What to do when a module has built in rails?

What to do when a module has built in rails?

Time for another installment of my solo game using Dungeon Crawl Classics to run through the adventure included in TSR’s AC3, Dragon Tiles. Spoilers for that adventure below.

As you might remember the Herbalist has secured a grappling hook on the tower and has successfully climbed the tower to a bricked up second story window. 

Here is where I need to make a decision on how faithfully I should follow the module. The description of the tower that the Herbalist includes the following text:

“If characters inspect the windows, they see that cracks run between the mortar around some of the bricks. Characters cannot pull any of the bricks loose, but they can look through the cracks. If they do, they see several of King Limakhan’s archers standing around the iron fence.” 

That is obviously from the inside not the outside but it seems clear that they do not want the PC’s to be able to open the window. I could follow this intent or I could give the Herbalist a chance to use the crowbar to pry a brick loose. If I was running this for a group I definitely would allow that. I think I am going to allow the Herbalist a skill check to do it. The Herbalist has a crowbar and there are cracks he can wedge it in. On the other hand he is not skilled at working from a height and wouldn’t be able to put his weight into it. I think this is probably not possible using the DCC rules. It would probably be a DC 15 skill check using Strength and the Herbalist has a 0 modifier. Even if I give a +2 bonus for the crowbar there is no way the Herbalist could roll high enough on a d10. I think in this case the Herbalist will not be able pry any of the bricks loose and will only be able to report darkness through the cracks in the bricked up window.  

This is frustrating but I feel I would be invoking the “rule of cool” and just disregarding the rules of both the module and DCC if I allowed this particular attempt to have a chance.

(On the other hand if we were using my home brewed skill system the Herbalist would still have a 1 in 6 chance of success)

The Herbalist climbs back down and reports the disappointing news to the Tax Collector. The group moves to rejoin the rest of our merry band.

 Our main party has successfully destroyed two stone gargoyle statues, see last week’s entry, with only two dead and one PC down to 1 hit point. An encouraging start! They now approach the front door. The Guild Beggar orders them to take axes to the door but Potato Farmer says, “Hold on a minute, maybe it is unlocked.” The Guild Beggar snorts, “Who would just leave it unlocked?” At which the Potato Farmer pushes the heavy doors which freely swing into the entryway exposing a hallway. An amused hush falls on the crowd as the Guild Beggar pushes his way next to the Potato Farmer and looks in.

The box text tells us:

“The sound of scurrying rats echoes from the north end of the hall. Cobwebs cover the ceiling and hang down into the hallway, which is musty and damp. 

Rotting black curtains hang along one section of the east wall. A long wooden table stands to the north of the curtains. 

Doors stand in the west and east walls of this hallway’s north end. A bricked-up window rests in the north wall, and a cracked mirror hangs from one of the window’s bricks. 

A jumble of footprints criss-crosses the dusty floor.” 

At this point the second story crew has rejoined them and the Tax Collector moves forward to survey the situation.  

Time for some Intelligence checks! I’m going to make these DC 15 skilled checks. Let’s just do the Potato Farmer and Guild Beggar initially, The Potato Farmer rolls a 19 (+2 for Intelligence) and the Guild Beggar a 13 (+1 for Intelligence) so the Potato Farmer passes easily with a 21 where the Guild Beggar’s 14 just misses. 

Look there,” the Potato Farmer says, “why would you have a bricked up window in the middle of a house? That surely is not the back wall as the house is wider than the distance to that window. Plus I did not see any rats when we walked around outside, they must be inside on the other side of the wall.

 “Indeed.” The Tax Collector says as he strives to take control back. “Here is what we will do. You , Potato Farmer, the Guild Beggar and I will check that northern wall, the rest of you check those other doors.” 

Another round of Intelligence Checks is needed here, these will be unskilled with a DC 10. The previous check was skilled because it was just picking up that the house was deeper than the bricked window made it appear. Since the PCs walked around the house it seemed they shouldn’t need any specialized knowledge to figure that out. This time we are seeing if anyone thinks to investigate the footprints. Only the Potato Farmer makes it!

The Potato Farmer puts his arms up in keeping the Tax Collector and Guild Beggar from walking through the threshold. “Hold on there, what about the footprints?” The Tax Collector in an obviously annoyed voice reply, “I was just getting to that. Let’s see if we can follow these footprints before we check the rooms and that window. Does anyone have any tracking experience?” He turns and looks to the group. “You, Ostler, you see a lot of tracks in the course of your work, do you think you could see what story these footprints tell?

Well sir that is not really what I do but I can give it a try.” I’ll be generous and give this an unskilled DC 10. With a 3 the Ostler comes forward and after looking states that while some do seem to be fresh they do not seem to lead anywhere specific. “Fine, fine.” The Tax Collector states, “We are wasting time, search the hallway as I directed!

And we will pick back up next week. Thank you for reading this and don’t forget to be excellent to each other! 

First blood

First blood

Time for another installment of my solo game using Dungeon Crawl Classics to run through the adventure included in TSR’s AC3, Dragon Tiles. Spoilers for that adventure below.

The party has decided to split with four hardy souls who plan to scale the building under command of the Tax Collector and the rest led by the Guild Beggar who will go through the front door. After a quick huddle it was determined that the Tax Collector would supervise the Beekeper, the Halfling Glovemaker, and the Herbalist in trying to get to the roof. Canvasing the various equipment everyone had it was decided a crowbar and at least one iron spike would be useful so the Ditch Digger and Shaman were asked to give those items to the second story team. After a brief but tense negotiation the Tax Collector agreed to pay them market value for the items once the adventure was completed. The crowbar and iron spike were given to the Herbalist who gave his club to the Halfling Glovemaker. The Glovemaker’s grappling hook was tied to the end of the Beekeeper’s rope and the Herbalist was elected to attempt to secure it to the top of the tower on the right front of the house.

Here is what our second story crew looks like:

I will say securing the grappling hook to the top of the tower is a DC 10 check. I don’t think any of our intrepid adventurer’s occupations lend themselves to this task so it will be an unskilled Reflex check. In DCC skilled checks are rolled on a d20 and unskilled ones are rolled on a d10. The Herbalist gets a +2 to Reflex Checks. Rolling an 8 he just makes it! Now will he succeed in scaling the wall? I will give him a +2 for the rope in addition to his natural +2 but this is still an unskilled Reflex check, with a 9 he easily makes it and is able to scale the wall.

While this is going on the rest of our heroes, under the Guild Beggar’s leadership are going through the front door. You can see all their character sheets back in the Meet the party post. To decide who goes first I will roll a d12, and I got a 12! It looks like the Cheesemaker drew the short straw. As the Cheesemaker approaches the steps, he sees two gargoyle statues, one on either side of the entryway. Five-foot wide, iron-banded double doors stand in the porch’s north wall. With a gulp the Cheesemaker surveys the scene before advancing. I’m going to make a unskilled check against DC 10 to notice anything odd. Because the Cheesemaker has a +1 to intelligence and a 10 foot pole I’m going to give them +3 to the roll, 1 for the Intelligence modifier and 2 for the pole. Unskilled checks in DCC are done with a D10. I rolled a 2 so with a total of 5 the Cheesemaker fails and does not notice anything out of the ordinary.

(If I had used my preferred skill system, a d6 starting with 1 in 6 chance and adding 1 for each thing in the character’s favor the Cheesemaker would have had a 3 in 6 chance after factoring in Intelligence and the pole. That said I’m trying to mostly play RAW here.)

The Cheesemaker slowly advances forward but just after he passes the gargoyle statues the one on the left pivot’s and it’s clawed wings of stone swing out to hit the Cheesemaker!

The module says the character must roll a d20 and get their Dexterity score or lower to avoid the blow. This would be a Reflex save in DCC. Normally the Cheesemaker’s high Agility of 15 would give him a +1 to this roll but the Cheesemaker’s Birth Augur is Struck By Lightning and that means he has to apply his starting Luck modifier to his Reflex Saving Throw. The Cheesemaker’s starting Luck is 7 which gives a modifier of -1 which cancels out the +1 so it is just a straight roll. To make a Saving Throw in DCC you roll a d20, plus any modifiers, and compare it to the DC. I have two options here. I can use twenty minus the character’s Agility score as the DC, which follows the intent of the module, or I can assign a DC going by the examples in the Skills section of the DCC rules. In that case I would probably assign a DC 15 to this. The first way means the Cheesemaker has to roll 5 or higher on a d20 and the second means he has to roll 15 or higher on a d20. As much as I want to use the former I think the latter is more in line with my intent as stated in previous posts.

The roll is a 7 and the Cheesemaker is struck by the stone wings of the gargoyle! The module specifies this will do 1d6 damage and I rolled a 3. The Cheesemaker started with 4 Hit Points so he is still barely alive.


The Guild Beggar yells, “Get them!” and our band of heroes surge forth to do battle. They will split up and six will attack each gargoyle. Normally at this point we would do initiative but as you may have guessed these aren’t normal gargoyles, they are a trap, statues that spin based on pressure plates just past them on the stone porch at the top of the steps. Let’s see if the Cheesemaker realizes this, we’ll give a DC 10 check and he’ll get his +1 for Intelligence. I’ll even make it a skilled check since he did step on the plate. The roll was an 8, +1 makes it a 9 which is just shy so the Cheesemaker, still reeling from the blow, does not realize what happened and cannot warn his companions about the pressure plates. I will roll for two unlucky souls who will activate the plates and need to make a Saving Throw themselves. The Woodcutter, who has a -1 to their Reflex Save, and the Cooper who has a -2 to theirs! With a 3 and a 1 both are struck by these pesky statues as they swing around doing 6 points to the Woodcutter and 3 points to the Cooper. Both are killed.

The Statues are unable to fight back and can each take 6 points of damage until they are destroyed. I am going to roll because natural 1’s are Fumbles in DCC. No 1’s luckily enough but the Ostler did roll a Natural 20 which is a Critical Hit. Let’s see what that result is. Zero level characters get a d4 to roll on Crit Table I and the Oster rolled a 4! “Strike to foe’s kneecap. Inflict +1d4 damage with this strike and the foe suffers a -10’ penalty to speed until healed.” Nice!

Both statues are quickly demolished but the Guild Beggar’s group has lost two members before they even reached the front door!

That’s it for this week, next week we’ll check that front door out and find out what happens when the Herbalist scales the tower. Until then, be excellent to each other!

Rescue the princess!

Rescue the princess!

This post contains spoilers for AC3

“Be it known that yesterday, vile and treacherous fiends kidnapped Princess Arelina, King Limakhan’s youngest daughter.


Be it also known that royal guardsmen pursued the kidnappers to the gates of a house bounded by two dark towers. Archers and lancers have surrounded the evil place, and trapped the wretched kidnappers within.


Be it also known that the king has forbidden the archers and lancers to attack the house of towers so long as the princess remains inside. Therefore, the king seeks a few strong warriors to enter the house and rescue Princess Arelina.


Thus, King Limakhan offers a reward of 50,000 gold pieces to any person or party who rescues the princess by nightfall tomorrow. The king also offers one of his finest war horses to each rescuer.

Be warned! If the princess is harmed or is killed, or if the rescuers try to turn back, the king’s archers and lancers will be forced to kill the wrongdoers.”

This is the opening box text to the mini adventure included in TSR’s AC3 3-D Dragon Tiles featuring The Kidnapping of Princess Arelina. It is specifically designed to show off the paper terrain and minis included in the module. It is also interesting as it is an adventure that is labeled for D&D (at the time the BEMCI line of products) or AD&D 1E.

As discussed in previous blog entries I will be using Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics as my primary ruleset and will use this adventure, designed for a group of 4 to 8 characters between the second and fifth levels of experience, as a funnel for 16 zero level DCC characters. I will be doing minimum conversions aside from tracking both the ascending and descending armor class for each character and monster. I plan to use the D&D rules to adjudicate the monster’s attacks and will convert things like traps and saving throws on the fly.

I am not, nor do I aspire to be, an author so I will be approaching this more like a miniatures skirmish game and will be emphasizing the “G” or games aspect of Roleplaying Games over the “R” or roleplaying aspect. To stay fair I will let the dice make decisions for the characters if my knowledge as the Dungeon Master would unbalance the decision.

With that preliminary explanation out of the way let’s get started!

Sadly for King Limakhan all the heroes are elsewhere and none answered his call. Luckily Princess Arelina is well loved by her subjects and 16 foolhardy subjects have stepped forward to attempt to rescue her and claim the rich prize offered. I detailed those 16 brave souls in the previous blog post. Our motley crew approach the house that is surrounded by the King’s men.

“Cool breezes blow through the wet grass as the sun lights the sky to the east. To the north, a dark, one story stone building rises from the dawn mist. Bricked-up windows mark two 20-foot-high towers that rise from the northwest and southeast corners of the building.

A rickety iron fence runs around the house. Along the fence, dozens of soldiers stand guard. Steps run upward from the weed-covered lawn inside the fence. The steps lead to a porch in the south wall.”

The peasants confer with each other on their plan of action. The Tax Collector and Guild Beggar emerge as the two natural leaders (based on their high Personality and Intelligence scores) and set the others to scouting the exterior of the house to see if there is any other way into the structure. The house appears to be made entirely of stone and all the windows are bricked up. As far as they can tell the only way in is the front porch. As they were walking around the structure a few of our heroes got a little close to the circle of soldiers and were warned that they better get to it, any attempt to escape would result in them being run through!

Now as a player I would realize that the party has rope, grappling hooks, crowbars, small hammers and iron spikes. The idea of scaling one of the towers to look for an entrance from the roof or to break through one of the bricked over windows seems pretty obvious. It isn’t like the kidnappers don’t already know they are surrounded and that a rescue attempt will be made. But will the party realize this? I think it is a fairly obvious choice but let’s leave it to the dice. I’ll give each character a base 2 in 6 chance to think of it modified by their intelligence and giving them a +1 if they have a grappling hook or crowbar.

Oh my. Out of the 16 only the Rice Farmer, Halfling Glovemaker, and Cooper consider the idea. As the leaders, the Tax Collector and Guild Beggar start pressing the crowd toward the porch the Halfling Glovemaker speaks up.

“Excuse me, perhaps we could scale the walls? There may be an opening on the roof.” squeaks the Glovemaker.

The Tax Collector looks at him doubtfully, “Eh, what’s that?” He thinks to himself that he can’t be outshown by a mere tradesman, “Of course we thought of that while you lot were scouting around. The problem is not everyone can get up there and we would have to split the party. Isn’t that right Guild Beggar?”

The Guild Beggar, happy to be in a position of power for a change, backs the Tax Collector up. “Indeed that is correct. Strength in numbers you know. Still if a small number want to scale the building I don’t think there is much harm in, do you Tax Collector?”

Not being a fool and knowing that the safest place is either outside or behind the group the Tax Collector answers, “No, of course not. Let’s assign four to attempt to scale the tower, I’ll stay back to oversee the operation, and you can lead the rest through the front. We’ll either catch up to you inside one way or another. Best of luck Guild Beggar.”

And so the first major decision the party makes is to split the party!

That’s all for this week, thank you for reading along. I’ll be back next week with another post and until then be excellent to each other!

(By the way you might be asking why I didn’t use the standard DCC skill system and just assign a difficulty for the idea roll to scale the building. The honest truth is I didn’t think of it at the time and after I did it I didn’t want to retcon what happened. I will use the DCC skill system going forward for actual skill checks.)

Meet the party

Meet the party

Let’s meet our brave adventurers! I am using the eighth printing of Dungeon Crawl Classics for this initial game and rolled up sixteen 0 level volunteers to rescue Princess Arelina. I have made the conscious decision to try and do everything manually and by the book but I highly recommend you check out The Crawler’s Companion over at Purple Sorcerer Games. It is the premier web app for playing DCC and really speeds up play. Here is a link:

https://purplesorcerer.com/crawler.php

I decided to make them all lawful. Aside from one halfling they are all human and pretty average humans at that. We do have a mix a careers: Woodcutter, Ditch Digger, Healer, Beekeeper, Potato Farmer, Gongfarmer, Guild Beggar, Cheesemaker, Ostler, Herbalist, Rice Farmer, Halfling Glovemaker, Tax Collector, Shaman, Butcher, and Cooper.

Here they are:

I haven’t bothered naming them, I’ll just refer to them by their occupation until they level up. I’ll explain any rulings I make as the campaign goes on.

That’s all for now, I’ll be back next week with another post. As always remember the words of the great ones, be excellent to each other!

So it begins

So it begins

Time to finally get my solo TTRPG campaign off the ground! I have bounced around a number of ideas but I have finally settled on what may be a fairly unorthodox model of play. I plan to use Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics as the rule system to run through a number of TSR D&D modules. Back in the day I didn’t have many TSR modules for AD&D or BECMI, it was all home brew. I did have a number of modules for Gamma World and Marvel Super Heroes but that is a tale for a different day. 

While I have a deep love for AD&D First Edition my favorite post-Gygaxian version of the game by far is Dungeon Crawl Classics built on the skeleton of Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons. If I eventually get to running AD&D modules I’ll probably switch to AD&D for the rules system but for the D&D (BECMI) modules I figured why not use the fantasy system I enjoy the most?

I’ll be using the eighth printing of DCC for this campaign. My plan, and this is the part I think may be considered unorthodox, is to primarily use the DCC rules but to do minimum conversion to the modules. I will convert the monsters in the modules to Ascending Armor Class but aside from that I’ll leave them as they are. I plan to track both the standard Ascending Armor Class and the traditional Descending Armor Class for my party of adventurers and just have the monsters attack according to D&D rules. I’ll convert any required Saving Throws or tests on the fly.

The conversion from ascending to descending armor class is simple enough. You subtract the ascending armor class from 19 to get the descending armor class. To go the other way, descending to ascending, you take the difference from the from base armor class, in the case of BECMI it is 9, to whatever their current armor class is and add that to the base armor class in the ascending system, in the case of DCC it is 10. It is easier to do than to type out! Let me give a couple examples:

Lets start with ascending armor class (DCC) to descending armor class (BECMI D&D)

To convert DCC AC 12 we just do the following 19 – 12 = 7

To convert DCC AC 8 it would be 19 – 8 = 11

To convert DCC AC 22 it would be 19 – 22 = -3

Now lets look at converting the monsters in the module from descending armor class to ascending armor class.

To convert D&D AC 7 we see it is two steps from the base line of 9 so 10 + 2 = 12

D&D AC 11 is two steps away but because it is higher than the baseline we will subtract it 10 – 2 = 8

finally -3 is twelve steps away from the D&D base line of 9 so 10 + 12 = 22

I’m sure this will not run as smooth as I think it will but who knows, I may be pleasantly surprised! I am going to follow the advice in DCC and start with 0 level characters. After a quick look through the modules I have handy I settled on AC3, “The Kidnapping of Princess Arelina” which came bundled with the Dragon Tiles paper terrain and stand ups. The module is “designed for a group of 4 to 8 characters between the second and fifth levels of experience. The group should include at least two clerics, as well as a mix of other character classes.” That sounds like a suitable challenge for a mob of 0 level peasants!  

Ideally I’d love to end up with a party consisting of one of each of the DCC character classes, maybe two fighters, for an adventuring party of 7 to 8 characters. I considered stacking the deck by predetermining that I would have a certain number of dwarves, elves and halflings in the funnel but have reconsidered that plan. I decided to go with 16 randomly rolled characters and if I am missing any of the classes after the funnel I’ll just fill the party out with first level characters of those missing classes. Why 16? Because the rule book recommends “at least 15” and since the fillable character sheet has four slots it seems a shame to leave one empty.

The current plan is to put up a new blog post each week. While it would be great to be able to give a weekly campaign update I think that is overly optimistic. I will give a campaign update at least once a month, hopefully more often, but there will also be occasional posts on a variety of subjects that are not related to the campaign. 

I’m not sure I can give any useful feedback without at least light spoilers for the module. This is something that troubles me as I do not want to ruin anyone’s joy of discovery. Not all posts will contain spoilers but the ones that do will have a warning at the top of the post and will have the spoiler tag.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and remember the words of the great ones, be excellent to each other! 

Coming in 2024

Coming in 2024

I started The Nerd’s RPG Variety Cast, a podcast about tabletop gaming and genre movies, back in 2019. The time has come to move into the blog space.