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Klint Finley
Reporter for WIRED, n00b game designer
Reporter for WIRED, n00b game designer

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Where to after Deep Carbon Observatory?

My players in my bi-weekly Black Hack game just reached the Observatory. I don't want to railroad them into anything, Deep Carbon is slightly railroady already and I want to move beyond that, but I do want to plant some hooks for future adventures and then just let them go from there.

I have a gazillion OSR modules from various bundles and impulse buys, so there's no shortage of material. But sifting through it all and figuring out what seeds to plant is a big job. So I figured I'd check and see what folks around here have done.

I figure they'll spend at least two more sessions there, so I've got at least a month to figure things out, but I figured I'd check here to see what other people have done. They're 5th level now and will probably 7th level by the time they're through with the Observatory. I'm thinking I'll probably convert them over to 5E or B/X or a B/X clone after that.

Some basic ideas I have already:

- I could plant the False Chantelle from MotBM somewhere in the Observatory.

- The PCs need to return a canoe borrowed from to Zarathustra. I figure he's from the Slumbering Ursine Dunes area. Not sure how to hook the players into that module since I haven't read it yet, though.

- Expedition to the Barrier Peaks or City of the Gods would be fun if I could find the right hooks.

- I'd love to give them a reason to visit Hubris or the Hot Spring Islands as well.

- I have Veins of the Earth so I could cook up more Underdark stuff if they want to keep investigating it.

Should I pull my Patreon pledges to send a message to the company, or up my pledges to help the creators I back make up for their losses? Or just sit tight?

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Rules to the Game of Dungeon Actual Play Report

Before he co-created Dungeon and Dragons, Dave Arneson spent years playing fantasy role playing games with his friends in the Minneapolis area in the early 1970s. Over time, the idea of playing simple a simple dungeon-themed role playing games spread to other Minneapolis geeks. In 1974, 14 year old Craig VanGrasstek, who had never actually played with Arneson and his group and didn't know D&D existed, published his house rules for the "Game of Dungeon" that he and his friends played (this game has also been referred to as "Minneapolis Dungeon" and "Castle Keep").

In 2014, Jon Peterson republished Rules to the Game of Dungeon with VanGrasstek's permission:

A couple weeks ago, I got a group together to give it a spin.

Bottom line: It played surprisingly well, especially considering that it was written by a teenage boy in the 1970s, but I worry that combat could become a grind. I don't know if I'll run it again because there are so many other rules-lite systems that offer more support for the GM, but this was a lot of fun for everyone.

I'm attaching my "Weird Workbook": the tables I used for rolling up baddies, and their stats and descriptions.


The game calls for making a map ahead of time, but rolling-up almost all of the encounters on the fly. So I printed out some maps from Dyson's Dodecahedron and made myself some tables. Basically, for each room you'd have a "baddie" (as Minnesota gamers called opponents), a "sage" (NPCs who generally just want to gamble), or a trap. Each room also had treasure, but I used the tables included in Rules for that. Statting up the baddies was the most time consuming part of prep, but wasn't really a big deal.

I also made a bunch of pregens: one for each race (or "denomination" in VanGrasstek's terminology) for each class, for a total of 9 pregens. I just randomly rolled equipment and "spell balls."

Because of VanGrasstek and his group's obsession with Herbie Popnecker, I decided that instead of magical "balls," the Wizards would use magical lollipops to cast their spells. So they had "axe pops," "healing pops," "mind control pops," etc.

The Session

Once everyone had picked a pregen, some of players decided to come up with relationships between their "personas" (two of the elves were sibling rivals, and two of them were also former lovers). Tex, a human priest with a bicycle chain, was appointed leader (the highest level priest is always the party leader in Rules). Then they took off for Blad Mountain, where they'd heard treasure abounded (this was the name of one of the "mazes" in one of VanGrasstek's actual play reports republished by Peterson).

Pools of gravy marked the entrance to cave. The personas quickly dispatched a pack of coyotes that attacked them at the entrance, and they managed to tame one of them as a pet.

Once inside, the entrance caved in and a giant meatball rolled towards them. They were able to duck into a hallway to avoid being run-over by the meatball, but the meatball turned and started attacking them. They eventually defeated it, and then set about exploring the maze.

Within, the personas used carrots to placate a swarm of Evil Rabbits, killed a Giant Centipede, and lost a bunch of gold to a sage in a game of blackjack. They also discovered a room full of slot machines (I had a slot machine die that everyone took turns rolling. No one won anything) and the gravy geyser that likely spawned the giant meatball.

The highlight of the evening came when one of the Wizards used a mind control pop on an Umber Hulk (he decided that these pops work by hurling them at the baddies head and having it stick there), which he then used to battle an Evil Dentist in another room. The elven warrior took the dentist's drill and used it against one of the giant snapping turtles that attacked them in another room. It penetrated the turtle's shell, but broke. The PCs ended up running away from the turtles and returning to the entrance, digging themselves out, and heading home.


I was worried that this would be unplayable, so I brought along a copy of Into the Odd and a couple one-room dungeons just in case. But it turned out to be a lot of fun. But I'd definitely want to make some adjustments if I were to run it again. There was a lot of whiffing, so I'd definitely want to lower the to-hit numbers both for the personas and the baddies. It took round after round to take out the baddies, and the personas barely even got hurt. If we'd played longer (the whole session, including going over the rules and picking characters, was only three hours), I think it really would have become a grind.

Despite the fun, I'm reluctant to run this again. I'd probably rather just run Maze Rats or Tunnels & Trolls with a bunch of silly monsters and an emphasis on food. Seems like it would be easier to stat up baddies in those systems, and that combat would be less of a whiff-fest.

Still, the system held up really well. Randomly generating everything made things really easy and unpredictable. If you want a really deep old school cut, give this a try.

World of Apocalypse

I love Apocalypse World but sometimes I don't have time to print out playbooks or don't want to fuss with shuffling through multiple move sheets. What follows is an attempt to scratch my itch for a World of Dungeons treatment of AW. Also sneaks in some Monsterhearts ideas. I haven't tested it yet, but will probably play it soon.

Edit: Here's a Google Doc for (hopefully) easier reading:

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Here's an update to my low fantasy classes for The Black Hack. I was gonna wait until TBH 2 was out to do an update, since the new backgrounds may obviate the need for these, but I made some changes ahead of a campaign I just started, so I figured I share.

The big changes:
- Added Sailor class
- Renamed Viceroy to Noble
- Limited Hunter's Advantage on range attack rolls to situations where they're concealed.
- Added three different levels of Witch potions. Previously Witches used potions equivalent to clerical and arcane spells. Now they've got their own.


- Add fourth level Witch portions and maybe 9th level.
- Maybe an Artificer class?

(Again, all this depends on what 2.0 ends up looking like)

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Apocalypse World: Pyre Party

I just finished running an Apocalypse World mini-campaign inspired by the Fyre Festival fiasco. The gimmick is expired by this point, but it was fun and some of these threats might be salvageable for other island-based AW scenarios.

The Gist:

It was supposed to be luxurious. Glamorous. Sexy. A week of partying with supermodels on the beaches Isla de Pira. Live shows by brokeNCYDE, Kid Rock, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Catering by chefs like Guy Fieri.

But the models, bands, and chefs never showed up. Instead of a week of getting lit, it was a week of picking at sandfleas, sleeping in FEMA tents, and eating creamed corn from a can.

The organizers left early, saying the San Clemente government would evacuate the island. No one ever came. Three months later, you're still here. There are no boats. There are no planes. The nearest island is 100 miles away. The food and water has long run out, leaving all of you to fend for yourselves.

Things are getting a little weird. People talk of visions of wars and apocalypse, the outside world consumed by flame. A psychic maelstrom howls across the island.

What do you do?


All NPCs came to Isla de Pira as part of Pyre Party. There are no native inhabitants.

Weapons Caches: Left behind by guerillas from San Clemente who once used the island as a staging ground. I decided that before the game started, the Devils had found one cache, and the Hardholder had control over the other. The Devils were a smaller force, but found a cache with more powerful artillery, which helped create a balance of power on the island. There was one other cache in the jungle, but the PCs never found it.

Burn Flats: Pre-Columbian San Clemente natives used to bring dead bodies out here by boat to burn them. Used as a landing strip by Pyre Party organizers.

Tent City: Where most of the Pyre Party attendees live now.

The Jungle: NPCs never come back from here. There's another weapons cache out there, plus the slaver cult.

Cybelle: A 16 year old brainer with bug eyes, a big bald head, and a violation glove. He lives in the jungle and has several mind-controlled slaves working to build a boat to get off the island.

Hell Hawk: A Chopper who leads an all-girl golf-cart gang called the Devils. Has red liberty spikes and paints herself red.

The Devils: An all-girl golf cart gang dedicated to keeping women on the island safe. They paint their skin red with some sort of clay they found on the island. Discovered the better of the two weapons caches.

Jaws: Hell Hawk's right-hand woman. Has really big teeth. Wears chain-mail bikini, paints herself red, and carries a bazooka.

Psychedelic Crabs: Tend to wash up ashore a ways down the beach from the Tent City camp. Eating one opens your mind to the Psychic Maelstrom.

Nuclear Submarine Wreckage Further down the beach. Didn't come into play. Would be more useful in a post-apocalyptic game that involves mutations.

Erowid: Dreadlocked trustafarian. Works for the Hard Holder. The only person who knows how to make Red Drank. He tried to teach other people, but identifying the right plants and getting the exact right proportions is extremely difficult and Erowid really isn't a very good or patient teacher.

Red Drank: Some sort of mildly psychedelic downer. Keeps the party-crazed populace sedated, as long as it keeps flowing.

JD: Organizes bare knuckle boxing matches. Has gold teeth and a big beard. Wears whitey tighties, cow bow boots, a cloak, and lots of big rings. His sister Skarlet is is body guard.

Skarlet: A member of the Devils, but is more loyal to her brother than to Hell Hawk. Hides a scarred face beneath a hockey mask (she won't take it off unless coerced). Has multi-colored liberty spikes, paints herself red like all Devils. Wears a long leather duster. Carries a fully automatic shotgun.
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And speaking of re-releases of material by the founders of our hobby: there's now a print-on-demand version of Empire of the Petal Throne, the original Tékumel game by M.A.R. Barker.

It was originally published by TSR in 1975, but Barker had already spent years--decades, even--developing the world. Inspired by Indian, Middle Eastern, Egyptian and Meso-American culture, even after all these years Tékumel remains one of the (relatively) few fantasy settings not based on medieval Europe.

There's a PDF of the self-published manuscript that predated it as well.

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Is Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes OSR? Well, I'd argue that it is when it's a module written by D&D co-creator Dave Arneson!

Flying Buffalo Games just released an ebook version of Arneson's 1991 adventure The Case of the Pacific Clipper for the modern-era Tunnels & Trolls variant MSPE. It can be played solo, or as a GMed adventure.

Seems like a good excuse for me to finally read MSPE.
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