Zen Impressions – Dungeon Crawl Classics

What is Dungeon Crawl Classics?

Dungeon Crawl Classics is a roleplaying game that describes itself as “a complete role playing game of 1970s Appendix N fantasy.” Hold on, hold on. To some folks, I know that makes complete sense but a lot of you are scratching your heads right now and wondering, “What the heck does that mean?” That is a fair question, so let me explain further.

In the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (1979), Gary Gygax included a list of “Inspirational and Educational Reading.” This list, annotated as Appendix N at the back of the book, included many of the works Gary considered of “particular inspiration” when creating Dungeons and Dragons. It included such literary luminaries as Edgar Rice Burroughs, R. E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and many others. Appendix N encapsolated the very definition of “What is Dungeons & Dragons?” Thus, the legend of Appendix N was born and lives on to this day, inspiring generations of readers, gamers, and game designers.

Dungeon Crawl Classics, published by Goodman Games in 2012, took a streamlined version of Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition and mixed it with a heavy dose of Appendix N goodness. The end result is a game focused on the great parts of early gaming with D&D while benefitting from the advances in modern game design. To say the game has been an enormous success is an understatement. Hundreds of products have been released not only by Goodman Games but also numerous third party publishers. DCC tournaments and events can be found at almost every convention. One can hardly begin exploring tabletop roleplaying games without finding some mention of the game.

Personally, I have been deep in playing Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition, Pathfinder, and Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition since DCC appeared on the scene. I really did not need another “fantasy RPG” so I shied away from it despite being constantly tempted by the old school art and the din of the DCC crowd enjoying themselves at every convention. Man, those extra dice DCC uses were also a mighty temptation to this dice collector.

While traveling through Central Georgia a few years ago, I found a copy of the DCC core rulebook marked down to $10. The book was well loved by its previous owner (thus, the low cost) and always curious about game systems, the decision to grab it was an easy one. I leafed through the book a bit, marvelled at how much of the book was actually just the spell section, the art was amazing and nostalgic, and the it reminded me of my days playing Basic Dungeons & Dragons with my siblings and friends. However, I was still deeply committed to other ongoing fantasy campaigns, so the book went on my shelf and sat there for quite some time.

Fast forward to late 2020/early 2021 and due to no fault of the games I am playing, I find myself suffering a bit of burnout. That is a topic for another article but while discussing the situation with the Gaming & BS community, many suggested trying other games. Make big changes to shake things up and I felt like that was really solid advice. So I grabbed a myriad of old favorites from my bookshelf, purchased a few recommendations from various places, and also pulled some games from my shelf I had not played, including Dungeon Crawl Classics. I dove into each with the mindset of looking for something new. Low and behold, Dungeon Crawl Classics spoke to me.

I loved the dice, the art, and the old school feel of the game. I knew this before but something was different this time. More than anything, I loved that it abandoned some of the constructs that have become common place in a lot of modern games, especially fantasy ones. In DCC, the player is as much a part of the character as the character. I’ll say more about that below. What was old was new again, so to speak.

I jumped online to learn more and quickly discovered Spawn of Cyclops Con was coming up, so I took the leap. I got a badge and signed up for my first game of Dungeon Crawl Classics, a funnel to be specific. For those unfamiliar, a funnel is a fun romp through a dungeon with a whole mess of level 0 characters. Players often play more than one character because carnage will ensue. The lucky few who survive may have the chance to become level 1 adventurers. Not every campaign needs to start with a funnel but the game designers recommended it, at least for new players, and I thought it was a fun idea.

So how did the actual game go at the table?

Put simply, I had a great time. I did need to adjust a bit as I fully realized not everything I could accomplish would not necessarily be found on my character sheet. I also found I spent more time thinking about who these characters were and what they would do as we began playing. I was seriously getting into roleplaying my stable of characters, maybe more than I would have with a single character in other games. In the past, I had vehemently denied 4E/5E/Pathfinder took away from roleplaying, but having visited the other side of the fence… Well, let’s just say I now understand what people were trying to say, even if they didn’t communicate their meaning or intent very well (and often, in an adversarial tone… funny how that detracts from one’s message, ya know?).

For the record, I played in “Sailors on the Starless Sea.” Trust me, most fans of DCC are nodding their heads in approval right now. Without spoiling anything, our level 0 characters were a mob on our way to rescue villagers who had been taken by raiders, probably because there were no level 1 adventurers around to handle the job. Not that any would have taken up the cause because as the game says, “You are no hero.” In DCC you’re seeking gold and glory using steel and spell! Leave that hero crud for the birds.

Sailors on the Starless Sea by Harley Stroh

The game was challenging especially considering we were trying to accomplish a goal while fearing for our lives. We’re just villagers ourselves after all! I remember thinking about what might have been a bland encounter in D&D 5E took on all sorts of new interesting aspects while we played. I quickly connected, even as my randomly generated villagers fell to [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]. Without trying to wax too poetically, it was magical in a nostalgic kind of way. I had missed that kind of play more than I realized.

The game master totally wiped us by the way. Yep, it was a Total Party Kill, or TPK. One by one, our characters fell to the horde of [REDACTED] as we tried to reach our fellow villagers, explored the adventure locale, and hunted for treasure. We never finished Sailors on the Starless Sea, but that is okay. I intend to play it again. Hell, I am planning to run it myself at this point. I purchased the PDF and a print copy is in route already. Man, I haven’t even played an adventurer yet. I have cast no spells, healed no allies, and performed no mighty deeds! I think its mandatory I play again.

So what is my “zen impression” of Dungeon Crawl Classics?

Dungeon Crawl Classics was created with a lofty goal in mind and I absolutely believe they accomplished that goal. By the time we finished the game, I knew why this game had become so popular and continues to grow. Its an immense amount of fun to play and there is a lot more to explore. I’ve got more to write on this topic but I need more experience (as a DCC player and gamemaster) before I commit those words to blog.

DCC hits a sweetspot and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy roleplaying games. Whether you stick with the game or not, I think you will not forget the experience and you’ll create some fond memories along the way.

Heroes Unlimited: Riff

Recovering from surgery gives me plenty of time to kill. I decided to dig up my old copy of Heroes Unlimited 2E to roll a new charatcer. I decided to use the random options for everything and Riff was the final result. Enjoy!

True Identity: Simon Jones
Scrupulous Alignment
Level 1 Mutant

Riff is a genetic aberration, a natural mutant. Some would call him the next step in the evolutionary process but normal humans hate to hear that kind of thing. He is has no unusual physical traits.

Simon never really had many prospects in life. He never much cared for school, aside from the music programs where he got his start playing the guitar and singing. He was the youngest child in a poor family. His father was a career petty criminal and his mother wasn’t much better. As soon as he could, he left home to make a life for himself. He landed a job as an auto mechanic and bounced around from one talentless band to another. From time to time, he would hear from his mother, father, or a sibling, usually to beg for money. He never had much to give and tried his best to avoid them.

He was in his early 20s when his mutant abilities manifested and his entire life changed. He had little use for his heightened sense of smell and radar abilities but his divine aura turned him into the perfect front man. His music career was just beginning to take off when word reached him, his parents had crossed the wrong people. The police found their bodies washed up on the lakeshore. Simon kept telling himself he owed his family nothing. He was following his dreams and he had no reason to look back. Despite all that, his thoughts continued to drift back to the family over and over again. It was driving him mad and he couldn’t focus on his music.

Finally, he decided he needed to put his past to rest before he could embrace his future. He created an identity for himself, Riff, and returned to his home. He had other abilities to call on and he needed to find out who murdered his parents and what happened to his siblings. He returned to his job as an auto mechanic, steady income, and began searching in his downtime.

IQ 13
ME 17
MA 12
PS 15
PP 8
PE 11
PB 10
SPD 19

H.P.: 16
S.D.C.: 60
A.R.: 0
P.P.E.: 18

Experience: 0
Need: 2050

5 Attacks Per Round; +3 to initiative
+2 to parry, +3 to dodge, +4 to roll with punch/fall, +3 to roll with impact, +3 to pull punch, +1 to save vs psionic attack, +1 to save vs insanity

Radar (additional bonuses)
+1 Attacks Per Round, +4 to initiative
+2 to strike, +2 to parry, +2 to dodge, no minuses when blinded or in darkness

Weapon Proficiencies:
W.P. Automatic Pistol (+3 to Aimed Shot, +1 to Burst)
Short Burst: x2 dmg, 20% of magazine
Long Burst: x5 dmg, 50% of magazine
Entire Magazine: x10 dmg, 100% of magazine

Skill Programs:
Concealment 24%, Literacy 35%, Pick Locks 35%, Pick Pockets 30%, Play Musical Instrument: Guitar 40%, Prowl 35%, Sing 40%, Streetwise 38%, Writing 30%

Secondary Skills:
Auto Mechanics 30%, Basic Mechanics 35%, Boxing, Climbing 45%, Pilot Motorcycle 64%

Divine Aura This major power provides the character with the aura of divinity, like that of the mythical Greek gods. Riff carries himself with an air of superiority, charisma, and of being larger than life. An average person will feel intimidated and may actually believe the character is some sort of demigod.

  1. Awe and/or Horror Factor 14: Enemies must roll a 15 or higher on a twenty sided die to avoid being momentarily awestruck or horrified. A failed roll means the individual loses initiative, one of his/her melee attacks, and is the last to attack in that melee round. In this case, roll each melee round in which the character with the divine aura is attacked or speaks.
  2. Followers: Whether he wants one or not, the “divine” character will get one follower or devotee per level of his experience. The follower devotes their life to Riff.
  3. Power of Command: Once every three melees (45 seconds), Riff can issue a simple, attention drawing command. Roll to save vs psionic attack or obey and lose one melee attack/action. Allies affected by this power gain +1 to initiative, +1 to strike, +1 to parry, +1 to dodge, and gets one additional melee attack.
  4. Power of Voice Amplification: Riff’s voice is deep and booming, heard up to 1,600 feet away. Can be used simultaneously with other powers.
  5. Power of Illusion: Riff can create an illusion of being twice as big as he is. +2 to Awe/Horror Factor

Heightened Sense of Smell An exceptional sense of small that enables Riff to identify any smell he comes into contact with.

  1. Range 100 feet
  2. Recognize/identify specific odors 74% (+10% for common smells)
  3. Recognize poisons, toxins, and chemicals by scent 54%
  4. Track by scent 43%
  5. Difficult to surprise Riff as he is likely to smell a person, robot, or vehicle within 100 feet before it reaches him
  6. If down wind from the source of a smell, the range is tripled

Radar This ability sends out high-frequency radio waves which bounce off objects, returning and indicating the direction and distance of the reflecting objects. This is a crude type of see in the dark ability, enabling Riff to know/sense the location of objects and movement.

  1. Range 500 ft
  2. Interpret Shapes 55%
  3. Estimating Distance 64%
  4. Estimating Direction 64%
  5. Estimating Speed 44%
  6. Estimating Exact Location 54%
  7. Radar does not go through cloth, wood, glass, metal, or people.
  8. Disadvantage: Radar is fouled by rain, snow, dust, or sandstorms, and by similar obscuring conditions. No radar bonuses apply under these conditions. Smoke and fog also fouls radar, but not as severely. All abilities to estimate speed, direction, distance, shape and location are -30% and all bonuses are reduced by half.

9mm Automatic Pistol 3d6 dmg
Combat Bush Knife 1d6 dmg
Knockout Gas (2)
Drowsiness in 1d4 rounds, sleep in 1d4 rounds
Saving throw versus toxins
CB/Radio, Nylon Cord Handcuffs, Utility Belt, Backpack, Duffle Bag, Magnifying Glass, Flashlight, Binoculars, Pocket Tapes Recorder, Camera
Harley Davidson Fat Boy 114
AR 15
SDC 150
Speed 120 mph
Range 350 miles

$140 cash on hand

Against the Giants: Chapter 1, Part 11

Chunt, just because you CAN search anywhere on a dead giant doesn’t mean you should check INSIDE him.  Oh, you found a diamond… in his [what?].

Session Notes by Stephen Noa (Cara)

Prized Material Possessions
The session starts with a little background information from the PCs as they share what their most prized material possession is:

  • Theodin shares that he keeps a lock of Alaina’s hair sewn into the cuff of his robe.
  • Shadow’s favorite material object is not any of his tools of the trade. Nor is it any of his adventuring gear or trophies. His most prized material item is a necklace that once belonged to Theodin’s sister Alaina. Alaina and Shadow were very close in the early days. They were not a couple, but they were both close friends. Shadow took this necklace from her body before the party had laid her to final rest. He did not want to be disrespectful to Theodin. He never told him he did this and has never revealed he has this totem. Shadow wears this on his person always and it is never far from his heart.
  • Kargarn loves the stein that was given to him when he took his vows to follow Ninkash. He wears it on his belt at all times and frequently samples from it anytime he finds a need.
  • Chunt’s prized possession is a necklace that wraps around and lays under the thick chin beard that falls from his face and chest. It is a collection of things that represent where he has been and who he considers family. Chunt takes some time to explain the many charms on his necklace, so be sure to especially listen to the YouTube session at 7:02 when he gets to his favorite and final charm.
  • Callie reminisced about the time she awoke from death with the Goddess Yarila’s blessing and how a tree had withered and died, pouring its life force into a bow that she uses to play her violin.
  • Cara revealed a time in her past when she was being lectured by Kargan on her evil deeds and how a lifetime of repentance would still not undo the wrongs she had done when he had gotten angry and splintered off a shard from a boulder. The stone shard remarkably resembled an infinity symbol and Cara keeps the token as a reminder that it is a never-ending struggle spending one’s lifetime to atone for one’s mistakes.

Finishing the Stronghold

The adventure picks back up with the group anxiously awaiting the return of Grutha (Chief Nosn’ra’s lady giant) after Kargan had banished her to the Eleven Hells. The group looked to Kargan for an explanation as to why she had not returned, but the stumped dwarf could offer no answers leaving the mystery unsolved. As a result, the group turned their attention back to looting and searched the bodies in the room.

This turned out to be more difficult than anyone could have imagined. Not because of the loot itself, but because we apparently lost the ability to pronounce words such as “boning” and “retinue”. We’ll just leave it at that. Loot found:

  • Ioun Stone of Intellect
  • A Letter from Evander Dross detailing the plight of the Giants to gather the three relics of Wotan (with the closest one being in Baccho’s Vineyard, but a couple days travel away). The letter also mentions the Scathesidhe (Shadowfey elves) and many other historical hints prompting a large history lesson from those in the party with the knowledge of old lore. Additionally, the letter talks of the giant Rolvog – which the group deduces would be located somewhere in Jotunheim being the Lord of the Frost Giants.
  • A Diamond from inside the chief

The group decides they can get some more information from Evander by raising him from the dead, but Kargan would need a rest first. (They never revisit his body again).

Instead, the group decides to finish looting the now empty stronghold, going room by room to each place they had previously rushed past:

  • Unknown bluish liquid vial with a sliver of a fingernail
  • Vial with a clear liquid bubbling.
  • Curved Tower Shield
  • Some coins and gems

The group then leaves the stronghold and meets up with Draeven, Herzog, and the rest of the group downriver. They catch up exchanging stories while sitting down to an interesting stew prepared by Hoom. Viscount Ered asks the group to escort him to his fort which happens to be in the same direction as Baccho’s Vineyard. The adventurers agree to escort him leaving Hoom somewhat disappointed they were not going to visit the Margreve Forest. However, she does leave a boon with the group that should she run into any Piney in the future, they would help. The group gains +2 status when interacting with the Piney.

As the group rests for the evening, Theodin identifies many of the items gathered from the stronghold:

  • 11 +1 Arrows
  • +2 Spear
  • Flame-Tongued Short Sword (can detect gems and jewels within 50 feet)
  • Shield +2
  • Tower Shield +2
  • Invisibility Potion
  • Potion of Storm Giant’s Strength
  • +1 Battleaxe W/Reach (+5 feet)

In the morning, Morgan and his small troupe of dwarves depart as well as the orc band. Following farewells, the group decides to take the delicious casks of wine with them on the horses they had ridden in on so as to not waste any of it. With Chunt leading the way, they set off in the direction of Baccho’s Vineyard.

The day draws to a close and the group settles in for the night. During the second watch, Callie and Chunt notice some giants heading their way. They wake the group as they prepare for the incoming giants and battle ensues.

The adventurers are able to quickly dispatch the hill giant and two cave giants with ease and find 23 gold pieces as well as an interesting case containing a finely crafted emerald inlaid flute. Closer examination reveals it to be a Flute of the Wastelands (5 charges), which seems to randomly grant helpful and/or harmful effects when played. Curious about what effects may result, Callie decides to play a little diddy and magically casts a Prayer of Healing on the group. With that the group finishes their rest, thereby ending the night’s long rest.

Against the Giants: Chapter 1, Part 10

Ten thunderbolts strike at the same time
A hundred hearts energized in the thundering roar
Simultaneously a thousand colliding thunderbolts
And too, ten thousand lightning strikes in the heavens

Hu – hu – hu – hu…
Hu – hu – hu – hu…

Wolf Totem, Hu

Watch the game session on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Z1STcDyw0l8.

Finally, the PCs had found Chief Nosn’ra and his most dangerous lieutenants. So far, the battle had not gone as expected. Would the Fates truly favor them in the end?

  • The battle carried the PCs out into the courtyard where rain and wind pummeled down upon them. The fleeing stone giant tried to use the pack of fire wolves in the courtyard to cover his escape but the effort was a futile one. The PCs took wounds but finished off the giant and wolves.
  • Cara and Shadow snuck back into the hallway from which they had spotted Chieftain Nosn’ra and his minions but found they had escaped.
  • The group searched the room attached to the hallway and then moved into the room where Nosn’ra had been arguing with the other giants.
  • A skull was noticed on the mantle and Callie decided to retrieve it. She believed it to be the skull of an elf and she wanted to tend to the remains successfully. When she picked up the object, energy surged through her body and he experienced a vision. In the vision, she saw the fall of the Dross family and the sacking of the city of Zobeck (roughly a century before). She witnessed the last scion of the Dross family, a young boy named Evander, hidden in the shadows while his family keep was taken. The shadows spoke to him and he bound himself to the Shadow in exchange for salvation.
  • The PCs realized the urgency of the situation and a mad dash through the steading ensued. Some rooms were searched but most were just run through.
  • In the hallway between the chief’s hall and the main hall were four large orbs of unusual make. They identified them as thunder orbs and decided to go through them (the fastest route to the great hall). They attacked the first orb in unison and destroyed it but the three remaining orbs came to life.
  • Battle the thunder orbs! These PCs are no novices and in good order, the orbs were turned to scrap.
  • Beyond the doors the orbs had guarded was light and the PCs would hear movement.
  • The PCs moved in to the room and were attacked by a pair of hill giants, hidden around the door by invisibility. Finally, the great battle with Chief Nosn’ra was upon him. The chief was protected by his wife, Grutha, a cave bear, and Evander Dross himself.
  • Cara charged across the room to attack the spell caster, her training taking over while the rest quickly dealt with the hill giants. Kargarn banished Grutha to the Eleven Hells to tip the odds in the PC’s favor and the group swept through the rest of their foes.
  • They prepared themselves for Grutha to reappear but when Kargarn dropped his spell, she did not. They waited a bit longer and realized she was not coming back.


Giant Party.png

Against the Giants: Chapter 1, Part 9

Watch on YouTube at https://youtu.be/OudIrgNsifk.

The PCs had found Chieftain Nosn’ra treasure vault but it was protected by a pack of catoblepas. They knew nothing of the creatures and had lost all advantage when the PCs accidentally chased the beasts off before they could be dispatched. The portcullis raised, the PCs suddenly found themselves without the protection they had enjoyed only a moment before.

  • Cara quickly dashed into the lair of the catoblepas and the game session began with combat. The group rushed the creatures and managed to keep them mostly pinned despite the death rays and horrid stench of the monsters. Once the catoblepas were destroyed, the PCs laid claim to Nosn’ra’s treasure horde.
  • The PCs tore through the chests they found a horde of coins of all types, gems, jewelry, and a couple of magic items. Two of the chests were trapped and Chunt set both of them off with little regard.
  • Throwing caution to the wind, he smashed the seventh and final chest. He immediately regretted it. Minotaur horns scattered across the floor and Chunt was devastated. A minotaur’s horns are a symbol of their personal honor and to claim those horns as a trophy is a vile crime against all of minotaur-kind. Chunt felt this even more keenly as he had lost his horns when he faced the cyclops. He was filled with rage and quickly became consumed by it. He collapsed to his knees and burst into tears. The group quickly moved to console him. From the markings on the horns, Chunt knew them to belong to one of the herds which patrolled the edge of the Wasted Wests and protected more civilized worlds. The group gathered them up and vowed to return the horns of the fallen to their people.
  • Kargarn tended to the group’s wounds and they decided to take a short rest. Theodin identified the magic items they found in the treasure horde which included an Amulet of Health (Callie) and a Temple Sword +2 (Cara). Kargarn also channeled the divine nature of Ninkash and transformed the liquid in his waterskin into holy brew. Everyone partook of the spirits and was blessed by Ninkash. The PCs were buzzed.
  • The group finally decided to finally take Callie’s advice and backtracked to make sure the hill giants were not hiding in the rooms behind them. They made their way to the pool and then down to the room where they found the cowardly orcs but all of the rooms were empty. They speculated on where the giants and their servants had gone but no one knew for sure. They retreated to the false treasure room and Shadow worked the gears in the first trapped chest to reverse the portcullis in the northeast corner of the room.
  • The portcullis opened into a hallway. At the beginning of the hallway, Theodin and Kargarn spotted the telltales signs of a dwarven crafted secret door. They easily found the mechanism to open the door which revealed a hidden storeroom. Shadow moved into the room and did not notice a pit trap at the entrance to the storeroom. He fell into the pit and after he picked himself up he freed himself by stepping through the shadows.
  • The hidden storeroom appeared to hold two crates and a broken barrel. Shadow also noticed the southern wall was covered with yellow mold. In fact, the room was filled with illusions, one last defense against would-be thieves. Theodin dispelled the illusions and found 1) a small black metal box where the barrel was, 2) an ancient elven quiver hanging on the wall with finely crafted arrows, 3) a long spear of impeccable craftmanship, and 4) a short sword with a blade formed to resemble a flame. Shadow claimed the short sword, Chunt claimed the long spear, and Cara collected the remaining items to be divvied up later.
  • In the black box was a smaller cask which held a pair of scrolls and a long, circular chain. Picking up the first scroll Shadow realized it was crafted from human skin and Theodin refused to touch it. Kargarn examined the scroll (without touching it) and discovered the chain was a magical device which could teleport one giant-sized individual or 6 medium-sized creatures to a single location far to the north. He explained to the group how to use the item and cast a sacred flame to destroy the scroll. The second scroll was a map which marked a location in the kingdom of Jotunheim in the north, deep in the Blodejord Mountains. They surmised that was probably the location the chain would take them to. In the crates, they found gold and platinum coins, 15 gems of various sizes and colors, and 7 pieces of jewelry.
  • The group decided not to take time to identify the items. They needed to know what the hill giants were doing.
  • At the end of the short hallway, they found a second staircase going up. A storm had broken over the hill giant steading and the group could hear nothing above so they proceeded carefully. At the top of the stairs, they found a small room with no exits. In the southeast corner was a concealed door. They stealthily opened the door.
  • Beyond was a dining hall occupied by a single hill giant. Cara, Chunt, and Shadow quickly assassinated the hill giant, tossing its body into the fire.
  • They spotted three doors on the eastern wall. They heard a noise through the northernmost doors but the southern door was quiet. Through the southern door, they found an armory. Most of the weapon and armor was crafted for hill giants but they did find a javelin of lightning. Chunt also possessed one and recognized the make of the item (no identification necessary).
  • Through the northern doors (which both happened to open into the same location) was a long hallway which turned to the south. At the end of the hallway, Shadow spotted a hill giant on guard and dropped back into hiding before he was seen. They could hear more giants in a room beyond the guard. Also at the end of the hallway was another pair of doors, these leading to the north, and a single door leading to the east. Shadow heard multiple voices in the distant room speaking in giant. He used his racial abilities to mimic the voices he heard and tricked the guard into following the PCs into the hallway they ambushed and killed it. Chunt dragged the hill giant back into the dining hall and threw him into the fire.
  • Shadow carefully approached the room where he heard the voices. Nosn’ra was arguing with a female hill giant while others milled about the room (a stone giant, a storm giant, and a flab giant. A large brown bear rested between the chieftain and his wife and resting by a hearth was a medium-sized humanoid wearing a mask. Callie listened through the double set of doors in the hallway and believed she heard wolves on the other side.
  • The group was debating what to do next when they heard Nosn’ra’s voice rising above the rest. Shadow mimicked what he said to Kargarn and Kargarn translated. The chief had noticed one of his guards missing and had ordered others to find him. The PCs quickly retreated to the dining hall and closed the doors.
  • The stone giant, storm giant, and flab giant opened the doors and the battle began. The PCs were not familiar with the abilities of the flab and storm giants (and took a good hurting from them) but they managed to bring them low. The stone giant bellowed that he had no interest in dying for Nosn’ra and he retreated through the doors to the north.
  • Cara moved to the doors through which the stone giant fled and threw them open. A pack of dire wolves surrounded the stone giant and howled at the sight of her.


Against the Giants: Chapter 1, Part 8

I’ve got dreams, dreams to remember

Otis Redding

Watch the game session on YouTube at https://youtu.be/jB17ZDPHzac

In the bowels of the hill giant steading, the PCs had freed the imprisoned dwarves, destroyed Evander Dross’ temple, and slain the froghemoth that infested the caves connected to the dungeon. They had pushed themselves to their limits and needed rest before facing Nosn’ra, the chieftain of the hill giants.

  • The group scrubbed the cave to remove any signs they had passed through the area and rigged booby traps to at least warn them if someone approached.
  • As Callie goes to sleep, she visits a particularly strong memory from 13 years ago when the group was facing the minions of the Lazghoul in the small town of Karvolia. The memory was of a battle in which Callie was reunited with her sister Cara (who almost killed everyone). The enemy was led by Blood Sister Alkava, a foe who came to become a nuisance to the PCs on numerous occasions.
  • The group moved through the dungeon and returned to the secret door. Through the door, they found a false treasure room and beyond it, 4 catoblepas on the other side of portcullis bars.
  • Callie communicated with the creatures and learned they were trained to guard another room beyond the one they were now in. The group wondered if they could turn the creature to their purposes but everyone disagreed on that idea. Ultimately, they decided to kill the creatures but did not prepare their focus fire well.
  • They did a small amount of damage but scared the creatures into the back room where they could no longer be attacked through the bars.


Against the Giants: Chapter 1, Part 7

Watch the game session on YouTube at https://youtu.be/db69zHqriZQ.

Thus far in the Steading of the Hill Giants Chief, the goddesses Urd and Verdandi had favored our heroes but only the goddess Skuld knows “what shall be.” The goddesses of Fate, and others, watched the party of adventurers with interest.

• Through the secret door Cara opened, she found a 30′ long hallway which ended in a dead-end.


• Through the other door Chunt opened, he found a small prison. In this area were two bugbears torturing an elderly human man (Ser Erik of the Song). Locked in the cells were a young human male (Viscount Ered) and a young piney female (Hoom). A quick attempt at deception quickly turned into a brawl as the party thrashed the bugbears. Callie summoned thorny vines to cover the staircase in case anyone approached them while they were facing the bugbears. This proved to be a good plan as one of the bugbears managed to sound an alarm before Chunt could stop him. This would bring more trouble their way.
• Callie tended to Ser Erik’s wounds while he and his ward were from Smoltenberg (a prosperous town to the northwest of the Smolten Hills). Ered’s father and brothers had left to join the military coalition facing the invading forces of the Mharoti Empire.
• The piney introduced herself as Hoom and explained she was exploring outside the Margreve Forest when she was captured by the hill giants. She sensed magic among the giants and she got too close. She believed the magic came from the “human with the mask” who she thought might be a seer. She was not much of a fighter (as the PCs would soon witness for themselves).
• At this point, Draeven heard something approaching from the stairs and he alerted Theodin who warned the rest of the group. The sorcerer cast water breathing on everyone (including Viscount Ered, Ser Erik, and Hoom) and then he, Kargarn, and Shadow escorted Ered and Erik to the pool of water so they could escape. Oddly, Hoom did not follow the retreating group and decided to stay with the PCs (despite Cara’s warning of the danger).
• A hill giant raider stomped down the staircase and stumbled into the thorny vines. There were others behind him and this brought their charge to a halt. One of the giants called for the group to retreat and use the other entrance to the dungeon level (which the PCs realized they had not found yet).
• The PCs decided the other entrance must be in the southern sections they had not explored yet and they head that way. As they passed the three rooms where the “cowardly orcs” still hid, Cara asked them where the second entrance was. The orcs insisted they did not know what she was talking about. They left the orcs behind.


• Southwest of the cowardly orcs, the PCs found a smithy manned by five dwarves chained to the forges they worked. When Theodin turned the corner, he recognized one of them as Moradin, an Ironcrag dwarf and an old friend. It was Moradin’s stonework Theodin had recognized earlier in the dungeon. A lengthy reunion was cut short under the circumstances but they did ask Moradin if he knew where the second entrance to the dungeon was. He told them the second entrance was through a secret passage just off the marshaling area (the secret hallway found by Cara) and it led up the chieftain’s quarters.
• The group rushed back towards the marshaling area in time to find the hill giants had already reached them. This group of hill giant raiders was led by the hill giant sub-chief and the hill giant’s sergeant. This group proved more challenging than the previous groups but in the end, the PCs managed to defeat them. Hoom joined the PCs in the battle and quickly demonstrated combat was not her forte, even if she was enthusiastic about helping them. During the battle, Cara’s off-hand weapon was shattered by the subchief. When the battle ended she mourned its destruction and Theodin used his mending cantrip to repair it (but his power could not restore its enchantment).
• Callie asked Moradin how many giants were in the steading and he thought there were 20-30 of them. When asked about the orc caves, Moradin confirmed the orcs had held up there for some time and there was a water source there as well.
• By this point, the group felt quite spent. They had not had a real chance to rest since they found the steading and they decided to use the orc caves to do that.
• When they passed the stone barricade made by the orcs, they decided to rebuild it for protection. After setting the barricade, they decided to explore the caves to make sure they were safe. The caverns were very labyrinthine and Chunt set himself to the task of memorizing its twists and turns. A short way into the maze, they found the stream and Cara realized they had been passed the door near the rubble twice without investigating what was on the other side. Meanwhile, Shadow explored the maze in earnest.


• The group opened the door and inside found a small temple carved in the rock. Moradin explained they had carved the temple for the evil seer and had not been back to the room since. Shadow returned to the group and reported he had found both medium-sized footprints and huge-sized footprints in the maze which were fresh.
• With Shadow’s warning in mind, Callie and Theodin moved into the temple to investigate while Cara checked a side hallway which led away to the south from the temple. In the hallway, Cara found murals of the people of the Crossroads being tortured by denizens of the Shadow Realm. Shadow and Cara realized they had not retrieved the magical warhammer from the subchief (the one it used to shatter Cara’s off-hand weapon).
• Callie and Theodin noted the wall was constructed of a purple-black glassy material and there was smoky glass. As they looked at the walls, they were assaulted by a psychic attack. The images depicted in the murals came to life in their minds and they witnessed horrid torture and dismemberment. Fortunately, the pair were strong-willed and despite their screams, they managed to fight off the attack and avert their eyes. They immediately realized if they had not been able to break contact, they would have been driven insane. They quickly decided they needed to destroy the temple. Theodin examined the pillars and realized if those could be knocked down, the temple would collapse. As he came to this conclusion, a ring and two red gems appeared on the altar. He was immediately intrigued by Callie warned him about meddling with such things. Theodin carefully picked up the items (without touching them with his skin) and hid them away for future examination.
• Theodin meticulously instructed Chunt that he needed the barbarian to enter the room but he needed to avert his gaze from the walls. He warned him about the horrors they saw when they looked at the walls. He should then go to the columns and use his prodigious strength to topple them. Callie began to wonder if the whole task was too risky and she tried to use her magic to knock down the columns but she could not do enough significant damage to bring the columns down quickly. Completing the task expeditiously depended on Chunt.
• Chunt averted his gaze and moved to the farthest columns. When he touched the columns to topple them, a second trap in the room was revealed. A magic trap assaulted the minotaur and he was poisoned (for 1 hour). Chunt steeled himself against the effects of the trap and as he pushed the first columns over a third trap revealed itself. Chunt’s ears were filled with sweet music which called to him to look upon the walls. He asked the others about the music and they realized he was being lured by a siren song. Callie immediately cast a counter-charm which cut through the magic and freed Chunt mind. The minotaur became furious he was being manipulated and he threw himself into the next columns and knocked them free. A cracking sound filled the room and Chunt rushed for the exit. He threw himself out of the room as the ceiling came crashing down! Callie was just on the edge of the room and Chunt used his body to shield her from the falling debris.
• Cara and Shadow returned with the magical warhammer (which was more like a maul to the medium-sized PCs). They also found a belt pouch with coins and a vial on the sergeant with an orangish-red liquid. Theodin recognized the liquid as a concoction crafted from troll’s blood.


• They retreated into the caves again and decided to investigate the footprint Shadow had found. Trying to rest would do no good if a huge-sized critter cornered them in the caves. Callie was still suspicious of the items which appeared on the altar in the temple.
• Shadow led the way to where he found the footprints. It looked like the creature had last moved into the water and in fact, there were two sets of tracks. Investigating the area further, they found a light-blue egg in a corner near the water. Callie and Theodin examined the egg closely and realized it was a froghemoth egg.
• Just then the froghemoth emerged from the water (two of them). The creatures attacked the weary party! In turn, the creatures swallowed Shadow, Theodin, and Cara but somehow the PCs kept managing to free themselves. They unleashed the last of their magical resources and thanks to some well-timed crits and well-placed spells, the froghemoth were brought low. However, the PCs had no choices left to them. They needed a long rest.
• But not before Theodin smashed the froghemoth egg.
• As they prepared to rest, Theodin cast identify as a ritual on the ring and gems he retrieved from the altar and the maul. The gems were not magical but the ring was revealed to be a ring of mind shielding. The hill giant warhammer was a +2 maul.

Against the Giants: Chapter 1, Part 6

Watch us on YouTube at https://youtu.be/jo_1zAClv74.

  • The PCs were confronted by a hill giant with one eye and a hunchback (named the Keeper) and a pair of apes. He whistled to signal his apes to attack and the battle began!
  • The party destroyed the apes and the Keeper began to run while he yelled for help. One of the PCs caught the dead apes in a cone of cold and froze them. This would be important later. The PCs stopped him from fleeing but not before a fire giant heard the cries for help and headed towards the sound.
  • The PCs killed the Keeper before the fire giant could reach them and began to explore a bit, finding a storage room with a door on the far side. Callie filled the hallway between them with thorny vines and the fire giant did not notice them until he had plowed through them (taking a lot of damage). Then Chunt picked up the frozen apes and threw them at the fire giant. Both hit for bludgeoning and cold damage. Since the fire giant was vulnerable to cold damage, it took double damage from Chunt’s improvised attack.
  • We took a moment to sort out experience. We realized the group had lost track so we figured out where we stood and I created a handout in Roll20 for the group to track what they had earned. Problem solved! 😀
  • Kargarn provided the group some of that sweet cleric healing and then the group searched the storage area. The crates held a lot of stone cutting equipment but nothing of value. They also noticed the door on the far side of the room had a padlock on it. Chunt tried to smash the lock but caught it cockeye and did not break it open. Shadow offered his services and picked the lock even though Chunt thought that was a boring way to open a locked door.
  • Beyond the door, they found a hallway that split west and northeast. The northeast hallway ended in rough-cut stone. Kargarn and Theodin checked the stone and realized it was a work in progress, an unfinished tunnel. The western portion of the hallway led to a second padlocked door. Callie heard silence beyond the door and saw no light under it.
  • Shadow unlocked this padlock as well and inside the group found a bounty of barrels, kegs, and casks (13 in total). Kargarn was ecstatic! He smelled one of the wines and realized he was dealing with something like he had never smelled (or tasted) before. Chunt decided to sample the wine (and succeeded on his Constitution saving throw) and managed to stay on his feet. The brew was almost complete alcohol (like hill giants like it) and it knocked the minotaur through a loop. Kargarn appraised the lot and realized this must be the chieftain’s store and was worth a small fortune. After a bit of goading by Cara, Kargarn decided to sample the wine as well (and passed his Constitution saving throw as well).
  • The PCs locked the room and decided they would come back later to collect the goods.
  • They backtracked to the marshaling area and checked the next unopened door. They quickly realized (after finding the ape scat on the floor), this was the Keeper’s quarters.
  • They decided to explore the hallway leading to the north. First, they found a chamber (with an antechamber) which was under construction. Kargarn identified this as new work and Callie wondered aloud why the dwarves were working with the hill giants.
  • Shadow wandered further down the hallway and was ambushed by a stone giant, one of a pair. They had heard Shadow a short time earlier when he called out to the other party members while exploring. Unfortunately for the stone giants, they wanted nothing more than to escape but they were in the worst possible tactical position to do that. The PCs cut them down before they could fight their way through the narrow hallway.
  • The group found a large volume of treasure in the stone giant’s quarters and were happy to collect all of it.
  • Callie was thinking about the layout of the dungeon and realized there was a lot of space between their current location and the staircase they had come down. Kargarn searched the wall along the gap and couldn’t find any hidden doors. The group debated their next move and Callie suggested they check the last remaining door in the marshaling area.
  • They returned to that room and half of the group listened at the door while the others gave the rest of the room a quick search. The first half of the group heard milling about through the door at the same time Callie found a secret door in the northwest corner of the room. Excitedly, most of the group moved to the secret door and opened it just as Chunt opened the other door and…


Against the Giants: Chapter 1, Part 5

Watch us on YouTube at https://youtu.be/z2CDP3qi-BE.

  • Kargarn listened at the door to the marshaling room and heard footsteps. He estimated there were two or three individuals in the marshaling area and he motioned for the rest of the group to keep quiet.
  • Suddenly, Shadow was enveloped by smoky dragon wings and disappeared as well.
  • Chunt and Theodin appear into a well-lit circular chamber with a natural pool filling the center of the room. A few albino tadpoles swim lazily in the water. The ceiling is a poorly hewn stone dome that goes up 35 feet.
  • Chunt had once heard a worrisome story from a bard about tadpoles so he used his loincloth to protect his posterior.
  • Shadows appeared and Chunt nearly took his head off with one of his axes.
  • Chunt drank deeply of the water and it did not have any adverse effects on the minotaur. While partaking of refreshments, he noticed a tunnel at the bottom of the pool leading away from the room. Chunt tossed a rock into the pool and discovered there was a current strong enough to tumble the stone out of sight.
  • Theodin remembered he had a potion of water breathing and wondered if they should investigate the current. He asked if they should do that or look for their friends. Chunt wondered if they were still in the same dungeon and Theodin confirmed from the cut of the stone in the wall he thought they were still in the same place. So they decided to look for their friends.
  • Kargarn heard the footsteps in the marshaling area disappear to the north. Kargarn and Cara barricaded the door from the bugbear warren to the marshaling room and then went to check out the doors to the south. They did not know where their friends were but they were determined to find them.
  • Through each of the three doors in the hallway, they found whimpering orcs who were too scared of the PCs to do much of anything. The orcs were slaves of the hill giants and as far as the PCs could tell, their spirits had been broken. Cara left them with these words of encouragement, “You belong to no one. Don’t hurt humans.” Stephen earned inspiration for stumping the DM.
  • As the group moved farther west, Cara spotted a pair of burly hill giants. They were mumbling about torturing someone to get them to talk.
  • Meanwhile, the other PCs were trying to figure out how to get back to their allies. Theodin checked the floor for tracks and realized there was a lot of traffic between the pool they had appeared by and the hallway leading away to the south. They decided to follow the most heavily trod path. Shadow stealthily scouted ahead while Chunt breathed heavily in Theodin’s ear. Shadow quickly realized this hallway led to the marshaling area.
  • While Shadow had been silent, Theodin and Chunt were not as quiet and the two hill giants (seen by the other PCs) heard them enter the marshaling area. They moved to investigate and the battle was joined!
  • Unfortunately, the two hill giants did not provide much of a challenge and both of them went down before Chunt could even reach the battle. The minotaur warrior was NOT happy!
  • Fortunately, another battle was not far off. Around the corner were jail cells and four bugbears were guarding them. More battle!
  • In the cells were more orcs but these had not been broken like the ones the PCs found earlier. The PCs learned these orcs, along with their leader, Herzog, who had chosen not to be enslaved by the hill giants. They fought back and managed to escape into caves which connected to the dungeon under the steading.
  • Cara (and others) proposed an alliance and warned the orcs what would happen if the orcs betrayed them. The orcs insisted Herzog would need to decide on an alliance and offered to take the PCs to him.
  • The orcs took the PCs to the rubble in the hallway. They called to someone on the other side and rocks were pulled away until there was room enough to pass through.
  • Beyond the blocked hallway, the PCs were escorted into the caves and found a large number of orcs and a pair of orog, one of which was Herzog.
  • Cara proposed an alliance but Herzog said he was more interested in finding a way out for his people. They discussed fighting their way out of the steading but Chunt suggested using the pool with the underground water flow. Although this was a clear path, Herzog knew the waterway was at least a couple miles long and his people would not be able to hold their breath long enough to traverse it.
  • Draeven realized he would cast water-breathing on all of the orcs which would enable them to use the waterway as an escape route. Herzog asked what the PCs would want in return and Cara [basically] said Herzog and his people would owe her a boon. Now possessing a plan, the group decided to proceed.
  • The PCs escorted the orcs to the pool.
  • In route, the group ran into the source of the footsteps Kargarn had heard earlier. The PCs threw themselves into hill giant and ogre who blocked their path and destroyed them.
  • At the pool, Draeven used his magic and the orcs escaped. Although the PCs could have left as well, they decided they still had work to do.

Against the Giants: Chapter 1, Part 4

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Beneath the steading, they discovered a dungeon and encountered a bugbear warband. Alarms sounded above them and the heroes knew their presence had been uncovered.


When the food stopped flowing into the great hall, one of the hill giants went to the kitchen to investigate. There it found Chunt, Kargarn, and Draeven. Chunt attacked the hill giant and the pair accidentally crashed through the wall into the great hall (pictured to the right).

4.1 The Great Hall

The hill giants sounded the alarm and the trio of PCs fled through the kitchen, down the “cellar” stairs, and into the marshaling area of the dungeon.

Kargarn found tracks he believed matched the other PCs and the two halves of the group were reunited in Area 8 where the other PCs had fought the bugbears.

One of the hill giant searchers approached from the marshaling area while the PCs pushed forward into Area 4 where they had heard more bugbears at the end of the last session.

The PCs fought a two fronted battle against the hill giant in the hallway and an entire warband of bugbears in Areas 4, 5, 6 and 7 (pictured to the right). The leader of the bugbears recognized Cara as a Blood Sister. More and more bugbears continued to pour into the battle.

4.2 Dungeon Area 4, 5, 6, 7

During the closing moments of the battle, a shadowy mass appeared and whisked Chunt and Theodin away. Draeven rushed to investigate but could not determine where they were taken. He and Callie were able to identify the effect as a variation of a teleportation spell.

The PCs fought hard and pushed farther and farther into Areas 5, 6, and 7 until they had finally defeated the bugbears. Although the hill giant threat still surrounded them, they had won a great victory.

Theodin kept watch (and healed Shadow) while the rest of the PCs searched the area. Shadow quietly locked the door leading from Area 4 to the marshaling area.