Category Archives: Tenkar’s Landing

My Wednesday Game

I have been part of a weekly Wednesday night AD&D First Edition game via Roll20 and Google Hangouts since March, 2014. With the exception of the DM taking a two week vacation in the summer and two weeks off over Christmas and New Year’s we have met every week. I was late to one session because I was travelling for work and another session because I had to take something to my son at the hospital the day after my granddaughter was born. There are two other players that have been with the campaign since it started. Weather was a factor a few times with thunderstorms causing delays. A few times either Roll20 or Google Hangouts had technical issues, but we have kept at it.

Our session last week was the first time that one original player missed and only two of the current six players showed up. Several important decisions for group action were needed, so we decided not to play. That is an impressive track record for a weekly session to only have one session flop, and it was session 44.

The DM, John, just started a blog, Dwarven Automata, about his design process. He also wrote up one of the hexes in Tenkar’s Landing, featuring dwarven automata.

It is a true sandbox where the players can go and do whatever they want. There will be consequences and repercussions of actions that we can’t know. We just make what seems to be the best decision we can based on the limited information we have. A few times we have surprised John with some of our decisions, but he rolled with it. The party set off to go explore some ancient dwarven ruins, and keep getting ourselves sidetracked with other things. We keep getting involved in politics and being heroes, so we are our own worst enemies to getting to our main goal. We can’t do it all, but we sure try to do most of it. Actions taken in the first few sessions have had an impact on sessions numbered into the 30’s and 40’s. It is interesting to see it play out as the players get the information they need to tie it all together.

For example, my character, Thorfus Ironhand, a dwarven fighter, thought one NPC was behind some men hired to kill the party. It turned out to be a different NPC that the party did some work for, and was involved in a major plot in the city. Because of that misunderstanding, I had the party focused on the wrong person, when we should have been focused on something else. This is much like things are in real life. We see something and make assumptions based on what is before us. This has made the campaign that much more believable and immersive.

John uses theater of the mind, so the only maps are quick sketches using the Roll20 drawing tools. As with most AD&D DMs, John makes certain rolls like moving silently or checking for traps and secret doors. These rolls occur with the sound of dice rolling on his desk with our fate unknown. This is an ominous sound. The results are only revealed when a trap springs or surprise was not gained.

We also disable video so that we have the maximum bandwidth possible.

The ages of players range from a high school senior to me, and old grognard of 50, with various ages in between. We have been mostly male, with one female player for a few sessions who played a male character, making all the characters, so far, male. One player lives in England, so our 8:00 PM to Midnight EST sessions make it in the very wee hours for him. He is one of the three original players still going strong.

John gives us XP for session write-ups. These help him to know what happened, and gets the players more involved. We also get XP for writing up descriptions of NPCs and places. This helps expand our known universe and makes it easier for new players to come in and get up to speed.

We started off using weapon speeds and individual initiative rolls, but over time we dropped weapon speed and went to one roll for each side in initiative. John does it differently in that each “side” rolls for the other. That is, players roll for the monsters, and the DM rolls for the players. This is an interesting way to do it.

Other rules have changed or been clarified as we go involving a decision by John as the DM, or by discussion and mutual consensus. These changes tend towards streamlining of play.

Our two dwarven fighters are both fourth level and at the halfway point to reaching fifth level. We had one big treasure haul, but as per AD&D, we can’t go past the halfway point of the next level. We have managed to not find the big treasures that will give us more experience quickly, but are always just around the corner from a big haul, when we do something or miss something that will give us the prize and watch is fall through our fingers. The hook has been set and we are thoroughly enjoying our adventures and learning about this world. I look forward to many more sessions of play.

Here are the main points from a comment I posted to his blog:

I enjoy seeing a bit behind the curtain to explain how you reached your design decisions. I have enjoyed playing in this weekly campaign since it started.
We have narrowly avoided several TPKs and only had one character die. Your level of preparation shows as you make it all seem very seamless and manage to have things planned out for us when we take the bait for something that wasn’t bait.
I can’t wait to see more of your ideas.
Your random generators intrigue me. You explained a bit about the level of detail you have allowed yourself in one of our recent sessions. I had the impression you had these cities mapped out and NPCs detailed down to the last beggar, but you fooled us all. Well done!

New Computer

I took the plunge and bought a new computer at CostCo over my lunch break. I went their the first time Monday after work and got a few things I need for Thursday and a few extras, and saw this good deal on a PC. It is Windows 7 Pro. I could have spent a bit more for more RAM, but it had Windows 8, and I don’t want to take the time to learn where everything is. If my company wants me to learn Windows 8, they can buy me a new computer. I can always order more RAM, assuming it has another slot, or it can handle a larger RAM chip. It was under $400, so I’m not stretched too thin.

The weekly online AD&D game I play in is a go for tonight, so I don’t know if I’ll manage to get home and get it set up in time for the game.

I also haven’t started my preparations of food for tomorrow (Thanksgiving in the USA). My parents taught all their children to cook, not just my baby sister. My boys like what I fix, and I maintain the tradition I got from my parents. My oldest son’s girlfriend said that my efforts last year were on par with her father’s, so I know she’s a keeper.

I also need to focus on the last few chapters of my first draft for NaNoWriMo and wrap up my hex for Tenkar’s Landing, I mean Eilean Dubh – The Black Isle by the end of November.

Thankfully, I have the day off on Monday the 1st.

NaGaDeMon – 2014

On Wednesday, I wrote about my considering whether or not to sign up for NaNoWriMo 2014. I had mentioned thhat I had seen things online about similar ideas for designing games. Well, I ran across an article at The Savage Afterworld that discusses NaGaDeMon – National Game Design Month, also the month of November.

While I don’t have a game idea, I thought I’d mention it here, in case anyone else has the inspiration for a game idea and just needs a little push to get started.

I would recommend that anyone contemplating a Kickstarter for a game, use NaGaDeMon as an opportunity to either develop your idea, or to polish your game, so that you have something that you can be proud of and people who support such a Kickstarter will be glad they did so.

I will be signing up for NaNoWriMo 2014 and will be cranking out my first draft of a novel. Just writing about it on Wednesday caused some ideas to bubble up, so I have some things that have solidified in my idea of the story. Not specific dialog, but plot points, or turning points in my story that have to be hist along the way for it to work. I have also identified points that are critical for the success of the story. Some resolution of points that are required to bring it to a successful closure.

For me, a successful closure for a short story, novella, novel, or series of books is where the how and whys are answered sufficiently to leave the reader satisfied, yet still wanting more. How many of us have read a book and when we get to the end are left scratching our head trying to figure out what happened. Some books are this way intentionally, and a well crafted one, you can tell. But if you have ever read a story where the author just couldn’t wrap it up and make it make sense, you know what I mean.

In my story idea, I know how I want it to end, but there is a big hole of how to make it make sense with the rest of the story. This is one of those things that as I write, it will gel and it should not be a problem to make it work. However, if I can’t make the why does this need to happen in the story work, I will have to change how I envision the story ending. If I can pull off the ending I envision, it could lead to a second story/book. That is not my goal, but is an idea that has occurred to me.

I also have tons of other ideas coming to me about my hex in the Tenkar’s Landing Crowdsourced Sandbox Setting. I will have to add those ideas as either drafts or full-fledged ideas to my blog, since some are worthy of an article others may find useful.

I am glad that the ideas are flowing, but it would be nice if they would get in line so I could get them all down before they fade into the ether….


The Challenges Of Game Prep And Game Design

Both preparing for a major area of a campaign, or parts of an adventure, or developing something to publish, or as part of a collaborative project, can encounter a lot of inertia.

Getting the initial ideas together, whether bullet points, semi-detailed notes, sketches, or miscellaneous bits and pieces can often be the easy part. Yet, for me at least, finding a big enough block of time to make sense of it and compile all the pieces into an easily usable whole is challenging.

I can wing stuff in a game, but some things take just a bit more time to plan out. For example, I placed an NPC in my campaign that sells treasure maps. His caveat to customers is that they are real maps to real treasures, but he can’t guarantee that any treasure is still there. He goes to markets and bazaars far and wide and generates a collection. He then disappears to rebuild it, when it gets thinned out. I made the brilliant decision to let him have 39 maps (a randomly generated number), most for the general area when the players are running around with a few for the ruins of the ancient city nearby. The rest being scattered far away, and a couple for Ogre Island, the home of a famous archmage who really only wants adventurers coming there if they have slain ogres. The players bought all the area and ancient city maps, and the couple to locations on Ogre Island.

I then had to figure out details about these maps they bought. I made them pay quite a bit for them, but not so much to stop them from buying A LOT of maps. I like the d30 Sandbox Companion, and a couple other resources I tracked down for this. I came up with the size and condition of the maps, the landmarks around the treasure, whether the treasure in whole or in part was there, or if it was buried nearby, and the skill of the cartographer and the language it was written in. That was not too difficult. I then had to figure out where to place all the maps. Finally, I had to sketch out the maps.

I spent several hours on this and ended up with extremely rough sketches of maps. I figure that I could just describe them and go from there. I still have some ruins and a couple dungeons to plan.

After all that work, the players were focused on other things and haven’t tried to find one treasure.

Another example is the ancient city. I had a name and a vague idea of a layout in my mind. I dissuaded the players from going to the ancient city by having a trusted NPC tell them that it is very dangerous. I would have been fine if they went there, but they realized they needed a bit more experience. Especially when random undead traveled north along the ancient road to the large town/small city with their base of operations. So I took time to plan out some details of the city and figure out which locations where described by the treasure maps of the ruined city.

Again, after all that work, not near as much as for all the treasure maps, we have not played.

The good news, I have a lot planned and can deal with most situations, and have several ideas if the players decide to do something else.

I know that I shouldn’t plan too far ahead of my players to avoid burnout, but I like the design. It is fun to figure out certain details, however, it is the most fun to watch the interactions of my players with the ideas I present to them.

Working on a collaborative effort in cooperative sandbox design, I want to do my best so that my part is not the weak link in the whole.

As with general preparation as a DM, finding enough time in a large enough block to do more than nibble around the edges can be a challenge.

The lessons I have from this are manifold:

DM prep for my own game can be snippets that I can wing as needed. Often only a name for an NPC, a location name, and perhaps details of spells they have are usually enough. Many details can be generated on the fly.

Tables to help fill in the gaps. Good, bad, or indifferent – you can wait until they discover a treasure with gems and jewelry to roll what it is. It can make the players wait a bit, and can result in some enormous gems – if you let the results stand.

Maps only need to be good enough for me to know what is going on. If you play old school with theater of the mind, you don’t need miniatures and terrain maps. I haven’t made the players do mapping, and so far they have not been in a scenario where it makes sense for them to be lost. They have yet to find a ruin big enough to be a classic dungeon.

Players tend to want to know names of people, locations, taverns, businesses, and stories behind magic items. In addition, personalities of NPCs and monsters are needed so they are not all the same. More effort in these things can avoid delays at the table coming up with a new name. NOTE: I generate several NPC names and cross them off when I use them in game. I haven’t generated enough names to feel like I should re-use them. Tables and online generators can help with this.

I have a few memorable NPCs that the players most encounter. I have different city guard personas, some are matter of fact about their job, “just the facts”, ma’am types. Others are more laid back and just make sure things are not too far off from the rules. There is one who points at people with his spear and swings it around when pointing at the next person he talks to. I haven’t named all the town guards, just the captain and lieutenant. The players haven’t asked for lots of names, I just say, this guard acts thus and so, and if they need a description, I give it. The guard that waves his spear was a fun twist I came up with on the fly, and the players loved that twist. I rotate them, and understandably, the other guards don’t want to have to work with the spear swinger.

All of the things that work well to make a campaign that I can run effectively and give enjoyment to the players are usually far less detailed than required for either an online game, where time is usually more limited than an in-person game; and obviously not what is required for something that is part of something to be published for use by others. While game prep can be done in a pinch, preparation of something to share for others as a basis for an adventure or add-on area in their campaign requires enough detail that the DM only needs to tweak it for use in his game, and not spend hours trying to figure out what you mean or what pieces were left out.

As with a school paper, or other similar project, a collaborative OSR project or something you wish to publish can be done in smaller snippets of time, unless there is a hard and fast deadline.

I think we might all have dreams of making and publishing our own materials and selling to the world of fellow gamers. Many of us know we don’t have the skills, some know that we have the skills but not the drive to finish what we start. While one can use their campaign as a basis for a published project, one should make sure anything they publish is polished.

After reading about failed or terribly botched and nearly totally failed Kickstarters related to RPGs, this has come to mind. Who wouldn’t want all the money that goes with a hugely successful Kickstarter? Most don’t realize the true level of detail involved. In addition, the tax implications and record keeping required are far beyond what the average person expects.

If you want to do a Kickstarter, get your feet wet and participate in a collaborative effort and see how well that goes. Dare to publish some tables or a module and make it available for free. If it is done well and hits the target market, then maybe you have the knack to share something to sell. I’m no expert on the how to do it, as I have not done these things, but I have seen what other people have done. Some obviously have a knack for cranking out good stuff consistently. However, I have also seen a lot that I could do better slapping it together, some of it for sale. I also would be hesitant to risk negative criticism that comes with such things, so thick skin is probably helpful.

So I dabble and continue to share my thoughts on my little blog. It is nice when others recognize my small contributions, but I get more out of it as I get in my writing, and crystallize my own ideas. That is more valuable than money, but  if anyone wants to send me a Dieties & Demigods with Cthulhu and Elric, et. al., I’ll let you. Cash also is the perfect gift, since it always fits. 😉




Collaborative Sandbox Design

I am a participant in the Tenkar’s Landing Crowdsourced Sandbox Setting. It is an interesting concept and it is cool to see all the ideas and how people consult their neighbors to sync up features like rivers and roads and adjust maps to flow with the ideas of others.

I picked a swamp hex. In my campaign I don’t have players running around near a swamp, so my ideas are limited in application to my game. However, other’s hexes have ideas and terrain more in line with where my players are running around, so I can glean ideas.

I see this growing and becoming a very thick book, even a series of modules.

I can’t wait to see how it all plays out and fits together.

Stymphalian Birds

The sixth labor of Herakles (AKA Hercules) is dealing with the Stymphalian birds. They were birds were man eaters with beaks of bronze and metallic feathers they can launch like arrows. Herckles destroys or drives them off and they are encountered later by the Argonauts.


THE ORNITHES STYMPHALIDES (or Stymphalian Birds)  were a flock of man-eating birds which haunted Lake Stymphalis in Arkadia. Herakles’ destroyed them as his sixth labour, employing first a rattle to rouse them from the thick vegetation of the lake, then shooting them down one by one with bow and arrow or a sling.

The Stymphalides were sometimes identified with the arrow-shooting Ornithes Areioi (Birds of Ares) encountered by the Argonauts in the Black Sea.


If you search for Symphalian birds, you will find pictures of ancient Greek pottery, Roman mosaics, and lots of modern interpretations. Deviant Art has quite a few examples.

One artist describes the birds as having poisonous dung. Knowing the way that much ancient mythology was cleaned up for presentation in the Victorian Era, I can believe this. However, I have not yet found a source to back this idea.

Here is my efforts to stat them as per AD&D.

NAME: Stymphalian Birds
FREQUENCY: Rare to Very Rare
MOVE: 3″/18″
% IN LAIR: 60%
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Launch feathers as arrows
SPECIAL DEFENSES: Metallic Feathers
Attack/Defense Modes: N/A
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE: (Added in MM2, also in FF):
CLIMATE/TERRAIN: They nest in trees surrounded by swamps and marshes.

 Swords & Wizardry (So I can use them in my hex for the OSR Tenkar’s Landing Crowdsourced Sandbox Setting.)

Hit Dice: 1
Armor Class: 6/[13]
Attacks: 2
Saving Throw: 16
Special: Launch bronze feathers as arrows.
Move: 3/18 (when flying)
Alignment: Neutrality
Challenge Level/XP: 2/30

Tenkar’s Landing – OSR Crowdsourced Island

I took the plunge and signed up for a hex in the Tenkar’s Landing Crowdsourced Island. There is a G+ community for the endeavor.

It will be interesting to see how this all comes together.

So far, it is decided to use 6 mile hexes, any flavor of the Swords & Wizardry Rules, but keeping it light on the “crunch” for easier use by any rules set.

Erik has given the general background of the island and will provide some other information.

One person has already done a map of their hex with fishing villages.

There are still several hexes left.

I claimed a swamp hex, so it will be interesting how the whole thing meshes with the rest of the island and map.