A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.


Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on April 23, 2024

Tagged: warhammer 40K horusheresy toronto hogtown40k

My Luna Wolves Dreadnaught

I recently attended a Horus Heresy tournament organized by local gaming group Hogtown 40K. This was a full day of gaming, the most warhammer I have played in quite some time. (My last epic adventure in Warhammer was playing a never ending game of 40K in Lexington, with my friend’s husband before their wedding.) I have been painting my Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness boxed set in slow motion since it was released, so playing in this tournament felt like a nice conclusion to that hobby project.

For those unfamiliar, the Horus Heresy is the galactic civil war that sets up many of the important elements of the 40K setting as we know it: a probably dead emperor of mankind on a golden throne, chaos space marines, demons, etc. The Horus Heresy takes place 10,000 years before the time period of 40K. The game Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness is essentially Games Workshops’ take on Napoleonics. There is an emphasis on treating the game like any other historical, except the history of this game is 100% made up. People will paint armies appropriate for particular time periods of the war. They will make sure their colour schemes are consistent and correct.1 Compared to larger Warhammer 40,000 scene, there is a greater emphasis on the narrative side of the game.

Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness feels like a modern take on retro rulesets. If you played Warhammer 40K prior to its 8th edition, Horus Heresy will feel familiar. You’ll see universal special rules, vehicle facing, blast templates, etc. There are lots of niche rules, which makes for a very flavourful game, but also one that is a bit tricky to keep entirely in your head. You will need at least two (giant) rulebooks to play, with rules for your units spread between both. The game would have felt impossible to play if I didn’t create my army list on New Recruit, which collects all the rules for your units together in one place.

Most of Games Workshop’s games share a lot of DNA, and this game is no exception. You use d6s throughout. You roll to hit, then to wound, then make armour saves. Like all GW games, you often roll a fuck-ton of dice to accomplish very little. There are lots of small differences between Horus Heresy and modern 40K. Armour Piercing isn’t a modifier, you either ignore armour saves or you don’t. When a unit loses a combat, there is a chance they will rout and just be cut down by the opposing side. Similarly a unit that is routing can be killed outright by any unit that manages to charge into it. These changes will lead to faster game play: you just lift models. Some changes slow the game down, but make for fun situations. Melee combat happens in initiative order, like Mordheim: you might be able to kill a few dudes carrying massive thunder hammers before they 100% blow you up. Like most Games Workshop games, Horus Heresy’s turn structure is “I go, you go”. They have introduced a pool of reactions you can make during each phase of the opposing players turn, making the games feel a bit more dynamic, and ensuring both players are engaged throughout each turn. You might shoot back when shot, fire overwatch when being charged, etc. The number of reactions you can make is small and intuitive. It’s a nice addition to the game.

The format for the tournament was cute: each player made a list of 1250 points, a little under half of what is recommended for a full game of Horus Heresy (3000 points); players were paired up and played as a team against their opponents. I was encouraged to sign up for the tournament, even though I had never played a game of Horus Heresy before, because the format of the tournament lends itself to teaching and learning the game. My first partner was someone with a lot of experience playing the game.2 That ended up being the case in subsequent games as well.3 Games that would have been a slog to get through if I was playing alone flew by with ease.

I honestly had no good reason to pick up the Age of Darkness boxed set, but i’m glad I did. Getting into Heresy has been a fun hobby project these last months and years. Getting ready for this tournament, painting my last few minies, was particularly fun. I always find it motivating painting for an event or game, trying to get a unit done under the wire. Up next is getting my Sons of Horus army up to 3000 points.


  1. One thing Games Workshop does well is make sure the lore of their setting allows for maximal creativity when it comes to the hobby of building and painting miniatures. In Horus Heresy, if your Ultramarines are a platoon that turned to Chaos and have black helmets because you like black, that would work. There is space in the setting for this sort of deviation. The scene around the Horus Heresy seems to value people taking the time to think through what they are making, and putting care into their hobby activities. 

  2. Harrison: what a god damn hero! 

  3. Shout out to Graeme and Matt as well! 


Review: Ross Rifles

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on March 18, 2018

Tagged: storygames apocalypseworld toronto rossrifles pbta

Ross Rifles is a brand new RPG from Dundas West Games that is still in development. It was the last game I played at BreakoutCon, and the first game of the convention that I had never played before. The session I was a part of was run by one its creators, Daniel Kwan. (Daniel is notable for his work running the RPG program at the ROM for kids, his podcast Curiosity in Focus.) Ross Rifles is like D&D, but the dungeons are the trenches of the First World War.

The quick start rules of the game are available now, but the game is very much still in development. The version I played at BreakoutCon has diverged a little bit from the game described in the quick start booklet, and I as I write this Daniel is play testing some new morale rules. They hope to have the game ready to be kickstarted at the tail end of the year. Still, the quick start rules capture the core of the game, which I suspect won’t change much over the coming months.

Ross Rifles is an apocalypse world hack. The quick start is a bit rough: I think it might not be easy to follow if you haven’t actually played the game. The booklet could likely be reorganized to better explain the game and how the various changes to Apocalypse World work. A brief overview of how the game plays and moves from phase to phase would be helpful. With Apocalypse World games you have your agenda and principles and all that noise. I think it’d be good to put some of that down on the page for people who want to run a game of Ross Rifles themselves.1 That said, the game’s rules are quite straight forward, and it doesn’t drift far from the core of Apocalypse World, so playbooks in hand I suspect most groups will manage fine.

Ross Rifles was fun. It plays like a good war movie. We began with our arrival to the front line. Players can play Sergeants, Corporals, and Privates, each described in their own playbook. The game will look similar to anyone who has played a Powered by the Apocalypse game. Some changes of note: characters have a harm track and a fatigue track, with 4 harm indicating death, and 4 fatigue indicating shell shock (which impacts your ability to things)2; each character can gain vigilance points they can spend to do particular actions or impact the fiction of the game (like call throw a grenade, call in artillery, etc); each character can gain ground that represents their forward position on the battlefield. Gaining Ground and moves you trigger by spending your Vigilance points are generally how you succeed at the missions your soldiers are assigned.

After settling in we were greeted by our commanding officer Stan Ho and tasked with searching for and retrieving the camera from a downed German spy plane which crashed in the No Man’s Land. This mission required a majority of our group to gain 3 ground, and that one of the players triggered the Fall Back vigilance move. We spent some time trying to get organized: cleaning our guns, studying maps, surveying the region from the ‘safety’ of our trench. There are moves you trigger while in this phase that might grant bonuses for the later phases. In our case, we mostly flubbed rolls and accumulated shock/fatigue.

Flubbing rolls also meant Daniel collected Threat tokens, which he could later spend to fuck with us, basically. This was one of my favourite parts of the game. It’s like the inverse of mission points in Night Witches. When a player rolled low they would sometimes be presented with the option of succeeding anyway if the DM gets a threat token. As he slowly collected tokens the tension around whether we should eat the set backs from our rolls ratcheted up.

We were ready for action and ventured out into No Man’s Land.3 The moves here are all about making your way forward unseen through all the muck and craters and barbed wire that pock marked the front. Our brawniest private began things by crawling over to cut through some barb wire blocking our path—and rolled snake eyes. So he was stuck under the wire, which remained uncut, and could hear the approach of two German stormtroopers. The rest of us tried to lay low and get in a good position to shoot the troops. (This time we rolled well.) We waited for an artillery strike to provide some noise and light and took out the troops. Our private managed to cut through the wire and we began our advance. My character managed to make it to the camera first. Success! Or so we thought: it was a trap.

We were now under fire, the third phase of the game.4 Here the game shifts to charging forward, trying to circumvent craters, barbed wire, and other obstacles, shooting at your enemies (as they shoot at you), and getting up close and personal with whatever weapons you have on hand. This part of the game was exciting and fun. It’s where the rest of our team managed to make all their ground as they ran to save me from the German machine gunners that had me pinned down and some storm troopers that were making their way to the crater of a plane I was hiding behind. A few of us took some wounds as we were shot and beaten, but in the end we prevailed. I was rescued and we fell back (and so succeeded at our mission).

We played through another short mission and called it a day.5 It was a fun session. I found it all really interesting, as well. I have to wonder if they’ll be able to some how transplant all that knowledge of its creators into the eventual game book itself. I don’t know much about the First World War, so the game felt compelling just from an educational standpoint. The game is very fast to get going. Unlike a lot of other Apocalypse World hacks, you don’t spend a lot of time up front building out the game world or the relationships between all your characters. The setting is set and your relationships are what come out of play. Daniel runs the game with children, and I suspect a lot of how it was designed is to make playing and running the game as straight forward as possible. I think they’ve succeeded quite well in that regard. I’m looking forward to where they end up going with this game.

  1. Magpie Games does a good job with their pre-release versions of their games. They have a good structure I think everyone should copy. (You can grab their “ash can” editions of Velvet Glove, Cartel, The Ward, and Pasión de las Pasiones as PDFs to see some great examples of quick start rules.) 

  2. In the game I played Daniel had merged the harm track and the fatigue track. There are now two spots for shock, and 3 spots for physical harm. When you fill up both your shock spots you now roll for shell shock. When you fill up all the harm you’re dead. 

  3. The quick start rules call this part of the game “Over the Top” (of the trenches). 

  4. The quick start rules call this part of the game “On Patrol”. 

  5. I’m skipping over our side trip to find a European beaver to make our mascot because I don’t think it was really core to the main experience of the game, but obviously that was fun. 


OSCon 5.5

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on January 17, 2016

Tagged: osr toronto oscon55 osrcon convention

OSCon 5.5 was a lot of fun. I played in a game in the morning and then ran a game—what!?—in the afternoon. I ended up skipping the evening session, because I was pretty beat after 9-10 hours of gaming. If I was willing to power through into the night I could have play tested Daniel Bishop’s upcoming adventure, which I am quite sure would have been a fun session. There are so many old-school gamers in the city and I often forget they aren’t all on G+ gossiping about games: it’s nice to meet new faces; it’s always nice to play in person.

My first game was with Galen F, who ran The Idea from Space, a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure. Galen began our game by informing us we were off on a quest to save a duke, likely located on an island off the Southern tip of South America. We arrived on the island to find the wreckage of his ship. My fellow adventurer suggested we torch the boat, just in case it was filled with monsters, and then fish out any melted gold from the debris. That really set the tone for everything that would follow. We did eventually find the duke—who we killed before we realized he was the duke. We managed to save two of his entourage, who we returned to Spain—where they probably spread the terrible scourge that had afflicted them on the island. The chaotic Elf in our party called it a win, and who am I to disagree. It was fun to play.

I had skimmed through this module when it first came out, but it arrived in a box containing A Red and Pleasant Land, Death Frost Doom, and Tower of the Star Gazer, so it was kind of easy to ignore. I remember at the time thinking it was goofy. I’m sure if I had read and reviewed the adventure at that time I would have said it was dumb and you should skip it. Now having played it I can see my impressions of the module were off: it is kind of goofy, but it in a good way. The adventure features two neat factions for the players to interact with and takes place on a small island that was fun to explore. I really should make more of an effort to review things I’ve actually played or ran myself: otherwise what are you really saying?

My session after lunch went well, I think. I always feel a sense of dread and panic when I run a game, so I prepared far more for this game then I do for my regular bi-weekly game—something I should probably rectify. I had notes for all the creatures, I pre-rolled their HP, I wrote out a couple words for each NPC of note, I pre-rolled all the wandering monster encounters. In hindsight I should have printed out the map and cut it up, because it was a pain in the ass to both describe and draw. Otherwise I felt the work I did beforehand helped things run smoothly.

I ran Fungoid Garden of the Bone Sorcerer using OD&D. The hook for the session was as follows:

Your lords are all dead: a strange people from a strange land. Dirt? Or was it Earth? Whatever the name, their home sounded wonderful. Your natural Carcosan xenophobia has been cast aside for a greater purpose: to escape this wretched world.

In a rocky defile, a cool steady breeze issues from a wide crack in the earth. Within lie the Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer. Why would your former leaders ever want to come here?

The players each had a rumours as to why were they were supposed to be here. Two ended up with rumours about how to find a portal back to Earth (within the Fungoid Garden), while the third received a rumour saying everything about portals is nonsense as the reason they were here was to kill the sorcerer once and for all. After the session one of the players remarked he could imagine the game like an 80s cartoon or procedural: each episode featuring the party finding another possible way back home, but always failing.

My regular Carcosa group played a test run of the adventure, which felt like it lacked some oomph. For a variety of reasons this second play through at the convention felt like it went much better. Because of the route the party took through the dungeon they ended up meeting NPCs and creatures in a useful order. Because I usually play that Bone men are indistinguishable from one another to people outside of their race, Michael Prescot’s character was able to impersonate the eponymous Bone Sorcerer twice—once before they killed him and once after. And yeah, the fact they killed him also seemed like a good way to get closure in an adventure titled Fungoid Garden of the Bone Sorcerer.

The space the convention took place in was quite nice. In previous years it was sometimes hard to play because of all the noise from the other tables. That wasn’t a problem this year thanks to the ample space. Like an idiot I only took a photo when half the tables had packed up for lunch, though.

Like an idiot I only took a photo at lunch time.

OSCon is a great successor to OSRCon. Stephen and Boris managed to get a bunch of people out again, numbers back in line with the earlier OSRCons. With the space they had rented i’m sure they were hoping for more, but for their first go at things I thought they did an amazing job. I’m hoping they run the convention again next year. It’s probably far too much work for such a small convention, but i’m glad someone’s taking the time to do it.


Play Report: Empire of the Petal Throne

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on February 06, 2014

Tagged: ept odnd toronto meetup

Empire of the Petal Throne will feel familiar to anyone who has played Original Dungeons and Dragons. Some of the changes strike me as odd: the standard six stats have been renamed and are rolled up using percentile dice: that’s a lot of variability in your core stats. There are some basic skills and professions that characters begin the game knowing, and can learn as they level up. Thanks to a good die roll my character had a ton of skills: he was a sailor, a ship captain, a tailor, a sail maker, etc, etc. The standard three classes, fighter, clerics and magic-user, are all accounted for, though the later two are further tweaked to make sense within the setting of the game. I suppose that is what really makes Empire of the Petal Throne stand out: its setting, the fantasy world of Tékumel.

Tékumel was created over a life time by professor M.A.R. Barker. He began when he was 10 and it sounds like he never stopped developing his fantasy world until his death at the age of 82. Many people compare it to Tolkien’s Middle Earth in its depth and scope.

James, Brendan, Evan and myself met to play a game of Empire of the Petal Throne over the weekend. James DM’d, and as such had the unenviable task of trying to introduce the world of Tékumel to us. Our adventure began using what I am led to understand is a common conceit for gaming in Tékumel: we played a group of barbarians who had recently arrived in the great port city of Jakálla. We quickly found work evicting some some other foreigners from a tenement: not the most heroic of tasks, but we were new to the city and needed money and friends. I had rolled a 1 for my starting gold (kaitars), so my character was particularly eager to change his financial situation. With no equipment to speak of I pictured him like a character from Final Fight.

Brendan played a magic-user, and we used his characters spells to good effect. Magic in EPT works differently than OD&D. There is a chance of failure when you try and cast a spell. The starting compliment of spells is also higher. That seemed to offset the chance of failure and then some. We scouted out the home we were going to invade using some clairaudience and clairvoyance. I enjoy games with some variability in spell casting. Less reliable magic usually introduces some additional excitement into the game, and makes magic feel magical.

It was a session full of hijinks. EPT seems like it could lend itself to some ‘serious’ play, but at the end of the day you still have poor dice rolls and foolish choices to inevitably lighten the mood. We decided to bust into the tenement via roof, but we were both spotted while climbing it and nearly fell off while trying to hide. We had to punch out a kid who was acting as a look out. We threw a dead body we found on the roof onto the street to cause a distraction. (We found a dead body? Yeah, the house was clearly inhabited by a death cult.) We ended the session fighting zombies and finding a secret passage that looked to lead into the undercity—and future adventure!

I suspect Empire of the Petal Throne might be challenging to run if you aren’t familiar with the game world. Like the Forgotten Realms there is so much canonical material at the point it could be quite overwhelming. In contrast to the Forgotten Realms, Tékumel is very much its own breed of fantasy. It seems to be completely unlike the sorts of vague Tolkien inspired worlds you often find in D&D supplements and fantasy books. It’s a real shame EPT isn’t more popular. If you weren’t previously aware of Empire of the Petal Throne, you should definitely check it out.

Oh, also the book has some great art!


Play Report: Danger Time

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on December 09, 2013

Tagged: dangertime tpk toronto

I’ve been meeting up with a few of the players from the online game OD&D game I play in weekly1 so that we can play random D&D like games. Playing D&D online is always fun, but playing in person is still a much more enjoyable experience. Most of the games thus far have been run by Evan, who runs Game Peices

Evan made up the rules for his game, which are based around using a 2d6 dice roll to resolve most everything. It’s a strange system. There are no hit points: when you are hit you roll a saving throw (a 2d6 roll) to see if how badly hurt you are. You can spend a ‘hit die’ to add its result to your saving throw. In this way you might have a better chance of avoiding being “Eviscerated”. Thus far the game has had a bit of a meat grinder feel. I’m not sure if it is actually anymore deadly than a by-the-book game of D&D, but it seems that way because a character death feels a lot more binary. I lost my first character in the inaugural session. I lost my second character in our last session, the 3rd game we played. In fact, everyone lost their character: it was a total party kill.

There is something satisfying about a good TPK. My character had been grievously wounded something like 3-4 times during the course of the session. I was basically a walking corpse, unable to do much of anything. I couldn’t even carry my gear anymore. The whole party was in rough shape. We fought monsters we shouldn’t have fought. Were trampled by a dinosaur. Tried and failed again and again to set some giant spiders on fire. It was all a suitable build up for our final trial, fording an underground river. We tied our characters together, because we thought that would be safe. Instead, our characters and henchmen all drowned together. It was failed roll after failed roll: someone makes it across, but is pulled back into the river by someone else who is drowning. So on and so forth till we were all washed away.

It’s a good thing making a new character takes a few seconds.

  1. The Pahvelorn game has branched in to a few new games. Nick is running an LotFP game dubbed Dungeon Moon, that takes place on a moon that is completely a dungeon. Brendan has taken a break from running Pahvelorn to run something he has dubbed the Finchbox


D&D Game Day 2013

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on June 22, 2013

Tagged: 5e dndnext playtest encounters toronto freerpgday

The Map of the Vault of the Dracolich

I had another successful Free RPG Day this past Saturday. In addition to getting some free RPG books, I got to play a some D&D Next, the new fangled version of D&D coming out in 2014. Derek from Dungeon’s Master was the Toronto organizer for a public play event from Wizards of the Coast, an adventure entitled Vault of the Dracolich.

The set up is straight forward enough: a Wizard needs a group of adventurers to find a magical staff he had been unable to retrieve when he was a young adventurer. He gives the party a rough map of the caverns the artifact is located within and warns the party they won’t be able to retrieve the staff without first disabling four wards that protect it. To do so they’ll also need to find four idols hidden in the caverns. With that brief intro we were teleported off to the caverns in search of adventure. Our motley crew numbered forty odd people. What!?

There were five tables participating in the adventure. It was designed to be tackled by multiple groups at the same time. Each table was teleported to a different starting location. We each had a team leader whose character had a magic item that would let them talk to the leaders from the other tables. In this way we could communicate things we had found or encountered while traveling through the dungeon. Occasionally the groups would bump into each other while adventuring. This happened at my table while we were fighting a giant Hydra. Our DMs coordinated things like how many hit points the monster had left, and ended up having half the Hydra’s heads attack one party, the other half attacking the other. We would also come across places other parties had passed through. My group had to fight this giant Treant because a previous party had apparently harassed the monster: our attempts to reason with it were for naught. The session ended with a giant fight: we split into groups of four, each group had a different objective. My table had to fight this Dracolich simulacrum, whose ass we kicked.

This was my second time playing D&D Next. I hadn’t played a game since the very first play test rulebooks were released. The game has evolved a fair bit since then, and is a bit more complicated. That said, on the whole it is much more straightforward than 4th Edition, and plays much faster. Our 3-4 hour D&D Next session would have probably taken four times as long using 4th Editions rules. Not using minis for most of the combat sped things up considerably. The lack of long lists of powers and complicated combat mechanics helped as well. I felt like we got a lot accomplished during our session. Even though no one at our table had played Next before things went fairly quickly.

I am curious to see if Wizards of the Coast can maintain the appeal of the game to people who enjoy 4th Edition. One of the ladies I played with has only ever played 4th Edition, and she found the combat in D&D Next a bit boring. I think a lot of people enjoy the extremely detailed and tactical combat of 4th Edition. If your only experience with D&D is 4th Edition, I can see how the simpler combat mechanics of all the other editions might seem like a step backwards.

I’ll be playing D&D Encounters this season using the D&D Next rules. It seems like a great step forward. It’s probably one of the easiest versions of the game to teach, especially if you don’t play with any of the feats. Thus far I have to say i’m a pretty big fan.

The game day was a lot of fun. Although i’m quite happy playing D&D online nowadays, there is something to be said for actually playing in person.


OSRCon 2013

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on May 02, 2013

Tagged: osr toronto osrcon2013 osrcon convention

Tickets for OSRCon are on sale starting today. The event takes place here in Toronto in August, on the weekend of the 3rd and 4th. I had a great time last year. Besides getting to play a bunch of retro D&D, something I hadn’t done in a long time, I got to meet James M from Grognardia, Brendan from Necropaxis, and a host of other people. Ed Greenwood signed my Ruins of Undermountain box set and I got to see him run a game which was pretty zany. This year OSRCon is taking place in a smaller venue, so the number of attendees is capped at 50 odd people. If you’re interested in attending you should grab a ticket early. It’s well worth checking out.


Play Report: Dwimmermount at OSRCon 2012: Level 2

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on August 20, 2012

Tagged: osr odnd dwimmermount toronto osrcon osrcon2012 convention

After a short break we continued our delve of Dwimmermount. We were joined by two more players: another magic-user, and the dumbest fighter ever–the poor guy had a Wisdom score of 3–who was played to perfection by Steve Conner. It turns out those two characters were with us all along, of course.

At the foot of the steps down to level two were a set of lifeless bones wearing armour with weapons at their side. That’s certainly unusual. Our cleric tried to turn them to no effect. You can’t turn a bunch of bones, after all. We walked further down the steps and then they sprung to life. (Maybe you saw that coming.) So began an exploration of the second level of Dwimmermount.

We headed South, finding a room with 6 pillars. Each pillar was made out of a unique material, and each had a character inscribed upon it. In a normal game we would have spent much longer puzzling out what this room was about. As we were playing for a fixed amount of time we quickly moved on. This came up often when exploring the second floor. Because this was a convention game we didn’t dedicate as much time as probably would have in a normal game trying to understand what the rooms we encountered were about. There were lots of strange and interesting rooms on this floor we quickly glossed over. Our focus was more survival and gold.

From here we went East, eventually stumbling upons the ruins of a library. Some careful searching revealed a secret room filled with a cache of books we assumed were of some value. The dilemma: there were hundreds of pounds of these books. We each grabbed one, and decided to move on. We would come back for them at some later date. (Well, in our imaginations, I suppose.)

We moved North from here, passing a room with shattered statues and a stone gargoyle we proceeded to shatter ourselves. We were waiting for it to spring to life. Nope. James informed us that room was now completely full of broken statues. Destroying things was a recurring theme with our party.

Further on we found a room with writing on its walls we couldn’t read. The funny thing about this situation was that we had previously had a conversation about Read Magic / Language being a useless spell because no one ever wastes a spell slot on it. Both our magic-users had charm and sleep. We couldn’t figure out what to do about the writing so we decided to make a sketch and back track.

Heading North once more, we came across another set of pillars. There were four of them, each made of glass, and they ran floor to ceiling seemingly beyond this level in both directions. Each contained one of the four elements. We were going to move on, but someone had a pretty great idea: the air pillar was empty, so why not smash it open and jump down to a lower level of the dungeon. (OK: maybe “great” is the wrong adjective to use with respect to the idea.) We got to smashing and eventually broke enough of the pillar we could send a man through. The problem: we had assumed we had found an empty pillar; in fact air was zipping through the pillar very quickly. We spent a fair amount of time throwing things down the hole to see how fast they sped away, and if we could hear them landing somewhere safely. After some scientific research we decided jumping down was probably not a good idea. Steve’s fighter needed to be talked off the ledge, so to speak.

The very next room we encountered contained several large glass tubes, with doors. Guarding the giant empty tubes were hobgoblins. Our magic-user didn’t feel like another fight so he shouted, “sleep!” and that was that. We decided we would carry one hobgoblin with us to interrogate later. The rest? Well we fed them to the dungeon disposal system we had just found in the previous room. They zipped away to places unknown.

We explored a little bit more, and would have continued to explore indefinitely had Brendan not asked, “can we grab all of those books we found in the secret room, head back to town, try and level up, and then come back to the dungeon ‘two weeks later’”

And so it came to pass we found ourselves levelling up characters in the middle of a one-shot. James didn’t bother rolling for random encounters, something i’m guessing he would do if this was a normal game. As such our exit was without incident. My character actually didn’t earn enough gold to get to the next level, but other players fared better. (We each were grabbing odds and ends as we made our way through Dwimmermount, hence the disparity.) The hobgoblin we were lugging around was now a charmed hireling known as long hair, because we had fed him a potion of hair growth while he was unconscious. (We learned it was a potion of hair growth when his hair started growing.) With that we headed back into the dungeon, right back to where we left off. Once again, I suspect James skipped a few steps to speed things along.

The very first room we encountered when back in the dungeon was once again full of hobgoblins, but also a metric ton of treasure. God damn it! If we had explored one more room before heading back to town we all would have definitely gained a level.

From here we once again encountered a series of strange rooms we didn’t have time or energy to investigate fully: a triangle painted on the ground, probably magical; a room full of statues of gods with their heads replaced, and finally a locked door. We could hear what were probably horrible monsters behind it, so it was probably for the best the doors were locked.

We were running short on time. We back tracked to the start of the level and made our way East. We replaced one charmed hobgoblin hireling with another, after the first was killed in battle with the second. We pressed on, but ultimately our search for a way to the third level wouldn’t be fruitful. No one can say we didn’t try.

The game was a lot of fun. James wasn’t to fussy about a lot of the more tedious rules one would probably pay more attention to in a typical dungeon crawl. We weren’t really tracking time, how long torches last, etc. I think these things can be an important part of the game, but if you are only playing for 3-4 hours, there are much better things to focus on. James also drew the map of Dwimmermount as we explored. (I made my own copy, as I knew I’d want to write about this game later.) This all helped the game run quickly and smoothly. I felt like we accomplished so much in such a short period of time.

This game was probably the highlight of my time at OSRCon. I felt like we had a good group, and that we all had a good time. If you have a chance to play in a game with James I recommend you take it.


Play Report: Dwimmermount at OSRCon 2012: Level 1

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on August 15, 2012

Tagged: osr odnd dwimmermount toronto osrcon osrcon2012 convention

As I mentioned in my previous post on OSRCon, I got to wander through the dark halls of Dwimmermount on Saturday morning in a game run by James Maliszewski. What follows may ruin the surprise of some of the rooms in the dungeon: you have been warned.

We began with 5 players. We rolled up characters using the original D&D rules, and for a change my rolls weren’t half bad. Strength was my highest score so I decided to play a fighter. We used Brendan’s random equipment lists to pick items, so this whole process was very quick. Buying items is probably the slowest part of the character creation process in D&D. I think we all had characters ready to go in about 10 minutes. The bulk of that time was probably spent trying to find the saving throws tables in the old D&D books.1 When all was said and done we had three fighters, a magic user and a cleric ready to go. We also brought two hirelings with us: Mary the Torchbearer, known for her ability to carry a torch, and a porter of no real repute.

Like all good one-shots ours began at the foot of a dungeon. Our group had marched into Dwimmermount in search of gold, presumably. The stairs into Dwimmermount entered into a room with 5 statues. Thankfully they weren’t booby trapped. Neither was the room. When playing the previous day in Ken St. Andre’s Tunnels and Trolls game, our group spent a very long time trying to get into the dungeon. It’s possible that in James’ actual Dwimmermount game this room is full of machine guns, but if you only have a few hours to play it probably doesn’t serve you well to kill all your players a few minutes into your game. We had 4 doors to choose from, one for each direction, and we chose to go East.

I was ready to just walk into the next room, but Brenden, a more patient and prudent player, thought we had a better chance with this dungeon crawl if we proceeded a bit more cautiously. From this point on every door we opened (that had a circular pull) was opened by looping rope through the pull and tugging the door open. Before we ventured into any room we’d listen for noise first. In this fashion we ventured East till we came across a circular room with a set of masks hanging on the wall. One mask was missing, and in front of where it should have been there was a long dead man, now just a pile of bones. I know what you’re thinking: it’s a trap! And you’d be right. Examining the skeleton revealed the missing mask. There wasn’t any indication on his body that he’d been hit by some sort of projectile. Looking at the wall we could see a small hole where the mask would have sat, so we guessed there was some sort of poison gas trap protecting the masks. Now I was ready to just move on, happy I’d avoided the booby trap. Smarter and/or greedier heads prevailed. We decided to carefully loop our rope through the eyes and mouths of the masks and then tug them all off the wall from a safe distance. Sure enough we could hear the room filling up with gas as the masks hit the floor. Our first “loot”: who wouldn’t want creepy death masks from a dungeon?

From here we ventured South. We ended up on the Eastern edge up of a long corridor. There were plenty of doors to open. We ignored the double doors to the East: never trust double doors. The first set of doors to the South eventually led us to the stairs down to the next level. We weren’t quite ready to head down yet.

We walked back to the long corridor and checked out the next room to the South. We found a library with some books and maps that looked like they might be of value. More loot!

Further South was another door behind which we could hear the muffled voices of something, we couldn’t be sure what. One of the other fighters and myself got in place, and we busted that door open. We encountered a bunch of monsters, who looked monstrous and maybe vaguely dwarven. They were small, anyway. We shouted, “surrender!” but they weren’t having any of that. Myself and the other fighter made short work of the first wave that approached us. The rest started to flee. The magic-user in the group thought we just weren’t speaking the right language. He shouted “surrender and join us”, but this time in dwarven. That didn’t go over too well. The ones that were fleeing ran back, angrier than they already were. Lucky for us we were wearing plate mail.2

At this point we could have continued South. We had heard some noises coming from that direction. Maybe we would have encountered more of these crazy definitely-not-dwarves. We decided the best course of action was to start making our way down as deep as we could into Dwimmermount. We were being a bit too cautious for a convention game. I mean, I hadn’t even named my Fighter.

And this play report is already longer than I thought it would be, so you’ll have to wait for the excitement of level 2!

  1. James has a very slick hardback version of the little brown books that he built using his copies of the old Wizards of the Coasts PDFs and Lulu. I was surprised and how good the hardbacks Lulu produces are. It made me want to print up some PDFs. 

  2. It costs next to nothing in OD&D. I think by the time you get to 2nd Edition it’s thousands of GP. 


OSRCon 2012

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on August 14, 2012

Tagged: toronto osrcon osrcon2012 convention dnd odnd t&t labyrinthlord

I wasn’t completely sure what my schedule this past weekend would be like: I knew I was quite busy. When I discovered OSRCon was a thing happening in Toronto I bought tickets anyway. Even if I couldn’t go it felt like a worthwhile event to support. I was hoping I’d be able to participate a little bit, at the very least. As it turns out I managed to do much more than I thought I would over the two days the event ran.

I arrived a bit late on the first day hoping to watch Ken St. Andre running a game of Tunnels and Trolls. I wasn’t signed up for any games, and I knew Ken’s game was full, so I didn’t feel like waking up early on my day off. I arrived a half hour after his game was set to start, but managed to avoid missing any of the action. As I settled into a chair away from the gaming table I realized Ken was still discussing the finer points of Tunnels and Trolls. He spoke at length about his game. He’s clearly very passionate about T&T, and happy to proselytize about it when given the chance. Brendan from Untimately had a similar idea as myself, showing up shortly after me planning to watch the game. Ken saw both of us just sitting there and offered to let us join in. Brendan took him up on his offer and picked a troll to play. When he had to duck out for lunch–which was more or less when the game got going–I took over the character. The adventure was interesting, even though we didn’t get too far into the “Dungeon of the Bear”. Our party had a series of misadventures trying to venture down into the dungeon itself. Failing is often as much fun as succeeding with role playing games. Ken is definitely an old-school DM, out to kill his players. (Or as he put it, out to create situations where the players kill themselves.) He is a certainly character, and I’m glad I got to meet him. It was an experience.1

In the afternoon I played a game of Labyrinth Lord run by a Carter Soles of The Lands of Ara, who had made the trip to Toronto from Rochester. I had to duck out early (the reason I hadn’t signed up for anything in the afternoon), but I did get to do a fair amount of adventuring before my departure. Our party was off to investigate a presumably haunted keep, and investigate we did. The thief I rolled up had 2 hit points, so he was a little bit of a coward. Sometimes 3d6 in order works in your favour and sometimes it doesn’t. This character was all kinds of meek. You have to love basic D&D characters: they are the true everyman. I suppose that is part of the charm of playing basic D&D. Our first encounter was against some undead rats. When rats are a scary threat you know you’re playing old-school D&D.

James and Evan at OSRCon

My second day at OSRCon began with the only game I had actually signed up to play. James Maliszewski of Grognardia fame was running an Original D&D game, taking players through his megadungeon Dwimmermount. We actually managed to get through a fair amount of dungeon in a small amount of time. There was a lot of exploring and the occasional fight. I plan on doing a play report shortly. Suffice it to say I had a lot of fun.2

There was a panel discussion in the afternoon, featuring Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms fame, Ken St-Andre, Lawrence Whitaker from Runequest, and James from Grognardia. It was interesting hearing how these guys all ended up where they are today and their thoughts on writing and gaming. Ed Greenwood is particularly engaging. He explained that his professional writing career began by writing letters to Penthouse for $25 a pop. Apparently Dragon magazine paid $20 a pop for monsters and was more prompt in paying him. The rest is history. The talk probably would have worked better with a moderator leading the discussion and keeping people on point. The talk went a half hour or so longer than it was supposed to, and it felt like no one really knew when it was supposed to stop. Ed Greenwood and Ken St-Andre sitting next to each other discussing the game was definitely quite the scene, so I suppose we shouldn’t complain too much.

The day concluded with another round of games. Like the day before I had to leave early, so I elected to watch Ed Greenwood run a Forgotten Realms game. That guy is amazing. He puts the role in role-playing. I don’t think I’ve seen a DM quite so animated. He would literally act out the part of every NPC the players encountered–even the monsters that can’t actually talk. It was great to watch. I’m not sure how well i’d handle having to actually play in a game like that. He clearly approaches the game as shared story telling. Often I find I just want to kick in doors and kill goblins.

These last two days were the first time I had played basic D&D in a very long time, at least 15 odd years. I was surprised at just how much of the rules I had forgotten. Say what you will about 3rd and 4th edition, but they did a great job at rationalizing the game system. One success of those games is that you can more or less guess the mechanic needed to resolve any action. With basic D&D some situations call for a d6 roll, others 2d6, others a d20; sometimes you need to roll high, other times low. The game is simpler, but at the same time maybe not as simple as it could be. Of course, old-school D&D is simple in ways that that 3rd and 4th Edition don’t come close to competing in. I rolled up characters a few minutes before both the games I played in. If my characters died and I had to start again, I feel like I could have rolled up a character in a few minutes tops. These early games feel light and easy to get in to. 4th Edition feels needlessly complex with all its classes and options.

OSRCon was a lot of fun. I got to meet a bunch of fellow table top gaming enthusiasts and play a bunch of games. I don’t get to play that much D&D, so it was a nice change of pace.

  1. And that’s all i’ll say about that. 

  2. I had backed the project to get them printed on Kickstarter. I don’t know if I’d ever want to run Dwimmermount myself, but I supported the project anyway as a thank you for writing such a great blog. I actually have copies of the levels of the dungeon we traveled through. I had avoided reading any of this material in the hope I would get a chance to actually go through the dungeon as a player.