Noxium - this one shouts LAW through all pores. Space and time as theme, tied with clockworks and their care-taking. And a tower as their lair.
  • Naccalat es Crisclet - a cunning thieves' guild master. Doors, keys, and passages. Could be the face behind a curio and relics extraction company. The most dangerous, perhaps.
  • Leu’li vac Oren - a trickster, an illusion (?), dealing in rumors and curios. Probably the most likeable of the bunch.
  • Meticus En Laosim - meticulous, a librarian, the brainy one? A library is implied, so potentially this one could be plucked into the Stygian Library? I might do that...
Lastly, we get the Shadowbound Sphinx, which is a generic monster (instead of one unique sphinx) with 14HD and some nasty abilities. Darker and likely more antagonistic, it follows a more appealing stat-block with HD, AC, etc. Numbers are fairly system-agnostic (e.g. AC as leather). But for some reason the attacks are still given in damage size, instead of "as sword", or "as dagger". I also suffer from this rotten habit. The monster description text is somewhat evocative, but has certain words repeated too often, in succession. There is also a "save versus madness", which... is not bad? But I'd rather have vs Intelligence, or similar.

The second page is a sample Warlock subclass, the Path of Shadowbound, assuming you get one of the critters as your patron. Flavor being madness and randomness. The level 1 features gives d6 extra spells per day to the Warlock, and the 14th one a twisted Wish spell. Probably too much for a class, I'd not let this roll on my 5e table as-is. However, as separate boons granted by such a sphinx after a quest they make more sense (which by the way, is suggested in the text!).

End sprinkling

Two final pages at the end add some seasoning to the topic. First, a one page short story about an implied origin for sphinxes, that ties to books, knowledge, and understanding. Solid for inspiration, but no gaming material, it should have been on the first page of the zine to open up less coldly.

We also get d20 Random features in a sphinx lair. They vary in originality and length up to 30is words. For instance 19: "Flickering candles that never seem to burn down or emit any heat." could be improved. Or 11: "Warm deep, thermal fueled pools of a variety of colors, looked over by a water spirit that sings softly from the alcoves."

What I see missing is an extra line or two to add interactivity and something exciting the players can do with the locations when encountered. Take 11. Specifying the colors in the pool. A line or two about the song, or how interacting with the spirit could pan out. Do they like other art forms? Will they trade a song (with clues) for gems?

This concludes the review. The zine is a visual treat, but in general lacks defined game-able ideas to apply to the table. Organization and editing could be improved. If you really like sphinxes, I'm not aware of any other dedicated zines. Maybe we see future treatment of other monsters by the authors?


- 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.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Old School & Cool #1, Zine Review

This is my attempt at taking a look and reviewing the Zinequest 2 projects I backed.
See some disclaimers at the end of this post.

Overall feel

Old School & Cool features 38 pages of actual content (excluding OGL, covers, and index), of varied theme and scope. There are character classes, spells, an NPC generator, and more, sprinkled with Hadrian's Rock, a 9 page long space-fantasy location/adventure. I have to admit total ignorance when it comes to the cited authors' other work, Ahimsa Kerp and Wind Lothamer. Their Kickstarter page has a ton of content and art previews, and a loose table of contents. Good previews like this one help us identify if we'll like your product. Thanks! I will be sharing some screenshots taken from the PDF, all art by Wind Lothamer or their KS page.

In a sense Old School & Cool reminds me of the best qualities of the Black Pudding zine by James V. West, with less goofy/gonzo ideas, and removing the odd out of place bikini chick jokes. But it has consistent art, varied content, and is a pool of ideas to pick and choose for your games at an affordable price.

First off, the black&white art is really good, consistent, and abundant. It helps convey a cohesiveness to the entire publication. My favorite pieces are the Augur, the Lizardling (page 10), and the Promethean (page 37). The only point of criticism I have in the visuals department is with the adventure maps on pages 32 and 34. A bit too abstract and with hard to read room/area keys. There is no scale provided, and more specificity and effort would have helped here.

The rules follow B/X compatibility, with a clean and clear layout, closest to Old School Essentials. Both descending and ascending AC are provided. Skills follow the X-in-6 popularized by LotFP.

Varied content for the plundering

The guts are varied, and start with ten character classes for B/X. There is a good mix of interesting ideas in the bag, without going into the unnecessarily bizarre. Page 26 has starting packs for them, excellent for one-shots or quick character generation. The ones that stood out the most for me were the Augur, and the Scop. And in a lesser degree, the Language Expert, the Lizardling, the Puppeteer.
  • Augurs have an exquisite concept to them. Using birds, omens, songs and poetry could easily replace the Cleric in my games, if I decided to stick to the Wizard-Thief-Fighter trio and ditch the Gygaxian religion. This is THE class from the bunch, hands down. (Why is Auspicate 12 minutes? Should be either 1 minute or a 10 minute turn). If only, because it would show how poor my referee notes are :)
  • The Scop is a nice take on the magic-less bard. Puts the capital T in Team by a handful of abilities to boost the party's efforts, even extending a bonus to the overall XP (which appears to be bonkers at high level). The lack to boost hirelings' abilities seems to be a missed opportunity (boost to ally Morale rolls, better change of lowering their fees, etc.).
  • Translating all specialized retainers into their own B/X classes could be a nice exercise. Language Expert feels like exactly that. There is debate around the use of languages in games, and how much it adds/detracts from the experience. Putting that aside, and the overlap with the Magic-User (Reading Magic, Magical Items, etc.), the concept adds some ideas to the conversation, although I would probably never add it to my games.
  • The Lizardling adds to the classical race-as-class trio, and is self explanatory, following a venom theme all throughout. Follows same hit die, to-hit, and saves as the Dwarf, but with a couple Thief (Move and Hide), and other abilities. Why the prime requisite is Charisma is lost to me. The "Command" ability would have been nicer with a 1HD lizard creature (beasts), instead of a number of lizardlings (implying humanoids).
  • Finally the Puppeteer brings in a fresh concept, a mix between Magic-User and natural charmer, mixed with puppet control. The concept is nice, but it can give an insane amount of dolls to control at higher levels. Add that to the hirelings and dogs of the party, you end up with more to keep track of (for the player). Also, their command even if verbose is left a tad unclear. How often are the commands needed? I like the concept, just not certain of its execution, and the XP progression following the Cleric seems like an odd choice.
And the Space Dwarf becomes of relevance in Hadrian's Rock, the adventure. Ideal to bring in new characters and NPCs during that segment. Exploding dice tend to be fun at the analog table, and this class brings some.

This is followed by two pages of OSR Feats. Varied in quality and originality, seems that heavy inspiration was taken from 5e (or earlier editions? I'm not too familiar with 3.X). In general I prefer odd abilities, quirks and knacks instead of a flat bonus. For me, these are nice ideas to tack to a magic item or a feat/boon, but adding a malus or situational condition could make them more interesting.

There are 2 pages of spells, split into Spells of the Dead and Other Spells. Again, the former connect with the zine's adventure and are part of the monsters/NPCs in there. I like the connecting bits throughout the zine.
  • Breath of Death - cascading effects in a spell are sometimes hard to keep track of during the game. Otherwise a nice spell.
  • Dirge - should perhaps allow for a save from the PCs?
  • Forced Astral Travel - again, this could have a save from the target?
  • Find Familiar - a favorite to many 5e players. Kudos for making the familiar a random 2d6 table.
Now, the three cleric spells presented, Schism, Doubt, and Apotheosis are an instant favorite for me. Schism lets you change your deity. Which is something I would normally allow during a game without the codification. But reading this spell brought some ideas to my mind (what if you can't cast it on yourself, so you basically need another cleric/priest of your same deity to cast it on you?). Apotheosis, a 5th level spell, converts the caster into a deity. Why every 7th level cleric wouldn't do this, then? My gut-feel tells me it could be fixed by having requirements in order for the spell to work (riches, willing followers, or similar).

Then we get 4 pages with as many tavern menus. A lovely touch that's meant to be a handout for the players. An easy prompt to drop to the table, but far from the most interesting bit here. Somewhat disappointed that the Elven menu is not fully vegan.
A lot of OSR default play structures live in the cycle of adventuring/dungeoneering->gold->town/safe hub->cash for XP. Therefore towns inns and recurring faces get some (minor) importance in many games, by design. By giving ten alternatives to the over-used inn (including 6 names for each), you add an interesting sprinkle to the norm: steam rooms, teahouses, dead creature? Nice touch.

Next, we get 8 random tables to generate city NPCs by rolling d10s (each column has 5 columns and 10 rows). They are cleverly broken into wards (Slums, Temple District, Palace, Marketplace, etc.), and have good non-generic descriptions. A great tool to get a spark on the fly, this might be one of the most generally useful things in this booklet, for its applicability. A "Want" column or an extra table for goals on these NPCs is generally the cherry on the top, would've been a great addition.

Hadrian's Rock

Lastly, the aforementioned Hadrian's Rock. When I first read it I got confused. It disguises itself as an adventure, but that's just the excuse. Hadrian, a powerful lich, had seven shards scattered across the multiverse, and hires adventures to get the last 3 missing bits to his Crystal Staff (it allows 2 Wishes / day; got confused because the stat-block lists that). This is very high level, for when the PCs get bored saving kingdoms and plundering orc caves. Hadrian has spells as a 14th level Magic-User. More than anything, this is a detailed location for a spelljammer adventure or campaign. There are some seeds (go hunt space whales!), and a few interesting NPCs. The intro reads
For millions of years, this small asteroid has
drifted through the farthest reaches of space.
For the last 4,000 years, it has been ruled
by the dark lich, Hadrian. The Rock, as it is
known, has become a thriving space port over
the centuries—serving as a resupply center
for explorers, as a market for pirates and
smugglers, and as a jumping-off point for space
whale hunters. Lizardlings, Space Dwarves, and
Beerbarians can be found in abundance upon
the Rock. For the most part, Hadrian does not
interfere with the business of the Rock, save for
providing generous bounties for space whales,
instead allowing his governor, Gnorrme, to handle
the day-to-day operations of the Rock.

The real potential here is to place these McGuffins shards elsewhere, and let the adventure begin. There is a bit of faction play with the Prometheans (mindflayers with the serial numbers removed), who have their own agenda. Room descriptions are too verbose at places, or overuse the dreaded "small"/"main" common descriptors. But the formatting and layout is good.

If you treat these 9 pages as a bizarre high-level location for a spelljammer mini-campaign, it's fresh (but will require some fleshing out). As an adventure it's lacking in interactivity and details, but high level is hard to get right.

This concludes the review. I'm positively surprised by the amount of content, and I can see myself using some of the ideas within in my games (either "as-is", or with a tweak of my own). With a stroke of luck we will get future issues of Old School & Cool.


- 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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Zinequest 2 Post-Mortem Reviews

The Zinequest 2 for Kickstarter is long over. I backed way more than I should have. The consulting company data-scientist-AI-guru that detected February as a slow month for TTRPG projects did a great job, since the amount of zines, paired with the usual FOMO of us obsessive collectors, made it a financial success with a myriad of options on the menu.

But do they bring some quality to the table? Do I see myself using some of the contents in my own games? Whereas some of the creators were known faces, others are complete strangers to me. Products are slowly arriving to my mailbox. As an international backer in the heart of Europe™, I had to contempt myself with digital copies in most cases.

Kickstarter Format Backed Paid Received? My Impression
36 Stranger Chambers PDF
8 AU$
Adventurer's Guide to the Yol'Najj Forest PDF 5 US$
Best Left Buried: Zinequest Quartet Print + PDF
50£ Yes TBD
Dungeons & Dilemmas PDF
7 US$
Gourmet Street: Fantasy Street Food Adventuring Zine Print + PDF
10 US$
Yes Review
Hunters in Death Print + PDF 8 US$ Yes Review
Madam Maze's Cabaret of Carrion Delights PDF5 US$
Old School & Cool PDF
5 US$ Yes Review
Sinister Red PDF 5 US$
Yes Review
Sphinxes: the First of Sages PDF
5 US$ Yes Review
Ten People You Meet in the Undergarden PDF 5 US$ Yes Review
The Bone Age Print + PDF
16 US$
The Phylactery PDF     5 US$ Yes TBD
The Waking of Willowby Hall Print + PDF
15 US$
They Cried Monster PDF   
5 US$
Yes Review
Willow Print + PDF 14 CA$ Yes TBD

My aim is to give an overview/review of the content, one by one, about what I liked and where I think it failed short. Not to roast anyone. But to give a fair and constructive overview. It will also help me see other folk's work critically, and with the digested zine format it should go faster than a full module. It might will also keep me up at night seeing how much money I splurged on things I'll never have the time to run.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

OSR: The Calaveras Campaign 1, 2, 3

As I already touched on here, a new campaign has started where I try to run Knave in Spanish. The players, old friends of mine, have never played a TTRPG before. So I can proud myself on being their first contact with the hobby, and hopefully a worthy ambassador?

To keep things lean and simple (one of my selling points for Knave has been the 7-page-long rules), the only additions I allowed were an extra item at character generation (choose between extra weapon, lockpicks, or random spellbook), and Snacks (once a day consume a ration during a turn of rest to regain some HP). Hopefully these help counterbalance the group being 2 3 players.

As for how I'm organizing this game, there are two main changes:
  1. I switched to Micro$oft's OneNote to keep my notes in one place. So far Markdown text notes were my jam, but the need to embed images and other media in one place made me give this a try. Let's see.
  2. On top of that, keeping an analog journal after each session has been a refreshing change. The reports below are expanded mentions of what I have in these notebook pages.

Analog notes are the future!
Let's look at the characters:
Pancho (Copernico) - a guy with a crossbow and a tendency to grab shiny stuff in front of him.
Zemalayou (iagson) - carrying a bow and a spellbook, Zem has showed good and bad judgement alike. Heavily scarred after this first adventure so far.
Nerisse* (Mo) - a redhead bow-woman, who wakes up in the first visited dungeon without any memory of how she ended up there.
New Hirelings
** - Daniele (man-at-arms, sword & board)
*Nerisse joined the group at Session 3.
*Daniele was hired at Session 2 in Rietikon.

Session 1

  • A trip on the road from Walfalkon to the hamlet of Rietikon. Word of floods and landslides in that region serve as a hook for the adventurers, with rumors of ancient ruins and sites with potential treasure.
  • They travel with a family wanting to try better luck West, and a dwarf called Gunther who's reserved and bookish. The family reduces their travel speed, so Gunther decides it's better to haste to Rietikon rather than be forced to spend the night camping, so he gallops away with his pony.
    • Zem and Pancho decide to camp with the family instead of pressing on after the dwarf. Why wouldn't they risk going on? That's their prerogative.
  • During camp, they question the family (Honk & co) to get a sense of the current mood in the region, and their motivations to moving. Selling boots and moving on, it seems?
  • Marching continues with the break of dawn, and close to Rietikon they find Gunther's saddlebags discarded near the road.
    • Copernico rolled a spyglass at character creation, so Pancho makes good use of it to scout ahead.
    • Investigating the area yields some clues. It looks like this was a violent attack perpetrated by a group. Valuables as coin and books were left on site. So of course, Pancho pockets that.
    • They decide to continue to town, escorted by the family, to check out those 3 tomes.
  • Once in Rietikon, the Pfaff Lake stands ominously by the fishing hamlet. The lake hosts an endless fog at its center, together with constant lightning. Its nature a mystery, yet it doesn't seem like a threat?
  • They get room and carp stew at The Satyr & The Carp, little more than a side cottage with some bunk beds for rent. Lon Abio, both host and major, gives them a sense of the area (and provides some rumors):
    • Landslides down South have stirred things up. Why is Walfalkon not sending help yet?
    • Beastmen are roaming the region, sprouting out like vermin after the floods.
    • A wizard passed by town going South-West to the marshes, about 2 days away.
    • There's someone in town (Enric) who might be interested in those books of yours...

Referee Commentary

  • I'm perfectly aware that this way of warming new players up is sub-optimal. But I knew these friends would be hooked, and decided to take a softer start to facilitate a broader sandbox scope.
  • Gunther's dilemma is what Phandelver's start should have been like.
  • They were given meaningful choices and a few hooks. Let's see how this continues.

Session 2

  • Books are dropped to Enric, a sick-looking fella that accepts transcribing them for profit, in the span of weeks.
  • With the profits they hire Daniele, a woman-at-arms ready for some mercenary work, and get some provisions. All is ready to venture to the nearby Biber Hills!
  • Half-way a couple with their throats cut out is found, killed on site. Few monetary valuables still on them.
  • Getting into the hills proper, the trio spends the night and gets some nearby hints but no action:
    • Beastmen seen from a distance (again Pancho's spyglass comes in handy), accompanied by a woman.
    • Landslide and unsteady terrain not far from their sleeping spot wakes them up at night.
    • An owl of titanic proportions flies nearby during the darkest of night.
  • The next day, they decide to go for the Dragon Skull of Xaxalar, a known site within the hills.
    • On their arrival, there's a column of smoke coming out of the skull's nostrils. Is someone there? There's also a tied dog at the entrance. It starts barking as the group approaches, but no one comes out with the warning. After feeding it some dried fish (a ration), it can be bypassed.
    • Inside there are some logs, furs, and discarded bones. Pancho and Daniele investigate the area, whilst Zem serves as lookout with his bow. They find a sizeable sack with teeth and fangs (priced possessions of sorts?), as well as a hidden passage below the furs!
  • Following that tunnel, after some minutes of crawling and going underground in this structure, they find the stone ruins of a complex. The closed door has a stone hand, open, instead of a handle. Zem thinks it appropriate to give it a shake. It instantly animates, crushing his hand bones and tendons. Hand is unusable from here on out!
    • Pancho takes an iron hook, gets the "shake" on the piece of equipment, but can get the door open.
  • Inside, there's a corridor with tapestries left and right, with images of serpent folk, dragons, and other creatures. Serpentine Empire, anybody?
  • The next room has a lizard skeleton, impaled on the skull by a javelin. Eyes are glowing. Shelves with moldy old tomes and parchments to the eastern wall.
  • Pancho pulls the javelin out, as Zem is investigating the books, which makes them ignite and throw a flame tongue at the already injured bowman! He passes out, face disfigured by the burn marks.

Referee Commentary

  • Glad that the group chose to feed the dog and not escalate the situation. They also took their time to check the interior out.
  • Glad that iagson learned to be more cautious from here on out when encountering bizarre dungeons.

Session 3Nerisse (Mo) joins from this session #3 on

  • Zem has been burned and is currently down. A reinvigorating Snack and attending by Daniele gets him back up and capable of adventuring, hand still a mess of broken bones.
  • Pancho scouts ahead, and in the next room finds a column with 4 sets of chains and manacles. One of them contains a sprawled skeleton, the other a ginger woman, Nerisse. Quickly freeing her with his lockpicks, Pancho questions her, but little she remembers of this place, or what brought her to it.
  • A scaly crimson lizard the size of a fat cat crawls through the ceiling, upside down, and attacks the recently recovered group.
    • Nerisse tries tossing the femur of the skeleton to another direction: "Doggy, fetch". Didn't draw the desired attention, instead the skeleton animated asking "Well, that is rather impolite. Do you mind?"
    • After a feral exchange, Pancho goes down, but it's Daniele who deals the final sword blow to the creature, that turns to ash and smoke, and disappears as quickly as it came to existence.
  • Time to question the skeleton. Nerisse takes the lead, hoping the bony figure can give some clues. "Name is Daer the fool, I used to brighten up this slumber temple in times past. I remember... a great betrayal. A thief and a mother!". He points to the Western doors claiming that the place of worship is in that area.
  • Zem moves to the North with Daniele, whilst Pancho fiddles with some locks (lockpicks! equipment!). The archer has 1 unusable arm, and a disfigured face (permanent -1 to Charisma): the (momentary) torchbearer. They find a human size stone statue of a cobra, with a red ruby on one eye socket, and a green emerald on the other. Also some stairs in front, moving down. Too psychologically scarred, and weary of any traps, Zem decides to move back to the group.
  • From here on out, moving West thanks to an unlocked door:
    • There's a chapel area with rotten benches, and a red curtain separating the room.
    • A stone tub with goo and liquid reveals to have regenerative powers. Zem quickly puts his hand in, and splashes some on his face too. Hand is fixed! But face scars get lizard scales?
    • They get attacked again by the same red lizard, bigger and stronger this time.
    • Nerisse and Zem push the basin together, dropping the liquid. The lizard vanishes as it came. Where to?
    • Behind the red curtain, a prayer room with a second stone cobra statue (this one without gems in the eye sockets), and a prayer book at the lectern. With riddles and cryptic messages, and some magic even?

Referee Commentary

  • Very happy with the group's engagement with the game and the fiction.
  • In the couple of combats we had, the players' first reaction is to look at their character sheet to look for equipment to use: net, glue, fire, etc. This fills my OSR heart.
  • I'm glad the first point of interest was a dungeon of my own design. Means it's rougher on the edges, but it gets playtested.