Categories
Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 19

We played another game the other night. Below is a short machine-generated summary. Click through to read the full report. This was a fully improvised affair. Players latched on to a tossed-off rumor about mysterious goings-on in the farmers’ guild hall, and wouldn’t you know it, they wanted to go “investigate.”

Planet Karus session 19, in which the party, comprising Konn and Ploikal, embarks on a stealthy heist at the Farmers’ Guild Hall, uncovering its secret as a base for a cult devoted to the harvest goddess Yiggub. Utilizing magic, invisibility, and summoned creatures, they navigate through guards and a sudden onslaught of skeletons, successfully looting treasure, including gemstone eyes from a statue, before making a narrow escape into the night.

Read on over at planetkar.us.

Categories
Tools

1d100 Sword, Sandal and Planet Tropes

That previous list of planetary romance tropes was fun and useful, but Planet Karus is the kind of science fantasy where we are on an alien world that was once technologically advanced but has collapsed back into barbarism after a long-forgotten cataclysm of some sort. The level of civilizational development is now roughly similar to the ancient world: Mesopotamia, ancient Greece, Rome… So we need a list of tropes that smashes together the sword and sandal genre (also known as peplum) and planetary romance. So that’s what I got ChatGPT 4 to do for me, take the tvtropes.org description of both genres as input, and generate 100 commonplace ideas for this sort of non-existent genre, which I might call sandal and planet going forward. Here they are below, unedited.

  1. Mythic Heroes in Space: Similar to Hercules in ancient settings, but now they’re interstellar adventurers with a blend of mythical strength and space-age technology.
  2. Ancient Ruins on Alien Planets: Discovering remnants of ancient, advanced civilizations on distant planets, echoing the ruins of Rome or Greece.
  3. Space Chariot Races: Adapting the iconic Roman chariot races into high-speed, anti-gravity vehicle competitions on alien worlds.
  4. Interstellar Gladiator Arenas: Combining the gladiator battles of ancient Rome with high-tech, interplanetary settings where warriors from different planets compete.
  5. Galactic Empires and Feudal Societies: Empires spanning multiple planets, with a social and political structure reminiscent of Ancient Rome or Greece.
  6. Mythological Creatures as Alien Species: Creatures from ancient mythologies reimagined as alien beings with unique abilities and cultures.
  7. Lost Technology as Magic Artifacts: Artifacts of lost alien technology that are perceived and used as magical objects by less advanced societies.
  8. Star-Crossed Alien Love: Romantic tales reminiscent of chivalric romances, involving characters from different planets or species.
  9. Planetary Oracles and Prophecies: Merging the concept of oracles and prophecies from ancient myths with alien worlds, guiding or misleading space adventurers.
  10. Space Odyssey: Epic journeys across the galaxy, echoing the travels and trials of heroes like Odysseus, but set in a vast cosmic landscape.
  11. Alien Colosseums: Enormous, technologically advanced arenas on alien planets where interstellar versions of Roman gladiatorial games are held.
  12. Interplanetary Councils of Gods: A pantheon of powerful beings from different planets, reminiscent of Greek or Roman gods, influencing or meddling in galactic affairs.
  13. Star-Faring Centurions: Soldiers or space marines styled after Roman Centurions, upholding the law of a vast interstellar empire.
  14. Celestial Charioteers: Heroes or gods traveling across the stars in vehicles reminiscent of ancient chariots.
  15. Desert Planets with Ancient Cultures: Worlds that mirror the sandy landscapes and ancient cultures of North Africa or the Middle East.
  16. Planetary Oracles and Seers: Individuals with the ability to predict or influence future events, regarded with awe and fear on various planets.
  17. Space Vestal Virgins: Guardians of sacred alien artifacts or knowledge, similar to the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome.
  18. Galactic Olympics: Interplanetary competitions that are a mix of ancient Olympic Games and futuristic sports, showcasing physical and technological prowess.
  19. Interstellar Trade Agoras: Marketplaces on different planets resembling the Agoras of Ancient Greece, centers for commerce, culture, and political discourse.
  20. Planetary Feuds and Wars: Epic conflicts between planets or star systems, mirroring the famous wars of ancient history, like the Trojan War or the Punic Wars.
  21. Mystic Space Priestesses: Revered female figures who combine elements of ancient priestesses and mystics with a cosmic perspective.
  22. Alien Beast Hunts: Extraterrestrial versions of mythological beast hunts, where heroes face off against strange creatures on distant planets.
  23. Galactic Senate Intrigue: Political maneuvering and power struggles within a grand senate or council, echoing the political drama of Ancient Rome.
  24. Starborne Philosophers: Thinkers and scholars who travel the galaxy, spreading wisdom and engaging in debates reminiscent of those in ancient Greek academies.
  25. Celestial Temples and Shrines: Sacred places of worship or significance on different planets, echoing the architectural grandeur of ancient temples.
  26. Intergalactic Chariot Convoys: Caravans or fleets of space vehicles, serving as the interstellar equivalent of ancient trade routes and caravans.
  27. Mythical Trials in Space: Heroes undergoing a series of trials or labors across different planets, akin to the labors of Hercules.
  28. Planetary Conquerors and Emperors: Ambitious leaders or emperors who seek to expand their rule across multiple worlds, similar to the conquerors of ancient history.
  29. Space Amphitheaters for Public Discourse: Forums or public spaces on planets where citizens gather to discuss and debate, akin to the forums of ancient Rome.
  30. Alien Oracle Networks: A system of oracles across different planets, each with their unique methods of divination and prophecy, interconnected in a cosmic network.
  31. Interstellar Epic Poems: Stories of heroic deeds and adventures, shared across galaxies in a style reminiscent of ancient epic poetry.
  32. Cosmic Spartacus Rebellion: A galaxy-wide uprising led by a charismatic leader, mirroring the historical figure of Spartacus and his rebellion.
  33. Alien Olympians: Powerful extraterrestrial beings who are worshipped or revered like the gods of Olympus, each ruling over different aspects of the cosmos.
  34. Galactic Legionnaires: Elite warriors or soldiers who serve in a spacefaring legion, maintaining order across planets, akin to the Roman legionnaires.
  35. Planetary Pythia: Mysterious figures on various worlds who serve as sources of wisdom and guidance, similar to the Oracle of Delphi.
  36. Spaceborne Epic Battles: Large-scale conflicts in space, evoking the grand battles of ancient epics with a mix of futuristic weaponry and tactics.
  37. Celestial Sybils: Prophetic women who offer cryptic predictions and guidance, respected and feared across different planets.
  38. Interstellar Agon: A term for the conflict or struggle central to a story, taking place across planets and involving a diverse cast of characters.
  39. Mythical Bestiary of the Stars: A collection of strange and wondrous creatures from different planets, each with its own mythology and lore.
  40. Galactic Colossi: Enormous statues or constructs on various planets that serve as monuments or guardians, reminiscent of ancient colossal statues.
  41. Space Oracle Stones: Ancient stones or artifacts scattered across planets, offering cryptic guidance or power to those who decipher them, much like ancient oracles.
  42. Planetary Gladiator Schools: Training academies on different worlds where warriors learn the arts of combat, echoing the gladiator schools of Rome.
  43. Star Wanderers: Nomadic tribes or individuals who traverse the cosmos, akin to the wandering peoples of ancient times.
  44. Interstellar God-Kings: Rulers of planets or star systems who are worshipped as deities, similar to the divine rulers of ancient civilizations.
  45. Cosmic Pantheons in Conflict: Rivalries and wars among different groups of deities or powerful beings, each controlling different aspects of the galaxy.
  46. Galactic Oracles and Curses: Mysterious curses or prophecies set by cosmic oracles that drive the destinies of planets and their inhabitants.
  47. Astronomical Myths and Legends: Stories and legends about the creation of stars, planets, and galaxies, mirroring the mythologies of ancient cultures.
  48. Alien Amphitheaters of Debate: Venues on different planets where philosophical, ethical, and political debates take place, reminiscent of the forums and public spaces in ancient Greece and Rome.
  49. Spaceborne Heroic Duels: One-on-one combat between heroes or leaders in space, drawing inspiration from the duels of ancient warriors and heroes.
  50. Planetary Vestiges of Ancient Empires: Remnants of long-gone civilizations on distant planets, echoing the ruins and relics of ancient empires on Earth.
  51. Celestial Augurs and Diviners: Individuals with the ability to interpret omens or signs in the cosmos, guiding spacefarers and planets, similar to Roman augurs.
  52. Interstellar Pilgrimages: Journeys undertaken by characters across the galaxy to sacred sites or planets, echoing religious or spiritual pilgrimages of ancient times.
  53. Galactic Senate Debates: Political and philosophical discussions in a central governing body, mirroring the debates of the Roman Senate or the Athenian democracy.
  54. Mythic Space Beasts: Enormous and legendary creatures inhabiting the vastness of space, akin to the mythical monsters of ancient lore.
  55. Star-Driven Prophecies: Foretellings that drive the fates of entire planets or galaxies, similar to the prophecies that played key roles in ancient myths.
  56. Alien Labyrinths and Mazes: Complex and mysterious structures on various planets, challenging adventurers like the labyrinths of myth.
  57. Cosmic Choruses: Groups or entities that narrate or comment on galactic events, similar to the choruses in ancient Greek tragedies.
  58. Planetary Founding Myths: Legends about the founding of colonies or civilizations on new planets, inspired by stories like Romulus and Remus or the founding of Athens.
  59. Interstellar Exiles and Wanderers: Characters banished from their planets, wandering the stars in a manner reminiscent of ancient heroes in exile.
  60. Galactic Dionysian Festivals: Extravagant celebrations or festivals on various planets, reflecting the revelries and ceremonies of ancient cultures.
  61. Celestial Oracles and Cosmic Visions: Mysterious figures who receive visions of the galaxy’s future, guiding heroes and empires, akin to the oracles of ancient times.
  62. Interplanetary Chivalric Orders: Knightly orders that uphold codes of honor and justice across planets, reminiscent of medieval chivalry blended with space exploration.
  63. Alien Cults and Mysteries: Secret societies or cults on different planets with rituals and beliefs echoing the mystery cults of ancient civilizations.
  64. Galactic Myth Retellings: Classic myths from ancient cultures reimagined in a cosmic setting, with gods, heroes, and creatures transformed into interstellar entities.
  65. Space Arena Champions: Warriors or heroes who gain fame and glory by competing in deadly games and contests held in space arenas.
  66. Planetary Epics and Sagas: Long, narrative poems or stories detailing the adventures and feats of heroes across the galaxy, akin to the epic tales of old.
  67. Interstellar Delphic Maxims: Wise sayings or principles that are respected across various cultures in the galaxy, similar to the maxims of the Oracle of Delphi.
  68. Cosmic Temporal Games: Competitions or challenges where participants manipulate time or travel through different eras, akin to the time-bending myths of ancient cultures.
  69. Alien Heroic Journeys: Characters undergoing a series of challenges and transformations as they travel across planets, reflecting the hero’s journey archetype.
  70. Spaceborne Tribal Alliances: Coalitions of planetary tribes or clans, forming alliances or conflicts that mirror the tribal dynamics of ancient societies.
  71. Stellar Oracles and Cosmic Enigmas: Mysterious figures offering guidance or posing riddles based on celestial phenomena, akin to the enigmatic oracles of ancient times.
  72. Galactic Conquests and Campaigns: Epic campaigns of spacefaring civilizations to conquer or explore new planets, mirroring the conquests of ancient empires.
  73. Interstellar Pantheons and Mythos: Diverse sets of deities and mythological stories that vary from planet to planet, each with unique cosmic lore.
  74. Alien Gladiator Rebellions: Uprisings led by gladiator-like figures against oppressive rulers on distant planets, inspired by historical revolts like that of Spartacus.
  75. Spaceborne Philosophical Schools: Centers of learning and debate on various planets, where philosophical ideas are exchanged, akin to the ancient Greek academies.
  76. Celestial Festivals and Galactic Games: Grand celebrations and competitive games held across the galaxy, echoing the festivals and athletic competitions of ancient cultures.
  77. Planetary Founders and Legendary Heroes: Founding figures of planetary colonies or civilizations, revered like the legendary founders and heroes of ancient cities.
  78. Interstellar Epic Quests: Long and perilous journeys undertaken by characters across the galaxy, seeking artifacts, knowledge, or destiny, similar to quests in ancient epics.
  79. Cosmic Sybils and Seers: Revered individuals who possess foresight or mystical knowledge, guiding characters and civilizations, akin to the sibyls of ancient myth.
  80. Alien Temple Cities: Sprawling cities on distant planets centered around massive temples or religious structures, reminiscent of ancient temple cities like Athens or Rome.
  81. Galactic Oracles and Astral Prophecies: Mysterious figures who interpret cosmic events and make predictions affecting entire star systems, echoing the role of oracles in ancient societies.
  82. Interplanetary Heroic Epics: Grand narratives that tell the stories of heroes’ adventures across different planets, inspired by epic poetry from ancient cultures.
  83. Celestial Monuments and Relics: Majestic and ancient artifacts or structures on various planets that hold significant historical or mystical value, akin to the monuments of ancient civilizations.
  84. Spacefaring Centurions and Commanders: Military leaders who command fleets or armies in space, drawing inspiration from the disciplined and strategic minds of Roman centurions.
  85. Alien Olympic Trials: Competitive events held on different planets, testing the physical and mental prowess of participants in a manner reminiscent of the ancient Olympics.
  86. Planetary Romance Sagas: Long and intricate tales of love, betrayal, and adventure set on exotic alien worlds, reflecting the depth and complexity of chivalric romances.
  87. Interstellar Political Intrigues: Complex webs of political maneuvering and subterfuge among different planetary governments, mirroring the political dramas of ancient republics and empires.
  88. Cosmic Temples and Shrines: Sacred places dedicated to various deities or cosmic forces, serving as centers of worship and pilgrimage across the galaxy, similar to the temples of ancient civilizations.
  89. Galactic Gladiator Legends: Stories of legendary gladiator figures who become heroes or symbols of resistance in various star systems.
  90. Spaceborne Oracle Cults: Groups or sects that form around the teachings or predictions of a particular space oracle, akin to the religious cults of ancient times.
  91. Interstellar Charioteer Races: High-speed races across the galaxy, where participants pilot advanced spacecraft in competitions reminiscent of ancient chariot races.
  92. Cosmic Pantheon Alliances and Rivalries: Alliances and conflicts among different groups of deities or powerful beings from various planets, akin to the intricate relationships of ancient mythological pantheons.
  93. Galactic Senate Oratory: Skilled speakers and debaters in an interstellar senate, drawing inspiration from the famed orators of ancient civilizations.
  94. Alien Heroic Odes and Ballads: Poetic compositions celebrating the deeds of heroes from different planets, similar to the odes and ballads of ancient poets.
  95. Planetary Cultural Festivals: Vibrant celebrations on various worlds that showcase the unique cultures and traditions of different planets, echoing ancient earth’s cultural festivals.
  96. Spacefaring Philosophers and Sages: Wise individuals who travel the galaxy, sharing knowledge and philosophies, much like the traveling philosophers of ancient times.
  97. Interstellar Archeological Expeditions: Missions to uncover the history and artifacts of ancient civilizations on distant planets, similar to the archeological explorations of Earth’s past.
  98. Cosmic Prophecy Fulfillments: Events unfolding across the galaxy that fulfill ancient prophecies, intertwining the destinies of planets and their inhabitants.
  99. Alien Myth Reenactments: Dramatic performances or rituals on different planets that reenact their myths and legends, akin to the theatrical traditions of ancient cultures.
  100. Galactic Epic Chronicles: Extensive narratives that chronicle the histories and mythologies of various planets and civilizations in the galaxy, mirroring the comprehensive chronicles of ancient times.
Categories
Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 18

I figured I could post summaries of our current campaign’s actual play reports here, seeing as how I write full reports on the campaign website anyway. These are generated with a little help from ChatGPT 4.

Session 18 was the first after a 29-week hiatus and the first in-person game since we switched to online play after the first lockdown of March 2020. It was a tremendous joy to do this while sitting around a table, slinging physical dice and all the rest.

Planet Karus session 18, in which the party navigates a series of challenges and encounters, such as dealing with large spiders, disarming traps, and fighting bonecrusher dogs. They find treasures like gold pieces, platinum machine parts, silver idols, and an unusual crossbow. The session concludes without any casualties, and the party successfully avoids detection by bearded pigs in a room they explore.

You can read the full report here for a detailed account of their journey.

Categories
Tools

1d100 Planetary Romance Tropes

Just a quick one—I fed ChatGPT 4 the planetary romance description on TV Tropes and asked it to generate a list of one hundred ideas commonplace to the genre. Here they are below. Maybe of use to some referees like myself who occasionally need a little help while prepping their next science fantasy or sword and planet D&D session.

  1. Ancient Alien Artifacts: Mysterious remnants of lost civilizations.
  2. Feudal Future: Societies with medieval-like structures in a futuristic setting.
  3. Lost Technology: Advanced, often misunderstood technologies from a bygone era.
  4. Alien Flora and Fauna: Unique and often dangerous wildlife native to alien planets.
  5. Interstellar Travel: Journeying between stars or planets, typically with advanced spacecraft.
  6. Mystical Powers: Characters with abilities that blur the line between science and magic.
  7. Planetary Romance: Epic adventures set on exotic, far-off worlds.
  8. Spacefaring Hero: A protagonist who travels and explores the cosmos.
  9. Alien Cultures: Interaction with societies of alien beings.
  10. Dying Earth: Worlds at the brink of ecological or cosmic collapse.
  11. Space Opera Elements: Galactic-scale drama and adventure.
  12. Chivalric Codes: Honor and valor in a futuristic context.
  13. Lost Colonies: Human settlements that have lost contact with Earth.
  14. Unexplored Territories: Vast, unknown regions of alien planets.
  15. Feudal Politics: Power struggles and intrigue in a space-age kingdom.
  16. Heroic Quests: Epic journeys with a significant goal or purpose.
  17. Cross-Planetary Romance: Love stories that span different worlds.
  18. Sword and Planet Combat: Traditional melee combat in a futuristic setting.
  19. Space Pirates: Outlaws and raiders in the far reaches of space.
  20. Hidden Civilizations: Secret societies or cultures on alien worlds.
  21. Space Castaways: Characters stranded on unknown planets.
  22. Revolutionary Movements: Uprisings against oppressive regimes.
  23. Interplanetary War: Conflicts that span multiple planets.
  24. Space Exploration: The discovery and exploration of new worlds.
  25. Alien Gods: Deities or god-like beings from other worlds.
  26. Cultural Exchange: The sharing of ideas and customs between different species.
  27. Space Knights: Warriors upholding a code of honor in space.
  28. Terraforming Projects: Transforming alien worlds to support human life.
  29. Alien Languages: The challenge of communicating with extraterrestrial beings.
  30. Psychic Abilities: Mind-reading, telekinesis, and other mental powers.
  31. Rogue Planets: Worlds drifting outside of any solar system.
  32. Space Tyrants: Ruthless rulers commanding vast interstellar empires.
  33. Ancient Prophecies: Foretellings that drive the plot and character actions.
  34. Galactic Mysteries: Enigmas and secrets spanning the cosmos.
  35. Alien Ecology: The study and interaction with alien ecosystems.
  36. Dimensional Travel: Movement between different planes of existence.
  37. Interstellar Empires: Massive, galaxy-spanning civilizations.
  38. Planetary Gods: Deities associated with specific worlds or celestial bodies.
  39. Space Nomads: Cultures and peoples who travel the stars without a home planet.
  40. Cybernetic Enhancements: Use of technology to enhance physical and mental abilities.
  41. Time Dilation: The effects of relativity on space travel and aging.
  42. Cosmic Events: Supernovas, black holes, and other astronomical phenomena.
  43. Space Colonies: Human settlements in space or on alien planets.
  44. Forbidden Knowledge: Information that is dangerous or forbidden to possess.
  45. Alien Alliances: Partnerships or coalitions between different alien species.
  46. Planetary Defenders: Heroes who protect a world from external threats.
  47. Space Monsters: Gigantic or dangerous creatures inhabiting space.
  48. Cosmic Balance: The delicate equilibrium between opposing cosmic forces.
  49. Star-Crossed Lovers: A love affair hindered by the vastness of space.
  50. Alien Religions: Belief systems and practices of extraterrestrial origin.
  51. Interstellar Trade: Commerce and trade between different planets.
  52. Space Academies: Institutions for training spacefarers and explorers.
  53. Alien Artifacts: Objects of unknown origin and purpose from other civilizations.
  54. Space Espionage: Spying and intelligence gathering in a galactic context.
  55. Biomechanical Technology: Integration of biological and mechanical systems.
  56. Galactic Federation: An alliance of planets or species for mutual benefit.
  57. Cosmic Lore: Ancient and mystical knowledge about the universe.
  58. Starship Battles: Combat between spacecraft in space.
  59. Alien Hierarchies: The social and political structures of alien societies.
  60. Space Mythology: Legends and myths set in the backdrop of space.
  61. Astro-Archeology: The study of ancient civilizations through their spacefaring remnants.
  62. Teleportation: Instantaneous travel between distant points.
  63. Artificial Intelligence: Sentient machines or computer systems.
  64. Galactic Prophecy: Predictions about the fate of the galaxy.
  65. Space Witches/Wizards: Individuals wielding mystical powers in space.
  66. Interstellar Diplomacy: Negotiations and treaties between different planetary races.
  67. Star-Crossed Species: Romantic or familial bonds between different alien species.
  68. Quantum Anomalies: Strange phenomena based on quantum mechanics.
  69. Celestial Phenomena: Unique and awe-inspiring events in space.
  70. Alien Bestiary: A collection of diverse and exotic alien creatures.
  71. Space Smugglers: Individuals who transport illegal goods through space.
  72. Cosmic Cults: Groups devoted to worshiping or venerating cosmic entities.
  73. Interdimensional Beings: Entities from different dimensions or realities.
  74. Space Outlaws: Criminals and renegades living outside the law in space.
  75. Galactic Ruins: The remains of ancient and powerful civilizations.
  76. Artificial Planets: Man-made or altered worlds.
  77. Space Archaeology: The study of ancient remnants in space.
  78. Hyperspace Travel: Faster-than-light travel through another dimension.
  79. Exotic Energy Sources: Unconventional and powerful forms of energy.
  80. Celestial Guardians: Beings or forces that protect the cosmos.
  81. Galactic Disasters: Catastrophic events that impact multiple worlds.
  82. Alien Enigmas: Mysteries surrounding extraterrestrial life and culture.
  83. Space Rebellion: Revolts against galactic authorities or regimes.
  84. Cosmic Consciousness: Awareness or intelligence that spans the universe.
  85. Interstellar Nomads: Groups or individuals who wander the galaxy.
  86. Planetary Mysteries: Puzzles and enigmas specific to a single world.
  87. Space Rangers: Law enforcement in the vastness of space.
  88. Astrobiology: The study of life in the universe.
  89. Galactic Cartography: The mapping and exploration of the galaxy.
  90. Alien Conspiracies: Secret plans or schemes involving extraterrestrial beings.
  91. Cosmic Artifacts: Powerful and mysterious objects from across the universe.
  92. Interstellar Refugees: People fleeing their home worlds for various reasons.
  93. Space Mercenaries: Soldiers for hire in interstellar conflicts.
  94. Astro-Engineering: The construction of massive structures in space.
  95. Galactic Legends: Stories and tales passed down through galactic history.
  96. Celestial Events: Occurrences in space with significant impact.
  97. Alien Philosophies: Unique and diverse ways of thinking from different worlds.
  98. Space Hazards: Dangers and challenges inherent in space travel.
  99. Interstellar Communities: Groups of species or civilizations living in harmony.
  100. Cosmic Destiny: The preordained fate or future of the universe or its inhabitants.
Categories
Notes

Year in Review – 2023 – Gaming Against Science

Not dead but dreaming. Welcome to the fourth year in review of this blog and the first post in over nine months. (Previous annual reviews: 2020, 2021, 2022.)

As the title suggests, my duties to science prevented me from blogging and, at some point, even from playing for the better part of the year. The heavy lifting on my Ph.D. thesis is now behind me, so I hope to reactivate the D&D campaign and become at least a bit more active here in the coming year.

But before all that, here’s the customary year-in-review post, with an overview of what we played, some play statistics specific to the current D&D campaign, games acquired, books read, the state of the blog, and a look ahead.

What We Played

Planet Karus

We played ten sessions of Planet Karus. This is my fully homebrewed sword and planet campaign, which we play with my also fully homebrewed classic D&D ruleset, Hackbut.

The campaign has a dedicated website, which should give you a sense of the sources I am tapping into and some of our house rules. Recently, I have also begun posting play reports. These are less fleshed out than those I used to do for Castle Xyntillan and contain no referee commentary. They are very much written for the players’ benefit and my own. But maybe some of you will still get something out of it.

Maybe in the future, I will share some bits from the campaign here, like I previously did with the wilderness monster and treasure method I developed to populate the campaign hex map. We will see.

In any case, this has been a lot of fun to run so far. It is a different experience from running published materials. It is more freeing on the one hand. Anything I fancy goes. At the same time, it is more daunting because I sometimes wonder what, if anything, to prep beforehand, particularly when it comes to wilderness locales. How much is enough? For this, I am always on the lookout for models to emulate. The constraint is that any examples I look to for guidance need to operate within classic D&D rules assumptions.

Boardgames

This year, we enjoyed eleven board game nights.

Across those, we played Skull (4 plays), Inis (4), Mission: Red Planet (Second Edition) (3), Quantum (3), Tigris & Euphrates (2), Cosmic Encounter (1), Kemet: Blood and Sand (1), and Power Grid (1).

This year’s new favorite has to be Mission: Red Planet. It scratches that dudes-on-a-map itch while remaining streamlined and, best of all, accommodates up to six players. It’s as if Cathala and Faidutti sat down to design a game specifically for our group’s needs.

A game of Cosmic Encounter in progress.

Play Statistics

Sessions

We played eleven roleplaying game sessions. One to finish up the MOTHERSHIP: Bloom and ten sessions of Planet Karus, using my classic D&D homebrew ruleset Hackbut.

We basically stopped playing after June. That puts us at an average of a little under two sessions per month in the active period of play.

Attendance

The number of players ranged from 1 to 3 (M = 2.3, SD = 0.6).

We added two new players to our group. So we now have a pool of nine players total. It is nice to have some fresh blood in the mix. The new players shake things up because they bring in their own assumptions, interests, and playstyles.

The top three players were responsible for over 70% of the attendance. That’s even higher than in previous years. I believe this may point to a narrowing interest in joining our group’s RPG sessions. But maybe it also indicates folks have other things going on that prevent them from playing.

Chart of player attendance.

Character Deaths

We had no PC deaths, only retainer deaths (four in total). Deaths per session ranged from 0 to 3 (M = 0.4, SD = 0.9).

The deadliest single session was #13, in which three heavy footmen succumbed to a swarm of giant plague rats while covering the retreat at the end of a very fruitful foray into The Balok.

The MilliWhack rating of the Planet Karus campaign’s 2023 sessions ranged from 93 to 174 (M = 125, SD = 26). Things are becoming way less deadly after a spiky beginning (see the chart below), probably mainly due to more careful play and a more capable party.

Chart of MilliWhack rating of the Planet Karus campaign to date.

Experience Points

The XP per session ranged from 0 to 4,847 (M = 1,120, SD = 1,357).

The most gainful session was also #13. As mentioned, three footmen died, but the party did abscond with many riches from the treasury of the late gremlin king Zaiden on the first level of The Balok.

We currently have a stable of nine player characters. Their levels range from 1 to 4 (M = 1.9, SD = 1.3). These characters have, between them, now acquired 20,644 XP.

Game Acquisitions

All of the below were either direct purchases or Kickstarter reward deliveries.

PDF Game Books: The Monster Overhaul, Mike’s World: The Forsaken Wilderness Beyond, X1 The Isle of Dread, Blackmarsh, Echoes From Fomalhaut #03: Blood, Death, and Tourism, Echoes From Fomalhaut #08: Welcome to Castle Sullogh, HYPERBOREA Ready Reference Sheets, Gathox Vertical Slum, Monster of the Week.

Most of the above were acquired to pilfer game content from for use with Planet Karus or as models to emulate, particularly for the wilderness section of the game. The Monster Overhaul was a Kickstarter delivery. An impressive GM tool, but not one I will be using because it has drifted too far off from classic D&D.

Physical Books: AD&D First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide (Easley cover), Vaults of Vaarn, The Scourge of Northland, TROIKA!.

Vaults of Vaarn I acquired for Planet Karus inspiration. Scourge of Northland and TROIKA! were Kickstarter deliveries. I continue to enjoy Fleming’s publications’ structure, art, and production qualities. TROIKA! was mainly purchased for completionism’s sake. It has really nice paper.

My Easley cover AD&D 1e DMG. I managed to grab a copy in a decent condition for a somewhat reasonable price. Now my three-book set is complete.

Board Games: Sidereal Confluence, Mission: Red Planet (Second Edition) and Modern Art.

Sidereal Confluence is a beast, and I have yet to bring it to the table. As mentioned, Mission: Red Planet is a new favorite. Modern Art we have yet to play as well.

Kit: ZucatiCorp Holmage Dice, DriveThruRPG Game Master Screen (landscape), Chessex Polycarbonate Dice Boot, selection of Mini Meeples.

The above was acquired mainly for use with our in-person marathon session, which I had to cancel. I now have snazzy custom referee inserts for the screen. The mini meeples were long on my list after reading this Reddit post.

The Holmage dice were a birthday gift. I have an actual set still in shrink wrap in my vintage Holmes box. These are for actual playing with. Although I think I still prefer my selection of Gamescience dice more.

My ZucatiCorp Holmage Dice before receiving the classic crayon treatment.

Books Read

Here I introduce a new section where I review the sci-fi and fantasy fiction I consumed over the year. As you will notice, I am, for the most part focusing my reading on the science fantasy and sword and planet genres. The idea is to immerse myself in the genre that best matches the feel I am going for with Planet Karus. I have found it is beginning to pay off in my ability to spontaneously improvise genre-appropriate content on the spot.

Novels: Swordsmen in the Sky, The Jewel in the Skull (History of the Runestaff, #1), While the Gods Laugh, Bazaar of the Bizarre, R.U.R., Servants of the Wankh (Planet of Adventure, #2), The Serpent (Atlan Saga, Volume 1 of 5), The Mad God’s Amulet (The History of the Runestaff, #2), The Dirdir (Planet of Adventure, #3), The Pnume (Planet of Adventure, #4), Red World of Polaris: The Adventures of Captain Volmar, The Sword of the Dawn (History of the Runestaff, #3), The Runestaff (History of the Runestaff, #4), The Eyes of the Overworld (The Dying Earth, #2).

If I had to pick a single book from this list to recommend, it would have to be The Dirdir. The extended sequence set in the alien hunting ground of the Carabas is one part Predator, one part Roadside Picnic, and a hundred percent terrifyingly awesome. (Close contenders were The Mad God’s Amulet and The Eyes of the Overworld.)

My copy of Red World of Polaris. Not CAS’s strongest stories, but of interest to those who are intrigued by his take on sci-fi.

Comics: Het Geheim van de Nitronstralen (Storm, #6), De Legende van Yggdrasil (Storm, #7), DEN Volume 1: Neverwhere, Stad der Verdoemden (Storm, #8), The Adventures of Red Sonja Vol. 1.

Here the pick is easy. DEN is a remarkable feat of psychedelic picaresque storytelling and mind-blowing art. I wish I could find more sword and planet comics in a similar vein.

My copy of DEN, which I managed to find at a reasonable price after long scouring the internet.

Blogging

Blogging basically stopped after March. After the previous year in review, I posted once on how I determine the presence of monsters and treasure in the wilderness, and once on how I handle experience in Hackbut. I stopped making the time for posting because I needed to complete my Ph.D. thesis, which I did. So maybe things will improve on the hobby front in this new year.

Views

The blog received 3,379 views (down by 517 compared to 2022) and 948 visitors (down by 159). A clear decline, likely due to the lack of posting and sharing posts.

The top posts were Wilderness Monsters & Treasure (163 views), CX Session #0 (140), CX Session #1 (112), CX Downtime (93), and CX Magic Swords (93).

Referrers

After search engines (324 views) and Reddit (106), Beyond Fomalhaut (60), Seed of Worlds (31), and A Distant Chime (21) generated the most traffic to this blog. The usual thanks go out to them.

Looking Back and Ahead

Let’s finish by reflecting on last year’s resolutions, and make some new ones for the year ahead.

Last Year’s Resolutions

We did indeed finish MOTHERSHIP: Bloom which ended suitably grimly.

We played Planet Karus online, but as already stated, at some point, we basically stopped.

Our group continued to play board games once a month, pretty religiously. This has been, for a very long time, the backbone of our group, the thing that keeps us together, and I value it greatly

Blogging basically stopped as well.

Finally, the last resolution was to play an extended in-person game of D&D. We were all set to play a marathon Planet Karus session in mid-November, but I had to cancel at the last moment due to illness.

Upcoming Year

In closing, some resolutions for the new year. I will reactivate the Planet Karus campaign. A weekly game appears to be too tall an order, so we will try to convene once a month instead.

We will also continue our monthly board game night, of course.

I want to run that in-person marathon and have already sent out a new date picker. Fingers crossed that no act of god will prevent it from occurring this time around.

Finally, I hope to return to the occasional spot of blogging here. Monthly is probably still the best target. Less than that is equal to basically no target at all. More than that is very unlikely to happen.

That’s it for this year in review. Happy 2024.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Experience

I have more posts on running Castle Xyntillan on the old to-do list, starting with one on our single delve per session doctrine. But I realized there are a few basic rules details I’d like to jot down here so I can then refer to those. Specifically, on time and movement. So we are picking up the thread on the Hackbut homebrew rules series. In the rulebook, we have arrived at the chapter titled “playing the game.” The very first section, which precedes time and movement, is on experience. Let’s get to it.

Sources of experience

All XP in the game is gained from “looting stuff.” Treasure must be returned to a place of safety for it to count towards XP. Mundane items that are kept for use rather than sold do not net XP. Magic items do not net XP, ever. Each gold piece of treasure is worth 1 XP.

Side note on monster XP: I chose not to hand out XP for defeating monsters because I knew I wanted to disincentivize combat. An added benefit is that it reduces bookkeeping on my part. If I were to do monster XP, I would simply hand out 100 XP for each monster HD. In any case, not giving out monster XP has worked fine so far. Any slowdown in advancement is made up for by generous carousing rules, which I will detail some other time.

Dividing experience points

In practice, we tally treasure and commensurate XP at the end of each session. Players are then free to divide the XP between all characters that participated in that session’s expedition as they see fit. Hired help usually does not receive XP, unless they are classed NPCs, in which case a half-share of XP is mandatory.

Side note on dividing XP: Just letting players divide things however they see fit adds a bit of strategizing on a group level. They can choose to have certain characters advance quicker if they figure it would be helpful for the party as a whole. For example, getting that magic-user to the next level where they gain access to more powerful spells. It also adds a small amount of politics to the proceedings, players will petition others for giving more XP to their character. This is fun for our group and differences are usually settled amicably. But I would only recommend this approach to groups with a lot of trust between players.

Advancement

Characters cannot advance more than one level in a single session. Any XP that exceeds the second level above their current one evaporates, and the character’s XP is left one short of the next level.

Multi-classing

Finally, I also detail rules for multi-classing in this section. These are basically the same as described in Original Edition Delta. The only change I made is that I lowered the minimum score required in the new class’ primary ability to 13.

In practice, we have seen less than a handful of multi-classed characters so far. I am left wondering why. Perhaps the slow advancement is just not worth the extra abilities for the majority of the players in our group. If I were playing I know I would be all over a fighter/magic-user combo. Anyway.

That’s it for the rules on XP, advancement and multi-classing. Nothing shocking, I know, but at the same time, this is the little engine that makes the whole game run. A simple idea which has had far-reaching consequences for the hobby and beyond.

The next post will be on time, and possibly movement thrown in at the same time.

Categories
Notes

Year in Review – 2022 – Having a Normal One

Another year, another annual review. This marks the third full year of publishing on this website. Let’s hope there are many more yet to come. (Previous annual reviews: 2020, 2021.)

The previous two years were marked by the global pandemic. This year was characterized by our collective emergence from that strange and challenging time and the resumption of what I guess can be called normalcy.

Most COVID measures in this country were lifted by the end of February. I was worried that increasing competing activities would end our weekly roleplaying game. This was luckily not the case, as will become clear. We settled into what I think is a “new new normal” or the old normal, one with fewer plays but still enough to sustain a satisfying campaign.

Table of contents:

What we played

Castle Xyntillan

We played a fourth and final season of Castle Xyntillan from mid-January to mid-April numbering seven sessions in total. These are all written up here on the blog. (See the index.) It was a very satisfying conclusion to a very memorable campaign, one that taught me a lot about how to run classic D&D and also gave me the insight and the confidence to start creating my own material. This brings me to the next thing we played.

Planet Karus

We went on a bit of a hiatus as I finalized preparations for a new campaign named Planet Karus. Its setting is homebrew sword and planet inspired by other planets, including Eternia, Skaith, and Pandarve. For the rules, we continue to use Hackbut, with some setting-specific tweaks sprinkled on top. My ambition is for this to be the campaign world where I can run classic D&D games until the end of my days. So one goal was to keep it compatible with baseline classic D&D, to make it easy to develop things using stock tools out there (like the original book’s treasure tables). But to use a setting that resonates with my younger self’s first encounters with fantasy, which is not EDO, but decidedly more science-fantasy, horrific and weird. (This approach was inspired, among other things, by this great now-gone blog post by Robert Parker.) The idea is to just reskin classic D&D where necessary. To basically reinterpret classic D&D’s implied setting through a sword and planet lens. (More on Planet Karus can be found on the campaign’s site.)

Anyway, we played seven sessions of Planet Karus from early September to early December. Let’s call it Season 1. I have not written those up on the blog here, contrary to my stated intentions in the previous annual review. Writing up CX was fun and useful but also quite a bit of work. The posts found an audience because they were about a published module. The same does not apply to my homebrew campaign even if I at some point publish the materials here (as was previously suggested by commenter DC.) I am keeping notes, of course, if only for my own reflection and analysis. But those are too rough for public consumption. It will probably stay that way. It makes running the game more sustainable, and I can focus my blogging energies on other types of posts.

MOTHERSHIP: Bloom

We concluded the year’s roleplaying with frequent player HB taking over the game-mastering reigns from me for another MOTHERSHIP miniseries. This time we used the latest preview versions of the first edition rules and the module BLOOM by Daniel Hallinan. I’ve enjoyed playing through this so far. The module gave me some good underwater sci-fi vibes in the vein of The Abyss (and, I am told, also Underwater) as well as bio horror along the lines of Annihilation (novel, film).

We played two sessions in December and will pick it up again in January to finish up in another session or two.

MOTHERSHIP as a system is fine. The changes made to the classes for the new edition are definitely improvements over the original version. But I continue to feel like the skill-tree design is a poor fit for a game that purports to be “old school” in its sensibilities. I notice players tend to look at their character sheet when they are faced with a problem, looking for something they can roll against to solve it rather than engaging with the fiction directly. Also, at character creation, choosing skills is still a significant speed bump, as it invites planning ahead and offers a large number of choices at the outset. Better to randomize them, like we do with magic-user spells in classic D&D.

Boardgames

We sat down eight times this year for face-to-face board games on the last Friday of the month. BoardGameGeek tells me these were the games we played in order of the number of plays.

  1. Galaxy Trucker (8 plays)
  2. Quantum (4)
  3. Inis with Seasons of Inis (3)
  4. 7 Wonders (2)
  5. King of Tokyo (2)
  6. Skull (2)
  7. Dragomino (1)

King of Tokyo and Skull are quick games that we like to break out at the end of an evening when we are too tired for the big stuff, but we do not want to go home just yet. “Tokyo” is always a riot, and Skull is a great shortcut to some of the bluffing kicks one also gets from games like poker.

Dragomino is a kids’ game I acquired for my boys (who are now getting into tabletop gaming themselves, an exciting development.) It is surprisingly appealing even for adults as well.

7 Wonders mainly sees table time when we have a big turnout, and some of the other meatier games’ player limits are exceeded. I have a love-hate relationship with this one, I find the engine-building aspect of it kind of tedious, but I have yet to find a satisfying replacement.

This brings us to the top three.

Quantum I acquired second hand late 2021. I have been looking to add it to my collection ever since my game design consultancy days when I was acquainted with its designer. It is quite good and strikes a nice balance between quick-to-play and crunchy. The way it uses chunky six-sided dice is elegant and satisfying.

Galaxy Trucker I received for my birthday in spring. Another one that had been sitting on the list for a long time already. Ever since playing Space Alert, I have been a Vlaada Chvátil fan. Galaxy Trucker has recently had a revamp, and the components are all very nice. I also love how, as is usually the case with Chvátil games, the how-to-play is integrated with the rulebook. This game was an instant hit with the group. It is very funny and plays really fast, but it still has a satisfying amount of crunch. It feels like riding a rodeo on a chaos-generating engine that is quickly tearing itself apart.

And finally, my personal favorite, Inis, which we now play with the Seasons of Inis expansion so that it allows for five players. I adore this game. It looks gorgeous, plays really quick, scratches that “dudes on a map” itch in a way that is not obvious, and does not lead to analysis paralysis like its close contender Kemet does. Highly recommended.

Play statistics

Moving on to some data and analysis of how often we played, what the attendance was like, and the two most important data points in the D&D resource economy: character deaths and experience points. What follows is limited to our classic D&D roleplaying sessions, which continue to take place online.

Sessions

We had a total of 16 sessions in 2022 (down from a whopping 37 in 2021). That is an average of 1.3 sessions per month (SD 1.2). In 2021, by contrast, the average was 3.1 (SD 1.5). This can be explained for the most part by the long break between the final Castle Xyntillan season and the new Planet Karus campaign kicking off. If we removed the months when no plays happened from the data, we get an average of 2 sessions per month in 2022 (SD 0.8) versus 3.4 in 2021 (SD 1.2). Still lower, but not as dramatic a drop as it would first seem, and it can largely be explained by the fact that one Friday a month is now devoted to face-to-face board games.

Attendance

Our group still consists of seven players (eight, if you include the undersigned). Two players did not participate in any of our roleplaying at all (they did join in on the board games occasionally). This year we had an average of 2.6 players per session (SD 0.7). That is down from 3.7 (SD 1.4) in 2021. However, in the last season of 2021, that number is 2.6 (SD 0.7). So things are staying pretty stable. Barring significant life events that impact the ability to participate, this looks like the “new new normal” for our group for the foreseeable future. As in the previous year, the top three players are once again responsible for 66% of attendance, but players did trade places.

Chart of player attendance.
Chart of number of players.

Character deaths

And now, for the statistic that all classic D&D referees care about the most: character deaths. It is interesting that I now get to compare a module written by someone known for their grasp of classic module design, and my own home campaign, in terms of deadliness (as well as XP, for which see the next section). Just to reiterate, rules and procedures have remained basically the same: My homebrew rules Hackbut, which largely has parity with OD&D, B/X D&D, and its retro-clones.

Castle Xyntillan season 4:
Seven sessions, zero player-character deaths, and 11 retainer deaths, for an average of 1.6 deaths per session (SD 2.1). The single deadliest session was #37 in which five retainers died when the company breached the Crusaders’ Tomb, went head-to-head with undead crusaders, faced off against the Giant Snail Guardian, and pilfered the treasury.

Planet Karus season 1:
Seven sessions as well, four player-character deaths, eight retainer deaths, for a total of 12 deaths, and an average of 1.3 per session (SD 1.5). The deadliest single session was #4, in which the same player lost two characters, and two retainers died as well, during a foray into The Balok (the campaign’s current tentpole dungeon). One fighter was killed by a volley of gremlin javelins. (Gremlins are Planet Karus’ equivalent of kobolds.) As a result, a porter failed his morale check and fled back out of the dungeon, triggering a trap on the way out. The same player’s second fighter later stepped on a large venomous snake while heading back out of the dungeon and failed his save versus death. The last retainer also failed their morale roll at this incident and fled into the dungeon’s darkness to be captured by boogieman slavers (read: hobgoblins). (The party later declines to pay the ransom.)

So, it looks like Planet Karus is about as deadly as Castle Xyntillan, but we see more PC deaths on Planet Karus. This can be explained by the fact that the number of monsters and their deadliness is about equal, but PCs in Planet Karus are just starting out and so have far fewer hit points to rely on when things go south.

Chart of character deaths.

Experience points

Moving on to the flip side of character deaths: The sweet rewards reaped for braving danger in the form of experience points. I should point out that I only reward XP for treasure recovered at the traditional rate of 1 GP = 1 XP. (Although in Planet Karus, we use a silver standard for flavor reasons, the game is balanced accordingly, basically as Delta recommends here.)

Castle Xyntillan season 4:
The company gained 14,800 XP, all in a single haul in the very last session when they ransacked the suite of the countess. That amounts to an average of 2,114 XP per session (SD 5,594). By comparison, in the previous year’s gaming, they collected 132,796 XP, on average, 5,533 XP per session (SD 5,281). A pretty big drop which can be explained by the fact that by this point, they had cleared out most of the easy-to-reach treasure. The campaign ended with the company on average at level 4.4 (min 1, max 6, SD 1.9). Between the active characters, they had collected 126,926 XP.

Planet Karus season 1:
Here the picture is quite different. So far, the party has collected 7,071 XP in total, averaging 780 XP per session (SD 1,830). Am I being too stingy? I know there are big hauls tucked away in the tentpole dungeon, but players have been repeatedly repelled by the gremlin tribe that has made the first level their home base and appear to have lost interest in making a concerted effort to oust them. This dungeon has been set up more as a classic assault-style scenario in the vein of the original G series of modules. It is something the players are less accustomed to, and it is certainly a very different approach compared to Castle Xyntillan.

The single biggest haul (5,000 XP) was actually from a wilderness adventure where they cleaned out the treasury of a clan of swinelings holed out in a somewhat remote swamp. (Swinelings are the Planet Karus equivalent of hobbits. Don’t ask.) This may have taught them the “wrong” lesson.

The current total XP for the party is 5,631. The average level is 1.3 (SD 0.5), although 2 out of 7 characters in the active stable have managed to reach level 2. I guess I will not change anything about the treasure distribution for now, but if I place new treasure, I will err on the side of making it easier to reach.

So much for play statistics. Let’s move on to the games I acquired and then wrap up with some blogging numbers.

Game acquisitions

I will not account for every acquisition that sits in my DriveThruRPG account. When I went through the 2022 purchases, I was kind of shocked by the volume. I will call out some notable items instead.

I collected more than a few game books for science fantasy elements to steal for use in Planet Karus. Not all of them I ended up actually using anything from, but they were all useful to skim, at the very least. These included, in no particular order: Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells, Mutant Future: Revised Edition, Planet Eris Gazetteer, Echoes From Fomalhaut #04, Bloody Basic – Weird Fantasy Edition, and Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Rulebook.

The book I actually pulled things from, technological items in particular, is Hyperborea 3e. I love the vibe of the items in this book, and they can be transplanted easily into any classic D&D rules framework.

(I should also mention Warriors of the Red Planet, Xuhlan and Carcosa; three books that I have drawn significant inspiration from for Planet Karus, but which I had already acquired some time ago.)

I also got the Hill Cantons Compendium II specifically for the white wizard class in there, which I adapted for my own Planet Karus “celestial wizard” NPC class (there are no clerics in this setting, so I needed an alternative source of magical healing).

And then, on the physical front, I was very pleased to acquire both Dungeon Geomorphs Set One to Three and Monster & Treasure Assortment Sets One-Three to add to my very nice Holmes Basic box. I also decided I wanted to own the core three books for AD&D 1e, and managed to acquire a Players Handbook and Monster Manual, both with the Easley covers, which I have a particular fondness for. All that’s left is to find a reasonably priced Dungeon Masters Guide.

Dungeon Geomorphs and Monster & Treasure Assortment.
AD&D 1e Players Handbook.
AD&D 1e Monster Manual.

I also received some physical books from kickstarters I backed. Knock! Issue Three was once again fun to leaf through and sits nicely next to the first two editions. Through the Valley of the Manticore I liked for its solid art and compact yet comprehensive design. And Into the Odd Remastered is a refreshing example of what can be achieved by a formally trained graphic designer when they take a stab at a game book.

On the board games front, I managed to limit myself to two acquisitions, one for my birthday and one for Christmas. My shelf space thanks me. These were the aforementioned Galaxy Trucker, and Power Grid, another game I have played in the past but was still missing from my collection of classics.

Blogging

I did way less blogging this year. Seven Castle Xyntillan reports and two entries into the new “Running Xyntillan” series (on magic swords, and on downtime). That’s nine posts versus 33 in 2021. A big drop. A lot of my creative energies went into completing Planet Karus materials instead. The first note I wrote towards this when I was still following the Gygax 75 framework that I would later abandon dates from 29 August 2021.

My writing energies were otherwise pretty depleted by a lot of heavy lifting on my Ph.D. labors. I will have to complete my thesis in the upcoming year, so it is unlikely I will have a lot more room for blogging. But I will try to hit about a post a month.

Views

On to some readership statistics: The blog had 3,896 views and 1,108 visitors. In 2021 the numbers were 3,519 and 1,188, respectively. So about the same despite way fewer posts. This can be explained by those Castle Xyntillan play reports being of enduring interest to people who are (considering) running it themselves.

I have expanded the promotion of my posts beyond Twitter and the OSR Discord to also comment on the weekly r/osr blogroll curated by u/xaosseed on Reddit, and my new-ish Mastodon account.

The top posts were all Castle Xyntillan play reports: the first two, the last one, and weirdly, session number 17. The only other post that did well was the one on magic swords in Castle Xyntillan. An overview of the numbers is in the table below.

#PostViews
1Castle Xyntillan – Session #0193
2Castle Xyntillan – Session #1177
3Castle Xyntillan – Session #17106
4Running Xyntillan: Magic Swords104
5Castle Xyntillan – Session #4383
Table of top 5 posts of 2022 by number of views.

Referrers‌

The top sources of traffic are search engines (329 views) and Reddit (191). These are followed by a bunch of classic D&D blogs: Beyond Fomalhaut (run by Melan, the designers of Castle Xyntillan, 91 views). Twitter has yielded a mere 23 views. The final referrers I will mention are A Distant Chime (home to a great Castle Xyntillan campaign write-up, 16 views), Tales of the Rambling Bumblers (Joshua was kind enough to link to an old post of mine about ability checks, 11 views), and DIY & dragons (11 views).

Looking ahead

Okay, let’s wrap this thing up with a reflection on last year’s resolutions and make some new ones for this year.

Last year’s resolutions

2022’s notable achievements include bringing our Castle Xyntillan campaign to a satisfactory conclusion and starting up the new Planet Karus one, which, as planned, is indeed so far 100% homebrew.

I also did manage to get Quantum to the table, but not my other acquisition from back in 2021, Tigris & Euphrates, which I will have to amend soon.

Blogging-wise, I did not continue writing play reports and also did not continue the series on Hackbut. Reasons for the former, I have already addressed. I might revive the Hackbut series, but probably not by continuing to go through the rules section by section.

Finally, we ended up not adding any new players to our group, although I did ask around and got some enthusiastic responses from potential candidates. This year I hope to actually get them to join in.

Upcoming year

And finally, here are some new year’s resolutions: We will finish up the MOTHERSHIP: Bloom miniseries. Then we will pick up the Planet Karus campaign again, and I hope to run 2-3 seasons this year. One in winter, one in spring, and one in the fall. Maybe we can hit 20+ sessions this year? That would be great.

We will obviously also continue our last Friday-of-the-month board game nights, of course. Those are always great.

Blogging-wise, as already mentioned, I hope to post maybe once a month this year. Who knows if I will actually manage that. But this monster-size annual review is at least a solid start.

And finally, a “dream” I’ve had for some time is to get together physically with the group and play D&D for more than a few hours but do one of those marathon sessions we used to always do over the weekend when we were teenagers. Maybe rent a holiday home? It would be great to play face-to-face again sometime. Roll physical dice, scribble maps, and stain character sheets with crisps-soiled fingers.

Categories
How-To

Running Xyntillan: Downtime

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.

Time

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 timeanddate.com. 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.

All of the in-game calendars used during our Castle Xyntillan campaign. Sessions and expeditions and other notable events marked out.

Town events

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.

Town events generator for Castle Xyntillan. The random rumor is a freebie I started handing out to players. Once we ran out of book rumors, I started coming up with my own by rolling a random area and room. The “fronts” line is another add-on I started using, adapted from Sly Flourish. The remainder is basically Castle Xyntillan by the book.

Retainers

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.

Retainer availability generator for Castle Xyntillan.
Random retainer stats generator for Castle Xyntillan.

Downtime actions

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.

Downtime actions sheet for Castle Xyntillan
Downtime actions sheet for Castle Xyntillan. The items on re-rolling HD, carousing, magical research and upkeep are specific to my home-brew rules.

Procedure

So, putting the above all together, here is the procedure I would follow for downtime:

Before sessions:

  • 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

After session:

  • 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

Rinse, and repeat!

Categories
How-To

Running Xyntillan: Magic Swords

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.

The issue

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”.

Intelligence

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.

NameListed EGOINTCommunicationAdjusted EGONotes
The Blade of Rel177Empathy10
Darkslayer1510Speech5Book states it speaks
Mourner208Empathy12
Onwards!2412/7Telepathy/Empathy12/17See extended note below
Rabbit Sword118Empathy3Book lists INT of 8
Rimeblade167Empathy9
Scrupulous157Empathy8
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.

Control

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:

Wound LevelModifier
Full hit points+15
≥ Half hit points+10
< Half hit points+5

Roll d20 + Will Modifier + Wound Modifier >= 20 to retain control of the sword.

Paul Siegel. Contested Will Probabilities.

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.

Concluding remarks

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.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #43 – Fearless Vampire Killers

The Company:

  • Jürg (F6/T2)
  • Hendrik (MU6)
  • Claus (T5)
  • Norin, Gaetan & Jonas (light foot)
  • Purlie (bowman)
  • Ivka (porter)

Loot:

  • Necklace of Deflection
  • Decayed cosmetics
  • Ruby ring +3
  • Worm-eaten volume on rejuvenating magics
  • Brooch of obscenely high value

Casualties: None. All’s well that ends well.

Report:

Hendrik spends several weeks in the hospital to recover from the curse bestowed on him by the pendant he picked up in the previous expedition.

Meanwhile, Jürg experiments with his ring of invisibility, to ensure he fully grasps its functioning. He also asks around about The Beast, and learns a number of strange and troubling things about it.

Although the recent demise of several retainers have made hired hands reluctant to join the company, they do manage to find a few foolhardy enough to join them.

***

And so, on Wednesday, January 1st, 1528, the company find themselves once more at the gates of Castle Xyntillan, for what will turn out to be their very last expedition. They steel themselves, for they have resolved to go after the count and countess, both vampires, and among the most powerful of the remaining family members.

They head towards their suites, along the south wall. While passing by the grand entrance they spot two headless manservants, standing around, waiting. The company draw their missile weapons, take pot shots, and kill one almost immediately. They hit the other, who drops something, and stands around confused. They fire at him again, hit once more, and the servant turns and runs back into the castle. They decide not to pursue, but do go to see what they dropped. It turns out to be an invitation from the count and countess to the company to attend a dinner that night, in the grand dining hall, where they may come to an understanding.

They guffaw, and continue on their way, figuring it is better to confront vampires while the sun is still out.

At the suites, Claus climbs up to the balcony, ties off a rope, and drops it so that the remaining party can climb up easily. Next, Claus picks the lock to the countess’ suite with some trouble. Inside things appear all quiet. They enter, open curtains to let the sun in, and turn to the casket that is sitting on a stone altar underneath the window. It is pushed over, and crashes to the floor, spilling soil all over it. Otherwise, it appears to be empty.

On a hunch, they push against the slab atop the altar, and sure enough, it slides away to reveal a space holding a second casket. They pull it up, and carry it out onto the balcony. Jürg opens it, and a noxious cloud of dust puffs out into his face. He manages to cover his mouth and nose in time to stave off its lethal effects. Inside the casket lies the countess in her satins and silks. She immediately begins to smolder in the sunlight, awakes, and cries out in agony. Jürg chops at her eck with his axe but it bounces off her skin as if it is steel. Claus leaps out and plunges a stake straight into her chest. Hendrik fires off a bunch of magic missiles.

Staking vampires: not as easy as it looks! (Dracula Has Risen From The Grave)

They make to repeat their devastating barrage of attacks, but she transforms into a cloud of gas, and floats back into the castle. They pursue, puzzled about what to do to stop her. Hendrik fires off more magic missiles. Claus fishes out a vial of holy water from his pack. Jürg removes his helmet and readies his horn of blasting. Meanwhile, the countess squeezes through the cracks around a door leading off from her suite, several swarms of vampire bats begin to emerge from the suite’s shadowy corners, and two skeleton guardsmen barge in through the suite entrance.

They manage to bash open the door, revealing a study. Hendrik’s protective magics keeps the conjured bat swarms at bay. Claus tries to spray the cloud with holy water from his flask, but fails. Jürg blows his horn and completely dissipates the cloud. They hear a hair raising scream recede into the distance. Meanwhile, one of the skeletons is cut down. The other flees, and so do the vampire bat swarms.

They search the study and the suite. Hendrik finds a curious worm-eaten tome amidst bookshelves full of decaying volumes. Jürg finds a necklace in the dresser, and also scoops up a bunch of cosmetics. In the casket, they discover a ruby ring.

Next, they head to the count’s suite.

They cross the balcony, and Claus once again picks the lock. Opening the door to a crack, they find all is quiet here as well. They enter, and immediately fling open the casket that sits on a couch. It is empty. They push the casket to the floor, and rip open the couch’s seating, but find nothing.

Continuing the hunt, they enter the count’s study and lab, but remember they more or less picked it clean during their hunt for the gelatinous cube all those expeditions ago. Impatient as ever, Jürg whips out his horn and blasts a horn through a wall of the lab. When the dust has settled, they see on the other side a bedroom with silver crosses on the walls, and yet another casket! They enter, open the casket, but it holds only grave dust. They hear a disembodied sigh, all the crosses blacken and crumble, and then the sounds of a person breathing heavily and dragging chains leave the room through its doorway. They give each other a look, shrug, and tip the casket’s contests on the floor. They find nothing.

Deciding this won’t get them to the count, they backtrack, and make their way to the vestibule, with a plan in mind.

As they leave the count’s suite they are faced with two more skeleton guardsmen who sound the alarm but are destroyed before help can arrive.

As they arrive in the vestibule, they hear the familiar sobbing of the ghost of James, the family butler. Not missing a beat, they immediately begin to tidy up the vestibule. James expresses his gratitude, and the company ask him about the count’s whereabouts. James tells them the count is inspecting the family treasures in the crusader’s tomb. They thank him, and head off to descend into the castle dungeons.

They quickly make their way to the tomb where they were once decimated by ghouls, and found the entrance to the crusader’s tomb behind an ominous fresco.

It just so happens Jürg had the presence of mind to bring the Heart of Roland with him. He holds it up, and the secret door behind the fresco slides open. They enter, gingerly avoiding the slicing blade trap in the entrance. They pass into the pool room, and open the door to the treasury. Sure enough, with his back to them, the count is standing there, inspecting the treasure hoard on the elevation in the center of the room.

The count has heard them enter, looks over his shoulder, and greets them, the company without a name. He tells them he wants to come to some agreement. After all, they have absconded with several of the family’s most valued heirlooms, and have destroyed several of its most powerful members. What would it take for the company to leave the castle and its inhabitants alone? They humor him for a moment, and then close for the attack.

Jürg drops his axe. Claus plunges a stake soaked in holy water and rubbed with garlic into the count’s chest. The vampire shrieks, punctuated with a comment about how he adores garlic. The count claws at Claus but fails to harm him. Jürg picks up his axe. Claus steps back from the count. The vampire howls like a wolf, and dark shapes begin to emerge from the room’s corners. He’s hit by a barrage of magic missiles, and explodes into a cloud of gas. Jürg grabs his horn, and Claus fishes out the sun medaillon.

They chase the cloud, which isn’t very fast, and it is blasted by the horn and hit by a bright ray of sunlight from the medaillon at the same time. They hear the count’s voice scream out “cuuurrrssseee yyyooouuu” and then recede into nothingness. The medaillon turns to slag. Everything is silent.

The company can almost not believe their luck. They book it out of the castle, which has gone even more eerily quiet than it usually is.

On the way out, as they pass the gatehouse, Jürg tells his companions to wait for a moment, and heads back into the garden. A moment later, he returns, holding in his hand a single perfect rose.

We fade to black. The end.

Referee commentary:

Well, that’s it for our play-through of Castle Xyntillan. We had decided this would be our final season, and fittingly, this last session of the run had the company face off against the count and countess, a confrontation that was long in the making.

Sure, we could play on, there is plenty of castle left to explore, but as most characters hav reached level 5 or 6, and have also amassed a frightening array of magic items, very few of the castle’s denizens pose any real threat to them anymore. Case in point: the ease with which Giscard and Maltricia were dispatched.

I rolled very few random encounters, and forgot about monster saves against damaging magics. I also at one point decided to skip actually having reinforcements appear because it would just delay the inevitable.

But they played smart as well. Leveraging James the butler was clever. I rolled for the count’s location randomly and came up with the treasure room in the crusader’s tomb. Just too perfect a place for the final showdown. They were agin lucky that they had brought the Heart of Roland, otherwise they may have been stuck.

The big question I was left with after this session was: vampires, how the hell do they work? How to play them well? There’s this rule about them turning into a gaseous cloud when they reach zero hit points and then returning to their casket to regenerate. But what if the casket is destroyed? And they can also turn into such a cloud at will, but why is that so advantageous? Maybe a lesser party would be stumped, but after a quick glance at the first edition dungeon masters guide I decided things like magic missile, as well as that horn of blasting, would affect the cloud. They also had protection magic to keep conjured creatures at bay. So all of that combined with some lucky initiative rolls made it so that they made quick work of the vampires. And maybe I wasn’t playing as viciously as I should have, but I also felt they had earned it. And honestly I don’t see how those vampires could have come out on top.

So fittingly, with those last small referee ruminations, I end this last session report. I might at some point blog a reflection on running the campaign and the module overall. But for now I will just say I am very happy I came across it at the time I did, just when we were about to hit a strange few years wherein circumstances would make it that I could referee more D&D than I have ever had up to this point. Castle Xyntillan also helped me experience what it is like to run a megadungeon campaign, and it is a revelation. I have never felt more like a player just like the rest of our group than while running this. So my hat’s off to Gabor Lux for creating it.

Ironically, after this I don’t think I will go back to running modules any time soon. We ran this game with homebrew rules, and now I want to push on to have my next campaign be homebrew everything, as Dave and Gary intended it in the beginning days. Castle Xyntillan has given me the confidence and the insight into what I do and don’t need when it comes to prep, and I think it is more doable than I had ever previously thought.

Session reports and other excerpts from that next campaign might appear here at some point. At the moment I am not sure when that might be. I hope these reports have been enjoyable and useful. In any case, writing them has been a great help in sorting out my learnings from our weekly sessions. For now, I will just thank you if you have read this far.