Leonidas

‘The Laboratory of Ord’ Module Review 

This is a short dungeon for Old School Essentials (OSE) written by Cameron Shanton for levels 1-3 characters. It will work with any Old School Renaissance (OSR) system.

Disclosure: Author provided the module to us for free.

Find the dungeon here on his itch.io as well as other work that he is doing.

https://lateroflife.itch.io/the-laboratory-of-ord

https://shantonproductions.blogspot.com/

https://lateroflife.itch.io/

Its a 2 floor – 11 room dungeon at 8 pages long.

Description by the author:

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The Laboratory of Ord is an old-school adventure designed to be easily dropped into existing campaigns. The adventure module is aimed at groups of player levels 1 – 3, and provides modest standard and magical loot as a reward for it’s difficulty.

The dungeon consists of two floors, with 11 rooms for adventurers to explore. The Laboratory of Ord has within it a self-contained mystery for players to piece together and solve, centered around the maddened sorcerer Thorngage Ord. Rumors of mass disappearances have plagued the local countryside, and many believe that Ord is to blame

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I love small dungeons / short adventures. They drop in nicely into existing campaigns in between longer adventures. I like this one as its only 11 rooms and very straightforward to read through and prep for. Mega-dungeons tend to be a bit overwhelming to commit to.

The Adventure – without revealing too many spoilers in this part, the adventure is well suited for lower level characters (as it recommends). There are enough standard treasure and magical treasure to make it worthwhile for low level characters to go exploring it. It also provides enough items to help you keep moving along and not get stuck. It has some Frankenstein type elements with a mad scientist – ahem, sorcerer named Ord. I may change it to a necromancer for my Hyperborea campaign, but I get OSE doesn’t have a necromancer class. 

Monster encounters will give players achievable combat (for level 1-3) sprinkled in with some tougher bosses in key places. There will be tough fights that you can beat (by being creative and not rolling 1’s), and then tougher fights that will make it more challenging (and a oh, crap moment what do we do now). There is also a bonus new magic item as well that the players will certainly want to try out as it has some surprising effects.

As its 11 rooms, you should be able to finish this in 1 session (2-3 hrs). I plan to drop it into my current Hyperborea campaign. Will post post adventure report addendum to this review.

Maps – nice and big and not overly complicated. (ie. no winding corridors, unclear connections from room to room).  I got crappy eyes so appreciate a nice big map that I can see on 1 page. (vs. zooming in and out constantly)  I also hate trying to figure out how floors or areas connect. ie. via secret doors or other methods. This map was easy to figure out how everything connected together. The map is the first thing I usually check out when opening a new adventure.

Random tables – love random tables to mix up what monsters show up and what loot you find. It makes certain parts of the module replayable without repeating itself.

Layout – very clear with headers, italics, bold text, spacing. Makes reading each encounter area very easy as you get the key points across quickly. ie. what’s in the room: treasures, monsters, traps., where are the doors, etc.

I also hate adventures where its paragraph upon paragraph of blocks of text that is hard to decipher. (I get it – you have space limitations for printed hard copies of zines and modules)

New Custom Stuff

There is at least 1 new magical item (maybe 2 – I haven’t found a reference to the second one in any of the books that I have or online).  This new magic item will be described in the spoilers in future article after we play the module. I like the concept of it, and I guarantee the players will get a kick out of it.

Role Playing

There isn’t as much built in role-playing opportunities in this adventure as it is a short one. (vs. larger dungeons where you may have different factions)  There is opportunity to create some interactions with the villagers on the outside before going into the dungeon as well as bumping into some of the villagers below ground in the actual dungeon. You could also interact with Ord himself which could make for some interesting twists in the adventure. I may throw in some lost villagers trying to find their way out to add more of a role playing element to this adventure.

Encounters / Investigation

There is a mystery to be solved. There are traps. There are random encounters and monsters. Players will have to find things to be able to move on in the adventure and escape certain death. Its a short 11 room dungeon with enough mystery to keep the adventure interesting.

Monsters / Combat

Monsters are appropriate for low level adventurers. It will be challenging, but survivable early on. There will be some tougher boss type monsters to fight as you progress through the dungeon, and players will need to use their smarts to survive. Killing everything you see (though can be fun) is not the way to solving every adventure. As its a low level adventure (level 1-3), I will probably beef up some of the monsters / encounters / bosses as my Hyperborea party is at level 5-6.

 

Forthcoming stuff: Author is publishing a series of 1 hr dungeons and 1 pager adventures for OSE which I am looking forward to checking out. You can find his work on his itch.io and blog referenced at beginning of this article.

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Swords and Sorcery Adventure Modules Played in Our Hyperborea Campaign

Our Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerer’s Hyperborea (by North Wind games) campaign has been going on for over 2 years. We’ve had some players come and go, but its been a pretty consistent crew for past year? or so with 6 players / 7 characters. Characters are around level 5-6 as I’ve been using milestone advancements. 

Its a pretty powerful party with berserkers, barbarians, rune engravers along with a scout, priest, and heavy weapons cryomancer. We’re having fun with it as its a Swords & Sorcery fantasy game vs. traditional D&D fantasy. I add in NPCs to the party if they need some other skill sets. Though in the recent adventure, the party has been sending the NPC paladin through all the doors first.  

We’ve played a lot of adventure modules from both North Wind games (publisher of the system) and other OSR publishers. Some modules I’ve had to convert from 5E, d20, or other systems as well as subbing out some races/creatures that aren’t in the Hyperborea universe. eg. Hyperboreans for Elves. Reskinning for Hyperborea setting isn’t too hard and just subbing out monster stats from 5E / other system to OSR stats is easy too.

Adventures have taken anywhere from 3 to 6 sessions to play with each session lasting about 3-4 hrs. The modules that we have played not from North Wind, I picked because of the weird fantasy or horror elements in it along with occasional OSR dungeon crawl.

If you are running a Swords & Sorcery type of campaign, these adventures would fit (some may need a little reskinning).

  • Rats in Wall  (North Wind)
  • Black Moss Hag (North Wind)
  • Chaos Touched  (Troll Lord Games)
  • The Brazen Bull (North Wind)
  • The Anthrophophagi of Xambaala (North Wind)
  • Mystery at Port Greenly (North Wind)
  • City of Riches Messantia (Mongoose Conan D20)
  • Castle in the Sky (Goodman Games)
  • Brief Azathoth temple adv (Conan Moedipus)
  • Caves of Dero (Conan Moedipus)
  • Horror out of Hagsjaw (S&W)
  • Quests of doom 4: Pictures in Exhibition (S&W)
  • Downtime activities
  • Ghost Ship of the Desert Dunes (North Wind)
  • Mysterious Tower (Goodman Games)
  • Blood Lagoon (S&W)
    • Side Adventure: Kobold Press
  • Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen (Dark Wizard) – currently in progress
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Games Currently in play with our gaming group

Our current home gaming group has been playing together for several years now starting with in person play (pre-pandemic). We started with a game every other week of Castles & Crusades (Troll Lord Games – TLG) with Rapanathuk (Frog God Games – FGG) setting with a large party (8-10 ppl), and Logar was the DM. Then we added alternating Friday night and then a Wed. night game with other folks DM.

Below are the games that are currently in play with our group. Games are every other week, and most games are online with Discord. As we are playing online, we have expanded to include players located in other areas of the country. Our games are more OSR or older games.  

  • Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea (Since Nov.2019)
  • Mutant Crawl Classics
  • All Flesh Must Be Eaten
  • Rifts
  • Alternating Wed. – 1 shot module with new alternating game systems

             Forthcoming 1 shots – Cairn (played), Troika (in progress), Cyber-Hack

                                                      2 games in development by group members

  • Play by Post via Discord – Cthulhu Hack in progress

We have different DM/GM for our games, and DMs are players in other games and vice versa. This allows for different styles of refereeing and gaming. It also gives DMs a week off as prepping for game does take time on top of other things in daily life. Current games have anywhere from 4-8 players. 

We have played alot of other games. Some campaigns longer than others with C&C Rapanathuk / Lost Lands as our second longest running campaign. (behind current ongoing Hyperborea). Alot of fantasy campaigns and adventures in previous so I’m pushing our group to play more different genres other than fantasy.

Previous games played – 

  • Castles and Crusades Aihrde
  • Castles and Crusades White Box
  • Blight Swords and Wizardry
  • Rapanathuk / Lost Lands
  • Call of Cthulhu Berlin
  • Savage Worlds Rifts
  • Old School Essentials: Dolmenwood
  • Amazing Adventures 5E
  • Heroes Unlimited
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics
  • Forbidden Lands
  • Dark Places and Demigorgons – Holiday 1 shots
  • Barbarians of Ruined Earth – 1 shot
  • Mothership – 1 shot
  • Munchkin (card game)
  • Mansions of Madness (board game)
  • Hero’s Quest (board game)
  • I’m sure I’m missing some.

What’s worked well for our group?

  • Know your players – what style of game do they like? what genres?
  • Having a diversity of players and style of players.
  • Have different players in different games. not everyone can join every game. having a bi-weekly game works well with most players who may have changing work schedules and other events. (though Logar and Light play in about every game)
  • Online games vs. in person games enables new and more players.
    • Our in person gaming group is different than our online gaming group.
  • Set up a FB group or Discord channel or some place for your group to connect and build a community beyond gaming sessions.
  • When starting a new game, over recruit players for your games. people will invariably drop off and you may have change in player lineups over the course of the campaign.
  • Have different DM/GMs to mix things up.
  • We don’t require players to purchase all the game systems. DM/GMs will usually purchase the game system books, and some get extra copies of players manuals for the table. 
  • Our players also have similar values in that we are anti-racist, anti-fascist, pro-worker, pro women, pro LGBTQ+, pro Trans, and such. Basic human rights are not up for debate. We don’t want to associate with hateful people and certainly don’t want to share a gaming table with them. Its not something we will compromise on.

 

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Character Classes: Skills / Abilities

The core 4 character races: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Magician. Each has special skills that are needed for dungeon crawl or traditional fantasy game. Fighters have great combat ability and strength while Clerics are primarily healers, can turn undead, have decent fighting ability and spell casting. Thieves have a variety of skills from finding/disarming traps, picking locks, sneaking around and Magicians get powerful spells. Missing one of the core 4 classes in your party will usually result in alot of pain or not being able to advance in the adventure at a steady pace.  Depending on the type of adventure that you are in, some of the classes may feel like ‘support’ classes as you have fixed list of skills or abilities.

I have found in some long dungeon adventures that the core 4 classes can start to get boring when classes become very functional. There isn’t much for a thief to do in a dungeon except when they need someone to check for traps or pick locks or for a cleric except to heal people. Just searching for traps over and over makes the game a bit tedious. yes, you can get involved in other activities like combat, but you aren’t going to be very good at it and may die quickly. A good game has elements of role-playing, combat, and investigation / problem solving. Some OSR dungeons are just grinders without all three elements. eg. mostly combat and traps. Making sure that your game includes all characters in the game and their skill sets is important, and you need to pay attention.

Characters don’t gain new abilities within their class unless they advance levels. There are several systems that allow you to pick skills or add/learn new skills as you advance. Chaosium Basic Role Play system is an example of one system that allows you to pick your own skills with a limited point buying base. You can be a jack of all trades/master of none or a ‘specialist’ and put more of your points in one area and create the classic core classes. I like having the flexibility to make my own unique character. You have some occupation / profession skills as well as personal skills that you can pick yourself in Basic Role Play system. 

The Black Hack game: By this Axe, I Hack* has an interesting (optional) system for adding on skills as you advance levels. It has a list of all the skills for the character classes and more that you can buy with character points. You gain character points as you level up and can buy skills outside of your core class. There are also rules for creating your own custom class which is pretty cool. As Black Hack is OSR based, its easy to port over to any of the other OSR game systems. 

Having all the additional ‘advanced’ classes add alot more variety and flavor to the game for those that like old TSR style OSR.. I remember getting the first Unearthed Arcana 1E (still have it) and loved it for all the new classes that it had. (yes, there may have been some issues with that release) Having additional classes added some new skills and things that you could do with your character. or you could multi-class as well to get some of those skills. for example, Conan was more a barbarian – thief type character. Probably has high STR and DEX scores for D&D type system character but probably wouldn’t have the climbing and sneaking skills of a D&D thief. 

*disclosure: we game with the author of ‘By this Axe, I Hack’. I bought the game and received no compensation from the author for this article. 

 

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Sword and Sorcery RPG vs. Modern RPG: Class and Playable Races

We’ve been playing a Swords and Sorcery campaign with Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperboria ruleset for over year. All characters in the party are human based (exception with 1 Hyperborean who despises Picts).  The number of classes in the game make up for the lack of different races beyond humans. I enjoy having so many different choices for sub-classes among the core 4 especially among the magician sub-classes. It adds to the flavor of the game with this many pre-built class options.

Playing in a Sword and Sorcery world, alot of the encounters and enemies will be other humans or former humans (eg. undead like zombies, skeletons, ghouls) and super sized creatures from the animal kingdom like giant crabs or wooly mammoths. Encountering non-human monsters happens infrequently and in far away / distant places away from human civilization. You won’t run into any non-humans at the tavern unless you’re in like Port Greely… At higher levels, there will be more alien creatures and demons to tangle with.

With modern RPGs, there are alot more race options especially in 5E. I can’t keep up with all the different race expansions beyond the core book. Different races in modern games allow different attribute bonuses and background customization. However I’m also a bit of a traditionalist in fantasy gaming so used to the typical fantasy elf / dwarf / halfling races as playable races from my B/X days. I’m also open to playing ‘monster’ races like orcs, goblins, kobolds. I played a greedy little goblin in a Forbidden Lands campaign and had a blast. Our whole party there was made up of non-humans which made the campaign quite different.

Having options is good to have variety and diversity to the game. However, I find it challenging to keep up with all the expansions that you need to get to keep up with all the available races in 5E. You need to purchase alot more material and books and learn alot more additional rules for each new race. I don’t fancy getting a subscription service just to keep up with all the new digital content being released either. Its also tricky fitting some of the races into your game pending the setting. Having a sentient turtle or fish folk or eagle person go into a mega dungeon dive in the desert doesn’t seem to fit the character classes and their drivers.  

Does Sword and Sorcery have some racist elements by making it humans only? With anything non-human is beastly and evil and to be destroyed. It certainly can be construed that way. Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, was a racist. His writings with Conan, Solomon Kane, and other writings certainly had racist elements in it. I’ve tried to bring other cultures into games that I play and allow other cultures into the Hyperboria game beyond the ones in the rulebook or European. We have one player with an Aztec priest as an example. I would prefer to bring in more of our different cultures into the game than have different fantasy races especially for our Swords and Sorcery game. Every culture has warriors, shaman, healers, magic men, holy men, assassins etc. that can be ported in to fit the different classes and be of human race. I’ve had swordsmen characters with Wuxia influences and Yakuza monk character based on a character (Lu Zhishen) from Outlaws of the Water Margin. 

As in all things, its best to talk through with your players on the expectations and ground rules for the type of  game that you plan to run. If certain races don’t fit into the campaign or world that you are running, it will make the game a bit odd pending the environments that you plan to run them through. If it is a party full of different non-human races, that could work, but if you have 1 aquatic race in party full of mostly earth bound races, it will make the adventure a little off.

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Pay to Play

I’m seeing more ‘Pay to Play’ type of TTRPG either online or in-person (with more people getting vax and local govt. lifting restrictions).  Pay to Play is where players pay the DM/GM to play in a RPG game. You may also lump in RPG Gaming cons in this category as well. In general, I’m not a fan of pay to play. We typically play with friends, and I don’t see why I would charge friends or even acquaintances to play. Trying to make a quick buck off someone doesn’t feel right. We do have people chip in for group pizza order or bring a dish for pot luck or BBQ events

However, some folks are running games online or at public locations like game stores with game sign up and strangers. I’m not sure if they are charging to play to make money / profit, to cover book / service costs (like Fantasy Grounds or Roll20), game maps/minis/accessories, or their personal prep time for game.  If you are charging people to play in your game or campaign, I hope that you are bringing value and unique elements to the game. Having played or GM a certain game for several years or knowing the games rule set doesn’t qualify as unique value to me. Lots of people could qualify for those criteria.

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Adventure Modules: Layout, Organization, Adventure Hooks

                                                   

As a DM, you can choose to write your own adventures, run a pre-written module, or combo by homebrewing up a full adventure with mini pre-made scenarios for your game session. I tend to use pre-written modules as I don’t have time to write up my own adventures, but I do try my best to weave a connecting backbone / overarching story line to try to connect the different adventures together for the player’s campaign.

 

This article is not directed at open hex or dungeon crawls.

 

One challenge I have is the transition points in the adventure module and connecting different locations together. Why do adventures want to goto next location? How do they find out about it? What is the hook? How does level 1 connect to level 2? How do you get to that secret section of the caverns? This is especially annoying when there are key pieces in the adventure that need to be found in a certain location that lead into the next location. If you don’t go into this one secret room in the tomb, you won’t find the map to get to the haunted castle. To get to this tomb, you need to talk to this one drunk guy in the tavern that’s only mentioned in like 1 line of the module. If its not a critical piece, I just make up something and create an adventure hook. Sometimes there might be several leads that will get you to the tomb, but they are scattered all over the module. 

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Posted by Leonidas in Campaign Ideas, Game Masters, Modules, 0 comments

XP Rewards / Other Rewards 

XP Rewards / Other Rewards 

In RPGs, how do characters get more power, spells, better skills?                                         Usually by level advancement.

People act on what they are rewarded and punished for. In game, they will make decisions to maximize reward and minimize punishment. 

Rewards usually revolve ultimately around:

  • Gaining XP: Defeating monsters, finding treasures, completing quests and adventures.
  • Getting Magic Items or Other unique items: Getting magic and unique items to help build their character out.

XP is doled out for Defeating Monsters (killing, out smarting, getting around etc.) with most parties defaulting to killing monsters if they can. The more powerful a monster is (either HD or special features), the higher the XP. Finding treasure (1 GP = 1 XP) is another though there are variations on how to count: counting everything that you find, counting only what you can carry back, counting only what you spend or donate out. Challenging adventures or quests can also result in more XP upon successful completion. Continue reading →

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OSR vs. Modern RPG Tabletop Games:  Pros/Con

OSR vs. Modern RPG Tabletop Games:  Pros/Con

D&D has become more popular than I would have ever imagined in my youth. This is great for the RPG tabletop industry and RPG gamers. However, 5th edition of D&D / Fantasy is by far the most main stream. I grew up playing AD&D 1E, B/X, and BECMI primarily, and then Call of Cthulhu (1E-3E) with some Warhammer 40K – Rogue Trader mixed in. Today, our group play mostly OSR game/systems. I have played 5E and do enjoy it too. 

There appears to be a pretty hardline with old school gamers in disliking 5E and Pathfinder / 3.5E. As with anything, there is a balance and OSR and modern systems (post 2000’s) both have pro/cons pending your gaming group preference. The strength of one system is the weakness of the other pending preference. Continue reading →

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DM / GM Prep and Game Aids

DM / GM Prep and Game Aids

This article is about being a DM/GM and some basic prep/game aids that will make your life easier and more organized when running the game. We all have busy schedules with work, family, and other obligations so having some basic tools and systems in place will help you enjoy gaming vs. spending time during game doing prep work or looking for basic info. For many folks with busy schedules, game time is their only personal time and time to escape. Maximizing that time is important.

If you play online with like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds, those platforms already have many things prepped for you like dice, character sheets, maps, managing combat initiative, monster/enemy stats etc. which is great. There are still things that you need to manage or if you play pencil/paper, you’ll need to manage yourself. Continue reading →

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