Over month ago I disbanded the last of my gaming groups due to COVID. It hurt to do, but I was no longer enthusiastic about the campaign, and I was struggling to be a good DM. I spent the next day moping.

I love to game, and it was the brightest point in my life until that moment, but playing online had me burned out and frustrated. I started Astoria as a way to scratch that itch without being able to actually play. Then my wife did something amazing. She contacted several of my close friends and started another group, this time, there were rules in place that were not my own.

This game was for me, by me, and of me.

The players all agreed that they would use whatever system, and crawl whatever dungeon fit my fancy.

I’ve been a forever GM for almost 15 years, and this is the first time I’ve been in charge of these things. Now this may sound insane, but it’s true. I’ve always catered my games to my players. I played 5e because I could get a group together, I talked with my players ahead of time, to gage their interests, and built something that they wanted. I would run games in worlds I didn’t like, doing adventures that weren’t fun, because my players were having fun, and at least I got to play.

Without those constraints, and with the emotional support of the madness that is the glog-getto over in the OSR Discord, I produced over 13000 words in under a month.

I keyed a 30+ dungeon, I created a town with NPCs, I wrote lore. I wrote like I haven’t since I was stealing graph paper from school for mapmaking. I’ve got ideas for 6 other dungeons, and I’ve just begun working on the megadungeon.

Then, session 1 came. We started on time, everyone was interested, nobody was surfing reddit in another tab. It was glorious.

Session 1

We didn’t need a session 0. Everyone knew who I was, everyone knew my table rules. My wife had even made sure that everyone had technical problems solved before I sat down.

I had everyone roll up 4 level-0s.

Our Party

  • K1: Human, 13 13 14 16 7 9

  • K2: Elf, 12 17 5 14 9 10

  • K3: Dwarf, 5 12 7 9 4 4

  • K4: Human, 6 11 13 10 15 8

  • S1: Ork, 16 10 9 14 11 14

  • S2: Dwarf, 10 12 10 10 6 8

  • S3: Human, 8 15 13 7 13 14

  • S4: Human, 11 12 9 3 13 8

  • B1: Human, 11 12 17 8 13 16

  • B2: Elf, 12 12 9 5 5 9

  • B3: Ork, 12 11 11 10 10 12

  • B4: Fae-Cursed, 5 12 15 9 13 9


I gave the cliffnotes version of the plot:

You’re running from the Empire’s crusade against the demi-humans, and worshipers of the Family, and have chosen to brave the old kingdom of Astoria, and aid the new Lord in reclaiming it, rather than what would likely be a lifetime of little more than slavery in the Elf Kingdom further north. You pass through Gatewarden, a town, bisected by a great wall that acts as a border marker between the Empire and Astoria. The town on the far side of the wall is deserted, and the gate only opens for 1 hour each dawn. You travel another day along the coast to a dock, where a flat ferry takes you across the small bay to the only known settlement, Port Astoria.

In Port Astoria you meet Elwell, the director of operations for the resettlement effort. He sighs heavily, looking over his records a second time.

"I’m sorry folks, I don’t have openings in town for you at the moment. You can take up residence in the tent city, or…​" He flips back a page and his face brightens, then turns dour "There is something I can offer you, but it’s dangerous work, and the only reward you’ll receive is whatever you gain from the journey."

"There’s an old fortress, about 4 hours east of town. We’ve been looking to expand in that direction, but several of our scout teams have seen strange going-ons, and the people are afraid to live within sight of it. If you can ensure that the fort contains nothing of danger to our people, you’re welcome to anything you find there."

Obviously, the party accepted the offer, and set off.

Before leaving, they did hear a few rumors:

  • There’s a weird engraving on the rock outside the fort

  • The portcullis is rusted shut, it’ll take some real strength to open it.

  • Part of the northwest wall is crumbled, maybe you can climb in that way?

The party arrived at the gate, opted to ignore the great rock, and not test their might against the gate, so headed to the northwestern wall.

S4 climbed the rubble pile comfortably, but B1 lost it’s footing, taking K3 down with them. Both got lucky and only took a single point of damage each, but the party knew they had been very lucky.

Exploring the aboveground

Once inside the fort, they decided to try the gate from the far side. With a feasible, if slow, escape route, the party took to exploring the buildings. They found the key in the office, then were able to talk the Jadebelt kids into going home. On their way to the general hall, they found an amulet of Irad-Mann, which they tucked away, assuming it was cursed in some form. Then they entered the General Hall.

After S1 made a shocking entrance by kicking in the door, the party, with the aid of B4 (who was clearly the leader the whole time,) negotiated that the Kreck would leave the town with an oath that no harm would come to their people from Astorians. They never ended up entering the Kitchen, but that isn’t relevant yet.

They investigated the Officer’s building next, rolling a lucky reaction against the ghost, and offered to bury him unprompted. Unfortunately, when looking through footlockers, B3 got bit by a paralysis spider, and spent the next hour with a dead arm.

Next, the party opened the armory, and took a moment to celebrate and armor up. Initially, I thought this was a bit much to give the party so early, but the celebration in the voices of my players changed my mind.

Finally, they opened the tower. B3 took a rock to the head, but survived, and the party found themselves at the secret door in the Jail. The party made the connection between the symbol and the amulet, and S4 was "volunteered" to put on the amulet. Irad-Mann told them how to open the door, and we wrapped up the day here, looking down a staircase into the hidden temple below.


  • Total Damage Dealt: 5

  • Party members killed: 0

  • Ascensions Triggered: 0

I rolled like ass on the random encounter table, and they only had 1 actual encounter (Ghita) but they did get 4 other things off the table (including triggering Basil to begin following them.)

I’m questioning my decision to use Ascensions, since there was maybe a dozen rolls in the session, but I think it’s a good reward for the party to start playing more risky.

Session 2

The party travels down into the tunnels, trying Dwyer’s door, and finding him in his office. Surprised and outnumbered, Dwyer plays gracious host, intrigued by S4’s amulet. The party then had lunch at the expense of the cultists, and were given a brief tour, as well as learning some of the basics about the cult of the 7. 4 party members (K4 B2 S4 S3) tried their hand at gaining the blessing of the Seven, praying at the altar then using the circle. S4 and B2 still have a choice, but K4 and S4 will become cultists of their deity.

On their way out, Basil stopped them, and requested that the party go looking for her lost friend (who they had seen, but was assured by Dwyer was a punishment for theft, and that he would be released in 3 months time.)

Taking on the temple at night, the party split to investigate the trapped stairs (they were told that there was "nothing down there, don’t bother") and to break out Saffron. Dwyer had returned to his sanctum, so the party were able to free Saffron without alerting him, and he repaid them by uncursing B4.

Meanwhile, the investigative group sent S2 to investigate, but they only succeeded in triggering the trap and falling through the hole. A lucky damage roll leaves them alive in the pile of bones. They find the way into the river entrance, but are unable to find the secret door, so they head out the long way and are no longer interesting.

Meanwhile, meanwhile, some cultists wake up and go to investigate the noise, and are immediately killed by overzealous characters. The remaining cultists surrender, and agree to pack up and leave.


  • Total Damage Dealt: 3

  • Party members killed: 0

  • Ascensions Triggered: 4!

The party was really into the seven, and are having a great time. Less people interacted with the circle than I expected, but that’s actually nice, since that saves me the effort.

Session 3

With the party ready to make a stand against Dwyer, they must first figure out where he is. This results in them triggering the trap in the hidden sanctuary for no reason other than "I don’t know what else to do." Finally, someone thinks to pull the clock out of the floor, and I give them the benifit of the doubt and the hidden door opens. They procede to directly assult Dwyer, whom they kill with a handful of lucky hits in the first round…​


We spend the rest of the session levling characters up and figuring out next moves. The party learned about another cult upriver, so they’re going to try that to see if there’s another talisman.