Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony Campaign, Session 18

I begin using a simplified VTT – Owlbear Rodeo – to enhance my game without losing the Theater of Mind focus. Meanwhile, within the game, the players battle a large Bone Horror and find the young boy Galen who they were tasked to find. A long trilogy of adventures is now winding down and a bunch of new opportunities is about to present themselves!

Game Diary:
My new stripped-down VTT – Owlbear Rodeo. In my Discord games I want to maintain Theatre of Mind. Obviously in an online environment you miss out on a lot of the essential face-to-face contact essential to table-top RPG gaming. For the last nine months for my C&C games online, I’ve been screen sharing map pdfs to provide players with reference points during their exploration. However, it was clear that I needed to make some changes. It sometimes feels that there are new VTT’s appearing every few weeks, but when I saw and played around with Owlbear Rodeo ( I thought this is what I need. I can import whatever map I am using, use the fog feature to cover it up, and then reveal portions of it as the players explore during the adventure. There are also counters which the GM and players can label and use if there is really a need to use them (there are a few more features, but I am doubtful I’ll use them). I can load a map and cover it with the fog feature for a game in a matter of 5 minutes. That is all the prep I need! I don’t need and don’t want digital character sheets and everything getting calculated for me. I am a hands-on referee. I want to reach for my physical books and page through them by hand and spread them across my tables. I am also a GM that stands up and moves about for roughly half my game session (perhaps 2 hours of a 4 hour game), which means I can’t just passively sit in front of my computer and fiddle around with my mouse for the entire game session (I find it static and boring). I have energy and I want to convey that to my players and get them excited, I am a GM trying to present awe-inspiring fantasy, I’m not trying to report the regional weather forecast for four straight hours using funny voices. So Owlbear Rodeo works well, I only need to take a moment once in a while to remove the fog to reveal where the group is going next, and most of the time I can interact with my players standing up and motion and gesture to convey what they are seeing and hearing.

The game session. The group was roughly halfway through exploring the catacombs of Rodemus Keep when the session began. During our four hour game they pretty much completed the entire complex, taking on a group of goblin tomb raiders which had barricaded themselves within a large chamber. This forced the players to enter one-by-one instead of just charging in, which allowed the goblins to get a few rounds of arrow attacks in. But when you have warriors wielding great-axes, the goblins are going to be taken down! There were also encounters with zombies which were dealt with easily enough. Many more storage rooms and burial chambers with un-animated dead were explored.

The final encounter for the game session arrived when they approached a door and the paladin detected a wave of evil triggering a powerful headache. One cleric cast a protection from undead scroll which radiated its magic for a 10 foot radius around her. They opened the door and facing them was a 9 foot tall creature which had tattered bat-like wings, a zombie face with two skeletal heads on mounted on its shoulders, two clawed hands, and a scorpion-like tail. It screamed out “save the boy!” and then flew over three zombie minions it had under its control and went to attack the characters. It’s attacks mostly missed. Players attacked it in turn, but noticed that non-magical weapons had no effect on it. However, one of the clerics successfully turned undead, and as it turned to flee, players with magical weapons moved in and attacked it with bonuses to hit from behind. This broke the turn attempt and it turned to face them again for its three attacks (claw/claw/sting), but again it failed to leave its mark (which is good, since it’s tail sting was of the old-school saving throw vs. poison or die variety). They beat the undead monstrosity to its knees and destroyed it, at which point the remaining three zombies were a mere afterthought.

Bone Horror

The chamber of the bone horror was connected to another room with a ladder leading up a chimney to a secret exit point from the catacombs. Hiding behind the ladder was the young boy Galen. He was so happy to be saved from the frightening undead! The adventure was now effectively done, however, the players are very thorough, so in the next game session they plan to explore the last room or two they think might exist inside the catacombs (based on the couple of foggy areas that haven’t been revealed yet on the map). Once this is done they will return to the town of Dale, collect their reward, and then the adventure opportunities will be wide open for them. I shared various rumors with characters based on their races and classes a couple of months back and I will be expanding upon that when this adventure is officially completed. The next few months of gaming will be based on their interests for each game session. I wonder what they will want to explore? I will be supplying some of the rumors they picked up in a future game diary so that you, too, can ponder the possibilities.

Character Creation Challenge: Low Fantasy Gaming

Today for the character creation challenge I depart from the clear and obvious retro-clones I examined before (e.g. Old School Essentials, Blueholme) and make a character in Low Fantasy Gaming (LFG). This will be just as much of a character creation process as a review of the game itself, so keep that in mind as you read ahead.

Paging through LFG you sometimes feel echoes of other RPGs like D&D 5E (short and long rests) and Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) (‘Luck’ plays an important role, and sometimes casting spells requires consulting a table to see the result), and yet it has many other virtues that make it stand out on its own. With the motto “Less Magic. More Grit.” it is a dangerous game. Let’s create a character to see what this all means.

Low Fantasy Gaming

The first thing you notice is that there are seven attributes instead of the normal six (Wisdom is effectively split up into Willpower and Perception). For these attributes you get one 15 and you can then can roll 4d6, drop the lowest, and do this six times and allocate as you see fit. I have to admit that I am so used to rolling 3d6 six times and distributing, that even though I read the above rule, I still just rolled 3d6 (seven times in this case) and distributed them, thus depriving me of a guaranteed 15 (which would’ve given me a +2 modifier). Still, I rolled well so I am not bothered. It is interesting to see Willpower and Perception as separate attributes, and it does make some sense (Perception helps avoid ambushes and Willpower allows you to avoid fear, charm, and madness effects).

I then moved on to choosing my race. I went with dwarf. Dwarves have a simple set of abilities: advantage vs. poisons and magic, magical healing is half the normal effect, they have a 50% chance of sniffing out gold within 60 feet, and they have night vision. I am used to dwarves being resistant to magic, and I like that rule, but it has usually been to arcane magic, here we see healing magic included. The ability to sniff out gold reminds me of DCC dwarves and I like that ability, you can have a lot of fun with that in social encounters with people claiming they don’t have gold with them (and they do and the dwarf can sense it), or if you are passing a concealed area in a dungeon and no one notices it until you tell the player using the dwarf that he senses gold nearby leading them to discover this new room. I also like that they have better night vision than humans but they are still blind in the absence of light, I’ve seen too many games and gamers get lazy with dwarven darkvision, with both players and GM’s just assuming they see everything (My game of choice, Castles & Crusades (C&C), has a large variety of vision types – deepvision, darkvision, duskvision, twilightvision – and it adds a lot more to the game).

LFG only has one saving throw, called Luck. Each time you encounter a new situation you make a luck roll and add the modifier from the relevant attribute (so if you are trying to avoid falling into a pit trap, you’d add your Dexterity modifier, and if it is versus a charm effect, you’d add your Willpower modifier). Your Luck score goes down as you succeed on tasks and is regained slowly during long rests. It does remind me of DCC’s Luck score, although unlike DCC with its over-the-top spellcasting system and potential to burn through your luck to enhance your actions, this is more restrained. I like this approach. I do love DCC, though, in fact, it is by far the RPG I play the most at conventions, but that is typically because in a four hour game with a pregen I’m not really invested in, I am more than happy to burn through my luck to try and achieve whatever staggering feats of power I can summon forth in this short period of time. However, DCC is probably not a game I would play in a regular campaign – there is just too much chaos, uncertainty, and insanity involved. Whereas LFG has hints and echoes of things you find in DCC, but they are better set up (for me, obviously, remember that this is all a matter of my personal preference) for a longer term campaign.

My LFG character, a dwarven cultist.

For the class, I chose Cultist. I chose a deity called Graxus, which represents war, courage, and glory. His symbol is the iron fist, and he wants his adherents to “live boldly, or not at all,” which I think fits a dwarf. A cultist gets an ability called a blessing. Gorath, my dwarf, received one. I chose ‘Blessed Weapon’ which allows his hammer to count as magical for several minutes. At 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th level he will get Unique Features (similar to feats), so that form of advancement resembles modern versions of D&D. There will also be a variety of other Cultist class abilities that kick in as Gorath advances.

LFG makes use of a Long Rest and Short Rest mechanic. Any D&D 5E players will probably perk up at that, but in LFG it operates slightly differently, which makes me happy. I have to admit that the Long/Short Rest mechanic was one of the reasons why I quit 5E. In my four years of playing 5E I mostly saw people resting and taking naps all the time and replenishing their health and class abilities. In the 5E campaigns I ran during that time I tried to implement the “gritty realism” rules from the DMG to increase the length of the Long/Short Rest, but I wasn’t happy with it, and when I quit 5E and switched to C&C I was overjoyed to get back to healing 1 hit point every 24 hours (finally, there were no more superhero characters). LFG takes the Long/Short rest and adds some randomness to it. A Short Rest can occur up to three times per 24 hours, and each time you can choose to get half your hit points, or recover one use of an expended class ability, or recover a Re-roll die. Then, when it comes to a Long Rest, that “requires 1d6 days of predominantly low key activity” (p.81), or if you are recovering “at an inn or other safe and comfortable location reduces the time to to 1d4 days” (ibid). I love that randomness! Why should healing always take the same amount of time no matter where you are and what you’ve encountered? If I would’ve known about this when I was still running 5E I would’ve used this rule for resting instead.

LFG has a lot to offer both old and modern gamers. I mentioned several examples above, one of the things I left out are the useful charts. When it comes to the “dark and dangerous” nature of magic, there are charts you can roll on if a spell doesn’t go off as planned. There are charts for hirelings, dungeon generation, numerous environmental encounters, madness, etc. If you can think of something, there is probably a chart you can roll on and get some wonderful insight or description to enhance the situation. So even if you don’t play LFG, the charts provide great campaign flavor for whatever game system you use (I make use of these charts in my C&C games).

The Low Fantasy Gaming Deluxe rulebook and the Companion (which adds even more options for LFG).

Character Creation Challenge: Basic Fantasy

Today for the Character Creation Challenge I take a look at Basic Fantasy. I quite like this game. When I quit D&D in 2018 and began looking for a new game to call my own, I reduced my options at the time to Castles & Crusades (C&C) and Basic Fantasy (BF). They were both important to me, because it allowed me to go old school, but not sacrifice advancements that have been made in game design since the 1980s. C&C uses a d20 system and models characters more off AD&D, and BF uses d20 and models races and classes off early 1980’s Basic D&D. I may have shifted to old school gaming, but I do want to be able to grab some of the useful ideas from 3E or 5E once in a while. C&C won out in the end as my game of choice, but BF remains important in that my Saturday Dragonclaw Barony campaign has been based on BF adventures since last summer and will remain so through (probably) this summer. As a result, I am making use of BF adventures and monsters for every Saturday adventure.

I began by rolling 3d6 down the line and wondered what races/classes would be available to me. As you can see below, I rolled very well! I chose dwarf fighter. Being modeled off early 1980’s D&D character creation is simple. The attribute bonuses and what they do are easily explained on the character sheet itself (perhaps the easiest and best explained of the character sheets I’ve used for this challenge). I rolled 3d6x10 for starting gold, got 100gp, and went about buying equipment (I wrote that down on the back of the character sheet in the equipment section). I bought the usual backpack, rations, rope, etc. After leather armor, a shield, hand axe, and light crossbow, were purchased, I had 23gp remaining and Ukrun was nearly ready for battle. I then just had to roll hit points, write down his dwarven abilities, reference the attack tables, and saving throw tables to complete filling in the sheet and he was done.

I’ve said this before with other entries in this character creation challenge, but I do wish there were people who ran BF at conventions, because I want to experience this game as a player. I guess I can only hope.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 50.

I celebrate 50 sessions in my Barrowmaze campaign – with many more to come! The Army of the Light acquires a House Spirit (Domovoi) named Sobol.

Celebrating 50 sessions of Barrowmaze:
Background. After running games in my version of the Forgotten Realms (FR) from 1992, I left FR and D&D5E behind in 2018. It was time to start fresh and use a game system that gave me the most flexibility to create my own game world, make use of all the D&D editions, and draw upon my academic background in history and philosophy. Castles & Crusades was that game. I spent the late summer and autumn of 2018 beginning my first-ever non-D&D campaign. That pre-Barrowmaze set of adventures numbered 20 by the time the summer of 2019 rolled around and my new group of players made their first visit to the Barrowmaze (a megadungeon made for the Labyrinth Lord retro-clone of 1981 Basic D&D). I had never before had a campaign last more than two years – two years was the max, and most lasted around six months. But for the first time since I began running games I had a campaign that was not winding down, but was actually getting more popular!

The present. After more than two years the excitement is stronger than when it began. How many people can say that about a campaign they are in? This is a good thing, since after 1.5 years of gaming weekly (for the most part), there is still a lot of Barrowmaze to explore and many new challenges to meet and mysteries to solve.

There are 7 players in this campaign, and each have roughly 4 characters which they rotate in and out of each session based on who is off training getting new abilities after leveling up and what the players are most interested in using that particular night. That means there are around 28 characters that make up the Army of the Light! It is not a small adventuring party like you find in a typical D&D-like game, it is an ever growing network of adventurers pooling resources and collaborating to build their skills and their powers. So often in games I’ve previously played in or run, the players would seek out NPC’s to expand their knowledge and skills, and although this group can do that, we have 28 characters ranging from level 1 to 6, each mentoring those of lower level and pooling resources to and sharing knowledge. So while two or three of the wizards, or illusionists might head off to the Barrowmaze to find ancient scrolls, spellbooks, and magic, a couple of the other wizards might remain in the multi-story building they have in Ironguard Motte’s town center to transcribe the scrolls and spellbooks they discovered in the previous adventures. They are turning adventuring into a well-oiled machine!

But in spite of this collaborative work, they are not losing site of their personal ambitions. Several of the Norse characters are being approached by a local Viking lord to join him as he attempts to set up a nearby Viking enclave. Ironguard Motte, run by a local lord worshipping local Saints is trying to hold onto his own power, and knights from one of the nearby Crusader kingdoms is trying to recruit the local paladin, Cobalt, to set him up as the future power in the area. Then we have the elven clerics and wizards, and they have been offered assistance in building their elven temples and wizard towers to maintain a strong elven presence. Finally, we have the rogues, who are being warily watched by the well established guilds in the Duchy of Aerik, wondering if they will join them or are planning on creating their own, competing, guilds (they are!). The characters that are being approached for future leadership are entering 5th-6th level – which is mid-level in C&C – and they have reached the point where people have taken notice of them. Now as they continue their exploration of the mighty secrets and magic of the Barrowmaze, they are also slowly working away at setting up their post-adventuring career at high levels, for when they hit 9th level, that will be when they can begin establishing their towers, castles, temples, guilds, and establishments (and they’ll still need to explore the Barrowmaze to fund these massive building projects). It feels good to see such a rich campaign continuing to grow with such a bright future. This campaign is slowly building towards something great. This campaign began with 3-4 players with around 6 characters in a backward Duchy in the Borderlands, to now being made up of 7 players with 28 characters with a strong local reputation, and steadily moving toward a position where they could eventually be ruling the region and running the local economy!

The Army of the Light get a House Spirit named Sobol.

Game Diary:
Although the Tuesday session was quite exciting, I can abridge it to just the essentials. The adventure began with a little fella who called himself Sobol, appearing out from the hearth of the building where the Army of the Light relaxes and studies between forays into the Barrowmaze. The building had acquired some structural damage during the attack of an elemental creature in December, and it was while they were having it fixed up that Sobol entered the house. He now declared to the group that he was their house spirit, and if they fed him (a little bread, honey, butter, and milk), that he would keep the household clean and tidy (at night when they slept) and even defend it if someone were to enter. The group agreed and now they have a new friend (who remains invisible and out of sight most of the time…as long as they keep the Domovoi happy!).

Having acquire a House Spirit, the Army of the Light spread out their Barrowmaze map fragments across their main table and decided they needed to finish exploring the north western portion of the dungeon. After 10 members stepped forward to partake on this excursion (the rest were either training for new abilities, or researching), they headed out.

The encounters they had once they arrived at the Barrowmaze (it is about a half-day from Ironguard Motte), involved your typical zombies – both slow and fast – a variety of traps, such as a deadfall trap which could’ve crushed Malcolm, the rogue who failed to find it! – a flock of stirges, and then there was the mummy! They did some creative thinking by destroying it’s canopic jars, which weakened it, and luckily for them I kept rolling 2’s on my initiative, so it was always going last, which allowed them to pound it with their attacks. This was good for them, since it didn’t get a good hit in and let’s be honest, mummy rot is not fun!

After this encounter, however, two players had to leave the game early, and since they were using 4 of the 11 characters in this adventure (40% of the group), the group was suddenly handicapped, for these four characters made up 2 of the 3 wizards in the party, and all of the clerics. This almost led to the groups fall when they entered a room fighting two elemental sand creatures and a yellow mold which infected Arthur, the oathsworn. It was with the use of a card from the Deck of Dirty Tricks that allowed them to abruptly summon from his wizard study area in their Ironguard Motte home, Llewelyn, their elven 5th level cleric/5th level wizard. He launched a series of magic missiles to finish off the sandlings, and then had to use a large amount of his clerical power to cure disease on Arthur and heal a number of the other characters who were down to only a few hit points.

Character Creation Challenge: Adventures Dark and Deep

For this entry in the Character Creation Challenge, I made a character in Adventures Dark and Deep (ADD). This game is based on an intriguing concept (quote from the back cover of the Players Manual): “What if Gary Gygax had been allowed to go through with his plans for a second edition of the world’s most popular role-playing game?” Joseph Bloch took AD&D (including the additional material from Unearthed Arcana (UA)), as well as drawing upon articles in Dragon magazine and various online forums, and ADD is his interpretation of what that might have looked like. I find the results to be quite interesting. The game does feel like the next step after UA for the AD&D game (if not an alternate Gygaxian AD&D 2nd edition, it could be thought of as 1.75, if you consider UA as 1.5). UA added the barbarian, cavalier, thief-acrobat, and new playable elven, dwarven, and gnomish races. ADD builds on this. Additional classes you find in ADD are the jester, mystic, bard (as a full class of its own), savant, and mountebank. The Player’s Manual doesn’t just feel like an extension of AD&D, it even looks that way with a font that is similar if not identical to the AD&D 1st edition Players Handbook with similar chart and table formats. If you ever wanted to play a more expanded AD&D 1st edition without switching over to 2nd edition, then ADD is worth looking into (let me also add for those GM’s looking for OSR monsters, that the bestiary for ADD is one of the best collections of AD&D monsters you can get. It is over 450 pages and has over 900 monsters).

But enough of this introduction, let’s move on to my character.

I decided I wanted to make a Jester. This was a way for me to make an expanded AD&D-type character. I had to re-roll my attributes (3d6 six times) several times before I was able to meet the requirement of having at least a 13 in Dexterity, Intelligence, and Charisma. I then did the usual of populating the attribute scores, writing down what the modifiers do, consulting the saving throw charts, rolling starting coin and buying equipment. All of that is like AD&D. What stood out, however, is that much of the character background and character building material in AD&D which you had to get from the DMG (such as social class, birth order, family traits) are in the ADD Players Manual. I always loved choosing that in AD&D but going through two books at the same time – or three if you were also using UA – was a hassle. ADD has all of that in one book in the order in which you need it.

As for the Jester, what do they get? Frankly, quite a lot of unique abilities. Their powers and abilities are: verbal patter, tumbling and performing, pranks, spell use (starting at 3rd level), attract a troupe (10th level). The verbal patter is broken down into subcategories: assure, distract, befuddle, enrage, etc. These all go up percentage-wise like thief abilities. Likewise, tumbling and performing is broken down into: evasion, entertain, falling, balance, fire breathing, juggling, knife throwing, sword swallowing, etc. Like any other AD&D thief-like character, you get a lot of abilities, but they start out quite low (my evasion is 10%, balance is 20%, juggling is 25%, and so on). All these abilities are laid-out in charts, so they are easy to reference. This would be a fun class and character to use with all his acrobatic maneuvering possibilities and the different ways in which he could manipulate his target’s perceptions!

All in all, I had a lot of fun making this character. It was a pretty big shift from the previous characters I made in this challenge from games that were clones from 1977, 1981, and 1983 Basic D&D with their much more simplistic and bare-bones rules, but if you love referencing AD&D 1st edition-inspired charts and tables, this will make you happy! Much like Old School Essentials, and Blueholme, I’d love to play this at a convention, but I get the feeling that this has a much smaller group of adherents. I own all of Joseph Bloch’s ADD books (Players Manual, Game Masters Toolkit, Bestiary, Adventures Great and Glorious, and Castle of the Mad Archmage), but I make use of them for inspiration in my game of choice: Castles & Crusades.

Character Creation Challenge: Swords & Wizardry

I love the evocative old school feel of Swords & Wizardry. Unlike many of the previous games I covered in this series – Blueholme, Labyrinth Lord, Rules Cyclopedia, and Old School Essentials – where I own and have read through the game, but never made a character, Swords & Wizardry (S&W) is a system that I have played a couple of times before (at GaryCon and GameHole), so I do have some experience in the character creation process.

Swords & Wizardry Complete and my Druid character, Ronan.

I decided I wanted to make a druid, but when I rolled 3d6 six times I didn’t get two 13+ attributes I needed for a druid (you need at least two 13’s for the prime requisites of Wisdom and Charisma). I rolled two more sets of attributes before I finally got two numbers that could meet that requirement. Since S&W has such a close affinity with D&D from 1974-1978, character creation is quite simple. I like how once I distributed my stats all the essential information that I needed to make note of from those stats could be placed within a box to the right of them. After that I wrote down a few druid class abilities (neutral alignment, spellcasting – I get one spell, and noted my +2 on saves versus fire). There is only one saving throw number to note in S&W, so that keeps things simple. I rolled my starting money (3d6x10) and only got 40 gold pieces, but luckily being a druid I don’t need much, so I bought a spear, sling, leather armor, and some basic supplies and I still had 23gp left over. I rolled my hit points and noted my armor class. All done, he’s ready for an adventure! Now if only there were some upcoming S&W game I could play in for Con of the North or GaryCon.

My Druid, Ronan Coglan.

Character Creation Challenge: Old School Essentials

This time I return to a retro clone of the 1981 B/X Basic set from 1981 (I previously covered Blueholme, Labyrinth Lord, and the Rules Cyclopedia). Although my first introduction to D&D was the 1983 Mentzer red box, I find myself all these years later gravitating toward the early 1981 Moldvay Basic/Expert box sets. Although the game system I use is Castles and Crusades, regular readers of my blog know that I run two campaigns, one draws upon Barrowmaze (which uses the Labyrinth Lord system), and the other is drawing upon Basic Fantasy game material. So for the last couple of years my C&C games have been heavily involved with 1980’s style D&D material.

Old-School Essentials (OSE) is a damn good game! As you can see from the picture below, I got it when it was originally known as B/X Essentials and was available in small booklets. But when Gavin Norman re-branded it Old-School Essentials, he raised the bar. I think this is the best put together and organized presentation of the 1981 Basic D&D game. These are sturdy hardcovers, with amazing old school black and white artwork, as well as multiple full color two-page art spreads throughout. And the rule presentation is incredibly helpful and succinct (the books also have useful endpapers with all the essential charts, why don’t other companies do this?). I really love OSE! Gavin also makes the evocative Dolmenwood faerie tale setting (I have all the Wormskin zines – see the picture at the bottom – which lay out portions of this setting), and once he brings out a complete Dolmenwood setting in the style he’s done for OSE, then that will most likely be my next C&C campaign. But let me get to character creation!

Old School Essentials (and its predecessor, B/X Essentials)

As you probably gathered from the above discussion, I read his OSE and Wormskin books/zines and marvel at the creativity and organization, but I have yet to make a character in the system. So this is that chance!

I rolled some decent stats: 11, 12, 10, 14, 9, 12 (3d6 6 times and distributed as I desired). I chose to make a Thief, since I haven’t done so yet in the character creation challenge, and I wanted to see their OSE capabilities. The information regarding what an attribute score gives you is straightforward, made more so by the fact that Gavin puts all the essential material on one page – or on facing pages – so you always have everything you need to see right in front of you. All the thief material was on two facing pages and I recorded all my abilities. The saving throw charts were easy to read and record on my character sheet, and after rolling my starting coin (3d6x10) and getting 140gp, I proceeded to buy my basic equipment. Again, the ease of reading the charts and the descriptions of whatever you are seeking information on (i.e. attributes, class abilities, equipment) are succinct and aren’t burdened with excess verbiage. The book is small in size (A5), so there is a need to flip through the book more than you would find in a larger A4 book, but the organization of material easily makes up for that and I do like the compactness (if I can find someone who will run OSE at the GaryCon or GameHole conventions, then it will be easy to bring my books with me).

My OSE Thief, Reinfrid

To be honest, that is all there is to it! If you choose to use older-style descending armor class and THACO, those charts and information are obviously shown, but if you prefer to use ascending armor class and hit bonuses (like I do), that is also listed. My personal game of choice may be Castles & Crusades (with C&C I can use D&D material from OD&D to 5E effortlessly), but I want to play OSE at conventions if I can, and I will be drawing upon Gavin’s game advice in the OSE books to guide my C&C games, and when Dolmenwood comes out, I will be using that material as a future campaign. So although my OSE books are currently not being used as much as they deserve, they are not collecting dust!

My Wormskin zines.

Castles & Crusades: Barrowmaze, Session 49

The Army of the Light is ambushed by a tactically organized horde of ghouls on the ground, inside a pit, and on the ceiling. A shaft out of the Barrowmaze to the surface via a magically sealed shaft of water leads to a chaotic evil undead shrine to Nergal. A giant 12 ft. mantis brings a dwarf to -6 hit points in a single round!


Game Diary:
It can be a risky venture to remain in a dungeon for the night. The Army of the Light is bold, though, and chose to give it a chance. They hunkered down in a room where the door to the corridor was a secret door with a concealed pit trap in front of it. Surely a way to prevent entrance from others, no? However, during each of the three watches they took throughout the night, the oathsworn detected growing evil building up in the corridor outside, the cleric could detect that they were undead, and Gnoosh, the gnome rogue/illusionist with his helm of telepathy could hear the thoughts of a raging undead hunger, a hunger to devour him! But how did they know he was there?

They were able to get their sleep uninterrupted and readied themselves for the battle awaiting them. They opened the door. They could see 5 ghouls awaiting them in the pit below the open door. They saw another 5 ghouls in a semi-circle around the pit facing the door with lassoes waiting to pull the adventurers into the pit, and via the oathsworn’s detect evil they knew there were 5 more ghouls out of sight above them in the corridor between the door frame and the corridor ceiling. The adventurers dropped oil in the pit followed by flaming arrows, lighting them up. Magic missiles and arrows hit the ghouls in the hall. All was going well for them, but when Ria, the pacer, used her slippers of spider climbing to exit the room by walking on the wall (to avoid the pit), she was grabbed and bitten by two ghouls lurking above the door. Failing one of her saving throws, she collapsed in a state of paralysis and they pulled her up towards them. But the Army of the Light continued their attack by throwing a web on the ghouls on the floor and ceiling to the right of the door, and another threw out a couple burning hands. The ghouls were weakened; and then, they were destroyed.

Ria recovered from her paralysis in about 10 minutes and they then proceeded to explore more of the Barrowmaze. After exploring another half dozen rooms, they ascended a 30 foot stair where they discovered an opening that would lead to a Barrow Mound and thus a new exit/entrance point to the Barrowmaze. The challenge, however, was that the 10ft. x 10 ft. shaft which opened upward to the barrow mound had a carving in the ‘Black Tongue’ (the chaotic evil alignment language used by the Necromancers of Nergal) which said “life in death” and was filled with water with a magical force holding it back. The group asked themselves: how can they find their way up this water shaft held back by a magical barrier? The clerics and wizards in the group who managed to work out the black tongue managed to properly pronounce the words and one by one they passed through the barrier and swam up the shaft into the center of a hexagonal barrow mound 30 ft. on a side with four pillars with perpetually lit torches mounted on them. Pentagrams and imposing skull imagery covered the walls, especially the door which would lead outside into the Barrowmoor and freedom. But detect magic revealed to the wizards that they might not be able to successfully dispel the magic on that door. They were so close to leaving! The problem was enhanced, however, because not everyone had managed to properly pronounce the words of the Black Tongue and pass through the barrier into the room above and thus part of the group was still stuck below. So they chose to attempt dispel magic on the pool instead and then ride the rushing water back into the Barrowmaze and leave from one of the exits they normally use. The spells were cast and down they went!

After making their way wet through the corridors of the Barrowmaze they finally made it out and were immediately attacked by an immense 12 foot tall giant mantis! In a single attack its giant claw picked up Aturash, the dwarven berserker, and pulled him to its mouth for a powerful bite. The devastating claw and bite attacks took the dwarf to -6 hit points! He was unconscious and at death’s door (at -7 he would’ve lost one hit point a round until he died at -10). The group could see that the mantis was about to fly away the following round and devour the dwarf, so they swarmed in and attacked with everything they had and managed to kill moments before the dwarf’s death.

Exhausted and out of spells, the group returned to Ironguard Motte for a proper rest and healing.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony Campaign, Session 17

While exploring catacombs, the adventurers battle a wraith and a vampiric undead. Endur “the Thick” – a fighter – is struck by the wraith and sees his warrior memories and experiences pulled from him in black, wispy strands of energy that are absorbed by the undead, rendering him a 0-level character!


Game Diary:
We began the adventure with the group descending from the main level of Rodemus Keep into their burial catacombs where Galen, the young son of Arlen and Sarah Rodemus entered when their keep was taken over by the Black Fist mercenary group. The adventurers had taken care of the Black Fists, and with Arlen and Sarah brought to a safe location away from the keep, the adventurers descended a rope ladder onto the stone floors of the catacombs. The floors, walls, and ceilings of the catacombs were made of granite, and they soon discovered that the doors were cast iron around the door frame and across the center where the locking mechanism was located, with only some of the interior portions made of wood. This meant that if they couldn’t open the locks on the door, then (a) breaking through them would be difficult only allowing a small individual such as a hobbit or gnome to make it through the wood portion that could be broken through, and (b) it would make a lot of noise. Unfortunately for Juhraveal the rogue, the first door they arrived at she failed to open, and she not only failed her check, the half-elf rogue broke her tools in the lock! They left that door and went to the next. She again failed, but this time at least her tools didn’t break! The third door proved lucky, and they entered the room, only for Endur “the Thick”, a human fighter in the party witnessing a dark and gloomy incorporeal spirit emerge from outside the range of their torchlight to strike him. He failed his Constitution save versus energy drain and witnessed his memories and skills of being a fighter pulled from him in black tendrils by the smoky fingers of the wraith, reducing him temporarily to 0-level (in the instance of this type of wraith, he would have to later make another save to see if this would just be temporary, a save in which he would sadly fail). Spellcasters launched magic missiles and the melee combatants learned they needed enchanted weapons to be able to harm it. Fortunately, because of melee combatants like Rok, the half-orc fighter, they wore it down with their blows, and it was finally struck down by the mighty hammer of Thorthic, my supportive NPC dwarven barbarian/cleric of Thor. The elves discovered a secret entrance out of the room with a pit trap in front of it. They decided this was now a good, defensible room should they need to hunker down and recover.

Moving to the next room they came upon three coffins, two were empty, but the third had some bits of dirt around the boundary, and there was a sweet, fragrant smell in the air, which reminded them of an encounter they had on the first level several sessions back where they encountered a type of vampiric undead. One elven cleric, Anne, cast protection from undead and bless, and the half-elf cleric Eliam held up the Rodemus family symbol – a dragonfly necklace – which doubled as an enhanced holy symbol to turn undead. The coffin lid was lifted and as the vampiric-type undead rose to attack they descended on it! Magic missiles began flying, great axe blows from Rok, and hammer blows from Thorthic beat it down. As it’s limp body slowly began to mend from the blows, they cut of its head and hammered a stake through its heart. Examining the coffin, they discovered over 3,000 gp of treasure – the largest haul they have yet encountered in this campaign! While part of the group took the treasure to the underground safe-house nearby, the other members took the vampiric undead to the surface to a running stream near Rodemus Keep to allow the running water disperse it’s body (something they had done to the previous vampiric creature they had encountered).

When this was all done and they reunited in their safe room, they managed to enter another room and battled some skeletons. However, by this time the clerics and wizards were running out of spells and they decided to spend the night resting to recover their resources, it was also sadly during this evening rest that Endur failed his second saving throw, meaning that when we get together in two weeks to continue this adventure, he will effectively be a 0-level human. In Castles & Crusades terms, he will still have the human prime attributes he chose (Dexterity and Constitution), but he will lose his prime attribute in Strength, since that is associated with the Fighter class and he will have to complete an adventure before he can re-enter that class and begin once again to build up his experience and knowledge of the warrior arts.

Character Creation Challenge: Rules Cyclopedia

Previously in this character creation challenge I explored 1977 Basic D&D via Blueholme, and 1981 Basic D&D via Labyrinth Lord. I now chose to make a character using the 1983 Basic D&D via the Rules Cyclopedia (a 1991 consolidation and revision of the Basic, Expert, Companion, and Master box sets that were released from 1983-1985). The 1983 Basic red box set was my very first D&D game product, so these rules are quite special for me, since those rules along with the art by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley defined D&D for me and set me off on my RPG journey. By the time the Rules Cyclopedia came out in 1991 I had already switched to AD&D 1st edition and it was in 1992 that I began AD&D 2nd edition and a Forgotten Realms campaign that would last until 2018 (when I left behind the Forgotten Realms and D&D for my homebrew world using Castles & Crusades), so except for admiring the incredible Jeff Easley cover, I never used the the Rules Cyclopedia.

The Rules Cyclopedia, a consolidation of most of the BECMI D&D.

Character creation is pretty simple. I rolled 3d6 six times and distributed them the way I wanted. Unlike my Labyrinth Lord character, who had attributes that were 10, 15, 11, 5, 7, and 8, I rolled much better for this character: 14, 12, 13, 12, 13, 9. Since I chose to make a dwarf, I put my best numbers in Strength and Constitution. The high numbers ensured that Thrafith would get a +5% experience point bonus. I rolled for starting gold (3d6 x 10) and only got 70gp, so he was not going to be purchasing a lot! After buying basic adventuring materials such as rations, hammer, iron spikes, rope, tinderbox, and some clothes, I decided he would be happy with just a battle axe, shield and leather armor. He had 14gp left over. This rules set only has three alignments – lawful, chaotic, and neutral – and I made him lawful. Thrafith’s dwarven abilities are as you would expect: infravision, detection of stone traps, sliding walls, sloping corridors, and new construction. Finally, I filled in the “To Hit” chart and my Saving Throws (both could be found in tables found much later in the Rules Cyclopedia, however, the page numbers are conveniently listed in the character creation chapter at the beginning of the book).

The first page of my character sheet using the Rules Cyclopedia

If you want to run a Basic D&D campaign from 1st until 36th levels, this is the book. It has everything for players, and with a monster manual and rules advice, it has everything a Dungeon Master needs as well (the book is 304 pages, but keep in mind the format is three columns, with a small font and narrow spacing, so it is quite packed with information). Well, that is it for this character creation post, coming up I will cover Basic FantasyOld School EssentialsAdventures Dark and DeepSwords & Wizardry, and Low Fantasy Gaming.

The 1983 Basic D&D Box set (sadly, not my original box).