Category Archives: OSR

I got reviewed: The Flooded Temple

The Flooded Temple is the fourth adventure in the Hinterlandet (The Hinterland) series to be translated, and it is one of my favorites. Recently I was notified, that it had been reviewed at RPG Geek by Bryce Lynch, who wrote a solid critique, and it contains some good pointers, that I need to take into consideration (mainly that I need to spend more time on the language, but English is my second language, and it does not flow as easily as Danish does, especially when it comes to eloquence and evocative language).

However, a lot of nice things were written as well.

Bryce writes:

This is a seventeen page adventure in a three level abandoned temple with about 25 rooms. There are multiple factions, puzzle-like things, weird monsters, an evocative environment, a moderately interesting map and MOSTLY terse text, at least for the DM notes. This is a good adventure. As I told The Pretty Girl yesterday: if all adventures were at least this good then I probably wouldn’t be reviewing adventures.

and also

The faction monsters all allow for roleplay … that can then potentially end in combat, usually with the party instigating for some reason. In addition they all have a little detail, tersely communicated, and then some extra bits which are GREAT. It’s not just kobolds. They are dying/near death. And not just near death but from from plague. And not just plague but with bubos full of pus. Likewise the bugbears. Who are are on a adulthood rite. Who have ritually painted faces described. Who tell ghost stories at night around their fire. It’s just an extra sentence but it add SO much to the adventure. It’s what I’m referring to when I say things lie “plant an evocative seed in the DM’s head.” That’s the sort of content I want to pay for. Not reams and reams of text. Not railroady or dictatorial. One extra sentence that brings the adventure alive.

This is the kind of reviewing, that makes an adventure designer happy. I strived to create these things in the adventure, and Bryce caught up on it. It also inspires one to write more. I think I will do that.

You can read the whole review here: The Flooded Temple at RPG Geek.

The adventure can be found at Drivethru: The Flooded Temple.

More adventures can be found at DMs Guild.

One Night amongst the Necromancers

Billede06.jpgThe Disciples of the Lich King are gathering – and you are not invited!

The adventurers are drawn into a haunted dungeon home of necromancers and their allies. This is the premise for this OSR-style D&D 5th edition adventure. It has been uploaded to DMs Guild – you can find it here: One Night amongst the Necromancers – and it is a tricky adventure with many moving parts. It is not an adventure, where the PCs are supposed to kill their way from room to room. Rather there are a lot of NPCs to interact with, and many have their own plans.

Originally this adventure was from the Viking-Con (a Danish RPG con) story line “Return to …”, where a series of older Hinterlandet adventures were visited again a few years later giving experienced players the joy of seeing a dungeon, they had visited years before. The original adventure was from The Lich King Returns story line. A fun part of this adventure was seeing the players interact with the remnants of the Lich King’s cult after the Lich King had been defeated. There are several approaches to the adventure, and it invites the players to infiltrate the dungeon, though without dictating how they should go about it.

The adventure has now been adapted to D&D 5th edition and made setting agnostic. It plays out in an ancient Roman-style empire, but can easily be placed in your local fantasy-campaign. As part of the original OSR-inspired style the encounters are formed without respect to balance, but instead allows the PCs to sneak around and taking the different encounters in various orders, and the DM is invited to play along with plenty of suggestions as to situations, that may occur. The Hinterlands strives to follow design-principles like these, instead of doing balanced set pieces.

The adventure contains a bunch of new monsters and NPCs and strange magical items to challenge the players. Magical items in Hinterlandet are generally unique (not counting minor items such as potions), and following this tradition, new weapons and items can be won. A personal favorite for me is The Whispering Skull, which is a skull that whispers spells for wizards to memorize.

Design Principles for a Hinterlands Dungeon

photo (87)There are many guides and posts on building an exciting encounter or creating a three-act structure or five room dungeon of combats, but when we began designing adventures for OSR-clone Hinterlandet (The Hinterlands) different principles were being used.

  • Many ways and none is the right one
  • There are bosses, but no boss fights
  • Balance is not the issue, avoiding combat is
  • There will be death

These are some of the key-elements, and now that I have begun translating the adventures into English from their Danish originals, and adapting them for D&D 5th edition, it might be the right time to have a look at the principles behind the adventures.

Many ways and none is the right one

The dungeon must have more than one way to go. It cannot be linear, and ideally it has multiple entrances, and it allows the players to choose directly or indirectly between the entrances. A great part of the fun is to see the players choose, and when running a living campaign with multiple groups running through the same dungeon, the different choices are interesting. Many dungeons emphasize the multiple paths by giving the characters the option of breaking down walls, falling through floors to other areas or scaling the walls to gain quick access to other parts, i.e. in Tower of the Star Watcher the PCs can scale most walls and enter different areas in almost any order.

There are bosses, but no boss fights

It follows that when the PCs can choose multiple paths, there will rarely be a boss monster exactly at the end of the dungeon, and it helps bring the world to live, when the players know, that monsters in the dungeon do not behave according to computer game logic. I.e. in One Night amongst the Necromancers the ‘boss’ is moving around in errands, and stealthy PCs can easily find their way to him without working their way through all the rooms. In other adventures, such as Grave of the Alchemist, one of the worst monsters resides just inside of the dungeon and to gain access, it must be defeated in some manner.

Balance is not the issue, avoiding combat is

The encounters in Hinterlandet are not really balanced, and this feature is carried over into their D&D 5th edition adaptions. However, many encounters include creatures that can be avoided or snuck by, or they begin with parlay – some monsters are hungry and can be bribed, some are sleeping or distracted, others are mistaking the PCs for other residents or guests, and yet others are suspicious but not hostile. Rarely does a monster attack, when the PCs enter. Instead the players are invited to interact with the monster, and this results in many great moments.

There will be death

Even though it may sound easy to avoid the nasty encounters and the tough fights, it is not so. Character death is common, and one cause is traps and magical dangers. Each dungeon usually contains one trap or phenomenon, that will kill or remove a PC from the game. Often there is some warning sign, and usually the PCs can simply choose to stay clear of it, but it will challenge their curiosity, and it will tempt their greed. For instance, in Palace of Sweet Dreams drinking too much of the ghost wine will trap a character in the realm of the dead, and merely visiting the ruins of the palace might result in a character forever lost in its madness.

These are some of the main governing principles for the adventures of Hinterlandet / The Hinterlands. The adventures have all been part of the OSR Living Campaign at Danish roleplaying conventions and have been run for multiple groups. Some characters survive, some don’t, but we always end up with great stories of adventurers’ daring do.

A New XP-system: Exploration-based Rewards

Recently I noticed, that Erik Mona does not like the experience point system – and thus have created his own system – and it reminds of how I have been doing XP myself.

On the good old pre-2000 days, you killed an orc and gained some XP. You might get 50 points or so, and only needing a few thousands, then that was ok. Unless you played D&D becmi, where an orc gave 10 points, and your first level fighter needed 2000 to go up a level. Then collecting treasures became really important.

But even with the increased XP values of monsters in AD&D, once you needed 10.000 or even more XP, killing a few monsters granting some hundreds XP or so resulted in bookkeeping XP just felt meaningless. This also began being reflected in scenarios, where you huge sums of XP were being granted for reaching the end of a module, and in some cases whole levels were granted (making it even less meaningful to collect XPs for killing a few orcs).

With this slowly deteriorating system for granting XP became still more useless, many began developing new ways of granting XP, and when 3rd edition came around a new shiny model were introduced, and an even shinier one with the 4th ed rules.

Since XP is such a nice thing to drive the game, as it quite literally is an award, you can use it to tell the players, what you want to reward them for. Kill monsters and bring home treasures! Complete modules! Use your class based abilities! For surviving encounters (as Erik Mona suggests)! Spending your money at the inn between adventures (as I saw suggested years back)! Roleplaying! (An always nebulous one for who is to gauge “roleplaying”, and you might end rewarding extrovert or charismatic players or players for ‘reading’ their GM?).

Attending Class, Gaining XP

I just recently ended an eight year long campaign about a group of teenage wizards at The Great School of Glantri. Xp were not granted for killing monsters or picking up treasures, nor were they granted for ‘good roleplaying’, but instead for attending classes and passing exams, and everytime you had enought to level up, you had to pass a test. Failing exams also gained XP, as you still had learned something.

The system worked great. It gave the game a good focus – we are at school and need to balance fun and adventuring with actually attending class, and what to do, when a great adventure presents itself the night before exams? It also gave us space to explore, what happens at wizard schools and how does it feel to attend one?

Exploration-based Experience

For my D&D retro-clone the focus is on exploration. I have been reading and playing a a bunch of the old, really old modules, and one thing that separates them from the 90’s modules is absence of the detailed narratives to draw the PCs through (especially thinking of the Ravenloft and Planescape modules here), and from the 3,5 material, where you go from encounter to encounter. In the older material you explore areas. You map dungeons, you fight monsters, avoid traps and meet weird things, ancient things and strange things. There are plenty of empty rooms, and sometimes there is a room with a large bed and a lady’s hat for no other reason as to pique the players’ imaginations.

So for my D&D retro-clone (previous design posts part 1, part 2) I want an XP-system, that rewards the players for exploring dungeons, for poking their noses into the next room and the next room and the next room again.

This is what I came up with.

The Adventure Points System

For each room investigated the party gains 50-100 Adventure Points (50 for fairly harmless dungeons, 100 for average dungeons).

For each wonder and mystery encountered the party gains 50-400 points. Mysteries can be an enchanted lake, an illusion covering a room or some other supernatural effect. Wonders are the wonders experienced in the dungeons, as finding an ancient wallpainting made by a long forgotten artist, whose art touches your soul, or it may be a natural rock-formation in a grotto of great wonder.

For each trap encountered is gained 50-400 points – and half that much if the trap is avoided or otherwise not triggered. So if you find a pittrap, but never activates it, or disarm a crossbow-trap before it is triggered, you gain less, than if you fall into the pit or get shot at by the crossbow-trap. The basic idea is to entice the players to touch the red button, knowing they will only get half, if they disarm the red button instead of triggering it.

Adventure Points for exploring, for wonders and mysteries, and for traps are rewarded, when the PCs leave the dungeon and have time to rest briefly. Each PC present gains the full amount (four characters exploring eight rooms each gain 800 adventure points).

For treasures brought all the way home, the players each gain a share of adventure points equal to the treasure brought home. The four characters have borught home treasures equal to 500 gold, so each character gains 125 adventure points, however one of the characters hid a gem (value 50 gold) for himself. That character gains additional 50 adventure points, as he does not share the treasure.

The adventure point table

  • Level      Adventure Points
  • 1                             0
  • 2                     1200
  • 3                    2400
  • 4                    4200
  • 5                    6000
  • 6                    8400
  • 7                 10800
  • 8                 13800
  • 9                 16800
  • 10              20400

So far

I have tested the Adventure Points with several groups, and the great thing is that it works as intended. It makes the PCs open every door and stick their head into every nook and cranny. Since monsters don’t reward any Adventure Points, and combat with them generally slows exploration down, the PCs are just as willing to negotiate and use trickery to avoind fighting monsters, as they are to pick fights, and plenty of things are left alive, as long they grant access to more parts of the dungeon.

The extra points for mysteries, wonders, and traps also ensures, that the PCs are less likely to avoid set-ups and potential dangers, as being exposed to these, grants more Adventure Points. The players are eager to explore and map dungeons, to push on and take just one more room, because they are certain to gain points (every room grants points, whether or not any monsters, traps or any other things are present, so picking just one more room is a calculated risk).

Designing an OSR Heartbreaker – Prologue

There has been some silence around the blog, since I posted most of my DragonLance as a/is a science fiction-posts, but since lately I have been caught up on a lot of work with creating a D&D retro-clone trying to all that I thought was wrong with D&D 3,5, D&D 4th and Pathfinder, and recently it has been playtested successfully at two minor conventions and privately and I have now people expanding the rules and adding more modules to the collection, as the grand playtest at Denmarks second largest roleplaying festival, Fastaval, is about to take place. But it is not just a fantasy heartbreaker designed in accordance to (as much as anything can be in accordance with the Old School Renaissance), it as at the same time a living campaign, where the players are exploring a huge sandbox area littered with dungeons (there will be somewhere between 13 and 17 dungeons presently), and when not exploring dungeons (that is sitting at a table playing the D&D retro-clone), you can roleplay yourself as a member of Fastaval Roleplaying Guild collecting rare roleplaying supplements (that is there will be rare rule supplements you can collect, that adds additional options, you can use when playing at the table). As a living campaign my project began back in January with the first convention introducing Hinterlandet, as my project is known as, and it has been running as a living campaign since.

At Fastaval this year Vincent Baker and Lizzie Stark will be attending (Lizzie also guested us last year), and so I will be presenting Old School roleplaying at a convention that usually features a whole slew of Nordic Roleplaying, which is quite artsy and edgy – and which are the RPG’s that I normally produce myself, so I am looking forward to this so rather different year.

I hope to share a lot of my thoughts on creating a OSR fantasy heartbreaker in the next few months and exploring the simulationism-side of roleplaying as I explore the development of the system.