Dungeon? Check! Dragon? Check!

Back when my daughter was in second grade, she drew this for me — a dragon slayer! The vertical bars on the left, she explained, were to show that this is in a dungeon. She later told my wife that in hindsight, maybe she overdid it with the blood.
This drawing is now framed in the basement (sorry about the flash glare) where all the gaming takes place.

Published in: on March 22, 2017 at 12:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“I heard you can do anything. I’m going to decapitate you.”

So this Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to introduce D&D to four nieces and nephews, as well as my own kid. We’d messed around with a sort of rules-light variation on D&D before, and they’d all set up my minis and terrain and played with my D&D stuff, but this time we doing it for real: rolling up actual characters and playing according to actual rules — in this case, my trust B/X set. I just ignored the chance of success/failure on Thief and racial skills, gave maximum HP, used 4d6 (I think some just took them in order, and some arranged them after rolling) and threw them into it. At the tavern, where all their ne’er-do-well PCs had spent their last coin, they heard about two wizard towers that were worth checking out — the ruins of the tower of Elandin, and the abandoned tower of the Stargazer. (BTW thanks to everyone who commented last time with suggestions for a first adventure. Tower of the Stargazer really fit the bill on most counts, but the other suggestions were all solid too. In the end I went with Tower of the Stargazer, as I’d read it before, and thinking they’d blow through it really quickly I also brought the Endless Tunnels of Elandin, which is a free module at Dragonsfoot by the multi-talented S. Poag. I particularly like some of the tricks & traps in this one.)

They decided that a standing tower sounded better than a ruin and set out. Meet the party:

Commander, aka Commander Poop, aka Warrior, the fighter


Angry Horse (formerly Lord Dexterity), the thief


Spike, the Elf


Belladonna, halfling


Captain Candles, another elf


the two grownups playing were Killian, dwarf


and Raydor the Mysterious, magic-user


There were some road-bumps, mostly because Commander’s player was obsessed with killing and robbing everyone he met, including the other PCs. This eventually rubbed off onto Belladonna and Captain Candles, who had to be restrained by the dwarf and sleep spells. The title of this post is one of his pre-game taunts … he had been telling another player he was going to kill his character when we played, and one of his older sibs told him he couldn’t do that. 🙂

Even so, they managed to overcome some bandits on the way to the tower, and to get inside the Tower of the Stargazer.  They explored the first floor, and found the trap door to the basement.  The undead creatures in the prison cells did in the dwarf, so I decided that, given that there was no healing magic in the party, I’d give them a few gimmes — the wine from the sitting room had healing properties, and this also saved Commander Poop, as well as Spike. The biggest challenge for the party was the mirrors in the alcove. Because the first PC benefited from the first mirror, they tried out every one. Several PCs lost points of from their attributes, and the character sheets above reflect the vicissitudes of the mirrors. Commander Poop ended up trapped inside a mirror, but fortunately he had a henchman (his cousin, Major Lord) along so he has a replacement. We stopped after about 2 or 2 1/2 hours of play time, but everyone wants to resume the game the next time we’re all together, so mission accomplished!


Published in: on November 29, 2014 at 9:36 pm  Comments (7)  

Help me, OSR Kenobi, you’re my only hope again, or, Once more unto the well…

The good news is that nieces and nephews and my child (ranging from 4th grade to high school) are totally into playing D&D tomorrow after Thanksgiving dinner at Nana’s house, and everyone is staying the night so we could potentially play more than an hour or two if we want. But as usual I’ve dropped the ball on planning anything. I’d like their first game of real D&D to be fun, and a good taste of what the game is about, not least because at least the oldest could probably start a campaign on her own for her friends and I want to set a good example.

I’m kind of thinking there should be:

  • an introductory fight to learn the ropes
  • some exploring
  • at least one trick or trap to overcome
  • at least one more fight they can avoid
  • at least one NPC to talk to
  • a final fight with a boss type

Is there a free starter adventure like that you know of? Maybe a One Page Dungeon, or something like that, not too tied to any system (I am thinking B/X aka “1981 Basic D&D” is the way to go with this). Even a suggestion regarding a trick/trap or NPC would be helpful, since the other stuff is pretty easy to improvise. Thanks in advance!

Published in: on November 26, 2014 at 11:35 am  Comments (10)  
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Ships ‘n’ Ships

A year or two ago I had my nieces & nephews over (I think it was a birthday party) and at one point the kids all went downstairs to play with my figures.  If you told me ten years ago that I’d let any kids handle my figures, I’d have laughed myself apoplectic, but I guess I’ve mellowed.  The oldest came up with some rules for playing a ships & sea monsters game, and wrote down some notes titled Ships ‘n’ ships, but it was nothing I could quite figure out.

Out of the blue a couple of months ago, my daughter wanted to break out the ships again, and seemed to suddenly have a lot of recall about what the rules were (much more than she remembered the morning after the original game; go figure).  From her memories and my interpolations, we came up with a workable if somewhat simple game that engaged all my Man-o-War ships (well, the less breakable ones, and a bunch of card ships I’d been hoarding) as well as the sea monsters.  The goal of the game was to land on an island with a lighthouse, that was guarded by two vampires; defeat the vampires and you win.  Along the way you might be attacked by sea monsters and sunk and/or capture additional ships.

The original game had most of the players running ships and one player serving as the adversary (” the Merpeople”) who controls the sea monsters, but for two players I suggested we just take turns  moving the sea monsters, so that it played a bit like Zombies!!!

We used a large blue battle mat one of my players brought over for D&D, and that was the board; wargame hills served as the starting island and goal island; the lighthouse is from a decoration; a few small islands were marked with flat cards.


The mouse was not part of the game. I didn’t even realize it was there when I took the picture.

We set up with the two player ships touching the ‘start’ island, and all the ghost ships and sea monsters were off-board until placed.

The turn sequence was:

  1. Move your ship (or 1 of your ships if you have more than one)
  2. Place or move a ghost ship
  3. place or move a sea monster

If your ship comes in contact with a small island, it can beach there and be safe from sea monsters.  If it comes in contact with the lighthouse island, you have to fight the two vampires in succession (one per turn) to win.  If your ship contacts a ghost ship, you claim it for your fleet.  If a sea monster contacts your ship, you have to fight it.  If you contact another player’s ship, you can fight it as well.

Sea monsters and ghost ships may be taken from the ‘reserve’ pile and placed anywhere on the board, but they must be at least 9 squares away from any player’s ship(s).  If there are none left in the reserve piles, you can only move ships or monsters already in play.

All movement is d6 squares, except that the sea monsters that take up more than one square can always move at least their base’s length.

Combat is just a roll-off of d6’s (high roll wins; re-roll ties).  Defeated player ships are returned to the start island or to the stock of ghost ships; defeated monsters go to the sea monster pile; defeated vampires are just removed from play.

A game took 15-20 minutes, and was actually pretty fun in a simplistic way.  Maybe some day we’ll add event cards to spice things up.

For want of other entertainment, I uploaded the above picture to Google Drive and inserted the rules in some text boxes and voila, a one-page minis game.  I’d LOVE to see more games like that which

  • fit on one sheet of paper
  • are suitable for playing with young kids
  • use a picture of a set up game to provide examples/diagrams/explain the rules

I don’t know if there would be enough interest to do this properly but what I’d like to see is a one page game contest or something. Any takers?  Surely you can do a better job than this: Ships’n’ships (link is to pdf file).

Published in: on May 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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More monsters

So I haven’t been posting session recaps for a while; just been too busy, and then no gaming most of December, and so on. The party has been wrecking stuff big time, and last session they thought they might be going after a big baddie — a mind flayer that they accidentally freed from a dungeon many sessions ago, and who has been seen in visions riding a purple worm, brandishing a flaming sword, and leading an army of mindless slaves.  (They have pretty much surmised that they did not get him after all, but they did manage to disintegrate one mind flayer and slay two young purple worms!)

My daughter always asks for recaps of sessions and I try to explain things in less disturbing and less violent terms.  When I described the mind flayer on the worm, she asked for a sketch and here is my childish effort:

villainShe looked at it and said, “Huh. I thought the worm was on top…” and she made this sketch:


Holy crap — a purple worm riding a giant mind flayer is way better. (Actually, I think it’s a worm riding Bob the Angry Flower…)

The figure below the mind-flayer-riding worm is, she said, a monster that is part bear, part frog, part troll, and part spider.  The belly is a turtle shell.

I encouraged her to draw more monsters for me and she really got into it for a while. Here are a few more:

meowyClockwise from left: an octopus-headed creature (incomplete), a devil, and another devil which she decided was dressed as a cat (or was a cat dressed as a devil), hence the “Meowy!”

moonmonsSome moon-monsters.  I think she called them deedle-bugs.

spacersSome outerspace monsters.  She asked me very seriously to see a model skull on the bookshelf so she could draw the first one (with two ghosts coming out of it); the two in the middle are actually planets that are monsters; not sure about the last one.

gnomebeeLeft to right, a pinwheel-fish monster; a part gnome, part bee monster (she pointed out he has no arms but does have a bag of jewels under the right wings); and a monster that is part butterfly, part frog, and part devil, I think.

Published in: on January 5, 2013 at 10:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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The hodag

hodag-rhmMy daughter was really excited after watching an episode of Scooby Doo recently, and said she’d found a monster I should use in D&D.  She drew this, and yes, it must appear in Telengard soon.

What are its stats?

Published in: on January 3, 2013 at 10:16 pm  Comments (5)  
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PSA, or, An endorsement no-one wanted

A Waldorf education is basically D&D camp.  There, I said it.

My initial impression was that the curriculum was designed to educate kids to become hippies (here’s the overview from my kid’s school) but now I realize they may actually be training DMs.

Here’s the literature & History curriculum by grade:

1 Folktales, fairy tales and nature stories to introduce letters and writing
2 Fables, legends of heroes, heroines and saints, native American stories
3 Biblical stories as introduction to ancient history
4 Norse mythology, local history through geography, area development through settlers
5 Ancient India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece
6 Founding of Rome, life of Christ, crusades, life of Mohammed, Islam,
medieval society
7 1400-1700 Age of Exploration, Age of Discovery, Reformation, Renaissance
8 1700 – Present U.S. History, industrial revolution, comparative biographies

Gym class includes the Greek pentathlon and archery.  There are a ton of handicrafts including sculpting miniatures out of beeswax and diorama building, not to mention stuff like knitting, woodworking, and gardening — the skill set of medieval peasants.  Perhaps most importantly most of the academics are imparted through stories and songs, so that the kids develop this whole mythology of fairies and angels and so on, and a sense of the oral tradition.

So by 8th grade you will have learned almost everything you need to run an awesome campaign, and make your own minis.

The Waldorf method also puts a lot of emphasis on interpersonal skills and conflict resolution, so I’m guessing a gaming group at a Waldorf school would not have some of the ‘special problems’ gaming groups tend to see, or at least they’d have the tools to deal with them.

Best of all, at least for regressive old schooler type like me, is that Waldorf schools also tend to ban or limit “media” exposure (meaning mass media like TV and radio rather than all media, actually).  So you probably don’t have to worry too much about “gamer ADD” or losing players to the next shiny thing that happens along — Waldorf kids are generally thought to be somewhat resistant to consumerism because they don’t spend as much time being lobotomized by TV as average.

Also, there is a lot of Waldorf stuff that I am constantly wanting to steal for my games.  The school celebrates a number of semi-pagan/semi-Christian holidays, like Michaelmas (gnomes, dragons, knights, and avenging angels!), St. Lucia Day, and more.  The first graders learned a ton fairy tales — not the Disney versions, the Grimm and Andrew Lang versions.  They love this stuff.

One of the creepiest saints of all time … Blind Agnes or Saint Lucy?

image source: Wikimedia commons

Blind Agnes or St. Lucy?

Also, the annual Children’s Festival at my kid’s school has, among the activities, a miniature trebuchet for launching Osage Oranges. It’s like a goddurn medieval fair I tell you!

Anyway, I’m not saying I sent my kid to a Waldorf school to indoctrinate her into swords & dorkery type pursuits, but it sure isn’t hurting!

Oh, and true story, not so much D&D related but sort of Waldorf related:  When we were first checking out the school, we got a DVD that showed what the classrooms were like and interviews with some of the teachers and parents.  Part of it went on and on about Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the “Waldorf” teaching method.  Initially, I was completely aghast, because I had confused Rudolf Steiner with Wilhelm Reich.  I got more and more agitated as they talked about all his great ideas and philosophy.  I kept wondering when these sickos would roll out the orgone accumulators and vegetotherapy rooms.  Turns out Steiner had some oddball ideas (cough, anthroposophy, cough), but nothing as cracked as Reich!

Published in: on December 4, 2012 at 5:00 pm  Comments (11)  


Last week was a vacation to Williamsburg, Va., and the environs.  On the way home we stopped at the Shenandoah Caverns, which is a really big cavern complex (there’s also a sort of museum of parade floats and inauguration decorations, no pics of those in this post).

For some reason I really amused myself calling Shenandoah “Shabbadoah,” and getting my daughter to do it too.  I was curious about at what point my wife would put an end to the tomfoolery and it turns out she drew the line at my singing “O Shabbado, I long to hear to you…” in the car.  Can’t blame her.

Anyway here’s a metric assload of pictures.  Unfortunately there was no map of the caverns available, and the tour was too fast-paced to map while snapping pictures, but one of the things that really impressed me was all the different levels and passages in these caverns.  I’ve been in other caverns (a huge geode under Put-in-Bay, a cavern toured by boat somewhere in Pennsylvania, and a few small caves), but nothing quite like this.  The floor was covered in fine gravel (otherwise there’d be a few inches to a few feet of water on the whole floor), and although a few spots were chained off, it was a pretty good length tour.

So here’s the old entrance (no longer in use), sorry it’s a blurry one:

Right in the middle of the gift shop/ticket outlet/post office.

Here are some views of the passages:

That formation along the ceiling is called ‘bacon’.  No, really.  National Geographic came and photographed the bacon formations, saying they were among the country’s most realistic, whatever that means.

You can see the gravel floor, about 3′ of clearance, and then another ‘floor’.

Some nice pillars. There is something hiding in that dark recess.

OK, enough of that.  How’s about some stalagmites and stalactites.  Remember, stalacTITES need to hold on tight; stalaGmites grow on the Ground.  Or something like that.


These looked pretty freaky and sparkly.

The ‘bacon’ formations, I think, must be a subclass of ‘curtains’.  There were tons of these sorta-stalactites along the perimeter and making awesome walls.

This is looking straight up at a white curtain. If I’d been more attentive to the tour guide, I could tell you why it’s white. I’m guessing salt.

If you’re wondering how high the cavern’s ceiling is, it varied from about 20 feet at the tallest to maybe 4 feet in a few passages (lower areas existed but are obviously off-limits).  For example:

This is looking straight up at one point where there isn’t a lot of activity.

Here’s a fairly large chamber. Maybe that’s more like 25 feet?

A 4′ gnome navigates a small passage.

We also saw one stairwell that was chained off…maybe that’s where they hide the treasure?

Anyway, there was lots of D&D inspiration here, of course!

Some smaller gnomes (knockers?) tried to distract us with invitations to their city.

But we ignored them.  Instead we found a strange four-armed, fire-juggling critter:

And even the dread Tsathoggua — but he didn’t notice us, as his back was turned.

I also seemed to attract some pesky Facula.

The caverns has its share of dungeon funk, too!

Cave ‘popcorn’. Not very freaking appetizing.

There is also a little bit of moss growing, although they are pretty careful to turn off the lights as soon as tourists walk out of an area (this is a 4e dungeon with lights all over the place, of course).

I mentioned a monster lurking earlier.  See if you can spot him!

Some unsuspecting tourists, looking around…

But ho!

What’s this?!?

‘Tis the ‘bishop’! Looks more like an anti-cleric to me!

Anyway no dungeon is complete without some loot.  We looked all around.  The frosty white formations look sparkly but are not precious.

Snowmen? No, just ‘mites.

A really impressive ‘waterfall’ of sparkliness… a good 12′ high.

There was also a tiny castle, but nothing inside.

Sadly thwarted, we decided to just take a few touristy shots…

It’s a cool 56 degrees down here, so Riley’s wearing her terrycloth cover up over her clothes.

One last look…

But wait! What’s this?

A sizable horde in the ‘wishing well’! (I worry that the money is going to ruin the formations down there…you’re not supposed to touch anything in ‘living’ rock or it will stop growing…)

Huzzah! Another successful dungeon crawl!

We hurry past the cracking columns

OK, that cracked about 10,000 years ago.

And the snapping jaws of a hellmouth!!!

With a final glance back, we take in the cavern

It’s not blurry…we’re just drunk on adrenaline!

Maybe we’ll be back some day.  In just 30 years or so, we’ll find this pair of ‘mite and ‘tite will have grown into a solid column.

At the lower right! The actual distance is maybe 1/4 an inch.

Published in: on June 27, 2012 at 8:00 am  Comments (4)  
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Riley’s dungeon

A couple of months back Riley saw me fiddling with some of the ‘Flip maps’ I have (a nice product put out by Paizo; my only major criticism is that the ‘blank’ cobblestone is so dark that I you can barely see dry erase markers on it).

I explained to her that in my D&D game, I sometimes draw the dungeons as the players explore it, and did a quick sketch of a floor plan to demonstrate.  She then shooed me away while she stocked the dungeon, and we played a quick game (she’s gotten pretty good math skills in first grade so we roll dice to resolve fights and other chancy actions).  Here’s her set-up:

We were to enter on the right, in the corridor lined with coffins. (She made me use the orc, and rather than the halfling and strige she usually uses, she took a viking with a magic sword.)  The quartz crystals are a trap — they teleport you somewhere random.  The fountain in the hallway may be good or may be bad, you have to try it to tell.  The fireplace conceals a secret door, Scooby-Doo style.  She suggested that our characters could make the empty rooms ‘ours’ and keep our treasure in them.  The clay pots and piles of gold were the goal, of course.

As the game progressed, I learned the fountain was indeed poisonous, and we ended up claiming the room in the upper left.  I think the ghost did not fight us, it just demanded some of the treasure to leave.  It’s really fun to see how she takes things from previous games, like the ghost that imposes a quest, and incorporates them into her own dungeons.

Published in: on April 8, 2012 at 8:00 am  Comments (1)  

That’s Weird Lisa…

A couple of weeks ago we had a joint birthday party for myself and my dad, and so Riley and three of her cousins entertained themselves by playing with my toys in the basement while the grownups talked after dinner.  At first, it was a little hairy because Quinn & Riley wanted to play “Ships & Ships,” a game Cameron devised which involved gathering things and bringing them to a lighthouse in order to upgrade to a larger ship, all the while fighting sea monsters and merpeople. They played that for hours the last time my Man-o-War stuff was out, but Cameron did not feel like refereeing that and Quinn came close to a meltdown.  But in the end Cameron acquiesced and they played it for a while; a little later they put away all the ships and switched to setting up a village using all my terrain and townsfolk, plus a few monsters.

The village

The each had their own houses…

Riley’s house … she was the witch with a cat

Quinn’s house … no surprise he’s the one with a sword!

They told me a little bit about all the characters and places, but I didn’t catch all of it.

This must be the watering hole

Some farms…

These were the ‘farmerboys’

More famers. These were the only guys who like…

…the “mean girl”

I dunno. She looks pretty nice.

The king was in a castle.

It’s good to be the king.

For some reason the blacksmith had a tower too.

Aw lookout… this guy’s up to no good.

They also introduced one scary girl as “Weird Lisa”

No, not a reference to Riley’s Aunt Lisa, although she is weird too.

Did not ask why the apothecary is a smoking dwarf, but it fits.

Smoking will stunt your growth, you know.

Some dude singing in the ruined church…

After that they asked for cardboard to build their own buildings, and Parker & Cameron also made a few fairies out of crafting scraps to inhabit the unfinished houses.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

Waste not want not.

It was getting pretty late by then, and we didn’t have time to assemble their fairy houses.

The younger kids were getting along so well they petitioned for an impromptu sleepover. I am not so sure Cameron was as interested in that but again she took one for the team. I have no idea how late they stayed up, but the younger kids were all up by 7:30 or 8, and after pancakes we played some more. Riley and Quinn built a dungeon using components from Descent and guarded it against my monsters with a few characters, in a kind of ‘reverse dungeon’. Then we played a game of Zombies!!! at Quinn’s request. I left out the cards since he & Riley can’t really read that well and the pictures on the cards are kind of frightening. Quinn was zombie-killing machine!

Super glue for two broken Man o War ships … 99 cents

Cleaning up the table, putting things away, and sweeping … 1 hour

Gettin’ my nerd on with the kids … Priceless!

Published in: on January 27, 2012 at 9:07 pm  Comments (5)  
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