Posts Tagged ‘D&D’

Review: Parsantium, etc

Posted: 22 July 2017 in Reviews
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“I was born here in the city
With my back against the wall
Nothing grows, and life ain’t very pretty
No one’s there to catch you when you fall”
– The Eagles, In the City

In a nutshell: Parsantium is a city sourcebook that works with any version of D&D, 178 pages. Icons of Parsantium is a collection of 15 movers and shakers that dominate the city and the surrounding lands, 47 pages. Whispers of the Dark Daeva is a 42-page adventure for 1st level PCs. All written by Richard Green and published by Ondine Publishing. Roughly £15, £4 and £4 respectively at time of writing.

PARSANTIUM, CITY AT THE CROSSROADS

As the author explains in the introduction, Parsantium grew out of a desire to merge a great fantasy city with exotic cultures and use that for his home game. The result is essentially Byzantium around the turn of the first millennium, but in a world where India got nudged a bit closer to the mediterranean for convenient access to its culture and monsters.

Once past the introduction and the city map, you get an overview of the city (history, character races and backgrounds – 16 pages), and chapters on life in the city (politics, law, customs – 18 pages), running a campaign (themes, facilities, features – 10 pages), a gazetteer (places, people and plot hooks for each of the 11 wards plus comments on the underworld below the city and nearby regions outside – 70 pages), organisations both overt and covert (24 pages), religions derived from the Graeco-Roman, Indian, Arabic and Chinese cultural analogues which inhabit Parsantium (15 pages), and an index.

The map is a delight, and the timeline covers 2,000 years of history in overview. The city’s internal politics are appropriately Byzantine. Most of the key NPCs seem to be about 14th or 15th level, lesser ones averaging about 5th level, and they have no detailed stats – just a notation of alignment, class and level, which personally I much prefer to full statblocks. Each ward has a number of passersby to encounter as well as the traditional shops, temples and so forth, each with a paragraph of detail. A welcome touch is the inclusion for each ward of the PCs’ first impressions on entering it.

On the downside, I prefer to have my fantasy races separated into their own tidy little kingdoms, Tolkien style, not thrown into a blender a la Eberron. Parsantium is human-dominated, but you also have minotaurs, dragonborn, centaurs, tieflings, vanara (intelligent monkey people), gnolls, half-everythings, and whatnot. For me, this Star Wars cantina approach degrades the sense of wonder – when everything is fantastic, nothing is fantastic. Halfling gypsies camped outside the walls don’t do it for me either, I’m afraid. And it’s got gnomes in it. I hate gnomes. So I will probably tone down the number of humanoids and emphasise the different human cultures.

The character backgrounds and city statistics are clearly aimed at Pathfinder, but that’s very little of the book, maybe 6 pages total. The rest of it would work with any edition of D&D I’m familiar with, and it would take very little effort to reskin it for other fantasy RPGs.

The law and order section includes a list of crimes and their punishments, as well as notes on the largely corrupt city watch. The customs and culture chapter includes food, drink, clothing, the calendar, festivals, entertainment, superstitions etc. Now this in particular is a difficult row to hoe; a sourcebook must have enough of these to establish the setting’s culture as different and interesting, but not so many that it is hard work to memorise them before the game.

The chapter on running a campaign offers five main options; running with the criminal gangs (Grand Theft Donkey – Parsantium), uncovering the secrets of the older city on which Parsantium is built (dungeon crawling), political intrigue, fighting as gladiators in the arena, and the return of an ancient evil. No reason not to mix and match, of course. There are also random events to shake things up.

ICONS OF PARSANTIUM

Here are 15 major NPCs written up 13th Age style, faction leaders with whom the PCs can have some sort of connection. Some are individuals, others are organisations; some live in or near Parsantium, and others are distant. You don’t have to use them all, and in fact my (admittedly limited) experience of icons in general is that focussing on a few of them gives you a better game.

Each icon has a quotation, a usual location, a paragraph of common knowledge (what everyone knows about them), missions they might send adventurers on, minions at their command, allies and enemies, a little of their history and one real danger that they could unwittingly unleash (these make good plotlines).

There are also two playable races for 13th Age, gnolls and vanara, presented as sidebars.

There are separate sections of example relationship dice outcomes for each icon (nice touch that, this was something my group and I had trouble with when using 13th Age icons), and the secret, GM-only information on each icon. This means you can use the main icon writeups as handouts if you wish, while retaining some mysteries for the PCs to work out for themselves.

WHISPERS OF THE DARK DAEVA

Here’s an adventure in four parts, in which the PCs are engaged to solve a series of puzzling murders in the Dock Ward of the Old Quarter.

Drawn in at first by witnessing one of the murders, the PCs do some investigatory legwork and (naturally) visit the local pub before heading into the villain’s hideout to sort them out. The longer they take to do this, the more murders occur around them, and the more murders, the worse things get for them – this forms a sort of ticking bomb in the scenario, and once they work out what is going on, it adds time pressure to their activities.

A sidebar explains which Icons are likely to be involved and how, should you be using the Icons. Finally, outcomes are provided explaining what happens if the PCs succeed – or if they fail.

FORMAT

Colour covers, full-colour city map, minimal internal illustrations including the odd dungeon map, two-column black text on white. Simple, effective, easy on the eye and the printer.

There’s also a blog by the author here, focused on the setting’s development.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I’d like more detail on the Hidden Quarter please; perhaps a side-on diagram on how the various levels fit together (I’ll probably knock one of those up myself to help me understand it at some point) and some more location maps for places of interest and mystery.

CONCLUSIONS

A fantasy version of mediaeval Byzantium is something I’ve often toyed with as a setting, and Parsantium absolves me of the need to do any heavy lifting for it. These products come across as a labour of love by someone with a deep knowledge of the Eastern Roman Empire of the 10th to 11th century, and cultures less frequently seen in fantasy gaming.

In terms of the product interactions, Icons needs Parsantium but not vice versa, and Whispers could stand alone, but would be a good introductory adventure for a Parsantium campaign.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. This is the best contender for my planned D&D 5E city game, currently in development, but it needs some tweaking. If nothing else, those wretched gnomes have got to go…

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Anvil Road, 8th June 216

Trusting their colleagues in Team Dragon to take care of the giant living dungeon, Team Angel (Boris, Silmaria, Ssh’ta, The Fox and Valore plus henchmen) take stock of their other options: Follow up on the cloud giant observing them earlier, pursue the bounty offered them by Gutstabber (which will mean a trip to Glitterhaegen), go back to the dwarven tower on Anvil Road and find out what’s underneath, or follow up on the flying building they noticed several months ago.

By a majority of three in favour of the dwarven tower to two not-that-bothered, they head north, arriving at the actual tower a couple of days later. They first scout the tower’s environs, then the tower itself, finding only unburied orc bodies somewhat the worse for nibbling by the local wildlife since the party killed them just over two weeks ago. Valore rightly deduces that nobody has been to check up on them or bury them, and the group removes the lift shaft lid. Ssh’ta is designated lookout and climbs to the roof with Caliban in case the party are disturbed by rude strangers while exploring.

Valore drops a torch down the shaft; it can be seen burning on the floor of a corridor some 30 feet below. Valore and Dave descend and find themselves in a corridor leading to a four-way intersection. Someone has made a half-hearted attempt to bury four goblin spearmen in the loose rock of the corridor sides between some pit props; they appear to have been bludgeoned to death. Valore draws her sword (which then appears to burst into flames, thus providing a light source) and with the others following at a safe distance, she and Dave head up to the intersection and explore a short way down each arm. To the east they find a small chamber containing cots, chicken coops, and a hole in the wall labelled ‘Slide’ in dwarven, as well as a curving corridor sloping down. To the south is another curving corridor sloping down. To the west is a third curving, sloping corridor and a chamber, containing three statues of goblin spearmen and four large chickens pecking at something concealed under an overturned mine cart.

The chickens, soon to be dubbed ‘angry medusa chickens’ by Valore, prove to be cockatrices and assault the recon element. Valore finds herself being petrified, but thinking quickly, sheathes her sword, plunging the place into darkness, and flies up to the ceiling. Silmaria, who has galloping scotophobia, freaks out, but now only Boris and Dave can see, and Dave quickly skewers two of the cockatrices with arrows. Boris steps into the chamber and engages a third while Dave shoots the last of the four, which is running off into the darkness in some confusion. Once stabbed, cockatrice number three turns on Boris and starts pecking and petrifying him; he flees back towards Silmaria and the others while Dave and The Fox attack the surviving cockatrice, sending it to oblivion; but Dave is incapacitated by its dying death gaze.

The party rallies and heals its wounds; fortunately, Dave’s apparently fatal petrification responds well to Boris’ ministrations. Lifting the overturned mine cart, they discover a single goblin spearman who thanks them for saving his life and gives Valore ‘treasure’ as a reward, namely a single copper piece. Under gentle questioning he reveals that he and his companions were sent by the Goblin Chief to retrieve the Forever Stone, a valuable item buried here after dwarves and evil wizards fought over it. Silmaria, meanwhile, has found a mineshaft in the corner of the Cockatrice Room and explains that in line with dwarven practice, it has been named after an ancient dwarven king.

Adding Hug-Hug (for such is the goblin’s name) to the party, they explore several looping, sloping corridors with the result that they wind up more or less back where they were. Shrugging, they return to the room of chicken coops. Boris assumes the shape of a bat and flies down the slide, finding at the bottom a large pit full of powdered lime and lizard bones, with glimpses of a large chamber above. Boris decides he wants nothing to with this and returns.

Trying another sloping, curvy corridor, the group descends into another chamber with two exits and a perch containing what turn out to be cockatrice eggs. Ladra, who is the group’s best climber, retrieves them, but refuses to smash them as the others suggest, pointing out that they are worth money to a certain sort of person. They use one of the exits and descend again, finding themselves in the large chamber Boris found earlier. Now that they have a better view of it, the party can clearly see a dozen or so dwarven skeletons hard at work, apparently mining.

While the rest pause to assess the new situation, Valore (who has firm views on this topic) screams “CLEANSE THE UNDEAD!” and launches herself at them.

To be continued…

GM’S NOTES

I am letting go of a lot of my ingrained habits and prejudices with this campaign, possibly because the sessions are so close together. Normally, I guard the character sheets jealously and update them all myself; for my other campaigns, where sessions average some three months apart and party size is 2-6, this is not a problem; but for a party of nine meeting weekly it just doesn’t work, and I have delegated that responsibility to players for the first time since the 1970s.

Likewise, I am gradually reverting to sandbox play, letting the party wander where it likes at its own pace. Yes, there is a story arc – the Eyes of the Stone Thief – but what does it matter if we don’t follow it, so long as we’re all having fun? In this instance, they decided to go back to a dungeon they knew of but had previously ignored, so I hauled out the Mines of Madness from D&D Next, as it was known in 2013, and off we went.

There was a bittersweet note though: As we waited for the full set of players to log in to the VTT, one waxed lyrical about the Mongoose Traveller campaign they intend to play with my son (who will be the GM) during the summer vacation. I’m delighted they’re playing Traveller, but oh man, I wish I could join in, rather than just handing on the baton… the training wheels are well and truly off now, and away he goes down his own road, which is right and proper; but surely it was only last weekend the two of us and his sisters were playing D&D with Lego minifigures?

Where did the time go?

Review: Ruins of the Undercity

Posted: 8 April 2017 in Reviews
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In search of fuel for the solo roleplaying fire recently re-ignited, I came across Die Heart’s list of solo roleplaying resources. That led me to Ruins of the Undercity, and I was weak. You know I can’t resist random dungeon generators. So…

In a Nutshell: Labyrinth Lord solo roleplaying campaign and dungeon generator. 74-page PDF by Kabuki Kaiser, $5 at time of writing. I’m reviewing the Flexipop Edition, whatever that means. Published in 2013 so I’m behind the curve as usual.

It’s clearly designed for and integrated with Labyrinth Lord, but any other OSR retroclone should work with varying degrees of conversion effort.

CONTENTS

Introduction (1 page): What the product is, credits.

Background (2 pages): Welcome to Cryptopolis, a corrupt plutocracy of a city squatting on top of ancient ruins built (but thankfully no longer occupied) by necromancers. Long ago, thieves found a statue of the Red Goddess and certain magical texts, and turned themselves into lich-thieves who now roam the lower levels. Do not boogie with the lich-thieves, they will mess you up.

Playing Solo – How It Works (15 pages): This is a low-impact approach to solo play, with minimal changes to the Labyrinth Lord rules. You generate characters as normal, and write down an Exploration Routine; this specifies marching order, who has the torches, who’s on watch when, and who is searching for what. This last bit is important, because later on the random dungeon generator throws up traps, secret doors etc, and if no-one is looking out for them, the party doesn’t see them. Then the traps go off, and the screaming starts… Anyway, most of this section is lists of equipment organised by shop, types of hireling, and random encounters. Buying gear or hiring help takes time, during which random encounters happen, and broadly speaking they are not your friends, either above or below ground. This is solid stuff, all killer, no filler.

Into the Ruins (25 pages): This is an homage to the random dungeon generator in the AD&D 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. You roll for a starting area, then move through the dungeon dicing for rooms, chambers, corridors, monsters, traps, treasure, lighting and so forth on assorted tables. This system retains the diagonal and curving corridors beloved of the DMG, which I found irritating because I couldn’t draw them and nor could the party mapper – I think that was the point, actually.

One thing that stands out as different is that monster level and treasure type depend on the average level of the party, not the dungeon level that they are on. My instinct is that this defeats the object of dungeons having levels, which usually exist so the party can select its own level of risk and reward. Oh, and having determined the monster level you make a second roll to determine their numbers before toddling off to the relevant encounter matrix to find out what they are.

However, a nice touch is the detail on treasure formats. 1,000 sp worth of conch shells, anyone?

Fiends of the Ruins (14 pages): New monsters. Mostly taken from the Fiend Folio by the looks of it. A nice touch here is that many of them have tactics listed – what they do in various circumstances. That’s often tricky to adjudicate in solo games.

Artefacts (4 pages): New magic items. No spoilers, but I like the subtable adding a bit more detail to maps. War story: I played with a GM once who insisted that magic maps weren’t maps to magic items, they were themselves magic and teleported you to the relevant treasure. And its guardians. You were then alone, in an unknown location, half-dead from fighting whatever had been guarding the map… it generally didn’t end well.

Back in Town (3 pages): Rules for fencing loot and what happens to PCs in between dungeon expeditions.

Appendix A: Campaign Game (3 pages): This suggests a number of optional personal objectives for characters and how they might be achieved.

Appendix B: Character Background and Quirks (2 pages): Random tables to generate what each PC did for a living before becoming a delver, and what notable quirks they have.

We close with the obligatory Open Gaming Licence.

FORMAT

Single-column (mostly) black text on white, some curious font choices but nothing dangerous, occasional black and white and colour illustrations. Tolerable on the eye and the printer but not perfect.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

It would have been nice to see something along the lines of the OSRIC generators for tricks and weird contents, but OSRIC is free to download so that won’t stop me for long.

The book has chambers with doors and rooms without, to my mind that is backwards but it has no effect in-game.

CONCLUSIONS

A solid piece of work this, and I look forward to playing it when next there is time. If you’re also interested, check out the Excel party log at the Castellan’s Corner.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review: The Black Hack

Posted: 15 March 2017 in Reviews
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“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” – Albert Einstein

This is something I’ve been wondering about for a while, but since it costs about the same as a cup of coffee I expect I’ll be safe from buyer’s remorse.

In a Nutshell: Heavily streamlined OD&D retroclone RPG in 20 pages, $2 at time of writing. Written by David Black.

CONTENTS

With a total of 20 pages there are no chapters as such.

Character creation is the familiar roll 3d6 for each of six stats, then pick one of the four core classes (these are the usual suspects); there are no races in the core rules, although there are a wide range of supplements with races, more classes, and so on. The core mechanic is to roll under the most appropriate stat on 1d20. Advantageous or disadvantageous circumstances mean you roll twice and use one of the results, natural rolls of 1 or 20 are critical success and critical failure respectively.

Combat is player-facing in that monsters only roll for damage; PCs roll to hit, or to avoid being hit – more dangerous monsters apply modifiers to the rolls. Movement is abstracted into range bands. Armour absorbs damage, but appears to have a limit after which it can absorb no more until you rest; being reduced to no hit points takes a PC “out of the action”, but doesn’t necessarily kill him – there’s a table to roll on to see what happens.

Initiative is interesting; everyone makes a Dexterity check, winners go before the monsters and losers go after them. Consumable gear has a “usage die”; the theory is that you put a die of that type on your character sheet, and as you use it, you swap that die for ones with progressively fewer sides. Using the spots or number showing on the die to track uses seems more intuitive to me.

Spellcasters can memorise as many spells as their level, and make a stat roll to cast; failure means they lose a spell slot of the same level as the spell – this semi-Vancian approach is a bit like FATE stress tracks, you can keep casting until you have failed often enough to cross off all your slots.

Monsters have a single stat, hit dice, which is manipulated to give their other features.

Characters essentially level up when the GM deems them worthy, gaining extra hit points and a chance to increase their stats.

There are two pages of spells and two pages of monsters. There’s a character sheet, an example of play, and the OGL licence.

FORMAT

Single or two column black text on white background, basic cover art and no internal artwork. Does the job.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I don’t like how armour seems to work; maybe I’ve misunderstood it, but as I read the rules, once you have absorbed (say) the 4 incoming damage with your armour, it doesn’t help you any more. The example of play could do with explaining how that works. Easy enough to fix, simply ignore that rule and let armour absorb the listed amount of damage indefinitely.

I also don’t like the levelling up rule; I suspect characters would level up very quickly, and there is an implied level cap of 10, so campaigns would likely be short. My inclination would be to borrow a rule from The Petal Hack (of which more anon) and say a PC reaches a new level after a number of sessions equal to that level, so he would reach 2nd level after two sessions, and 3rd level after another three, or 5 in all.

CONCLUSION

This looks to me as if it would make a good beer-and-pretzels game, maybe one to take on holiday and play over a few drinks. The rules are simple enough and familiar enough that I had memorised most of them from a single read-through. However, I’m not sure that it has the legs for a full-blown campaign; it may be too simple for that.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5; deserves a trial run at some point.

Update: I had planned to review The Petal Hack, but since you can download the whole thing for free here, you should do that if you’re interested in it.

Review: Eyes of the Stone Thief

Posted: 11 February 2017 in Reviews
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“That was nuts!” – Dag, Angry Beavers

As you may have guessed by now, this is the backbone of the Hearts of Stone campaign, whose session writeups you see on Wednesdays. It’s an everyday story of a sentient mobile megadungeon, the titular Stone Thief, and those who hunt it.

In a Nutshell: 13th Age campaign for character levels 4-8. 346 page PDF, written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, published by Pelgrane Press.

CONTENTS

This monster is too big for my normal review format, so let’s hit the highlights.

First comes a group of four chapters explaining what the campaign is about, how to use it, and the key factions in play within the megadungeon, which are presented in the same manner as the icons in the 13th Age core rules. This book is not so much a scripted campaign as it is a selection of adventures which the GM can stitch together in a number of ways. I doubt whether any two groups would follow the same path through it.

Next is a group of thirteen chapters, each focussed on one level of the megadungeon. In each case there’s an isometric map, details on encounter areas, traps, monsters, links to factions and so forth. Not much on treasure, because this adventure is more about revenge; the GM is essentially left to hand out whatever treasure he or she feels appropriate. There are a few plot items which come in handy later in the story. The dungeon can rearrange the layout of its levels, and the book offers several possibilities for that.

Then there are ten chapters covering the opposition, the dungeon’s prey, and surface quests. The intent of the book is that the GM switches between dungeon crawls, quests for information, help and artefacts on the surface, and homebrew scenarios focused on the character’s One Unique Things and icon relationships. Four groups of opponents are provided, of which my favourite is the Vengeful Company – a rival group of adventurers who hog all the limelight whatever the PCs manage to achieve.

These are followed by a chapter of enemy reactions to the player’s activities, and two chapters on finding and killing the living dungeon.

We close with an index.

FORMAT

Two-column black on colour text. Illos every few pages ranging from less than a quarter page to a whole page in size. Full colour everywhere.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

There’s a short section in my copy which is in black on white with no colour at all. Not sure what happened there but pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to do that.

After the first couple of read-throughs I would have asked for more help navigating the campaign, but there is no real substitute for re-reading in detail several times and taking copious notes. I found creating a timeline for the campaign very helpful, but what is in that depends on which path through the adventure your PCs take, and I expect it to change repeatedly as we go.

CONCLUSIONS

13th Age is already D&D with the volume turned up to eleven, and I can picture Ryder-Hanrahan grinning maniacally as he twists the dial even further clockwise. Eyes of the Stone Thief is completely mad, and my main concern from running the game is how I am going to herd the players back into a gritty, low-magic game afterwards.

It is truly a great campaign, and is now the standard against which I measure megadungeons; but the GM needs to put a lot of work in, both before it begins and during play. I don’t think I will do it justice the first time through; maybe if I ran it again later for another group, they would get more out of it.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5. I am running this, true, but as you’ve seen I didn’t drop everything else to do so, and it needs more preparation than I would like.

Review: Dwimmermount

Posted: 27 February 2016 in Reviews
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Dwimmermount is 414 pages of Old School megadungeon, derived from James Maliszewski’s campaign notes at Grognardia and published by Autarch. I got the PDF, which set me back ten bucks. My version is for Labyrinth Lord, but you can also get an ACKS version and it looks easy to port to any retroclone.

I’ll abandon my normal review approach because Dwimmermount is so big. Let’s just hit the highlights.

THE HIGHLIGHTS

It’s big. The dungeon itself has 13 levels, each with about 60 rooms. It’s set in a wilderness roughly 200 x 200 miles, with 40-odd surface locations described in varying degrees of detail, some of which have entrances to smaller dungeons (these are left for the GM to map and populate, however).

It’s detailed. There is a secret history, and the characters are rewarded for figuring it out. There is a publicly-known history. Humans and the demihuman races each have different beliefs about what’s going on and why. There are rival adventuring parties, each with a patron and a purpose, and there are rules for what they get up to in the dungeon when the players are not around. There are notes on the system of water pipes in case the PCs find some magic to shrink themselves to rat size and go exploring in them. There are tables showing which level was built when, why, and by whom; which dungeon levels each of the numerous factions operates on; how other dungeons might be connected to Dwimmermount; where the entrances to the megadungeon are and how to get through them. There are new monsters, new character classes, new magic items, new spells; to be fair, many of these are converted from other editions of D&D. There are four other planets the party can visit using the secrets they find in the dungeon. There is a substance called azoth with mysterious properties, some of them useful and some deadly.

It’s tied to the setting. Every significant event in the world’s history is connected to the dungeon in some way, and vice versa. The demihuman races (especially the dwarves) are modified, the better to fit the setting’s secret history. There are specific gods. In theory you could modify it to fit your own homebrew setting, but that would be a lot of work, quite possibly more than making your own megadungeon.

It’s science-fantasy. There are all the usual mediaeval trappings of a fantasy setting, but then you also have giant machines, spacecraft, golems, androids, interplanetary portals and what have you.

OPINIONS

The good:

  • The way the rooms interact with each other and the dungeon’s secret history.
  • It’s complete in itself, a whole campaign in one book. I’m ambivalent about this; you wouldn’t need anything else, but by the time you’ve fully familiarised yourself with the contents, you could have created your own world.
  • The dungeon is released under the OGL so you can tinker with it in public if you like, thus removing any worries about copyright infringement on your blog, for example.

The bad:

  • Most of the individual rooms are not very exciting. Yes, they’re well-thought out and they fit logically into the setting, but they’re not very exciting.
  • It’s not that easy to fit into a setting other than its own.

REFLECTIONS

In the actual 1970s, dungeons were big and contained homages to whatever fantasy and science fiction the GM had read in the last few years, and for the most part didn’t make a lot of sense. I, at least, yearned for something like Dwimmermount; a huge dungeon with a consistent backstory that could be worked out by sufficiently clever and motivated players, and ventilation shafts and sewer pipes PCs could crawl through. In 1977 I would’ve been all over Dwimmermount like a rash in a cheap suit.

But now? This is all stuff I’ve seen before, if not all in the same place. It’s well-executed, certainly; it’s rare to see a campaign so carefully crafted and fitting together so well; but it’s not vibrant or exciting. I guess you can’t go home again.

I must resist the siren call of the published megadungeon; I keep buying them, and then not using them. Perhaps I should build one just to scratch that itch and get it out of my system.

Death Frost Doom

Posted: 12 August 2015 in Tryouts
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I was asked to run a game for Nick and some friends, and they specifically wanted something Old School to see how things used to be done in the 1970s,  so out came Labyrinth Lord and Death Frost Doom. (I love OD&D, but not quite enough to run it from my aging White Box books; the Moldvay edition, and Labyrinth Lord which retroclones it, were and are more popular for a reason.)

Random character generation Old School style is fast and easy – which it has to be, given the lifespan of the average first level character – so it was only a short while later that the party took shape; one fighter, one dwarf, one cleric, and one Charisma 17 thief. I dropped Deathfrost Mountain into my old Irongrave campaign, expecting this to be a one-off, and the party began at the town of Stonebridge, where none of the players had been before, drawn by the rumour of treasure in the mountain, which they accepted despite rejecting the rumours of the resurgence of the ancient death cult which used to live there.

Now while original DFD is more than five years old and thus outside my self-imposed spoiler limit of five years, the new edition is only a year old and so well within it. So you’ll get partial spoilers.

The session was about six hours long, and of that they spent probably an hour generating characters, buying equipment in town, and taking to NPCs; and a couple of hours thrashing around outside the dungeon entrance, talking to more NPCs, examining the entrance in minute detail, and demonstrating the usual healthy acquisitiveness.

Then they found their way in, and explored the complex, continually thinking they had found it all – and then finding another door. They avoided four potential Total Party Kills, and most of the treasure, because they did not search the rooms thoroughly enough; they found the Sacred Parasite and killed it with fire, losing the thief in the process (one hit point you see – Old School, baby) and being unable to recover her body (for resurrection) or the loot (for fencing).

They then unleashed the Sealed Menace, which they escaped by creative (and desperate) use of some of the items they found in the dungeon. By the time they had finished doing that, the Sealed Menace had destroyed Stonebridge, which they could see burning in the distance as they marched south to the next town (the campaign’s titular Irongrave), concocting stories on the way of how they had warned Stonebridge and fought valiantly in its defence.

Oh well, easy come, easy go.

What about Death Frost Doom then? It’s a horror story rather than a hack-and-slash dungeon; the players find a lot of creepy stuff, but it is quite possible to go for extended periods without fighting anything – there was only one serious combat in the entire session. Everything in the scenario is there for a purpose, and it all interacts, and there were a number of interactions I didn’t spot until I was actually running it, despite having read it several times and taken notes.

As Zak S says in his introduction, this scenario demands only a little of your campaign’s space and time, but it does something with every inch of that space and every second of that time. I’d love to run it again sometime – and there are not many scenarios I think that about.