Sunday, March 17, 2024

Temple of 1000 Swords, a Tunnels and Trolls Session Report

At my LGS’s monthly RPG event yesterday I ran a one shot using a modified version of the 5th edition Tunnels and Trolls system, running the OSE adventure Temple of 1000 Swords.

The game has 6 players, none of whom had played T&T before, but who did have experience in RPGs in general. Of the pregens the only notable one was a dwarf warrior with 66 starting strength (the TARO rule in action!)

Session Recap

After being given a general premise and goal (Go find where all these goddamn rusted swords are coming from, and do something about it!) the party started right at the entrance of the dungeon.

The dwarf managed to instantly fall into the trap set up in the entry hallway, risking drowning were it not for the efforts of the others to pull him out. This caught the attention of the duck people in the next room who mocked the party, the dwarf challenged them to a duel and won it after the duck he was fighting conceded after a few rounds of being smacked around with a hammer.

Railing up the ducks to go fight their fishy enemies, the ducks thundered off towards the merfolk section of the dungeon, while the party looted and explored the place. They were attacked by some of the iron mongrels that seem to prowl the dungeon, defeating them and getting some diamonds out of their guts.

Further exploration eventually lead them to the forge where Piotr the knight was cursed to keep making swords. They ran into Gladio, the god of the temple who put a geas/curse upon them to kill 9 people in 9 days using swords, then fucked off cackling.

The party explored some more of the dungeon, eventually finding the Hierophant that Piotr killed, taking the knight’s magic spear out of him, resurrecting him, spearing him back down, resurrecting him again and eventually him being able to get his hands on the dwarf before he could shove the spear back in him, killing the dwarf in a single attack (the party was trying to flee, so the dwarf decided to run away rather than stay and fight).

At that the party simply ran away, explaining what they could to the town council. Despite their abject failure to solve the sword problem, they were allowed to perform the next 9 executions in order to lift their curse, but were then also promptly told to leave town and never come back.


I had two main goals with this. First was the obvious - I have not run a game in months, and wanted to do something about it. On that end I obviously succeeded, as the game did indeed happen.

The second goal was getting some actual experience running T&T for a group and seeing how it feels. The aesthetics of a system can and does matter to me, and I so far have been enjoying the one T&T offers. Combat was fast, though not as fast as I was hoping (turns out adding up a whole bunch of large numbers over and over isn’t actually significantly faster than just people rolling a bunch of d20s, though it is slightly so), but it still worked pretty well.

I like Saving Rolls as a unified mechanic and how well they can work for basically anything, I like the spellcasting and I like the absurdity of how powerful some starting characters can be compared to others.

Also, as a GM, adapting the monsters in the dungeon worked out quite easily. Slapping a Monster Rating that vaguely feels right (and it does seem like a lot of it is based on vibes and how difficult you feel the monster should be to challenge in combat) and then simply using the abilities it already has was very intuitive and fast.

The module itself worked fine, and its slightly goofy and absurd premise also fit the general goofy tone that T&T often has associated with it. I wouldn’t say the Temple of 1000 Swords is my favorite OSE module or something, but I think for a one-shot at an event it works quite well and offers plenty of things for people to poke at and mess around with.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Choosing Fighter means choosing Violence

The excellent Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean.

I often think about Fighters. I also like what others have written about fighters.

A regular discussion on the OSR discord has been the various ways in which people boost Fighters to make them feel a bit more like the archetype they promise, yet sometimes fail to deliver in the eyes of people.

I think LotFP did a step in the right direction, by allowing only the Fighter to get basic attack bonus.

I say go one step further. Only Fighters get to participate in combat.

Sounds silly when written out like this, but why? Class-based systems are mostly about carving out a niche. You pick the role you want to do in the game, and the system provides those with a handy class. Often the issue with why certain classes feel "weak" or "boring" or whatever other negative you want to assign to them is because another class (or multiple classes!) are intruding upon their niche.

Magic-users can cast spells. Clerics can turn-undead. Thieves can Backstab. And so Fighters should Fight.

If you want to engage in combat as a mechanic, then make it so the Fighter is the only Player Class who gets to do that. If you want to concede some ground on this, maybe allow combat hirelings to fight at half the effectiveness of a Fighter.

There you go. The Fighter now is back to having their niche well protected by incursion from literally every other PC.


Sunday, January 21, 2024

The Greylands House Campaign Retrospective

Between August and November of 2023 I ran another campaign or iteration of The Greylands, which was my first ever OSR focused campaign that I ran back in early 2022. In this case rather than running it as an open table with a bunch of players, it was a house game for only two players, each of them running two characters initially (and eventually a fifth PC joined the party).

Due to how slow I have been in getting to this post, some of my thoughts are no longer as fresh as they were in December, but there are still some things I would like to look back on with this campaign.

Running a game for just two players

It has been kind of a curious progression between these last three campaigns. In the first Greylands game I had a very healthy pool of 17 players, most of which played in at least two sessions, and most sessions were 5-6 players (one time even going to 7).

With BSSS the overall open table player pool was smaller (11 total) and the game quite quickly formed around a core of 4 players with occasionally having a fifth person join in for a session or two.

And now with this second Greylands game it was just two players. Obviously this also wasn’t an open table, so it was never going to be more than that anyway, but it’s still a trend I hope reverses drastically in my next game!

But, how did it feel to run for just two players? Kind of odd. After running much larger games this one felt much smaller and a bit more personal I suppose. A thing I definitely noticed is that without the larger group of players there is both less game time spent on waffling about and trying to decide what might be an option to maybe proceed to take an action. Conversely there were no “outside” voices and perspectives to offer solutions or courses of action. If the two players didn’t think of something or didn’t consider an element, then there wasn’t anyone but me as the referee to potentially point it out to them.

Also both my players were very much not people used to the OSR play style, nor entirely comfortable (or that interested, let’s be honest) with it. As such they did not exactly have many sessions of dungeon delving and problem solving to draw upon, and there was no third party to also offer potentially different points of view.

I also decided to give each player two characters (plus any hirelings and animals they had) to control, which while it helped beef up the party numbers requiring little adjustment on my end, probably did not work AS well as it could have. I think if I was to run something like this again I would instead have players still just run one PC at a time (though if they want a troupe of potential PCs to use, that’s always cool of course) but beef them up a bit to make it so they won’t just get killed at the first fight they get into.

On my end, I can’t say I am particularly a fan of just having two players, as I enjoy some of the chaos of having 4+ people playing in the game, but I won’t say it’s awful and I hate it either.

Running a regular campaign versus an open table

So here’s the simple fact - I’ve not really run many campaigns, despite playing RPGs fairly consistently for 20 years. I’ve played in some, I’ve tried running, but before the first Greylands I think my longest campaign was maybe 4 sessions long? That’s not a campaign. It just isn’t.

The reason I went with an open table approach for the past two campaigns is because I did not (and technically still don’t) have a stable and reliable group of 4-5 people who could play in a weekly game, and so an open table allowed me to draw from a big enough group of people that I could consistently have enough players for a game to fire. My usual approach was that if at least 3 people sign up for a session, the session is happening.

Open table games tend to necessitate some concessions and adjustments in how play flows during a given session. I made it a point that all sessions always begin and end in a safe location (usually the closest town), with downtime happening between sessions. This is pretty standard stuff - it allows for PCs to join and leave the group from session to session without needing any explanation or justifications as to how they’re now here, when they weren’t here last time.

However, with a stable closed game, and even more so one where both the referee and players all live in the same place (as was the case for this one) there is no need to have that kind of setup. So we regularly had the game pause just in the dungeon, or even in the middle of a fight (coming back to finish it later in the day, or maybe the next day) and it felt….weird.

Not bad,mind you, but after 20+ sessions of open table playhaving characters just frozen in place simply felt weird and unusual. I don’t know if I dislike it though.

Downtime still happened, but now it was not this regimented thing of “downtime is always between two sessions!” instead simply happening when the players wanted to deal with it, and often spending more than the 1 week minimum, occasionally spending close to a month in pursuing various projects unrelated to the dungeon.

Running the same thing twice and limited campaign scope

Since this campaign was both a continuation and also a soft reset of my previous Greylands campaign, I decided to use Dyson’s Delve (an absolutely excellent dungeon for this kind of game, in my opinion) again as the tentpole for the game, which with some occasional forays into nearby regions, ended up being the main focus of the game.

And since I had already run this same setup before, it gave me a rather interesting opportunity to observe how different playgroups handle the same dungeon. The first Greylands campaign’s players ended up fighting the goblins on level 1, using flaming oil and murdering prisoners after they had already surrendered, and so the goblins became immediately hostile to the party, setting up traps, then barricades and employing firebombs of their own, eventually hiring an ogre to go stand outside the entrance to the dungeon. The party never made it through level 2 of the dungeon, let alone any deeper, while declaring that the dungeon was “too dangerous” and going to other places instead. (Too dangerous, in this case, being that over multiple delves 1 PC was killed and 1 was injured and then recovered.)

Contrast this with the party in this iteration, who approached the goblins without hostility and over the span of half the sessions in the game eventually not only befriended them, but actually became allies with the goblins, effectively taking control over the 4 topmost levels of the dungeon, and giving them access to a lot of goblins, if needed! While, yes, this approach means that some magic items and experience was left at the table, it also meant that they didn’t really need those, as they had access to the goblins that already had the items and were willing to help if push came to shove.

The way the two different groups approached the same simple situation has been fascinating to me, and is something that has really made me want to run the same adventure or dungeon for multiple groups some more, to observe what novel ways of approaching it can happen.

Playing with people you are more emotionally attached to

This one is a bit of a personal note, but an important insight from the campaign and thus worth mentioning. Seeing as I was playing with my partners, I actually have found that process at times more stressful than running for my usual group of acquaintances, friends and strangers that would be at my open table games.

With people you care deeply about any dissatisfaction with the game or even strong emotional response to the game tends to then affect me quite more as well, making me rather hesitant to really remain as a neutral referee (which of course I don’t have to be, but I find is good practice in OSR games). It’s not like I pulled back when danger presented itself to the PCs, but rather it made me more hesitant to run the scenarios when danger was present in the first place. A curious thing, and one that I am not sure what to do about, or if there is much to do about in the first place.

Final thoughts

I was overall pleased with this campaign, so that’s good. I think some interesting world building happened as a result of, allowing me to flesh out aspects of the campaign setting that I didn’t have during the first iteration of it, and also helping create a lasting, player-driven change in the setting by reestablishing the manor house under which the dungeon was located. Conversely, I am not sure if the campaign will be returning to this area any time soon, but if it does then at least I will know that the manor is now rebuilt and is there.

I felt like the focus on a singular dungeon worked quite well, even if that was not my starting intention (it mostly happened due to overwhelm not allowing for prepping more expansive events and opportunities during the campaign) and helped further bolster my decision to aim for a megadungeon focused game for my next one.

There are no stats for this campaign, since technically speaking this is still the same Greylands game as the previous one, so I have not compiled any for this next installment, though through my notes I can probably recreate some of those later down the line. I also know of maybe only one or two other people who even care about campaign stats anyway, so it’s fine, hah.

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Looking back at 2023 and a year of blogging

 Since it seems to be the thing to do on this last day of 2023, I am jumping on the bandwagon and writing a post about the year in review, specifically focusing on this blog.

So, what did I do this year?  Well, I blogged! A lot! 60 posts (not counting this one) in 2023, and several more lined up and waiting for me to get around to writing them.

Between the Serpents of Smoke and Steel - an OD&D Campaign

While I technically prepped and started this campaign in 2022, most of it was run in the first few months of 2023, so it counts.

I had gotten very interested in what OD&D presented mechanically for your standard dungeon crawling adventure, and wanted to explore some of the implications of that. I went with a magical Mesopotamia sort of setting (which in retrospect I did not do enough with, due to not feeling that emotionally invested in it), slapped a few house rules on top of Delving Deeper and off we go! The campaign ran only for 14 sessions total, a rather short thing, but an eventful one. I really liked how having only 2 classes properly focused players on what they wanted to do, I enjoyed running huge masses of people fighting between each other without needing to do much in the way system changing, and the thing peaked with a tabletop wargame that I designed, drew and then assembled myself. That one is a definitely a highlight for me for this year! 

But the campaign had to come to an end, as I was getting done with the setting, the campaign had reached a nice pause point and soon after I was going to be spending 5 months outside the country (and that can be a bit of a problem for an in-person game, let me tell ya!)

The Greylands House Campaign - Returning to the familiar

While I was in the US with my partners, I wanted to run a weekly game for them. Earlier in the year I figured I'd just keep going with BSSS, but instead I decided to go back to the setting and system (a slightly tweaked B/X) from my first OSR campaign - The Greylands. The Greylands, if you haven't checked the blog or heard me talk about it on Discord, is my knock-off Hill Cantons setting that I am hoping to eventually make a bit more of its own thing. 

In this case I literally packed all the dungeons and other materials from the previous campaign, reset the main tentpole dungeon of the region (Dyson's Delve, reinterpreted as a dungeon under the old manor of the Boyar that used to rule the area) and just run my two players through it again.

The game ended up focusing almost entirely on the main dungeon itself, and it actually lead to some interesting comparisons between how these players and the previous ones had handled the dungeon and how the dungeon had responded to them in turn. These are observations I hope to post about at some point soon in a retrospective on the house campaign.

Outside of that, the game was enjoyable for all involved, produced some fun and interesting characters like Rusty, the  runty hobgoblin talasum (who truly lived up to the expectations of his bullies by just generally being deeply ineffectual throughout the entire game), Baba Tonka the tamed grizzly bear and others.

It also helped cement my decision to stick with this setting and explore other parts of it in the future, which I hope to do in the coming year. Check in here for more of that, I guess.

Legacy of the Bieth - I get to actually play for once! 

So yeah, as the subheading says, I also actually got to be a player, not just referee this year! I had the honor and pleasure to participate in Humza's Legacy of the Bieth campaign. I had played in it in 2022 as well, during another prolonged visit to the US. However my character, despite all the misadventures and brushes with the Death and Dismemberment table, was at the end of it only level 1. This year though I got to be a lot more involved and participate in a lot more lucrative ventures, getting poor old Rustam to level 4, with friends in the world of the djinn and allies and connections in the mortal world as well.

I always enjoy opportunities to actually be a player in a game, so this was very special for me. Besides this campaign, a couple of sessions in a bizarro version of the Hill Cantons and a few con games were all the play I got to do. Here is hoping I actually get the chance to play in more OSR games next year!

Blogging a bunch

So yeah, like I said above - 60 posts! I have been enjoying posting session reports and I find I get a lot out of them as a referee being able to look back on events in the campaign(s) and more importantly on my observations on what worked, what didn't and what stood out in a given session.

I also posted a bunch of classes and little rule-things relating to my Greylands setting and system that I hope to implement in the next installment of the campaign. 

Plus there was also the stuff not directly relating to a game I am currently running or plan on running. Stuff like my post on running play-by-post games, or a few reviews of books, or my current series of posts on hobby best practices, which seems to resonated with people and that makes me happy and glad that I decided to write it. 

I am not much on coming up with and writing theory, so it was nice to get at least some of that done. 

Hobby goals for 2024

Finally, looking forward to 2024 what am I hoping to do? Well there's a few blog posts that I want to write - two more posts in the hobby best practices series, a retrospective on my house campaign as I said above and a post about the importance aesthetics play in miniature wargaming.

I also hope to start up a megadungeon campaign in a different, more Slavic part of the Greylands world and get to post regular session reports from that as well! If all goes well and life doesn't completely kick me in the balls I am even hoping to actually get two different groups going in the same dungeon, just to see what kind of interesting experiences that produces because I haven't done that before!

In non-RPG hobbying I hope to make a significant dent in a long-term modeling project that I will hopefully post about here at some point once I feel I have enough worth showing, and I am really hopeful I can get back into miniatures wargaming. I had kind of stopped playing those entirely for a few years, and I am hoping to get more involved in these again. And since I'm doing wargaming I also plan on doing more board wargaming in the upcoming year, which is what had helped scratch that itch until now. 

So that's it. Goodbye 2023!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

On Hobby Best Practices - Part 4

Series Index
<< Part 3 * Part 5 >>

Part 4 - Be a creative hobbyist

Last month there was a post on Grognardia about "being a creator, not a consumer." While very good advice in general, let’s talk a bit more about what this actually entails.

After all, simply saying that creating things is good is kind of vague, isn’t it? Because intent and end goals matter. Creating things is fine. But to what end do you create those things? There is, I feel, a substantive difference between creating something to simply share with other hobbyists, and creating stuff with the goal of making it into a product.

Plenty of people have already pointed out that the OSR is turning more and more into not a hobbyist space, but a place for people to sell each other their own house rules and, if you’re lucky, some adventures. This is in many ways antithetical to a hobby community, as the relations it creates are those between product maker and consumer, rather than between peers both engaging in the same shared interests. While I agree with, say, Marcia that reducing that is a good thing, I also think it is a logical step in the capitalist reality in which we all have to exist.

As such the natural inclination to turn one’s hobby into a side hustle, or a product of some kind. I will not tell you to not do it, mostly because it’s not my place to do so. I will point out my own personal story with this, being someone who used to draw a lot of art relating to the setting of Glorantha, to the point where it then became my job to do so for a solid 9 years. While I am quite happy with the stuff I learned while being a professional artist, that’s the rub - I was a professional artist now, not a hobbyist. And while then, as now, I do plenty of art for my own enjoyment, that change has been permanent.

People like Gus L for example have mentioned before that the reason they charge money for some things is that it helps that specific module get seen and treated as worthwhile, because in the capitalist reality that we exist in, things being given away for free are often seen as worth less than something that you have to pay for. So I suppose if you want to go down that route, that is a question one must answer for themselves - do I want to put a money tag on the hobby creativity that I am practicing or not?

I personally prefer not to. If I am writing a class, or house rules or something else, I prefer to simply have it online and available for other hobbyists to see and freely take from, just as I freely take from what other hobbyists have done as well. That free flow of ideas, tools and concepts is what initially drew me to the OSR as a niche, as it seemed to contrast the consumer-focused broader RPG hobby, where the main thing discussed is what books you bought and what books you have in your collection, rather than what you are running or what you’ve created yourself.

Ultimately, with the consideration of monetization of one’s hobby aside, I do still think that, yes, being someone who creates rather than simply consumes is definitely a best hobby practice. It allows you to break out of the mindset of being a passive participant in what is an active hobby, and allows you to talk to others as peers rather than as a customer.

In the next post, I will talk about what might be a rather obvious point - practicing one’s hobby (as opposed to simply discussing it or participating in peripheral activities and side-hobbies).

Friday, December 1, 2023

On Hobby Best Practices - Part 3


Series Index
<< Part 2 * Part 4 >>

Part 3 - Participate in a hobby community

Most hobbies, but especially tabletop RPGs, tend to be social activities to some degree. Many people become interested in a hobby as a way to find others with similar tastes or views and participate in a community of like minded people.

This is good, and you should do it too. Obviously community participation carries its own sets of issues and problems, but I believe it is still best practice to find at least one community focused around your hobby and be a part of it.

I will not go into details on how to be a good participant in a community, as that is deeply context sensitive to each community and each hobby, but I will direct people to this excellent post on Papers and Pencils about it.

Being part of a hobby community allows you to be exposed to other hobbyists that you can talk with and share your experience with. After all, if you have been writing about your hobby and about the experience of practicing it, it would be useful to have people who would read those writings. And to read the writings of others and compare them to your own experience and learn from them.

Obviously, a hobby like TTRPGs is a social activity, so having other hobbyists to all do your hobby with is a big boon. While running demonstrations and playing with newcomers or complete outsiders to the hobby is valuable, it can also end up ultimately rather limiting your own experience as a hobbyist. If this is all you want to do, then great - more power to you! But I consider it important to also practice your hobby among peers or, even better, those who are more experienced hobbyists than yourself in order to grow.

To go to miniature painting for an example - it will be more useful for your own learning to be around better painters than yourself, rather than to demonstrate the basics of base coating to new people and nothing else.

A hobby community does not need to be big, either. Tony Bath, a luminary of the wargaming hobby, ostensibly started his hobbyist practice with just one other friend to play games with, eventually it ballooning into the Hyboria Campaign, a wargaming campaign of such scale and importance that even now, some 60 years later, people are still mentioning it or referencing it!

Don’t have anyone though? Well, I think you know what you have to do here, right? If there is no community for you to participate in (and that is almost never true, but maybe you want an in-person rather than an online one!), then it is your job to create it. Yes, community creation, maintenance and growing are difficult, hard and complex things that most people are not suited for or good at. As someone who has done that work before, I fully acknowledge that. But it is also a good thing to at least try and do, even if you just learn that you are not strong at it.

Perhaps your efforts will attract the attention of someone who is better at these things, and you would have helped start a community anyway! It does happen, believe it or not.

In the next part I will talk about being a creative hobbyist, not just a consumer.

On Hobby Best Practices - Part 2


Series Index
<< Part 1 * Part 3 >>

Part 2 - Introduce others to your hobby

In four large cities with communities of early D&D adopters Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Boston cross-pollination proceeded quite rapidly. Each of these major cities boasted lengthy pedigrees in both science-fiction fandom and wargames, and each supported several independent clusters of dedicated players. None, however, was very close to the midwestern roots of D&D, where the influence of the game's creators might hold greater sway. In keeping with hobby best practices, these coastal groups began publicly recording the state of their campaigns and hosting visitors unfamiliar with their ways. - The Elusive Shift, Jon Peterson. Emphasis mine.  

This is the second post in the hobby best practices series. In this one I will continue with the second example given in the quote above - introducing new people to your hobby! I’ll talk about participating in hobby communities later, but in general most people tend to enjoy the company of other hobbyists that share their interests. And the way those people get there is that someone introduces them into the hobby. So why not have that someone be you?

In hobbies like TTRPGs, this more or less means one thing - run games. Be it at conventions, at your LGS or for your friends, it doesn’t matter. Organizing and running games for newbies is the best way to demonstrate the hobby and bring more people into it.

If you want to do this right, this does mean that this is a role with a good deal of responsibility to it. Being the person responsible for introducing people to a brand new thing means you are, by default, an ambassador to the entire hobby. A bad or a good experience can mean either getting a new convert or driving someone off the hobby entirely.

Also lets be clear here - you will drive people out of the hobby. Even if you are the best GM out there, you will sooner or later run a game for someone who just…isn’t into it or doesn’t actually like the hobby you are demonstrating, and your demonstration will be what helps them realize they don’t like the thing. This is not bad. Remember how I mentioned that forming taste happens through contemplating experiences and learning what you do or don’t like and why you do or don’t like it? Well you have now helped someone refine their own taste just a bit more!

In miniatures wargaming this activity often takes the form of running demo games for people. Either by individuals or by gaming clubs, organizing demo games where others can become acquainted with the hobby.

Speaking of clubs, if you are part of one, having an open doors day of some kind is a good idea and a great way to get new faces to look at your hobby. Run exhibitions, or hell - maybe even a small convention. Or have a presence at an existing local convention, showing off what it is your club is focused on!

Importantly, this activity is not just for bringing complete newbies into your hobby. For example, if you are someone like me who is interested in a specific sub-niche of a hobby (OSR or DIY Gaming or whatever you want to call it) you can still do demonstration games for people who are part of the broader hobby that yours is a niche in! Do you practice your hobby in a different way than what most others would be familiar with? Excellent, run a demonstration for them. These demonstrations among hobbyists have different requirements and different expectations to them, as others would be familiar to at least some degree with what you are talking about, but are hopefully curious to learn a new perspective.

Hell, let’s go one step further - even with fellow hobbyists who are part of your sub-niche, but don’t participate in the specific group that you practice your hobby among? Try running a demonstration for them. Maybe your playgroup have developed an interesting technique or practice that is not widely adopted by the rest of your hobby - why not share it for others to experience and learn from?

In the next part I will talk about participating in hobby communities since it naturally follows from this one.