Sunday, August 27, 2023

Game Report: Grinding Gear Part 1

At the end of the Tower of the Stargazer, we didn't discuss a next game; I assumed it was a one-shot until we connected offline, and the player's said, "This OSR vintage is fine stuff indeed, let's have another!".  I needed to get a campaign world skeleton (Building York 1630) together for the following weekend, and quickly prep an adventure.  We chatted offline about what they wanted to do - something sinister that appeals to the horror enthusiasts, or a more traditional dungeon challenge that could arm them with coin and gear for the challenges ahead?  It was a close discussion, because the group is here for the horror, but ultimately they decided they'd prefer to work off their gaming rust in something more recognizable.  I put aside The God that Crawls (for now) and dusted off The Grinding Gear.

The players had over 6,000sp after their first caper, and spent the week thinking about what to do with their money.  They decided they wanted to rent a house in York as a headquarters, build out a library, and use downtime in between adventures to research spells and make some scrolls.  (These are all activities contemplated and encouraged in the LOTFP rules).  By the time we started play the following week, the elf had researched Sleep, the magic user had researched Charm Person, and the cleric had crafted a scroll with Turn Undead and two copies of Cure Light Wounds.  They were more prepared for the next adventure.  They also chose a name for their character group, The Pillories.

The one-legged veteran Mason, a survivor of the wars in Europe, knocked on the door of the Pillories' HQ early one morning.  Mason was a henchman of William Brewer, the local mob boss.  "The big guy wants to see you - says he received some correspondence meant for you.  He's arranged a lunch for today".

Over the course of a lunch meeting with their patron, the players did in fact receive several pieces of correspondence - a letter to meet with The Doctor(1) later in October (it was currently early September).  The doctor was the collector who wanted the king and medusa statue recovered from the tower last game session, and Brewer earned a fine commission as a broker.  The doctor now suggested there was another salvage opportunity, but he wanted to discuss it in person on his way back through the area from Cambridge.  He had a home in nearby Harrogate and a mansion in the Pennines; he invited the players to make arrangements with his staff in Harrogate for a visit next month.  He claimed to be an apothecary and alchemist, and to induce further goodwill he included a gift he called an "Elixir of Wound Recovery", implying there was even more beneficial solutions available for their ongoing partnership.

The second correspondence was more immediate, and I'll relay the text of it here:

The 15th Day of September, 1631

To Those Worthies Who Found the Star Jewel,

On behalf of my Principal, I'd like to extend my deepest congratulations on this lofty accomplishment.  There are channels where news of such deeds have circulated, and patrons like my Trustor have taken note.  Be thou hale in the tribulations to come.

My benefactor is extending a formal invitation for you to stay and visit his establishment, a relatively obscure tavern and inn called "The Grinding Gear" that caters to daring men of fortune like yourselves.  You'll find his establishment in the North Riding.  Follow the road out of Harrogate to the small minster of Ripon, and travel west into Nidderdale.  You'll find us west of Aldfield.

We look forward to meeting you and offering the opportunity for your next grand adventure.

Safe travels,

Signed, the estate of Garvin Richrom (deceased)

While the player's contemplated this peculiar note from Garvin Richrom's estate, Mister Brewer raised the topic of the excellent "Ambersham Mead"(2) they were sampling over lunch.  "This is truly the finest mead on the market in England, isn't it?" quipped Brewer.  "Maybe when the dust settles from this 'Grinding Gear' jaunt, I'll ask you to head off to Devon and see if you can make some kind of special business arrangement with the brewers."

The players wanted some leads on some "muscle" they could hire as retainers and Brewer knew just the right people.  "There are these two guys who came here looking for work, but they're no good for my organization… I won't employ mere highwaymen or crude bandits who prowl the crossroads robbing travelers…"  In this way the players met Toby Martin (specialist) and Wood (fighter), two former brigands who claimed to have fled a group of outlaws called "the Locksmiths" who were holed up in an old ruin near Selby.  "Life with the Locksmiths started to go bad.  Half the gang moved into the dungeon and started organizing themselves into some kind of gross cult and we wanted no part of it…"(3)  One of the players, Blackburn, quipped, "Cults are our specialty - maybe we'll have to check it out some time, too."

The players bought horses and stuff they'd need for the overland trip to the Grinding Gear; they rode west from York to Harrogate, stayed at a nice inn overnight in Harrogate (the Granby), and went north to the minster of Ripon the next day.  In the Auldfield west of Ripon, they spoke to a farmer named Ambrose and learned "Yes, there used to be a place called the Grinding Gear in the nearby forest, but the man lost his daughter several years back and closed up shop…"

"Come to think of it", the farmer called out as they made to continue, "You're not the only folks to come through here looking for it… there were a few fellers like you come through here just a few days back…"

The Grinding Gear was published back in 2009, if you're a referee reading the blog you're probably familiar with it.  The players found the scene, the abandoned outbuildings, the lonely and empty inn, and the courtyard statue of Garvin Richrom on a monument block surrounded by all those dead bodies - stripped of clothes, and riddled with puncture marks.  We played up the "Hills Have Eyes" angle with the eerie silences and the unshakeable feeling of being watched.  The halfling scouted the area and noticed the uncanny lack of critters with his Bushcraft skill - no rabbits, squirrels, or songbirds anywhere nearby.

The players ignored the statue after taking a cursory look at the bodies, instead choosing to enter the inn and methodically search floor by floor until they reached the ladder into the attic.  At the urging of Allister, Mr. Wood hefted a lit lantern up the attic steps, flipped the trap door open, and saw a breadcrumb of coins leading to a larger pile of treasure in the middle of the attic. He called back down, and Blackburn started up the ladder behind him.  Once Wood made it out of the trapdoor, he stretched to full height and started looking around with the lantern beam.  As the light flashed across the ceiling it began to ripple and undulate… it was covered in pale roosting bats.  One of them unfurled its wings and looked back at Wood, and where its mouth was supposed to be hung a floppy, mosquito-like proboscis.  "Get down, get down, get down" yelled Wood.

Our group's artist depicted the fight against the mosquito bats.

By the time Blackburn got off the ladder, and Wood was able to close the trap door behind himself, 10 of the monsters had followed them through the hatch and into the hallway below; several were clinging to Mr Wood and already slurping his blood.  Our night ended with a desperate fight between the Pillories and the mosquito bats on the 3rd floor of the inn.  The players eventually prevailed, although everyone was down in the 2-3 hit point range by the end of the combat and Yuri the Elf would have died without a well-timed Cure Light Wounds.  An uncomfortable thought passed through the group - only a fraction of the mosquito bats made it down the trap door behind them.  There was a huge gaping hole in the side of the attic providing egress into the courtyard.  Did anyone remember to close the front door behind them?

Our cast of Characters
Minister Blackburn:  Cleric
Yuri: Romanian Elf
Remy Knotwise:  Halfling
Followers:  Mister Wood (Fighter), Toby (Specialist)
Allister:  Magic-User

Deceased:  Edmund, Zach - lost in Tower of the Stargazer


As I work through the LOTFP back-catalog, I'm going to put a lot of rumors and pointers out there for future adventures - here are seeds planted this game:

(1) The Doctor's plot hooks will lead to The God That Crawls, Death Frost Doom, and eventually Strict Time Records Must Be Kept - this feels like a good "spine" to the campaign.

(2) The Ambersham Mead of Devon is of course a nod to Bee-Ware!

(3) The Loquesmyths are the gang of thieves in Magic Eater.


  1. I apologise in advance for some of what is going to happen to your players!

    1. They'll be fine, players are resilient. I'm hoping to show how simple (and easy) it is to seed a rich sandbox game (in the early modern) with LOTFP adventures and show it's still quintessentially D&D style gaming. The Kelvin-verse locales are well-suited for this kind of treatment. I'm sure I'll get Green Messiah and Fish Friends in there, and will catch up with our pal Winnie in the near future, too.


  2. Not that this matters in the least for the game but I think the characters might have struggled to find Harrogate in 1631. The first coaching inn was the Queen’s Head of 1687. The Granby was built in 1795 - the Marquess of Granby having been a noted commander in the Seven Years War. There are some records of a modest tavern called The Sinking Ship on the Granby site - essentially a crossroads rather than a village.

    1. I'm sure I'll make a mess of real-world locales running a 1630's game, but if it's directionally accurate I'll be okay. I think I saw on Wikipedia that Harrogate was the site of villages in the 16th century (and some healing springs were discovered there) so I want to feature them - a place ailing nobles may visit to help the gout and so on.

    2. I just happened to be by The Granby when I read your post: splendid to think of it featuring in weird swashbuckling played out thousands of miles away.