Celebrating 17 Years of the Open Gaming License

The Open Game License (OGL) fascinates me. It is something I very much appreciate. I have released content on my blog as open game content.

There are several moving aspects of the open gaming license over these last 17 years of open gaming. These are un-cited opinions based on observations and intuition.

First, it opened the 3rd edition rules of Dungeons and Dragons to legal and safe tinkering, derivation, and expansion. An industry sprung up to create supplements for 3E. It also empowered people to create gaming content that was shareable; In a legal manner as well as in proximity or alignment to existing rules systems.

Second, it provided the framework to legally rebuild older variants of Dungeons and Dragons. First in the form of OSRIC, then the ensuing explosion of clones, modern simulacra (in no particular order), and adjacent games:

  • Labyrinth Lord
  • Basic Fantasy
  • Sword & Wizardry
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  • Blueholme
  • Mazes & Perils
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Whitehack
  • Delving Deeper
  • Adventurer Conquerer King
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics
  • The Hero’s Journey
  • The Black Hack
  • Microlite ’74
  • Beyond the Wall
  • And I’m sure more

Third, it was through the OGL that Pathfinder came into existence. Pathfinder is the spiritual and mechanical descendant of the most popular modern rules of D&D at the time. The rules and community had of the very popular rules had a safe harbour as D&D 4E experimented with a new paradigm and a non-OGL license.

Fourth, I look to WotC’s releasing 5E D&D under the OGL as a sign that the OGL is all-around better for them than not. Wizards of the Coast took this a step further and through the DM’s Guild have released their flag-ship RPG campaign world, the Forgotten Realms, for experimentation.

In the middle of these four points we see great developments. Old D&D adventures, long out of print, available again in PDF. You can use a simulacrum or the original rules to play these adventures.

We are also seeing old adventures (B1 – In Search of the Unknown and B2 – Keep on the Borderlands) being re-released by Goodman Games under both 1E and 5E rules in a single volume.

The open game license appears to have created a framework for iteration and experimentation all while ensuring that gaming and the DIY nature of gaming remains viable.

The Known World Thusfar

Today, I broke down and bought Cecil Howe’s Hex Kit. I already had the base tiles, and wanted something to make my campaign map.

I started with the following hand-drawn map (with some later modifications)

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

The Known World as of Session 4

And with a few hours of campaign planning, I created the following with Fog of War style obfuscation:

A hex map

The Known World thus Far

Blades in the Dark by John Harper

Last Thursday I ran a session of John Harper‘s Blades in the Dark for seven other players. Beforehand, I read the rules, printed the handouts, and assembled my GM screen.

John Harper crafts an evocative setting into the rules – ghosts, soot, capitalist feudalism surround the aspiring crew of miscreants.

Hooded man in shadows with blades drawn

Blades in the Dark by John Harper

What I Love

Structure

At present, I’m running a drop-in style game at my FLGS. From week to week the cast of characters varies. I’m well aware of the challenges of campaign cohesion as the characters move through different regions of the campaign world; and no two sessions have the same group playing.

Blades in the Dark offers several elements to ease the challenges of a rotating cast – the crew, turf, and game phases.

The players create a shared “character”, the crew, and develop it through their exploits. Blades in the Dark provides 6 base crews: assassins, bravos, cult, hawkers, shadows, and smugglers. These crew types suggest how the player characters will approach solutions. The crew also modifies aspects of the characters.

Crews control turf. The more they expand that turf, the greater power and options they get. This encourages play to remain close to a home-base.

The game phases provide a strong structure of play. We have free-play – a time for reconnaissance, information gathering, and general role-playing. And we have the score – a time for an illicit endeavor that will bolster the wealth and reputation of the crew. Downtime immediately follows the score.

During downtime the GM gives the payout in coin and reputation, determines the heat and entanglement. Then the characters perform their activities: acquire an asset, work on a long-term project, recover, reduce heat, train, or indulge a vice.

Downtime runs different than the other parts of the game. Downtime focuses on feeding the campaign at a higher level than the moment by moment of information gathering, conflict, or social engagement. I see analogues to Blades in the Dark’s downtime in:

I appreciate that the Downtime phase of Blades in the Dark helps me close out sessions so that I can easily account for character changes in the next session. The structure of the crew creates a continuity to a changing cast of players. And the entanglements and turf ensure the dynamism of the city of Duskwall.

Procedures

I love the procedures of a system. They explain in clear steps the transition from one moment of play to another.

Blades in the Dark has two important in-session procedures:

  • Planning & Engagement
  • Downtime

These procedures transition the game from free-form into and out of an action. The Downtime procedure moves the game from the Score back to free-form play. And as I said above, it feeds the campaign.

Planning & Engagement

The Planning & Engagement procedure moves the game from free-play to a Score. Crews gain vital wealth and reputation from each Score.

Once the characters determine a potential score, Blades advocates that they identify a missing detail for the type of score. For an assault, the crew details the point of attack.

At this point, the GM moves into the Planning & Engagement procedure. Each character determines their load; How much gear they have (not the specific gear just how many slots of gear).

The GM runs through a litany to build a dice pool for the engagement roll:

  • Start with 1d (for sheer luck)
  • Is this operation particularly bold or daring? If yes, +1d.
  • Is this operation overly complex or contingent on many factors? If yes, -1d.
  • Does the plan’s detail expose a vulnerability or strike at a weakness? If yes, +1d.
  • Does the plan strike at a strength or special preparation? If yes, -1d.
  • Can any of your friends or contacts help? If yes, +1d.
  • Are any enemies or rivals interfering in the operation? If yes, -1d.
  • Is the target of a lower tier? If yes, +1d.
  • Is the target of a higher tier? If yes, -1d.

With the dice pool assembled, someone rolls and determines to determine the initial position – what the opening scene of the score looks like.

The engagement roll sets aside the potentially game paralyzing planning and pushes the game into the action. Players do have access to Flashbacks for planning and resources.

As a caveat, if your group enjoys planning, preparation, and pre-determined equipment; the Load Out, Engagement, and Flashbacks may not be for you. You may want to require players choose their individual items for the score, create any assets (eg. bribed guards), and layout the details of their plan. I still believe the engagement roll provides a valuable tool for transitioning from planning to action.

Lead a Group Action

If you have ever had a group of 6 PCs each attempt to sneak around a location, you know that in most systems it will inevitably fail…and likely devolve into combat (e.g. can’t sneak around it, better bash in the door and kill everything).

Blades adds a fantastic mechanism in which someone can lead a group action. The leader need not have the best action rating. Everyone rolls for that action and the highest result determines the success of the group action. However, each individual failure for the group action inflicts one point of stress on the leader of the group action.

In other words, you’ll have a competent group but at a potential cost. From a meta-standpoint, this mechanic also helps keep the characters together (and thus keeps the fictional state more manageable for the GM).

Countdown Clocks

I first saw countdown clocks in Apocalypse World, but prefer the direction Blades takes in leveraging clocks. The countdown encodes events that might happen or obstacles to overcome. A quick note-taking tool that a GM can share with players to provide visual clues for the state of the game.

Clocks also behave a bit like hit points. Characters succeeding on actions can chip away at a countdown clock’s pie pieces, nudging them to actualization.

Other Things

I love success with complications. Blades offers guidance on different complications based on fictional positioning (e.g. controlled, risky, or desperate). However, as with all success with complications, beware of not turning the complication into something far worse than would have happened for outright failure.

Blades encourages (perhaps mandates) the GM to broadcast the position and effect of a given action. “You are skirmishing with a street thug, that’s certainly a risky position with standard effect.” This helps players understand the rubric through which the GM runs the game. It clarifies what players can expect. It also creates a point where players can shift the GMs rubric (for better or worse).

Teamwork extends beyond Leading a Group Action. One character can help another character, protect them, or set them up through an action of their own. These are echoes of Burning Wheel’s Linked Test and Helping Dice. Plenty of tech to reinforce the idea that characters belong to a crew and have each others back.

Blades has a handful of random tables to assist the GM in fleshing out Duskwall; Enough to help craft people, buildings, streets, demons, and forgotten gods. Echoes of a Sine Nomine product.

Blades’s resistance mechanic gives players tools for tempering the consequences that a GM inflicts. Resistance comes at a cost: increased stress. Stress is analogue to character hit points, but is more akin to Fate‘s stress tracks. Characters can manage stress by indulging in a vice (which also has a neat little procedure).

Calibration

Not exactly something I love, but something that everyone should know. Blades in the Dark requires calibration:

  • What constitutes a controlled, risky, or desperate position?
  • What constitutes a great, standard, or limited effect?
  • How many pie pieces go into that count down clock?
  • What does success with consequence mean?
  • How hard do you hit with failure?

How the GM and table answers these questions determines the tone of the game.

Channeling years of experience GM-ing several different systems, I found the calibration liberating. I started out more forgiving. However, when the Leech failed wrecking a door using their explosives kit (their self-described wrecking kit) in a burning building, I hit hard with 4 Harm (eg. lethal Harm). Through resistance and armor they mitigated the worst of it. If we continue, that 2 Harm will linger and complicate situations.

The campaign should strive to ensure a consistent calibration level based on precedence; Ease into any deviation from that precedence.

Other games require calibration, Blades puts it forward as a first class consideration.

What I Struggled With

We had one combat. I opted for a teamwork Skirmish. While the conflict felt fast and cinematic, in hindsight I would’ve opted for individuals actions. And there-in lies a tension in the game. Teamwork for combat? Helping? Individual rolls? Each can work.

But which makes the most sense for the group? Do I ask the players what they prefer (in that moment)? The varied approaches to conflict and action resolution may feel off-putting – They did introduce a bit of doubt and personal dissonance during the game.

Conclusion

I enjoyed running Blades in the Dark. The game structure works well for open-table gaming – make sure to end your session with downtime activities.

The entanglements applies pressure and ensures a dynamic world that moves through and against the characters. I look forward to both the stretch goal hacks and the inevitable community hacks. I know that Victorian Ghost-Punk may not appeal to everyone, but the underlying system resonates with my GM-ing style.

Blades provides ample advice and guidance, but if you need exacting precision, you won’t find it. Blades gives GMs guidance and a framework to run their game for theirtable. As with any RPG, Blades lives and dies on the trust between GM and players.

I love the interlocking systems of Blades in the Dark. It is a solid framework for running many of the games I like to run. When running the game I never had the “Well, lets just Math this thing” feeling that I get when I ran or played Fate. I felt as though the table mentally remained in the fiction instead of scrounging around the table looking for aspects to invoke.

If you’d prefer a different setting take a look at Scum & Villainy; A space hack of Blades in the Dark with Star Wars and Firefly touchstones.

Blades in the Dark Probabilities

I received my copy of Blades in the Dark. Curious about the probabilities, I wrote up a ruby script to generate the dice pool results from 0 dice to 6d6.

I’ve tabularized the output for easier reading.

Pool Size Critical Success Compromised Failure
0 0% 3% 22% 75%
1 0% 17% 33% 50%
2 3% 28% 44% 25%
3 7% 35% 45% 13%
4 13% 39% 42% 6%
5 20% 40% 37% 3%
6 26% 40% 32% 2%

For those that prefer a graphical representation:Graphical representation of the above table

Or if you prefer a FASERIP style chart

Graphical representation of the above table

0 Dice

1 Die

2 Dice

3 Dice

4 Dice

5 Dice

6 Dice

Ruins of the Dwarven Delve [Session #9]

The previous session

Preamble

This session, we playtested a DCC conversion of Purple Duck Games Purple Mountain II – Ruins of the Dwarven Delve. As a patron of Purple Duck Games, I responded to the call for play testing the conversion; An abandoned dwarven mine lined up with the adventurers current locale.

I reiterated last session’s rumors:

  • “Last month, one of the caves had an explosion. To this day, you can hear the howls of the dead.”
  • “The other night, I was drinking and this elf came in. Someone had mugged him, his ears clipped and bleeding.”
  • “I heard that the Guild Elders are forcing the old Master Guilder, Gentle Steve, to step aside. He may still lead the Guardians Guild.”
  • “Yesterday, or the day before, I heard a guy talking about finding a cache of old silver coins in the cliffs.”
  • “I heard that someone to the west found treasures from a buried king.”

I advanced the timeline 8 days – from the 18th of Spring’s Laugh to the 4th of Spring’s End.

I followed my session start procedures, asking the luckiest and unluckiest characters (who had sleighted Sir Calcidius) to make a Luck check. Quinlynn the Unlucky failed his. Ungo the Beggar made his.

They learned that Sir Calcidius (from the Tower of the Stargazer)

  • gained his freedom (by a meteor strike on the tower)
  • aligned with Iraco (from Hirot)
  • knew they went to Steelhart

The Cast

Character Class (Profession) Level Luck Alignment Player
Ahm-al the Witness of Cthulhu Cleric (Guild Beggar) 1 12 Neutral Joan
Ungo the Beggar Thief (?) 1 13 Neutral Joan
Obexo the Agent Dwarf (Stonemason) 2 13 Lawful Aidan
Strove Warrior (Rutabega farmer) 1 13 Neutral Aidan
Pickling (Watchman) 0 12 Lawful Ben
Faudur (Roadwarden) 0 6 Neutral Ben
Wilberton (Minstrel) 0 8 Neutral Ben
Puggi (Dwarf Merchant) 0 16 Chaotic Ben
Oliver (Orphan) 0 12 Lawful Jacob
Aeris (Elf Refugee) 0 15 Neutral Jacob
Dan (Agitator) 0 3 Chaos Jacob
Belar (Rake) 0 10 Neutral Jacob
Ralph Quickfingers Halfling (Haberdasher) 2 11 Neutral Erich
Quinlynn the Unlucky Elf (Sage) 1 8 Neutral Erich

None of the characters starting out this session had went to the safe-house from the previous session. Aidan, playing Obexo, arrived as they left the altar room for the first time.

Carousing

I again brought out the carousing table for some quick XP.

  • Quinlynn upset the Church of Tses; Waking up naked and hungover in the temple of Tses upset the priests. Adding yet another anecdote for the city’s growing disdain of elves.
  • Faudur and Aeris, bank rolled by Quinlynn, ended up owing a favor to the King of Elfland. The King charged them with finding a dwarven ledger from an abandoned dwarf mine up in the hills.

Getting There

Miners travel each day from Steelhart to the mines. As non-miner’s guild members, they each paid the 5sp toll to take a gondola up to the cliff top. From there, they traveled to the mine. With some rope they descended into the “Ruins of the Dwarven Delve.”

Mild Spoilers Ahead…

Entrance

In the first room they found several piles of refuse. They spent a bit of time searching through the mounds finding broken or discarded gear.

In one pile, Quinlynn stumbled upon a three legged tentacle monster that flailed but missed. The adventurers responded with ferocity, inflicting many wounds. Quinlynn followed up with a powerful sleep spell, and the adventurers hacked the monster dead.

Noting the water pipes up high, they opted to check out the door with the water pipe running above it. Ungo looking for traps, found none. They opened the door

Next Room

In this room they noted two doors. One blocked by iron slag, another open. Ungo, as per standard operating procedures, checked the unblocked door. Finding it safe, they opened the door and went into an altar room.

Altar Room

Entering this room they noted an altar and three other doors. A general sense of “rightness” filled the hearts of Pickling and Oliver.

They continued to follow the water pipes to one of the doors. At the door they heard some snickering. Ungo followed his standard operating procedure, and they entered the room.

Smith Room

Here the adventurers encountered two diminutive creatures with spindly limbs and functional wings sprouting from near their ears – gremlins.

As a Judge, I love role-playing mischievous and chaotic creatures. I keep the verbal sparing quick and to a minimum before pushing the players to action. The gremlins goaded the players into the water room. Or did the player’s decided to go there and the gremlins pleaded them to go elsewhere.

Water Works Room

Again, Ungo checked and opened the door. Dan took a few steps in and sprung a trap. Jets of steam blasted Dan, slamming him into the wall, killing him outright. Snickers erupted. Faudur triggered another steam trap, slamming dead into the wall. Even more snickers.

A gremlin, with a large cantaloupe belly, along with five other gremlins launched into an attack. The cantaloupe bellied gremlin fired a blast of thistles, knocking Quinlynn to 0 hit points. The other gremlins charged the adventures.

Ralph came barreling to Quinlynn’s aid, stabilizing him. The others fought the Gremlins. A few tense rounds, and the adventurers won out. Through the power of Cthulhu, Ahm-al healed Quinlynn.

Searching the room they found three nests. Each nest had a small box. Ungo checked the boxes and found a small spring. Ungo disabled each of the boxes.

Inside each box he found a single silver coin and a fragile tube of liquid. One side of the coin had an etching of a snickering gremlin, the other side had the words “Ha!”. The fragile tube rested by a small spring loaded hammer.

Back to the Altar Room and to the Crypt

Back in the altar room, they opened the door behind the altar to a crypt. Inside they found an anvil and dwarven statue lying in repose; with a rune etched shield overlaying a fine hammer. A riddle. Ben quickly answered the riddle and they resolved the puzzle. The shield moved, freeing the adamantine hammer.

Obexo took the hammer and smiled.

Calling It A Night

The adventure took a lot out of me. Each room had nice and brief read aloud text. For the Judge there was also large chunks of text; mixing exposition, situational, and encounter information.

At 9pm I closed up the adventure. I hand-waved finding the dwarven ledger.

Quinlynn invoked the King of Elfland to present the dwarven ledger. He bound Wilberton to the King of Elfland. The King of Elfland, however, said that Aeris was not worthy.

We spent the next 30 minutes leveling up characters; Three characters went from 0th to 1st level.

In Memoriam

To Faudur and Dan, blasted by steam.

Resources Used

Aside from the Dungeon Crawl Classic core book

Observations

I sent my playtest observations back to Purple Duck Games.

Writing adventures demands different levels of consideration. The author must first win over the Judge. And once won over, the author should get out of the Judge’s way by making the material as convenient and easy as possible to use.

At the beginning of the dungeon delve, I drew a turn tracker on the map. I explained that every 6 turns I would check for wandering monsters. In older D&D wandering monsters sucked resources for little XP gain. That is not the case in DCC as written.

Facilitating better RPG combats

The best sessions I’ve ever played involved player characters bringing an agenda and reaching for it. They take their situation, charge forward, and set events in motion.

Characters often achieve their goals through conflict. In most games, that means combat. Characters will also quest for relics, knowledge, boons, etc. Or through subterfuge, try to avoid overt conflict.

For now I’m focusing on combat.

Combat

The best combats have had one or both of the following:

  • A goal other than “destroy the enemy.”
  • Multiple paths of engagement

If the characters want a physical object, assume they will execute a “smash and grab” plan. They must bypass the opposition. Let the players choose and plan how they do that.

Provide multiple paths to engage in the combat – a main entrance and a side entrance if you will. I personally enjoy when characters agree to attack a common point, but one group goes this way and the other goes that way. The players can make meaningful choices and plans; And they will discuss this in front of you. Listen to what they say. Build on that in the future.

You’ll also want to consider the following procedures:

  • Morale – in meeting heavy resistance, do we want to continue?
  • Chase – with the opposition routed, do we want to give pursuit?

Morale Procedure

Adding Morale checks into combat helps show that outcomes can vary. Morale checks also telegraph information to the players:

  • We can back down from a fight
  • Our opposition has yet to crack, perhaps we should reconsider our approach

Morale provides another strategy the players can use: strike hard and gamble on triggering a morale check. Surprise and planning become very important.

I find morale harder to remember when I use a set initiative for a combat. I have adopted either group initiative or re-rolling initiative each round. This creates another natural point to check morale.

I also enjoyed the “bloodied” mechanic of 4E; a clear indicator of the toughness of the opposition.

Chase Procedure

The chase procedure facilitates transitioning out of combat-mode and back to exploration or role-playing mode. Without a chase procedure, you either hand-wave the retreat or remain in initiative order, with characters moving tens of feet at a time.

By staying in initiative order you remain longer in the combat-mode – a more “precise” blow-by-blow mode that requires more time to play out. Combat-mode also reinforces slaying the opposition as the primary goal.

The 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide has procedures for chases. As does Labyrinth Lord. They have different approaches, but are useful in considering how you think about chases.

At present my procedures for chases are ad hoc. If the PCs choose to flee, I let them get away. But I want to tighten that up.

Update: Take a look at David Black‘s “Snakes & Swords” chase procedures. I’m adopting this!

Conclusion

In a future post, I’ll expand from the conflict to the character agenda.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to take a look at Burning Wheel’s “Range and Cover” subsystem. It has group initiative, morale, and chase all baked into a dangerous skirmish-style subsystem.

Raiding the Ziggurat of Dis Pater

Previous session report | Next session report

Preamble

As with each open game table session, I never know the roster of players, nor the specifics of what I will run. In my preparation, I scrounge for random tables, write generators, procedures, and rumor tables.

To prepare for anything I did the following:

With a rumor table and the fallout from carousing, I knew I’d have fodder for this session.

Two of the characters leveled up:

  • Yeasty became a Bard (from Crawl #6)
  • Dave became a bow wielding Ranger (from Crawl #6)

Joan checked Ahm-al’s Trauma score of 1, and passed. Ahm-al still has energy to continue adventuring. (See here for more details on Trauma and Retirement)

The Cast

Character Class (Profession) Level Luck Alignment Player
Ahm-al the Witness of Cthulhu Cleric (Guild Beggar) 1 12 Neutral Joan
Ungo the Beggar Thief (?) 1 13 Neutral Joan
Obexo the Agent Dwarf (Stonemason) 1 13 Lawful Aidan
Strove (Rutabega farmer) 0 13 Neutral Aidan
Spike the Acolyte of Ramat Cleric (Herbalish) 1 12 Lawful Greg
Fredora (?) 0 14 Neutral Greg
Tink (jeweler) 0 14 Neutral Greg
Albert (?) 0 13 Lawful Sam
Dave Ranger (Woodsmen) 1 12 Neutral Sam
Badger’s Bane Thief (?) 1 10 Chaotic Marlene
Yeasty Bard (Baker) 1 15 Neutral Marlene
Mainge (Beggar) 0 13 Lawful Marlene
Robin (?) 0 6 Lawful Luke
Mason Stone Dwarf (Stone mason) 0 10 Neutral Luke
Shear Madness (Barber) 0 9 Chaotic Luke
Al (?) 0 6 Lawful Erin
Boo (?) 0 6 Chaotic Erin
Cap (?) 0 14 Chaotic Erin
Dog (?) 0 10 Neutral Erin

Carousing

I offered the players a chance to carouse. Six opted to carouse (Tink, Ahm-al, Obexo, Ungo, Dave, Strove); The following failed their DC 15 Will save:

  • Ahm-al stumbles into a minor misunderstanding with local authorities. Roll a Personality check. Success indicates a fine of 2d6 x 15gp. Failure (or inability to pay the fine) indicates 1d6 days in the pokey.
  • Obexo, the teatotaler dwarf, burns carouses while going to theater performances, makes lewd advances at a witch or conjure-man. Succeed at a DC 15 Will save or they turn you into a pig. Pick a character played by the player on your left. That character can understand you; For everyone else it’s squeals and oinks.
  • Ungo, despite his best efforts, you found love in your latest dalliance. 75% chance they’re already married.

Rumors

Each player rolled on the Rumor Table that I setup for Steelhart. They got the following results:

  • “Last month, one of the caves had an explosion. To this day, you can hear the howls of the dead.”
  • “The other night, I was drinking and this elf came in. Someone had mugged him, his ears clipped and bleeding.”
  • “I heard that the Guild Elders are forcing the old Master Guilder, Gentle Steve, to step aside. He may still lead the Guardians Guild.”
  • “Yesterday, or the day before, I heard a guy talking about finding a cache of old silver coins in the cliffs.”
  • “I heard that someone to the west found treasures from a buried king.”
  • “Hey, you’re new here…you looking to get rich? I need to know if this interests you? Any concerns about legality?”

Two of the players rolled the same result.

Further Details of Steelhart

As players wrap up their character advancement, reviewing rumors, and thinking on their carousing results, I added bits of information about Steelhart.

Map of city, river, lake, cliffs, streams, and mines

Steelhart – with mixed perspective because I couldn’t decide

The guilds rule Steelhart. And in the four days of carousing they learn aspects of Steelhart.

The Gods with temple in Steelhart are:

  • Tses the Arbitrator who Waits – Lawful, responsible for contracts of Steelhart
  • Dis Pater – Lawful God of Death, the Underworld, & Riches
  • Brigid – Lawful Triple Goddess of Fire, Water, Poetry, & Craft

Up beyond the cliff, active mines produce ore. Workers pole the ore along the Sludge Trails by pole and rafts. From there it careens over the water fall into the Sludge; Workers further sift and sort the ore in the Sludge.

The smell of sulfur permeates the city even as it buzzes in anticipation of next month’s Metal Faire.

Dealing with Carousing

Ungo had fallen for Anga, a married woman. “And what was it about Anga that Ungo fell in love with?”

“Her flowing green and purple hair. And her radiant emerald eyes.”

A Swine Time Was Had

Obexo worked with Dave to track down the witch. They came to her urban three story shop, with herbs and meats hanging in the window and throughout the shop. The witch, a 19 year old woman with a walking stick, greets Dave. She goes for her butchers knife, slamming it on a chopping block, asking Dave if he came for bacon.

Obexo, through Dave, pleads for her to lift the curse. He will give her the Star Crystal if she restores him. Her eyes light up with recognition, and she restores Obexo.

In the Jailhouse Now

While in jail, Ahm-al strikes up conversations with followers of Dis Pater. A moment of doubt passes for Ahm-al.

Should Ahm-al be following Cthulhu? A god that so often disapproves of any and all his requests.

Ahm-al would need to shift alignments. Joan, Ahm-al’s player, weighs the decision as the other players talk about a heist against the temple of Dis Pater. Would Ahm-al convert? If so, what would he do about the planned heist? Ultimately, Ahm-al feigns interest in learning more about Dis Pater to aid in the heist. And Cthulhu turns a bit in its sleep.

Following up on the Rumors

Robyn and Mason Stone expressed interest in the heist; and pressed on with some role-playing.

A noble, with airs of superiority, wanted someone to strike at the wealth of a rival merchant. In the Ziggurat of Dis Pater the merchant had deposited his wealth. During the funeral ceremony of the Lesser Priestess Pelendra, they could break in and steal it.

The noble tells them to look for the wealth in the vault on the main floor (in a lapse of judgement, no one asks how to identify said wealth; but I can always inject that later). Their co-conspirator wants to bankrupt his rival; He does not even want the rival’s wealth.

The noble then gives them a description and directions to a safe house (a two story, tile roofed house with a flag that has a squid emblem).

Here we introduce Erin, playing her first RPG session. Her characters know that the top level of the ziggurat houses the Blessed Helmet of Dis Pater. They have also worshipped in the lower level of the Ziggurat of Dis Pater; A large open room with support columns, tapestries, and braziers.

The Heist

A multi-hour funeral ceremony and procession through the large city park outside the ziggurat will honor the Lesser Priestess. The participants walked to slow drum beats, each naked except for a helmet.

They plan to sneak up behind the ziggurat, on the other side of the procession. Then cut through the box wood labyrinth and enter the temple while the majority of priests and priestesses attend the funeral.

Some of the characters opted to not join. The following characters went forth to loot the temple: Ahm-al, Ungo, Obexo, Strove, Fredora, Dave, Badger’s Bane, Yeasty, Robin, Mason Stone, Shear Madness, Al, and Cap.

The Approach

They approach the ziggurat, Ahm-al and Robin scout ahead, noting two naked guards with helms and staves. A bit of discussion and they strip down, don helmets from the group, and approach. “We’re here to take over. You can go to the funeral now.”

The guards accept the order, and leave their post. The rest of the adventurers wait, and then flood into the entrance of the ziggurat.

Crossing the entrance they find a 10′ x 10′ room with a stone beaded curtain on the other end. One wall has etchings of the underworld. The other has etchings of dancing skeletons. The group moves through the beads and onto a landing and head downstairs.

Lower Level

They light a torch and a few braziers in the main area of worship. Splitting up they explore a few alcoves that appear to be the quarters for acolytes. Others approach and investigate the obsidian altar and large chest for offerings.

Obexo smells gold and silver both in the large chest and behind a tapestry. Ungo fails to pick the lock on the chest. Badger’s Bane tries, but snaps her thieves tools in the lock.

In one alcove, Robin finds a silver dip pen, some silver coins, and a foot locker with sandals, undergarments, a purple robe, and a purple cloak. He takes the robe and cloak.

In the other alcove, Fredora notes a small box. Inside she finds a gold band and a stack of letters written from a Lady Suzanne to Emory; The letters express Lady Suzanne’s pleading for Emory to come back. In the foot locker Fredora finds sandals, undergarments, a purple robe, and a purple cloak. She takes the gold band, robe, and cloak.

A pencil map

Ground Floor of Ziggurat of Dis Pater

Up to the Main Floor

Obexo’s nose leads him up the stairs and to the door right across from the stairs. Approaching, he knocks. A voice responds “Yeah? Who’s there?”

“Just checking if you need anything.”

“Nah, we’re good.”

Next Room

The party proceeds to the right and enter the next room.

Inside they find a bed, footlocker, a small table with lamp, oil, and a devotional book to Dis Pater. In the footlocker is the now standard sandal, undergarments, purple robes, and purple cloak. This also has a purple headband with an embroidered blue eye.

Cap looks under the bed and sees an etching on the floor. Above the etching, tucked under a support, Cap finds a small leather box. She pulls it out and opens it. Inside she finds a viridian pearl and a small obsidian goat figurine.

They take the pearl, figurine, cloak, and robes.

Moving the bed, they see four lines etched into the floor.

Stone Etching of Orcus

Stone Etching of Orcus

A clear sign of Orcus.

To the Next Room

They move further down the hall and enter a dorm room. Numerous footlockers and bunk beds. They grab the robes and cloaks.

Further down the hallway, they find stairs heading up. They double back.

Meanwhile, Outside

The Greater Priestess came back to the Ziggurat, engaging in a brief conversation with Ahm-al and Robin, before she went into the temple. Ahm-al pauses a moment and follows. The Greater Priestess stands past the beaded door. Hand outstretched touching a stone. She withdraws her hand. And asks “Yes?”

Ahm-al offers a quick apology and returns to his post. Robin and Ahm-al wait 10 minutes, then grab their gear, put on their clothes, and head into the worship area to follow where their friends went. See one of the tapestries by the altar somewhat astray, they push it aside, climb the spiral staircase and bump into their party.

Back to the Main Floor

A pencil map

Main Floor of Ziggurat of Dis Pater

They circle up and agree to bust into the vault. But they will need a plan. When in doubt, FIRE!

Into the Vault

Not feeling well, Joan left, taking Ungo and Ahm-al with her. We rationalized that they opted to return to the watch.

Fredora decides to smoke the guards out. She pours oil on the door and starts fanning the smoke underneath.

Minutes later, they offer to help the guards get out. They hear the bar to the door lift. As the door opens, Obexo says “I get out of the doorway.” Everyone else follows suit. The door opens and 3 crossbow bolts whiz by, hitting the stairs. They now hear the telltale ringing of an alarm bell.

Initiative! Note: For such large groups, I’ve adopted group initiative. Each round, each side rolls. The winning side goes then the losing side. The adventurers win out. Yeasty, Robin, Al, and Boo charge in. One of the five guards falls. They notice the fifth guard pulling on a rope ringing an alarm bell.

From the back ranks, Robin throws his torch into the melee. And rolls a natural 20. On his critical result he rolls a 3 – “Foe jabbed in the eye! Ugly bruising and inflict +1d4 damage with this strike.” The table erupts in celebration as the torch strikes flame end into the hapless foes eye socket, striking him dead.

The guards respond, inflicting minor damage (no one collapses). Three tense rounds of back and forth, most attacks missing, but a few hit their mark. On the fourth round, the five guards lie dead and none of the adventurers have fallen.

Alas, I forgot to check morale, meaning the guards fought to the death. Surrendering guards would have complicated the escape.

Further Exploration

Fredora heads down the other side of the floor. Exploring rooms. Again standard issue, footlocker, oil, lamp, table, bed.

Towards the end of the hall, they find a locked door. Fredora knocks, yells “Hey there’s a fire!”

A male acolyte, in purple robes and cloak stumbles out. Perspiring, with blood-shot eyes, confusion, and slurred speech he does his best to help put out the fire. I lost track of this NPC during the extreme chaos of the session; Even though he wouldn’t have done much to disrupt the heist.

Back to the Combat

Having dispatched the guards, they turn their attention to the three stone chests. I clarify everyone’s location on the map. During the fight, Obexo and Fredora had started exploring the other passage. Strove, Badger’s Bane, and Al standing watching the hallway by the stairs, keeping watch.

Dave, Yeasty, Robin, Mason Stone, Shear Madness, and Cap decide to loot the stone chests. Robin opens the chest and blast of poisonous gas erupts. I grab 4d6, roll an 11, and call for a DC 15 Fortitude save. Dave, Yeasty and Robin fail their save (and each take 11 damage).

I explain that the poison cloud continues hanging in the air. They pause and discuss a plan. I help narrow down the options:

  • If you leave the cloud now you won’t get hurt
  • If you stay (or pull a friend out) you’ll need to make a check

Mason Stone leaves the cloud. Shear Madness tries to pull Robin out but fails their save, and dies. And Cap pulls out Dave.

A Bit More Side Exploration

Obexo and Fredora head down to the locked door. They bust it open and see a narrow hallway with paintings of naked helm-wearing men and women, each standing in that pose reserved for the nobility of the Middle Ages.

The high priestesses room has a large bed, armoire, writing desk with lamp and oil. In the corner of the room they also see a small statue of a medusa. Opening the armoire, they find three helmets:

  • A plain steel conical helmet
  • A round steel cap with cat ears
  • A helmet with rams horns curling down and back

Looking for secret doors, Badger’s Bane jabs a dagger into each painting, hitting stone in all but the last one. The last one feels like wood. She looks around and finds the secret door and the release. Cracking the door, she sees the stone beaded curtain of the main entrance.

Recovering Some Bodies

Cap rolls Dave’s body over. Dave lets out a cough (losing a point of Stamina, and gaining a point Trauma). Mason Stone, wanting the magic short sword from Robin, goes back in. As does Cap, trying to rescue Yeasty. They take precautions, but Mason Stone fails his save. Cap pulls Yeasty out, rolls her over, and sees death has claimed Yeasty.

The rest of the party leaves the room and lets the cloud dissipate. They loot the stone chest. Grabbing a dozen or so small leather boxes.

Obexo starts laying out options to get out of there. They settle on a plan. They will go to the high priestesses room, wait for the guards to come into the temple (going downstairs), then sneak out through the main entrance.

To the Safe House

The guards come, lead by the high priestess. She leads them through the stone-bead door and down the stairs. The adventurers stumble out, all dressed in purple robes and cloaks. Fredora scampers out saying that people attacked the temple. Then Ubexo with a believable tale. Badger’s Bane, Cap, and Al then come out with Dave between their arms.

The gathering crowd, partially clad in sheets or whatever they could find, looks to help Dave. With a bit of coaxing 4 towns people offer to help get Dave to a doctor. Badger’s Bane leads them to the safe house; Asking one person to fetch some water.

At the safe house, they ambush their rescuers. Two fall, but the third flees into the streets, surviving two failed attacks. Fredora throws a spear at the fleeing person in the city street. The players ask if anyone sees it. I call for a Luck check (roll under). Fredora’s character rolls a 1. Nope. Not a soul saw what happened.

We draw the session to a close on the evening of the 18th of Spring’s Laugh (Setday).

In Memoriam

  • To Yeasty, Robin, and Shear Madness who died in a cloud of poison.
  • To Mason Stone who attempted to recover the body but inhaled the lingering cloud of poison

Resources Used

Aside from the Dungeon Crawl Classic core book

Observations

Again, I had a large table (7 players and 19 characters). Through most of it, players opted to play a subset of their characters. Six characters abstained. Two more kept guard. Leaving 11 to explore the ziggurat.

I ask everyone to flip over the character sheets of characters not present in the current “scene.” It helps as a visual cue.

Blending into a crowd of naked people ran contrary to equipping for a bank robbery style heist. The single random aspect (a naked religious procession) from the Tome of Adventure Design help imprint this session on my mind.

From the second session the players have heard “Beware, beware the eyes of green.” They keep finding emeralds, viridian pearls, and now Anga the married love of Ungo.

Group initiative continues to shine. I noticed some confusion as most of the players come from the individual initiative systems and assume I will call them to act. I may adopt the Veins of the Earth rule about whomever holds the torch calls out when other characters act.

The Heist system provided a solid framework for an impromptu session. Throughout the session, I incremented the Heat die, and rolled it with regularity. Most of the time rolling below a 4. Regardless, the Heist system helped frame an evening of adventure.

Consequences to Consider

  • The High Priestess goes looking for the people she saw
    • What befalls the bodies of the adventures that the party left behind?
    • What does the temple say happened?
      • Will they acknowledge the robbery?
      • What will they do behind the scenes?
  • How will the wrath of Dis Pater manifest?
  • How does the city respond to the attacks?
  • Will Anga’s spouse respond with jealousy? vengeance? relief?
  • What will the cultist of Orcus do? Do others in town worship Orcus?

Things to Do

I asked the following in the DCC RPG group on Google+ before posting this session report:

In last night’s session, the characters robbed the temple of Dis Pater. They broke into the safe room and absconded with 12 or so leather safe deposit boxes (of 200 or so); The boxes measure 6″ x 5″ x 2″ (about the size of Veins of the Earth). The safe deposit boxes each varied in weight. Please help me create a random table of “What’s in the safe deposit box?” Need to find a random encounter table for Steelhart.