Dolmenwood Open Table – The Woods

It’s my last open table game I’m running before I leave Milwaukee and move to Phoenix. Bittersweet as I leave many friends behind, a handful of whom are graduating…

I am running Cairn in the Dolmenwood setting. Or rather the chassis of Cairn with the innards of Dolmenwood and Into the Wyrd and Wild that I find delicious. Thought some of this up a while back.

Some of this is rules design. Some of this is campaign/adventure design. A lot of this is both in one.

So, I’ve run one session so far and have another tonight.

We open in darkness. A small circle of light appears above our perspective. A young girl peers down and casts a single gold coin down and makes a small splash. The child runs away.

Fire is seen overhead. Men and women scream.

The trees seen from below undergo the changes of the seasons. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. Again and again. The trees grow thicker and more numerous.

The child’s face peers into the well once more, now much, much older. She releases a sigh.

You appear in the bottom of the well. What do you do?

The well that the players appear in is located in the smoldering village of Charhollow. The dragon destroyed most everything. The players were supposed to save the village, but arrived too late. Even the woman who wished for them with her gold coin has passed on into her afterlife sainthood.

The NPCs here are bitter, reserved people, each with their own secrets. They trade and talk, but only just enough to get by.

The Woodsman

What do the players do?

Save the village. Arm up. Find treasures. Seek allies. Remove threats.

The dragon is said to still be out there…


Players have two hours total for each session. If they are stuck out in the woods after two hours, they each receive one of the fifty “getting wyrder” mutations from Into the Wyrd and Wild.

Don’t dally!


Example of a randomly generated Into the Wyrd and Wild map.

There is no map, besides of Charhollow (more on that next time). The woods are random every time, using this Into the Wyrd and Wild generator, which adds to the chaos of the woods. You should be lost in some regard. So how do players find what they’re looking for?

When you enter the woods through the Gates of Saint Hestia, whisper the name of your quarry and she will bless your journey.

For whatever quarry is said, the GM secretly selects a difficultly.

  • Easy = d6
  • Medium = d8
  • Hard = d10
  • Very Hard = d12

When the players enter a new area, the GM rolls the difficulty die. If that number is equal to or lower than the number of areas the PCs have moved through this session, their quarry is here, though it might not be immediately obvious. There is a chance that their quarry is in the first area they move too and this is be design. Investigate and explore!

Before leaving Charhollow, the players are also instructed to tie a spool of thread to the feet of Saint Hestia’s statue to prevent them from getting lost.

When the players decide to return to Charhollow, they can follow the thread back home. However, there is a chance than an encounter has found their thread interesting and will block their path home (d6):

  • 1 = Hard encounter. Big monster or group of monsters.
  • 2-3 = Soft encounter. Vermin or fauna or curious folks.
  • 4+ = Clear. No problems.


I don’t like it when a choice is made to heal and nothing happens. But I also don’t like guaranteeing a random encounter every time you take a much-needed rest. So, a compromise that leverages the neater mechanics of Cairn:

When the party heals to recover HP, make two d6 rolls:

First d6 = Supply Roll

  • 1 = Crisis. No one heals. Everyone marks 1 Fatigue.
  • 2-3 = Warning. All but one random PC heals. Everyone marks 1 Fatigue.
  • 4+ = Normal. Everyone heals. Everyone marks 1 Fatigue.

Second d6 = Encounter Roll

  • 1 = Encounter. Danger is here. Roll to see who goes first.
  • 2-3 = Clue. Danger is nearby. Give a hint. Arrives the next time “Clue” or “Encounter” is rolled .
  • 4+ = Clear. No danger here. Carry on.

Fatigue gums up your equipment slots, so that you can carry fewer items and treasures. But if you don’t heal, you have a higher chance of dying… Risk and reward!


Initiative is not based on DEX here, but Light. Stolen from Veins in the Earth, players are grouped based on Light source. So if one player holds the torch for the group, everyone goes off of that player’s initiative roll.

Example 1: Cub holds the torch for the group. The torch is STR 8. When combat breaks out, he rolls for the group. If successful, they go before the monsters.

Example 2: Cub holds a torch for himself and Jed, while Cody and Bartlett are off investigating another room with a ghostlight, a lantern with a literal ghost (STR 11). When the undead come for them, Cub rolls a save to see if he and Jed go before the monsters, while Cody does the same for himself and Bartlett.

Then it’s just a matter of me ripping of Pat Stuart and making odd light sources with strange quirks or drawbacks.


Characters have been created using this package sheet with Arcana. When given to a new character, that package is marked off permanently. You are limited in how many characters you can make. If you run out, game over (unlikely, but still possible).

Whenever a character dies, roll a d10. If you roll equal to or lower than the total number of dead PC’s, the next phase of dragon-sickness occurs.

Dragon-sickness is the lasting gift of the dragon to the condemned village, draining the villagers into disease and rabid madness as the woods invade their minds. The death of the PCs means the slow and painful death of Charhollow…

Want a shorter or longer campaign? Just change the size of the die.

EDIT: Oh, and when you roll a new character, they have your old memories and skills. But not items (unless your buddies saved them for you and not themselves).

Happy adventuring!

5 thoughts on “Dolmenwood Open Table – The Woods

  1. You write: “Fatigue gums up your equipment slots, making“ — did something get left out?

    Interesting post, btw. I have Cairn and I think all of the Wormskin ‘zines, and intend to run it some time, so your take on things & experiences are quite serendipitous

    1. Whoops. Last minute posting doesn’t fare too well lol.

      Glad to be of help! Just backed the reprint of Into the Wyrd and Wild, which got me into this again. 🙂

      1. Yeah, didn’t back it the first time, but am thinking of doing so this time.I like forest settings. Most fantasy settings I’ve read about or seen on TV/Film evoke plains, mountains and forests, particularly forests — not dungeons.

      2. Those type of environments always feel more alive to me… Those and cities.

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