Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 88

The Army of the Light enters the Grand Sepulcher of the Elements and defeats Zvin Lorktho, a mummy lord, and his 12 mummy followers. The fighting was fierce and elven archer Elfgiva became a casualty of the massive battle.

Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Elfgiva, Elf Archer 3/Cleric 3/Wizard 3 of Sehanine Moonbow
Ria, Human Pacer 5 of Loki
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 6 of Celestian
Oswyn, Human Cleric 4 of St. Jasper
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 7 of Haephestus
Tiberius, Human Cleric 5/Paladin 2 of St. Ingrid
Kyron, Human Cleric 7 of Zuul
Balthazar, Elf Wizard 7 of Arcanus

Dhekeon “the Disgraced,” fallen skeletal paladin of St. Justus (seeking redemption)

Game Diary:
Last time Kyron was had taken control of 2 16 hit die water and air elementals, and 11 8 hit dice air and water elementals and with them destroyed 15 undead (mummies, wraiths, and rot grub zombies). The group was largely out of spells from these battles and many needed healing. They decided to rest while the elementals remained on guard. However, Kyron discovered that if he tried to rest the elementals would break free of his control and destroy them all. So, he remained awake during the time his companions rested. More than 8 hours later he was getting fatigued from trying to retain control of the elementals, but at least his companions were rested. They were prepared to enter the final Grand Sepulcher of the Elements and take on Zvin Lorthko, the final high priest of Zuul, a forgotten god of Elemental Chaos. He had since been turned into a zombie by the Tablet of Chaos in the Barrowmaze and Zuul whispered into the mind of Kyron – his newly converted priest – that once he destroyed Lorthko, he would be on the path to renew his religion and become his new high priest.

Using Gnoosh’s robe of eyes and hat of telepathy, as well as other characters’ ability to detect evil, they worked out that there were going to be roughly 12 mummies they would have to get through before Zvin Lorthko could be reached. However, Lorthko was aware of them and waited for them. Kyron also realized that if he confronted Lorthko with all the elementals under his control, that Lorthko would most likely try and wrest control of them from him, and considering Kyron was just mid-level, and Lorthko was once a high-priest who had, perhaps, been the one who originally summoned them in the first place to guard the sepulchers, Kyron left them at the exit point to this final tomb (this turned out to be a good decision!).

art by Rabeen Aas, Deviant Art

The group initially proceeded slowly down a long 100+ foot long corridor running into a few isolated mummies and they destroyed them rather easily. During this time Lorthko taunted Kyron, egging him on, but they continued slowly. To force the hand of the Army of the Light the walls exploded outward and four mummies charged forth toward the group, an aura of fear emanated from them and several characters failed their saving throw and fled back down the corridor. This was where the water and air elementals had remained and the characters were prevented from leaving the area by hitting a wall of wind and water.

The clerics at this point turned undead – successfully! – and the mummies turned and fled.

Where the mummies going to be dealt with this easily?


As the group approached a stairway that headed down, a mummy with a staff – Lorktho – aimed his staff, which was crackling with electrical energy, and shot a lightning bolt down the corridor. It dealt a lot of damage. Fortunately for most of the party, they had good Dexterity saving throws and took half damage. Unfortunately, Elfgiva, the elven archer/cleric/wizard failed her save and was destroyed from the blast. She also had a magical elven bow that was incredibly powerful. I told the player to roll a saving throw for it, and said that that because it was so powerful that only a roll of a 1 would be a failure. The player rolled a 1 – the elven bow was destroyed!

Balthazar next used a card from the Deck of Dirty Tricks that allowed him to use an enemies magic item for one round. Suddenly “the gods” seemed to favor the Army of the Light and Lorktho’s staff suddenly appeared in Balthazar’s hand.

Arthur had now lept into action and jumped down the stairs directly in front of Lorktho and fought him one-on-one. A series of magic missiles also found their way to Lorktho and he was being battered down. Arthur then discovered rushing toward him four more mummies to fight by the side of Lorktho! Plus, even without his magical staff, Lorktho was a powerful priest, and he began pondering what powerful spell he could use next – would it be flamestrike or harm? Lorktho chose to cast harm on Arthur, which would reduce him to a mere 4 hit points and from there a simple slam attack from a nearby mummy would kill him.

The plan was set. We rolled initiative – the players beat me and this changed everything! They continued to throw spells at him, Arthur attacked, and then Dhekeon lept from the top of the stair and with two strikes of his two-handed sword struck the former high priest down mere moments (in initiative sequence) before Lorktho would’ve cast his spell and his mummies would have killed Arthur.

One character had died in this battle and another was just a portion of an initiative away from joining her. I then realized after the battle that Lorktho had a magic item that gave him magic resistance and he should’ve been able to ignore several of the spells that had been cast at him. But as I was trying to manage 12 mummies, plus all the spells and other magic items that Lorktho had, this had slipped my mind! Oh well, that happens! The adventure was still a lot of fun! The adventure ended with the group entering the final chamber and collecting thousands of gold pieces in loot and a healthy amount of magic items. The Sepulcher of Chaotic Elements had taken several game sessions and once everyone made it back to Irongaurd Motte several characters leveled up from all that hard work, including Gnoosh, who became the first character to reach 9th level in this campaign. Since I operate this element of my game like AD&D, that means that he will now be getting followers, and the slow work he had been doing in recent levels to begin his own thieves guild will finally fall into place!

Review: Castles & Crusades Gods & Legends, and Of Gods & Monsters

I will be reviewing two Castles & Crusades books covering gods and pantheons, the now out-of-print Of Gods & Monsters (OG&M) and its recently published replacement Gods & Legends (G&L). I will explain how they are different, how they are similar, and why you might want to get them (OG&M is still available in PDF format).

The gods play a huge role in my C&C campaigns through the abilities they provide their followers (originally inspired by the AD&D 2nd edition concept of specialty priests). When I began my world development using C&C my pantheons made use of the AD&D 2nd edition Legends & Lore book and the powers they bestowed on their followers, as well as the information from OG&M (both books had James Ward as their primary author, so this made sense even if the books were published decades apart). Those books were indispensable in laying out the foundations of my game world (even though I am now beginning to strike out on my own).

Sadly, although OG&M was published in 2012, it has been out-of-print for a while, and even though Troll Lord Games (TLG) had spoken of making a 2nd edition of OG&M years went by and nothing happened. But then, a few months ago G&L suddenly appeared. A lot has changed between the two books and although I really like G&L, I am saddened by the dropped and forgotten material from OG&M. Let me provide some detailed examples.

Of Gods & Monsters:
OG&M lays out 20+ pantheons: Aihrde, American Indian, Aztec, Celtic, Dwarves, Egyptians, Elves, Gnomes, Greek, Halflings, Humanoids (Bugbear, Goblin, Hobgoblin, Orc, etc.), India, Japanese, Norse, and Romans. Each section provides:
1. An introduction to the pantheon
2. Deity entries
3. Magic items each god uses and may bestow upon a follower under unique circumstances (typically 2-3 items per god)
4. Spells (unique to the pantheon, around 10 new spells per pantheon)
5. Bestiary (unique to the pantheon, around 3-6 monsters per pantheon)

It has a great balance between crunch and fluff. I have read other reviews where the reviewers thought the rules were all over the place and some of the spells were clearly not balanced and were too weird. There is some truth to this. Still, some of the spells in this book stand out as being truly unique and I have seen nothing like them in any other source. With this book now out of print and with the spells not appearing in the soon-to-be-published C&C Adventurers Spellbook, these spells are now lost and forgotten unless you get this book as a PDF. Let me give you an example of a couple of the spells.

There is a 6th level gnome spell called Avocado Justice (p.83). “A special banner is created, with a warning…something like, ‘don’t attack us [or] you will be sorry.’ Those who see the banner save versus their wisdom. If they fail…wherever they are standing they are permanently turned into a growing avocado plant.”

I had an NPC gnome illusionist who the PCs met and they saw a nice garden of avocados in front of his cottage. No one else thought anything of it, but I did tell the gnome PC in the group that the plants might once have been intruders who tried to enter his house and steal his magical secrets. I have made this a spell that one of the gnome gods in my pantheon provides those who worship him. It has a truly unique character and just feels like the quirky thing that a gnome might do.

Here is another unique 8th level gnome spell called Mass Eating Rather Than Dying (p.83). “The material component is a dead number of gnomes. On the death of a gnome, during the duration of the spell [1 minute/level], instead of dying, the gnomes find themselves back home in front of a large table filled with food and they have one hit point left. The spell only works during a battle and not from dying of disease or old age. Being accidentally bit by a poisonous snake would clear the poison out of the system of the now comfortably eating at-home gnome.” Again, I think this is a really flavorful spell. I think it would be fantastically cool if as a TPK has occurred – and we lost several gnome characters – for them all to appear back home for one final feast before they die. I can see players trying to abuse a spell like this, but then again, the wording of it allows me as the GM to put restrictions on it if need be. This is also a spell that one of my gnome gods gives to his followers.

Gods & Legends
G&L lays out 27+ pantheons: Aihrde, Dwarf, Elven, Halfling, Gnome, Humanoids (Bugbears, Gnoll, Goblin, Orc, Hobgoblin, Lizardman, Kobold, Giant, Ogre, Troll, etc.), Dragon, Fey, Centaur, Merfolk, Sahuagin, Celtic, Greek, Egyptian, German, Norse, Slavic.

This book has an elaborate introduction by Davis Chenault that provides advice on how you might use the gods in your world. This can be a quite useful section for GMs that want advice and guidance on using gods, alignment, holy symbols, etc.

The rest of the book is made up of the pantheons. Whereas EG&M provided a deity entry, magic items, spells, and a bestiary, this book just provides deities. No magic items. No spells. No bestiary. Just gods. And the format changes depending on the pantheon. Fantasy pantheons (i.e. dwarves and elves) provide background descriptions that are several paragraphs long. Whereas for the human pantheons (i.e. Celt and Norse), it is just a list of deities and powers with no deity descriptions (the Earth pantheons to be found in this book are the ones to be found in the Codex books that TLG publishes, so all the deity information is to be found there).

In my game world the Codex books are core books and there are molfar, seidkona, berserker, and drachentoten found everywhere, so this is not a problem for me since I own and use the codex volumes. However, for GMs that do not have the codex books, you will have a lot of game stat information to use but nothing provided explain or flesh out and add context to the stat dumps and so those without the codex volumes may feel frustrated.

A comparison of the gnome section from OG&M (top) and G&L (bottom)

Final Thoughts
So, where do we stand?

G&L is focused just on deities, pantheons, and guidance on how to use them. The fantasy pantheons are well laid out and provide a lot of information for those that need to drop a fantasy pantheon into their world. The pantheons based on our world, however, are massive stat dumps with no context or narrative support. I will use it as a quick reference, but for detailed information, I will head to the relevant codex books I own. GMs that don’t have them may well feel frustrated by the Earth pantheon sections.

Artwork. As for the fantasy pantheon deities in G&L, although there is a lot of great new black and white artwork. However, some art is also recycled. This can be annoying for those of us with both books that got used to associating specific art pieces with certain gods that James Ward wrote up for OG&M and now seeing them used for completely new gods written up by Davis Chenault for G&L.

OG&M as of this writing is only available as a PDF on DriveThruRPG. What it lacks in more robust write-ups on fantasy pantheons, it makes up for with unique deity-specific magic items, pantheon-specific spells, and culture-specific monsters. If you looked at the rough list of pantheons I mentioned for each of the books above you will notice that a large number of real-world pantheons have been dropped (e.g. America Indian, Aztec, India, Japanese), you now only have real-world pantheons represented if there is a TLG codex book for that culture.

For me, OG&M is just as important as G&L. I think the material they have dropped from OG&M and allowed to remain out of print is a real shame. I have no idea if TLG plans to keep the PDF of OG&M available (I hope they do), but in case they don’t, it might be worthwhile to go take a look at it and use it to add in the missing Earth pantheons and to add magic items, spells, and monsters to each of the pantheons that are missing from G&L. TLG may have intended G&L to replace OG&M, but I think OG&M has a purpose and place, indeed, OG&M will probably remain the main source and reference for my C&C games due to the gods, magic items, spells, and beasts, and G&L will probably function as the supplement to it as I will use it to mostly to just add a few more deities to my current pantheons.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 87

My players broke the game and all hell broke loose! Cleverly using a spell, a player bypassed two crypts of monsters and directly grabbed the prized items. The guardian elementals (11 8HD and 2 16 HD), and 15 undead (3 wraiths, 6 mummies, 6 rot grub zombies) smashed through the walls to destroy the group! But the priest managed to command ALL the elementals to fall under his command and destroy the undead!

Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Elfgiva, Elf Archer 3/Cleric 3/Wizard 3 of Sehanine Moonbow
Ria, Human Pacer 5 of Loki
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 6 of Celestian
Oswyn, Human Cleric 4 of St. Jasper
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 7 of Haephestus
Tiberius, Human Cleric 5/Paladin 2 of St. Ingrid
Kyron, Human Cleric 7 of Zuul
Balthazar, Elf Wizard 7 of Arcanus

Dhekeon “the Disgraced,” fallen skeletal paladin of St. Justus (seeking redemption)

Game Diary:
When session 86 ended the Army of the Light had cleared out all of the Chaos Sepulcher of Elemental Earth except for the final chamber, where they needed to fight the final earth elemental guardians and grab the skull key needed for the final chamber (they need skull keys for earth, fire, air, and water, to enter and take on the final challenge, and they so far just had the fire key).

Fully rested up from the previous adventure they returned and entered the final earth elemental chamber. Stalagmites and stalactites were everywhere with an altar 80 feet away at the far end. Knowing there were going to be obstacles in the way from having completed the fire chamber (where Roulf used his boots of striding and springing to leap to the altar, grab the skull key, and put the fire elemental guardians on a goose chase him around the room). This time it was Ria who used her winged helmet and swiftly flew through the chamber and grabbed the earth skull. Earth elementals emerged from the walls and floor and Ria darted through the air keeping out of reach.

Meanwhile, the stalagmites and stalactites came to life and the characters learned they were piercers and ropers! The ropers struck Elfgiva, Kyron, Gorgat, and Tiberius, and the poisonous sludge-coated strands drained all of them of half their Strength and pulled them towards its mouth. Although the piercers missed their marks, the battle with the ropers was tough and once they finally destroyed them in their weakened conditions they had to help Ria out with the Earth elementals. Fortunately, there were four clerics in the group and they neutralized the poison from the ropers and restored everyone’s strength. Kyron then cast walk through earth, a special ability his new god Zuul provided him as his specialty priest. He lowered himself into the ground and two earth elementals pursued him. The earth elementals proved challenging and when they struck the characters they hit hard. But they were eventually defeated and people were healed by the four clerics. Spells had been used up in the battle and the group thought it good to leave, rest, and recover, before returning for the next two sepulchers (air and water).

Roper art from the D&D 5E Monster Manual

Then Kyron had an idea. Instead of laboriously going through the Chaos Sepulchers of Elemental Air and Water, why not just use his walk through earth spell (it lasted an hour), head over to the two chambers of Air and Water, move unseen up through the stone altar, grab the skull keys, and head back to the group, bypassing all the undead and monsters that lie in-between!! The group agreed with uncertainty of what to expect. They waited for him as he head off on his own through the earth floor. He proceeded to enter each of the final chambers in these sepulchers, grab the two skull keys, and met the rest of the group back at the main entrance to the Chaos Sepulcher stairway which led out into the Barrowmaze.

It was then that they heard a whistling sound and splashing. Kyron had awakened all the elemental guardians and undead in those two areas with his theft and the group could see from the entrance to the Sepulcher of Air that air elementals were battering down the bricked-up wall that separated them from the group. Likewise, the water elementals were battering at their bricked-up wall and water was beginning to pour through the washed away mortar. Then Gnoosh, with his robe of eyes saw that three wraiths were moving directly through the stone walls toward them (and thus would reach them first).

The clerics prepared their undead attacks and assaulted them as they arrived. Then the air elementals (4 8 HD and 1 16 HD) broke through and they all saw five tornadic columns shoot toward them at super-human speed. Kyron stepped forward and made a Wisdom check to impose his will on them as the first new cleric of the forgotten Chaos God of the Elements – Zuul – in centuries. With his dice roll, modifiers, and level he got 30! I made the challenge level 16 to match the highest hit die elemental – and he succeeded! They stopped and awaited his command. One needs to remember that these Chaos Sepulchers of Earth, Fire, Air, and Water were the resting place of perhaps the last of Zuul’s priesthood. Although these priests and followers had since been corrupted by the Chaos Tablet and the church of Nergal and turned into undead, Kyron now represented the first living priest of this faith in a very long time.

At this point, mighty waves of water descended down the corridor towards the group to “wash” them away into oblivion. Kyron stepped forward and tried to command them to stop as he did to the air elementals – he got another modified result of 30 and they also stopped and awaited his command!!

We had been in slight shock when Kyron use his spell to circumvent the tombs and directly grab the skull keys, but I thought that a solution had been found and now they were going to pay for their ingenuity (or “cheating,” take your pick!), but now with two successful, nearly impossible dice rolls, he now had all the elementals at his command!

Still, although the wraiths were gone, I still had 6 barrow mummies, 6 rot grub zombies, and an amphisbaena. Well, I thought I did. The clerics “turned” undead and as the undead retreated Kyron commanded the elementals to destroy them all. I am afraid that 96 hit dice worth of elementals can take care of some zombies and fleeing barrow mummies!

The session was now at its end, but all the players were high on their successes and decided to game longer and nonchalantly go through the Air and Water sepulcher chambers and collect all the loot. They went to the air elemental area first. It was indeed easy as they saw that the air elementals had “blown” the doors off their hinges and any traps had been triggered and were no longer an issue. They picked up the loot and entered the main chamber where there were still guardians of the air remaining – giant eagles (they had been too large to leave the chamber into the narrower halls, so they had to remain). Kyron was overflowing with success and commanded them to have them join his retinue of elemental followers, but this time he rolled a 1! Ah, but the group had a card from the Deck of Dirty Tricks that allowed a re-roll. He rolled again and…got another 1! Now the giant eagles were pissed off! It was there that I ended the session on a cliffhanger for next week.

We spoke animatedly about this for quite a while afterward as everyone packed up and put on their shoes and coats to leave. This was clearly one of the adventures that will stand out as a highlight of the campaign. They are already speaking about next week and with all the elementals under Kyron’s command of entering the fifth and final chamber and take on the former high priest of Zuul who is now a very powerful undead (Zuul wants him destroyed, for although this elemental priest was once his prized high priest, he is not pleased that he has been corrupted into an undead).

Will the group defeat the giant eagles? Probably. But can they defeat the former high priest of Zuul now that he is a powerful, corrupted, undead with other powerful undead support?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Side-Session 86.5

On a side-quest to remove petrification on the wizard Balthazar, a small party from the Army of the Light must do a quest for a mysterious elven wizard, hunt down phase spiders, and then enter the lair of galeb duhr defended by a pet bulette and offer them gems for a favor, but they mustn’t kill or hurt the landshark in any way or the galeb duhr would not help them!

Roulf, Half-Orc Dragonslayer 6 of Crom
Oswyn, Human Cleric 3 of St. Jasper
Zen, Human Mok 7 of St. Agathos
Ria, Human Pacer 5 of Loki
Kyron, Human Cleric 7 of Zuul
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 4 of St. Luther

Game Diary:
We had a little side session mid-week to reverse the petrification that occurred to the elven wizard Balthazar in the Barrowmaze fighting a basilisk.

The adventure began with an elven wizard sage and traveler who is rarely in Ironguard Motte seeking the assistance of the Army of the Light. In her travels, Hulda had encountered an evil sorcerer that had made her legs appear as an incorporeal smoke-like substance (even though she can still “feel” herself walk) and she now wears a long dress to cover it up, for if others saw her they might mistake her for an undead. She posited that components from 4 phase spiders might be able to temporarily allow her legs to “phase” back into reality until she can find a longer-term solution. She then stated that if the group would help her, she could help them. They told her about their friend Balthazar, an elven wizard who had been turned into stone when fighting a basilisk in the Barrowmaze. She said that by the time they returned from their adventure for her, she might have found a solution for them. So off they went a days travel to the west to find the phase spiders.

After a brief encounter with small 3 foot tall froglings that tried to ambush the group in the Barrowmoor – and failed! – the group camped and set off the next morning to find the phased spiders. But how does one do so when they can phase in and out of this realm and the ethereal realm?

One observant character noticed that a shrub was leaning in one direction and posited that this might be a sign that an invisible, ethereal web strand was attached to it. Ria and Roulf climbed into trees, Kyron sent his arrowhawk familiar into the sky to look for disturbances, and this allowed them to narrow things down – just as the massive phase spiders shifted into this realm to attack! The cleric Oswyn cast spiritual weapon to fight them from afar at a safer range, as did the cleric Kyron. Zen moved in for close combat but he was covered in web shot at him from a spider on the ground. Roulf and Ria pursued spiders in the trees, but soon web was appearing around them as well. They had to be careful in the way they fought since the components Hulda wanted came from inside their body, so it was important not to damage that, so there were lots of called shots on the spider’s legs, and/or the use of bludgeoning instead of slashing or piercing weapons on the body to avoid cutting or puncturing the parts Hulda needed. This obviously made combat more interesting!

Phase Spider art from the D&D 5E Monster Manual

Eventually Zen was near to breaking out of the web, but then a new web covered him and a companion. Roulf was bit by a spider in a tree and began to suffer from their poison (which would cause him to pass out quickly and then die slowly over several days), sensing he had mere seconds (1 round) before he was going to pass out and fall from the tree, he lept out of it onto the double padding of web below him where two companions were!

The spiders did fall, the clerics neutralized the poison in Roulf’s body, put the spiders on a wagon, and headed back to Ironguard Motte. Back at Hulda’s house, she collected the bodies and put them away for future research. When asked if she had a solution for Balthazar’s petrification, she thought she had a solution. The group would have to travel for a few days west outside of the Duchy of Aerik until they found the torn-up landscape left by a landshark (bulette), there, somewhere underground would be a group of Galeb Duhr. They would have to offer generous amounts of finely cut gems (at least 5,000 gold pieces worth) and then ask for a sample of their sweat and blood. Here was the trick – they would have to pass through the tunnels of a bulette, but they couldn’t hurt it at all, for the galeb duhr would then not help them if their pet was killed!

Galeb Duhr artwork from the D&D 5E Monster Manual

They headed off on their multi-day journey through cloudy skies and heavy rain before putting a boat down on the Merisc river and rowing down the river until they saw uprooted and leaning trees, which were clear signs that they were in the hunting grounds of a landshark! Hoping the heavy downpour of rain would mask their footsteps from the creature that has tremorsense, they eventually found a cave opening. Descending into it they had three directions – left, straight, or right. They chose left and after 20 minutes they entered a large 100-foot diameter chamber lit with some phosphorescent fungus. There were six immense boulders in this room. The party held out their hands filled with gems and respectfully made their request. Several boulders rose from the ground and what appeared to be ridges ended up being eyebrow ridges and a crack in the stone was a mouth. Standing 16 feet high, the deep-voiced and slow-speaking galeb duhr leader engaged in conversation with them.

There was a lot or role playing as the group negotiated with the stone beings, but the role-playing was top-notch and the galeb duhr agreed to provide sweat and blood for the group. This group of the Army of the Light began considering that having galeb duhr as allies could be useful and began working out plans for future visits and gifts of gems. The galeb duhr called their bulette into the room with thunderous vibrations into the ground and minutes later it arrived and they had it sniff the group members and learn their scent so that they would be recognized on a later return. All worked out splendidly!

With all the business completed the group headed back, and after a short encounter with some carnivorous apes, they arrived back in Ironguard Motte and Hulda promised to concoct a solution for Balthazar’s petrification soon with her new components in hand. And that was where the adventure ended.

This was a very fun side adventure. I enjoy designing these side treks that can add new character and sub-plots to the campaign. I was very keen to see how the players got around the bulette challenge. As it happened the weather condition (as always) was determined by me rolling weather dice and we all have to respond to that. When I rolled the “rain” symbol on the weather die, I then rolled another die and got the maximum number, which meant “downpour.” That obviously gave the players an advantage as the entire surface of the land had the sound of the heavy rain hitting, thus muffling the sounds of the characters’ footsteps. Then, when they had to choose which of the three paths to take, they took the one that would lead the furthest from the landshark. So the randomness of the dice and the wise choice of the players in discussion saved them the challenge of how to avoid fighting a trained Landshark pet!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 86

Gimli (dwarven berserker werewolf) dies as he is swallowed and devoured by a Bag of Devouring! Gnoosh (gnome rogue/illusionist) loses two levels from a wraith, and Wright (human paladin) loses one level from a wraith. Examining a powerful clerical scroll, Kyron (cleric) immediately loses his priestly powers from Charon and converts to Zuul, the forgotten god of Chaotic Elements, and is given a mission!

Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 7/Wizard 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rosaline, Half-Elf (elven lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Roulf, Half-Orc Dragonslayer 6 of Crom
Edward, Human Bard of St. Cecilia
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 7 of Haephestus
Tiberius, Human Paladin 3/Cleric 1 of St. Ingrid
Gimli, Dwarf Berserker 7 of Odin
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 5 of St. Luther

Dhekeon “the Disgraced,” fallen skeletal paladin of St. Justus (seeking redemption)

Game Diary:
We left off last time with the Army of the Light entering the Sepulcher of Elemental Fire. They were hit by a wave of heat which functioned as a heat metal spell on those wearing metal armor, and the heat coming from a pit of lava burned their lungs so much that they were going to feel exhaustion within 10 rounds (effects similar to a slow spell). Several characters had endure elements and resist elements, which would reduce or slow down these effects, but the danger was all around them with lava crabs and lava weirds emerging from the lava pit. The session came to an end as Roulf lept over the lave pit, picked up the prized Skull of Fire Elements and four fire elements began to rise from the lava.

art by javi-ure, Deviant Art.

This session began with four 8 foot tall fire elementals emerging from the lava as well as a 16-foot tall fire elemental which spoke in Roulf direction “that [skull] belongs to ME.” But Roulf has boots of springing and striding and ran and jumped about the chamber always keeping ahead of the massive fire elemental leader. Spellcasters cast head fog to try and blind them, ranged combatants launched their weapons and magic missiles hit their targets. There were some hits by the elementals, but the protective endure and resist elements spells – and Gimli’s immunity to fire thanks to his Berserker Odin’s Fury – kept the group from taking too much damage, and the fire elementals fell.

You know the group did well and had enough resources left, for instead of wanting to head back to Ironguard Motte, they wanted to begin exploring the next sepulcher and chose the Chaos Sepulcher of Earth. It began simply enough with crypts filled with ravenous zombies, green slime, amber mold, ghouls, and ghasts. All proved challenging, but it was encountering four wraiths that left an impact on the group. Gnoosh was able to see them through the walls with his robe of eyes and prepared the group. The wraiths saw him and came in for the attack. He cast a cloak of energy on himself which would give them damage in any attack they did against him, but he himself was struck twice and failed his constitution save from both attacks thus draining him one level of rogue and one from illusionist. Wright was nearby and was also struck and lost a level of paladin before the wraiths were destroyed. It was at this point the group decided it was time to head back to Ironguard Motte and recover! They only had the grand chamber left to enter for the Sepulcher of Elemental Earth, but this would wait until the next session.

Back in town, Gimli wanted to examine a unique bag he had acquired in the previous adventure. Identify said it was a bag of holding, and yet when inanimate objects were put in it he was mostly unable to retrieve them afterward by trying to shake out the contents. So he decided to reach in and grab them. It was at this point something grabbed onto him He fought back with his dwarven strength to resist, but failed and the group members in the living area of their headquarters saw the dwarf get pulled into the bag, heard a gulping sound, and his worg familiar felt their empathic link abruptly end – Gimli had been devoured by some extra-dimensional creature! Gimli, much like Cobalt, the paladin who preceded him in death, had been one of the most well-known figures in the Army of the Light and now all that remained was a memory and stories of what he had done, and what stories will be told of what he did!

One other thing that had been discovered in the Sepulcher of Chaotic Elements was a clerical scroll was worth 10,000gp to the right sage or ecclesiastic labeled “The Doctrine of Zuul.” They discovered earlier that Zuul was an ancient and now forgotten Chaotic god of the Elements. This scroll would outline the teachings and basic tenets of Zuul and his faith. Kyron decided he wanted to read the scroll and after doing so immediately felt a change within himself. Previously a Neutral cleric of Charon, the boatman, he was now stripped of the unique powers that Charon had given him and abruptly became a Chaotic Neutral priest of Zuul – the faith would live again with him, and new powers were bestowed onto him! [It should be noted that in my games I use something equivalent to specialty priest abilities that were found in AD&D 2nd edition and prestige class powers from 3E that are given to everyone based on the god they worship, so Kyron did not simply experience some mundane thing like having a god change, alignment change, and no ability changes; no, he lost several bonus abilities from Charon such as sensing undead, commanding undead, and protection from evil, and instead now receives resistance to elemental spell effects, and can begin casting unique elemental spells found within the C&C book Elemental Spells].

Filled with this new faith, Kyron looked forward to his new spiritual mission, and his first challenge was presented to him by the awakened god Zuul: his former high priest – Zvin Lorktho – had been buried in the Barrowmaze, but the Table of Chaos over time had turned him and his followers into undead. Undead are an abomination to this god of the elements and he told Kyron that he must destroy Lorktho, take his items as his own, and become the new High Priest of Zuul and spread the faith anew! Kyron was pleased!

We return to the Sepulcher of Elemental Earth next session!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 85

The Army of the Light enters the Chaos Sepulcher of the Elements and battle a spectre named Fecal Nul, golems made of stone and gems, before ending up in a chamber fighting lava crabs, lava weirds, and a variety of fire elementals emerge from a lava pool as the adventure ends on a cliffhanger!

Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 7/Wizard 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Rosaline, Half-Elf (elven lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Roulf, Half-Orc Dragonslayer 6 of Crom
Arthur, Human Oathsworn 6 of Celestian
Gorgat, Half-Orc Barbarian 7 of Haephestus
Tiberius, Human Paladin 3/Cleric 1 of St. Ingrid
Gimli, Dwarf Berserker 7 of Odin
Wright Dawnbreaker, Human Paladin 5 of St. Luther

Dhekeon “the Disgraced,” fallen skeletal paladin of St. Justus (seeking redemption)

Game Diary:
In game terms the Army of the Light took several months off to level up, train to pick some Advantages from the Castle Keepers Guide, and wait for winter to pass so that they could head back to the Barrowmaze after winter and the snow had melted.

And so they head back to the Barrowmaze on a bright, sunny, but chilly day during the first week of April, having last visited in mid-December. They made their way through familiar halls noticing that during the intervening months that some previous dead bodies had been removed (or devoured, animated, etc.), and one bricked up wall they had knocked down had been bricked up again.

They finally arrived at the area they were seeking – the Chaos Sepulcher of the Elements. It is bricked up and sealed from the rest of the Barrowmaze, but the group takes out their sledgehammers and breaks it down. The nature-sensitive elves and druid pick up the sounds of whispers in the air. Gnoosh, with his robe of eyes that allows him to see into parallel realms, sees small, invisible, air elementals the size of fingers darting about in the air. Gimli, the dwarf picks up vibrations coming up from the earth. They were clearly entering an area in touch with the core elements of reality (albeit augmented by the force of chaos that has settled so firmly in this area).

They notice that there are five areas. They had previously worked out that four of the areas were associated with the four elements – air, water, fire, and earth. The symbols they analyzed led them in confidence to narrow down water and fire. Since Gimli, their dwarven berserker, was immune to fire when in Odin’s Fury, and Wright had frost brand, they chose to enter the fire elemental area first.

Breaking down that bricked-up wall revealed a corridor with eight doors with four on each side. One-by-one Gnoosh open locks (or the doors got knocked in when he failed) and they fought golems made of stone and gems (collecting some fine treasure from those encounters) and fought Sons of Gaxx (zombie-like creatures with rot grubs squirming inside them). Gnoosh launched a fireball into a room filled with three wights, and a couple of wraiths flashed through a door to drain the heroes, only to be despatched quickly. Gnoosh also has a hat of telepathy, which had provided him with a warning of intelligent creatures (like the wights but not the golems) behind some of the doors, reducing their chance of being surprised, and he soon picked up the thoughts of an insane person who referred to himself as Fecul Nul. Once a slave trader long ago, he had since turned mad as well as into a spectre. Gnoosh could sense his thoughts he passed approached through walls towards them. Then, as it passed through the closest walls Fecul could see Gnoosh and he made eye contact with the gnome and declared his intent to kill the wee illusionist/rogue. Gnoosh warned the group and conjured a protective magical cloak to surround him. Emerging from the walls the group attacked and the mad spectre fell before it could drain the gnome of the elements of life.

Art by Mark Tarisse

From Fecul they gathered an amazing handkerchief that had the capabilities of a bag of holding or a portable hole – but perhaps even more! They also found a skull with vertical waving lines, which the loremasters in the group had worked out represented fire and would provide access to other rooms in the complex.

Skull “keys” that fit into slots that will allow entrance to the fifth and final chamber of the Chaos Sepulcher of the Elements (art from Barrowmaze Complete).

They now arrived at the final double brass doors which undoubtedly led to the chamber of elemental fire (the doors were hot to the touch). They inserted the skull and the door opened. Before them, in a vaulted chamber that was roughly 60 x 90 feet was a pool of lava with an altar at the far end with the Skull of Fire.

Immediately they worked out that the heat in the room was quickly going to cause fatigue and heat exhaustion on those within, and those with metal gear were going to be affected as if under a heat metal spell. Druids and other spellcasters began casting endure elements and resist elements as a way to buy some time for several characters.

At this point, lava crabs began emerging from the lava pool. Gimli summoned Odin’s Fury, and now immune to fire damage, he charged forward. Gimli fought the crabs, and although he was immune to fire, their claws did do damage and one was a critical hit which tore at his magical leather armor and ripped a piece of it away (when my monsters roll crits I use weapon/armor wastage rules).

As the lava crabs were being taken down two pillars of lava rose from the lava pool and transformed into weird lava worms. Dhekeon, an undead immune to conditions like heat fatigue charged forward and fought one lava weird while standing at the edge of the lava pool. The heat in the room was going to cause the effects of a heat metal spell for those heavily armored and Dhekeon in his plate armor began to glow red hot and if he was a normal mortal would’ve begun to suffer from the red-hot metal on his flesh, but he fought on, taking the damage that was being dealt to him.

Although some had stayed back and used ranged weapons to avoid the heat, other characters that had been bolstered against the heat – such as the monk Zen who obviously doesn’t wear armor and doesn’t need to worry about his metal armor and weapons melting – closed in and assisted Gimli and Dhekeon in destroying the lava creatures.

Suddenly two surprising things happened, Roulf used his dragonslayer dexterity (and boots of striding and springing) and rushed into the room and then launched himself over the lava pool in between the lava weirds to where the altar was with the Skull of Fire located on top. He picked it up triumphantly like Indiana Jones picking up the skull in Raiders of the Lost Ark! He turned to see as the lava weirds and lava crabs fall to the adventurer’s several bursts of flames launch into the air from the lava pool and begin to transform into elemental fire creatures.

The battle was not over!

But the gaming session was! And so we ended on a cliffhanger for next week!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Sessions 83 and 84

First: battles with crypt shades, spectres, ghouls, and a Remorhaz!
Next: Ironguard Motte is attacked at night by a bloodsoaker vine creeping over the city gate, a bonecrawler – composed of the corpses of the citizens of the city – along with bone delvers (grave diggers turned undead with glowing lanterns that drain life), enter the city and begin a march through the streets!

PC’s, Session 83:
Kyron, Human Cleric 6 of Charon
Magni, Dwarf Fighter 3 of Barundar Battleaxe
Rosaline, Half Elf (elven lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Roulf, Half-Orc Dragonslayer 6 of Crom
Oswyn, Human Cleric 2 of St. Jasper
Rolando, Hobbit Rogue 4/Pacer 3 of Brandobaris Fleetfoot
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 6/Wizard 6 of Sehanine Moonbow
Gorgat, Half Orc Barbarian 7 of Haephestus
Remi, Gnome Harlequin (Rogue 6/Illusionist 5) of Hermes

NPC, Session 83:
Dhekeon “the Disgraced,” fallen skeletal paladin of St. Justus (seeking redemption)

Game Diary, Session 83:
This diary was delayed a week due to Gamehole Con.

In session 83 the group continued to work their way through crypts they had begun the previous session. They battled crypt shades, ghouls, spectres, and after they had enough of the undead, and chose to leave the Barrowmaze and head home to warm up (the session took place during the third week of December after a good snowfall), they encountered a Remorhaz! It was a…heated…battle! The heat its body generated along with its attacks knocked some PCs hit points down nicely. But there were a lot of them and even though it shrugged off some magic spells with its magic resistance, the fighting types beat it down.

They arrive back and after several leveled up after several sessions of combatting the undead, they took 10 weeks off to relax, recover, and prepare for more adventuring in the spring.

PC’s, Session 84:
Zen, Human Monk 7 of St. Agathos
Rosaline, Half-Elf (elf lineage) Druid 7 of The Daghda
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 7/Illusionist 6 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Martin, Human Rogue 7 of Bacchus
Kyron, Human Cleric 7 of Charon
Sagira, Human Cleric 3 of Horus

Game Diary, Session 84:
This session began during the first week of March. However, since in real-time we are in the Halloween season, I decided to have a spooky adventure.

I described a cool evening (10°C/50°F) with many white clouds drifting over the sky covering most stars and both of the moons. The lantern lighters have just lit the street lanterns for the evening and all seems calm. Except the main headquarters of the Army of the Light gets a frantic knock on the door. A town administrator tells the 6 PCs who were up that the southeast gates had been opened and that former caretakers of the cemetery were carrying lanterns with an evil red glow and shovels which they were using to decapitate guards and citizens. At that point horrifying screams could be heard and the group headed out to stop them.

A Bone Delver. Art from Tome of Horrors 4 (Frog God Games)

Rushing down a side street they see two former caretakers heading down the 10-foot wide side street as half a dozen more headed down the much wider main road. The group split up. Gnoosh, used burning ground and dark chaos, and Zen used his fists to batter away at these undead. They managed to avoid the negative effects of their horrifying howl and they also noticed that there was black negative energy emanating from the lanterns (implying some kind of undead life or essence drain). Fortunately, the burning ground weakened the bone delvers and the dark chaos and monk attacks finished the job.

Meanwhile, the other members entered the main street. Area of effect spells would not work here as town guards and brave citizens were engaged in melee with the bone delvers. The heroes noticed that the blows from their shovels caused some effect which weakened the guards and citizens fighting them, reducing their ability to hit and do damage. Their screams also caused many to scatter – but not the adventurers!

The clerics managed to turn these former caretakers and Kyron called out for the children and vulnerable adults to gather around him as he cast a circle of protection. Attacking the bone delvers from behind made combat easier and they went down. Kyron then sent those he protected away and took to destroying their lanterns, knowing that if others touched them they may lose their lives.

Rosaline noticed at this point that there was some kind of moving mass of bloodsoaked vines moving over the high entry gates. Kyron arrowhawk familiar blasted it with lightning and Rosaline summoned a swarm of bats to attack it. Slashing weapons were needed to truly be effective on this, so those melee combatants struggled, even more so since the bloodsoaker vines when they struck a victim, would cause a bleeding wound that could only be closed by magical healing. Luckily, the group had two clerics, a druid, and an illusionist (illusionists in C&C can heal through the sheer force and power of their mind). Still, this caused them to use up a lot of their healing spells!

Once the vines were destroyed the group noticed a writhing mass of sharpened bones held together by flesh and muscle, clearly an amalgamation of the recently dead of Ironguard Motte stitched together my some sick necromantic magic. They moved forward to attack. There were six characters, but this bonecrawler had 12 whipfronds – so there were two attacks on each character! The bone blades cut deep on several, but the summoned swarm of bats moved in to weaken it and Gnoosh, who had conjured a flaming cape around himself, burned it away when it made contact with him. The battle was over!

Heading to the cemetery to try to discover what had caused this, Rosaline spoke with plants – a tree in this case – and asked what it had seen recently. It appeared that hooded shepherds herding their goats had passed through the area as their goats fed to keep the grass in the graveyard manageable. However, the shepherds were really acolytes of Orcus, and their goats were Gehennian Goats! The necromancers visited the graveyard caretakers, turned them undead, and then worked their horrific necromancy on the graveyard and deceased people of Ironguard Motte. As soon as you think the dangers of the Barrowmaze are contained, the group is reminded that the reach of undeath has long arms!

Castles & Crusades Diary: The End of The Dragonclaw Barony Campaign

A 19-month online campaign has come to an end. I reflect on my experiences running my first Discord game, my first time using a VTT, challenges and changes to my gaming style, campaign successes and failures, and what is happening next.

The Beginning.

In April of 2020, we were one month into the pandemic. All my face-to-face games at my house and at game stores were canceled. However, I still wanted to game. So I initially spent time on the TLG (Troll Lord Games) Discord servers trying to recruit players. I got some interest and we began using Google Hangouts (I had run some Hangouts games back in 2015 when I was running 5E with former philosophy students of mine from my time living in Scotland). But Hangouts was no longer the way to run things and everyone else was using many other platforms. After a few sessions, I had learned enough and the TLG folk were very welcoming and helpful and I had my own channels on their Discord.

I was still trying to run the games as if at a table, with the camera aimed at my GM screen, whiteboard beside me, and initiative cards were placed in a row on my GM screen. Time to change things up. So I began using Jamboard. This digital whiteboard allowed players to set up marching order, sleep order, and even set up some tactical positions when theatre of mind was lacking.

There was still room for improvement, though. I don’t like overcomplicated games and high-tech TTRPG gaming. I hate rolling digital dice. I am a tactile hands-on gamer. I want to roll dice by hand and turn the pages of books by hand. I fI have to spend more than 10 minutes prepping a VTT before a game, that is too much. But then I found Owlbear Rodeo. I loved it! I could upload a map and throw on some tokens 5 minutes before the game. It was exactly what I wanted. In the last year I think I’ve spent a total of a couple of hours using Owlbear Rodeo, I suspect most Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds people have spent that much time on their VTT in just one day, or one week. I saved all that time to do other things which, for me, were more productive and interesting. Owlbear Rodeo VTT was a huge step forward for my game.

The Campaign.

In April 2020 I thought the online games would only be for a few months, so for those first few fortnightly sessions, I had simple Basic Fantasy adventures and random encounters taken from a 5E encounter book I had supported on Kickstarter. By the autumn of 2020, the interest in the game had risen, I was developing a core crew of players, and it was clear this pandemic was not going to end soon and that online gaming was expanding and here to stay. I decided to run a full campaign. Unfortunately, I got a little over-ambitious and decided to run the AD&D 2nd edition box set Dragon Mountain! I had run it nearly 30 years before, but now I would run it in my world using C&C. But to get there I would need to set things up. I ran more Basic Fantasy adventures, but I laid the foundation too slowly and didn’t establish a direction to the campaign. I think my players enjoyed these still mostly small-scale adventures, but I should’ve dropped some future plot hooks earlier on to give them a hint of the big picture that was planned. That is a bit of a lost opportunity.

The World Continued to Change.

Of course, nothing stands still. The pandemic changed with new covid variants. My players from around the U.S., Canada, and Europe continued to respond to the pandemic. And we as individuals had to deal with new issues when it came to home life, jobs, illness, and injury. Now, more than 19 months later many of us were at different places in our home life, work-life, and gaming life. Players that had been firm members of the gaming group began to miss sessions and either drifted away or politely back out. We were all beginning to adjust to – not so much a post-covid world – but a world of covid which we were adjusting to and forging new paths in.

Final Thoughts.
I don’t think planning a 2-3 year online campaign is the best idea unless you have organized it much better from the very beginning with these expectations in place and with the right players in place. I should’ve aimed for a 3-6 month campaign (maybe 9 months) with achievable and noticeable goals at regular intervals.

I plan to take a break from running online games. There are times when players in my Barrowmaze group can’t physically show up to my house and game and they join my homegroup via Discord, but as for a full online game, I want to reassess where I am and where I want to go. I am hoping 2022 will allow more gaming at game stores again. I was running some great C&C games at my FLGS in 2019 and early 2020 and I would like to return to that. Although rather than run a campaign at a game store, I would mostly run one-off demo sessions perhaps once a month to introduce new players to C&C and give some of my home players the opportunity to show up and join a game not connected to one of our large scale campaigns. We will see what happens. At the moment I welcome the chance to take a break from running two campaigns and just focus on my Barrowmaze campaign and continue work on the campaign that will follow it next year when the Barrowmaze is completed and The Dungeons of Aufstrag campaign begin!

Plans that were begun, but never completed…

Gamehole 2021 Diary, Day 4: Final Loot

It was great to be at my first physical convention in 20 months. Interaction is a lot better face-to-face than online. I met old friends and made new friends. Loot was less than previous conventions, but (re)meeting vendors in Dealer Hall was something I welcomed.

The Last Day.
This morning involved a short visit to the lobby where a Castles & Crusades game was being run by one of the new friends I made at Gamehole 2021 (he ran a Swords & Wizardry game a few days before that was my most enjoyable game of this convention). I couldn’t stick around for his game since I had to drive back to Minnesota, complete some tasks at home, and then wind down, but I wanted to touch base one more time and see another C&C game in action.

I then made one more visit to the Dealer Hall and went straight to Black Oak Workshop booth. Craig Zipse (who owns Black Oak Workshop) is a great guy, makes some unique dice, and my last purchase of the convention before I headed back to my car to drive home was one of his fun Advent-ure Calendars and a dice set. The Advent-ure calandars began as holiday themed boxes where each day of the month you open a little box and a wonderful die lies waiting to be revealed. I have purchased previous Christmas themed calendars for December and I love my daily dice present! I felt this was a great way to end the convention – setting myself up for a daily Christmas present for the month of December.

I have had some serious set back in recent months. I fractured my humerus in a fall back in June and I had to have surgery for a titanium rod to be put in to correct it. I also don’t have medical insurance. Thus, as I slowly gain the ability to lift things again, regain some flexibility, and worry about how I am supposed to deal with medical bills in the 10s of thousands of dollars, I am physically and financially restricted for the foreseeable future (Gamehole was my first major outing, not only since the pandemic began, but just as importantly, since I was handicapped from my injury in June and restricted in what I could do). It is the small things in life – like knowing I will get a nice die each day of the month during December – that brighten my day.

Black Oak Workshop products as I prepare for my Christmas presents!

Overall loot was down from previous conventions. One reason is that I own pretty much all that I want or need. Secondly, is that I need to conserve money as I still don’t know how the hospital bills will be dealt with. I really needed this holiday and getaway. It is no longer the quantity of the loot I acquire, but the quality.

Total loot from Gamehole 2021. Black Oak Workshop. Fate of the Norns, and Frog God Games, dominate.

During this convention I welcomed talking with old friends and making some new ones. There are now new GMs that I will be seeking out at future conventions.

What about future conventions?

Con of the North (just a few minutes from my house) is in February (18-20). Gary Con would normally be what I visit in March, but I couldn’t get the hotels I want that connect with Gary Con or offer shuttle service to the convention, so I have decided not to go. I know that the people who run it want it to remain in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, but I honestly don’t care about that. I’d rather they put the convention in a city that can actually house the attendees. But that seems unlikely, so I might be cutting Gary Con out of my convention rotation if it continues to be a hassle. Honestly, Con of the North at the beginning of the year and Gamehole at the end might be enough for me. Some folk have told me I need to attend North Texas RPG Con, but I want to attend conventions I can drive to in a reasonable amount of time. Texas is too far away.

So, now I get to wind down from the last five days traveling and convention attendance.

Gamehole 2021 Diary, Day 3

My last full day of gaming.
1. Played in the first game of the convention (S&W) that I didn’t enjoy that much, and I am reminded of some of the things in OSR games I don’t care for.
2. Munchkin, my last game of the convention was great fun.
3. Why are there nearly plague levels of flies in Madison, WI?

Swords & Wizardry game
My first game of the day was a S&W game. But this game experience was a bit of a let down for me.

First, I was expecting more traditional fantasy and this game ended up with us flying rockets in space. I wasn’t interested in that and if I knew that was what we were going to do I would not have signed up for the game. Thus, this was a game that right away I realized I was not interested in.

Second, in some ways a lot happened in the session and in some ways very little happened. There is an attitude in OSR games that unlike Pathfinder and D&D 5E where you look at your character sheet to see what you can do, in OSR games you rely on player creativity. In this game there was so much player creativity and player problem solving, no one had to roll a die for the first two hours of the four hour game! Our race and class were for the most part irrelevant – we almost didn’t need a character sheet! I didn’t make my first die roll until hour three, and it was only in the last 20 minutes of the game when I did anything of any importance or significance. I was not expecting to just solve puzzles for four hours using my own thinking – I created a character for a reason!

It’s funny how just a few days ago I was in a Savage Worlds game where the GM said we would determine the narrative, but more often than not as soon as a player described what they wanted to do, he had us roll a die and if we rolled badly then all that roleplaying was discarded. So, a lot of player narrative was simply a waste of time in that game if it was ignored when the die was rolled. In this game we hardly rolled the dice at all, it was the opposite problem from the Savage Worlds game.

Third, since this was an old school game OD&D-type game, everything was considered potentially an instant death scenario, or hugely debilitating. As such, people were extremely cautious and talked through things endlessly (what you might call “paralysis by analysis”). We didn’t travel that far in four hours of gaming, exploring perhaps a half a dozen rooms. It would’ve been nice for some people to simply roll a check once in a while to see if anything could be discovered and then move on. Because of this I was bored for extended periods of time.

If one of the problems with modern D&D 5E-style gaming is that combat can last forever as every player is focused on their character sheet trying to find all the different things they might be able to do in their combat action, move action, bonus action, reaction, etc. (I was once part of an adventuring party where it took 3 hours to fight 12 orcs in the woods!), then the place where OSR games can get bogged down is when players won’t do anything since any action could mean instant death, or limb loss, or insanity, etc. I don’t like 5E situations where there is no danger or consequences to actions, and I also don’t like the other extreme where every action could mean instant death. Neither is fun for me. I lean toward old school, obviously, but I want some balance.

Fourth, about half the players had been in this GMs games for many years and several had moleskine notebooks filled with notes, hand-drawn maps, sketches, etc. I had only played with this GM once before several years ago and the same “insider” feeling existed then as well. Don’t get me wrong, these folk were extremely friendly and helpful, but when you add in the factors I mentioned above, I mostly just sat back and watched as a passive viewer this tight gang of players who knew each other, the GM, and the on-going campaign so intimately simply continue the adventures they had been doing for years.

Fifth, we were in a small room by ourselves, and with noise coming from the lobby, at one point someone closed the doors, half the people had their masks off (the reason was for eating and drinking), and I was sitting next to one older man who coughed a lot and whenever he coughed he would take off his mask and try to cough into his hand?! The room was also poorly ventilated. I was not comfortable being in a poorly ventilated room with people I don’t know eating, drinking, coughing, and laughing spewing forth…”stuff.” I am a bit of a germaphobe under normal conditions, but under the pandemic situation we are currently in, I was not comfortable.

For all the above reasons this was overall not a very enjoyable experience for me.

Munchkin game
After a few hour break I came back in the evening for my final game to “learn how to play Munchkin.” I had played it once in 2008 when I was in graduate school in Scotland, but it had been a long time and I wanted a new experience. The person who instructed us was really good. She gave us some free cards, a play mat to hold the cards, player aid handout sheets, and a wooden token to keep track of level-ups. This introductory session was really well organized, presented, and taught. We got an overview of the game, did a practice session, and then began a full-on session until our time ran out.

I am not really a card game sort of guy (I don’t enjoy any card games to be honest, whether Magic: The Gathering, or Poker), the last time I enjoyed a card game was probably UNO back when I was 10 years old. But this Munchkin game was fun, so with the gaming society she is a part of – and which usually get a large room to themselves during Gamehole – I will consider making a Munchkin game a part of future visits to Gamehole.

Cool free Munchkin goodies from my “Learn to Play Munchkin” session.

From the moment I arrived in Madison on Wednesday, I was taken aback by the huge quantity of flies that are to be found EVERYWHERE. You can’t escape them. On Wednesday evening I had dinner at Liberty Station and there were dozens upon dozens of flies on the windows, tables, food, drinks, etc. At the Alliant Energy Center where this convention took place there were flies outside and inside. I can’t believe it. I have seen more flies since Wednesday than I have seen all year in Minnesota. Now, being from Minnesota I could easily make some reference as to why such disgusting insects flourish so freely in Wisconsin, but I shall refrain and let you all come to your own conclusions why beautiful Minnesota is so fly free compared to Wisconsin.

Preparing for the final day tomorrow
Tomorrow is the last day of Gamehole Con. I was going to try and sneak in a Castles & Crusades game in the morning, but it is four hours long and I have things to do once I get back to Minnesota and that will be a five hour drive, plus, even though the Munchkin game was fun, the S&W game deflated me in a lot of ways and I am ready to go home. In my first Gamehole 2021 blog post on Wednesday I expressed my growing disappointment with some aspects of the OSR, then over Thursday and Friday my energy and hope was renewed for old-school gaming, and then today some of that disappointment returned. I will visit the Dealer Hall one last time in the morning and then I will head out for the drive home.