Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony Campaign, Session 18

Summary:
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 (https://www.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).