OSR: The Mysterious Menagerie of Doctor Orville Boros

People keep asking me, "Skerples, your Epochrypha book is very nice and all, but what can do with it?"

Well, here's one possible use. I've written a free dungeon. It's a theme park disaster. It's 29 pages long and full of the silliest things you're likely to see this week.

The Mysterious Menagerie of Doctor Orville Boros

"It's a comedy Jurassic-park dungeon, the bits I've seen made me laugh out loud, I want more of this."
-Emmy Allen

"I lost it at the final verse of the fossil song."
-Tom McGrenery

"I know you're making this for free but honestly this sort of thing could get a little art and be sold. It just screams weird little module that people rant and rave about."
-An Anonymous Reviewer

"Is this for your Monopoly thing?"
-My relatives
Go check it out. Go tell your friends. It's in a very different style than either Tomb of the Serpent Kings or Kidnap the Archpriest, but it includes all the same ease-of-use techniques that you've grown to know and love. It has no frills, no art, no extras. It's perfect for con games, one shots, comic relief in a more serious game, and mucking up an existing setting.

Do I Really Need To Buy Epochrypha To Use This Dungeon?
Well, no. Most (but not all!) of the entries were put up on my blog, Dan D's blog, and Dunkey Halton's blog. If you're willing to scrounge around and write your own table you can get away without spending a cent.

But buying my books helps me make more free dungeons. If you've already bought
Epochrypha, feel free to use the Donate link on my sidebar. But if you really want to help, run this dungeon and tell me how it went, or tell other people about it, or write your own dungeon or module that uses the 100 fictional eras in Epochrypha.


OSR: Epochrypha Megapost

Good news! I've published a new book! You can buy it here.
So settings have a prehistory--the stuff that happened way before the common era.  They're usually either:

(a) tediously enumerated with faux-mythology, or
(b) just sort of ignored, and assumed to be the same as Vanilla Earth
Both of them are fine, but there's a lot of fertile ground between those two fence posts.
-Arnold Kemp
Everyone talks about history, but nobody does anything about it. Well I've done something about it. I've listed 100 speculative eras - time periods that didn't actually happen but could  have happened - with illustrations and suggestions.

If your players travel back in time you no longer need to default to dinosaurs. You can roll for an era and immediately transport them to another stranger time. It's not a heavy, complex dungeon. It won't massively change the way you run games. It's a nice, neatly put together, amusing little reference book.

The book itself is inspired by David Macaulay's Motel of the Mysteries.

Some of the eras were written by my esteemed colleagues Dan D and Dunkey Halton. David Shugars did the editing and proofing. FM Geist did some copyediting and last-minute revisions. Arnold K started the whole fad. Anne Hunter helped organize it.

Teaser image for the main book
All art is by Logan Stahl. He's completely new to the OSR "scene" (whatever that is), but he does excellent work. You need stuff illustrated? Drop him a line. He was a pleasure to work with.

Once again, David Shugars has done an excellent job. The book is clear and crisp and easy to read and use. I'm sure it made a nice change from Kidnap the Archpriest's fiddly tables and maps.

The printed book is A5; a nice convenient size for a fun quick reference book... or a gift for a GM who has it all. Hint hint. Etc.

EDIT: Printed book is temporarily on hold while we sort out a layout glitch. Should be back up for sale shortly. 

None so far. I'm not sure what there is to review. The book does what it says on the tin.

Final Notes
I'll be posting a free dungeon that uses this book (assuming all goes well). Stay tuned for The Mysterious Menagerie of Doctor Orville Boros... eventually.

OSR: How to Design GLOG Races

Before we start:
The GLOG is Arnold K's fantasy heartbreaker homebrew. You can find bits of it scattered around his blog. I've combined some of it into a homebrew document here.

I use a Table of Races in my games. In a medieval setting it's hard to get players to care about the petty regional feuds between people from not-Wessex and not-Sussex, but they immediately "get" the local friction between froglings vs flylings. It also provides variation between characters in a high-mortality system. Playing a Slothling Fighter is going to feel very different than playing a Foxling Fighter, even if everything else was identical.


Races are rolled randomly. It prevents minmaxing.

1. Name

Should be fairly obvious. For races based on real-world animals, I use the gender-neutral -ling ending. You can use -man if you'd like.

2. Reroll Stat

At character creation, reroll this stat and pick the higher value. This is much better than providing a flat +2 bonus or penalty or whatever. It means, on average, Owl-lings are a little wiser than most people but they aren't all wiser. If you're building a table, try to ensure all stats are evenly represented.

3. Bonuses and Weaknesses

Each race gets one each. These are tricky. A good bonus or weakness should:
  • happen automatically or not require a huge number of rolls to use
  • come up at least once a session
  • influence the way the character is roleplayed
  • be completely clear to a new player or GM
  • be easy to remember
  • not completely dominate the way the character is played
  • not completely negate a core principle of OSR games (inventory, exploration, HP, etc.)
In general, for races, cool concepts > flat bonuses > weapons or damage. The cool concept has to be taken to a useful conclusion though. It's not enough to just have an idea and list it. You need to format it in a way players and GMs can immediately use.

Also, players will try to bend abilities. If they have "
No Move penalties for broken or hilly terrain", they'll try to use it to leap over boulder fields, pit traps, sand dunes, and anything else that's even tangentially related. Just accept it.


Since names and stats are fairly obvious, I'll focus on bonuses and weaknesses. Your mileage may vary, etc. I've only picked a few entries off each list. Obviously, there are lots of examples that didn't make the short lists below. Hot takes abound.
Dazabiel vial

The Good

My List
Spiderling: Bonus: Can secrete 30' of rope per day
This is a very good bonus without being overpowered. Rope is always useful in a dungeon. The spiderling character always has a good reason to generate rope and use it for unexpected and interesting plans.

Gnome: Bonus: Can become invisible if you close eyes, hold breath, don't move
A hilarious take on at-will invisibility. Gnomes can't hold their breath forever, but they can duck around a corner and vanish to evade pursuit, surprise an enemy by appearing to vanish, and generally get up to all sorts of gnomish mischief (or murder and larceny, depending on your setting)

Dan D's List

Sea Elf: Bonus: Speak with sea creatures + Weakness: Sink like a stone
These are both clear, evocative, and interesting. As a player, I know immediately what "speak with sea creatures" means and how my character could use it. As a GM, I know immediately how to react if the Sea Elf's player says, "Yeah, I can talk to that fish. What does it say?"

Goliath: Bonus: Shrug off d12 damage 1/day
This is very good. It's like having a spare shield or the Fighter's Parry ability. It makes the Goliath extra tank-y (and a Goliath Fighter with a shield triply so), but not in an overpowered or particularly dangerous way. It's not a flat damage reduction to all attacks.
Luke Thomson's List
Frog-man: Bonus: Sticky tongue can grab objects 20' away
This is clear, obvious, and useful. It's perfect. 20' range might be excessive for realism purposes but it's just right for gaming purposes. If the item was 10' away you could just grab it with your hand.

Dwarf: Weakness: Save or be transfixed by the full moon
This is such a cool weakness with an obvious effect. Sure, who tracks moon phases... but still! This implies something about the race!
Igor Krstic

The Mediocre

My List

Human: Bonus: Start with 1 extra random item
This isn't particularly interesting outside of session 1. It does immediately give the player a cool tool and it helps them make up a story about how their character got it, but it's not likely to come up every single session. It's clearly phrased though. One of the most memorable characters started with a bonus wheel of cheese... and nearly killed his friend with it.

Flyling: Weakness: Will never notice details unless they move
In a group, the flyling's weakness is both difficult to remember and difficult for the GM to use. It's not clear exactly what "details" are. On their own, it's easier to remember and more interesting to describe the blurry world a flyling sees.
Dan D's List
Dragonborn: Bonus: 2d6 dragonbreath + Physical stat mods decrease by 1 w/ breath for the day
This isn't clear enough to make it work. Range? How exactly does the use per day thing work? Uh, element? Modifying stats in the middle of the game is tricky as well, as you'll need to recalculate stat bonuses, remember that you've taken a penalty, etc. One-off damage or drain is fine, but constantly shuffling them to use a core racial ability...  eech.

Half-Elf: Weakness: Cat-like sociopaths
This is a cool idea... but it doesn't give the GM or the player a lot of flexibility or leeway. How, as a player, do I run a half-elf? Like a fat housecat, desiring food and warmth and completely unperturbed? Like a feral cat, territorial and strange? It's the start of an idea, but it also limits the type of character you can play. No nice half-elves.

Luke Thomson's List

Deer-man: Bonus: Leave no tracks in wilderness
Good on its own and clearly phrased, but of limited use in a party. A whole herd of deer-lings could be fun to play though, I suppose.

Mole-man: Bonus: Can burrow beneath the ground as a movement action + Penalty: Vision limited to 10'
The bonus is clear enough (but should probably state what "ground" is. Maybe "earth" or "soil"? The 10' vision limit is a real pain for most characters. 30' is bad enough, but 10' means minimal ranged spellcasting, ranged weapons, or even navigating through large rooms. It'd be tricky to play.
Karl Lindberg

The Bad

My List
Elf: Weakness: Save vs Ugliness or shun it.
This effect isn't terribly clear. I use it as "if an Elf sees an ugly thing, they must Save or shun the ugly thing". Screaming, throwing something, diving out the window, weeping uncontrollably, getting angry, or reflexively casting a spell are also acceptable results. Elves love beauty. It's a good effect with bad phrasing.

Fishling: Weakness: Drink twice as much water as usual
Finding water isn't usually a problem. Rations are one thing, but water is assumed to be abundant in most settings. If a weakness never comes up it's a bad weakness.

Dan D's List
Dan, sorry, but there are are a lot of things on your list that fall under the "I don't know what this means" heading. They're cool ideas but they need to be rephrased or reworked. I noticed the same thing with your planet series.

High Elf: Bonus: An eye for magical secrets
Hobgoblin: Bonus: Military discipline + Weakness: Had all their sociability beaten out of them
Bugbear: Bonus: Carries a sack filled with child ghosts
Orc: Bonus: Can shrug off death 1/day
Eladrin: Bonus: Seasonal-cycle forms and rebirth + Weakness: All magic has mutagenic properties
Gnome: Can create tiny clockwork toys.
I have no idea what these mean as a GM or a player. Sure, I can make it up on the fly, but that's not a great solution. My "sack of child ghosts" might be overpowered, it might dominate the way the bugbear is played, or it might be completely useless and mechanically unsound. The point of a table is to do this hard work for me so I can be a lazy GM. :D
Kobold: Bonus: Cannot get lost in enclosed spaces
I'm not sure when this would come up or how it would be implemented. Most of the time, "getting lost" is a function of no light + panic or bad mapping.
Luke Thomson's List
Finding bad entries on Luke's list was very difficult. Go Luke.

Locust-man: Bonus: Can leap 100'
How often? Because if this is a once/round thing, the locust-man is going to be a holy terror. Movement and positioning are really important. A locust-man can jump out of a 50' deep pit with room to spare, jump across a 100' chasm, or leap around in combat like a crazed fiend.

Crab-man: Weakness: Mouthparts can't speak humanoid languages
I know this is in-setting, but it's a crippling penalty for characters. The Paladins of the Word are mute but there's a significant upside to playing one. Poor crab-men. Can't even hold a pencil with their big 2d8 damage claws.


What I Read On My Vacation, Part 2

I like taking holidays to isolated, internet-free areas and reading a book a day. Unfortunately, this year's holiday was interrupted by hail, food poisoning, needle grass, and traffic, so I didn't get through nearly as many books as last year. The books I picked were also very dense and immensely interesting, so progress was slower.
Christianity is a harp in the head and the assumed canon is another harp in the head so when the imagined Christian, educated and protestant reader absorbs any particular idea in the Faerie Queene they sense and respond to its specific implied multiple meanings simultaneously, in parallel, not sequentially, one after the other, separated by time, and this concentration, layering and intensifying of meaning may be something that, in the right circumstances, makes allegory a good thing.
BUT ALLEGORY IS STILL TERRIBLE! It does not possess, it has no independent life. The great cause of Art is to unify and set afire the mind and heart with an experience that ordinary nature can only rarely, and unpredictably provide. And ALLEGORY DOES NOT DO THIS. It is merely an idea. It is a Wikipedia article about itself. It is a hyperlink, a meme, a dreamworks eyebrow. Allegory is trash, it is trash trash trash. There is nothing done in that form that would not be superior of it were merely a story and allowed to live. Allegory is a Damien Hurst pickle.
 -Patrick Stuart
Jan van Eyck, the Arnolfini Portrait

Book 1: The Autumn of the Middle Ages

Johan Huizinga
467 pages
Published by: University of Chicago Press

I somehow missed the new English translation that came out in 1996. In my medieval history posts I tend to rely on Tuchman's Distant Mirror. Tuchman is more quotable than Huizinga... or, possibly, was. The new translation is excellent, fiery, and beautiful. I've been informed that I really should learn Dutch to appreciate Huizinga - and for that reason alone. It might sound odd but it's tempting.

Tuchman reads to you. She's a professor giving a lecture. Wry, sarcastic, dry, and efficient. She has a blackboard and slides. Her sentences are elegantly crafted and deployed with devastating precision. She has a knack for narrative, for diving in and out of the action, for showing off an event from every angle without interference or confusion.

Huizinga speaks to you. He's personable. You get a vivid sense of sitting in a comfortable room with him and having a conversation. It's a one-sided conversation, as he waves his arms about and pulls books off the shelf to show you pictures, but it's still a private sharing of secrets. Tuchman wants to educate. Huizinga wants to explain. He chops up sentences, repeats himself, adds exclamations of dismay or delight, and displays the full emotional range of someone deeply invested in their work.

I'll put up an entire post of quotations in a few days, and probably a second post on medieval symbolism and how to use it in RPGs.

The Autumn of the Middle Ages is a book about a specific period and a specific region: Burgundy in the 15th century. The end of the Middle Ages, the start of the Renaissance. He describes a world at the end of a cycle. All possible variations on all possible themes are explored. All pursuits are hollow, all dreams stale and unvarying. The world is complete, and in completion, is paralyzed. This translation seems to bring in more nuance and subtlety than the older English version I remember. The first few chapters are brilliant. Later, when he gets into art history and the value of art, they start to lose focus. He sees peaceful scenes and happy faces where I see rigid, unnatural figures. I don't know, he's the expert, but we have very different emotional reactions to some pieces.

He also assumes you know the people, the dates, and the geography, or that you'll look it up as needed.

Aberdeen Bestiary

Book 2: The Bestiary of Christ

Louis Charbonneau-Lassay
467 pages (coincidence?!)

Published by Parabola Books

Huizinga and Charbonneau-Lassay were born a year apart and studied similar fields, but they could not have arrived at more diverse views on symbols, allegory, and the use of detail.

Symbolism was very nearly the life's breath of medieval thought. The habit of seeing all things in their meaningful interrelationships and their relationships to the eternal both  muted the boundaries between things and kept the world of thought alive with radiant, glowing color. Once, however, the symbolizing function had disappeared or become mechanical, the grand edifice of God-willed dependencies becomes a necropolis. A systematic idealism that everywhere presupposes a relationship between things as a result of their assumed essential general characteristics leads to a rigid and barren cataloguing in which the division and subdivision of terms, carried out purely deductively, is all too convenient. Ideas can be made to fit into the vault of the world edifice so readily. All terms, precise and imprecise, stand like stars in the firmament and in order to come to know the nature of a thing one does not inquire into its internal construction or into the long shadow of its historical development, but looks towards the heavens where it shines as an idea. 
-Autumn of the Middle Ages, Huizinga, Chapter 10
Do you see what I'm talking about?! Go buy the damn book!

Anyway, Huizinga saw symbolism as both edifying and stifling. Charbonneau-Lassay loved symbols of all kinds. He wrote and illustrated a fabulous bestiary on a medieval model. Ever wondered why the Pelican is a symbol of Christ? Charbonneau-Lassay explains. The dual nature of the bull? Charbonneau-Lassay explains. Why tombs contain sea urchins? Charbonneau-Lassay explains.

It's certainly a useful book. Bizzare signs - the Trinacria, the Tetramorph - are put in context. Charbonneau-Lassay draws on all the myths he knows, from India, from Greece, and from speculations on the druids, and sets them down with illustrations. It's the dead-end symbology of Huizinga compressed into one book. Every beast has all possible variations. 

The translator (D.M. Dooling) notes that Charbonneau-Lassay used an astonishingly wide range of sources but suffered from a "remarkable inconsistency in checking such details as publishing information and even authorship (for example, I have found no one who has ever heard of a book by Xenophon called Geoponicus). His footnotes, where they are included at all, are more like clues to a scavenger hunt.

It's interesting, but it's also pedantic, wildly speculative, and bone dry.

Book 3: Love Locked Out: A survey of love license and restriciton in the Middle Ages

James Cleugh
320 pages
Published by: Anthony Blond Ltd.

It's a bad sign when your book jacket includes praise for a book by a different author on the back.

This book deserves its own post. It's hilarious in its own peculiar way. James Cleugh belongs to my favorite group of historians for reading pleasure: born before just before the First World War, English (or east coast American), sarcastic, and entirely convinced of their own positions and superiority. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

Cleugh starts off the introduction - not the book itself, the introduction - with an account of the autocastration of Origen. A few pages later he's reached full speed.

Origen seems to have borrowed the notion of sexual desire as the root of all evil, not from the sayings of the founder of his religion, who never proclaimed such a thing, but from a very different person. For some thirty years after the execution of Jesus a bald, bandy-legged and beetle-browed renegade Jew, of Greek lineage, supassing eloquence and powerful personality, had been dashing around Asia Minor declaring that the dead Nazarene, now resurrected in heaven, had been sent down to earth as a Messiah, to redeem humanity from its appalling vices of concupiscence and cruelty.

-James Cleugh, Love Locked Out, Introduction
Needless to say, the book isn't particularly accurate, fair, or well regarded. It's a miscellany of horror and eroticism. It's a textual Hammer Horror film or a nudist "documentary" of the same year (1963). Every tall tale, scandal, slander, and supposition is related as the absolute truth, in lurid and vivid language. It has no redeeming qualities and is therefore excellent.

The cover features a very washed out black and white version of the (in?)famous painting by Anna Lea Merritt. I wonder if this was done deliberately to obscure the gender of the subject and titillate the average potential buyer while still escaping censorship.

Book 4: Ezekiel

Joseph Blenkinsopp
242 pages
John Knox Press

This is a proper academic bible commentary for students, preachers, and theologians. It's not light reading, but it does try to explain - with the best scholarship available - the very odd things that happen in the Book of Ezekiel. I foolishly didn't bring any reference bibles on this trip so I couldn't get farther than the introduction.

Side Note: Wikipedia is usually deliberately boring, but sometimes you get sentences like, "and in any case Ezekiel was under suspicion of encouraging dangerous mystical speculation, as well as being sometimes obscure, incoherent, and pornographic."

And that's as far as I got, unfortunately. Better luck next year.


Auctions, Schemes, and RPGs

Inspired by Dunkey's Black Auction.
Auctions are perfect for RPGs.

Fantasy Flight Games put out a lot of lousy adventures for their Dark Heresy game line, but "The House of Dust and Ash" from "Disciples of the Dark Gods" is fantastic. It's just 10 pages long if you ignore the handouts and statblocks. It's no longer available, but casual google search should get you a PDF copy.

There's an auction on a mortuary island. The items are from the estate of a legendarily mad and cursed bloodline (think the Heterodynes from Girl Genius meets Vlad the Impaler. Proper evil superscience), so naturally, all sorts of mad and dangerous characters turns up. Of course, everything goes to hell in a handbasket. The auction house seals itself. A volcano is set to erupt shortly. The entire thing was a trap, set by the bloodline's last and looniest heir, to kill any potentially living relatives of the bloodline, no matter how distant.

It's wonderful.
Thomas Pringle

Elements of a Good Auction Adventure

A good but narrowly defined location. An eccentric cast of characters with secrets galore. A list of dangerous valuable items. A set schedule of events. Mystery. Glitz. Heaps and heaps of money. Auctions have it all.

1. The Invitation
Being invited to something makes the players feel special. It connects them to the world and makes the setting seem proactive and alive.

Get baroque. Use evocative, ornate language. Leave the invitation as a bloodstained clue in a murder investigation. Have it delivered in the dead of night by a knight in owl-feather robes. Give it an air of drama and mystery.

Print an example invitation (on cardstock, if possible). Don't use a standard paper size. You can make your own one-use embossing stamp from a bit of carved plastic and a hammer.
longque Chen
2. The Location
Design it like a dungeon but with different considerations. You want a few loops, a few set pieces, and many secrets. A grand old mansion or hotel is ideal. Servants passages, rooms for private conversations, lots of obvious tools and options. A place to use as a stronghold. A central room or atrium with branches, to encourage chance meetings and collisions between rival groups. Ancient secrets, unmapped catacombs.

Ideally, the building should have relatively few entrances and exits.
  • A hotel on top of a mountain accessible only by a long winding path (and not during the night, oh no, much too dangerous).
  • A mansion on a marsh (with a storm like this? Could be days, maybe weeks before the road is clear.).
  • A hotel sealed off by strange government figures in gas masks and white crinkly suits (stay indoors for your protection. Anyone who leaves this area will be shot. This is your only warning).
You can get even more exotic. A building warped out of space and time by an item in the auction deliberately or accidentally activated. A ship at sea. A dirigible. An old bunker. An express train. Whatever a rich, mad, and dangerous person could use to increase the prestige and drama of the auction.

Thomas Wievegg
3. The Characters
Groups of 1-3 characters. Lone professors, eccentric and hunted. Bickering couples (it's all an act, they're cultists). One guy in robes with two identical creepy assistants. Mash tropes together.

4-6 groups of participants, plus 1-2 notable members of staff, seems ideal. Any more and the players may lose track. Any fewer and there aren't enough connections to make the auction seem properly chaotic.
  • Innocents (a bored socialite, a petty thief in way over their head, hired arm candy)
  • Assassins (not here for the items, here to kill one specific person)
  • Acquisitionists (here to get one specific item. Anything else is a distraction)
  • Subverters (here to switch an item for a fake, destroy an item, prevent a sale, moralize)
    Knowledgeable People (professors, occultists)
  • Potential Allies
  • Potential Rivals
  • Fakes (in disguise, impersonating others, could be benign, could be deadly.)
Feel free to add a few gormless and helpless NPCs, suitable for sacrifices, human shields, shouting "we need to get out of here!" and doing foolish things to show players where danger lies, and general massacre chaff.

The great thing about an auction is that anyone can turn up. Money is the universal social lubricant. Baronesses in silk and pearls will sit next to bloodsoaked pirates if it means they can bid on the lost von Splitz masterpiece. You can show up in bloodsoaked armour carrying a severed head and be politely asked to store your gory trophy at the coat check.

Everyone shows up in black ties and formal dress for dinner, no matter how incongruous.

4. The Schedule
Show up. Scout the crowd. Gather a few hints. Get a few superficial impressions. Auction off a few items. Possibly retire to dinner. Oh no! The twist! And not all the items have been sold!

Have people enter and leave the auction unexpectedly. Increase tension with red herrings. Someone faints. Someone makes an urgent telephone call. The auctioneer is replaced with an assistant for a few rounds.

Use charts to keep track of everyone. Kidnap the Archpriest has some good timetable formats you can use.

Whatever the PCs goal is - get a specific item, get information, unmask someone, get rich - they won't be able to acomplish it without acting. They can't just bid on the McGuffin, win it, and walk out.

Derek Jones
5. The Items
Go nuts. At least 20 items. Most of the really good ones should be evocative, powerful, mysterious, storied, mythical, and dangerous if misused. Some should just be cash. Fragile, inconveniently shaped cash. The useful items are a pile of spare parts. The PCs will use them to assemble their escape plan.

You'll want to include some hidden synergies. You can invent a few yourself, but don't overplan. If you put enough interesting items in the auction house, the players will figure out unexpected uses and ways to mash them together.

You can also play the auction straight. Make it seem like there will be a twist - a volcano, a summoning ritual, a landslide - and then don't deliver. Suddenly, the chaos the PCs were planning to use to get the McGuffin isn't present. Can they still get it? Of course, they can't afford to buy it, and even if they could an unscrupulous antiques dealer has replaced it with a fake, etc.

Final Notes
Auctions aren't great for new groups. The PCs need to know each other's capabilities. They aren't great for groups with lots of tools either; PCs who can teleport and summon hordes of angels will find an auction trite and the items on sale quaint and melodramatic.


OSR: Veins of the Earth, Session 6

Last session, the PCs fought a ferret, freed a giant, and gained several friends.
The party consists of:
the spiderling fighter. The leader of the group by default.

Bill the wormling Orthodox Wizard. Has antlers and telekinesis thanks to strange potions. Thinks life underground is just peachy.
Swainson the Garden Wizard. Formerly a hawkling, currently a dryad.
Christen Bell the weasel-ling Bell Exorcist. Keeps vanishing and returning, possibly on secret errands, possibly just has a poor sense of direction.
Many Goblins. Full of teeth, bad plans, and poor impulse control.

Tuck the Flealing summoner. Extremely untrustworthy, constantly scheming, but so far both loyal and useful.
Starting by the "Entombed Giant" in the bottom right.

1. The party made a deal with Yorminfulgar, the cartilaginous cave giant trapped under a heap of boulders. If he provided the location of a valuable treasure, the party would retrieve the treasure, return, and free him.

He agreed, provided the party answered one of his horrible and disturbing riddles. The party wasn't sure what would happen if they got the riddle wrong, but didn't want to risk it. "Probably get cursed or something," Swainson said wisely. They managed to get the right answer.

Yorminfulgar told them of "an amulet, a trinket, more precious than life itself" and gave them directions to find it.

2. After getting lost for a few hours, the party finds the limestone caves in the giant's directions. Using Tuck's shadow-summons as a scout, they check the depths of every crevice until they find the amulet. They also find the long-rotted remains of a cave explorer who had died trying to force his arm into the crevice.

3. The amulet was an elegant hourglass in a silver case. Instead of sand, each grain was a miniature skull. Staring into the hourglass gave the wizards a headache, but Swainson and Bill eventually figured out it was enchanted with powerful life-preserving magic and decided to wear it.

Side Note: the players haven't figured it out yet, but the amulet does preserve life. Invariably. As long as someone wears it their soul will remain bound to their body. Death Becomes Her-style rules, so hopefully you didn't die from falling off a cliff. The amulet doesn't dull pain or madness.
4. While trying to find their way back, the party encounters a transparent jelly pyramid with a toothy skeletal maw, eyes, and a digestive system inside. This being the weirdest thing they'd encountered by far, Bill prevaricated between fireball and prismatic spray, his two most powerful spells.

He chose fireball. The blast stopped a few inches away from his face. A few more feet and the entire party would have burnt. Delighted with his magical control (and unwilling to admit it was luck), Bill let off prismatic ray. The acidic bolt he conjured fully healed the ooze.

5. The party discovered they could flee at full speed and still berate the wizard. 

6. They wandered for several hours, totally lost, before finding a cave with a mysterious machine. Its design was inscrutable. It resembled the inner workings of a clock tower combined with a lectern, a pile of metal bones, and an alchemist's secret tools. Most of the party took one look at the machine and decided to leave it alone, but Tuck and Christen decided to investigate its many drawers. They found several "metal leeches", a pile of fishhooks, and a few scraps of wire. They gave the fishhooks and pills to the goblins.

Side Note: Tuck and Christen have entered the dEr0 Conspiracy. Special dEr0 encounters will be noted in the courier font. The goblins are too weird for the Conspiracy to increase the amount of bullshit in their lives. They did enjoy the effects of the conspiracy pills though.
7. After several more hours and a few close calls with strange creatures and noises in the dark, the party managed to locate Yorminfulgar the giant once again. They decided to free him. Using Tuck's summoned rope, the strength of Many Goblins, and Swainson's party trick, the party hauled several enormous slabs of rock off the giant.
Side Note: Swainson's party trick is very cunning. She was transformed into a dryad back in Session 2. As a garden wizard, she also knows the woodbend and obedient stone spells. Obedient stone requires a stone to fit into the palm of the wizard's hand. With woodbend, a dryad's hand can become large enough to enfold a boulder.
8. Once freed, Yorminfulgar thanked the party and slithered away bonelessly. They noticed his gigantic gold and diamond necklace and, silently, cursed their fate.

9. The giant's departure and the general rearrangement of the cave and rockfall had revealed another strange machine. Tuck went to investigate. This device was smaller and had a large red switch on one side. Tuck flicked the switch.

10. The machine began shake violently. With each passing second, the vibrations grew more intense. Slabs of rock began to peel from the walls. A true earthquake began.

11. Tuck opened the back panel of the machine, removed a large and dangerous-looking box, and along with the rest of the party fled the collapsing caves. No one was seriously injured but most of the party sported bumps, bruises, and scrapes. The box seemed to be some sort of magic reservoir made of a dangerous material the party had
previously encountered. The two cables on either side, formerly connected to the arcane earthquake machine, were very tempting to Bill. He guessed that connecting them together would start a magical feedback loop.

12. Cazael took the magic box away from Bill.

13. After sleeping (guarded by goblins, despite their initial reservations), the party set out once again. They encountered a ghoul minefield. Ghouls, paralytic with hunger, had been buried with just their paralyzing claws exposed. Luckily, the party evaded the mines. They decided to avoid the large caves and stick to small, uncomfortable, and difficult passages, reasoning they were less likely to be mined.

14. Some time later, the party discovered the Ghoul Fortress of Baron Sulyvhan. Tuck decided the ghouls might want to trade for information or valuables. The party was unlikely to be attacked if they pretended to be traders.

15. The two wizards, Swainson and Bill, decided that they didn't want to participate in this scheme. They'd provide fire support from a distance. "If things go wrong, just signal me and fwoosh," Bill said, making an expanding fireball gesture.

16. Ghoul Baron
Sulyvhan was not a rich or prosperous baron. His fortress, built into a cave wall and protected by a ghoul minefield, contained him, a single ghoul warrior, one ravening feral ghoul chained in the gatehouse, and several fearful human servants (or possibly mobile larder). Still, the Baron was courteous, and invited the party to a mildewed and dust-covered banquet table, Miss Havisham-style. They traded away some of their loot for gold and oil and a map to the "fungid valley", whatever that was.

16.The Baron also informed the PCs that
Yorminfulgar was, "a pariah among his kind" and that he never forgot a debt. "But not, I think, in the manner you hope. He hates to be seen in weakness and will destroy anyone who aids him."

Worried, the party left the Ghoul Baron behind. Swainson cast locate animal to try and detect
Yorminfulgar. She was horrified to discover that the cave giant was just 300' away from the party, lurking somewhere in the darkness, presumably tracking them by smell. Over the next few hours, Yorminfulgar got as close as 100' before retreating; only Swainson could detect him.

Will the party survive the giant's rage? What will they find in the fungid valley? Will Bill's hoard of magical artifacts spell the party's doom, or will they all die in a goblin-induced clusterfuck?

Find out next session.


OSR: Iron Gates - Dark Souls Armour in Tabletop RPGs

In the Iron Gates game I'm working on, all items will be used to convey lore. The descriptions can be read by merchant NPCs or simply told to the players. Items provide a set of clues as to the world's true nature. They're one part of the Three Clue Rule. Any important setting detail will have at least one hint-bearing item.  Each area will have a list of items available, either as loot or for sale. Some will hint at future locations. Some will reveal new aspects of past encounters.

Side Note: this is wickedly hard. Dark Souls is a very polished game. You can't just bang out a list of items in an afternoon and expect them to have the right feeling. Everything needs to feel deliberate.

Fashion Souls

There are basically two ways to dress in Dark Souls games: Fashion Souls or GIANT DAD. Choose armour based on looking good or fighting well.
In an RPG, there's not as much satisfaction in mixing and matching armour pieces to get just the right look. Your character exists in your mind and in the mind of the other players. Item descriptions should be evocative without requiring illustrations, but leave enough room for the GM to elaborate or answer questions.

I don't think enchantments or benefits need to be hidden until tested in a Dark Souls style game. There are enough mysteries. It's also much easier for players to track their abilities than for a poor overworked GM to try and remember exactly what the boots they got a month ago actually do.
Bruno Biazotto

Optimizing Armour

  • Robes and cosmetic clothing provide no protection. They do not take up any inventory slots if worn. They are often enchanted.
  • Leather armour provides some protection. It does not take up any inventory slots if worn.
  • Chain armour provides better protection. It takes up 2 inventory slots and count as 1 Iron
  • Plate armour provides the best protection. It takes up 4 inventory slots and counts as 2 Iron.
Players will need to balance their protection with their Iron capacity. Most armour has some additional benefit or interesting drawback. I've tried to make the descriptions below as system-less as possible.

Rather than provide rules mixing and matching boots, gloves, chestplates, etc, I've kept armour together in sets. Further customization can be added by enchanted rings, masks, charms, and possibly crowns.

Igor Krstic

Example Armour Sets

I'm not sure  how many armour sets will be in the final pointcrawl, but here are a few examples.

Generic Armour
Black Scholar's Robes Thick hard-wearing cloth dyed with enduring ink. Scholars are ubiquitous in every city. Since they often lack funds, thieves and tax-collectors leave these poor students to their studies.
Vanirian Furs This leather armour comes the barbarian kingdom of Vanir in the north. Their warriors fight bare-chested, the better to display their scars.
Mercenary Chain Repaired many times by many hands, this armour has served many masters. Not many would give it a second look, for good or for ill.
Knight of Meridia Plate Few warriors remain in Meridia. The lure of Azure's war long ago drew most knights away. Those who remain wear armour covered in gold foil and elaborate scale patterns.

Nikola Matkovic

Rare Armour
Elaborate Ivory Gown A dress in an antique style, once worn by a disreputable princess of Rhem. Its elegant silk folds cannot be stained by dirt, rain or blood.
Grey Desert Leather Made from the thick skin of a desert beast, this leather armour clearly marks the wearer as an explorer or tomb raider. Its wearer cannot be knocked prone.
Azure Citadel Chain Iron's song corrupted the defenders of Azure, driving them into a frenzy of self-destruction. This chain armour was made to defend a citadel that fell from within.
Flower Knight Plate The elegant knights of Prince Vard traveled to Azure, losing themselves in the fury of war. Wearing their vine-carved armour grants the wearer the Vow: "I will protect all things beautiful."

Alexandr Komarov

Enchanted Armour
Pearl Hydromancer Robes Hydromancers from Meridia immersed themselves in the sea, listening for secrets from the deep water. The enchanted pearls sewn into this robe allow the wearer to breathe underwater.
Silver Chain Cloak This silk-lined cloak is covered in fine silver rings blessed by Ennu, Goddess of Dreams. It can carry a single Hydromancy spell for the wearer. It defends as Leather.
Black Iron Chain Hardened by unnatural fire, this crudely made armour always feels cold. The wearer is immune to the desert's heat and takes 1/2 damage from fire.
Radiant Plate of Ankai Engraved with the holy symbols of Ankai, God of the Sun, this gold-spined armour was made for a champion of light. Once per day the wearer can cast the miracle Radiant Burst. 

TB Choi

Legendary Armour
Martyr's Wrappings These grey rags, stained with ancient blood, provide little protection, yet they are still regarded as precious. For every HP the wearer loses, allies within 10' heal 1 HP.
Wormskin Leather Once worn by a cunning scoundrel. The worms of the catacombs have soaked in death for untold generations. Once per day, the wearer of this armour can appear as a rotting corpse for up to 10 hours.
Ancient Bronze Chain Though badly corroded by time, this armour once protected a member of Iskandar's legions. It carries echoes of melancholy and loss. This armour defends as Plate against ghosts, miracles, and magic.
Lord Eustan's Plate Worn by the false Lord Eustan, this armour is thickly encrusted with enchanted gems. Once per round, the wearer may lose 1 HP to immediately move 10' in any direction.