The Grey Coast – West Marches OSE – Session 06

In the fifth session of the Greyt Coast West Marches OSE campaign, there has been a total party kill.

  • Sunshine the Elf (Deceased)
  • Koras the Cleric (Deceased)
  • Hayfinger the Thief (Deceased)
  • Tharduir the Dwarf (Deceased)

A bitter end

It is another day in Greymouth Harbour. In the middle of the monastery, the abbot applied a strange bluish potion on Sunshine, turning him back from stone. Koras had to ask help to him after a basilisk had petrified the elven mistress. Sunshine decided to risk again and explore more the ruins of the Tomb. Tharduir and Hayfinger joined him at the Black Boar’s Inn & Lodge after hearing the last exploit at the tomb. The group also hired a cleric named Rilexa besides the people of the last expedition (Graphar, Sven, Drelan, and the wizard apprentice Efri). After a whole morning of planning, they are out on the road again. The journey and the weather were pleasant. Soon, they were back at the waterfall on the edge of the forest. This time, Drelan stayed outside with the cart, and the rest entered.

They have moved as fast as possible to the central heptagonal hall with the pit. They checked first the south-western room: a sort of priest room full of scrolls fallen on the floor, where a silver icon representing a snake man stood on a small altar. Koras searched the scrolls, finding a scrap with the name ‘Baltoplat’ faded but still readable on it. They used the ten feet pole to move aside the icon and take it without triggering any trap.

The next room was the eastern one: when they have opened the door, a strange skeletal snake man raised and moved to attack them. The skeletal creature injured Tharduir at the arm, breaking part of the wooden shield. Sunshine asked Hayfinger to pass him a better-suited weapon to fight this monster — she had only a dagger and a bow. The thief has grabbed his sword and thrown it to the elf who took it on the fly. Surrounding the undead, the party managed to overwhelm it. The place was empty, except for some funeral trinkets on the floor.

The western door did not have so many surprises: someone has not finished the room, and it was dug only by half. Someone has abandoned plenty of rusted tools and shovels on the ground.

They have decided then to venture on the southern decorated door, where a stair was leading down below. Tharduir and Hayfinger noticed that the third step was not fixed; and indeed, it was the trigger for a trap: when they have triggered it, the stair became a smooth ramp at which end a pit full of sharp spikes opened. After a minute, the stair has returned to its normal position. Skipping that particular step, the party managed to crawl beneath without activating the trap. They reached a vast hexagonal hall covered by ancient steel shields. At the other side, there was an opening of 30′ feet on an immense dark cliff. Out of nowhere a colossal skeletal snake man of more than 12’form emerged from the darkness; such undead giant was wearing a full plate armour, and it was holding an axe. The skeletal snake giant grabbed Graphar and killed the mercenary instantly. Koras and Rilexa tried to turn it away, but they failed: their holy symbol burned like hell and it fell on the ground. It was too strong for them. Sunshine aimed to the head with the bow to distract him and allowing the rest of the band to escape. He managed, and they ran away. At the top of the stairs, they saw that the giant skeleton was trying to grab them, but the passage was too narrow for him. Hayfinger proposed to attack him from a distance, but Sunshine convinced the thief to leave it alone.

Afterwards, they checked the room in the south-east: there was just one single stone coffin. While the rest of the band was searching for secret doors, Hayfinger inspected the coffin: no signs of a violation, however, there was a black slime pouring from it. Hayfinger smelled it and felt sick. Fortunately, Sunshine had a healing potion — identified last time from Melfiner — and he healed the poor thief.

Finally, they investigated the last door on the north-east. There, the tragedy happened: Sunshine noticed a slightly higher tile than the others under the door with a sigil on top; she checked it with the usual pole and the sigil activated. An electrical explosion invested the band, frying them. Only Rilexa has survived almost burnt on the floor. After some hours, Drelan entered, finding the corpses and taking all their belongings. For the rest of our adventures, only the darkness awaited them.

The Grey Coast – OSE West Marches – Session 05

  • Sunshine the Elf
  • Keeva the Fighter
  • Koras the Cleric

Expedition at the Tomb of the Serpent Kings

It was a rainy day in Greymouth Harbour. After the successful expedition at the Windshire Mines, Sunshine decided to hire new adventures to check the tomb pointed on the treasure map. Keeva, the young warrior lady, entered in the Black Boar inn exactly while the elf was consulting the map. And she was not the only new face in the Barridus’ lodge. A full cleric in full plate armour and the scutcheon of a rising sun arrived after a long journey at the inn. Barridus reminded them that the elven mistress was organising an expedition to the Tomb. Sunshine did not need a long speech to convince them: Keeva joined the fellowship to earn some money, since the news of a tresure map found in the mines spread quickly; instead, Koras took the chance to purify an ancient site from the evil lurking beneath. The three decided to hire three mercenaries from the Black Company: the usual Graphar the Fighter, Sven the Thief, and Drelan the Fighter, plus the clerk of Toran the Blacksmith, Thair. The elf decided to invest the gold earned at the mines also for the help of a wizard: the party visited the tower full of illusions of the archmage Melfiner — former lecturer at the Yenmora academy —; there, they convinced the old man to let them hire his apprentice Efri.

The party has begun its journey to the south-western edge of the forest. The map pointed out the edge of the woods close to the Goblin citadel where lies a waterfall. Nothing particular on the road beside the shrine of the drowned sailors, where Keeva left a coin. But, a knight approached the party suddenly, and they have exchanged some words before departing. The was travelling to free Eryas Hold from the Cultist of Llegh, a group of worshippers of the homonymous lich; they are famous because they patch up limbs of dead victims to their bodies, making them more similar to golems. The valiant knight warned them that he will face alone this quest. After the talk, the band continued the journey to arrive then close to the waterfall at the border of the woods. While Graphar, Sven and Drelan were playing with cards, Koras discussed with Efri the history of the Grey Coast, while Sunshine, Keeva, and Thair rested next to the fire.

The next day, the band was at the waterfall already. It has been easy: next to it there was a rocky slope leading to a cave, and two broken statues of serpent-men were guarding the place. Koras examined the path and found traces of goblinoids. The party ventured inside: the first four rooms were full of coffin and clay icons representing serpent-men of different social statutes. The band did not dare to open it, and they moved forward the end of the hallway. A stone door blocked by a bar of the same material and steel pegs. Keeva, Sven and Sunshine had a excellent idea to check the door, discovering that the pegs were connected to some sort of mechanism. Presuming a trap, the group decided to trigger it using a rope: a giant hammer fell from the ceiling breaking everything on its way, including the door. Among the dust, the party discovered the next room: a broad hexagonal room containing three decorated coffins and the statue of a high-born snake-man with two females. At the south, the group found a bizarre altar: among consumed candles, a cross between a snake and a toad with intestines as limbs. Checking the idol, Sunshine has found a button unlocking a secret door to the east. Meanwhile, Koras tried to purify with holy water the tabernacle, and evil energy evaporated from it. The group continued to the east through the corridor. They arrived at an heptagonal hall with a pit full of oily water and surrounded by more statues of soldier snake-men. A smell of liquorice and humid air were filling their lungs. At each of the sides of the heptagon, there were stone doors, exception made for the south-western (just a corridor), south-eastern (wooden door), and eastern (decorated by gold and obsidian details) doors. Two mummified animated hands assaulted the elven lady while investigating the pit. Fortunately, the adventurers succeeded in hunting down and killing them. Afterwards, Sunshine, Koras, Keeva, and the mercenaries checked the southern-western corridor. It led to a room full of natural sized clay statues of serpent-guards. Sven broke one of them and revealed that some of them contained treasure. While searching the room,the elf identified a plate that opened a secret passage to the south. A mosaic depicting the life of the serpent-men has been decorating this passageway for ages. At the bottom, they noticed a secret door thanks to the ruined tiles of the mosaic around the frame. At the other side, there was a hexagonal room with eight broken pillars. A noise of wriggling chains filled the air. And a greyish lizard crawled from the dark. A glimpse of his deep blue eyes petrified Sunshine who was at the front of the party. They had barely the time to drag her back into the corridor, shutting the door before the creature charged and rasped against it. After this accident, Koras and Keeva loaded her on the cart, and they went back to Greymouth to find any cure for her curse.

The Grey Coast – OSE West Marches – Session 04

  • Sunshine the Elf.
  • Silverstream the Elf.
  • Hayfinger the Thief.

The arrival of another elf on the same day surprised the customers of Barridus’ small Tavern and Lodge in Greymouth. The elven mistress lowered her hood, and she asked to Barridus whether an elf called Starlight has passed by the tavern. Meanwhile, Silverstream the elf was trying without much success to teach an elven gambling game to Hayfinger, a local thug. When they heard Sunshine, the two invited the Sunshine to sit at their table. The people at the Black Boar knew only that just dwarf, a ranger an a uncivilised barbarian from a western tribe came back from the Windshire mines; there were no news concerning either Starlight or the druid who accompanied him. Silverstream and Hayfinger were interested in picking up as much coal and iron from the mines to resell it to the local shopkeepers. The infestation of kobolds did not allow frequent regular shipping for months now. The two were willing to take this chance to make money. If she wanted, Sunshine could join them to look for her brother. Before leaving, they have visited the Black Company’s garrison: there, they convinced Graphar — a mercenary who had visited the mines already — to join them; plus, Toran the crippled blacksmith of the town lent his clerk Thair and his cart in exchange for a restock of iron.

The band left Greymouth Harbour. They had a pleasant journey. The only thing of relevance were the bodies of the many bandits hanged by the Black Company on the trees across the road. Graphar joked that not even the fear of the hanging knot was keeping the thugs away from the causeway of the coast. At sunset, the group set up a camp close to the hills, and the next morning they were already at mines. Before going down to the entrance, Hayfinger had an idea: pulling the wood planks off the warehouse with a crowbar. In this way, they could use fire and smoke to flush out kobolds from the lower tunnels just in case.

While they were going deeper to the entrance, they noticed two extinguished pyres: one made of small humanoids while the other of what looked like tiny reptile men. There were traces of an encampment also, but they band has preferred to not waste further time. They lightened up a torch and crawled into the mines. While entering, the party identified a trap made of rocks and ropes between the entrance cave and the following cavern. A sound of squeaking was breaking the silence. Inspecting the smaller cave in the south-est, the adventurers found the secret door of the gnomes’ vault still open. Inside, a swarm of rats were eating the bodies of Manus and Starlight. Hayfinger and Silverstream have thrown a torch in the middle of the room to disperse the swarm. While Sunshine prayed for her dead brother, the group found further gems, potions and gold coins in the urns around. After that, the band explored the brick tunnels and halls in the south. In the larger hall cut by a river, they recovered some crates of iron, coal, and a couple of vials of quicksilver. No kobolds were roaming the tunnels at the moment of the day; so, they took advantage of such opportunity to explore further. The three, Graphar and Thair decided to block the door on the eastern side, and they checked the narrow tunnel south-east after. A huge muddy corridor supported by logs was standing in front of them. Unfortunately, Sunshine and Silverstream moved forward without checking step by step the corridor: Sunshine fell into a pit full of spikes, but she managed to survive with just a twisted ankle. She inspected the pockets of the rotten corpses at the bottom, finding a diamond. Graphar and Hayfinger managed then to pull her up using a rope. The party found the light at the end of the passage: a complex system of mirror had been reflecting sunlight from the exterior — a sign of a fine gnomish mechanical tinkering. The cave had the shape of a reverse L: on the northern wall — under the mirrors — a broken marble statue was standing on a stone pedestal; at south-west,a lonely rusted crate stood next to another entrance. They checked first the trunk: Hayfinger touched it with a ten feet pole, triggering a series of darts coming from a hole in the rocky wall. After having disarmed the trap by blocking the hole with multiple planks, they opened the chest: they found more gold, gems, and a map treasure. The map was pointing to an ancient burial complex at the border with the Goblin Citadel: the Tomb of the Serpent King. Beyond the south gate, there was a smaller stone room; another bridge crossing the same sub-terranean river of before was standing at the south-western corner. Of course, the three investigated the statue as well: although they could not read the bas-relief in gnomish language, they uncovered a small vault beneath it. The hidden vault contained a cloth wrap with more gold and two necklaces. Furthermore, Hayfinger has tried to climb the stone walls to reach the mirrors, but the rope fell before he could secure it.

No kobolds met and easy treasure meant that it was time to go away. The party did not want to risk further with such amount of valuables. They loaded the crates of coal and iron on the cart outside, travelling then back to Greymouth Harbour.

The Grey Coast – West Marches OSE – Session 03

  • Reed Coley the Ranger
  • Starlight the Elf (Deceased)
  • Manus the Druid (Deceased)
  • Tharduir the Dwarf
  • Thorstein the Barbarian

The First Fallen

It’s another day at the Black Boar’s Tavern and Lodge. A drowsy afternoon interrupted by the arrival of an elf. All the customers have never seen an member of the elven people before: last time the eldest townsmen have seen an elf in Greymouth Harbour was decades ago. And it wasn’t one of the nomad elves of the south-western forest close to Mylserra. His name was Starlight. Manus, Tharduir, and Reed invite the elf to join them. Starlight is interested in exploring the Grey Coast to learn more about the elven past. Seera the Bard inspected the young elf with curiosity. Then she reported the last news: another band of adventurers has ventured to explore a recently discovered tomb between the edge of the forest and the hills; meanwhile, a couple of merchants — arrived in Greymouth to trade furs — have spotted a mysterious portal appeared out of the blue on the southern road. However, after having convinced Starlight to join the party, the group decided to go back to the Windshire Mines.

The journey was pleasant, and nothing relevant happened, besides Starlight killing with a Magic Missile a boar who has escaped Reed’s arrows. The morning after, the band crawled again at the entrance of the Mines. There, the gnomish expedition had set up a camp at the entrance. Boynim — the leader — was burning the corpses of her fallen fellows on a pyre. After having spoken with the gnome lady for updates about the situation, the party has entered the mines. This time, the kobold have built a barricade using the broken rams and some rocks. The adventurers decided then to spend time clearing up the tunnel, plus setting up a falling trap in case they would have been chased, before venturing deeper. After a brief scouting, Starlight warned the others that the next cave was clear.

They decided then to inspect the three smaller side cavern to the west. The first one north-est, they had found a skeleton with an eaten armour; something has bitten the steel. The second one in the east was empty. Tharduir and Starlight examined then the third cavern in the south-eastern corner. The elf — provoking a huge embarrassment to the dwarf — managed to find a secret door: in the darkness of the cavern, Starlight has discovered a small rift between the wall and the cobble, plus a fissure in which stick a small blade. They succeed in opening the secret door of the cave using a dagger. While Reed stayed outside as guard, the rest of the party has entered in the room: there were two chest, one north-est and the other south, and two niches with three shelves each one in western and southern walls. On the shelves, they discovered ceramic urns full of ashes with some phrases written in gnomish on them. No one could read the language. Starlight noticed that the chest pushed against the northern wall was slightly elevated. He tried to check beneath if there was a hidden trap with the dagger. Unfortunately, he triggered the trap: a storm of steel needles has exploded in all the directions. Only Tharduir had the reflexes to jump down on the floor to avoid them. Manus and Starlight died instantly. Afterwards, Reed and Tharduir — after having prayed for their fallen fellows — have checked the trunk: the two uncovered a mysterious copper and gold ring, some necklaces, and gems (total 1700 gp). The other chest south of the room contained a quiver of some weird arrows and more gold coins.

Suddenly, a light came from the entrance: it was Thorstein the Barbarian. He has arrived here to search the Urn of the Iron God in the lower floor — an artefact that his people had been looking for. He decided to join the party since cooperating could be useful for both the sides. The party then explored the south-western corridor before venturing in the southern brick tunnel. They reached a small cavern full of supplies, broken barrels, and a rusted iron chest. After many attempts with a crowbar, Tharduir succeeded in opening it: they found more gold coins, a leather armour, more arrows, and a pickaxe. Finally, they explored the brick tunnel at which end there was a 7 meters high door made of sturdy wood and iron band. Beyond the half-closed door, the adventurers found a bricked room with tons of crates and a river crossing the hall; the bridge crossing the room is collapsed. On the east side, there was a smaller wooden door while in the south-eat corner a tunnel. From this tunnel, suddenly eleven small humanoids lizard — that they guess being kobolds — entered the place. Instead of facing them, the group decided to run away to Greymouth Harbour. They have lost enough men for today…

Why Reading Published Modules Improves Your Homebrew?

Aka Published Modules as Design Tools

When I begun DMing for the first time with 3rd edition, I’ve found that the most fun part of tabletop RPGs was designing your own stuff. At the time, I used to ask: “Why should spend money on someone’s else ideas when I have mine?” Moreover, I was in the näive mindset that an adventure was supposed to be run as conceived by the writer. This was making feel constrained to play a module carefully without forgetting anything. I used to imagine what disappointment would be for my few unlucky players if I had changed something. For instance, kobolds in place o goblins in the Sunless Citadel or the wrong equipment for that NPC. Afterwards, I’ve understood that an adventure is more akin to a toolkit rather than to a script. But until that moment, I’ve preferred to play using my homebrew material for this reason also. I have spent — like many aspiring referees — countless summers and winter holidays jotting down on forgotten notebooks dungeons, characters, and locations to throw at my sessions. And I have done so with different RPGs until my revamped love for OSR gaming. But when I have come back referring fantasy games, something happened: I finished all my “original” ideas.

I noticed that when I was prepping a dungeon or an adventure, I was repeating the same scheme, the same enemies, and so on, seasoned differently. I have ended being repetitive in my attempt to be original and design stuff using only my thoughts: the result was mixing and recycling the same situations and scenarios without even being aware. And I did not want to propose all over again to different groups the same ‘reheated soup’. And I had the feeling that they were not so great. This has been a reason that led me to buy more published modules. I needed to learn from both amateur and professional writers what a fun dungeon architecture or scenario should be. Since then, I’ve improved a lot by reading other people’s material. It has sparked my imagination again in unexpected ways. But this is not the only cause: the other factor is time. I am writing up my PhD dissertation and it requires a lot of effort and time. So, I started looking at modules to fill holes or build on my ideas using published floors, NPCS, etc. It has happened that I did not have time to expand my notes; so, I have stolen material from other adventures and contextualised it. E.g. Taking one floor of a dungeon and recycling it as standalone with a couple of changes. And so far it worked quite well!

I compare writing homebrew material and published modules with learning to play Jazz. (I think that Jazz is the metaphor which works with everything.) Jazz encourages to mix up and interpret in your own style the jazz standards. But first, you must learn the Jazz standards themselves before reinterpreting them. This remark is valid also for TTRPGs’ refereeing. My mistake — and I’ve noticed other people in my previous gaming circles in Italy doing that — was improvising adventure design without learning from published modules. We used to rely on good common sense or mimic CRPGs to prepare adventures. This has led to different results, most of them not fantastic. Of course, some RPG players have acquired such design skills through practice, becoming then good game masters. Nevertheless, published modules exist to teach and spare our limited time while focusing more on refereeing at the table. Why should we learn them by trial and error when there are these tools? Is it mandatory to learn this to enjoy refereeing? Certainly no. However, referees will have more satisfaction reading modules and taking ideas from them, and the players will have more fun . It’s their purpose, after all. Today, I read a megadungeon, an adventure or a setting, and I take notes on what I can change, steal, or reinterpret according to my players’ taste. And I feel that my sessions are more engaging thanks to this approach.

I strongly encourage you to pick up any OSR modules that interest you and follow these steps:

  1. Read the module without taking notes: Enjoy the modules as if you are reading a fiction book. Acquire the “big picture” of the places and what are the key challenge as if you are the player.
  2. Decide what you like and what you don’t: Flip it through again. Is there any dungeon floor, NPC, monster, wilderness hex, an encounter, etc. that you like? Note down or keep it in mind.
  3. Understand why you like what you like: Ask yourself why you like that thing of the module. Why does it excite you? E.g. Is it weird? Does it offer a kind of puzzle or strategy that it might be exciting? Do you like the pattern of the dungeon?
  4. Understand why you dislike what you don’t like: Ask to yourself why you didn’t like what you have not duly noted as ‘fun’. Is it slow? Is it repetitive? Doesn’t it reward certain choices?
  5. Inquiry why it has been designed in that way: Take the answers of point 3. Wonder why the author has designed the way they did. What makes that feature of the module fun? What principles have guided the choice? E.g. Having different outcomes for the same action? Forcing the players to combine multiple items creatively?
  6. What would you change? Take the answer step 4. After you have understood what you didn’t like, ask yourself: how would I make it exciting? In other words, how you would improve what you dislike to make it fun to play at the table?
  7. Imagine these elements in different circumstances: Take what you have liked and imagine how you could reinterpret or use it in a different context. E.g. How can I use that desert encounter in a jungle? Does the goblins’ strategy fit a band of gnolls as well? Can the motivation of the bandits be the same if they kidnap a unicorn in place of the princess? What do I need to change to make it work in entirely different circumstances?
  8. Imagine new applications for the design principles of the module: At step 5, you should have reflected on what choices have motivated a particular element. Now, to acquire them as a ‘habit’, invent 3-5 elements — dungeons, NPCs, traps, etc. — following the principles employed in the modules. If you have difficulties, limit yourself for now to step 7.

This is my algorithm to approach any adventure not written by me. While reading any module, you reflect on its skeleton, and you abstract the underlying principles for your material. You make them your own. This advice sounds evident for an expert referee. However, I’d have liked to have learnt by someone rather than had figured out on my own. Of course, I refer to OSR modules, but the same works also for modules written for modern RPGs like 5e or Pathfinder 2nd ed.