Simplifying Encumbrance for Dungeon Weariness

The old standby
The old standby

In my last post, I struggled a bit to determine the DC for “encumbrance as encounter,” or a Weariness check as I dubbed it. I got a lot of positive feedback on the post, but Noah pretty fairly pointed out that there’s still a lot of work getting in the way of the fun in documenting encumbrance as suggested. I agree, and at the time I was thinking that a highly customized character sheet was really the only good way to make it simple. I essentially repeated the sentiment to Harley and expressed the additional difficulties I was having thinking how to incorporate it with DCC specifically, given the armor check penalty already incorporated in those rules. I had a few different thoughts on tweaks and revisions I could make to fit it into DCC, and how a sheet would look that would make it less difficult to track in any D&D-ish system.

Until tonight, when I realized that DCC’s armor check penalty not only didn’t need to be modified, but that it actually could be the key to really simplifying this for any D&D-like game, and not requiring a major character sheet overhaul. Here’s what I’ve got …

Continue reading “Simplifying Encumbrance for Dungeon Weariness”

Dungeon Weariness: Encumbrance & Exhaustion as Encounter

In my last post, I jumped off from Brendan’s thoughts on lighting as encounter with a couple of ways to simulate the passage of time, and as usual my personal favorite is the playing card method. Last night, while perusing the LotFP Rules & Magic book for no particular reason, I started thinking about it some more, and I think there’s more that can be handled by the “four suit” method. (To recap, base encounters on playing cards and torches go out every time all four suits have been drawn.)

First, one tweak I’d make to lighting in particular. I previously suggested that lanterns should run out of oil every other time the four suits are drawn. Even as I wrote this I didn’t love it, as one of the goals of the card method is to keep things very simple: Every time you draw X, then Y happens. I noticed in LotFP, lantern oil lasts a full 24 hours, and while this is a bit more generous than I’m inclined to be, it did lead me to my solution. Every time torches go out, there is a 1-in-3 chance that lanterns run out of oil as well. This makes lanterns theoretically infinite, but the odds are low.

IMG_2406 grenadier 2004 hirelings

Continue reading “Dungeon Weariness: Encumbrance & Exhaustion as Encounter”

Lighting as Dungeon Encounter: Two Methods

David Trampier

Brendan at Necropraxis recently had a great post on using the random encounter die as a time-tracker — instead of just triggering wandering monsters, the encounter die could also lead to torches burning out or lanterns running out of oil.

As initially written, he advises just ignoring such results for the first two or three turns when it would seem unreasonable for new light sources to be dying. But it got me thinking, “What if there were a simple way to simulate time passage in the check itself?” Two ways popped into my mind, actually.

Continue reading “Lighting as Dungeon Encounter: Two Methods”

In Death, Members of Project Murder-Hobo Have a Name: Sepulcher of the Mountain God Play Report

For our last few sessions I’ve been running a slighly modded version of Purple Duck Games‘ module AL2 – Sepulcher of the Mountain God. This post will contain some spoilers for that adventure, so read at your own risk.

After emerging from the underground river that carried them potentially thousands of miles from the small village which had previously been their whole world, the Company of the Starless Sea found themselves in Split River, a booming mining town. It is centered around an ancient and enduring mountain highway built by a forgotten empire; to the north the highway splits and spreads throughout the 1,000 Valleys where it remains the primary means of trade and transit between valleys. Heading south leads to the southern edge of the 1,000 Valleys and beyond that ultimately to Punjar, Tarnished Jewel of the Lorian Sea, where the iron, precious metals, and glow-rock mined in Split River sells for a premium.

Rather than heading to the cheap flophouses littering the edge of the mining sites, the party managed to barter their magic chaos incense censer for two weeks stay at the town’s finest inn, the Obsidian Sage, a many-floored rest stop and bathhouse as old as the highway itself. The name comes from an extremely lifelike black stone sculpture of a man working at a desk that sits on a raised dias in the center of the tavern room. The party acclimated themselves to the surroundings, played to the locals’ fascination with their emergence from the underground river, and began what looks to be regular patronage of Marlborough’s House of Enigmas. In said shop, Percival the halfling haberdasher managed to secure the purchase of 4 doses of giant centipede venom, a mild toxin with a severe impact on those it affects — complete and permanent amnesia.

They also picked up on some local rumors and gossip and decided that their next excursion would be to the recently uncovered tomb doors on one of the mining paths above town. Being a but smaller in number, they elected to hire local drunkard and miner Marcus Hayes as a guide and torch-bearer. Shifty Jack quickly dubbed the hireling “Roger” and the rest of the party followed suite, despite Marcus’s protestations.

After a two hour hike up a mining trail, the party reached the doors to the tomb, only to discover that three like-minded folk had beat them to the punch. These others hadn’t noticed them, though, so the party stayed in hiding to watch the rivals’ efforts to open the doors — efforts that ended with all three of them crushed between two horizontal stone columns that shot out from the surrounding rock like pistons. Now aware of the exact threat, Shakey Dog Buchanen (resident thief) proceeded to examine the entrance. During his 30 minute attempt to gain safe entry, the trap was triggered once but he managed to narrowly avoid doom.

Once the threat of the door was disabled, the party crowbarred the heavy stone doors partially open and proceeded into the darkness beyond. The encounter with the barbarian zombies was a tough one, with both halflings ending up on death’s door. Percival was saved through great effort at filthy, filthy healing by Sherman Funk, former gong farmer and cleric of Nimulrun. Ippie Skabipillie, halfling chicken butcher, was not so lucky and met his end that day.

They found the path through the stalagmites and stalactites on the southern wall of the cavern and came to the shrine of Ee-Rah and the great hall beyond. Sherman Funk swiftly proceeded to “sanctify” the ritual bowl from the shrine with excrement and then put it in his sack of night soil to be used as a scoop. Olaf the Oaf, strong and dim-witted mendicant, picked up the heavy stone idol of Ee-Rah and hid it in a nook of the cavern for later retrieval.

Next, they passed through an open set of double doors painted with what appeared to be very old dried blood. Then came a closed set of engraved bronze double doors, which Shakey Dog examined, went to open, and got splattered by as they slammed forward, being as it was actually a single spring loaded plate hiding the actual wooden doors that led forward.

At that point, Alex being short any player characters, he decided to roll up Marcus/Roger as a 0-level to play. Marcus had already been sketched as a somewhat despondent drunk, so Alex immediately started playing him as someone very unsure about continuing in light of what he had seen thus far, thinking it was about time to get back to the tavern since his flask had run dry. That’s when Percival said, “Here, drink this,” and Marcus took a swig of the giant centipede poison.

“There, aren’t you feeling better now?”

“Huh …”

“Roger, are you feeling better? Nasty bump on the head but that drink should clear you right up.”

“Wha … what? Who? Where am I? Who are you people?”

“Oh, still a bit groggy. It’ll be fine though. We’re your friends. Your name is Roger, and you love to open doors.”

“R … Really? I don’t know … Why are we in this dark tunnel? Where the hell am I?”

“You are with friends, and you were just about to open these doors right here. It’s really your life’s purpose, door opening.”

“No. No! Where is this crazy place?! Who are you crazy people?! Who am I?! AHHHHH!!!!”

At which point Marcus/Roger bolted up, opened the door after all, and ran straight forward screaming at the top of his lungs.

On the other side of the door was a long room full of columns and leading toward a throne on which a giant skeleton sat, sans skull. Above the skeleton was a huge carving of the face of Ee-Rah, the barbarian mountain god. And in sconces on four of the columns were large animated stone servant of the mountain god.

Marcus/Roger just kept running and screaming while the rest of the party tried to figure out how to handle the large animated statues moving to attack. Eventually he started pounding on the wall looking for a way out, which opened up a secret door, which he also proceeded to run through screaming. Very shortly thereafter he ran over a trip wire, causing a significant portion of rock to fall from the ceiling and bringing his running and screaming days to a very definite end.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party had to dispatch four large, angry statues, and then deal with the wrathful visage of the Mountain God himself, he insisted he could destroy them but would instead demand restitution. If they could recover the skull of Veyache, the champion on the the throne, from the servants of the mire-god Gelhidres who dwelt below, he would let them go on their way.

Good times.

Sailors on the Starless Sea Play Report, Part 3

This weekend my funnel party reconvened to tackle the final portion of Sailors on the Starless Sea (the previous two reports can be found here and here). We got a slightly late start owing to the effects of St. Patrick’s Day weekend on a Sunday morning — thanks, Gloucester City pub crawl! It actually worked out well, though: There was enough time to finish the module, do some “back in town” orientation and equipment buying, and have the party pick up on a thread for their next adventure.


At the end of our last session, the party just reached the far shore of the Starless Sea and leveled the surviving characters into actual 1st-level adventurers. At this point, the party consisted of:

  • Joey Diamonds and Shifty Jack — Warriors
  • Ippie and Percival — Halflings
  • Shakey Dog Buchanen — Thief
  • Sherman Funk — Cleric of Nimulrun, God of Filth (former gong farmer)

I started the session reestablishing the scene of the ziggurat covered by dozens of beastmen in a religious frenzy along with the PC’s countrymen being led to the slaughter. There were maybe five seconds of silence before they immediately responded that they were putting on the Chaos Priest robes (“Sherman Funk is never taking them off.”) and pulling the old wookiee-prisoner routine. Rather than four humans donning the robes, however, they opted for one human prisoner and one priest’s robe filled by a halfling standing on the shoulders of another halfling. The two halflings made out well enough on Agility and Strength checks to pull it off all the way to the top of the ziggurat, where the party encountered the beastmen acolytes and three prisoners ready to be sacrificed.

The PC’s launched their attack during the surprise round as the next sacrifice was thrown into the flames. They made short work of the standard beastmen and faired pretty well against the acolytes, though they didn’t manage to stop the shaman from pitching the effigy of Molan into the fire … not that it mattered much. The animated effigy of the Chaos Lord rolled terribly. He literally didn’t hit once! Right after he emerged from the pit, Shifty Jack stabbed at his flaming eye and succeeded on a blinding deed. Then Shakey Dog snuck back down the ramp a short way to climb back up the side of the ziggurat; the thief managed to sneak his way up behind the Chaos Lord and land a backstab. On the subsequent round the two halflings and the cleric joined to drop Molan before the rest of the beastmen could reach the top, while Joey Diamond kept the shaman occupied.

The next round, Shakey Dog was the sucker who grabbed for the armor and flail. He got slammed by the emerging magma monster, though I ruled that he was not quite burned beyond a shot at a Recover the Body roll (pretty damn generous of me in hindsight).

It was only once the magma monster emerged that the players started chucking the flaming skulls, but given the combo of successfully using deed dice to aim for precise parts  of the magma’s form and highly damaging crits rolled on the skull tossing, I ended up shaving a round off of the monster’s lifespan. During which it mostly just wildly gesticulated and melted as it tried to maintain it’s form in the face of the magic used against it.

All the while, Shifty Jack had taken to defending the top of the ramp from the onslaught of beastmen, cowing them back with deeds used to swing his torch in a wide, intimidating arc while keeping them in sight of the rest party *ahem* “KILLING YOUR FUCKING GOD!!!”

Percival ran over to the body of Shakey Dog and proceeded to repeatedly slap him in the face whilst shouting “Wake up! We’re winning!” Shakey pulled off the Luck roll and lost a point of Agility for his troubles — but really, with a name like Shakey Dog he totally should have a limp.

Once the cavern started crumbling, the beastmen began to panic and flee, some crushed by rocks and others heading for the dragon-ship. The PCs proceeded to scoop up coins as well as finally free the two remaining sacrificial villagers, whom they then instructed to also scoop up coins. When I secretly rolled to see how many rounds they had before this whole thing collapsed on top of them, they got the maximum 8 rounds. So they managed to be very greedy and also fight their way back to the dragon-ship in time.

The end of the adventure leaves the ultimate destiny of the PCs in the judge’s hands; I knew I didn’t want them to go back to the small village they hailed from, but I did want them to choose their own course of action. I settled on the idea that the ship would ultimately take them to a town far away from their home and extended the final paragraph of block text from the module:

The towering wave propels you with terrifying speed towards the distant carven wall! Ahead, through a sea of towering whitecaps and the debris of falling boulders you spy the mouth of a narrow cave! The dragon-prowed ship rides down the crest of the giant wave and shoots into the rocky maw, the howling surf crashing all around you!

The ship rocks and lists wildly as the torrent carries it ever deeper into the pitch black earth. Desperately clinging to the boat and each other, all sense of time and space are lost as you speed forward. Eventually, though none can say how long, the travel of the ship calms and thin beams of light pierce the blackness from the high cavern ceiling.

Hours pass with the infrequent and dimming light showing no shore or alcove to offer respite, and the forward current still too strong to push against. Moving ever onward in the dark, you hold to wakingness to the point of exhaustion until you collapse, to the point of dehydration until you dare reach overboard to cup the still driving water in your hands. Have you been sailing for hours, for days? Has the sun ceased to be? Have you sailed across this starless sea to some wretched pit of hell?

At last, as even the strongest willed among you begin to feel your grip on reality rapidly loosen, a light appears ahead, at first like a guiding star in the impossible distance and then exploding in size, a blinding maw of white expanding to consume all of your being.

A thousand daggers stab your eyes as the ship emerges into the full light of day, pulling you through a chasm surrounded by towering mountains on both sides. The ship groans and cracks as the ancient wood is assaulted by the sun for the first time in countless generations. Before long, you are riding noticeably lower and water begins to seep up around your feet.

As you feel the boards pulling apart, in the blink of an eye the crumbling rock walls around you have opened wide and given way to carved towers and thatched roofs — the river has taken you right into the heart of a mountain city! Men and dwarves alike stop their business and gaze in wonder as you sail through their midst on this river that emerges from the depths of the earth. Several folk spring to action upon seeing your plight, as the ship is now barely held together above water. They throw a heavy rope your way, allowing you pull yourselves onto the canal banks, the last of you just barely holding on as the dragon-ship at last disintegrates away into the water below.

I said it in the intro to my first play report, and I’ll say it again: This adventure is a classic. This was one of the most purely fun campaign kickoffs I’ve ever experienced, and I can’t wait to see where these devious murderhobos go from here.

Saturday Morning Maps: Caves of Yth


I may be taking a respite from trying to post a map every week; I missed last week because I didn’t have time to get anything drawn and a break would give me some time to build up a reserve on those weeks I do have time. I don’t have a big back-catalog of maps to use because of several purges of my notes I’ve conducted over the years in the interest of reducing clutter. The current game, so far, is leaning toward me running pre-published modules, which fits well with the life/work schedule, but doesn’t provide me a lot of reason to be drawing maps for myself (besides the sheer enjoyment I derive from it, which is considerable).

So let’s call this the potential beginning of an indefinitely long hiatus on committing to posting one of these every week (but there may still be some weeks I do). How’s that for noncommittal?

Saturday Morning Maps: The Gate Seeker’s Cave

Click it to big it.
Click it to big it.

A quick and simple one this week — the icons are not necessarily intended to be to scale, and there’s really not much to the map itself. Maybe an inspiration piece for something I can spend more time on later?

Sailors on the Starless Sea Play Report, Part 2

Before we pick up from last time, here is the full tally of the brave and foolhardy souls who dared to rescue their fellow villagers and seek fortune and glory in the process. Also, my apologies to the Skabipally brothers for misspelling their family name in my previous post.

  • Cornelius Von Dettrick IV, jeweler – DECEASED
  • “Fruity” Frank Delaqua, costermonger – DECEASED
  • Joey “Diamonds,” smuggler
  • Valgrun, healer – DECEASED
  • Immgard the Grey, herder – DECEASED
  • Shifty Jack, gambler
  • Ogrom Ironbarrel, dwarven blacksmith – DECEASED
  • Cul the Odorous, ditch digger – DECEASED
  • Anathrolas Evenstar, elven glassblower – DECEASED
  • Sherman Funk, gongfarmer
  • Billy the Squire – DECEASED
  • Baldwin the Fool, jester – DECEASED
  • Grom Readyrock, dwarven blacksmith – DECEASED
  • Ippy Skabipally, halfling chicken butcher
  • Rulfus, gongfarmer – DECEASED
  • “Shakey Dog” Buchanen, wheat farmer
  • Flippy Skabipally, halfling chicken butcher – DECEASED
  • Percival, halfling haberdasher
  • Rickard, mendicant – DECEASED
  • Dwarven rat catcher who’s name I can’t recall – DECEASED


Mosaic 1The PCs forced open the door to the Tower of the Beast, and Ogrom Ironbarrel led the charge against the beastmen. Ogrom’s spearhead was rather short-lived, and the beastman champion lept down behind him, cleaving the dwarf in twain and cutting off the party’s frontal assault. The fight against the beastmen netted a number of casualties before all was said in done. Joey Diamonds attempted a special contribution, as he ran back toward the burned temple with the intention of trying to lure the tar ooze out and trap the beastmen with it in the tower. Unfortunately the plan didn’t occur to him until a few rounds into the fight, and by the time he got back to the temple door the battle had shifted strongly in the party’s favor. Percival the halfling haberdasher spent the entire combat looking on from the gatehouse, prepared to flee and dislodge the rocks behind him.

Once they had triumphed over the beastmen, the party set about freeing the villagers captured within the tower and replenishing their number with six fellows willing to push on and seek their remaining countrymen. Of course, they stopped to loot the tower first despite all of the rotting hides. Only one of them turned up a rot grub and he managed to kill the creature before it could burrow into his arm.

Descending into the dark depths below, they opted to follow the “right is right” philosophy of dungeon exploration and veered off into the natural cavern when they reached the second landing (the one with the 3 gold coins). Rickard the mendicant managed to translate the inscription on the stone portal at the end of the cavern; none of the objects they placed on the door caused it to magically open and Billy the Squire’s best efforts at pushing couldn’t loose it, so they decided to fall back and return to this area on their way back out.

From there they continued back down the stairs to the hall with the black pool and the wall mosaics. All four moldy old chaos priest robes were claimed and most of the party took glowing skulls from the pool. Sherman Funk decided to see what else he could find in the murky water; upon discovering the metal ring connected to the pool’s bottom he tied rope around his waste and anchored himself to a dwarf. In the cavern below he found the faintly glowing ring, which he quietly kept for himself, as well as pushing through the narrow passage to scope out the beach beyond.

After hauling Sherman back up, the party quickly proceeded down the rest of the stairs to the shore of the Starless Sea. Rickard examined the carvings on the menhir, and just as Immgard the Grey was coming up to do the same the mendicant whirled about and brained Immgard with a mace. Joey Diamonds sprinted over and slew Rickard just as he was coming to his senses, but subsequently examined the menhir himself in an effort to figure out what the hell was going on …

As the now-crazed Joey Diamonds rushed the party, “Fruity” Frank moved to loose an arrow from the long bow discovered beneath the capstone, but the string ended up snapping and Frank sliced his own throat open, dropping dead on the spot. “Shakey Dog” Buchanen managed to wrestle Joey to the ground, Flippy yanked the short sword from his hands, and the dwarven rat catcher brought him back to his senses with a solid right hook to the jaw.

Meanwhile, Sherman Funk ascended the menhir and lit the candle atop it, bringing the boat to shore. The party all climbed aboard, though Percival hesitated long enough that he needed to be pulled up as the boat began to move back out onto the water.

When the tentacles of the chaos beast emerged from the water, they were initially threatening but not attacking, though it did wrap one tentacle around the prow, clearly stopping the boat. The party attacked first, though, and the fight did not go spectacularly. A few creative methods of appeasing the beast were attempted amid the slaughter of Billy, Baldwin, and the dwarven rat catcher, such as a robe-wearing Shakey Dog holding aloft a glowing skull authoritatively or Joey Diamonds smashing one of the same skulls.

After a few devastating rounds, some of the party decided to swim for it, including both of the surviving halflings. Luckily for them, Joey Diamonds decided to try his old standby one last time before the chaos beast got its next round — the incense censer. The beast put its tentacles at Joey’s feet before sinking back into the depths of the Starless Sea. The overboard PCs were all pulled back aboard before they could drown, and the boat sailed the rest of the way to the island.

At that point, I awarded everyone enough XP to tip them over to first level, becoming real-deal, character-class-having adventurers before advancing on the ziggurat. One of the players had to leave anyway by the time the boat got to the island, and it was general quitting time once everyone else finished leveling. The next session is slated for Sunday, March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day. Will the luck of the Irish be with the party, or with the fanatical beastmen? Only time will tell …

Sailors on the Starless Sea Play Report, Part 1

This past Sunday I ran my first DCC Funnel session.  I’m using the module Sailors on the Starless Sea by Harley Stroh, which seems to be the standard adventure for most DCC games. That’s a good thing, because it’s a damn-near perfect kickoff game. Seriously, I could tell it was good reading it, but in play it shows that it belongs in any lineup of all-time great adventure modules.

Beyond having a great adventure, this week proved that DCC is all I hoped it would be. This was one of the most purely fun sessions of a traditional RPG I’ve been a part of in a while. It’s partially the rules, and partially the spirit of the game (whatever that means).

I had four players make it this week: Alex, Bob, Matt, and Mike. Each of them got a sheet of four 0-level characters that I generated at the Purple Sorcerer site. To keep some dice rolling in the mix, they each rolled 3d6 to determine the order they picked their sheets — though the sheets were face-down anyway. When it came around to Mike, last to pick, he got to flip the sheets over and choose, after which Alex, who picked first, was given the option to switch his sheet with the one remaining.


Alex Rivera's Funnel PCs
Alex Rivera’s Funnel PCs

To start, the players blazed straight up the trail to the front gatehouse of the keep. They lost two of their number during the fight with the Vine Horrors, but avoided a subsequent casualty at the gate by cleverly jamming it with stones before crossing through. It still dropped a little bit, but the last entrant was Percival the halfling haberdasher, who easily skirted through unharmed.

More death was soon to follow, however. Two halfling chicken butcher brothers, Ippie and Flippy Skalippie, went to investigate the well. Flippy lived up to his name and went over the edge and off into the infinite expanse of chaos beyond. The characters investigating the sinkhole showed far more caution, backing away carefully as soon as they had the strange “hollow” feeling.

The entire group convened around the Charnel Ruins and debated pretty strongly about whether they should open it at all. They asked if there were any holes in the roofing, and though the module doesn’t note that it seemed consistent with the description of the interior so I said that there were. They boosted the remaining Skalippie brother up to the roof and lowered him in on 50′ of rope before it occurred to the halfling that barred from the outside meant he was stuck inside. He was far enough away from the fountain to be safe at that point, though, so after he noted what was inside and angrily demanded to be let out, the whole party opened the doors.

They looted the gear, and when the first of them went for jewels in the fountain they fell back before the tar ooze could hit them. Joey “Diamonds,” a peasant smuggler apparently born and raised in 1920s Brooklyn, quickly tipped to the notion of lighting the incense censer to subdue the monster. In addition to the gear they picked up in the temple, they also found and managed to lift the capstone through sheer force of strength before heading into the Tower of the Beast.

In my next post, I’ll recap what happened from there through the cruise onto the Starless Sea itself. We had to end the session as the party reached the island of the ziggurat, and the 3 weeks until the next session can’t go by fast enough.

Saturday Morning Maps: Shrine of Goroth-Chuul

Click, blah, blah, blah
Click, blah, blah, blah

I missed posting anything last Saturday, which I was not thrilled about, but it can be tough getting one done every week on top of other posts and real life. I don’t know how Dyson does it! 45 drawn maps that he hasn’t scanned?!? Anyway, I’m thinking I need to keep them simple if I am going to keep this up, which was my philosophy behind this small dungeon.