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

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, not affiliated w/ this blog…

18 thoughts on “Back in ’78

  1. John December 14, 2020 / 10:22 pm

    I wish I had been able to play in this one. I was excited about that one since I first saw it in the 70s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aron Clark December 14, 2020 / 10:30 pm

      Great thing is I can run it anytime. It’s all set up in Roll20 just waiting for another party to brave it’s depths. Just let me know when you’d like to give it a shot.


    • Aron Clark December 15, 2020 / 9:20 pm

      Yes! Thanks for sharing more information about the early days! Looking forward to crawling the google doc


  2. Guy Fullerton December 15, 2020 / 6:21 pm

    Ran it at least twice, once at DunDraCon as a pickup game, and once in the AD&D campaign a couple years before you joined. The first one ended in TPK right where you would expect. The second had more careful players (as you know), and had some success. Will look through my notes later for anecdotes.

    Also check out The Halls of Tizun Thane, another great Albie Fiore module from White Dwarf. Ran that at one of the last couple Pacificons, and would run it again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aron Clark December 15, 2020 / 9:57 pm

      Yes! Would love to hear your thoughts on having seen this run multiple times. We just finished our run tonight. The PCs freed the demon and fought it with flaming oil. They did get into the treasure hall, but fled quickly else the become overrun by the restless dead! We only had one player death at the halfway mark. Though my houses are a bit forgiving but make for some interesting choices.


  3. Stu Clark December 17, 2020 / 5:22 am

    I played in Aron’s run of this module…what a ride! It had a great mix of factions in it, and is well-suited for old school procedural mechanics – reaction rolls particularly resulted in varied and interesting encounters with the groups in the dungeon. The size and number of encounters made resource management actually matter, and notable rooms or locations like the ruined boat and flooded chamber encouraged some cautious and creative play.

    Regarding the demon encounter, it helped that our party was able to read the inscriptions on statues and learn more about the demon from the bandit/mercenary faction, so we had an idea of what was to come. But even without that, I could see it being just as enjoyable with a chaotic ending trying to escape the onslaught of undead. Thanks again for running it Aron!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aron Clark December 17, 2020 / 7:35 am

      Great to hear from you Stu – thanks for the feedback


  4. Guy Fullerton December 18, 2020 / 2:43 pm

    Took me a while to distill my notes into something intelligible:

    We played 8 sessions in The Lichway, each fairly short — about the duration of a long lunch, as I think the campaign was a lunch time game at that point. It was an interlude to the party’s exploration of Barromaze. The prior session in Barrowmaze had 2 players, and their two experienced characters (6th or 7th level) died alone in Barrowmaze vs ghasts. The next session those two players made first level characters, and started exploring The Lichway instead, bolstered by a couple hired men-at-arms. Later sessions also included 1-3 other regular campaign PCs (4th – 6th level), and in one case another new 1st level PC. So certain PCs were more at risk of dying than others. And the party had a good amount of firepower, including a paralysis item they found in Barrowmaze.

    They started with some basic rumors, almost certainly some of the ones in the module.

    I added lizardmen as potential threat, coming from deeper in the Korm Basin. They turned up as wandering monsters a number of times, and which sometimes lurked behind hoping to get stragglers. They also used rope to tie doors closed after the party went through them, to cut off backtrack routes.

    The party had lots of interaction with the various groups, as most were not necessarily immediately hostile. The party even bought the fake wizard from the goblins & hobgoblins.

    They temporarily allied with the xvarts (after webbing many of them and threatening them), and used them as labor to build a dam that allowed them to explore the river starting from the bridge by the vampire statue. Later, the xvarts trailed the party as they explored the large diagonal passage, hoping for an opening to attack, but were ultimately too afraid of the druid’s trained war dog — even more than the web spell!

    The layered deployment of Dark Odo’s group meant her group reacted to intruders in a semi-orderly fashion. For example, Trob (the gnome — or maybe it was Runas, who I incorrectly ran as a gnome because I got confused on who was who) spotted the party at one point (might have heard them make noise in the N-S hallway to the west of his room, but I didn’t write down specifics so basing that 7+ year old memories) and went to warn Dark Odo, who in turn spied on the party invisibly and monitored their combat strength. Later, the party did fight the group of NPCs in areas 17-21, and beat them, but the spying allowed Dark Odo to know who her sleep spell was likely to affect, and she was able to cast that from hiding. The party still won the battle, but Odo was never engaged, partly because she was on the back fringes, but also because the party’s magic-user cast Web, which physically divided the battle area. Afterward, Dark Odo — intimidated by the party’s superior magic — gathered up her treasure and left, never to be seen again by the party,

    Between a little info from Orwen (the prisoner), some careful examination of the cage area, and a second inspection of the vampire statue, the party correctly intuited the significance of the susurrus. Though the party did tear open various burial niches, they never had reason to press their luck with the susurrus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aron Clark December 18, 2020 / 3:39 pm

      Sounds like a great game – very interesting. Our group went up against Odo too, she eventually fled under invisibility along with another henchman. The party choose not to pursue them, meaning both would take as much treasure as they could carry.


  5. Anonymous January 4, 2022 / 5:52 am

    Thank you for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Luke Silburn February 19, 2023 / 7:25 am

    I am planning to run my group through this next month using 13th Age as our ruleset, so it will be interesting to see how a new school engine handles such an old school scenario.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aron Clark February 20, 2023 / 7:09 am

      Wow – would love to hear how that goes.


      • Luke Silburn February 25, 2023 / 6:17 am

        It’s happening next weekend, so watch this space for an update

        Liked by 1 person

      • Luke March 15, 2023 / 4:05 am

        We only had a short session as we had a hard deadline to clear the room and I needed to run people through character generation, so they only got as far as the Svart encampment in the side passage from the Lichway, but they successfully cut a deal with the bandits just inside the main gate and got some useful nuggets of info out of the Amdal, the fake mage.

        I used their icon relationships to set up which rumours they had access to and formulate the hook for the session (which was that Dark Odo’s original sponsor engaged them as trustworthy troubleshooters to go and check up on her progress and figure out if she was planning a double-cross) so they knew some of what they were likely to be running into and Amdal spilled some details about what Dark Odo’s crew think is going on as he gabbled away, but the Svarts were a surprise to them and I made full use of the player who had elected to play a halfling chaos mage to set the scene for what is likely to be a sharp combat encounter when we reconvene.

        Other stuff I tweaked or elaborated was that the wooden bridge and the double secret door (in the Portal of Flame) is obviously recent construction, and the grave niches in the far end of the Lichway have been much more extensively broken open – this is all work done by Dark Odo’s people while they have been conducting their excavation. I also left the first of the two secret doors ajar (so not secret at all) as I figured that Amdal had used the lever in the cubby between them to open the main gate for his ‘friends’ before he had his psychotic break. Final change was that I ruled that the goblins torturing the stirge across the way were diggers for Dark Odo’s expedition who were goofing off, so they had barricaded the door and their activities wouldn’t be apparent unless someone made a hard DC check while listening at the door; in the end though the players were focused on getting to Dark Odo and let Amdal steer them towards the Lichway rather than obsessively focus on clearing the dungeon room by room.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aron Clark March 15, 2023 / 7:22 am

        Wow Luke – sounds like you all had a really fun game. Thanks so much for sharing such a detailed report! Love the idea of the chaotic halfling mage standoff with the savart. Fun times. Keep us posted!


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