Archive for the Fellhold Campaign Category

A Brief Interlude on Rule Systems

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on April 23, 2013 by Jeff Russell


Not exactly what I’m talking about

So, after a discussion with Bryni’s player (GM of many of my favorite gaming moments, and fellow game design enthusiast) as well as working my way all the way through the archives over at Zak S.’s Playing D&D with Pornstars, I’m thinking rather a lot about rules.

When I started out the Fellhold campaign, I was pretty high on the “player skill not character skill” and “rulings, not rules!” rallying cries of the Old School Renaissance, and the accompanying rules light approach that I found appealing.  Now, don’t get me wrong, these are still principles I think are good and valuable, but I’m starting to wonder if my game is suffering from an overly strong attachment to some “pure” vision of those ideas.

From the beginning, I intended to take a similar approach to James Maliszewski in his Dwimmermount campaign and add on rules as they became necessary or desired, but in practice I haven’t really regularized that many rulings or added that many brand new rules.  Even if I were to, Bryni’s player pointed out an interesting analogy in the above mentioned conversation.  He said that OD&D (or retroclones thereof, like our current S&W Whitebox) is an excellent bicycle – spare, efficient, gets you where you’re going.  But when you start adding on all sorts of gewgaws and motors and horns and whatnot, you end up with a crufty bike when maybe you would have been better off with a moped or a motorcycle.

This conversation came up because he is a fan of the crunch.  In addition to the tactical and outside the box thinking of play, he enjoys having a meaty rules system to sink his teeth into and engage with as a game. And I can certainly sympathize – I just tend to get that fix with board games and wargaming more than from RPGs.  When I suggested that we can add more systems and subsystems to the game as we go, he made the analogy above and it got me thinking about what the rules are doing now, what we might want them to do that they’re not, and how best to serve those goals.  Most of all, I don’t want to let some silly sense of pride in playing D&D “like it was” get in the way of playing it in the most awesome and fun way possible for me and my friends.  It’s not like I have any personal attachment to how D&D was played before I was born.

So all that has me thinking about how the rules are contributing (or not) to the awesome in my campaign.  One area I’ve been giving a lot of thought to is rolling for skills and stats.  I’ve shied away from doing it much at all in the hopes of encouraging player creativity and problem solving, rather than using character stats and skills as a crutch.  This post by Zak S. made an excellent distinction about what rolling stats is for in D&D, though, and may be the necessary step to break my otherwise loathe to roll stats mentality.

I’ve been so worried about letting the game slip into “roll vs. whatever stat/skill” in place of engaging with the fiction and actually thinking, that I may have gone the opposite direction and made the only useful character distinction how well you hit in a fight.  We’ve had some really good times with stats being little more than a way to color your impression of characters (and the occasional precious +1 hit point), but I think I’ve closed off whole sections of the game to the delights of the oracular power of dice that I’ve not only discussed before, but named my damn blog after.

What I mean is that when social interactions, or trying to notice things or whatever are entirely based on my rulings on what the players describe, then there is no unexpected content at the decision point. I may be surprised by the player’s actions, but I will have incorporated those actions into my mental model before making my decision, so there is no surprise (to me) from the actual decision. With dice added to the mix, I can shape the probability with modifiers, but the actual result still has the chance to surprise me and even force “unwelcome” outcomes, as Mr. Baker would say, which makes the game more interesting and textured overall.

Embracing this notion, however, starts to point to some of the areas ripe for change in OD&D.  Though I never played D&D 3 or 3.5, the open endedness of ascending AC and difficulty kinda makes a lot of sense, and allows a little more range than roll under a stat.  On the other hand, moving to a totally open ended system like that quickly minimizes the role of the actual D20 that the system is named for.  If you’re adding and subtracting values over 20, then the probabilities get a little weird.  The very strength of having no limit to modifiers starts to become meaningless when they get big enough that the dice roll only matters to check for a critical hit or failure.  Of course, if you want huge amounts of granularity to base stats, skills, and modifiers, all within a reasonable range, you can go to a percentile system, but man, I just kind of hate them for aesthetic reasons that I can’t quite explain (sorry WFRP).

So what to do? I flirted with the idea of a Dungeon World style 2d6 + modifier derived from 3-18 stat with a 2-6 fail, 7-9 mixed success, 10-12 full success model, but again, Bryni’s player pointed out that the basic assumption of such a system is not “does this make sense?” but rather “succeeding while creating problems is the most interesting outcome, so it should happen the most.”  I think making that assumption for some parts of the game but not others is ultimately more problematic than it looks on its face.

What about 3/3.5 style modifies added to a D20 roll against an ascending DC set by me? I feel like this is only slightly different from a straight up decision on my part based on description.  Sure, it’s technically different to set a difficulty, then award a bonus or penalty to the player’s roll, but overall I’d still be largely shaping how a thing goes down based on what sounds right to me, minimizing the surprising effects of the dice.  I’m sure lots of GMs are super good at doing this fairly, but it’s not a skill I’m exactly practiced at right now, and I don’t know how long it would take me to train that skill to the same hard core old school “let the dice fall where they may” approach I’ve been taking so far.

When I started this post, I didn’t know exactly where I was going with it, but I think I’ve figured it out.  Rolling for stats will be a simple roll under affair.  Modifiers will be limited to +1/-1 for both the player and the difficulty, which is consonant with what I’ve been doing for combat rolls (I’ve based this on something I read in either DNDWPS or Grognardia, I can’t remember, which pointed out that the early rules intended a +1/-1 to be a pretty big deal, that was mostly all you got if you got anything).  This means a maximum swing of +/- 10% probability, which still makes the importance of the stat and the D20 roll itself important, which I like.  Plus, it makes my job of judgment a lot easier by making it effectively binary (well, trinary if you count “no effect”): Is this thing unusually hard (-1 to stat) or unusually easy (+1 to stat)? Is your description especially useful (+1 to roll) or especially not (-1 to roll)?.  We’ll see how this works out as time goes on.  So, I guess I’ll cheat a little bit and use the above as my “rules content” for this post:

Fellhold Ability Checks:

When a player cannot or will not expand on an action his character is performing, and the outcome of that action depends to some degree on an inherent trait of the character, then the referee will call for an ability roll.  The player rolls 1D20 and attempts to score the relevant ability or lower. The referee may modify the ability or the roll as follows:

  • If the player’s description significantly improves his chance of success: -1 to the player’s roll
  • If the player’s description significantly detracts from his chance of success: +1 to the player’s roll
  • If the situation is unusually easy: +1 to the character’s relevant ability for the purposes of this roll
  • If the situation is unusually difficult: -1 to the character’s relevant ability for the purposes of this roll

Note that if using the “Good at” and “Bad at” skill rules, these should normally grant a -1 and +1 to the player roll respectively.

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day!

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on April 17, 2013 by Jeff Russell

It’s the first official Swords & Wizardry Appreciation day! Considering Swords & Wizardry Whitebox is the ruleset we’re using for the Fellhold campaign, I thought I’d like to jump in on this.  I’ve expounded earlier why we went with Whitebox, but basically I found the simplicity attractive as a foundation to add house rules to, rather than trying to cut out pieces of other versions.  As play has gone on, it has both taught me to value and enjoy the lack of some rules but also it has pointed out exactly how other rules came to be by experiencing the desire to have them in game.  My only real regret about using Whitebox is that it means my beautiful full core rules I got in the kickstarter are only pulled out when I’m looking for guidance on making a ruling on something outside the scope of the Whitebox rules. A small price to pay for an excellent slim set of D&D rules that is far more in-play reference friendly than the actual Little Brown Books.

I’m working on a quickstart character sheet that will hopefully have everything a player needs to create a character A) on one page, and B) logically sequenced and labeled to be as new player friendly as possible, but I’m traveling and wasn’t able to get it finished yet.  So, instead I’ll post my custom Fellhold character sheets (heavily inspired by the Dwimmermount character sheets), and, unimaginatively enough, a couple of magic Swords and an example of some Wizardry.

Fellhold Character Sheet

Fellhold Character Sheet

Some Swords

Grief, the Foemaker

Grief is a finely made long sword with intricate knot and runework on the crossguard and round pommel.  The steel of the blade is dark, almost smokey, and the scabbard  is black leather with inlaid silver in the form of a knotwork wyrm.

When Grief comes into the possession of a new owner, it is a +1 sword that increases its wielder’s chance to fumble by 1 (so, a 1-2).

Every time its owner rolls a fumble, increase the to-hit bonus by +1, to a maximum of +4, and increase the chance to fumble by 1. This works out to:

  • +1 = Fumble on 1-2
  • +2 = Fumble on 1-3
  • +3 = Fumble on 1-4
  • +4 = Fumble on 1-5

In addition to an increased chance of a fumble, as Grief’s to hit bonus increases, the severity of fumbles should increase.  This is left to referee discretion, but anything that increases discord and endangers allies should be preferred.

Whenever the owner of Grief is present during an interaction with strangers, any reaction rolls will suffer a penalty equal to Grief’s current to hit bonus.

Grief cannot be freely given to anyone its owner considers a friend or ally.  If Grief is ever used in the presence of a former owner, any fumbles will automatically strike the former owner (provided it is even somewhat reasonable).

Grief’s powers “reset” whenever it comes into the possession of a new owner. 

Woe, the Blooddrinker

Woe is a “viking style” sword of regular size, effective at both stabbing and slashing.  The broad fuller is bronze, and the crescent shaped upper and lower guards are inlaid with copper knotwork polished to a bright red sheen.  The hilt is wrapped in simple, well-worn leather. It is currently housed in a weather and sweat stained simple leather scabbard.

Woe gives no bonus to hit, but instead any damage dice rolled “explode”, meaning that if the maximum value is rolled, save that value, roll again and add them together.  If this second roll is also the maximum value for the die, roll again and add, and so on.

On a critical hit, automatically consider the damage die to have rolled maximum value and proceed from there, in addition to any other usual effects from a critical hit.

Woe always inflicts vicious, nasty wounds when it is able.  Any time its damage die “explodes”, NPCs and monsters with HD equal to or less than the victim must test morale (yes, this applies to both friends and foes).

Woe’s owner will find it hard to keep his or her hand off of the hilt and the blade in the scabbard anytime his situation is uneasy or dangerous, unless he exercises iron will (a good way to reflect this is for the referee to assume that the owner does these things in these situations unless the owner’s player specifically says otherwise).  NPCS will likely interpret such actions as hostile and react accordingly.

Some Wizardry

Altered Guise

Spell Level: 1st

Range: Self

Duration: 8 hours

The caster may take on the appearance of any person of roughly the same size and shape provided he obtains something that belongs to the person being imitated. He may change appearance within the duration as many times as he likes, though once he returns to his own appearance the effect ends.  The greater the disparity between the caster’s appearance and the imitated person’s, the more likely something will seem off, and people familiar with the imitated party will have a greater chance of spotting the deception.


Humanoids of Fellhold

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , on April 17, 2013 by Jeff Russell

Player Spoilers!  This post might spoil some stuff if you’re playing in my Fellhold game!

Okay, so, with that out of the way, today we’re going to talk about the humanoid races we’ve encountered so far, with associated rules.  Rules stuff is in bold italic:

The currently playable races:



Men are pretty much what you’d expect.  Vaguely Germanic (Anglo-Saxon names by default), scattered settlements, one largish town outside of Fellhold, one big city a few days away on the coast.  There are probably more and different cultures farther away, but those haven’t come up yet.


All playable classes (Fighting Men, Magic Users, and Clerics).

Languages: By default, all men speak Mannish, and may choose additional languages in the usual manner.



Dwarves are a mostly insular race, though they once had many mighty holds dug into mountains across the land.  The greatest of these was Fellhold, conquered by sorcerors, now overrun with all manner of foul beasts.  Dwarves are pretty stereotypical super-nordic dwarves: hard working, expert craftsmen and miners, live in giant cities carved from the living rock, tendencies towards rampant greed, et cetera.  Know ancient secrets of weaponsmithing that men do not. Pretty much all magic weapons come from the dwarves, and most of those from long ago.  I’ve been pretty inspired by Burning Wheel and Warhammer’s versions of dwarves, but ultimately they come from the Norse myth (and Tolkien’s take on them, of course).  While their skill is better than humans, they don’t have any advanced technology like steam or clockwork or guns, because I don’t want it.  This may change in the future, who knows.


Character Advancement: The only character class available to Dwarves is that of the Fighter, but they have no level limits.

Weapon and Armor Restrictions: Like human Fighters, Dwarves have been trained in warfare and have no restrictions on the weapons or armor they may use.

Fighting Giants: Giants, ogres, and similar giant-type creatures such as trolls are not good at fighting dwarves, and only inflict half the normal damage against them.

Keen Detection: Dwarves are good at spotting traps, slanting passages, and construction while underground.

Saving Throw: Dwarves do not use magic and, as such, are somewhat immune to its effects; they receive a +4 bonus on saving throws vs. magic (whether or not the alternate “Saving Throw Matrix” is used).

Languages: Dwarves are able to speak Mannish, Dwarvish, Goblinic, and Trollish.

Those encountered by the party



Trollkin are a group of related tribes of humanoids, with a fairly wide range of technological sophistication, physical size, and characteristics.  Men tend to refer to them based on size as “goblins” and “hobgoblins”, and there are rumors from the dwarves of even larger and more sophisticated Trollkin that dwell almost exclusively underground.

Okay, so, stats-wise, I’ve to this point used standard goblin and hobgoblin stats, which is pretty boring and generic, I know.  Where I’ve tried to bring in some interest is to make Trollkin more than just two dimensional walking XP sacs guarding treasure.  The PCs even ended up as chiefs of a Trollkin tribe for a while, but then messed up their sacred rites and started a tribal war, and who knows how that turned out.

So, act what later versions of D&D would probably call “lawful evil” despite being dedicated to the forces of Chaos (demons).  They take their traditions and religious values seriously – but those traditions and values are kind of, you know, evil.  So, for example, when the PCs challenged the chief of the Sword clan to single combat, a champion fought him, and that champion became the chief (despite being a dwarf).  All the trollkin were like “them’s the breaks” and acknowledged him as chief, even though they thought it was pretty weird.  When the PCs tried the same stunt on another tribe and cheated, however, they made the mistake of telling their shaman, assuming that an evil guy would be all about cheating and backstabbing.  But to him (a demon worshipping cannibal), breaking the trust of the blood rite was a horrible blasphemy and could not be borne.  So, he summoned a demon as he was killed by the PCs, the tribe dissolved into Chaos, and that’s the last we heard of them.

Oh, except for his assistant that the PCs captured, who adamantly refuses to go along with them, because he’s a devout believer in Mustakrakish, demon lord of trolls (yes, from the Dethklok song).

Because you’ve waded through all of that, here’s my quick and dirty blood magic rules (I want to find and/or come up with better ones, but this is simple and makes hordes of otherwise useless guys scary):

Trollkin Blood Magic:

A Trollkin shaman can invoke the powers of demonic patrons with appropriate sacrifice.  For every 1HD of sentient creature killed by a shaman, he can attack any target within sight for 1d6 damage.  If he begins a ritual, chanting and remaining stationary, drawing grotesque symbols with the blood of his sacrificial victims, he can “store” HD for an attack or a summoning. 


As stated, a shaman may perform a ritual, slaying a sacrificial victim each round and storing up the victim’s HD.  At any point he may finish the ritual to attempt to summon a demonic being with HD up to sacrificed HD -1.  Chances of success are 1 in 6 for every HD stored above the target demon’s HD. Damaging the shaman mid-ritual will disrupt the ritual.  Consider any fun “interrupted summoning” consequences you like.

Example: Odo the head shaman of the sword tribe wants to punish the unbelieving upworlders for their blasphemous ways.  He begins chanting and grabbing nearby members of his tribe and viciously cutting their throats.  He can do that, because he’s the shaman.  The PCs hear his disturbing chant and see smoke starting to gather around him, so they direct their attacks his way, but are stopped by his bodyguards.  Each round, he sacrifices another hapless tribe member, until after 6 rounds, he announces he has completed the ritual and is attempting to summon a 4 HD demonic being (Erishkaltu, the sword clan’s totem demon and servant of Mustakrakish). He has a 2 in 6 chance (6 sacrifices – 4 demon HD = 2 in 6).  The PCs finally land a telling blow, killing Odo, but he had initiative and completed the ritual.  The referee rolls a 1, and the smoke begins to congeal into a tangible form. . .



So, in the world of Fellhold, Trolls are related to trollkin (goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears) but are their own race.  They’re sort of a mash up of ogres and trolls and look more like the guy above than like the classic green rubbery dude.  They’re size L, but smaller than giants (basically, think Warhammer scale Ogres). But they still regenerate.  Here’s a “normal” troll’s stats:


HD: 6+3

AC: 4 [15]

HD: 6+3

Attack: Weapon (1d10) or Berzerk (claw/claw/bite for 1d4/1d4/1d8)

Saving Throw: 11

Special: Regenerates

Move: 12

Alignment: Chaos

Number Encountered: 2d6

Challenge Level/XP: 8/8000

Trolls regenerate 3 hp every round. They do not regenerate damage by fire or acid.  When below 10 HP, they go “berserk” and attack with claws and teeth instead of their weapon. Berserk fury ends when troll reaches 0 HP or the fight is over and he cools down, but not if he regenerates to over 10 HP.

I haven’t decided yet if Trolls regenerate from decapitation or total bodily destruction by means other than fire or acid.  The party has a mostly charred headless troll body in their caravan right now, and I’m really tempted to have it wake up in a few days, but we’ll see.

Like Trollkin, trolls are intelligent and have a society with rules and values, and also like trollkin, they’re evil and worship demons.  They’re just rigidly principled about it.  Trolls are super transactional.  They see all interactions as exchanges of value for value.  They are extremely “letter of the law” sorts of people.  Probably from a long history of asking for things from demons.  Normally they are very calm and terse, but when severely injured or pushed too far, they go berserk and attack in a blind rage with their bare claws and teeth.  So, they can be dealt with as any other intelligent species, but their rules of behavior might be strange and unsettling.

Major sources of inspiration visually are Paul Bonner’s stuff for Drakar och Demoner, along with every Warhammer ogre ever.  Behavior-wise, I gleaned some stuff from Magic: the Gathering’s Kamigawa (one of the few good things to come out of a misguided decision to read the novel that came in a “fat pack” of cards for the block), and now that I think about it, I’m ashamed to admit, from “Sword of Shannara” with its stoic, noble troll guys in thrall to the evil lord.  But my trolls are evil, just stoic and honorable.



Unlike Trolls and Trollkin, giants much more closely resemble men and dwarves.  The way I figure it, trolls and trollkin are one “genus”, and men, dwarves, and giants are another.  Not that I want to get too naturalistic with the ecology here, but I like folk lore giants that are just big, ugly, kinda dumb humans.  I’m keeping the scale of hill giant on up to fire giants and titans and the like pretty much the same, with a comparable ascending scale of sophistication.  Unfortunately for me, besides dishing out tons of damage, Hill Giants have proven to be kind of pushovers for well-equipped PCs and their army of hirelings.  I really need to rock the morale rules more carefully.  And it turns out that dwarves’ “half damage from giant type creatures” rule is insanely useful.

Giants speak a crude dialect of mannish (hill giants = mostly grunts and 1 syllable words, frost and fire giants = normal conversational skill, but sound like, well, monstery giants).  Giants aren’t evil per se, just greedy, selfish, and prone to violence.  So, like I said, big, dumb people.  I’m thinking that the frost giants have a big ass keep up north and that they have the Trolls in unwilling serfdom, but we’ll see.



So, I put this way down at the bottom to make it even less likely that my players will read it (shame on you if you’re here!), but I’m considering putting elves back into the mix.  Initially, I was so sick of ‘elf-bloat’ and I wanted to stick to a sword & sorcery kind of Germania that I thought elves wouldn’t fit (yes, I know elves come from Germanic myth, even Tolkien’s, but they’ve been so D&D-ified that I was sick of them).  Now, though, reading about Zak S.’s pitiless white elves, I’m thinking there might be a place for them as sort of Others-cum-Melniboneans living up in frozen palaces in the icy wastes, probably only a few decadent remnants of apathetic, cruel, graceful aristocrats.  Maybe with armies of frost wights, I dunno.  I’m still pretty torn.

Fellhold Sessions 13 & 14 Recap

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on December 12, 2012 by Jeff Russell

After fleeing from the seemingly endless hordes of large and aggressive trollkin, our adventurers spiked a door behind them and listened with baited breath. Not hearing any sounds of further pursuit, they decided against fleeing blindly, and continued to explore and map carefully. After discovering a secret door and defeating a hideous ooze that dissolved a few weapons, they secured a small clutch of gems, spiked another two doors behind them and decided to rest inside the dungeon. With a careful watch and secure location, their rest was uneventful, and after a few divine acts of healing from the groups clerics, they decided to make their way back out to the surface. They directly encountered no more trollkin, only the surprised sound of a guard coming from a newly constructed barricade and a poison trap that was defeated by Varian’s iron constitution.

After successfully reaching the surface, the group made proper payments to the families of the deceased hirelings and proceeded to hire new soldiers and a few more torch bearers before returning to the grim mountain. Having decided that enormous hordes of angry humanoids might not be the best thing to face just now, the party returned once again to the Western entrance to Fellhold, where they encountered and defeated Dag’s former bandit group. Exploring more deeply and more carefully, they once again triggered a portcullis, trapping them within, but before they had to resort to the aid of strongman Mihtig the Mighty, they discovered a secret crank that opened the gate. Further exploration led to a secret door opening onto a stairway leading upwards, in sharp contrast to what they’ve encountered thus far.

Climbing the stairs, they found an elaborate Dwarven antechamber holding six musical pipes. Experimentation revealed that playing certain pipes opened certain doors and closed others, until the proper sequence was found, opening all three sets of huge, impressive double doors. Entering, they found first a rough, unfinished section of halls and chambers, but then more beautifully crafted Dwarven architecture and sculpture, including a massive statue of Aki, the father of all Dwarves, carved from the living rock of the mountain. Though there was a plethora of doors to explore, the party found a large staircase leading farther upwards and pressed on, surprising a small band of trollkin at the top landing!

Even hemmed in by the stairs, the group made short work of them, with Yllgrad stopping the final one as he fled with a well placed thrown dagger. Following the path the dead trollkin seemed to be heading for, they fell upon another small band of trollkin, these obviously searching and rummaging around in what appears to have once been an officer’s quarters. Outside the chambers was a large, magnificent hall with pillars carved in the likenesses of Dwarven heroes, warriors, and smiths. Crossing over they found a doorway directly opposite and entered a room in even worse repair, this one the nest of eight disgusting giant rats! The rats were quickly dispatched, with Sir Braxton the war dog taking especial pleasure in tearing apart one of the foul vermin. Catching their breath, our intrepid band prepares to continue to explore this mysteriously upwards reaching section of Fellhold.

Fellhold Session 12 Recap

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on November 28, 2012 by Jeff Russell

We left off with our adventurers deep within the Ashfell, and as we joined them this week, they continued to explore . They returned to the relief mural depiction of the founding of Fellhold and followed the carvings around a large hall, reading a story of dwarves comes to Ashfell, delving into the mountain, and ending with a scene of trade, craft, and fellowship between dwarves and men. Having satisfied themselves that this mural did not contain any further clues about how to proceed, they set off to continue down a wide passageway leading from the imposing statue of a sorceror. Along the way, they found a large, crude set of double doors with a sword painted on and decorated with human and goblin skulls. After listening at the door and hearing some sort of chanting or cheering coming from beyond, they set to and kicked down the door.

This alerted a group of trollkin bigger than the goblins previously encountered to rush the party and slam the door closed. The party hacked open the door, and made pretty short work of these unarmored trollkin, but they were followed by fully armed and armored trollkin warriors in seemingly endless numbers. The group stood their ground and fought, felling scores of the humanoids. The fight began to take its toll, however, with Blum the magic user seriously wounded, the other members of the party reaching the limits of their endurance, and the deaths of four hirelings.

Deciding that surviving to fight another day was better than a valiant last stand. Flinging recovered gelatinous cube slime behind them to slow pursuit, they fled to a previously discovered narrow hallway with a door and spiked the door closed in the faces of their pursuers. As we leave them, deciding to put more space between them and the howling hordes, they flee deeper into the pitch darkness of Fellhold too quickly to map. . .

Fellhold Session 11 Recap

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on November 20, 2012 by Jeff Russell

Our brave adventurers consolidated after cutting down wave after wave of goblin fighters, and decided that the best course of action was to camp outside of the goblin lair they had extensively mapped out. Spending the night in quiet, they proceeded to thoroughly map out every nook and cranny of the goblin delving, and then turned their eyes to the previously explored excavated stairs deeper into the mountain. Following these stairs down, they found a brief encounter with vicious giant rats, a long since abandoned market place, many empty store rooms, and a painful but ultimately unremarkable needle trap. After an unsuccessful strike by a surprising gelatinous cube, Yllgrad cleaved it in half with a mighty critical hit. Unfortunately, after a string of successes, Varian fared less well against a stoutly built door, and found himself on the ground in pain after one too many attempts to kick down doors in dramatic fashion. Altogether, the group covered a lot of ground, finding stairs deeper into the mountain, multiple large statues of sorcerors, and a variety of rooms and corridors, mapping perhaps a greater extent of the tunnels under the mountain than any previous expedition. What lies in store for them as they proceed forward? Will their blase ways continue to serve them well, or will doors prove more treacherous than foemen? Only time will tell!

First Fellhold Rules Post

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, Projects, RPGs with tags , , , , , on November 19, 2012 by Jeff Russell

Howdy folks. The bulk of this post will be the first actual rules I have written for Fellhold coming out of my reading “An Echo, Resounding” and “Dungeon World”. I was initially afraid I would simply be using pieces from each with no original material whatsoever, but in the process of figuring out what I really wanted to do, I ended up coming up with something more different than I expected, though the influences are obvious. Without further ado, here’s the section on creating a level for a megadungeon:

How to Create a Dungeon Level

These rules are presented to give you a toolbox for creating the levels of your megadungeon. They can also be used to make smaller lair style dungeons. The toolbox analogy is pretty fitting, though, because just as a hammer, nails, saw, and so forth are necessary to build a house, so too is the lumber and the time putting in the work. These rules are not a substitution for your imagination and creative work, but hopefully they are a useful guiding framework that limits your work to the fun stuff of coming up with what’s interesting, and somewhat mechanizing the more tedious parts.

Create a Level Front

Like the wider ranging and more amorphous sources of adventure of the surface world and wilderness, your preparation for the dungeon is organized as Fronts and Dangers, though being dungeon fronts and dangers, they are a little different in nature. You will follow a step by step process, and when you finish, you ought to have a living, breathing dungeon space ready for adventurers to stomp into and cause trouble.

1. Pick Tags for Original Purpose

Following is a list of tags that describe what the original purpose of any given area was broadly speaking. These don’t have any particular mechanical effect except to remind you what kind of hazards and monsters to put in there, how to lay out the rooms, and so forth. Somewhere between one and three is usually good for the level overall. Use these to capture a broad theme to guide you when maknig decisions about the level.

Arcane – Either built for some kind of Arcane experiment, or an area magical in nature.

Bandits – Brigands, human or otherwise, built or modified this area for their purposes.

Caverns – The natural forces of the earth opened these tunnels and chambers.

Chaos – Twisted by the intrusion of forces antithetical to reality, there is something deeply wrong with this part of the dungeon.

Cult – Constructed or modified for use by a secretive and sinister cult of some sort

Demonic – This area has received the attention of a demonic entity and reflects its twisted nature

Divine – When constructed, this area was imbued with some sort of divine energy – be sure to name the deity

Dwarven – This part of the dungeon was originally delved by dwarves. It is likely orderly and heavily decorated with dwarven designs.

Fungus – Extensive and large fungi grow in this area, whether wild or cultivated by underground denizens for food.

Gate – This area contains a passageway to somewhere else – a different environment, realm, or even world.

Mines – These tunnels were dug in pursuit of gold, silver, gems, or something else valuable under the earth, and are likely to be rougher hewn and less orderly than others, twisting to follow veins of precious materials.

Monsters – Some kind of intelligent monster made this place for its own use, it may be crudely done or well made.

Nest – This area was burrowed out by some kind of bestial creature.

Prison – A dungeon in the truest sense, this area was built to confine prisoners, and maybe worse.

Temple – This area was dedicated as a temple to some power, whether divine or profane, or something stranger

Tomb – Parts of these halls and rooms were built to serve as catacombs to house the dead.

Religion – This area was dedicated to some particular religious figure, you should specify which.

Volcanic – Whether active or dormant, this area was formed by movement of hot molten rock and gases from deep within the earth.

2. Pick Tags for Current Nature

Like the original purpose tags, these tags are meant to guide you in making decisions about crafting the level. You’ll notice that many of the tags are the same as from the original purpose section, even if their descriptions are a little different. The idea is that you don’t need to double up on something that is still true (If it was created divine and is still divine, no need for a separate current nature tag). Instead, these tags allow you to set up interesting contradicitons that show the way the dungeon has changed and developed. What was once the proud market place of the Dwarves may have become the scene of sorcerous displays by an evil cabal, and is now where bandits bed down their horses.

Ancient – Whatever formed this location, it was long and long ago.

Arcane – This location serves some magical purpose, or is imbued with arcane energies.

Bandits – Some kind of humanoids that prey on others have set up shop in this part of the dungeon.

Chaos – This part of the dungeon is twisted and tainted from the touch of something beyond any rational world.

Cult – A sinister and covert religious group uses this area for its mysterious ends.

Demonic – One or more demons maintain contact with the world in this place, and it carries their taint.

Divine – Blessed by some deity, name which god has bestowed his or her benefits on this section of the dungeon.

Fungus – Omnipresent and possibly huge fungi cover this section .of dungeon, whether overgrowth or cultivated by subterranean inhabitants.

Gate – This section of the dungeon serves as a gate to elsewhere – whether mundane or supernatural.

Mines – These tunnels are actively worked to extract the riches of the earth.

Monsters – Creatures, whether humanoid or not, infest this area. Use each significant monster type present as a tag.

Nest – Something monstrous and non-humanoid has made this area its home.

Prison – Captives are held or tortured here.

Religion – Some religion is practiced here. The tag should specify the deity’s name.

Temple – This section is used for worship of some force.

Tomb – Whatever its original purpose, this section now houses the burials of some intelligent group.

Volcanic – Active magma and hot gases can be found in this area.

3. Decide Total Treasure Number

As discussed in the Domain Play section, one Treasure is equal to 500 GP. A good rough formula for how much treasure a level should have is to multiply 10 times a number of D6s equal to the level of the dungeon (this is untested still!)

4. Create a Danger for each Section

This is where most of your work creating dungeon levels will come in.  Follow the steps below in the Create a Section Danger section in order to detail each section of the current level. Any tags you’ve selected for the level overall will apply to the sections unless you decide otherwise. Also, it’s important to point out that an entire level can just be one section. This is a great way to make either“lair” type dungeons, smaller megadungeon levels, or parts of larger megadungeon levels. In the original Fellhold campaign, most levels were divided into quadrants which were statted up as sections.

5. Create any level-wide monster assets

If you have any especially large monsters or wide ranging monster groups that you want to be prevalent throughout the entire level and not associated with any particular section, go ahead and follow the rules for creating a monster asset detailed in the chapter on Assets.

Create a Section Danger

It will be most regular for a level to represent a number of rooms and corridors roughly the same distance above or below ground, and for sections to be some subset of those rooms and corridors. This is not the only possible way to use these rules, however. You might have a tower that counts as all one “level” and each section is a floor, or even a grouping of floors. Don’t feel bound to create a new “level” and “section” just because the player characters will have to go up or down some stairs to access it. You could also create a sprawling ruin of a city and have each neighborhood be a section. The rules are purposely flexible.

The included Section Reference Sheet provides space for recording most of the decisions you make here, but all that’s really needed is a pencil and some paper (preferably graph paper).

1. Create a Ruin Location for the Section

This is fairly straightforward, and is mostly a content holder for all of the work you will do in the rest of the steps. If it is ever interacted with using the Domain Play rules, it will be a ruin with a Treasure value of whatever you assign from the overall level Treasure, a nature of whatever Original Purpose and Current Nature tags you pick, and any monster assets you create for the section. If you want to keep the dungeon feeling “alive” you can have each section function as a small domain and take domain turns using the monster assets and transfer treasure around and modify assets accordingly.

2. Pick Tags for Original Purpose

These are the same tags as for the overall level, but they allow you to fine tune a particular section of the level. Perhaps the level overall is an ancient Dwarven city, but this section was their fungus farm, yuou could add the Fungus tag.

Arcane, Bandits, Caverns, Chaos, Cult, Demonic, Divine, Dwarven, Fungus, Gate, Mines, Monsters, Nest, Prison, Religion, Temple, Tomb, Volcanic

3. Pick Tags for Current Nature

Just as with the Original Purpose tags, these are identical to the Current Nature tags for the overall level, but allow you to call out a particular section as different.

Ancient, Arcane, Bandits, Chaos, Cult, Demonic, Divine, Fungus, Gate, Mines, Monsters, Nest, Prison, Religion, Temple, Tomb, Volcanic

4. Assign portion of Level’s treasure to section

Use your own good judgment here, but unless you have crafted one section of the level to have more treasure than others (like, say, because a dragon has its lair there or an entire tribe of trollkin store their loot there) it’s just fine to split it up evenly among the sections.

5. Choose or Draw the Floor Plan

This part has always proved challenging to me, and so I remind you that you can repurpose sections of the many, many dungeon maps available for free or for purchase. It is satisfying in a different way to work within the constraints of an existing floor plan to find your vision than it is to think through the placement of rooms and halls and make your own decisions. Both are fun, and both lead to good dungeons, so honestly, go with whatever you’re most comfortable with, and feel free to mix it up from level to level, section to section.

The main thing you’ll want to concern yourself with, whether drawing or copying a map, is to make sure there is interaction with the rest of the dungeon. Make sure sections connect in multiple ways, have stairs up and down levels, and so forth. It’s especially fun and interesting to make multiple connections of different sorts, such that one part of level 1 leads down to level 2, but another goes to level 3, and still another leads to a sub-area of level 1. Layouts like this encourage thorough exploration and lots of backtracking, giving you the chance to showcase the dungeon as a living, changing place.

6. Create the Stocking Tables

The stocking tables are really where the section comes to life. It may seem dry at first to make a bunch of tables, but they allow you to combine your creativity and judgement and random chance in a way that really fosters a dynamic, living feeling for the dungeon. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you’ll be amazed at the way motives and plot hooks and history just pop into your brain as you work your way through the rooms with a random table. They also make it really easy to restock the dungeon after the adventurers have massacred their way through a section.

6a. Create Monster & Treasure Frequency Table

The Monster & Treasure Frequency Table allows you to determine whether a given room contains a monster and/or treasure. When checking to see if a room contains either a monster or treasure, you roll on this table. The default table, modified from the original adventure game is as follows:

Roll 1st Die Result Roll 2nd Die Result
1 Monster 1 Treasure
2 Monster w/Treasure 2 Nothing
3 Empty 3 Nothing
4 Empty 4 Nothing
5 Empty 5 Nothing
6 Empty 6 Nothing

If you use this default table, the procedure is to roll 1d6 to see if there is a monster with or without treasure, and then to roll a 2nd die if there is no monster to see if there is unguarded treasure. To save time, you may wish to roll 2d6 of two different colors, designate one the “monster die” and the other the “treasure die” and ignore the treasure die on a result of 1 or 2 on the monster die.

If you choose to create an alternate monster/treasure frequency table, simply choose a die size, how many dice to roll and then assign values. I’d recommend sticking with the default until you get a feeling for how populated a dungeon you want to face in play. Having a good mix of rooms that are genuinely empty and rooms that just need a little searching to find somethign of value, and rooms that represent a potential threat is necessary to keep the exploration aspect of the game fun and interesting.

6b. Create Monster Stocking Table

This table is where your section really gets the flavor that your players are going to notice the most. Monsters provide the most interactive part of what the players will face in a dungeon section, and so help define places. As you choose monsters for the table, don’t think only about how many hit dice they have, or how large a group they travel in, think also about how they fit together, and what they’re doing in this section of the dungeon. In a section of the dungeon you’ve designated as Hobgoblin controlled, most of your entries will probably be Hobgoblins. If you want a section of caverns to feel more wild and untamed, don’t put any intelligent monsters in your table. You get to exercise some discretion and taste in what you include and at what frequency, but then the random die rolls will give a pleasantly unexpected specific mix.

Another important consideration is the rate of refresh for your stocking table. The dungeon should be a living place, and just because the adventurers have been through an area before doesn’t mean it should be a barren, safe wasteland from then on out. Tweak your stocking table to reflect changes (maybe driving out the hobgoblins opened up the area to goblins now), and after the right amount of in-game time has passed, go through the stocking process again. A good starting point is 1 week, but up this for rarer creatures or lower it for especially prolific ones.

To create your table, simply select a die size and then assign an entry to each value, using the guidance above. Do yourself a favor, though: don’t go nuts on the die size. If you try to pick d100 monsters, or even d100 discrete entries for every single section, you’ll end up throwing your referee’s binder at the wall in no time. Now, if you have broad percentages that amount to 20 or less entries, that’s just fine. For starting out, D6, D8, or D10 gives you plenty of room to play with, but won’t leave you stumped on those last few entries.

6c. Create Room Dressing Table

Room Dressing is whatever random stuff you place in rooms to give them some character beyond their bare dimensions and the composition of their walls. It’s not necessary to have or to specify dressing in every single room, but you’ll want to be careful about only describing items in detail when they warrant being searched or flat out telling players a room is empty if it is. Let them explore! Try to include things that suggest something of the section’s purposes throughout the ages. As with the monster tables, choose a die size that seems appropriate and fill it with things that seem evocative of the tags you chose at the beginning, but that can be reused a few time without it being weird.

Depending on how frequently you use the room dressing table, you may want only things of especial interest or curiosity, or you may want a bunch of random nothing. Just remember that anything of value is treated under treasure, and has probably long ago been carried off by monsters unless hidden.

Maybe roll a D20 along with your monster/treasure frequency rolls and treat 1-10 as nothing, and then have results for 11-20.

10. Place any special monsters or treasures

Often you will have one or a few creatures or items that you know exactly what you want to do with – the troll chieftain, the dragon, and so forth. Don’t put these guys in your monster chart! They deserve to be treated as individual threats placed with care. So before you use any of your shiny new tables, place the things that are special to the section. Remember to deduct any treasure so placed from the available section treasure to be assigned using the stocking tables.

11. Run through remaining rooms using Stocking Tables

After having hand-placed the important monsters and their hoards, you identify any rooms that seem like they might contain monsters and/or treasures (I tend to leave out tiny storerooms or rooms that are extremely repetitive, or to only pick a few of them). Go through each in turn and roll on your monster and treasure frequency chart. If they indicate monsters and/or treasure, use the appropriate charts. Place treasure with monsters according to the monsters’ description, and when placing treasure randomly, it should be D100% of 1 Treasure (500 GP), and it should be well hidden and/or trapped. This is an excellent excuse to include a trap you hadn’t thought of yet!

As you go through placing monsters and treasure, you may find it easier to convert the sections Treasure total into a GP value and then assign the Gold Marks, Silver pennings, Copper Skillings, jewels, weapons, and so forth accordingly. If you reach the total treasure value for that section, then do not place any more treasure. If you have a lot of rooms left without any treasure, consider altering the level’s overall amount of treasure to better reflect what ought to be there.

12. Create Wandering Monster Table

This table will quite likely be fairly similar to your stocking table (sometimes they can even be identical), but you can add some nuance by having a distinction between the monsters that wander this area and those who actually reside there in a more permanent fashion. In addition to choosing a die size and assigning monsters (or evecn strange sounds or events) to each result, you need to choose how often to check for a wandering monster in this section. Once per hour (6 exploration turns) is fairly typical, but you can vary how dangerous and draining an area is not just in the difficulty of monsters, but in how often they show up.

13. Create Monster Assets

Follow the rules for Monster Asset creation detailed in the Assets section of the Domain Play chapter in order to create assets representing any large monster forces or particularly powerful individual monsters. Again, this will let you play out “domain actions” between dungeon inhabitants to keep the dungeon dynamic, as well as giving you the information you need if any enterprising domain ruler tries to deal with a dungeon through main force.

14. Place Traps

Go through the level and place any fiendish traps or puzzles you care to. Sometimes you’ll do this step as your draw the floor plan and see where traps would make sense. Other times you’ll being to see a sort of logic emerging from your stocking rolls, and you’ll set up traps that way. Give traps some thought: were they put there by the original constructors? Can they be reset? How do the dungeon’s denizens deal with them? On the other hand, don’t overthink them too much: dungeons have traps, they’re part of the territory, so if you think you need some, put them in there.

15. Final Touches and Tweaks

At this point you have an entirely playable dungeon section that you’re prepared to restock or have interact with other dungeon levels and sections as necessary. It’s helpful, though, to take a moment to look at everything together and make any final tweaks that suggest themselves, whether regarding monster placement, treasure amount, or just what makes sense or not, this is your chance to double check that the section actually makes good on the creative vision you codified in the tags you chose at the outset.

Porting Dungeon World’s GMing Rules, Part 4

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs, Theory with tags , , , on November 14, 2012 by Jeff Russell

So, for this post I’m taking a bit of a departure from the campaign and domain play rules that I’ve been kitbashing from Dungeon World and An Echo, Resounding. This is mostly because it’s been awhile, and I’m having to reconstruct all the stuff I had figured out from what are now opaque notes, and instead of figuring all that out tonight, I went instead for a simpler problem and decided to tackle some planning/layout issues, and then to address equipment tags.

Equipment tags are one of my very favorite nitty-gritty details from the Apocalypse World family of games. I’m a sucker for broadly modular systems that have a framework for incorporating very flexible input (now that I’ve figured them out, I’m a big fan of tags for blog posts as well). Perhaps best of all, incorporating DW style tags does not require a lot of work on other rules. For all of the “fictional cue” tags, it’s really just a matter of systematizing and highlighting what’s already there in OD&D. OD&D referees are already supposed to account for the fact that a Glaive isn’t something you’re going to use in a wrestling match and that daggers might have trouble getting around a determined shield wall. The trouble is, as I’m discovering actually running an OD&D game, is that when the ref gets caught up in keeping track of exploration rounds and combat rounds, tracking monster hit points and special attacks, remembering to check morale, and so forth, it’s way too easy to succumb to “Roll to hit. Roll damage. Next guy.” Equipment tags are a fantastic way to remind refs about the cool stuff to pay attention to.

Probably the most significant mechanical alterations are in terms of range and encumbrance. I really rather like DW’s method of handling weight and encumbrance, and so I’m converting the pound weights of S&W WhiteBox into “Weight” tags. I’m going to go ahead and reexamine the movement and encumbrance rules to square them with the changed weight method. Range is pretty straight forward. I’m straight up converting ranges in feet into the broad categories of “near” and “far”.

The biggest challenge is coming from converting prices for things not included in the WhiteBox rules, but overall I’m really excited about including equipment tags going forward.

Fellhold Session 10 Recap

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on November 13, 2012 by Jeff Russell

Our intrepid adventurers, after having destroyed a wolf pack, venture through a secret door into hewn underground passages. Joined this time by Yllgrad and Earn and their cohorts (though still not by Blum) the strengthened party takes  a few moments to regroup and take advantage of magical healing before venturing into the underground passages. Finding no sign of the goblins they heard exclaim earlier, they push into to the passages and find a room full of rubble with stairs leading steeply downward. Following these stairs, they find themselves in apparently dwarven rooms, including a small chamber and a barracks room. They also find the entrance to an enormously large chamber with decorated columns, but decide that exploration of it can wait and instead go back up the stairs and check out the passageways closer to the surface more closely, worried about Goblins harassing them from the rear. They send a party of 3 hirelings (all hired by Yllgrad) to a passageway to the south, and themselves go north and east. They trigger a few crude, apparently improvised traps, with Yllgrad bearing the brunt of it, before stumbling upon the lair of a hideous Gelatinous Cube!

The group decides to run back to a room full of trash and attempt to satiate the horrendous creature. Unfortunately, despite its apparently pleasure at the garbage flung into its mass, the monster keeps coming for live flesh! After very little time, an effective hit from an arrow fired by one of Earn’s men coupled with a devastating axe blow from Yllgrad serve to dissolve the noisome and foul cube.

The adventurers continue to explore and find a room full of apparently waylaid trade goods as well as a cave entrance directly out to the hill side that was initially missed due to the heavy vegetative cover. Knowing a quick way out and having gained no report from Yllgrad’s men, they returned to the putative meeting point and found no one waiting for them. Venturing further south, they blundered into the goblins’ own great hall, with dozens of combatant goblins present!


After a long fight with many multiple-goblin cleaving blows, and including astounding fortitude and viciousness in the face of mounting casualties by the goblins, our party found themselves victorious, but wondering where the goblin women and children had fled to, and whether that boded further trouble.

Fellhold Session 9 Recap

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on November 6, 2012 by Jeff Russell

Due to various obligations in Silverdelf, Yllgrad, Blum, and Earn remained behind, but along with their hirelings and henchmen, Bryni, Caleb, and Varian set off to explore the heretofore unknown eastern path up the spur to Fellhold. They found that the path petered out in a heavily wooded and gently sloping portion of mountain, with crags and boulders suggesting caves. On further exploration, they found a large cave opening, and an initial scan of the cave revealed a heavy bed of pine needles as well as the grisly remains of creatures large and small, accompanied by a horrible smell. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, our explorers prudently set the pine needles alight to smoke out whatever may lair in the cave, taking up positions to meet whatever fled the cave.

They were confronted by an enraged Owlbear! This massive and ill tempered brute charged straight for Varian on his horse, as the most direct target, and landed a moderately injurious blow with its talons, but Varian’s shield and plate deflected the beast’s other attacks. The party engaged in a vicious melee, killing the monster without suffering any casualties. They drained the monster of its blood and stowed the carcass in the cart, hoping to turn some sort of profit, or at least have an impressive trophy for their now under construction home base.

After allowing the fire to burn down, they entered and found nothing of interest except for a small gem and scorched longsword and helmet (now beneath their well armed notice) on an unfortunate skeleton. Moving on to the other obvious cave opening, they sent a hireling in to investigate, who came fleeing out when he heard growls and smelled wet dog. Sure enough, a pack of 8 wolves came surging out of their den to fight viciously. The alpha charged straight for Varian (again the most obvious target) while the rest of the wolves spread out to harry as many of the human intruders as they could. Erna was severely wounded, but quick action by Aelfsigr saved the remaining sister soldier. Varian once again sustained a moderate wound, but Caleb magically cured his wounds so that he could finish the fight with the diminishing wolf pack. Sir Braxton, Caleb’s trusty war hound, personally tore out the throat of the alpha wolf, but the pack was too frenzied to acknowledge what would normally be clear sign of dominance to wolves.

After a hard fought battle, all eight of the wolves were killed, and the party carefully inspected their den, finding a fairly large cave complex. In the rearmost chamber, they found a litter of four wolf pups, which they took back to the cart to sort out later, though there was talk of either vicious pets or sale to specialty merchants. During their careful inspection, they found a knob that opened a secret entrance to what appears to be a worked passageway. Peaking around the corner, they heard an exclamation of surprise in Goblinic (the language of trollkin). They retreated to regroup and plan at the wagon, and in our next episode they plan to push in to the mountain.