Saturday, April 16, 2022

Solo B/X Game




I haven't posted the results of the B/X play-by-poll game below because I've shifted focus. Instead of a dungeon, I'd like to do a hex crawl

If you know me from the OSR Pick-Up Games Discord channel, you know I've been talking about doing a play-by-post hex crawl for a long time. This is it. 

It integrates the full version of Wyvern's Roost (not released) which includes surrounding lair dungeons/caves.

Very early stages. No title yet!

The form/layout is inspired by Grave of the Green Flame

However, I've spent my whole life playing game books (like Lone Wolf) and Choose Your Own Adventures, not to mention my first D&D (BECMI/Black Box) included a solo adventure as well. It's how I learned to play D&D as a child!

Heck, it's also how I learned Pathfinder/D20!

Growing up and throughout my adulthood, I have always loved all the different styles of solo games, and there were a lot of them. 

I hope to make one that's really fun, really simple, and really interesting to play, not just once, but repeatedly!

Saturday, April 2, 2022

You Stand in a Room

You stand in a dank dungeon chamber, one of six people. You have no memory of who you are, let alone the identity of anyone else in the room. After a tense exchange that nearly ended in bloodshed, the party agrees to cooperate for now. Beyond seeking your freedom, you have no other goal.


1. Entrance 

Lit by a single torch hanging in a wall sconce, this rectangular chamber is roughly 30' × 60' with mildewed stone block walls. The vaulted ceiling 12' above is supported by a row of pillars. Chiseled crudely into the flagstones beneath your feet is an arrow pointing toward an 'N', presumably indicating north. If true, there is a set of ironbound wooden double doors at the north end of the chamber.

The door has pull rings for handles and swings inward. Nothing but darkness and silence can be seen or heard beyond it.

The party has checked the chamber and doors thoroughly, but found nothing of note other than graffiti in two colors of chalk. 

In red chalk, the advice "Go East" and "No 'X'" is given. Scribbled in white chalk are the messages, "Up is down! Down is up!"


Who are you?

Though there are six characters in the party, all readers who participate share the role of only one. That one is chosen by you, the readers, just like all future choices: by poll at the end of the post. 

If this character dies, the game ends!

Who do you choose?


Cleric 

Strong of both mind and body, you wear chainmail armor and carry a warhammer and shield. Hanging from a rawhide necklace is a wooden ankh (☥). Your intuition tells you that the forces of evil and darkness will flee from your evocations of the divine and holy light.

Dwarf 

Short of stature but built like an iron anvil, you wear plate armor and carry an axe and shield. Your backpack is laden with exploration and camping gear. Beneath it hangs a wooden cask holding a gallon of stout brandy. 

Elf 

Tall and lithe, you wear leather armor beneath your forest green hooded cloak. A bow and quiver of arrows are slung over your shoulder. In your backpack is a spell book that only you can read. Written inside are three spells: Charm, Read Magic and Sleep. You have Sleep memorized. 

Fighter 

Even taller than the elf and bulging with muscles, you wear plate armor and hold a greatword in your hands. A sword and dagger is sheathed on your belt, and a shield is strapped to your back. (Note, in this game, the damage for two-handed melee weapons is rolled twice and the higher is taken. Their extended reach makes up for their slow speed and thus give no penalty for initiative.)

Magic-User 

Though frail of body, your mind is strong as steel. You wear flowing robes and carry a long wooden staff. One end is shaped like a talon; it grips an apple-sized crystal ball that you know will glow bright as a lantern upon command. In your backpack is a spell book that only you can read. Written inside are three spells: Charm, Read Magic and Sleep. You have Charm memorized.

Thief 

While the warrior may be mighty, you are quick and nimble. The leather armor you wear has several pockets, pouches, and holders. Tools of all sorts are hidden within and six throwing daggers are mounted in quick reach. Your backpack is light but contains lantern oil and a lantern. 

Friday, December 31, 2021

The Eight Mantras of OSR Gaming

Considering several sources and my own experience running and playing games on the OSR Pick-Up Games Discord server for the last two years, I have created a list of the (currently) eight mantras of OSR-style gaming I most frequently hear and repeat:


1. Imagine the Hell out of it.

2. The OSR is rulings not rules.

3. Play worlds not rules. 

4. The OSR is a mindset, not a rules set.

5. The OSR is problems without prescribed solutions.

6. The answer isn't on the character sheet. 

7. Combat is a fail state. (I dislike this one. It's become dogma.)

8. The OSR is the players' story, not the game master's.



Here's to another year of OSR gaming! 

— Stripe

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Raven Familiar

Black, glossy feathers. A cunning stare. A raven. It knows its master's name and its master's name for it. If commanded, it will fly to his home, wherever it understands that to be. It flies without stopping 50 miles in an hour.

For a master who shows plenty of appreciation in the form of treats and baubles, it will also fetch small objects no heavier or bulkier than a silver teaspoon. It will sometimes steal shiny trinkets and secret them in places only it can find. Of course, anything it steals, it justifiably owns. It takes payments and trades, but never gives.

Like all ravens, it keeps watch for danger. It can take high perch and caw, wretchedly, upon the approach of anything a natural raven would find worthy of scorn, like huntsmen, lumberjacks, and riders. It also caws at restless spirits to tell them to return to the realm of dead.

It detests Mother Nature, her children, and her worshipers. It greatly prefers the roofs and steeples of the city. It eats whatever it wants and is not afraid to make itself an uninvited guest. It never defiles its own nest or makes a mess when perched on its master's shoulder or forearm, but it enjoys targeting those who annoy it.

It will defend its master with beak and talon inflicting 1-3 points of damage. A flying raven gains a bonus of + 2 on its first "to hit" roll against any one opponent due to its speed. It has three hit points, but those come at the expense of its master's maximum. If its master dies, so does it.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Presto's Hat of Conjuration

Usable once per day, any non-living object the conjurer can imagine may be pulled from this hat so long as he can recite a magical poem describing what's desired. It takes one round to recite the poem while waving one's hand in a circular motion around the up-turned hat. The inside of the hat will begin to glow with mystical energy. 

The poem must be spoken aloud in a firm voice. It must consist of at least two verses that rhyme. The use of nonsense words such as "abracadabra" will increase the likelihood of backfire or failure. The conjurer may only use a specific poem once in his lifetime. It must come from his or her own inner creativity; repeating a poem heard or read elsewhere will automatically fail to produce any effect.

On the next round, the conjurer reaches inside and pulls out whatever the hat delivers.

Whatever is pulled from the hat vanishes into thin air 2d12 hours later.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Durance Vile of the Storm Giantess
Or: Not a Review of
G2—Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl

Tonight, I read G2—Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl by Gary Gygax and I have some time to reflect on it after eating homemade tacos for supper. 

They were great.

I'm writing an ice cave dungeon. For my sake, my players' sakes, and for the betterment of the dungeon, I think it's important to familiarize myself with the archetypes of the genre.

G2 was published in 1978 and is what I personally consider the ice cave dungeon archetype. I've never ran nor played it, but I've read it thoroughly and I'm very glad I did. It was a quick, easy read. Took no effort. Would recommend. 

This post is not a review of G2. I'm just deconstructing Gygax's design choices to compare and contrast what I have planned for my dungeon. I want take inspiration from his genius while examining his choices from a modern Old School Revival perspective.

G2 is a two-level frost-themed cave dungeon designed for nine, ninth level AD&D characters. It can stand alone, but it's a direct sequel to G1—Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. 

Forces of the frost giant jarl are attacking human lands and the players are tasked with killing him. Gathering information is a stated objective, but it's largely window dressing. The reward is looted treasure, none of which is very extraordinary.

For an entrance, the dungeon features several obvious cave mouths in the sides of a canyon, much like B2—The Keep on the Borderlands' Caves of Chaos. The ravine's floor is hostile territory. In the caves, there's a whole lot of frost giants and some monsters they keep as pets, such as a mated pair of white dragons. Other encounters include giant humanoids attending the jarl's court.


"As frost giants have been amongst those who have been in the reaving bands, the party is to deal with them as the hill giants have been dealt with. Death and destruction are to be meted out to the frost giants in the same measure they gave to the peoples below.

Any treasure taken is to be kept by the party; this is their reward for the perils they must face.


Rocked back in my chair listening to music, I enjoyed reading the module in all its Gygaxian glory. 

Of course, I would hate running G2 out of the book at the table without notes, but that's true with every classic I've perused. Currently, I'm running T1—The Village of Hommlet on the OSR Pick-Up Games server. Information I need to find quickly is utterly buried in tangled paragraphs of convoluted sentence structures.

Reading Gygaxian at my leisure is a groovy trip, but I'd like to strangle him when using his work as reference tool at the table

I mean no disrespect to those who wrote the words upon which the foundation of my hobby rests, but we've come a really long way in the layout and "usability at the table" aspects of adventure design. 

G2 is a bloody hack-and-slash dungeon crawl, no big surprise since it's labeled a "tournament module." That's as dire a warning as a rattlesnake's tail to the OSR. "Combat is a failure state" has become dogma, but we can all agree we're not at the table primarily to roll a 20-sided dice back and forth. Excessive combat can become a tedious grind.

Kill monsters, take their stuff

Having no personal experience with what challenges an AD&D party of nine, ninth-level characters are capable of facing, I'm guessing the players are meant to battle their way through this chamber-by-chamber. Most rooms are basically, "Here's some monsters standing around looking at the walls. Some of them have treasure. This is how they'll fight the besieging players."

"The OSR is problems without prescribed solutions," so goes the mantra, but puzzles are traditional and I take them as an exception to the precept. It should be optional, but I like at least one puzzle in a dungeon. It doesn't have to be suitable for a five year old to solve, but I also like my puzzles fairly simple.

In the puzzle category, I suppose we could count a treasure chest with a combination lock, but if so, that's the lowest bar. Don't move the wrong disk or a needle shoots out. Meh. 

Role-playing opportunities would be far more rife if players were given the necessary tools for political intrigue. For example, there's a fire giant with no prescribed motivation other than "kill the invading players." He'll parley, but this is basically just "surrender or die." If the players had a peace treaty from the king if he betrayed the jarl or something, it might have been a fun encounter that didn't just lead to more slaughter.

Every dungeon needs treasure. This is especially true in the OSR where the mechanics of character advancement are usually measured by troves of looted treasure found while exploring (e.g., GP=XP) as opposed to killing or combat. In a B/X dungeon, I'd expect less than 10% of XP to come from combat.

We don't need a lot of explanation as to why the treasure is there, but we need something. That something is often what hooks OSR players to enter the dungeon in the first place. 

"They will fight only if attacked . . ."
The treasure's theme is mainly "what the visitors brought to the jarl as fealty." Visiting giants and ogres and trolls and other "big humanoids" are seeking the jarl's aid and protection from the human kingdom.

This is genius. It's so simple, but it checks all the boxes. 

"Funhouse dungeons" are monster menageries with little to no logic for their location of appearance. They can be fun, but not every dungeon is a funhouse. The presence and combination of some monsters need a little bit of explanation. 

We need it for player agency. Players need to know whether to expect the absurd, or if reasonable assumptions can be made. 

"Why is a Fire Giant in an ice cave?" That question, for example, deserves an answer. Gary gives us a great one that can be used several times throughout the dungeon. It pulls double duty for also being a good explanation for lots of treasure other than GP=XP. 

A good word for the ineffable, sublime quality of game play that's not combat, not role playing, not a puzzle, and not exploration escapes me, but it's of vital importance to the OSR. It can include those aspects of play, but they're not what's essential. "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

The Storm Giantess' Prison

In that vein, there's a storm giantess "damsel in distress" whom the wicked, mustache-twisting frost giant jarl is wooing by force. 

I love it. I would would run this "durance vile" as the centerpiece of the adventure. The whole thing would revolve around her. I'd call it "Durance Vile of the Storm Giantess." 

Imagine a Valkyrie, proud and noble—but she's 20 feet tall. A storm giant woman who towers over her lowly captor not just in physical stature, but in every other category of might and status as well. The players let her out and she is going to absolutely curb stomp him. What a great ally. 

So much potential for interesting role playing and fun.

OSR is a mindset. It's a style of play. An OSR dungeon crawl is not simply a series of pitched battles. In fact, that might be the antithesis of an OSR dungeon crawl.

G2 was not at all designed for OSR play. With a little help—perhaps reimagined as a stealthy political intrigue and rescue mission—it could easily make a make for a great time in OSR fashion.

However, I didn't read G2 to offer a critique. I read it for inspiration. For that, it delivered in spades. 

I'm looking forward to using all the inspiration I gained from reading this classic masterpiece. 

Maybe someday I'll get to run it! 

Thanks for reading!

—Stripe

Thursday, February 25, 2021

One Year Anniversary


Got about five minutes left to post. 

Play-testing a dungeon. It's going really well. The OSR Pickup Games discord server is flourishing. 

Here's looking forward to another year! 

—Sharpe