Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Old School Spelljammer

[Today started nightmarishly - a water hose burst on the 10th floor of an apartment building my family owns. So, forgive this post if it's not as polished as others.]

I'll admit this right up front.  I don't know much about Spelljammer.  Neither did anyone else at the table.  But we knew that it was basically D&D in space.  Towards the end of this post, you'll see why Spelljammer came to mind.

After two weeks of not gaming due to poor attendance, last Saturday night the game continued.  It was the second part of Within the Radiant Dome by Gavin Norman and published by Geoffrey McKinney.  Fitting, as I decided to have the end of WtRD lead straight to McKinney's Carcosa.

It was a great game, though I say it myself.  Within the Radiant Dome had some nice touches which I usually tweaked here and there to my own tastes.  I won't reveal many spoilers in this post.  The following list contains the top moments...

*  West's cleric being turned into crystal by a Beholder after failing his saving throw.  The day after, I realized West could have burned some of his cleric's fortune (luck) in order to succeed.  Oh well, he knew about the rule.  His characters keep getting killed so I think he's just getting used to the idea of deadly old school fantasy roleplaying.  That's why I encourage players to have at least two characters - even if one of them is a glorified torch bearer.

*  Something so simple being so effective.  A mirrored hall where the adventurers can walk through the mirrors, encountering some robed humanoids and a book on a pedestal.  I decided to add a little spice to that scene.  On the other side of the hall, one of Harold's characters was able to hear furry patter and tittering of the Giant Albino Devil-Spiders encountered in the last session.  Just the suggestion that those creatures might be on their way sent Harold and therefore his characters, as well as the PCs he was traveling with, into a panic.  It made the entire scene more terrifying and tense.

*  Harold's Elf using the crystal cleric as a makeshift spell component to fuel his magic missiles.  The crystal got all used up but those robed mirror people were obliterated.

*  The spectacular success rolled by Harold's Elf when asking Tsathogguoa's favor upon meeting a hybrid Octopus Bear creature.  He rolled 00 or 100%.  So, he got what he asked for.  The Octobear shrunk down to the size of a large cat and became his familiar.

*  West's Drow decided to try on a magical gauntlet he found.  The results were hilarious... but not for West or his character.

*  West's newly rolled cleric made an equally spectacular divine healing check - he was able to heal everyone up to their full hit points, and even regenerated 2 fingers from Harold's character's hand.

*  West's cleric rolled spectacularly bad causing the spaceship bridge full of corpses to reanimate in search of brains.

*  Harold's Dwarf taking the wheel and steering the lifeless spaceship into a shiny, swirling purple hole in space, and then turning the crash landing into a less deadly crash landing.  The party was just about to make a break for it back to the smaller vessel from which they came to the spaceship, using it like an escape pod.  Before he left the the bridge, I told him his character looked back and could see that the spaceship was about to crash into a planet and that there was a chance he could steer the ship to prevent a disaster.  The fact that his character had a choice, as well as, an active role in the determination of the story gave the entire session a +2 bonus for awesome.

*  Setting foot on Carcosa.  During one of our non-gaming nights, Harold and I had briefly discussed the Carcosa book and setting.  He was excited by the prospect of gaming in such a weird world.  I agreed, and the scifi ending to Within the Radiant Dome became a perfect vehicle, if you will, for bringing the adventurers to that Lovecraftian realm.

For those who don't know, my game is a blend of original D&D, AD&D, and Dungeon Crawl Classics.  Clerics can keep healing, blessing, and protecting themselves from evil as much as they want.  However, if I roll 1% - 10%, then their God is noticeably displeased.

For wizards and Elves, I use a casting check of 10 + spell level versus d20 + intelligence modifier + bonuses due to sacrifice, ritual copulation, etc.  Natural 1 means something catastrophic has occurred, natural 18 - 20 means the spell packed a bigger punch than expected.

I asked myself the following questions at least once...

*  How can I ratchet up the tension and/or raise the stakes in this scene / encounter?

*  What's the worst / best thing that could happen in this moment?

*  What aspect from a previous session can I seamlessly incorporate into the game?

*  What would be a really cool twist or unexpected detail I could add right about now?

*  How can I place the player characters in the driver's seat, allowing them to drive the action?

Basically, Dungeon Masters have to know when it's time to set the game notes aside and just go with the creative flow.  That's just as important as compromise and the old 33% chance of "x" happening, when "x" is something that pops into your (or a player's) head.  If you roll 33 or under on the percentile dice, then it has been decided by the oracular power of the dice!

So yeah, the characters were on a spaceship, worrying about Kurgan warships, being rounded up as slaves, going through a wormhole, crash landing unto an alien world, and what's to become of their lives on Carcosa.  Should be a lot of fun next session!

The word "Spelljammer" came up multiple times, and not in a negative way, thank our Dread Lord.  Yes, some of us were actively gaming when Spelljammer first came out, but none of us ever played it.  In fact, I remember it being ridiculed by various gamers back then.  But now, it's part of the rich gonzo scifi history of our beloved hobby.



  1. man, that sounds like an awesome adventure! I'm finally running a DCCRPG adventure Thursday. It's gonna be a dry run/ funnel with 2 players to test out the rules and see if I can sell them on the system. If they enjoy it, they will talk the other players into jumping in


  2. Thanks for the comment! Yeah, it was pretty awesome.

    If I could give you one piece of advice in running Dungeon Crawl Classics, it's this... use the entire rule book as page after page of suggestions. Make the game your own from the get-go. Run the best of it right out of the "box" while intuitively shaping the setting, combat mechanics, races, magic, divine power, etc. to suit your particular old school needs.


  3. I plan too, the trial run has expanded to 3 players, I have a pretty straight forward adventure, with lots of opportunities to role play and get creative with combat.

    I am a bit worried about players interacting with their 5-6 characters, i don't think that's something any of them has ever done before


  4. Hey, oz.

    It might help if you told each player to create a primary character and then two secondary characters such as a torch bearer, scroll caddy, squire, acolyte, sorcerer's apprentice, etc. That way, players know who to focus on, who gets to roll a perception check, etc. And after a death or two, they'll be glad to have a backup character!