2020 Ends: Reviewing my Castles & Crusades journey.

This has been a very strange year. A lot of adjustments had to be made. But rather than do a year in review, I instead want to look at one thing which was a high point of this year – the further development of my Castles & Crusades game.

Castles & Crusades Players Handbooks. All you need to play the game (plus Mystical Companions).

2018: Leaving D&D behind and finding new players
I began C&C in 2018 after running a Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons campaign for 26 years. I was tired of edition changes, completely burned out on the Forgotten Realms, and although I enjoyed some of the post-2000 changes made to the D&D game, I wanted to borrow more from past editions as well as from non-D&D games, and perhaps most importantly, draw upon my personal interests and my academic background as a philosopher and historian. C&C met all those needs. I knew it could be difficult to get some of my old players to switch over from D&D, so I bought nearly two dozen Players Handbooks so that players couldn’t say they didn’t have the book, or couldn’t afford it. In the end, most of my old players who had played D&D with me for over 25 years chose not join me in my shift over to C&C, so I had to find new players. I had played D&D 5E Adventurers League for a year and made many friends from those games, so I was happy that many of those newer friends did make the move with me to C&C and gamed with me at the apartment that I lived in at the time.

2019: Moving into a House and having to start over again
In the first few days of January 2019 I moved into a new home. I turned my dining room into a game room. For the first time in my life I now had a dedicated and cool looking place to game. But when I made my move, most of my players felt it was too far away from them, some of them moved themselves, and a few went back to D&D 5E. So I had to once again nearly start over from scratch. But I knew I had a good thing going and had a lot to offer. For the first time since I first began my D&D Forgotten Realms campaign in 1992, I was energized and passionate. Indeed, I was more energized than I was then since C&C was my ideal game and allowed me to do everything that I had ever dreamed of doing. I was also using a world that I was creating and developing on my own. All my academic knowledge was flowing into this and molded by my enthusiasm and passion.

2019: For the first time in my life I had a proper gaming room.

So to get new players and to experience new gaming venues, I began offering C&C games at a local FLGS – Fantasy Flight Game Center. I also did some networking with my gaming friends and slowly, one-by-one, people showed up, both at the weekend games at my FLGS, and at the weekly Tuesday games at my house. These brand new players began to come in and it looked like they might finally be staying. I was able to see my world and homebrew ideas developing into something unique that stood out on its own. There was so much potential here, but would it hold?

Running Public C&C games at Fantasy Flight Games Center, 2019.

2020: Pandemic hits, need to adjust to online gaming
2020 began with me switching to a new FLGS for my weekend games – The Source Comics & Games. This was a better place to game, but my weekend players were split by another game being offered and player attendance at my game dropped. Then the pandemic hit. No more FLGS gaming. Indeed, no more home games either.

However, there was a difference between this and the previous challenges I faced. My Tuesday group still wanted to play, so it was a matter of adjusting to online game play. After some stumbling about on Google Hangouts the kind people at the Troll Lord Games (TLG) Discord server gave me my own channels to run my games. By the end of the summer my players and I had fully adjusted and were moving forward, I even increased the number of players in my campaign. As of the time of writing this, my Tuesday game has 7 regular players that have demonstrated their long-term interest and dedication to this game.

However, I still wanted a weekend game, and with FLGS gaming not possible, I began promoting my games on the TLG Discord and on MeWe, and over time players came in – from the west coast, the east coast, Canada, and Sweden. As of the time I am writing this I now have 7 players, with one additional player (an old friend who I gamed with 17 years ago during the D&D 3E era, who is on hold until he finishes moving into his new home), at which point I will have 8 players in that campaign. What began as a side game to get us through the pandemic is now an important campaign of its own where I have enough material to take everyone’s characters to their retirement age over the next year or so.

2020 may have been challenging, but somehow or other this challenge allowed me and others to rise up and unite together in gaming. I think we are stronger for it. Not only do I have two solid campaigns with 15 players between them, but I have made steady changes and development in my game world. Recognizable themes are emerging. There is a sense, feel, and familiarity developing, and the loyalty and enthusiasm of my players is demonstrating to me that I have a good thing on offer here: I have two healthy campaigns, I am offering a unique gaming experience, and there is an enjoyment and appreciation of what my academic background and reinvigorated passion and enthusiasm can bring to my C&C games to raise them to a new level.

So, what is in store for 2021? Well, my two campaigns will continue to develop. I will continue to bring more medieval history, realism, and folklore into my game (with my own unique twist). I will be studying and mining other RPG gaming products for ideas to bring into my games, I will continue to expand my GM skills, I will continue to learn new ways of using technology (even as I also embrace returning to some old-fashioned hand drawn maps like I used to do when I was a mechanical design drafter). I might also begin streaming games. There are so many possibilities for 2021. I have never had this much fun or passion for gaming. I can’t wait to see what develops next.

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

The C&C Players Handbooks, as well as the Codex books, which are pivotal in bringing the medieval feel to my campaigns.

Christmas 2020, Part III

I hope you are all having a good Christmas season (in spite of the pandemic). I am enjoying some of my new Christmas presents – mostly books – that should further expand my mind and imagination.

First off, I am rather fond of my beard, and if you have a big beard, you need to properly attend to it. Thus I have now added some Grimfrost (a great Swedish Viking company) beard products to the Viking helmet and tunic I recently bought (my blog posts about my new Viking helmet and tunic can be found on the “Categories” list to the right under “Vikings”).

My beard care Christmas presents – beard care is important!

I also love my research into history, folklore, and philosophy. Vlastos was a great ancient philosophy scholar, and I look forward to his insights on expanding upon the Platonic theory of celestial motions and theory of the structure of matter. The Venerable Bede and Gregory of Tours will allow me to enter the minds of figures in the Anglo-Saxon period (c.410-1066), and The Anglo-Saxon World will provide a larger overview of the period. Neil Price and Jackson Crawford are important Viking scholars in the areas of Viking archaeology and linguistics, respectively, so Children of Ash and Elm and The Wanderer’s Havamal, combined with the Viking historical atlas will further expand my Viking knowledge (building upon the MOOC I am taking from the University of Iceland on the Icelandic Sagas). The Makers of Scotland provides overviews of the Picts, Romans, Gaels, and Vikings, giving an insight into their cultural interactions. Finally, Claude Lecouteux writes great books examining medieval views on household spirits, land spirits, and rituals, so this book on ancestor worship and medieval views of death will add to my Lecouteux collection. I, of course, use all these books for the Castles & Crusades game world I am developing, which has a mythic European feel.

Some of my books from Christmas

Trudvang Chronicles is a great RPG from Sweden. The books are almost worth purchasing simply for the evocative artwork of Paul Bonner and Alvaro Tapia. The game itself is a very atmospheric and challenging Norse/Celtic game of shapeshifters, dimwalkers and blótkings, using its own unique game system. I supported a kickstarter early this year for a conversion of the rules to D&D 5E, and although I am enjoying much of what I am seeing so far in the preliminary edits that have been released, I have also noticed that in the conversion process, the game seems to be losing some of its edge (D&D 5E is a more easy and light-hearted game of epic heroes, and as such struggles with being able to present Trudvang’s mysterious, melancholic, grim, and challenging playstyle). So I have gotten the source material to consult when the 5E conversion falls short. Jorgi’s Bestiary is also a unique monster book, since every monster entry spans several pages, yet only a small portion is game stats, most of it is descriptive text accompanied by great sepia toned black and white art, so in some cases I can use stats from the C&C Norse/Celtic/Slavic/Germanic Codex books, and then augment them with the text and artwork of Jorgi’s Bestiary in my narrative descriptions during encounters.

Trudvang Chronicles, a great Swedish RPG

I love scenic calendars! We should (hopefully) begin returning to normal in 2021, and I would love to return to Europe for a holiday. These calendars allow me to dream of return journey’s to favorite places, as well as opening up possibilities to yet undiscovered locations.

Hopefully, in 2021 I will be able to return to one of these places.

Well, that is it for now. In my New Years blog I take a final look at 2020, what it has meant to me, and what I am looking forward to in the year 2021.

Psionics Reconsidered: Psionics as Schools of Philosophy

In this blog post, I take a look at how I plan to bring psionics into my Castles & Crusades game using Greek Schools of Philosophy.

Psionics can really divide gamers, many appear to (i) hate psionics as a concept and don’t think it belongs in a fantasy RPG, or (ii) may like the concept, but have disliked how it has been executed in RPG’s. For me, although I have also had mixed reactions to how it has been done in the past, I actually quite liked the concept of psionics and thought the best implementation of it in D&D was in The Complete Psionics Handbook during the AD&D 2nd edition era.

I now run Castles & Crusades which allows me to draw upon any edition of D&D as well as other RPG’s, so the options have broadened for me as a result of C&C’s flexibility. Still, there are two things I need to consider before I bring it into my game:
1. How can psionics logically fit within my world?
2. How can psionics best be implemented?
2a. I also reject the idea that psionics is just another form of magic, for me psionics has to stand on its own as something distinctly different from magic.

How Could Psionics Fit Within My World?
I plan to introduce psionics as schools of philosophy (e.g. Platonists, Aristotelians, Stoics, Epicureans, Pluralists). Let me explain how this works in my homebrew world. My campaign world has a mythic medieval European feel drawing on the folklore of cultures such as the Norse, Celts, Greeks, Babylonians, and a Crusader Kingdom pantheon of saints. This allows me to incorporate a variety of religious and cultural practices (i.e. Celtic bards and druids, Norse volva-prophetess, seidkona-sorceress, Slavic molfars-shamans, Greek oracles, etc.), but it still leaves something out.

As a philosopher (Ph.D.), I have been very interested in finding a unique way to bring philosophy into my world. Consider the following philosophical perspectives. A Pluralist like Empedocles believed in the four elements, and in addition thought they were brought together by a force he called Love and pulled apart by Strife (which in D&D/C&C we could view as the cosmic alignment forces of Law and Chaos). Platonists viewed the world as made up of four elements of fire, air, earth, and water which they associated with geometric shapes (think of the d4, d8, d6, and d20 polyhedral dice). Aristotle introduced a fifth element called aether within the crystal spheres which could easily represent other planes of existence (or in my world parallel realms which overlap with the physical world).

So I think the different philosophical schools fit within a D&D/C&C cosmological structure, but they are clearly interpreting things a lot differently. The ancient Greek philosophers had a much more abstract and logical view of the universe which I want to emphasize and expand upon as different aspects of a psionicist or mentalist class. Each of these philosophical schools also had their own schools where they gathered to discuss their views (e.g. the Academy for Plato, Lyceum for Aristotle, Garden for Epicurus), and although you sometimes might see an overlap with a wizards academy or a druids grove, I would emphasize a more austere, logical, abstract, and emotionally distant take on the structure of reality and how one navigates within this world (which they think they have logically deduced through their own reasoning).

What should this class be called? I feel that “Mentalist”, although accurate, is a bit bland. “Psion” is a good name, and was popular in the 3E era, but I didn’t care much for the 3E-era psionics with their new-agey “crystal power” emphasis, and trying to simply turn psionic individuals into variations of other classes (like I said above, I pretty strongly reject making them another flavor of another class, they need to stand out on their own as something unique), I also don’t want my players thinking this is just a 3E Psion conversion. I still love the AD&D 2nd edition name of “Psionicist”, but that could also cause some players to think I am just using the AD&D 2nd edition class. We’ll see.

How Can Psionics Best Be Implemented In My Game?
Although I enjoy the Psionicist class from the AD&D 2nd edition Complete Psionics Handbook (and it is compatible with C&C), it’s a 128 page book from 1991 and I won’t force my players to buy separate book of that size just for a single character class. Currently the best option I see is the Mentalist class from Amazing Adventures (AA). AA uses the same Siege Engine rules which powers Castles & Crusades, but it’s a multi-genre role playing game for time periods later than medieval fantasy. The AA Mentalist powers are stream-lined and much easier to master and use as a player (there are less powers to choose from than what you have for wizards or clerics, but you can use the powers you have more often). The AA Mentalist isn’t perfect, since it references modern 20th century things from the Amazing Adventures game like guns and makes comparisons to other pulp-era classes, so I will have to edit that material out, and re-write other material to better fit C&C and my particular world. When it comes to what armor and weapons the Mentalist can use I will use the weapon and armor listings straight from the Psionicist class from the The Complete Psionics Handbook. And finally, when I want to expand some of the psionic powers in the AA Mentalist, I can easily draw upon the resources of the The Complete Psionics Handbook.

So there you have it, a quick take on how I plan to playtest a psionic class in my C&C game.

Amazing Adventures (Troll Lord Games) made for the C&C Siege Engine.
Amazing Adventures (Troll Lord Games) converted to D&D 5E.

New Viking Garb

Early Christmas present for me!

My new Grimfrost version of the Gjermundbu Viking helmet

Anything I’ve ordered and received in the post during the last few weeks I’ve wrapped up and put under my Christmas tree, but not this from the Swedish company Grimfrost – this is a Christmas gift I wanted early!

For around 25 years I’ve dressed in a Renaissance-era leather doublet, gloves, tights, leather hat, etc., at the Renaissance Festival. But I am now much more of a medievalist focusing on Norse, Celtic, and a more stripped-down and earlier Medieval European look and feel. Plus, thanks to the youth of today, cosplaying is a thing at conventions, game stores and at home, so I can have a lot of fun with this when the helmet isn’t on the helmet stand!

Me at the Renaissance Festival in 2010 with the garb I’ve worn for over 20 years.

This is just a quick look at how I looked today when I put on my Viking Tunic, the helmet, and unsheathed the sword I already own. Once I fill out my new set I will post more pictures.

However, the helmet is 12 gauge steel and the aventail is made of chainmail, so each are about 5lbs, meaning the helmet is 10-11 pounds in weight. Just wearing this for a few minutes while walked around smiling and laughing at how cool I look and taking these photos made me realize that my head and upper body would get sore wearing this initially, so I will have to do it in small spurts (then again, who wears a medieval Viking helmet regularly and for long periods!).

A close up of me summoning forth my inner Viking!

Don’t you wish you were this cool?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony Campaign, Session 15

Summary:
The adventurers arrive at Rodemus Keep in search of the secret castle plans that were stolen and encounter a vampiric spawn!

Game Diary:
Characters: Eliam (Half-Elf Cleric/Wizard), Malcolm (Human Wizard), Sir Sanwyche (Human Paladin), Gwar (Half-Orc Barbarain), Endur (Human Fighter), Tobias (Human Ranger), Orryn (Gnome Illusionist), Juhraveal (Half-Elf Rogue), Magnus (Gnome Druid), Thorthic (Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric)

[Gaming online can be hit or miss, and for this Saturday session we experienced a lot of issues with video and sound on Discord and one player had to bow out early on. In spite of this we managed to push on and have fun.]

The adventurers sailed up the east coast of Dragon Lake and made landfall near Rodemus Keep. The player that ran Juhraveal and Magnus bowed out of the game due to internet connection issues and right away the party lost its rogue and druid. Hoping the player would have a better internet connection next time, we had his two characters stay with the boat as the rest of the party headed toward the keep. Tobias, the ranger, scouted ahead and discovered two human-like creatures bent over someone. Once the clerics caught up they identified the feeding creatures as ghouls, and they were feeding on a goblin! Destroying the undead they searched the goblin’s body and found a letter from Girck, a hobgoblin mercenary leader who was involved with the elven thief Valanunthe (she was brought to justice in the previous adventure by the adventurers). Girck was the next piece in the puzzle for them, so seeing this note meant they knew they were in the right place.

They approached Rodemus Keep where he was believed to be holed up. The keep was 170 feet square with with a crenelated roof over 30 feet high. Although old and no longer in top shape due to neglect, Thorthic the dwarf realized the walls were sturdy and thick (at least 20 feet thick), and he estimated they could only enter through the front gate. Approaching the front gate they discovered it had been replaced for some reason by a door hinged on the outside of the keep and was unlocked and easily opened. With marching ranks made up of two characters side-by-side and 5 ranks deep, they marched in the front door, saw another door 30 feet ahead of them, and without a rogue to discover the trap ahead of them, they moved in and 20 feet in and triggered a 20 foot deep pit trap which caused most of the first two ranks to fall in, rendering Orryn unconscious! Everyone was pulled up and healed, they proceed to take the front door off its hinges and place it across the pit to reach the next door at the end of the 30 foot hallway.

After opening this door (it wasn’t locked), they had a door to their left, a door to their right, and a hallway ahead. The one on the right was locked, so they choose the one on the left. It led into a storage room with crates of torches, lanterns, oil flasks, pitchforks, hammers, iron nails, etc. There was also a door to the north of the room with a wooden plank poorly nailed across it as if to keep people from entering (but not very convincingly). The characters easily tore the wooden plank off and entered. Ahead of them about 15 feet into the room there were curtains that were hanging from ceiling to floor. They picked up the scent of something sweet as well as that of fresh soil. The paladin sensed evil and went forward and struck through the curtain. As the curtain fell to the ground what Sir Sanwyche saw was a pale human being with the sweet aroma of death augmented by preservative herbs, pale white skin, sharp nails, piercing red eyes, and two very sharp front teeth!

The vampiric undead that was encountered.

It lunged at him, striking with its fist and attempting to bite the holy warrior. The fist struck, knocking him back. The other characters moved in and the battle was on. Although the vampiric creature was missing with its bite attacks, it struck hard with its fist, and soon Orryn was unconscious at -1 hit points, and the paladin also went down. Not many characters had magical weapons (non-magical weapons didn’t seem to cause it much if any harm), so Gwar dragged the paladin out of the room, and Tobias grabbed the gnome illusionist and retreated. One character finally did get bit by the vampire – Endur – and when he then failed his constitution save he felt himself drained both physically and mentally as his hard earned fighter knowledge and experience of combat was drained (and the vampire gained strength from it). The fighter staggered back from the bite, both his muscle and mental memory of combat skills diminished. Endur had lost a level, falling from 2nd to 1st level! The spellcasters fought on with their magic, the casting of dark chaos and magic missile spells wore down the undead monster. Thorthic, the dwarven barbarian/cleric of Thor had a magical hammer, and he battered away at the undead. When the final blow took it down, it fell backward and rolled to the side of its open coffin. Thorthic took his hammer and pounded a quickly made stake through its heart and then cut off its head, while Eliam, the other cleric in the group poured holy water in the fresh soil in the coffin.

The group was worn down, two were unconscious, and one person lost a level, and many others were beat down and low on hit points. After setting the coffin on fire, they retreated from the keep and set up camp 20 minutes south of the keep. They placed the vampires body under the running water of a river and its body dissolved. They could finally take a moment to breath and think. They realized that they would need 24 hours to heal up, the ranger and barbarians also noticed that a heavy rain storm was coming, and so they hunkered down for the oncoming weather and to heal. Throughout the night the rain came down in sheets. The next morning wet and cool from the late autumn chill, the ranger noticed that although not a pleasant experience, the heavy rain ensured that none of the goblins and hobgoblins (or whoever else might be in the keep) were not going to go out and hunt them. They were able to spend a day and heal up. Largely recovered from their first foray into the keep, they headed back to it to complete their mission.

Approaching the keep they noticed nothing out of the ordinary other than the effects of the recent heavy rain. Upon entering the keep the door was still placed across the pit trap where they had left it. With the area to the left explored previously, and with the right door still locked, they headed straight ahead up the corridor to where they found the keep’s kitchen, a temple to St. Cornelius (a saint for common soldiers) that was somehow corrupted, and a guard sentry point (but the goblin guards that had been there were missing). And that is where we ended the adventure since time had run out. In two weeks they will explore the corrupted temple and see if they will be more successful with their second attempt entering the keep.

Virtual GameHole Con 2020, Day 3

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

Dungeon Crawl Classics Core Rules and Quick Start Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtual GameHole Con 2020, Day 2

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

The DCC Core Rulebook and a supplementary book of charts.

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

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

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

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

Virtual GameHole Con 2020, Day 1

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

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

Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook (by Frog God Games)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Variant Classes in C&C.

In the Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide we have examples of variant races, but what do you think of variant classes with a different prime attribute from the Players Handbook?

Background for this question:
I liked the AD&D 1st ed. triple-class options for elves and half elves, such as the cleric/fighter/magic-user, and the fighter/magic-user/thief. That can’t happen in C&C due to the fact that you would need three prime attributes for half-elves (elf lineage) and elves, and they only get two. I have looked at the multi-classing, class and a half, and expanding classes options and I currently don’t feel they provide a satisfactory solution. There is also the possibility of mixing and matching the very niche classes from the Adventurers Backpack and the Codex books. Finally, I thought about bringing in primary, secondary, and tertiary attributes, but think that overcomplicates things. What can I do?

AD&D 1st edition Players Handbook (1978)

Race-Class Variant 1:
What if you have a race-specific class variant? For example, elves are quick on their feet, could there be an Elven Fighter class with Dexterity as prime instead of the PHB Fighter with strength as prime? That would make an elven fighter/rogue/wizard a reality. What about Elven Cleric or Elven Wizard classes that are charisma based? That could allow cleric/fighter/wizard.

Castles & Crusades Players Handbook, 7th printing (2017)

Race-Class Variant 2:
I also want to bring in the B/X and BECMI-inspired Race-as-Class to represent a sort of elder version of the elves and dwarves in my campaign world. I’ve already outlined versions of them but have yet to playtest them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Elder Dwarf class is a strong fighter type with strength and constitution as primes for their race-class. The Elder Elf class will be a mixture of wizard, sword/bow fighter, and a little rogue stealthiness. Their primes would be dexterity and intelligence. Using this approach I could achieve a sort of elven fighter/thief/wizard, but this would require being an Elder Elf. However, this again would not allow for an elven cleric/fighter/wizard.

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set Players Manual (1983)

Why am I so hung up on race-as-class and the AD&D elven triple class? They were a very important part of my D&D upbringing in the 1970’s and 80’s, and I want to bring that into my Castles & Crusades game. I just have to find the right way to bring that about.

The challenge of running homebrewed published campaign settings.

I currently run two Castles & Crusades campaigns. Both these mini campaigns are flexible enough that I can place them anywhere in my campaign world and few ask questions. However, future campaigns will grow in scope. I want to run Aufstrag, for example, but I am putting it in my own world, not Aihrde. The issue is that those that know the “official” lore of these large campaign settings may very well say “that’s not how it’s listed in the Codex of Aihrde” (or some other published source).

Prior to switching to Castles & Crusades and creating my own world, I previously ran a Forgotten Realms campaign for nearly 30 years through multiple editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Eventually I just threw up my hands and flushed that campaign down the toilet due to drastic world changes I hated and rejected (e.g. 4E’s spell plague and timeline jump), and when new players would say “that’s not what it says on [so-and-so] website!”

Switching to C&C means player’s don’t say “that’s not a D&D rule” because I am not using official D&D, and thus far I have been using mini-campaign settings that fit well with my own home brew world that is slowly growing over time (I have pantheons of gods that take up a spreadsheet with 7 tabs of options and powers). This change has been truly liberating! (I wish I would’ve left D&D and the Forgotten Realms behind years earlier).

But as I look ahead to using Aufstrag, and later on The Lost Lands (Frog God Games), the Wilderlands (Judges Guild), Harn, etc. I do not want to re-experience what I did during the Forgotten Realms years with player’s demanding “official” rules and lore. I want to be able to use some of these other amazing campaign settings, but I also want to be able to make changes to personalize them. But what are the chances of that working?