Saturday, November 7, 2020

Meta Rooms to Find

 I like it when my players are rewarded for looking at things, investigating their environment.  But I don't always have a secret room where they are looking.  

Inserting secret rooms where there were none before the players look is very Quantum Ogre.  In general the idea should be that there is a "real world" the players are investigating, and if they roll a 20 to search or search really well through description in a room that doesn't have any secrets too bad!  They learn there are no secrets.  However, I think these rooms are meta enough to split from this issue. I'm also playing in RAPL so having weird backstage rooms or spaces in between the dungeon feels correct.

So here are some meta rooms I might have the players find

Roll call room:  This backstage room has a series of scribes noting which players and characters have been on which adventure or session.  They have Yule Logs, Dinner Rolls, Scrolls, perpetual "rolling" machines, dice, Masks (for Roles), and other jokes.  The players can talk with the scribes who are slightly concerned to see them there and are having trouble noting who is who.  The scribes know the players and call them by their real names or get them and their characters confused. The scribes are getting a few recursion issues with the players in the room but assure them its nothing to worry about.  They give a treasure to whichever player has the best attendance. 

Backstage: The NPCs or monsters from an adjacent room are chilling here, nibbling on a rolled ham and cheese plate, drinking mediocre coffee, and making small talk.  Even their worst enemy is not hostile here, the masks come off and everyone knows there are just playacting.  Feel free to have the NPCs or monsters gripe to the players about things that are annoying you as a GM.  NPCs might let something slip, or you might be able to find out monster weaknesses from how they act. There is a "script" of what will happen next buried on a table under some bills and advertisements.  This includes a few rooms of descriptions and GM notes from the dungeon. Reading it makes the players' heads hurt. 

Treasure Room: Labelled as such from the outside, in an ancient and very impressive looking script.  I imagine the character wiping the accumulated dust of ages to find this text.  Inside, beautiful paintings, prints and drawings of the players on their adventures, focusing on when they built their friendships. Bonding treasure if the players show true friendship.

Discord: A completely silent man, who seems to be trying to talk/speak but no sound coming out. 

Something about switching discord servers or Google Hangout or something to hear him.  He has many helpful hints. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

 Lessons learned from a Time themed Dungeon

  • I did a dungeon with 7 different days, different things happening each day, and ways for the players to move between days.  I think 6-7 is way too much to keep straight and have things be meaningful. Three times is more than enough, yesterday, today, tomorrow.   \
  • Debatable if sleeping should move you forward a day. Encourages more fucking with the times if you wake up and its still "today"
  • Bombs going off, being able to set the time that this happens is a good move
  • Setting changes like flooding a floor or destroying areas at different times are cool, and show the progression of time
  • Still thinking about how to have different versions of the party wandering around and doing things.  Fortunes are a cool mechanic - after a fortune you have the option to see a version of yourself?
  • Your past/future versions can replace you
  • Maybe certain defined events that can split the timeline and generate duplicates and then that duplicate has a defined mission or something. Still working it out
  • Each time sensitive thing should have a description of what happens if the PCs do nothing, with blank spots to describe what they actually do on a certain day. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

RAPL Combat Complications

  1. Chandeliers are installed by contractors.  An insane amount
  2. Actors and Story Characters wander into the battlefield as part of a masque roughly mirroring the events of the actual combat
  3. Theater Curtains close off half the battlefield.  NPCs on the "audience" side boo and cheer, plus continue covertly assassinating etc.  Loud hisses and boos from anyone who overtly attacks
  4. Intermission is called. Servers offer refreshments. Inane chatter
  5. Painters set up canvasses to paint heroic grand canvases from life and compete to hawk their wares to various combatants by portraying them in a favorable light.  Requires staying still 
  6. An Edict is Promulgated requiring that people only turn left, or fight with their off hands, or various other things

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Speed up the Later Levels you Cowards

Level EXP required should follow an inverse exponential curve.  I'm not sure if this is a universally held opinion but I think the first few levels are by far the most fun. The later levels are when the system balance and math start to show (cough 4th edition) and anyway the player goals or story if you have one should be heading towards a conclusion. So as a first pass I would keep the exp requirements for 5th edition flat over level 8, and rely on the increase in EXP from higher level monsters and encounters to speed things up.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

30 Minute Dungeon...Literally

Tower of the Time Lord Halacras

The Bogeyman's Cave had a great idea to write out a dungeon in 30 mins or less. This was the perfect kick in the pants for me to write out my Op Amp Time Dungeon. Thanks Bogey for the inspiration and I hope you like it!

A Hook

Attention all bold folk, adventurers and fortune seekers! Halacras the Time Lord has opened his tower once again to all who might brave the perils within.  Find ancient treasure, magical wonders to astound the mind, and powerful magical lore, in thirty minutes or less, guaranteed!

General Background

This tower is designed by Halacras to harvest time from powerful heroes for his time magic, as such it is designed to waste their time.  Every thirty in-game minutes, the party snaps back to the first room in the tower, in exactly the same shape the walked in (HP, spells, etc.) They retain the knowledge of the tower they have gleaned. That this happens is not obvious on the first time they walk in, but keep them aware of how much time is going by. The rewards are all in the final room, which is technically reachable if the party already knows how everything in the tower works (possible through repeated trials) and books it hard. 

First Room

A super old dude sits lightly dozing near a huge impressive locked door.  This guy is insanely slow and loves to tell long stories about his uninteresting life. He has 1d10 time related riddles and the PCs must answer his riddles before he will unlock the door. He has no special abilities besides being almost unimaginably slow. He is a 1 HD scrub but will complain (slowly) if you steal his key or attack him.

Second Room

Lethal swinging blades cross this long hallway. Instant death on hit. Remember after 30 mins all PCs including dead ones are back at the entrance where they started.   

Third Room

As the PCs enter this room, they have haste or slow cast on them randomly by the door. If they forced their way through the old guy's door it’s always slow and his spectral face appears to castigate their generation. Full of oddly out of place stones, outlines of secret doors, faintly glowing runes and other red herrings. Another door on the opposite wall leads to the Long Hallway.

Long Hallway

Just as it says on the tin, a Long Hallway.  A slow PC could run down in it around 15 mins.  A fast PC could maybe do it in 7. Adjust based on your system but remember that Halacras can make it longer as needed. Every 3 mins a series of force fields activate, separating the Long Hallway into 30 foot cells like in the Phantom Menace when Obi-Wan is fighting Darth Maul. This forces the PCs to wait for 1 min. Then the spiders come.  If the party is more than 10 feet apart then they will be in separate cells and likely be devoured or at least have to fight solo. Once they defeat the spiders once they won’t happen again but don’t tell the PCs that.    

“Final” Room

“Well Done Heroes! You have earned the incredible treasure of the Time Lord!  First, tell me your names that I might record those who have done so well!”

An illusion of Halacras appears and congratulates the heroes.  He tries to keep them talking for as long as possible, asking them to recall their adventures, how they passed through the Time Lord’s trials, what they thought of the old guy etc. etc.  Best case he can keep the Heroes up the 30 min mark and they snap back, or at least he wants to waste as much time as possible.  There is another door on the far wall, but also (illusory) piles of treasure near the “Time Lord”

Dinosaur Room

Filled with Dinosaurs, as well as prehistoric flora and fauna. They are ornery and their nests and eggs are right in front of the next door to the final room.

Final Room

“Well Done Heroes!  You have earned the incredible treasure of the Time Lord!  First, tell me your names that I might record those who have done so well!”

Halacrcas is behind a force field as he knows people will be super pissed by the time they get here. This is the real deal though and he will reward the party with fabulous wealth, potions of blur and haste as well as Soldier of Fortune, a magical weapon that tells true fortunes for its wielder every time it takes the life of a human.

Additional Encounters

To be used anytime:
The party walks into the room just in time to see their previous selves walk out the room
Another group of adventurers walks in at the same time
Instead of being the normal room in the sequence of progression, it's an ancient scene from myth, an 80s style board room, or a futuristic mars scene.  Door still on other side as normal.
The PCs future selves walk in behind them and offer a hint before leaving
Halacras shows up himself and gives super unhelpful advice (used when PCs are close to figuring something out)
Old guy walks in and starts telling a story

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Slay the Spire Mechanics

I've been playing and watching a lot of Slay the Spire, a super fun deckbuilding roguelike.  What mechanics can I crib from it for DnD?

I think the two most obvious are the basic scaling mechanics for the first two characters, the Ironclad and the Silent. What I like about these is that they give an obvious time limit for the encounter, as the enemy or the environment is getting more hostile.  I love having timers to give an increased sense of urgency.

Demon Form could be applied to any creature and each turn that creature would clearly become more powerful as the demon inside begins to bust its way out of the mortal shell containing it.  I would give +4 strength (or +2 STR modifier) to that creature every turn. You also have the option to do +3 STR modifier depending on how long your average combat lasts and how many HP your PCs have, so it would get +3 to hit and damage on each of its turns. I like the idea that the party is desperately trying to take down this creature as it howls with pain, becoming monstrously huge and hitting harder and harder.  It should be really apparent that this creature is taking on demonic aspects.   

Next would be Noxious Fumes.  I think this would be a great way to represent a room slowly filling with poisonous gas, or the cumulative effects of being in a polluted area/aura turn by turn.  Once again a timer to encourage rapid decision making.  Each turn they take 2, then 3, then 4, then 5 poison damage, etc.  Or for the upgraded version, 3 then 5 then 7 etc. If you like, even once you get out you would still take 7, then 6, then 5, then 4, etc damage each turn.  

The Defect I'll have to think about.  I have a character based on it and I love the orb idea.  

Monday, February 25, 2019

New Monster: Scapegoat

New Monster Idea: Scapegoat 

When your burdens are too hard to bear, a scapegoat is a perfect solution. Created by magically fusing a goat head onto the body of a screeching goblin, scapegoats are a magical vessel to store your regrets. A wizard can remove their memories in the presence of the scapegoat and transfer them over. 
Usually this takes the form of a small snowglobe that hovers near the scapegoat and replays the scene endlessly, tormenting the scapegoat instead of the wizard. 

Because it's possible to observe the snowglobes and learn about the regrets, and because making one is seen as shameful, they are usually stored in cages deep beneath wizard towers. They have no natural attacks, but each successful hit destroys a memory, releasing powerful magic and playing out the memory for all present (random spell cast on hit) 

I'm using one as the main enemy in a small dungeon, where the wizard/caretaker had too many shameful memories and moved too much of himself over. The Scapegoat became more and more powerful until it was able to overpower him, sucking out remaining memories and leaving him a confused shell of his former self. Now the Scapegoat runs things by manipulation and fear behind the scenes. The return of his memories is the thing the wizard needs most is also what he fears most.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Mandy and Jennifer and Hannah

I believe Mandy and Jennifer and Hannah re: Zak S being abusive.  My post about it will be pretty brief as other people said everything I would say but better. Arnold K has a good collection of people's responses.  Chromatic Cauldron (one of my favorite illustrators in the space) has an excellent personal testimony of the toxicity that he fostered in the community.  I hope we can have a better community and I'm going to work hard to ensure that toxic, misogynist and abusive behavior have no part in any scene I'm in, including DIY DnD.  I'm going to boost good work by good creators, and not overlook anything that seems off.  Less important stuff relating to my choice not to run Zak's material after the jump.

So obviously I've run a lot of Zak's stuff in the past. The sidebar has all the play reports from Red and Pleasant Land, the Waterdeep stuff has tons of material from Vornheim, and I was gearing up to run Maze of the Blue Medusa. I've already bought these books, so it's not a question of supporting him (not going to be buying any books going forward) but rather what to do with the material I already have. I think the short answer is I'm going to hit pause on running any of that material for a long while. A disturbing thing in Mandy's post was about how he was infantilizing her, idolizing her body and not respecting her as a person.  There is a whole section in Maze that mirrors this pretty exactly, and that's got me unhappy enough that I don't want to run any of that stuff until I've had time to read it through, talk with my players and think about what kind of ideas I'm bringing into my elf games. 

Be good to each other, and I want to say thanks to all the women who came forward, I'm sure it was terrifying but we believe you.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Light Underground (Emerald Enclave Affiliated)

Reimagining the player factions provided by WOTC to something more specific and imo interesting.

Adventurers have a variety of options if they want to go below ground.  Every dive bar and tomb seems to link to vast underground complexes.  Below this, the molefolk's vast empire offers a warm welcome, clean tunnels, and as many worms as you can eat.  Even deeper, the drow and their various Underdark companions have many secret tunnels and boreholes to link up with the surface.  Keep going, and you'll find vast lightless seas, deep minds, and primordial psionic energies.

What happens if you go beyond that?  According to the Seekers of the Light, you will find yourself emerging inside the hollow earth, to a beautiful interior sun no living surface dweller has seen in eons.

The Seekers of the Light are, to put it simply, digging a hole to the center of the earth. The depth of the hole and what has been found within are tightly controlled secrets.  The druids and naturalists who make up the bulk of the organization's membership speak of the vast unexplored wilderness within the hollow earth as a verdant paradise.  In their mind, this surface world is already irredeemably civilized, spoiled and soft.  They plan to get to the hollow earth first, before the folk with their machines, and do everything they can to keep it wild.

Druid named Kola

Earth's Mantle


1. The druids have found multiple smaller openings leading to so-called "mini suns" in each verdant micro-ecosystem off the main tunnel.  Thousands of new species must be observed, with a high premium on sketches and watercolors as opposed to specimen collection.  The Light Underground can supply a watercolorist if none in the party are skilled.

2. Theo Carrow, a famous big game hunter, has broken into one of these ecosystems and is wreaking havoc.  The party must track him down and return him to the surface, freeing any specimen in captivity and avoiding damage to the local flora and fauna.

3.  At the very bottom of the borehole, the diggers, sappers, and druids work diligently to move earth up through a collection of bucket and pulley systems.  However, a previously unknown race of lizard people have emerged from tunnels below them to attack the crews.  Find and destroy this outpost.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Play Report for Red Death 1

Thank you to Hruk for writing the majority of this play report! 

Faeno – Roguish Rogue
Hruk – Barbarian and Moral Voice
Skeexe – Cleric of Law
Brad – Auditor and Motivational Speaker 

Faeno, Hruk, and Skeexe have been exploring the Dungeon of the Mad Mage and are now ready to exit to Waterdeep. On their return, they find the bucket and rope which traditionally allows them to exit the dungeon unmanned. They climb up into an abandoned bar – the Yawning Portal. The heroes briefly search the empty bar finding a small creepy painting, oil on panel, as well as wine mixed with charcoal. They are drawn outside by the sound of carpentry and screaming. 

Across the street, a group in plague doctor masks are boarding up a building with screams and moans emanating from within. The party engages the men and learn that there has been an outbreak of a mysterious sickness: the "Red Death." The whole neighborhood in Waterdeep has been quarantined off by a mix of hastily assembled fortifications and conjured mage towers. 
Once the quarantineers are gone, Hruk frees the ill from the sick-house who pour out into the street, moaning and vomiting bile.  After quickly ducking back into the Yawning Portal, a note from a learned sage indicating that crushed pearls will help ward off infection is found.

Amongst the rescued infected, a particularly coherent one named Werner Brobe who is able to help identify ground zero for the infection as the keep Count Von Scoon. He gives the party a little gold and says he'll wait for in the Yawning Portal and hope we save the day.

A voice cries out from down the street! 
It is: "BRAD SON OF TOD SON OF CHAD!," a bard sent by a Voscouss Eeben, the Duke Regent, to try to put a stop to this horrible disease. Brad explains his purpose and the heroes agree to help find a way to cure the disease. Upon inspection, Brad realizes his papers only allow him INTO the infected area, not back out.

The heroes start by following Werner's tip on the location of a local oyster market and acquire some more powdered pearls to keep on their persons (the powder will turn black once it has been used up).

On their way to Eshrigel's, our heroes stop briefly to save a woman from a burning tower (looters knocked over a brazier or something). The woman has a note, addressed to Skeexe, from Eshrigel, an eccentric and enigmatic local noblewoman, wife of said Count, and semi-secret medusa, suggesting she knows what is up and giving an address. They also chop down a wooden walkway to contain the fire.

At Eshrigel's manor, there is Hookah and Exposition! It is not a sickness but a curse: brought on by the evil Count's new, rare, evil bird with rubies for eyes. The bird will willingly enter a cage to consume eyeballs that have been removed from the sockets while weeping - see: very evil. Also, the count's whole jam is totally evil. Eshrigel can break the curse if we bring her the live bird. Plus she will give the party magical rewards. Brad pees his pants slightly – intimidated by the medusa - but plays it off.

The party requests the medusa’s fine chiffon dress and Brad plasy the part of a reconciled wife to con their way into Count's keep.  The party makes its way past the servants with intimidation, the nobles with flattery before a cleric insists on accompanying the lady. This cleric is quickly slain once out of earshot and is revealed to be two goblins standing on top of each other.  The top goblin was killed via vicious mockery and produces those sweet sweet crying eyeballs. 

Racing against a timer, the party fights their way to the menagerie. The eyeballs are used to lure the bird into a cage, the Count taken hostage, his guards held off, a siren's charms broken, a crocodile ridden, a window repelled out of, and the bird carried off. 

Back at Eshrigel's manor, she makes good on previous claims and promises: using the bird to break the curse afflicting the city and rewarding the heroes.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Keeping Your NPCs Alive

Inspired by my last game session, where we summoned a wizard from a summoning portal we found, and our rogue and barbarian had readied actions to attack.  My character started to negotiate, the wizard started casting an unknown spell, and he took two crits to the dome and was killed. As our DM pointed out, it was inside his own home and we didn't know that he was going to attack us.  We would be convicted in a court of law for sure.

Let me get this out of the way first: there is no surefire way to keep your NPCs alive.  The players are a bunch of filthy murderhobos and they'll kill anything you put in your campaign, us especially.  Dms that try to save favorite NPCs and deny player agency suck, and our DM called it straight, which feels great as a player.  However, there are ways I've noticed to give your NPCs a fighting chance to at least have a conversation with your players.

I'm thinking about this in the context of a megadungeon.  Really the best way to have NPCs stay alive is to encounter them in a social context where violence is not everyone's first choice.  They still might get iced, but I've had good luck with my PCs not killing annoying princes and vain innkeepers because they're in a social setting and don't want to be outlaws or w/e. But what if you're in a megadungeon and you want them to interact with all your cool NPCs?

The main takeaway is this: Your NPCs need to be insanely good at communicating an unambiguous non-threatening stance.  So insanely good at being non-threatening that it's unrealistic.   

There are two things working against your NPCs that require them to be this unrealistic standard of non-threateningness.

1.  PCs respond to any threat to their control disproportionally, and with violence.  If I had to guess, I would say that wizard was probably casting Greater Invisibility (I didn't know what he was casting in the moment, but we found his spellbook after)  That's showing agency, but it also decreases the PCs ability to control the situation.  Our rogue didn't like that, so he got iced.  Maybe that's cool!  That's likely how it would go down in the 'real world'. People get shot all the time just for running away from the police, or reaching into their pockets. I've had other PCs just kill prisoners for trying to wriggle free of their bonds (Of course, PCs would never expect to get killed just for trying to escape in situations where they are prisoners). It's not fair, in fact, its pretty fucked up. But I don't see it changing (mainly for reason #2 below).

Is there a way that  in the logic of the game that would allow the NPC not to take an action that might decrease control?  Maybe he is so confident in himself that he assumes no one would dare touch him, so he doesn't feel the need (I used this one all the time in Red and Pleasant Land, it's nice because they can still be arrogant and annoying, also see The Scorpion King in Maze of the Blue Medusa).  Maybe he's scared and doesn't want to get killed, so he negotiates.  Maybe he is drunk and thinks the PCs are his long lost friends.  Maybe he's just skilled at de-escalation tactics.  Someone needs to be, and it's sure not going to be the PCs.

2.  If one guy is bloodthirsty, we're all bloodthirsty.  It only takes one PC to initiate combat, and no matter how good they are, my other PCs are never going to stand around and watch their friend fight solo.  For one, its boring.  For two, there is a strong sense of group solidarity build around combat in DnD. To me it just feels wrong to leave my man out to dry, so I'll always back them up in a fight and then discuss it afterward.  So the threat of combat increases with the number and bloodthirstyness of your players. In this case it only took two hits so the point was moot, but I've noticed this in other situations.

I always think of the Boye Repairtee (or however its spelled) from Maze of the Blue Medusa.  They start off every encounter with the PCs by offering cigs and rum.  I'll bet in almost every game, those guys at least have a short conversation with the PCs, because they are super good at getting the convo off on the right foot.  They show their intentions clearly, they offer something of value to get the PCs on their side, and they have a mystery that is intriguing.

I would say any of the following actions will increase your NPCs chance of survival (assuming they are in a tough spot and would probably be killed.  A demon lord or drow would probably never do this stuff)  I'm not saying all NPCs need to be surrender monkeys, just the ones you'd like to have chat with the PCs for a min.

1. Put their hands up
2. Offer food/drink/drugs
3. They have a clear benefit to the PCs
4. They surrender/drop weapons (doesn't work for goblins usually)
5. They have a social connection to one of the PCs.  "Why Faeno is that you?  I knew your father etc."  They could even be lying.
6. Don't take any action that could be seen as threatening
7. They are visibly sick/weak/pathetic
8. They are visibly awesome/rich/cool
9. They greet the PCs "Why hello there! Why have you summoned me?"

There are probably a million other ones. The main point is, PCs are murderhobos, but usually they won't kill Ghandi.