Wednesday, December 6, 2023


Jeffro Johnson (@johnsonjeffro) started talking about RIFTS from Palladium Games on Xitter a few months ago, examining what was exciting about the system, attempting to solo play within it, and hyping the game up in general. He gets REALLY excited about a thing from time to time and when he does, his energy is pretty contagious. This led to JD Sauvage (@jdsauvage), a talented writer and gamer, to start lore posting with tidbits about the different factions in RIFTS and how he perceived them with tons of influence from video games, anime, and 80s cartoons.

I watched this with some trepidation. I want to play in all the games with all the bros. This spreads me pretty thin through the week and at any given time I'm active in 4-6 games. I didn't really want to get into another one but they were making it sound so COOL. When JD started actively recruiting for session play, I resisted. When the #Riftsbros started feeding it, I resisted. When it actually looked like there were going to be sessions, I couldn't help it. I had to at least see what was going on.

I downloaded some books and rolled up a character. This took a while. There are a ton of skills to choose from and many that modify other abilities. One of JD's posted factions was from Fallout which I've never played, but it sounded cool. I ended up with Captain Jim Hook of the Order of Steel. Captain Hook was the obvious name when my random black market item was a cage of fairies (Tinkerbells). We hammered out what the Order was actually like in-world and JD dropped a starter hook for my PC to chase. I was in the game.

JD is a "yes, and" type of DM. If your idea is cool and he can riff off of it, then he's going to say yes and add to it. This leads to an amazing always-on atmosphere with the DM generating hooks and running small ops with various players throughout the week that lead up to the sessions where someone puts forth an idea for something to be tackled as a group. This is where it got rough for me to watch as a player and I couldn't even imagine DMing. Huge props to the man for keeping his head straight.

There are no procedures to randomly generate anything. Everything has to be handcrafted for the session or event, or some Frankenstein'ing of systems has to happen to give you some tools to work with. JD went with the latter, stealing whatever he could from other systems to give him something to work with in terms of generating within the world to actually interact with. 

Furthermore, the combat mechanics are clunky. It took us a long time to adjudicate relatively simple combats early on. Even with adjustments made and more experience with the system, combats just take forever due to how much rolling has to happen to fire, dodge, parry, multiple attacks per entity, etc. Add in a large party with many henchmen and it's a drag.

Finally, the XP system is subjective, which I absolutely hate. I prefer a tangible value per GP earned, or monster killed, or idk, something. But the advancement is contingent on several subjective criteria like how tough you think a monster was or how smart you think your idea was. It's a terrible mechanic mitigated only by JD's open-handed DMing style. I can only imagine the frustration players would experience begging for xp with a more control-freak style DM.

We had a lot of fun generating our different factions and getting into the setting. We ended up with an Adeptus Mechanicus wannabe, Spuds McKenzie of classic beer commercial fame, a Veritech pilot, an Astartes wannabe, a psyker sekrit agent man, a few spec ops dudes, a dwarven ranger, and I'm sure I'm forgetting others. There were a lot of us. 

It was a powerful party with a lot of resources at our disposal which made our success rate pretty stellar. It was also an insane mix of different power levels and source material that felt like playing with your action figures as a kid. GI Joe riding the TRex to stomp out the Lego base vibes.

We led a task force to neutralize bug alien hives, we nuked a demon tree with mouths by delivering the payload inside, we rescued a princess from vampires, and several other wild schemes. What became apparent in a high tech setting over the classic medieval fantasy setting is that with time to recon, plan an op, and acquire resources, most tasks or objectives become essentially trivial. We had all the toys and the dudes in our group knew how to use them.

I've really enjoyed the deviation from the standard fantasy setting, despite my first love always lying that way. I think I've gotten everything I wanted to out of RIFTS and can't appreciate enough the group of amazing players that I've gotten to game with. I learn something new every day from them and that's a blessing for sure. I wouldn't play RIFTS again unless I got caught up in another swell of enthusiasm from the bros. It requires too much DM fiat and has too few tools to support him.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Session 55: Redcorn to the Rescue

 Session 55: Redcorn to the Rescue

11/12/23-11/13/23, rest 11/14, active 11/15

PC: Gwendolyn, Galt, Cleet, Redcorn

Hench: Beyza, Mahin, Madrof, Mulligan, Cleric_01


The group swapped out a member, Legany for Cleet, but otherwise maintained momentum by deciding to return to the dungeon from last session. Their clammer crew from last time refused to return to the cursed waters, which led to Cleet funding the purchase of The Keef Richards, a sailing boat that was apparently going to end up as a smuggling or drug running vessel or something.

Captain Mick Jager and the crew of two with other silly names I can’t remember happily boarded and for a keg of ale agreed to babysit the boat while the adventurers dove in the water.

Galt the mariner Venturer did the swimming to set their ropes for descent and the party entered the dungeon through the zipper flap into the pale, pock-marked stone of the dungeon, the little sea-borne critters skittering away from their light just like last time.

They descended immediately to level 2 of the dungeon, where there was a life-sized obsidian statue of the same seemingly indestructible material that the tower was made of. The statue was relatively featureless, with all sharp angles and edges. Loremastery revealed to both Gwendolyn and Cleet that this was some sort of religious statue of a foreign pantheon.

As the party carefully explored this second level, they burst through a stuck door and into a room filled with angry fire beetles. The fight wasn’t particularly dangerous but they did take some knicks before killing all of the bugs. Cleet’s summoned berserkers did some work and then stood around, eager for more killing, so the party rushed into the adjoining room.

This very large space had sea kelp hanging from the ceiling, obscuring the view at eye level and slapping annoyingly against the face of anyone of average human height or taller. The party spent no time in here, sending their summoned warriors charging to the northern door. One fell in a pit trap, but they scooped him out pretty quick and kept going, the conjured men repeating “Face, Face, Face” as a marching cadence in response to Cleet’s spoken command of “Go find me something with a face”.

There was a pit trap in the next hallway that the berserkers “found”, killing two of them, and they disappeared just before rushing the door at the end of the corridor. Rest in peace, crazy meth-head tweekers from beyond.

Some old waterlogged furniture occupied the next room, with a cabinet in decent shape and an absolutely foul 20x20 rug dominating the center of the floor. Cleet rolled the massive thing up, squeezing mildewy disgusting water from it and revealing nothing much underneath. Meanwhile, Gwendolyn located a false bottom in the cabinet with a little treasure in it. Cleet put on a disgusting mildewy robe from the cabinet and the party lugged the whole lot back to the surface, with Cleet promising the sailors bonus pay if they could clean the rug.

Back in the dungeon, back to the rug room, and into the next. There was a cracked portion of floor here that one of the hench discovered was trapped, rocks falling to graze him for minimum damage and smash against the floor. Shortly thereafter the stones rose back into the ceiling as if by magic. The party avoided this area and went east, where they opened a door into some kind of chapel. Loremastery failed them here, but the obsidian altar on the north wall with disgusting blue and silver trappings made them uncomfortable.

When they entered the next room, a horde of zombies rushed them. This fight was also extremely one-sided. Cleet cast Hypnotic Pattern, which I had some trouble adjudicating. Undead are immune to charm, but that’s more an illusion? Idk, I figured pretty lights could distract zombies, why not, and between that and the cleric the fight was over pretty quick.

Bodies filled this room in various forms of decomposition but there was no treasure. The group spent a lot of time searching this room and the previous for secret doors but found nothing. While searching the altar room, they heard some sort of commotion in the room with the rock trap. I used some pretty fantastic analog foley to mimic the sounds of bats. Total immersion.

Gwendolyn had one of her hench advance a short way down the hallway and throw an iron spike at the trap. They were trying to catch some of the unknown enemy in the trap but succeeded only in scaring them off. The second activation crushed a stone trap door in the floor, revealing a cavity underneath with a chest in it. After some fooling around they got it out and got some more treasure, which again they took to the surface. The sailor crew was doing their best with the rug but making little progress while Captain Mick Jager looked on with ale mug in hand.

Their third trip took them to the only portion of the level that they hadn’t explored, revealing an empty room which they spent several turns searching for secret doors. A random encounter finally popped, with a double handful of Throghrin charging in from the direction of the altar room.

The party was surprised and quickly lost their heavy fighter hench to the ghoul-like paralyzation the creatures deployed by touch. Cleet had a massively effective second cast of Hypnotic Pattern, dazing 75% of the enemy. Unfortunately, the rest of the creatures doled out paralyzations faster than the other PCs and henches could kill them, eventually leaving Cleet alone with two active and eight inactive bad guys. The wizard fled.

I had the party roll to see whether the creatures captured them for some dark ritual or just killed them. Roll went against the PCs and they were stroked while Cleet fumbled around in the dark. He crept back to witness the corpses being carried off to the altar room. He picked up the party’s torch that was lying on the ground and barely made it to the exit chamber before it ran out.

At this point, morale was pretty low at the table. Gwendolyn was one of the OG PCs and her crew of hench was pretty stout in magic items and time invested. Cleet threw up the bat signal, sending a panicked messenger pigeon to Redcorn the Cleric who they all had adventured with in the quest to stop the Dark Hymn. “Help help” or something to that effect. He also sent a panicked message to each EARS office that Gwendolyn was dead and they should take up arms and riot in her memory.

Redcorn is a high level cleric that has advanced into domain management and retired from session play, but he came to the rescue of his long-time adventuring companions. He mobilized some of his henchmen and arrived by griffon back, where Cleet led him into the dungeon. The relief force easily dispatched the random encounter of Throghrin they discovered, which was purely organic and perfectly timed, even capturing one and interrogating it to learn there was in fact a secret room behind the altar that they party just failed to locate previously.

They stacked on the door, busted in with spells, and easily defeated the remaining creatures who were preparing the corpses for some heinous dark ritual that would give them three black mana. Or something. The group pulled some meager treasure from the room, leaving an absolute load of copper, and retreated with the bodies of their friends and henchmen.

The rest of the session was hustling to various temples and altars and such to get the best casts of Restore Life and Limb that they could and rolling all the mortal wounds/tampering with mortality rolls for the fallen. They only lost one henchman permanently, everyone else returning with various levels of discomfort and recovery time.


Anything that can paralyze is nasty. This party was relatively small in terms of what they usually bring, so each one that got nicked was a more significant loss, and the weird creatures aren’t undead, which is the group’s usual “I Win” button with clerics and turn undead.

I was honestly hoping to catch Redcorn with one of them, but the heavy spellcaster presence and foreknowledge of the fight prevented it from ever really being a thing. It’s kinda lame to have a get out of jail free card like that, but it’s all above board story wise so I can’t really complain and there was definitely risk involved with the corpse recovery.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Session 53: GP for XP; or The Adventurers' Desperation

 Session 53: GP for XP; or The Adventurers’ Desperation

10/29/23-11/10/23, rest 11/11, active 11/12

PC: Alari, Zektel, Cracaryn, Karl, Auto

Hench: Wulfric, Elizabete, Dubya, Domiku 


The players failed to prepare or plan anything in downtime this week which displayed itself in the uncertainty at the beginning of the session. They chose Team B due to Team A being in time compression and opted to dig up rumors of potential adventure hooks in Bellport by both buying drinks for randos at bars and researching in the Glowing Hand mage guild’s library of which Alari is a member.

Meanwhile, Karl Barx used his time to incite the rabble against the Barony, speaking to the stevedores and porters and such down by the docks and swaying them to consider unionizing. The city ruled by the “Bloodletter” is definitely the best place for this behavior and no trouble would come from it.

I asked the group whether they wanted DM generated random rumors or if they wanted to “stack” 3 of their own and kinda meme up a hook. They chose the latter and spent several days in pursuit of the endeavor. Eventually they told me that Merlantis almost certainly has a real treasure trove, what could they learn about the infamous mythical city?

It turns out Merlantis is a sunken city somewhere off the coast to the north. The dudebro Nagamen that are alleged to live there dupe other random creatures into trolling the bay as pirates, bringing back loot. The Lords of Merlantis supposedly enjoy sweets and baked goods and it’s already been established that despite them having no legs or feet, they covet sneakers of all kinds.

The party knew of a portal that might lead them to Merlantis that they had discovered some time back out in the wilderness far to the West so the general plan was forming to somehow go there and somehow get through the portal to somehow rob or destroy Merlantis. So far so good.

Karl was arrested shortly thereafter, hands clenched around propaganda pamphlets about the evils of the establishment. The charge was Mayhem, narrowly avoiding the much worse charge of Sedition. He attempted to leverage his detainment against the government, with his loyal hench remaining free to lobby on his behalf and keep his growing crowd of rabble properly roused. His trial date was set for 4 months from his arrest, so the fledgling revolutionary was stuck. The player was nonplussed and swapped to his Team C PC, a dwarven Machinist named Auto.

With Auto in the mix, the group opted to use his contacts with the Frutzii (notViking) barbarians who the dwarf had some history with. They got a meet with Captain Ulfgar and eventually convinced him that an attack against Merlantis was beneficial to all. They asked for some unreasonable amount of gold as reward for ridding the bay of this nautical threat and rolled high enough to have it accepted.

Armed with a heavy bounty on the Merlantean leader’s head and some loaner magical weapons, the group of adventurers immediately sought to risk it all in some other non-Merlantis endeavor like hunting for lairs or finding a dungeon. Much talk of getting people levels was thrown around, which is boring but you ain’t gonna level without adventuring so it was all gonna work out from my perspective.

They settled on getting out west and taking a run at the Fallen Castle dungeon near The Friendship Hills. This would prime them for their next session to check into the portal and also maybe get them some xp. The group took to the road, stopping to pick up baked goods in Millon. Somewhere between Millon and Talston, they were approached in the early morning hours under a misty haze by scores of gnomes. I described them like David the Gnome from back in the day, big pointy red hats and cheerful little dudes. They had maximum reaction check so just had a giant picnic which the party was uber suspicious of because no one is ever just nice for no reason. Dawn came and the gnomes departed, leaving the party confused but exceptionally well-fed.

Just short of Deinwick, the party again had an encounter in the early morning hours, this time three elderly women hobbling along with canes and stooped backs. At 4 am or whatever, the party was very suspicious of them. There was a brief conversation where the women explained they were traveling to Talston and wanted an early start. The party wasn’t really buying it but there was no violence on offer so they bid the women farewell and left out.

The walls of Deinwick were entirely purple and gold, like the walls at Teutch’s tower, which was weird but they didn’t really stop to figure it out. They got to the wizard’s tower at the end of the day and rested.

The Fallen Castle dungeon has been around forever. It was Teutch’s first dungeon introduction to the campaign and has been delved a few times in session to varying degrees of success. There are often signs of passage around there, monsters and men coming and going. This time was no different, with the road that Teutch built leading right up to a sort of courtyard that had been developed over time and showed signs of previous activity around it. No one was camped here currently so the PCs had an uncontested way into the dungeon through the giant sized double doors that were askew from the Storm Giant Castle’s collision with the mountain underneath it.

Once inside, the players tried to remember kinda which path they had taken in the past. They went in that general direction but opted to avoid descending to the 2nd floor where they knew a Medusa to be. It was around this time that Zektel remembered that he had a map he had drawn during the last session here. He joked about how terrible it was, but it was perfectly functional in terms of knowing where the rooms and passages were. We’ll make a mapper of him yet.

The group followed in the footsteps of those who came before, finding already picked over rooms and surprisingly little in the way of monsters. In Daniel the Storm Giant’s bedroom they found some giant centipedes eating the remains of the several different battles that had been fought there. The centipedes hissed in warning and the party left them to their meal.

Several elves and dwarves in the group made searching for secret doors a priority so tons of time was spent searching every room and hallway with no punishing random encounters for the most part. They discovered a stairwell leading down which they took to the second level. Once they found the secret door out, they realized this place hadn’t been traveled hardly at all. It was dusty and musty and led to a treasure room filled with artistic expressions of Daniel’s inner soul. Or something. A bunch of artwork in silver and electrum, with a fine alabaster statuette of a man throwing a discus as the centerpiece.

Someone said they were snatching all the treasure up and I prepared to trigger the ceiling collapse that probably would have killed the entire party, but someone hollered over the eager looter that they were checking for traps. Disaster was averted and a successful attempt at disarming the trap allowed them to haul out the loot.

They pushed further in, through another secret door that led into a sitting room of some kind with a giant overstuffed chair and more of the ever-burning torch sconces that they stole from the place during the last visit. This room was quite large and they spread out to search it for secrets while Auto attempted to tear the sconces loose to sell.

A random pair of ghouls burst into the room in a ravenous frenzy, but no one was surprised and the fight was on. Auto was right by the door and tried to throw burning oil on them, but set himself on fire instead, the first level Machinist screaming as he burned and collapsed. Some shots were fired, the ghouls charged, and when the dust settled Alari and Auto were down and Zektel, the party’s shaman healer, was paralyzed. Fortunately the newer PCs still had their fate points and were able to recover with some scarring and Zektel eventually shook loose of the paralyzation to heal them.

The party limped out with their loot in tow, glad that their horses weren’t killed or stolen while inside, and made it back to Teutch’s tower with no further complications.


Fate points win again. Feels cheap to ignore death, but there are still the mortal wounds rolls that affect the PCs so that’s something. I may do away with Fate Points once we make the switch to ACKS II. If I do, I’ll implement the reserve xp system that ACKS uses to allow your next PC to not have to start at 0 xp. It’s clear the game wants you to have an “oh shit” button to account for disaster. Just a matter of which you use I suppose.

Karl had us laughing pretty good with his communist rabble rousing and apparently planned to get pinched and play the martyr. We’ll see if he survives the trial. The crime rules in ACKS are great, streamlined, and easy to implement. I highly recommend their use if you need a criminal proceeding in a pinch.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Session 54: Jolus and the Black Shaft

11/5/23-11/8/23, rest 11/9, active 11/10

PC: Gwendolyn, Galt, Legany

Hench: Beyza, Mahin, Madrof


Our plucky adventurers did a little downtime travel to congregate, but didn’t really plan anything. Again. So the first bit of the session was “well what do we do?” They remembered that one of their primary henchmen was down with the RL&L blues after a particularly harrowing previous adventure. They also had a fair bit of magical treasure to sort out. They figured they’d head to Bellport, dig up rumors, and try to sell a scroll that was worth a bit but not particularly interesting to them.

An easy trip saw them arrive in Bellport where they met with Captain Ulfgar the Frutzii trader, who is getting a lot of face time lately for a throwaway NPC memed up 6 months ago for a Team C party that never played again. Proof that anything in your game can become important to the PCs. He had no missions for them, having offered everything in terms of reward to the previous party (of the same players) to convince him to fund a venture. The well had run dry.

A couple random rumors that Galt the Venturer got by virtue of his class ability pointed at the ocean, particularly the area offshore to the northeast of Bellport. One promised a portal to another realm filled with treasure and the other spoke of a dark storm years ago that was punctuated by a massive single lighting strike that nearly destroyed the harbor. They were pretty vague and water adventures are scary so the party chilled on that, opting instead to go see Jolus the Laughing Skull, an archmage living in a tower overlooking Bellport. 

Now, Jolus existed only as a short paragraph in the original setting write-up for the campaign. No one had interacted with him in session and I started considering what type of dude this wizard might be. Naturally, Gwendolyn exclaimed her excitement over her successful Loremastery check immediately so I shared everything I knew so far, which was basically that paragraph plus an event from the beastman invasion a decade or so earlier where he destroyed a beastman FOB with magic fire from the sky. The rest would have to come later.

The trail leading to the wizard’s tower was a winding mountain path, regularly traveled by a cart and horses used by Jolus’ caretaker which the party named Irrelevant. It eventually turned to closed switchbacks, where the party perceived in their periphery faces watching them from the walls but nothing upon direct inspection. The path let out into a small courtyard area in front of the tower with a stable building off to one side. The tower itself was native stone, striated with reds and browns and quite tall, with an observatory type opening on the top that the party wasn’t sure about.

The Caretaker approached from the stable area and spoke with them in simple words and phrases. The party indicated that they wanted to meet with Jolus and sell him the scroll that they had. The simpleton took the scroll inside the stone door covered in glyphs of opalescent material and was gone a while. I rolled to see if and when the mage would see them and came up in only 1 day. I also rolled for his interest in the scroll which was none.

Some discussion was had about just camping there until the next day, but they weren’t really serious and eventually went back down the mountain. On the way down, the wind seemed to carry words that they could just barely hear. Loremastery indicated that phenomena like they’d experienced were usually tied to time or season stories in folklore.

The next day, they bought some pastries to bring to Jolus and a ridiculous candy apple for Galt and climbed the trail again. This time they had to pull a rope to summon Irrelevant, who insisted on getting a pastry when Gwendolyn showed him the box. He ate it in a childish manner and then happily led them into the tower.

The foyer was tiled in black and white and a staircase of unfamiliar pale wood wound far into the reaches above. There were several doors on this level but Irrelevant led them straight up the stairs and they followed to landing after landing, each flight of stairs to the next level seemingly twice as long as the last. Each landing had a balcony with doors leading deeper into the tower, but Irrelevant just plodded upward while the party wheezed and gasped in his wake.

The trip took its toll, with everyone making saves vs paralysis or growing fatigued and eventually falling out. Legany was left to languish on the stairs while the rest continued, sweating their way to the top which was a landing with only a single stone door covered in glyphs. Irrelevant scoffed at them but opened the door anyway and gestured for them to enter.

Inside was a massive golden throne of cogs and tubes and pistons and other bizarre machinery. Seated on it was a giant-sized desiccated figure in a seeming state of motionless, face pulled in a rictus snarl and eyes staring straight ahead. A figure appeared in each person’s mind of what they believed a magnificent wizard should look like and introduced himself as Jolus.

The group took it in stride and made introductions. Gwendolyn offered him pastries which he hated the idea of. He explained that his apparatus provided all the sustenance that he needed. Apparently Irrelevant predicted this and took the box off their hands, eating them greedily in the hallway after closing the door. She also offered a song which he was glad to hear, even allowing her to pin one of her felt goat pins to his immobile form.

Jolus told them of Ornaron’s Spear, an unholy weapon hurled against this plane by a vile god of another. He thwarted the attack, diverting it into the bay outside of Bellport. The Spear held within it a magical formula to affect the weather over vast distances. Jolus insisted that this could not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands and suggested that the party retrieve it for him. On the heels of offending his senses with pastries that he couldn’t eat, they also demanded to know if there would be a reward. He grimaced and assured them there would be but there were no details discussed.

Settled on a mission, off they went to prepare. They learned from some local clammers that there was a forbidden cursed section of the ocean off the coast that no one would go to or dive at. The party secured the clammers as transport by paying them like 6 months of their wage. They also set up water breathing and light magic from the local practitioners.

I’m not a nautical guy. I get the basics but I tend to force the Navy guy at the table to provide plausible explanations for things they wanna do at sea. When he gets excited and starts talking faster I know he’s probably not full of shit and I just go with whatever he said that sounded reasonable. It was with this tactic that the party found themselves diving near Ornaron’s Spear, a large obsidian tower jammed into a crater in the sea floor about 50 ft from the surface.

They found the entrance on the top of it, referred to as the “tip”, and unzipped the flap that held it closed. Once inside, they realized there was some sort of pressurization or more likely magic that kept the place from completely flooding. Every surface was pock-marked pale stone, damp and humid and hiding scurrying little aquatic creatures. Despite the humidity, the air crackled with static tension and the hair raised on everyones’ arms.

There was a stairway leading immediately down, but the crew spent the session exploring the first level, finding a dead dude with a lightning bolt scar over one eye and a garnet ring. I was informed that this was Harry Potter and I was an asshole for killing him. Who knew? Despite spending tons of time searching for secret doors, the dice were kind and there were no random encounters to punish the PCs. Session time was running long so instead of starting the second level, they chose to exit and rest, considering this delve to be a recon mission of sorts.


Lean on your players’ expertise. Whether it’s construction or naval or nuclear physics or whatever your players know that you don’t, let them help you build the world.

I’m not sure how Jolus turned into the God Emperor of Man from 40k, but there it is. I’ve been playing a power-armor wearing warrior in Rifts and a 40k PC game, so maybe that’s what spawned it.

I wrote this dungeon for Dubzaron on a whim as an adventure hook for Drakon to hand out as a Patron during Lamalla’s Curse last year. No one took a shot at it and when the group started discovering oceanic themed rumors and stuff I just ran with it. Never hurts to have something like this on hand if you’ve got the time, energy, or opportunity. Just don’t prep a dungeon and force your team into it.

See yall next time.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Session 52: E is for...

 Session 52: E is for…

10/22/23-10/27/23, rest 10/28-10/29, active 10/30

PC: Gwendolyn, Elkland, Flynn, Galt

Hench: Amadayo, Beyza, Madroff, Mahin


We’ve been off for a few weeks, RL schedules and such. It was nice to get back to the table with the group. They as usual had a ton of hooks, but chose to chase down a treasure map for the name level cleric PC Redcorn, who asked only for the first pick of the magic items that they might find. What a deal!

I went into the session with only the barest idea of what they planned to do or where it might be. I try to ignore the player specific stuff like that during downtime so that I’m not tempted to over prepare a scenario based on what I think the players will do. 60% of the time it works every time.

The party got their shopping done and took off towards Riverstride, where they were going to rendezvous with Redcorn to pick up the mission and the map. Just outside of Talston there was a weird magical occult ring of stones with gargoyles standing as guard. The PCs had surprise on the vicious creatures and could have evaded, but spent quite a long time discussing what to do. Elkland the Enchanter really wanted to get a chance to peer into the mysterious magical… whatever it was. If I ran class grades, he’d be E for Extremely Likely to be Killed.

Initiative was on, but the PCs won and threw up a couple protection from evil bubbles which kept the charging summoned monsters at bay. Unfortunately, Elkland was not within the bubbles. Instead of diving in for safety, he rushed the circle of magic because “I want all the magic”. The elf was bombarded with magical energy which he failed to save against, stunning him and leaving him helpless, as he stood in a clear pool of water that shone with many colors.

Next turn, he made his save at a penalty that would increase cumulatively until he won or died. He was bombarded by the entropic, chaotic energy of everything within a 1 mile radius and would need another round to try to make any use out of it. He also took some damage but survived.

Meanwhile, the party was deciding whether to run or fight. As soon as they took aggressive action they’d lose their protection bubbles and they were fairly sure the gargoyles could only be damaged by magic weapons. They had several of these but thought it wasn’t worth the risk. They heroically fled to leave Elkland to figure it out. He didn’t. He was mauled and eaten by a gargoyle, the first PC to have been lost by that player since the game’s inception.

The party outran the remaining beasts until the creatures returned to their vigil over the pool, then continued on the road through the nearby swamp hexes. They were accosted by the tollmaster Meowster Mittens the Magnificent, a Sphinx who has been around a long time now and harrasses travelers on the road through the swamp. This time, reaction rolls were high and the party got off for a song, literally, Gwendolyn performing her way past the usually greedy catmanthing.

A short visit with Redcorn and they had their mission, picking up the replacement for Elkland. Galt was a venturer riding a cart, which the party wasn’t having any of considering how slow it was, so he upgraded to a horse and off they went.

The next leg of travel was uneventful. The party stopped briefly at the trader’s outpost of Hakim the Ekbirian who had Gwendolyn’s order of goat patterned cloth ready from months ago. They stayed for a nice lunch and made it to Northbridge with no trouble. The next day they carried on, arriving to the hex indicated by their treasure map and started looking around. They found another weird ring of stones with some glittering lights around it and ran immediately away. The sound of tiny shrill warhorns echoed after them, but no combat was joined.

The target location was eluding them, so the party camped the night. Just before dawn they were attacked by a warband of goblins, like 40 of them, who were returning from a hunt to their lair. I had rolled what type of creature might be around or guarding the treasure and came up goblins so this random encounter fit perfectly.

The fight was on and after a slugfest the party emerged victorious, breaking the morale of the enemy and capturing one of the champions with a hold person spell from Flynn. This goblin had all the intel and was willing to share it, sure that cooperation would lead to his release. Nope. They clubbed him like a baby seal after wringing the location of the goblin village, rough force estimate, and the like from him.

Mahin the Assassin hench was volunteered to go scout the place with an invisibility spell cast on him. He would try to get the hidden treasure if he could from under the goblins’ noses. I didn’t care to spend a bunch of time going through every single action of a henchman because that would just give the players details about the place that they shouldn’t have. Instead, I had Mahin’s employer roll some abstracted surprise, move silently, and search rolls. The end result was that Mahin found the treasure and was trying to retrieve it when he was discovered. He dropped some and ran away, returning to the party with a random amount of the treasure which I made the PCs roll so it’s not my fault he only showed up with the oil of sharpness instead of the big ticket items.

The camp was alerted and swarming, five of the six warbands sallying forth to find the intruders! Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on whose side you’re on, the adventurers were able to evade notice and attack the base while most of the goblins were out searching for them.

They almost found the goblin chief, but were discovered by a patrol of dire wolves with a goblin handler who blew an alarm horn and fled before he could be killed. So a potential ambush turned into a straight up fight, this time against roughly the same number of goblins but including some dire wolves and a sekrit weapon, a witch doctor with a decent spell list.

A brutal battle ensued, with the goblins swarming the adventurers and the witch doctor casting spells from a hidden location in one of the nearby huts. A stinking cloud neutralized many of the goblins and PCs alike, but not before the martial henchmen cleaved and cleaved their way through most of the goblins. I thought I had a TPK with the lightning bolt that the goblin threw, but the damage roll was poor and it blew out the side of his hut revealing him for attacks. Before he could cast a gust of wind to push the cloud into the PCs not yet affected, Flynn charged and crushed his skull with a single mighty blow of his hammer.

Eventually the goblins’ morale failed, again, and they fled, but not before another timely hold person spell paralyzed the chief, who was wearing several of the items that Mahin had to drop from his failed pilfering. They applied hasty triage, looted what they could find nearby, and fled as horns sounded the goblin warbands returning from their search. They were able to push long into the night, suffering penalties if attacked, to make it back to Northbridge and safety.


I enjoyed this session, generating the treasure map ahead of time to give the PCs some idea of what they might find. I lean heavily on the Axioms 8 table for adding flavor to magic items which is another thing that sets apart session play from downtime. 

I always enjoy when Meowster shows up and was disappointed that he didn’t shake them down for more loot. But he’ll be back. The magical gargoyle circle pool of chaotic entropic energy was pulled directly from my ass. I was disappointed Elkland didn’t get a chance to leverage the power that he had harnessed, cuz I was feeling particularly improvisational during that encounter and who knows wtf I or he would have come up with.

It felt right that the goblins just kinda squatted there but hadn’t found the hidden treasure. It was only the failed theft that revealed it and gave the goblin boss some heinously high ac. I thought the spellcaster was a great weapon and the first time that I’ve rolled one of significant level. They’re usually bums.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Winning as a Player

This is a thread that I posted to Twitter, thus the abbreviated length and detail. I may go into it further later but I wanted to share it here as well. Enjoy.

The conversation around success at RPGs has been focused around DMing properly because most of the people involved in the discussion are DMs. The player side of the table needs some attention so I’m going to share some advice to lead your adventuring party to the next level.

My perspective is from the brOSR lens of 1:1 time, use of downtime, and Patrons. I have no interest in debating the viability of these gaming mechanics. They simply are. The advice that I offer will be valuable even in conventional games but shines best in the light of the aforementioned mechanics.

The single most important thing that affects your success at the table is the cohesion of the players in the game. Everyone needs to be on the same page in regards to why they’re playing and what they hope to get out of it. Some call it alignment language, which I think is apt, but whatever you call it, you have to be a unit as people before you can be one as PCs.

The most successful parties are smaller. You get diminishing returns on party sizes above 4 in every aspect of the game but combat effectiveness and downtime hook generation. Efficiency is key to success and smaller parties are more efficient.

You must set goals as a group. Chasing every random hook that pops up leads to chaos and ineffectiveness. Ignore a rumor or hook in favor of your stated goal. Focus on the task at hand and execute in pursuit of that goal, always.

In the event of conflict within the party, use downtime to resolve it in interesting ways. Murder is an option, but it’s boring. Theft, loss of face, and sabotage are all much better options than declaring that your foe should roll initiative.

If it must come to violence, make it gameable. A duel, a joust, march armies against each other. Make it an event, make it interesting, make the world care. Otherwise you’re two petty murderhobos damaging unit cohesion for nothing.

Time is as important of a resource as gold or xp. Utilize your downtime. Research your hooks, shop, and communicate to prepare for the session to come. Do not waste valuable table time RPing what’s for dinner at the inn. This can be handled along with every other bit of minutiae in downtime.

Discord is the best tool for managing an RPG campaign with robust options to organize specific channels, searchable and pinnable posts, voice chat, image or document dumps for rules, etc. Encourage your DM to use it for the campaign. You can even start your own for just the party. 

You will find yourself in time jail on your primary PC. This is good. Develop a secondary team with new goals. Use the opportunity to play something out of your comfort zone. But always pursue these efforts as a unit.

The responsibility of the team’s success is not on the DM. He is an impartial arbiter of the world. It is shared among the players. Each of them should take on an important role within the team: Caller, Mapper, Quartermaster, and Annalist.

The Caller is the leader of the group. He collects input regarding their activities and finalizes these before reporting to the DM. He drives the direction of the party in pursuit of efficiency. He helps organize and plan during downtime to set the team up for success during the session.

The Mapper knows where things are. Whether in dungeons or wilderness, the party must know where they are in relation to their objective. Some systems have in-game mechanics to aid in this, some don’t, so plan accordingly.

The game is about resource management. The Quartermaster makes sure the group has the food, equipment, and carrying capacity to accomplish their stated goal. He is also the treasurer, responsible for treasure splits, item identification, and party fund management.

The Annalist keeps a log of activity, notes during and after the session. The bits of lore that pop up during the session need to be recorded so research and discussion can happen around them in downtime.

Amateurs talk strategy, pros talk logistics. Know how long it takes to get to the dungeon, what terrain you’re traveling through, and what supplies and security you need to bring. Form a base camp if the dungeon is far, hire mercs to protect it.

Party finances will differ by table, but you need a treasury to fund group endeavors. Treasure splits by HD, even splits, or some other contrivance is system to system and not particularly relevant. Do not starve the goal by hoarding your gold.

Combat effectiveness is focused on the most in RPGs but has the least impact on success. Know your PC’s strengths and weaknesses, play to your role, and work with your team. Even a bad plan has a better chance of success when you’re unified.

Patrons are people in the role of NPCs. Interact with them knowing that they are X factors without any of the DM’s limiting factors that normal NPCs would be restrained by. They will hand out inordinate amounts of gold or hang you with equal likelihood. 

The DM is neither friend nor foe but he does not need to know your every thought. Communicate privately with your team and allow the Caller to lay out final plans and actions. A surprised DM is a good DM.

Trust in the DM’s rulings, work within the game as it is presented, and respect the time that he has allotted for downtime management. The DM will set boundaries on these things and you should honor them.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Session 51: The Quest for Sharles

Session 51: The Quest for Sharles

10/1/23-10/12/23, rest 10/13, active 10/14

PC: Zektel, Cracaryn, Alari (Spellsword), Karl (Explorer)



This session took a while to get off the ground due to much indecision about what hook to pursue. The high risk, high reward payout from Bigtoe was still on offer, but the players did not feel that they had the resources to tackle it. They tossed around the idea of a return to the Fallen Castle dungeon, but they couldn’t come to a consensus. Eventually one of them remembered Sharles the Nightblade had been a captive of Talston for over a month. Surely with the town having fallen and under new management, the elf had been released! The Quest for Sharles was on.

The group was in Deinwick and did some shopping. Coincidentally, Sharles was also in Deinwick after having escaped during the battle for Talston. I gently probed them about asking questions around Deinwick about the missing elf on the off-chance that they’d get lucky, but the crew was focused on the goal. Shop, then head to Talston. Ok then.

Sharles and I had a mini session in his downtime channel on Discord while his other PC Karl looked for himself. While the party went the opposite direction, Sharles was mugging folks for money, connecting with one of the syndicates in Deinwick, and hiring on to assassinate Teutch the Alchemist.

The group traveled to Talston and met up at EARS, which has become kind of a hub for them to trade info between their various teams. They were able to contact Gwendolyn the Goat and get a meeting set up with a LT of Marshal Hummel’s who had helped them in the past. Solid reaction rolls got them some good info about who was released from the dungeons and who was still kept there, none of them matching Sharles’ description. Apparently he looks like Guile from Street Fighter with pointy ears.

Zektel Communed with his ancestral spirits to learn that Sharles was alive, he was not within the city of Talston, and he may or may not have been liberated which caused some confusion. The party hit the streets and bars to dig up rumors about the strange looking elf. Zektel got shaken down by thugs, which would become a theme for his attempts at gathering information this session.

They learned that an elf matching Sharles’ description had been seen in company with a Valestrian cavalryman fleeing Talston during the recent battle towards Deinwick to the west. Off the party went back to Deinwick to continue the trail.

Several more rumormongering mishaps and Zektel was running from guards, dodging thieves at a gay bar, and paying off other thugs. The crew eventually overheard that an elf matching Sharles’ description had signed on with the syndicate to spy on Teutch. Apparently they believed the wizard to be some sort of competition. 

When the crew arrived at Teutch Tower, they went immediately to Barbinikus the Butler Mage to report their suspicion that there was an assassin at large. Barbinikus nodded and listened attentively, “Yes yes, all very important, please right this way” as he showed them to the door leading back out into the courtyard. Before they realized it, they were standing outside with the door slammed shut and latches and bars and things clicking and clanging behind the door. Barbinikus shouted through the door that should they find the assassin, they should take care of it.

Meanwhile, Sharles was working on imbedding himself among the elves that loiter around the place. When the party showed up, I had to consider how they were supposed to find a guy that didn’t want to be found. I decided that Sharles’ move silently roll would be the target for the party’s rumormongering roll. Unfortunately, Sharles did Sharles things and rolled like a 4 or something so the party found him basically immediately as soon as they started looking.

There was a tense moment of confrontation when they found him in a bar and he fled. Zektel chased him and threw his snek at him, which eventually wrapped him up. Sharles’ hench buddy surrendered after facing the whole party alone. Lockleaf the elf showed up on scene with some soldiers to investigate, taking everyone down to the small prison that Teutch keeps ne'er-do-wells in before hanging them or setting them on fire or turning them into toads or whatever.

The party was able to convince him that there was evil chaotic magic afoot, so some local mages were summoned and determined that indeed Sharles and his dude were under the influence of… something. They just didn’t know what. Lockleaf, “Listen I feel your pain, but if he stays here he’s gonna die. You need to move on or it’s gonna be ugly.” All the while Sharles was assailing them with claims of injustice and persecution and I was trying hard and failing not to laugh. The party tied the two up and carried them off.

Bigtoe the Wombat has a workshop in Teutchland and the party decided to hit him up to see if he had anything to offer. (Cracaryn is played by the same player). He had a leveled cleric on his staff who attempted to Remove Curse to combat what they believed to be a Quest spell, but was insufficient level to overcome the original caster.

There was some talk of stopping the session there or trying to get to Redcorn (another Cracaryn PC) or trying to get to Bellport. They eventually decided on Bellport by way of Redcorn to check all the known boxes for a potential cure. Sharles and his guy were steadily berating the party until they were gagged.

Back to Deinwick through the ruined Rushford, pillaged by Tyring during the Brigstein, saw them with few random encounters but an eager to escape set of prisoners. Each night I had Sharles rolling an escape attempt but he was on a roll with single digits today.

When they arrived in Millon, they found Redcorn there and tried to get a cure from him, but even he wasn’t high enough level! Unthinkable! So they had to try to get to Bellport and the Bishop Dante Relos who had brained one of the party’s captives in the past during a failed exorcism. Sharles got locked in Millon’s dungeon overnight, so of course that’s where he rolled his best escape attempt. Unfortunately with the negative for an actual dungeon, he was still captured.

At Bellport the party talked their way easily into the gate with a great reaction roll, earning an escort from some 14 year old schmuck in an oversized helmet. With a cracking voice he led them to the cathedral district of the tiered city and to the temple to Heironeous. Bishop Relos himself was summoned to oversee the attempted Remove Curse, with a prompt to the party about donation to the church and an overabundance of theatrics to cast the spells. Satisfied with their donation and his performance, the Bishop bounced and the boys were cured.

The Valestrian trooper just wanted to go home. With a poor reaction check he was confused and scared and just fled. Sharles blamed the party for leaving him to be tortured for weeks. He thanked them for the cure but also fled, theoretically seeking a peaceful cabin in the woods somewhere but who knows?


Another slow start to the session. I try to encourage preliminary planning in the Discord channel in downtime to avoid that, but sometimes it doesn’t stick. What can ya do? Weird session with a lot of players playing multiple PCs and talking to themselves and whatever. After the session, we talked about relinquishing control of their PCs as NPCs when they weren’t the active party, like we do with Patrons. I think everyone understood the value and purpose there and endeavored to set contingencies for their PCs if they ran into other adventurers during a session.

There was no real score here in terms of gold or xp, but everyone seemed happy enough to have done right by their boy, especially Cracaryn who seems to be the lone survivor a lot. We also settled on a limit of time advancement that a party can make during a session at 2 weeks. Plenty of time to tackle most goals and not so long as to scum up the rest of the living world at 1:1 time. We’ll play that way a bit and see how it goes.



Jeffro Johnson (@johnsonjeffro) started talking about RIFTS from Palladium Games on Xitter a few months ago, examining what was exciting ab...