Classic Dungeons and Dragons and Old School Gaming

D&D etc.

"Heir to a crumbling summit: to a sea of nettles: to an empire of rust: to rituals' footprints ankle-deep in stone."

-Mervyn Peake

"...and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped."

-Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monday, August 28, 2023

Open Table Gaming

Since February I have been running a monthly open table game at the local gamer pub. I run a simple house ruled version of BX dnd.  Because it is a drop in open game the group always leaves the dungeon at the end of a session. There is a core group of 6-8ish people and then I had a few sessions with 10-12 people. The first time that happened was a challenge -it is a very different experience to run a group that large. At my last session there were 17 people! 

I have been reflecting on these experiences and I would like to note here some things I have learned about running a large group:

1. Make character generation very simple. 

I don't use pregens because I feel like making up your own weird little pretend person is an important part of the hobby and I don't want to rob my players of that, especially the newbies. In my open table game making a character is just rolling 3d6 in order, d6 for HP, picking an alignment and class (3 choices each: law, neutral, or chaos and fighter, thief or magic-user) and that's pretty much it. Equipment is just a package based on their class and highest stat. Oh, low WIS and INT scores means you have to roll for a paranoia or dumb thing you believe, and everyone rolls on a d6 chart to determine their Drive, the reason they are seeking out dungeon adventure. (In debt, a missing family member, etc) Its very basic. It's surprising to me how much the non-experienced role-players latch onto that bit, they like having a motivation, thinking about it, talking about it and sometimes justifying actions with it. 

I set out intending to be open to other classes, the options were: fighter, thief, magic-user, or make something up! For me, this is the perfect balance of few choices to prevent analysis paralysis while being open to alternate character ideas if the player is willing to invest a bit of creativity. Most people, though, stick to the options given. I have one guy who has basically made a cleric. He didn't ask if he could be a cleric, he just made a lawful fighter and made up the name of a god. He name drops his god at least once every session, it's pretty great.

There are at least one or two new people most every session so getting these folks up and running with a character takes a bit of time at the beginning of the session. This gives the regulars time to chit chat, discuss what they did in the last game or sort out buying new equipment or doing other downtime actions. I wrote up a selection of downtime actions thinking this could be a formal thing for all players who do multiple sessions, but it has ended up being not-so formal. A few people do things in downtime but most folks don't worry about it. 

2. Stay organized.

I made a 16 page pamphlet with the basic rules and character generation. I tuck a blank character sheet into each one. I give this to each new player to keep. I ask for the players to leave their character sheets with me between sessions. Sometimes they take a picture. I don't require this, if they want to keep their character I let them, but this has prevented a situation where someone shows up to play without their character. I also have a one page roster with basic info about the player and the character that I pass around the table at the beginning of each session: player name. Character name, class, level, AC, HP... I use this during the game to track things like marching order, who has a torch lit, XP, etc.

3. Think constantly about Player attention and decisions.

Normally I wouldn't put limits on character action. If one or two PCs want to go off on their own and do their own thing I let them, but I have learned how difficult this is with a large group. In this open table game I have resorted to asking a player not to do it on occasion. There has been a time or two I wish I had done more to nudge PCs to stick together. It is difficult enough to make sure everyone is getting a chance to play even when they stay together that having someone go off on side quests is just too much of a distraction. If a PC or a small group of PCs wants to head off in roughly the direction that the main group is heading, effectively scouting, I allow that as it still keeps everyone engaged in what is happening because they want to know what their own characters are about to encounter. If someone does get separated from the group I have learned to ask the player to be patient. 

The two main currencies in an rpg are attention and decisions. As the DM it's my job to generally hold the Players attention and present them with decisions. I started off sitting at the end of a long table because that felt like the right place to be as a DM, but I gathered that it was difficult for the players at the far end to hear what was happening or get in on the action so i have now taken to sitting in the middle of the table. Hmm maybe I should experiment with different table arrangement, set them up in something more like a circle or a U? I might try that if I get another large group.

I make it a standard practice to ask a player what their character is doing by giving them a few specific options while keeping it open: "do you want to push open the door, continue down the hall, or something else?" This keeps things focused while still allowing for creative problem solving.

4. Keep things moving and include everyone.

I do side initiative. Combat can get chaotic. I like that, it feels appropriate to me. Generally I go around the table and give each PC an action, but sometimes people will form smaller groups within a battle and instead I will address the actions of those smaller groups in turn. I have learned not to let a player slow the game, if they don't know what to do neither does there character! I'll say that and go to the next person. This doesn't happen often.

I understand why back in the day they had the concept of the "caller": one player who had the job of telling the DM what the whole group was doing. I haven't quite resorted to that but typically I will ask the person in front what they are doing and let the rest of the group simply follow along until they are at a location with multiple options or objects to interact with.

Sometimes both in and out of combat if I feel a player or two haven't gotten to do anything I will specifically ask them what they are doing. I will also sometimes ask for a d6 roll from everyone and give the highest rollers the opportunity to act. They are the ones who speak the NPCs language, or notice the NPC doing something sneaky or hear a noise or what have you. This is a simple way to randomize who has the spotlight and can give someone who hasn't gotten to make a unique or decisive action the opportunity to do so.

5. Limit the sandbox.

I like the idea of sandbox games, allowing the PCs free reign to decide what they are going to do in a session. In an open table though, with a large group and new players in each session I have to give them structure. Sometimes I will give the group two or three options for where they could go at the beginning of the session and sometimes I will just start off with a hook and get them in to the adventure. 

The Drive that I have each character randomly determine does a lot to help players focus on the adventure. 

6. Control the number of Players?

I haven't done this, and I would prefer to avoid it if possible. I really like that anybody can show up and jump in. This is kind of the whole point to this game that I'm running. But, with more than 10 players at the table the amount of gaming that each individual gets to do is reduced. I understand that invitations and RSVPs would allow me to control the number of players. If there is a call to play and players are expected to RSVP and there is a cap to the number of players at the table then it wouldn't feel right to let people in to the game on the day of. What I might do is offer an extra session per month that would be for regular players. This game I would ask for an RSVP.

I have to say running a large table is a fun challenge and something I encourage every DM with some experience to try. An open table is an interesting challenge as well. Even with a cadre of regulars I don't know who is going to show up for a session or how many strangers I am going to be running a game for. I set out to find/create a group of old school gamers and so far it's going great. I know that in some ways it might be easier to use an established rule set and use pregens or ask folks to come with a character ready but I wanted to minimize the barriers to entry. More than once players have chatted up folks at the bar just before the game started and invited them to join in. Those folks were able to go out for the night and jump into a game of dnd without planning for it or knowing that was how they were going to spend the evening and I think that's pretty cool.

I cooked up the plan to run this open table with the pub owner. Her Facebook posts advertising the game are pretty key to bringing players in I think. The bartenders there have pointed people my direction as well. I have also posted to gamer groups and recruited players and I've made a few zines and posters to advertise, maybe I'll do a write up about that next.

If you are an old school gamer in or around Bremerton Wa, or would like to be then come down to Ashley's Pub on the second Wednesday of each month! We start around 6:00.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

I like FAGs and you probably do too

It's been a while. I've been gaming plenty, just not posting. Current events have me thinking though, so here you go:

After taking a long hiatus, I got back into DnD in the aughts. At the time, 3rd edition was the current DnD so we tried that and we liked it. We did a long running campaign in 3rd edition, played it for years. Then, 4th edition came along and during the kerfuffle over that I started reading about this OSR thing. I realized that we could run the old basic game or one of these retroclones that were coming out. They presented old style rules and often had little tweaks to make things more fun, more pulpy, more streamlined or easier to run. I ran a campaign starting with Keep on the Borderlands and we never turned back. The games I ran and played in used simple rules with some of these tweaks from retroclones, from other blogs and house rules we came up with ourselves. We have tried some things and they stick but sometimes we'll implement a new bit of rules but they don't end up working very well for us. We have also experimented with other types of games from time to time (we even ran a 5e campaign to try it out) but we always come back to the classic, this amalgamation of old school and "old school". Throughout this time the actual rules at our table and the details of the campaign world (or worlds) evolved and were experimented with. And we always called the game DnD. But what was it really? It became something different from the original rules and it wasn't anyone of the retroclones either. It never had anything to do with whatever WotC was doing at the time. 

With this recent gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that has been occurring I have begun to question if we should call what we run at our table DnD. But what should we call it? Turns out the answer has been pretty obvious.

See, it's right there on the cover of Moldvay Basic. 

This is a Fantasy Adventure Game. That's what we've been playing, a fantasy adventure game! Its like this whole time we've been saying pass the Kleenex when what we really wanted was a facial tissue. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

One Page Dungeon Contest 2020

I submitted to the One Page Dungeon Contest this year. This was my first entry since 2013 with The Iron Cloud. Like the Iron Cloud, this one is also intended to be used in a "Space Mutant DnD" milieu. In other words there are wizards and there are also robots. 

Though they won't realize it at first, there are three different clocks that the PCs are working against in this adventure. 

The first is the deadly lazer magiks of two dueling wizards who are trapped in a some type of slowed time distortion. There is a tracker for noting how long the lazer magiks have before they meet their intended targets. The tracker  from the one page dungeon is shown below, with five squares marked out for each wizard to indicate that 2 and a half days have passed since the wizards were embroiled in their freaky duel. The starting point for this tracker is not stated in the adventure but since refugees have been appearing "a few days ago" I would start with 2 to 6 days marked off of this tracker. MBV represents the Magi Bon Vai and ATI represents Anthropath The Inhumanist. 

Lethal Lazer Magik Tracker

Another clock or timed element is the impending arrival of squid men dignitaries from the mist worlds.  I leave it entirely up the the Space Mutant DM to determine when this occurs and what the squid men dignitaries look and act like and what they are capable of. I imagine them as something similar in appearance to the aliens in the film Arrival, but they could be anything from cthuloid horrors to foppish dandies in squid form. 

The final clock the PCs may be working against is likely a result of the first encounter. Anyone who gets near the slime will find a bubble of slime break off from the mass of slime and follow them draining their strength until they die at which point the slime assumes their form becoming a slime doppelganger. 

What I enjoy about One Page Dungeons is the opportunity for text and image to combine and interact in ways that are not found in typical published adventures where the standard is map + key text with maybe some illustrations. There are things I would do differently with this one if I did it over but it was fun. 

Here is the pdf:

The Slime of Magi Bon Vai OPDC 2020 - pdf

Saturday, March 2, 2019

30-ish minute dungeon

I have fallen in with a bad crowd. The sort who hammer out a dungeon in just half an hour (though this took a good 45) as inspired by the Bogeyman.

I'd like to try it again and stick to the time limit. This was an enjoyable exercise, I normally start by drawing a map. It was fun to try a different process. I was not thinking about politics when I wrote it, I really wasn't. Here it is, typos and bogus autocorrects and all:

The Stump Tower of var Haran

If the wizard in your party wants a certain spell, there is rumor that a wizard who dwells to the north has it and is happy to trade spells with the rare visitor.

Baraghaul var Haran (BvH) is the wizard. He lives by a lagoon to the north. He does in fact have the desired spell but the rumor is a falsehood he spreads to lure weak and foolish spellcasters to him so he can steal their spells.

BvH lives in the massive massive hollow and broken trunk of a fallen tree upon which a bronze onion shaped dome has been placed and fastened. BvH is a metalworker. He is paranoid but not without a certain charisma. He is a tall skinny man who wears layers of diaphanous robes over a grimy union suit. His hands and feet are the claws of vultures.

Next to BvH's dome topped tree tower there is a long stone hall with a partially carved in roof. Since the hall was built the edges of the  lagoon have swelled and the hall is now about half on land and half in the water.

Resting atop the domed tree trunk tower is a black gull. The creature named Arturic is intelligent and cursed. He will attempt to warn the PCs of the danger of BvH and the lion but he speaks only the language of ancient Helleth.

Tree tower entry hall. This room is appointed with what used to be fine rugs placed over stone and ceramic tiles. Some flagstones, some roof tile that have been repurposed.  The entry hall is stalked by a dire lion who is invisible except for his mouth: a crooked maw full of long odd angled teeth like the knives of a deranged and murderous chef. The lion's name is Hoivre. He loves jokes and will ask visitors to tell him some. He will eat them when they run out of jokes. The lion always laughs at what BvH says, even when it's not funny. (BvH has charmed him)

Hoivre invisible dire lion
AC 18 (mostly invisible) HD 5d10 dmg: d12+1 bite

From the entry hall there are a number of ladders. One leads up to a large wooden platform with a few benches, pots, pans, knives a rake, a shovel. A pot stove and barrels of food. Through a slim hole the stovepipe exits one can get a slight view of the lagoon.

Encounter and Magic Items:
Up another longer ladder leads to the top chamber where BvH can most often be found.
This room has an open view to the lagoon. There is a large trunk, so large it has been nailed to the I side of the tree trunk. Inside there is a very very heavy full body leather suit with a quilted coif. Inside the suit there are lead sheets and strange filaments. The suit protects as leather armor, but slows the wearer as if they were wearing plate. The suit negates all magic effects directed at the wearer.

Baraghaul var Haran
level 6 magic user
AC 14 HD 6d4 dmg by spell or dagger or wand of paralysis with 3d4 charges.
He also has a metal disk 24" around and 1/4" thick that functions as a floating disc or levitate spell if a magic user or psionic steps on it and wills it so.

Trap and treasure:
The longest ladder leads up into the onion dome. Near the top of the ladder there are three false rungs that will break away. Save or fall for each one. Inside the onion dome is where BvH keeps his stolen spellbooks. He has most first and second level spells, and a few third level.

Out behind the tree trunk tower is BvH's crude foundry under a large tarp fashioned into a lean-to.

The dry end of the long stone hall:
The roof has mostly caved in and this area is full of old machines, some iron and rusted, some bronze and not. BvH has chipped away at and otherwise borrowed bits of the machinery

In the wet end of the long hall (underwater) dwell a group of 3 fish men who are strong and capable and jealous of the lion.
AC 15 HD 3d8

Outside the submerged end of the long hall in the lagoon there is a verdigris statue of a slightly abstract woman. Touching the statue will allow anyone to receive a message left at the similar statue of a man far far to the south. This is how BvH communicates with his agents. There is a massage in it that says "more are coming." And then includes descriptions of the PCs.

The lagoon is poisonous and will incapacitate anyone who drinks from it for d4 days, failing a save. It will incapacitate anyone who comes within significant contact (immersion or partial immersion) with it for 1 day failing a save.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Thouls are undead abominations. Patchwork creatures, they possess a strangely refined version of the canibal cravings of ghouls. They will chew off a part of a victims body, eat it and then remove and sew on that same part from their own body. The victim will then become a thoul, filled with a similar craving. The thoul's own body will regenerate, though that part of their body will be larger or somehow more mishapen than it was previously.

Thouls are incabable of speaking the truth.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Zombies in the land of the dead are very rarely of human corpses. Large and exotic zombie beasts are seen in herds or alone on occasion. These creatures are passing fads among the Lords of the Underworld. Now it may be a status symbol to have the largest herd of zombie stegasauri, but next week it may be more fashionable to have a single large zombie tiger, trained to perform tricks.

Among the Lords of the Underworld, as in the World We Know, there are those who cling to yesterday's fashions.

Monday, April 9, 2018


Hobgoblins are goblins who have been forced to wear shoes. This contains their wickedness and they grow to be larger than a man. Some particularly wicked goblins will continue growing until they are quite corpulent. Hobgoblins are not capable of removing their shoes.

Hobgoblins who serve evil wizards or witches may be found to have black ooze inside them if they are killed.

Hobgoblins are not often found in the Land of the Dead, to encounter them there is a sinister auspice.