I like to call myself a D&D Archaeologist. I love buying old books and seeing what secrets the ancients had in their games. By ancients, yes, I refer to earlier editions of D&D, but also any game. I’m not picky about where the sources of interesting ideas come from.

The Palace of the Silver Princess

As occasionally happens when you’re running modules, my module ran out. I was running my remixed version of Sunless Citadel (Which my write-up will be out soonish. It’s at 4k words so far) and while I had planned for a boss fight, it was optional. So my players decided not to do the optional boss (who needs better loot, since that is his description), and headed back into the world to turn in quests. I handed out the gold, but needed something else to do since we were only half-hour into the time block.

Luckily, I knew this day would come, so I had been slightly preparing. I was not prepared, pre se, not to the standards of what I had been doing in Sunless Citadel, because I knew my notes to the point where I didn’t have anything in front of me. I got a few raised eyebrows when I pulled out a 40 year old module, but I was able to get things transitioned well enough

It’s amazing how much overlap Palace is to Sunless. I suppose part of it is that the two modules cover the same basic ground in terms of levels, but here’s a list of overlap in PSP and SC

  • Goblins
  • Kobolds
  • White Dragons
  • An Evil Entity seeking escape through bargains (My version of SC)
  • A dungeon to delve
  • Cultists (My version of SC)
  • An order of knights
  • People frozen as statues

Okay, a lot of those are vaguer than I thought, but flipping through PSP, I felt a bunch of connections that I’m going to be retrofitting into my versions of SC and Nightstone in the future, tying all three adventures even closer together.

Which will be great for future run throughs of this area. It’s an odd feeling, D&D that’s designed to be replayed. The standard model is a single run though, throw away the adventure, then play something new. Occasionally, someone may rerun an adventure, but for the most part, long running groups march forward, not back.

For me though, while I have a few groups that are somewhat long running, I’ve had a few that are decisively not. I’m one of the “Intro to D&D” DMs at my local gamestore, and I ran a series of games for the library system. I’ve run my Level 1 adventure, “Nightstone” perhaps 30 times now. So having good repeatable material is important to me.

I haven’t finished studying the adventure, as I have to focus on the game immediately in front of me instead of the game that needs the most work. But unless the second half is horrible, it should be a good addition to my repertoire.

(If you know of an older dungeon that I would enjoy, let me know!)

Hill Cantons and OSR

I’m not sure how I learned about the Hill Cantons blog. Probably a google search for hexcrawls, since they have some of that on there. I’ve spent a few days pouring through their posts and enjoying a lot of what I found.

Probably my favorite bit is this page, which gives simple rules for the construction of ANY building. All the things I was struggling to figure out last year to answer this question were right here, dated February 2011. So yeah, there’s a lot of really cool stuff on this blog.

My standard readers may not be familiar with the OSR, or Old School Revival. It’s a movement that basically says “Why did we move away from the origins of the game?” and returns to a simpler, albeit better designed version of 1e.

Actually, I can’t make that judgement call. I haven’t played 1e, or any OSR. I’ve read some things, and I think that gaming has come  along way forward, so I imagine that refugees to the past bring some game design elements with them, but that probably depends on the table and the system, and not a blanket statement.

Hill Cantons has a lot of OSR in it, as do a few other blogs I check out on occasion. And I have to admit, while I love some 5e, it has things to be desired. Seeing game systems where a single d6 roll covers everybody, no matter their skill or lack of it, where levels don’t really matter, well, that’s kinda tempting.

Engle Matrix game

One thing mentioned in a Hill Canton post is called the Engle Matrix. It’s a fascinating idea that started in wargaming, apparently, and it provides a way to turn an argument into a rollable result, which is mind-blowing for me. It’s such a simple mechanic, but it has so much potential. I can tell you right now, one of my house rules (The Preparedness Roll) is getting replaced with this mechanic.

Domain Play

A big part of the Hill Canton blog talks about something called the Domain Game. It’s a form of D&D that takes place at a higher tier than the regular game. Players interact with the game not as a Knight of the Round Table, but as King Arthur himself. They’re running a kingdom, not adventuring. And the other players are also running kingdoms of their own.

This is the RPG version of Age of Empires, not Lord of the Rings The Hobbit. (LotR kinda has some Domain Play. Enough to make this change, at least.)

As you can imagine if you’ve known me long enough, I’m starting to twitch on hearing this. This is the type of Stupid Project that I love. It’s surprising that I haven’t sent out invites yet. But in gearing up for this project, I’m kept at bay by a few reservations.

  1. This is going to take a lot of work to set up before I can begin (in terms of a map, rules, random tables, etc.)
  2. I need to make sure players know exactly what they’re getting into when I send out invites and I don’t know what they’re in for, making this hard to write
  3. With school and current D&D commitments, I don’t have a ton of free time, ATM.
  4. Tangentially related to the above points, I have no idea what I’m doing.

Not that “not knowing what I’m doing” has stopped me before, it does make me tread cautiously. There may be a point when I will charge forward blindly, but not quite yet. I’d like to sample the waters a bit first before taking a sink or swim plunge.

As part of my samplings, I’ve been reading everything I can find related to the idea, and many steps from it. Among the readings I’ve come across are Birthright and Pendragon

Birthright, Pendragon, and 50 systems

Hill Canton led me to both of these, by talking about them and working them into their systems. So my introduction came from a person cherry-picking and discarding elements.

Birthright has a LOT to discard. It’s an ambitious setting for D&D, and so much of it I don’t care about. The world itself, its gods and its lore can be discarded. (Hey, let’s throw away the beautiful art that’s behind the text on EVERY SINGLE PAGE while we’re at it) On the plus side, there are some cool things in the system. First, it’s basically highlander with more stuff. If you want to be a member of an immortal bloodline, it’s a thing you can do. There are also some rules about gaining power when you kill someone of the blood.

Second, one of the reasons that it was brought up, is that there is Domain level play. You have a special 3 rounds of domain actions that take place every month or some time scale. These have very specific activities you can do, but they fit the bill of the Domain play I want, from building bridges to going to war. There are rules for mass combat, but it’s not something I’m well versed in and don’t care to study.

I’d say Birthright was the instance of downtime, but I’ve read about Pendragon (I haven’t found a pdf yet. I might just buy a book blind.)

So Pendragon is about roleplay in the Arthurian legend. You’re lords and ladies and your stats are crazy, like Chaste/Lust or Energetic/Lazy. I’m not sure how that works, but I’m super interested in that mechanic. The more interesting part is that the characters only have one, maybe two adventures a year. Then the characters have an off season, where they manage their estates and do things without being part of a party.

This is an interesting idea. You’d definitely need a better reason to be a party than the standard “Adventurer Party of Convenience and Metagame”, which Pendragon’s Knights of the Round Table certainly does. It really brings to mind questions about D&D for me. We’re so caught up in the day to day minutiae of these D&D characters. I’ve already had interesting times in giving characters a week or two off, but what would giving them regular month long, or year long, down time do to a game?

I am intrigued. 

I also discovered an interesting list from Arcane Magazine, circa 1996, which polled their readers and assembled a list of the top 50 RPGs of all (at the moment) time. And of that list, I have played 3 of them (if you are gracious enough to allow future versions of D&D, and call what I did with Traveller “playing”) I’ve had a desire to play maybe 5 others. It’s an interesting list. Comparing it to another list, Ranker’s list of 75 best RPGs is fascinating to compare to Arcane’s list, if only that the number 1 spot is taken up by “D&D in general” while all the editions except 4e have places in their own in the top 12. I might stab a fork at those numbers if people are interested.


Since I wrote the last section, I’ve found a copy of Pendragon and flipped (okay, scrolled) through it, and confirmed that yeah, it looks interesting. I was jonesing a couple of months ago to play a knights game, but I didn’t have a system to play. Now I do. So if that feeling comes jonesing up again, well, I have a system on deck.  

The idea of a Domain game has not left me, although I feel like the urges are under control. For now. If you are interested in such a game, I can tell you it would not be a “sitting around a table” type of game, but rather a “write a long email detailing where all your things go” type experience. It’s going to be eating at me sa I work on other projects.

Speaking of other projects, it’s time to finish this up, so I can get to work prepping for my J-Team session tonight. (and a paper, and my programming homework, and the Silver Princess on Wednesday.)

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