Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Publishing Cold Iron Blackmarsh Adventures

 Over the past few years I have been promoting Cold Iron and gaining some interest. I had started running some play by post, including a samurai adaptation, and back at the end of 2022 I started to think I might actually be able to run a live game on Roll20, I chose to set the campaign in Robert S. Conley's Blackmarsh setting that he has been expanding thus the title Cold Iron Blackmarsh Adventures.

Recently I reached out to Mark Christiansen about publishing and he has given me a general go ahead to publish my efforts with attribution (of course!). I'm still working out some details, and it may take some time to bring this to fruition but I'm excited. I don't expect a huge response, but there is interest, and after nearly 20 years of talking about Cold Iron on various gaming forums, no one has ever said "Hey, did you know this game does that?" about any of the features I find the most compelling. Some things may be close. Other systems have ways of maintaining spells, and every system with magic/spell points specifies how they recover, but no other system does exponential growth or tapping the regeneration rate to maintain continuing spells. No other system uses the normal distribution, though plenty use 3d6 for a bell curve, though I did finally see someone suggest using d10s to roll digits of a random number between 0 and 1 but that was in the context of multiplying, dividing, or applying an exponent to a percentage chance (so you can exactly, for example, do 1/2 of 25% by reframing it as 0.25/2 = 0.125 and roll 3 ten sided dice to generate a 3 decimal place number between 0 and 1 to exactly map that 12.5% chance of success - that's half of Mark's innovation).

So if you're still watching this space, watch for more announcements...

Or better, reach out to me and maybe I'll invite you to my Discord server, or look for me on the RPG Pub ( https://www.rpgpub.com ).


Monday, January 07, 2019

Gaining New Level-0 Skills in Classic Traveller

As my campaigns go forward, folks are interested in learning skills at level-0. I play Books 1-3 Classic Traveller, so the Instruction skill is not in play, and the skill list is limited. I don't want it to be sort of trivial to gain level-0 in all the skills, not even all the skills that another PC has. I also allow self improvement to improve from level-0, so easy level-0 skill also means easy bootstrap to level-1 (make your dedication roll and you have skill-1 immediately that becomes permanent if you keep up the self improvement for 4 years).

I think operational skills like Vehicle and Vacc Suit should be sort of easy, though Vacc Suit being too easy means everyone on the ship will get level-0, which may of course be viewed as a good thing overall.

Some of the skills should require some kind of formal training, and maybe making it take a 4 weeks or even 8 weeks of formal training to get level-0 in some skills would deter folks. Others definitely need to be practiced on world.

What have others done in this area?


  • Ported skill chips from cp2020 rpg into the game. Never really thought about it. I'm a bad gm lol!
    A recent comment for another game inspired me: train for a year. If its simple or you can focus/do intensely - it takes a season. Not perfect but dead simple and a great starting point I thought so I’ve noted it as a more general principle for gaming in general. Depends on game mechanics. But for traveller I think it works.
    Among other things, if they fail their dedication roll for training, I'd say that a skill can't drop back below level 0. So, no matter what, they at least get that level out of it.
    I treat Level-0 as basic familiarisation: a new soldier quickly knows enough not to blow a finger off, but takes another couple of months to shoot well (level 1).

    From a GM perspective, level 0 keeps your players from ditching the game in disgust. They have to invest time and cash if they want better.
    +Michael Barry There is a point to that, but how easy should it be for people to have basic familiarization in everything? Level-0 is also the single most important skill rank. It takes one from "can never check this skill" or "DM -5 for unskilled" to can roll for 8+ (usually) on any task related to the skill.

    It works well if the view is that PCs should be able to be jacks of all trades (but then diminishes the value of the Jack of all Trades skill).

    +Chris Vermeers But outside of the sabbatical, you need level-0 to even do self improvement. The way I play sabbatical is that instead of a dedication roll, you are making an admittance roll. If you fail, you can try for a different skill (or give up and wait a year).
    +Alistair Langsford Yea, that might work. And maybe that should fill one of your two self improvement slots for most skills.

    I still feel like some skills should require a sabbatical, but I'm not sure (I feel like Engineering is one of those).

    I'm willing to make Vehicle skills easier (in some ways, I could even see "every PC has level-0 in all vehicles).

    I've just given out Diving-0 after a 3 day course. I'm really torn about what to do with diving... With the number of water worlds in my campaign, in feels like something that needs to be a skill, yet none of the Book 1 or Supplement 4 careers give it. The rules in The Undersea Environment for acquiring Diving skill don't feel right to me. I've also given Diving-0 to a Scout who wrote it into their character background.

    Vacc Suit is a really tricky one. It sort of sucks to not have level-0 for a ship based campaign based on the skill description, on the other hand, making it easy for everyone to get Vacc Suit-0 feels like it diminishes the value of those who get Vacc Suit-1 or better (though they can then wear combat armor or battle dress).

    Thinking about things, my real struggle is how you actually keep away from "skills define what your character is capable of trying" and keeping with the philosophy where skills define the things a character is good at under stress situations.

    Maybe the key there is to be careful about how you read skill descriptions. Someone without Vacc Suit isn't screwed if they need to wear one. But they'd better be careful if a fire fight breaks out. Or they're totally alone. Maybe the answer is that the character who DOES have Vacc Suit skill can talk a character through a tough spot or physically help them. Role play it out. Don't just rely on skill rolls to resolve the situation.

    Now with that philosophy, maybe we can go back to it takes a year of practice (using one of your self improvement slots) to acquire a skill-0. No dedication roll necessary.

    And I can still hand out some level-0 based on character background. And I can still hand out level-0 after some specific training (like the 3 day diving course). I get some control over how easy it is to pick up a level-0 skill.
    +Frank Filz And after a bit you find people have a lot of skills if you go to far... 8-)

    I agree a sabbatical sounds right for certain skills. And for some, maybe only at higher levels when you’re going that next step in a field. Perhaps you might keep a notebook for skills based on these categories, just as a loose framework: 3 day course, season, year, sabbatical. Maybe allow ‘school of life’ vs ‘tech school’ or something to indicate the how of learning. Not all skills are easily learned from books or podcasts etc.

    An idea borrowed from Over the Edge, and often expressed independently by others on other forums - use the Traveller character generation to spur a bit more of a background write up. Then, when something comes up, look at that to determine what type of “throw” is needed. Or if someone can have a go at something at all. If you say that a skill-n really identifies something you’re good at, then consider that to include skill-0 as meaning something. Perhaps an example to show what I mean.

    Vacc Suit. To put one on properly in a normally stressful situation: 8+, say.

    1. If you’re in a space going profession where this sort of thing could happen, you will have had training. So you don’t have to have even skill-0.
    2. Maybe allow stat bonuses, depending on circumstances.
    3. A zero level means you need it for more than passing the weekly or monthly drill, or the 3 monthly eva.

    BUT: its a time critical emergency. There is a breach. You don’t have minutes. Its not prepping for a normal EVA in a hazardous environment where you’ve got a chance to review things. Its get it on NOW. Skill-0 buys you the 8+ along with all the other people who have skill-1+. You’ve done this a bit more than just routine training and safety drills and the occasional EVA. So if you don’t even have a zero level, then apply the -3 or whatever “non-proficiency” DM.

    So having a skill is a measure of what you’re good at, regularly have to use, and where a certain amount of proficiency really has been attained: its a secondary or tertiary requisite of your job. And you use it regularly. But for simple things its not worth the allocation of skill 0. And its those ‘emergency’ type situations where that non-proficiency penalty is then worth applying, and not anywhere else - unless there is a time pressure.

    Hope that has made some kind of sense.

    +Frank Filz That is a very good point. I think that I'd have to rework parts of the improvement system if I am not using the MT one in the future.
    I just started using a modified version of the regular CT skill improvement rules. I halved the time to try for permanent acquisition to 2 years. They can study 2 skills at a time. After 6 months of study of a new skill they can get it at 0. After 2 years they can roll to keep it at level 1. For weapons they immediately get a +1 if they are working on that weapons skill - same rules to make it permanent. I decided to make level 5 the maximum skill level, and it is harder to improve the skills permanently as they get higher. Base roll is 8+, but they get -1 for level 2 through -4 for level 5. So to improve from level 4 to 5 they have to roll a 12.

    Since we don't play every week, I felt like this would allow some character improvement without totally blowing up the system. Mistake? We'll see. hahaha.

    Discussion of Traveller Space Encounters

    Another topic I'd love to talk more about is the space encounters.

    The encounter tables for ships really don't make much sense. They don't take space lanes into account at all and they don't make any sort of logical sense for traffic.

    I made some modified encounter tables to at least make some accommodation for how ships had to travel. Like it makes no sense to have more encounters in a system with a Class-A star port than the adjacent systems that the ships at the Class-A MUST have come through.

    It also only generates a single encounter. At least on some worlds there should be several ships in port.

    I know GURPS Traveller has some stuff in Far Trader, but that doesn't really generate encounter tables as more computes the volume of trade.

    One thought is to actually stick with the Book 2 encounter tables and use those to represent the probability of some kind of interaction beyond normal courtesies in port. Then what I should do is develop a table for each encounter type that helps determine what kind of encounter it is. Or I could just make a reaction and go from there.

    That still leaves me with coming up with a way to determine what ships might be in port or in orbit.

    I want to keep artifacts like Pirate ships are most active in systems with a Class A or B star port (6 or 8 on 2D) and not active at all in systems with a Class D or worse star port, while Patrols are only common in Class A and again, not at all in Class D or worse.

    My players are always wanting to know who's in port so they can talk to them...


    I would think pirates would frequent places where the patrols aren't, thus D starports.
    +Brett Slocum good point. But also perhaps they aren’t acting as pirates there. Its a “friendly” port so they dont sh#t in their backyard.

    Likewise patrol ships there might be undercover.
    +Brett Slocum I think the pirates hit A and B star ports for the richer takings. Patrols obviously follow.

    I’m taking the setting implications of 1977 as is.
    "it makes no sense to have more encounters in a system with a Class-A star port than the adjacent systems that the ships at the Class-A MUST have come through"

    Maybe… but there's also the matter of in-system traffic.

    I'm still thinking about the implications of the 77 vs 81 encounter tables. The universes obviously have some different assumptions. I think that the main adjustments that I'd be happy seeing in 77 would be adding the useful ships from 81/Supp7: type T, A2, and so on.
    I'm thinking systems with A ports supply their own system patrols for the very reason that traffic is heavier and having stable routes is important.
    +Chris Vermeers Yea, somehow additional ships need to be added (since I use Supplement 4, the Lab Ship and Safari Ship are also in play, including my Type KS Safari Scout). 1981 adds the useful Type T patrol, and yea, we also have the Far Trader. I'd add some of the other smaller ships that were added over time also.
    +Brett Slocum Yea, Class A star ports having their own patrols makes sense.
    If I had the time, I’d start working up a subsector based just on this discussion to see what sort of things came of it. I like the idea of the 77 Rules philosophy with the extras from 81. I’ll have to save this idea for later.
    I would think a class B or C port system, one jump from a class A port could have far less traffic than the A port system. A central A port distributes that traffic across its neighboring systems. It would naturally draw more trade as the tech is going to be better and more available. Also more available would be possible cargoes.

    This assumes it’s not an Imperial Jump Route. If it’s on a standard jump route traffic would naturally be higher with more tenders, x-boats, navy and scout ships too.

    Just my thinking.
    Perhaps distance from a space lane is the determiner for number of ships in space, while spaceports are indicators of ships on the ground engaging in repairs, resupply, and trade?
    Or docked at high port. Or parked at a slip in orbit for those unstreamlined ships.
    +Robert Fedick Sure, a Class B, C, D, or E star port would have less traffic than a Class A - IF the Class A traffic didn't have to go through there. In the portion of my Wine Dark Rift setting that belongs to my Imperium (NOT the 3I, and for one thing, my Imperium does not have X-Boats or communication routes) is at the end of the line, with an adjacent Class E star port the only neighboring system. ALL J1 traffic to Tegel (the Class A) MUST go through Fogbound (the Class E).

    Now, yea, there may be some in system traffic, though how much of that is jump capable ships (another thing 1977 encounter charts don't have, and even the later encounter charts just have sub-100 dTon in system traffic if I remember).

    Now of course J2 and J3 traffic skips Fogbound, and in fact there's a Class B at least every 2 parsecs along the space lanes, so I assume the Type M subsidized liner only visits the Class A and B star ports. Type A2 Far Traders might well only visit Class A and B star ports also, allowing them to have somewhat more traffic than the Class C, D, and E star ports along the space lanes.

    One way to figure out the traffic might actually be to decide what all ships are in the region and then figure out their routes and then create a traffic map accordingly, and then from there, create encounter tables. Of course the encounter tables would allow for some non-regular ships also (and maybe even 50% of the shipping might be such). They still have to contribute logically to traffic across the region.


    Frustrations with RQ1 chargen

    This is me sort of spilling my guts... Not necessarily looking for a solution, just trying to work out my feelings.

    So I've been starting up a play by post RQ1 game and I also have a Roll20 game I've been running for a few months.

    Since I've been doing "going back to the original" for D&D (playing OD&D) and Traveller (using 1977 Books 1-3), and I've always been partial to RQ1 over even RQ2 let alone any of the newer ways to play in Glorantha, I thought I'd do much more by the book than the last few times I've run RQ.

    For the Roll20 game, I did straight 3d6 rolls for attributes (well, 2d6+6 for INT as suggested in I think TrollPak). With that, an ability bonus is rare, especially more than +5%.

    For the play by post game, I decided to do 4d6k3 (or 4d6k2+6 for INT, similar adjustments for non-humans). That has resulted in better ability bonuses, though the 4d6 INT of elves really shows through (since INT is SO important, affecting almost every ability bonus). The 3d6+3 DEX shows through pretty strong also (since attack, manipulation, parry, stealth, and defense all use DEX).

    We've also been using the previous experience from the back of the book. This has caused tremendous delay in getting the play by post game started and lots of frustration on the part of the players.

    This has seriously got me tempted to return to what I did for the game I ran in 2006. For that game, I had settled on doing a point buy for attributes, distributing 103 points (the first couple characters, I actually told the players to just pick attributes - I think they averaged 103 points with both of them pretty close). But I didn't compute the ability bonuses. Instead, they got to distribute +25, +20, +20, +15 +15, +10, +10, and +5 among the abilities (attack, manipulation, parry, defense, stealth, knowledge, perception, and communication [oratory]). I just asked the players to consider their attributes and not apply a bonus that was way out of whack (no +25 knowledge for a character with INT 5 - not that anyone took that low an INT).

    One of the cool things about this was that if you take computation of the ability bonuses from the attributes, the value of the attributes becomes much more even so a point buy works.

    On top of that, I used a previous experience system I had developed in the 90s inspired by RQ3. This set lower skills than characters often come out of the previous experience system from the back of the book, but also more uniform (we have some characters who didn't make mercenary or get into an apprenticeship).

    But that feels so new school even though I think it would make the rest of the game (which is plenty old school) much more accessible.

    What are your thoughts? What do other folks who still play RQ1 or RQ2 do?

    BTW, a definite non-answer is RuneQuest Glorantha. It's more money than I'm willing to spend, and from tidbits I've seen I think it makes changes in areas I really like the originals. For example, post RQ2, it seems that the idea of cults having very different skill and spell offerings, from free, to half-price, to normal price, has changed to be more uniform. I haven't actually seen an RQG cult writeup, but I know for sure I really don't like the RQ3 cults.

    Some Selected Comments

    One thing I really want to do is put together a streamlined document for character generation, walking the player through each step (I have a good start on this here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1UaDB0IJo96DzDRSQLL9j4-vQuBiSLs6U3SySHgUUuG8/edit?usp=sharing ). The previous experience really isn't THAT complicated, I think it's just that things are spread out.

    I do allow players to try several apprenticeships if they fail their first choice, adding a few more options might make it so really you would end up with some kind of apprenticeship.

    Actually, just tweaking the background roll to remove peasant would eliminate the possibility of not getting an apprenticeship and would not really detract from the game.

    Hmm, I could also take the code for the Classic Traveller Character Generator and write a Classic RuneQuest Character Generator...

    A cheat sheet on cults would help, perhaps just giving the Lay and Initiate details for some good selections, plus the names of other cults that are possibilities.

    Hmm, looking back, my old rules from the 90s I didn't allow Elf PCs... Maybe allowing an Elf was a bit much. Or maybe not, we'll see how that actually plays out.

    Saving Posts from Google+

    I will be copying some of my Google+ Posts over here to preserve them.

    I may paste selected comments at the bottom of the posts...

    Monday, January 25, 2010

    Thoughts about constructing a Traveller Universe

    I've been thinking about what my Traveller universe might end up looking like.

    I'm almost certain to use Paul Gazis's Eight Worlds rules for star ships (and perhaps more of his rules), though I might adjust some numbers depending on what assumptions I make for my universe.

    One result of this is that ships aren't constrained to discrete jumps, nor are all jumps one week in duration. A jump 1 ship could take two weeks to travel as far as a jump 2 ship travels in one week (we don't yet know how the fuel costs change). So, rather than the universe being a hex map, each star will have coordinates to some precision (1 ly? .1 ly? .01 ly?). I'm still debating 2-d versus 3-d, and if I use real star locations or not, and if Sol/Earth is part of my universe (probably yes, but still up in the air, is it in the initial locale, or somewhere's distant).

    As I have been thinking and processing the various systems for generating stars, and thinking about how to handle interstellar travel, I've come up with a few thoughts:

    First, a science fiction universe with interstellar travel will have a bunch of "interesting" stars. These stars are where the main action takes place, or are home worlds, or whatever. These stars need not be occupied by earth-like worlds, but they probably have to have useful resources of some sort.

    Now one could have a universe consisting just of those stars, and abstract space travel so those stars are the only ones that matter. Such a universe might even use an abstract map. But such a setup would diminish the importance of ships to the game (and one could even imagine a universe that virtually eliminates the importance of ships, to the point one might as well just have a teleporter network between the worlds of interest).

    So then, to make ships and their operations interesting and important, we need to bring in other factors. A simple factor to bring in is to make logistics important. Now it matters how far apart the stars are. Additional stars might become important, not because they have an interesting world to have an adventure on, but because a ship needs to make a stopover for logistical reasons (for example, to re-fuel).

    Of course, once such stars gain logistical relevance, they become a place for excitement to happen. During a war, a stopover might be blockaded. Or pirates might infest a stopover. Or some kind of natural event might take place, or there might be a systems failure in the ship.

    Now it becomes interesting where you go, and what route you take.

    Then the question arises of how many stopover locations are there? Too many, and they become meaningless. For example, say interesting stars are 10, 20, or even 30 light years apart, and ships can refuel by dipping into a star. Introduce hundreds or thousands of stopovers between any two interesting stars (or really even more than a few), and suddenly it becomes unlikely someone would be lying in wait for you. So probably stopovers have to be rare. So we probably can't refuel from a sun. Probably wilderness refueling has to be either slow, or unreliable. Now, we might have a refueling base at a star with nothing much more than a single icy planet where a plant can painstakingly extract hydrogen, perhaps, for a difficult route, just enough for a few small ships per week or two, and they probably charge a lot. But it might be worth it to shave off some time for a rich cargo, or important mission.

    Of course, depending on how the logistics work out, tankers might be workable for refueling, but if that becomes too easy, we're back to hundreds of stopovers.

    So lots to think about. And none of this particularly depends on what rules are used to generate the "interesting" systems, though they do depend on how one treats the "realistic" data.

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Paul Gazis is starting to share his Eight Worlds system

    Paul is starting to share his Traveller derived system, which he is calling Eight Worlds after his campaign:

    Eight Worlds

    Take a look and join the discussion on his forum.

    Friday, January 08, 2010

    My Traveller gaming history

    I first played Traveller sometime around 1979-1980, my friend and I rolled up a few characters and played the merchant game and never went anywhere.

    Sometime in 1981 or later (I can't find any solid reference as to when), I decided to run an SF game at MITSGS. I took the Rune Quest rules and wrote up a star ship creation and combat system, and added some SF weapons for personal combat. Unfortunately, I had not seen Nial Shapero's Other Suns at that point. We played one session, and then decided the system was over complex and the group collapsed. The star ship build system was sort of modular, with ideas borrowed from Task Force Game's Starfire boardgame. The star map was a bunch of dots penciled onto a blank sheet of 8.5"x11" paper, using a ruler to measure distances between stars.

    A week or two later, I rebooted with Traveller, though I kept the star ship system and the campaign setting with several new players. Dave Tetreault was the most consistent player in the campaign, which lasted until 1988 or so. The campaign went through several rules mods, eventually being converted to Hero System. Another campaign in the same setting was run at RPI for several sessions. The groups only interaction was the MIT group visiting an airless planet the RPI group had explored, with the MIT group trying to make sense of the trails of ATV tracks going hither and thither.

    This campaign was also my first venture into computer aided gaming at the table. I had use of a Compaq suit-case computer from work. I had a program to manage fuel consumption of the ships, and used Borland Sidekick to keep game notes at the same time. I also computerized my star map, which eventually expanded to some 40 or so sectors. The group even visited "Sol/Earth" (Alpha Centauri was the only other real star to make it onto the map).

    That campaign was heavily inspired by Paul Gazis, and I used his experience rules and his "generic" "spare parts" for repairs (except I ended up categorizing spare parts into several categories).

    Sometime in there I also tried out Mega-Traveller at RPI though the game didn't last long. I think I also had another start at RPI, not quite sure the rules, but I wrote a nifty star map program that worked on a square grid and used a custom printer font to make nice print maps.

    Since then, I have essentially only played fantasy games.

    Now I'm getting a solid SF itch...


    Tuesday, January 05, 2010

    Traveller Campaign Brainstorming

    I am thinking of starting a Traveller campaign soon. I thought I'd use this space to do a bit of a brain dump.

    Chargen Rules: probably Classic Traveller as a basis, probably using Mercenary etc. extended character generation.

    Starships: I am looking at using Paul Gazis's rules for star ships (no anti-grav is the big feature) and at least his star ship combat system. This would be a small ship universe. The one thing that might make me change my mind is using this system means not using the various deck plans out there.

    Sector maps: I'm leaning towards a freeform map, not hexes. Gazis Traveller did not use such and in the past I have played with a freeform map.

    World Generation: probably based on Book 3, however, recently I rolled up a bunch of systems, and the random results were rather limiting. I might jigger my own charts (but still use the standard UPP mechanism). I might generate a few systems using Book 6 level of detail.

    Tech Level: keeping tech level lower, perhaps to 12 or so. Though I may end up with rather different lists of equipment since I am diverging on anti-grav and starship technology.

    The following is a dump of elements I'd like to include, some of these are just names perhaps with a bit of detail. Names may be inspired by other source material but may not reflect the actual source.

    Reavers Deep, Reavers. I like the name. I like the Reavers from Firefly.

    Earth. I'm debating if Earth will be in my universe, if so, do I use any accuracy for nearby stars? If I start using accurate data, do I end up with a 3-D universe?

    Rifts. I like them.

    Vargr & Aslan. I've always been partial to kitties and dogs. I might not use Traveller stats.

    Zhodane. I like psionic aliens (or not so alien), thought police, and all that.

    Lizards. I like an intelligent lizard race.

    Parsinians. Gazis cyborg aliens. They just sound cool and obnoxious.

    That's all that crosses my mind right now.

    Friday, September 12, 2008

    1st session of OD&D Megadungeon campaign - TPK

    The following was originally posted to Finarvyn's Original D&D Discussion board and Dragonsfoot. I combined my responses to some questions, hopefully all makes sense without the questions...

    Our band of intrepid explorers gathered at the inn in the village of Canyon Lake. They had all heard of a great dungeon near the village. An inquiry of the innkeeper gathered that they could either approach the dungeon by boat or by a narrow trail following the steep shoreline.

    The party chose the trail and set off, two dwarves, two elves, three humans, and a mule. The trail led down to a small beach with a larger trail leading up the hillside to a ruined village. The dungeon entrance was rumored to be in the largest building.

    In the village, the party first met a group of six dwarves. A short parley ensued and the dwarves went on their way hunting goblins.

    The party gathered at the first of several smaller buildings that were still standing. The door was bashed in and three kobolds were quickly dispatched. On the way to the second building, the party avoided a giant beetle. Bursting through the door of the second building showed five kobolds and a goblin. A sleep spell dispatched all of them. A very nice looking dagger was found.

    The third building approached was larger and near an overgrown graveyard. Bursting into the third building revealed three gnolls. The human cleric collapsed under the blow of a gnoll morningstar. Another sleep spell dispatched the gnolls. After the battle, it was determined the cleric was just unconscious.

    The party decided to hole up in the building to recover. Early the next morning, the ground started to crack. Seven skeletons burst forth, The skeletons were eventually defeated but with great loss. An elf was the only conscious survivor. The cleric did wake up in the morning. The human warrior and the other elf survived unconscious. The two unconscious survivors were loaded on the mule along with the treasure and the most valuable equipment and the party started to head for home.

    As the party made their way through the ruins, four giant ants engaged them. The mule went down and the ants swarmed the mule. The human warrior was revived with a potion but also went down again. Two characters survived with one unconscious body. They took the most valuable treasure and headed for home.

    Most of the way back to town, the trail partially collapsed sending the survivors tumbling down the rocky embankment. Sadly, there were no survivors.

    Several things the players might have done to do better:

    • Spend some time finding rumors.
    • Take the boat instead of the trail.
    • Not holed up for a night above the dungeon, especially near a graveyard.
    • Checked out the potion earlier.
    • Teamed up with the dwarves (at least for resting)


    For consideration, here are the background bits (in three separate places in my guide). I did read the section on alignment to them before the start of play. Admittedly there is no discussion of the dangers of camping out in the dungeon or the ruins above, but read the description of the chaos alignment... The rest of the players guide is basically the rules from Men & Magic (plus additions from Greyhawk etc. and house rules), except for the spells (they are in separate documents, one for clerics, one for magic users, and an intro document with first through third level spells from both classes.

    The Mega-Dungeon (on page 2 right after table of contents)

    This campaign will operate primarily in a single large dungeon, often referred to as a mega-dungeon. Like the dungeons of the early days, the deeper underground, the higher the challenge. In general, first level characters will find the most appropriate challenge on the first level underground, while second level characters will find more appropriate challenges one level deeper and so on. The dungeon itself is rumored to be a force of chaos, filled with foul beasts, tricks, and traps. Some tricks and traps may deposit an expedition on a deeper level of the dungeon unexpectedly. Previous expeditions may have left clues in the dungeon, and maps found on the bodies of those who didn’t make it could be quite valuable (though they could also have fatal errors).

    The Dungeon--by which this author means the generic category and not any specific instance, though the principles apply in both cases--is a weird, unfathomable, and deadly place, and as such it should sound an irresistible call to those with the doughty hearts of adventurers. Importantly, it is also vast--do not fall into the trap of trying to "defeat" a level. Set goals, work to achieve them, and don't be afraid to move on when the opportunity presents itself. You can gauge what sorts of risks you want to take, and what sorts of rewards you wish to win, by considering the party level versus the dungeon level, as a rough equivalent exists in terms of PC abilities, appropriate challenges, and rightful prizes. Cautious parties may stay on safer levels, but the treasure will be less; daring parties may make forays deeper into the place for richer reward, but the danger will also increase. Choose the path that suits your party best.

    Within you will find ferocious monsters, lethal traps, cunning tricks and buried secrets, tortuous layouts and forgotten ways, baffling riddles, and best of all, fabulous treasure beyond imagining. You the player will be challenged as much, if not more, than your PC, and it will take the combined skills of both to succeed. This place is not merely a workaday, subterranean lair, with logically arranged sleeping and eating areas for a species simply somewhat different from (or even antagonistic toward) humans and demi-humans. The door you open is a portal, the stairs you descend a path, into the mythic underworld, luring you farther from the rational and sane daylight lands above, where a man may plot his way with confidence in the laws of nature, and into a nightmarish world of magic, evil, and elements that can devour your PC's very soul. You must be constantly on guard for peril from any quarter; you must manage your resources carefully, retreating when it is wise yet advancing when the time is right; you must demonstrate bravery, intelligence, and prowess as well, if your efforts are to be repaid with wealth and power. Not everything within the crumbling walls, forsaken chambers, and winding ways is hostile, and you may find allies in strange places or negotiate safe passage from others--but be wary of treachery and ill will. Those who think and fight their way back out may bear the riches that will spread their names throughout the realms of Man; those who do not will die a lonely death far from the places they know and cherish.


    Alignment (on top of page 4)

    Alignment in my campaign represents alignment with a specific cosmic force. The alignments are:


    This cosmic force represents the human drive towards orderliness, with kingdoms and empires gaining strength over small communities.

    Neutrality or Nature

    This cosmic force is the old cosmic force of living with nature in small communities. Demi-humans as entities are overwhelmingly neutral in alignment though individuals may align themselves with law, or even chaos.


    This is the cosmic force seeking to tear the world asunder. The forces of chaos breed in dungeons, swamps, and other dank and foul places. It is said that in these foul places, even the very earth itself is a force of chaos. This might explain the inexplicable tricks and traps that abound in dungeons. It could explain the fact that dungeon doors will swing open to allow inhabitants to pass but be jammed solid against lawful expeditions seeking to penetrate the dungeon and slay the forces of chaos. The corrupting nature of chaos sometimes allows individual creatures aligned with law or neutrality to be bent to the needs of chaos, and some individuals will even seek chaos for their own reasons.

    Unsolicited Advice (page 13)

    The problem with mapping is that so few people (players and DMs alike) seem to understand why it should be done and just accept that it's "part of the game" because it's mentioned in the rulebooks and is somehow "assumed" that at the end of each adventure the players must have a map of the dungeon that looks just like the DM's. But that's backwards -- drawing a map shouldn't be a burden for the players, it should be an aid to them, and they should only do it to the extent it aids them.

    In most circumstances, the only reason to make a map is so you can find your way back to the entrance and highlight areas you passed over but may want to return to later. If you think you can find your way back without a map (either because you've got a good memory or because the dungeon is simply designed, without a lot of turns, doors, dead-ends and such) then there's no reason to make a map at all, and even if you do decide to make a map there's no reason to do so on graph paper and try to create a perfect replica of the DM's map. Make each room a square (or oval, or whatever shape the DM says the room is) with the dimensions and number/location of all exits marked; make each corridor a line with the length and any side passages, doors, etc. marked. Don't worry about trying to make it to scale -- if a 20' long straight corridor connects back to a room you've been to previously but your map requires you to draw a long, curved line to represent that corridor, don't worry about it. Mapping in this way should be sufficient in the vast majority of circumstances and IME doesn't slow the game down noticeably at all (because the DM should be giving the same sorts of descriptions of rooms and corridors whether the players are mapping or not -- it's their decision whether or not to draw a map, not his).

    The only time to bother trying to draw an accurate map that matches the DM's exactly is when you're either in a very mazy environment where there's a significant chance of becoming seriously lost or when you have some reason to believe that 'empty spaces' on the map might conceal secret passages that you wouldn't be likely to locate otherwise. In such cases mapping/navigation becomes part of the challenge of the game, as much as combat tactics and resource management, and drawing an accurate map is an accomplishment in and of itself -- some players will become proud of their mapping skills and how they were able to 'beat' the dungeon through mapping (by finding a secret area, or quickly spotting a teleport trap, or whatever). If you enjoy such a challenge, go for it, it'll add a whole new element to the contest of the game. But if this sort of 'detail-work' bores or frustrates you, you should probably avoid it and stick to sketch/trailing maps (or even no map at all). Yes OD&D vol. 3 and some old modules (B1 probably most famously) emphasize this 'mapping challenge' part of the game with tricks designed especially to confuse people trying to draw accurate maps, because the people they were playing with (Ernie Gygax in particular, from what I understand) enjoyed that aspect, but if you don't there's no reason to try and force it. Make trailing maps or trust your memory if that's what you prefer -- you may miss an occasional hidden treasure, or get lost in an occasional maze, but that's the price you're willing to pay.

    Trent Foster

    In Depth Commentary

    The players were a bit frustrated, but will return. They are used to newer systems that are more "fair." Perhaps I should have given them a bit more slack on preparations for holing up. They did spike the doors shut - which did play into possible encounters, a humanoid encounter WOULD have had to bust through the door - it just turned out to be an undead encounter.

    One thing I realized I had neglected, or couldn't find, was an outdoor encounter table for the ruins above the dungeon. I used my 1st level encounter table with some on the fly adjustment (discarded one encounter that didn't make sense), especially for the night (adjusting probabilities on the fly for their proximity to the graveyard).

    I talked with one of the players who rode we me (he lives three houses down from me) on the ride home about things they could have done better.

    At the beginning of the next session, I will spend a bit of time talking to them about expectations and perhaps giving them a few suggestions. None of the players had read the background info in the players guide I gave them (the neighbor to his defense did not get one of these guides until we were at the session).

    I think in old school tradition, the players do need to discover some of this stuff the hard way, or at least by thinking about it themselves. This is not 3.x where the GM gives the players "fair" encounters and recommends "gather information" rolls...

    These segments above are pretty much all the "background" information.

    What they were exploring was the surface which just has a few standing buildings. Perhaps having every one of them occupied was too much. I do need to track turns better, I think I did roll too often for wandering encounters (4 giant ants was also probably too many). While holed up though, they did only get a single roll per hour (and many/most encounters would not have been able to get in easily - just the undead (and only because of proximity to the graveyard) and burrowing creatures).

    Along the trail, they only got one roll per hour (3 hours travel normally, 4 hours for the return carrying a body). I had tried to at least hint that the trail was dangerous (I certainly described it as a narrow trail clinging to a steep hillside above the lake). The landslide was the result of rolling a 20 on my encounter chart which was "special". They did get a dex roll to avoid falling. I can see that it was perhaps excessive.

    One issue is that I couldn't find the surface encounter chart I thought I had made. I also didn't actually have an encounter chart for the trail. For next time, I need to write up a good encounter chart, and probably should have a range of specials (so it's not always a landslide on the trail).

    I think it's fair to chalk this up as a learning experience for both me as GM and for the players. Part of the problem is that they are used to being spoonfed information.

    While it might not be to everyone's taste, I think it's kind of cool that even though players may have had old school experience years ago, that there is still a learning process. I think that is part of what makes the game exciting.

    In my play in Makofan's campaign on the OD&D board, I'm realizing that it's actually not so bad losing a character. I mostly stopped playing and just GMing partly from this fear, but I think when D&D is approached differently, it's not so bad. Sure, sometimes you lose, but there is no winning without losing. EVERYONE WINS is not really all that fun.

    I hope that the players come to see this. I think that is what actually drives D&D players to seek more and more challenge, either going deeper into the dungeon, or pushing the limits of their resources. Without that pushing, there is no loss, and thus no real winning. I think this is what Ron Edwards gets at with his definition of "Step on Up" Gamism.

    One thing I would like to add, this play took less than two hours. Our session was supposed to run from 6 pm - 10 pm, but traffic and nearby burning buildings caused the last player to not show up until 7 pm. The store clerk also told us we would have to leave at 9:30. Well, we actually finished up before 9 pm.

    I love how much faster encounters run than in later editions of the game. We did use miniatures (for PCs, counters for the monsters). The extent of laying out the battle was to set two dice on the table to show the doorway.