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