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Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month September 2021- D&D 3.0: Tales from Mystara

Congratulations to Galero and party for winning Campaign of the Month, September 2021! D&D 3.0: Tales of Mystara tells the story of generations of adventures in a world 30 years in the making. Take a look below for a chance to peek into the mind of a talented and experienced GM!

First, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Alter Egos? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet. Let us know if you feel so inclined!

I am from the city of Cabo Rojo, in Puerto Rico. I am a project manager for a local company who implements electronic medical records on Hospitals, among other things. I am married with two kids, one is 25yo and the other 5yo. My wife used to play with us at the game table. The older one is a GM and has his own group. He learned to play as soon as he learned not to put the dice inside his mouth and rolled them for the first time. I love cinema, literature and crafting my own game scenarios and the scenery.

I have been Game Mastering since 1986 when I discovered AD&D and OD&D. I, currently, can be found on Facebook:

My Page: Mario A. Agrait Rodríguez

Group Page: Stray Dogs Role Playing Games

Tell us about Tales from Mystara in a nutshell. How did it come to be and how long has the campaign been going on?

In a nutshell: “Tales from Mystara is a series of chronicles about the people who move forward to confront their fears and rise over the rest as heroes or villains (depending on the campaign group). They become the stuff of legends and their names are retold around the campfire of the next adventure group.”

We have been playing on the world of Mystara using the Known World referenced in the OD&D old Boxed Sets since 1986. Back then, before it was named Mystara, I named it Étira and my group and I designed the complete map of the world. Later, the Mystara setting was develop and we continue playing there. I have all the Gazetteers and many modules, and I merged my Étira with Mystara. In the current campaign we have 16 different adventure groups that played or are playing in the same game world with the same DM (me) across 30+ years.

I love storytelling and the interaction with the players to develop a campaign. Our campaigns are design to develop the stories and the characters. As we have been playing on the same world for 30+ years the retired characters of previous campaigns become NPC’s of the world and are part of the background that can interact with characters of newer campaigns.

We use miniatures and crafted scenery to play large battles. I love painting and crafting my own scenery. My players also love miniatures and help my craft.

You’re playing D&D 3.0. What drew you to that version of D&D, and what do you find appealing about it? Do you play any other games?

My group and I used to play OD&D for more than 20 years and then around the year 2002 changed to 3.0. We have adapted some rules from 3.5 and Pathfinder and added our own house rules into the mix. We found the 3.0 system good to customized characters, especially good tools for experience players (some of the members of my group have been playing with me for 30+ years).

We also play, SPACE 1889, d20 Modern, d20 Future, DC Heroes 3rd Edition, Gamma World 4th Edition. I’m the GM on these campaigns. Some of our players are GMs on their own campaigns, playing d20 Modern, D&D 3.0, 3.5 and 5E. I also used to play Star Trek by FASA and Shadowrun 2nd, still have the manuals.

Speaking of playing, where do you play and how often? How did the general worldwide Covid-19 situation force you and your players to adapt?

Normally we play at my house’s basement. We play each Friday from 7pm to 11pm. We also used to play what I call a Marioton (Marathon) for 12 consecutive hours one Saturday every three or four months.

The Covid-19 situation forced us to play on Discord online, using d20 for complicated battles, Dropbox to share files, the OP forum to do Play by Post during the week and finally our Facebook page to keep in touch. Using these tools, we managed to continue playing each Friday regularly from 7pm to 11pm.

How did you get into tabletop gaming?

This is possibly one of the weirdest RPG stories I know:

1. A boy named Eric was into Reading Science Fiction and Fantasy and wanted to play D&D. His mother gave him the Red Box OD&D set as a gift. He didn’t have anyone to play with though.
2. The boy named Eric decided to give the Red Box OD&D set to his neighbor Luis as a gift.
3. Luis took the boxed set to his friends, and they learned to play. Luis didn’t want to be the DM so he gave the Red Box OD&D set as a gift to Ismael.
4. Ismael became the DM and continued playing when he moved to another city to study at the university.
5. Ismael and I meet at the University. We were from different cities. He showed me the game and gave me the Red Box OD&D set as a gift. I then became a DM.
6. I moved to another city and met with a boy named Eric who wanted to play D&D all his life and didn’t have someone to play and he became my friend and one of my players.
7. My friend Eric was the first owner of the Red Box OD&D set I used for playing. See event #1.

You currently have 30 players listed in your campaign. How many players do you typically have each session? Is this a shared world? If so, what advice can you give to other GMs about managing a shared world campaign?

I cannot count how many regular players have been in my gamming group across the years, I say something between 60 and 100. The 30 players on the OP are the ones who joined OP since I started using it back in 2014. I have 10 regular players at this moment.

I sit at my physical (or virtual) table 9 players at a time. My world is share with other GM’s or groups that want to continue playing in the worlds we create. Is also share with the different campaigns I play. I could have one to three campaigns with different players running at the same time in the same world. They could cross paths and we can have special 12-hour gamming sessions for specially complicated adventures and battles merging all the groups. A “Mariothon” has up to 20 players on my basement. We coordinate the event with committees in charge of foodstuffs, cooking, cleaning and even organizing the parking space. Some of the players bring their own sleeping bags and sleep in my house.

Your character log is just massive. Who comes up with all those NPCs?

I have a love of characters and I created many of them, but the Character’s bios also include the players past and present characters. Players are encouraged to create character’s bios for NPCs like their family members and even for companions and familiars, even paladin’s mounts. This is a tool I use that expands the world, and I give them XPS for creating these entries.
I take the time to create each new NPC with at least a link to a place, organization or another character already created, and I also plant some interesting or strange fact on the bio as an adventure seed. With that in mind, no character should be created without being part of the world and with space to automatically expand itself within the campaign.

How much time do you usually spend preparing your game session? Describe a typical session.

The way I prepare my campaigns, each session is built in top of the previous one and oriented to move the campaign forward. I take 5-9 hours each week to prepare a session using that, but I also invest like 4-8 extra hours of creative time per week, adding to the OP material that helps the world grow, entries for future adventures and adventure hooks.

Our typical weekly session starts where the Play by Post ended or after the last weekly session ended. We divide the adventure in scenes and normally I try to have four main events that the players must confront and try to solve. I enjoy keeping a balance between Role Playing, Problem Solving and Combat events, but we also have sessions that are completely of one type. The players have freedom to choose the path they want, and the adventures are based on their decisions, so from time to time there are chunks of the adventure that needs heavy improvisation because of this. When the players take a path that I have not prepared for, that makes me more interested because it helps the world grow and the adventure to have and unexpected turn for me. They don’t know that I didn’t have that info, maybe I have a good bluff face (or so I think). Once the events are solved, and the adventure finished, I try to record the adventure log within the next 48 hours. I also ask them the high points and low points of the adventure and get some feedback.

Who is responsible for the design and content of the site? Do your players get involved in the creative side of the campaign? If not in the design, how would you say they get involved in progressing the storyline?

Mostly is my work as a GM to design the content of the site but I have a massive help from my players. We decide the objectives of a campaign before creating characters and establish the ground rules to achieve those objectives. Based on those accords, we build characters, entries, and adventures.

I give them special XP awards for adding material, but many do extra work for the fun of it and the creative liberty. I have one player that lives on another city far from us and loves to create content to maintain himself into the game as he cannot come to play on weekly basis. Now that we are playing online his contributions are more and he plays weekly.

The players have the option to comment on the adventure log, explore the world using Play by Posts during their downtime, keep logs of their characters, and to comment on the entries in character. All these options modify the content of the OP and their characters can find information during downtime about subplots allowing them to develop their character’s backgrounds and personal story.

For this campaign we worked together to build the Alphatian Empire and each character took one or more kingdoms to focus and work on the information and even to create descriptions of places. It was an expansive task that counted on the collaboration of all of them. Because of this it was a fulfilling result that everyone enjoyed. Once we started playing on that empire, they could find the places and NPCs they helped create and get a feeling of ownership and pride.

What does the future have in store for the brave characters of your crew? Without giving the game away, is there anything you can reveal?

The current campaign started 2016 with level 1 characters and they so far have reached level 20 and above. Now in epic levels, they have travel to a demiplane were a parallel apocalyptic version of Mystara named Taramis is the home of the main enemy of the campaign. They are there to finish him off for better and for worst with no way – yet – to come back to Mystara.

One of my players read this question you asked and answered: “They assume we are brave and not plain stupid.” Referring to the deep trouble they are right now and how the events that happened before took them there.

How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

I read about Obsidian Portal in the EndWorld Forums. I believe I started using OP to its full potential around 2014, but I joined and used it to store information a few years earlier. I was first interested in the wiki style of the entries and the character bios. Then as I was using it more and more the tool became a must have and the center of the campaign’s information. Before that, I used mail lists, file sharing, a weekly bulletin, and a page with a forum to keep the information in post format but OP is a LOT better.

If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most?

Only one thing? Is too difficult. OP has helped me so much I cannot begin to count all the things I see as optimal on the page. I think I have to say that the GM Only entries and GM Only boxes inside the entries are the feature I use more, and I that enjoy the most. I can write a complete adventure in one page and link to the characters bios and wiki entries and the adventure is there, hiding like a Mimic, waiting like a landmine for the characters to step on it.

What would you say is the biggest highlight of your game so far?

My players are the biggest highlight of my campaigns, I am very honored to play with them. I think the biggest highlight of my games will be the capacity of surprising the players after all these years. Something that makes them come back for more. Is either that or they have some secret desire to get new psychological scars each week.

Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing advice!

Concentrate on the story over the rules, and on the players over the rest. Once you commit to a gamming date, don’t change it, be consistent. Take the time to hear your players ideas and to incorporate them into the world. And take time to rest your mind, by playing other games or by taking vacation time from gaming.

And finally: Keep rolling those dice until the day you die!


Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month August 2021 – City of Splendors. Dungeon of Madness.

Congratulations to sethwhite and company for winning Campaign of the Month, August 2021, with their dungeon-crawling creation, “City of Splendors. Dungeon of Madness.” Waterdeep and The Yawning Portal may be familiar fare to those among you who enjoy the classics, but take a deeper look and marvel at the treasures and trade-secrets below…
Your campaign is set in Waterdeep – a city drowning in adventure hooks, plots, and interesting characters. What drew you to a city-based campaign and what are some of the pros/cons about urban adventuring?

The entire premise of this campaign is as a sandbox for urban and dungeon adventure. With the biggest city in the world sitting atop the biggest dungeon in the world, it’s primed for a lifetime of adventure. For the AI, we ran a game of the Lords of Waterdeep board game, with the Undermountain and Skullport expansions. With that one board game, we created an arc of major plots and conspiracies and power brokers of the city and much of the dungeon. I took pictures of where all the agents were, and the Quest and Intrigue cards that were played during each round. That “current clack” is continuing forward as the “meta plot” of the campaign, until it runs into the actions of the players, of course. Then the apple cart gets upended, and we’ll see what happens.

I’ve always been very interested in urban games, with the tangle of intrigue and vying political and economic interests that come with it. I really wanted a sandbox for the players to bite hard on hooks, or swim right past as they wanted, which meant I needed a lot of potential content, and a lot of factions that could get pulled in when the PCs bite. A city like Waterdeep is perfect for that. And I’m standing on a tower of giants as I use their great work to make this little campaign. Waterdeep itself is so rich and so big, with all the work of the great minds at TSR and WotC. Layer on top of that the amazing work at the Forgotten Realms wiki, Candlekeep, and, and there’s enough to slot in anything that the PCs are interested in exploring, or everything that’s linked to one of the plot hooks. I’m also using urban planning advice from The Alexandrian extensively in this campaign, as well as referring to other great city modules and settings, such as the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, Lankhmar, Vornheim, Zobeck, Freeport, and Ptolus.

It looks like you’re using a custom blend of Dungeons and Dragons rules and have some experience with some of the older systems. What rules work best for your group and style of play?

For this campaign I switched over to 5e. It reflects well the kitchen sink high fantasy Waterdeep, and is a simple enough rules system for most of my players, but with enough options for the couple of players who want to dig into character building. I’m mostly using the core rules, but I have a few variant rules or house rules. Healing is slower—requiring hit dice to heal; and I am using the treasure as XP from B/X to motivate treasure-hunting in Undermountain.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your players, and your lives outside of game?

We’re a gaming group in Minneapolis, in my home with a group of friends. I run a somewhat open table of players—about ten or so semi-regular players with 5 regular players. Any session has between 3-7 PCs. I’m in graphic arts and advertising, and we have several players who are interested in the arts and music, as well as those who work in data and computers. The core players are Owen, Eric, Dave, Luke, and Sarah. And other less regular players include Hannah, Paige, Steve, Charlie, and Jake.

We started in-person at the beginning of the game about a year and a half ago, and we switched to Roll20 during the pandemic. Games started biweekly, but have become closer to monthly lately as my schedule with work and home projects got in the way.

How did you get into gaming? How did your gaming group find each other?

I started gaming in middle school, in 1990 in a small town near Madison in southern WI. I played a hodge-dodge of D&D Rules Cyclopedia and AD&D with other friends. I played for a few years, and even went to GenCon a couple times when it was in Milwaukee. I stopped for about a decade, and got back into it in 2005 after I moved to Minneapolis. I played in a couple random groups in the twin cities. One of my players, Charlie, was someone I met through D&D at the wizards website. He runs a lot of OSR style games, and I poached some players from his game. The other players include my wife, some friends from design and advertising, and the husband and brother of one of my gamers. There has been some changing of the guard over the last couple years as players start families, or move; most of the regular players now weren’t playing in my game 3 years ago. I feel it’s necessary to run an open table style game because of everyone’s real life commitments, which I’m finding can be a challenge in a mega dungeon.

“City of Splendors” features a mega-dungeon — Undermountain: The Dungeon of the Mad Mage — beneath the streets of Waterdeep. Do you have any advice for GM’s who may want to run a mega-dungeon campaign or have you encountered any challenges while running one?

Underneath the biggest city in the world is the biggest dungeon in the world. I’m using the “Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage” module as the core for setting content. I also am including all previous versions of the dungeon as well: 2e Ruins of Undermountain 1 and II, 3e Expedition to Undermountain, and 4e Halls of Undermountain. And then of course the plots and intrigue from the Lords of Waterdeep. One crucial learning was how to run the mega dungeon, especially with an open table. In the beginning it was all dungeon crawl in Roll20, showing the map and narrating each hall and chamber. But now as they’ve explored more, I’ve opened travel to areas they know in the dungeon as if they were traveling in the city. It’s still dangerous, and they may trigger an encounter, but following a map from the Entry Well to Downshadow is only a little more dangerous than navigating the Dock Ward at night. Things I’m intentionally doing in the dungeon:

Creating active factions that span floors and that have vested interests and goals, and that interact with different factions.

Creating “residential zones” that are safe enough throughout the dungeon, so that I can allow for resting and beginning a session with new players. Some are already built in, like Skullport and Wyllowwood, but I want to make sure there are enough secure areas of potentially allied or neutral factions that can be discovered to allow the game to run efficiently.

I’m also opening the gates and stairs to “jacquay” the dungeon, as the Alexandrian calls it. I want to make sure that the PCs and factions are moving between floors to make the place a living, breathing community.

I’m also trying to seed dangerous areas with clues that they PCs are out of their depth. I have a gate from level 1 to level 10, and I plan to put a recently destroyed stone golem right in the entryway if they go through the gate, so they can have a clue about the level of threats there.

I’m also attempting to include other adventuring companies, or the remains of them, as well as monsters and faction members. I think dead creatures or even bloody handprints or trails are a great way to develop the recent history of the dungeon and introduce new factions. I also think prisoners of factions work really well for this, and to dangle plot hooks.

Your campaign pages on Obsidian Portal are very well organized, cross-referenced, and tagged, and your wiki is a very useful reference tool. Has this been helpful when managing the complexities of Waterdeep?

This has been essential for my game. In a city of over a million people, hundreds of locations, and dozens of factions, it’s helpful to have a way to drop some tweet-sized common knowledge on the page. I’m using Obsidian Portal as much of my campaign journal, and create a location, NPC, or faction with a small snippet of common knowledge, and then use the GM secrets to flesh out the plots, deeper lore, and secret connections to other elements of the campaign. I am also using the various secret societies and factions like the Harpers, Knights of the Shield, Monsters, etc, so the Secrets section is particularly valuable. The wiki looks different for different players, and it allows my player who secretly belongs to a spy group to have contacts and know things the other players don’t know.

What highlights of the campaign have your players enjoyed, so far?

I have a wide range of play styles in my group. The bard is really interested in making a name for himself in the city and is performing at top venues. He just booked a gig at the Amnian Embassy, which the party knows has old Shadow Thieves smuggling tunnels currently being used by the Xanathar Guild to smuggle slaves down to Skullport. We’ll see how that plays out when the Fey Day concert series happens. Another player is very invested in Forgotten Realms lore, and enjoys all the canon Easter eggs that pop up from time to time. He’s a sun elf, and so I try to tie in the old lore of Aelinthaldaar into the game with relevant plot hooks. Another player is a haughty spoiled noble, so interactions between noble families is becoming important, and is a focus when she plays. The party has just unlocked the second level of Undermountain, and are entering the Goblin Bazaar. I plan to really make that place over the top, and expand on what’s been done to make it a fun and vibrant place with weird stuff for sale, zany characters, and of course ridiculous goblin carnival games.

What part of the story are you most proud of? Or, what was the most enjoyable moment for you as the GM?

I wasn’t as familiar with Forgotten Realms lore before starting this game, so it was enjoyable to really dig into the lore, and come up with obscure characters from the early game. It’s also fun to play around with iconic characters, so I’m trying to work in the many Mary Sues (good and evil) of the Forgotten Realms in a way that doesn’t steal the thunder from the PCs.

You have lots of great extras throughout the campaign — a very detailed adventure map, house rules, guides to deities and factions, and a place for rumors and public notices. The campaign calendar is especially cool. What elements have been the most useful for your gaming group and which ones are the most fun to create?

The maps and campaign calendar have been essential to the game’s organization. I am only planning it about a month ahead of the PCs, but it allows me to mark all the major festivals to create color and plot hooks, and also to mark down when different events are slotted to happen as the Game unfolds. It’s not all on Obsidian Portal yet; a lot is still in my notes on my mac, but it’s something that I’ve enjoyed putting together. I also think the factions all need to be firmed up so I can link to them and connect them together in the plot spiderweb the PCs are navigating. I don’t have them all fleshed out yet, because there are so many layers of street gangs, crime syndicates, scheming nobles and guilds, power-hungry mages, and of course the disparate churches and cults and orders.

A lot has been written over the years about this particular setting. Do you prefer to draw your adventures from published source material, make up your own stories, or do a bit of both?

In this campaign, I’m trying to use the published sources as much as I can. I have a few players that know a lot of Realms lore (more than I do likely), and I don’t want to ruin the fun of the rich lore. I also think it’s a great way to spark ideas and to create stories and plots. There is so much that’s been done in this city, and it’s really cool to have such interesting characters and locations to draw from. The Xanathar, Mirt, Artor Morlin, Halaster Blackcloak, the Masked Lords, etc are all such fun and exciting characters to play around with. I’m also adding my own characters into the setting too of course, and even taking ideas or factions from other sources.

Can you give us any hints about the future of the campaign without giving too much away? Or, do you have other, upcoming projects?

The future of the campaign really lies in the hands of the players. I know what the major factions in the city and dungeon are trying to do, and yes there are apocalypses planned if no one intervenes. The city may collapse into Undermountian if the Melairshield finally fails, or the Dark Army of the Night may recover the thread of the Shadow Weave from the Knot and plunge Waterdeep into the Plane of Shadow, or an avatar of Ghaunadaur may be summoned from the Pit, or Halaster Blackcloak may send a mechagolem into the city above to wreak havoc. Or the Amcathras may corner the market on ice wine. Lots of plots big and small, and we’ll see what the PCs grab onto and if they themselves become the movers and shakers of the City or the Dungeon, or both.

As far as other projects, I’ve been working on my Velnswood campaign. I started it a few years back, but it wasn’t quite ready. The idea of that one is a fantasy 13th century game set in the Baltics during the Northern Crusades. It’s a fascinating time and place where the Teutonic Knights are crusading against both the pagan viking-like Baltic warriors and the Russian princes, and the Holy Roman Emperor is branded an antichrist by the Pope, all while the Mongols are sweeping through Poland and Hungary to the south. This would be a OSR game, and it would dive deep into brutal scorched earth warfare, and religion with all the Christian schisms, sects, heresies, and pagan pantheons. I think there’s a lot of potential for an interesting sword and sorcery game set on the frontier between Latin Christendom and Eastern Christendom, with the last pagan nation between, in that time between the Dark Ages and the High Middle Ages.

Finally, Obsidian Portal always loves to ask if you have any advice or clever tricks to share, as a GM, a site-designer, or as a gamer in general.

I would recommend a campaign calendar tool as part of the wiki so that it’s easier to build a campaign calendar. I don’t know how many other people would use it, but it was nice to create something like that for my campaign, and it would be neat to have a more seamless add-in.


And with that, we must shut the tavern doors for the night. Many thanks to sethwhite and the “City of Splendors” gaming group for sharing their work and insights with us. We hope you’ll do a little exploring of your own and draw inspiration from the work within this fine campaign. Until next month – Happy Gaming!


Update Post – July 19, 2021

Greetings and salutations Portal People, it’s time once again for another update post. As has been the case for the last few posts, these entries are listed as an “UPDATE”, a “BUG FIX” or a “FEATURE”. For this post in particular, I have broken them down by type as opposed to site area as I have done for some past posts.

So check out these lists, and take comfort in the knowledge that work continues on Obsidian Portal. As always, you can direct any questions, comments or feedback to [email protected]


Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month July 2021 – The Coldfall Sanction

They had said Dracula was dead; that Operation Edom was over. They lied. The vampire lives on, and despite the disappearance of spymaster “Peter Hawkins”, the events he set into motion continue, due to the existence of The Coldfall Sanction – July’s Campaign of the Month! Up for a little intrigue with a vampire? Good. Then GM nicholsvictoria2 will see you straight away.


Cross-Classing to Game Publisher — Group Beta Games

Hail, fellow Obsidian Portal GM’s and Players! My name is Steve, also known as Jynx001, and for several years now I’ve been a Content Creator, Support Sorcerer, and Maker of Many Things here on OP. I’m very happy to announce that I’m taking my next level in the Game Publisher class as I begin the quest of launching “Group Beta Games!”


Update Post – April 20, 2021

Hello hello Portal People!

It’s that time once again, so grab your favorite beverage and settle in for a little relaxation for a few moments while I give you the latest about what’s been going on behind the proverbial scenes here at Obsidian Portal. This time around I’ll be using a cannonball style, with the updates in no particular order (there’s a reason for this, but more on that front later).

With all of that said, let’s dive right in!

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
Petrified Articles
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