Catacombs of the Shield Queen

s-l300.jpgThe Shield Queen ruled benevolently over her realm for years, served by her faithful shield maidens. During that time, the land experienced peace & prosperity. Justice extended from the highest courtier to the lowliest servant. But the official records show that an attempted palace coup by a vassal knight led to her death. The squabbling over her legacy brought an end to the golden age.

Catacombs of the Shield Queen is a dungeon I’ve used a bit in home play, so I thought I’d throw it out there for anyone else to hack on and use for their own campaigns. The map comes from Dyson based on the Dungeon Architect Cards. I used monsters from the Swords & Wizardry Monster Book, all of which can be found on That means it should work with just about any older version of D&D, and probably with 5e if you squint a little bit.

Have fun with it and let me know what you think!

Goblin Gully at TheLab

So I ran a game at a makerspace in Plano, Texas, not too far from my home. Despite my nervousness, it went pretty well. A few people had already played lots of D&D – one showed up with his original stuff including goldenrod character sheets! – which made me even more nervous.

When we finally got started, about half the group had at least some D&D experience (ranging from 1e to 5e) and the other half had never played at all before. We went through character generation, which actually took longer than I expected, but I super-simplified equipment choices. Pick an armor set, pick a weapon or two, let’s go. (Yes, I knew this would eliminate much of the resource management but I could see the newer players were already overwhelmed and some of the experienced players were confused that this wasn’t exactly what they already knew.)

goblin-gully.pngI used Dyson’s Goblin Gully to get things started. As I expected, even a small dungeon like this took plenty of time. We played for about 2.5 to 3 hours, and having 6 players made things take a while as they got stuck trying to make a decision at a few points. Highlights included:

  • A fighter having a crisis of conscience as soon as a goblin begged for his life. “Why are we even invading their home and taking their stuff?” “THAT’S WHAT WE DO!”
  • Burning goblin corpses and kicking them down stairs to check for traps.
  • The magic-user blowing into the vocal cords of a decapitated goblin head as sort of a “goblin call”.
  • The thief dousing himself in goblin feces to cover his scent.
  • Engineering a revolution among the goblin inhabitants so that the new boss would be agreeable to their plan.
  • Half the group insisting on trying to find a way to defeat the flesh mass (black pudding) before giving up. Sadly, they did in fact give up before they took any real casualties.

I loved when some of the players talked about how much more they liked playing without miniatures and stacks of rule books. (One player kept calling for “arcane checks” and “morale checks” and “called shots”. He did not seem to understand the freewheeling nature of this type of play.) The only things we had were my S&W Core rulebook and the monster book, plus my Chromebook. They’ve already started talking about when to play again!

Play options in 2016

isue5full.jpgI didn’t actually play much D&D during most of 2015 for various reasons. This year, I want to do a lot more of that. So I started thinking about how I can do that in ways that work for my life: father of older children, a relatively demanding job with intermittent travel, social anxiety that sometimes keeps me from wanting to go play at a FLGS, etc etc.

Family home game

Most of my 2015 gaming fell into this category: D&D with kids. This sort of play works best when kept light, like for an occasional “family game night” or when the kids ask to spend a Saturday afternoon rolling dice. However, I would like to make it slightly more regular so that it doesn’t get lost so easily in the shuffle of everything else. We currently use Swords & Wizardry for simplicity and I think we’ll stay with that for a while.

Some family members have asked about joining the game, including those who don’t live nearby. I have started to consider a mixture of in-person players and one or two people participating via video chat, like Google Hangouts from a Chromebook sitting at the table.


This coming Saturday (January 23, 2016, for time travelers reading this from the future), I will be running a one-shot at in Plano, Texas, for some friends. We had intended to play a couple of weeks before but illness kept me home. While this will start as a one-shot dungeon run, I have hopes it could turn into more. A lot depends on the players, of course. They include experienced players and total newcomers. If all goes well, we could turn it into a semi-open game running more regularly. Since it’s at a makerspace, that presents fun possibilities for props and stuff that I don’t get to do at home or online.


I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Roll20. Over the last year and a half, I have learned some lessons about playing on a VTT. Voice chat is hard for me because of the interruptions at home, otherwise I have to wait until the kids go to bed. I have not yet tried a text-only game on Roll20, but years of experience roleplaying in Star Wars Galaxies and other MMORPGs has prepared me well for it (I hope).

If I can make this work again, then three possibilities come to mind. First, a megadungeon lends itself to the mapping capabilities. I would probably do this via an open table approach since the site has tens of thousands of players. (The clamoring for spots in a 5E game gets out of control sometimes.) Alternately, I could focus on the text chat capabilities and run an urban campaign focused on intrigue, social interaction, diplomacy, espionage… And finally, I have a number of friends who don’t live near me but would like to play. This is the closest to using Roll20 in the stead of a traditional game, but that carries the traditional headaches of scheduling and whatnot. I have to think hard about that one.

Play by post

Text chat also means thinking about play by post. Of course, Roll20 could support this style (private forums for each campaign, character sheets), but other platforms do so in a more integrated fashion. Campaigns that de-emphasize combat and “adventuring” in favor of heavy RP, such as the above-mentioned urban campaign, fit this style much better, I think.

Musing on the implications of the D&D 5e SRD

Little Dorrit, Musing and dreaming, by PhizThe main reason I stopped playing D&D Fifth Edition was that it read too much like a set of software requirements (use cases). 5e writes everything out in expansive detail, rather than in a concise “Strunk & White-esque” manner.

This drove me back to simpler rule sets like Swords & Wizardry and even Microlite20 or Searchers of the Unknown. For some purposes (e.g. playing with my kids), those still make the most sense. I need the ability to riff on what my players do as quickly as they  do it. Otherwise, their interest starts to wane and they want to go watch anime or play Minecraft or something.

But the release of the Systems Reference Document and Open Gaming License for 5e might change things a little. +Stan Shinn already has a project titled Dungeonesque: Red Box RPG that will provide a streamlined version of the 5e rules based on the SRD. I expect a number of similar projects to come out soon as well. While the so-called “O5R” movement may not have gathered much steam, this sort of approach might do enough to make it worthwhile for me. In fact, incorporating the best parts of other games (e.g. the encumbrance rules from Lamentations of the Flame Princess and the domain level play from Adventurer Conqueror King System) just became a lot more viable.

Related to this, I have trouble playing via Roll20 in part because data entry for the monsters takes so much time. (Voice chat has become less workable for me due to my home environment as well.) I expect we’ll see the monsters from the SRD available on Roll20 soon based on comments from the developers there, however.  They can’t afford to miss the opportunity to streamline play for the most popular game on their platform.

I’d like to come back to 5e for something other than dungeon crawling. Perhaps a game of urban intrigue and espionage using text chat on Roll20 would work better, as it involves a lot less crunch and a lot more roleplaying. (The reason for sticking with 5e comes down to the interest level from players.) I also like designing monsters and such using the 5e crunch, ironically enough, so I might stat up a few things from my Roll For Initiative collection and put them out on the Dungeon Master’s Guild for people to use.

Certainly this started me thinking about 5e again in a way I haven’t in quite a while. Good job, WotC.

Do the simplest thing that could possibly work

XKCD "Board Game" comic

my backup plan

So this weekend I’m going to run some D&D at a local makerspace ( has an open house Saturday evening for anybody in the Dallas-Plano area). I’m probably going to use “Searchers of the Unknown” by +Nicolas Dessaux or some variant thereof, because you can’t get much simpler and call it D&D. Microlite20 would work just about as well and for the same reasons.  Several of the folks who have expressed interest in playing also noted they’ve never done this before, and the open house will  almost certainly provide a fairly raucous environment.

I remain unsure about what dungeon to use, though. Here again, I’m partial to the simplest possible approach: here is a dungeon, go get the treasure and try not to die. Normally I’d go with “Goblin Gully” by +Dyson Logos for this, but my kids are likely to play and they’ve been through that one before (albeit not all the way to the end). So I think I will quickly stock an existing map or try to pick something simple from the One-Page Dungeon contest entrants in the past. Of course, any suggestions on this would be welcome, because I have a lot of level 1 modules in my archives and such but need to do this in a way that satisfies two conditions: (a) family friendly-ish (i.e. no Death Frost Doom even if I love it), and (b) approaching the platonic ideal of “old school D&D”. If it goes well enough, it could end up being an open-table setup where every few weeks I show up with another dungeon level or two, but one step at a time.