Monday, October 30, 2023


Frankfurt, Germany. Local time is 7:59am...which means I've been up for nearly two hours. Which means I got nearly four hours of sleep.

My bio-rhythms have been off for days now; partly due to the time zone change, partly due to the excitement of the trip, and more than partly (I'm sure) due to the reintroduction of caffeine into my system after being off the stuff for the last couple months. However, I won't blame that on my inability to sleep in my (rather comfortable) hotel room. Instead, it's fear/paranoia that kept me awake till the wee hours of the morning: fear that (once asleep) I would oversleep, somehow miss my flight home as I slept in a coma-like state, immune to alarms and the pounding on the door of room service.

Solid sleep. I am hoping for some of that on the long flight back (Icelandair lifts off at 13:05pm).

For now, though, I am in my hotel room. Showered, exercised (some light stretching, as is now my habit) and breakfasted. Everything packed, save my trusty laptop. I have a couple hours before I leave to the airport...I thought I might doze for a bit, but the fear is still lurking and blogging feels a tad safer.

Where to start?

CAULDRON, AKA "The OSR Euro Con" was wonderful. It is no exaggeration for me to say it was the best convention I've attended, and the most fun I've had at any convention. I know that many people attend conventions for many reasons: for the social aspect of it, for networking, for business, or simply to swim in a sea of likeminded humanity that shares the same passion and/or interests. That is not why I attend gaming conventions: my main objective is the gaming. That may seem rather snobbish (and perhaps it is), but the fact is that my regular gaming group is anything but "regular," and my time at home (and the time and availability of the people with whom I enjoy gaming) is quite limited. Removing myself from the distractions of my everyday world and indulging in my passion...with focus and THE reason that I choose to spend money on a con of this type. The gaming takes precedence over all the other considerations.

And the gaming was very good at Cauldron.

However, those "other considerations" mentioned were excellent as well, and not just icing on the cake. The venue was lovely, the accommodations far better than I expected or hoped. The con was extremely well run, and well-organized by Nexus (the German gaming club whose brainchild it was)...there was none of the chaos or hiccups that so often occur with larger cons, and none of the "amateur hour" lack-of-planning and forethought you see in smaller ones. The food was very good. The drink was abundant (and free!)...I'd estimate I drank more Euros in free beer than my ticket price to attend the con. A lot more.

But it was the people...the attendees, the organizers, the gamers...that were the biggest highlight outside the gaming. Every person I met was lovely: joyful, positive, friendly, helpful. The energy of the place was amazing. People from all over Europe (Denmark, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, the UK) were in attendance. And all there to play the Great Game.

[I wasn't the only American present, just BTW, but the others were all ex-pats living on the continent]

No acrimony, no fisticuffs, none of the silly dramas that play out over the internet. Just people sitting down with each other, connecting with each...face-to-face...and being appreciative of each other. There were geezers like me (some even older), and there were younger gamers in their teens and twenties and thirties...all mingling, sharing meals at the dining hall, discussing their perspectives on gaming (Dungeons & Dragons foremost), sharing their thoughts on the gameplay experience. And then...when the time slots commenced...taking their focus to the tables and applying their attention in a practical fashion.

It was delightful.

And I am extremely content at the moment. Very satisfied. Despite the sleep deprivation and general stress that comes with making a solo trip halfway across the world to a country in which you don't speak the language(!)...more than anything I've been buoyed by the energy (I have no better word for it. "Spirit?" Perhaps) of the people I've met and with whom I've interacted. My games went well (and I intend to detail them in future posts) but then the players were all fantastic. Prizes were awarded for various game-play categories, and all the winners sat in on at least a couple of my game sessions. I can honestly say that each was well-deserving.


8:58 local time. I am looking forward to being home and hugging my wife and children. They are all very excited to hear about the trip, see the photos I took, listen to me recount the war stories from the gaming tables (keep in mind that both my kids helped playtest the scenarios I ran...). It is going to be a long flight back, and the anticipation of seeing my family will certainly make it longer.

But I am very glad I came...very glad I made the trip out. The experience far exceeded my expectations. I can only hope that the inestimable Settembrini ("Andi"), the real mastermind behind Cauldron, will continue to put it on so that others will have the same opportunity I had. I would certainly like to attend Cauldron again...though probably not more than every other year. 

It was a very long journey, after all.
; )

All right, folks. Expect more thoughts (especially as relates to game play) after I get back to Seattle; now that I'm not busy prepping for the con, I should have (a little) extra time to blog. If people have specific questions for me regarding the convention, please leave them in the comments section; I will be more than happy to answer them (and provide long-winded commentary, I'm sure).


Monday, October 16, 2023

Something Dragon-y

AKA Why let the rules bother us?

Don't believe I've shared this pic on Ye Old Blog yet:

So that, my friends, is a culmination of both my obsession with DragonLance, and my completist collection habits: the fourteen original TSR-published adventure modules, DL1 through DL14. DL11: Dragons of Glory is, unfortunately, missing the counters...but since I've never owned, read, or played the BattleSystem rules, that's not much skin off my nose.

Why O Why would I put out the money for such a spread? Nostalgia? Some unfulfilled desire from my childhood of wanting to own and/or run DragonLance? Morbid curiosity? My natural hoarding instinct?

Nah. I actually wanted the maps (most of these have good maps and not-too-terrible ideas for dungeons), and..(yes, this part is insane)...and some Quixotic notion that I might rehabilitate the series for my own, and others, enjoyment. 

[yeah, I admit that bit IS crazy]

But MORE than either of those things, I wanted to see how this...the first, really large scale themed D&D campaign...was designed. What went into the series? How was it written to take characters from relatively low level (all apologies to the OSE crowd, but 4th - 6th is LOW level for AD&D), to a respectably HIGH level (10th-14th for the final module of the series).

I haven't finished reading them all, nor am I reading them in chronological order. The majority of the modules are new to me (though I've owned DL1 for a while, and the first four in a later compilation book) and, for the most part, I've been reading them in order of what interests me: DL6 (blood and snow), DL10 (freaky dream-stuff), DL14 (showdown with Tiamat!), and DL13 (do the PCs fight Bahamut, er, Paladine?). The original concept for DragonLance was an attempt to write a series of modules, each of which would feature ONE of the 12 dragons (metallic and chromatic) in the original Monster Manual. That there are 14 modules in the series does not mean the designers over-stepped; DL5 is a setting book (providing info on the campaign world of DragonLance) and DL11 is a boardgame/wargame with its own rules used to simulate the Dragon War (I think...haven't actually gotten around to perusing that one yet, but it seems to be a different animal from BattleSystem). 

SO...setting aside those "supplemental" entries into the DL saga, we have the following adventures:

DL1: Dragons of Despair (for PCs levels 4th-6th)
DL2: Dragons of Flame (5th-7th)
DL3: Dragons of Hope (6th-8th)
DL4: Dragons of Desolation (6th-8th)
DL6: Dragons of Ice (6th-9th)
DL7: Dragons of Light (7th-9th)
DL8: Dragons of War (8th-10th)
DL9: Dragons of Deceit (8th-10th)
DL10: Dragons of Dreams (8th-10th)
DL12: Dragons of Faith (9th-10th)
DL13: Dragons of Truth (10th-13th)
DL14: Dragons of Triumph (10th-14th)

Of course, even though they're written for a particular level range, none of the adventures appear to provide enough experience points to advance the characters at the rates listed. Not that THAT matters: each module opens with a strong suggestion that the adventure be played with the pregenerated PCs provided. And those simply seem to advance "as needed," perhaps in order to fulfill the needs of "the epic story" that is DragonLance.

Rules don't really seem to be the Hickmans' strong I pointed out in prior reviews of Ravenloft, it's fairly clear that their knowledge of the actual game for which they're writing (i.e. 1st edition AD&D) has a lot of holes in it. You find it in the DL modules as well: demihumans exceeding racial limits (Tanis, Flint), characters in classes they don't qualify for (Riverwind), dual-class characters that don't qualify as such (Tika), advancement that just seems waaaay off (Caramon advances to 12th level fighter by the end of the series...1,000,001 x.p. needed...while his magic-user brother only achieves level 11...350,000-750,000 x.p....and trails 2-3 levels behind him for most of the series. What?).

But, whatever. The series has worse malfeasances...plenty of them, from "obscure death" rules, to inconsistent economies, to lack of value (in g.p. or x.p.) of new magic items, to forcing players to recite bad poetry.  *sigh*  Just...a lot of stuff that's not "good D&D."

[the capper, of course, is that the characters do NOT fight, the final adventure. Instead, in a nod to the success of Ravenloft, they make you pick from a random of selection of six possible ways of achieving victory, four of which involve an NPC doing the actual work of "defeating" the Dark Queen, and none of which involve facing her directly. What a gyp]

Even so, the IDEA of DragonLance is pretty "epic." Dragon-riding warlords leading armies of humanoids in a world-conquering jihad, spurred on by their theocrat-emperor...and all the vanilla fantasy goody-goodies forced to grow a pair or end up enslaved in an iron mine somewhere. All it needs is some human sacrifice stuff to be a bit more sword &'s really not that far off (although I kind of hate draconians. 

[also...why does Takhisis reside in the Abyss? She's still Lawful Evil (as are the dragon army officers)...what's the matter with keeping her on her rightful plane in Hell? My theory that the Hickmans never bothered to learn more than OD&D (and still use a Law vs. Chaos alignment axis) remains viable]

The rather interesting thing to do here...and, I think, the proper tactic to to work BACKWARDS through these adventures in formulating the basis for a campaign. I've never written "detective fiction," but my understanding is that one must first conceive of the crime (the murder, the killer, the motives, etc.) and THEN obfuscate it such that the protagonist must follow the clues needed to unravel the thing. In this case, I must conceive of the whole Dragon War: how the armies gather, how they invade, how the nations of the world fall (and when they fall)...all BEFORE setting the PCs loose in some town or other. "Steel pieces" and "kender" are, of course, right out the window (for reasons I've written about extensively in past, for example). 

[I *do* kind of like the idea of "false clerics," however]

Working backwards, using DL14 and its source material (as well as DL11's "mini-wargame") I can set up the entirety of the setting, throw down all the various "dungeons" (from the published modules) and construct my own timeline of war events, that will be going on in the background while the PCs adventure and investigate. This is something I first had a mind to do a couple years back, but was stymied by my lack of the source material...said source material now having been acquired, I could set things in motion if I really wanted.

The PROBLEM is...I really kind of love my current campaign world. And I'm not sure I want to blow it up with cataclysmic events (no pun intended). And I don't think it would just "work" to throw the DL scenario on top of the existing Red Empire is no "knights of Solamnia," and would probably rough up any dragon highlords that sought to overthrow the emperor. 


I could put my own game on hold for a bit, and just run Krynn. That's not a terrible idea, though there's a lot about the world I dislike (friendly minotaurs, walrus men, tinker gnomes, etc.). No, Krynn kind of sucks. Plus, I don't particularly like the lay of its land(mass).


Okay, it's late and I need to sleep (a reason, perhaps, for some of the grouchiness on display). I'll post this in the morning. Later, gators!
; )

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Final Exams

Friday evening I had my last round of playtesting for the upcoming Cauldron convention in Germany. Two weeks from now I'll be IN Germany, running 1st edition AD&D for a table of complete strangers.

Slightly daunting.

I wish I could give folks a complete session report, as I know most of my readers will probably NOT be at the con. But, I really don't want to put a bunch of spoilers out into cyber-space. Oh, but it's hard! It was so much fun! Here's what I can tell you:

As I (believe I) posted earlier, my initial intention was to run THREE time slots at the con, all under the working title Storming the Forbidden City.  The title comes from the old TSR adventure module I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City (author: David Cook). For the first two time slots I have two scenarios, adapted (more-or-less) directly from situations and maps in the adventure. They're not exactly what you'd find in the module, and (for convention purposes) they're self-contained, designed to be accomplished in the four hour time slot.

For the scenario #3, however, I created an all new dungeon: still part of the Forbidden City, still connected to the first two scenarios, still with a "snaky" theme to it...but otherwise, all new. 

And, of course, I needed to test it.

So Friday I ran it for my players. A party of seven 7th level characters (an assassin, two fighters, a cleric, a magic-user, a thief, and a ranger) and one 4th level bard (6th fighter/5th thief). The result? They made it in, penetrated to the bottom-most level, fought five monster encounters (including a running battle), set off a couple of traps/hazards, found two of the largest treasure pockets (and looted them), and got back to the stairway out just as time was expiring.

One character deceased, one character zeroed out; over 174K in treasure experience (split seven ways). The biggest, baddest opponent in the dungeon: destroyed (with a bit of very good luck), and its head mounted on a spike (by the PCs) at the dungeon's entrance. Four of the survivors (including the bard and magic-user) leveled up. All-in-all, a fairly successful delve for my players...and they'd like to continue exploring the Forbidden City, going forward.

And perhaps we will. However, as these have been convention scenarios, and there aren't enough players to fill out the ranks needed (I have only three regulars at this time), there have been a passel of NPCs accompanying the group at every stage. And I think the NPCs (not henchmen, mind you!) have had enough at this point. They're ready to take their spoils and get back to civilization (well, Portland, if you can call that "civilization"...). Plus several party members (including Maceo's bard) have been inflicted with a terrible rotting curse, and since the cleric was once again killed (in about the most horrible death this group has seen at a table), and since they are "rich," and since they were rather fortunate...multiple times! escape with their lives...

Yeah, I think I'm going to be closing the book on I1...for the nonce. The party can re-equip and re-supply in the nearest town (and hire a few henchmen) if they want to continue exploring the ancient city of the yuan-ti.

Things I Learned (and needed modifications)

Surprisingly, it turns out my last statement on the prior blog post was very nearly a lie: they encountered almost ZERO yuan-ti in the adventure, despite there being rather a lot of them stocked in the thing. Which is kind of like going to the demonweb pits and not fighting demonic spiders in some way, shape, or form. Not sure that's acceptable. 

A more robust wandering monster table may be needed. The party was not one to dither in their decision making, but they did backtrack over long stretches multiple times, and while they went through a LOT of torches, they were largely untroubled by random encounters (though one at the end had a 45% of auto-ending a PC...she made her saving throw). 

The players have a bag of holding which makes the collection of large loot piles fairly straightforward. Unfortunately, NONE of the pregens I'm bringing for the convention do, which might be problematic for any players that show up at my table. The three scenarios I've written are scaled by level (#1 is for characters 5th-7th, #2 is for 6th-8th, and #3 is for 7th-9th). Though I anticipate a full table of eight players...just based on the logistics of the con, not MY "draw" (there aren't all that many games on the docket)...if the PCs don't have a way to gather treasure, it makes it hard to level up between scenarios. And lesser leveled characters are going to get gaffled.  I suppose the solution (which I've already arrived at) is make sure there are enough pregens (and replacement pregens) of the appropriate levels for each scenario. BUT since returning players are likely to want to use their own PCs (or the same pregen from earlier scenarios), leveling between sessions does become quite important.

Mm. I'll have to ponder on that. I'm certainly not going to just hand out free levels!

Which brings up a related note that I've had since my first session: what to do with players whose characters have died? Attrition is built into the adventures: it is expected that some characters will be lost along the way. When player characters have fallen (for example, in my last playtest, we saw six of eight knocked out of action with four killed outright), my players simply took over remaining NPCs in order to continue play. In a convention game with a full table (again, anticipated simply based on logistics), there aren't likely to be "spare" NPCs available. I suppose the trick is to allow new characters/pregens to "show up" as wanderers for the players running on empty. HOWEVER...will this throw off the scaled difficulty of the scenario? At SOME point, I want replacements to be unavailable...a trade deadline, of sorts. Certainly, upon reaching a certain level of the scenario (there are multiple levels) or when there's only a certain amount of time left...say, the final 20 minutes of the time slot. Or both (i.e. whichever occurs first). And perhaps there's a finite number to replacement characters available. Yeah...maybe a mix of all three of these things (time, level, number) will be used to set the limits.

*whew*  I have to say, I'm still worried. The players did everything just about perfect...including the route they took. Oh, they made a couple-three minor mistakes, but nothing catastrophic, and they had some exceptionally good luck: their chance of taking down the Big Bad (which could have easily accounted for half the party if not all of them) was exactly 1.75%, given the method they employed. Amazing. I actually half-assumed that most groups would exercise a bit more discretion (and still die horribly)...such was not the case, and the rewards reaped were well-deserved. 

Still, knowing when to "quite while ahead" is most definitely an acquired "player skill" and my players were ready to skeedaddle after that. Two more encounters dispatched on the way out, one more NPC slain, said...they hit the exit right as the timer went off.

Would other players be as fortunate? That's the question. Is the scenario too difficult and my group just benefitted from some sweet dice rolling? Or is it easier than I anticipated and ANY bunch of halfway competent players would make out like bandits?

Well, I'm not going to have time to run another test, even if I had a second group of players (though I suppose I might try recruiting AB and Kris for a foray...hmmm). No, I think I'm going to have to let it stand as is...though with a bit more "beef" in the random encounters.

No, I think (at this point) what I have to focus on is getting my play-aids ready for the con: cheat sheets and monster rosters and lists of spells that include casting times and ranges for easy reference. Also probably need to curate the pregens spell lists a bit: for the play-test, I allowed the players to pick the MU's spells, but staples of low level play (sleep and charm person for example) are a lot less useful at this middle tier of D&D play. "X the Mystic" came in handy with a couple of his utility spells, but was otherwise ineffectual over the course of the session. That needs work.

All right, that's about it. This has been a pretty rough week for Yours Truly...going to relax for a bit, watch a little football, and decompress. More compression (I'm sure) will start tomorrow.
; )

Any thoughts or suggestions are welcome and appreciated. Thank you!

Good stuff lies below...

Monday, October 9, 2023

Another Forbidden Foray

Time is getting closer to my Germany trip, and what free time I've had (not much) has been spent writing/designing my adventures I plan on running at Cauldron. Just finished the third one, mmm, Sunday morning. That's the one that's cut from whole cloth, a completely new delve into the yuan-ti's "Holiest of Holies." Came to about 11 pages, not including maps, pregens, and play-aids.

But I haven't been able to test it. Still had to re-run adventure #2 for the con. I was doing that on Sunday for four hours (well, 3 hours and forty minutes). It's still a killer, but at least this time it wasn't a total party killer. Threw an extra NPC into the party (a 6th level paladin, Fairburne, complete with magic armor and frost brand longsword), and the party was STILL nearly done in: four out of seven survivors, two of whom were "zeroed out" (though they were stabilized at -1 and -3 respectively), and the other two in single-digit hit points. And this is AFTER the group had already made a run at the thing and knew (somewhat) what to expect. Yeah, it's a bit of a ball-buster.

Fairburne did not survive, having been reduced to something like -18.

[for folks who don't remember my original post on the topic, I'm re-writing/re-purposing I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City for the convention. The pre-gens and NPCs, including Fairburne, are all being taken from those included in the original module...although players are, of course, allowed to bring their own characters]

Still, a win is a win, and the survivors are all 7th level now (well, except for Olaf Peacock, who's a 6th/5th/4th level bard), which is the minimum level I pegged for my third scenario, a little something I call "Shrine of the Demon Goddess" (catchy, right?). But I have to come up with enough NPCs to round out the party, and I'm running out of module pregens. It's a damn shame Daniel the cleric died, as he probably would have leveled up, and a raise dead spell would have come in real handy. I've got Gavin (halfling thief), Marcella (ranger), and X the Mystic (magic-user) all ready to go, but the only cleric left on the roster is Orrem, a 6th level canon, and I just don't think that's going to cut it in an adventure written for levels 7th to 9th. I suppose I could just boost him to level 7 (and that's probably what I'll end up doing), in the name of expediency...the party can always give him Fairburne's plate mail +1.

And expediency is the key word, here. Because more than running short on characters, I'm running short on TIME. I've got a little more than two weeks before I'm hopping aboard Iceland Air, and I need to figure out just what sort of monster I've created for scenario #3. A fairly beefy one, even for eight 7th level characters, from the looks of it (though not one without adequate rewards). When am I going to get a chance to run another four hour adventure session with our busy schedule?

Hm. Okay, just noticed the kids are out of school Friday ("teacher retreat"). Let's pencil that in.

All right, all right...apologies for yet another "throwaway" blog post, but typing this stuff up helps me organize the thoughts running 'round my head. The kids were pretty stoked about the adventure. We go weeks, sometimes, without playing D&D because of our incredibly busy schedules, and we all forget how much damn fun it is. Oh, the pleading last night to fudge dice rolls was in high demand...the attempts at wheedling...and, yet, everyone came through the thing richer and wiser (if not exactly unscathed), and happy. And excited. And rarin' to play more.  All thoughts of Minecraft and Fortnite and stupid video game garbage gone from their heads...the kids got up this morning and all they wanted to talk about over breakfast and the drive into school was Dungeons & Dragons: how they did, what's going to happen next, when can we set aside time for our next game. 

Lovely and delightful.

Okay, I've got to get to my morning chores. More later.

No yuan-ti were harmed (nor encountered) in the
running of this adventure scenario. This
will NOT be the case in the next adventure session.