Update on my Daughter's Old School Essentials Campaign: Session 3

Original map by Professor Dungeon Master 
from the DungeonCraft YouTube Channel. You
can get the full map, notes, tips & new rules
and more on his Patreon
Last year, I decided to start a D&D campaign for my daughter (11) and her friends, and to use Old School Essentials, a modern statement that is 100% accurate and faithful to the Moldvay B/X "Basic" D&D rules I started with, but with new, easier-to-reference layout and presentation. I began soliciting ideas here on the blog and on social media for fun things to do in the campaign, and after a virtual "Session 0" to explain how to use dice and go over terminology, we had our first socially-distanced session last fall in one of the player's backyards with each family at a different table. We're a bit lucky in that for this game, there are two sisters, my daughter and me, and her friend and her friend's dad, so we can separate pretty easily by family.

We ran our third session back in February and I wanted to talk about some of the fun things I did for this session, almost all of them inspired by ideas from Professor Dungeon Master of the Dungeoncraft YouTube Channel. If you're a tabletop gamer and haven't checked out his channel yet, I highly encourage you to. While the name of the channel implies that it's all about crafting stuff for tabletop games (terrain, etc.), it's really not. That's part of the channel, but the theme of the channel is "how to run the ultimate game of D&D and other role-playing games." For this session, the group of adventurers started out in a goblin prison, which I created as one of 12 rooms in a large complex of goblin caves that are, in fact, the Goblin Caverns from the Caves of Chaos, from module B2: Keep on the Borderlands. The players don't realize they are in those particular caves yet, and it really wouldn't mean anything to them anyway, since they are all new to the game and have no history with this particular scenario. Having dispatched one goblin guard (while the other one ran away), the adventurers were without equipment, armor, or weapons, with only a very rustic goblin club as a weapon, recovered from one of their jailers, and a small lamp with a fading phosphorescent mushroom providing faint light. I got the mushroom lamp idea from the Dungeoncraft channel and I liked the aesthetic of how it sounded.I had a hand-drawn map of the goblin caves with each room labeled, inside a notebook. Inside I have notes relating to each room, and, once again taking a tip from Dungeoncraft, I color-coded each room as related to its lethality. I'm using a modified version of an idea from Index Card RPG, in which each room is assigned a Difficulty, and everything in that room uses that same Difficulty Check (e.g., if the room is a 12, then the monsters have a 12 AC, it's a DC 12 check to listen, to sneak, to climb, etc.). I'm not going quite that far, and I don't use 5E style skills in my game, so a lot of that is irrelevant. But, for quick on the fly AC stats, it's easy to look at my color-coding and see what the AC of the monsters in that room are, versus having to look through my notes. For my 12 rooms, I chose to include, in addition to the prison cells, a guard roombarracks, a kitchen, a temple, a nursery, a laboratory, a mushroom cave, a scholar, and an exit, along with a few rooms my players didn't find or explore yet (such as a chieftain's room). Again, many of these ideas came from Dungeoncraft. I included a small cropped picture of a portion of my DM notebook for this session - the original full map and notes can be found on the Dungeoncraft Patreon, which you can join for as little as $2 per month (I don't get anything from plugging this - I just really enjoy it). I modified the map and changed some of the encounters to make them more appropriate to both my campaign world and also for my daughter's age group of 10 and 11 year-olds. One book I've really enjoyed for inspiration, and which I acquired just a week or so before this particular session, is Veins of the Earth by Patrick Stuart. It's all about adventuring in underground environments and how terrifying it can be, in the pitch black, and a suffocating feeling of tons of rock right above you that could potentially collapse in and bury you at any time. I'm not doing the book justice, but it really helped me with describing what it was like as the adventurers decided to try to make their way out of the goblin caves, without any map or idea of where they were going, and without being able to see. In this version of the game I'm using, there is no Darkvision, and while there is Infravision, it's heat-based, and everything down here is basically one temperature: cold. So, the characters are essentially trying to feel their way out, using the extremely dim light provided by the phosphorescent mushroom lamp they took from the prison cell room. I really liked how something like this played out, versus in a more modern version of the game where being trapped underground in the dark wouldn't be a problem due to Darkvision and other class abilities, and skill checks to avoid getting lost, etc. Speaking of getting lost, on the Dungeoncraft channel, at this point in the adventure, Professor Dungeon Master (PDM) had 12 small identical tokens that he'd numbered 1-12 on one side. He put the tokens in the middle of the table and mixed them up, and then allowed his players to pick a token. The number revealed what room they had discovered. He gave them the option to not enter the room if they didn't want, so that discovering every room is not necessarily just a combat. After the players have their characters leave that room, PDM puts the token back into the pile, mixes them around, and has another player pick a token. This simple mechanic represents the idea that the characters can't see well and the caves are twisting and turning and it's very easy to get lost and accidentally backtrack to rooms they've already been to. I really loved that idea, but I didn't have any tokens like PDM. However, I did have a brand new deck of cards with faery-style art on them that my friend gave me for Christmas. So, I pulled out an Ace through Queen to represent 1-12. As the players made their way through the caverns, I went around and had each player pull a card to represent the room they entered, and then I would describe it using not sight, but smells, which was another idea I picked up from Veins in the Earth. Depending on the room, the characters might smell overpowering body odormust and moldstale urineincensesulfur and chemicalsroasting meat, etc. These gave them a slight hint about what might be in the room ahead, and then they could decide if they wanted to proceed. My players were particularly interested in recovering their equipment, weapons, and armor, so they explored nearly every place they encountered, but often just from the doorway and while being quiet enough not to attract attention. I also included a joker in my hand of cards, which I intended to use to provide the players some kind of boon (maybe a helpful NPC, like another escaped prisoner, or maybe a weapon or something), but nobody ended up picking that particular card.That takes care of some of the fun and creative mechanics I used for this particular session. Here's a recap that I wrote for the group for specific details if you're interested in more information on each individual room the players discovered. I suspect the entries for the laboratory and the scholar might have piqued some interest from some of you.  A few things I learned during this session: 
  • My daughter had told me that her character hated spiders, and also my daughter in real-life has a strong fear of spiders and had asked me not to include any "regular" spiders in the game, but said that she'd be okay with giant spiders because they're not real. However, after an encounter with a giant spider in this game (which my daughter's character didn't even interact with), she told me afterward that she was not okay with giant spiders. 
  • I showed a picture of a character wearing a plague doctor costume to let the players know with whom they were interacting, but the picture I found showed the eyes of the mask glowing in a greenish-yellow color. This reminded my daughter of the bad-guy character from the Incredibles II, which gave her nightmares, so after the game, she politely asked me if they could not deal with any more glowing eye masks. This guy didn't really have glowing eyes - that was my fault for picking a bad picture. But, it was a good reminder for me. 

Drop a comment below to let me know what you think of these ideas and whether you'd consider utilizing them in your games
, as well as what you think of some of the different encounters, and whether you checked out the Dungeoncraft YouTube channel.  

Short Recap:  The brave adventurers had escaped from the prison, and now faced the long dark caverns of the goblins. Stripped of their equipment, they faced a decision on whether to try to find a way out, or whether to attempt to recover their belongings. Cora in particular seemed interested in finding her equipment after having paid good coin for it. Greta the Wanderer also made it clear that she would not be leaving without her spear, Destiny. Their decision made, the adventurers grabbed the small lamp fueled by phosphorescent mushrooms and began their exploration of the caves. They became disoriented and several times unwittingly backtracked to places they have been before. During their exploration, the adventurers found a guard room and nursery, both of which they ultimately chose not to enter, as well as a Temple where they quietly observed a religious ceremony in progress. Ultimately, they chose to enter a kitchen where two goblins surrendered to them due to the greater numbers of the adventurers. After taking a kitchen knife or two as weapons, the group came across goblin barracks with sleeping goblin guards inside. The adventurers carefully and quietly entered the room and then dispatched the goblins in their sleep, after which they found and recovered their stolen equipment, weapons, and armor. Suitably equipped, the adventurers continued searching for an exit, only to find a laboratory with a goblin alchemist, and later a huge cave of mushrooms inhabited by a giant spider that poisoned several party members. The adventurers later came upon a strange, comfortable room where they met Johann Brunner, who has been living among the goblins for some time and requested that the adventurers stay with him and the goblins. When they refused, he offered to lead them out of the caves, but instead lead them into a trap in the goblin Temple.  

Detailed Recap: DAY UNKNOWN, THE MONTH OF REDLEAF: GOBLIN CAVERNS Details on the encounters in the adventurers' attempt to recover their equipment and escape from the goblin caves.
  • GUARD ROOM. Six goblins were in this room, along with a giant centipede. Amongst the musty, moldy smell, the goblins were gambling, using humanoid ears as currency, and betting on cockroach races. The adventurers did not enter this room.
  • NURSERY. There were about 40 goblin infants in this room and 10 adults, a mixture of nursemaids and guards, and a strong smell of sour milk. The infants were screaming and crying, and the nursemaids were using unorthodox methods, including physical violence, to quiet them. The adventurers took a long time discussing whether they should enter the nursery, kill the adults, and free the infants, but ultimately it was decided that they had no way of caring for the infants. There was discussion of creating a kind of "goblin baby resistance" as well, and Cora in particular seemed interested in following up on this idea in the future.
  • PRISON CELLS. The adventurers had been here before but got lost and ended up backtracking to where they escaped after regaining consciousness.
  • KITCHEN. Inside were a goblin "chef" and his assistant who were preparing a meal. Crudely carved bowls and plates had been set up along a long wooden table. The kitchen smelled of foul roasted meat, and clumps of hair were found on the floor that appeared to have been shaven from whatever animal was being cooked. The adventurers surprised the two goblins and due to their numbers, the goblins were afraid and immediately surrendered without a fight (I rolled morale for the goblins and got a two "1s" - a "natural 2"). The adventurers bound them and then took some crude knives and cleavers, made from bones and sharpened rocks, to use as weapons should they need them. Alexandra also opted to eat some of the roasted meat that was on the spit over a fire. It had a strange taste.
  • MUSHROOM CAVE. Inside this huge cave were found phosphorescent mushrooms everywhere. Bartolo the Seeker and Alexandra went into the cave, and both were attacked and poisoned by a huge cave spider, put there as a guard by the goblins to prevent people from stealing the mushrooms.
  • TEMPLE.  A faint smell of incense wafted toward the adventurers as they witnessed a strange ceremony, which Bartolo identified as religious in nature. A group of about 15 or more goblins knelt and bowed before another goblin in elaborate priest robes who held aloft a huge albino maggot. The adventurers also noticed a statue of a huge goblin with rubies for eyes, and a blood-stained altar made of red stone with some oddly glowing veins in the rock.
  • BARRACKS. Following the overpowering scent of body odor, the adventurers discovered seven sleeping goblins on mangy, flea-bitten pelts. The adventurers noticed their equipment, weapons, and armor and chose to slay the goblins in their sleep and recover their possessions.
  • LABORATORY.  A smell of sulfur and chemicals came from this room, where inside the adventurers saw tables on which were boiling liquidsbottlesvials, and beakersstrange insects in cages, and two goblins along with a weird spider-goblin hybrid. A fight ensued, and the head goblin, dressed in a leather apron and wearing goggles, threw vials at the adventurers, which exploded and set off a raging chemical fire. The adventurers eventually prevailed, and a few of them grabbed some random bottles and vials as they evacuated from the fire.
  • SCHOLAR. In this strange room, which smelled faintly floral, with hints of smoke and old books, the adventurers saw a four-poster bedbookshelves, and a desk. A menacing figure, dressed in a black robe with a huge black hat and with a face like a huge bird beak, jumped up and held aloft a vial that appeared to be from the laboratory, threatening to throw it at the adventurers. After everyone calmed down, the figure removed the hat and beak-mask, revealing them to be part of a plague-doctor outfit, and introducing himself as Johann Brunner, student at the University in Lower Oldenstein. Johann explained he was part of an adventuring party that was ambushed by the goblins, who mistook Johann for a monster due to his plague doctor costume. Johann has been living among them ever since, learning about their hierarchical structures, their religion, drawing maps of their caves and anatomical structure. He offers the adventurers prickly cave pear, which he also eats, as well as wine from a barrel marked with a label identifying it as being from the Durnhelm Vineyards, and clear fresh water to those who don't drink wine. He noted that several of the adventurers seemed ill or wounded, and provided special concoctions to heal them. After dining with the adventurers and answering questions about the life of the goblins and their culture, including their religious ceremony about the apocalyptic Great Grub cult, Johann invited the adventurers to stay with him and learn more about the ways of the goblins, whom he says are violent, but no more so than their surface-dwelling brothers. The adventures kindly refused this offer, and Johann agreed to show them to the exit. However, after re-donning his plague-doctor outfit, Johann instead lead the adventurers into a trap in the heart of the goblin Temple, explaining that it won't do for outsiders from the nearby keep to learn of the location of the goblin caves, because they would bring invaders and it would upset the delicate hierarchy of the goblin civilization. The adventurers realized too late that trusting someone as crazy as Johann was a mistake, and now must make use of what information they learned while in Johann's quarters, to find a way out of the caves ahead of an angry mob of dozens of goblins.


Hanging: Home office (laptop) and on the couch and dining room table (DM notebook)
Drinking: Visited the pub earlier today and ended with a "Ferrari" (half Fernet Branca, half Campari)
Listening: "The Only Living Boy in New York" by Simon & Garfunkel, from the album "Over the Bridge of Time: A PaulSimon Retrospective (1964 - 2011)"


  1. I love the randomised method to simulate being lost. It has all sorts of potential applications; years ago I ran a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign with a climax set in part in a castle warped by Chaos magic, so it had that impossible Escher-like geometry. I handled it with dice rolls at the time, but the use of tokens or cards would have been elegant and much more tactile. Like it!

    (I'm not sure it would work as well with my group now. They have a tendency to "game" systems like this, so they would spend more time trying to break it to find the "correct" path, I suspect.)

    I also like the idea of describing a room with other sense other than sight, to represent the lack of light. I have read Veins of the Earth, but I'd forgotten that, so thanks for the reminder!

    1. Thanks! I initially thought, since I had 12 "rooms" that I'd just use a D12 for the randomizer, but I liked the idea of using the cards and letting the players be the ones to pick them, so it gives them a sense of "control" even though I re-shuffled the cards each time after they picked, so it was still completely random. But like you said, added a tactile component and gave me a chance to get up and walk around outside (masked!) to have them pick the cards.

      Since I put the picked card back into the deck and re-shuffled it each time behind my back, I'm not sure how they could "game" it!

      I am totally going to steal your Escher-like castle idea. I think I had something like that on my list of "weird" ideas I made to make this particular campaign a bit more fantastical and magically strange than my typical campaigns, but I'd forgotten about it. Using a randomizer (dice, cards, or tokens) to represent the players not being able to navigate it since it defies logic and physics is a great idea!

      I had just been reading VitE since I picked it up during quarantine, and if I recall the scents/aromas idea was actually on a table of how to describe monsters (which makes sense!) but I just adapted the idea to add extra sensory descriptions to my narration. I always mean to do that, but I always forget.

      Thanks again - cheers!

    2. I could see my group posting a character in each room so those rooms couldn't get shuffled back into the deck, then exploiting the situation from there.

      They always find a way! ;)

    3. Ah! Yes, that makes a certain amount of sense. In this game, the PCs had no equipment, weapons, or armor, so they felt that staying in a group meant safety-in-numbers. And, I had given them the option that, given how dark it was, if they walked quietly (easy since they don't have any equipment or armor banging around), they could observe a room before entering.

      So, the "drawing a card" thing was more for suspense but also just to illustrate the disorientation. I'd get a groan every time they pulled a card they'd already been to.

    4. Yes, I think the circumstances of your group made the technique work better! ;)

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post, and it sounds like a great backyard session! Love the atmosphere, the use of smell, and stressing the feeling of being in true darkness. Will have to check out Veins of the Earth since I'm not familiar with that work. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! So glad you liked it.

      The Veins in the Earth book was a bit of a "quarantine splurge" for me. Not sure where you're located, but I love in the U.S. and the book shipped from Finland, so the shipping costs accounted for about 50% the cost of the book (which wasn't cheap to start with). I think they sell it as a PDF, though. I was treating myself with money saved from not visiting my local pub each week for lunch.

      Cheers! Thanks again for your comments. There are some other posts on here about this campaign that I linked in this post so you can get a full picture of what's going on.

  3. Awesome stuff, Martin - sounds like a lot of fun!

    I want to love the DungeonCraft YT channel, but I find something about PDM a little off-putting. Maybe it's that I sometimes feel like he comes off as elitist, like he's not offering you things that you might find useful but rather telling you the right way to play the game. He's definitely got some good ideas, though - I just wish he'd present them in a better manner.

    1. Interesting. I found his channel while searching for a review of the Goodman Games Original Adventures Reincarnated version of Keep on the Borderlands and right after the review ended, a video of his came up for part of his campaign talking about running his group through one of the caves, and I really responded to his ideas, like turning some of the monsters into just human cultists rather than having dozens of different monster types inhabiting the caves, and his innovative mechanics for navigating the minotaur maze or winding through other caves in the dark with no light sources.

      When I first tried watching him a few years ago, I didn't give him a chance because I'm not interested in creating my own terrain, and I also thought his tweed jackets, vests, and collared shirts, along with calling himself "Professor Dungeon Master" was a complete turn-off.

      But, once I listened to his ideas, I realized that he's just got a gimmick in order to help brand his channel to stand out from the dozens (hundreds?) or other guys who are trying to do the same thing.

      What I really like about his channel is that, rather than just review stuff (like Questing Beast, which I do like) or show actual-play sessions (which I'm not really interested in), he instead provides "Here's a thing that I'm using. Let me show you how I use it and modify it so that it fits my game better." Whether I not I actual end up doing what he suggests is sort of irrelevant -it's more about thinking about products and supplements in a different and figuring out new and different ways to use them, even if they weren't necessarily designed for the system I'm using.

      And yes, I do think he sometimes implies that there's a "correct" way to play, but if you watch long enough, he makes it clear that there's a correct way for him and his way might not work for your game. He just doesn't do that every time, and I think it's partly just how people talk on the Internet and in social media these days. All subtlety has been lost, and instead people talk in hyperbole and definitive statements that aren't open for interpretation. It's frustrating, but for content I enjoy, I do try to look past that kind of stuff and focus more on the ideas.

      Cheers! Thanks for commenting, as always!


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