Going Local

It has been almost 6 years since I first attended GenCon with Jenny (my spouse).

We played in Games on Demand; what was then a small operation. Each of the following 4 years, I became more involved. Helping organize and host Games on Demand at both Origins and GenCon. I met several friends, too many of whom live far away (snif, snif Albuquerque snif, snif).

Two years ago, I stepped away from Games on Demand to redirect the vacation time I was spending to instead help grow Jenny’s business.

A blonde haired woma, in a gnome conical hat, smelling flowers.

She is the sole proprietor of The Soapy Gnome, a bath and body care business specializing in bringing cozy to your everyday moments. Since 2015, we’ve had a retail shop in Goshen, a small thriving northern Indiana town.

For the last four years, we have had a booth at our local farmer’s market. More often than not, I am the one selling our handcrafted buttermilk soap at the market. And I love it; Each Saturday I see friends and neighbors, have a delicious breakfast at Anna’s Bread, and catch up with Taproot Tees (my booth neighbor).

Some people stand up a Patreon to support their blogging; I’d like you to instead consider ordering your next bar of soap from the Soapy Gnome. Each sale helps fuel our creative endeavors, one of which is this blog. Another is Goshen Women’s Mastermind, a local network of women entrepreneurs founded by Jenny.

Postscript

I may get to GenCon or Origins again; I know I will feel them calling. For now, I am content to spend time organizing local public RPG sessions and ensuring that my local gaming scene continues to grow.

A Slow Path to Dungeon Crawl Classics

While out visiting my brother and sister-in-law, I bought Dungeon Crawl Classics in Lawrence, Kansas in October 2012. The art was captivating (and I should’ve bought the Easley cover). But the rules were not yet for me; I was deep into Dungeon World and felt the DCC book to be rather intimidating.

The game lingered on my shelf for years. I’d pull it out to look at the art, but it never took hold. Then in August of 2015, something changed.

Fate-based games were tiresome and predictable (see Fate Point Economy: All the Glories of Accounting and Fiduciary Obligations). Dungeon World’s shimmer and shine as a new GMing approach had worn thin (It took 18 more months to outline in a blog post a primary issue I have with Dungeon World.)

I was looking at running a new campaign, and DCC made the short list (but was still a dark horse, I think because of the funky dice). But 5th Edition hit and I wanted to give that a spin. I even set up rules for a 5th Edition Character funnel (and should revise those rules based on my observations.)

That campaign fizzled due to scheduling conflicts amongst the players; Also, Out of the Abyss is a hot mess and requires a lot of organizational effort.

A few months passed, and I started playing in a 5E game at Better World Books in Goshen. The group was rather large, combats moved at a glacial pace, and the campaign style was not for me. But it didn’t matter who showed up, the DM ran regardless.

During this time, I was listening to the Save or Die podcast, and I couldn’t help but not GM Jim’s exuberant praise of DCC.

I stopped going to those 5E sessions, as a perfect scheduling storm occurred. I had a chance to start a Burning Wheel campaign based on an idea I had been noodling on for years. We set the group, cleared schedules, and then life shifted and the campaign stopped.

During that short-lived campaign, I saw the Road Crew kits that Goodman Games provided. I decided to run a game to get some swag. On one of the Thursdays when the D&D group wasn’t playing, scheduled and ran a DCC Funnel. At this point, I had never played nor judged DCC.

I left that session energized and excited. My 5th Edition funnel was a pale comparison to the DCC funnel experience. The session felt part Looney Toons and part B-Horror film (abbreviated session write-up for Portal Under the Stars).

As winter passed, I was delving further into OSR options, working a modified Whitehack and writing my own FLGS Quickstart Rules. By this time, I had listened to all of the Save or Die episodes, and moved on to Spellburn. I love Jim Wampler’s podcast energy and enthusiasm.

And that’s when DCC clicked. I re-opened the books, and saw the game for what it was – an intriguing and energizing paradox.

A rules light system in a book that could maim a person. A game that eschews balance in favor of judgement calls and wild randomness. Where death is memorable and an inevitable stepping stone in the campaign story arc. And how a simple mechanic, the Might Deed, can obviate all of the feat chains of other game systems. Where players can get anything they want if they are willing to quest for it!

Now, I am running a regular DCC drop in campaign. I write up session reports, session preparation, and other procedures for the game. I am enjoying it. If the revolving and returning players are any indicator, so are the other players.

It’s a bit chaotic digging through my binder full of characters, never quite knowing what the session will look like, but I enjoy those challenges and improvisations. I’m running from a mix of modules, my own procedures, and improvisation.

Making Their Way to Steelhart

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Preamble

I went around the table, asking for character names, luck scores, and alignments.

As per my preparation and beginning session procedures:

  • I asked the unluckiest character to choose a number between 1 and 16. He picked 9. I then rolled a d16 and got a 9. I’m all smiles – but more on that in future session reports or planning documents.
  • I rolled on the Guess Who’s Coming to Bitterweed Barrow, and rolled a 21; Sylle Ru and Kreig, one of the Jarl Henrick’s thegns, are paying a visit to Bitterweed Barrow. (Upon reviewing the session, I decided that they would arrive on the 10th of Spring’s Laugh).

I also explained two new house rules:

  • Dwarves see in grayscale, except for gold, silver, and crystals (e.g. gems)
  • Halflings may spend 30 minutes eating (one day of rations), drinking, or smoking pipeleaf to regain 1 point of Luck.

The Cast

7 people gathered around a table with character sheets, books, and dice.

The game table ready to venture to Steelhart

Character Class (Profession) Level Luck Alignment Player
Ahm-al the Witness of Cthulhu Cleric (Guild Beggar) 1 ? Neutral Joan
Ungo the Beggar Thief (?) 1 ? Neutral Joan
Obexo the Agent Dwarf (Stonemason) 1 ? Lawful Aidan
Strove (Rutabega farmer) 0 13 Neutral Aidan
Spike the Acolyte of Ramat Cleric (Herbalish) 1 ? Lawful Greg
Fredora (?) 0 14 Neutral Greg
Tink (jeweler) 0 14 Neutral Greg
Argyle (Tax-collector) 0 ? Chaotic Nick
Ralph (Radish-farmer) 0 9 Neutral Nick
Marcus (Mercenary) 0 9 Neutral Nick
Albert (?) 0 13 Lawful Sam
Dave (?) 0 12 Neutral Sam
Badger’s Bane Thief (?) 1 10 Chaotic Marlene
Yeasty (Baker) 0 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

The Session

Before the action starts, the adventurers that cleared the Tower of the Stargazier, traveled to Bitterweed Barrow to recruit help on the 7th of Spring’s Laugh. On the 8th they recruit some villagers, get supplies, and travel with them to Steelhart. They returned to the tower on the 9th. They agree to pay the hired hands – 0-level characters – 50 gp. Twenty-five before and 25 on arrival.

Looting the Tower

The session starts on the 10th of Spring’s Laugh (Amunday), as the adventurers begin looting the tower.

Emptying the tower. Everyone rolls percentiles going in and coming out. Lightning crackles around but does not hit anyone.

Follow the River to Steelhart

They encounter another marionette, a woman, standing on the lake shore looking at an island. The adventurers engage in a bit of conversation; As is usual, the language choices of the woman are awkward. Her name is Alice, and her shoulder keeps sticking up in a partial shrug. She asks for a ride as she hops on the wagon. Note: The first hex had a random encounter.

Continuing their travel along the riverbed and they see a triangle of menhirs up ahead on the bluff. As the wagon continues, they see a wild-haired creature standing amongst the stones; she is wielding a short sword. Note: The second hex had a random encounter.

At this, Alice, hops off the wagon and starts walking back the way they came, muttering “Welp, that’s enough for me.”

The adventurers draw closer. A raven roosting on one of the menhirs, takes flight. It heads in the direction of Steelhart.

The adventurers hail the woman, and strike up a conversation. The wild-haired woman grabs a walking cane and slowly approaches the wagon. As she draws close, they see twigs and brambles in her hair …and was that a mouse scampering out of her hair?

She introduces herself as Esther. She is performing a ritual to Mielikki in hopes of bringing rain to the neighboring village of Sunville. Paranoia is running rather high amongst the adventurers.

The characters ask questions about what she sacrifices; “Oh animals or other chattel of this world” responds Esther. She relies on the rain to wash away the blood.

One of the players asks if he can make some kind of check to see if she’s lying. I say “What do you think? Is she lying?” I don’t allow for any kind of check, and the players allow Esther to draw close.

They strike up a further conversation, asking her about Alice, the woman that left. Esther tells them that the village of Sunville banished Alice.

Alice was once normal, but about 3 months ago, she changed. Over the next 2 months, 3 children were stillborn. Instead of eyes, that had small tentacles. The village agreed and exiled Alice.

Esther asks if she can travel with them for awhile. They accept. And ask why Esther might be staring at the island on the lake?

Oh, there’s a legend that two lovers would meet under the cover of darkness on that island. For a year and a day, their rendezvous continued. They would meet amongst the columns and pillars of the ruins. Then one day, the man decided to come to the island early.

The man saw that what he thought were columns and pillars were infact statues of men and women, some eroded from time.

The characters continue, and Spike strikes up another conversation, asking about folk songs of Sunville. During this time a small contingent ascends the bluff to see if Sunville exists.

Sure enough there is a small village about a half-mile further from the river bed. They can see people toiling in the fields.

The party discusses spending the night in Sunville, but agree a wagon loaded with gold is too tempting of a target. So they continue for a few hours and break for camp.

Around the camp, Esther offers to make the soup. She springs into action as a grandma preparing for Easter dinner. Mixing both herbs from Spike and her pouches.

Some of the characters gather their own food, others opt to eat rations. I ask everyone that is eating her cooking to flip their character sheets over.

When he receives the bowl, Spike (a former herbalist), smells an unusual added herb – Mosshade. He comments and Esther responds “It’s to improve your fortitude for the travel.”

With the food eaten and watches set, I call for a Fortitude save on all characters who ate the soup and were taking first watch. Those that fail fall asleep.

Ahm-al and Argyle are the now awake on watch. Esther, biting her pinky finger tip clean off, reveals her curse, to those that did not eat her meal, she cursed with blindness until the next full moon of Ahurzda. The others will see their fortitude increased (+1 to Fortitude saves).

I call for saving throws from everyone that didn’t eat her food. Four characters end up blind. During this, Esther approaches Spike and with her bloody finger, draws a crescent on the left side of his forehead. Spike wipes the blood away, but a new mark remains.

Esther announces she’ll be returning to Sunville and departs. No one gives pursuit.

Both Spike and Ahm-al chant several prayers, beseeching Ramat and Cthuhlu to remove this blindness. Ahm-al cures one and Spike cures another. Cthulhu, less pleased, demands a follower and Strove is ready and eager to commit.

The Writ of Orcus

Over the next bit of travel, Argyle asks if anyone can read the Writ of Orcus from his dead friend (found in the Barrow Ward)? He unfurls the scroll, and Spike can read the ancient Ramati used to write the Writ of Orcus.

As Spike looks at the writ, the sun dims and he gains a distant vision of death and suffering. He closes the writ and asks that it not come out.

A Foreboding Cave

Note: I was not interested in having 7 players all rolling initiative and jumping focus around the table. I had the player who’s character had the highest initiatve roll for the entire group.

As the party continues along the riverbed, they come upon a powerful stench and a cave about 100′ away. They halt the wagon, and approach with caution. They see bone fragments, and see dung with the powder sign that part of the creatures diet is bones.

They assess that something is in the cave, and begin to set an ambush. Ungo and Badger’s Bane sneak up beside the cave entrance. Obexo and Ahm-al will move to about 20′ out from the cave, where Ahm-al will command the creature to come.

I spend a bit of time establishing the positions of every character. The players know something big is going to go down.

I call for a stealth check, and they fail.

“Ahm-al and Obexo, you move into position. And Obexo, as Ahm-al begins to commandthe creature, you see with your infravision what is a large troll moving and preparing to attack”

And Ahm-al commands the troll to come.

The troll wins initiative, but I give Ungo and Badger’s Bane a chance to ambush. The troll, roaring past the ambush (everyone misses), fells Ahm-al with two brutal claw strikes. The players look with a bit of astonishment and concern. Yes, this game is not balanced nor do I intend to balance it.

Spike calls upon Ramat to Paralyze the troll; His weapon and hands glow with a radiant holy energy. But he’ll need to wait until next round to strike.

A desperate battle ensues. Led by Obexo, the 0-level peasants muster the courage to charge in with daggers, pitchforks, and scissors. Superficial damage, as they realize that piercing the troll’s heavy hide is challenging.

Ungo and Badger’s Bane pounce with surprise, both burn a bit of luck ensuring a successful backstab. Troll sustains major wounds, but keeps fighting. They watch in horror as the most serious energy stitches back together.

A tense moment, as I again call for group initiative. The adventurers take the initiative and continue to press their attack.

In hopes of paralyzing the troll and making it easer to hit, Spike charges with his spear; Missing by 3 points. He anguishes but burns the 3 luck to hit. The troll rolls a natural 20 for its save.

Some of the less valiant (or perhaps more pragmatic) begin lighting torches to burn the troll. Other peasants and thieves swarm delivering the final blow. They begin burning the troll.

The party then looks to Ahm-al. Rolling over her body, she gasps. A massive scar runs from forearm to the back of her left hand (-1 stamina). Ahm-al’s Trauma increases from 0 to 1. When she gets to Steelhart, Ahm-al will need to check for retirement.

I believe this is the first time I’ve used group initiative. And I loved it. There was a bit of planning during the round, looking to optimize effects. There was tension when we rolled for the second round.

Exploring the Cave

Amongst the dung the dwarves (Mason Stone and Obexo) find an emerald hilted short sword. Mason Stone pulls it from it’s nasty scabbard of feces.

Mason Stone feels a pull towards the river. Heeding the urge, he goes to the river. The sword urges Mason Stone to submerge the sword.

He obliges, the sword then urges him to move it back and forth under water. Again he obliges.

Intraparty Conflict

Spike, wanting to restore luck, asks how. I suggest converting followers or destroying the vile Writ of Orcus.

Spike preaches to Mainge about the virtues of Ramat. Convinced, Mainge converts (and declares an intention of being a Cleric of Ramat).

Spike later has a dream that evening, of the ancient scroll of Ramat rolling into a snake. Likewise, the Writ of Orcus rolls into a snake. They entwine, and the snake of Ramat consumes the snake of Orcus.

Intra-party conflict erupts, as Spike seeks to destroy Argyle’s Writ of Orcus. A bit of back and forth. The agents of Law seek to expunge this unholy relic of Chaos.

The tipping point is the party notices that the faces of Marcus and Ralph, who are helping Argyle preserve the Writ, are sunken and have thinnning skin.

In the end, Law triumphs, as Spike and his conspirators cast the writ into the campfire.

As the scroll burns, a plume of vile green smoke erupts. The sighted characters and Argyle, in his blindness, see a goat-faced creature in the smoke. It bellows in Ancient Ramati, “Avenge This Moment.” Argyle and Spike understand these ancient words.

I ask “Which characters are a follower of Ramat?” Spike and Mainge speak up; Everyone else is silent. “You each get 1d3 Luck.”

The session ends on the late afternoon of the 13th of Spring’s Laugh (Ramaday) with the party an hour or so outside of Steelhart.

The party is fracturing as ideology takes root. We’ll see where conflict erupts next session.

In Memoriam

None. Though Ahm-al must check to see if she will be retiring in Steelhart.

A hand drawn map of a river bed. Stamped with a

The map of the battle with the troll.

Observation

With 7 players and 18 characters, I wish I would’ve had a dungeon crawl ready. But the players had massive wealth they wanted to convert to something more portable. I chose to build on that thread. I also wanted to get the characters to Steelhart (having spent some time preparing that locale).

The session was a bit slower going than I had hoped, but the characters are discovering this is a world in motion; with localized customs and worshippers of different religions around every turn. Foreboding continues to be a central theme, and I hope they will use Steelhart as a chance to research and learn more about this area of the world.

Group initiative, I think I love you. We’ll see next time. I’ll make sure to communicate the expectations and procedures to the table.

Oh intra party conflict…it is not ideal, but I want to draw attention to the tensions between Ramat and Orcus. I want the players to see that alignment is important, and mixed alignments are in natural tension.

With this ongoing campaign, and it’s drop-in/drop-out nature, I’ve upped my organizational game. I’m holding many of the character sheets and trying to find each player’s previously played character.

Follow-up

Several characters advanced to level 1. They want to see:

  • Paladin (from Crawl)
  • Ranger (from Crawl)
  • Druid (from Hubris)
  • Bard (from Crawl)

One of the D&D groups that has been playing each week is considering shifting to every other week; The GM of that game wants to play in the DCC game.

The difference?

  • Dungeon Crawl Classic vs. 5E
  • Theater of mind vs. battle mats
  • Me asking “Do you think their lying?” vs. the player saying “I make an Insight check to see if they are lying.”
  • Fragile characters vs. robust characters
  • Random tables and adventure modules vs. adventure path stories

Regardless, I’m off for the next week – my daughter has a band concert.

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.