NIGHTWICK ABBEY: The Purple Eater of People Session 41

 


Previously in Nightwick...

Since Sotar did not delve this session, Mayfly has put pen to paper once again to recount the adventures in Nightwick.

The party awakens once again in Nightwick Village

Von Snorly (Frogling 2)
Mayfly (Magic-User 3)
Grolmes (Fighter 1)
Anston (Fighter 2)
Cherwe (Cleric 3)
Liminal Space (Changeling 2)
Mechtild (Fighter 1) 
Blossom (Rogue 4)

Hirelings: Ticze (Changeling 1), Gerung (Magic-User 1)

AT THE MEDUSA'S HEAD...

A little deep discussion is had with regards to the Abbey other than how to loot it. This is fine with Mayfly after recently purchasing a home and losing all of his money by throwing a party for Grolmes' safe return from the Abbey. On a more positive front, Cherwe's philanthropic efforts impressed the local community so much, she gained a devotee. 

PC NOTE: Carousing is basically performed by rolling 1d8 and multiplying it by 100 sp which is money spent and equal XP gained. However, Mayfly rolled an 8 and only had 600 sp, so he lost all his money and only gained 1/2 the total XP-- so 400 XP.

PC NOTE 2: This is a long one, so appologize if some details are fuzzy or names incorrect.

...DOWN IN NIGHTWICK...

WEST TOWER: Becoming experienced at navigating Nightwick's hellish halls, the PCs are able to consult numerous maps about the quickest way to the second level. The goal is mainly exploration. Once the party has a better understanding of what's there, future delves can be made with purpose.

The Cult of the Lady
sable four blood drops gules in full
DINING HALL: The party is brought up short of its goal by a group of cultists! Their wavy short swords and blood-drop adorned cloaks signify they are the cult of The Lady. Blossom kills one with a bow, Luminal is able to hypnotize one and walk them into a trap, and Mayfly blinds another. But unshaken, the cultists press their attack requiring one more round of combat before the party finishes them off; 488 SP is found.

THE BLEEDING ROOM: The party is able to make it to their destination, the stair descending to the 2nd level. However, they note something new. A goatman has been ritualistically hung-up, throat slit, and blood dripping into a wooden bowl. This is new-- previously only deermen have been encountered.

WALL LICKING: The party pushes east past previously explored routes and tries a door on the north wall. Opening it, Luminal steps in wearing the cult cloak of the Lady, to see two figures with the same cloak-- one is licking blood streaming from the wall while the other seems to be writing down something while watching the licking occurring. Luminal and Mayfly attempt to look at some of the pages on the floor and discover the following:

The Lord's wife will give birth this month and then again next month.

The Pestilance man will be Father Winter.

A recount of Hoppin' in the Hood's exploits.

The White Lady will send one of her princes to kill the Bishope.

Luminal also licks the wall and receives a horrific vision of suckling a skull-faced matron figure, but no other illumination. Any lasting effects...? 

EMPTY ROOM: Party turns north and tries the first door eastern door-- nothing save for an archway that leads to a scab.

THE NIGHTWICK SHITTER: Continuing north the party hits two doors: east & west. The east door opens into a horrid Nightwick latrine. Could treasure be there? Maybe. Will the party dig through crap? No, everyone is not that desperate.

"UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT": The party is confronted with two lines of magical text below a symbol of a devil sitting on an orange. Using a Read Magic scroll, Mayfly learns that two lines say:

Under rennovation. Under new management.

Peaking in the room, the party is confronted with a monster composed of a maddingly assemblage of parts, not like a manimal, but something where mouths give way to arms that terminate into squawking beaks. It's big and looks far too deadly for the party to tackle. The gold skull lets Mayfly know it is a Knight of Armadeus. A lower demon.

BLOOD BOWL: Further north, the party opens an eastern door to reveal a mess hall of blood-drinking cultists. "Why do you have light?!" one demands. Luminal again steps up with a mostly plausible explanation as the party gently closes the door.

art by Chris Huth
THE MANGLING MASS: Turing west, the party opens a door on their first problem-- a swinging cage containing an amalgamation of undead bodies fused into a grabbing mass. The thing begins to swing the cage furiously toward the party who "nopes" out and closes the door.

A beat later, the party hears the *snap* and the tinkle of a broken chain hitting the floor. Fuuuck.

As the door is ripped off its hinges with a spray of Nightwick goo, the party bolts west!

TORTURE CHAMBER: In this room, there is a rack and iron maiden with gleaming gold spikes ($$$), but given the semi-animate nature of Nightwick's inanimate objects that has to be a trap. More scraping at the door! The party bolts through the west door, down the hallway, and through another door.

COMFY COUCH: This time the party happens upon a room with a singularly preserved luxurious couch. Sure, we'll take that. The hireling MU casts their one spell, Floating Disk, and the party plunges through the next western door trying to outrun the terrible mass of bodies chasing them.

PC NOTE: Several "weak" MU spells only seems that way because many, many adventures are written in such a narrow way as to never need them. Floating Disk is one of those spells. Its not really useful until you are trying to haul out some bulky treasure like multiple large chests, a fine couch, a tesla coil, and/or a giant juicer (all examples from Nightwick). Floating Disk is essentially an invisable mule that monsters won't target.

TORTURE CHAMBER (TOO): This time the party stumbles into a room with a devilman triplet torturing a goatman (hmm... again a change). The party asks what's in the next room to the west and describes what they are running away from.

"Oh yeah you don't want to go west," they all smirk, "that contains the same thing you are running from."

Fuck. Boom! Boom! Goes the door as the horrid mass is trying to break in. Mayfly offers up a precious soul coin to each of the devilmen to hold the eastern door while the party figures out what to do about the western door. "Deal," say the devilmen in a way that makes Mayfly feel like he didn't bargain hard enough.

The party also grabs the tortured goatman: "This should be a distraction."

THE MANGLING MASS (TOO)The party tosses the tortured goatman into the room with the second abominable amalgam and dashes south across the room as goatman blood confetti fills the air: "How quickly one embraces the path to hell..." remarks Anston. 

The party hits a three-way junction: doors east & west and an eerie blackness south. The sound of a chain breaking fills the air. Fuck.

Those of the party that are magically attuned, which is about half, know that night is falling on Nightwick Abbey, and its really best not to be caught once the sun drops. So the goal now is to somehow travel south and east to hit the exit to the first level and since that is well-mapped-- escape.

PC NOTE: Basically we try to stick to roughly ~3-4 hour sessions in & out of the dungeon. Otherwise if we are not back to the surface, we have to roll on a dungeon escape table. Not good. While initally people balk at this idea, I think a time limit, like actual maping, works really well in dungeon exploration because it enhances the meaningfulness of decision-making.

SPIRITUAL TRIALThe party favors eastern directions, so that is the first door Luminal peers into and sees some sorta spectral trial playing out. Relaying this to the party, Blossom's eyes go wide: "That must be the grandmother who's haunting Nightwick Village's most sought-after maiden (PC NOTE: A thread from like all the way back to Nightwick Session 05?). Still no exit!

INTO THE BLACK: With few options, Cherwe & Aston plunge into the black and call the party forth. The party is in a white room. A sense of calm can be felt by the cleric. An archway west leads to more black and a door east seems safe. Mayfly tests the black by poking it with an arrow. No change-- seems clear. The party heads through the east door. Exit? 

The sun is dropping lower...

FOUR REVERSE SIGILS: The party stumbles into another white room. No exit. But there are four sigil impressions on the southern wall. Anston grabs at his chest pulling out the silver medallion taken from a Death Knight-- a match for one of the impressions! An exit! 

He puts it to the wall, gears grind, and... nothing happens. Must need the other three. Damn it! 

The night begins to stain the sky...

INTO THE BLACK (AGAIN)The party reverses course, plunges through the west blackness, and emerges in another hallway: door to the north (no), pool of blood with meat chunks to the west (eww...no), and hallway south (...fine). The party moves south finding a wall of blackness eastward. Exit?

Somewhere farmers start putting up animals for the night for safety...

INTO THE WHITE ROOM (AGAIN)After plunging through the black, the party emerges in another, or the same, white room. Whatever. Not an exit! Luminal has a gnawing sensation that in the room with the spectral trial, there was a secret door found previously. However, the party is nervous about disrupting such an event and risk the wrath of the dead to find the secret door.

Outside, the last drops of light are slipping away...

Monster won initiative;
Grolmes had 1 hp.
A SIMPLE SACRIFICE: Desperate, the party decides that Mayfly should pay off the triplet Devilmen again for safe passage out with more soul coins. The party returns to the hallway with the second caged abomination: "But how do we avoid it?" Mayfly grins:

"Grolmes, my brave fellow, what does your sword think of that beast?"

Before Grolmes even can speak, his eyes flutter, as the will of Dhinron, whose sole purpose is the destroy the undead, grabs his mind and sends him hurdling toward the horror.

The mangle-of-corpses, perhaps sensing the sword's intent, quickly strikes Grolmes. The crushing blow cavitates the chest of the hapless hero. The magic sword skitters into a dark corner.

The rest of the party is able to slip past back to the room with the diabolical triplets.

A SIMPLE PAYMENT: Mayfly stipulates payment will be made when the entire party arrives safely and alive at the stairs to the first level. It is done. And with no more encounters had on the first level, the party escapes the jaws of Nightwick Abbey... for now...

PC NOTE: This wasn't "teleporting" out. The DM was rolling both to see the location of the monster on the 2nd level as we were escorted and rolled encounter checks for the distance crossed on the 1st level.

...BACK TO THE MEDUSA'S HEAD 

The party divides up the silver and sells the nice couch. 

"More treasure for the rest of the party being one person short", Mayfly observes.

"This is why you are evil"

"But aren't we all glad we're alive to have this conversation?" 

Ahh Nightwick...

We are at about a 40% PC death rate in Nightwick;
hirelings is a solid 50%

PC NOTE: If you have stayed this long reading I really appreciate it. I do hope my and Mycelium Mischef's recountings help illuminate megadungeon play from a player perspective. As well as spark interst in the playstyle!

Mayfly is currently at 8,597 XP which puts him within 1,403 XP of Level 4 (10,000 XP) which might be 5-7 delves more of not dying.

Nightwick Abbey as a whole continues to be a great campaign. I look forward to playing it every week and hate when a miss a session. Enviously looking at the discord messages that pop-up during the game. I think its also a very worthy addition to the very few megadungeons out there and look forward to it being set upon the world.

Here's to 2023!

CRUEL INTENTIONS: The motivations for fae cruelty


Arthur Rackham

A small but good bit I have moved over from Twitter. This is why we should always blog our ideas first THEN put them on social media so we don't have to double post. 

Why are they “cruel" at least by human terms?

First: They can’t create life and so are loathe to destroy it. But certainly will substitute, modify, & transmogrify that life hence all the baby swaps. trades, and turning men into ravens & pigs.

Second: Fae will never let you die (see above). but they also hate the gods and adore worship. So, tricking a bunch of folks into servitude and maintaining that servitude through immortality is the next best thing. But they hate this too because they know it's not true love from humans as the gods know it.

Third: They always take you at your word no matter how sound your mind or body is/isn’t; related- “sound” to fae is roughly “intact”; you and a fox both have equal sound minds & bodies; undead don’t & they don’t make deal with the undead.

DUNGEON23: Flashes of Inspiration

I feel like I have slight writer's block for #dungeon23 so here are some concepts that jump around in my head.


  • Bizzare garden full follies and patrolled by a medusa
    • Medusa would be a stalking sorta creature; turns folks to semi-precious gems
    • Statues exist of great value, but very heavy
    • Statues are of other adventures breaking into secrets; study statues to learn this; some are people the town wants back
    • Blind mole people patrol garden at night & agents of the Devil Swine (below) kidnapping adventures before they are turned to stone
    • peacocktrice
    • Rappaccini's Daughter situation

  • Beholder kind guards a Deck of Many Things
    • Uses Create Food & Water to attract humanoids to assist in guarding
    • Humanoids have formed a religion around this phenomenon; have a special interest in cups/bowls/plates; People of the Feast/People of the Round Table
    • Bothered that the "god" keeps mentioning the end will be in 1 year (this beholder only guards things for 99 years)
  • Devil Swine disguised as a kindly wizard "trapped" in a tower
    • Sends "press gangs" of guards to capture the most beautiful member of a party
    • Want that member to plant a kiss, to wake his sleeping daughter
    • Terrible twist: daughter is a vampire or daughter has to be revived for the swine's purpose
    • Swine is actually the lord of the town the PCs are in?
    • Or assemble every awesome katsuya terada Zelda image in a mood-board and go from there
  • A gigantic pomegranate tree produces fruit that tempts the gods (to humans, the seeds are perfect rubies a single fruit is 10,000 GP + other effects)
    • Rotten fruit has hideous effects
    • A wyrm with brass scales and a poisonous breath is wrapped around the tree
    • Waves of its vile breath float through the dungeon
    • Roots extend downward to an underground cloud?

  • A cloud giant's former castle is now underground; cloud atmosphere; avian monstrosities
    • Dead or just dreaming?
    • New occupants have a sorta parasitic relationship with giant
    • Fay try to keep it asleep; the spinal fluid vampire skulks around taking sips
    • This cloud is what feeds the giant tree above

  • The Colossal Crab Cities of the Kuo-toa (posted about this here)
    • Buried in a flooded plane now filled with sea creature
    • 2+ factions of fish people fight it out
    • PCs may become godlings in the presence of the kuo-toa's weird powers; may go crazy 
    • From former post: All the shell would be is a living reef of Kuo-toa singing mad hymns all the while. A tide pool from a briny hell. Maybe the crab would pick up chunks of cities, towers, and landscapes like decorator crab. Maybe it even has torn a piece of the night sky with it. Maybe this is actually the water elemental protecting itself from the eyes of other gods by disguising itself as a normal spiritual thing (See I have worshipers, cities, bits of land, factions, & sacrifice!). But really its just a crab that wants to eat everything.

  • Cyclops/Ogre at the Ruined Moat-house
    • Raised prised cerulean sheep and grapes of an exquisite type
    • Ruined moat-house contains 2-3 entrances to the dungeon below
    • Cyclops is periodically sleeping, sitting at the "front door" of the moat-house, counting sheep near by etc.; basically, PCs don't always have easy access to the dungeon
    • Cyclops also has some great treasures too (Type E); e.g. 
      • 1,000cp, 10,000sp, 3,000ep, 3 × gems (10gp), 2 × gems (50gp), 2 × gems (100gp)
      • piece of jewellery (500gp), piece of jewellery (700gp), piece of jewellery (800gp)
      • 2 × pieces of jewellery (900gp), piece of jewellery (1100gp), 2 × pieces of jewellery (1200gp), piece of jewellery (1500gp), Potion of Diminution, Leather armour, Shield + 1, Sword +1 (+2 vs Lycanthropes), Spell scroll (light (darkness), remove fear (cause fear), remove fear (cause fear))
  • Monsters Parts
    • Gold dragon mummy
    • Green slime merchants
    • Troll with a magic sword stuck in its back
    • Living statues that think they are gods?
Maybe I just wrote the whole thing? Stack all of these one top of each other?? What to do???

DUNGEON23: What "Dungeon" Means to Different Players Who Are Not All D&D Nerds

 


In part of my brainstorming for #dungeon23 I reached out to three different people I know to get their opinions of on the following question:
Really Random Question: If I was gonna run a dungeon for you or you wanted to show someone whose never played D&D a dungeon, what would you want in there?

Because the dungeon I create for this event is something I want to be able to pull out and run for people get fantasy but maybe are not steeped in D&D or know the exact difference between "trad" and "OSR". But I still want the dungeon to embody several of the quality of good old-school dungeons-- mainly decisions making, while being something that people "grok" immediately. This is why I'm constantly trying design good "french vanilla" fantasy.

PLAYER 1: ~40 yro, 5 kids, working professional, reads a lot of fantasy novels, Battletech versed:

  • "A good narrative environment"
  • "Choices, problem solving"
  • "I picture LotR or Willow"
  • "PCs with different backgrounds and skills coming together to adventure to gain kills & wealth"
  • Freedom, quests, challenges"
  • "I think less about dungeons and more about wandering through woods & castles"
  • "Abandon homes left vacant from years gone; war that has ravaged the land"
  • "Magic culture receding"
  • Monsters:
    • trolls
    • wraiths
    • goblins/orks
    • dark elves
PLAYER 2: ~21 yro, enjoys D&D, plays NES retrogames, working through Dark Souls
  • "A couple of easy enemy types"
  • "Puzzles that are not immediately obvious"
  • "Roaming baddie that poses a big threat/different course of action"
  • "Options for how to approach things"
  • "stealth vs fighting vs diplomacy" (I joked: steal, steel, or stall)
  • "I like multi-story tower kinda thing"
  • "Or maybe a deep forest maze/mushroom people"
PLAYER 3: ~50 yro, completed Temple of Elemental Evil back in the day, steeped in D&D
  • "Abandon tomb or library, something very old and you have to keep pushing to figure it all out"
  • "Dungeon should show off a variety of D&D"
  • "Want surprises, traps, puzzles, various monsters, and undead"
  • "Lot of treasure"
  • Monsters, "Not all my favorites":
    • skeleton, zombie
    • grey ooze, ochre jelly
    • owlbear/bulette/otyugh
    • giant spider/scorpion/centipede/rats/wolves

NIGHTWICK ABBEY: The Purple Eater of People Session 37

For a far fuller session report, checkout Mycelium Mischef for Session 37

For Mayfly's downtime, he spent most of the time looking researching the book taken from the Abbey last week. Unfortunately, it was written in a language unfamiliar to Mayfly, but the book makes references to several magical diagrams like those seen on the floor in the last encounter. The book also makes reference to one for each cardinal direction.

Hmm... worth exploring with this outing. The rest of the party agrees that going back to the third level would be worth the risk given how the party has been able to handle itself so far. [PC NOTE: Also the rule we have imposed that the party can only have 10 members or risk increasing the number of encounter checks seems to work well. It provides enough space for each player but helps keep the action moving.]

IN THE ABBEY...
  • THE SCREAMING PILLARS: The party charts a course into the Abbey via mapping done previously and arrives at the entrance to the 3rd level without incident [PC NOTE: Mapping- it works! In game, we post a route on Discord, DM calculates how many encounters rolls occur, and we start that game at the desired room, provided there is no encounter.]

  • THE FOUR SIGILS to the OSSUARY: The information from the book is confirmed with the discovery of four sigils on the 3rd level. They glow with divine energy and the area around them appears to be the consistency of cracked, irritated skin as if the Abbey rejecting them. Little else is figured out. The party turns south again and hits an extensive ossuary. Moving around in the four ossuary rooms the players are able to gather 1500 SP from hundreds of biting skulls by popping the coin out of their mouths with spears.

    The party's activities don't go unnoticed as four Breaking Wheels crash into the party! Oil flasks are thrown with torches following! The party's clerics and fighters land solid hits as axles are shattered.

  • THRONE OF VALAX: The party turns southeast and hits a room with a well-worn path leading from the north door to the east door. At the east door, there is a sermon in another language, so the party turns north into a room depicting four dukes of hell. After a brief investigation, the party head south into a room dominated by a demon.

    Mayfly offers up a false name to learn that the book of Elric is in the Lair of the Rulesmaster and this room will be known by the presence of... the Rulesmaster.

  • RUMBLE WITH THE SWORD BROTHERS: The party turns northwest and encounters a room with a band of sword brothers lead by a far more menacing undead knight. The two sides square off with a quick victory established by the party with the liberal application of their remaining oil flasks and torches. All under the (maybe) amused eye of a devilman smoking a pipe. With that fight concluded and a quick sweep of the treasure, the party returns.
...BACK AT THE MEDUSA'S HEAD  

The total experience gained from this outing for the party was 6500! With each character gaining 650 SP in the process, which should set us up for some solid carousing the next gaming session.

A few missteps in the maps,
but otherwise roughly accurate




ORIGIN STORY: How I Got Into The OSR

In an effort to keep to my word to make things more blog-centered, I am going try to read, link to, and respond to more blog posts.

Over at Gorgon Bones, there is an OSR origins story of sorts. And I thought it might be fun to tell my version. I don't know how long this will be but I will try to not meander too much.

I STARTED WITH 2e AD&D

Despite BX being my preferred edition of D&D, I actually got into the hobby by stumbling upon my brother's comics and 1e AD&D collection. But the frustrating thing is that I had a bunch of adventures and filled out character sheets, but no starting rules. However, I did find in the collection a copy of TMNT and Other Strangeness so that was my very first RPG. A few years later, the second edition of the game was put out and I snatched it up quickly. Fortunately, I had made a friend in middle school who played with his 2 brothers and cousin.

And so I headed off into the RPG wilds, rolling up several characters that I would never play and really only ever getting about 1 Saturday afternoon's worth of adventuring in on any adventure. Eventually, group had bought boxsets, splat books, and such-- Ravenloft and Planescape being the favorites. By 14, it had all accumulated to just too many rules for one DM (usually me). So, things wound down by about 16 with the occasional game of Battletech or 40k in there. And of course Magic the Gathering. I eventually got deep into school and dating and all my RPG stuff lay dormant but the fun never forgotten.

INTERLUDE SEPERATED BY MANY YEARS

ME: Wait you said you ran games for White Wolf? They do Vampire?
TEACHER: Yeah but before my friends and I did do a lot of
Call of Cthulhu.

ME: I don't play WoW because I've already played that game... its called Dungeons & Dragons 

ME: I never understood where your Player's Handbook was because how did you learn the game?
BRO: Oh, I guess I did have the
Basic Box but must have given it away. I never did understand why people moved to AD&D, Basic was enough.

YEARS LATER AT THE CROSSROADS OF 5e D&D & 6e CoC, I MET THE DEVIL

I was comming off getting big into the US boardgame revival in the mid-2000. There were three games that stuck with me (and continue to do so) all from FFG: Cosmic Encounter, Talisman, and Arkham Horror. 

Of course 5e D&D came out and hearing it was a more back-to-basics D&D and not the direction that 4e had taken, I was all back in. But as I started reading the adventures I couldn't help feel they still were the same on-rails experience a lot of 2e was. Which, in addition to the volumes of splat-book rules we piled on, really made the game a drag. So, remember how much fun Arkham Horror was I wondered if Call of Cthulhu was the same fun. And The King in Yellow was one of my favorite mythos stories-- so I started looking up "Carcosa" as a setting.

And lo-and-behold, I start reading on the internet how someone has published suppliment to D&D called Carcosa and there were calls for it to be banned or censored or burn because it was just too much.

At first I thought this was some sorta gag right? Like a book based on a book about a play that makes people go insane and see visions of a planet called Carcosa was being boycotted? Just like the fictious play. Can't be real.

With a little more digging I, like a lot of folks in the OSR scene, had my first encounter with Lamentations of the Flame Princess. But I still couldn't figure out what kind of D&D it was and no store in my area were carrying the rulebooks. Casting about more I hit upon a few notable blogs like False Machine, Monsters & Manuals, Monster Manual Sewn From Pants, Dungeon of Signs, and Zak's blog. So the first three things I got my hands on were: 

  • Deep Carbon Observatory
  • Yoon-Suin
  • Vornheim

And after reading those books, I all of a sudden I had a version of D&D that I could keep in my head. I realized that unlike 2e, I didn't need to keep a bunch of chats and stats in my head. Instead, I could keep a few relevant numbers and relationships in my head. I had also found Matt Finch's manifesto about the old school scene. That too clicked with me.

Those three books also kinda represented a mix of what I wanted out of D&D-- a game where creativity moves to the front, instead of numbers. They also encouraged me to develope at-the-table tools and to creatue situtions, instead of trying to create a "story" the players are to follow. The tone of DCO and Vornheim appealed to my inner meloncholy while I found Yoon-Suin sorta reminded me a little bit of Planescape in that it was a D&D setting, but pretty removed from traditional D&D.

MY VERY OWN BX D&D

In the near present, I started running BX in earnest when I was asked to start a D&D campaign for some folks who worked around me.

5e of course was a natural start, but it quickly became apprent that it was just too much for complely novice players. They really didn't "get" how to play an RPG so I needed a system that was stripped down. A few sessions with the Black Hack and then I transitioned to BX. At first with a lot of LotFP as it was about the best BX out there. But, I finally looked on ebay for a copy of B/X D&D. Found a good copy of each book along with a copy of B2 Keep on the Borderlands and as a treat I had them bound together in library binding (left pic). A now very cherished relic. But so much so, I hate to use it unlike my very well worn copy of OSE.

An really from there the rest is on this blog!

BLOG!: Good God! What Is It Good For?

How Twitter views blogging

With the recent Twitter turmoil caused by its new owner, there has been a call to return to blogging as a means of communication in the OSR pond I swim in. And I absolutely agree.

WHY BLOG

Slower & more in-depth: To me, one big reason is blogging's slower, cooler, longer form is a good counter-balance to Twitter or TikToks rapid hot-take environment. Blogging allows for a deeper discussion, better dissection, and/or a more balanced review of whatever RPG topic is being looked at.

"Quieter": Blogging too helps muffle the other voices in the same space. Responding on Twitter to trending topics presses you to prioritize rapid response and a bit more group think, but with a super spicy twist, in order to get those likes and reshares. Blogging on the other hand is far quieter- you, your thoughts, and a blank sheet. I find it a relief.

Archival & stable: The last broad reason to blog is that its comparatively more long-lived and archival and therefore paradoxically easier to share than something like Twitter. Less on an individual post level, but its easier to share things from years ago or share like or grouped things-- like all monster posts for the "Sky Castle of Violet Spires" series.

WHAT TO BLOG

Rule Zero- write about what interests you and don't worry about anything else. Seriously. That is the simplest piece of advice I can give. The more you drill into what interests you, the more the blog will develop its own voice. I love reading people's idiosyncratic views on the game.

Like, start A Fist Full of Fighting-Men (great name!) a blog all about fighters and fighter-centric campaigns. Its fine to hyper-specialize because that will lead to more novel posts of even well-worn topics like reviewing B2 again for the 1000th time.

A close second is writing about what you have recently been playing. I still think there is a surprising lack of this sort of content in the RPG space. A lot of theories exist. A lot of ideas about what works, what should work, and what is the correct way. But still few people showing their work. And for new players and DMs, being able to see this work is important because it helps explain the "why" especially in a lot of old-school play cultures. 

This is primarily my reason for blogging all my Nightwick games. To demonstrate that GP = XP, mapping, and rolling a random 3d6-down-the-line magic-user can work. And it had a knock-on effect of generating ideas about how to make the classic d4, one-spell at level 1 MU successful in-game-- resulting in one of my highest read posts and having it featured in KNOCK! Vol 3. But let me say again, this MU advice didn't arise from me theorizing, it was from 20+ sessions of megadungeon play with this PC.

Write about problems, campaign-wise, you are trying to overcome. This is similar to writing about playing, in that its starts with experience first not just an idea about how things should be done without actually attempting it first. Like a house going up in a neighborhood, people often find the process more interesting than the finished product because they can see "inside".

Here at ICL, this is why I started blogging at bit about my "Super Cleric Bros." campaign. I thought it might be useful to describe problems or content that needed to be generated for the game and then just show the "think-through". Nothing is incredibly novel about the campaign, but it generated some good responses. And I think represents more the sorta campaigns/game people are running.

But this also can something as simple as, "I'm running a swamp campaign.  Here is my d6 random encounter table for the next session." Even that is blog-able. Why? Because of Rule Zero, you are interested in it.

GETTING STARTED

  1. I keep a Mead Five-Star grid-rule notebook close at hand for jotting down anything that pops into my head. Its also great for responding to hot takes without responding to hot takes. Occasionally review it just to see what good ideas I've forgotten.

  2. I just use Blogger because its easy for me. But just use whatever platform is low effort. But when blogging, content is king, so I'd not worry about more than just a banner to convey what your blog's "thing" is. Some famous blogs don't even do that.

  3. Then I am trying to post once a week- so 52 times a year. And I do want maybe about 1/3 of those posts to be something from play. So far I am at ~40+ posts and really I think I could do more if I would just relax, post more idiosyncratically, and leaning into posting about whatever I want.

  4. Tags do help! I wish mine were a little better and I think a good way to start might just be to use the OD&D titles as tags themselves (ugh- that IS a good idea):
    • Men
    • Magic
    • Monsters
    • Treasure
    • Underworld
    • Wilderness
    • [Campaign Title]

  5. Here are some topics (from an OSR perspective) that might help: 
    • Last RPG post that lit a fire in your brain and why? 
    • Description of the last session you played in. 
    • What are 6 pieces of "terrain" to add to any dungeon room encounter? 
    • Who are the gods of law, neutrality, & chaos in your campaign and what if my fighter gives an offering to each?
    • What are three illustrations that define some part of your ideal D&D?

  6. Finally after you've built up a good bit of material, try to organize it in your sidebar for ease of reference for yourself and the folks who start dropping by!

THE WHEEL OF TIME: Domain Cycles

Like this, but the figures represent levels
(the nice calendar from
The Blacktongue Thief)

In my ideal D&D ruleset player advancement would stop short of 10th level. I think the 9th-level domain goal is a wonderful one and any advancement after 9th by the player should feed into that. And in fact, I would try to being domain leveling into lower levels in my ideal D&D.

Then the play loop begins again in a (hopefully) changed the world.

But this got me thinking that a table could refer to these loops as "cycles"-- spongy units of time that more mark change in the game state than they do in actual specific amounts of time per se.

I could imagine a table saying remarking something like this: 

"Ha ha remember in the 2nd Cycle when Susan leveled her fighter far enough to get that sweet keep, but we never found the lich so we started the 3rd Cycle trying to mount defences against an army of the undead?"

 Marcia of Traverse Fantasy had the suggestion of also doing a sorta interlude to discuss the implications of the end of one cycle to the beginning of another cycle-- Like a "Cycle Downtime?"

I think this would be a good thing too. In this sorta downtime setting maybe each character NOT at domain level could gain something of value or maybe it allows full development of a downtime institution or relationship:

  • Building investments complete
  • PC gain a non-landed title status
  • Guild standing increases
  • A crucial piece of research is completed
Basically something cool that is not quite a level gain, domain attainment, or a +2 sword but still intersting and adds to the world.



NIGHTWICK ABBEY: The Purple Eater of People Session 36

 

For a far fuller session report, checkout Mycelium Mischef for Session 36

After stealing an intriguing juicer from the bowels of Nightwick (Session 35 Fresh Juice), the party returns in search of the often talked about but never seen garden that is located within its depths.

(PC NOTE: I have been lax on also providing some extra commentary about rule changes and such as of late. This week the group talked about a couple of things: (1) Party size maximum, which in Session 35 was 17! and (2) Shields Shall Be Sundered. 

Party Size Max: Okay, I brought up the issue that 17 PCs and hirelings (see Session 35) were actually starting to impede both PC actions in game and player actions on a meta-level. Basically physically organizing all the tokens on Forge was eating up delving time with little benefit. Especially given that a lot of players are now 3rd level and we have a fair number of clerics and changelings ("elves") so when all 10 players are present we roll with some firepower. Solution: One player suggested that maybe over 10 people, we maybe have twice the number of random encounters representing the party is making just that much more noise. Perfect! Its a real consequence, but doesn't artificially cap the total party.

Shield Shall Be Sundered: A second suggestion is that if the hireling number is reduced how about some compensatory mechanisms for fighters (who especially see heavy combat) to prevent so much death and therefore the desire to have more cannon fodder. Solution: DM not so much in favor of SSbS, but proposed we could break armor and weapons to avoid injury on our death & dismemberment table we roll at 0 hp.)

The party completes a set of downtime activities (PC NOTE: This is now handled over Discord which is very convenient). Mayfly spent 40 SP to learn that a wizard Eldric left a spellbook containing the method by which they created all manner of strange creatures.

IN THE ABBEY...
  • The party's aim is the fabled gardens of Nightwick, but they are brought up short by a mob of cultists of the Lady. The party's arrows fly! And Luminal cast Hypnotism ordering one cultist to hug another-- snarling their ranks with love. And love truly conquers all as the cultist are slain.
    ⚔️ 11 swords are gained!

  • The party continued easy, then turns south to head to the second level. But before they can, they are confronted by the cries of a captured monk. "Help me good folk! I was captured by horrible devilmen!" Half the party is suspicious and half the party decides to help-- resulting in the monk, transforming into a crazed, profane Abbey denizen! Quickly slain.

  • Fed up with the surprises Mayfly casts ESP and begins a sweep of the second floor where the juicer was located. A crude map of bizarre minds is made which allows the party to avoid both the devil men and something stranger on the floor. Exploration to the west reveals a secret door- but with a little focus, Mayfly is sure nothing good can come of going through it. The party votes to continue to the third.

  • On the third level, the party stops in front of two pillars made of skulls that cackle loudly upon their arrival: "Somebody's doorbell...". The party turns west into a room with profane art depicting the supremacy of the Pit over Heaven. With caution, the party turns south then west again which causes them to stumble upon some manner of foul ritual!

  • The party formed up for a tough fight, but with initiative in their favor, the party struck quick! Sotar cast Hold Person on the silver-masked leader and the cultist rushed into an onslaught of arrows from Anston and Blossom. What ritual were they performing? What evil could have been unleashed? We'll never know. What we do know is quite a bit of treasure was found:
    🛡️ Plate, 👺 silver devil mask, 🗃️ gold box, 📖 and a tomb
(PC NOTE: I think the most notable thing here is the value of ESP as a way to detect not just enemies, but possible secret doors. Because if you can sense thoughts through a wall, sure there might just be a hallway connecting, but there might be another way. This had never really occurred to me. So I think Mayfly's spell compilation still fits him more in an exploratory position than anything else. My loadout is usually: Light x2, Charm Person, ESP (we use a spell point system).)

...BACK AT THE MEDUSA'S HEAD  Mayfly will try and translate the book to see what powerful knowledge can be gained. Especially since Halfdan's Tower is closed, much to Mayfly's frustration.

SPEAK! SPEAK! Rules for Talking Animals


I really like this post from Rotten Pulp about talking animals.

When thinking about my own campaigns set in fairytale-like settings, I too have thought about talking animals. And here are my "rules" for them:

  • About 1/6 can talk, but don't always immediately lead with this information
  • Another 1/6 have the intelligence & communication ability of a "Disney animal companion"
    • These creatures come from the union of a talking animal and a regular animal under unique circumstances
    • Knights love having intelligent horses and loath talking ones
  • Most animals will only talk to a trusted human companion out of the earshot of others or when in need
    • Frequent enough that people know animals maybe can talk, but infrequent enough that most folks still think you are crazy for suggesting such
    • Talking animals are not to be trusted- this is common knowledge
  • Talking animals find it very hard to overcome their animal natures and certainly give advice and aid through that lens. So, if you are drowning and you ask your talking animal friend to save you:
    • A lion would go to the road and demand with a kingly air that someone else help you
    • A fox would go to the road and lie saying you are a prince who can give a reward
    • A bear would just push the first carriage over and then motion for people to follow
  • Most talking animals don't have the desire to be any more human/civilized save for foxes, cats, 50% of toads/frogs, 25% of dogs, and swine (this is very dangerous)
  • Monkeys hate other talking animals and the feeling is mutual
  • Talking animals can be hirelings, but operate with a -1 moral and always want payment in something bizarre
  • Snakes, owls, and ravens are connected to magic and occult knowledge
  • Mice are surprisingly good tailors if motivated
EDIT: Why are talking animals not to be trusted? Well, because one never knows if the animal is talking because:
1 | It is just a talking animal
2 | A good person cursed by an evil person and needs help
3 | A bad person cursed by a good person and needs a fool to help
4 | Someone who tried to trick a fay and was too dumb to do so
5 | It is hungry and humans, fascinated by talking animals, are an easy snack
6 | It is a jealous animal and wants to steal your station in life (swine are notorious for this)

NIGHTWICK ABBEY: The Purple Eater of People Session 34

After many absences, the famed (in his own mind) conjurer Mayfly returns to delve once again into the horry pits of Nightwick Abbey!

My last post was Session 27, but if you would like to see what has happened since, the cleric Sotar has taken up the pen over at Mycelium Mischef. And is chronically the party's adventures in the underbelly of hell. I am going to try to blog a shorter format of the sessions until Sotar wants to pass the pen back.

At the tavern, two new joiners of the party are a fighter, XXX, and a frogling, XXX.

In the depths of the Abbey:

  • The goal is for the party to get to the 2nd level of the Abbey and find the bizarre lightning-producing machine. Wrench it out. And sell it! 

  • Alas, the party gets caught up talking to manimals, then Mayfly is tricked by his talking gold skull into saying the wrong thing: "You're as dumb as Bloatus!" cackles the golden skull.

  • A fight ensues! Sotar almost dies, but the party defeats 6 manimal men: two by weapon, one by Light, Hypnotism, and the rest broke as their morale faltered.

  • The party screws around with the switches a little. Clicking one causes much hooting from a distant hallway. They don't touch the one with the "brain" and "potion" symbols. Enough puzzles! The party wrenched the coil out of the ground, loaded it on a Floating Disk, and made a hasty exit... just in time to see the glowing malignant form of Bloatus coming toward them on so many hands.
Back to the tavern, now 1,016 SP richer after selling the coil to the wizard Halfdan.

And in case folks are curious, here is the current body count for Nightwick Abbey:









I BEAT MOLDVEY BASIC D&D: And Leveling to “Conjurer” Was No Cheap Trick


Recently, I planted my magic-user’s  XP total firmly north of 5,000 brining my PC to 3rd level- a conjurer*. I have won Moldvey Basic D&D. Suck it Basic! Get gud. 

I am being facetious of course. There is really no “winning” of D&D unlike playing Metroid or Souls games. Which is part of its allure. But I did want to reflect on what it means to reach the technical end of Moldvey’s Basic Dungeons & Dragons (1981). 


Most talk of low-level characters is mainly in terms of an ignominious death: giant rats, insect swarm, pit trap, gnoll axe, or crushed by a giant’s rock (or roc). DCC has made a whole genre out of this fate. But that was not my experience getting Mayfly up to 3rd level. Here is a brief outline of Mayfly’s action from level 1 to 3:


  • Used Fireball scrolls at level 1 on two occasions to burn a dining hall and dance hall full of skeletal dead- roughly ~18 skulls (underworld). Then Ventriloquism scroll at 2nd level to distract the third group of skeletal dead, by mimicking the war cries of  their former foes, from cornering and murdering the party (underworld)

  • Traded (possible) souls for magical mentorship (overworld)

  • Ingested a fairy skeleton at the behest of one fairy, then hours later vomited forth a new fairy losing a level in the process, but gaining a favor-owed from the first fairy (and the second) (overworld)

  • Used a fairy favor to gain the “smallest, but most valuable thing” possessed by a bandit lord– his only remaining eye (overworld)

  • Saw an angel at a once-lost-but-now-found shrine (overworld)

  • Blinded the ogre-sized Butcher of Nightwick Abbey with a Light spell to the eyes (it rolled a “1” to save), who then was hacked apart by hireling woodsmen (underworld)

  • Cut a deal with werewolves to capture that eye-less bandit-lord, but also now marked by those same creatures for death (overworld)

  • Come into possession of a golden skull that can psychically communicate and calls itself “The Master”(underworld)

  • Alignment changes from “neutral” to “evil” by the setting’s standards but entirely due to in-game actions (underworld)


All this was done while having 11 hp. A heap of credit for this fantastic experience goes toward Miranda Elkin’s creativity in constructing her Nightwick Abbey campaign. I think this speaks to the robustness that low-level play can have when in a “shananigans-rich” environment. As a hobby, we should strive to build better low-level campaigns. So what does that look like? Here I am speaking more about the larger meta-structure, not what makes dungeons good.


First, I think we should change the view of Levels 1 through 3. They should not be viewed as a waiting or containment period to higher tiers. This is very firmly how 5e seems to view them. Further reinforced by placing most powers in 5e behind a 3rd-level wall. Conversely, in old-school D&D systems, most “powers” are all present at 1st-level. The tools are there from the beginning, but the players need a rich environment to use them in. Which is where old-school D&D adventures can falter. Many adventures still try to make rats-in-a-cellar or orks-in-a-hole the starting milieu. Let’s instead bring the fantastical to them. Decks of Many Things! Magic swords that demand! And wicked dragons that speak from the shadows! I think we worry to much that somehow the party will become unkillable if they get a sword +2 but often they still only have ~5 hp! Sure they can mow down 3 goblins in short order, but the last two throwing spears is what kills ‘em. And with my own experience above, far from killing giant rats, my character has cast powerful magic, traded souls, birthed spirits, blinded an ogre, and changed alignments. That is an awesome story. Sure, I’ve not killed a god, but all those exploits would make a pretty good episode of The Witcher


Second, 4th-level, not 3rd, is a more natural break point for Basic D&D. At first, 3rd-level seems like a fairly understandable break point. BX D&D, as the editions before, it talk of a domain-building ability for most classes around 9th-level. So, natural dividsons: 1-3 low, 4-6 mid, and 7-9 high or “domain”. But this might not be exact “grain” of D&D.


I am a firm believer that D&D is not a wargame. If it were, it would play something more like Warhammer 40k. I subscribe to the idea that David Arneson’s Blackmoor game and David Wesley’s preceding Brownstein game formed the initial important genesis seed. However, it is pretty clear Chainmail informs the maths of D&D and some of its language.


And when you examine Chainmail, you come across an important title: “Hero” conferred at 4 HD and followed by “Superhero” at 8 HD. The hero title is important because the character is represented by its own miniature on the battle field, it can now engage in “fantastical combat” against monsters, it can perform multi-attacks on regular man-type units (less than 4 HD), and improves morale. This also aligns with some vestigal elements of that same designation that crop up in two of the most powerful Basic spells– Sleep and Charm Person. These spells do not effect creatures greater than 4+1 HD and therefore represent a limit to the power of a Basic D&D magic-user’s spell list. 4th-level is when all of the classes have their combat bonus increased too. Additionally, I think its important that point out the shift in creature number from the dungeon levels to the wilderness levels. Bandits roll 1d8 for number appearing in a dungeon but in the wilderness it's 3d10! That is a vastly different scope of what the players have to take on even from low-level monsters (Side note: this is also why I think fighters do need some form of multi-attack be it a cleave mechanisms or extra attacks equal to level against 1 HD opponents).


Returning to BX D&D, I see a break at 4th level as more natural for Basic/Expert D&D’s two-book format too. Basic D&D would cover 1st to 4th Level dungeon crawl/ “Hero” tier. And Expert D&D would cover 5th to 8th hexcrawl/ “Superhero” in tier, plus an additional 9th level representing domain attainment.  In my ideal ruleset, the basic level would stop at 4 HD. This would denote “hero” status and confer a lot of historic benefits from Chainmail: morale bonus, fear resistance and denoted as a stand-alone figure in a skirmish situation. I would further enhance this level by adding a multi-attack for fighters and also allowing a single 3rd-level spell slot for magic-users. This increases a party’s capacity to deal with the wilderness tier’s large enemies numbers and more strongly signals a move into the next tier. (Side note, this does not then eliminate the place of dungeons in a campaign. Just merely signals the player can now range farther and handle a lot tougher threats. And they should be experienced enough to weigh risk better as players.) And if your game has to end at a 6 to 12-month mark, ending at a 4th-level “Hero” feels like a better end. Like Mayfly above, I bet in general, you will have accomplished some amazing feats and you too will have a script for The Witcher.


But simply agreeing to hit 4th-level before venturing out into the wilderness is not enough. I think a couple of important tools need to be pulled into the 4th level to really complete this hero tier and establish the next phase.



Third, I would add is some sorta domain component or “mini” domain situation. It cements a change in the DM’s world driven by player action. It allows movement into a skirmish/wargame component of D&D and this can help provide a break from standard forms of play. I think the results of these battles could also be an awesome emergent change for the DM’s world too. A domain component would also provide resources and reasons for players to think bigger beyond just the party or if there is a +2 sword in their hand (Another quick word, actual Chainmail plays pretty quickly and dare I say is even a lighter ruleset than modern editions of Warhammer 40K.) And given modern constraints on time and entertainment abundance (remember in the 1970s there were only four TV networks), I would not wait until the traditional 9th level for domain building. I think it is just too far away in terms of old-school GP:XP leveling. It will take time most groups don’t have. Better to have players see the effect of their actions on the world more quickly.


And this idea is not without precedent, nor am I alone in this line of thought:


  • The Rules Cyclopedia has an interesting distinction of “traveling- title” versus “landed title”. Maybe we can employ those as a sorta level 5 and level 6. This can signal the quest for a permanent place (traveling) and the establishment of a seat of power (landed). Now with established domains, a skirmish game kicks in. At this point, whoever establishes the domain could potentially be playing a 6th-level landed-title character in various wargames while starting back at level 1 or 2 with the followers and such that the landed character has attracted.

  • The often lauded B10 Night’s Dark Terror is a “Basic/Expert Transition module for Levels 2-4” which I think lends a historical aspect to the split I champion above. Included in this module were several cardboard chits for a skirmish scenario within the great adventure.

  • Nick over at Paper & Pencils also has been putting domain play early into practice with his On A Red World Alone game. Even in his 3-hour game, the first hour is devoted to domain-level procedures which impact the game world and party.

  • And Ben L has some thoughts on “mini-domain” play via institution building over at Mazirian’s Garden. This gives the party someplace to put large amounts of coin and also demonstrates not all domains need to be castles. It can just be the tavern they favor.


This domain building could be a good refresh for the group as a whole because what class builds the domain might help sculpt the next cycle in the world. For instance, a landed thief might signal the start of a heist campaign in a big city. A landed cleric could spur a holy campaign against some blighted area. The Rules Cyclopedia as a funny note that landed-magic-users build dungeons to attract monsters, maybe a new campaign is players as chaotic humanoids farming these monsters in the dungeon below.


In summary, the time constraints and entertainment options of modern life leave little room, in my opinion, for the slow burn build of traditional D&D leveling which positioned low-level play often has a risky but fairly mundane grind that should build to grand domain play. Therefore, as a hobby, we should reframe low-level play with the fantastical in terms of adventure design by bringing "high-level" elements into the lower levels. Also, demarcate the end of "basic play" as the acquisition of limited tools to tackle RAW wilderness encounter design (e.g. multi-attack fighters; fireball/lightning casting magic-users). And drop domain-style playing also into lower levels to increase player impact on the world by reintroducing newer players to a core part of the D&D tradition. Time is too short, let's not wait for the players to level high enough for the "real adventure" to begin, stead let's begin it at XP = 0.


*Here is the character currently

MAYFLY, Conjurer (HP 11): STR 07 (-1) INT 15 (+1) WIS 08 (-1) DEX 16 (+2) CON 16 (+2) CHA 08 (-1)

  • Spells: [1] Light, Protection from Evil, Read Magic, Floating Disk, Charm Person; [2] ESP

  • Notable Treasure:

    • Scrolls (x5): Protection from Demons, Light (x2), Read Magic, Charm Person

    • Silver Daggers w/ Deerman Antler Handles (x2)

    • Silver Basilisk Star Necklace

    • Soul Coins (x10)

    • The left horn of The Butcher

    • Magic ring (maybe cursed)

    • Gold skull (psychic)

  • Hirelings Total: 7 (2 Alive + 5 Dead)

  • Total Explored Rooms of Nightwick Abbey (megadungeon): ~45

  • Game Time: ~26 games