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.

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.

Early Experience running Out of the Abyss

House Rules for Out of the Abyss

I’ve decided to take the framework for Out of the Abyss and mold it to my liking. First, if you intend to run “Out of the Abyss” straight out of the “box”, good luck.
It is a toolkit, some set pieces, and a lot of narrative prose.

There are plenty of random tables to help move things along, but the book had disorganized core information. My guess is that not a single play tester ran this game from the published book; The information is too spread out for easy access.

What follows are the pieces that I’ve adopted to help me adjudicate the game.

From the Dungeon Master’s Guide

I’ve opted for a more brutal game. Characters are a bit more fragile. I had mulled over a long rest being 7 days and a short rest being 8 hours, but opted not to use that given the nature of the adventure. These are my personal preferences.

  • Slow Natural Healing (DMG p267): Character’s do not recover hit points after a long rest. They must use hit dice.
  • Massive Damage (DMG p273): Too much damage and you might be out of the fight.
  • Injuries (DMG p272-273): If you get knocked out of the fight, bad things can happen.
  • Morale (DMG p273): Because combat is more lethal, I want morale to help adjudicate monster’s. I’m not satisfied with 5E’s morale ratings, but they are an acceptable approximation.

Building on “Out of the Abyss”

The following rules build from my observations of the missing specificity in “Out of the Abyss”.

Illumination

From “Out of the Abyss” p20:

Roll a d6 to determine how an encounter area is illuminated. On a roll of 1-3, the area is dimly lit by the phosphorescent moss and lichen common in the Underdark, or by faerzress (see “Faerzress”). On a roll of 4-6, the area is dark except for whatever light sources the characters might have.

And that is all you get for using Faerzress in encounters. Here is a table to help determine light. This table assumes that on a roll of 1 for illumination, using the original mechanics, there is a 50% chance that the illumination is from faerzress.

d12 Illumination
1 faezress (Out of the Abyss p21)
2-6 Dim
7-12 Dark

Foraging

From “Out of the Abyss” p20:

A foraging character makes a Wisdom (Survival) check.
The DC is typically 15, but might be as high as 20 in some parts of the Underdark.

Again, that is all of the guidance you get. So I made a table to help determine the base DC for each day of travel.

d6 Food Scarcity
1-4 Limited: DC 15 Wisdom (Survival) for foraging
5-6 Scarce: DC 20 Wisdom (Survival) for foraging

I made the following resource to help keep track of the day-to-day movements of the party. I also made sure to make a small character sheet for the “friendly NPCs”; There are four NPCs per side.

I spent a few hours this afternoon, rolling the random encounters for the next 30 travel days. Some of the random encounters are straight forward and require one page in the monster manual, but others require referencing numerous pages.

Here are the first 7 days (in which my players have already engaged) and how I wrote the information in Google Sheets. As we’ve proceeded, I need to refine when the encounter happens. I take rest to mean after the characters have stopped moving.

So, when the characters force march for a total of 12 hours, its easy. Encounters happen on the 1d12 hours into that timeframe. If the characters choose to not force march then travel encounters happen 1d8 hours into traveling and rest encounters happen 1d18 hours into the rest (roll a D20 and re-roll 19 or 20).

Day Time Location Creature Space Light XP
2 Travel Webs Escaped Slave (1 shield dwarf) 5′ dark 25
3 Rest Lave Swell 10′ dark 100
5 Rest Sinkhole Blurg the Orog open dark 450
7 Rest Green Slime Giant Rocktopus 5′ dark 200

Bitching and Moaning

The campaign kicks off with 10 likely NPC allies. Yippie! They aren’t retainers or henchmen, but independent characters with their own agendas and foibles. Then the random encounters have a few cases where more NPCs can join the party.

At this point, 3 of the initial enslaved NPCs have died (Prince Derendil, Stool, and Eldeth Feldrun). And two have parted ways (Topsy and Turvey). But they have picked up two new NPCs; Blurg the Orog and Tarrant a shield dwarf. They also started with 2 extra enslaved NPCs; The drow captured the party and extra NPCs at the same time.

This has meant an extreme number of NPCs to manage; It also means that the large group moving through the underdark can rely on the law of large numbers to make sure that everyone has enough food and water. After all, anyone can forage, with each foraging opportunity means 1d6 pounds of food. From a mechanical standpoint, the extra NPCs have been a blessing. From the narrative stand point, the extra NPCs have been needless complications.

And then there is the map. Each hex is 24 miles; Huge by hex crawl standards. The map is unclear about terrain and features. It’s an abstraction that shows distance, but does not convey important information; I’m looking at you Darklake and your ambiguous boundaries. Upon my examination of the map, I assumed one idea about the boundaries of Darklake. But when I read more of the adventure, the boundaries were very different from my assumption.

All told, if you are going to write a mega-adventure, have at least one person run the thing without any guidance from the author. There is a lot of ambiguity and misplacement of information in Out of the Abyss. I understand that proper organization is a tremendous challenge, but I believe if the authors focused on codifying the procedures, then it would be a much stronger presentation.

Advice

If you are going to run this, grab your highlighter and notebook. Scattered throughout the book is vital information; Make notes with page numbers. Make worksheets to help you consolidate information as you see fit. Scan monster entries so you can consolidate an encounter’s information.

Make more random tables. The size of the Underdark means that I’ve seen a heavy repetition of random encounters. The current random encounters imply a population and risk density of the Underdark. Consider other options.

“Out of the Abyss” is the first by the book adventure I’ve run since “The Red Hand of Doom”. I think Out of the Abyss has more interesting set pieces and ideas but its organization is rather confounding compared to The Red Hand of Doom.

It is very difficult to scan “Out of the Abyss” for pertinent information. Granted, “Out of the Abyss” leverages some of the more gritty components of D&D (i.e. starvation, exhaustion, wilderness travel), but I believe the book fails to account for the adventure being a direct reference for game play.

Deluge by VSCA

Deluge is a system-free post-apocalyptic setting written by Brad Murray, published by VSCA and released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License. It is available at RPGNow and Lulu. It’s also part of the January 2012 New Year, New Game Indie Bundle at RPGNow.

Any efforts at stealth, though, should get a bonus. Efforts to spot or be alert should get a penalty. If you’re playing a FATE derivative, just put the aspect,“Torrential downpour,” on every single scene.”

Deluge’s killer feature is the various mechanism sections – they are the instructions for how to create rules for your game table that will invoke the appropriate feel of a Deluge campaign.  And this is where your homework lies.  Certainly some systems will account for many of the called out mechanisms, but Deluge makes sure to let you know what mechanics you’ll need.

Bibliography

Deluge also includes a section on influencing games – Greg Stolze‘s Reign, Pinnacle Entertainment Group‘s Savage Worlds, Luke Crane’s Burning Wheel, Evil Hat‘s Fate Version 3, Grey Ghost Press’s FUDGE, and Wizards of the Coast‘s D20 Modern.  I find this very helpful so I can see what games inspire game designers and wish everyone would include them.

How Did Brad Make This?

Included is a page detailing Brad Murray’s production decisions, a mix of hows and whys. It’s good stuff to understand what goes into releasing an electronic-only product.

Conclusion

Sprinkled throughout Deluge are several vignettes of life on Earth.  These are well written and provide yet another channel for strongly conveying the setting’s desired look and feel.

I also really appreciate how Deluge creates a slow reveal – building to the reveal of what is causing the rain.  There is mention of angels early in narrative, and as part of the random tables, but no explanation beyond that.  Ultimately the cause of the rain is left up to the game master – or perhaps an Ob 7 Angel-wise.

Buy this if you are interested in running a very different post-apocalyptic future…it ain’t Waterworld but something much more ominous.  Or if you are interested in a blue-print for crafting and possibly releasing your own campaign setting.  Or if you are interested in taking a design constraint and running with it.

Don’t buy this if you are hydrophobic. Or know that post-apocalyptic settings don’t do it for you. Don’t buy this book if you are looking for a fully detailed campaign world or location.