The Campaign Timeline Thusfar

The campaign began in the 172nd year of the common calendar.

Sequence of Events

Spring’s Breath (5th month)

  • 17th (Ramaday)
  • 20th (Fyrday)

Spring’s Hope (6th month)

Spring’s Laugh (7th month)

  • 3rd of Spring’s Laugh (Amunday)
    • Villagers travel from Oakwood Mire to Bitterweed Barrow seeking fortune (Funnel #3)
  • 4th of Spring’s Hope (Ryday)
    • Explore the Barrow of Orcus’s Writ (Funnel #3)
  • 6th of Spring’s Laugh (Loeday)

Observations

Note: sessions that I ran are not in real world chronological order. They instead reflect my efforts to incorporate players with funnel survivors into the over-arching campaign.

In reviewing the calendar, I’m noticing that there are not enough farmers now in the fields, because people are seeking wealth and riches.

The Portal Under the Stars at International Tabletop Game Day

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A few weeks ago, I committed to running Dungeon Crawl Classics for International Tabletop Game Day at Better World Books – Goshen.

Not knowing who might be there, I kept my options open, bringing:

The table had 4 new faces and a returning player. I went with the standby of “Portal Under the Stars.”

Jose was jilting his weekly group, that was playing in the room next door, to instead play in DCC. He is a 9th grader, and plays with the insight of a veteran OSR gamer.

Christina and Joe were new to tabletop RPGs and interested (asking if they could speak in accents, to which I said “Absolutely!”). Tim had prior experience years ago; And I believe EJ had also played awhile ago.

Spoilers for Portal Under the Stars

A portion of “Portal Under the Stars” by Doug Kovacs

Session

The Cast

  • Kathulu – chaotic jester, luck 13
  • Kahn – neutral cheesemaker, luck 8
  • Carlos – neutral weaver, luck 10
  • Mark – neutral mendicant, luck 9
  • Dave – neutral parsnip farmer, luck 11
  • Steve – lawful caravan guard, luck 5
  • Medic – lawful healer, luck 12
  • Randy – chaotic rice farmer, luck 7
  • Rick – lawful potato farmer, luck 16
  • Frodo – chaotic halfling chicken butcher, luck 14
  • Gimli – chaotic dwarven rat-catcher, luck 8
  • Beorn – neutral woodcutter, luck 10
  • Riddick – neutral guild beggar, luck 11
  • Trinity – chaotic halfling dyer, luck 16
  • Tim – lawful slave, luck 15
  • Ronin – lawful human, luck 15
  • Daphney – chaotic butcher, luck 10
  • Sparkles – lawful weaver, luck 10
  • Cup Cake – neutral cobbler, luck 9
  • Rainbow Sunshine – chaotic alchemist, luck 12

Introduction

The characters are serfs for a local dirt baron, Lord Jacob III; In fact the 20 of them are the entire village. The village, Treehill, is south of Oakwood Mire and the King’s Way, tucked between the woods and the northern reach of the Barrow Ward.

Lord Jacob III is dying. With no heir he is releasing them from their toil and serfdom. He speaks of a portal he saw in his youth and grand treasure. And our adventurers are off.

Entry Way

They approach the menhir archway, and see a passageway to another locale. Lighting Steve’s lantern, Steve and Rick venture forward, seeking to bash in the door. A natural 20 on a Strength check, and the door bursts. The success is momentary as a jet of flame incinerates a Steve.

I have begun asking players to place yellow d4s on their character sheets to represent who has light sources. I may break out my Torchbearer Deck to give them torch or lanter cards.

Death Count: 1

Sentinels

With the door open, they see 4 armored and armed sentinel statues. Rick enters the room, and the statue throws a spear but misses. Gimli enters to retrieve the spear, and another launches and skewers him to the wall.

They hatch a plan, they’ll throw a grappling hook onto one of the remaining spears and hope to break or dislodge it. A throw, and its stuck and they can’t recall the grappling hook. With a healthy bit of luck Frodo sneaks over, and lodges the hook on the spear. And pull! The spear breaks.

Frodo then moves along the back wall, and climbs the statue, noting that the armor is not part of the statue. He climbs on the statue dislodges the spear. The arm springs, but the spear fires harmlessly hitting the door.

They loot Gimli, divvy up the 3 spears, and begin donning the scale male.

Death Count: 2

Spinning Statue of the Astrologer Warlord

They throw a goose into the room. Inside is a large statue with intelligent eyes. The statue spins and points to the goose. The goose retreats into a corner of the room.

With the statue hopefully distracted, Kathulu and Frodo attempt to sneak up to the western door. Success!

They fiddle with the door. Their luck runs out, and the statue spins. Initiative! The statue wins, but its flames fail to hit as Kathulu and Frodo dive into the corridor. The flames continue to burn and they press further down the passageway.

The others begin planning how to blind the statue, and as they begin setting their plan in motion, the flames die out.

Ronin goes to retrieve the goose, and heads to the eastern door. The statue spins, points, and clicks. No flames.

Demon Snake

Frodo and Kathulu open the door. Frodo, with infravision, sees the demon snake, and both hear the cursing. Initiative! A quick thinking Kathulu slams the door shut. They head back to the large room, diving through the smoldering wooden door.

Skeletons

Meanwhile, Ronin is opening the eastern door, and the rest of the party are waiting. The room is shadowy, dark, and smells of death. Ronin throws the goose into the room. He sees piles of bones animate. Closing the door, he hears the death squawk of the goose.

Death Count: 2 + a goose

The Pool

With one way forward, they open the door to a dimly lit room. In the room are several columns, a pool, and 6 crystalline creatures ambling around the room. With the door open, the villagers notice the creatures turn towards them.

Daphney steps up to push one into the water with her 10′ pole. She misses and the creature continues ambling towards the lantern bearer. Rick steps up to intercede, bashing the creature with his spear. It turns and backhands him, killing him outright.

The creatures continue migrating towards the light. Quick thinking Rainbow Sunshine takes the lantern and heads into the room with the statue. Once the creatures congregate around the lantern, she uses her ten foot pole to lift the lantern. With lantern in hand she quickly heads back to the pool, closing the door behind her.

Meanwhile three of the other villagers begin plucking crystals from the pool, noting an occasional air bubble that comes up after they free a crystal. After getting about 4 crystals free, they decide to explore the door in the corner.

It’s a spiral staircase heading down.

Death Count: 3 + a goose

The Miniatures Room

They take the stairs down and open a door. A quick cursory exploration, and the adventurers find 4 silver figurines. They make note of a room full of crude clay figurines and two tables depicting a regional battlefield. The region looks to be their local village.

Satisfied, they proceed to the door at the other end of the room.

The Soldiers

Kathulu approaches the door, and opens it. Seeing a pulsing light, a throne with a sitting terra cotta warrior, 7 generals, and 70 foot soldiers. He stood in awe for a moment. Then he heard “Attack!”

The foot soldiers begin climbing out of the pit. The adventurers bard the door and plan to hold their position. The thought is that these soldiers will be brittle and easy to defeat.

They circle up to defend the choke point of the door. And the foot soldiers come. Daphne scores a quick and solid hit, but does not shatter the soldier (as they all hoped). Their concern grows, but the villagers insist on pressing the attack…to little effect.

Two warriors attack, and a villager falls. I stated that the warriors were able to push a third person into position to attack. Another adventurer falls, and a fourth warrior presses into position.

Another round of attacks, and the first warrior falls. But the foot soldier’s counter attack is grim, as the terra cotta foot soldiers slay 3 villagers. The group’s morale breaks and they begin to flee. Some cautiously, others in a panic. The lantern bearer takes off running, and a foot soldier cuts them down. The lantern drops, the soldiers kick it and the oil catches fire. The rout is on!

The foot soldiers charge and slaughter those that did not all out retreat (though one is missed and able to squeak away).

Death Count: 10 + a goose

Retreat!

Fleeing up the stars to the dimly lit, there is a panic. Speed is on their side, so they keep running. They get to the southern door of the pool room. Opening the door, they see the six crystalline creatures waiting to return to the pool room.

Not wanting to aggravate the peaceful creatures, they wait for them to issue into the pool room. All the while, in the dimness of this pool room they hear the foot soldiers battering at the door.

In a “Hears Johnny” moment, a foot soldier splinters a part of the door, he’s lost his arm to the battering. In another quick moment, the door bursts and the soldiers charge forth. The adventurers, wasting no time, run into the large statue room, close the door and rely on Frodo to guide them with his infravision.

Frodo notes that the eastern door shows signs of something forcing its way through.

Panting, they make it outside. They have a single a single crystal, a few silver figurines, and a fine enameled scale armor to show for their adventures and bloodshed.

Conclusion

I offered to keep the surviving characters and made sure that everyone knew about the regular Thursday night games. There was a definite interest.

In Memorandum

  • To Steve, burned by a trapped door
  • To Gimli, speared through the back
  • To Rick, backhanded by a crystalline creature
  • To Mark, Kahn, Beorn, and Kathulu, struck down in the first press of the foot soldiers
  • To Medic and Rainbow Sunshine, struck down as they fled
The DCC RPG book open, character sheets, dice, and judge's screen

10 character sheets, each stamped with a “Death” and their cause recorded.

Observations

The Portal Under the Stars may seem un-winnable unless the players are greedy murder hobos willing to take risks.

Both times I’ve run Portal Under the Stars, it has ended in a rout. My first running was a TPK (total party kill). In this session, the characters took off running.

In both play throughs, each group has plucked a handful of crystals from the pool. But none of them have been greedy, and instead stop after three or so.

I do make sure to describe a surfacing air bubble or two coming from the dislodged crystal. I think this builds on the observations that players are always mindful of the passage of time. If plucking the crystal was a 10 second activity, instead of two minutes, they’d pillage that pool.

Also, the demon snake room is a quick “Shut the Door” encounter. Likewise, the burial room of the generals is a quick “Shut the Door” encounter.

Without greed and bloodlust, the final encounter is almost unbeatable. But everyone has enjoyed the bloodbath regardless.

Also, as we work through exploration and procedures, I’m enjoying drawing attention to their light situation:

  • Who has the lantern?
  • How long has it been burning?
  • When the torchbearer falls, does the light go out?

It is clear to me that these considerations add dramatic tension to the session.

Heeding Gygax’s Admonition

YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.

From Advanced Dungeons and Dragons “Dungeon Masters Guide” pg. 37

The context for this admonition is found in the preceding paragraph:

Game time is of utmost importance. Failure to keep careful track of time expenditure by player characters will result in many anomalies in the game. The stricture of time is what makes recovery of hit points meaningful. Likewise, the time spent adventuring in wilderness areas removes concerned characters from their bases of operations – be they rented chambers or battlemented strongholds. Certainly the most important time strictures pertains to the manufacturing of magic items, for during the period of such activity no adventuring can be done. Time is also considered in gaining levels and learning new languages and more. All of these demands upon game time force choices upon player characters and likewise number their days of game life…YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.

Armed with a free evening, the Donjon Fantasy Calendar, and a design goal for my calendar, I created the “common” calendar for the campaign I’ve been running at Better World Books in Goshen.

The Calendar

Lunar Cycle

Ahurzda and Chel are the two moons of Anthan. Their lunar cycle is 8 days and 22 days. Each season starts when Ahurzda and Chel are both full moons. Mid-season is when Ahurzda is a full moon and Chell is a new moon. The lunar cycle of Ahurzda tracks to a week, and Chel tracks to a month. The year is 16 months long (and 352 days long).

Weekday Names

  • Amunday
  • Ryday
  • Ramaday
  • Loeday
  • Thulday
  • Fyrday
  • Setday
  • Sullenday

Month Names

  • Winter’s Fang
  • Winter’s Heart
  • Winter’s Belly
  • Winter’s Tail
  • Spring’s Breath
  • Spring’s Hope
  • Spring’s Laugh
  • Spring’s End
  • Summer’s Word
  • Summer’s Fire
  • Summer’s Furnace
  • Summer’s Flight
  • Autumn’s Song
  • Autumn’s Embrace
  • Autumn’s Feast
  • Autumn’s Fade

Reflections

Matthew Colville’s “Time and Calendars” Youtube video inspired me to hunker down and the work on my calendar.

Since I have been running sessions at the bookstore with different adventuring groups, I’ve realized that I need to get my day to day time-tracking in order so I can better track the moving pieces of the campaign.

We have run six 0-level character funnels run in the environs of Bitterweed Barrow, all while a 1st level group continues exploring the somewhat larger surroundings of Bitterweed Barrow.

The next step is to write out the current campaign timeline (and as extra credit backfill the campaign blog posts).

Further Reading

People continue to reflect on Gygax’s Admonition:

I would recommend googling “YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.” and looking for other posts as well.

Closing out the Tower of the Stargazer [Session 6]

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Picking up where we left off, the adventurers had won a game of chess, defeating a ghost and gaining access a protected library. They continued their exploration of The Tower of the Stargazer.

Roster

  • Quinlynn the Unlucky – a level 1 elf sage
  • Ralph Nimblefingers – a level 1 halfling haberdasher
  • Ubexo the Agent – a level 1 dwarf
  • Ungo the Beggar – a level 1 human thief
  • Ahm-al the Witness of Cthulhu – a level 1 human cleric
  • Jack the Beggar – a level 1 human herbalist thief
  • Keith the Sorcerer – a level 1 human grave digger wizard
  • Normand – a level 0 elf sage
  • Travers – a level 0 human

Warning: spoilers of the 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.

Session

Exploring the Secret Library

It is a massive room, and Jack asks if he can stumble onto a lucky find. Sure I say. Make a DC 25 Luck check. He gets an 18. And proceeds to burn 4 points to stumble upon a scroll with four scrolls:

  • Runic Alphabet, Mortal – it is clearly warded
  • Emirikol’s Entropic Maelstrom – signed by Varooth Moss, Uravulon Calcidius, Mysteriarch Weekapaug
  • Ward Portal – written in halfling
  • Chill Touch – no distinct features

Quinlynn takes the scrolls (and I forgot to see if he burned them due to his corruption).

The adventurers spends a bit more time searching, and discover this section is all about knots, encyclopedias of creatures from beyond, and communication with other worlds.

After 20 or so minutes, they move on.

Exploring the Observation Platform

The observation platform is rather complicated there is:

  • A control panel
  • A small pond with fish
  • A domed apparatus near the control panel
  • Two large containers
  • A podium with an open book

The adventurers begin exploring the containers. Using extreme caution (and a 10′ pole), they open the containers. One has gunpowder, the other is full of coal. They try to collect the gunpowder; one of the players insists on putting it in a sack.

Ralph says lets find some glass containers, and they head down to get the bottles of wine. Opening two of the bottles, they pour out drinks for everyone (except the teatotaler dwarf). And they drink what is a delicious and fine vintage red wine.

They examine the open book on the podium, the open page with a picture of an odd mandrake/moss hybrid plant. The text is academic obfuscatory prose overrun with complex punctuation, undue verbosity, and general circuitous descriptions; All while elucidating, nay explicating, xenological conjecturs through grandious epistemological undertone.

A part mandrake, part moss creature

“Mandrake Mossling” by Dean Clayton

Quinlynn examines the book, and in touching it, sets it on fire. Quick thinking Ubexo dowses it with a vial of holy water. Only a mild singe. The title of the book is Flora and Fauna of Necropoli Centauri.

During this time, others are examing the doom. They see a panel that opens, it has traces of coal dust. There are also a few lenses and a place that is clearly meant for the Star Crystal.

They put some coal, and a pinch of gunpowder, in the chamber. The fire starts, and the apparatus hums.

They begin playing with the levers. Ubexo pulls the first, the observatory opens to the lightning storm outside.

Ubexo then pulls the second, and the telescope extends. Pulling the third, the lense cap iris opens. And a faint red beams shoots from the viewing scope to the crystal.

Quinlynn looks and sees a bopping mossing mandrake creature.

Ubexo pulls the fourth lever, and they hear a “click, click” from the apparatus, and deduce that the lever is for the ignitor.

Satisfied they make their way downstairs.

Inter party conflict

A white bearded wizard trapped in a circle of salt.

“Sir Uravulon Calcidius” by Dean Clayton

They return to ask Sir Uravulon Calcidius about the book, and to learn more information. Sir Uravulon will tell them if they free him. The conversation stalls and Sir Calcidius’s anger flares up, as he says he’ll destroy their souls.

Oh teenagers, and your glorious chaotic behavior! Keith, played by Jose (a high school student), begins alluding to and seeking to free Calcidius. The others jump on him, gag him, and drag him away.

At this point, Jose needs to leave. As he is leaving, I let him know that at 3pm on SaturdayI will be running another DCC session. Jose is very interested and keen to play. Unfortunately Alex is also running that day. Jose said he’s really liking DCC, and may play it instead of the 5E campaign. I encouraged him to play the 5E campaign.

With that, now Jack (played by Alex another high school student), begins making gestures to free Calcidius. They roll initiative, Quinlynn drops sleep on Jack.

And then Travers (also played by Alex) makes a quick gesture, but Ralph is there and ready for murder. Everyone backs down, and the adventurers return to exploration.

The whole time, I’m playing Sir Calcidius as willing to bargain, rooting for first Keith then Jack. Speaking up about their prowess and leadership. And when one fails, he belittles them, and threatens everyone.

Exploring the Laboratory

Taking the elevator to the 1st floor, they entered a workshop.

There were three spots they explored:

  • A cadaver with a Y-shaped incision, stitched together with gold
  • A microscope with slides of blood
  • An alcove with mirrors

This was an interesting scene as the players explored three spots concurrently. I did quick cut scenes to add to the dramatic unease of a weird situation.

Jack was examining the microscope and slides of blood.

Meanwhile Quinlynn and Ahm-al were examining the cadaver, they noted that it’s abdomen was still full.

And the others were looking at the mirrors.

Travers succeeded at a Will save, and I described the slides as fascinating and interesting.

Quinlynn, with his demon claws, cut the gold thread to explore. His keen elven senses gave him a heads up as the intestines animated to attack.

At the mirror, characters were gaining knowledge, increasing ability scores, and hit points. Everyone wanted a turn.

Quinlynn yelped as the intestine struck, wrapping around his through and beginning to choke. With vocal cords constrained he cast a feeble burning hands (1 point of damage).

Normand, who had gained insights gazes into another mirror, which sucks him in; All of this while the intestines are choking Quinlynn.

The others sprung into action, Ahm-al struck with scimitar, and Ralph came charging back, slashing through the intestine and freeing Quinlynn.

With the immediate danger resolved, the adventurers turn their full attention to the mirrors and companions.

Travers gazes into one of the mirrors (the one that granted knowledge) and enters a catatonic state.

Ahm-al fails to command both Normand and Travers to move (see below for details). Ubexo breaks Travers gaze with the mirror, and Travers collapses, asleep.

The adventurers decide to move on.

Jail Cells

Checking the bound wooden door, Ungo heard moans from the other side. They gathered around, weapons drawn, open the door and ghostly creatures moved towards them. Ungo closed the door and the left it well enough alone.

The Storage Room

Opening the iron door, they saw crates upon crates; a hundred or so. They discovered:

  • The skull of a scholar who told tales about art
  • The pelvis of a sailor who studied misery
  • The sternum of a virgin who ignored happiness

When they cracked open a box labeled “Skull of a wife who collected the stars”, sure enough there was a skull packed amongst straw.

Return to the Mirrors

If you throw press your luck mechanisms at players, they will do it. Especially if it means permanent ability increases, extra hit points, extra knowledge.

The adventurers couldn’t resist, they returned to the mirrors.

Jack looked into the duplication mirror, and his mirror image jumped out to attack him. Initiative!

Mirror Jack gets the jump, burns 4 luck, and sticks real Jack. Real Jack attempts a counterstrike but fails. Mirror Jack again sticks real Jack (who is now at 1 hit point) before the others respond.

It’s tight quarters, and as everyone attempts to help Real Jack, I call for Luck tests. Failure means you accidentally look into the mirror.

Ubexo barreling in, succeeding at Luck, misses mirror Jack. Ahm-al, not as lucky, locks gaze with the mirror and mirror Ahm-al jumps out to join the melee. Real Ahm-al misses mirror Ahm-al

Quinlynn responds, succeeding on his Luck check, and drops his sleep spell; He gets a 22. He targets both mirror characters. And rolls his 1d6 for healing…everyone gets 1 HP back.

Mirror Jack rolls a 19, and burns 2 more luck to make the save. Mirror Ahm-al fails the save; she could burn luck but as a priest of Cthulhu, why would you deny sleep?

Ubexo dispatches Mirror Ahm-al, but not before real Ahm-al fumbles and misses her sleeping mirror image.

It’s a round of misses by Team Real, and mirror Jack again strikes real Jack for 2 HP. Real Jack is down and bleeding out. Mirror Jack jumps, screams who’s next, and turns to a puddle of ichor.

The adventurers jump to save Jack. Ahm-al prays to Cthulhu, but again, Cthulhu is not to be disturbed. Quinlynn again drops his healing sleep spell, restoring 4 HP to Jack, and increasing Jack’s Trauma from 0 to 1 (see more about Trauma and Retiring).

The Treasure Room

They descend the elevator to the level labeled 1. Stepping out they see a control panel with 4 switches, three shimmering force fields that obstruct access to 10 treasure chests.

Ubexo thinks about it, and opens his mind to understand the sequence. In doing so, he feels a presence touching the back right side of his skull. He knows the answer to the appropriate sequence, and pulls the levers.

Nothing appears to happen, the force fields are still shimmering. Ralph prods the force field and passes safely through. They proceed to loot the entire treasury.

Some quick divying up, and we wrap up our session.

The Road Goes Ever On

The nearest town of any size, that they’ve heard of, is Steelhart. It sounds like the next session will be their journey to Steelhart and attempting to convert their wealth into something portable.

Discoveries

Sir Calcidius

Is a is into quite a few things:

  • Knots
  • Optics, light
  • Metalworks
  • Glass, glassblowing, sculpting glass, and lenses
  • Blood, dissection
  • Weird paranormal things
  • Transdimensional fauna and flora
  • Transplanetary observation and communication

My favorite bit of advice from James Raggi IV in this adventure is related to books:

Too many odd books in adventures hold actual knowledge. Think of all the nonsense in the paranormal section of your local bookstore. If the supernatural was actually real, do you not think that there would be a lot more fraudulent nonsense along those lines?

He has also collaborated with Varooth Moss at a previous point.

Treasure

  • A mountain of gold and silver coins (10,000 gp, 10,000 sp)
  • Another viridian pearl (and growing concern about the “Beware the eyes of green” goat prophecy)
  • A scroll with four spells, one of them signed by
    • Varooth Moss – the frog-headed sorcerer freed from ice, seeking a viridian pearl
    • Uravulon Calcidius – the wizard trapped in his own circle of salt
    • Mysteriarch Weekapaug – an unknown name
  • Crystal dice, a box of narcotics, a giant crystal
  • A small hand-mirror that will once shoot a beam of light up to 30′ for 1d8 damage
  • Stat gains and health increases
  • Two bottles of a fine vintage wine

In looking at the amount of wealth, I’m considering adjusting to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess currency model. But that will be a larger discussion with the table.

Cthulhu

Cthulhu resets disapproval when the tides start rising for the day and did not grant spells to:

  • Command a person in trapped in the mirror, as they were beyond time and space
  • Command a catatonic person, as they were in a dream-like state
  • Lay on Hands a thief who had died fighting his reflection, as they were unworthy of even themselves

In fact, during this session, Cthulhu answered not a single prayer.

In Memorium

To Normand, who gazed upon himself as the mirror consumed him.

Expanding on My Procedures for Open Table Gaming

I’m responding to some questions by irken][nvader on my previous blog post.

I would love it if you can fill in some details about a few things:

  • can you expand on: “Set expectations about DCC (and old school gaming)”
  • what about: “Look for connecting pieces”
  • why “Assume that I may need to run something different”, and how different? Different adventure? Different world/campaign? Different game?

Set expectations about DCC (and old school gaming)

When new players join the table, I recite something along these lines:

We will be playing a Dungeon Crawl Classics character funnel. Each of you will have 4 fragile characters to start. The goal is to make it through the dungeon with at least one of them alive. In campaign play, the survivor(s) would be your character(s) in further adventures. It won’t be easy, and you should think of your characters as pawns. Don’t risk them all at once.

My Dungeon Crawl Classics Agenda and Advice post has more on this topic.

Look for connecting pieces

I have run 3 funnels in Bitterweed Barrow. Joan has run 2 more. Each funnel creates a few possible subplots or ideas.

In each of the funnels, Joan has been the consistent player. To help connect characters from one funnel group to another funnel group, I look for things to connect.

A holy writ discovered in one funnel will come up later and may inter-relate with a map from another funnel.

Assume that I may need to run something different

At present, when I show up at the game store, if I have quorom (me and 2 other players), I’m going to run DCC. I have a primary crew, that is presently in the Tower of the Stargazer. My assumption is I will run that.

If there are players without characters, I’ll do what I can to incorporate some new level 0 characters. Otherwise, the table has one shared character (Obexa the Agent being a key example).

I’m going to encourage them to begin hiring hirelings and henchmen. There is wisdom in having more than 4 characters in your group.

If I don’t have two players from that group, I’ll run another funnel. I’m building up Bitterweed Barrow to be a place where people are coming to seek their wealth (see my “Guess Who’s Coming to Bitterweed Barrow” blog post for these procedures).

I also make sure that I’m bringing the following to each session:

  • 30 or so random characters
  • My copy of Barrowmaze Complete
  • Extra pencils
  • Extra dice

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.