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…

10 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.

      Like

    • 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

      Like

  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.

      Like

  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

      Like

  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.

      Like

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