Actual Play and What I Learned
So, the extent of my experience before running 5 games for Lonestar Games Convention was a summer of weekly sessions, all culminating in one dungeon at the end and then a TPK outside the dungeon.
Nicholas Stanosheck posted on the Lamentation of the Flame Princess Facebook group about the convention, and inquired if anybody was in Texas and able to run LotFP games - And I decided to make it happen.
I spoke with my dad and decided on times, because he was interested in participating, then began planning.
Going into running these as a very green referee meant I really needed/wanted some help/advice, so I reached out to Zak Sabbath and Jeff Rients - Zak because I know he has a lot of play experience and Rients because I know he has extensive convention experience.
I also reread books and began to figure out what material I had written that I could try to use.
Here is the advice they gave me -
ME - Hey, I have read on your blog that you ran games for ARaPL at conventions, and I assume other books you wrote were ran at convention games - Do you have some blogposts you wrote that you would recommend for me to read on that subject, or any other info or advice?
I think I could use the advice/info, as I signed up to Referee 5 games at a con in September, and am quite green.
ZAK - Oh whoa
You know who has the best advice for that? JEff's Gameblog.
My advice is: do as much in advance as possible and create as narrow an adventure as possible. Simple goal, feast on the details
ME - Messaged him
Then thought, Zak might have something too
ZAK - i havent done that many proper con games
usually people just used to get in touch and I'd go "Ok I'll run something" int he lobby of a hotel or something
Jeff is much more experienced
ME - Hey, I have heard from multiple people and read about your experience with running convention games - Do you have some blogposts you wrote that you would recommend for me to read? I think I could use the advice/info, as I signed up to Referee 5 games in September, and am quite green. Thanks!
So with this advice I began planning - it was August and the games were from the 30th of September through the 2nd of October - But in the meantime I had final pieces for senior year of studio art to plan and start to produce, a book to format and write and make art for, and other obligations - so I did what I could when I could.
I planned to run five different things initially, then said to myself- "That seems like a lot of work" - then eventually decided two scenarios would repeat and one additional adventure - mostly because Nik, who I learned about the con from, was going to be in each of the five games so repeating scenarios too much would be an issue, and I wanted to test as much of what I have made as I could.
The five I planned were:
The Lost Fountains of Shealtiel (HERE)
Bloodletting Calendar Dungeon from GEOG
Lost Fountains again
(Which became Az Iz Ice Cavern from GEOG, which is a adaptation of Halfling Stew)
Bloodletting Calendar Dungeon (Became Sleeping Tower)
So I woke up on the morning of the 30th, showered, got dressed, drove to school, took a math midterm with less time than given so I could get back home and go from there to the convention - my dad was going to meet me there and me, him, and my brother would all head there.
So we arrive, and I set up my black acrylic painted cardboard DM's screen and get out dice and pencils and pregenerated characters - 6 In total - all 4th level elves.
They are going to play in the Lost Fountains of Shealtiel, my open-air Jungle dungeon.
4 Intrepid elves went in, looked around, drank some potions, climbed up and fought or encountered wildlife, then spotted a party of humans across the ruins - so they circled around, looking at fountains and animals on the way - met with the humans and talked to a prince, who tasked them with finding some particular magical fountains, then they fought more animals and drank more potions - that's where it cut off due to time.
Here is what I learned:
The map is bad -
There is a key - but STILL -
The pregenerated player characters should be fully generated - Like equipment and spells too -
There needs to be height clarity - more dimensional transparency-
Movement speeds and distances need to be easier to track, part of this is having a manageable map -
The animals need to be built up to, and represented in a better way, like tracks and scat maybe. Or potentially more markings on animals and sounds of animals, then you roll initiative and the players have a moment to try to escape or fend off the animal even entering combat - whereas some, like big cats, either pounce or don't -
The art by @SamuelThomasCu2 still ROCKS though.
There needs to be more indications of potion effects, the listed temp and occasional Smell + Statue is not enough for players to suss most things out -
There needs to be a marked focus on illustrating all rooms have stuff, not just the fountain rooms -
There absolutely has to be better room description layout - and a table for potion effects -
There has to be a strong central focus that is achievable, because it is a con game - I achieved this halfway or 3/5 through the game with the prince, but it would have been better at the start -
There should potentially be potion sickness or some kind of limiting factor, so that there is no guinea pig, and all the PCs have to drink -
This is what Zak had to say a while back about The Lost Fountains of Shealtiel:
-It's a VERY gonzo experience because of the different effects of the pools--there's really no way to tes tthem without going in. So the adventure will likely involve encounters with 3-4 random stacked magical effects each.
-Since there's no roof (which I like) theres nothing guaranteeing the players will go in any particular order, so it is a completely random adventure
-I think it is probably easy to rrun this adventure and have a fun, wacky adventure with growing and shrinking and crazy effects every round and ALSO possible to run it and have a scary PRedator-like adventure and ALSO possible to have a boring adventure where someone fights a rhino then gets malaria and dies. If I was going to run it, I would narrow it down a little bychanging the missions and the architecture and narrowing the range of creatures so that the majority of experiences fell more in the "bell-curve" of what you'd like.
the 11-40 search the body result tells people to go to the equipment table--but that only has 20 results. That means that it could fit inside the search table. Just make entries 1-40 into "1-2 (first equipment result), 3-4 (second requipment result" etc. As for the 4 locations, you could say at 1 "Results 1-40 refer to equipment, to see where the equipment s found roll d4. etc. this can be handled with formatting. It would save a dm having to flip pages mid-roll and reroll again
also the visual version should be near that table nobodys going to flip pages just to use it (edited)
equipment roll 88 is a goat. nobody in combat is going to fail to notice theyre fighting someone with a goat--its not a good "searcht he body" result
Yeah -that is a pretty stupid mistake - I need to also use what you suggest for adding the normal equipment in more seamlessly, that is a great solution!
in the bestiary, for animals that are not standard animals--like not a rhino, for instance--the sixe of the animal should be described.
The entire "jungle survival" aspect --malaria, etc.--probably either needs to be done in more detail as a default part of the adventure (like finding "cure disease" fountain is an expliciat goal and the PCs know its there) or gotten rid of. Because it feels tacked on. In one kind of adventure (about planning and endurance and travel) its a main event, in another (about wacky magic effects) its a dead end. (edited)
"the caster's center of gravity at will.” what? I don't know what this spell does without the picture letting me know it changes gravity for everyone (?) so the sphere is where everything falls to
can it be more specific?
crescendo is a good spell
Cool! here is a link to that spell on my blog! Crescendo!
the variant on Command seems to have no details
whats this mean? “They roll for climb, and their climb score is adjusted to exactly what they rolled.
I would say 2 overall things:
-What is the kind of adventure you think would be fun here?
-What do these sentences read like to someone who has almost no context?
Those will help
These are some really good questions - and after playing it I can see a lot better how I would approach answering these questions, and making something better.
like: do you want to tell someone "Oh by the way your PC is dead?" or "now the adventure is finding a doctor?" like whats the fun there?
i just think having malaria is not fun by itself. so if you want the survival stuff you want to sHOW the reader how to make it fun
explain the interesting consequences
explaining things well enough to be understood in chat or on a blog is easier than writing what are essentially detailed rules changes
right now its an interesting piece of folk art
you can leave it that way or you can tighten it into a cool jungle adventure module
I can say this - I will return and make the Lost Fountains better - and there will be full color on every page - thank you for the feedback and the time taken to read it!
Note: My responses above, in yellow, to Zak's comments are added here, as part of this blogpost with the information learned when I ran the module itself - our actual conversation was different - and I added these for some information on what rang really true from my experience trying to run it.
And then this is what Jeff Rients had to say about The Lost Fountains of Shealtiel:
By the way, Zak was right. I haven't had time to give your adventure the close reading it deserves, but a five minute flip-through left a smile on my face. And I wasn't expecting that when I first saw that this was a gimmick dungeon of nearly 100 flooded rooms.
Which is very kind and appreciated!
Oh, and HERE is a review by BastianWeaver - thank you so much!
So then me, my brother, and my dad all walked around and looked at vendors - There was a cool booth with a print-maker selling prints, a excellent dice seller, and a couple places selling older books - along with lots of other stuff that I didn't care about as much or was too expensive.
I bought some dice from that vendor day two between games, and day three before my final game I bought one of the printmaker's prints, their work is excellent - I like printmaking, and bought the 1/40 of the edition, and day one my dad bought this for me, it has the coolest cover ever:
Here are the dice!
Thanks so much to Jason E, a great vendor who had a wonderful booth and lots of good energy - there was a chance to roll a nat 20 and get free dice!
Here is their website, check it out - there is tons of stuff for sale!
Here is the print!
It is super pretty - and I like blue and white for maps like this, so it is definitely going on my wall eventually - I have a lot of respect for printmakers after taking a printmaking course for my degree - printmaking is really hard and is easy to have go wrong and get messy-
When I first spotted this print, I pointed it out to my Dad, and was like - "what do you see" and he was all like "rooms and passages, it's really cool" and I went "nah, each square is a 10X10 room, it's a megadungeon"
The print is extremely cool and useful, and a very pretty piece of art, and I will 100% be doing something with it eventually!
Thanks so much to Adrienne M Chance, who had good art and good prices - here is their Instagram, check it out, there is lots more art, and hopefully a lot more yet to come!
We leave, I get home, I sleep two hours, waking up at 7 in the evening.
I then spend 11 hours finishing the text and the 184 images for day 2 - the lost fountains is all laid out, but day two has the blood calendar dungeon planned so I needed it done.
After lots of making images and printing and cutting them into little square cards - I also grab my dollar store dice tray and my big bag of 146 blood-red marbles, and drive to the convention.
I get in and set up.
People arrive, including my dad, the players are given choices of characters out of 10 pre-generated ones, and this time I had equipment prepared - then the 4 party members are informed of their position.
Once it begins I check their HP, giving them each marbles equal to their HP - and informing them of what is going on.
"The wind howls outside, the cold is biting and the snow is starting to pile around the tent.
You have all waited through the morning for word from the other 6 members of the party - who all entered the hatch 40' away from camp, the hatch that was underneath a sheathe of ice that took two days to remove and is the goal of this expedition.
Suddenly there is a crackling sound that cuts through the moaning wind, the two way mirror that is used for communications comes to life with red electricity and you can see the ceiling through it - with the sounds of kicking and struggling and then the dull repeated sound of some kind of metal hitting metal.
Seems the rest of the party needs backup"
So they planned a way to make sure the hatch does not freeze shut and trap them inside, and then climb down and walk a stone passage - and enter a large eye-shaped chamber.
It looks like this, from an aerial view -
There are 13 doorways, the entrance they come in from, and a large carved circular thing in the center of the room.
They proceed to poke into each room, looking and trying to figure out what is going on.
The doorways extend with needle points on attempted entry, and they retract if you pull away - but if they poke you you take 1D4 HP damage and then the needles retract.
The blood you pay powers the room, activating the "machine" inside - each is different.
It also powers the doors, so if you pay 3 blood, three people can enter, or one person can enter, then exit, then someone else can enter. Then they would have to pay again - essentially the amount paid is the number of one way trips through the doorways taken before repayment is required.
Like blood turnstiles.
So the quartet of 4th level PCs poke around and discover lots, take lots of notes, and activate some machines.
When they take damage to doors I have them put that amount of marbles in the dice tray, then remove them as they go through the door - once the floor has had 13 blood paid the central well in the room fills and powers the spiral staircase downwards, which they take.
The staircase also converts and returns some of the blood in the form of rivulets of blood running down the stairs - strands extend and return some of the lost HP to the party - and they face another chamber with 13 doorways.
It total, there is 13 floors, each containing 13 rooms, 13 machines, 13 blood required to go forward.
If they pay the thirteen, the stairs up retract, and the stairs extend down - so to leave this dungeon via stairs, you have to go all the way down, then all the way back up.
That is a total of 338 HP - so I need to carefully calculate the average HP count of a party depending on party number and level average - then figure out how much HP is realistically required to be returned on each stair passage to make it all work/not be impossible.
About 2/3 through the dungeon my roommate shows up, so I have him sit and wait, and on the third floor they find one of their party members who ventured into this dungeon hours before, pale and shaky from blood loss. I just give my roommate a character sheet that was unused and lower their HP - this was the plan as/if people died - and eventually when/if the party catches up with their compatriots.
Like extra lives in a video game.
Not much later, they enter the fourth floor and we have to stop due to time.
Here are their maps!
So what did I learn?
I learned that 13 floors with 13 rooms each is too big for a three hour game, though potentially this is not true if they knew the gimmick -
The blood math needs to be carefully calculated - too much blood and they feel little to no challenge, too little blood and it is impossible -
People are easily spooked by unknown mysterious stuff -
It is a good idea, overall -
I also really like the having more characters than is needed, and splitting them up for extra lives/reinforcements -
This will all be quantified and detailed in Glass Eyes of God - this dungeon is behind the ice waterfall atop Hatcier Falls.
Here is all the art, which has a few repeats.
So then I wander around the booths and my dad heeds the call to referee a 5E game with no prep to substitute for someone who was sick.
I walk around with my roommate for a while, then they leave and I sit on a bench - and I go, "ok, now is the time to make something up"
Here is Aleksi's instagram, it has lots of cool art, and the halfling stew map and play reports are on the LotFP discord and facebook, you should go give them a look!
So I looked at the map made by Aleksi, copied it for the most part - then added my own setting specific ideas and changed some of the room layout - namely:
There is a ice troll - the place is filled with ice - there is a system for slipping on ice - there are spikes and pits and things that make noise - and there are moths that drop snow and try to slip players into pits.
For the convention, my idea was to have all the players be dwarves - and I thought "I should give them each one item of their choice, one item that they managed to smuggle in their beard"
I also thought, "wouldn't it be cool if the ice troll has frost breath, and has stuck them to the roof with it like the Wampa on Hoth?"
So I sketched those details on the map, made 6 dwarves while I sat with Nik later on - talking about Raggi and Zak - and the issues with Patrick Stuart and the problems with the OSR as a whole - then the game began after some people arrived.
Three people that were scheduled show up, and one player from a previous game shows up, so I just give em' all a sheet and we are off to the races.
I have them each pick one item to smuggle in their beards, then tell them - "You all are traveling through a cold and icy land on the way back to your home fortress - one night when the wind is howling you all start to drink in your tent, then disaster strikes. Something smashes the tent and in your drunken state knocks all of you out. Each of you were prepared, and have managed to sneak one item in, you each carried something in your beard. You awaken, feeling like you are hanging from your feet - it is pitch black."
So they used their smuggled goods to break free, and set about blindly feeling around, avoiding the troll and traps and looking for items and keys to escape with.
Az Iz Stats
Dwarf Character Sheets - Missing one
The Base dwarf stats and some notes
The entire concept worked very very well.
I learned about tracking light, and time, and equipment -
I got to see firsthand players making a good idea, one so good I just had to roll with it, TWICE - Once was a lard firebomb, the second being a unwise sled ice ramp method to bridge some pits -
I learned that saying "Seemingly, It Appears, and You Can't See" are all useful tools -
I figured out just how little is needed on paper, just a clear map and choreographing and telegraphing certain things -
I saw how important items can be in the right circumstances, some ways to suggest manipulating and altering equipment, and what kind of equipment is fun -
I learned that Index cards for character sheets are all that should be needed -
Here is a cleaner version of the map, and a elevation map:
Done for the day, so I drive back home.
I get home - I print a PDF of sleeping tower.
I also grab some newsprint and a bunch of colored wooden blocks in a old Polaroid camera case.
I drive there the next morning after maybe 3 hours of sleep.
Dad arrives - and Nik and another player show up - they are introduced to the adventure, blah blah blah
They start adventuring, then someone from a previous game shows up - and I say "Yeah you can play, just sit down and wait a couple minutes, and I give them one of the unused character sheets and introduce them the next time a random kid is introduced, and just like that, seamless adding of players.
They have lots of adventures in the tower - raquetball with cherubs, fighting an erection devil, messing around in a alchemical laboratory, looking at art, mixing potions, casting summon (screw you Nik) fighting a candle golem, abducting a kid....
They used the newsprint to sketch out the map of the tower as it was being explored.
So some stuff I learned from this game was the following:
NPCs require a lot more thought, people ask lots of questions -
Stats need to be clearer for the NPCs -
The PCs and players thought they were magically confused or losing memory or mental acuity, but actually, I was just not prepped for so many NPCs and questions -
Room count and tables need some serious work, and the map is fucked up -
But, the potions were great - the premise was great, it just needs some touchup now that I have learned more about how to make things function -
Here is some of their potion math, which comes from this post:
Couple hours pass afterwards, during which I pull out my blocks, sort them, and make tables for them.
I assign each type of block a table of possible rooms, almost all of which are pulled from my megadungeon, Hypogeal Enigma - and the color coding and shape of the block indicate which room type to roll on, and which rooms are what.
I make a bunch of characters on index cards too.
Here are the notes, the numbers are the room numbers for Hypogeal Enigma, here is the directory for the megadungeon, which is sorted by sector color and room number - each room's post has a description and art and room size -
Here are the block shapes and counts, each cube was 10X10, the 2x1 was 10X20, triangular prisms and arches and semicircular prisms were different kinds of bridges, the thin 2X1s were hallways, and each color had some rooms tied to the color -
Here is some of what I learned:
Some rooms I made are great, I know this because when I was choosing rooms some stood out and I went "those will be fun rooms" and included them.
Consistency helps - both with room color and door types - The color of the blocks and the clear indications of what kind of door were quickly picked up and were a way to help the players have fun by having some idea of what to expect - So picking a good amount and ratio is paramount to success.
Index card characters once again are so much better than sheets - they have enough space, and are easier to see what is actually important for a con game, and can be handed out easier and filled and read easier and you don't have to print a bunch of unwieldy blank sheets or fiddle with poor-quality character generators or terrible fillable PDFs.
here is the back, with their equipment
Derived stats need to be fixed, but are still a useful idea - There is a list of them as part of this spell -
The blocks are great but there were way too many of em' -
DO NOT PUT RESULTS ON TABLES YOU DON'T WANT ROLLED -
DO NOT HAVE PLAYERS ROLL D100 TO DETERMINE ROOM COLOR OR ROOM CONTENTS, THIS SLOWS THINGS DOWN AND TELEGRAPHS IN A BAD WAY - instead you should just "Tetris" the blocks in front of them or behind your screen - this allows them to see that the very end is green, the Exit - and allows both the Referee and player to plan - which is fun -
And overall, there are a lot of rooms in my megadungeon that suck, because when I was choosing rooms, there were tons I looked at and went "Nah, that won't be fun" -
It was kinda taxing to go from room to room on mobile - but overall I am very pleased that my own directory worked and allowed me to fairly quickly get from room to room -
Just like before, having additional characters ready to roll is a good idea - I actually prepared this when a player was late + I figured someone else might fill in - so at the start I said "Y'all are frantically running in the dark, all your lights were blown out by something really big sneezing, and it is now chasing you, half of your party got a headstart in front of you. Then you hear a loud crunch and stone falling behind - you all slow and realize that whatever it was, it caved in the passage behind y'all - now stairs stretch onward and upward."
That was the start - and if and when players showed up or multiple party members died - I would just have some of the other pregenerated characters show up in the next couple of rooms - I know that this works well because it worked when a player arrived late and was integrated seamlessly.
This is not the dungeon they went through, I forgot to take a picture of the layout at the con,
but you get the idea
The original idea for this kinda comes from Zak's blogpost series on art history:
Here are some maps that could maybe be used in the same way as the blocks and the art above, and of course maps like the Dungeon! board or any dungeon that you color code could be used in the same fashion.
Purple-pink square area is wizard's lab, yellow are locked rooms, teal are wandering encounter likely, blue is storage and living areas, red are lairs, the purple above the lab is the wizard's living areas - and the dense outsides are wandering encounters and traps and ruined architecture filled -
Grey are standard rooms with some chance of stuff throughout - the three gold icons are the gateways into the top right section, in which blue is water, red is a lair, and yellow is dense with threats or interactive objects - the pink is where a mcguffin is -
Yellow is creatures, everything else is ruined architecture and traps -
Blue is water, yellow is rooms which can see out onto the water, orange has bars fencing in the room, red is rooms that has walls -
Green is items or treasure, red is creatures or lairs, with the circular one being the "boss", light blue is hallways or sparse rooms, yellow/tan is rooms with something inside, light blue is traps or architecture, the black room is the entrance, white is warded chambers -
Black is pits, grey is echoing stone statuaries, yellow rooms have traps or creatures, red rooms have information or ways to traverse the dungeon, light blue is indications of creatures traps or people who have passed through, dark blue is rooms that used to or still have a purpose, the reddish bluish purple near the bottom and the warped rooms are magical or mixtures of the two colors -
Red is glass walled chambers, blue are secret chambers, yellow are standard rooms, light blue are creatures or traps - the symbols or markings/color differences can have meaning if you want, and the black lines are walls with doors where you want em' -
It feels like a lot of people are likely to have wooden blocks somewhere in the house though - so maybe try using them - they are really uniform, color coded, obvious and straightforward, easy to place and photograph and map with - they appear, to me, to be a really useful tool.
Here are some maps made with blocks:
Which becomes this:
Which becomes this:
Which is, of course, a very strangely built dungeon where line of sight and light radius matter, and can alert creatures to your presence.
Thank you so much Nicholas for making this con known, it was a good experience and you helped immensely by publicizing it and helping me out by being in all 5 games - it was very good to meet you and I am thankful for your patience and selfless effort!
Also a big thanks to the con organizers, I will be back.
This time I will go for 8 games over 3 days.
Ok, I think that is everything I wanted to convey about my 5 con games - thanks for reading!