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Dolmenwood: An Interview with Gavin Norman

Dolmenwood blends the gloomy and whimsical, the wondrous and weird

Dolmenwood is a fantasy adventure game inspired by Basic/Expert D&D and Old-School Essentials set in a world of fairy tales and eerie folklore drawn from the British Isles. Dolmenwood blends the gloomy and whimsical, the wondrous and weird and a free preview is available. Dolmenwood is live on Kickstarter from August 9, 2023 and very well may join the million dollar RPG club there. Gavin Norman, owner of Necrotic Gnome and Dolmenwood’s creator, was kind enough to talk to me about his new setting complete with rules.

dolmenwood.png

Charles Dunwoody (CD): Thanks for talking with me again, Gavin. If you had one paragraph to describe the setting of Dolmenwood, how would you describe it?
Gavin Norman (GN):
Dolmenwood is a fungus-encrusted forest on the borders of the timeless world of Fairy. Once the domain of a cruel elf lord known as the Cold Prince, Dolmenwood is now ruled by a patchwork of conniving human nobles and the monotheistic Pluritine Church. In the dark places, just off the tracks that wind between woodland villages, the sinister Drune cult jealously guard the powers of the standing stones, and fell beasts, weird fairies, and roving fungal monstrosities lie in wait. The wicked, half-unicorn Nag-Lord squats in the northern woods, oozing out a miasma of corruption and readying his forces to strike against civilization. Presented as a lavishly detailed sandbox hex crawl, featuring 200 hexes, 7 major factions, 12 settlements, and over 280 NPCs, Dolmenwood is rife with adventure.

CD: What are you offering through this Kickstarter?
GN:
We’re launching the three Dolmenwood core books, plus a range of extras. The Dolmenwood Player's Book contains the complete game rules plus all character options. The Dolmenwood Campaign Book and Dolmenwood Monster Book present a detailed campaign setting and bestiary, ready for years of sandbox adventure. As for the extras, we’ve really gone all out to create an amazing package to really immerse backers in the brambly, fungus-riddled flavor of Dolmenwood. There’s a set of 11 player character minis, cloth and poster maps of Dolmenwood, four adventures set in Dolmenwood, a beautiful four panel GM screen, a set of fungal dice, and even a soundtrack album (12” LP and digital) by the artist Tales Under the Oak.

CD: What types of characters can players look forward to playing in Dolmenwood?
GN:
There’s a really fun mix of character kindreds and classes, some familiar from D&D, some familiar from folklore, and some completely new. For the kindreds, the options are: breggle, elf, grimalkin, human, mossling, and woodgrue. And for classes we have: cleric, enchanter, fighter, friar, hunter, knight, magician, minstrel, and thief. Delving into the new kindred options a little:
  • Breggles are proud and stubborn goat-headed folk whose horns and social standing grow as they increase in level. The High Wold region of Dolmenwood is ruled by in-fighting breggle lords.
  • Elves are ageless fairies who have crossed into the mortal world for reasons they seldom reveal. They have innate magic in the form of fairy glamours.
  • Grimalkins are mercurial feline fairies who shift between three different forms: a humanoid cat form wearing clothing and speaking, a fat moggy form, and a primal fey predatory form. They are hunters, epicureans, and thrill-seekers.
  • Mosslings are gnarled, woody humanoids whose moist flesh is riddled with fungi, molds, and plants (of course including moss). Their affinity for fungi makes them master brewers and cheesemakers.
  • Woodgrues are capricious bat-faced goblins known for their love of music, revelry, and arson. They practice secret woodwind songs that can enchant others, usually for comical effect.
CD: What new types of magic can player characters wield?
GN:
There are four types of magic in Dolmenwood: arcane magic (used by magicians), holy magic (used by clerics and friars), fairy magic (used by enchanters and to a small degree by fairy kindreds), and mossling knacks (used by mosslings of any class). Arcane and holy magic will be familiar to anyone who’s played any edition of D&D. The selection of arcane spells is customized to Dolmenwood, and includes some brand new spells such as crystal resonance and dweomerlight. Holy magic is really tied into the lore of the setting, with each holy spell associated with a particular saint of the Pluritine Church, and the myth of that saint recounted along with the spell description. Fairy magic is all new, and encompasses innate glamours (minor magicks that can be used at will) and fairy runes (mighty magical secrets granted by the lords of Fairy). Mossling knacks are odd semi-magical crafts practiced by mosslings. They range from useful forest knacks such as speaking with birds, to weirder crafts such as fermenting noxious belches.

dolmenwood2.png

CD: What are some new rules that help bring the world of Dolmenwood to life?
GN:
Dolmenwood is set up as a sandbox hex crawl setting, so there’s a bunch of new and expanded rules to really flesh out travel in the wilds. There’s a brand new system to greatly simplify hex crawling, rules for camping, tables for determining weather and getting lost, and procedures for fishing, foraging, and hunting (including 20 edible herbs, 20 edible fungi, 20 types of fish, and stats for loads of game animals). The Dolmenwood Player's Book also includes detailed and flavorful lists of equipment and services, with six types of mounts, eight types of hounds, 20 medicinal herbs, 30 beverages, 20 types of pipeleaf, 40 tavern dishes, and fully developed procedures for hiring retainers in Dolmenwood.

CD: What tools will GMs get to help in creating adventures and running campaigns in Dolmenwood?
GN:
To make sandbox play easy, there are tables of hundreds of rumors, including general rumors, rumors local to each of the 12 settlements, and rumors relating to each monster. With the detailed settlement and NPC descriptions, it’s really easy to start play by having PCs arrive in a settlement, hear some rumors, and then see which area of the campaign map they’re drawn to explore. There’s also a section discussing possible overarching campaign themes that the GM might wish to introduce, as well as a big section on designing dungeon adventures in Dolmenwood, including an example starter adventure that can be placed anywhere.

CD: What kind of new monsters are found in Dolmenwood?
GN:
As a fairytale-inspired setting in a dark, dank forest, there’s lots of new types of fairies, along with various plants, fungi, oozes, and miscellaneous nasty beasts. While some of the monsters are inspired directly from folklore (e.g. kelpies, redcaps) and some are Dolmenwood variants of classic D&D monsters (e.g. goblins, ogres), the majority are completely new creations. PCs can meet such odd beings as barrow bogeys, brainconks, crookhorns, crystaloids, galoshers, harridans, madtoms, marsh lanterns, redslobs, scrabies, wicker giants, yickerwills, and many more. For anyone interested in seeing more about the monsters, Chris McDowall (creator of Into the Odd) recently did an excellent video preview of the Dolmenwood Monster Book.

CD: Does Dolmenwood have new magic items for PCs to find?
GN:
The Dolmenwood Campaign Book contains a chapter called Treasures and Oddments. This includes tables for generating treasure hoards, plus sections on gems, art objects (including jewelry), magic armor, magic weapons, magic crystals, magic rings, potions, oils and balms, magic musical instruments, scrolls and books, wands and staves, wondrous items, rare herbs and fungi, rare comestibles, and enchanted oddments. There are some classic items that people will recognize from D&D, but also many new items created for Dolmenwood.

CD: Any final comments you’d like to share with the readers of EN World?
GN:
Dolmenwood has been in development for nigh on a decade, so I’m super excited that it’s finally ready for others to explore, clashing with the forces of the Nag-Lord, meddling with the fearsome Drune, and venturing onto perilous Fairy Roads. With familiar, streamlined rules, loads of player and GM advice, and a lavishly detailed setting, Dolmenwood is a perfect way to jump into an open world campaign of fairytale adventure. The Kickstarter is live from August 9th for 30 days: Dolmenwood Kickstarter.
 

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Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
Sounds amazing, but frankly I don't like OSE and definitely don't need yet another D&D Variant - any chance for a 5E version of the setting?

Gavin was asked that in a recent AMA on Reddit and this was his reply:

Haha, it was planned at one point actually! But then the sheer scale of Dolmenwood became clear and I decided to drop the idea of publishing two different versions of it.
 
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Vincent55

Adventurer
This sounds cool, but i prefer to make my own setting, i wanted to get back to basic rules and stuff and the ose has let me do this. I am still wondering if i should go with race as a class or not from the basic and expert sets. I would think that if i stuck with only humans being able to take any class it would work out better and prevent too many odd groupings.
 

Cruentus

Adventurer
This sounds cool, but i prefer to make my own setting, i wanted to get back to basic rules and stuff and the ose has let me do this. I am still wondering if i should go with race as a class or not from the basic and expert sets. I would think that if i stuck with only humans being able to take any class it would work out better and prevent too many odd groupings.
I was a patreon on the Dolmenwood book for a short while (didn't hang long enough to get the final set of pdf's), but I did back the kickstarter for the hardback books.

While I appreciate the creativity and interesting worldbuilding that he did in Dolmenwood, I don't care for the whimsical elements, or the fae angle, but I love the sub-systems and optional rules that he has added, and have been already using them based on early drafts. So, while I am unlikely to actually run Dolmenwood, I will be taking lots of elements from the setting and porting them into my home-brew games and my own kit-bashed settings. For those elements alone, plus the guidance around hex crawls (a fave of mine), alternate spell systems, more monsters, etc., its a super value for me (IMO).

I've been running with OSE Advanced for a year or so now, and use Class and Race separately. We had a B/X game with race as class, and when we visited the elf kingdom, the DM had all the guards as Elves...so, fighter/wizards. That was a lot of magic missiles and sleep spells. Oof. I've since blended OSE with Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures, which uses Playbooks for Chargen, and as a result, other races have an actual in-game reason to be in the starting town. Everyone (as a result of the playbook system) is linked to everyone else through relationships and past adventures when you start, so the "odd groupings" don't occur, while keeping the basic, simple system in place. I even modified the playbooks for OSE classes I was using. Beyond the Wall has sample playbooks for download on their website to check out.
 

I've since blended OSE with Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures, which uses Playbooks for Chargen, and as a result, other races have an actual in-game reason to be in the starting town. Everyone (as a result of the playbook system) is linked to everyone else through relationships and past adventures when you start, so the "odd groupings" don't occur, while keeping the basic, simple system in place. I even modified the playbooks for OSE classes I was using. Beyond the Wall has sample playbooks for download on their website to check out.
Not urgent in any way, but I would be interested in those playbooks and potentially I'm not the only one. So if you feel,you've polished them enough, maybe you can create a thread for them here at ENWorld (or post them to the BtW subreddit).
 

Cruentus

Adventurer

Vincent55

Adventurer
I was a patreon on the Dolmenwood book for a short while (didn't hang long enough to get the final set of pdf's), but I did back the kickstarter for the hardback books.

While I appreciate the creativity and interesting worldbuilding that he did in Dolmenwood, I don't care for the whimsical elements, or the fae angle, but I love the sub-systems and optional rules that he has added, and have been already using them based on early drafts. So, while I am unlikely to actually run Dolmenwood, I will be taking lots of elements from the setting and porting them into my home-brew games and my own kit-bashed settings. For those elements alone, plus the guidance around hex crawls (a fave of mine), alternate spell systems, more monsters, etc., its a super value for me (IMO).

I've been running with OSE Advanced for a year or so now, and use Class and Race separately. We had a B/X game with race as class, and when we visited the elf kingdom, the DM had all the guards as Elves...so, fighter/wizards. That was a lot of magic missiles and sleep spells. Oof. I've since blended OSE with Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures, which uses Playbooks for Chargen, and as a result, other races have an actual in-game reason to be in the starting town. Everyone (as a result of the playbook system) is linked to everyone else through relationships and past adventures when you start, so the "odd groupings" don't occur, while keeping the basic, simple system in place. I even modified the playbooks for OSE classes I was using. Beyond the Wall has sample playbooks for download on their website to check out.
That makes sense I think having race and class separate it the way to go, level limits, and training to advance is also something io will be doing encumbrance (the item slot version i think works well) and item repairing as well. I have just converted the city encounter tables from thieves world to use in any city has to adapt much and add a bit but turned out well. the NPC table was left open so that you the DM would have to make one for each town with notable persons. But the rest is generalized to say a priest you can insert any that are from that area or world on the fly. not sure if i can post the finish PDF here i mean it has no specific things from the world and i think that it is just a table so still not sure.
 



I suspected it would happen today.
It's kind of strange because it happened, not during the initial two days, nor during the home-stretch, but during the long slog of the middle (albeit still at the beginning of said slog). Strange, but fortunate! I hope this will boost brand-recognition much further!

Gavin has lots of news coverage, including this interview. Those various bits of news may have helped. But yes, interesting to see the kickstarter continue to grow after the normal slow down period.
 

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