Sunday, March 12, 2023

Campaign Journal: B2 "Keep on the Borderlands! The Shunned Cavern...

 This is the next part of our campaign journal, discussing B2.  You should be able to use the tags to find previous posts about B1.  For those just joining us, we are adventuring with three heroes:  Dragonwing (F3), Magic Hands (MU3), and Flowing River (Druid 3).  The players are all kids, pre-k through early elementary, and they're doing great.

We've had a few sessions so I will just hit the highlights.



The players arrived at the keep and spend much of a session exploring the outer bailey.  They were flush with loot from B1 so they upgraded armor, paid a travelling witch to learn a new wizard spell or two, and paid taxes (scutage to avoid 40 days of service to the keep).  They secured lodging and heard a few lurid tales of danger and wealth at the keep.  The kids had never interacted with NPCs like this so it was worth dragging out a bit.

Of course, a friendly jovial priest staying in an apartment had breakfast with the new folks in town and sized them up.  The merchants and sergeant at arms complained of raids on caravans and patrols and suggested starting with some of the caves near the mouth of the canyon.


The players ignored the suggestion to start with the caves near the front of the canyon and instead went straight down the middle, all the way to the back.  Despite several fairly ominous warning descriptions, they ventured into the owlbear cave.  Oh my!

Luckily, the players had faced an Owlbear in Hero Kids, a simpler fantasy RPG, so they were familiar with the trope and recognized they had a dangerous foe on their hands once they blundered into the nest.  Dragonwing landed a few lucky max damage hits which quickly whittled the monster's HP down.  Magic Hands threw up Shield which saved him from a few nasty hits, drawing attacks from the creature.  When Dragon Wing went down, Flowing River was able to throw a timely Cure Wounds on the warrior, getting him back in the fight...  Flowing River then went down and needed a Healing Potion.  After a tough fight that used up most of the resourced, the Owl Bear was defeated!  Huzzah!

The players continued exploring the shunned cavern.  They found the room with the pool and slimes.  Magic Hands, wearing no armor, boldy dove right into the pool and snagged the treasure without hesitation.  I used a 2d6+STR roll for swimming and he rolled boxcars -- sounds like a great dive to recover the loot!  Dragon Wing and Flowing River got "glopped" by some slime, drew them off for a round, enabling Magic Hands to escape with the loot.  All three heroes beat a hasty retreat, not bothering to stick around to fight the slow moving slimes.

Not a bad start to B2!

Friday, February 17, 2023

Donjons & Drakes: Ability Score Generation

 One of the hallmarks of "old school" design is random dice rolling for character generation, vs. a point buy or stat array.  After having played a lot of D&D, I think the primary advantage of randomly generating a character is that the dice can guide you to what you should play.  Roll a 17 WIS?  Cleric it is!  16 STR, 16 CON, 8 INT?  Dust off the Conan the Barbarian memes, we are making a fighter.

That said I also think there is some value to statistics being somewhat balanced between characters.  You are stuck with these rolls for a long time, and while I am sure some grognard will be along to correct me, it isn't fun to play a character with all mediocre stats.  Something above and below average creates variety!

So I have taken a few steps in character creation to address all these objectives.

How it Works in a Nutshell

Roll 2d6+6 for a score associated with a prime requisite (STR/INT/WIS) and 2d6+6 for a secondary score (DEX/CON/CHA).  Roll 3d6 in order for the rest.  


In my edition, players select an archetype by drawing playing cards; they pick from a small pool of choices.   Each archetype will give bonuses to generate one or two of the six ability scores (typically by rolling 2d6+6 for the indicated scores rather than 3d6 as described above).  For example, the Jack of Clubs yields above average Strength and Dexterity -- probably a good start for a fighter or perhaps a rogue, but not guaranteed.  Each of the archetypes is also linked to an astrological sign and one of seven patrons/factions, giving an immediate instant roleplay hook possibility.

If you don't like the archetypes rule, you roll 4d6 drop the lowest for all of them and ignore bonuses granted by your species (so the average comes out the same).

Reducing the Range and Importance of Ability Scores

Ability score modifiers in my game typically range only from -2 to +2.  And anything more than a +1 or -1 is a little unusual.  

The impact of ability scores on primary class functions has also been softened. A character with a high ability score has a jump start early in their career but the bonus is eclipsed by level-based modifiers later on.  For example, all characters add their strength modifier to hit with melee weapons; fighters get to add their strength modifier or a modifier based on their class level, whichever is greater (but not both).  Thus the fighter with average strength will eventually catch up through acquisition of experience and skill by mid or late career with his more naturally gifted peers.  You aren't crippled forever as a fighter without that awesome 18 in STR.

Ability Score Mercy Rules

I expect statistically speaking a character in my edition to have a summed modifier of +2:  usually one score with a -1 modifier and three with +1 (or one with +2 and one with +1).  Characters which have lower scores than this add to their LOWEST score of constitution, dexterity, or charisma.  Those scores are selected for buffs as they are the "secondary" scores -- not a prime requisite for anything (except rogues), so changing them doesn't change the fundamental logic of what character class a given stat array is well suited for.

Making Humans Great

Humans add +3 to their lowest score.  Again this won't change what class you're suited for (keeping the decision space narrow) but is a solid perk that makes them worthwhile vs. the low level benefits of demihumans.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Donjons & Drakes: Fantasy Heartbreaker Intro

 I have been working on my own Fantasy Heartbreaker, currently named Donjons & Drakes, for some time.  Many of my early musings are in this blog.  Starting to play again has spurred me to get the game to a playable state.  I'm not quite exactly where I want it to be (especially with higher level stronghold management), but it is certainly playable.  The game is heavily based on The Original Fantasy RPG from the 1970s, but I have pulled in ideas from other editions and other games throughout where they make sense.  Especially now that 5E is in a Creative Commons license, there is a lot of flexibility to borrow material.

I intend a series of posts about core mechanics and rules.  This is an excerpt from the front material that lays out what its all about.


In this game, characters begin as eager adventurers eager to find their way in the world.  After some introductory adventures where experience is gained, they find themselves deep in the depths of a fantastic dungeon.  Success brings riches, magic and power.  Failure brings ignominy or even death.  Eventually, successful characters have the opportunity to establish strongholds, raise armies and vie for control of the known Realms.  Will your character bring an age of weal, be a harbinger of woe, or maintain the balance?  How will the journey change them?  Adventure on to find out…


The game you hold before you is based on the Original Fantasy Role Playing Game (OFRPG) and its earliest basic versions.  However, this version is unique for it adds emphasis in several areas.

  • Incorporation of elements from the Original Fantasy Miniatures Wargame.  The Original Fantasy Miniatures Wargame was used in a number of places for inspiration to round out the capabilities of player characters and monsters alike.
  • Modern, streamlined mechanics.  Universal saving throws, an ascending armor class system leveraging the base attack bonus, and other such mechanics have been incorporated to greatly reduce the need to constantly reference tables in play.  Mechanics have been designed such that only D20 and D6 dice are generally needed.  The emphasis is on relatively fast play.
  • Historical accuracy.  Where possible, the game draws from historical sources.  For example, prices have been adjusted to a silver standard, where one silver coin is a groat and three silver pieces equal a historical medieval shilling.  This allows easy conversion of new items from real world sources into the game.  Another example has been to further develop the details of domain management for high level characters, looking to historical examples as a guide.  Units of weight and measure are another example, where historical real world measures such as weight in “stones” provide a simpler and more flavorful method than the OFRPG.
  • Heroic mythos.  The alignment system has been modified to include elements of heroic mythology, borrowing from astrology, tarot, and other arcana.  These elements add a bit of depth to heroic character development, allowing the players to draw inspiration from a rich tapestry of mythic inspiration.

The author has been able to benefit from modern statistical analysis tools to analyze the OFRPG and other games, as well as years of personal experience with various editions of role playing games games, to develop this set of rules.  It it is a never-ending labor, but one that has finally resulted in a codified set of playable table rules with a unique spin on a familiar genre.  I hope that you enjoy these rules.

Monday, January 23, 2023

B1 Retrospective and Review


This is the last of a series of posts on B1, "Search for the Unknown."  My players may opt to go back but I think they're ready to move on.

I've had B1 for years and skimmed it a few times but this was my first time running it.  I modified the module, in that I used my own home brew random encounter and treasure tables (heavily based on the 3LBB) to stock the dungeon.  Otherwise I ran it pretty much as is.


B1 has a good mix of early D&Disms:  There's some combat, a few traps, plenty of secret doors, and a number of interesting "trick" rooms.  The advice for a new DM is reasonable, even a few decades later.  Given that it is intended to train new DMs, I like that the module comes "unstocked."  For an experienced DM, there is plenty to work with here, and if you let the tables be your muse, you can get an interesting dungeon ecology.

The atmosphere in this module is also great.  The players get to see what being a great adventurer is all about -- you build your own place, get some awesome trophies to hang on the wall, build your own throne room, etc.  There's a bit of delightful neutrality and ambiguity here -- the builders on the stronghold were not some goody two shoes types.


It isn't all roses:

  • No hook.  There is a rumor table but there's really no hook, plot or goal for the adventurers in this module other than exploring and looking for loot.  I grafted a bit of a plot onboard with an elvish treasure to recover but there's nothing there if you run it stock.
  • No plot.  Unless you can build emergent dungeon ecology out of the tables, there's not much depth here.  Again, very dependent on DM skill and experience.  I'd contrast this with B2, which has a good dose of basic monster politics and factions baked right in.
  • Little advice for balancing encounters.  The new DM is expected to stock this dungeon but there's little advice on how many creatures should appear.
  • No base camp.  Unlike other introductory modules like T1 or B2, there's no village, castle, or camp here.  I created a safe elf-approved forest camp for the PCs to return to in between delves, but there's nothing stock in the module.
  • No surround/wilderness.  Again, unlike T1 and B2, we get no surrounding wilderness.  B2 doesn't have much but there is at least a bit.  I dropped B1 into the middle of a dark fey-and-goblin infested forest, but this requires some DIY.
On the plus side, B1 can be dropped into your campaign pretty much where ever.  You can drop it next to Hommlet, or the Keep on the Borderlands, or whatever you like.  My B1 is just down the road from the Keep on the Borderlands and B2.

As far as introductory modules go, it would have been nice if there was a rudimentary base camp -- even just a page or two with a remote wilderness outpost -- and the barest sketch of a wilderness hex around this (even just random encounter tables).  I did fine as an experienced DM but if this is truly for new groups then those would be nice additions.


I've mentioned these before but will hit them again in this summary.

  • Mapping.  I understand in the old school, it was a thing to verbally describe every twist and turn of the dungeon then see if the players could map it accurately.  This dungeon has some of the secret rooms tucked into spaces you'd only find with precise mapping, teleportation trick rooms, warrens of tunnels, etc that thrive on those sorts of mapping games.  I don't love those mapping games.  This dungeon is just a PITA to map.  I ended up simplifying some parts of level 1.  I get how this is a thing but it just wasn't my cup of tea.
  • Room descriptions.  These room descriptions are quite extensive, but they don't make it clear what is player-facing and GM-facing info at a glance.  So as a consequence, I as the GM have to re-skim the whole room description, find the parts the player should know, and then find a way to explain them.  It is not convenient or user friendly.

Overall, I'd give B1 a solid "B" as a grade.  It is a solid old school module with swords & sorcery vibes.  Because you can key it yourself, you can easily drop this into your campaign at literally any level -- there's no reason you couldn't stock the place with monsters and treasures off of any two levels of the dungeon matrices.  Plan on pairing it with a starting location such as B2 or T1.   While it needs a little work, its definitely usable.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Finishing B1

 Last week my intrepid players finished off B1.  Spoilers ahead for B1!

This was their most focused adventure yet.  They knew they needed to find stairs down, then find a specific piece of jewelry.  After some quick and somewhat lucky poking around, they found the stairs down.  Huzzah!

The first room in the basement level has some random mining equipment and spoilage about.  For some reason they were convinced there might be something of value here and they spent many turns searching every inch of wall for a secret door or other remarkable item.  This delay was punished with an eventual "1" on a random encounter roll, generating their first Level 2 Wandering Monster:  a Ghoul.  The ghoul got the drop on them, charged in, paralyzed brave Dragon Wing the Fighter, and started tearing at him.  Luckily the other heroes quickly dropped the ghoul, but they are now respectful of the power of the undead!

The heroes then poked around in the basement for a bit.  They knew they needed to work their way to the north but weren't quite sure how the paths connected so there was some exploration.  They battled an ogre (an encounter which could have been avoided with more care, but it went ok) and found a few minor treasures.  

The heroes then found some minor camping supplies which they pilfered.  They were surprised by Sir Lancesome, third cousin to the more famous Knight of the Round Table, a valiant Lawful Fighter 4.  Having had a number of run ins with short kobolds, and suspecting these tiny adventurers of taking his things, Lancesome interrogated them from the darkness about his quest objectives (he was out to slay a band of hobgoblins and rescue the fair maiden Melissa, whose chambers are on the first floor).  The heroes did not know about any hobgoblins and told him of the lady's chambers upstairs, and then Lancesome evaded them, not looking for a fight himself.

Shortly thereafter, the heroes had a run-in with a wandering patrol of hobgoblins.  Only two strong and outclassed by the party, the hobgoblins rolled a reaction check (uncertain) and extorted a "toll" of 20 SP each from the heroes (one paid gladly for everyone, the others were more reluctant), then beat a retreat to tell their chief.   Encounter avoided.

Finally, the heroes linked up with their previous map.  They quickly raced to the known secret door, had their wizard fire up "locate object" to look for secret door mechanisms, and found their way to the hidden treasure room.  Huzzah!  Within after a brief encounter, the treasure was found, and the heroes began to escape...  During their escape, they felt watched; the druid cast faerie fire and outlined a humanoid silhouette who then dashed off...  a band of fighters with levels and a treasure including an invisibility potion were also on this floor, and perhaps they will follow the adventurers to their next destination...

Having retrieved the elvish crown of quest completion, the heroes returned to their camp and met with the elves.  The elves granted the druid a reincarnate spell to restore an unjustly slain neutral fighter (who came back as a faun), the fighter three javelins of lightning and identification of his magic sword, and taught the wizard a new spell.  

B1 complete!  Next stop:  B2 -- Keep on the Borderlands.  Also, later, a review on B1.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

B1 Campaign Journal: Pools & Kobolds!

 This post is part of a multi-post series.  You can read the previous one here:



The players recently learned from a captured NPC about the path to some interesting pools.  So, off they want to check it out.  First, there was a brief fight -- two giant lizards (level 2 monsters) had taken up residence in there for some reason.  They were quickly dispatched.

The players then carefully examined the pools.  Astrid our cleric was not able to attend so this was just young players going solo, and I'm impressed at their thoroughness and caution vs. risk taking.  They were good about poking water with spears before investigating further, taking very small sips rather than big gulps, and not touching stuff that was clearly Really Icky (like slimes).  They did try to carry off as many of the potion-y waters as they could, and were disappointed when they lost their glamour upon leaving the room.  The only one that really tripped them up for awhile was some illusory treasure.  

They also had an absolute ball in this room.  I actually set this one up with minis using little round circle wood disks for the pools and they had a blast moving them from pool to pool.  There was a chance for total disaster here but they avoided all the major missteps.


The next place they stumbled into was the great wizard Z's chambers.  They had a brief fight with some giant spiders which went pretty well for them.  I did tone down poison for my game -- instead of an instakill, it deals 1-6 points of damage per hit die of the victim on a failed save.  These nasties had a moderate bite (2 points per HD) which hurt plenty, especially as we are all using D6 hit dice (+1 per die for fighters, +1 for high con).  Again, like the mapping last game, an OSR heresy -- but I don't find insta-kill poison on common monsters found at low levels before anyone has any countermeasures (Neutralize Poison) to be particularly fun.

After a thorough search of the apartments, the players found a clue that I added to the adventure:  among the wizard's invoices was a receipt for a "special door" associated with the "vault" along with the name of the craftsman.  I'd decided the treasure was well hidden behind a secret door and there  was little chance of them finding it without some assistance.  If the players wanted to there was also an easy little town sidequest there for them to look up the guildmaster and then find and interrogate the masons.

The illusory treasure trick really threw them for a loop.  They really got onto the idea that perhaps the treasure in the pool and the treasure in the wizard's room were linked.  I linked a simple trap to this trick -- a magical gong that would sound three times after someone messed with the loot (of course, triggering a wandering monster check).


The kobolds popped up again on said wandering monster check.  I decided that the wards that the wizard had put in place kept them bound to the stronghold but also prohibited them from entering certain rooms, like his chambers and the library.

The kobolds had a great reaction check and I decided that they'd want to bring the adventurers to meet their chief and parlay.  So they left a trail of breadcrumbs back to the kitchen/dining room and dashed off.

The characters opted to go to the kitchen which I had as a bustling place with two kobolds cooking up a storm.  Everything of course was a fairy illusion.  A little overwhelmed by the bustle, the characters opted for the dining room.  In the dining room, the chief was prepared to receive the adventurers.  Had things gone ugly, he was ready to make a quick escape via the salon and a secret door, but there was no need.

I decided the kobolds had a problem:  they were magically bound to the place and they wanted out.  The wizard's McGuffin of Binding was in the library, which they can't get into, and so they needed someone else to go in and get it for them.  In exchange they would help the adventurers find treasure.  I played the kobolds as shifty, uncertain, and terrified of the lawfully aligned magical sword (cowering in its presence and refusing to talk if it was not covered up), but generally telling the truth or half-truths (NEVER TRUST THE FEY!).

A deal being struck, the kobolds led the adventurers into the dungeon...  but they couldn't help themselves.  Instead of going a direct route to the library, they led the adventurers to a maze-like area that happened to be infested with undead.  They figured they'd let the adventurers go through the maze and meet them on the other side, (1) because it'd be entertaining and (2) to wear the adventurers down, just in case.  But primarily because if you're a 2' tall chaotic fey creature that's been trapped in a dungeon for awhile its hilarious to watch a Zombie/Adventurer cage match.

The heroes were less than amused, although they did survive the maze.  Dragonwing fumed:  "They tricked us!  And wasted our time!"

The heroes caught up with the giggling kobolds and demanded to be taken right to the library, right now.  So off they went again.  The kobolds started plotting in dwarvish to each other.  Dragonwing and Flowing River told each other, "They're going to trick us again, we know it..."  Luckily, the party wizard -- invisible -- spoke dwarvish!  Magic Hands snuck up behind the kobolds and listened in.

"We'll take them to the library...  and then they break the thing... then we trap them with the cage trap... then we run away!  Hee hee hee!"

Magic Hands relayed the conversation to his comrades and they all whispered:  "They're totally going to trick us!  But we know how! Hah!"

The Kobolds took the crew to the library, where the old Chief was waiting with another of the group.  He explained that the Kobolds were not permitted into the room.  The heroes broke open the door easily enough, and found the McGuffin -- a purple magical glowing lava lamp.  The Chief tried to touch it and got zapped with magic, so he asked the heroes to break it.  All three eagerly agreed and threw it on the ground to shatter it.  A burst of magical energy filled the stronghold, and the Kobold's binding was released!


The kobolds then agreed to lead the heroes to the treasure room. Instead, they took them to a certain corridor which has a nasty portcullis trap.  "There secret door that way!" urged the little chaotic imps (technically true -- not at the end of the hallway, but if one looks at the map, there is a secret doorway in that general direction).

The heroes were skeptical.  Flowing River looked at the map and it definitely did not make sense for a secret door to be there.  Dragon wing and Magic Hands were muttering "its a trick, they're going to try to trap us."

"Ummm.  No we aren't.  Definitely not trapping you right now." (technically true -- they'll trap them in a few seconds)

Flowing River asked how they would find it.

"You're a clever hoo-man hero!  I bet you find toooons of secret doors!  It will be easy!"

The heroes asked the kobolds if they were sure.

"Oh yes!  Very sure.  Many secret doors are magic.  Like the voices at the entrance!  Easy to find!"  (again, a half truth and not outright false)

Well, that settled things.  All three heroes ran to the end of the hallway and started searching.  CLANK!  Trap deployed.  Heroes trapped.  The kobolds ran off giggling.

"Those things actually tricked us!  We knew they would!  And they still did!"

The players were equal parts laughing hilariously, proud that they'd seen it coming, and now worried about being stuck in a trap.  I "bent" the module rules a bit to let one of them escape through the bars (there is a picture of a halfling working out through the bars in the module art, so its not too far off...), and after a brief outnumbered battle against some giant rats, Dragonwing rescued his companions by hauling on a lever and resetting the trap.

They went back to the kitchen only to find it completely abandoned, all the delicious banquet food actually long rotten.  The dining room where they had parlayed with the chief much the same, except for a note left there for them.


Luckily for our heroes, the kobold chief thoughtfully left them a note because as obnoxious as the fey are, especially the chaotically inclined ones, a deal is a deal.

It explained that they were scared of hooman adventurers so they ran away (true), that they didn't know where the crown was (true) but to be careful in case its cursed (its not, but the kobolds are scared of all things elvish and lawful and good), that there is a hidden treasure room in a secret passage in the basement near the flying mice (true -- they're bats though), that there is a powerful bad hoo-man warrior in the basement that the adventurers should be on the look out for and ambush if they can (sort of true -- he's a lawful Fighter 4 I rolled up, so of course the Kobolds are terrified of him -- and wouldn't mind sowing a little more discord among the forces of weal on their way out).  And if they want to meet up again the heroes just need to leave out silver and sweetcakes on Midsummer's Eave, because the last few days have been absolutely hilarious entertainment for bored chaotic fey house spirits and these adventurers put up with their constant and potentially lethal shenanigans, unlike most other visitors (true -- I'll let the heroes summon them later that way, its how one would traditionally appease/summon their local Der Kobold House Spirit).

The players puzzled over this for awhile and pieced it together!  Now they just need a safe way to return to the basement level, for they know exactly the spot to look.


The pool room and copious "Tricks" in B1 are great for low level adventure.  It really keeps the lethality down but has definitely kept our young player's interest.  The game has a lot of exploration, interaction, puzzle solving, and just a tad bit of combat.  We have busted out a battle map for the fights but barely need it, as B/X style combats are a quick and simple affair.  This is a big departure from later editions, where even simple fights can take a half hour or more.

As a GM B/X is awesome.  Most things happen on a roll of 5-6/6 or 6/6.  If I want more fidelity I roll 2d6 -- 6 equals neutral result, 9 equals success.  Snake eyes are critical failure and boxcars critical success.  Monsters are easy to improve -- AC13, does 1d6 damage, has 1d6 HP.  If it is beefier than that it goes up a level (fewer in number), deals 1d3 or 1 HP damage instead of 1d6, or has only 1 HP.  Works great.  Super easy to improvise on the fly.

For dice rolls I've started converting as many player facing modifiers as possible to different dice combinations.  1d6+2 becomes 1d10.  Instead of adding +2 to hit when charging, roll 1d20 and 1d4 and add them together.  Stuff like that.  I'm finding it makes the player facing math much faster.  The odds are somewhat different but close enough, and players of all ages love rolling dice.  I think I am going to go through my rules and full-on embrace the 5E style "advantage/disadvantage" (for big modifiers) and a +/- 1d3 or 1d4 (for small modifiers) to the maximum extent possible.  There is a purity in using a D6 for as much as possible that I appreciate but its just plain faster to have players chuck 1d10 instead of 1d6+2.

Dynamic storytelling and emergent worldbuilding is great.  From the simple decision to treat the kobolds I generated as mischievous, chaotic, and somewhat evil house spirits run amuk I got two sessions of adventure and the heroes had to really work for a clue.  We also have established what kobolds are in this game world.  I thought about making the Binding McGuffin harder to find or destroy but due to pacing just wanted to keep things moving -- it would have been easy to say that it needed to be destroyed in one of the pools for instance though (like acid).  As much as the kobolds wanted to be free, it was in their nature to impulsively put the heroes through potentially lethal side jaunts just for chaotic funsies, so they did so.  I've also had them carefully tell half truths or mostly truths in typical fey fashion, again setting the character for kobolds going forward.  I would not have had all these plot threads, tricks and traps, or other things thought up in advance had I sat down and tried to do it -- it all came together from random rolls which is pretty awesome.

I was impressed at how B1 is being handled by very young players.  They have continued to have a good mix of caution with tricks balanced with boldness when needed (valiant Dragonwing slaying the rats to free his friends!).  Things that might seem a played out trope for more experienced players in B1 are fresh for the true novice, which is who the module is intended for, so its hitting the mark with the target audience.

I think we will get 1-2 more sessions out of this module, depending on thoroughly they search the entire place.  At the pace they're at it feels like they are about halfway through.  Also of help in the quest, Magic Hands picked the "locate object" spell to learn so that he can help find the crown.  Very clever that little pre-k kiddo.  Between the clues and the spell they'll be well on the track.

The PCs also gained just enough XP to hit level 3.  Had they missed the gems on their first session they'd be just hitting level 2 now which is fine.  They'll probably be knocking at the door of level 4 depending on how much they find.  I don't love the lowest levels, frankly and getting to the sweet spot of level 3-7 is great.  Also the player's experience here checks with what I remember from Random Megadungeon Meat Grinding in AD&D back in the day -- much of your survival depends on getting an early, easy score of gems/jewelry, preferably on a high risk/high reward run to level 2 of the dungeon where you roll the dice on finding jewelry without running into an ogre or something similarly nasty.

I have not been pulling punches with random dice, encounters, etc. The only real things I'm softening are insta-die poison and mapping, which I would do for any group.  

Finally it was a good chance to learn an important lesson that you should NEVER TRUST THE FEY and that dealings with them never go as expected.  Luckily the heroes didn't eat any of the faerie food being prepared in the kitchen...

Monday, January 2, 2023

B1: In Search of the Unknown Campaign Journal Introduction & Initial Delve


 This is the first in a series of posts cataloguing a delve through B1, "In Search of the Unknown," by Mike Carr.  I'll wrap up at the end with a review, and in the mean time there will be a campaign journal.



My players really want a Norse theme, so we went with that.  There's a druid in the party so I set the dungeon in the midst of a great fey-filled forest.  The elves are slowly leaving to sail away, and goblins are taking over, so there's a bit of a fey-humanoid brawl going on that the players are in the midst of.  A fortress nearby (probably the Keep on the Borderlands) is on the edge of the wood.

Instead of stocking the dungeon with the suggested monsters and treasures, I used the random tables from my home ruled Donjons & Drakes, which are heavily inspired by the 3LBB.  Luckily everything is compatible.  The monsters are very similar.  The 3LBB are more generous for monetary treasure and stingier for magic items.  As an example, the B/X list gives a whopping 10 magic items, two of which are bogus.  My tables (based on 3LBB) give an average of 1-2 items, which is exactly what I came up with.  On the flip side, 3LBB will give at least 1-2 good caches of gems & jewelry each level of a dungeon, and each cache is hundreds or thousands of GP equivalent -- enough for low level types to gain a level.


Dragon Wing, a Lawful Human Fighter with remarkable strength and constitution, played by a first grader.

Magic Hands, a Neutral Human Wizard with exceptional intelligence, played by a pre-K kiddo.

Flowing River, a Neutral Human Druid with great ability scores all around, played by a third grader.

Astrid, the traditional cleric with mace and Cure Light Wounds, played by your hostess.  Astrid is there as a character who can hold the line with heavy armor, heal up the others when they need a curative spell, and provide some helpful guidance... not as one to drive the adventure.

The kids all have experience with hero kids and miniatures wargames as well as other tabletop games, but as you can see this is a young group.  You'll see how they do!


Our party began on the forest track, heading a Keep on the Borderlands for a warm bed and safe place.  On the road they encountered centaurs who warned of dangers on the road, some goblin wolf riders chasing a white quadruped (they assumed to be a uniorn), and finally some elves leaving for the ships.  The elves shared knowledge of a nearby fortress (that of B1) and provided directions.  They asked if the adventurers would help find and recover an elvish Moon Crown which had been wrongly taken and could likely be found in the fortress; the group agreed.  The elves provided guidance to a safe campsite clearing nearby where the party can rest between delves, four rumors off the module table, and warned the players not to trust the house spirits which were out of control.

The Moon Crown isn't in the B1 module, but its easy enough to add it in as a piece of jewelery.  Bam, done!


The first delve into the dungeon was a pretty straightforward.  The magic mouths at the entrance spawned great curiosity -- the players are convinced that there are two tricksters shouting!

The group spent a fair amount of time poking around the entrance area, delighting in finding a few secret doors to alcoves.  They also explored most of Rogahn's apartments, fighting a few minor encounters along the way.

More notably, I had rolled a group of Kobolds living in the kitchens and dining room.  I decided that Kobolds in this game would hew closer to their fey/faerie origin as house spirits (not little mini-gnolls or dragon things), so I played them as devious, trick-loving, dark, and chaotic leaning gnome types who would delight in playing dungeon inhabitants against each other.  I also decided that Zelligar had bound them to the stronghold by some magical McGuffin which is why they could not just leave.  While poking around, we had a random encounter with kobolds which was our first set up.  The two kobolds, clearly outmatched, parlayed with the group.  They told the players that "bad hoo-mans" had taken over the throne room and conveniently provided directions.

The party busted in to the throne room and on the word of the kobolds attacked a neutral Fighter 1 who was reclining on the throne and willing to parlay.  He made a run for a secret door but didn't make it.  

The party then busted into the bedroom and found a second F1, unconscious on the bed.  The treasure in this room was a Lawful Sword +1, and I decided that the neutral fighter had knocked himself out taking damage from it (in old school D&D, swords are often aligned, and if you don't match, you take damage) and was resting.  The party tied up and revived the hurt fighter and questioned him.  After a very high reaction roll, the NPC shared three rumors off the module rumor table, shared what he knew about the sword (not much), cautioned the players not to trust the small house spirits, and gave directions to the pool room in exchange for his freedom.  Dragon Wing, lawful fighter, happily scooped up the sword.

Point this round:  Chaotic Fey.  The kobolds got some of the tougher monsters of the first level cleared out, got to observe the capabilities of this new group in a fight, and got a great show to boot.  


After this the party continued poking around.  After a few unremarkable encounters with marginal treasure that cost a few HP and spells, they ended up taking a hidden slide trap to the basement where the armored characters narrowly avoided drowning in a pool.  Once in the basement, Astrid guided the rest of the group to start looking for a way out immediately.  The party was already at a point where it would be prudent to start thinking about leaving, and being dumped on the totally unmapped second level with no way out was no bueno.

After some exploring, characters found themselves in a large cavern full of bats.  Normally this is a baneful encounter for the party, but the druid thought to use his Speak with Animals spell, which lets the bats be conversed with and makes them somewhat friendly, and offered them food from his rations.  He got a great reaction roll so they were quite helpful.  From the bats the druid got directions to a series of secret doors that led to a way out.  Excellent use of a spell resource, equipment resource and roleplay from a kiddo!

After finding the way out, the party poked around a bit more and found a trapped chest near a statute.  Luckily for them, this was one of the few huge hoards in the dungeon -- two pieces of jewelry worth enough XP for everyone to make it to level 2!

With jewelry in hand and spells and hit points running low, the party wisely made their escape.


I just let the dice fall for they may for the slain neutral Fighter 1 on the throne room.  Guy failed a system shock roll, he dead.  In retrospect, for kids, I should have softened the blow and moral ambiguity by letting him survive.  But here we are.

That said its all working out.  The oldest kids are feeling major regret over doing a Very Bad Thing, even though the house spirits said it was ok.  They now want to seek a Raise Dead or Reincarnation spell from the elves, and have themselves on the clock to find the Moon Crown before its too late.  Its actually worked out ok with a bunch of age appropriate conversations about make-believe and reality, appropriate vs. unjustified use of force (i.e. "is it ok to hurt someone if a third party says to do it?"), and good and bad.  

Its also a great example of emergent old school play.  There's no way I would have come up with a plot where the players would be on a desperate race against time to find an elvish artifact that they could parlay into a reincarnation spell for some rando bandit found in the dungeon.  Yet that's a plot we're on, and the players are really invested in it, and we'll see where it goes.


The old school tables result in a dungeon that is mostly empty.  That actually works reasonably well.  It lets groups, for example, get lost on the second level of the dungeon without it being an auto-TPK because there's a good chance they won't run across too many monsters.  It puts a focus on exploration.  This matches the guidance in B1 -- the module tells you to use only 15-20 monsters to fill the 60-something rooms.

I do not care for the very compact map layout of B1 as a judge.  I'm a softy but I am mapping for the players.  Even if they were adults I have no desire to play the game of verbally translating a map to words so the players can then draw a map.  I know that some OSR folks view mapping as an integral part of the game, I just can't derive much love from it the technical process of it.  So while the tight layout of B1 (which if accurately mapped is useful for providing clues to secret rooms and the like) makes sense, it is a pain to map.

The room descriptions are wordy, and info for the players and judge is mixed in each paragraph.  I'd prefer to have an initial paragraph with the things the players see, with amplifying info for the DM in follow on paragraphs.  As it is, I need to read the entire room entry (sometimes half a page) and then break out what to tell the players.

Some of the tropes while tiresome to experienced players are