Monday, March 27, 2017

Love Note for One Page Dungeons

Recently I splurged and ordered all four One Page Dungeon Compendia from Shattered Pike Studio at  

At a cost of $11-$12 a piece, with each book stuffed with between sixty and ninety adventures, the value is pretty incredible.  Of course, you can always scratch around and find each of these scenarios plus more submissions that didn't make the book online ... but the softbound, full color collections are just nice.

Image result for one page dungeon compendium 2013Image result for one page dungeon compendium 2013

For me, along with The Dungeon Alphabet, these are probably my best RPG purchase since I bought Scourge of the Slave Lords (A1-4 bound together) from Walden Books back in 1986.

Though, it's a bit of an oversimplification, I sort all published OSR materials into three groups: rules sets, supplements, and adventures.

Rules sets are fine, and many of them have lots of charm (it's fun to look over the fence at what houserules others have implemented), but apart from a gem or two (like the idea that Knock and Wizard Lock are reversed versions of the same spell, or White Star's super-simple ship-to-ship combat), these have a pretty low impact at my game table.

Supplements introduce new monsters, spells, items, and classes, but I've seldom felt much need for these since B/X is already so flexible.  Want to play a pixie?  Sure.  Just stat it as a thief (climbing rolls stand in for aerial maneuvers) and get on with play.

That brings me to adventures--for me that's where the "good stuff" is--ideas that I can implement at my table.  The problem with even many of the classics is that, within the 30-odd pages of a module, you have some great, imaginative encounters, a larger proportion of pretty standard ones that don't offer anything particularly new, and a few stinkers that I'd never inflict on my campaign.  Any published adventure is sort of a crapshoot ... I never know quite what the proportions will be until I've dug through the each page.

Image result for one page dungeon compendium 2015For me, that's where the one-page format really shines.  Because of the space restrictions, writers lead with their very best punch.  Granted, sometimes the ideas are pretty standard stuff--there are some real stinkers in the One Page Dungeon Compendia, but I'm not banking all that much time (and less than 25 cents) per scenario.  Overall though, I've found them to have a much higher ratio of clever, useable, and innovative material than is typical of the dozens and dozens of full length adventures that I've collected over the years.
Image result for one page dungeon compendium 2016

Finally, I think that, as a product, these showcase the eager-to-share and do-it-yourself approaches that reflect the role-playing community at its best.
What's been your best role-playing purchase of recent years--the one that you couldn't help but gush over?

What made it so darned good?  Was it ease of use / application at your table or did it scratch some other itch?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers: Frosty vs the Dead

DM: "So, do you guys want to go back after the Spawn of Arach-naca?  It killed both your elves but you forced it to retreat last time ..."


"We're going to go to level two so we can find some more old books and stuff and sell them and level up!"

"Hey, I have this new Blindness spell in that spellbook I found.  How does it work?"

DM: "Well, it works like your Blur spell did.  It affects whatever creature you cast it on."

"So, if I cast it on myself I could blind people."

DM: "Um, no.  Remember last time?  The Blur spell?  You cast it on the big spider-thing and it got all blurry and hard to hit?  It works just like that.  Whatever you cast the spell on is affected by it."

"Right, so it kind of blinded us?"

Image result for three blind miceDM: "Well, no.  Blur made the creature you cast it on appear all blurry--it got harder to see it."

"So if I cast Blind on myself, it'll make me really hard to hit!"

DM: "N ... you know what? ... You can try it out if you want."

After a quick vote on party leader and a bit of shopping (which included the purchase of a couple flasks of alchemist's fire), the crew of seven climbed the Dwimmermount and began their delve.  Lately they've adopted the habit of hurrying through previously explored halls at a jog and ignoring / avoiding anything that isn't obviously treasure or which isn't on their planned route in hopes of not getting sucked into encounters with wandering monsters:

DM: "Alright, below the Red Gates, in the entry hall, you notice a trail of fresh slime crossing the ..."

"Ignore it!"

DM: "When you turn the corner, you spy a pair of spectral guardsmen ..."

"Ignore it!"

DM: "In the next room there are six, short, marble pillars with polished plates of ... "

"Ignore it!"

Their focus paid off and the group reached level two without meeting any creatures.

"Where should we go to find treasure?"

"How about here?"

"No, the map shows us places we've already been!"

Once they (more or less) grasped the concept that the map they had made reflected locations that they had already been (perhaps confusion on this point is an artifact of video game play?), the group set out to knock open some new doors, stumbling right into a group of deadites (I always avoid using "the Z-word," which for some odd reason feels too culturally-specific for D&D, but this is entirely in vain since my players pretty much classify all undead as "zombies" or "walkers."

The leader of the ancient dead showed a spark of intelligence, so we had a genuine negotiation on our hands!

DM: "Why hast thou ventured into these halls?"

"We want treasure!"

DM: "Removest thee in haste for I will not that these chambers be despoiled by mere ruffians."

"Okay.  I throw my javelin at him!"

Image result for snowmanA running battle with dead things ensued.  The party's wizard, who charged ahead, was shortly laid low, but she was recovered before bleeding out.  The party's kitten (who has six lives yet remaining) found a treasure stash, but rather than withdraw they gambled on advancing another couple rooms and were ambushed by a wight.  Ferdick the Goon, the party leader, was hit twice and lost 4 hit points permanently (I dock max HP vs levels to reduce bookkeeping without reducing the fear factor).  The group's snow golem, however, saved the day.  I had described the wight's rage as being fueled by the icy blackness of the interstellar void.

"Hmm ... icy blackness?  Does that actually heal me then?"

DM: "Um ... well, okay, it doesn't actually harm you ... and you haven't been wounded yet."

In the end we decided that the snow golem's skinny little dead-branch arms would decay and crumble, but that he was immune to the wight's dreaded energy drain.  Armless, he wrestled and blocked the raging undead until the rest of the party could escape with the loot.

Overall, quite a successful little delve!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers: The Hunt for Arach-naca

I have no idea why ... but somehow, this week, my players took it into their heads to track down the Spawn of Arach-naca ... that malign, scheming spirit from the black void between the stars which haunts the depths of Dwimmermount in the form of a vast, bloated spider.

Arach-naca featured prominently in last school year's campaign, with Vale the Grey slowly (okay ... maybe not so slowly) being seduced into serving the unseen whisperer in exchange for knowledge of lost or forbidden spells.

This summer, in my two-week games camp, Arach-naca began seeding the tunnels of the Paths of Mavors with its hungry offspring (giant crab spiders).  It was then that explorers first encountered the loathsome creature face-to-face.  Those it didn't slay it subjugated or sent dashing headlong from the mountain in panic. 

However, the Five Delvers (a powerful NPC party) drove the spider demon off level one and down into the depths of level four, where it slumbered and schemed until awoken again by this year's players when they descended the Great Shaft to poke around in the deeps among the bull-men of Commander Bik.

Crawling back up from the fourth deep, Arach-naca installed itself once more in the kobold caverns of level one, slowly expanding its brood.

With most of the party having recently reached level two (and having acquired enough cash to finally afford platemail) perhaps they were feeling ready to take on terrors that they had previously shied away from.

So two fighters, an unusually mobile tree, a blue dragon hatchling, a cat, two elves, one retainer, and two magic-users set off to track Arach-naca down and defeat the horror once and for all.

Image result for giant spiderThey battled through a score of the twisted kobolds that served the monstrous spider-thing, losing one magic-user along the way, before the drums of the diminutive madmen finally called it from its lair on creaking, many-jointed legs. 

"Don't lick that stuff coming off its belly or it will enslave you!"

"Wait ... what?  Why would you want ... ?"

"That's what happened last summer.  It caught a bunch of us and they put us in these webs and then they made us put our faces in its belly and it enslaved us."

"Dude, we're going to put Kermit up front [in his new platemail] and he's going to take them all on and won't get a scratch and then he'll make it lick his belly!"

As Jager the Elf, Kermit the Brute, and the cat charged the up the tunnel to meet Arach-naca head-on, Ferdick the Goon brought forth and brandished the strange, clicky device that he had recovered from a desk in level zero.

"I stare it in the eyes and shout, 'I defy you with the power of the clicky thing!' "

DM: "Okay, make a saving throw.  It bids you to attack Salren the Elf."


"Please don't!  I only have three hit points left!"

"Does an 18 hit? ... Wait, I have plus two for Strength ... with my greatsword."

Oblivious to the telepathically-induced carnage breaking out behind them, Jager and Kermit pressed the attack, dealing 20 points of damage across several rounds.

At this point Dilliam the mage decided to experiment with a brand new spell that he had found in an enchanted book on level two.

"I cast Blur on it."

DM: "On ... the spider?"

"Yeah.  So it'll be all blurry and won't be able to hit us as well."

DM: "You want to make the spider all blurry and hard to hit?"

"Yeah, so it'll get like all blurry."

DM: "Um ... okay."

Suddenly Arach-naca became much, much harder to hit.  Rather than be a total jerk about Dilliiam fumbling the application of a new and unfamiliar spell, I offered him the option to take a round to end it once he realized what was going on.  In a panic, he declined, opting to grab a crossbow instead.

DM: "It tells you psychically to that if you shoot Jager it will let you live."

"Okay.  Don't worry, I'll help carry you out afterwards."

"No!  It's just going to kill you!"

"Um ... I'm going to shoot."

Image result for giant spiderAs Jager crumpled, Kermit dealt the spider another fierce blow, sending the creature into ponderous retreat.  Rather than press their advantage, however, the nerve of the party members failed and they sped from the mountain with all the haste they could muster, leaving their dead behind.


Whew!  I had nine players at the table this session, even after redirecting some kids to chess and Settlers of Catan to keep things manageable.  Even then I had Dilliam's player work as party caller to streamline the input, used a minute timer to limit time between turns, and had to be a bit of a tyrant about players missing their turn if they weren't ready or paying attention.

I know the players of the party's casualties were pretty eager to get back in ... Jager's player even rolled up a wizard before we left for the afternoon.

What are your favorite tricks for keeping bigger groups engaged?