My current campaign, Planet Karus, includes a wilderness for players to explore. I have a keyed map going, but I continue to tinker with the method for constructing it. One thing I was left dissatisfied with was that I had no way to determine if there should be monsters or treasure in a ruin. (For generating ruins themselves, I am partial to the Ravaged Ruins section in Ready Ref Sheets, and Ash Adler’s Random Landmark Generator.)
With no method ready to hand, I decided to look at Thasan, a hex-crawl by Melan, whose hex-crawl guide is also the basis for how I populate a map’s hexes with ruins and lairs in the first place. So I looked at all the ruins on the map and key and counted the presence of monsters, treasure or both. The following table below shows the numbers.
Monster & Treasure
Number of Thasan hex-crawl ruins with a monster, treasure, or both
If we translate this to a handy 1d6 roll, we get the following table.
Monster & Treasure
Table to determine presence of monster or treasure in hex-crawl ruin
Nice and simple. Now I can be confident I will at least get the ratios “right”. The remaining question is what tables to go to for determining the amount of treasure, and monsters. But that’s a matter for another time.
Finding the right balance between downtime and dungeon delves took me a while. At first, I tried sticking to the “keep town boring” adage and skipped over it entirely. But the book does have a nicely outlined home base, Tours-en-Savoy, which hooks into the castle in various ways. However, my players were not inclined to “go exploring” to see what was there. I had to figure out a way to make the town gameable for them without overshadowing the dungeon delves by taking up too much time at the table. Following is what I ultimately landed on. Briefly, it comes down to this:
A strict one-delve-per-session regime
A fixed amount of in-game time that passes between sessions
Player downtime actions resolved as much as possible between sessions, using chat
Automating much of the probabilities in the book’s town section and pushing them to the players over chat before each session
Similarly, automating and posting the availability of retainers and specific retainer stats
A menu of town actions that is used as a player aid at the start of each session
More details on each of these elements are below.
We play once a week online, and each time a couple of players from a modest pool show up. I insisted on a relatively strict one-delve-per-session regime to make this easy to manage. I then further figured in-game time between expeditions would also pass at a predictable rate. The book states getting to the castle from town is a two-day trip. So two days to get there, a couple of in-game hours to make a foray, and two days to travel back means five in-game days for each expedition. Make it a week. Then another week of downtime passes between those expeditions. So each session, the game calendar advances two weeks unless players decide to do something that eats up additional time, like magical research. In which case, we simply increase the calendar further.
Speaking of the calendar, I used a real-world calendar of Switzerland generated on . We began to play in 1525, which I picked for its political climate and technology level. Early reformation, Italian Wars, it all felt right. I learned from correspondence with Melan that he had a late sixteenth-century timeframe in mind while writing the module. But that’s nitpicking.
For each session, I would just mark off the date of the expedition. That made it easy to determine when upkeep was due. We use the rule in the original game: 1% of XP in gold each in-game month. Since all characters live in Google Sheets, it was trivial for me to create an auto-updating tally of XP for the entire stable of characters. Upkeep is just paid as a lump sum for the whole company.
Tours-en-Savoy has quite a few events that trigger on an n-in-6 chance. The thing is, I want players’ encountering these to be independent of them actively stating their visit to a particular location. Instead, I assume they make the rounds during the week or more between expeditions and encounter anything prompted by those probabilities.
To streamline it all and move most of it into the time between sessions, I created a Google Sheet that does all the die rolls in one go. It spits out a copy-paste-able bit of text I can massage ever so slightly where needed and post in our Discord server’s #downtime channel.
To make this work, I copied over the random curios table from the book, the treasury, and the rumor mill. For potions, I went with the Swords & Wizardry Core list and adjusted the costs based on the price of a healing potion in Castle Xyntillan. I also add in the available retainers (see below).
After posting the week’s downtime update, players can act on things over chat in Discord or wait until the next session. We handle things in the first 20-30 minutes of the session before moving on to the dungeon delve proper.
Castle Xyntillan contains an ingenious rules module for retainers published initially in Beyond Fomalhaut #1, called “Morale & Men.” However, the procedure for determining the availability of retainers is quite involved, requiring many die rolls. Dreading the idea of doing this at the table, I once again converted it into a Google Sheet that produces a bit of copy-paste-able text. As a bonus, I also created a generator for the specific retainers’ names, loyalty scores, and quirk (which uses the table taken from the book). For names, I went with some pseudo-Swiss names pulled from fantasynamegenerators.com.
I simply re-roll availability for each session. The only wrinkle I added was to roll with “disadvantage” if retainers had been killed in the previous expedition to reflect the bad reputation the company had acquired. Retainers who had been hired on the last outing and did survive would be automatically available again for the next one.
To make the town more gameable, I created a one-page summary I screen share with players as a kind of menu at the beginning of each session. This removes the need to go through an involved sequence of roleplaying every session.
It includes buying equipment, hiring retainers, carousing, healing, and getting rumors. It also covers the identification and purchasing of potions and magic items in more detail.
This succinct overview enables players to be more proactive in resolving some of the usual things they want to do between expeditions. In some cases, they can handle it without me having to mediate as a ref.
So, putting the above all together, here is the procedure I would follow for downtime:
Generate downtime events
Generate retainer availability
Combine, edit, and post to Discord
Resolve any player-requested downtime actions in Discord
During a session, before the expedition:
If applicable, charge the company for their upkeep
Resolve any remaining player downtime actions
During a session, after the expedition:
Tally XP from treasure (we did not do monster XP), and let players divide as they see fit among PC expedition members
If desired, resolve carousing
As shortly as possible after having played, outline a play report, mostly from memory
Write out the play report as a blog post, publish, and share
Update records with the fallout from an expedition where necessary
Since wrapping up the Castle Xyntillan campaign I’ve been kind of busy with work, then summer happened. And now I have emerged out from under a deadline and so here then finally is another blog post. We have recently kicked off a new campaign, Planet Karus, which I will share more about soon, but first I have a few more posts on Castle Xyntillan planned, focusing on how I ran the game: methods I developed, problems I solved, that sort of thing. Hopefully it is of some use. To start things off relatively manageable, I will talk about the magic swords. This was inspired by a recent comment left by Michael.
Here’s the issue: Castle Xyntillan has several intelligent magic swords littered throughout. The treasury (page 122-123) lists seven in total. In all cases, an EGO score is included, but, somewhat curiously, no intelligence (INT, excepting the wonderfully curious Rabbit Sword). Furthermore, Swords & Wizardry, the OD&D retroclone for which Castle Xyntillan is nominally written, has no rules for how to deal with intelligent swords. In my case, I cared about two things: how do I determine if a sword is able to communicate with its wielder (and in which fashion), and how should I read the EGO score for purposes of what OD&D calls “egoism” and B/X (the expert set specifically, on page X47) “control”.
Back in November 2020, after a session in which I had to improvise sword control on the spot with unsatisfactory results, I asked Melan about this via email, and he shared that in fact, they were using Hungarian retroclone Kazamaták és Kompániák to playtest the module. Gaps in the rules they would fill out using OD&D.
With this knowledge, I looked at the EGO scores in the module, and noticed they regularly exceed 12, which is the upper limit in OD&D. You are supposed to add up EGO, INT, and a point for each extraordinary ability for a total score ranging from 8-28 (what B/X calls a “willpower” score).
Anyway, the crucial bit in OD&D is this: Intelligence, which is a score ranging from 1-12 not only determines communicative ability, but also the number of powers a sword has. So by analyzing the powers listed for each sword in Castle Xyntillan, we can reverse-engineer its INT. The resulting scores are listed in the table below.
The Blade of Rel
Book states it speaks
See extended note below
Book lists INT of 8
Intelligence of magic swords in Castle Xyntillan
Special note on Onwards!: Looking at its power in question, it is a lawful blade that can paralyze chaotics. This suggests it is in fact a sword with a special purpose (see page 30 of OD&D volume 2). OD&D says such swords have the maximum intelligence and ego scores. However, Castle Xyntillan states the sword is “fairly dumb”. How you want to square that circle I will leave up to you. In my game, it was never encountered. But I think I would have run it as being telepathic, and just very thickheaded.
Assuming you are running Castle Xyntillan in Swords & Wizardry, a final question is what rules to use to handle egoism and control. You could just use the rules in OD&D, or those in B/X (which, note, are different). Me, I found both to be too involved to be used on the spot. I was not alone in this. Paul Siegel, of Wandering DMs, once wrote a nice two-part series of posts in which he looked at “EGO through the ages”, and crunched the numbers on the control check in OD&D to derive a simpler d20-based alternative. This, effectively, is the one I used in Hackbut, my own home-brew rules.
Determine your Will Modifier by adding your character’s Intelligence and Strength and then subtracting from this the sword’s Intelligence and Ego. Calculate your Wound Modifier based on this chart:
Full hit points
≥ Half hit points
< Half hit points
Roll d20 + Will Modifier + Wound Modifier >= 20 to retain control of the sword.
In case it isn’t obvious, I simply use the EGO score listed in Castle Xyntillan as the sword’s full willpower score for purposes of control checks.
When I started running Castle Xyntillan I had a copy of the PDF printed at my local print shop and wire bound. This is the copy I used at the table while running the game. I marked up the hell out of it, and the binding makes it lie nice and flat. I also used some post-it note book tabs to label each section of the castle, for easy flipping back and forth. And, as you can see here, I noted the intelligence and communicative ability of each sword in the treasury. Highly recommended.
That’s it. Hope this is of some use to folks out there.