Saturday, June 18, 2011

The First Session: Success!

Last night inaugurated the first session of my OSR D&D campaign.

I’ll get to the action in a moment, but the first thing I have to say is that it was a bit of a struggle at times to not interrupt the other players, jump in, and have an NPC declare “Orcs are attacking the village!” or some other such nonsense.

The campaign should run at the player’s speed, and not mine. So I kept stuffing my mouth with chocolate chip cookies and waited for some to want to talk to an NPC.

As it was, I still got to play various NPCs and I had a good time without stepping on anyone else’s spotlight time. I did prompt them once or twice when I thought they were at loss, but everything went very smoothly.

All but one of the players who had committed showed up. That included.

N. who played Freedrick Rogersson, a mage.

KT, N’s wife, who played a female dwarf named Thump Waymaker

R. who played a bard named Thaddeus Silverkin

Sandra, my wife, who played Garion Cerdic, Priest of Mitra

R.’s wife, KY, wasn’t able to show up tonight, because their child was being extra-fussy. I expect she’ll join us for the next session. She currently has a no-name fighter rolled up.

At the beginning, I handed out Excel based character sheets (I love making character sheets) which had every conceivable number and modifier listed. I know, it goes against the grain of the OSR but some old habits are hard to break.

I had told them I would hand out one-line note cards for backgrounds, but I wasn’t able to finish these before the game began. I did finish sixteen rumor cards, and handed out two to each player, except for the bard, who got five. Most of these were keyed to various local adventure locations, though some were keyed to areas they may never, ever see, like Rappan Athuk or the Dungeons under the City-state of the Invincible Overlord. I also seeded a few duds or red herrings.

Freedrick, the Mage, got a Grimoire with a number of spells. (Note: I am using a variant of the core rule system for mages that is more ‘Vancian’ and less D&D-ish.) Thump, the dwarf, got a warehouse full of goods that she is supposed to set up a trading post with in order to open a new market for the dwarves of Thunderhold, while Garion, the priest, got a Surya (permanent scroll of protection) vs undead and was due to be exiled from the local temple for angering the high priest. Finally, Thaddeus did not get much besides the burning desire to leave the Podunk town he was born in, as well as the access to the Bard character class which people tell me is waaay too powerful. Haven’t seen it yet.

After some discussion of the campaign background, I handed them a blank Wilderlands City-state map, and hand-drawn Grand Tactical map of hex 4015, which contained the village of Brushwood, as well as the surrounding area.

So they knew a little of the surrounding area, but I still need to write up the half page handout for both the Wilderlands and Brushwood.

I said they could determine how they knew each other, and Thump immediately jumped at the option of hiring guards to protect her goods. The other characters wandered up and offered their services, but after a time it became very clear that most of them had absolutely no money to spend, and so they eventually turned to the rumor cards to determine where to get more cash.

Most of the role playing was established in the inn during the interviews, and the characters learned about each other in that way.

Thump Waymaker presented herself as a no-nonsense cash n’ carry type of gal, who kept looking for a way of selling her goods and starting up the trade post. In this she was frustrated by Freedrick, who claimed to be the 6th son of a noble family, who would surely pay for weapons and armor if Thump would transport them there. Freedrick also claimed to have been abandoned by a servant, Liam, who absconded with most of the wealth that has been entrusted to Freedrick by his father. Freedrick seemed to have plenty of wealth despite this claim, and kept having to have his large denomination coin broken for change.

(In a time I weakness some months earlier, I had sprung for a large amount of fantasy coinage, which I distributed, along with dice pouches to carry it in, among the PCs according to their post equipment wealth. This seemed to work out well, as people actually seemed to enjoy fddling with the coinage, asking for change, etc.)

Thaddeus inveigled his way into the group as a cook, dishwasher and guard, while Garion offered to make sacrifices to Mitra for Thump, in order to gain admittance to the forming company.

I had asked that all the characters be between 16 and 19 (except for the dwarf, who is of equivalent maturity) and they all played this to the hilt, with episodes of acne, greed, laziness, etc. as appropriate.

Freedrick then spent some of his wealth (10 GP!) on hiring a 0-level retainer, Arnulf, who I portrayed as a spiritual relative of Don Knotts. Morale rolls (which he actually all passed) are remarkable for the amount of comedy they generate.

Much to my surprise, they decided on the rumor I hoped they would, which led to a dungeon (available on the internet, but I won’t say which, before they finish it) that was located in the same hex. Once there, they fought some giant bees (no–prize if you can identify the dungeon from that hint), which nearly killed two of the characters, but for some lucky saving throws. Wow, poison really is icky in OD&D.

They then took the stingers they collected (without entering the dungeon first) and went to claim the bounty on the bees from a local citadel, in the hex immediately to the north. (Hex 4014, Gasconfold Citadel, for those of you keeping track). After a night at the inn in the village by the citadel, they returned to the dungeon, and scouted a bit. They were considering smoking out any remaining giant bees, when they found a large tree near the tower ruins (which contained the entrance to the dungeon) that contained a small door. Opening it up (and frightening Arnulf, who complained about spooky gnomes who would come to curse them) they found a cramped stairwell leading down.

Abandoning that passage, they resolved to go through the stairs in the ruined tower, redolent with the smell of honey, to the depths below.

That’s where we ended it, for the night. An excellent time was had by all, and I am really, really looking forward to next Thursday (we will be playing on alternate Thursdays and Fridays).

Monday, June 6, 2011

For Those Not in the Know: Resources I

I have had a few requests from those unfamiliar with the OSR for information about resources that I have been referring to. So if you are already familiar with the OSR, these next few pots might seem a bit blasé, but for someone unfamiliar with the movement, who didn’t know where to look, I am hoping this will be useful and informative.


To list blogs as a resource might seem a little strange at first, but in many ways blogging is the heart of the OSR movement. All the main creators (i.e. people who produce useful and game-able resources, not just opinions and reviews) post on blogs, often providing links to pdf dungeons, charts, even whole campaigns. Frankly, the ‘idea’ posts are of even more value, once you begin to delve into them and begin to see how to apply the ideas to your game.

I’ll just list a few of the more famous ones, along with a brief note about each.


James Maliszewski writes the premiere old-school blog. He’s generally very thoughtful and interesting, but only occasionally serves up the red meat of resources in the way many other blogs do.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

James Edward Raggi IV produces the LotFP RPG, which is an adaption of Labyrinth Lord in the Weird Fantasy vein. He’s got a bit of a bay-boy rep, but his works include some of the best old school dungeons available, not to mention fantastic work for LotFP.

Playing D&D with Porn Stars

Speaking of bad-boy reps, Zak S. happens to GM a game with his GF (wife?) who just happens to be a porn star. And most of his other players are porn stars as well. Ya know what? That’s not the most interesting thing about his blog, it’s the tons and tone of useful, gameable old-school resources that he posts every week. Author of the acclaimed Vornheim: the Complete City Guide, which is probably the best fantasy city campaign guide published since The Kaiin Players Guide.

Society of Torch, Pole and Rope

Michael Curtis has written three works, each one of which would grant some lasting fame to any RPG writer, but he wrote all three, and they are really as good as the hype says they are. The Dungeon Alphabet, filled with incredible old school art, Realms of Crawling Chaos, Lovecraftian fantasy written with Dan Proctor, and his sublime Stonehell Dungeon.

Sham’s Grog & Blog

Dave Bowman produces many excellent short PDFs of excellent utility, such as Time in the Game, the One page Dungeon template, marvelous little works like d6 Dungeon rooms and many other tables of use.


As you might guess, the OSR is all about the original rules, but that is actually a little more complex than it seems.

The first set of ‘rules’ that can be called a true RPG is debatable, but for most, the white box Dungeons & Dragons is considered to be the first true RPG rules published.

Four core supplements were profited for this version of the rules.

White Box Swords and Wizardry emulates the box rules alone, and not the supplements

Swords & Wizardy Core emulates the Box rules plus the first supplement, Greyhawk.

Swords & Wizardry Complete emulates it all, plus two classes as they originally appear in the The Strategic Review, precursor to Dragon.

Next: more rules.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Time, Travel, and Exploration

One of the most ignored and overlooked aspects of original Dungeons & Dragons (besides encumbrance) is the emphasis on time, traveling and exploration.

Yet, as Davis Bowman points out, these are indelible elements of the game, linked to other parts in an organic system; taking away one part wrecks the whole.

Consider: the amount of time one spends in the underground (or dungeon, or place of mystery, or mythic underworld) is directly proportional to the amount of wandering encounters a party must engage in.

(Theory interlude begins.) The conventional Narrativist argument against wandering monsters is that it disrupts any sort of story that you, as game master (storyteller, referee, DM, etc.), wish to tell. But if we assume that narrative arises from play, rather than being imposed on play by the referee, a different paradigm emerges where focus and economy in exploration of the dungeon rewards players for clever, quick and strategic play. This can be certainly called Gamist, and strictly speaking it is, but if we assume that narrative arises from play then the nature of that narrative is substantially up to the players and is entirely dependent on their style of play, which they have the freedom of choice to determine as they go along. That’s the freedom of the ‘sandbox’ style, in a nutshell. If the players want nothing to do with dungeons, then there are countless other activities they and the referee can engage, so long as all are willing. (Theory interlude ends.)

So the quicker you make it through the dungeon to get your rewards, the less danger you are exposed to. This is why gp translates into xp, and in fact provides the lion’s share of xp in an old-school game. The point is to get the reward and get out, while being exposed to danger for as little time as possible.

You can’t properly have this work in the game unless you keep strict track of time, which requires rules for movement and time spent for activities in the dungeon. Hence the following rules, which are adapted from a number of sources, including Dave Bowman’s PDF on time, Labyrinth Lord (which are derived from the Basic/Expert D&D rules) and Swords & Wizardry, a retro clone of original D&D.

Time and Travel

Each day, the party may spend up to ten hours in travel or exploration. This is usually broken up into the following schedule:

7:00 – 8:00 AM Strike camp/break fast

8:00 – 12:00 Travel or exploration

12:00 – 1:00 Break for lunch

1:00 – 5:00 Travel or exploration

5:00 – 7:00 Set-up camp/dinner

7:00 – 11:00 1st Watch

11:00 – 3:00 2nd Watch

3:00 – 7:00 3rd Watch

Failure to take a rest after 4 hours of travel results in a -1 penalty on all rolls until next rest, cumulative.

Each day one person consumes one day’s rations or fresh food, one skin of water, and requires eight hours of sleep. Failure to fulfill one of these needs results in a penalty of -1 to Con, cumulative, for the next 24 hours or until the need is met.

Each day of travel & exploration, your party may take one of the following options:

· Travel for a number of miles based on his or her encumbrance, modified by terrain.

o Scavenge for food while you travel. Roll 1d6. On a 1, you find 1d6 days with of food.

· Explore a five mile hex completely (i.e. get the Grand Tactical map for it).

· Hunt for food with no travel. Roll 1d6. On a 1, you find 2d6 days worth of food.

· Search a hex for a specific place based on a rumor, directions or treasure map.

· Restock and rest at a center of civilization like a citadel or village.

· In a city, take a city turn.

In the underworld, time is broken up into turns, which are ten minutes in length. Each turn, you may do one of the following:

· Travel 120’, modified by encumbrance, while mapping.

· Search a 10’ by 10’ area for traps or secret doors.

· Engage in one combat and clean-up.

· Run 120’ for up to five rounds, modified by encumbrance, and then rest for the balance of the turn.

You must rest once every six turns or gain a -1 penalty on all rolls until next rest, cumulative.

Remember, as referee, the standard check for wandering monsters is made every six turns of exploration, with additional checks for combat, loud noises made by the party, etc. In addition, the party must rest one turn out of every six. I have abstracted the amount of time for some common occurrences, such as combat and running away, in order to make time keeping easier. A single page chart summaries underworld movement thusly:

Underworld Time Track

7:00 – 8:00 AM Strike camp/break fast

8:00 – 12:00 Travel or exploration

8:00 __ __ __ __ __ R WM Check □ 1 - 2 (d6)

9:00 __ __ __ __ __ R WM Check □ 1 - 2 (d6)

10:00 __ __ __ __ __ R WM Check □ 1 - 2 (d6)

11:00 __ __ __ __ __ R WM Check □ 1 - 2 (d6)

12:00 – 1:00 Break for lunch

1:00 – 5:00 Travel or exploration

1:00 __ __ __ __ __ R WM Check □ 1 - 2 (d6)

2:00 __ __ __ __ __ R WM Check □ 1 - 2 (d6)

3:00 __ __ __ __ __ R WM Check □ 1 - 2 (d6)

4:00 __ __ __ __ __ R WM Check □ 1 - 2 (d6)

5:00 – 7:00 Set-up camp/dinner

Nightly WM Check □ 1 - 2 (d6)

(Conduct once a night, then roll 1d6 to find the watch it occurred on)

7:00 – 11:00 1st Watch 1 - 2

11:00 – 3:00 2nd Watch 3 - 4

3:00 – 7:00 3rd Watch 5 - 6

Codes: E = Explore S = Search C = Combat and Recover R = Rest N = Negotiate

Enter a code in the line corresponding the activity conducted by the party, and you easily have a mini-record of the exploration conducted by the party for each day.