D1 Tea for the Teapotman

Journaling a new Dolmenwood campaign, and reflections on starting with momentum and challenging characters.

D1 Tea for the Teapotman
Tea for the Teapotman

I am not a natural-born journalist. I routinely shirk my responsibilities to take notes during and after sessions of play, preferring to trust my fallible recall. I justify this to myself thusly: if I don't remember it later, it wasn't that important anyway. Despite my attempts at self-hypnosis, I don't fully believe this. I have experienced enough occasions where after play, I have made a historical connection or otherwise missed a trick for reincorporation, and wished I had jogged my memory just a little more prior to play. I still don't consider comprehensive note-taking necessary or pleasurable in my hobby gaming, as I find it distracts me too much from all the other cognitive tasks that must be juggled while conducting play, but a high level after-session summary may well pay dividends.

Therefore, I have committed to give journaling a good shake with my gaming this year, and figure I might as well make the after-action reports public in case others find some small interest in reading along. I will surely experiment with format and style as I go, but generally value concision when reading others' play, so shall pursue to balance that with capturing the character and experience of play. Distillation requires sufficient punch and flavour at the outset, and a dry account of facts cannot be saved by any amount of editing.

Furthermore, I have a habit of skimming others' reports to peck out the shiny nuggets of reflection and analysis. I find it extremely hard to picture what the actual play looks like when reading a dramatised play report. The pairing of in-world fiction with the meta-narrative of mechanics, rulings, and participants' inner thoughts is where the real treasure lies. Hence I intend to lace my reports with such meta-narrative commentary, and also follow up each with a brief reflection on a few topics raised from play.

Session Zero

I could not resist the temptation to begin playing in Gavin Norman's Dolmenwood campaign early, having received the draft digital version as a Kickstarter backer. We had a few sessions of Chance Dudinack's Black Wyrm of Brandonsford, using the draft Knave 2E rules by Ben Milton with an off-brand The Witcher campaign frame, and they loved loved it, so I figured we would be off to the races. I decided to frame the campaign by starting with the original introductory module for Dolmenwood by Gavin Norman: Winter's Daughter. Despite hearing about it often, I had not got it to the table, and if not now then when!

The characters were not planned prior to sitting down for session zero. We simply followed the traditional process recounted in Dolmenwood: rolled 3d6 down the line ability scores, player selection of kindred and class, then further randomisation of background and trinket and character traits on specific tables, and a final process of association and embellishment to round them out.

My players are proficient with D&D 5E and have some adventure game experience under their belts now, but are new to the particularities of B/X D&D. I anticipated some griping about the residual rules roughness that remains despite Gavin's sanding down of his Old-School Essentials. Surprisingly to me, they just latched onto the familiar-yet-different tone of the kindred (goat-people, moss dwarves, cat-people, etc.) and classes (enchanter, knight, minstrel, etc.), and the random tables of trinkets and characteristics, and didn't mind the mechanics. When I asked how character creation felt to them, the feedback was "seems a little fiddly, but that's fine." The process was overall quite pleasurable and took a couple of hours: our play group is built for comfort, not speed.


Clover, the Breggle Friar who was raised by Shub's Nanna in Hag's Addle, and later joined the Church to investigate a heresy she uncovered poring through her aunt's arcane library: there are Breggle saints who the Church have buried. She seeks to expose this deception and uncover their motives, but is conflicted in her allegiance between old and new families.

Ebbli, the Mossling Squire of Lord Ramius from Mulchgrove who ingratiated themselves through their equine perspicacity, narrowly avoiding a purchase broom-tail. Having come from a youth of boar hunting, they now aspire to opening a psychotropic brewery to bring Mosslings closer to their deities, but Ramius has decreed that his next knight shall be the one who brings him the Bicorne siege-beast terrorising his lands. Her latest duty was escorting the Lord's daughter Berryld to the court of Baron Hogwarsh in High Hankle, and now must wait a week before escorting her back home to Castle Everdusk.

Shank, the Human Thief who has given up his honest life as a cattle farmer for dreams of wealth and fame. He has just received notice that a little-known relative has died, and he is to inherit the possessions of the line of Brigford the Wise, brother of Sir Chyde, who was a fallen hero from the last battle of the war against the Cold Prince. To recover this he must delve the burial mound of Sir Chyde, somewhere South East of Lankshorn, and there is also an undisclosed sum of money he is owed kept by Lady Shantywood in Dreg.

I considered recommending we make some retainers given the small party size, but erred in favour of leaving them to pursue that in town before setting out, as we have now played a few different adventure games and they should know the trade-offs by now.


Our party has joined up 'off screen' before play, and just arrived at Lankshorn. I randomly determine the starting date: first of Reedwryme, start of autumn, and the day's weather is a light drizzle. They are guided to promptly prepare and set out for their journey south-east to the King's Mounds, to find the resting place of Sir Chyde and Shank's inheritance. They quickly hear the Mounds are haunted, implied to be by the restless dead, and also hear of a nasty disease people sometimes contract from the site, and so are warned away.

They meet the down-to-earth local bladesmith Joremey Whilpston-Puddingfoot to secure adequate armaments (Ebbli's player wanted a longsword rather than the lance she had rolled), and learned if they went east along the Ditchway road a couple of hours then headed south they would arrive at the Mounds.

To prepare for the rumoured disease, they consulted the nasal and obtuse Sydewich Maldwort of the Man of Gold apothecary. Sadly the random chance of stock for useful herbs was not in their favour, so they left empty handed and upheld his claim that "I've never served an unhappy customer."

During their travels they ran into a returning band of 5 priests (random encounter check and chart for region), one hiding their new affliction, claiming to have returned from a failed try-out in Dreg for Brother Hogbeard's yellow-clad zealots. They actually were returning from visiting the Mounds themselves to seek a lost shrine to St Sedge (a lead that Clover was also following up). They had trespassed into one of the barrows, and broke a pot, which seemed to prompt the affliction, then they fled. Though I rolled a poor initial reaction, the party approached them with kind deference, and advised them to skip the out of stock apothecary, so I had their attitude soften and they admitted the truth before departing.

The party discovered some patches of red eyeless nightworms, but pressed on south and came upon the Mounds. Entering the one that the priests had just been in (the stone door left open), they found several pots/urns and shards of a broken one. When trying to delve past that initial chamber they were surprised by Barrowbogeys that appeared behind them. They agreed to cease their intrusion, and negotiated to meet with their leader Thrattlewhit, who I fancied to have a large teapot for a head and be sipping hot tea during their audience (lots of these little details are offered in the monster entries in Dolmenwood).

They learned a little of the Barrowbogeys, and got a lead on an isolated barrow mound a bit further south in a glade, that perhaps held the remains of Sir Chyde. Thrattlewhit then shooed his fellow 'bogeys away and revealed his hidden obsession: the affections and hand in marriage of Drune Braithmaid Pollith. He offered them a good share of his treasures for assisting him in this matter, and they were somewhat unwittingly lead into making a fey pact, being given a ruby-set platinum ring in exchange for their promise.

They left the barrow and set off further south, to seek the tomb of Sir Chyde, and we ended the session as we had reached time (playing for about 2.5 hours).

Alas and alack, if you are carrying the unbearable weight of massive pleasure that is being one of the players in this game, caution is advised. I am trying to strike a careful balance of retrospection, without spoiling the artifice of play for those amongst it, yet you may still feel whelmed by digging into the reflections portion of each report. Obviously, if you're a dimensional traveller from the future and the campaign has already been wrapped up in your timeline, go your hardest.


Campaign flyer. Between character creation at session zero and our first session to come, I whipped up a double-sided campaign flyer with their character biographies and little portraits. I summarised the key background setting information I wanted to focus play on initially, and presented several per-character and general rumours & hooks, all lightly adapted from the Dolmenwood books. This flyer was super effective: I am blessed to have a couple of players who get really invested in campaign lore and tracking all the little story threads, and opening the campaign with this reference in hand allowed them to just relax a bit while we got things underway, rather than previously where they are struggling to keep up with note taking while I hurl all the proper nouns, history, and social connections at them that need to be rapidly established when entering a new world.

Curated rumours. When starting a campaign you have a unique permission to do hard framing and tailor the hooks so you start play with momentum. I reviewed the provided rumour tables in Dolmenwood and hooks in Winter's Daughter, and chose those that would draw the players to several interesting locales I wanted to see in play. I have previously made the misstep of leaving this to chance, and fallen foul of play stalling out as no immediately actionable information is left on the table, leaving players to bumble about 'looking for adventure.' I have had to learn the hard way the old adage that a sandbox should be a heady mix of currents pushing players every which way, rather than leaving the players to pull at loose threads and find the fun themselves.

Challenging characters. My players love bantering with what Brad Kerr has described on the Between Two Cairns podcast as freaky little guys, but this is also an opportunity to pose a dilemma or challenge. I am not quite as bent on making characters a thorn in the player's side as perhaps Dwiz of Knight at the Opera is, but I definitely try and present challenging social situations. It has been stated by Arnold Kemp of Goblin Punch that a good adventure game challenge has no obvious but many possible solutions, and relies on common sense rather than special tools or character abilities. Thrattlewhit's plea landed nicely: they wanted his aid and offered treasure (and didn't seem to even entertain wresting it from him by force), but did not feel at all comfortable bringing Pollith to him, as it seemed evident his obsessive affections were quite one-sided. Where possible I focus on what is being offered or what leverage is being invoked, analogous to how we talk-out disarming a mechanical trap or navigating a maze of chambers. We didn't roll any 'social' checks, and I usually reserve these for what amounts to a 'social saving throw' - you erred and put your foot in it, lets roll and see if your character's inherent charms can rescue you from the worst of it.

A final memorandum: I shall continue my creative accounting, and keep committing felonious Joesky tax evasion. Regarding 'game-able' material on this blog, you shall want for nothing, and receive it in abundance. Or, you know, I might just post one of those d100 tables of dwarf beard styles that y'all are gagging for. Don't know what's gonna float my boat 'til the tide comes in, ya hear?