Thursday, March 14, 2024

Filling Holes

 Two more "capsule reviews" of NAP entries and then some comments (maybe):


A moderately good adventure. Highlights include a nice, sensible map with the illusion of verticality (rather than practical verticality) and clear, usable text with tight themes. It has received excellent reviews here, here, and here.

Written for levels 8th - 10th, this straightforward tomb includes a lot of undead monsters and appropriate traps for this level range (disintegration rays, 6d6 attrition, pop-up banshees, etc.). The adventure nerfs turning with a -2 penalty, but communicates this from the outset, which should be a clue to experienced PCs to stock up on barrels of holy water and protection from undead scrolls.

It's not bad, it's just not that spectacular. It's written for OSRIC, so perhaps that explains some of the oddities (like "hill giant skeletons" that are somehow more powerful than standard "monster zombies," or little inconsistencies with magic item values). I feel like a lot of this can be bypassed in a party with a 9th level magic-user and cleric, and maybe that's the point. There's some whimsical fantasy elements here that don't make a lot of sense (the iron golems, the giant king and his (human?) wife), but I know the standard line: "It's D&D, it doesn't have to make sense." I'm okay with letting some things slide.

Treasure is quite light for the level range. Because characters in this level range have the resources to power through standard dungeons, I'm inclined to halve the normal amount I'd expect for a 30 room adventure: call it 750,000 x.p. worth of treasure, for a six PC operation. Unfortunately, even if you acquire every last scrap and SELL all the magic items (some of which are quite nice: a cubic gate, a dwarf thrower hammer, a mace of disruption, etc.), you're going to net less than 400K...and retaining/using the magic items will mean taking home barely 150K. 

However, this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that MOST of the magic items are directly applicable to the circumventing the tomb's dangers: oil of elemental invulnerability, the aforementioned magic weapons (good against both undead AND giants), a scroll with spider climb, knock, and detect magic, stashes of holy water, etc. The dungeon is designed like a puzzle of moderate difficulty, where solving things in the correct order make it a lot easier than a straightforward "bashing;" but it feels like the scale is off a bit, and successful parties are going to walk away with a NUMBER of very powerful, very rare items.

This adventure is 'okay.' I can place it in a a small section of the Snake River canyon. Probably won't do the whole "golem smashes bridge thing" which is kind of silly given the PCs should have a method to climb (or fly!) up the cliff face and all this does is prevent the golems from getting to the tomb-robbers (also, a 2d6 damage fall is nothing to a party of 9th level characters). The -2 "defilement" penalty to turning attempts doesn't mean much when a 9th level cleric automatically destroys wights and turns ghasts (half the wandering monster table)...I might change how that functions. Maybe. 

DUST & STARS (Settembrini)

This is a tough one. It appears that it suffers from being translated from a previous (German) text. Having met Settembrini, I can attest that his command of English is excellent, but this needs a little editing for coherence.

I'll not prolong this one: it's not going to work for my campaign. There is a LOT of campaign-specific backstory to this one that simply won't function in my world. The author has re-skinned a lot of D&D's fantasy to function in a weird sci-fi fashion and while I appreciate that (I do that myself), it is very specific in its "lore"...basically, his re-skins don't match with my own.

Also: don't like the giant serpent folk (sorry). Also: don't like the cataclysmically explosive potential of the "star pump." Sorry: I intend my world to far outlast the player characters, and I don't relish the idea of blowing it up or turning it into a post-apocalyptic hellscape.


Treasure amounts are fine, given the "cheats" in area K (i.e. DM gets to make up how much the rare elements are worth/valued...potentially "millions"). But I'm not going to use this one so it doesn't matter. Space/time wars are cool and DO fit with the ancient history of my campaign world...but the details of that history are lost in the depths of centuries and the specifics are unnecessary for the campaign to progress. 

Sorry, Settembrini: probably won't be testing this one any time soon. You can read the more detailed, original review here (and, also, Bryce's gushing). 

SHIP OF FATE (Yours Truly)

As my players are currently in a land-locked, desert region, this one isn't going to work in my campaign as currently constructed. ALSO: I don't anticipate the PCs reaching the requisite levels for at least a couple years. 


Mmm. Ten "AD&D" adventures read. Six deemed "usable." Of those, only TWO are properly stocked, treasure-wise.  That's...not a lot, considering I had a pool of 19 published NAP entries from which to draw. NAP entries that received fairly high marks from all the reviews I've seen.

What does that say about the "standard fare" these reviewers are usually subjected to?

I'll admit that I am a crank, a curmudgeon, and an elitist snob. Perhaps some of the OTHER (non-AD&D adventures) are better written, better adventures. Perhaps. But they're still not written for 1E, so how good are they? How good can they be? Good enough to make up for the deficiencies inherent in running a campaign using a lesser (OD&D, B/X, etc.) ruleset? I know there are plenty of DMs out there who run a much more "loosey-goosey" game drawing pieces from ALL the various editions of D&D that have been published over the years, but (and I know people will object to this statement) that is a pretty miserable way to run a D&D campaign

If you disagree: that's fine. If you're having fun, running your OSR/edition-agnostic campaign...well, that's all the evidence to the contrary you need. I can only say: I doubt I would be having as much fun at your table as you do. 

So I guess it's on me? 

But would you be disappointed at my table? Now THAT is an interesting question. And maybe the answer would be "YES," especially if you were used to (and had an expectation of) playing tieflings or dragonborn or being able to cast magic missiles "at will." Yeah, if you needed those kinds of 5Eisms to have a good time, you'd probably HATE my game. 

But, then, you'd probably NOT be the kind of person I want at my table.

All right, that's enough for now; I've got a lot to do today.


  1. I look forward to Bryces reviews, but I don't think he does as much deep dive on treasure as you do. Honestly for me it's rarely a concern because I am the king of slow level progression in my campaigns (lot of people would probably be unhappy at my table). But it's interesting to see how often it's missed, and maybe? due to folks not playing a lot of adventures as campaign, but more as one shots.

    I'm pretty by the book. My last two TSR era game campaigns were run with DMG and PHB only. One 1e and one 2e. The exception is unique magic items. I'm all about fewer but more powerful magic items.

    So would you be happy at my table? Probably as long as your game enjoyment is not tied to gaining levels quickly.

    1. @ 7B:

      There's another part to the treasure besides just simple advancement: in a campaign with proper world building, players are going to NEED money to purchase things.

      Now if you gloss over things like upkeep costs, encumbrance, hiring costs, costs for care of animals, ships for transport, provisions for troops, etc....well, then a lack of treasure isn't all that important. How fast does time pass in your game? If you end a session on "Third Day" when the PCs leave the dungeon, is it "Fourth Day" (or whatever you call your days of the week) when you pick up your next session? Does the entirety of a year-long campaign compress into only a few weeks of "game time?" Does food ever spoil or are your PCs still carrying the same iron rations they initially purchased three months into the game?

      This makes a difference. A cash poor campaign isn't much fun if it means my PC has been dressing and acting like a hobo for six months. Yeah, I'd get tired of that after a few sessions. And in a game where advancement is slooooow, character death (or energy drain!) is REALLY crappy. And if you don't have any money to pay the local patriarch to resurrect your buddy (or yourself!)...well, that sucks, too. I mean, you can always "agree to do a favor" for the temple or whatever, but unless my character's a paladin (and even then), I'm less inclined to spend the majority of my time trying to work off some debt to the church.

      Yeah, I don't know, man. There's not much difference between a 5th level fighter and a 6th level fighter...if it takes a bit to level up, that's okay. But just how glacial are we talking? I can tell you that in 1E games I've played, I've never shied away from SELLING magic items for gold/x.p....even at low levels! Best to get the first couple levels under the belt (and get the extra hit points) to ensure your PC's survival.

      Besides, gold is useful for buying stuff: I can turn a "+1 sword" into five sets of plate-and-mail...or three sets with 800 gold left over to recruit and arm some stout-hearted lads who'll wear the armor in my service.
      ; )

    2. Big info dump below. I had to actually use my computer and not my phone.

      Since 2012 I’ve ran four campaigns, all have been slow level advancement, they were in order, 2e 50ish sessions, Peril and Plunder (my D&D mine House rules) 80ish sessions, 1e 49 sessions, and 5e 120ish sessions. Each campaign had different players so a decent sample of players to back my theories.

      Regardless of system when I run a campaign I have a paper calendar that I use to track time. Besides holidays, weather, and phases of the moon, it typically has other set events for example the river is going to flood, the apprentice of the local mage decides to rob his master, etc. Days are marked off as they pass and rations/rental fees/hireling pay/ etc. is tracked. I also track the parties location by day. This proves invaluable to determine how restocked a dungeon is or how many potions the hedge witch has brewed.

      For my two most recent 1e and 2e games I ran them both using the standard XP rules for 1e (gold and monsters defeated). Total XP for an adventure was divided with PC getting a full share and Henchman getting a half share. I used an Excel sheet to record XP, and it listed monsters killed and treasure gained.

      My 1e game was in 2017 to 2018 (in LA) so I still have the XP chart on my thumb drive, it was 49 sessions, started at first level, and a PC who was at every session would have made 66,794 XP before any modifier for high ability score. Checking my XP tracker I discovered that I had also house-ruled a 10% bonus to XP for Humans to encourage a more human centric party.

      My 2e game was in 2011 to 2013 (in Phoenix) I don’t have records but I imagine advancement was about the same. This game averaged between 5 and 9 players a session with a lot of drop in drop out because of schedules.

      I didn’t use level draining undead in either game. They just are not fun so I avoid them now.

      On cash, for the 1e game the set up was the frontier province was being invaded by the humanoids. The invasion started about two month in and the party didn’t know it was coming. They went on “normal” adventures and started seeing clues, rumors, and foreshadowing of some sort of conspiracy that eventuly was all out war. It was setup like the Dragon Lance series but not a total railroad and an actual sandbox. Once the invasion started time became an incredibly valuable commodity for the PCs. Because of this I didn’t use training rules as it would have been hard to keep time pressures on and expect the PC to take weeks off at a time to train as the peasants were slaughtered and the villages were burned. Cash was still important, but food was worth more than gold. So really this campaign is a bad judge of how low cash and its impact on the PCs because it’s not standard D&D.

      For the 2e game it was more traditional. A powerful wizard and his horde destroyed a kingdom in a large mountain valley (think Lake Tahoe). 10 years later the wizard is killed, but his hordes of fractured humanoids, pet dragon, and cultist still inhabited the valley that is now perpetually cloaked in a magical fog. A sand box of ruins and adventure sites for the party to explore maybe two weeks north of real civilization. I don’t remember lack of cash being a problem. Obviously 2e doesn’t have training costs and for the last half of the game the party was camped out exploring the valley and didn’t return to civilization to spend their gold so maybe it would have come up if they hadn’t moved to Connecticut and the campaign ended.

    3. Part Two (sorry)

      Engagement in all my games has been great despite the slow level gain. At the start of the campaigns I give them a thick hand out, maybe 20 pages or rumors and info on locations in the sandbox, factions, and mysteries. This always seems to get players excited about exploring and finding specific magic items or curious about a spot or location. Lots of “let’s see if we can find that legendary magic axe lost in the dwarven clan home for our fighter then hit up the old wizard academy for some scrolls for the wizard, then see where the strange portal that appears on the full moon leads. Level gain may be slow, but as I tend to use less magic items but more powerful ones, getting a +2 axe that doubles your speed and grants an extra attack each round is way better than going up a level. Magic items defined the characters to an extent and drove the party’s adventures. They also always get caught up in some politics or rivalry and care more about revenge or some petty feud more than the actual XP.

      The question you didn’t ask, but I will answer is why I like low cash, slow advancement? I think a lot of it is I feel the game runs better at low levels (or at least I am more comfortable running lower levels) so this helps keep it there. I also like to keep the players middle class and not ultra-wealthy. Plus building a sandbox is easier when the level range is smaller.

      I don’t feel that I have ever had a problem engaging players in my campaigns. Would they be more engaged if I gave levels faster? Hard to say. But I do know the best campaigns are the ones the DM is excited to run and these tend to hook players.

      Most recently was my 5e campaign (2018 to 2021) over two and half years and 120 sessions and the party longest surviving character hit 11th level by the end. There was a lot of death no player made it alive more than 70 sessions, new PC started at ½ the dead pc XP. Very slow advancement in a game that practically begs you to level up characters every 3 to 4 games and the players were fine because they were engaged in the world (don’t worry I didn’t allow teifling or dragonborn).


      Doing the “research” on this brought up so many good memories of the campaigns and the people involved. D&D is amazing and the stories and memories created that are only shared with a few folks often feel wasted to me. I don’t have the talent to make a compelling “this was my campaign” story that would be interesting to anyone, but I know without hyperbole that these campaigns made my life and the player’s life’s better to have existed and been experienced at it was fun to go down memory lane.

    4. Fantastic stuff, Seven...I appreciate you sharing it.

      Yeah, it's a little strange how we put in all the effort, have all these great (sometimes 'powerful') experiences playing role-playing games, and yet the impact is limited to the folks at the table. It makes D&D one of the best games ever designed, and it makes it (IMO) a terrible spectator sport...though fans of "Critical Role" would probably disagree.

      I track my players' on-going progress (x.p. wise) on Excel spreadsheets, but I've never broken it down by session...hell, when characters are killed (and not brought back to life), I simply delete them from the sheet! I should probably not be so cavalier with my note-taking but I don't think of myself as recording my games for posterity; I am not the NFL, tracking stats across seasons, and keeping permanent records. Probably I should, if only to help in self-evaluation.

      [yeah, that's not a bad idea]

    5. RE Slow Advancement

      It is not odd for advancement to be slow when players become excited about (and choose to engage with) parts of the campaign world that aren't of the x.p. gathering variety.

      And that's FINE! Higher levels represent higher survivability and effectiveness and if the PCs don't NEED that (because they aren't delving deeper/more dangerous dungeons) there's no need to level quickly. A fighter who spends more time doing court intrigue and fighting the occasional duel to first blood isn't going to be as potent a warrior as the guy who spends weeks underground sparring with trolls and otyughs regularly...but he's not going to NEED to be that potent given his lifestyle (and, if thrown into a battle with trolls or otyughs, will justly meet the quick end a foppish dandy would!).

      [now wizards, of course, PROBABLY want to advance a bit faster, because they want to develop their spell-casting ability...but (IMO) wizards SHOULD be the main PCs pushing for actual "adventures" of the x.p. gathering variety...researching old scrolls, following up on rumors, consorting with extraplanar entities, etc...all in their pursuit of more magical power. That's just good, trope-y fantasy]

      But deaths and getting sidetracked (with intrigues, revenges, etc.) are the usual reasons for slowed advancement...i.e. it's NORMAL...and I wouldn't sweat THAT at all. Sounds like you ARE running what I'd call a "standard" campaign, and while (perhaps) it IS cash poor, you have added off-sets: lack of energy drain, no training costs, added extra x.p. bonuses for humans, potent magic-items that make up for lack of effectiveness, etc.

      [however: I dislike the latter as they can overpower characters that DO climb into higher levels]

      [I don't use training costs in 1E, for reasons I've detailed elsewhere. 1E level drain is maybe the LEAST punishing version found in any edition, and I like including it for several reasons: 1) it provides its own flavor of danger, 2) it gives clerics a role besides "medic," 3) it acts as a check against advancement, 4) it incentivizes me (the DM) to add proper treasure amounts, 5) it incentivizes the players to WANT treasure (to offset losses)]

      That being said, you'd have LESS need for such offsets (at least, in 1E) if there was MORE treasure available. I know, for example, that a lot of people HATE energy drain, but it becomes much less an issue when there's proper treasure amounts in a dungeon. Treasure can be used to regain lost x.p.; it can also be used to pay for restoration magic from high level clerics. My players don't LOVE level drain...but they don't 'love' being poisoned or turned to stone or reduced to zero hit points, either. Energy drain functions within the normal parameters of the game.

      67K in x.p. over 49 sessions seems quite light for a 1E campaign, even if that is ALL treasure x.p. I grok that you don't consider this to have been "standard" 1E play, but fighting humanoid invasions, raising troops, etc. all seems pretty standard to me. What I'm EXTREMELY curious about is why THAT campaign ended, and why (when you restarted) you decided to run 5E? Could you not have transitioned your 1E game to more "traditional" fantasy, post-humanoid invasion? I mean, it's not like 5E was first published in 2021, and since you weren't allowing tieflings or dragonborn anyway...?

      70 sessions to get to 11th level, by the way, would be a good, solid rate of advancement in a 1E campaign. It's interesting that you state you feel more comfortable with "low cash, slow advancement." It sounds (to me) more that your only real discomfort is with the characters' WEALTH. 5E provides methods of advancement wholly un-reliant on treasure acquisition. Which is fine. But it does not encourage world building in the same way that a campaign built on treasure does. Is that, perhaps, an issue?

      FWIW: even if you TRIPLED the x.p. rate of your 1E campaign and added a +20% x.p. bonus, your human fighter would only be 8th level after 70 sessions. Your 5E game seems to have had far more generous advancement!
      ; )

  2. Each campaign my excel adds a little more info, something I realized I needed in the last campaign and add for the next. For the 5e Game I also sent out a PDF after each session that included the xp chart, the sandbox map that showed the parties starting and ending location with a little Family Circus travel line, and then some info, rumors, or something else to build the sandbox. Never an adventure recap, always something forward looking or pertinent to what the party was trying to accomplish next to build excitement. I like the format and it helped me detail sandbox content every week and stay creative.

    The 1e campaign ended because the group wanted to attract more players and try 5e. I agreed if I could run 5e with a bunch of house rules (I limited races and classes, subclasses to match more old school sensibilities). We added a number of players and I hadn’t run much 5e only a couple of one shots so starting at first level made sense, versus continuing the campaign with new folk and new rules. I used the same world but moved to a different location far enough away that the party might here vague rumors from a merchant vessel about an invasion in The Duchy of Black Bay.

    I actually got a good group of folks thus why the next campaign went so long and only ended because my second child was coming and I had to focus on my partner. I regret the 1e campaign ending but it was at an OK place to do so.

    To be clear the one character in 5e who survived the first 70 sessions earned 57,331 XP (9th level in 5e). The third character from that player made it to 12th level by the end (not 11th I look at the wrong line). New PC got half the XP of the players dead PC, verse starting at first level.

    Looking at the PDF for session 49 characters who played every session had 34,250 XP (7th level in 5e). So about the same level as the 1e game (at least for a cleric, thief, or magic user, pity the poor fighter) thru 49 sessions.

    I agree that it makes sense the Wizard is the one pushing to explore ancient ruins, deep dungeons, etc. The setup of Ars Magica or Frostgrave of the Wizard being in charge and the other classes being support makes sense in D&D. I think you could run troupe style play using the Ars Magica set up for a D&D game very easily with each players having a Wizard, taking the lead on a treasure hunt each adventure and then the other player using their support characters, then switch the next adventure.

    I got burned too much as a kid by crappy DMs abusing level draining undead. But your probably right they are not as bad as I make them out to be.

    1. Ha! I have always been an adversarial DM but (even as a kid) I didn't oversaturate my game with level drainers...I *wanted* my PCs to level up, so that we could get to new content.
      : )

      I have played...and run...Ars Magica across multiple editions, and I enjoyed myself. However, the campaigns never lasted more than a session or two, and I found the actual play of "adventures" to be far less fun and engaging than the research "mini-game" part of it (oh, and character creation is a lot of fun, too). Despite its detailed intricacies, it's long-term potential as a playable game are difficult (IMO) to realize. I find D&D much more useable in this regard. Could it be run like Ars Magica, though? I don't think so. While a mid-high level MU in D&D is about on par with an AM magus, they are so light-weight through the first seven levels that it's extremely challenging to convey them the same gravitas and prominence as in AM; in all the campaigns I've run, I see MUs relegated to secondary roles (in terms of leadership, respect, etc.) by the players at the table. No one treats them as wise "Gandalf" figures...mostly, they are seen as weakling academics that need to be babied and protected. In fact, there are only two ways I've seen MU players actually "step-up" and assume leadership roles:

      1) when I've run one-off mid-high level adventures with pre-generated characters, and
      2) when *I* have been the guy playing the magi-user.

      It's too bad, because I'd like to see a little more "oomph" out of players drawn to this class of character.

      I dislike comparing x.p. totals between 1E and 5E mainly because x.p. is awarded for such different activities; instead, I prefer to look at level of experience gained and relative power (realizing that this, too, is slightly problematic due to the disparity of effectiveness gains between the two editions). A 7th level ANYthing in 5E has a lot more bells and whistles than a 6th level character in AD&D (which is what 35K would get you, even a thief).

      Regardless, it's a moot point at this time as you have switched over to 5E. My discussion of treasure counts and advancement is really only pertinent to older edition games.

      [BTW: I totally understand taking time off gaming when the kids arrive...I went through the same thing myself. Fortunately, now that they're old enough to play, they and their friends ARE my regular gaming group]

    2. I wouldn't say I moved on to 5e. I played it as it was decent enough with house rules and the players in that group were great people. My next campaign will probably be B/X if i can find player. So your thoughts on Gold and Level draining undead.are applicable.