Thursday, January 25, 2024

OSR: Stonehell OSE Open Table 11-16

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

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

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

Stonehell spoilers ahead, be warned!

General Game Notes

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

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

General Game Notes

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

General Lessons Learned

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


  1. Nice post! Something I experimented with in my last campaign was raising the price of plate armor by a lot (I think I used the one from the LotFP rulebook). I was pretty happy with how it ended up feeling: plate armors were some of the most valued possessions of my players, but buying them wasn't a decision they took lightly. It was an important investment lol.

    The other thing that I experimented with was introducing random "campaign events" that would occasionally affect item prices and random encounter tables. I took them from the old Oriental Adventures book for AD&D. Most notably, a lycanthropy epidemic broke out in the region around halfway through the campaign. This was obviously reflected in the overland random encounter tables, but since the werewolves were attacking caravans and disrupting trade, the price of most items also went up in town. I was pretty satisfied with the campaign events and would definitely use them again in the future.

  2. Hey thanks!

    You are right, and in hindsight I should have made a soft limit on armor, like 1 Plate 2 Chain 4 Leather available per month, or something like that. If the players want more, make them import them, or build a forge and hire smiths, etc.

    The campaign events are a good trick to pull out. I think I hesitated at first, given the open table format, and that I wanted to keep Stonehell as THE thing to pursue. But there were ways for sure to move things in that direction (e.g. Hobgoblin raids to caravans, from Level 2A)