Tuesday, October 30, 2018

GFA18 - MCC Ranger

This is the last of my three 2018 Gongfarmer's Almanac pieces about adding additional human classes to MCC. The original DCC Ranger was written by Raskal and published in CRAWL! no 6: Classic Class Collection. Rather than presenting the complete class, I offer suggested modifications needed to make the Ranger work in the Terra AD setting. My concept for rangers in the post-apocalyptic second Stone Age is pretty similar to their concept in other games, I think. Unlike the bard and paladin, they didn't need much re-imagining. Instead, what they needed were rules tweaks to account for the different weapons technology, different monster ecology, and different wilderness available in Terra AD. Keith Garrett edited this and the other pieces in this series, and Karim provided the art.
MCC Ranger
Rangers in the world of Terra A.D. are very similar to their counterparts in the Ancient world. They are tough wilderness warriors, living at the fringes of tribal areas. They train to survive in wilderness areas and act as guides to those crossing dangerous regions. They excel at martial combat against their favored enemies, and have a keen expertise in stealth and survival.
Archery expert ranger path: When firing into melee, the ranger can ignore the 50% chance to hit an ally engaged in the fight. In addition, the ranger can perform Mighty Deeds of Arms as a DCC warrior when fighting with a blowgun, sling, shortbow, or longbow.
Two-weapon expert ranger path: The ranger can fight with two one-handed weapons as though their Agility was 16 (although staff and spear are one-handed weapons, the ranger can only effectively wield one weapon of such size at a time; the second weapon must be smaller, such as a dagger or club). The ranger can perform Mighty Deeds of Arms as a DCC warrior when fighting with two weapons.
Wilderness skills: Rangers train to survive in both hostile natural environments and the very hostile, very un-natural environment of the ruins of ancient cities. Although their skills are still mostly only relevant out-of-doors, they function as well amidst Ancient ruins as they do in the wastelands. For example, rangers can climb sky-scraping ancient buildings as easily as they climb other steep cliffs, find water dripping from the tap of abandoned plumbing just as they find natural springs, and hide in alleyways as easily as they do behind natural outcroppings.
Rangers are considered trained in the following skills, and receive a bonus to skill checks equal to their class level plus their ability score modifier: Climb (Agility), Find and neutralize natural/Ancient traps (Agility), Sneak and hide (Agility), Strider (Agility), Survival (Personality).
Favored enemies: At 1st level, the ranger must choose one type of favored enemy from the following list: androids, cyborgs, devils, holograms, manimals, mutants, plantients, robots, slimes, horrors (creatures with a mutation check bonus special property). At 3rd, 6th, and 9th levels, the ranger can choose another favored enemy, so long as they've fought that enemy before.
Darwinian luck: Pure strain humans are very lucky as a species. Rangers regenerate spent Luck at the rate of 1 point for each 24 hour period.
AI recognition: Because of their close resemblance to the Ancient Ones, all pure strain humans (including rangers) gain a natural +2 to AI recognition rolls.
Archaic alignment: Rangers may begin as members of either The Clan of Cog or The Curators alignments.
Artifact check bonus: Rangers have a natural affinity for understanding the artifacts of the ancients, resulting in an added bonus to their artifact checks. Rangers use the artifact check bonus recommended for DCC clerics and thieves. Lvl 1-2 ACB +3, Lvl 3-4 ACB +5, Lvl 5-7 ACB +7, Lvl 8-9 ACB +9, Lvl 10 ACB +10

Thursday, October 25, 2018

GFA18 - MCC Paladin

My second 2018 Gongfarmer's Almanac article about additional pure-strain human classes re-imagines the Paladin. The original DCC Paladin was written by Jose Lira and published in CRAWL! no 6: Classic Class Collection. Rather than presenting the complete class, I offer suggested modification needed to make the Paladin work in the Terra AD setting. My vision of paladins for MCC is that they're fanatics devoted human purity and/or to the Patron AI satellites. The bits about pantheons and alignment, I think, really drive home both how nasty paladins are and how different they are from other characters in MCC. My occupation list and starting equipment list both imply a certain amount of inequality and animosity between pure strain humans and other character types; paladins embody this attitude to the extreme.
To avoid just making bards and paladins into lesser shamans, my goal was to sort of divide the patrons in half, give one set to the bards, the other set to the paladins, and leave GAEA for the shamans alone. I didn't quite achieve that, because while paladins start out invoking one of the security-related patrons, alignment restrictions prevent them from adopting the other two security satellites. Instead they'll eventually learn wetware related to other, non-security patrons in the same Pantheon, and thus slightly overlap with bards at higher levels. Keith Garrett edited this and the other pieces in this series, and Karim provided the art.
MCC Paladin
Paladins in the world of Terra A.D. are fanatics who revere the patron AIs. They are martially skilled and train rigorously to serve their pantheon. They wield a small bit of wetware programming and are living agents of the AIs.
Choosing a pantheon: At 1st level, a paladin selects an alliance of patron AIs to worship: either the Mainframe of Order, the Grid of Net Neutrality, or the Matrix of Entropy. At 2nd level, a paladin selects a specific AI to serve, while remaining loyal to the pantheon as a whole. This patron will grant the paladin access to wetware programs of terrible power, including the program Invoke Patron AI. Because of their role, paladins almost always adopt security-minded patrons, especially HEXACODA, ACHROMA, and MANGALA. At higher levels, a paladin may adopt additional patron AIs from the same pantheon, but they always maintain an affinity for the first Orbital God they served.
Archaic alignment: Paladins adhere strictly to their alignment and devote themselves to their pantheon's cause. Their devotion to the patron AI's principles is absolute. Paladins may begin as members of The Clan of Cog, The Curators, and they are the only player characters who may be members of The Gene Police archaic alignment. In addition, paladins adopt the ancient systems of thought that form the basis of the patron AIs' philosophical alignments: Law, Neutrality, and Chaos.
Smite: Paladins can empower their weapons against those deemed unworthy by their AI patrons. Instead of their regular attack bonus, paladins can add their Smite Die to their attack and damage rolls when attacking mutants, manimals, plantients, and horrors (any creatures with a mutation check bonus as a special property).
Magic: Like shamans, paladins can run wetware programs granted them by their AI patrons. Paladins add their Personality modifier to their spell check, and may use glowburn by consuming radioactive substances while running a program. Rather than risking disapproval like DCC paladins, MCC paladins risk patron taint from spellcasting.
Holy deeds: Rather than risking disapproval like DCC paladins, MCC paladins risk patron taint when they perform holy deeds.
Lay on hands: Paladins have the power to channel ambient atmospheric nanites controlled by their patron to heal the wounded. Unlike DCC paladins, MCC paladins can use this power to repair robots and holograms, though only those that are aligned with the correct AI pantheon. Because of the differences between repair and biological healing, all AIs count as "opposed" for the purposes of determining the holy deed result. All pure strain humans count as "same", mutants count as "adjacent", manimals count as "opposed", and plantients cannot be healed. The paladin must physically touch the wounds and concentrate for 1 action.
Fallen paladin: Each day an MCC paladin receives any patron taint, they gain one point on the Fallen Paladin table. As with DCC paladins, using their holy powers in ways that contradict the will of the patron AIs risks incurring additional points directly. Like DCC paladins, these points do not reset each day, and must be erased by paying real sacrifices to atone and be redeemed in the eyes of the AI patrons.
Darwinian luck: Pure strain humans are very lucky as a species, but paladins sacrifice much of this when taking on a patron AI. Paladins regenerate spent Luck at the rate of 1 point per 7-day period.
AI recognition: Because of their close resemblance to the Ancient Ones, all pure strain humans (including paladins) gain a natural +2 to AI recognition rolls.
Artifact check bonus: Paladins have a natural affinity for understanding the artifacts of the ancients, resulting in an added bonus to their artifact checks. Paladins use the artifact check bonus recommended for DCC warriors. Lvl 1-4 ACB +2, Lvl 5-8 ACB +6, Lvl 9-10 +8.

Monday, October 22, 2018

GFA18 - MCC Bard

Although I'm not trying to break my writing into its smallest publishable units, I thought the next article from the 2018 Gongfarmer's Almanac would blog better in three parts. My alternate character creation rules for Mutant Crawl Classics result in more pure-strain humans than the MCC rules. Because of this, I recommend adding more human classes. 
The original DCC Bard was written by Jose Lira and published in CRAWL! no 6: Classic Class Collection. Rather than presenting the complete class, I offer suggested modifications needed to make the Bard work in the Terra AD setting. My vision of bards in Terra AD is that they're lore-collectors who inadvertently become hackers, because the old stories they learn let them reprogram the machines that run the world. Bards get access to the non security-focused patrons, and leave GAEA as someone who only Shamans can invoke. Keith Garrett edited this and the other pieces in this series, and Karim provided the art for the series.
MCC Bard
Bards in the world of Terra A.D. travel and perform, giving hope and comfort, recording events and tragedies, remembering the fallen and lost, inspiring others to greatness.
Magic: Unlike shamans, bards are dabblers who do not serve the AI patrons; they hack them. Their inquisitive nature and tendency to collect odd bits of lore and old tales exposes them to the ability to access, download, and run wetware programs by spoofing logins, falsifying credentials, and phishing older passwords that still check out.
Because of the way that bards access wetware programs, they cannot use glowburn as shamans do. Bards access wetware without the patron AI's knowledge, utilizing a series of callbacks, backdoors, scheduled tasks, scripted replies, and automated responses to run their programs in the background of an AI's consciousness. These procedures are memorized by rote and not fully understood by the bards who use them. As a result, bards learn wetware programs completely randomly. When a bard reaches a level to acquire a new program, the player rolls to determine which program the bard has learned to access (see below). Re-roll if the bard already knows the program.
Table: Bard Wetware Program Selection
  • Level 1-3: Roll 1d8: (1) Biological ark; (2) Invoke HALE-E; (3) Invoke ME10; (4) Invoke TETRAPLEX; (5) Invoke UKUR; (6) Nanogram; (7) Query; (8) Sightblinder.
  • Level 4-6: Roll 1d6: (1) EM spike; (2) Light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation; (3) Memory worm; (4) Polygons; (5) Scripted illusion (from CRAWL! 6, by Yves Larochelle); (6) Ventriloquism
  • Level 7-10: Roll 1d4: (1) Attune with artifact; (2) Restore backup; (3) Trans-replication; (4) Virtual reality
Lore: The lore roll can be used to remember the purpose or function of an artifact, but not to remember its operation or improve the artifact check.
Darwinian luck: Pure strain humans are very lucky as a species. Bards regenerate spent Luck at a rate of 1 point for each 24 hour period. Unlike DCC bards, MCC bards do not apply their Luck modifier to talent checks or lore rolls.
AI recognition: Because of their close resemblance to the Ancient Ones, all pure strain humans (including bards) gain a natural +2 to AI recognition rolls.
Archaic alignment: Bards may begin as members of either The Clan of Cog or The Curators archaic alignments.
Artifact check bonus: Bards have a natural affinity for understanding the artifacts of the ancients, resulting in an added bonus to artifact checks. Bards use the artifact check bonus recommended for DCC wizards and elves. Lvl 1-2 ACB +6, Lvl 3-4 ACB +8, Lvl 5-7 ACB +10, Lvl 8-9 ACB + 12, Lvl 10 ACB +14.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Session Report - Descend into Brimstone - 26 Aug 2018

Meriwether (cavalryman, 1st level Cleric)
played by American John
Louis Black (politician, 1st level Warrior)
played by Petra
Nell (innkeeper, 1st level Warrior)
Archibald (innkeeper, 1st level Zombie)
played by Todd
Pemberton Nimby (sage)
Caspar the Freemason (magician)
Melchior the Freemason (magician)
Abendego the Freemason (magician)
NPC allies
Session 5
The Freemasons are back! And they spent the last week telling tales in every bar in town. How their statue is the demon queen Hezzemuth, how they met two demon disciples (a pair of beautiful Spanish sisters, no less!), how they caught them an Illuminatus assassin who planned to kill them for their statue, and how now they was fixing to sacrifice him to the demon Hezzemuth way down in the Maw. Nell and Meriwether spent the week rolling their eyes and trying to avoid hearing yet another re-telling of the masons' story by yet another besotted yokel.
Louis Black come back into town with a tall tale of his own. He told an almost unbelievable story about how he'd been holed up in the brothel when the mice arrived, how everybody was trapped inside by the vermin, how he single-handedly fought a duel to defeat the Mouse King who was laying siege to the brothel (like something out of the Nutcracker ballet!), and how he was hailed as the hero of the hour when he won, and sent all them mice packing back out of Brimstone. Nell rolled her eyes at this too, but poor innocent Meriwether believed every word.
Louis Black professed himself powerful curious to see Archibald returned from the dead, and agreed to help the others in retrieving demon ore to pay off Pemberton Nimby. After waiting the seven days Nimby'd said he'd need, they escaped all the praise the townsfolk were lavishing on their hated rivals, and headed over to the hospital tent just outside the city limits were Pemberton resided. When they arrived, miracle of miracles! - Archibald was sitting upright. His skin was still pale as death, and he didn't seem to blink much, (or breathe much ... or at all) but he had definitely returned to some kind of life, turning to look at his friends and smiling when he saw them. Nell rubbed her hands together greedily. "Now you gone pay, Archibald," cackled Nell, "now you gone repay me for all the unkindness I suffered!" Louis Black, unable to remember any incidents of Archibald's unkindness, shot a quizzical look at Meriwether, who just shrugged. Ever since his head injury in the War, it seemed everyone remembered stuff better'n he did. Nell grabbed one of Nimby's drills, hopped up on a stool, and drilled a hole right down the center of Archibald's skull, and before he could react, stuffed an unlit torch into the cavity. "I like brains?" Archibald asked. "Now none your sass talk, Archibald," Nell scolded him, "you're gone work off your debt to me down in them mines."
Pemberton Nimby returning the immobile Archibald to un-life, more or less.
After reassuring Nimby that they would recover the demon ore to pay him, Nell received Archibald's new blackstone heart, which she strung on a necklace and tucked under her shirt. The quartet rode out of town and back to the nameless, abandoned mine. Archibald behaved remarkably docilely, following Nell's lead, and only rarely speaking up. When he did talk, his mouth often worked silently for awhile before he got any words out, and all he could muster were different intonations of "I like brains". Louis and Meriwether weren't sure if Nell could really understand the poor dead man's intentions, or if she were just well used to ignoring whatever words actually came outta his mouth in favor of her own interpretation.
Back in the mine, Meriwether again suggested checking the secondary shaft. Nell ignored him, insisted that there were unseen areas off the main shaft, and lit the torch held in Archibald's head-sconce. "I like brains!" he protested in an anxious voice, but Nell just laughed at him. The ventured down the main shaft to the only unexplored room, where the floor was covered with loose rocks and the walls were gouged and scored. A quick glance around revealed that everything of value had been removed. "I told you we should have-" Meriwether started, but Nell cut him off. "Now Archibald, don't you contradict me! You get your lazy hide back down out into that hall!" Archibald looked confused. "I like brains?"
As the group re-entered the main shaft and reoriented themselves to return toward the entrance, a dog-sized shrimp clambered up from the caverns below and began charging toward them. All three of the armed companions opened fire on the pale crustacean, but it scuttled deceptively fast on its many legs. It reared up on Louis Black, knocking him to the ground and standing on his chest. Louis wrestled with the beast as its many mouth parts tried to grasp his face. Archibald lurched to help Louis, but Nell shouted him down, "Not now, Archibald! Stay out the way!", and the dead man stepped back out of the way. "I like brains." Meriwether and Nell fired at the shrimp as it wrastled Louis Black, and only narrowly missed shooting their friend. Louis had an ace in the hole though, as he wrestled, he clanged his wrists together with the sound of a bell. "Myow myow," he intoned, and a visible wave of sound emanated from his magical cat-faced gauntlets, lifting the shrimp into the air, killing it, and shaking its body free of its shell. Nell handed the shrimp's body to Archibald to carry, aiming to eat the denuded critter at the first opportunity.
Returning to the entryway and then venturing down the secondary shaft, the group discovered demon ore in the first room they entered. Nell threw her hat in the air, too happy with the find to even scold Archibald on account of Meriwether being a know-it-all. She did set her servant to digging though, as it would take at a couple hours to extract the four visible nodes of the accursed material. While Archibald dug, Louis grilled the giant shrimp over a small campfire, and the three living friends enjoyed a leisurely lunch. After lunch, and with the ore safely stored in a large sack tied round Archibald's neck, they continued their explorations. Unfortunately, as they entered the next room, they heard a familiar snapping and crumbling sound, and the doorway collapsed behind them, trapping them inside. Nell immediately set Archibald to digging them all back out, but the task looked to take several hours. A quick search revealed a hole where dripping water had worn through the floor to the cavern below, so the once again used rope and grappling hook to descend.
They lowered themselves into a room with a large pool of water, managing to drop right next to the water rather than inside it. Meriwether waded into the pool to see how deep it got, and noticed that it sloped slightly downward before spilling over a ledge into another cave below. He nearly got caught in a strong under-current, but managed to keep his footing and waded back to shore. With very little light from Archibald's torch coming down through the skylight, they lit Nell's lantern before moving on.
The next room they found was almost too narrow it enter. It would have been a tight fit, squeezing through sideways, so they decided to pass it by.
In the next cave, they found another waterfall pouring down from the ceiling, forming a small pool in the floor. Louis speculated that some of these waterways must be connected somehow, and Meriwether advised that if that was so, they'd best watch out for the reclining lizard creatures he and Nell had seen on their previous trip.
The next cave had a low ceiling and would have forced them all to crawl on hands and knees, so they bypassed it too.
They found a cave where stalactites on the ceiling stretched almost all the way to the floor, looking like an inverted pine forest. Nell and Meriwether drew their guns and eyed the stones carefully, but none moved.
The main tunnel they were following dead-ended at a kind of chute. The whole cavern complex must have been carved by some racing underground river, long ago. The three slid down carefully to arrive at a lower level the complex. Still more small caves split off from the main tunnel. The first cave was more like a side tunnel, it curved and wound farther back than they cared to go.
In the next cave they entered, they found two more fossils embedded in the walls. These looked like ovals, almost, ancient bug creatures with triangular heads and a thousand ribs or legs running the entire length of their central spine. Nell used a mining pick to start digging them out, while Meriwether and Louis kept watch.
Feeling bored, Louis went ahead to explore a little more on his own. He entered a new cave only to discover that the ceiling height dipped rapidly as he entered. He was down in a crouch and debating whether to crawl further when he heard the screaming.
It was lucky for Nell that she's left a sentry, because that meant it was Meriwether and not she who faced what came next. Down the tunnel, from the direction of the chute, came a weird critter that looked just like one of them fossils, only larger. It's triangular head was like a shield, with two great antennae swept back off the sides. Its thousand legs rippled like water, but it was the front two that Meriwether was watching, for the front two legs had scythes like the Grim Reaper his-self. Meriwether tried to take aim, but he was too slow, and the beast were upon him, mowing through him with those great horrible scythes. Nell heard Meriwether's wet strangled cries, turned, and opened fire on the critter, and Louis Black came running. He drew his elephant gun and laid waste to the beast, sending its great weird body flying backward down the hall, dead. Louis and Nell rushed to Meriwether's side, and rolled him over where he'd fallen face first on the cavern floor, but only the top half of him rolled. His abdomen had been cut in half, his torso and face shredded to ribbons. Without much talking, Nell gathered his belongings, especially the magical dagger and demon statue, and finished prying the fossils from the wall. She stooped to pick up Meriwether's legs, and Louis tried to collect his torso, but it was too torn up to easily carry. The two remaining friends trudged up the natural tunnel back to the secondary mind shaft. They found Archibald, who'd finished digging free of the earlier cave-in. "I like brains?" he asked, and they showed him Meriwether's legs, and Nell shook her head sadly. "I ... I like brains." Together the three rode back to Brimstone, with Meriwether's horse following riderless behind.
Returning to Brimstone and Pemberton Nimby's hospital tent, Louis Black and Nell paid the doctor his two stones of demon ore. Nell asked if he could resurrect Meriwether's legs so that she could mount a board on them and make a mobile side-table, and the idea seemed to briefly cheer her up, but Nimby claimed he would only be able to do traditional taxidermy. They left the un-dead Archibald with Nimby for safekeeping and rode back into town. Nell stopped briefly along the way to dump Meriwether's severed legs in a ditch. "He wouldn't want no Christian burial," she explained to Louis. At the Gallows bar, Nell and Louis tried to drink away their sorrows, when who should come in but the three Freemasons? "Well met!" exclaimed one of the architects upon seeing Louis. "Look sharp lads, it's the hero of the brothel!" The Freemasons insisted on buying Nell and Louis drinks, and the five of 'em got to talking. Turns out the Masons knew all about their adventures down the Maw! Turns out they would be honored to have some seasoned and experienced ore-hunters with them when they went to perform their human sacrifice! "It could be fun, right?" said Louis. "It sounds kind of cool." Nell felt the weight of Meriwether's dagger and statue in her pockets. She thought about her friend's innocent, naive love for necromancy and the occult. "What the hell boys!" she decided, "let's summon us a demon!"
zombie Archibald
2 trilobite fossils
4 nuggets of demon ore (2 paid to Nimby, 2 retained)
Meriwether (bisected by trilobite)
1 XP for claw shrimp
4 XP for demon ore
2 XP for fossils
2 XP for scythe trilobite
11 XP for exploring 11 new rooms
Total: 20 XP each
Running graveyard (and session of death)
Meriwether the 1st level Cleric (5), Archibald the 1st level Thief (3), Officer Shia "the Beef" the NPC Mexian police-officer (2), Daniel the plumber (2), Officer Benicio "the Bull" the NPC Mexican police-officer (2), Luther the factory-hand (2), Jed the miner (1), Henry the huckster (1), Lilly the clerk (1), Bill the livery-stabler (1), Harry the butcher (1), Rusty the auctioneer (1)
Poor John, he's lost the most characters of anyone in this campaign. This session, he provided Archibald's voice while Todd (via Nell) decided what Archibald's body would do. The zombie class Archibald got resurrected as is something I wrote for David Coppoletti's DCC Class Alphabet (you can see a preview by looking at the Working Class Alphabet from bygrinstow). He knows a few new tricks that hopefully will come up in play soon.
I was really curious to see where Meriwether's fascination with Camazotz the Death Bat would lead him, but I guess we'll never know, now. That's the thing about playing lethal games. Characters die. And characters die even though they might have some interesting personal narrative going that makes you wish they could have stayed alive. The magical bat-tooth dagger they found has been used a couple times. So far no one has dared to really try using the statue to invoke Camazotz, but it remains in their possession, so someone could make an attempt in the future. The ongoing MVP of magic items are those cat-faced gauntlets, and Petra has used them with Louis every time she's played.
It's interesting to me how the situation with the Freemasons has developed. After playing through the first session of the campaign, I wanted to pre-generate a couple mini-dungeons to place down inside the Maw. Black Powder Black Magic vol 4 lists "demon shrine" and "point of interest" as two possible discoveries, so I made one of each, using BPBM4 and Mad Monks of Kwantoom to make the shrine and Ruins of the Undercity to generate the point of interest. BPBM4 suggested that a human sacrifice might be going on when the characters entered the shrine, but I decided to figure that out later. In session 2, Dreams in the Lich House's random campaign events generator I was using gave us "bragging rights," which says "An NPC group gets farther into the dungeons than the PCs and starts bragging about their exploits.  This is a chance to foreshadow some of the deeper dungeon areas and create a rivalry." Perfect, we get some slapstick comedy from the townsfolk over-the-top loving the rivals, and a chance to foreshadow one of the two minidungeons. I rolled on BPBM4's faction table and got "Freemason architects," decided that a demon shrine wold be the more architecturally interesting of the two locations, and then rolled to randomly place it in one of the first-level hexes inside the Brimstone Mine. (My original plan, rather than placing it in a specific hex, was just to have it ready in case they encountered it at random while exploring.) 
That same session, the characters encountered a "lost pack animal" with "foreign currency" as its treasure - this became a pair of donkeys with some Mexican pesos on them. When they later had a faction encounter, I decided the donkeys belonged to the faction members. I rolled "Pinkerton detectives" but decided they must be Mexican police because of the pesos. The police were chasing someone, so I rolled again, and ended up with cultists of Hezzemuth. At this point the scenario practically wrote itself. The Masons discovered the shrine by accident, where they met the two cultists, and together they were going to conduct a human sacrifice. I guess I could have decided that the cultists were going to sacrifice one or more of the Masons, but I liked the idea of them as recurring rivals. At this point, I still planned that all this would play out when the players encountered the shrine (which admittedly, they could do faster now that they basically knew where it was). 
Then this week, I got "bragging rights" again. So rather than wait for things to unfold, I had the Masons talk up their plan to the whole town, which again, for comedy purposes, enthusiastically cheered them on. So the sacrifice is going down! I don't know for sure if my players will participate, try to prevent it, or get distracted and allow it to happen off-camera, but I'm prepared for any of those alternatives. One thing that's no longer on the table is just waiting for them to enter the shrine on their own before advancing the story. If they ditch the Masons and then go back to the shrine several sessions later, they're not going to interrupt the sacrifice, it's already going to have happened.
The mine this week is the one I generated before using Melancholies & Mirths' abandoned mine generator. 11 rooms in 2 hours is a pretty impressive amount of exploration, especially with all the characterization hijinks going on. One thing I wished I'd done differently, while running this, was handling my room descriptions a little better. Really the only thing going on in this dungeon was all the "trick" rooms. I knew that I didn't want to force the players to roll every time to discover the trick or not. If they looked for it, they would find it. However, I felt like I was almost too forthcoming, and maybe I was taking all the mystery out of the place. I recently read The Alexandrian's matryoshka search technique, which he explains "Instead of immediately discovering the item of interest, the character instead discovers an indicator pointing in the direction of the item of interest. The advantage is that it allows (and even requires) the player to receive information and then draw a conclusion." Instead of searching under a bed and then hearing "You find a secret trap door in the floor", instead you search under a bed and hear "There are scuff marks on the floor around the legs of the bed", which means the bed has been moved, which means you'll move it too, which means you'll discover the trap door. Anyway, that's the idea, although I'll probably have to practice to get it right. But hopefully I can do a better job of describing what they see, without arbitrarily hiding important information, while still allowing a bit of mystery and discovery.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Session Report - Descend into Brimstone - 19 Aug 2018

Meriwether the infantryman (1st level Cleric)
played by American John

Nell the innkeeper (1st level Warrior)
played by Todd

Pemberton Nimby (sage)
NPC ally

Session 4
The townspeople of Brimstone had finally recovered from their collective hangovers (brought on by a bit too much neighborly affection from the Canadian fur trappers) ... but unfortunately, one of the supply trains was infested, and it brought a whole passel of mice into town. Their brown furry bodies skittering over the dirt roads made it look like the whole ground was crawling with horrible life. Brimstone had booze again - but that was about all they had, as the dadgum little varmints ate up pretty much everything but the whiskey. The situation didn't bother Meriwether and Nell much though, as they didn't plan on spending much time in town.

Nell and Meriwether had previously agreed on a plan to try to bring Archibald back to life. Nell swore she would have her revenge on Archibald for how cruelly he had treated her in the past, and while Meriwether had no memory of Archibald being cruel to anyone, he did want to see his friend again, and he had a peculiar itch to learn more about this whole resurrection business. Meriwether had adopted the bat statue he found down the Maw whole-heartedly, and he'd given himself up to the worship of Camazotz the bat god. He might not know much more about the demon bat than the critter's name, but he was fixing to start him a cult if he could just persuade some people in town to join him. And beside's Nell could be awfully persuasive. "Oh he was so terrible cruel to me!" wailed Nell, "And you what? Yes, come to think of it, that hustler owed me money, too! Oh, I'mma make him pay something good!" Again, Meriwether didn't really think any of that was true, but who could say no to Sweet Nell?

Fortunately for their plan, Nell's former occupation as an innkeeper meant that she knew a rumor about a disgraced doctor who'd been run out of town after people caught him paying vagrants to dig up graves so he could study the bodies. Rumor was the sonbitch hadn't even gone far, just moved out to the tent city just past the northwest corner of town. They took the long way round, sticking to the outskirts, passing through the cemetery to retrieve Archibald's body before making their way over to the tent camp. They found the resurrectionist's abode, an old Civil War hospital tent that received a wide berth from its neighbors. And inside, they found the resurrectionist himself, Pemberton Nimby.

This guy, basically. (And yes, I did a Peter Lorre impression for his voice.)
Nell and Meriwether showed Dr Nimby Archibald's ant-bitten body, and the nugget of demon ore they hoped he could use to resurrect him. Nimby assured them that he could bring Archibald back, and that he could be less of a free-willed individual and more of a puppet. (Nell was adamant about this point.) He explained that he would fashion the ore into an artificial heart, and whoever held the heart would command Archibald's body. On the issue of payment, Nimby didn't want money. ("Are you sure?" asks Nell, "because Archibald is good for it. He'd be happy to repay you just as soon as he's done reimbursing me!") He wanted them to either bring him more demon ore, or convince the mayor to let him come back into town. Despite Nell's golden tongue, they preferred to fetch the ore, although Meriwether felt nervous about going back down the Maw after what happened to his friend. Fortunately, Nimby has a lead on some demon ore. There's an older mine where the final discovery was some demon ore, but unfortunately, the miners released something from deeper underground and all of them were killed. The company closed down the mine and hushed the whole thing up. (How does he know what the miners found before they died, if none of them survived to tell the tale? Better not to ask.) He'll use their ore to resurrect Archibald, on the condition that they pay him two nuggets of demon ore in return. They all agreed, and Nell spat into her hand to shake on it, baffling Meriwether, who, for all his interest in the occult and macabre, remained startlingly naive.
Nell and Meriwether rode out to the site of the mine. They tied their horses up to the last intact hitching post, next to a shattered water trough. They easily broke away the makeshift carpentry where the entrance had been halfheartedly boarded up. The sign announcing the mine's name had been splashed with whitewash, then broken in half. Lighting a lantern, they entered the mine, and immediately saw a main shaft straight ahead of them, and a secondary shaft opening off to one side. Meriwether observed that the miners likely wouldn't have gone to the trouble of digging a second shaft if the first one still had any ore in it, but Nell ignored him, and they started down the main mining tunnel.

Nell led them into the first "room" (really a side-tunnel, but as Meriwether would later observe, the whole mine and cavern complex really was laid out like a building, even in the natural, water-carved regions). As they entered, they heard creaks and groans of rock and timber, and the doorway collapsed trapping them in the room. Inspecting the rubble, Nell decided the hours of digging it would take to escape was too much work, so they searched among the wood scraps littering the floor until the found a trap door and a ladder leading downward. Nell climbed down first, and saw a natural cave filled with stalactites growing up out of the floor like a sapling nursery.

Squinting, she thought she saw a patch of darker darkness at the far end that likely represented another way out of the cave. As she strained her eyes, a rock whizzed past her head and shattered against the cave wall behind her, showering her with fragments and dust. Meriwether, who was halfway down the ladder, dropped the rest of the way to the ground and fired in the direction the rock came from, exploding a stalactite. Nell realized that one of the stalactites had moved, just not the one Meriwether shot, and opened fire as well, her bullet passing through the stalactite as though it were made of water. The stalactite's surface rippled and seemed almost to boil, and lashed out like a tentacle, grabbing another stone from the floor to pitch at Nell's head, grazing her temple and sending her to her knees. Meriwether dropped his rifle and ran forward, drawing the weird tooth-shaped dagger the group had discovered down in the Maw. For the barest instant he hesitated before striking - a voice of protest spoke in his head "It does not live. It will not bleed." - but Meriwether's determination to protect his friend prevailed, the dagger struck true, and the stalactite turned to dust and fell away like a crumbling sandcastle.

The two paused to bandage Sweet Nell's head and check the lantern, then collected a sample of the dust and made their way through the crowded cave to enter a natural tunnel. In one direction, they saw the tunnel continue on with other caves branching off it. In the other, they saw a twisting slope where it looked like they'd be able to clamber back up to the top level. They hurried up one at a time, with Meriwether holding the lantern, then passing it up to Nell before beginning his own clamber. They found themselves in a mine shaft that the believed was the main passage they'd been in before. The peeked into the first room they encountered without entering it, and saw a sagging ceiling barely being held aloft by a few makeshift support beams. They passed it by and looked through the door to the next room, where they locked eyes with a pair of bizarre amphibians with long noses who appeared to be "fishing" down a hole in the floor.

Nell produced some dried beef she had once taken from Harry the butcher's dead body. Meriwether took the beef into the cave, and broke off flakes to offer the two creatures. They rolled up their snouts like reeling in a line, then approached Meriwether to accept the food. By carefully flaking off chunks of dried meat while walking slowly backward, Meriwether was able to lead the amphibians to the mouth of the collapsing room. He tossed the rest of the beef inside, and when they followed, shot and broke one of the beams, causing the entire ceiling to collapse, either killing (or at least trapping) the two creatures.
I totally forgot that cave fishers are supposed to be crustaceans, so this what I described instead.
Using a grappling hook and rope that Meriwether had graverobbed borrowed from Archibald, the pair descended down the hole the weird lizards had been using to "fish". As Meriwether set foot on the cave floor below, the whole ground seemed to ripple like the surface of a pond. Meriwether realized it was another stone-mimicking monster, and began preparing a spell to paralyze it. A tentacle that moved like liquid but looked like solid stone emerged from the floor and battered Meriwether. This time it was Nell who dropped in to help, cutting the tentacle in half with a well-placed shot. The severed half of the tentacle turned to gravel, then melted back into the surface as each pebble landed. The floor seemed to boil like an overheated stew. Over the protests of his dagger - a tooth, he realized, from the mouth of the great Death Bat itself - Meriwether stabbed the magically-charged dagger. The ground froze in place as the creature was paralyzed, then crumbled to gravel as it died. The pair collected a second sample alien matter from the stony remains.

The cave they found themselves in was like a tunnel in its own right, albeit a very narrow, tightly curving one. The followed the winding path downward until they reached a point where a waterfall was pouring into the room from above. Opposite the waterfall was an exit, which led out into a much wider cave tunnel with other side-caverns opening off of it. They entered one of these, where they saw a pair of large, drowsy lizard creatures lounging alongside a pool of water. They managed to back out carefully, and chose another side-cave. Here they saw well-preserved fossil bodies of two ancient lizards encased in the wall. Working together, Meriwether and Nell dug out the fossils, then climbed and clambered their way back to the surface, and rode back to town.

Back at the tent camp, Nimby had laid out Archibald's body on an operating table, and appeared to be doing ... well something to it. He was well pleased to see the fossils. He refused to take them as payment in lieu of demon ore, but told them that if they left the fossils with him, he would perform another favor for them in the future. After some quick deliberation, Meriwether and Sweet Nell agreed. Nimby promised that the next time they came to see them, Archibald would be read to rejoin them in the mine, to help retrieve the precious demon ore to pay the group's debt to the disturbing resurrectionist.
2 fossilized lizards
1 resurrection of Archibald

None (for a change!)

2 XP for negotiating with Pemberton Nimby
1 XP for first stone mimic
1 XP for cave fishers
1 XP for second stone mimic
1 XP for snapping salamanders
2 XP for fossils
8 XP for exploring 8 new rooms
Total: 16 XP each

Running graveyard (and session of death)
Archibald the 1st level Thief (3), Officer Shia "the Beef" the NPC Mexian police-officer (2), Daniel the plumber (2), Officer Benicio "the Bull" the NPC Mexican police-officer (2), Luther the factory-hand (2), Jed the miner (1), Henry the huckster (1), Lilly the clerk (1), Bill the livery-stabler (1), Harry the butcher (1), Rusty the auctioneer (1)
This week, Dreams in the Lich House's random campaign event table gave us vermin. This didn't come up much since the group decided to head out of town to rob an abandoned freestanding mine instead of going back down into the Maw. I think my players are feeling understandably wary about the dangers of the first level of this place. Giant centipedes, cave crickets, and giant soldier ants all have 3 HD, and two of the three have attacks that can kill a 0th or 1st level character outright. The only 1 HD monster they're likely to encounter is the giant worker ant, and even those have a high AC that makes them challenging for low-level combatants to defeat. I do really like the campaign event generator though. It definitely helps me, at least, feel like the campaign world is a living place. Recently I've been trying to think of ways you could use something like this to breathe some life into domain-level factions ... although I wouldn't want the random events to become so important that they overwhelmed any attempt by the players to form their own agenda and set their own goals. That wouldn't be railroading, exactly, since it would be random rather than scripted, but events that forced my players to be re-active instead of active would still rob the game of something important.

I created Pemberton Nimby because of my players' goals, specifically the goal to bring back Archibald. The fact that it was Todd who wanted to resurrect John's character to use as an undead servant is fine within the social dynamics of my group - although in general I would want to be very careful about allowing one player to take over another player's character. If the friendship dynamics were different, I wouldn't have let it go quite this way. One thing I am okay with is letting characters come back from the dead as a new character class - once. If Archibald dies again after this, that'll be the end of him. I actually quite like, though, the idea of character classes that you can only take on if you've died. Metal vs Skin suggests that the only way to play a shapeshifting hengeyokai is to come back from the dead as one, and of course Terra Frank wrote three wonderful undead character classes for the first Gongfarmer's Almanac in 2015. (Her contributions are in the first issue, if you go for the free pdfs instead of the at-cost print copy.) 

The mine itself was procedurally generated using Melancholies & Mirths' abandoned mine generator. Lungfungus' generator creates a mine above a larger cavern complex, with more dangers in the untamed caves below. The monsters are all his recommendations as well. At first they were all randomly generated, but at a certain point, I capped the list so that wandering monsters would come from a reduced subset of his original bestiary for the place. This generator did not produce a large number of monsters or treasures - although I think it did produce enough of both to make the outing worthwhile - but what it did generate in quantity were "trick" caves.

Lungfungus also doesn't say anything about it one way or another, but I used his baseline "tricks" to create more interconnections between the rooms and levels. So the room where the entryway collapses, for example, doesn't force you to dig out the entrance - it also provides you with a second exit to the level below. Water features also connect upward and downward, linking rooms that would have been separate if I hadn't decided they must be linked and then connected them. The one thing I worry about is that a dungeon (even if it's supposed to be an abandoned mine) with so many empty rooms could get a little boring. Even if the empty rooms are enlived slightly by tricks and interconnections, there's not really a lot there for the players to do or interact with.

This whole campaign is something of an experiment, with me using other people's random generators to procedurally generate a megadungeon, minidungeons hidden inside the main space, even campaign events. At some point, I'm going to get tired of this, and use what I've learned to write more of my own material. I haven't reached that point yet, but I can see it, off on the horizon somewhere, and I know that it's coming. This isn't because there's anything wrong with the generators I'm using. On the contrary, a big part of my desire to make things of my own is because of how much they've inspired me. Another part is simply that they are someone else's, made for their goals, for their campaign, and thus they don't necessarily fit my goals quite as well. Everything implies setting, and I find myself wanting a slightly different setting, with my own materials to imply it.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Links to Play Reports

Not that long ago, Papers & Pencils posted an introduction to a new batch of "actual play" or "play report" posts, and it got me thinking about all the excellent play reports I've read in the OSR blogosphere over the years.
In my efforts to collect the links below, I've also come up with a couple recommendations about writing play reports.
First, it really helps if you tag/label your posts.
Ideally, tag your posts both with whichever "actual play" synonym you're using, as well as a second tag with the name of the campaign. Sometimes it's nice to see all of someone's play reports together, and sometimes it's nice to see the play reports for one campaign interwoven with posts laying out setting materials for it. Without tagging, it's very difficult for anyone to find your old reports. At best, they can try to expand all the month and year folders in your archive, and look for post titles that sound like they might be actual play. The gold standard, if you feel up to it, seems to be to create a static page of links to all the reports in a single campaign, so that people can easily read them in order.
On my own blog, the games where I'm the referee are tagged as session reports, and the games I play in are tagged as play reports.
Second, narratives are easier to read than transcripts. If you want to quote yourself or your players directly, be warned that a little goes a long way, and a lot is probably too much.
Third, practice every good writing skill you know. Some of these reports I like much more than others. Another time I might try to understand what separates my favorites from the ones I like least. For now, let's say that it's probably best to go with a conversational style. Some people can write within-fiction accounts well, either fictional news report from within the campaign world or fictional first-person narratives allegedly written by player characters - but it's my impression that those are more difficult to do well than talking through it in plain language. Frequent paragraph breaks are your friend; a wall of text is not. The right amount of detail is a balancing act, but it's probably better to highlight a few amusing anecdotes and summarize things that happened in a straightforward fashion. Personally, I also enjoy hearing from other referees how they made certain decisions and rulings as a kind of post-mortem, but the absence of that analysis also won't doom you.
Jeff's Gameblog
Probably the first "actual play" reports I ever read were written by Jeff Reints. As far as I know, the first campaign he blogged about was his Cinder campaign. A few years ago, he probably would have been most famous for his Wessex campaign, also known as "The Caves of Myrrdin". More recently, you might have heard of his Vaults of Vyzor campaign. I really love the fake old first-person dungeon crawler CRPG graphics he put together for his Vyzor posts. You can see an example below. (Jeff's players also create a lot of maps and art, and he posts a lot of it in the session reports. It livens them up even more.) Jeff doesn't tag his play reports separately, but he does tag them with the names of his campaigns, so you'll see the reports alongside all the things he creates for them. It was much shorter lived, but he also ran a few sessions of Doom of the Jaredites, a hexcrawl based on the Mormon myths about the lost tribes of Israel settling in the American southwest.
Roles, Rules, & Rolls
Roger ran at least two campaigns that I'm aware of. One was to send players into the Castle of the Mad Archmage megadungeon. The other was his Trossley campaign. Roger tags the campaigns, but not the play reports. Over the course of those two campaigns, he wrote his own Cellar of the Castle Ruins dungeon level, that I believe fits directly above the CotMA. Frankly, it's worth checking out everything in his "Rules and Tools" sidebar. You can see a map of the Cellar below.
Telecanter's Receding Rules
Telecanter didn't start out tagging any of his posts. If you browse his archive, you can find a number of early play reports by looking for entries that have the same name, followed by a Roman numeral, for example in September 2009, he has a series of posts about a game he called Epithalamium. Later, he started tagging his play reports as either post-session narratives or post-mortems. These overlap a lot, and most reports are tagged with both, but there are a few you'll only see by looking at one or the other. Like Roger, a lot of Telecanter's games featured a dungeon of his own making, the Coastal Caves, which is in the one-page dungeon format. You can see an image of the map below. Telecanter wrote a lot of really interesting free content, and I highly recommend checking out the links along the top of his blog, all of the really, but perhaps especially the DM Aids.
Dreams in the Lich House
John's blog is pretty much just setting creation and play reports, and the settings he creates for his campaigns are all pretty memorable and interesting. He doesn't tag play reports separately, so you'll find them interspersed among his campaign materials. His Gothic Greyhawk campaign is the oldest one I'm aware of him writing about. I started reading his blog while that one was coming to a close and his next campaign was getting started. It's one I've written about before, the famous Black City campaign, set in an alien city on a frozen island in a north sea, explored by pirates and vikings. Next he spent a fair bit of time building a Harrow House campaign, but I don't think there are actually any play reports in there. Instead I think he ran an ancient Greek themed version of the same idea, which became his Taenarum campaign. He ran one of the only Dwimmermont campaigns I've seen. More recently he started a 5e Illyria campaign, although it didn't last long. If you were going to check out additional materials on John's blog, I'd definitely recommend looking at the collected links for the Black City project.
Hill Cantons
Chris writes about his game sessions using a fictional news gazetteer. Usually he ledes with rumors and information to set up the next session, but usually follows up with information about what happened at his table recently. He also ran a Traveller campaign that he wrote about too. I've praised Chris' writing about undercity pointcrawls before. Another very cool idea of his is the Chaos Index, which allows player hijinks to cause escalating metaphysical disruptions to the campaign setting.
Tales from the Sorcerer's Skull
Most of Trey's recent play reports take place in his own wonderfully Oz-ian Land of Azurth setting. (It reminds me a lot of Wampus Country, as well.) Trey seems to frequently use well-known adventures, but re-skin them. Most recently his players visited a Yellow-Submarine-themed Misty Isle of the Eld, and before that they went to Castle Amber. Trey has a couple of books that collect his Weird Adventures and Strange Stars settings. He's currently working on something with Silver-Age-style supervillains, and (much beloved by me) his slowly accumulating science fantasy setting. The map below comes from his unnamed science fantasy world.
Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque
Jack meets my gold standard for play report tagging. All his play reports share a common tag. Each play report is also tagged with the campaign it took place in. And then his two longest-running campaigns - Krevborna and Umberwell - both have static pages so you can find all the reports in chronological order. I've actually played in Jack's Umberwell campaign.
For any of these play reports, good writing helps, but it's probably also important that your session was lively and your players enjoyed the experience. I don't think there's any writing style in the world that could make it enjoyable to read about the kinds of online games where you explore two rooms, spending half the session trying to solve a puzzle with no clues, and the other half in excruciating slow combat. Jack's sessions (that I've played in at least) typically involve a fair bit of exploration and investigation to gather clues, with a climactic battle at the end once you understand enough to confront and fight the source of the mystery.
Dungeon of Signs
Gus labels both his actual play reports and tags the individual campaigns they belong to. His play reports are mostly divided between four different campaigns. The first campaign Gus ran was based on the Anomalous Subsurface Environment, although it mostly took place in the campaign world outside the famous megadungeon, rather than inside it. His second campaign (or family of campaigns) is based inside his own HMS Apollyon setting. Gus also played in a Wampus country campaign (hosted, unsurprisingly, by Erik from the Wampus Country blog) and a Pavelhorn campaign (hosted by Brendan from Necropraxis). Gus wrote quite a few dungeons and adventures, and you can find them on his PDFs to Download page.
Monsters & Manuals
Nomisms writes lots and lots of setting material, including his well-known Yoon-Suin setting, but he has relatively few actual play reports. (He may have slightly more than I realize, because he tags his campaigns, but not his play reports, the two I found here are campaigns that only exist as actual play.) His Cruth Lowland campaign is, I think, set in a kind of Dark Ages northern Britain. Three Mysterious Weirdos takes place in a fantasy Edo Japan, much like his Valleys of the Winter People setting materials. Some other fun settings he's developed over time on the blog are Behind Gently Smiling Jaws, an Inception-style campaign that takes place in the mind of a dreaming immortal crocodile; New Troy and There Is Therefore A Strange Land, both of which are high-fantasy with fairy knights and interdimensional travel; and two I'm especially fond of - a planetcrawl through fantasy moons of Jupiter, and The Fixed World, where different parts of the world are always the same time of day and the same season, so Always-Winter-Always-Morning is near Spring-Morning and Winter-Noon, etc. You can see his map of it below.
In Places Deep
Almost all of Evan's play reports are from his long-running Nightwick Abbey campaign. If you've heard of Evan before, it's probably because of Nightwick, which you can see a partial map of below. I briefly played in one of Evan's online games, maybe a session or two, in his ancient Mesopotamia inspired Uz setting. More recently, Evan's written a couple of good retrospectives about what it takes to run a megadungeon campaign for as long as he has. Like Hill Cantons, most of the play reports here take the form of within-campaign fictional news reports. (I don't know the best way to assemble players for an open-table online campaign, but putting out a call for players on his blog seemed to work for Evan the time that I played.)
Hack & Slash
Courtney's session reports are mostly from awhile ago, and most of them are transcripts rather than summaries. Unfortunately, we don't get to see any of the actual play that goes into his Numenhalla megadungeon, pictured below. Courtney's blog shares a lot of his thoughts on player agency, and his great love for dungeon tricks and traps. Recently he's been publishing Numenhalla in segments, alongside advice for running a resource-management heavy megadungeon campaign using 5e.
Unofficial Games
Zzarchov's recent play reports are from his Xanthandu campaign, seen below, which I believe is set in a kind of fantasy Polynesia, or at least some sort of fantasy tropical island with a French colonial governor. A few are Neoclassical Geek Revival games (for which he also has example-of-play transcripts, which I am given to understand are lightly fictionalized versions of real events, emphasizing the use of his houserule mechanics). Zzarchov also played in Evan's Nightwick Abbey game, so some reports on that appear as well. If you recognize Zzarchov's name, it might be because he has written quite a few adventures, including Scenic Dunnsmouth, which uses dice-drops and playing cards to procedurally generate a Lovecraftian village, and Price of Evil, which uses similar techniques to generate random Gothic haunted houses. I'm also quite fond of his "seed tables" for generating random wilderness hex contents. These are each three related 1d8, 1d6, and 1d4 tables, where rolling triples 1-4 or doubles 5-6 gives additional results, which I think is a smart use of the dice.

False Machine
Patrick's earliest actual play posts are all his adventures in other people's campaigns. He mostly wrote these as first-person within-fiction narratives. More recently, his posts are about games he's running. First in his Islands of the Imprisoned Moon campaign, which I think takes place in a fantasy Polynesia, and second in his Syr Darya campaign set in Nomisms from Monsters & Manuals' Yoon Suin. His most recent post covers something like 11 sessions in one long go. I've mentioned Patrick's Deep Carbon Observatory on here before, and he also wrote Veins of the Earth (among others).
Blog of Holding
Paul has only a couple groups of play reports. He has one series of actual play in a setting based on the fictional game Mazes & Monsters. He has another series of play reports from a game he played with D&D designer Mike Monard. Paul doesn't really tag any of his posts. Those two series are unusual because they are tagged - but my favorite group of his play reports aren't. My favorite is Paul's "Downton & Dragons" campaign which combined D&D with Downton Abbey, and took place in four parts. You might have heard of Paul from his project to turn D&D's "random dungeon generator" into a dungeon map.
The Alexandrian
Justin's play reports all take place in his Ptolus campaign. After each play report, he also posts a post-mortem talking about some gamemastery decision he made for the session. Justin's blog also meets my gold standard (and may actually represent the high-water mark for organization) since he not only tags his play reports, and his post-mortems, and the campaign itself (so that you can view both together), he also has an index page linking to each entry. Justin's blog is also a treasure trove of good advice and interesting ideas, and he wrote the "Halls of the Mad Mage" dungeon that I've used on a couple occasions.
Planet Algol
Probably the best way to read Planet Algol's play reports is to go over to the sidebar of his blog, scroll down past the images, and start at the beginning of his "Algol Adventures" links. However, he has more play reports than show up in the sidebar, and there is a tag you can use to find them. While you're there, it's probably worth checking out his page of links to many of his campaign setting materials.
Henchman Abuse
Anomalous Subsurface Environment was one of the first OSR megadungeons, and I remember seeing someone point out that the guy who wrote it also had a hilarious blog where he wrote about his players exploring the place. It's really good. Pat does tag his play reports, but honestly, most of his posts are play reports, and the relatively few that aren't are all about him designing rooms and traps and monsters.
People Them with Monsters
Jeremy didn't write a lot of session reports, but they were mostly related to his evocative Outland campaign setting. Outland really captured my imagination, especially with the cool house rules document and cool character sheet. You can see a map of the setting below. Outland was similar to one being outlined by another blogger on the now-deleted blog called "A DM's Tale" (or something pretty similar). Both settings were human-focused, but had things like morlocks and demons rather than elves and goblins. It helps that Outland has a good name, for sure, but I liked the variety of weirdness he was creating (and I appreciated his willingness to admit in his reports when things didn't go the way he'd hoped). Today you might know Jeremy from his very helpful DCC reference document.
In their own ways, I think Planet Algol, ASE, and Outland are all inspired by or were responses to Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa setting. Carcosa came out a little before my time. By the time I started reading gaming blogs, Geoffrey had already deleted his and gone into semi-retirement. I wasn't there to see how people first reacted to his setting. I think I first read about it in some RPG trivia post that listed it alongside FATAL and The World of Synnibarr. But for people who were around at the time, it seems like the combination of sci-fi, fantasy, and weird horror tapped some deep vein of interest and inspiration. Which is probably why Carcosa is still interesting and still popular today. It's also why I still find Planet Algol, Henchman Abuse, and People Them With Monsters worthy of revisiting.
Dungeonskull Mountain
Paul's play reports are divided between two main campaigns. His more recent one is his Rifts misadventures campaign. Before that, he had a Demon Verge campaign, which was based on an idea Jeremy from People Them With Monsters also had - to use Dwarfstar games' Demonlord boardgame map as a wilderness hexmap. This is an idea I love, and so I really enjoyed reading Paul's reports on his campaign there.
Redbox Vancouver & Redbox Niagra
These aren't individuals' blogs, they're blogs maintained by D&D clubs. They're connected to, or share members with (I think?) Planet Algol, The Mule Abides, and the whole Dungeon World scene.
I first learned about them because RBV played some sessions in the Anomalous Subsurface Environment as part of their White Sandbox campaign (check session 40 to see what I mean). Poking around, I discovered that their Black Peaks campaign included adventures in Stonehell, and that they had a brief Planet Algol campaign as well.
Separately, reading about Barrowmaze on Discourse & Dragons led me to RBN and their ongoing campaign through Greg's dungeons, including now Forbidden Caverns of Archaia (Which is great, because Greg doesn't tag his play reports - there are plenty of entertaining adventures, but you really have to scour his archive to find them.)
It's really fascinating to read these guy's play reports, because they're clearly interested in old-school gaming, and obviously getting together frequently to play old-school D&D, and yet they're socially almost entirely disconnected from the corner of the OSR scene that I'm most familiar with. Reading their reports is like looking into some parallel world.
Savage Swords of Athanor
Doug's is the last of the old blogs in the "so old they're now defunct" section of my list. I think all of his play reports take place in his pseudo-Roman setting of Estarion. Like Jeremy from People Them With Monsters, he also has a cool house-rules document. In the sidebar to his blog, Doug also has a series of setting documents you can download. They're less like zines and more like a broadsheet or gazetteer, but still kind of cool and worth checking out, especially if ancient Rome is your thing.
Papers & Pencils
As I mentioned up at the beginning of this post, Nick is the one who inspired me to kick this whole list off. He doesn't actually tag his play reports, but he does maintain an index for each campaign, linking to each session in order. His first campaign was Dungeon Moon, which was huge and probably over-ambitious, and I like that he talks with humility about what he wanted to do and what went wrong. While it was too hard to run as a judge, if Gus from Dungeon of Signs is any indication, the players all enjoyed the depth and scale of the place. Nick's second campaign was On a Red World Alone, which was set on Mars, the eponymous red world. His most recent campaign, and the one whose index he just published recently is Fuck the King of Space, where the goal and attitude are pretty much exactly what you'd expect from the name. I like science fantasy and even just regular fantasy set in space, so I'm particularly fond of that aspect of Nick's GMing. In terms of referee advice, Nick's also written a list of post-game questions for the ref to ask themselves to help guide preparations for the next session. Several new bloggers a little further down my list have adopted these and started adding them to the end of their own session reports.
Bernie the Flumph
Josh's play reports tend to alternate between a campaign set in Sine Nomine's Silent Legions, and various DCC adventures. I've played online in a game Josh was running once, set in his own Sanctum of the Snail adventure. I enjoy Josh's love for mollusks, and his personal quest to stat up the Flumph in every ruleset he can.
Against the Wicked City
Except for one early post about playing D&D with his toddler son, all of Joseph's play reports are about a group of players collectively known as Team Tsathoggua, who've been adventuring in a fantasy Southeast Asia that includes the Island of Purple-Haunted Putrescence and Qelong. Joseph's players are full of schemes, and seem to be constantly trying to set themselves up as local rulers. Joseph's campaign materials outside this game mostly focus on his linked Wicked City and Great Road settings, which are part of a fantasy Central Asia. He also writes reviews, mostly of horror-themed adventures and rulesets, most recently a series of posts about the newest version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. You might also know his essay on the aesthetics of ruin, or his collection of weird character classes that's available to download from his sidebar.
Coins & Scrolls
Skerples has an ongoing campaign with a fairly stable group of players. Over time, his play reports have transitioned from being set in his own Tomb of the Serpent Kings and Steam Hill dungeons to taking place in his version of The Veins of the Earth. Skerples is notable for being very into accurate medieval and feudal history, while running a game where most of his players are insect people. (Technically his list of player races includes many non-insect options, but in practice, his games end up feeling more weird than if his players mostly played as hedgehogs and mice.) Skerples is also and enthusiastic adopter of the Goblin Laws of Gaming, making him one of the founding members of what I would consider to be the slightly separate GLOGosphere of OSR bloggers. (You can see all of Goblin Punch's GLOG posts here, and find all the pdfs of his rules here.) You may also recall that once when I was reviewing Skerples' vignettes of fantasy epochs, I said something like "Skerples should collect these into a book and offer it for sale." Well, Skerples did in fact collect them into a book and offered it for sale. My influence on the project is parodically denounced in the acknowledgments.
Throne of Salt
Dan is also part of the new crowd of GLOGosphere bloggers. His recent play reports all take place in his own planes-hopping Danscape setting. His games sound fun, and they remind me of that fact that virtually anyone who runs an online game with an open table that they announce on G+ is going to end up with a veritable "who's who?" of celebrity players. (Well, as "celebrity" as it gets among the OSR blogosphere anyway. But Dan's games end up being just as much celebrity games as Jeff of Jeff's Gamesblog's do.)
Eldritch Fields
Tamas has apparently been around for a few years, but I only just found his blog. He doesn't have many play reports, but there's quite a bit of variety, ranging from a Conan-style raid on a wizard's tower, to Cavegirl's Game Stuff's Gardens of Ynn, to his own adventure inside a giant fish.
The Scones Alone
Brian's blog is pretty new, so he only has a handful of play reports, all set in the same campaign, exploring A Red and Pleasant Land using Into the the Odd rules. Still, his reports are interesting, I appreciate his self-reflection, and there's a soft place in my heart for anyone who attempts to bring in NES games like Dragon Warrior and the original Castlevania as inspiration for their games.
Bearded Devil
Most of Jonathan's recent blog posts are actual play reports. I heard about Bearded Devil from seeing someone praising his hand-drawn city maps. They are gorgeous. He also draws headshots of all his player characters and NPCs. So I came for the art, but the play reports themselves are lively and interesting. One recent game took place in a city built inside the stomach of a flying psychic whale. Another involved an evil alchemist who was synthesizing fake royal jelly to usurp the throne become the false queen of the wasp-women.
People who run games seem to be much more likely to write play reports than players are. (And the players who write play reports seem to be players who are themselves also judges and referees.) I take notes almost every time I play or run a game, but I admit, I'm not always fast to write them up properly. Probably there are other people in a similar situation.
Despite this, I do think there's a real value in people sharing their gaming experiences. Seeing how other people run their games can give you ideas for things you want to do (or things you desperately want to avoid doing!) and it gives you a sense of what the community is like, what other players and other judges are doing at their tables. If you want to know what works well, what's hard to pull off, what people usually pay attention to, and what they ignore, there's no better way to find out than by reading play reports, especially if they come with some sort of post-mortem talking about how the referee prepped, how they made key decisions, or anything else important that came up during play.
I really like learning what's unique about people's home campaigns, but I think it's also quite valuable to see what happens when two different judges or two different groups play through common dungeons, or use two versions of the same campaign setting. First because it's important for a community to have a shared repertoire and language, a shared collective memory of key or formative events, and secondly because it's by seeing how different people interpret the same game text that you really learn how the game is played, you really see what's possible within the structures the game establishes.
In addition to post-mortems, I also really like to see lists of the player characters and retainers, lists of encounters/combats, lists of treasures found, and lists of XP awarded. Papers & Pencils' list of post-session questions might also be catching on. I find that these kinds of summaries are a good GM-aide (I often don't know how much experience to award until after I've gone through the list of everything the players did while writing up the report), and I enjoy them as a reader as well. Not only do they help me keep track of all the moving parts of the session report, they again show me how different judges adjudicate similar situations.