managing the one-hour game session

As we move towards the fifth session of the library game, I already feel like I’m getting better at managing the one-hour game session.

1. Be physically prepared.  My kit doesn’t fit in a cool retro lunchbox, but it’s all together in my office and ready to go 5 minutes before the session starts: rulebook (which, ideally, I won’t have to open), dice, mat, mat-cleaning towel, minis, Binder of Important Papers (character sheets, ref sheets, maps, adventure notes), and writing-utensil pouch.

2. Be mentally prepared.  In addition to basic adventure prep, consider the time and drop-in nature of the game:

  • How much can I reasonably expect to accomplish this session?
  • If a new player attends, what is the best way to integrate them into the ongoing campaign?
    • provide pre-generated characters

3. “All killer, no filler.”  Emulate the inspirational pulp greats (Howard, Burroughs, Leiber, et al) and keep the action flowing.  Briefly summarize the action up to this point, set up (or re-state) the PCs’ current goal, and get going.  It continues to be something of a challenge to find the sweet spot between the pulp approach (PCs start the session at the adventure location, travel to and from is hand-waved) with the Wilderlands’ default “getting there is half the adventure” hexcrawl style, but I think I’m gradually getting there…

4. Communicate with players out-of-session.  As the players become more seasoned, I really do hope that the Wilderlands will be more of a sandbox where their decisions drive the action.  In no small part, the realization of this goal depends on me providing them with rumors and adventure opportunities.

More on this subject as I continue to gain experience and reflect.

when it rains, it pours?

California still desperately needs water, but at least I can be glad that one drought — my gaming drought — seems to be ending.  The library game is going well, and other gaming prospects are on the horizon.  BB and I are planning to resume again soon, perhaps with a few more players — not sure if it’ll be BoL, Star Wars d6, or something else (Dicey Tales/Hollow Earth Expedition, perhaps?)  Finally, a friend from church reminded me today that he and his fiancee are interested in trying tabletop RPGs, possibly this coming weekend when they come over for dinner.  I haven’t had time or the open schedule to get together with the Bookstore Boys, as Sundays are taken up with church and family time, but I’m sure they would be up for more adventure too…

Dry spells are tough, but they sure make me appreciate the times when gaming opportunities are plentiful.

Library Wilderlands game, 3rd session

Bartolo is a prosperous halfling merchant who deals in beeswax- and honey-based products, the most popular of which are Bartolo’s Green Candles (known throughout the region for both their distinctive jade color and insect-repelling properties*.)  His family also owns and operates the Honey Drop Tavern in northern Greenwax, which is where his son approached the four PCs with a job offer: protect a cargo boat traveling up the coast to Fort Axilar, a trading post on the Axilar River delta.  There, its captain will meet with Bartolo’s partners, a primitive tribe of golden-furred halflings, to trade for a new supply of potent wax and honey (harvested from ferocious, giant jungle bees by mysterious apicultural methods known only to that tribe) and return to Greenwax with the cargo.  The PCs were warned to be on guard against pirates, who, in addition to seizing cargo, will commonly carry off prisoners to sell in the flesh-markets of Antil to the north.

The journey was uneventful for the most part, but as they drew near their destination they saw smoke rising from the delta — Fort Axilar was under siege!  As the captain urgently sailed to the beleaguered outpost’s aid, two longboats filled with armed pirates raced out to intercept them.  Dodging a hail of arrows, the PCs managed to cripple one of the boats with a well-placed arbalest shot, but the other reached the ship.  A gang of savage-looking human, lizardman, and ape-man warriors swarmed aboard and the melee was joined.  For a time, the two sides seemed evenly matched, but the battle turned when the human sword-maiden Mixit carved a path of bloody ruin through a half-dozen of the enemy.  The spectacle thoroughly demoralized the remaining pirates, who beat a hasty retreat.  When the ship reached the Fort, the battle was over.  A larger group of mixed-race warriors had been repulsed, but not before they caused great havoc: some dead, many wounded, buildings burned, captives taken, and treasure — including the new stores of wax and honey — seized and carried off into the jungle.  A war party is being assembled by the fort’s commander to pursue the raiders into the jungle, and the PCs were offered a share of the spoils for their assistance.

A few post-session thoughts:

  • The first half of our lunchtime session was taken up with converting characters to BoL and explaining the basic mechanics of Attributes, Careers, the Task Roll, Boons & Flaws, and Hero Points.  I was expecting this, and decided to use the remaining time to set up next week’s adventure.  If we have additional players show up, their characters can either be survivors of the Fort Axilar battle or sailors who volunteer for the war party.
  • I realize that, much as I enjoy improvising at the table, I’m just not that good at creating cool names on the fly.
  • Before next session, I need to create a player aid for how to use Hero Points, as it’s one of the few things everyone needs to remember that isn’t on their character sheet.
  • As ideas unspool about where this adventure is going, I find myself thinking back to a sadly-short-lived plan to run Dwellers of the Forbidden City with BoL

* Bartolo’s Green Candle: Made from the wax of giant jungle bees and subjected to secret alchemical processes, this candle will, when burned, give off a pleasant fragrance that will repel insects in a 10′ radius.  The candle must be burning to have this effect.

Library game, 2nd session – post-session thoughts

Thursday was the second session of my lunchtime Labyrinth Lord game, attended this time by five players (all from Tech Services, for those keeping track.)  The PCs were hired by Ghaelus, a member of the Archivists’ Guild, to retrieve the skull of Krelek, an Orichalan sorcerer and sage, from a tomb on the outskirts of the barrow field. Ghaelus’s ultimate goal was to gain access to Krelek’s personal library, located somewhere in ruins of Satur, in hopes that it might contain the crucial information to confirm Ghaelus’s hypothesis: that the ruined city of Satur was built upon the ruins of an even older civilization.  Ghaelus planned to use the skull to commune with the dead sorcerer’s shade in hopes of procuring the words of power that would allow passage through the magical wards and defenses of Krelek’s manse.  Equipped with a charm to preserve them from the most potent of the tomb’s magical defenses, the PCs braved the barrow field again.  In our one-hour session they fought skeletons, disarmed mundane traps, battled an animated statue, and found the secret antechamber containing Krelek’s sarcophagus.  The party returned to Greenwax with the Skull and two treasures: a gem-encrusted dagger worth 200 gold pieces and a silver bloodstone ring which, when properly inspected, proved to have been enchanted with a minor defensive charm to protect the bearer in combat.

By all accounts we had fun, and the players are looking forward to more.  This time we only played for about an hour (which started late due to two new players having to roll up characters), and one of the players had to leave before we finished.  I did manage to finish the prepared adventure in the time we had, but it definitely felt a little rushed.  Following the session’s end and my subsequent conversations with several players, I’ll most likely be switching systems from Labyrinth Lord to Barbarians of Lemuria.  (Hmm, there seems to be a pattern developing here!)  To that end, I’ve already started cobbling together my “Barbarians of the Wilderlands” document.  I have little patience for tracking experience points these days, and I also think that, for players in a casual pick-up game, there’s something gratifying in having one’s character receive experience points at the end of a session and be able to spend them immediately to improve in a certain area.

My intent has been for this to be a drop-in game, that whoever wants to play is welcome.  Given that we only have an hour or so to play, character creation for new players — which in either LL or BoL is relatively fast — is a huge time-sink.  To minimize this, I’m considering a couple options:

    1. Have a stack of pregens handy for people who drop and just want to try the game.  At some point, players who prove to be regular attendees can choose to either continue with their pregen character or create a new one.

Have a regular cast of pre-generated characters that all the players can choose from.  If new player A plays Krongar the Mighty in an episode and doesn’t show up for the next session, new player B could take over that character for that session.  A benefit I see in this approach is that I wouldn’t necessarily be constrained to one hour for the adventure — we could potentially end the session with a cliffhanger and pick up the following week without having to deal with new characters.

One of the aspects of old-school D&D play that I want to retain in this game is the emphasis on exploration (and related importance of resource management), which doesn’t really mesh with BoL’s default style of over-the-top heroic action.  Yora’s BXoL houserules for treasure and encumbrance have been very helpful in this regard.  Heroes of Hellas has provided some additional food for thought, specifically regarding Kleos (as a potential way to model “leveling up” and rising in social stature) and adding followers.  More on this as I tinker…

back to the Barrowmaze

Last week, I ran a lunchtime Labyrinth Lord adventure for three brave coworkers (two of whom had never played a tabletop RPG.) This introductory game met with considerable enthusiasm, and at the end of the session the players expressed interest in continuing. Looks like I may have a regular game group again, albeit one that can only play for an hour or so at a time…

I decided to use the trusty Barrowmaze for the intro session, this time set in the Wilderlands (Necromancer Games version.)  The PCs were hired by a nobleman from Lenap to find his wayward son, who was heading to the barrow fields north of Greenwax and the ruined city of Satur (map 11) with a party of adventurers and treasure hunters.  With their small retinue of hirelings, the PCs — a human fighter, halfling thief, and halfling cleric — explored a section of the underground labyrinth, fought some stirges, discovered the grim fate of the nobleman’s son, and made it back to Greenwax to tell the tale.   There were surprisingly no casualties, due in equal parts to player paranoia caution and the lack of wandering monsters rolled.

Greenwax has for some time seemed an ideal starting point for me in the Wilderlands, based on this bit of descriptive text in Book II:

Treasure seekers come to Greenwax to explore the nearby ancient ruins of Satur, a once-great city of the Orichalan Dragon Empire, though few return successfully.  North of the ruins are many burial mounds. To the northwest about three miles is a tree said to be as old as the seas. The region’s druids hold this tree holy.

Tons of adventure potential within 2-3 hexes.  Evil wizards, Orichalan cultists, monster factions within the ruins, druids to the north, cultists in the Barrowmaze.  Should PCs want to stretch their sea-legs, Greenwax’s port location provides easy possibilities for fighting pirates or Sinbad-style voyages of exploration.

a new 1st-level human has joined my party

A month and a half ago my son “Milk Beast” was born.  I confess I haven’t spent much time daydreaming about the day he’s old enough to play RPGs with his dad, but the thought has crossed my mind…  I also haven’t gotten him a “Level 1 Human” onesie either (yet):


This design is cute, but how does a DEX 3 infant have AC 6? 

Now that MB has had his 2-month shots (and rolled a successful saving throw vs. side effects) and we don’t have to be quite as paranoid about socializing with him, I’m definitely looking forward to inviting my gaming friends over to roll some dice —  I haven’t tried DMing with a baby carrier on, but I’m sure that somewhere, someone has done so!

hangin with billy dee

“My dad showed me this neat game where you roll funny dice and pretend to be wizards and heroes.  Wanna play?”

thoughtful guy

“Hmm… What character should I play?”

I’ve had a great time introducing my nephew and niece to role-playing games — we’ve played Lego Heroica and Hero Kids so far — and when the time is right, it will be MB’s turn.  Whether he takes to tabletop RPGs or not, I’m looking forward to spending lots of time playing with MB and encouraging his imagination and creative impulses.

Bookstore Barbarians vs. the Apemen

Wherein the Bookstore Boys (as I call the group for whom I occasionally run games at Ink Spell Books in Half Moon Bay) create new characters and test-drive the upcoming Barbarians of Lemuria: Mythic rules…

I decided to stick with the published Lemuria setting this time, since I’ve been hankering for sword & sorcery lately.  The Main Theme from Danny Elfman’s thrilling, percussive soundtrack to Tim Burton’s meh 2001 Planet of the Apes remake had already been on seemingly-endless repeat in my mind for a few days, undoubtedly left over from an OD&D adventure I ran a couple weeks earlier.  Said OD&D game provided the basis for this adventure, and the soundtrack definitely influenced my pre-game prep and in-game description…

The adventure began with the heroes — a Satarlan gladiator, Satarlan hunter, and Zaluti assassin — all in rags, clinging to flotsam after the prison galley in which they were being transported was blown off course and wrecked in a terrible storm.  The heroes managed to get to an uncharted island after seeing a shiny silver flash on the horizon.  Once ashore, the heroes scrambled to make weapons, find food, and prepare shelter before nightfall. [The boys ran wild with this, wanting to sew blankets, knap stone into blades, and craft other items…]  As twilight descended, the group heard the echo of drums in the distance…  After an uneventful night, the assassin decided the next morning to forego hunting, gathering, and crafting in favor of exploring — alone.  This led to an unintentionally-humorous sequence wherein the poorly-equipped hero narrowly escaped from a hungry tiger-lizard, slid down a muddy slope, fell into a rushing river, and was washed back out to the beach, at which point he slogged back along the coast to where his companions were cooking and eating the day’s kill.

[In their enthusiasm for crafting, the boys completely forgot about the mysterious silver flashing up in the hills.  They probably could have spent the entire 3-hour session puttering around on the beach, so I decided it was time to shake things up…]

During the second watch of the second night, the camp was set upon by a raiding party of Apemen wielding sleep-inducing poison darts.  The heroes were quickly captured, bound, and carried to the Ape village, where they were placed in a wooden stockade.  When the Ape drums started up and some cooking spits were erected over a large fire, the heroes knew they didn’t have much time to escape.  The Gladiator used his mighty strength to pull some of the logs of their prison out of the ground enough for the group to wiggle out.  Using her magic, the Assassin created an illusory demon that rose from the bonfire and terrified the Apes into temporary flight.  Taking advantage of the confusion, the group grabbed some Ape weapons (stone spears, stone daggers, javelins) and made a break for the jungle.  The Apes’ panic was short-lived, and soon the sound of drums and hunting horns echoed up the trail behind them.  Hotly pursued by Ape warriors hurling javelins and darts, the heroes (led by the Hunter) managed to make it back to their camp and mount a defense.  The PCs decimated the first wave of warriors and nearly slew their war-leader.  After the Apes retreated to regroup, the party decided their camp was unsafe and (finally!) decided to flee to the hills in search of the silver flash.

The Hunter (an expert jungle tracker) led the group unerringly through the dense foliage, out of the jungle and up into the hills.  Before long they found the source of the silver flash — a downed Satarlan sky-boat.  Omis, the pilot, rejoiced at meeting two fellow Satarlans, and explained his situation: he had completed the repairs as best he could, but needed some Blue Crystals to help power the engine.  His sensor device had located some nearby, but he was unable to retrieve them due to his injured leg.  The PCs eagerly agreed to help, and followed the sensor to a gaping hole in the ground 20′ wide and 200′ deep.  Hanging from a mighty tree overhead were a number of long vines stretching down into the darkness.  The heroes climbed down these and had to battle their way past a disturbed nest of carnivorous bats (as they were swinging from these vines before they could reach the crystals, carefully chip some out with hammers, and return to the ship.  The adventure concluded with the heroes and Omis flying north toward Satarla in the sky-boat…


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