Back in ’78

…Motorhead toured England, but more importantly for me White Dwarf No. 9 was published. This issue of a “new” bi-annual British tabletop game magazine included (as far as I can tell) the first ever dungeon published in a periodical: The Lichway by Albie Fiore. The Dragon magazine would follow suit a few months later in the a US. However, that dungeon offering would pale in comparisons to the White Dwarf material.

Fiore’s Lichway is a remarkable piece of work: multiple factions in a strange environment, well scaled for low level play, while offering useful awards, and a challenging puzzle. More importantly this a is an excellent example of how the game was played in earliest days. I knew that when I first glanced at the hand drawn map I had to run this this dungeon and share it with as many people as possible.

To that end I spun up a roll20 session: importing the map, laying out the dynamic lighting, sketching in a few key details for the rooms, adding monster tokens, and preparing both DM & PC handouts. For about a month a group of old school enthusiasts have on a near weekly basis to plunge the depths of the lichway. As the DM I have greatly enjoyed the process of studying the dungeon and considering the best way to present it to my players.

The bigger challenge has been how to share this with a broader audience. 1) the roll20 marketplace is a bit complex to setup and doesn’t fit with my personal model of “free” content. 2) could invite other DMs to use my existing roll20, but that could restrict the number of games and could result in unintended changes to the roll20 module. 3) publish an asset pack that would allow other DMs to setup their own lichway session, you can get that asset pack here.

What’s included:

  • a player map, with the room numbers removed
  • PC handouts for a boat, inscription, and demon
  • DM handouts covering an introduction, wandering monster table, a monster index, and an NPC index
  • a collection of VTT tokens to support online play, these sourced from game-icons.net

What’s not included – the dungeon key from White Dwarf No. 9. Hopefully that shouldn’t prove too difficult to locate on the internet.

Some notes about running the dungeon:

  • the interior of the dungeon does not include grid marks, which may be confusing for some players
  • the hand drawn nature of the grid makes alignment within roll20 challenging, I would suggest close enough is good enough
  • use tokens on the GM layer to indicate areas with strong or weak dronesong
  • the wandering monster table is my own creation, as the original key calls only for wandering monsters outside the the temple
  • the key itself is leaves plenty of room for DM interpretation & improv moments – go for it!

I’ll ask some of my players to leave their thoughts on the lichway here. I’d also be interested to hear your own group’s experience in playing this classic.

January 2021 Update

Have just finished laying out Albie Fiore’s “The Lichway” in Dungeon Scrawl. Dungeon Scrawl is an excellent online map making tool. Features include infinite canvas, infinite layers, and tools designed for dungeon mapping. Circles & arches are a bit tough but a creative approach can yield some useful result.

Zip package linked above provides a new player map suitable for use in your favorite Virtual Tabletop.

Many of the art assets here are sourced from https://2minutetabletop.com/, not affiliated w/ this blog…

im•prov | impråv | noun

Round Table, painted by my good friend Peter – see more of his work here.

RPGs & Improv – isn’t that all about sitting around and talking in funny voices? Maybe, but not always. Talking in funny voices is one way for some players to feel more “in-character”, but that’s not really improv.

I believe that improv at the game table is more about not being constrained to one way of thinking about a scene in the story. In RPGs we all become, to some extent, actors in a scene. Many scenes are linked together and these scenes become stories.

Improv is more about principals; listening to your partners, respecting their choices & building upon previously established fiction. Doing this in such a way that allows smooth transitions from one to the other. At least that’s what I “think” it is…

Improv in RPGs provide for the holy grail of “emergent play” where the story is shaped and grows based on contributions from everyone at the table. Pre-conceived plots or story arcs are relegated to subordinate roles, allowing all players (PCs & DM alike) to be surprised & delighted in how the story takes shape around everyone’s contributions.

“Great!”, you say “How do I add improv to my RPGs?”

It would best if you listened to my friend Glenn talk about this subject. For years Glenn has been part of a theater company with a strong tradition in improv. He also has a love of RPGs, and in August of 2020 he agreed to record the type of talk he would give at an RPG convention seminar. Take it away Glenn…

Empty d100

78
Shrouded ornate mirror on one wall shows the PCs as hideous, all expect one who is stunning

November 2019, right around when I started this blog, there began a community sourced effort on the Audio Dungeon Discord server at creating d100 tables on a variety of topics: dungeon doors, wizard’s pockets, the frozen north, etc. Here’s one such effort on magic weapons.

I contributed a bit towards this work and was inspired by the creativity & imagination my fellow hobbyists showed for the task. Although, all these creative voices can create a bit of dissidence and it can become difficult to find a common theme even when collaborating on a common topic. That’s not bad, just noisy.

So I went it alone – I wanted a d100 table to deal with old school dungeon crawling “empty rooms”. When playing a traditional D&D game with players mapping based on GM descriptions I got tired describing a room’s dimensions & exits, only to then say “…and it’s empty”.

Empty? EMPTY! What are you talking about, EmPtY? There’s got to be something here a spec of dirt, some ratty old bones, something… So I set about creating a d100 table to deal explicitly with this topic of empty rooms. You can find that work here.

Rasping Sand

A low tide – Carmel, California. The visuals I associate with the Rasp of Sand setting.

In 2019 Dave Cox kickstarted a “Rogue Like” tabletop RPG setting with a heavy sea scape theme. A reverse dungeon crawl where the heroes, in this case familia heirs that are attempting to return an artifact to the lowest level of the dungeon. I feel in love with the setting in my first play as a PC and quickly wanted to share this with the rest of my group.

Challenge for this setting is that just about everything is procedurally generated: rooms, encounters, situations, character traits, equipment, and more. While I love the concept of procedurally generated stuff, it is challenging to use real-time on the tabletop. So I built myself a tool that allows all of this to be generated with the push of a button, which you can find here for your own use. I’ve also created a family & heir character sheet which might be helpful to understand how these two elements go together.

This does not include the artifact grade treasures, loot tables, monster appendix, or spell pearl details. To really play this setting you’ll need the book itself and you’ll be supporting the Indie RPG scene.

Our group has had good fun with A Rasp of Sand, after the 3rd generation they are making their final descent to level 5. Maybe a few of my regular players will chime in here about their experience with this setting.

My only critique is that A Rasp of Sand was designed for play with Knave, which I find to be a bit too light for my tastes in a fantasy rpg. It may be I just don’t understand the finer points of the 7 page rules. I expect that Rasp of Sand could be played with just about any rule set by relying on the heir stat generation and capacity to gain levels while in the dungeon (i.e. +1 to 3 different stats per level).

This Is How We Play

My return to RPGs in 2012 started w/ Dungeon Crawl Classics, struck out into the OSR frontier, explored three little brown books, revisited “blue box”, and have generally been rambling around the DIY indie scene. All this I’ve done as both a DM & a PC. There have been successes and failures on both sides of the screen.

I recently joined an Old School Essential (OSE) campaign run by Jason Hobbs. Part of the introduction to the campaign was a review of Jason’s house rules, those variants & rulings Jason uses in his game. This reminded of a similar compilation of my own.

I’ve re-organized my own house rules, which I consider a living document. Sharing those here as an example of the concepts that I find interesting or helpful in a game like Dungeons & Dragons.