HOW I PREP CON GAMES: Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier by Gus L

One of my favorite things to do for RPG conventions is run games. I think of it as giving back to the convention, supporting its growth, and as one of the best ways to evangelize the OSR. Especially in the era of 4-6 hour, live RPG shows at cons I think this activity is important. Why watch someone else play D&D when you can do it yourself?*

When thinking about what to run and how to run it, I follow two general guidelines: (1) showcase some interesting work of the OSR that goes beyond the standard expected fantasy & (2) try to preserve as much of the natural experience of playing an OSR game as I can in 4 hours. 

The last games I ran this way were at PAX 2019 when I DM'd Silent Titans and Tomb of Black Sand. For ReaperCon 2022, I have chosen Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier by Gus L and Through Ultan's Door by Ben L. Both of these modules showcase very non-standard fantasy setups but provide for classic OSR experience: dungeon crawling. 

However, despite wanting to avoid a one-shot setup, I do recognize that some things need to be adjusted given the time. To solve this problem, I try to create a 1-2 page document to help me frame the game to players. 

📝 Here is my prep sheet for Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier. 

In creating a prep sheet, I again stick to two principles: (1) tie character generation somehow to light world building usually through class selection and random equipment; (2) provide some sorta strong goal around something already found in the module.

Part I: World Building & Opening
So 4-6 strangers show up to your table to play your game. Even though they know its gonna be a short experience and get "the deal", they still want to know why their characters are there, what they are gonna be doing, and what makes this game unique.

For Tomb Robber, I provided the why in the game description: 
You, however, are just broke. A debt that currently extends further than your reach. So your hand found a pen and you signed up with Mab’s Gem Robbing crew. Now you are heading out of Scarlett Town toward Murkvey’s Rock a small tomb fortress fallen from its place in the sky.  
Next, I went through the module just trying to pick up on flavorful words and images that might be fun to incorporate into the armor and weapons tables-- you know vibes 'n stuff: hog-leather, falcata, alchemical-stained, Emperor's motto, crystal wrecked, magically infused. The equipment was a little harder, but I am pleased with the outcome.

Equipment in the OSR is a great way to describe the world. A solid example is Into The ODD's equipment packages. These packages are also nice because picking out equipment can take too much time at the table. However, handwaving this does potentially remove a great aspect of the OSR-- when someone comes up with a clever plan based on seemingly random junk.

I tried to mix both standard equipment (spikes & 50' rope) with more unique stuff (mirror & firecrackers) and top it off with some very special stuff (vial of acid & potential for a potion). To generate equipment, I have players roll a d4, d6, d8, d12. Common stuff is low numbers and rare stuff is 8-12. Adding to the old west feel, I made a poker-like doubles and triples section where players can pick equipment options or a magic potion.

Part II: DM Notes
The initial component is a brief opening for the game. My goal is to provide enough orientation that characters feel grounded, but I'm not gonna waste time with "you all meet at an inn".  That risks too much dead time. You all are in debt and here is the goal of these 4 hours. For Tomb Robbers the goal is to find the melon-size valuable magic orb that is in the dungeon. Also a clue about what else might be down there. Done.**

Next, If you know a module well, you might not need this section- important tables. With Tomb Robbers, I did notice that there will be tables that I will need to reference frequently or not want to eat up time looking for: Encounter tables with monster stats. But also the tables for how to safely break apart crystals, but more importantly what happens when you fail.

And that is it!

* I do realize most often folks are going more for reasons to watch notable people play RPGs, but I think the point still stands.
** People want to play D&D not listen to me read aloud my bad prose. And not faff around for ~1 hour of their game time with a fantasy meet-and-greet.

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