Castles & Crusades: Barrowmaze Campaign, Session 42.

Summary:
Under vicious winter conditions, Ironguard Motte is attacked by the goblin-like Bauk, an angry nature spirit, and Chort, demon beasts of Czernobog sending flame strikes and insect plagues down upon the people in the streets.

Game Diary:
It is late December. It is freezing (0°C) with a brisk wind under mostly gray skies. There is 11 inches of snow on the ground. Closing in on midnight one evening while the Army of the Light is relaxing in their cozy building, they hear the screams and shouts of panicked town folk. They head outside their building and notice the lanterns have mostly been blown out. People are scattering, and small, goblin-like creatures with brown, hairy bodies, lumpy heads with pointed noses and ears can just be made out through the thick, falling snow. These goblin creatures (known as Bauk) catch the flickering torch light of the characters (they hate light), as well as a dwarf (they hate dwarves!), and hear Chonk, the half-orc barbarian standing outside the door to their building pounding his tower shield (they hate loud noises!). The bauk head toward the characters and attack them ferociously. Battle ensues, the elven wizard Seraphina launches a fireball, the explosion vaporizes a path of snow down the street and blows away several of the bauk. They are on the loosing end of this fight! Not long after midnight the bauk have been dispatched. The lamplighters, escorted by town guards, re-light the street lanterns and everyone goes back to sleep. But the town folk mutter under their breath that this is a bad sign and that the gods will want reckoning, since they had not made grain offerings to the agricultural gods at the end of the growing season. The town folk were right.

The next morning the characters wake up to 3 more inches of snow. The temperature has dipped even further to -18°C with a very strong wind blowing the snow about. Everyone stays indoors. But around noon a several hundred foot diameter pillar of howling wind and penetrating ice shards descends from the sky and cuts across several streets, tearing some of the roofs and walls off buildings, and pelting town folk to death from the biting ice particles, before hitting the south west street and heading up to the central marketplace (which also happens to be where the Army of the Light’s downtime building is located). Barely visible through the violent winter elements a shadowy, out-of-focus figure could be seen. The wizard Balthazar uses his wand of wonder and a lightning bolt shoots out and impacts the nature spirit. He follows this up moments later with a mighty gust of wind which manages to hold some of the powerful elements at bay (reducing the damage on their building). Just as the spirit is about to envelop the house with its horrific winter destruction and rip it to shreds, it is put to rest from the groups attacks and the winter chaos abruptly ends.

But before the characters can relax they hear the howling of demons and look up into the sky to see four demonic beasts galloping down from the gray clouds towards them. Possessing a horned head, goat-like legs, a skinny tale and grayish-black skin, they are Chort, the dark demonic servant beasts of Czernobog, the god of malice and wrath.

Chort, a demon beast of the Slavic god Czernobog.

Chonk heads outside and awaits their attack with his tower shield, as others spill out into the freezing cold to receive them, but the chort stop roughly 50 feet up in the air, and one sends down a flame strike catching all of them off-guard. Two characters were about to die from the fiery inferno, but the group had three cards from the Deck of Dirty Tricks that could reduce or eliminate damage. This would easily allow up to three characters to avoid a death blow. But rather surprisingly they chose to only use one of the three cards to prevent one character from dying, choosing Brurin, a dwarven warrior of the dwarven god of battle (Barundar) to lie a scorched mess on the ground. The reasoning? Rather than prevent two characters that are about to die, plus still have a card left over for another character if needed, they chose to save one character, allow the dwarf fighter to die, and keep the two remaining cards on the possibility that two other characters might need it later on (they weren’t needed). Sometimes player reasoning can be difficult to understand.

Meanwhile, another chort opened it’s mouth and an insect plague emerged, swarming down and entering through the doors and windows of their building, many of the low level party members fled into the streets from the horror. However, with the group now down a dwarven fighter of battle, and with the low level members running through the heavy snow, the spellcasters got to work again. One of the elves used her circlet to blast a chort with a searing flame, killing it. Another got cut in half by a critical hit from Chonk, and in the end, the final chort gazed down at his suddenly dead companions, turned tail, and galloped back up into the gray clouds. The Army of the Light had once again succeeded, and the folk of Ironguard Motte witnessed their battle prowess!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony Campaign, Session 14

Summary:
The adventurers battle tricky kobolds, bring Elven thief Valanunthe back to the town of Dale for arrest and punishment, resupply, and head off to Rodemus Keep to find a top secret map that is still missing.

Underneath these old ruins is where Valanunthe set up the HQ for her and the Black Fist Mercenary Company she hired to assist.

Game Diary:
Last session the players captured Valanunthe and took down her bugbear, hobgoblin, and renegade dwarven mercenaries in a session long fight. What remained, however, were two characters lying chained-up and unconscious in a 10 foot pit (the player was absent, so this location was a convenient place for his characters to be during his absence). There was also a new player joining this session, and so it was decided he had been captured and was going to wake up in the pit with the other two characters. All three characters had arcane abilities (half-elf cleric/wizard, human wizard, gnome illusionist). Once awake they could hear the sounds of kobolds above them outside the pit moving about. They kept silent and began intelligently looking for ways to break free.

Meanwhile, several corridors away in another room, the large group of half-orc barbarian, paladin, ranger, half-elf rogue, fighter, and gnome druid healed each other, finished tying up Valanunthe, and headed off to find their friends. The kobolds were aware of their presence, however, and with the ranger carrying Valanunthe over his shoulder, and the fighter carrying a treasure chest, that left the barbarian and paladin to lead the group with the rogue and druid next in line. The kobolds (which in my campaign are a corruption of the gnomes, and thus are very clever and masterful illusionists), cast daze several times on the paladin and barbarian and laughing at them. This irritated them and they moved forward, only to fall unconscious from well placed color spray and then shrouded in magical darkness. The druid and rogue came forward and dared enter the darkness, but along with needing a dexterity check to step through their sleeping friends, the kobolds had also placed ball bearings in the darkness. People began falling down prone on the ground with failed dexterity saves, and as they stumbled forward just outside the darkness, the kobolds were waiting with their daggers, and darted in to stab them, slowly wearing the characters down.

It was once again made clear that although these little beasties only had around 2 hit points, a good choice of cantrip and couple 1st level spells could completely upend a party. The players are aware that this campaign will eventually end with the AD&D 2nd edition box set Dragon Mountain, which along with having an obvious dragon or two, has kobolds – lots of them! So, encountering kobolds is not just going to be an occasional threat.

The characters did persevere against the kobolds, since when they were hit by a character that was enough to take them down. The wizardly characters also broke free of their bonds and escaped the pit trap by putting a couple kobolds of their own out of commission with a well placed sleep spell and then reunited with the rest of the group.

Making their way back to the town of Dale, they turned in Valanunthe, had a good meal, got rest, and the next morning met Fonkin, the gnome sage that had sent them on their mission and Captain of the Guards Luke Mattind. They thanked the group, gave them reward money for their work, and then showed them a map where they think a renegade named Girck might be located with a secret document that revealed information about a local Baron’s keep and its secret entrance. Rodemus Keep is where the group needed to go next if they chose to accept the mission and continue to help the barony. They accepted! Now it had to be decided how to get there: (i) follow the border of the Llancrest Wood and Dragon Lake, (ii) cut through Llancrest wood, or (iii) go by boat up river and through Dragon Lake. The first two options would take 3 days by foot, and option three would take 2 days by water. They chose option 3.

Captain Mattind told the party that they could buy whatever supplies they wanted at half-price. A boat was also supplied as the group decided to recruit the help of Thorthic, a dwarven barbarian/cleric of Thor who had previously traveled with them (the group decided they wanted extra healing).

Halfway through their first day on the river a flock of 25 creatures that were a cross between a bat and a large mosquito – stirges – smelled their blood and swarmed in on them. A sleep spell took down half the flock, but that still left a dozen, and a tough battle ensued as they attached to the characters at awkward places and slowly drained them of their life-blood. The stirges were eventually dispatched and the clerics got to work healing. The day ended with the characters camping at the point where the river met Dragon Lake, and that is also where we ended our game session. Next session the group will arrive at Rodemus Keep to find Girck and the secret document that is missing!

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

I love history, folklore, and literature. I’ve been meaning to get into the Icelandic Sagas for a while, but never made the big leap. But I recently got the motivation to sign up for The Medieval Icelandic Sagas online MOOC from the University of Iceland.

A selection of my Icelandic Saga texts.

Signing up for a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is a mixed bag. Because you can sign up for it at any time and can take as long as you want, I suspect most people may start but never finish it, or they may finish but never get the most out of it since it is easy to coast or skip through them. Some of the presentations can also be boring. However, if you are self-motivated, then a MOOC can be a great way to augment your knowledge on some topic.

In the case of this Icelandic Saga MOOC, I get in one neat package a six week overview of all aspects of the Sagas. The syllabus is as follows:
Week 1: Historical Overview
Week 2: Manuscripts
Week 3: Landscape and Archaeology
Week 4: Saga Characters
Week 5: Paganism and Christianity
Week 6: The Supernatural

I have an undergraduate degree in classical civilizations and graduate degrees in philosophy, so I have the skills to do academic research. What this course provides is a surface look at six key areas to begin study and I can then bring to bear my abilities to build upon it. This is something interesting for me at a personal level in two ways (i) I am shifting my research into medieval studies, and (ii) Norse culture plays a large part in my Castles & Crusades campaigns and my developing game world, and this will allow me to bring that to life in a richer way.

I’ve completed the first two weeks of work so far and look forward to the rest. I plan to space the remainder out through the end of the year. When this is done I should have a much richer view of medieval Iceland.

If anyone is interested in looking into this, here is a link:
https://www.edx.org/course/the-medieval-icelandic-sagas-2

Castles & Crusades: Barrowmaze Campaign, Session 41

Summary:
The Army of the Light, physically scarred (e.g. flesh rotting disease and acquiring mongrelfolk body parts) from exploring the Pit of Chaos they sealed, deal with people shunning them and fearing contagion. After a month resting up they take on a three headed draconic creature attacking the folk of the Duchy of Aerik with one Harlequin nearly getting torn in two!

Game Diary:
We continue where we left off last session. The Pit of Chaos was sealed and the group took account of what happened to them as a result. Gimli, the dwarven berserker had become afflicted by a flesh rotting disease. Cobalt, the paladin failed to cure him, and Kyra, the elven cleric worked out that only heal or regeneration would probably work (and good luck with that in the out-of-the way Borderlands where very few make it to high enough levels to learn those spells!). Gimli lost 1 hit point permanently from the pain, and his charisma checks are at -3 due to the disfigurement. He will be afflicted for many weeks and the scars will remain. Gorgat, a barbarian, discovered his left arm turned into a crab claw from the green mists of chaos centered in the sealed pit. He is still able to hold his shield with it, but now has the ability to attack with it! But Charisma checks based on appearance are at -1. Balthazar, a human wizard, was really corrupted by the chaos, acquiring the upper torso of a gorilla and the head of a lizard. He can now do a bite and two fist attacks, but until he gains another level all spells that require vocal or somatic components require a spellcaster check to see if he can get them up successfully as he adjusts to his oversized arms, hands, and his new lizard mouth and vocal apparatus. He also receives a -3 on visual Charisma checks.

All this came to realization as they entered the town of Helix. There the local barkeep, wizard, and other locals steered clear of the deformed and sick people, treating them cautiously. Arriving in Ironguard Motte the following day to the building Viscount Kell Ironguard had given them for their previous heroic deeds, they learned from the Captain that the deformed and diseased characters should stay in their building and not walk about in town, for the people are superstitious and could cause trouble. Kyra, the elven cleric had gained a level from the previous adventure and acquired a restoration spell which did allow here cure a feeblemind that had occurred to Amelia, a half-elf bard in the party who many months ago had her intelligence reduced from 17 to 2 due. The cleric was able to cure her, and as a bard to Apollo with her Greek poetic ability restored, her music and poetry radiated out of the windows of the head quarters of the Army of the Light.

The group took a month off to recover their sanity from fighting undead in the Pit of Chaos (every undead encounter in the Barrowmaze creates a tick mark against your Wisdom score, and if it reaches that number you may go insane. Only a week of rest and peace per undead encounter can restore sanity).

With the group now entering late December in game time, they heard of a three headed and three tailed dragon-like creature terrorizing the remaining traders that dare to brave the wintry Borderland roads. But nothing holds these adventurers back for long, and a smaller group headed out to find and stop it.

Gorynych (from the AD&D 2nd edition Monstrous Compendium Annual 1, 1994)

The day they headed out was 0°C day, three-quarters cloudy, with 8 inches of snow on the ground. Using mounts they saved travel time by walking in grooves on the road created by passing carts and wagons. Alert barbarians and druids detected its shadow on some pines during a brief moment when the sun peaked out and they launched their ranged weapons and Remi, the harlequin (i.e. rogue/illusionist) summoned illusionary hounds to distract the beast as easy prey. The creature dived down toward them, its flapping wings causing the snow to rise into the air causing snow blindness. As it passed through them it picked up the harlequin in two of its three tails and claw and bit other characters and illusionary hounds. As it soared back up into the air the beast began attempting to tear the harlequin in two as it spread its tails apart. The damage became too much and Remi was at -5 hit points hovering at death’s door.

The group redoubled its efforts, with an NPC Mesopotamian druid of the sky god Anu firing a strong arrow, but then immediately outshined by one of the players elven cleric firing an arrow from her bow and scoring a critical hit, killing it! The beast fell 50 feet to the ground. But that also meant that Remi was going to fall to the ground. I had the player roll 5d6 damage, if the character hit the ground the damage would take Remi to -21, which is unequivocally dead. But the elven cleric has a mighty, medium-sized owl mystical companion that can pick some people up and deliver touch spells. She sent the owl in. To catch this falling person I had her make a Dexterity saving throw to discover which of the two tails holding the harlequin was going to release Remi and catch her. It failed – Remi should have fallen and died! But there was still one remaining Deck of Dirty Trick card from the last game session that allowed one Raise Dead. The players begged to be able to use it! I rolled a d6 probability die (a specialty die I picked up) to see if the card from last session could be used. I rolled “certain”, and so I allowed it, but chose to make it more dramatic. Instead of raising the dead character after it hit the ground, the players saw the manipulation of the gods at work as the owl managed to swerve at just the right moment to catch Remi before hitting the ground. Remi still needed to get healing up to a stable 0 hit points and then healed again to get above, but Remi was alive!

These treasure-hungry adventurers then decided to find the beast’s lair (which was easy to find, they just followed the blood trail of its previous victims that dripped from the sky into the snow). I allow my players to roll randomly on the appropriate treasure tables, and these lucky rollers managed over 10,000 gold pieces in coin, gems, and extraordinary items.

Since the players are now gaming in late December in my world, that means I need to dig out my holiday themed adventure for next Tuesday. Last year they outwitted and killed a Krampus that had been kidnapping the children of Helix. Will another Krampus return to cause trouble, or will there be a different Christmassy threat? They find out next Tuesday!

Castles & Crusades: Barrowmaze Campaign, Session 40

Summary:
The Army of Light shuts the Pit of Chaos, but 3 of the 14 adventurers are overwhelmed by the forces of chaos and experience (i) immediate level up, (ii) alignment change, and (iii) transformation into a mongrel creature! A major milestone of the Barrowmaze is now complete!

The Pit of Chaos (art from Barrowmaze Complete, by Greg Gillespie)

Game Diary:
We left off on a cliffhanger last Tuesday – the group had entered the Grand Temple of Nergal (God of the Dead) and there in front of them was a 20 foot diameter pit surrounded by pillars with images of tortured souls, and a green haze rose from the pit. The air was filled with the smell of rot, decay, and death. Beyond the pit were two black alters, a 20 foot tall statue of Nergal sat behind it, and off to the side was a beholder-type creature.

Cobalt, our paladin, possessed the Fount of Law, an artifact of Law that needed to be thrown into the Pit of Chaos to shut it. The previous session ended with him succeeding in throwing it in, and then everyone in the room was thrown to the ground from the immense explosion that followed.

This session began with the group – 7 players controlling 14 characters plus the NPC fallen paladin Dhekeon “the Disgraced” – trying to peer through the green haze to find what remained from the explosion. They could hear the cackling sound of a hag. Over a dozen skeletons and zombies staggered through the mist toward the Army of the Light. A booming voice filled the room and bellowed out that the paladin must be destroyed. At that point two 15 foot tall statues made their way to the paladin from the back wall, and the beholder-kin’s central eye fired out a beam of white piercing light that projected through the haze enveloping the paladin and two other characters, rendering them blind. Characters charged forward to support Cobalt while less sturdy characters stayed back and fired ranged weaponry at the skeletons and zombies.

The hag summoned a cloud of fog enshrouding some of the zombies and skeletons – and herself – to prevent being hit. The beholder-kin aimed two more of its eyes at characters, holding them in place. One of the party spellcasters responded by casting fog cloud on the beholder-kin, blocking its eye rays. Over a series of agonizing rounds the skeletons and zombies were taken down and after the hag emerged from the fog to attack, she was ganged up on by the melee combatants.

Sensing the tide turning in favor of the Army of the Light, the booming voice shouted “must I do everything myself?” and the heroes could hear the sound of the 20 foot tall Nergal statue rise up from its sitting position, its head just appearing above the low-hanging fog. It marched forward and from under its cloak it was revealed that it had not two, but a total of four arms, all of which swung to attack Cobalt.

Spells were cast at the Nergal giant and simply brushed off it with no effect. When it came to the hag, the melee attacks finally did their work and the hag collapsed from her wounds and fell into the depression in the temple floor that was the sealed Pit of Chaos. The ranged attacks also took down the last of the zombies and skeletons. The beholder-kin emerged from the cloud of fog and used its eyes to hold more characters and bite at others. However, it was eventually struck the fatal blow and the 5 foot diameter ball of eyes fell to the ground, bounced briefly, and then collapsed like a deflated bean bag on the stone floor. When this happened that adventurers saw that the moving 15 foot tall statues disappeared (they were elaborate illusions created from a couple of the beholder-kins eyes).

The Nergal giant swung its four mighty arm blows at the paladin and finally hit its mark when one blow disarmed his Saint’s Mace causing it to clatter many feet away, and a series of other powerful blows hurled him into the Pit of Chaos. Only powerful magical items could effect the Nergal giant, but fortunately for the adventurers, a few of them managed to acquire a few items over +3, and the mighty bone statue eventually buckled from their blows and fell into the pit – on top of Cobalt!

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Chaos within the Barrowmaze (art from Barrowmaze Complete, by Greg Gillespie)

Falling into the Pit of Chaos can result in a random number of things that I – or the players – can roll on variety of tables. All characters that entered it had to roll dice for me to see what might happen. In the case of Cobalt, he fell into a portable hole! (thus preventing him from dying when the Nergal statue fell on top of where he was).

With all their foes vanquished, it was time to explore. A couple of the gnomes rushed toward the throne, the two alters, and the mighty bowl that once sat in Nergal’s lap. They discovered rings, scrolls, and a magical shield. Others who were much more adventurous chose to enter and search the depression that was the remains of the Pit of Chaos. I had them roll dice as they entered and consulted the charts. One elven cleric entered the pit and was overwhelmed by the thoughts and glimpses of past lives and experiences of the corpses that were lying within the pit and its folds of stoney-flesh. She shuddered from the years of experiences flooding into her mind, but when it was over, she had moved up a level from her new insights! The dwarven berserker entered and found a two-handed berserking sword. One of the barbarians in the group entered, and the remnants of chaos that lingered in the pit took hold of the barbarian and altered his mind and personality, shifting him from Neutral to Chaotic Neutral. Finally, one of the wizards was bent on exploring the pit as well, and the fading chaotic presence in the pit entered into his body, and altered his biology. The poor human acquired the upper torso of a gorilla, and the head of a komodo dragon. He will have a lot of work ahead of him to discover out how to use his gorilla hands to write and the create the somatic parts of his spell casting, as well as how to communicate and vocalize his spells (and how will the towns of Helix and Ironguard Motte react to a mogrelman entering their gates?).

This was a major Barrowmaze milestone, but there is still a lot to do. The Church of Nergal still exists (even with their Grand Temple is ruined). There is also the very active Cult of Orcus. And the group heard of some dragon called Ossithrax. One challenge down, many more to come!

Virtual GameHole Con 2020, Day 4

Summary
Final day of gaming at Virtual GameHole Con 2020. I played in a 0-level funnel adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC), and I consider virtual convention gaming practices vs. convention gaming in person.

DCC core books, and my four 0-level characters, two have the stamp of death on them.

For the final day of gaming at Virtual GameHole Con 2020 I played in a 0-level funnel adventure for DCC – Hole in the Sky. I began with four 0-level characters and two survived!

The adventure began with 5 players controlling 20 0-level characters. The fun thing about DCC 0-level characters is that you begin with nothing. Our characters began with 4 hit points, and my characters – a dwarven mushroom-farmer, a dwarven chest-maker, a slave, and a halfling trader – had no armor and their weapons included chisels and a club. Like so many DCC adventures, there were some wonderous things (e.g. an invisible bridge that we traveled on for days), and strange dimensions with weird creatures. People are suspicious, and a single hit can from a monster or an unfortunate fall can kill you instantly. I own the Goodman Games stamps that you can use on your character sheets if your character dies and when I lost two characters during the latter part of the adventure, I was able to use the stamp of death on my slave and halfling trader since our judge (who normally does it when you game in person) couldn’t do it obviously due to distance gaming on Zoom. The game ended well for my two dwarves with them acquiring armor and weapons – a great start as they can now begin their careers as level 1 dwarves.

I spent Thursday – Saturday getting used to rolling digital dice on Discord and Roll20, but today our Judge wanted us to roll our dice by hand and it felt good to do real table-top gaming. Real hand rolling is for me what RPG gaming is about. One takeaway from this virtual convention is that although I can see some uses for virtual rolling, hand rolling is superior. Also, as an educator I know that a person learns best by doing. The more you rely on VTT’s to do all the calculations for you, the less you are going to learn about the game. I play DCC heavily at Con of the North, Gary Con, and GameHole three times each year, and in between I run Castles & Crusades in all my multiple weekly games, so I sometimes need to be reminded of certain DCC rules. My Roll20 experience was relatively easy (once I figured out the minimum basics of that interface) and all I had to do was click a button and everything was done for me. But it is a bad system if you actually want to learn the game (or advance your current knowledge of it). I did more actually DCC system learning in this Sunday game than in the previous three games I participated in on Friday and Saturday. When you are forced to learn what you add/subtract, and you have to do the calculations yourself you have to learn. I do worry about the slow dumbing down we are experiencing as we rely more and more on technology to do things for us as we just sit back and push buttons and don’t have to engage our minds as much.

This Sunday game was also completely theatre of mind – no maps or anything – and I think in hindsight a little art sharing or a generalized layout of a couple of areas we traveled to would’ve been helpful (and I am not trying to criticize my Judge for the game, he was very good, but some visuals do help). Although I am a theatre of mind person myself, when I run my C&C games on Discord I always have screen share in use to show my players a piece of art or a dungeon map fragment. So although I will not go back to my 3E days of dwarven forge and dungeon maps (that tactical stuff slows things down way too much and reduces ones ability to imagine things outside the box), it is helpful to have some visual assistance to help guide your imagination. After the adventure today I looked up Hole in the Sky and was of course impressed by the art inside (DCC stands on its own with its very unique style of art) and things came together a lot better for me when I could connect my experiences with the visuals.

There are several reasons why I game at conventions:
1. To try new games, or to play the games I love that are overshadowed by the giants of 5E and Pathfinder (i.e. DCC, Swords & Wizardry, Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, C&C).
2. Meet new players who I can join with again at these same conventions in the future, or, if they are from Minnesota, might game with me in person.
3. Experience different GM styles so that I can improve my own games. This convention I experienced a couple of different takes on how to game on Discord (slightly different from how I run things in my games), I experienced Roll20 for the first time, and I played in my first Zoom game.

These experiences all had their strengths and weaknesses technology wise. The sad thing about gaming virtually is when the game is over everyone instantly exits the virtual gaming table and disappears. Whereas in person you can chat afterword and gain new friends. I really missed that.

One takeaway from this is that as soon as we begin gaming in person again I will return to visiting GaryCon and GameHole (these Wisconsin conventions are just 4-5 hours from where I live in Minnesota), Con of the North takes place 15 minutes from where I live, so I will obviously game in person there, but I will consider virtual gaming in the future for other conventions further away from me (so, for example, I would love to visit North Texas RPG Con since I am an old-school gamer and I have only heard good things about that Con, but I really don’t have an interest in driving or flying down to Texas. So if virtual gaming becomes a long term part of that convention, then I would register for that virtually. Virtual gaming conventions are in some ways a frustration, but they can also open up new opportunities).

Virtual GameHole Con 2020, Day 3

A magnificent Day 3 at Virtual GameHole Con playing Dungeon Crawl Classics versions of the classic AD&D modules Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl and Hall of the Fire Giant King! After two epic games fighting giants, the third in the giant trilogy ended up being a battle to the death with many casualties DCC style! Another great reminder to me why DCC is one of the best convention gaming experiences you can have.

Dungeon Crawl Classics Core Rules and Quick Start Rules

Yesterday I played in a DCC version of the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. We put part of the steading on fire, took down the kitchen staff, and then ended the adventure by entering the Chief’s main room pretending to be kitchen servants and then taking them all down by surprise.

For this morning’s adventure we all moved up a level from 3 to 4 and began our mission to take on the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. We fought our way through ice trolls, hill giants, frost giants and their shaman, and after taking down two fire giants with mighty deeds, got the fire giant ambassador to surrender and hand over his parchment of introduction to the frost giant jarl. With confidence we then approached the two frost giants at the entry to the jarls great hall seeking entry, but when our negotiations broke down we entered yet another battle. We were feeling confident (since we had successfully taken care of the Hill Giant Chief the previous day and most recently the trolls and giants in the frost giant area), but then the situation got a lot more chilling when a dragon appeared! But with spellcasters spell-burning themselves to maximize an arsenal of magic missiles, the halfling burning luck to assist the priest in healing, and my dwarf using his powerful dwarven hammer and shield bash pounding out one mighty deed after another, we took it down. However, after defeating the dragon our four hour game had come to an end. So although we didn’t get to take on the Frost Giant Jarl, ending the adventure by defeating a dragon will always provide a sense of accomplishment!

After a one hour break we reconvened for our third game we took on the Hall of the Fire Giant King. Would our luck hold? No! Although we were elevated another level to level 5, one’s luck can only last so long, it seems. Almost immediately upon entering the hall of the fire giant king we took down several fire giants and the fire giant king went down with minimal struggle, but it was not as easy as our time in the hill giant and frost giant lairs due to our Roll20 digital dice rolls not always going in our favor, which forced us to burn luck and spell burn.

Still, we defeated the fire giant king and we were only 30 minutes into our game. What more was there to do? My dwarf, Gromlir, sat on the throne and pretended being king for a moment pondering options with the rest of the group. After some time to think we chose to explore the mountain halls to discover what was going on. After some upper level wandering we eventually passed to the lower levels and encountered two ettins, and when a fire giant forge worker began hurling anvils at us, we escaped down a narrow stairway (which giants could descend only with difficulty), and entered a large chamber divided by a lava flow. Making our way over the lava flow we encountered a couple of chimera and managed to deal with them.

Throughout all our combats in the fire giant halls our rolls were not always in our favor and we had all been burning our luck (my dwarf’s luck score had gone from 12 to 1 during our adventure, the halfling had used up all of his luck as well, and our magic user was no longer able to spell burn). It was then that we were attacked by three mind flayers! We were in the greatest danger and were now out of luck! At one point three of our group were about to have their brains sucked out of their heads only to have party members like my dwarf shield bash a tentacle off and free a person. But with no spell burning and luck available to boost our dice rolls, our unending success had come to an end. When all was said and done the three mind flayers took down most of us (including my dwarf Gromlir). But those of us who lost our lives to the mind flayers gave the last two characters a chance to live long enough to take down the final illithid. As most of us lay dead with our brains having been devoured, the two members remaining swore over our dead bodies to tell others about the mighty deeds we had done and how we managed to defeat the hill giants, frost giants, fire giants, and mind flayers.

Over the last two days we had 3 game sessions lasting 12 epic hours. This is what convention gaming should be like! Tomorrow for the last day of GameHole I will be in only one game, but it will be a 0-level funnel. How many of my 3-4 characters will survive the onslaught? I find out tomorrow!

Virtual GameHole Con 2020, Day 2

Day two at Virtual GameHole and today I spent the afternoon playing in a Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) interpretation of the classic AD&D module Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. This module is always a joy to immerse oneself in, and through the lens of DCC almost anything can happen!

The DCC Core Rulebook and a supplementary book of charts.

As you will find on these virtual convention games, the gaming platform will vary from game to game based on the GM’s preference. In my Swords & Wizardry game yesterday we were on Discord voice and text chat, today it was Discord voice and Roll20 VTT. I have never used Roll20 before, so I was a little slow in the game at first (all the games I run online are Castles & Crusades games that embrace a Theater of Mind approach that is met simply by using Discord voice, text chat, and screen share, and we all roll real dice in our hands like RPG’s are meant to be played!). Several others in this group were also inexperienced in Roll20, and perhaps as a result we were a little slow starting off in communicating as we approached the Hill Giant Steading, and did a lot of preliminary hunting about to find the best way to proceed (although caution is wise when approaching a giant stronghold!).

We did have a good group of players, though, so once we got acclimated to this environment we made steady progress (I even managed to grudgingly accept digital dice rolling!). The team work built up, and began making bolder moves, spell burn occurred, luck was burned, and it very soon became a full-on DCC convention game! At the end of four hours we managed to make it through the outer ring of the Steading, entered the main hall, and then took on the Hill Giant Chief. My human warrior was quite pleased to step forward and take on the chief with another as the rest of the group took on frost giants and fire giants. Our DCC characters were level 3, and yet through some might deeds and typical DCC madness we prevailed!

Although the campaigns I run are all Castles & Crusades, the games I play the most at conventions are DCC. There is something about getting together with other gamers and be able to go ALL OUT to see what gaming madness you can achieve in 4 hours that makes DCC, in my mind, the BEST game for conventions. All those critical hit and fumble charts as well as spell charts and deed die options leads to epic collapses and staggering successes in a way that no other game that I am aware of can produce. When you only have four hours to game, DCC gives you the most exciting experience!

Tomorrow the DCC madness will continue as I will be with the same Judge and several of the same players to take on The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and Hall of the Fire Giant King!

Virtual GameHole Con 2020, Day 1

Today is the beginning of GameHole Con (this year it runs from November 5-8). Normally this convention takes place in Madison, Wisconsin, but due to COVID-19, it is entirely virtual this year. What I love about GameHole is the great community of old-school gamers (although there is still plenty of modern D&D 5E available for those interested in the current edition).

This morning I played in a Swords & Wizardry (S&W) game called Hall of Bones. S&W is made by Frog God Games, and after Troll Lord Games (the company that makes Castles & Crusades – the game I run), this is the company I support the second most. S&W is a great game system modeled off Original Dungeons & Dragons and its supplements from 1974-1978. It is a great and challenging game and I enjoy opportunities to experience the game as a player.

Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook (by Frog God Games)

There are three primary things that stand out about S&W old-school game play:

1. Description.
Because it is modeled off original D&D there are no fancy feats or elaborate skills. You explore dungeon corridors by saying what you are doing step-by-step and you can hear, feel, smell, and taste the environment around you as you and the Game Master interact through your descriptive interplay (this is so much more fulfilling than the “roll a Perception check” approach). There is much greater depth and interaction with a game like S&W (at least if you get a good GM, and I very much did for this game session, our GM described the types of wood the dungeon doors were made of, the wood grain angle, etc. – very immersive).

2. Journey.
The adventure itself was very simple from the perspective of only being around a half dozen rooms. Yet in our four hour game our characters where crawling on their stomachs through narrow passageways, prying up stone slabs inside a metal cage found inside a large cavern filled with hundreds of huge spiders, passing through rooms aglow with phosphorescent fungus and mushrooms, etc. This is a type of game where when you are done you may realize that, yes, there were only about six rooms, but it is the journey through them that you remember. Every step was memorable. And you had to do it through player creativity and thinking, not simply glancing at your character sheet to see “can I do this?” In a game like S&W you can always try something. I love not getting bogged down in skills and feats, this way of gaming is so much more fluid, dynamic and immersive since every experience is a puzzle that you have to solve, you aren’t just mindlessly rolling a die and briefly glancing at the result while you’re scrolling through some nonsense on your phone – you have to pay attention. And you are rewarded for that with a much richer experience.

3. Unsolved Mysteries.
Both while traveling through these dungeon rooms, corridors, as well as natural cave formations formed from centuries of underground rivers and streams, there were things we encountered which were simply unexplained. I love games with mystery where you don’t just “roll a nature check” and get all the answers. Some things you simply don’t know if you are a 17 year old human fighter from a small medieval farming village. There are not only some things you don’t know, you may never find the answer. The world is so much bigger and more mysterious with this approach.

4. Danger everywhere, some of which you cannot defeat.
And like so many old school games, there is danger lurking everywhere. The GM left us guessing when we entered a cavern that was beyond what the dwarf could see with his underground sight. Webs covered the floor, walls, and ceiling, and we could tell that there were things behind the webs, but they were but mere shapes. We could hear chittering, but couldn’t make out details. When we decided to rush towards a sheltered cage around 20 feet from the entry to this cavern and enclose ourselves in it, that was when hundreds of spiders surrounded us from everywhere, and it was then that we realized that even firing arrows through the large (more than 10 x 10 feet in size) that we wouldn’t nearly have enough ammunition to hit or kill all of them. We managed through careful examination to find a stone slab beneath our feet that we could move and then lower ourselves into a small stone corridor and crawl to a new location. If we would’ve tried to enter the room thinking we were going to have a “balanced encounter” we would’ve died. Immediately. Every choice matters in a game like S&W. I love it!

One great benefit of a convention game is being able to try a game out with a GM or players you may never have gamed with before and in four hours just go all out and try and do everything – give the game a genuine workout – put yourself out there and see what the game, you, your fellow players, and the GM, are capable of doing. In many of these conventions you will find games, GM’s and players that you come to really like and then you can plan to game together again at future cons. This is another experience I love.

Now, because of the pandemic, this con is entirely online this year, and it was admittedly a different experience doing this on Discord, rolling virtual dice (I normally hate rolling virtual dice and I refuse unless I have to, for me, feeling dice in my hand is one of the key experiences of RPG gaming), but it worked well enough in this case. Map fragment graphics were displayed when necessary to provide a basic outline of rooms, but this game was good and proper Theatre of the Mind.

Tomorrow and Saturday I will be playing the Dungeon Crawl Classics game system and doing classic AD&D giant adventures from the distant past (1978). But more on that tomorrow…

Castles & Crusades: Barowmaze Campaign, Session 39

Summary:
The Army of the Light finally enter the Pit of Chaos and begin the battle against undead and the forces of Chaos!

Game Diary:
The Army of the Light had been preparing for this Barrowmaze milestone for a long time and in tonight’s session the epic battle began!

The Pit of Chaos (slightly edited map from Barrowmaze Complete, by Greg Gillespie)

The adventurers made their way through one of the Barrowmaze entry points and fought a variety of zombies as they made their way through rooms leading to the grand Temple of Nergal, where the Pit of Chaos was located. Upon entering a long corridor their senses were assailed with the scent of death, rot, and decay – the hallmarks of Chaos (the bottom half of the corridor is snipped off in the above map fragment). They approached the 15 foot high double doors, cast spells upon each other, and then pushed open the doors. They were taken aback by what they saw!

The Pit of Chaos (art from Barrowmaze Complete, by Greg Gillespie)

A green haze emerged from the pit, columns were filled with the images of tortured souls. A massive 20 foot tall statue of Nergal, a god of the undead sat cross-legged, two black stained altars with symbols of the underworld and death lay in front of it, and statues of his lieutenants filled the remainder of the room. One observant player noticed the orb-like creature with an open mouth, large central eye, and multiple other eyes located on stalks hovering next to the Nergal statue. The characters were mostly at a loss as to what that creature might be.

The players had been given random Deck of Dirty Trick cards at the beginning of the session and they immediately used two of them, for they new that the sooner they could act, the better their chance of success would be. One card was to ask the GM one Yes/No question (was it possible that Cobalt, the paladin with the lawful artifact known as the Fount of Law could make it to the pit before the creatures in the temple got to him and hurl it in causing its collapse?). The answer based on how they worded the question (i.e. was it possible) was “yes.” From my point of view it all depended on initiative order. The players then used the next Dirty Trick card (automatic surprise for your character only), and with that tricky use of a free surprise round for Cobalt, the paladin rushed forward 30 feet into the Temple, skeletons and zombies which lurked nearby by recoiled from its lawful power, and upon reaching the edge he threw the Fount of Law into the pit. There was an immense discharge of energy, and the blast knocked everything in the room prone on their backs. The area north of the pit was enveloped in a green mist from the ground to the ceiling nearly 30 feet above. The orb-like aberration, as well as most of the zombies and skeletons were unable to be seen through the impenetrable haze.

The characters awaited the zombies and skeletons that began to emerge from the greenish mist and the 12 of them launched their ranged weapons taking them down (clerical and paladin abilities to turn/destroy undead were suppressed by the great powers of chaos and undead in this temple). It all seemed like they would only have to worry at some point about that orb (no one could tell what the explosion might have done to the levitating aberration with eyes). But then things became more complicated. The pit may have been closed, but what was already in the room? And before the Pit of Chaos was shut down, were some final creatures hurled out of it? Two statues in the south east and south west corner of the temple (near the doors) that had overly long right arms, a tentacle for a left arm, and strange distorted faces, appeared to come to life and head toward the paladin. At the same time the characters heard a cackle, which one character thought might be a witch, and another speculated could be some type of hag. There was clearly more things about to happen – but we had run out of time! And so the adventure ended on a cliffhanger. Next session this great battle will continue. The players still have three more Deck of Dirty Trick cards left (i) take back one action, (ii) spell has maximum effect(s) or duration, (iii) Raise dead (as per the spell). These will all be very useful and may all be needed next time. I cannot wait!