Saturday, December 3, 2022

OSE, Solitary Playthrough

I have my new boxed sets of Old School Essentials. Right now I am sticking to the Basic set and generated several characters. In no particular order, they are 2 Clerics, a Thief, a Dwarf, an Elf, a Magic User, a Fighter, and a Halfling. My intent is to roll as many dice as possible, covering as many scenarios as my players want to do. So, one of every character type in a freeform environment. 

I took inspiration from a photo I took in Disney's Epcot. I have this weird mental association between amusement parks and D&D

This was taken in the United Kingdom pavilion, I think. This is close to what the characters are experiencing. 

The dark circle in the middle of the map is the party's table. Each square is 10 feet. To the north is a willow tree that blocks their line of sight. East and west are a couple of buildings, clearly shop fronts. To the south is a working fountain and what appears to be a damaged church or temple. It is also nighttime here. 

The party landed on top of a monster's lair. In the fountain is a group of giant catfish. We'll get to them in a bit. 

The party gathers their gear and seeing no immediate trouble,  finishes their drinks and meals. They notice their money, chips, and cards are gone from the table. There are several candles, a lantern, and a lamp on the table, just like in an Italian Bistro. 

Their first real move is to explore the tree. 

Nothing... it's a tree. 

On the other side, there is an intersection of roads, three of the roads meet here and curve back to the north. There is also a couple of shops and houses. They decide not to go that way because this is solitary play and I say so. 

The characters hang the lantern from the tree limbs on the north side so as to silhouette anyone approaching from that direction. While this is sort of the right idea, it is kind of like saying "Oneth by land" to any wandering monsters. I haven't been rolling for wandering monsters because the party hasn't been loud or there long enough. 

They go to the larger building to the west. It's a general store with large windows covering the eastern side. The Thief goes into thief mode and accesses the building. The northeastern door is made of wood and glass and it has a lock. She notes no traps but knows the bell will ring if she forces the door. The southeastern door is barred with a heft piece of wood. They can't see into the back of the building. 

Plans are made and they decide picking the lock is best. The whole party works together to get a small sack around the bell to prevent it from ringing. 

They quickly explore. There is an apartment upstairs, the backroom is for supplies while the front room is for home goods. It is musty, dry, and smells vaguely of the sea. All foodstuffs have rotted so long ago, they don't smell. There is no money in the till. The party also notes some odd things missing. In the supply room, there are all sorts of tools, but no pickaxes or shovels only rakes and hoes. Upstairs, the family's clothes have been tossed like someone packed in a hurry. Everything else seems normally well-kept. 

They return to the fountain. Since the catfish stay in the water, the party doesn't notice them. The fountain smells of the ocean and the fountain's water moves with a heartbeat-like pulse. This attracts the Dwarf's attention. At first, he wants to know how it was done. On inspection (and die rolls), he determines that it used to be a freshwater fountain, but the sea has infiltrated the source waters and the pulsing is from the ocean waves. He notices that the bottom of the fountain has collapsed and is where the sea water comes in. There is nothing to indicate that a group of catfish are down in the deep.  

Now for the amusing part of random. 

The Thief finds a couple of coins in the fountain and goes to look for more in the water. The rest of the party is disinterested in a few old coins and goes to investigate the shop to the east. 

Surprise time. 

The Thief and by extension, the Dwarf surprise the catfish. I could totally see this in real life. The catfish don't expect invaders and don't normally investigate stuff. They take time to warm up to prey entering from above.  

The Thief finds a few coins and attempts search the waters in the first round of surprise. Just because she has the advantage doesn't mean she is ready for a fight. She is barefooted, holding a lamp in one hand and fishing around with the other. In the next round, the water boils. The catfish launch themselves at the Dwarf and Thief. 
Dice can be dirty.
I had high hopes for this part. A Catfish springs at the Thief from behind, who is wearing leather armor, and another snaps at the Dwarf in plate armor and partial cover from the wall of the fountain. 

I had expected to use THAC0 or ascending AC. In order to calculate either, I need to look in the Adventures book on Page 30, then look at the Character book for character's THAC0 number then go back to pages 26 to 28 in the Adventures book before finding out that I need to look in the Monster book for information on Catfish. 

Or... I could look at one table on page 31 and be done with it. There is no difference in any of the methods except extremes are more with the table. This really is a case of never using either rule before and having to access the info. It really is just a matter of remembering stuff so I will try it again next session. 

The Dwarf sees that catfish rising to strike the Thief from behind and swings his warhammer at it for 4 points of damage. The Thief is running, not attacking and also takes 4 points damage from a leg bite. Since that is all she has, she goes down narrowly avoiding setting herself and the Dwarf on fire with the shattered oil lamp. The catfish doesn't land any hits with the feelers.  

The rest of the party comes running and gets the double dirty from the dice rolls. 

Since there is a virtual riot of activity, I roll for a wandering monster. The result is a herd of wild horses. They enter from the east of the map, see the fire and mayhem, then loop around the store and retreat into the dark as the party lofts arrows at them. The Clerics attend to the Thief.  

I use a -10 HP as house rule for death, so the Clerics are able to stabilize the Thief with first aid but she is not able to convey any information about the threat. The party decides that the general store is a great place to hold up for the night and retreats.  

Since only the Thief and the Dwarf know what actually happened, the rest of the party is mystified by the fire and blood spatter caused by horses. 

They forget about the bell on the door and there is another die rolled for wandering monsters. Nothing answers that dinner bell. 

They post a watch downstairs and take the Thief upstairs to a bedroom to sleep it off. I have some of my house rules for healing in Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners, if you are interested. They are useful and timely in this case as the Clerics can't cast spells but can perform first aid or use healing skills. I have a priority of healing: aid (1 hp), then doctor or healer's care (a die roll), then rest (as per whatever rules) and finally magical healing. No one can render first aid or skill-based care after magic has been cast, but the reverse is NOT true. It annoys healers to no end when Clerics cast magic first and then drag someone to a healer. It forces a healer to use only magical means. Magic is a consumer product in my world; it has consequences for society.  

By sunrise, the Thief comes to with 3 hp. She wants to thank the Dwarf for rescuing her. There is a sheepish look from the party as they realize they didn't do a headcount after their retreat to the general store. In splitting the party between upstairs and down, they had no idea he was missing.   

By the fountain, they find a warhammer and a boot. In saving the Theif, a second catfish hit the Dwarf. He had 9 hp and the first bite did 15 points of damage. Then came the 4 feeler attacks. -10 was not enough HP. The second catfish pulled his body into their lair. 

I could calculate XP, but the party doesn't even know if they found anything or killed a monster... yet.

I think I'll end it here. Next post, I will talk about the Temple and the Missing Tools from the general store. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

New Project - New Direction

In my last post, I spoke about a book. This book will be the kernel of how I present my campaign world to others. When people start new campaigns, they compartmentalize the world to limit the scope of what the DM has to present to the players. For example, they start with a small town and perhaps a dungeon or keep then expand to larger ideas. It is a good bit of advice for gamers, however, there has always been an inclination to have a roadmap to a larger world and events.  Maybe you don't start large and go larger, but making a whole world (a good-sized continent) does require some sort of roadmap. 

In this case, I am starting with a massive idea and breaking it into chunks that might not be obvious from the outset. The main idea of this campaign setting is romanticism. The Peninsula of Plenty has many locations, cities, towns, kingdoms, and other places that will be described in detail by an in-universe author name Magarven the Mad.

Magarven, although crazed, has a pretty good handle on what is happening in his world. It is an era of peace and prosperity at the largest level, which does not preclude mysteries and conflict at a local level. For the most part, this campaign world has left the medieval age behind. He has stumbled on the idea of describing what is happening with imperfect information. Or more correctly, information he has not validated but wants to be true. He is operating from his ego over his guts. He wants fame for bringing knowledge to the masses. He doesn't see any possible harm because he believes this one volume of books accurately describes the world. It does but only poorly.  

You might guess correctly that I am a history major. This process occurred in various parts of the world back in the 18th century and peaked in the mid-1800s. It spread from Europe to Russia and to both North and South America. This was not exactly a peaceful era, but romantics often portrayed it as such. This was really not a good time to take a romantic perspective or a good place to evoke powerful emotions. Emotion and feelings took precedence over logic and facts, which had a dreadful effect on historiography and the natural sciences of this era. People were basically making their own rules and creating their own version of history which was radically different from reality. As all of this was taking place, things were falling apart. 

In writing as he does, Magarven is actually sending people with torches and weapons to marvel at the wonders of a world made of powder kegs. 

While akin to a hexcrawl, it places the characters in civilized danger. There are patches of wilderness here and there but the real problems lay just outside of cities and towns. Obviously, many of the bits of wilderness and hinterlands were left empty on purpose and as a result, play off of the wildness found in the so-called civilized bits. 

In this world, it would not be too surprising for a country fair to cover up a coven of witches or a massive clambake ending with a sacrifice to a dragon. A vampire could be the mayor of an idyllic village. Or a lonely abandoned boathouse is a gateway to the underworld. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

New Project - Meet the Author

I have started a new project, a deep dive into my campaign world. My campaign setting is a small part of a single continent. I never saw much need to expand it much further. What it lacks in size it makes up in depth. 

Virtually all of the races found in the D&D game books appear in this one place. However, some are just visitors to the main continent. 

I have many oddball characters running around. One of them is Magarven the Mad. He is a Drow in the same vein as 1e. He is obviously evil (or chaotic) and were it not for his flaws, he would be dangerous. Early in his life, he made a name for himself as an adventurer. He loves fame. He will do anything in pursuit of it, including casting himself as a heroic explorer. 

The reason I mention him is, he is the author of a handbook to my game world. In reality, I am modeling this book on many of the works produced in the 1800s by romantics touring Europe in search of something... romantic. Except, this Handbook is written by a madman. 

This project will be a two-parter: The Handbook of lore and background written from an in-universe perspective, plus the second matching book of adventures and events that DM's can plug into their world. The Peninsula is divided into many nations and city-states, so a game master is free to carve out a tiny piece of their map to plunk one or more of my bits. 

As you can tell, Magarven (and myself) have grandiose plans, as this book is "Volume One". As I work on this, I will share little bits of lore and perhaps a mini-adventure or two. 

I plan on making it my first item for sale on DriveThruRPG. As a flesh out bits, I will share them now and then. If it seems well received, I might even attempt to do a print copy instead of PDF. 

Let me know what you think. 

New Game, Same Players

 Twenty-eight days. Soon to be twenty-seven.  It's gonna go fast, maybe one will be done before I post.

I have a new game, Old School Essentials, a newish take on the old B/X rules. There have been a few changes, such as invalidating the statement "comes with 31 illustrations, charts, and tables". There are a lot more than 31 illustrations, plus a twist on the old rules to incorporate ThAC0 and/or ascending armor class which limits the charts to just essentials.  

Well, the artwork is fantastic, so I guess I can take the good with the bad. I might not miss my to hit charts and tables. 

I can see it already, this should be almost exactly like B/X but I want to try it out on myself before I inflict it on my players. You know, to look smooth and polished. 

I diced up a half dozen characters, plus one because I can't properly count. I made one of each of the basic characters and one extra cleric. And hit my first hitch. Clerics don't heal at the first level. Do I homebrew that away or keep it? 

I can hear my hypothetical Players grumbling, so I think I keep it as written. I can already picture the first session. The players will dodge and juke every hook and line I offer them. They break into cliques and small groups to go their separate ways. 

The Magic User and Elf will get together and exchange spells because that is what spell casters do. The clerics, realizing they aren't the healers will beg and borrow (but not steal) from the party to get the heaviest armor they can while arming themselves with the standard maces and slings.  The Fighter, the Thief, and the Halfling will wander the town in search of a tavern or inn. 

They will stymie me, the DM, as they avoid the town square where the local lord has criers searching for adventurers. They will also avoid the large Inn in the square where they could meet one of the town guards who would clue them into the threat the town faces. For the same reason, they will avoid the temple, the wandering priest, the wash women, and the boy with the lost dog. 

This is what Players do. I've been a DM for 40 years. I am used to it. They will, on the outskirts of the town wander into the last place serving booze and food and the one I expected them to find as I was presenting moot hooks. 

It's called The High-backed Booth, a magical place that I took from reality. It's a former tavern turned into a Church, just like the one on Transit Road in East Amherst. When you're forced to improvise, it's best when you don't try too hard and just use reality. The world is strange, so why make stuff up? 

In my world, The High-backed Booth is fused with history and magic. It's run by Elder Bruegel, named after the painter. In this magical place, he is the proprietor and priest of the church. The church seems to hold chance, risk, games, and luck in high esteem,. No particular deity is worshipped. In fact, in place of prayer and ritual, storytelling rules The High-backed Booth. The odder the circumstances, the more random or unlikely the story, the better. The congregants pray and worship in the telling of stories.  

The building is as real as it gets, it has a waddle and daub upper floor on firm timber stilts. The lower level has temporary walls made of hay bales. Of course, these hay bale walls are lined with heavy tall wooden booths. The building changes over time as the hay is removed, but not its character. Or characters. 

On this evening, the party finds a strange occurrence happening at The High-backed Booth. Elder Bruegel is there of course, as he always is, but he is pandering to a guest of high importance. The wizened man sits at the center of attention. The drinkers and the worshipers mutter indignantly about him as he is silencing stories with games of chance. They call him the "Game Master". 

It doesn't get more meta than this. Having dodged all of the obvious hooks and lines, the Players will sit at the table with the Game Master and engage in drinking, food, and games in the hopes of receiving easy cash and prizes. 

Every Player wants this for their Characters. Soon, reality and storytelling become muddled as the Players and the Characters take the same bait. It's a card game, played with a strange deck. At first, it seems normal enough, but then it becomes obvious that these are Tarot Cards. After every round, the winner takes one of the Major Arcana in sequence. It replaces one of the Minor Arcana they would receive in the deal. As the Arcana are swapped, the tone of game becomes more serious. 

It's a race. The Fool and The Magician eventually lead to the Judgment and The World in the hands of the Game Master. In fact, the Game Master has been playing with nothing but trump cards for a while all of the Players and Characters only have one or two. And then the final hand is dealt.  

"We are done, you must perform," the Game Master says quietly. 

After a rather anticlimactic silence, the characters all have the sensation of falling. It's not fast or sudden, just a slow transition to the wet, muddy ground. If the Players are hooked, and enrapt with the story so far, I might stand up and slowly tip one chair backwards and gently lower the Player to the floor to demonstrate what is happening.

When they stand up, they are still at the table. All of their chairs sank backwards in the mud. The table, the chairs, and everything they own are between a cluster of willow trees to the north...

and a magical fountain to the south...

As I said before, why make stuff up while improvising? Reality is the best hook and sometimes, it comes with pictures. 

East and west are paths leading to strange buildings, and the players can't resist a good hook provided by the Game Master. They gather up their things, drink the last of their beer from the table, and wonder where the cards and chips went before taking to the path to adventure. 

If you liked this introduction to adventure, perhaps you would be interested in the books that spawned it: 

Old School Essentials Characters, Magic, Monsters, and Treasures on DriveThruRPG. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Sensory Overload!

 I don't do unboxing videos because I am super impatient. Let's just hop to the first box of prizes. 

It's a t-shirt! 


They're a pair of boxed Old School Essentials sets! They were due to be delivered last Friday, but Buffalo got nailed with a couple of feet of snow. I am actually glad they were delayed because I wouldn't have shoveled at all. I would have been rolling characters and planning my next campaign. 

I love the look on Tori's face. 
It says, "Can you believe this crap?"

When you have 1 1/2 dogs worth of snow, starting sooner is better than waiting for later. This is what is called Heart Attack Snow. One shovel load has the heft of several thousand unpainted figures. Not those modern 3d printed figures, but the classic 1970s lead figures. 

Which leads to the next unboxing... 

I picked up a used Elegoo Mars 3d printer. I had it in my hands last week, but knowing that a snow staorm was coming, I wisely left it in the basement until I could get things cleaned up. There are several other pieces to this setup, which I didn't pull out of the box. It also came with a DIY curing tank. 

It's a good thing that it's a three-day week because I will be very, very busy this weekend.