Tomb of the Iron God [may contain traces of spoilers]

From left to right: Monk, Cleric, Fighter & Thief. In the back, 3 hirelings and 2 mules.

Today I ran the first session of Tomb of the Iron God (by Matt Finch) with both my kids. My son has played before, but this was the first time my daughter wanted to play.

Character generation took some time with explaining and all, and I’m glad I chose a simple system like Swords & Wizardry on that point. I let them create two characters each and raised all classes HD by one step to increase survivability (i.e. Fighter d8➞d10 etc). Some may frown at this heresy, but I see no point in PCs having a d4 for HD. They are heroes! (Or at least wannabee’s…). Also, boosting the starter hit points a bit lets me use tougher monsters and not having to pull punches too much. Still, I intend to run this old school deadly.

The character roster was:

Skogs Mulle, Male Elf Cleric (player: Astrid)

Asai, Female human Thief (player: Astrid)

Haldurth, Male human Fighter (player: Martin)

Kar Bang Li, Male human Monk (player: Martin)

We started in a small nameless village at the foothills of a mountain range in a nameless land. The PCs had heard rumours about this secluded monastery that had been destroyed by the wrath of the gods some months ago. Apparently, their god, the Iron God had been displeased with the way the monks hoarded treasure and had punished them accordingly. This had taken place a few months ago, but no one have  had the courage to go there and see in the treasure rumours were true. The PCs went around the village, talking to the local priest and some other villagers and got to hear some rumours. Then (to my surprise) they tried to recruit some help in the form of three men-at-arms (straight from Meatshields). They also bought two mules to carry their stuff.

I decided that the abandoned monastery was about a day’s trek from the village and they armed with a hastily drawn map our heroes departed for adventure. I now decided it was autumn and quite rainy and windy in these parts. The trek took them though farmlands, then into more forested areas and finally into the mountains. In the afternoon they met and battled a Grizzly Bear (rolled a random encounter on the 3rd check for the day, and this came up from the encounter tables in the Monstrosities book. I rolled very bad, and the PCs managed to slay the bear unscathed!

Upon reaching the monastery ruins they made camp and posted a hireling to guard the camp and mules and the rest went searching through the ruins. Soon they found  a dark opening and a narrow stairway down. Torches were lit and they went into the darkness…

So far, they’ve only searched the first room and opened the east and west doors. They did a quick foray in those corridors, but then decided to take a break for the night and rest. As it was a natural break (and I had to start on the dinner) we stopped the session.

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Happy Dungeoneers!

It was a total success, and Astrid especially was very into the game and had some very bright ideas. I must say that they surprised me a lot by playing much smarter than my “old dog” crew, who sometimes seem to have get stuck in a certain routine.

Afterwards, I took out my old Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk maps and asked them which one they preferred. They both liked Forgotten Realms best, so FR it is. It really doesn’t matter because I do them both about the same and very non-canon. Still, it’s nice with a simple framework to weave the stories around.

I will also create that village (trying out the d30 Sandbox Companion by New Big Dragon Games Unlimited) with some entertaining NPCs and roughly map the area with interesting stuff to do. It’s really nice to start small and let the story unfold by itself.

Next time, I hope to bring in my wife also so that we can run a family session!

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Tomb of the Iron God

Some thoughts on game systems

Minotaur art by mjarret1000 on deviantart

As it wasn’t enought with all the different versions of  D&D, the OSR have spawned a ton of retroclones and mash-up versions of the game, and I have a lot of them on my bookshelf and even more on my hard drive.

You can always ask yourself to what end you would want all these more or less similar games, and nowadays my wife just sighs when there’s a new book package in the mail.

Thing is, all of them bring something worthwhile to the table. Ideas and concepts to steal for your preferred “base” rule set.

At this very point, my preferred rule sets are:

Swords & Wizardry Complete – for the uncomplicated, rules light game. Limited options with classes, spells and other minutiae makes this my pickup game for beginners, one shots or when I play with the kids. Also, the online SRD is a thing of beauty. Moreover, S&W has an awesome online community, many small press supporters and also a commercial company (Frog God Games) that produces excellent (if extremely expensive for European customers) content for the game. And most important – reading S&W stuff always makes me want to play – now!

Blood & Treasure – for an almost as stripped down experience as S&W, but with lots of simple options added. B&T takes 2 parts of S&W and adds 1 part of 3.x and 1 part of house rules for a very complete, yet simple play experience. You can easily run adventures from any D&D or OSR edition with B&T. 3.x stuff involves a little more work, but it’s quite easy when you get the hand of it. This is what I use for my at the table game group at the moment. It’s a very complete game –basically S&W on steroids – so in essence no house rules are needed.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery – for a more AD&D style experience, FH&W is 5e done right in my book. The rules merges a heavy 1e/2e feel with 3.x mechanisms and a lot of personal house flavor. It’s definitely crunchier than the two earlier games, but could be used for any type of game really. FH&W is meant to replace the Player’s Handbook and parts of the Dungeon Master Guide, and is missing (i) treasure and (ii) monsters, so you have to use it in conjunction with another rule set. It also makes quite large edits to classes and how magic works. I’m planning to use this for my Dark Fantasy homebrew games, using 2e treasure and monsters.

Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition – my feelings for the new D&D is mixed. On one hand, I think it’s a solid rule set, and much improved from what I’ve read from 3.x (Pathfinder for my part). I’ve been playing this for a while and as a player it’s great fun with the right GM. At the same time I think it is lacking in “feel” for me. (Too much focus on PC cool powers stuff, which might be a nod to the 3.x and 4e players out there, I don’t know).  But maybe I’m just being an old grognard here. Anyway, for a more modern gaming style, or for running 3.e or PF adventures I could well see myself using 5e. Another big issue I have with 5e is the lack of PDFs for the core books. This is a huge bummer for me. I love real books and will always use them at our table, but for finding something quick, a searchable PDF (or online SRD) is very helpful.  I will definitely give 5e a test run in the future, but as of now I’m content to be a player (and we will soon start another 5e game with the other GM in our at the table group).

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition – an honourable mention for 2e also. So much cool stuff was published during this edition. The core rules are rock solid, but with all the splatbooks it becomes a bloated mess. However, 2e stuff can be found very cheap and there is a lot of inspiration to be found in these tomes. As it is compatible with older D&D editions as well as newer OSR publications, these days this edition would be the one I would choose if I were to play “real” old D&D.

A sad thing is that B&T and FH&W both have quite few followers. Looking over the fanbases and the available materials for these various games, it soon becomes apparent that 5e and S&W are the major players, both in number of active players and by being published by commercial publishers. If I were a GM looking for new players, or if I wanted to publish my own material online (or as a small press publisher), I’d definitely choose one of the more widespread game systems. However, I like to support the little guys, so I will continue writing free PDF adventures for B&T and FH&W, complemented by separate S&W versions of the adventures.

As Wizards of the Coast haven’t released an SRD or other type of license for 5e yet, it’s difficult to know what you can and cannot do. Still, there are already 3rd party books and adventures being released for 5e by for example Goodman Games and Frog God Games.

And finally, to all you wonderful small press/DIY people out there – keep the good stuff coming, there is always room for more cool ideas! Respect!

Sunday fun with Blood & Treasure in Bloodnut Pass

Bloodnut Pass by Matt Jackson

This past Sunday two of the players from my regular group premiered with Blood & Treasure, and the one-shot adventure I ran was Bloodnut Pass by Matt Jackson. We were originally to play When a Star Falls using 5e and with the other GM in our group, but he had been up to his ears in work and hadn’t had time to prepare, so I speed-prepped for this game instead.

I let them roll up two characters each and here’s what they came up with:

Hrunko, 1st level half-orc transgender Thief

Hrunka, 1st level half-orc female Warlock (a Sorcerer variant in B&T)

Ûgnak, 1st level half-orc male Bard

Grûbnik, 1st level half-orc Monk

The premises were that this merry band of murderhobos were en route to an abandoned Wizard’s Tower that they had heard about in the last village down the road (yes, it’s the Tower of the Stargazer). And of course, the way there passed through the ill-reputed Bloodnut Pass.

I will not spoil the module for you, but it was bloody. And nutty. And we had loads of fun! I have noticed that my players always make the best characters and play them best when we run extra scenarios or one-shots. Maybe because they don’t care so much about their characters.

Anyway, I can really recommend this adventure for an evening of dungeon delving. It’s a bit on the “adult” side, but you could of course tone down the worst bits if you run it for a younger group of players.

The PCs also rolled an unusually high number of natural ones (even a double 1 from one player and then another one from the other player), which of naturally led to some hilarious fumbles, and they actually almost TPK’d at the first encounter. Nevertheless, they prevailed and we left off with them spotting a strange tower on a distant mountain range. Even weirder, lightning bolts seemed to loom over the tower and strike it ever so often…

I must also say that the Blood & Treasure rules worked really well. Character generation was quick – it took about 40 mins for two total B&T noobs to roll up four PCs including shopping and selection of feats/talents and spells. We also got to try out my Task resolution hack and some cool combat stunts and moves. For me as GM, it was flowing well. I love this game, but haven’t played it all that much yet due to other ongoing games. Even so, it was really easy to get into and my home-bookmarked PDF really helped to find things quickly. I love books at the table but for quick look-ups, the PDF on a tablet really rocks. We also increased all PC hit dice by one die (i.e. d6→d8 etc.) as well as using d8 for monster HD instead of d6.

I’d call it a bona fide success! Thanks John Stater for B&T and Matt Jackson for an awesome little adventure :)

Check out Blood & Treasure here

Check out Bloodnut Pass here


Appendix M

And here’s the B&T stats for the main antagonists in the module:

Deep Dweller

Medium monstrous humanoid, Chaotic Evil, Average Intelligence; Gang 1d12

HD 2 (boss HD 3)

AC 12 (boss 14)

ATK 2 claws (1d4) or bite (1d6) or by weapon

MV 30

SV F15 R12 W15

XP/CL 100/2 (boss 200/3)

Special qualities:Darkvision 60′