BRING OUT YOUR DEAD: Ossuaries & Reliquaries for Your Clerics

In my current game of D&D (LINK), my two players have both rolled up clerics. In an effort to both provide an objective for dungeon delving and bring domain-level play to lower levels, I have tried to come up with some outlines for building an ossuary and reliquary for the abbey.

In the in-game fiction, each is desired by the abbot to attract pilgrimages to the abbey. More pilgrims, more coin in the coffers, and more influence in the region (which I think will be Beyond the Borderlands). The mechanical benefits are described here (based somewhat on this shrine idea):


CONDITIONS & BENEFIT: There will be three that need to be decorated with 3 minor magical items each and can be prayed to as a way to provide a small boon. Since the players have already recovered 3 minor magical items they can "power" one of them. The three are named after the motto of the clerical order: LIGHT, ORDER, BENEFICENCE. I might allow them to only pick one to pray at each day.
  • The LIGHT of AZLN: The cleric's holy symbol may is embued with a Light spell as a scroll of the same level as the cleric
  • The ORDER of AZLN: The cleric will receive a +1 to their first Turn Undead roll
  • The BENEFICENCE of AZLEN: The cleric may re-roll their first failed save


CONDITIONS & BENEFIT: There is room for 3 skeletons of saints which will attract followers, rolled on a 1d6 table, who will join the PCs due to inspiration by the abbey and the order. The followers attracted will depend on the saint placed into the ossuary. And as more saints are added, the table fills up.

For example, the two players have recovered the bones of Saint Ulther listed in Dyson's Delve as being associated with wizardry, large-eyes, and bringing in a ship safely to harbor against a stormy sea. So, I decided this saint would attract fighters (sailors) and magic-users. Here are a few more saints I've placed in the larger crypt-rooms of Dyson's Delve:

1-8 | Crypt of St. Ulther the Sorcerer Priest = fighters (sailors) & magic-users [RECOVERED]
1-10 | Crypt of the unnamed assassin (cursed) = thieves & were-rats
1-10 West | Crypt of St. Serene the Beheaded = fighters & zealots (fire-associated clerics)
3-3 | Crypt of St. Pry-Sim the Child of AZLN = acrobats & halflings
3-4 | Crypt of St. Nemo the Dreamer of AZLN = magic-users & elves

Ossuary Pilgram Table (roll 1d6)
1 | MU, St. Ulther
2 | Fighter, St. Ulther
3 | none
4 | none
5 | none
6 | none

When I rolled for the follower they will receive I got a "1", so now time to make a 2500 XP BX magic-user.

MUTLTI-GENERATIONAL GAMING: Running Dyson's Delve for my brother & nephew

I decided recently to approach my brother and nephew about playing a D&D game online since we all are scattered across 3 states of the US and span 30 years of time.

Two key things to appreciate about this, which is why it's so heartwarming, is that: (1) my brother is 10 years older than me. I remember walking into his room at 4 and seeing him playing D&D with his friends. I never really knew what they were doing, but I did watch the D&D cartoon with him. It would be 1989 and buying 2e AD&D for I really took a step into D&D. (2) When my nephew was growing up, I introduced him to videogames, anime, and board games, turns out what stuck was a love of "retro" videogames-- now he's interested in how D&D influenced them. And his dad never played D&D with him at all.

So to unite the generations, I decided to run a BX D&D (1981) game (using Old-School Essentials) and, since my brother said he didn't think he could do anything too complex other than like a Caves of Chaos run, Dyson's Delve (2019). I also decided to continue to lean old-school by just slowly building out the world as their interest lead- no planning way ahead or trying to set up some grand storyline.  And I even sent them dice from Roll4Initative- my brother's first set in ~35 years.


I was going to have them roll 3d6 down-the-line and run with what they got. Initially, I pushed for them to run 2 characters, but they opted just to start with one each. As a small bit of prep, I read through Dyson's Delve and wrote a small table of motivations for adventuring.

The guys end up rolling two clerics as below:

Generated with 3d6 down-the-line

I also started them out at 2500 XP, which is enough for most classes to be level 2, but not all classes.

The guys also ended up rolling a "1" on the motivations table below:

  1. PCs quest to retrieve bones of famous adventuring family ancestors & inter them in the family crypt
  2. PCs owe d6 x 10,000 GP to local crime lord
  3. A family member of PC afflicted by a disease only cured by well or spring water from the underground
  4. The evil duplicate of one PC has kidnapped the princess and fled to the dungeon
  5. The "Curse of Sait Ulther" has returned! Five fantastical monster parts are needed to complete the spell that will vanquish it
  6. At the end of 10 flights of stairs, there is a dragon who grants wishes

Their goal morphing slightly into this:

The Abbot, a gentle but financially oriented man, and the Prior, a stern and pious man,  have decided to build a reliquary to encourage pilgrimage to the abbey. They decided the task of retrieving the bones of early saints from the local dungeon belongs to members of the clerical order- Bros. Phellinus and Cadfeal.

As so off they go!


The brothers skirt the goblin camp in the ruins and head for the cave entrance to the south. Br. Cadfeal used his background in animal handling to intimidate the giant ferrets, fat on killed giants rats, therein. 

From there they delved further into the cave structure and meeting Baron Zigfried, a regal ghoul looking for manners and meat. The clerics were full on the former but lean on the latter. The Baron was stingy with its information but directed them lower into the crypts. And followed.

After finding the tombs of some monks, but no saints, the clerics decided to grab what they could of the humble relics and make it back to the surface. However, the stalking Baron had to be dealt with.

The two clerics took up positions on either side of the tunnel, covering their lantern with a sack, and making loud small talk to confuse the ghoul. The ghoul was not surprised, but the clerics seized the initiative and Br. Phellius landed a critical hit- cavitating the skull! After scooping up the jewelry and magic relics, the clerics made way for home. And level 3.


Since the previous session was a hit, I decided to create an abbey proper (see fig 2). To hopefully encourage role-play, I also created the “90-10 Edict” to establish some outlines of cleric behavior and provide links with the abbey hierarchy. I also established that the abbot wants to build two things: an ossuary to saints and a reliquary to humble monks-- because they want to attract religious pilgrims for the gold.

Our two brothers set off once again, but exciting more cation brought along two hirelings lured more by the promise of gold than the clerics’ inspirational speeches (both have a CHA of 7 & 8).

This time the clerics decided to avoid a tussle with the giant ferrets in the south cave and instead build a stake and rope ladder up the west side of the ruin. With amazement in the DM’s eyes they were able to quietly slip up and over the wall and down into the first level.

Luck ran out here as both hirelings missed the two goblin guards and one escaped to find their hobgoblin bosses-- the clock was ticking. With some quick scouting, they found the tomb of St. Ulther! Praise be to AZLAN! And they also found a couple of other sealed tombs that the goblins had marked as containing undead. Not ones to take their eyes off the mission, the brothers Phellius and Cadfeal beat a hasty retreat with bones and hirelings in tow just as 3 hobgoblins reach the top of the stairs.

They drenched the stairs with oil and toss down a torch to erect a flaming barrier to guard their retreat. Up and over they make it again, but now they are caught by a goblin patrol! Gaining the initiative, Br. Phellius charges forward, mace in hand, and with AZLN in his heart. Dice are rolled, bounce, bounce...natural 20!

Eleven points of damage certainly converts the goblin to a corpse and the sight causes the others to flee. The return home is uneventful.

Next session we will see if this particular ossuary can attract pilgrims.

FIG 1: What they have explored in the first two sessions of Dyson's Tower

FIG 2: Since the game seemed to have legs, I whipped up a quick abbey & edicts for the cleric order

KNOWING THE SHAPE OF THE UNKNOWN: The Structure of a Call of Cthulhu Game


What is a Call of Cthulhu game? Like what is the structure or nature of it? Maybe a better question is what do people expect of it? It must be a few things because there is Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Cthulhu by Gaslight, ACHTUNG! Cthulhu, Delta Green, Cthulhu Dark etc.

Its on my mind because I've become a player in a steady game of classic CoC, so it has started to occupy my mind about what the game is.

By my count, a CoC game could be a(n)...
1 | Investigation
2 | Procedural
3 | X-files / Fringe case
4 | Urban "crawl"
5 | 1920's D&D
6 | Eldritch story arc

By the CoC Player's Handbook, a CoC game structure is supported I think by two sections. The first is on page 148 which outlines investigative procedures:

1 | Gather information
2 | Talk to and/or watch those involved
3 | Determine a motive or purpose
4 | Make a plan
5 | Carry out the plan

Chapter 6 of the book also lists several organizations that investigators could be apart of: Warth's Circus of Wonders, employees of Strange but True! News, The South 13th, SKT Research, Novem Angelus. Each of these organizations has a slightly different setup (circus, police, a society of rich people) which could influence game structure.

A nice CoC magazine (from the one issue I have read), Bayt al Azif, has an article on what is involved in a CoC game:

The themes that are important to take away from these stories for
Cthulhu RPG play include:
  • Discovering the secret “true” history of the world
  • The horrific supernatural that is hidden around us
  • Good preparation and research can help survive encounters with those supernatural things
  • The confrontation of the mind with some awful truths can be too much for their sanity to take
  • Sometimes people die or are driven insane by these truths

A third source, Stealing Cthulhu, which uses Cthulhu Dark as a rules-light system,  has a few things to say about what an eldritch game is:

  • So far, we have copied Lovecraft’s stories. But we’re not writing stories. We’re playing games: games in which Investigators uncover mysteries.
  • In converting Lovecraft’s stories into investigative scenarios it’s easy to think of crime investigations. Avoid this. 
  • Specifically, avoid stealing elements from detective stories: for example, bodies, murders and evidence.
  • In particular, avoid making humans responsible for the horror. These are tales of cosmic horror, not human plots. They concern hyperintelligent beings, not evil villains.
  • Finally, you need not begin scenarios with explicit mysteries, as detective stories do.2 There need not be a crime, death or mysterious disappearance. Although something must draw the Investigators’ attention, it need not be an definite puzzle. 
  • You can simply begin with strangeness.

A couple of notes in Stealing Cthulhu by Hite and others provide counter-examples to some of the above, by noting, for example, in the stories Call of Cthulhu and Dreams in the Witchhouse- the protagonists put together clues that lead them to the end. Also, as to not using "evil villains", the notes remind the reader of several classic Lovecraft stories that do use such villians: The Case of Charlie Dexter Ward, The Thing on the Door Step, Cool Air, The Horror at Red Hook, & The Dunwich Horror.

So, am I just playing the wrong game if I am pushing for investigations? 

Feel the answer is still "no" because CoC is a game, like D&D, that can range over a landscape of play styles or modes. No reason a very strict investigation might end up with a complex chase or race against time in the next session. But I think it still comes down, for me, to maximizing my choices when playing an RPG. I want my player-decisions, realized in-game via my character-avatar, to matter. And an investigation structure in CoC allows just that and provides an in-game justification of risking life and limb when "realistically" any person who stop while they were ahead (and not a head in a jar).