Sunday, October 22, 2017

So you want to run your own Vaults of Vyzor-type game, eh?

Over on the Google Plus, cool guy Karl Stjernberg wrote:
Hey Jeff! I've been thoroughly enjoying reading each and every "Vaults of Vyzor"-post on your blog (and a lot of your other stuff too), and it has inspired me to maybe try running a game like that myself, but for people at work. 
I'd like to know more about the game in genera, such as: 
What are your methods for running such a game? What you do for prep, how do you generally you run things, are there things that can be worth knowing for running a vaults-type game, any do's and don'ts, what are your five most valuable resources? 
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who'd like to know more about this and maybe it could even be something you could write more about on your blog? Kind of like a "So you want to run your own Vaults of Vyzor-type game, eh?"-kind of post? 
Anyway, I hope you keep running this game until the end of time, because I am enjoying reading the play reports a lot
Thanks for the kind words, Karl!  I'll attempt to answer your queries here.  You (and everyone else) should feel free to ask follow-up questions in the comments.  Anyway, let's begin.

The longer I do this sort of thing the more I'm convinced that good dungeonmastering is about making connections.  In this era of near infinite DMing resources, making up stuff whole-cloth is actually a secondary activity, albeit a good and rewarding one.  Basically, what I mean is that I don't create a campaign like Vyzor so much as assemble it.

So there's 13 known levels of Vyzor.  You know how many of them I wrote myself, starting with blank graph paper and my notebook?  Just one.  The rest are cobbled together, scavenged from old game products, stitched together with a handful of extra corridors and stairs, and edited for a bit of continuity.  One dungeon had a high level elf with super powers and a bad attitude.  Bam.  There's my master villain.

When putting these disparate pieces together, I just try to figure out some useful questions to ask about the different pieces.  Are the orcs in section A in the same tribe as section B? Which factions are allies, which are opposed, who runs the whole dungeon (if anyone), etc.

Prep for each session consists primarily of reviewing who it is I am inviting to the game and maybe looking over my big mess of dungeon notes and maybe reading the prior session report. For me a lot of the magic of D&D happens in the moment of play; the art of the game isn't found (at least for me personally) in writing things before play.  That's an important part of getting ready for the game, but in many ways it is cooking the meal when I want to eat.  Or it's like improvisational comedy or freeform jazz: you assemble your materials, you practice your repertoire of techniques, but when the time comes it's more fun the less of a safety that I have  under me.   So for example during the course of play, I like to look at my map and glance at the key.  I try not to read it if I don't have to and I try to avoid looking up anything in the rulebook.

My primary tools are the map and a screen with a few charts on it (of which saving throws and wandering monsters are the ones I look up most often).  I also have my composition notebook and some pens, penciles, marker handy.  For dice, I’ve really pared down in online play.  When playing by hangout I’m usually sitting in my easy chair with a small side table.  I don’t have a room for the DM’s usual array of dices.  I use a single d20 and a single d6.

As far as do's and don'ts go I think I would start with this: DON’T feel you have to build a whole bunch of backstory for your dungeon initially.  If you look back at my original post pitching the dungeon it was only slightly more than “here's a dungeon let us play.” The rest of the backstory can develop organically in drips and drabs thereafter. Sure I had some initial unfocused thoughts on the relationship of the Sorcerer of the Blue Mask to the Elf King lurking in the levels below, but I didn't need to flesh those ideas out until 15 sessions in.

But what info I did supply mattered immediately. DO give the players something to think about at the very beginning of play. That's why I had 4 entrances to four distinct areas of the dungeon. This is something that goes back to Uncle Gary's Keep on the Borderlands: if you're going to have a dungeon that's going to be the center point of your campaign or at least several sessions with multiple expeditions, then you want either multiple ways into the dungeon like the various Caves of Chaos or you want a place early in the dungeon that branches out in many different directions like say a grand hall with a bunch of different doors or a vast cavern full of branching passages where it's not going to be possible in one expedition to cover it all. I did the same thing with my previous online campaign where we started with three caves next to the sea and later four ways into the castle proper and then one expedition found a hidden fifth way in.

These options ensure some player agency every session by giving something for the players to chew on right away. It also meant that people playing later in the course of the campaign--maybe someone who hasn't played at all for the first 10 or 20 sections of the campaign--might still be able to explore something fresh and new.

Another big DO for this kind of campaign is do take into account the players effects on the dungeon a dungeon is an ecology in some ways a dungeon is a social situation and player characters are going to an evidently disrupt both of those things. You don't have to make huge gigantic shifts in the dungeons situation (though you can) but just little things that acknowledge what the players have done impacts the state of affairs in the dungeon.

I feel like this post is getting rambly and unfocused, so I'll stop for the moment. Karl, does this help answer your questions? If not, please ask follow-ups! Everyone else is invited to do so as well.

Friday, October 20, 2017

a silly experiment

I wanted to see what the party would look like if I simply took the first image that google came up with for each of the seven BX classes.


Is this guy supposed to be a dwarf?  Eh, he'll do as a short and stocky human cleric.


Nice.  This guy looks ready for some adventure.


This result is perfect in every way.


Buy this fellow some armor and weapons and I'm sure he'll get the job done.


Shoes on halflings make me sad.  I worry they are the victim of cultural pressure to conform inflicted by the shod races.


Not the beardy Gandalf I expected, but I'm not disappointed either.


Looks like a ninja badass, but only gets d4 hit points at 1st level,  That's a typical BX thief.

That was kinda fun.  If I could draw I'd do a group sketch.  Anyway, I may have to try the same thing with some Moldvay Basic monsters.

Cool guy Kelvin Green drew the party!  Thanks, dude!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Vaults of Vyzor, session #21


Yareh Falsong, mutant thief (Sam Mameli)
Harold the Adequate, human fighter (Adam Thornton)
Moar Lût, chalicothere pack ape (NPC)
Big Gnome, LotFP specialist (Luka Rejec)
Evil Steve, assassin (hireling)
Anstonac, demon (NPC, summoned by Barnabus Sleet)

Harold's Diary Entry

Dear Diary (13 Oct. 2017),

Remind me never to piss off Anstonac.
by Sam Mameli

Yareh had some kind of mission to get into the Purple Vaults presumably under the "Thieves' Guild" headquarters. The "Thieves' Guild" was--emphasis on the was--pretty much Goodman Johnson and his sons.

Rose Royce bagged on our delve. I think maybe she just doesn't want to pay me back the 100 gp she owes me. So Big Gnome cast about for a hireling and we came up with Evil Steve, First Level Assassin. He must be legit, he has a black cloak and a dagger and everything.

So then we went to a dinner party at the Johnsons' for some business Yareh claimed to have. Yareh almost immediately started insulting our hosts, and eventually they could take no more insult and came at us, steak knives in their hands. Yareh stabbed the old man pretty hard, but he didn't go down, and then one of the sons came for me. I mean I guess I probably was a tempting target, having dinner in my breastplate and horned helmet and all, with my sword at hand.

I didn't want to be That Guy, so rather than stabbing him, I punched him. Then Big Gnome whipped out a gorgon penis and whacked one of the sons with it, sending him senseless to the ground. Then Yareh whistled, and Astonac, the timber wolf murder demon, came in from where he and Möar Lût had been waiting outside. For the first time this day he uttered one of his charming catchphrases--this one was "it's murder time!"--and popped one of the Johnson daughters' heads clean off. Everyone started screaming and diving for the windows and stuff.

At this point it was clear I wasn't going to be needed for this fight, and I sat down and resumed dinner. Yareh de-spined one of the sons, the demon went on a horrific rampage, and I finished a couple more turkey legs. We grabbed a couple of nice vintages for later (as a "legitimate businessman", Goodman Johnson had had a pretty good wine cellar). I looked under the table and found the expected secret door.

I remembered what had happened to Courtney the Hideous and invited Evil Steve to open it. Amazingly, he dodged the poison darts that shot out, and we sent Anstonac down the ladder that was under the door. He reported back that it was a root cellar with another trap door and no one to murder, so we went down.

There were three large chests there. These were not attached to demonic snake-ladies telling us the Elf King was a douche, and were much less dangerous, as they were only trapped with an acid nozzle, three stabby swords, and a series of poisoned needles, all of which Big Gnome handily disarmed, rather than the bewitching power of breasts, which has brought woe to many, myself included. I closed the door above us, figuring that the po-pos would be looking for us soon, since some of the erstwhile "Thieves' Guild" had made their escape.

In these chests we found quite a lot of gold and gems and jewelry, and Möar Lût earned his name again, handily carrying two chests' worth of stuff. Big Gnome pulled a total dick move and reset the traps and put the Thieves' sign for "all clear" on the empty chests. It was impressively douchey.

Evil Steve suggested we just leave and retire, which wasn't a bad idea, actually, except that we really needed to find a different exit for some plausible deniability. We asked him to take a look at the trap door, and he found, and disarmed, an acid nozzle. The demon wolf leapt down and we followed. Under the trap door was a purple-walled dungeon room, with strange leather-and-metal suits attached to a machine by tubing. Big Gnome told us it was the Lungs Of The Ancients or something like that, and it was for breathing underwater. He's really quite good at figuring out mechanisms.

Anyway, Anstonact went a-murdering, and we followed the blood trail and shouts of "good morning,
Greg's not his real name, but it's
the closest you can get without
mastering Bugbearish vowel blends.
motherfuckers!" through a room with eviscerated goblins to a fork where he awaited us. A little way north we found some bugbears. A fight ensued. Big Gnome cold-cocked one with his gorgon schlong, and Anstonac ate another, although Anstonac got his pretty timberwolf snout broken by one. Yareh told him to man up and rub some blood in it, and that seemed to make him feel better. At any rate it turned out that the bugbear--Gregbear, we called him--we had knocked out and taken prisoner spoke Orcish and would find us a way out and fight for us for 100 gold.

We were running short on time, so we started following Gregbear, who told us we'd have to traverse the Duke Of Ghouls' territory. Along the way we easily destroyed a couple of zombies, and found a party of ghouls, whom we dispatched (Anstonac ripping one of their hearts out and eating it, but getting an artery severed and spraying demonic blood all over everything). Yareh and I took hits but resisted paralysis; Gregbear was paralyzed and Evil Steve was left half-dead and paralyzed. Nevertheless, Gregbear could still communicate by blinking, and we made our way through the doors he blinked to indicate led to the exit. We crossed from the purple dungeon into the pink-
insignia of the Duke of Ghouls
walled one, and we also disguised ourselves by wearing the armbands of the Duke Of Ghouls we took off his patrol party's corpses, hoping to bluff our way past any more ghoul patrol challenges.

Towards the end we ran blindly as our time expired, and everyone but Yareh made it out. We're gonna have to come up with a ransom, but I think we can probably afford it. I was amazed that Evil Steve survived, and Gregbear seems pretty cool. I don't know if he's planning on moving upstairs now and hanging out as a hireling in the tavern, or if he's going back to the dungeon. Anstonac is a terrifying murder machine and a hell of a party wolf-demon. Good for him.

Oh yeah, there's a map I sketched too.

Anyway, really successful delve today. Maybe now that I have some money I should invest in better armor. I'm keeping the horned helmet though, because it's cool.

Yareh’s Journal 10/13/17

After being invited to dinner at the Johnson's I found myself seated with a rather unsavory crowd. All
I love Sam's new illo of Yareh.
was going well until I made the mistake of asking for some salt for my pasta dinner. The patriarch of the family went into a rage! He screamed that the pasta was perfect and salting it was a grievous insult to his family. He pulled a sword, and his children followed suit. I was forced to heroically fight my way through them, luckily I had hired a bound demon to act as a bodyguard and backup in case anything went down. And good thing too! A crazed housewife nearly brained me with a sauce pan, but the demon made quick work of her and a few others of the bloodthirsty thieves guild.

After dispensing with my assailants, me and the rest of the crew decided to take a look around for the passage to the fabled “Violet Vaults”. We found a trap door leading in to a root cellar. Down there were 3 chests. Not sure what was in them, they looked trapped and we had more important work to do. Namely making our way through the Violet Vaults, discovering a strange contraption for breathing in foreign environments and narrowly escaping some goons of the Duke of Ghouls. It seems like the Violet vaults connect with the first level of the Rosy Halls. I would draw a map but as we were leaving I got captured and ransomed for all of my earthly possessions.

What a day!


Gachos Disco-Wang (NPC demon), John Lackwit (o-level loser), Szazsraz the Lizard Wizard (Chris Wilson), Iter the Physick (NPC), That Pictish Bastard (NPC), Bufo the Wizard (Makali’i F), Beefo the Gerblin Drinking Buddy (NPC), Willy Whats-His-Name (0-level Loser), Poor Brother Rupert (cleric hireling), unnamed serving boy (0-level hireling), Gwalin Rustbritches (dwarf hireling), Jarrod the Magic-User (Ian Reilly), Jonesy (0-level NPC), Little Liam Linkboy (0-level NPC), Limpy the Naileteer (Jeff Call), Engsal the Enchanter (Alex Joneth), Elfbraham Lincoln (Jeff Call)., Littlens (0-level NPC), Biggens (0-level NPC), Stimpy (0-level NPC), Ren (0-level NPC)


Lobat Greet (Jesse Goldshear), Brax of the Tallstones (Brad Black), Mike O'Nidd (Matt Barclay), Kilic (Alex Joneth), Barnabus Sleet (Maxim Golubchik), Laurantha the Unbeautiful (Cullen), Big Gnome (Luke Rejec), Szazsraz the Wizard Lizard (Chris Wilson), Rose Royce (Kiel Chenier), Sneakerly Trull (Zak S.), Ilse Raagenkampf (Perttu Vedenoja), Persimion Finch (Galen Fogarty), Magic Meryl (Nick Kuntz), Merrill Meadows (Michael Julius), Chef (Richie Cyngler)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Conversation with Jim Raggi: Part 1

~50 minutes of dialogue between Jim Raggi and Matt Finch.  I especially liked Jim's thoughts on adventure design and their overview of the early publishers of the OSR scene.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Fave images from All the Worlds' Monsters

All The Worlds' Monsters was an early Chaosium product (1977) that compiled a bunch of crazy critters from an array of D&D referees, including notables such as Dave Hargrave, Clint Bigglestone, and Steve Marsh as well as lesser known figures of the era.  They were edited into consistent statblocks by Jeff Pimper and Steve Perrin.  The screengrab here of the cover scan really doesn't do justice to the awesome George Barr cover.

My first up close and personal encounter with this product wasn't until the 1990's, when my good buddy Pat got a hold of a copy and used it to write a pretty trippy adventure.  My Demogorgon-worshiping half-orc assassin/cleric killing an Air Squid with an arquebus is a cherished memory.  Critter by the great Dave Hargrave, illo by Carol Rode.

When Roger Harvey's Coachman of Death shows up, he turns a PC into a zombie and then carries them off in the back of his coach.  Another Carol Rode illo.

The X-Ray beast is another Dave Hargrave creation.  Its eye shoots deadly radiation and can see through walls.  Illo also by Carol Rode.

Tucked in the back of the book is an interesting version of the dungeon level versus monster level chart.

You can get a PDF copy of this wacky product and its two follow-up volumes for five bucks each at DriveThru.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

get your Lamentations Bundle of Holding

FYI the current Lamentations Bundle of Holding is crammed full of PDF goodness.  For 14.95 USD you get the LotFP core rules in all their glory (still my favorite retroclonish system), a coupon good for 20% off print items in the LotFP web store, and six adventures.  The adventures include Kiel Chenier's sweet Blood in the Chocolate, the classic Death Frost Doom, the always-controversial Carcosa, The Monolith From Beyond Space and Time, and both the Isle of and Dungeon of the Unknown.  That's a lot of cool stuff for fifteen buckaroos!

There's also an awesome bonus level.  If you pay at least the threshold amount of $27.74, then you get a bunch of other PDFs as well: Veins of the Earth, Towers Two, No Salvation for Witches, Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess, The Stygian Gardens of Abelia Prem, Qelong, The Roots of Bitterness, and my own Broodmother Skyfortress.  Which means I get some small piece of the bonus tier sales, apparently.  But my own skin in the game doesn't change the fact that all this stuff normally retails for over $140 in electronic form.  IMHO, any two of the PDFs in this bundle are easily worth the bonus tier price, much less all of them.

Cool additional detail #1: One lucky bonus tier purchaser will also win one of every LotFP book that James has in stock.  Cool!

Cool additional detail #2: 10% of the the LotFP proceeds will be donated to the EFF.  Keep up the good fight.

Offer ends Monday, my friends.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Vaults of Vyzor, session #20

Hey, all!  It's midterm grading time and this one will have to be brief.


  • Ilse Raagenkampf, LotFP specialist/quack chirugeon (Perttu Vedenoja)
  • Chuckles the Dungeon Chicken (NPC Pet)
  • Lobat Greel, Martial Master (Jesse Goldshear)
  • Persimion Finch, Fighting Man (Galen Fogarty)
  • Barnabus Sleet, Muscle Wizard (Maxime Golubchik)
  • Emma Bright-Eyes, Muscle Witch (NPC henchwoman)
  • Sharene, Elf Muscle Wizard (NPC henchwoman)
  • Dale Bidwell, Fighter/Valet (NPC henchman)
  • Gachos Disco-Wang (NPC demon)
(Barnabus brought a whole second party along with him!)

First Expedition

Not this kind of cyclops in a tux, the kind
that has 13 HD and does 3d10 damage.
Pulled by the geas laid on Barnabus Sleet, the party entered the vaults below the Azure Towers.  There they discovered several trap had been reset.  (Barnabus left a note at one point complementing the maintenance staff for their work.)  The machinery on the ceiling around the monster cages was active, zapping the critters into agony with esoteric blue energies.  Out of pity, the party released the gargoyle and ghoul from their cage via a knock spell.  They wandered off and were encountered again later without violence.  The 2 chimerae were also released.  They were on the verge of death and no threat to the party.  The muscle magicians carried them to the surface.  The 2 mariliths encountered in previous expeditions were also rescued, but only after the party killed the bejesus out of their new jailer, a cylcops in a tuxedo.  The cyclops had a giant briefcase full of the gold, which the party quite liked.  

The party's efforts to make it over to the first level of the Verdant Vault via the connecting tunnel was cut short.  They encountered some uncanny valley near-humans with long earlobes and eyes with double-pupils.  They were carrying laser pistols.  Ilse was grazed by one shot for 8 points of damage, meanwhile Gachos Disco-Wang was completely incinerated!  Only Barnabus's ring of lightning bolts got the party out of that mess.  Lobat, a laser pistol wielding greaser from the Gathox Vertical Slum, was pretty stoked to find a zap gun that did more dice than his.

Second Expedition

I am loving my new
wandering monster charts.
This time the party decided to enter via the Verdant Scriptorium, discovering that Barnabus's geas was not barring him from doing so.  At least at the moment.  The Bargain Wolves were not home and the party made quick time to the chamber adjacent to the summoning room.  Here they encountered five floating blue orbs, like some ghost hunting TV show malarkey.  These malignant weirdos fired blue zaps at the party and Dale was nearly killed with a critical hit.  The best move of this fight was probably when Lobat zapped his own tube of hair gel, causing it to explode among the blue orbs.

The party then made their way to the former site of the gnome wrestling arena, which had been converted to a foundry and machine shop of sorts.  The gnomes were working on strange machinery under the tender supervision of whip-wielding orcs.  The orcs were temporarily routed and 49 gnomes were rescued and brought to the surface.


Carousing was a bit of a fiasco.  A drunken Persimion Finch made a sloppy pass at one of the Ink Witches, and has been turned into a swine for his trouble.  Ilse and Barnabus got married while blotto, much to the Muscle Wizard's consternation.  I also suspect that I am forgetting other shenanigans that occurred.

Good ol' Barnabus is investing a bunch of his own money into building a new section of Vyzor Village for gnome inhabitation.  A henchman of the Sorcerer of the Blue Mask bought the strange machinery that was recovered.  And the Jarrod Memorial Library is now guarded by two pet chimeras.


Gachos Disco-Wang (NPC demon), John Lackwit (o-level loser), Szazsraz the Lizard Wizard (Chris Wilson), Iter the Physick (NPC), That Pictish Bastard (NPC), Bufo the Wizard (Makali’i F), Beefo the Gerblin Drinking Buddy (NPC), Willy Whats-His-Name (0-level Loser), Poor Brother Rupert (cleric hireling), unnamed serving boy (0-level hireling), Gwalin Rustbritches (dwarf hireling), Jarrod the Magic-User (Ian Reilly), Jonesy (0-level NPC), Little Liam Linkboy (0-level NPC), Limpy the Naileteer (Jeff Call), Engsal the Enchanter (Alex Joneth), Elfbraham Lincoln (Jeff Call)., Littlens (0-level NPC), Biggens (0-level NPC), Stimpy (0-level NPC), Ren (0-level NPC)


Lobat Greet (Jesse Goldshear), Brax of the Tallstones (Brad Black), Mike O'Nidd (Matt Barclay), Kilic (Alex Joneth), Barnabus Sleet (Maxim Golubchik), Laurantha the Unbeautiful (Cullen), Big Gnome (Luke Rejec), Szazsraz the Wizard Lizard (Chris Wilson), Rose Royce (Kiel Chenier), Sneakerly Trull (Zak S.), Ilse Raagenkampf (Perttu Vedenoja), Persimion Finch (Galen Fogarty), Magic Meryl (Nick Kuntz), Merrill Meadows (Michael Julius), Chef (Richie Cyngler)