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.

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.

Exploring Ruins of Ramat for Game Day

On Saturday, four players and I delved into the “Ruins of Ramat” by John Adams.

Each player started with four 0-level villagers, ready to rescue a little girl’s dog.

Each player established their mini-marching order. Then I wrote down each character’s slot in the marching order and their luck scores.

16 named characters with luck scores, and a tally of monster hit points on the bottom

Mini-marching order and character luck scores

Keeping in mind that we had 2.5 hours to play, I kept my foot on the throttle, moving them through rooms.

Spoilers ahead

Two villagers ill equiped face off against a charging skeleton

Ruins of Ramat Cover Page (art by Doug Kovacs)

Cautious approach to a hole in Rose Hill

  • The villagers assess that the hole dropped 10 feet to a mossy and slippery stairs that descends another 20 feet.
  • Footing is slippery. Some slide into a chamber and the waiting ambush of a spider.
  • The spider bites, poisons, and kills a villager, and the villagers in turn slay the spider.

There are three directions to take.

  • One path leads them through a large room into another bat and guano filled room.
  • Hundreds of bats scatter around, in the confusion, as everyone is swatting away bats from their face, Oxy brains Ank for the second death.
  • Two large bats attack but the villagers dispatch them without further harm.

They reach a dead end, double back to take another passage.

  • From here they explore a series of long-disused monastic cells. One cell radiating holiness is still preserved.
  • They continue to a room with murals of warriors of light. Here they encounter 5 skeletons.
  • A blood bath ensues as the villagers opt to charge into the room.
  • One player watches as the skeletons fell her remaining three characters; Another player hands her one of their characters to continue onward.
  • Two other players each lose a character.
  • The survivors dispatch the skeletons. The survivors distribute the skeleton’s weapons.

They find an armory that includes lots of ceremonial weapons and an untarnished bronze shield

  • A villager picks up the shield. The shield curses the villager bestowing a -1d to all attacks.

Onward into a ruined library

  • With a bit of exploration they find a secret door into a preserved library
  • There are a few scrolls, books, and maps preserved; One of the maps looks familiar to the player (not the character); It points to a spot in the mountains
  • They also find two iridescent purple vials
  • A character uncorks the vials, smells lavender and sunshine. He drinks half a draught. And permanently gains 2 HP. He downs the rest, gaining 2 more. His other character follows suite, gaining 2 HP.
  • Onward to the next room; a bed chamber with 6 bronze figurines.
  • The elves notice a secret passageway and proceed into a hidden hallway.

They find another secret door, opening it to reveal two more skeletons and a robed skeleton.

  • They roll initiative and start the fight
  • One character charges in, stepping on a brittle flagstone, and falls into a shallow pit, breaking his neck.
  • The robed skeleton launches a baleful purple beam at one of the characters, he succeeds in his will save, taking half damage and surviving at 1 HP.
  • In retaliation, a villagers throws a spear at the robed skeleton, shattering its skull and ending its menacing existence.
  • The villagers dispatch the remaining skeletons.
  • In this room they find gold armor, a white gold ring, bronze amulet, and a bronze convex disk set in the wall.
  • The villagers divy up the treasure.

A bit of exploration and experimentation and POOF! a bright light and they are in a new room

  • This new room has a bronze convex disk, two treasure chests, and a glowing spear (similar to the spear they have been seeing in the artwork)
  • The villagers test the chests and open them. One is full of gold pieces. The other an ivory cylander with an incomprehensible scroll inside.

The guild beggar grabs the spear and she sees a vision of herself, standing on the battlefield, humans, demons, and skeletons lie dead around her. In her right hand, the spear; Her left hand a bloody stump. A large demon approaches and says “Let us not fight. Together we can be so much more.” I ask the player what she does. She throws down the spear. And the vision fades. The spear drops from her hand.

Another character grabs the spear, and sees a similar vision. I ask what he does. He throws the spear into the maw of the demon. He feels a warmth and realizes his life has changed. He understands the scrolls he’s read. He asks to see the ivory scroll and knows that it can lift the curse. (I awarded the neutral character 1d3 points of luck for sticking with her alignment).

At this point, we are running close to the end. I guide them to the next room, and I ask if they want me to narrate the final fight the demon. The players think about it, and we agree to play it out. In two quick rounds of furious combat, the rubbery tentacled demon of darkness slays two more characters but is in turn killed by the Spear of Ramat.

We close the session, with each surviving character at 11 XP. I also say that in future sessions people can use these characters. I also awarded each character one point of Luck for defeating a demon and bringing a bit of knowledge of Ramat into the world.

Mini character sheets of the 10 dead characters

The character sheets of the dead

Play Through of Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry

Next session report

Last night I ran a 0-level DCC character funnel at Better World Books in Goshen. We played through Purple Sorcerer‘s Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry.

TL;DR: Compact, dangerous, and exciting adventure (minimal spoilers ahead). DCC continues to amaze and inspire.

Silohuette of rotund halfling holding a shovel

Cover art for Purple Sorcerer Game’s “Nebin Pendlebrook’s Perilous Pantry”

To make sure everything was clear I read the following:

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.

There were 5 players at the table. Each player rolled up 4 characters

  • Four of the five players each had an elven sage
  • There was a goat, a pony, a herding dog, a duck, and a hen
  • A handful of spears and swords ensured some nice combat power
  • One unlucky player had 8s or lower for his characters’ luck (Ouch!)
Six people around a circular table with dice and character sheets

The character funnel in progress

Procedures

I took the advice of other DCC judges; Instead of using a combat grid, I went with theater of the mind.

Each player arranged their characters in a mini-marching order. They formed a plus sign: the lead character, two in the middle, and one in the rear.

In combat, if an attack came from the front, I attacked the front character who had the lowest luck. Likewise for rear attacks. The adventure module provided further guidance to beat on the unlucky.

As characters died, they were piled in front of the Judge’s screen; The above photo was taken before we started into the pantry.

Highlights

  • The duck, hen, and their owners were the first casualties; The sickening feeding frenzy set the dangerous tone.
  • The four elven sages each tried to read a magic scroll, and failed.
    • One of the elven sages rolled a 1…so I had him roll and he got major corruption. Alas he died before his head turned into a goat.
    • The lowly potato farmer took a chance and rolled a natural 20. His eyes glowed with power and he gained some minor wizarding power.
  • Creatures in the dark surprised a lone explorer (failed Luck check). With a quick strike, the creatures murdered and dragged the dwarf into the darkness; the rope fell to the ground with a thump.
  • A clever use of rope, crowbar, and a burned luck point helped retrieve a bit of treasure and circumvent what they thought to be a trap.
  • An oh so glorious critical hit by the squire for 14 points of damage; Hooyah!
  • Clever teamwork created a hasty firebomb from an oil soaked suit. They lit the suit and flung with a shovel. That earned a luck point.
  • A halfling reunited with his great grandfather that had disappeared a century ago…alas the reunion was rather short.
  • Some of the characters fled to an unexplored room; I’d call that a bad idea (but it worked out).

Player Interaction not Skills

At one point one of the players asked “Can I make a spellcraft check?” This was a great moment, as I responded “What are you wanting to know?” He said “Well I want to know if there’s magic. But I guess the glowing runes…” The player had enough information and we moved on.

What I liked about this moment was that it unlearned a bit of the skill proficiency mindset of later D&D editions. Players and characters both engage with the system. Through a dialogue the player and Judge can establish what the character knows or the Judge can call for a check.

Observations

The whole session was 6:30pm to 10pm. In that time we made characters and had 10 “scenes” – 6 combat encounters and 4 puzzle/role-playing encounters.

  • People were rightly cautious; we weren’t five minutes in when 2 characters died.
  • One of the rooms had too many possibilities; 3 doors, a column of water, and 2 fountains. I felt this room was going to grind on in indecision.
  • Combats were fast and furious; I don’t believe anything went more than two rounds.
  • By necessity, characters become rather morbid and mercenary
    • “Slide us your possessions and we’ll help” as an emaciated hand passes a rag doll and a candle
  • Characters were stewarding their luck; they knew I was targeting the unlucky. Yet they spent a luck point or two to get what they wanted.
  • If you want characters to die; give them multiple opponents. Even 0-level chumps can end a single big-bad monster.
  • Purple Sorcerer Game’s modules contains great advice and flavor/read-aloud text. In some cases the prose for a given encounter was rather lengthy and hard to scan.
  • With minimal characters features (eg. skills, feats, etc.) the players engaged the fiction of the story

At points in the adventure that called for a Luck check. If you failed your Luck check you then needed to make a saving throw. For experienced players, that’s not a big deal, but this confused the group. We muddled through it. It also felt a little like double jeopardy. In the future, I recommend skipping the Luck check and call for each player to make the saving throw for their character with the lowest Luck score.

Running DCC at my Friendly Local Book and Game Store

Thursday night games at Better World Books in Goshen are growing in popularity. Starting at 4pm and going until 10pm, there are many games being played:

  • Board games
  • Dice masters
  • Magic drafts
  • Role-playing games

Last year, I ran the Dungeon Crawl Classic adventure Portal Under the Stars for a group of 4 players. On Thursday, March 2nd, I’m planning to run a different 0-level character funnel at Better World Books (see the Facebook event).

My eventual goal is to start up an every other week game going; Though perhaps not on Thursdays. Most Thursdays I have dinner with my daughters (and that takes precedence). Also, there are already three other tables of RPGs on Thursday nights:

  • A closed group 5th edition D&D game (5 or so players)
  • Pathfinder league play
  • A 5th edition D&D game (9 or so players)

Regardless, I’m looking forward to the antics of 0-level characters, hopelessly outclassed, struggling and eking out their survival.

Dungeon Crawl Classic: Portal Under the Stars

In which one is nearly saved by a pound of clay…

Umm you may want to consider your tactics.

Umm you may want to consider your tactics. (From DCC 3rd printing page

I ran a one-shot Dungeon Crawl Classic zero-level adventure for four intrepid players at Better World Books in Goshen. I chose “The Portal Under the Stars” from the 3rd printing of DCC.

This was my first time running DCC. It was also the first time playing DCC for each of the players.

The adventure ended in a TPK (20 characters). But not before executing an outrageous plan.

Here are some of the action highlights of this under-equipped hodgepodge of humanity:

  • Action: Attempting to force open a trapped door by hammering a 10′ pole with a mallet.
    • Result: Flame weakened 2 foot pole.
  • Action: Using a fallen armored companion as a heat shield from gouts of flame.
    • Result: Success…though the armor became melted slag.
  • Action: Gathering kneecaps as sling ammunition.
    • Result: Gruesome butchery but 4 sling bullets.
  • Action: Using a shovel handle to pick up and fling a flaming lantern at the terra-cotta warriors in hopes of drawing the crystal creatures towards the heat.
    • Result: Missing the warriors and shattering the lamp on the wall.

And the most absurd plan:

Fashioning a pound of wet clay (Yay for random equipment items!) into the helmet shape of one of the many terra-cotta warriors that were advancing. Then pulling a Scoobie Doo as he walks through the ranks towards the general and warlord in hopes of getting to the glowing crystal orb. This was too cool, so I didn’t require the character to even roll to fool the warriors nor generals. The warlord would be a different matter.

During this time the other characters are slaughtered by the terra-cotta warriors (I chose to hand-wave this as it was 50 to 7 and time was running out).

After exchanging a few grunts and mumbles, the warriors and generals let the character pass. Making his way to the generals room. As he walks past the warlord, the warlord takes note. The character turns, runs to the crystal, grabs it and smashes it on the ground; Shattering the only light source. I narrate a “Quick fade to black followed by a lone scream cut short”.

Observation

This was my first time running DCC. I kept things fast and loose. It was a bit confusing for players to have 4 characters. Many of them took actions together. In DCC, this is a bad idea. As a player, consider each character as its own resource; Only risk one at a time.

There was some impatience and brazen actions. Little in the way of listening at the door. Cracking the door for a peak. Caution is a mandatory mode of operation.

Within the read aloud text there is helpful information for players to leverage. Unless the situation is immediately in motion, dig into that read aloud text. Pay attention.

Running a Fifth Edition Character Funnel

This past Tuesday I ran part one of two part D&D 5E 0-level Dungeon Crawl Classic inspired character funnel adventure (i.e. many enter far fewer leave). I’m not going to go into a session recap, but I will go through the character creation.

Character Creation

Each player created 4 characters by rolling the following:

Random Stats

Players could choose one of two methods for each character they created:

Method #1

Roll twelve (12) sets of 3d6 straight down keeping order (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha). This method is by far my most favorite method for D&D stat creation.

Method #2

Roll 4d6 straight down keeping order and optionally replace one stat with an 8.

Here is the Ruby script used to generate the simulation data.

Bell Curve Showing Method 2 (i.e. 3d6 clumps) around +5 or +6 and method 2 (i.e. 4d6) has higher standard deviation.

A visual distribution of the likely modifiers based on each of the stat methods.

Random Race

Based on the results of a group poll, we wanted a plurality of races. The following tables generated that.

Table 1: Random Race
1d20 Race Source
1 – 9 Human Player’s Handbook
9 – 18 Common non-human Roll on Table 1A (d20)
19 – 20 Uncommon non-human Roll on Table 1B (d120)
Table 1A: Common non-human races
1d20 Race Source
1 – 2 Dwarf, Hill Player’s Handbook
3 – 4 Dwarf, Mountain Player’s Handbook
5 – 6 Elf, High Player’s Handbook
7 – 8 Elf, Wood Player’s Handbook
9 – 10 Half-Elf Player’s Handbook
11 – 12 Half-Orc Player’s Handbook
13 – 14 Halfling, Lightfoot Player’s Handbook
15 – 16 Halfling, Stout Player’s Handbook
17 Dragonborn Player’s Handbook
18 Gnome, Forest Player’s Handbook
19 Gnome, Rock Player’s Handbook
20 Goblin (Eberron) https://goo.gl/eYjUk9
Table 1B: Uncommon non-human races
1d20 Race Source
1 – 5 Aasmir Dungeon Master’s Guide
6 – 10 Tiefling Player’s Handbook
11 Changeling Unearthed Arcana: Eberron
12 Elf, Eladrin Dungeon Master’s Guide
13 – 14 Elf, Drow Player’s Handbook
15 Genasi (1d4 for element) Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
16 – 17 Gnome, Deep Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
18 Goliath Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
19 Shifter Unearthed Arcana: Eberron
20 Warforged Unearthed Arcana: Eberron

Random Background

My 0-level adventure is set by the sea in a small community. So the table reflects that distribution.

Table 2: Random Background Generator
1d20 Background
1 – 3 Guild Artisan
4 – 5 Sailor
6 Acolyte
7 Sage
8 – 9 Criminal
10 Entertainer
11 Folk Hero
12 Hermit
13 Noble
14 Charlatan
15 Soldier
16 – 17 Urchin
18 – 20 Outlander

Random Extra Languages

Some of the players wanted help choosing their language. So we referenced the following.

Table 3: Random Starting Language
1d8 Language
1 Dwarvish
2 Elvish
3 Giant
4 Gnomish
5 Goblin
6 Halfing
7 Orc
8 Exotic – Roll on Table 3A
Table 3A: Random Exotic Starting Language
1d10 Language
1 Abyssal
2 Celestial
3 Draconic
4 Deep Speech
5 Infernal
6 Primordial
7 Sylvan
8 – 10 Undercommon