OSR Products You Should Own

I generally don’t do product reviews here, but I feel I need to point out two OSR authors whose contributions have had a major positive impact on my home campaign.

Jeff Rients – Carousing

I’ve been using Jeff Rients‘ carousing rules, specifically those printed in his book Miscellaneum of Cinder, but I’m sure the free version on his site is just as good.  There’s lots of other good stuff in the book, but the carousing rules are just fantastic.  I use a pretty straight-forward system for XP in my game: 1 XP per SP (the new GP in my world) and 100 XP per HD of monster defeated.  I award XP at the end of every single session, which are 3 hours long once a week.  Frequent but short sessions means the XP haul varies quite a lot.  Some nights they find a sweet horde of treasure and earn thousands of XP, and some nights they spend a lot of time talking to NPCs, dickering around town, etc. and barely scrape together a few hundred XP.

The carousing rules add a nice XP bump for those nights when the players want to hang out in town and interact with more NPCs and do planning on the like.  It also is a nice money sink to get extra cash back out of the players’ hands.  Most importantly though, it just leads to more awesome stuff in my game.  Here’s an example:

The group had just returned from a long dungeon crawl, and wanted to blow off some steam: so everyone goes carousing.  Two players fail the save and roll the same result on the chart: “You couldn’t really see the rash in the candlelight. Roll Constitution check to avoid venereal disease.”  Hilarity ensues as I tell them they wake naked in bed together the next morning.  Even better though is the thief who rolls “Beaten and robbed. Lose all your personal effects and reduced to half hit points.”

Now that sounds pretty harsh.  That character recently acquired a much coveted ring of invisibility, and I decided to give him an extra save to hang onto it, which I decided he must have used to escape the beating.  He did lose a very nice magic sword though.  The best part of this chart though is what it leads to.  To take the sting out I point out to the party that losing all his gear doesn’t mean it’s vanished into non-existence, merely that he no longer has possession of it.  So the party retraces their steps, heads throbbing, and I make up a story from the bar-tender of how the thief was seen gambling with a group of dwarves the night before.  The town is near the known location of an ancient dwarven temple, so I figured these dwarves are adventurers who set out early that morning (they didn’t fail their carousing saves).  The party learns this second part from the hostler, and immediately the chase is on.

We then have an awesome fight between two groups of adventurers outside the entrance to the ancient dwarven temple.  The players kill most of the dwarves, but save one for interrogation, who happens to be a thief.  They get some info out of him before they push him down the slope of the hill, and he manages to both not die and make a hide-in-shadows roll, thus escaping the party.  The party then decides since they’re here, they might as well explore the dwarven temple some more, and actually managed to find a hidden part of it they hadn’t found the last time they were here.

Results: the party is back in a dungeon perhaps a little sooner than they anticipated and a bit less prepared, which is awesome.  They have questions about the motives of those dwarves: who were they, were they really evil or just assholes, etc.  Also, somewhere out there is a very angry dwarven thief plotting revenge.  All amazingly interesting twists to the campaign that would have never existed without Jeff’s excellent tables.

James Raggi – Hammers of the God

That dwarven temple, by the way, is James Raggi‘s module Hammers of the God.  This module is not only a really cool dungeon, but it also contains a bunch of background info about ancient dwarves which I’ve found very easy to roll into my campaign.  I didn’t have a history for the dwarven people yet, so this filled a very nice gap in my world that I hadn’t really been paying attention to myself.  That said, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to ditch parts of that background and just use the adventure if you wanted, though you might have to tweak a few rooms.

Raggi’s module has several things in it that I now associate with good dungeon design:

  • Multiple distinct parts, some of which are hidden.  This makes it really great for a long term campaign, as players can return to it a couple times and find new stuff each time.
  • Custom monsters that are really out there, which really amps up the terror of “monsters in the dark” that standard dungeon encounters start to lose due to familiarity.
  • Very interesting terrain.  Sure, there are some square rooms, but there’s also a beach in a cave with a huge crane at the top of which is a metal box containing a zombie.  Zombies are pretty straight forward, but have you ever tried to kill one that’s hiding in a metal box 75′ in the air?

If I could make one criticism, it’s that Raggi’s descriptions tend towards being large blocks of dense text.  Each room is several long paragraphs of description.  This is awesome to read, and kind of necessary to get across all these unique features.  On the other hand, when the players ask “Is there any decoration on the walls?” and you don’t know the answer, trying to dig that out of the long sections of text can be onerous.  I’m not sure what the solution to this would be, maybe a quick bullet point list at the top listing the important facts of each room at the top (dimensions, exits, decor, inhabitants) before continuing on with the text?

So kudos to both those authors for their excellent work.  I highly recommend anyone reading this to check out either or both works.  They’re well worth the time and money.

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5 Comments

  1. Thanks for reminding me that there is a version of the carousing rules in the Miscellaneum of Cinder. I had forgotten about that.

    Regarding dense module text: yes, a quick bullet list of important information is exactly what module writers should do.

    http://untimately.blogspot.com/2012/01/mnemonic-descriptive-module-text.html

    I think there are really three categories of information: what should the PCs be aware of immediately, what should the ref be aware of immediately, and the long interesting narrative version (probably only appropriate for reading beforehand).

  2. I enjoyed Hammers of the God more than Stone Hell. Stone Hell was fun and had its great moments but I think modules that have endings. Stone Hell feels like it just keeps going and going.

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