My Procedure for Facilitating Open Table Gaming

I am 7 sessions into a drop-in Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) campaign that I run at my local game store – Better World Books. I have made a personal commitment for the foreseeable future that whenever possible I will run an open table RPG session at the game store.

My Procedure

On Friday check my schedule, if it’s open:

Set aside at least two hours of solid preparation time to:

During commutes to work:

On game day (Thursday):

  • Show up at least 15 minutes beforehand
  • Bring pencils, character sheets, dice, paper, rulebooks
  • Create an open and inviting table
  • Set expectations about DCC (and old school gaming)
  • Assume that I may need to run something different
  • Say yes an awful lot; require luck checks
  • Take some notes

Afterwards

What is Working

Regular Schedule

The regular schedule is mission critical; Every week is optimal. I also run regardless of who is present.

Open Table

Keeping the table open – I have now played with at least 13 new players, introducing them to DCC and my interpretation of old school gaming. Each table has different dynamics; Seeing the camaraderie build over the session is rewarding. I do my best to ensure that I have an open and inclusive table.

Writing Session Reports

I’ve made a personal commitment to writing extensive session reports and sharing them across different channels. I also want people to see my session development process. James Maliszewski’s Grognardia posts are my inspirations. He developedDwimmermount, his megadungeon, session by session; Encoding lessons learned into the random tables, encounters, and history of Dwimmermount.

Writing Random Tables

I have found writing random tables helps my campaign preparation. I think about different directions the campaign could go, but don’t commit to going there.

Joining the Road Crew

The thing that tipped the scales in my decision to run a FLGS open-table game instead of a house game was the Goodman Games road crew program. The table appreciates the small tokens of appreciation sent by Goodman Games. It also builds in accountability into my proces.

Focusing on the Campaign and not the Characters

Yes, I think about what the King of Elfland demands of his patronee; Or how stealing a few silver coins from a road side shrine can have dramatic consequences. But my focus is on making sure I understand the campaign world as it emerges. That I can convey that understanding to the players. And that the players can build assumptions and take actions based on their understanding.

Start Them at 0-Level

New players start with a handful of 0-level characters. They are mixed with the seasoned 1st level characters. I have found this works, and the players grow attached to their survivors.

It also means that there is a steady influx of characters, implying that no characters are foundational for the campaign. The world goes on without them.

When in Doubt, Call for a Luck Check

Players are always coming up with plans; Some more outlandish than others. But DCC provides a perfect mechanic to address these brilliant plans; Call for a Luck check. Either roll under or hit a DC. Regardless it lets them know that Luck is important.

Sidebar: I am contemplating adding the DCC Lankmar “Fleeting Luck” rules to the game, but don’t know if that is yet the style I am after. I’ll test drive it in another funnel.

What Have I Done Differently

I have a deep love for campaign play. Characters developing. Growing a shared narrative amongst friends.

For years I kept trying to force a campaign by orchestrating schedules and clearing times that we could play. That is a lot of work. Now the requirements for this game are: I am running a game on Thursday, come if you are able.

This flips my previous dependency on others. If the game captivates the players, they will make time for my game.

I’m seeing the emergence of the campaign I desire. Seven sessions is the longest campaign I’ve run since running The Red Hand of Doom in 3E.

They’re Coming to the Barrow

I was planning to run the conclusion of the Tower of the Stargazer; Only one of the members from last session was present. There were four other players that wished to join (a group of high school students that play D&D 5E together). So I reached into my bag of tricks pulled out:

  • Random 1st level characters for them
  • Barrowmaze‘s random barrow generator

“Barrowmaze Complete” by Greg Gillespie

Early in the session, two of the players needed to leave. I was looking forward to playing with them but commended them for stopping early on a school night. I hope they are able to join me on Saturday’s DCC funnel.

The Cast

  • Argyle the tax collector, Willy the undertaker, Marcus the mercenary, Andy, Charles
  • Jeffrey, Alexander III, Jack the herbalist, Sophia, Alex the woodcutter
  • Knotty the rope maker, Hendar the radish farmer, Keith, Knead the baker, Knoll the elven sage

Session Open

The characters are from the village of Oakwood Mire, north of the Barrow Ward and east of Hirot. Hearing news of people finding riches in Bitterweed Barrow, they set out to make their fortune.

The village of Bitterweed Barrow has experienced a rash of young fools going off on adventures. Some 80 villagers of the 200 or so, have gone off to adventure. And less two dozen have survived. The villagers are straining under the loss of labor and villagers.

The adventurers from Oakwood Mire arrive to a town uncertain of its future. The owner of the Bloody Bullfrog Tavern, Solomon Gruth III, has begun expanding his tavern to include a flophouse. It looks as though he anticipates an influx of travelers.

Constable Dunk is ever vigilant about vagrants, and threatens the adventurers that he’ll kick them out if they don’t leave by sundown. Some time is spent navigating the village:

Alexander III and Jeffrey seek the wizard; He is not taking visitors. And grows agitated at their insistency. They notice he is having tea with a frog-headed man.

This is an unusual DCC opening for me. I wanted to narrate a bit about the changes in Bitterweed Barrow. This worked, but I should’ve dove straight into the dungeon crawling part. With so many characters, the adventurers were scattering all throughout the barrow.

They settle down and spend the night in a barn. In the morning, a frog-headed man comes to the barn and introduces himself as Varooth Moss. He draws a hasty map and asks them to retrieve a viridian pearl. All other grave goods are theirs to keep.

Frog-headed humanoid with wand and wizard robes

Varooth Moss by Jon Marr

To the Barrow

They ask around for a sledge hammer, and find that a laborer named Zeff is the owner of the one sledge hammer in Bitterweed Barrow. They try to strike a deal, promising wealth upon their return, but he’d rather have the 5gp today than 2gp today and have to get 20gp from a corpse.

They secure rations and some padded armor; I grin as I realize they will have one solid light source (waiting on my Veins of the Earth physical copy so I can better explore lighting).

The 15 would be adventurers strike out to a barrow 2 miles west of Nebin Pendlebrook’s home. Set amongst a small copse of trees, they spend a half-hour with the sledge and iron spike to gain entrance. Stale air greets them as they see stairs leading into the dark. They light a lantern and begin their descent. One character pulls out their chalk and starts marking their path on the wall.

Into the Barrow

D&D map of four geometric rooms

Map of the Barrow of the Writ of Orcus

First Room

The first room is triangular in shape. The floors are dry. In the room they see 5 woven baskets. Knotty approaches the first basket. After a bit of gentle poking and prodding, flips the lid revealing weevils and rotten grain. Another character does the same to the second basket. Again weevils and rotten grain.

A third approaches and slides their sword into the basket. He meets resistance but feels a shift and pushes a bit further. He flips the lid revealing a basket of skulls. He grabs one.

The fourth approaches and jams their scissors into the basket. He meets hard resistance and snaps his scissors. Opening the basket reveals 1000 cp. They begin filling a large bag.

The fifth approaches, flipping the lid, revealing more rotten grain.

I am a bit surprised that they didn’t flip the baskets over and look for loot.

They decide to explore the heavy wooden door on their left. A bit of cautious inspection and they pull the door open.

Second Room

The room is 10 feet wide and runs 50 feet to a pedestal. On the pedestal they see the faint reflection of an orange gem. They notice that light appears dampened in this room. On both sides of the room are small burial alcoves, each about a foot wide and a foot tall. A quick estimate and they think there are about 450 of these.

With senses tingling, they discuss a plan. The lantern will remain back and someone will enter. Knotty goes in and proceeds with caution. Almost immediately a dark shadow darts out and strikes Knotty. I call for initiative and the shadow wins. It strikes Knotty again. Knotty gives up and flees back out of the room.

The shadow does not appear to follow. They decide to try their luck in the next room (the door to the north).

Third Room

They open the door and there is a similar room; Instead of a pedestal, there is an altar with a large vellum scroll resting on it. There is no dampening of light in this room.

Again, another plan. Two will enter the room. Willy crawling along the ground looking for traps on the ground, the other a few feet back with a lantern attached to the end of a ten-foot poll. About halfway into the room, Willy sits up and snaps a wire set at about mid-thigh. A burst of gas erupts. They both save versus the poison gas.

They flee the room and wait 5 minutes, and throw the hen in. It flaps through the room, lands, turns around and walks back. With the hen-reinforced “all clear”, they return to the room.

Willy approaches the altar and sees ruins on the base. They are dwarven ruins but the language is not dwarven. He makes out the following: For/of great/power Orcus. He is keen on the scroll and the bone scroll case behind it, and looks around for any traps. He then grabs a few coins and does the old switch-a-roo; He has the scroll and a 8 coins are now on the altar.

As they are leaving the room, Hendar decides to look in one of these burial alcoves. He catches the faintest glint of gold in the mouth of a skull. Reaching in, the skeleton bits his hand, killing him from fright and shock. It proceeds to chomp on his arm.

The survivors make haste to leave the room.

Willy begins studying the Holy Writ of Orcus; And is trying to transcribe parts of a spell that may be used to inflict harm.

Fourth Room

Again, they approach the door with caution, and after inspection pull open the door. A hallway runs 10 feet and opens into a rectangular room running 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide.

On the floor are six raised stone slabs, each with an identical skeletal arrangement. Alexandar III and Jeffrey (the lantern bearer if memory serves) first enter and inspect one of the slabs. There is a tension at the table. They know something will happen.

Each of the skeletal remains have 2 coins and a dark gem inside the arrangement. Willy Charles, Knotty, and Knoll all enter to better inspect and perhaps loot. Greed gets the best of them, and someone reaches for the gem. An unholy voice howls “Do not defile!”, the door slams shut, and the skeletons begin to animate.

I call for initiative, and the skeletons go first. The bones shuffle and assemble into human for, the ruby gem pulses inside their rib cage; Instead of eyes, two gold coins ooze blood and vengeance. They attack.

The skeleton misses Knotty, but slays Knoll, Jeffrey, Alexander III. They pass over Willy (the one who has been studying the Holy Writ of Orcus). Another tense moment when the lantern bearer falls – Would the lantern fall and shatter plunging everyone into darkness? I call for a luck check, and in death Jeffrey is successful; The lantern clatters safe to the floor.

Hearing screams everyone bolts into action. They bring the sledge hammer down on the skeleton (Nat 14 and a critical; A luck check spares the ruby). Others take stabs but their blades are less effective. With scissors in hand, Knotty runs to the door and bangs on it. The others, springing to action, burst the door open, knocking Knotty back and rattling her head for 1 HP of damage.

Sustaining heavy losses, they dispatch the skeletons. There are 7 survivors (though one of them fled above ground). The six in the carnage loot and split treasure.

Splitting the Party

Some chose to re-enter the room with the shadow and orange gem. Others decided to begin burying the bodies of the dead.

They hatch a plan. They throw the Hendar’s orphan hen into the room. The shadow strikes (and drains the hen dead). They throw holy water followed by a pound of flower, and the shadow takes form. They then attempt to burn the shadow, throwing a burning suit wrapped log. It misses the shadow but the flour explodes.

They launch into their fallback plan. Alex makes a mad dash for the orange gem. The shadow strikes once as he runs in and grabs the gem. On Alex’s retreat, the shadow strikes again delivering a critical hit – “PC disarmed. Weapon lands 1d12+5’ away.” The gem rolls away. Alex chases it down as the shadow continues to strike and drain his strength. Alex dashes across the room, crossing the threshold into the entry room. The shadow gives up pursuit. They gather around and notice gem is in fact a green pearl.

Conclusion

I know I did something right when I hear something to the effect of “I think I’m in love with DCC!” It looks as though a few of these characters may continue adventuring.

Survivors

Somehow Knotty survived (Str 6, Agi 9, Sta 8, Int 10, Per 4, Luc 3, 2 HP) and made it to level 1. We agreed she would retire.

The other survivors include:

  • Keith, Alex, Jack, Sophia who all reached 10 XP
  • Argyle and Marcus reached 8 XP

In Memorandum

  • To Hendar who reached for treasure and lost a hand and life to an animated voracious skull
  • To Willy who clung to the sacred writ of Orcus while a ruby skeleton shredded his throat
  • To Andy, Charles, Jeffrey, Alexander III, Knoll, and Knead who fought bravely yet died to the ruby skeletons

Rulings

A player wanted to use their sledgehammer as a weapon. I ruled that it did 1d12 damage (though I think it should be 2d6), but imposed a -2d to the attack. There were 2 hits with the weapon and one miss. Not bad! (The players needed more bludgeoning weapon).

When you are a lantern bearer and die, make a Luck check to not break the lantern. If you succeed it lands safely lit. Otherwise it breaks, the oil burns bright and fast for one round and then goes out.

Action Items

I continue to come back to Bitterweed Barrow. I believe it is time to write up a brief document / worksheet that can help me better run scenes in Bitterweed Barrow as well as record names and places I mention.

Trauma and Forced Retirement in DCC

This rule replaces the permanent loss of stamina for bleeding out (DCC p93). It builds on Goblin Punch’s “Death, Trauma, and Retirement: I’m Gettin’ Too Old For This Shit.” I have only established an algorithm, I have not brought this to the game table.

A character that was bleeding out suffers trauma from their near fatal injuries. Anyone that is saved from bleeding out gains one point of Trauma, adds a question mark to their Trauma score. They also gain a terrible scar from the wound that downed them.

Effects of Trauma

When the characters come to a place they could conceivably retire, the Judge may call for a Trauma check. All characters with a question mark by their Trauma score must roll a d20. If they roll equal-or-less than their Trauma score, the character decides to retire. Otherwise, erase the question mark as the character is ready to continue adventuring.

Retiring

When a character retires, the Judge records the following:

  • The character’s Luck score and modifier
  • The character’s Trauma score at the time of retirement
  • Complication score – it starts at 0
  • A Complication die indicating the potential severity of the complications the character might experience (d3 is minimal, d30 is Orcus knows their true name)
  • Possible complications – unfinished business, debts, patron bonds, etc.

Between each session the Judge should check how retirement is treating each retired character.

Retirement & Complication Procedure

  • Check the character’s Trauma
    • If the character’s Trauma is greater than 0, roll a Luck check
      • On success, reduce Trauma by one. If Trauma is 0, reduce the Trauma die by one step.
      • On failure, roll the character’s Complication die
        • If the result is 3 or greater add the result to their current Complication score
    • Otherwise, if the character’s Trauma is 0
      • Decrease the character’s complication die one-step
  • Check for any complications
    • If the complication die is a d3 or greater, roll Luck again, with a DC equal to the character’s complication score
      • On success, no new complications occur.
      • On failure, if a retired character is Desperate, that characters complications have taken out the character. Otherwise mark the character as Desperate.
    • Otherwise the character has tidied up all of their lingering complications

Characters with 0 Trauma are free to begin adventuring again. When a character reaches 0 Trauma, the Judge should ask if the previous player would like to play that character.

Design Discussion

There are a lot of moving parts in this algorithm, but the key considerations are:

  1. What was their trauma when they failed their Trauma check?
  2. What is their luck score?

I decided that a person still recovering from the trauma of adventuring is ill-prepared to cope with the complications that come from adventuring.

I also wanted a point when desperation sets in for retired characters. Their complications have finally caught up with them. It is a chance for them to reach out to the heroes.

Staring Complication Die Uneventful (Average Checks) Dead (Average Checks) Checks While Desperate
d3 54.9% (7.42) 45.1% (9.65) 3.12
d4 42.33% (6.96) 57.67% (7.95) 2.56
d5 34.36% (7.1) 65.64% (7.08) 2.25
d6 28.8% (7.55) 71.2% (6.52) 2.09
d7 24.75% (8.17) 75.25% (6.15) 1.96
d8 22.0% (8.86) 78.0% (5.84) 1.87
d10 18.78% (9.52) 81.22% (5.34) 1.72
d12 16.98% (10.3) 83.02% (4.98) 1.6
d14 15.76% (11.18) 84.24% (4.71) 1.52
d16 15.04% (12.07) 84.96% (4.49) 1.45
d20 14.26% (12.97) 85.74% (4.13) 1.34
d24 13.76% (13.84) 86.24% (3.9) 1.28
d30 13.44% (14.79) 86.56% (3.7) 1.21

The average checks in parentheses is the average number of retirement procedure iterations required to get to that state – dead or uneventful.

For those interested, I wrote a Ruby script to simulate through these procedures.

Guess Who’s Coming to Bitterweed Barrow?

Since our first session at Better World Books – Goshen, players have tested their mettle through four 0-level character funnels.

Surviving characters have joined in the larger campaign. I’ve decided that each of these adventures started in Bitterweed Barrow. And with such drastic changes, I need a procedure to emulate the gold rush.

The Procedure

With the news of grave goods in the Bitterweed Barrow environs, many aspirants are seeking their fortunes or at least opportunities in Bitterweed Barrow.

For each two weeks of in-game time that has passed and for each session that has passed since the character’s have been in Bitterweed Barrow, roll on the following table to see who has begun coming to Bitterweed Barrow:

d30 Guess Who’s Coming to Bitterweed Barrow?
1-12 1d8 0-level commoners (50/50 chance of adventuring or seeking work)
13 A merchant peddler with supplies for sale
14 Adventurers: 1 – a group of 1d3 + 1d5 adventurers (level 1), 2 – a lone adventurer (level 1d3+1) and 1d6 hirelings, 3 – a group of 1d7 adventurers and 1d4 hirelings
15 1d6 acolytes of: 1 – Set, 2 – Orcus, 3 – Justicia, 4 – Nergal, 5 – Ramat, 6 – Other
16 A traveling bard with other tales
17 A tax collector and 2d6 soldiers in the name of Duchess Zelene Oči
18-19 Raiding party (2d12): 1 – Orcs, 2 – Human brigands, 3 – Hirot, 4 – Another kingdom
20* Jarl Henrick, his thegns, and Sylle Ru (from Hirot)
21* Sylle Ru and 1d3 thegns of Jarl Henrick (from Hirot)
22* Master Jenks, Oleen the Imp, Catkins, Wee Tocs, and Wolf (from Hirot)
23* Lloré and Morgan Haverson (from Hirot)
24* Brother Aker (from Hirot)
25* 1d3+1 of Iraco’s hunters and 50/50 chance Iraco (from Hirot)
26* A time traveller
27* An astrologer with outlandish prophesies
28-29* A journeyman smith and 3 laborers; Replace with a trained craftsman
30* A chronicler from the great city (Punjar, Lankhmar, etc)
* – When rolled, replace with a new entry

Unless they are coming from somewhere specific, where are they coming from?

d10 Where are they coming from?
1 North
2 Northeast
3 East
4 Southeast
5 South
6 Southwest
7 West
8 Northwest
9-10 [Roll again 1d8] of Hirot

For each adventuring party send them through the Paul Wolfe’s Virtual Funnel in Gong Farmer’s Almanac 2015 (Consolidated p332) in between sessions.

Preparation for Session 2 of DCC Better World Gaming

Between the 0-level funnel of Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry and the first session of Doom of the Savage Kings, I did some preparation. I didn’t publish this as I didn’t want to tip my hand. I scratched together two random tables to seed the start of the session. These are things that still could be happening.

With a map and deed, I assumed the characters would be leaving the village. I spent a bit of time laying out a flow-chart of distances to nearby locations. After the second session, the geography set a bit more and I’m working on a localized map.

D8 In Bitterweed Barrow
1 A small troop of dwarves (1d4+1) arrive in Bitterweed Barrow to claim their ancestral gold. The have come from the nearby foothills of the Trolltooth Mountains.
2 Varooth Moss sends a letter asking to meet at midnight at the well outside Nebin’s house; He has important news and needs help. To help him, he needs Sylle Ru captured or killed.
3 Nebin Pendlebrook’s ghost haunts the village; food is going missing.
4 A druid has come to learn of the sprite fountain. A foul corruption is growing in the west.
5 Chip, slain potato farmer, rises to seek vengeance for his death (see Ensorcelling Corpse Plague).
6 Last night, the village sot and goat herder helped birth a two-headed goat. He swears that before it died it said “Beware, Beware the Eyes of Green.”
7 Hearing of the fountain, a band of reavers assumes that Bitterweed Barrow may be the resting place of the Abbot in the Woods.
8 Roll 1d7 twice.
D10 Leaving Bitterweed Barrow
1 Lionel Left-Leg, a seasoned peddler warns that Hirot is on edge; They are sacrificing each other to appeas a demon.
2 Constable Landria is on the trail of a poacher. She may conscript the party.
3 Elianda, a pilgrim on a vision quest. She seeks a lone tower to free an ensnared angle.
4 A small road-side shrine with a clay bowl and 5 silver coins on offer.
5 A group of brigands heading to Bitterwood Barrow to lay claim to the wealth.
6 Evidence of a massive hound having shred an elk
7 Farmer Chip gives pursuit; He is getting stronger
8 A band of performers setting up camp. They invite you to share their food for the afternoon and evening.
9 Varooth Moss meets you on the road insisting that he travels this side of the mirror.
10 Roll 1d9 twice.

 

Dungeon Crawl Classics – Tower of the Stargazer [Session 5]

The Cast for this Session

There were six players and 15 or so characters.

People gathered around a table, listening to a Judge describe the in game situation.

Good Luck With That…

Leveled Characters

  • Ungo the Beggar (1st-level thief)
  • Ahmal the Witness of Cthulhu (1st-level cleric)
  • Obexa the Agent (1st-level dwarf)
  • Spike the Acolyte of Ramat (1st-level cleric)
  • Ralph Quickfingers – an inquisitive halfling haberdasher (1st-level halfling)
  • Quinlynn the Unlucky – an elf sworn to the King of Elfland (1st-level elf)
  • Badger’s Bane – human trapper (1st-level Thief)

The Villagers

Albert, Bartholemew, Calvin, Dave, Krem, Ilvora, Stemp, Chance, Yeasty,Lord Scuttlebutt

Those crossed out did not survive the adventure.

The Session

A Bit of Background

This group of characters is an amalgam of three 0-level character funnels:

As well as survivors of the Harley Stroh’s “Doom of the Savage Kings

I’ve treated each of those as having taken place in the village of Bitterweed Barrow. Buried in this sleepy little corner of the world is evidence of past civilizations.

A hex grid with five filled hexes mapping a small region.

The Known World as of Session 4

Back to Bitterweed Barrow

Having left Hirot after defeating the Hound of Hirot and framing Iraco, the characters returned to Bitterweed Barrow. I advanced the time a month (to reflect that we’ve been playing for over a month

During this downtime:

  • Ralph fashioned an ostentatious hide armor made from the silver wolf skin pelt he found
  • Other villagers had explored another barrow (Joan ran Portal Under the Stars in my absence)
  • People were equipping themselves with hide or leather armor and shields
  • Everyone was restless for more adventure
  • Nine more villagers wanted to take up the life of adventuring. I wonder how many more villagers will hear the siren song of adventuring?
  • Joseph, the drunken farmer, spoke again about a two-headed goat birth and green eyes (See second session for more details)
  • Quinlynn’s player, Erich, asks if he has any recollection of a previous time of two-headed goat births.
    • I made a quick ruling for Elven Lore based on something mentioned in Spellburn #46. I will be formalizing this.
    • XXX recalls at that time helping a wizard who was building a tower north of Bitterweed Barrow; He wanted precisely cut reeds from the fens.
  • Ahmal the Witness of Cthulhu hands over two radiant sacred Ramati scrolls to Spike the Acolyte of Ramat (See side-trek session for more details)
    • I asked for a Luck check for Ahmal; She passed. On a failure Cthulhu would’ve taken notice and disapproved.
    • I’m working towards paying greater attention to character alignments and decisions.
  • Recollection of the Tale of the Barrow Wives

    Deep and ancient magic infuses the funerary rituals of mighty warriors and great leaders. One of these rituals involves the self-sacrifice of a lover of the deceased. The lover is ritually killed and buried in the loamy foundation of their beloved’s barrow; To sooth and serve their deceased lover for the eons.

After a bit, they embarked, choosing to seek the tower of the wizard.

Roadside Reconciliation

For my session prep, I wrote up some procedures for the hex crawling near Bitterweed Barrow. The first hex, they rolled a 1 for their chance at an encounter.

The adventurers see a road-side shrine, like the one that Ungo looted earlier. Ralph urges Ungo to make things right and return those coins. Ungo agreed, and unlike last time, threw caution to the wind and placed the coins in the bowl without careful inspection. The bowl tilted and a crossbow bolt shot from the brush, sinking deep in Ungo’s thigh.

A roar of “Attack!” and a dozen camouflaged bandits burst up, throwing javelins. I should’ve made some rolls for the elves. Several javelins stick, three of the villagers drop dead. The adventurers rally and make a counter attack. Ungo and Ahmal attempting to flank, other villagers charging the bandits, slings bullets launching.

The first tide-turning event is Quinlynn casting Sleep (with the mercurial magic effect of healing 1d6 HP of everyone within 30′). He’s 3 points shy of getting the spell off, and Ralph offers up 2 points of Luck (one will be permanent). Ephemeral swan wings embrace the bandit hero and gentle drop him off to sleep.

The remaining bandits check morale, and press on! Ralph charges into the fray, picking off one of the bandits. The bandits respond and fell a few more villagers and Badger’s Bane.

Spike steps over Badger’s Bane and casts Holy Sanctuary (a cautious move given that Badger’s Bane is of an opposing alignment). Obexa charges a cluster of bandits with a mighty deed of “I want to cleave into the other”. He hits his deed and the attack and splatters two of the bandits.

Ahmal rushes over to save Badger’s Bane; A bandit harries Ahmal, but ultimately Ahmal heals Badger’s Bane. Ungo guts one of the bandits. The bandits check morale, and feel. They call for a retreat.

The adventurers, battered and bruise, pound their shields and drive off the bandits. As the bandits flee, Quinlynn casts another sleep spell, catching two more bandits (and healing the adventurers).

The adventures spend some time looting the corpses (upgrading to studded leather and scimitars), tying up the survivors, and preparing a funeral pyre for the four slain villagers and dead bandits.

One player’s characters all died, so I reached into the envelope of 0-level characters and pulled out Dave the Woodcutter. He had heard the commotion and came to investigate; He decided to join the adventurers.

As the brigand leader stirs awake, still bound, Spike approaches him. “You have done bad things. I want you to repent in the name of Ramat.” I call for a DC 15 Personality check, and he aces it. The brigand leader is a convert of Ramat. He goes to convert his fleeing crew.

A Strange Roadside Encounter

As they enter the next hex, I ask for a d6. Again a 1.

As they press forth, they come to the King’s Way and see a lone traveller. They hail him. And he responds in a stilted manner.

The adventurers immediately think “Zombie” and I clarify. No its more jerky motion. “Like a marrionette?” asked Erich. “Yes that!”

I have some fun pantomiming a very herky jerky man. And talking with a not entirely in control voice. I’m aiming for Vincent D’onofrio in “Men in Black”

Spike attempts to turn unholy to no effect. The adventurers choose to let this “man” continue his trip towards Hirot. And they continue towards the wizards tower.

Approaching Tower of the Stargazer

From here on out are spoilers for James Raggi IV’s “Tower of the Stargazer“.

A forboding tower being struck by lightning. A lone person contemplates ascending the stairs to the tower.

“Tower of the Stargazer” written by James Raggi IV. Cover art by Peter Mullin.

As they approach the tower towards the evening. They note the lightning striking it and the immediate surroundings, even the the sky is clear.

Ralph and Ungo decide to approach the stairs and doors to the tower. They move cautiously, noting a body just west of the tower. At the door they spend some time investigating the knocker, the door frame, the floor, and the door itself. As Ungo is about to pull the serpentine handles, Ralph suggests they knock on the knocker. A loud “Bong” reverberates and the door opens to a meticulously kept waiting room with two doors.

First Floor

The rest of the party ascends the stairs and enters the waiting room. Yeasty lights her torch. In this room, one of the characters curious about illusions jabs a knife into a table. It appears to be real.

They open one door in the waiting room to discover a moldering closet with outdated clothes. They take the other door. It opens to a dining room with fine china, bottles of wine, a statue of a King and Medusa from a popular myth.

There was a wicked King who loved a Medusa. And she loved him. Together they grew powerful. And in this power they grew to resent each other. The King one day betrayed the Medusa and had her killed. In her dying breath she cursed his lineage, and on the 18th birthday each of his children, serpents kill each of them.

They spend a bit of time exploring. Ralph checks out the four wine bottles. They are of an old vintage. Spike continues to advise that they leave them here and can get them as they leave. Ralph, deaf to Spike’s suggestions, pops open a bottle and smells the sweet fragrance of a fine wine. He corks it and puts it back.

Second Floor

They head up the stairs to a servants quarter. They see a table, oven, corridor to other chambers, and stairs going up, with a notable oozing splotch of blood. They explore the servants quarters and find a journal written by Argyle Timmons. It details the day to day activities of the tower. The last entry, some 59 years ago ends with Argyle saying that he is going to flee Sir Uravulon Calcidius. Sir Calcidius, the wizard, has turned murderous and spiteful. They also find a key.

This jogs a bit of Ilvora’s memory; Argyle was a villager that took over helping Sir Calcidius when the tasks became rather onerous:

  • fetch the placenta for a girl birth from a mother that was a first-born
  • gather a rams horn fill with the blood of the ram after you have bludgeoned it to death by the horn

Third Floor

They gather themselves and approach the stairs and the door at the top. They note that blood continues to ooze from the key hole. They try the key and hear a “cling” as they push another key out of the other side of the keyhole. A quick use of parchment and they scrape up the key.

A white bearded wizard trapped in a circle of salt.

“Sir Uravulon Calcidius” by Dean Clayton

They open the door and see a white bearded wizard standing inside of a circle of salt. At this point, the players have a clear idea the Sir Calcidius is not a nice guy. But he starts out friendly and willing to pay them to free him. As they goad him, his anger rises, the veins on his forehead throb and he turns red as he proclaims “Free me now or I will scatter your souls across the cosmos.”

The adventurers proceed to goad him and prod him, exploring his quarters (and taking the 5,000 gp Star Crystal). He responds with equal parts anger, nihilism, and contrition. On a stand they find a book titled “Communications and Signaling the Beyond”. It goes on and on about the existence of other planets and their possible fauna and flora. And means of communication, though perhaps through other planes. A blathering of pseudoscience, if science were a defined concept in this world.

The adventurers checkout the door and find what appears to be an elevator shaft. Ralph, Ungo, and Quinlynn offer to explore (none of them need Yeasty’s torchlight).

Going Up

There are two doors on the 4th level. One towards the center of the tower, the other towards the edge. They choose the center. It opens into a study room with tables. On the table is a book “Surviving the Interorbular Ether”, it is a dense read. There are two doors. They open one, and hear a woosh and are greeted with the scent of stale air. It is a library. There are countless books on three major subjects:

  • Glass
  • Light
  • Metalworks

There is another door leading what would appear to be to the room that was accessible from the elevator shaft. They open that door. It is a chilly room with a wooden box. They open the box and feel a blast of cold air. Inside are 12 vials. Ralph inspects one. It looks like blood. As he holds it, the blood ripples a bit. He checks the other vials. All of them are blood. Not overly curious, he puts them back and they leave the room, heading back to the study.

Take a Chance

They take the other door and enter a room with a table and two chairs, one facing them, the other ready for someone to sit in. To their left, a door with crackling energy barring its entrance. A ghost appears and said “Beat me at a game of chess and I will give you access. Lose and your soul is mine.”

The adventure gave some guidance; But with time running short, I offered a deal. You’ll roll a d20 to determine the results of the chess game. My initial terms were on a 1 to 15 you lose your soul. On a 16 to 20 you win and get 15 XP. I didn’t mention if burning luck would be an option. Chance opted to play. He rolled a 3 (and didn’t have enough luck to make up the difference). He disintegrated and reappeared as the ghost.

This time I offered 10 XP for 50/50 odds. Ralph thought about it, and sat at the table. And rolled natural 1. Poof. Quick thinking Quinlynn Invoked the King of Elfland. A quick errand from his shadow to Elfland (for the spellburn), and Quinlynn stepped back to offer Ralph guidance on the midgame and helped coach him. I gave Ralph a re-roll and increased his success range from 11+ to 6+. He rolled a 12. Chance’s ghost and the chessboard disappear and the force field to the other door blinks out of existence.

Having run out of time, we stopped there. I awarded 9 XP to the survivors.

Random Tables to Help Preparation for the Unexpected

At the end of my last DCC session, we left off with the players saying “We are leaving the village in the morning.”

I’m not entirely certain where they are going. They have two similar looking maps with minimal information. I spend a few minutes drawing those up as handouts.

I’m spending an hour whipping up a random encounter table for the region.

Random Encounters near Bitterweed Barrow and Hirot

Every 5 mile hex, roll 1d6. On a 6, see below. Outside of the Barrow Ward, roll 1d7. Inside the Barrow Ward roll 1d7+3.

d7 Random Encounter
1 Devil Frog (1) [DCC 402]
2 redacted
3 redacted
4 Orcs (1d6x5 and Boss) [DCC 423]
5 Troll (1) [DCC 429]
6 Witch (95% 1; 5% 12) [DCC 434]
7 Men, Bandits (2d6) [DCC 432]
8 redacted
9 Varooth Moss (1) [Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry]
10 redacted

In addition to the above table, I’m looking at the introduced cast of characters and setting a few of them in motion. I’m using Sine Nomine’s An Echo Resounding and Wizard of the Coast’s Birthright as a rough planning tool. Regardless I want to make sure a few things happen behind the scenes.

All told, I’m not entirely certain where we’ll start the session; Some players may need to level up their characters.