Saturday, April 25, 2020

Castle Xyntillan Session 2: Monsters and Matrimony

Where last we left off, the party had committed arson, been blackmailed by an undead noblewoman and two of their hirelings were in critical condition after being clawed by zombies. How can they screw up more? Learn about it all in week 2 of Castle Xyntillan!

The Party

Longo Lightfoot, Halfling Thief, wears a sky-blue headscarf. Played by CaptainSabatini.
Corby the Joyful, Human Cleric of Sucellus, wears a short, conical hat. Played by diregrizzlybear.
Ranucci the Omniscient, Human MU, wears an orange and indigo polka-dotted hood. Played by DymeNovelti.
Idred the Most Omniscient, Human MU, wears a full-visored greathelm. Played by David Perry.
Boroth Swinney the Joyous, Human Fighter, played by Justin Hamilton
Lisette the Lucky, Torchbearer who had been on a previous expedition to the castle, and saw most of her companions butchered.
Willemot the Wary, Light Footman.
Stanislas, Light Footman.
Francois, Light Footman, and his hunting dog Fideaux.
Aymeric, Heavy Footman, boasts about the bonuses the party will pay him once he saves their asses.
Ysabeau, Heavy Footman, wants to start his own adventuring company once he has the funds.

Bottle of champagne, as a potion of heroism
Silver horseshoe
Sheaf of Kriegspiel house rules

No deaths, no injuries

The Game

File:'One of the wards in the hospital at Scutari'. Wellcome ...
  • The game started at the moment the session ended last week; having just slain four zombies, freed a noble prisoner and looting the golden mirror from his disintegrated body. Francois and Stanislas were badly hurt by the zombies before they were taken down, however, and the party decided to take their gains and schlep back to town while everyone was still breathing. 
  • As they escaped the castle and left the Valley of Three Rainbows, the party heard a great roar, from roughly the location of the rose garden. They left at double speed. 
  • Back in Tours-en-Savoy, the party got to selling their loot, identifying and getting prices on the curiosities they found, and carousing. They played Kriegspiel (the game of gentlemen!) in the Cathouse, and got stared at by odd-looking peasants in the black comedian. They took a moment and their newfound funds to hire on a pair of additional hirelings; Aymeric and Ysabeau, heavy footmen. 
  • While there, they dropped off Stanislas and Francois at the local hospital. They hadn't been too seriously injured, and would be back at full capacity in a couple days. 
  • A few beds down from the henchmen, they notice a staggeringly handsome man with a bandage covering half of his face. This is Giacomo, one of Lisette's former companions. He filled the party in on the whole story. He was separated from the party in the man-eating hat fiasco, and ended up wandering the halls near the south entrance. He recalled heading east from a hall of portraits, and finding himself in front of a door with a strange locking mechanism shaped like a bat. He opened by sheer luck, and encountered Countess Maltricia Malevol, a vampiress and one of the higher-ups in Castle Xyntillan's hierarchy. She fed on him and plucked out his eye, but Giacomo was saved when Adelaide 'fell in love' with him and took him as her own. 
  • The next few weeks were a blur, but he eventually managed to escape the castle and crawl back to Tours-en-Savoy. With several weeks until he'll be back in shape, he wasn't thrilled about returning to the castle and rejoining his captor. However, he proposed another plan.
  • Giacomo announced his plan to marry Adelaide Malevol. Doing so would protect him from the worst of the Malevols' wrath, being a member of the family, and the bonds of holy matrimony would give him further protection from his bride's ghoulish form (that she was already undead when they married would be immaterial). All he needed was a cleric, a ring, a chapel, and a yes. 
Giacomo: As you can see, it has nothing to do with lov-
Giacomo: ...
Party: ...
Giacomo: i'm. in. love.

  • The party's new objective, besides getting loot: to find the chapel in Castle Xyntillan, and help Adelaide and Giacomo get hitched! They gear back up and return to the castle shortly afterwards.
  • The party retraced their steps to the latrine room and continued west, finding a corridor laden with spiderwebs. A series of doors to the east and west were systematically examined, and one with a scuttling sound behind it was spiked shut. The others opened into old living quarters, with simple furniture covered in a thin coat of dust. The southern room hosted a treasure chest with a note attached: Contains Type VI Treasure. The party was spooked, and left Francois inside alone to open it with a 10' pole.
Longo: Boroth, hand me your pole
Boroth: You should at least buy me dinner fir-
Longo: Don’t be cute.
  • They heard him messing around with it, and subsequently a harsh cough. It turned out to just be dust, and inside the chest was a pile of loose manuscripts. They were house rules for Kriegspiel, which would allow commanders to control individual soldiers instead of whole companies. The party concluded it would never catch on. 
  • As they pressed south, a ghost in the black robes of a judge passed them by, heading north with a wail: Get out of my way! I have a trial to attend! The ghost's passing touch turned the party's flesh icy cold, but it disappeared around the corner quickly enough. Immediately afterwards, the party heard drinking songs from a large number of voices in the next room.
Boroth: Remember Corby, you've been drinking. *wink*
  • They burst in to find a mess hall, and more than a score skeletons of military veterans in various states of drunkenness. The singing stopped, and they one yelled, "The enemy's back for a pounding!"
TrashySoda (With images) | Reaction pictures, Grunge aesthetic ...
  • The skeletons charged forward, but being in the doorway, the party only had to hold off a few of them before Corby lifted his holy symbol and turned them back. In the resulting confusion of skeletons crashing into one another, the party closed the door, spiked it shut, and repeated the process for every portal they thought led towards the mess hall, and booked it north. 
  • They proceeded towards the eastern courtyard which they avoided in the previous expedition. The interior garden was dominated by the main tower of Castle Xyntillan, which stretched into the sky just above them. Odd statues atop high pillars loom above the ground, and multiple doorways lead in all directions. 
  • To the west, the party finds a pile of corpses (relatively fresh) backed up against a bricked-up doorway. Frost burns and lacerations cover the bodies, while one clutches a bottle of champagne (as a potion of heroism). The party makes a note of the doorway, but decides against taking it apart right then. 
  • Further north and west, the party came upon a gardener's shed, complete with a half-dozen ghouls squabbling over a morsel of heartsmeat from the bodies the party discovered earlier. They asked the party for help in deciding which of them it belonged to, but the party instead decided to be diplomatic and excuse themselves. 
  • North of the gardener's shed, the party came across the ruins of a bathhouse, the hot water still running and the statue of a basilisk overlooking the pool. They were about to investigate when they heard the steady pum-pum-pum of heavy, pounding feet, accompanied by a tangible increase in the ambient temperature, and the sickly-sweet smell of roses.
Amazing art of The Beast. He's really scary looking! | Dark disney ...
  • The party immediately shoved the door closed and high-tailed it. They didn't know if the Beast knew who had desecrated the rose garden, but considering that Ranucci was wearing one of those roses in his hair, it wasn't a good idea to risk it. 
  • The party returned to the courtyard and tried the great, rusted doors to the south. While they were cleaning off the rust and greasing the hinges, they heard a soft, 'hello?' A girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, carrying a bouquet of flowers stood behind them. She introduced herself as Hortensia Malevol. She was the first member of the family the party had met thus far who had been alive. 
  • Hortensia was rather lost, confused by the layout of the castle even having grown up in it. The party allowed her to tag along with them until they could find somewhere to drop her off, or until another family member came along. 
  • The rusted doors opened into a large stables, empty but still supplied with fresh straw. The party dug around and picked up a silver horseshoe. Touching it resulted in a charged, tingly sensation.
  • Exploring further south, the party heard muffled chanting in the distance. They came upon a large chamber, filled with row on row of disused pews, a cracked stone altar and a faded mural depicting monks harvesting grapes. They had found the chapel! as the party entered, another doorway opened and eight monks, chanting darkly from under their concealing hoods, walked into the chapel. They stood opposite the party condemning them as intruders and blasphemers. 
  • Hortensia stepped forward and waved at the monks with glee.
  • The session ended with the players locating their quarry, with a small child standing between them and a crew of chaotic monks out for blood. 


It's getting a bit inconvenient to keep using simple names for rooms, especially as the types double up. There are multiple courtyards, multiple gardening sheds, and as the party explores further they'll find more duplicates of this sort. I need to be proactive in naming these by their defining features.

The part of my GMing I'm least satisfied with at the moment is my diction and narration. Especially if the players are in an area I didn't know off the top of my head, I tend to slow down, placing large pauses in the middle of sentences.

The random encounters with family members continue to dramatically alter my expectations of how the session is going to go. The Beast scared the party off from exploring a whole wing of the castle, while Hortensia's presence adds another wrinkle to the expedition and changes the character of the upcoming conflict in the chapel

The party was quite risk-averse this session, likely to their detriment in some cases. In Castle Xyntillan, very little of the treasure may be found safely. The rewards if the party had been a bit more reckless (and survived, of course) would have been immense.

Next Chapter: Trespassing and Toads

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Starting a Castle Xyntillan Campaign

I'm currently running a Castle Xyntillan campaign for some good folks on the OSR Discord. You can read my first session report here.

I've praised the module highly before, so some of you might be wondering: how might one run a Castle Xyntillan campaign?


Castle Xyntillan is a megadungeon adventure in the vein of Tegel Manor, a whimsical, dark fortress populated by a decadent undead noble family and their many servitors. There's just shy of 300 rooms altogether, plus a well-detailed town for the players to return to.

If you're still on the fence about buying or running it, it might be useful to know what kind of content one can find inside. Is there anything in the adventure that requires special tact, or a content warning for players?

I call this the Raiders test: if a kid has just watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, would anything in here shock them?

Not really. There's the usual baseline of violence, ghosts, undead, undead, nasty traps and curses. If you're playing D&D or any action RPG, that's all background noise. There's also the OSR leaning towards body horror, but nothing extreme. It's a little edgier than the regular fare. The sexual themes are pretty mild as well. There's a succubus or two lounging naked, ready to seduce players, and there's a brothel in town. How far that goes is dependent on the table and GM.

Castle Fortifications in Dungeons and Dragons - Old School Role ...


Next, how do you run it? The structure and pedigree of CX lends itself to the dungeon-delve format. Each session is a single foray into the mad halls of the castle. Breach, explore, grab treasure, get out before you're overwhelmed. The information gained in each expedition allows better planning next time. Get back to town, where you sell treasure, get bandaged up, recruit more meat shields and carouse. That loop should be reinforced by starting the players off in town, at least for a short scene.

If you're doing a formal session 0 without the expectation of doing any adventuring, then you can drop the players into the town of Tours-en-Savoy as soon as their characters are drawn up. There they can do some shopping, hire some henchmen, and get to know the local NPCs. The shop and innkeepers, the religious and authority figures in town.

However, if you've drawn up the characters outside the table or plan to roll characters and adventure in the same session, it's best to do the hiring and shopping beforehand. Give the players the price list and the costs/risks of hiring henchmen from certain locations. Rolling for henchman quirks and morale can be done quickly at the table.

The Book

I recommend reading through the introduction, town and guidelines in the front of the book before everything else. Afterwards, a good skim of the castle would be in order. Of course, it's a gigantic dungeon, so if you're strapped for time, you can focus on the sections which your players are most likely to encounter early on: areas A, B, E, J, G, and possibly Q, although it's unlikely that the party will find themselves there too soon. Some of the regions the party can reach in the first session are very lethal, as you can see from the death-map on the inner cover.

Once you've gotten the game together, I recommend going back through those areas with a pen or pencil. The margins are large, so it's easy to make notes or changes for yourself. Also, look through the Rogues' Gallery in the back, as the relationships between various family members and certain locations carry a good bit of hidden meaning. I've included some of my own notes at the bottom.

Character Creation

CX is designed for characters of levels 1-6, maybe 7 on the high end. I would start characters on first level, but if you use the level 3 house rule, it won't break the game.

Standard character creation best practices apply, especially if you don't have a formal session 0. Let the players know about the structure of the game, the basic setting and what the characters will be doing. Everyone needs to come to the table with a motivation to enter a dangerous dungeon and escape with loot.

One thing I suggest, just because I really find it funny, is to give all the PCs funny hats. It's just a nice cherry on top of character creation that makes the PCs stand out a bit more. I use Blackrazor's B/X Headgear table here. One of the wizards in my game is running a full greathelm, and the players have decided it's because he's overcompensating for his low CON score.

I couldn't find clear hireling statblocks in the S&W rulebook. It lists costs for equipment and upkeep, but most of the players' time (especially in a low-level, dungeon exploration game like this one) is going to be spent interacting with torchbearers, porters and men-at-arms. Luckily, CX has a bit more definition on what different hirelings have, and we can gather a stat block based on the humans listed in the S&W monster list.

Non-combatants, anything from torchbearers to porters to hype-men, take a wage of 1gp each adventuring day, plus weekly rations and lodging costs. S&W lists men-at-arms as taking anywhere from 2 to more than 5gp a day depending on the circumstance, but CX splits them up with equipment, availability and cost. It also lists mounted riders, but I don't foresee using much of them in the dungeon.

In the S&W world, a 0-level human has a d6 hit die, while most monsters and tougher humans have a d8. I'll round down for them and round up for combatants. They all have a movement score of 12.

Porter: HP 3 AC 9 [10] ATK +0(1d4) SAV 18
club, 60lbs sacks

Lightbearer: HP 3 AC 9 [10] ATK +0(1d4) SAV 18
dgr, 30lbs sack, 3x torches, lamb, lamp oil

Light Footsoldier: HP 5 AC 6 [13] ATK +1(1d8)  SAV 17
wpn, shld, lthr, 30lbs sack

Heavy Footsoldier: HP 5 AC 4 [15] ATK +1(1d8) SAV 17
wpn, shld, ch, 30lbs sack

Bowman: HP 5 AC 7 [12] ATK +1(1d6)  SAV 17 
mace, bow, lthr, 30lbs sack

Crossbowman: HP 5 AC 5 [14] ATK +1(1d4+1) SAV 17
dgr, cb, ch, 30lbs sack

Henchmen and Hirelings in Dungeons and Dragons - Old School Role ...

Running the Game

Get in the Mood
You are about to transport your players to a labyrinthine Gothic castle in fantasy Switzerland. Put on some folk music, and pour yourself a glass of the closest thing to mulled wine you have on hand.

Starting the Game
You might give some thought as to how to start the campaign. Since CX is primarily about delving into a mysterious and deadly dungeon, starting at the drawbridge would be an obvious start. But I would offer a different option.

Start in a tavern. Yes, really.

BuT nICo! Starting is a tavern is so hackneyed and boring! Well maybe for you it is, but I've never started a game in a tavern before, so this is new territory for me. Also, it doesn't have to be hackneyed at all, and with the right flavor starting in a tavern can be an excellent start.

In this case, the party is in The Black Comedian tavern, the more reputable establishment the players are likely to frequent. If the party is of a shadier disposition, or they only hired cut-rate henchmen, you might put them in the shadier bar, The Tap. The party has just finished doing their shopping, henchman hiring and rumor-mongering (you already did that before the game itself started, right?) and are celebrating their last night in town before they head out for the castle.

Chances are that the party will want to explore the town and get to know it a bit. If you've done all your bookkeeping and shopping before the game starts, you can get to the good stuff right away. The party may want to explore the town and roleplay with the NPCs a bit, which would be bets done in the form of a flashback. On the other hand, if they want to jump right into the dungeon, you can just give them a quick overview of the town, then narrate past the two days of travel to Castle Xyntillan.

Some Further Notes

Under the S&W reaction system, family members will only be hostile less than half the time they are encountered, and may have a positive reaction to them about one in six times. When this happens, it's a good idea to know what these family members want out of the party in exchange for their help. They may be friendly or gruff, but, with very few exceptions, they are not good people, and none of them are very altruistic. They may offer to keep the party's activities secret (blackmail under a nicer name), cover for them or exchange secrets, but never without their own price.

Some good requests for them to make:

  • Interact with the NPCs in town on their behalf, likely secretly. Many of them cannot enter the town anymore, and none of them would be trusted by anyone there. Perhaps one of their toys has escaped there, or they want the PCs to spread good PR.
  • Help them with a specific request in the castle, such as Claudette wanting the PCs to help her find her ring, or Merton recruiting the party to catalog the architecture of a certain (very dangerous) wing.
  • They want to antagonize or even murder a rival family member. Many of them cannot be killed under normal circumstances, so such bounties are less trouble than they may seem. Alternately, one of the Malevol's enemies in the castle, such as the King of Swine, have gone too far and must be hunted down. 
  • A rival adventuring party has breached the castle, and they're substantially less likable than the PCs. They must be chased out. The party is welcome to anything they have looted. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Castle Xyntillan Session 1: Roses and Ruins

With the beer virus keeping us all inside, what better time is there to start that campaign you've had on your mind? Last night I ran my first Castle Xyntillan game, which will hopefully become a weekly campaign for the foreseeable future. I've praised Castle Xyntillan before, but the real test of a product is at the table. I collected a party from the OSR Discord, and ran the first session last Friday.

The Party

Longo Lightfoot, Halfling Thief, wears a sky-blue headscarf. Played by CaptainSabatini.
Corby the Joyful, Human Cleric, wears a short, conical hat. Played by diregrizzlybear.
Ramanucci the Omniscient, Human MU, wears an orange and indigo polka-dotted hood. Played by DymeNovelti.
Idred the Most Omniscient, Human MU, wears a full-visored greathelm. Played by David Perry, of Lithyscape and Principia Apocrypha fame.
Boroth Swinney the Joyous, Human Fighter, played by Justin Hamilton
Lisette the Lucky, Torchbearer who had been on a previous expedition to the castle, and saw most of her companions butchered.
Willemot the Wary, Light Footman.
Stanislas, Light Footman.
Francois, Light Footman, and his hunting dog Fideaux.

Longo Lightfoot has heard: “The goats are not what they seem.”
Corby has heard: “Xyntillan is now for sale to the first to pay the 25,000 gold piece asking price to the family lawyer.”
Idred has heard: “The ancient incantation “FOE GYG” will keep the lesser undead at bay… well, usually. For a while, anyway.”
Ramanucci has heard: “Vampires roost in the dungeon. Beware the toll of the bell!”
Boroth has heard: “Xyntillan? I would rather go to Wolkmarstal. A much better place.”

After rolling up their characters, I had each player roll on JB's B/X Headgear table for some added flavor. The party hypothesizes that Idred wears the greathelm to compensate for his devastatingly low Constitution score.

Between the three folk saints I made for Castle Xyntillan, the party selected the Cherry Crow. They found the other choices too stringent, and liked the idea of helping to reunite lost loves.

Various simple tools
Bag of jumping beans
Flask of fiery wine, as a potion of extra healing
A golden hand-mirror, worth 900gp
The last existing seed sample of Rosa gallica xyntillanensis
Zombie lint

Francois and Stanislas, light footmen. In critical condition.
No deaths.

The Game

  • We opened in the Black Comedian tavern in Tours-en-Savoy, the party celebrating their last night of safety before traveling to the castle. They got to know each other, got an overview of the town, and then spent the night in revelry.
  • The next day they began on their journey east. Hiking through the mountain passes for two days, they entered the Valley of Three Rainbows, and looked upon Castle Xyntillan.
  • Lisette's old party had entered via the southern gate. She still had nightmares about her companions being decapitated by man-eating hats, and chose instead to enter by the eastern gatehouse.
  • They entered the outer courtyard, studded with a pavilion, a large pond with a tomb on a little island, a rose garden, a stable with attached buildings and two great double doors. 
  • The party investigated the tomb on the lake, a stone sarcophagus imprinted with the name 'Tristano Malevol' and four hand prints. They placed their hands on the imprints, and felt something push back. The lid of the sarcophagus rose up, and out popped a 4-armed skeleton in colorful livery. This was Tristano Malevol, who was frustrated at being woken up from his beauty sleep, and was altogether unimpressed with the lack of comely lasses in the party's company. 
Undead Noble | Dark fantasy art, Character art, Character portraits
Tristano Malevol
Pictured in with his other arms in the coat
  • The party did their best to get on his good side and get to know him, but the skeleton was wary. He demanded that the party return with some of Mme Polidori's girls from town; strawberry blondes if possible; and returned to his sarcophagus to sleep. 
Party: If nothing else, we can come back with ample amounts of prostitutes and holy water.
  • The party investigated the rose garden, climbing over the low parapet. They found two adjoining doors; to the west, there was a castle tower converted into a shed, filled with tools and gardening supplies, including tubes of rose seed cultivars. One of those was unfamiliar to the botanically inclined wizards, labeled R. gallica xyntillanensis, which the players pocketed. The shed also contained a pouch of beans, which jumped and vibrated when prodded or exposed to sunlight. 
Party: Jumping beans, those are worth at least a cow.
Party: Those are from the New World right? Mexico?
  • By this time, the characters had spent so long in the rose garden that its sweet, soporific scent had taken effect; all but Longo and Boroth fell to the ground in a deep sleep. Boroth opened the eastern door, which led into a bare room filled with broken furniture and a trampled body. As soon as the door was opened, two horses, transparent and rainbow-tinged, with whinnies like bells and yawning mountains, charged ahead. Boroth closed that door.
  • Then, the rose vines came alive and attempted to trip him. They slunk back against the wall as he looked at them, but decided to douse them in oil and light them on fire. The rose vines stuck to the wall, but were soon engulfed in flames. The party waited out the blaze in the shed, and when the flames died down, discovered that the vines had grown around several decomposing bodies buried in the soil. 
  • The party regained their senses and direction, and attempted to make sense of the last ten minutes. Ramanucci approached the east door to check out the psychedelic horses. He opened it, was similarly dazzled by them, and closed the door on their snouts.
Psychedelic Horses by Hananymous | Psychedelic, Horses
By Hananymous
Party: What did they look like?
Ranucci: You’re familiar with the concept of a nightmare. Need I say more?
Party: How do we tame them?
Ranucci: Don’t eat before bed, avoid spicy food. 
  • Afterwards, the party walked to the south of the courtyard. They investigated the vegetable garden, which was growing a strange, new world crop: a tu-ma-tu. A low wooden structure was attached to the southern wall, a stable in the center. The party passed through the gate to find a series of empty stalls and a hayloft up a ladder. One of the stalls was crawling with a swarm of cat-sized insects, with hard shells and mandibles. The party shied away from them, and clambered up to the hayloft to discover a flask of fiery wine (potion of healing, with a twist). 
  • The room adjoining to the east was a smithy, with a fire still burning and a hammer still clanging on the anvil despite the absence of a smith. As Boroth burst through the door, the hammer floated in the air, reoriented itself, and flew straight at Boroth, clocking him in the mug. Corby examined the hammer, and successfully turned it with his clerical faith (he apparently is dedicated to the god of hammers, agriculture and wine). 
Party: Can you use magic to make the metal float towards us?
Idred: Impossible.
Ranucci: Possible but beneath me.
  • The next ten minutes were spent on several schemes by Corby to recruit this floating hammer to his cause.These include putting on a tattered apron and trying to convince the hammer or his good intentions. It nestled itself in the apron's pouch, then attempted to strike the cleric in the balls, but only twisted itself up. The party tied it in the apron and stuck it under the anvil.
  • The party resolves not to try the west door, from which sounds of weapons hitting training dummies issue. Immediately after leaving the stables, the party heard the toll of the castle bells. 11 o'clock. The great double doors opened, and a pale young woman in an array of colorful silks walked out into the courtyard with a basket under her arm and a parade of black cats following her. The party greeted her, and she introduced herself as Adelaide Malevol
Sita And Sarita, Or Young Girl With A Cat Art Print by Cecilia Beaux
Adelaide Malevol the Splendid
Pictured with one of her 3d12 cats
By Cecilia Beaux
  • She recognized Lisette from her previous expedition, and was in an excellent mood to see the party. They made small talk for a short while, until Adelaide hinted that The Beast might not be too happy to see that the party had burned down his rose garden. She suggested that the party might buy her silence with a favor. 
  • When asked what she wanted, she became morose and told of how her true love, one Giacomo, had run away from her. The party gathered that this man had been one of Lisette's companions, captured in a previous expedition, whom Adelaide had taken as a toy, though not before one of the other family members ripped out an eye. He escaped not long ago, and may have made it back to town. Under their obligation to the Cherry Crow (and not wanting something called The Beast to be on their asses) the party promised to return him to the Castle once they returned to town. 
  • As Adelaide retired inside, the party followed her, but found that she disappeared once she crossed the threshold. A dark, wide corridor stretched out before them, extending beyond the reach of their torches. Now, they entered the castle proper. 
  • They avoided the double doors at the far end, worrying it led to the east courtyard where The Beast supposedly dwelt. They instead turned south. They encountered an empty room with a dank latrine, and in the other direction, a hallway led them to a room from which grunts and the sounds of rattling chains issued.
'Chains and grunts?'
'One hell of  party!'
'Let's resolve not to kinkshame.'
  • 4 zombies sat at a table inside, playing cards. The room was bare save for a few simple beds, and a large wardrobe covered in heavy padlocks, which shook constantly. The zombies weren't immediately hostile, and Corby sat down to gamble with them. The pot contained some copper coins, lint and skin scraps. Corby put down a silver coin, and the zombies treated him like a high roller. 
zombie poker by Stuartwebster on DeviantArt
By Stuart Webster
  • The zombies did not allow the party to get close to the wardrobe, but after Corby wiped the floor with them and took his 'winnings' the party left the room and made a plan. Corby returned to the table, pretending he had lost something, and the party surrounded the zombies. The undead bolted up out of their chairs, but too late to avoid the first wave of attacks. They fought hard, and reduced both Francois and Stanislas to exactly 0HP in a single hit. 
  • However, they were quickly dismantled, with the largest, meanest zombie being taken out in style by Francois' hunting dog, which ripped out its Achilles tendon, rode on its back and ripped up the neck until it stopped moving. The party dared to open the wardrobe and hope they hadn't made everything worse. Inside was a young man in livery, wrapped up in rope. He was freed and stepped out, declaring, 'The curse! It is no more! Let me-' before crumbling to dust. He left behind a very valuable gold mirror, however. 
  • With two hirelings in critical condition, a fair bit of odd treasure in their pockets, and charged by an undead noblewoman to hunt down her escaped love, the party ended the session.


The book was quite easy to run. The biggest challenge in the first session was describing the large, open space of the outer courtyard, and the shapes of the landmarks within. The cramped, indoor spaces of the castle are much easier to describe, and playing via voice chat makes it a bit more difficult.

The loot was light in this first session, as much time was spent getting to know the area. The pace of loot and rooms will likely speed up substantially now that they are inside the dungeon.

Two attacks by zombies in a single round reduced two hirelings from full health to exactly 0. I decided that hirelings would be treated as 1st level PCs, and survive to -1 hit points. They got help quickly, so they're not dead, but until they've got a good night's rest, they're not going to be fighting.

The roleplay encounters were quite fun, especially with Adelaide Malevol. Beyond plundering the castle, I plan for party actions and family plots to bleed out into the town. Adelaide hinted at the more powerful family members in the castle, namely the elder vampires and Aristide, the lich patriarch. The party was suitably unnerved.

The party was also unsettled by the idea of The Beast and his retribution for the rose garden. They don't know how much trouble they're in...

Next Chapter: Monsters and Matrimony

Thursday, April 16, 2020

OSR: 3 Shrines for Castle Xyntillan (S&W)

It's been a while since I did one of these! With a Castle Xyntillan game coming up (tomorrow, actually. Jeez it's coming fast) I decided to throw some flavor (and an early game advantage wink wink) into Tours-en-Savoy. Here are three new Shrines and Saints, influenced in large part by Swiss folklore.

For those new to the blog, I first outlined how these work here and how to make your own here. In short, each of these is a patron saint that can be claimed by the party. By adopting the saint and keeping their strictures, the party gains a spell. This can be cast by any party member, regardless of class. This was originally made for GLOG, but I've adapted it for S&W by making them 1st level spells. They can be cast once per day by default, though either the number or potency of the spell (in GLOG those are interchangeable, and haven't decided how to adapt it yet) can be increased temporarily with a costly sacrifice.

Shrine of the Crowned Lion

Buy Display 1 Piece Crowned Lion Modern Decoration & Vintage ...

The lion is the king of beasts, unmatched in strength and savagery. It is a potent heraldic symbol, and also a common representation of the Savior. Much to the dislike of the church, many people revere the crowned lion on royal heraldry as if it were a god. Some populist reformers have made the case for this idolatry, on shaky theological grounds. In any case, the symbol is very popular in Tours-en-Savoy,  representing strength, hope and righteousness.

Shrine: Any stone carving of the Crowned Lion, most commonly found decorating fountains. Gold coins are placed in the mouths of the carvings. It is common knowledge that the local government collects these and uses them to pay guard's wages.
Cult: The worship of the crowned lion is popular among the town guards in Tours-en-Savoy, in addition to sellswords and tradesmen.
Blessing: Protection from Evil, 1st level MU spell.

Strictures of the Crowned Lion
Daily praise the name of the Savior, that you may thank your protector.
When you see injustice and iniquity, shout against it; do not let it lie.
Strike down the enemies of the faith with a hot heart.

A favorite prayer of the Crowned Lion
May She come in your guise, my defender
And lend us strength
That one-hundred of our meek arms
Clutched together, match yours.

Shrine of Saint Barbegaz

barbegazi Tumblr posts -

A confused mix of pagan and church traditions, folk superstition holds that Saint Barbegaz is a ice-bearded, white-furred dwarf who lives in the high mountains, skiing down them using his gigantic feet. He is said to enjoy surfing avalanches, but always gives people below a loud 'yu-hu-hu!' to warn them. He brings medicine and luck to the homes of the isolated and impoverished.

Shrine: A mountain-path cairn, piled with flowers from passers-by, and supplies for the needy left by the generous. Less traditional cairns can be found in the lowlands and cities at crossroads, made of stacked bricks or potsherds.
Cult: Most popular among the mountain-folk, who rely on the passes to get from place to place, and seek insurance against starvation and disease in the lonely winter months.
Blessing: Cure Light Wounds, 1st level Cleric spell.

Strictures of Saint Barbegaz
In times of plenty, give alms generously.
Give hospitality to the needful.
Do not harm another without provocation.

A favorite prayer of Saint Barbegaz
Saint Barbegaz, who dwells on the mountaintop,
Grant good fortune to your humble servant,
And let my alms fall into the laps of the needy
When the winter snows come.

Shrine of the Cherry Raven

Digital Download Graphic Design Clipart Clip art Transfer Bird 55 ...

Once upon a time, a witch and her pious husband lived at the foot of a glacier. One day, as the witch was preparing stew in her cauldron on the glacier-top, she realized she forgot garlic, and raced down home in the form of a black raven. Her husband was picking cherries from the tree at that moment, and made his morning prayer. He turned his face to the sky, and the raven's droppings accidentally hit him in the eye, making him fall to his death.
It's a crazy story, but the folk around here tell it to cherish the time we have. And when ill-fortune strikes, one often makes an offering of birdseed to the nearest cherry tree.

Shrine: A tall cherry tree, at least three years old.
Cult: Farmers and country folk, most commonly the very young and very old, who feel most acutely the absence of their loved ones and their own impending death respectively.
Blessing: Detect Magic, 1st level MU spell.

Strictures of the Cherry Raven
Cherish your loved ones, who will pass on soon.
Keep your oaths and unions faithfully.
Aid others in reconciling their broken loves.

A favorite prayer of the Cherry Raven
Blessed Raven in the Cherry, watch over me,
And my family, and my love,
Without whom I am alone in this world,
And speed me safely to the next.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Secret Jackalope: The Humorist GLOG Wizard

The time has come again (for the first time) as the OSR Discord community celebrates Easter (and, unforeseen when this all started, our collective quarantine) with another post exchange! This time, the Secret Jackalope is here, and requires a SACRIFICE.

thorinp requests the following gift:
d20 unusual things for a level 1 PC to have, OR 6 GLOG spells with a common theme

I decided to expand the 6 spell request into a full GLOG Wizard class. I originally decided to make a Plague Doctor Wizard for relevance points, but found that Humorism had way more to bite into.

Spells marked with an * are the 6 original spells asked for in the prompt.

The Life of a Medieval Doctor

Humorist Wizard (Chartered)

The human body is filled with four liquids: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. This is an obvious and intuitive system, well supported by contemporary scholarship. It has nothing at all to do with Biomancy: those heretics only know how to use blood in their spellcasting, and the imbalance of humors muddles their heads.

The Humoristic system is holistic, encompassing the personality of an individual, the inner workings of the human body, the stages of life, the passing of the seasons, and the basic elemental makeup of the world. This makes you much, much better than those silly, parochial Elementalist Wizards.

As a Chartered Wizard, you blend the time-tested tradition of the Orthodox wizard with cutting-edge medicine. Literally, in many cases. Humors are Medicine. Humors are Science. You believe in it fully. You have large, heavy books to throw at the heads of any naysayers.

Starting Equipment: degree in humorism from an accredited institution, a weighty spell/textbook on humorism, ink and quill, humor diagram tattooed on location of your choice

Perk: You are widely regarded as credible, and can use your school's reputation to gain audience with authority figures with relative ease.
Drawback: You must preach the wonders of humorism whenever you enter a civilized locale, and must take regular baths to maintain your internal balance.

1. Convince a creature that their entire personality is defined by a surplus of one of the four humors. This is what Humorist Wizards believe. This effect lasts for an hour.
2.You declare a thinking creature to have a surplus or deficiency in one of the four humors, and prescribe a treatment. The creature need not be sick. As a chartered Humorist, your word is taken at its face by most anyone, and the creature is now deeply concerned with their internal balance.
Treatments may include bloodletting, transfusions, applying hot spoons or cups to the face and back, purges, induced vomiting and herbal concoctions.
3. Hock up phlegm to clear your throat and speak with a supernaturally clear and loud voice for 10 minutes. Everyone saw and heard you do that, and is mildly disgusted.

1. MD only return to your pool on a 1-2 for 24 hours.
2. Take 1d6 damage.
3. Random mutation for 1d6 rounds, then Save. Permanent if you fail.
4. Nauseous 1d6 rounds
5. Deafened 1d6 rounds
6. Vomit 1d100 liters of black bile.

Doom of the Humorist
1. Roll 1d4: 1: Blood 2: Yellow Bile 3: Black Bile 4: Phlegm. The resulting humor is a defining feature of your personality from this point onwards.
2. You dramatically screwed up your own internal balance of humors. Take sufficient damage to go to 0 HP and remain bedridden until you geed a good night's rest.
3. In a flash of clarity, you realize that all humorism is pseudoscience. You can't believe you've been so blind! Lose all Humorist templates and denounce the practice of Humorism for the rest of your natural life. Nobody else believes you, the poor, deluded sods.

Patients that needed bloodletting were sent to the barbershops ...


1. Phlegmatic Touch*
R: touch T: waking creature D: [dice] interval
You intensify the phlegmatic qualities of a creature to make them fall into a dreamless sleep. Applying this to an unwilling target requires a full round of grappling. On a successful Save, the target resists falling asleep and instead becomes supernaturally, making all rolls at a -4 and being drained of all self-motivation. The target can choose to fail the Save. Unless magically dispelled, this effect lasts for:
1MD: 1 minute 2: 10 minutes 3: 1 hour 4: 6 hours

2. Knock
R: 50' T: [dice] objects D: 0
Object is opened. Doors are flung wide, locks are broken, shackles are bent open, belts come undone. Treat this as a Strength check made with STR 10+[dice]x4. If target is an armored creature, Save or armor falls off. If target is an unarmored creature, Save or vomit for 1d4 rounds.

3. Control Blood*
R: 50' T: creature with blood  D: concentration to 1 minute
You manipulate the blood in another creature to control their movements, like a puppet on strings. The [sum] must exceed the target's remaining hit points. You can declare that the creature is still for the round as a free action, but you must expend your action to make them take one.

4. Force Field
R: 10' T: plane or sphere D: concentration
Creates a shimmering force field, 10‘x10’, centered up to 10' away. Alternatively, create a sphere centered on the caster 5' in diameter (large enough for the caster and +1 person). The force field has [sum] HP. All attacks against it hit.

5. Choleric Touch*
R: touch T: creature D: [dice]x2 rounds
The energetic yellow bile in a creature's body is excited, and they enter a frothing trance. The target creature gains all the bonuses and restrictions of a Barbarian's Rage, and must Save to end it early. This stacks with the effects of a normal Rage, but at the end the barbarian must roll on the Magic Injury table.

6. Magic Missile
R: 200' T: creature D: 0
Target takes [sum] + [dice] damage, no Save. As a Humorist, your missile is a glob of phlegm, spat out with incredible speed and accuracy.

7. Melancholic Command*
R: 50' T: living creature D: [dice] interval
The target creature must Save or else obey the wizard's command. This command must take the form of a cripplingly pedantic task. Counting all the grains of sand on a beach, perfectly imagining a complex picture in their head, saying a thousand tongue-twisters back-to-back, and such. The enchantment ends early if they complete their task (not likely) or are harmed, such as with a hard slap. The spell lasts for:
1MD: 1 hour 2: 8 hours 3: 1 day 4: 1 week

8. Feather Fall
R: 10’ T: [dice] creatures or objects D: 0
If you would take fall damage, you can cast this spell as a reaction to negate it. You float gently to the ground (possibly alarmingly late).

9. Light
R: touch T: object or creature D: [dice]x2 hours
Object illuminates as a torch, with a radius of 20’+[dice]x10’. Alternatively, you can make an Attack roll against a sighted creature. If you succeed, the creature is blinded for [sum] rounds. If [sum] is greater than 12, the creature is permanently blinded. You can chose the colour of the light. If you invest 4 [dice] or more this light has all the qualities of natural sunlight. Alternatively, if you invest 4 [dice] or more the light can be purest octarine, although it will only last for 1 round. Octarine light is extremely dangerous.

10. Wizard Vision
R: touch T: sighted creature D: 10 min / permanent
If you invest one [die]: Target can see invisible things. Target can see through illusions. Non-magical disguises are not penetrated.
If you invest two or more [dice]: This can only be cast on yourself. As above, except you can also see through magical darkness, and see the true forms of shapeshifters. There are also some permanent effects: (a) You can forever see invisible things as a slight warping or lensing of light. You know “there's something over there” and what size it roughly is, but nothing else. (b) You can tell if someone else is a spellcaster by looking them in the eyes. The price for this gift is your mind. You suffer a permanent loss of 1d6 Wisdom (as you reject the true nature of Creation and go slightly mad) or 1d6 Charisma (as you accept the true nature of Creation and alienate yourself from your peers).

Emblem Spells

11. Bloodletting*
R: 50' T: 20'  radius area  D: 0
Deal [sum] piercing damage as dozens of needle-pricks appear upon the flesh of creatures in the affected area.

12. Summon Humors*
R: 0 T: summoned creature  D: 0
You manifest the humors in bodily form, bringing forth a humor elemental. It has [dice]x3 HD, 10+[dice] Defense, deals 1d8+2 damage and has a special ability depending on its type. In other respects, it appears as a human with lightly tinted skin.
Blood elementals provide a [dice] morale bonus to hirelings while it remains active. Yellow Bile elementals deal +[dice] damage and goad enemies to attack them first. Black Bile elementals are very intelligent and perceptive. They ferret out secrets and examine situations with utmost attention. Phlegm elementals are relaxed and unwilling to enter combat, but make for excellent drinking buddies and negotiators.

There it is! I hope this was up to your expectations thorinp, and that you all enjoyed reading this. See you all soon!

The Truth Behind the Jackalope and Those Who Hunt the Elusive ...

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Legendary Layouts: Castle Xyntillan, by Gabor Lux

As I while away the quarantine days waiting for online classes to begin (very soon now!) and rid me of my free time, I am very happy I brought Gabor 'Melan' Lux's Castle Xyntillan back home with me. Not in the least because there isn't a PDF for the damn thing available yet, so if I left it in storage I'd have been stuck here twiddling my thumbs.

[Edit: As I sat writing this article, I found that the PDF copy had just been released today as of writing. Rejoice!]


For those who somehow missed the hype train, Castle Xyntillan is the latest big offering out of the Hungarian EMDT group. Besides Gabor Lux, the other member of that crew whom I'm aware of is Sandor, who runs Ynas Midgard.

In any case, Castle Xyntillan is one of the best RPG books I've ever laid eyes on. That doesn't mean much coming from me, but it means something coming from Bryce. I bought the book on his recommendation, and have not been ill-served.

It's a slim, hardcover volume, big and wide, colorful, distinctive front and back. It packs about 289 rooms into 95 pages, with maps, art, miscellany and a hub town taking up the remaining 35-odd pages. It cuts a nice contrast with Veins, the only other hard-copy RPG book I own.

The content inside doesn't disappoint. It oozes flavor, and there's no shortage of ideas I've already stolen. Joseph Manola, in the ever-useful post 'Conceptual Density', asks how many actual ideas there are on each page. For my money, Castle Xyntillan maintains a solid rate of at least one per page.

Castle Xyntillan - First Hungarian d20 Society |
In case it's not obvious, it comes highly recommended

The real draw here, especially for analysis, is the layout. I won't claim to be any sort of expert on the subject, but with as clear an example as this, there's more than enough for an amateur to dig into.


The overall feeling of Castle Xyntillan's layout is cleanliness. Black on white, easy to scan and read. The gigantic megadungeon is split into lettered sections, A through O, with numbered rooms inside each. There's a master map in the back of the book, taking up 6 pages betwen all the levels, but there are also sub-maps in each relevant section. The map is detailed, but not noisy. The margins are generous, allowing for personalized note-taking. The book is dotted with full-page illustrations, the first page of a new section always carries a half-page illustration, and half- or sixth-page illustrations are found regularly, without obscuring readability.

Besides the macro-scale of page layout, the structure of individual rooms is highly readable. I replicate below a section of Castle Xyntillan, visible in the preview on DTRPG. Except for the use of black bullets in the place of arrows, this is a faithful recreation.

B5. Barracks. (20'x20' and 20'x30') Each of these rooms has a few bunks, tables, stools and footlockers with miscellaneous items.
  • The northern room is infested with spiders, whose nest contains 8*80 gp pearls. 
  • In the southern room, an empty chest has been marked: "Contains Type VI Treasure".
Spider Swarm: HD 4 ; AC 6 [13]; Atk swarm 2d4 and poison; ML 5; AL N
Hp           15

B6. Maids' Room. Simple bed by the walls, four zombies sitting around a wooden table. Muffled sounds of movement escape from the wardrobe in the SW corner.

  • The wardrobe is securely padlocked and bound by a length of thick chain. Inside, a tied up but obviously alive liveried youth struggles for freedom. If the ropes are removed, he takes a single, insecure step, exclaims "The curse; it is no more! Let me..." and immediately crumbles into grey dust. Golden hand mirror, 900 gp. 

Zombies (4): HD 2 ; AC 8 [11]; Atk strike 1d8; ML 12; AL N
Hp           7           5           6           10

The structure here is: [Section Letter]. [Room Number]. (Room Dimensions, if applicable) Followed by the content of the room. The names(#XX) of family members and the most obvious features are bolded.

  • Bullet points usually have at least one bolded word, indicating which feature of the room they are describing at a glace. 
    • Where further detail or subdivision is needed, such as with portrait rooms, the first set of black bullet points are supplemented by a further indented set of hollow points. 

Below the room description, the statblocks of common monsters are listed, with conveniently pre-rolled HP values, morale and single-axis alignment included. Any special moves are listed with the attack.

Named family members aren't detailed here, instead being listed by their number in the Rogue's Gallery in the back of the book. So long as you have a bookmark there, you shouldn't take more than a second or two to flip through and find it, though if you end up in an encounter with multiple family members there might be a good deal more flipping.

The legends. Am I distinguishing or just stingy?

It's all very aesthetically pleasing. I spent a couple months in an ill-fated career as a copy editor for my school newspaper, which allows me to appreciate a consistent style guide. The letter-number and name of the room are separated by periods, all of which is bolded. Odds are bolded, and in a ratio such as 1:3, indicating a roll on a d6. There is always a space between the number of coins and their type. Italics, thanks be to Tiamat, are reserved for foreign words, spells, magic items and direct quotations, and are never, EVER used for an appreciable length together.

There is precisely zero boxed text. The GM gets a terse description of the area, and sometimes and illustration, and is considered competent enough to describe everything on their own.

Not sure what else to say about it.There's a full treasury in the back of the book listing all the original magic items and their effects. My only abiding gripe with the book is that all the potions (and there are many, often flavored as alcohol) are from the Swords and Wizardry list without further indication, so I have to go over to the SRD to figure out what they do. Luckily, half of them are potions of heroism, so I just  memorized a couple and I'm mostly good.

In conclusion, it's clean, fantastic, flavorful fun. If you weren't up to have a copy shipped from Hungary before, it's finally in PDF form. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, April 2, 2020

OSR: XP by the Mile

In a discussion on the OSR Discord about adapting Redwall to a tabletop form, particularly with GLOG, the issue of XP came up. With the lack of loot in the source material, the handy OSR standby of gold-for-XP doesn't quite cut it. Neither does XP for killing enemies. An option brought up by Xenophon that caught my attention: mileage XP. Literally, XP per mile traveled.

I don't know how well that would work for Redwall. I have no familiarity with the books. But the concept struck a chord with me.

The characters gain 1 experience point per mile traveled. This is probably better suited to the GLOG and other systems with low XP totals, though you can scale up the numbers to get the same effect. XP systems shape the behavior of your PCs, more so than magic items or gold. Lots of OSR games are explicitly about gold-hungry PCs seeking wealth in the dungeon, but without a Gold-for-XP system, the players would quickly change their tune to overworld exploration, or dynasty building, or whatever other activity you incentivize.

Take as a general rule that players will obsessively seek out whatever you award XP for. So if you award XP per mile traveled without any other caveats, they will quickly figure out that traveling along a safe road back and forth between towns is the way to go. So which caveats do you add on?

osrowhy hashtag on Twitter

Here are the rules I've settled on. I provide my rationale (read: stream of consciousness) below.

My Preferred Rules

PCs gain 1XP per mile closed to their destination. The distance from one destination to another is determined by the GM, and various routes are offered, with different lengths, terrain types, levels of danger, faction control, methods of travel, etc. The XP value for arriving at the destination is the same no matter what route is taken.

This set of rules is designed for a road-trip style campaign, where the PCs will rarely turn back, and have a set, distant goal. Traveling to a destination farther from their ultimate goal grants no XP. Backtracking along a route already taken drains XP, the same amount as was gained from traveling there in the first place. Regaining XP after backtracking or gaining XP for getting closer to one's goal after getting farther away occurs at the GM's discretion.

Traveling eats up supplies quickly and inexorably. Supplies are expensive and difficult to get hold of. The primary incentive to choose dangerous, shorter routes is to preserve supplies. The base assumption is that each character can carry their own equipment and a week's worth of supplies. Carting around treasures is difficult.

PCs are assumed to travel about 3 miles an hour over good terrain, and about 20 miles in an 8 hour travel day, 10 miles in a 4 hour activity block. Pushing for longer travel days covers more ground at the cost of exhaustion. Various terrain types reduce this travel rate appropriately.


Uses of Mileage XP

Well, what kind of game do you foresee using Mileage XP for? Do you want the players to explore the world, conquering mountaintops and mapping caves? Then you might be better off focusing on XP for climbing summits or completing surveys, with Mileage XP as a smaller reward making long trips to those locations worth their while.

Do you want this to be a mercantile campaign, a la UltraViolet Grasslands? Then Mileage would still be sidelined, with the focus instead on setting up trade routes, adding settlements to your network and acquiring new kinds of merchandise.

With real XP-per-mile-traveled progression, you'd be running a road trip, likely with a distant but certain end. Lord of the Rings fits the bill. So do some parts of Mad Max. You are here, you must get over there, and it's not going to be easy.

Critically, characters progress only by traveling towards their goal, which is not the same thing as getting closer to their goal. Given a choice between an easy, but very long path, and a challenging, but much shorter path, the Fellowship I mean the party is encouraged by both their risk-aversion and their XP incentive to take the long and easy route. Unless there's a strong time limit acting on them, they will always bias themselves towards taking longer. This is the opposite of drama, and being under a permanent timer gets exhausting fast.

Instead, I would propose a rule, and a general principle.

The Backtrack Rule

Traveling along a new route grants XP as normal. But traveling along a previously trod route does not, and actively retracing one's steps drains XP. Under this rule, the party would be chary of ever traveling the same route twice, doubly in the opposite direction if it could be avoided.

Travel Troubles

Travel is difficult, and consumes resources like nobody's business. The necessary food, water, arms, first aid, bedding and shelter needed for travel across a hostile landscape is a heavy burden. If you have mounts and aren't in an area with plentiful water and grazing, expect to carry a mountain of feed.

NYC: Ghost Town on the Oregon Trail - No Proscenium: The Guide To ...
UVG is great for this

The Travel-Scavenge Cycle

This rule and principle, together, create a certain gameplay cycle: the party has enough supplies to travel from their current location to another nearby, on the way to their destination. They arrive with a lighter load, empty stomachs and likely in need of rest.

If this location is civilized, they will likely be able to get supplies and lodging with currency. If they don't have enough or the supplies are just expensive (and they should be), the party will be under pressure to make back their money through some scheme. Accepting a bounty in the area, taking up an eccentric request or burglarizing the richest-looking house will do. Just taking up odd jobs won't pay an adventurer's costs.

If this is an uncivilized or hostile place, the challenge becomes one of scavenging and surviving. The latter-day Fallout games are the best example. Find a new location, pacify anything hostile inside, scavenge anything and everything of value. Often, the path to the next destination will be blocked in some manner, requiring quick thinking, risk-taking or resource expenditure.

These destinations are distinguished from obstacles on the path in that the players want to be there, at least for a time before moving on. The PCs are drifters, driving through hell and high water to reach a new safe place, staying briefly and then leaving it behind with scorn.


And of course, there are the obstacles. Literal obstacles blocking trails, sure, but also intentional blockades demanding identification or a heavy toll, a horrible monster that considers this area its hunting grounds, an especially nasty swamp or other terrain type, or whatever else your twisted mind can come up with to complicate your PCs' attempts to get from point A to point B.

I personally would go with the UVG random encounter rule. The party is guaranteed to get a random encounter each week, but depending on how you roll, it might be far away enough to escape, indifferent enough to let the party pass, impotent enough to be no more than a brief annoyance, or possibly even friendly. On top of the guaranteed random encounter, I would put a pre-determined obstacle or encounter on most - say 70% - of those routes, for my own inspiration and to ensure a bit more control over the experience.

The Ultraviolet Grasslands by Exalted Funeral — Kickstarter

Mileage XP Variant 1 - As the Crow Flies

Instead of being rewarded per mile traveled, the players are rewarded per mile closed (the Spanish word in my head is 'acercado', but I don't know if 'closed' is the right English translation) to their destination. The actual distance between Rottentown and Niceville is thirty miles, but the direct route isn't easy. It takes you over the rocky, centipede-infested hills, while a winding route along the coast is sixty miles long, but is nice and flat.

Both routes would end up rewarding the same amount of XP once the players arrived in Niceville. The party who took the short, dangerous route would get there sooner, and might have conserved more supplies, but they're more exhausted and probably had to deal with more danger. The party that took the long route would trade time and supplies for safety. Neither party would lose out on travel XP, as they both got to their destination.

I think this is the method I will use. Set XP values for travel between two given points based on distance, create several routes with varying lengths and levels of danger. The XP reward is for reaching their destination. The big tradeoff here is between supplies, which diminish with time, and risk. Additional complications between routes, such as faction control, add incomparables that make a selection of route more than a matter of crunching the numbers. I don't think XP, that is, player progression, should be a factor in that tradeoff.

Mongolia solo horse trekking - YouTube

Mileage XP Variant 2 - Terrain bonuses

Under this variant, XP would vary based on terrain difficulty. If traveling through the mountains slows travel by half, then the party receives double XP. If travel speed is reduced by 25%, then XP is increased by 33%, and so on. I'm not too fond of this idea. It makes traveling the roughest, most difficult terrain the preferred strategy, placed against danger and supplies. With the above example of Rottentown and Niceville, the party would receive the same amount of XP overall, so long as the XP terrain ratio was the same as the ratio of distance of each route. However, this is needlessly restrictive, and pretty contrived. It comes to mind quickly, but I don't think this is a good option.

When to Award Mileage XP

All this begs the question of when to actually award the XP. This is very much up to taste, whether to award everything at the end of a session or in the moment, but stopping each fictional mile to award a point isn't a realistic option. The two main options as I see it are to tally everything up at the end of a session, or each time the party rests on the road. If distances are short and players can reasonably expect encounters every few days, this makes some sense. If the distances are longer, and you're measuring travel more in weeks than individual days, you'd be better off waiting until the end of each session.

Fallout New Vegas Concept Art Ultra HD Desktop Background ...

Alternate Methods of Travel

So far all of this has been centered on foot travel, or possibly riding on mounts. Sea travel, air travel, trains, teleportation and other, less common methods of getting from place to place are assumed to be unusual. With the low-tech or post-apocalyptic setting implied by this XP system, we can assume that foot or mount travel is the default.

Finding a ferry boat, or a zeppelin willing and able to take you to your destination should be difficult, and a great reward. They can travel faster and avoid certain terrain difficulties. I would award XP gained from travel with these methods the same as with foot/mount travel, and make these methods appropriately difficult to find. Most ships don't go where you want them to, or they're not widely used. Finding a working metro line is miraculous. An airship is super-rare and difficult to use, and will probably break down quickly. These methods of travel greatly speed up the party's progress for a short period of time, and so can serve as very effective rewards and objectives for the party to chase.

Inspiration list
Mad Max
Fallout New Vegas
Sunless Sea
The Witcher
Walking Dead