Monday, June 5, 2017

June 4th Play Report

I had a great first session running a game for my brother and some friends who aren't in my normal Sunday game.  I asked everyone to send me a quick description of their character and a play report, which Oscar stepped up to do (thanks!)  I'm waiting on the descriptions of the party members which I'll edit in later, but for now I'll include the awesome play report.

Party Members:

Borgnir Vikingsonn (Oscar)

Raised by a family of smiths who found him abandoned in a basket on the side of the road as a child, Borgnír has never learned who his original parents are or where he is from. The only clue he has to go on is a runic symbol he has had on his left arm since for as long as he can remember. As a young boy, he was often belittled for the mutation he was born with allowing him to extend and retract claws from his fingers.

Through his adolescent period, Borgnír found himself to be naturally gifted in the art of survival and tracking.

Up til now he has lived a life as a smithy and been a secretive follower of the trickster god Ellis, which entails that he always carry a small statue of the goddess with him.

Working as a smithy in Denethix allowed Borgnír to meet many interesting citizens who were patrons of his forge. He befriended an old scholarly mage from the Academy of Elevated Thought who informed him of a historical rumor that before the Wizards were in power, Vikings used to come up the river to Denethix and pillage the city and its citizens.

This newfound information granted Borgnír the curiosity and sense of adventure to venture out from the life he knew in Denethix in search of his true origins.

Natak the Dwarf (Mike)

Natak appears to be simultaneously 10 and 50 years old, suggested by a ghostly white beard and yellowing of the eyes complimenting the skin, albeit grey, of an infant.

As to personal history, Natak is a bit confused himself, having come to consciousness in what him now assumes to have been a lab, but at the time was perceived as a labyrinth of dark, cold rooms that were in pristine if barren condition. Natak still carries around the little plastic swipe card that he found rapped around his big toe that served as his escape key - opening several sets of labs doors to the outside world, though upon attempted re-entry refused to let him back in. With no historical memory beyond that point, Natak has taken to light mercenary and adventuring work in part because of this ability to shed all wounds given (thus far). Natak suspects that he must have had a prior life outside the lab, as from time to time situations will shake a bit of muscle memory "hey I know how to whistle", or non-memorial understanding "don't plug that in there" loose. Other than that, he is blank slate learning about the wasteland the hard way.

Natak will take an opportunity, if granted, to check out any similar labs or compounds that appear similar to his original point of origin for hints about his past.

<Edit in later>

Play Report (written by Oscar)

We managed to sneak into the Western Woods after the Thief shared rumors he had overheard of a nasty Orc living in the depths of these woods. We tracked the Orc on a long path leading us deeper into the dark forest which is known for its nefarious tribal-like inhabitants. Through quick thinking by the group, we decided to take an off-path from the trail and managed to avoid a myriad of traps set by some unknown people. Along the way we found a dead man stuck in a trap who curiously had a lot of male beauty products in his pack. Next to him in another trap was a rabid talking bear that charged at us in a furious rage. We managed to do some good damage to him before one of our party members charmed the bear into leaving us alone. As the bear walked away we continued down the tracks and ran into the terrifying Orc we had heard of.

He revved his chainsaw while charging at us. As each of us attacked this ravenous creature we underestimated the elusiveness of this Orc. He dodged attack after attack from all members of the party. However, after landing a few deafening attacks on the beast one of our party members decided to try to emphasize with the creature. We learned of its quest to collect 1000 human skulls and asked it to join us as we journeyed. Not long after the Orc deciding to join us, the Thief tried to get his slimy little hands of the Orc’s gear without him noticing. This did not end well for out party as the Orc quickly turned rabid again due to our treasonous actions towards it. At this point, the Orc was so wounded from the prior fight that a quick lightning bolt took care of him and he dropped dead towards the ground. The Thief now had his chance to loot his dead body and picked up his chainsaw and gold. Satisfied with our quest we headed back to town, Orc head in hand, to receive our reward for slaying this foul beast. The roads are once again safe due to the heroic actions of the party.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Meet your God

This is a lore post that contains spoilers.  If you're a player in any of games I would recommend not reading below the page break.  The part your characters would know is included here.

There is a distinction drawn in Denethix between being in the eye of the gods or being where the gods can't see you.  It's widely believed that gods see and judge everything we do in places where you can see the sky.  Behavior in outdoor marketplaces, open fields etc are generally held to a higher standard of godfearing-ness.  While being indoors or under a cloudy sky isn't total license to do as you please, it's held that gods have a more difficult time learning about our behavior when they can't see us. For this reason, temples are always constructed either as an open amphitheater or with a literal God's Eye within the building (a screen the gods can watch through.) Amphitheaters are usually considered more "old-school,"  and many of them date to periods where the state religion was the only one permitted.

Godkiller Rocket Orcs

I've discussed orcs in this setting before, but this is a larger write up on their culture, with goals and adventure hooks.


Orcs are recognized as the most spiritually attuned race, with each orc having a personal connection to at least one god in the heavens.  Unfortunately, this "personal connection" usually takes the form of radio transmissions beamed into their skulls from the god's star as it orbits the earth.  These radio transmissions reverberates among the orc's teeth and can produce anything from voices to an incessant series of numbers. Since their main interactions with the Gods are to be screamed at by them, orcs are generally considered to be hated by the gods. Orcs are highly aware of the location of their god's star in the sky, as the location influences the volume of the transmissions. Orcs are highly regarded as astronomers (the sane ones) and soothsayers (the insane ones).  Orcs are often held up as an example of the damaging effects of extreme religiosity.


Orcs live in the Worthless North, a place of cold winters, shattered settlements and howling void. One thing it has in abundance is spaceship parts.  A huge pile of second and thirdhand steel parts from previous civilizations is the seat of orcish civilization, and all orcs desire to have access to the Spaceship Graveyard.  They need access to the parts to build their own spaceships and go on crusades.

Orcish Crusades 

After years of infighting, tribal warfare and interminable theft/kidnapping of valuable spaceship parts/engineers, one tribe will have enough parts, know-how and rocket fuel to march to the Launch Pad and declare a crusade.  The crusading tribe will build and launch a rocket out of scrap, with the goal of flying into the heavens and killing a god.  Thirteen crusades have been launched so far, with three successful god-kills.  The kill usually takes the form of the spaceship crashing into a random god's star and destroying it, leaving the clerics and followers of that god bereft of spells, divine intervention and spiritual succor.  The orcs still on earth who had a connection to that god find that the voices in their heads are blessedly silent.  (This is why you will occasionally find a sane orc.)  The only exception is the Quiet God's Star, which was long ago reached by orcs yet still remains in the sky.  The First Crusade was lead by Orc-Pope Michael the Unloved against the star of Cyric, the God of Lies.

4 Quests

1. Two competing orcish commando forces are each attempting to kidnap a professor of Engineering from the Academy of Enlightened Thought.

2. A poorly constructed spaceship has crashed into Denethix, with dozens of half dead orcs and their engineer slaves sheltering in the wreckage.  The townsfolk want to kill everyone on board and sell the ship for scrap.  Representatives from the Academy want to kill most of the orcs, save the engineers and take the ship to study. The orcs want to pull their spaceship to the top of a nearby mountain and try a "gravity launch" (pushing it off the top and hoping the boosters are powerful enough to catch the ship before it hits the ground).  The engineers want to get out alive, hopefully without anyone knowing they were ever slaves.  Due to Denethix's complicated legal system, all four have the legal right to do what they desire.

3. An orcish priest dedicated to destroying a god the party hates invites them on a crusade to fly into heaven and kill that god.

4. Orcish regiments stole a large quantity of nuclear rocket fuel from the dinosaur clerics of the northern mountain.  They are moving it to the Worthless North via an ancient train.  The clerics hire the party to steal it back, giving them velociraptor mounts to accomplish their train heist.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

5 Campaign Ideas

Some of these would be easy to slot into any edition of DnD.  Some probably require a new game or at least heavily modified mechanics.

1) Polynesian style island chains.  Magic, war and culture are all heavily influenced by Polynesian mythos.  Party starts on a island, earns a boat by heroic deeds and then sails around the ocean discovering new islands and fighting evil spirits.

2) Toy Story: Wizard brings inanimate objects to life in order to find his glasses, which have been stolen.  The players are the objects, which are rolled up like normal characters but instead of a race they have properties based on their object.  What does it mean for scissors to have high strength?  What if a pencil has a high con? The players start with no inventory but themselves, and are small objects in a huge and dangerous wizard's tower.

3) Warring States Period. Mainland China split between warring kings, brilliant tacticians, and travelling schools of rival philosophers. The outlandish personalities of the period go very well in high fantasy.   Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Sun Quan could be fantastic patrons, rivals and villains.  Start them off as guards to a legalism philosopher, put them in a warlord's court and start the assassinations!

4) Osmosis Jones: The players play as white blood cells (5 types, 5 classes), medicine or whatever else they can reasonably justify.  They travel around the body fighting infectious diseases and cancer cells. Everything is highly anthropomorphized and the terrain is three dimensional and dependent on blood vessel structure (capillaries give you more freedom of movement than you'd think).  

5) WWE:  Players are star pro wrestlers tasked with planning and executing thrilling, dramatic shows for their AMPED UP fans.  Half showmanship and planning, half real combats, all EXTREME.  Name your wrestler and their catch phrases/moves, execute a series of betrayals, team ups and rivalries to give the people a show.  Extra points for playing Stone Cold.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Terrain for Random Wilderness Encounters

Roll as many times as you like on Natural, Manmade and Magical Terrain tables.  Roll the d8 on the play mat and wherever it lands, that is where that terrain feature is. Also, roll once to determine a random quest elsewhere in Denethix, this encounter is connected to that quest somehow.


1. Beehive on Tree
2. Bear Den
3. Thorn Bushes
4. Thick Vines
5. River with Piranhas
6. Dead Tree (falls in random direction 2 rounds in)
7. Rocks with deadly snakes sunning themselves
8. Flock of crows

Hunting Platform


1. Elevated Hunting Platform
2. Deer Blind
3. Bear Traps with bait (for actually catching bears)
4. Wolf Pit
5. Famine Wall 
6. Encounter takes place adjacent to farmland (fence, livestock, angry farmer, etc)
7. Crumbling, ruined tower
8. Ancient Auditorium


1. Hate -Murder occurred here, auto crits if hit
2. Fey Circle - Get inside the circle
3. Eclipse - Halfway through battle, the sun starts to fade
4. Earthmotes
5. Broken Down War Machine
6. Un-detonated  Artillery
7. Ancient Flag from long ago battle still rallies ghosts
8. Straight up Ghost

Terrain that doesn't suck

One thing I really liked about 4th edition was its focus on terrain.  The combination of a high magic default setting and the intense focus on tactical combat was a very fertile ground for terrain.  I mostly map out combats with just a few lines these days, but every so often I'll create a huge setpiece in roll20.  My favorite types of terrain are actually live creatures, either humans or animals.

Crowds: The best terrain isn't rocks, it's people.  I don't put a person in each square and keep track of them, I just list a huge block as "CROWD," and it all moves together. Crowds are hard to push through (2x movement required), can run away from threats and trample folks, and have opportunities for social encounters mid combat.  If you want to hack folks to death or take hostages you can just snatch them out of the crowd. You can intimidate the crowd to form a path through, or to send them trampling over your enemies.  You can get them on your side and have them throw rocks and bottles.
What happens to all the people when initiative is rolled?  

Animals:  A classic example that I use all the time is your horses in a camp.  A 5 foot aura around the horses where if you enter, you're getting kicked. Consider a bear baiting pit with bear inside, or maybe the rocks over yonder have poisonous snakes within.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dungeons and Dinosaurs

The dinosaur clerics up north have hollowed out their mountain and filled it with a complex series of oil wells, with pumps, pipes and control structures that are mostly scavenged from ancient ruins.  They use fracking to harvest vast supplies of oil needed to power their time machine.  Oil is a perfect fuel, as it can supply the mechanical and psychic power needed.

Oil, ancient compressed ferns, dinosaurs, trilobites and trees, remembers what it once was, and yearns to return to itself.  That vast longing is a source of fuel as surely as the complex hydrocarbons are. If not properly managed, that longing can also be an explosive, dangerous force.

There is a T-Rex ghost inside the mountain. It staggers between the ghostly world and our own, confused, betrayed and ravenous.  After months of rumors and attacks, the complex has been shut down, and requires adventures to put the T-Rex ghost to rest.

Pastor Ian asks the adventurers to delve into the mountain, slay the T-Rex and minimize damage to the archaic machinery. The dungeon is dirt simple in layout, but the description of the rooms should be a confusing haze of anachronisms.  The awakening of the oil means that ghosts of half remembered ferns, giant dragonflies, and trilobites flitter about anachronistic metal machined pipes and simple steam driven computers.

Pastor Ian gives them directions, so the party can go on a direct line through the three encounters and find the T-Rex den quickly.  They can also wander down unlighted corridors, roll on wandering monsters if they do.  The idea is that the actual dungeon layout is insanely complex and could be a megadungeon, but the party is there for a surgical strike.

First Room simply contains a weird piece of machinery that produces a high pitched noise that knocks humans (and demihumans) unconscious when within 30 feet (no save).  The first person in marching order sees the machinery first, then falls unconscious presumably.  They have to get past this machine or else take a long detour, remember Ian told them not to damage machinery.  

Second Room contains velociraptors, which emerge from caves holes in the wall and leap down on the party. Inside the bellies of the ghostly velociraptors is a ghost of a miner who was devoured before they shut it down. He asks the party to take the money off his corpse (nearby) and use it to pay his debt to the Bowery Boys, or else they will come after his family.  He also says the afterlife is horrible.

This thing is awesome

Third room has the T-rex, which, similar to the oil all mixed together, is more properly described as an amalgam of thousands of different creatures, with contrarily shifting skin boundaries and appendages.

Wandering Monsters
1) Minotaur
2) Ghostly Giant Insects  
3) Ghostly Triceratops
4) Ghostly Trilobites
5) Mind Flayer gone insane by psychic reverberations
6) Lost miners


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Different Country

The first quest tied to the interior of the ASE, this quest is meant to allow the party to become familiar with Denethix the Capital City and to see that their choices have repercussions.

"The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country." -J. Robert Oppenheimer
As the party is exploring the dungeon, they find some scientific papers.  The papers themselves are inscrutable, but they look Very Scientific.  It's well known that the Cult of Science will purchase authentic Science looted from ruins.  Usually the Science is filed away, never to be seen again.  The party finishes up their exploration of the dungeon and surrounding environs, but knows that there is a
Cult of Science church in the capital that they can bring the material to and receive a reward.

Players don't read past this part

The Elves Below

In Denethix, there are no "drow" to speak of, but there are subterranean elves.  Cut off from the surface, these elves have multiple adaptations to their home, including shrunken eyes, total loss of skin pigment and darkvision (all elves started as subterranean elves but have lost the first two traits).  Underelves have their own weird societies separate from the wizard dominated surface, and their society and rituals are subject to much speculation by social scientists and archaeologists from the Academy of Elevated Thought.  It's commonly thought that their societies were the only ones to retain artifacts and rituals from before the time of cleansing.

Quest: Investigate a passageway into the earth and document underelven society, preferably with a wide variety of artifacts that can be hauled back to the Academy for study.  (The Academy is in the Indiana Jones/Early British style, of smash grab and steal)

Players don't read past this part 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Switching Systems

The systems of Dungeons and Dragons are largely designed to work with a small group of PCs.  The systems can start to break down when used to model interactions that are outside that scope, like a huge pitched battle.  Individually tracking hp and attacks from thousands of combatants takes too long, so we have to use some other way.  The DMG has some skeletal mass combat rules, you can make up your own, or you can set up a normal dungeon/encounter structure within the larger battle.

-The PCs fight the enemy king and his honor guard, while the rest of the army battles around them, acting like terrain.
-The PCs sneak off on a special mission that requires them to sneak into the castle and open the gates, dispatching guards silently along the way.

Stuff like this is cool, fun, and works with the systems of DnD we're used to. It treats the PCs as special commandos that accomplish specific tasks.

There is another option though, one I have always wanted to try.  Use several obviously different systems to model one shared imaginary world.  As a (bad) example, let's say there is about to be a huge battle. The DM takes out a chessboard and says that the players are black, the DM is white, and whoever wins the chess game wins the battle.  The black left knight represents a favorite NPC of the players, while the white bishop is a hated foe.  So if these pieces are taken, a player can narrate a quick death scene for them, and the players might play chess differently to keep their knight alive.  Halfway through the game, they take a break and play a quick encounter with DnD rules.  If the players are smart, they can gain some advantage on the chessboard.  Then they finish the chess game with their new powers (because they found horses and gave them to that group of spearmen, this pawn moves like a knight)

Look at all these NPCs

What I like about this is that the world is understood in both systems, and can lead to weird gameplay.  Maybe the PCs just want to kill the white bishop, and then they think that they can convince the other king to make peace?  So you play chess, with a totally different aim than normal, with one side trying to kill a bishop and the other playing normally.  Then you switch to the PCs riding out to parlay under a truce flag.  Did the army kill the queen while attacking the bishop?  Maybe the king is now distraught and angry, unwilling to make peace.  Did the PCs have to sacrifice a lot of material to get the bishop?  What does that mean for the social structure of their army?

In general, I think switching systems like this could lead to a lot of emergent gameplay, with weird objectives in both games as the players try to use both systems to their advantage.  Chess is actually not a great choice here, since chess skill can vary so widely and it takes a long time.  You could use a game of Magic the Gathering with special decks representing both sides.  If your players are short on mana, they can do a little DnD encounter to get "supplies" and add one mana to their pool.  It could work with a lot of different games. What kind of situations could Love Letter model?  What if you played Werewolf but the werewolf is eating beloved NPCs?

Probably shorter games are better in general for this.

Monday, March 20, 2017

10 Weird Ways to Attack the Well of Dragons


We're coming up to the climactic battle in HOTDQ.  If you are unfamiliar, all the factions and folks you've talked with throughout the campaign rally their forces and march on the Well of Dragons to stop a big bad ritual.  It takes place in the caldera of a volcano, where the Cult of the Dragon has built a big bad spire to house their big bad ritual.

Honestly, it's pretty ballin'.  Not everyone likes the Wizards prewritten modules but I found this one really fun.  And it ends with a bang, a huge battle between good and evil for the fate of the world.  The battle is basically a distraction so that the party can sneak in to the spire to stop the ritual.  It's a smart way to essentially make the fights appropriate for the DnD structure, which emphasizes skirmishes and battles with less than 25-50 people.  So you're having a regular dnd shesh in sneaking around a tower and killing small groups of people, but the outside is a huge pitched battle.

One thing Tom (DM) said struck me as we were prepping for the battle with our allies. The head of the council asked the party if we had any suggestions for the battle.  It always feels good to get asked for feedback like that, like we can plan anything or throw out any kind of idea and it will actually impact the progression of the campaign for good or ill.  That freedom is one of my favorite things about DnD, and planning and scheming before a fight is probably my favorite way of engaging with the DnD world.  

So, here are 10 weird ideas I came up with to help the battle.

1. We bring a team of Dwarven Sappers to dig underneath the tower and topple it
2. Artillery fire with a series of Eleven spotters on the edge of the caldera using semaphore to guide the fire.

3. Kamikaze griffons with explosive strapped to them (Emerald Enclave might nix this one)
4. Druids with necklace of fireball turned into birds on a bombing run
5.  Mass Blessings - Exodus 17:12 "When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up--one on one side, one on the other--so that his hands remained steady till sunset." 
6. A river runs nearby the Well of Dragons, a floatilla with marine strike forces to flank the army, also see Harriet Tubman's famous raid. Perhaps with the aid of the spirit if the river?
7. Erupt the volcano somehow.
8. One spy infiltrates the spire and disguises himself as the head of the Cult and sows confusion (maybe run out and scream contradictory orders at the army)
9. Release a group of doppelgangers in the high Cult command.
10. Distribute leaflets among the Cult army that offer pardons and remind men of their past duties.  Many of the folk in the armies are there against their will, and might desert. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Play Report: Montasor, Lord of the Stalks

Had a great time DMing tonight!  Ran the Montasor Dungeon/Corn Maze I wrote.
Update! Check out a video of this session, thanks to John!

The Party

Tom made a human monk from the far east named Jito. Jito is a drunken master, here to investigate the incredible potency and growth rate of the corn for a distillery back east.   If he can figure out how the corn grows so virulently, he'll have free whiskey for life!  Jito and Tenzen are traveling the Silk Road going from East to West.

Bien made a human fighter named Tenzen, also from the far east. A masterless Ronin, Tenzen is accompanying his friend Jito and searching for the mythical Cornicorn (unicorn with an ear of corn instead of a horn).  Rumor has it that the Cornicorn's corn horn can cure erectile dysfunction, not that Tenzen is searching for it for that reason or anything.

John played his character from Josh's dungeon, Finn, a brave halfling fighter.  Finn is searching for the Altar of Ripening in order to put his dick on it and get his dick "riper" (bigger).  All the halfings in my world are grey skinned and hairless, but because he was coming from another campaign we just said he was a short human and he kept his skin and hair.

The Town

The party started in Tarryfield, and had already accepted a commission from the Iron Fist to return with Montasor's head and laser pitchfork for 200gp. They started by speaking to the bartender, whose name I have forgotten. The bartender told them about  Montasor, who used to be a mediocre farmer until two years ago, when he retreated into his house and stopped coming out.  One year ago, all his land and quite a bit of his neighbor's hand was suddenly infested with an incredibly virulent strain of corn.  Roughly 3 months ago, the huge fields of corn came to life, marched into town and started abducting people.  That's when the Iron Fist got involved, setting up a barricade and commissioning adventurers to go kill Montasor. 

The party left the tavern, off to go speak to Terry, the Iron Fist captain when they were approached by a man from the bar.  The man grabbed Jito and said that Montasor doesn't just abduct people, he TRANSFORMS people!  Then he showed him his two fingers of his right hand which had been turned to corn. Jito thought that was disgusting, kicked him away and enlisted the townsfolk to shame the man.  The man was put into the stocks and corn was thrown at him. 

The party then spoke to Terry, the Iron Fist captain.  Terry recommended they use fire, or bladed weapons.  Jito asked him if he had a shortsword he could borrow, and Terry gave him a pair of brass knuckles with blades attached to the sides.  Terry revealed that he had been travelling out east and had been given these weapons by a wise man when he needed them, and asked Jito to pay it forward.  The party told Terry about the partially transformed man in the stocks and Terry started to hurry away, drawing his longsword. The party recommended he observe the man instead of killing him, which Terry agreed to think about.  Then the party set off!

The Fields

The party marched through the fields as the wheat turned to corn and the corn got taller and taller. More and more scarecrows started showing up, and Finn eventually started poking around.  He stabbed one with his rapier to no effect, then opened it and noticed it was a human corpse, dead from a slashed throat.  He opened a few more and saw one dead from strangulation.  The party left the corpses there and moved on without closing their eyes. 

They made their way to the Corn Maize itself, and Finn climbed the highest corn stalks, aided by how light he was, and looked out over the corn maze, wisely mapping part of it.  He noticed a huge pumpkin and several twisting paths.  

The party went through the corn maize to the Pumpkin and killed all the cornfolk who were using it as a maypole.  Finn  pulled out the spears that were hurting the giant pumpkin and pinning it to the ground. 
It looked like this big pumpkin, including face
 The pumpkin started to crawl away, and the party wondered how to help it, without much success.  The pumpkin gave Finn a mini-pumpkin as a reward for fulling the spears out, which originally I meant to Finn to eat and recover hit points, but instead he has adopted it. (Naming it Jack)

The party continued straight on in the maze, and came a a clearing with freshly plowed earth, an altar, a statue and two cornmasons.  The cornmasons were carving the statue, and Tenzen ran through the plowed earth, avoiding an attack from the scarecrows below, and killed one.  Jito killed the other one with a bowstrike.  The party then investigated the earth, with Jito taking a piss on it and grabbing the hand that shot out.  Back and forth strength checks ensued as Jito tried to avoid being pulled under.  The party eventually pulled the scarecrow up and killed it in the sun.  Jito saved the magic burlap with seeds woven into it. 

Tenzen the carved a dick into the statue, and Finn fucked about with the altar for a while.  There was a groove for liquid to flow down, and then the center of the altar you could put stuff.  First Finn poured whiskey down the grooves and touched the center and got super drunk.  Then Tenzen poured water down the grooves and touched Finn's hand to the center and Finn had to piss really badly.  Finn, the only one who cared about the Altar of Ripening, was drunk and seemed freaked out by the potential for evil magic, so they left.  (I was hoping someone would put the pumpkin on but it never happened)  They also saw the white snake that lives there but didn't engage it immediately so it left to keep spying on them. 

After some more twists and turns, the party found Montasor's Grain Silo, which was guarded by a corn sphinx.  They answered the corn sphinx's riddle (answer: corn).  The Corn Sphinx then begged them to kill it, as its mind was half corn already and it was going mad.  They said they would if the sphinx told them how to find the cornicorn.  They learned that the white snake knows where to find the cornicorn anytime, and also that if you bring a corn virgin (never eaten corn) out on a harvest moon, the cornicorn will appear. 

They saw Montasor's Grain Silo, which had two doors, one at ground level and one 50 ft up.  Jito climbed up 50 ft snuck up on Montasor, who was standing on the uppermost level shouting abuse at his cornfolk.  Jito tried to grab Montasor and throw him out the window, but he made his check, and we decided to call it for the night.  

Sandbox or Series of Adventures?

While writing out my huge sandbox, I realized that it's going to be very difficult to actually play.  Usually my group swaps DMs on the regular, but I haven't run anything for over a year due to time constraints.  It's hard to imagine that I'll suddenly have enough time to run so much material.  Maybe it's a better investment of my prep time to make one-off adventures, since I'm more likely to actually run them.

I've already broken out each section as kind of their own adventures (corn maize, faerie court, etc) so maybe I will just run them individually.  They could even lead from one to the other.

This could potentially change how I write this stuff up, and the type of prep I do, but that's probably it.  Also, it might be more tantalizing to get introduced to the world slowly that way.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Corn Maize Dungeon

Corn Maize

Montasor, Lord of the Stalks has made his home near Tarryfield, seizing acres of farmland and turning them into an insidious corn maze.  He lies at its heart, sending out his Corn People to kidnap his former neighbors.

Quest - reward by the Iron First for the head and lazer pitchfork of Montasor.  Or requested to save a particular person who was abducted by Corn People. 


You see fields completely dominated by corn, scarecrows everywhere. The corn gets taller and taller.  It has been hours since you last saw a farm or people.


Three tall crucifixes with corpses hanging on them mark a path through the thick corn. A hand painted sign says "Welcome to the Corn Maize."  You can see a huge grain silo far off in the distance. 

Players don't read past this part

The Faerie Court

The party is travelling to the Faerie Court.  They want something from inside of it.

Quest Hook - A sobbing woman stands by the edge of the forest, begging for help and wailing.  She holds a log dressed up like a child. She says the faeries have stolen her child, Emily, from her bed and left this mockery in its place. Get the kid back!

The Faerie Court cannot be approached directly.  The folk wisdom is that you can find it by eating hallucinogenic mushrooms and wandering through the woods until you are utterly lost.  Of course, that might have been a rumor started by the bandits in these woods. If you can find a faerie and trick it into giving you a favor, they can lead you there.  This might involve guessing the faerie's true name, catching it and holding it until dawn, or doing it a favor in return.  Most faeries are afraid of the court, and will try to offer you other stuff instead.

If the party wanders the woods high on mushrooms, they have a 50% chance of finding it and a 50% chance of being set upon by bandits.  The bandit encounter is gonna be weird since everyone is high.

If they try to get a faerie to lead them, they have to do an insane favor or somehow trick the faerie.  If they trick it it will fulfill the exactly worded terms of the bargain ("Take us to the Faerie Court by sundown"), but will look for opportunities to screw the players.  Be creative!

Players don't read past this part

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Witch Spells

A power hungry wizard, delving deep into ruins of an ancient civilization, unearthing magics lost to this age.  Scribing spells into their spellbook as they grow in power and knowledge.

It's evocative, but I have never done that, nor seen it done in any campaign I've run or played in.  In DnD 5e, you start the game knowing cantrips and 6 first level spells.  You can learn 2 new spells per level, as the result of your personal research.  The Player's Handbook strongly suggests that you should seek out arcane spells to supplement this number.

As I said, I can't remember ever seeing a spell formula or teaching given as a treasure in any campaign, indicating that the few wizards I've know are quite spell ignorant. (I haven't played a wizard since 4th edition) I guess EDIT: 6+(level -1*2) spells known is probably enough.  More likely, people probably either assumed the rules for clerics applied and just prepared any spell out of the book as they required.

I'm not saying people were cheating.  In fact, I would rule that that's how wizards should work, as the way its written is stupid for two reasons.

1.  The first reason is one of bookkeeping. It requires the DM keep track of what spells their wizard has, and what spells their wizard wants.  But not the top two spells their wizard wants, that they'll just learn themselves.  DMs have to keep track of an complicated part of a complicated character so they can give the wizard access to spells (remember, divine spellcasting doesn't work this way, so it's JUST for the wizard).  For some DMs that might be fine, but I would never bother to do that, the same way I don't keep track of material components except for on very special occasions. I suppose you could just seed all your treasure with random spells, but I've never seen it done.

2. The second reason is one of flavor.  All the spells the wizard might like to learn, they could at least teach themselves their top two.  And all the other spells are in the PHB, free for you to read and know what they do.  That kind of undercuts the "ancient magics lost to time" vibe you'd like to go for.  Ideally a new spell you had to delve into a dungeon to unearth shouldn't be something some other wizard just taught themself between levels 4 and 5.  At least to me, the fact that all the spells are well known to me (the player) and all listed in one spot robs them of some mystery.

(Side note, I could see it being interesting that another wizard taught themselves the spell you delved into the earth to regain.  Are you in the middle of a magic renaissance, with a combination of new research and the wisdom of a lost age?  I could see it being cool, but it does still decrease the grandeur of your discovery, especially if the spells are exactly mechanically the same)

So in order to approach the flavor of that delve for forbidden magics and avoid extra bookkeeping, I've come up with some house rules.

Witch Spells

Wizards prepare spells like clerics (open to paring this part back if it ends up being too powerful or unfair to sorcerers or something) 

All the wizard spells in the PHB form a body of knowledge that is taught in wizard schools and are known in the wider culture.  The same way that in the real world the New Testament started as a collection of stories, oral traditions and romances and were gradually pared back into the current cannon by councils and decrees, magic started as a wide variety of traditions, abilities and rituals that were gradually pared down to the canonical spells by wizard councils and decrees.  The current set of canonical magic was decreed by the wizard Regilus 30-40 years before the campaign started.  

Of course, a lot of spellstuff didn't make the cut.  You won't learn these magics in school, but they are still practiced by hedge witches and superstitious commoners.  They very widely in efficacy and safety, some don't work at all, or only work under odd circumstances.  They are found deep in forgotten tombs, in the minds of warlocks or bound away in forbidden tomes.  

Each player can learn one Witch Spell, assuming they find a written description of the ritual or someone to teach them.  If you would normally be able to cast spells you can learn two.  If you're a wizard you can learn an unlimited number.  You can cast each spell once per day.  

An Incomplete List of Witch Spells

1. Ward Hearth
2. Shape Stone
3. Shape Wood
4. Deepwell
5. Mutation
6. Arrows to Asps
7. Steal Face
8. Cutwife
9. Summon Demon
10. Beginner's Luck
11. Bend Luck
12. Evil Eye
13. Drown 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Lone Orc

Normally, orcs are too busy warring over the remains in the Spaceship Graveyard to come down to where the players are.  When orcs come down to the lands of men wizards must put aside their differences, enforce a mass levee and march their horrific abominations and red men to war.  

For a wizard, this is an opportunity to show off their latest creations, striking fear and envy into the hearts of their wizard neighbors.  It's kind of like an academic research conference, a wargame and a teenage bragging session rolled into one. If you don't show up to wizard prom with a new and horrific discovery, everyone will assume you're too weak to hold territory and start fucking with you once they get back. The orcs are always completely obliterated by the wizards.

However, it's been more than a few decades since the orcs came en mass.  Not long in the life of a wizard, but longer than average.  (The Iron Fist sends frequent expeditions to the spaceship graveyard on combination treasure hunts, diplomatic missions and age of empire style pure exploration. )  

These days, an orc wandering south is a rare sight, more likely a defeated warlord or a mad prophet wandering the orcish equivalent of the wastelands.  A single orc does not require an army, and can be defeated by as few as 20 armed men, assuming it doesn't have the traditional orcish pressure suit or a chaingun.  

Recently, there have been reports of an orc haunting the road between Louisburg and Chemsfordshire, taking heads and attacking caravans.  Trade and travel between the two villages has stopped.  

It's fairly common knowledge the orc emerges from the woods at a particular point on the road, since he drags all his kills back there and has arranged a small pile of skulls near the entrance to a wooded path.  The ruined remains of a trade caravan are broken into pieces nearby.  "Come and find your death" is scrawled in charcoal on a broken wagon wheel nailed to a tree.  A small trail leads into the woods.  

Players don't read past this part

Friday, February 24, 2017

Op Amp Time Dungeon

Operational Amplifiers are circuit components that multiply a voltage. The most interesting part of Op Amps is feedback, when you loop the output current back into the Op Amp again.

Dungeon Map
You use them for all sorts of things, but in general Op Amp problems mean you're looking for one solution.  

The dungeon map is the Op Amp diagram above.  Lines are corridors, resistors are interact-able objects.  There is an orc with a chest in the triangular room.  When you leave the triangular room, you're looped back to the start, in space and time.  Your previous selves are there or just left (can't decide which is better).  Now there's two orcs in the room.  Next time 3 etc.  Each time you interact with the objects your previous choices all have to happen first.  You're looking to solve a simple puzzle that needs to occur over multiple iterations.

Like you have the Legend of the Hidden Temple parts, so you have to go through multiple loops to collect them, then multiple loops to stack the parts of the monkey right (as a very simple example.) Each time more orcs.

Obviously this needs to be some kind of time themed dungeon.  Needs more work but wanted to get the idea down now.

More dungeons based on circuit diagrams maybe coming soon!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Rewriting the WOTC Factions

I had an interesting discussion with Josh via email and gchat about the factions in Wizards of the Coast DnD products.  Although I love factions, these ones never really grabbed me, and I think it is because they seem too monolithic and straightforward.  Like the Order of the Gauntlet is pretty obviously Martial Lawful Good.  Harpers are Sneaky Chaotic Good.  It seems too straightforward and also unrealistic. Organizations are founded for a variety of reasons, usually have subfactions and competing visions of their goals, and often end up involved in a variety of causes and things unrelated to their original goals.  Usually they don't perfectly embody a particular point in the 9 way DnD alignment system.

Side note: This is also an issue with deities.  The difference between a lot of DnD gods and polytheistic deities  that existed in world religions is stark.  DnD gods tend to have portfolios that are kind of a tidy package.  Like you know their alignment or one fact about them and you pretty much know it all.  This guy is Lawful Good and about justice, this guy is a druid god, etc.  Compare this to Odin, whose portfolio included poetry, the gallows, knowledge, battle, sorcery, frenzy, and the runic alphabet.  Even just that he is the god of knowledge and the gallows is fascinating. Overall Odin was a really interesting head of the gods, especially in that he was interested in sorcery, which in Norse culture was seen as feminizing.  What does it say about masculinity in that culture if your head god is transgressing against your gender norms?  

Anyway, Josh had a great idea, which I will just quote here

"Rather than treating the Order of the Gauntlet as a codified organization with rankings and meeting places, you can instead view it as a network of fairly like minded groups and individuals who are likely to know each other as part of a common cause. "

I think that's very smart, because it breaks the factions up into pieces, and allows you to claim any related philosophy or organization that you're a part of is affiliated.  This brings in a lot of disparate character concepts back into the main story, but doesn't flatten the difference between a member of the Order of Astor and a Knight Mendicant.  You can have inner tensions between the member organizations, and it opens up the door for regional difference.  The people who decide to affiliate themselves with the Order of the Gauntlet might be very different if you're in a boggy backwater, compared to the preening order of knights in the capital city. 

So I might come up with some groups that would identify with these networks and not just be your typical knights or druids or whoever. 

Local 210 (Order of the Gauntlet affiliated)

In the High Moor, men and women who work for the United Mining Company break their backs moving coal and iron through the boggy fen.  Their reed boats sit low in the water, straining to hold the cargo as teams of workers push through the stagnant water with poles.  It's hard work, and dangerous too.  Beasts, will-o-the-wisps, and all manner of boggle lurk just beyond the lantern's light, waiting for an opportunity to seize a meal.  Some years back, after Ugly Rudy was ripped off a boat and drowned by who knows what, his friends, family and work team gathered together to demand UMC hire additional protection.  Their demand was refused, and the most vociferous were fired. 

Those folks, with their newly freed time, started to train with polearms and axes.  Their fellows pooled their wages and hired on their friends as protection on jobs.  After a long period of organizing and discussion, they formed a union of workers, and demanded that the UMC hire the "knights" (mockingly called by the bosses and appropriated by the union).  After many negotiations and a crippling general strike, the union was recognized.  Throughout the High Moor you can see the Gauntlet standing proud in union halls and the windows.

Members of Local 210 travel outside their swamps to encourage other laborers to unionize, and are sometimes sent out on secret missions to reinforce the union.  They need to be wary of the agents of the UMC, which seek to discredit them.  They tend to wear hide or leather, and are usually proficient with polearms.