Archive for April, 2013

Behold the power of the lava lamps

Behold the power of the lava lamps

Even though one person had to cancel for work, even though we didn’t get started until way late and had to scramble for an ultimateley awesome meal of appetizers, even though we are still working our way through understanding the rules this iteration it was still a great night of gaming. The party bulldozed though almost half of the first level of the dungeon.

The night started where we left off. The party had just slain a pack of kobolds and were questioning the lone survivor. Its face and arms were painted with blue lightning bolts, and it spoke of its god who dwelt in the top of the ruined tower. The kobold agreed to tell them where the stairs leading up were in exchange for letting it live. The party agreed and the kobold pointed to a door in the north wall and mumbled something about being through there. He then pushed the door open which revealed a room epty except for a few coins and a chunk of questionable meat in the center of the room. The paladin and barbarian each rushed in of course, eager to grab the booty.

A perternatural sense of danger cause Glory the paladin to stop in place, while the barbarian, sensing victory rushed forward and fell through a trap-door covered pit. It was dark down there, and he took some falling damage, but sprang to his feet just in time to hear two shambling forms moving towards him from the shadows. The fightress was the first to arrive on the scene, shining her torch down into the pit to allow the barbarian to duke it out with the pair of famished zombies. A few arrows were launched from above, but they were ineffectual, and it was the barbarian’s orcish battle ax that quickly slew the monstrosities.

During this time, the kobold prisoner took the opportunity to escape, sticking his tongue out at his captor the wizardess, as he ran off laughing.

Doc piled the bodies to aid his climb to the surface, and while doing so, he noticed the skeleton of an elf, concealed by a grey cloak. The cloak turned out to be a Cloak of Elvenkind, which he lovingly draped over his crush, the wizard Reya’s shoulders.

Old school dungeon crawling at its finest

Old school dungeon crawling at its finest

Moving on, they came to a long hallway with windows at the far eastern end, showing the afternoon sky. The drop was over five hundred feet to the valley floor below, and they could hear vultures screeching above. There were two passages and two sets of double doors out of this room, so they chose the nearest set of double doors and pushed through. The room was empty except for a pair of doors and an old tapestry on the wall. The ranger detected the tracks from many creatures in the chamber and bent down for closer inspection.

While searching the chamber, he oticed a large rack in the wall and heard the scurrying of a multitude of tiny clawed feet. A swarm of rats were about to charge from the hole. Thinking fast, he cast Expeditious retreat on himself, and ran towards the wall hanging, intending to stuff it in the crack. When he pulled down the hanging, it revealed a concealed door. In his hurry he did not notice the small hole drilled through the center of the room before a lightning bolt lanced out from it.

The bolt hit the far wall, and rebounded through the room, injuring the ranger, the fightress, and knocking out the wizardess Reya. Soon after, the party heard the “HAROOOO” of a horn blast from the other side of the door and beat a hasty retreat.

They paused to catch their breath in the long hall, while the cleric healed Reya, and once they were sure no one was coming after them from the recently vacated room, chose to explore in a different direction. The entered a chamber with a large black desk and some overturned cupboards. The ranger sent his ferret familiar into the chamber, which discovered a poisonous centipede just before it was bitten and died from he poison. The ferret, being magical, disappeared, and the centipede reared up, angry at being denied a meal. Its faceted eyes centered on the paladin Glory in the doorway, who glared back and charged. She was unlucky though, trying to charge through the obstacles, and when she brought down her orcish battle axe, it bit into her own foot instead of the vermin. It struck her, but the paladin shook off the affects of the poison and went on to slay the foul beast. The party spent the next ten minutes sacking the chamber but discovered nothing of interest.

A door led through the next chamber, and the paladin led the way, but was lucky for the second time, as she stopped in the middle of the chamber just before stepping onto another covered pit trap. This one opened to reveal a pool of green slime at its bottom.

They soon came to a door that seemed stuck, but the wizard showed a surprising amount of strength. The sleeves of her robe stretched as her muscled bulged, and she pushed open the door, pushing rubble aside to reveal a room whose north end was a collapsed heap of rubble, letting light of the early evening shine through cracks. They heard the rustling of bats in the ceiling, but quietly searched the chamber. The barbarian saw a severed skeletal wrist poking from the rubble, and uncovered an ancient human warrior. Most of his arms and armor were long rusted away except for a gold insignia ring and a ruby encrusted sword sheath which appeared to be magical. The fightress hung the empty sheath from her belt in hopes of soon filling it with something better than the looted orcish battle axes which she and most of the party were forced to wield. They managed to leave the room without waking the bats.

Soon they came to a bend in the hallway, which had a door on one side, and they discovered a secret door on the other. No amount of force they mustered could open the secret door, so they turned their attention to the other one which opened easily enough. It revealed an old cloak room with nothing of interest.

They were just deciding where to go next, and had re-entered the long hall, when a patrol of 7 orcs rounded a corner. Everyone was surprised, but the party recovered first, unleashing a hail of arrows and daggers and charging warriors at the orcs, before the wizardess strode forward with palms held outward. She unleashed a cone of fire that burnt 6 of the 7 orcs to a crisp. The last orc, turned tail and ran, but was unable to push open the door he sought to escape through. He was cut down from behind, and the session ended there.

Whew, we accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. The orc battle began when we were fifteen minutes over our regular end time, and was over less than five minutes later, thanks to the Burning Hands of Reya. Great game.

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Hello everyone, I am proud to announce that the first level of my dungeon crawl complex, The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord Level 1: The First Storey, is complete and ready to ship. The cost is 5.99 with free US shipping. This is a labor of love, and all profits will go into creating more and better future adventure modules. The second in the set, Level 0: The Pillaged Demesne of the Evil Overlord is almost ready for production.

Due to the difficulties (and expenses) involved with setting up an online store front, I am selling these through ebay at present, with hopes to set up a store on my site as soon as possible. For those unwilling or unable to use ebay, drop me an email at teambarnes (at) gmail.com and we can work out an alternate means. Click on the picture above, or follow this link to buy this product:

Buy The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord on ebay!

Just look at that hand drawn map!

Just look at that hand drawn map!

My philosophy with this project is to create a beautiful hand crafted booklet laser printed onto the finest paper with hand drawn maps and pictures. There are no pdfs, this is a hands-on product, meant to be a “little treasure” to have, hold, and use.

The dungeons might be considered “old school” in that they include wandering monster checks, reaction and morale options, and an option to play as gold-for-experience. The design is meant to be played across editions, and was designed using 1e, 3e, and is currently being played using the “D&D Next” playtest rules. (See my game night recaps for examples from play.) I am very proud of this product and I hope to create up to 99 levels. I want to get as many people as possible interested in this great dungeon which was years in the planning.

Check out the snazzy interior design, with custom artwork, text boxes, and all the extras.

Check out the snazzy interior design, with custom artwork, text boxes, and all the extras.

About the adventure module (taken from the introduction):

Welcome to the Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord! Within these labyrinthine corridors you will find a vast army of hideous monstrosities, the wealth of ancient plundered kingdoms, and endless hours of exploration and adventure.

The Fortress is designed so that it can be easily placed into a dungeon master’s own campaign world or used as a self-contained adventure module, and references no specific setting. Instead it contains myriad leads and mysteries to fill out and expand upon as the game unfolds. This began its life as a classic “dungeon crawl” and it pays homage to the greatest dungeons of the many-storied Dungeons and Dragons role playing game, from the madness of Castle Greyhawk, to the intrigues of Temple of Elemental Evil, to the deadly halls of Rappan Athuk.

Even though the Fortress is built for the heroic profession of dungeon delving for the sheer experience (points) of it, each level of the dungeon also offers its own story hooks and quest possibilities for a more directed adventure. Whether it be rescuing a princess from the clutches of a demon lord, or recovering a lost relic of a forgotten king, or simply extracting every last ounce of wealth from the dungeons, adventure and excitement abound around every corner, and through every door of the Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord.

Each adventure booklet tells a story with unique themes for every level. This level has 3 mini-bosses, the themes are haunted with a hint of future fiendishness, the dungeon level is like the well picked over scavenged bones in a desert, yet still harboring a few secrets, and hints of what’s below.

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There is a lot going on this week, what with trying to get my store front set up, and trying to finish up the next four installments of the Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord, so I am going to have to make this recap brief. Let me start by recounting the meal, which was made up of incredibly delicious grilled burgers and curly fries. I had two burgers, one with grilled onion, and the other california-style with guacamole. Oh yum it was good.

Last week saw the beginning of a new campaign, where the palyers were forced to play zero-level characters enslaved by orcs, forced to escape from a dungeon the night before their harvest. They survived, well some of them did, and made it to the nearest town, Deadrock, though half-starved wearing the bloody armor of their erstwhile captors. Along with this odiferous bunch were a pair of wood elves also on their way to infamous Deadrock, there to see their fortunes made. Greetings were held under the glare of the city guard preparing to open the town gates for another day of business in Deadrock.

A rough and tumble pioneer town, the party did not have much time to explore the sights. They rented rooms, bathed, and went out to by a set of clothes with the meager coin they had scavenged from the slave pens. The next day they were politely asked by representatives of the town concil to exit the town until such time as they could afford their own upkeep. This was mainly done because I wanted to get to the dungeon, and having a bunch of thugs wandering around without a copper to their name was bound to get ugly. Let’s fight monsters.

The party did not resist the nudge toward adventure and before you knew it they were walking the pillaged demesne of the evil overlord. Forgoing the ancient roads, the party struck a path straight across the valley towards the dark speck that was the ruined fortress. With incredible luck they managed to avoid any detection or random encounters along the way, ntil they arrived at the foot of the long stair that leads up the mountainside to the entrance of the ruins. Here they heard a loud buzzing, one might say a GIANT buzzing, and proceeded to build a ring of burning, smoking vegetation, into which they prepared to defend themselves against the rapidly approaching giant bees.

giantbeeNearly a dozen bees attacked, and even though the bees were disadvanteaged due to the smoke and fire, one of our new wood elves, a rogue, was struck with a deadly stinger and perished almost instantly from the poison. (I felt bad for the new player, being killed without having a chance, but I let him return the next round with the brother of the slain, who had been running after the party for two days and finally caught up just in time to witnsess his dead brother being carried away by giant bees.)

The party was able to kill or drive off the rest of the bees without further casualties, and made their way up the steps of the ruined fortress, with openings like eye sockets watching their approach. Scouting around the top, they opened a few doors, checked out the flag chamber, an empty office, then made their way to another chamber full of kobolds. Another battle broke out, and this time two characters went down, but were healed by the cleric. The other wood elf turned into a bear and mauled the kobolds savagely, while the human fightress waded through the chamber, and laid waste all around her.

They took one kobold catpive, searchd the room and found a lock box with 55 gold and two 50 gold piece pears, which one of the rogues tried to secretly pocket, but was discovered by the bear, who let out a warning growl. Don’t mess with the bear.

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This week’s game was important for a number of new experiences. We were starting a new campaign, we are using the newest D&D 5th edition playtest rules after mostly not playing D&D for many months, we were starting out at zero level for the first time ever with new house rules I created for use with a new Dungeon Crawl campaign, The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord which I am self-publishing.

meatball cupcakes

meatball cupcakes

There were supposed to be a few more fortuitous concurrences, like breaking open my new metric tonne of miniatures from the Reaper Mini Kickstarter, but alas, they haven’t shipped yet, and so it wasn’t meant to be. It was also an incredible night thanks to Shannon, whose birthday we were celebrating, and who brought delicious steak(!) for dinner, and for Khar (I mean Harrison) who brought both a cake, and cupcakes made of meatloaf with frosting of bacon and cheese. I kid you not, they were the best thing I have ever tasted. I had to drink an extra tall glass of cherry vodka just to thin the meat packing my stomach. It was good.

Zero Level Adventuring

The rules of the game are very simple: roll the ability scores (4d6 drop the lowest) three times, do not bother putting them into the attributes — right now they are just nebulous numbers. The characters are literal blank slates, with no class, nor even race or sex (all virgins). Imagine them as grey cloaked figures of questionable lineage. Each character has 2 hit points and an armor class of 10. That’s it.

The fact that each player rolls up three sets of scores means they were not as worried about losing a character. In fact, if some of the characters might have terrible scores and be purposefully put into perilous positions.

Now, as they go through the adventure, which should be geared to be very deadly, they will want to do things, like break something for example. At that point the dungeon master asks them to put one of their numbers into the strength attribute, and make a strength check. If it was successful they would then make a note of their deeds done. Eventually most of characters end up with their scores filed in as the adventure progresses: strength for brute stuff, dexterity to be sneaky, wisdom to be perceptive, etc.

One interesting factor was that the player had time to choose which score went where, and the dynamic of needing a good roll at the moment, countered by the scorer that they wanted for their future character concept, created a great spread of the numbers, not always optimized towards the future class.

This can also be used for deciding racial factors, by asking if anyone has the ability to detect sloping passages, for example, a dwarf might be revealed. Uncovering themes, backgrounds and other specialties, depending on the length of the zero level period are also possible. Even class abilities can be discovered through play,such as a character making a wisdom check to pray to her deity for divine aid, or a sagacious character making an intelligence check to detect the presence of magic.

Each character should be allowed one mundane non-weapon item worth no more than a single gold piece, such as a rock, nail, ice pick, or a flask of acid (what?), a loin cloth and a drab cloak. Whoever survives the adventure becomes a first level character. They can keep the two extra hit points as a reward.

Playtesting the Zero Level rules



Did I mention the extra tall glass of cherry vodka? Keep it in mind. We playtested an adventure called Under Ghost Town, from my upcoming second installment of the Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord –Level 0: Deadrock and the Pillaged Demesne of the Evil Overlord.

Six individuals set out on journeys for riches and reward, each wanting to accumulate (and spend) one million gold pieces. The town of Deadrock, a rough and tumble pioneer town on the edge of civilization was known far and wide as a place where heroes were forged. It seemed a perfect place to begin a life of tomb robbing and adventure. On their way they were captured by orcs.

The orcs herded them through a wasteland of conquered desolate territory. They eventually passed through a deserted town, on the edge of which was a corn field ready to be harvested. The bones of the farmers who planted the crops were piled at the edge of town. For weeks the characters toiled in the fields under the whips of the savage orcs, knowing that when the corn was harvested, so would they be.

Tonight was the last night before the harvest. They must escape. Every night bags were placed over their heads and they were marched down three flights of stairs and through two streams before being locked in cells in a dank dungeon.

I asked the players if anyone was sure their charater wanted to be non-human. Two people raised their hands, our local gnome and our elf ranger knew what they wanted. No one else was sure, so I said ok, the room is dark, only the elf and dwarf can see. Gotcha!

One character spotted a ring of keys on a hook next to the door. Another character wove her cloak into a lovely scarf. Another character had a nail and successfully picked the lock to her cell door, go thief! The ring of keys only opened the cells, they had to also pick the door, then they filed out into the hall.

A tripwire was tripped, causing four orc guards to open a nearby door. The party had already taken off down the hall, turning in random directions, until the met the orc captain coming the other way. They found themselves in a dead end, but a stream crossed the tunnels. It was blocked by iron bars, which were eventually bent apart, and the characters dove into the stream and were went downstream just before the orcs got to them.

Then the party were swept up agains another set of iron bars as it passed through another hallway and they began to drown as the ones in the front scrambled to bend or break the bars. One character drowned in that awful mess, but they managed to escape into a new hallway and wne tup some stairs and detected a fresh breeze which they followed up more stairs. This led to a locked door. They cold feel the fresh air blowing in from the rack under the door and frantically tried to pick the lock as the orcs cuaght up with them.

They broke out int the ruins of an old shrine and ran through town towards the cornfield. They found a pile of scythes, then went into the field to prepare an ambush for the orcs.

The orcs stumbled right into the ambush, being surprised, and these amateurs went to town on them with sickles. Heads were lopped of on both sides. The bottle of acid broke against the orc captains neck and its hidoues flesh melted and bubbled away, yet still the ferocious beastman fought on. One gnome went down, then the thief, then the new thief, and one player was on the last of her three characters.

They won the fight, and any humans were allowed to don the bloody studded leather and one suit of chainmail. They all took battle axes, short bows, and a pair of daggers, and divided the 25 gold, then set off for a line of dark along the southern horizon.

They saw a huge eagle shaped creature circling above them right as they came to a small river. One character proceeded to crawl into the river with a set of chainmail, confident it would keep her under water and afe from the terror flying above. It did though she also began to drown and had to be pulled to safety, right as the Hart Bird attacked!

The Fearsome Hart Bird

The Fearsome Hart Bird

With the body of a giant eagle and the head of a stag, with sharp jutting tusks, the hart bird was a dangerous predator. The two most intelligent characters put their heads together and figure dout this was a hart bird, or peryton, and they it had two distinctions. The first was that it used its tusks to pry open the chest of its prey and eat its still beating heart. The second thing was that it was immune to non-magical weapons. They were in trouble.

The wise dwarf prayed for Moradin to bless their weapons, but he was still miffed that she deigned to use a bladed weapon and answered not her prayer. Eventually a magically inclined high elf ranger wannabe managed to squeeze out the minutest of spells, and caused a weapon to glow as if magical. This caused the hart bird to hesitate, and they made a run for the woods.

They made into the woods and built a fire to keep the monsters away and await the dawn. The next day they made it to Deadrock, wielding bloody orcish arms and armor and with no more than a handful of coins apiece. I would say that adventure was worth gaining a level.

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The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord

The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord

This has been my project since the beginning of the new year and it is finally starting to spread its wings and fly. The concept is simple: a huge dungeon complex (of up to 99 levels) that can be plopped anywhere or used as a stand-alone campaign. The booklets contain one or more levels apiece, and can be used in conjunction, with plot hooks and other links between levels, or they can be used alone and placed practically anywhere.

The goal with these adventure modules is to create a lovingly hand-crafted printed product with usefulness at the gaming table being the paramount concern. To that end, the booklets are crafted using the finest paper with a thick detachable cover that contains the main maps (other maps will be included as a middle spread) and designed with a “generic d&d” ruleset intended to easily translate into most fantasy game systems. All dungeoneers should be able to find use for the Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord series, regardless of which edition or game system they use.

Just look at that hand drawn map!

Just look at that hand drawn map!

I hope to offer these booklets for sale once I perfect the printing and publishing, and get a few more levels done. Pricing is still up in the air but with the time, effort, and high cost of quality paper, it is settling into the 5-8 dollar range, printed and shipped. I do not foresee making these available as pdf, since my main goal is to produce a hand crafted booklet for table use. (I also need to learn how to set up a storefront on worpress which might be the biggest hurdle.)

Check out the snazzy interior design, with custom artwork, text boxes, and all the extras.

Snazzy interior design, with custom artwork, text boxes, and all the extras.

The first booklet weighs in at 28 pages, and is designed to be an introductory level for new or inexperienced characters. The booklet features new monsters and new magic items, wandering monster tables, and a complete dungeon with plot and story hooks, bosses both mini and mega, traps, hazards, and tons of opportunity for exploration, discovery, interaction, and epic battles in iconic locations. My philosophy is to remove the boring, and keep the awesome. The dungeons follow what some call Gygaxian naturalism, and are an attempt to make a funhouse gonzo dungeon that makes sense and could exist in a fantasy realm.

I am looking for volunteers who would like to playtest and review the product on their blog, message board, or website. If anyone is interested in doing that, I will be happy to send a complimentary copy for your perusal. Please drop me a line or make a comment. The next couple of weeks will be spent turning the prototype into a final draft, organizing the next three modules: level 0, level 1a, and 1b, and playtesting.

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Many monsters in the dungeon will automatically attack until destroyed. This includes all undead and most animals and monsters. Smarter, wilier creatures will often hesitate or wait for the characters to make the first move, or even plan an ambush. The dungeons of the evil overlord are a gathering place for the scum and villainy of the surrounding lands. It is not uncommon for traditional foes to tolerate one another in the monstrous mecca. Likewise, erstwhile allies often tear each other apart in this chaotic environ. Roll on the Reaction Table whenever the initial response to an unexpected meeting is in doubt. Roll a d20 and add any modifiers that may apply.

Reaction Table (d20)
1 Enraged charge attack
2-5 Hostile, prepares attack
6-10 Hostile, threatening
11-14 Uncertain, defensive
15-17 Neutral , confused, or uninterested
18-19 Timid or careful, friendly approach
20+ Enthusiastic camaraderie


It may become necessary to check the morale of a creature or group. Individual or solo creature morale checks are typically made at first blood and when the creature drops below one quarter of its maximum hit points. Group morale checks are made after the first fatality, when half the group is down, and when there is but one remaining. Typically rolls are made on a d20, with 10 or higher passing. On a 1-9 the creature or creatures retreat. Retreat can vary from orderly, to free-for-all route depending on the roll. Cowardly or weak creatures should have a -2 penalty, and strong or brutish creatures should grant a bonus. Other situational modifiers can affect the roll, at the dungeon master’s discretion.

This is an excerpt from the dungeon complex The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord Level 1: The Main Storey.

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