A bit of explanation regarding the title of the blog is probably called for — it came from a particular Second Edition campaign in high school where the party was very cautious when advancing through the dungeon, to an almost absurd degree. Our rogue was fanatical about listening through keyholes before we entered each room and one day the DM had had enough, responding to the “I listen at the door” with “You hear the sound of a crossbow cocking” and then rolled damage for the bolt smashing through the lock and into the unfortunate halfling’s head. Unfair? Probably. Hilarious? At least for our bunch of teenagers, definitely. It was all in good fun in the end as the character wound up surviving and we had an in-joke that had enough legs to last across many campaigns and groups.
(Another ‘classic’ from that group was when the elf died and for reasons that I cannot recall entirely, we hacked up the corpse and put it in saddlebags for easier transport. We then were ambushed by orcs while at low health and in a flash of brilliance, bartered for our lives by giving the orcs some “Elf McNuggets”, under the reasoning that we only needed part of the corpse to bring the elf back anyway.)
I was first introduced to D&D when somebody (I cannot recall who, most probably my parents) got me the original red box set (either 12th or 13th printing, I’m not sure which). I remember taking myself through the included adventure a few times and reading it about a million times — I still have some of the original green dice where you needed to color in the numbers with a crayon. In junior high I wound up hanging out with a recent transplant from Vermont who not only played D&D; he’d also done LARPing out in the woods with people with padded weapons and such, complete with colored powder tied up in tissue paper that you threw for spells, a la the famous “lightning bolt” video. We got a group together, somebody polymorphed my paladin into a stone giant at some point and I haven’t stopped playing since, although there have been some extended breaks lately as our current group (together for 15+ years in one form or another) has gotten old enough that there are now three kids and a lot of other adult responsibilities involved — we try and play weekly; however, there’s often something else taking precedent, so game nights can be sporadic.
Recently an old friend, William Huber, whom I used to write with on the now defunct Ludonauts video game blog, posted a link to Zak S. writing about what avant-garde architectural theory has to do with the concept of megadungeons. Like dominos falling, I read more of his blog, followed links to others and gradually discovered the Old School Renaissance blogging movement. It was inspiring, especially since I’d lately been working at the concept of getting back into DMing and into getting a reliable campaign going again, without having the focus necessary to really get things kicked into gear. Reading about everybody else running their campaigns, creating their megadungeons, talking about the philosophy of running a game and world creation provided me with that focus and with that inspiration to knuckle down and try my hand at creating something that both my players and I could enjoy.
One of the campaigns run with this group a couple years ago was when my wife decided to give running a game a try. She picked the Serenity system and I have to say that it was a tremendous amount of fun (especially since I don’t usually get to play and seeing somebody I love finding their DMing boots fitting well was fantastic) and after it was over, I decided that I liked the Cortex system and that has formed the basis of the hacked-together mechanics that I’m using in the current campaign. It reminds me a lot of the old World of Darkness system, only instead of using increasing numbers of d10s, you roll some combination of many-sided dice up to a theoretical maximum of 4D12, with the idea of rolling over a certain difficulty number, with the difference between the difficulty and the roll having an impact on the result as well (e.g. it is possible to both fail spectacularly and fail by the thinnest of margins).
For the magic system, I’ve made the possibly poor decision to try and horn the old Ars Magica concepts into the Cortex framework, with Ars and Morph being two General Skills, and all the various verbs and nouns of Ars Magica as specialized skills. Specific spells are learned or granted depending on whether the spellcaster is a Mage (Intelligence) or Cleric (Willpower) — mages can attempt to do spontaneous casting (i.e., trying to produce a particular effect without know a specific spell for it), whereas clerics cannot, although they can cry out for Divine Intervention, without knowing whether their god will respond or even what they will do if they do. Spell casting is constrained by the chance every time a spell is cast that the magic-user will have to expend part of their life-essence as the exert themselves to bend reality to their will — mechanically, this means taking aggravated Wound damage, damage that can’t be healed through spells.
So far, it’s been a lot of fun and I hope to continue writing about the campaign in specific and gaming in general in this space. So, there you are.