Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sodden Temple - III

Friedrich - DP
Zed - MU
Derek - F
 Jimbo - porter
Toral - DP
 Laria - hireling
 Tory - hireling
Alamon - DP
Darius - F

Word around Nidus was that someone was spending lots of silver.  Alamon, the sole survivor of an expedition to the monastery of St Eudo, met up with several strangers and Derek and Toral who knew of the source of the wealth: the Sodden Temple.

The party cautiously approached the temple and saw a red and black robed figure dart inside. Closer inspection showed many footprints leading into it, including some plate-sized prints of what might be an elephant.

They timidly entered, proceeded to the room with the small pedestal, and . . . had a hard time remembering what the different symbols meant on it.  They decided to try and avoid the room they knew to be littered with copper coins fearing a new brundlphant occupant or ambush.  After some experimentation they opened a door to a small room to their left.  It contained some robes and three brass torcs which intrigued the party but no one was brave enough to try them on.

They opened a door to the right, and after a short passage opened a door to a room with a corpse in the middle of the floor.  It had been sliced cleanly in half.  Alamon crouched, investigating, and found some treasure and tall wooden shoes in a satchel on the corpse.  While searching the body he saw a glint of metal underneath the reliefs in the room, and running completely around it.

The room had two doors.  They decided to proceed straight by hooking a grapnel to the door handle and pulling from a prone position.  On successfully opening the door a blade whirred just above everyone's head.

The next room had a damp crate and nothing else.  After long, timid investigation, the party discovered it held two potions, a scroll, and some plants in a bell jar.  This was all put into Jimbo's pack.  On searching the dead-end room's reliefs, Toral found a secret passage.  Entering the small passage they were confronted with the reek of rotting flesh.  Opening another secret passage revealed a room with a huge carcass, eight fly-headed figures feasting on it, and 50 brass urns around the periphery.

After some hesitation-- the fly heads seemed content to keep eating- Zed cast sleep and dropped half of them.  Then the ever diplomatic Derek nearly gutted one with his battle axe.  Those fly heads still awake engaged.  Derek sacrificed his shield to avoid certain death to the acid spittle of one of the creatures.  Jimbo was splattered and knocked unconscious.  Toral dropped one with mace to head.  Alamon commanded one to sit, its silken robes sizzling in its own acidic spittle.  And Friedrich dropped one from the second rank with a spear to its solar plexus.

The urns were revealed to have gold coins, 16 in each.  The party greedily started filling packs.  They noticed that Jimbo's fall had crushed the bell jar in his and that little brown beetles were crawling everywhere.  Toral asked the All Father to aid Jimbo and his petition was granted.

Happy to have gold coins, the party began a frightened scurrying toward the exit, fearful that the brown, lady-bug like beetles meant something ominous.

Back at Nidus, shopping commenced.  They found a vendor who tasted their potions for them, tasted one of the bugs, and put on one of the brass torcs all for a price.  The bugs turned out delicious, the torc dangerous.  More shopping led to plate armor for those without it, a new shield and place to stay.

Some Thoughts
I really like how the players didn't just go in an clean this place out in one sweep. As different parties consisting of different players return again and again and interact with the location, it starts to have a feeling of verisimilitude of its own. That's cool.

I'm being forced to make a lot of decisions about what I want my world to be on the fly.  Usually when I feel myself just having finished allowing something I regret.  I want the party to test their own potions, that's part of the risk and fun right?  But Nidus is a teeming, exotic city, why wouldn't some beggar taste them for them for a price?

I know I don't want magic available for sale like so much toilet paper.  I was feeling very reluctant about the players even finding a library or sage to identify stuff for them.  I'm conflicted, because it's smart that they wanted to, but I want them to have to experiment, feel mystery and tension too.

We started the session with my revised version of JB's random relationship chart.  Probably because I pared it down to 30 entries, it seemed like everyone was related to everyone.  That wa pretty funny, two sets of twins.  The relationships themselves were forgotten pretty quickly, but the amusement of parsing them seemed to be a great ice breaker.  I wonder if rolling almost anything randomly around the group would work similarly.

My most consistent player and a reader of this blog used player knowledge at least twice last night. Don't know what to do about that.  Might have to start making magic items do the opposite of what my posts say they do, hear that bastard! ;)

Darius' player was a new, with only video game experience in regards to rpgs.  She managed marvellously and I'm happy that she might be back next week.  I'm always looking to cut down the testosterone ratio in my sessions.

Also, an old high-school friend drove into town a matter of minutes before we were heading off to the game site.  I said "want to play D&D?" and he said "sure."  That was cool.  He hasn't played with me since high school and has never seen me DM.

So, overall, like last session, not very much happened: barely any combat, a trap averted, some weird treasures found, Nidus explored a little and the players safe to prepare for another excursion.  But that was plenty to allow for running jokes, amusing npc interactions, and good times in general. It was surprising to me that I could pull it off after such a long day at work and after such a long week.

One thing that helped is that it seems like I've passed a tipping point of infrastructure on this blog- magic items, npcs, random charts-- that makes playing with little time to prep possible.  Looking forward to next week.  I think the players are going to find they made a BIG mistake.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Temple Awaits

The vagaries of adult schedules means two of the players from last Friday's session are unavailable while three others who weren't present for either of the last 2 sessions will be.  My imaginary world feels a little more "real," and more picaresque, because no two sessions have the same players.

If I ever get these people all in the same place at the same time I can go for a personal record of players DMed simultaneously.

This Friday I'll take my maps for the Maw in case folks want to dabble there.  This will be the first time I'm really prepared to offer the players a choice.  But I have a feeling the call of easy wealth will draw them back to the temple.

I Really like JB's way of giving players connections between their characters.  I want to try to use it this Friday, but I might edit his 100 entires down to thirty.  I'm afraid I have a bad case of NIH syndrome.  Although, in my defense, it's in modification that we truly learn the ins and outs of something.

And with the blah blah blah out of the way, have some beautiful color images of poisonous snakes.  Public domain, book here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


No matter how creepy I think my ideas are, the world surprises me in it's creepiness:

"you must dig up his body and flay the skin of the corpse in one piece from the waist down. As soon as you step into the pants they will stick to your own skin. A coin must be stolen from a poor widow and placed in the scrotum along with the magical sign, nábrókarstafur, written on a piece of paper. Consequently the coin will draw money into the scrotum so it will never be empty, as long as the original coin is not removed."
 Go here for latex replica of said pants and more context.  So much for my October of light hearted blogging.

via tywkiwdbi

Monday, October 25, 2010

Creepy Coins

**My players stop reading here**

The sodden temple has 50 brass urns in a certain room. I rolled on the chart you helped me make an, lo and behold, I got entry 30.  That was The Rubberduck's contribution and is reminiscent of a certain recent pirate movie's gold.

So, I went hunting around for some coin images that aren't photos and aren't too simplistic (I really like handing out stuff to players).

Now, keep in mind that I have been stressing to the players over and over that all the statuary and all the reliefs in this temple have had their heads systematically effaced.  Why?  I don't know, seemed creepy, as if the original temple was so bad that the forces of good went through and defaced it before sinking it purposefully under the waves of the bay.

Check out the coins I found:

No faces.  I know these have been rubbed off, but I can say they were patiently, purposefully rubbed off.  Think of the work that would take, hundreds of monks sitting quietly, rubbing evil faces off coins.

Here are a few more that could be useful for ancient terrors:

That first looks like some winged-tentacle thing and the second looks like a two-headed creature, or perhaps a creature that shifts from one form to another.

Of course you'll kind of tip off players if you only throw them a print out of coins when they are significant, but as I mentioned, I tend to do it anyway to signify different ancient culture's coins, different region's coins, etc.

The coins are from here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

John D. Batten - XV

I'm a little late posting today. I guess this is dedicated to the folks in Europe. Anybody in Poland reading?

This sword is clearly doing 1d8 damage :) I kid, I kid.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Return to the Sodden Temple

We return to deep in the Sodden Temple where we left our party.  They had just finished a battle with a group of fly cultists.  Hurt, magic spent, and numbers reduced they had to decide what to do.

Only 3 of the 7 players from last session could make it.  I couldn't think of anything creative to do with the missing folks and didn't want to run their characters with them gone.  So, I just handwaved them away.

The party:
Toral (unconscious cleric)
    his two hirelings Tori and Lorea, both fighters
G fighter
Z fighter

I literally had the questions from this post in my hand.  But I waited and they did a good job of deciding what they wanted to do without my intervention-- basically get out alive.  G only had one hitpoint and Toral was out already.  They finally decided to put on the silken robes of fly cultists.  They also each cut off a cultist fly arm and held them in their robes as if they were their own.

They cautiously decided to head back the way they'd come in.  Entering a room that had doors and a ledge a level above them G decided to throw a grapnel up and climb to the ledge.  The ledge was slippery and muddy and he had to try and force open the swollen door while balancing.  He fell, but in a supreme feat of lucky dexterity managed to flip over backward and land on his feet.  This helped the party to decide to leave the ledge and continue back the way they originally came.

A corridor and some stairs and they were back in the large room where they had killed the Brundlephant, the room's floor covered with copper coins.  G filled his quiver, Z grabbed the backpack off of the body of a hireling that had died in this room and filled it with coins and they made their way back towards the entrance.

Through four doors, they found themselves at the entrance of the temple and (with some lucky reaction rolls) walked right past fly cultists milling about there waiting for interlopers.

Back to Nidus, they managed to find a room to stay and commenced shopping and exploring the city's wonders for about a week.  G and Z both managed to acquire the services of guilded hirelings.  G's hireling speaks no common whatsoever.  Party healed up, they headed back to the temple cash poor but sack rich.

With no one about in the entrance they made their way to the room with the pedestal.  They couldn't remember how to open the door they needed to get back to the coins!  In trying every combination G was struck with temporary amnesia and an unbearable lust.  After causing some problems with the hirelings, his lust was abated when Toral asked the Allfather to intervene.

The proper door opened, they headed back into the copper room.  To their consternation they surprised a single fly-headed figure.  Dressed in the robes of the cultist, this is the first they've seen with a fly head.  Remembering the fiasco with the Brundlephant, Toral said cautiously "I start grabbing coins."  Everyone laughed. Then G who had shot the Brundlephant in the eye, remembered he had amnesia and said "I shoot it in the eye."  Probably the best line of the night.  We all laughed.  He missed.  Toral took a swing with his mace and scored a natural 20.  I described the effect: The creature flew back, its hand snagged one of their sacks and filled it with coins as it came to a stop.  They thought that hilarious.

Thousands of coins in tow, a few wandering rats dispatched and back to town they went.  They seemed quite happy.

Some Thoughts
I don't know that I've ever had to make so many rulings on the fly.  But it went alright.  I tried to say yes if I could, or have them roll under their attribute, or roll dice for reactions to see what happened.  I don't think anything came off as arbitrary.

One huge change was I decided to switch to a silver economy.  I'm too tight a DM.  I'm always trying to save gold and big treasures for the big scores, knowing there is nowhere to go up from there.  But then players never feel rewarded.  This seemed to work well.  Every thing costing silver meant the copper coins were worth fooling with.  I also adjusted so that every silver piece spent is equal to one experience point.  My long time player was very happy he has more XP than he's ever had.

Encumbrance was becoming an issue.  I think my idea of having coins slop across the simple encumbrance lines was a good one, otherwise you end up with hirelings toting 300 pounds of coins around.

Rolling to open stuck doors was somewhere between annoying and comical.  There were a few spots where the party loaded with treasure, almost had to turn around and try to find another way out.  That might be worth keeping the OD&D idea of all doors being stuck, but I'm not sure.  It could get tedious.

Searching in Nidus is interesting, but, like the doors, might become a chore.  G said the wonders made it interesting.  And they did see some weird stuff.

Now this subset of the original party has four fighters and a cleric in plate with shields!  I think they will be better able to challenge the temple or whatever they choose to explore.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

John D. Batten - XIV

Sorry for the lack of substantial posts.  Work is very hard right now.  I might have a session tomorrow to write about and maybe a long piece this weekend touched off by JB's discussion of d6 damage for weapons.  But in the meantime, my all time favorite Batten piece.  Look at that eagle.  And they're talking to it.  Awesome.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

John D. Batten - XIII

"'Trembling' at the Churchyard" is the title of this one.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Sage

Just a sage in his study-- complete with magic square on the wall.  He's ready to answer questions about the construction of the local megadungeon . . . or the local lord's proclivities toward the profane.

Sorry, don't remember the source, but know it's public domain.

On Death: Addendum

Here are a few ideas that I would try to work into my other post if I were to revise it:

I think for new players having linkboys and porters in a dungeon expedition is essential. One reason is that each additional body makes a player character less likely to be a target if deadly combat ensues.  But more importantly, it allows player characters a glimpse of the deadliness of the game without having to die themselves. Hireling deaths are foreshadowing. So, if a hireling gets dripped on and turns to slime, players can learn from it without having to die.

I think it is important, though, to make sure that even hirelings deaths matter, or they won't have much impact on players.  I strive to flesh out hirelings as much as possible without bogging down the game.  This means giving them names, memorable traits, sometimes faces, and an oath to try and keep them from being abused. Hireling deaths should matter, even if not quite as much as a player character's.

In the post I linked to by Trollsmyth, he went into a lot more about the dramatic possibilities of non-death incapacitation.  I should have gone more into that too, because I think it's absolutely true.  Especially true if we're going to rely on stories emerging in our games. It makes for duller stories if characters are only ever fit as a fiddle or stone dead. Unconsciousness should be possible in the system.  It is actually pretty rare in all of the D&D systems even if you consider magical sleep.

Because of this I think that a house rule that allows for unconsciousness is important.  I've been using the rule that 0 hit points, or negative hit points equal to a character's level, is considered being unconscious.  I don't remember where I first read about this rule, but Ian named it A Hero's Death.  I was thinking about doing away with it for simplicity's sake and because I felt it was trying to soften death, when death is intentionally part of the system. Now I think I'll keep it.

Complicated Combat
Related to the idea of incapacitation is the idea that foes may give a defeated party quarter; spare their lives while taking them into captivity.  I think a newer DM may be harried by all of the data they are having to track into making all combat simple, to-the-death affairs.  Or they may make the mistake of only stocking an adventure area with voracious, mindless beasts.  The traditional idea is that players need to learn when to run away, and that's true.  The other side of the coin, though, is that monsters should run away sometimes too.  I think that morale is an essential aspect of making combats feel more real.  And what better way for players to learn that running away is an option than to see a foe utilize that option?

But there is even more, even with a foe that is near victory over a party. Not every foe wants the party dead.  Maybe they need living sacrifices.  Maybe they need food for their young and wish to keep the characters alive until each feeding.  Maybe they want the characters as a bargaining chip.  Maybe they just want the party to leave.  Having more depth to why combats are happening and what results are possible can have a big impact on how deadly a game is.

Monday, October 18, 2010

NPC Portraits

Long day, have some public domain portraits for your npcs:

I really like this guy, he seems like the weathered warrior that will take care of business.  Sorry for boggarting him for so long :) :

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On Death

Hit points are finite.  In a resource management game, hit points are the ultimate resource.  When they run out, you die.

Fighting against this is really fighting against the system itself.

But even playing with the system as written there are underlying assumptions that need to be taken into account for it to work:

Death is Impartial
First, it requires the assumption that the DM is not an adversary of the players.  The DM is a judge.  Death will not occur on a whim. If hit points are a resource for players to manage, management means having choices about when to expend a resource or not.  Death results from an accumulation of player choices.

Of course there are a few complications here.  One is that the DM designs the adventure world.  And a beginning DM especially, may make mistakes about how powerful the monsters a party encounters are or how difficult it is for a party to replenish its resources.  Nothing is learned without errors, so every DM should expect to be responsible for a few "bad" character deaths.  But even if we were to change the system there is no way to avoid DM errors like these. We have to have faith that a DM will learn from these when they happen.

And players make errors.  Not all choices on how to expend resources will be good choices.  In fact, much of the beginning of the rpg experience is really about figuring out what characters can and can't do, what they should and shouldn't do.  But again, this will happen with any system.  And in a way, death is an essential form of feedback: "Never ask a dragon to show you their power!"  Of course, this presumes DMs help newer players understand how their actions led to their demise.

Another complication is that in order for a DM to be a neutral judge and not just an orchestrator of protagonists, the system employs randomness.  And that randomness can result in dire circumstances for a party.  The problem is that if we ignore one dice roll we've injected partiality into the system.  For every following dice roll, the DM will now be required to decide if they should intervene or not.  That seems a tiresome direction to go down. Perhaps we can explore some ways to ameliorate this problem in a moment.

But, first, another assumption that follows from the idea that death results from player choices:

Seeing the Pale Rider
If hit points are a resource for players to manage, then players need to be able to manage them. Players must know a choice is at hand, that they may be about to lose hit points, that they are flirting with death.

So, insta-kill traps, while they might be a part of the game's culture, actually work against the system by making death too easy, by taking away a player's choice (I think you can see the system sort of schizophrenically recognising a problem with losing all of such an important resource at once when it grants saving throws to things we would normally consider instant death, like being poisoned).

Even insta-traps that are not deadly are problematic in that they still leave players with no choice.  Yes, they are wearing down a resource, but the only real choice being given to players is: "Should we continue exploring or go back to the tavern." That's why I think Ben Robbin's suggestion to telegraph a trap is so important.  When players know a trap is present they can decide to try and avoid it, investigate it, even see if they can set it off safely.  In essence, the trap becomes more exploration.

This can be a problem in a funhouse dungeon.  If turning a door knob one way opens a door but turning it the other turns a character into a jello triceratops, a player's only real decision is: "Okay whose turn is it to open the door?"

I've explored the idea of how to give players clues as to what to expect, something I called decision sign posts.  I also struggled with how to present players with odd and wondrous things that still have some underlying reason to them.  The idea being that as exploration continues players might gain more and more useful knowledge to aid in their decisions, each success making ultimate success, survival, more likely.  Maybe you can still have your jell-dino door handles, but they always trigger when turned clockwise.

The Wages of Death
So, we act as neutral judges and do our best to make choices clear to players but death will still happen.  And death isn't fun.  Trollsmyth notes it can be anticlimactic, Zak, that it's really barring a player from playing the game they wanted to play for a certain amount of time.

So what can we do about this? 

You might ignore death completely, but then I think you're playing a game of exploring characters rather than exploring with characters.  A game that, while maybe fun, is probably better suited by a different system of rules.

You might try to replace hit points with another equally important resource, Christian mentions players being motivated by losing, what I'd call, "face" in the comments here. Other ideas might include being scarred (à la the video game Fable), maimed, or losing something of value.

Death is Universal
I like the idea of players being motivated by the fear of losing things other than their life.  But there are several problems here. The threat of death is easy to understand.

From the DM's perspective, i.e. what matters to a player?  I know continuing to play the game does.  What else?  Perhaps one player won't give a whit if they're humiliated by a villain or if their village is threatened. And Alexis points out the problem of assuming taking something from pcs will matter.

I suppose as a DM I could watch for what matters to players and act against those things. The positives to that approach would include working with what players bring to the table and the artistry of impromptu play.  But the downside is that it seems to put the DM into an adversarial role.  Will anything the players make, buy, or care about automatically become a target?  That sounds as frustrating as losing a character to death.

The threat of death is also easy to understand from the player's perspective.  All of the alternative ways to add tension suffer from being hard to predict.  And that interferes with the idea of player choice mentioned above. Are all combats in your world essentially duels that lead to loss of honor? How will a player know? Is this combatant the one that is so angry he's actually trying to kill the player?  What is the chance of getting maimed versus dying?  And is getting maimed just a less courageous way of dealing out consequences in game: "You only lost your leg, you can still play if you want, of course, combat will be very difficult from now on."

Death Matters
I think the best we can do is to try and work against the anti-climax of death.  Make a death matter, even as the player rolls up a new character, but how?  Zak suggests making it a plot hook, by which I think he means something will happen because of this death.  Perhaps a relative of the deceased will arrive.  Perhaps the faction dynamics in a town or dungeon will shift.  Perhaps the rest of the party gets pissed and wants to do something about it.

I liked the way Zak narrated the death experience to players as dreams.  This was mysterious to me and seemed to turn death from a full stop to an ellipsis.

I wonder if having players mortally wounded occasionally would be interesting.  Knowing they were dying in a matter of rounds, what would players have their characters do or say?

I think there might some merit in the idea that characters can inherit from a player's previous dead characters.  Remembering that players make mistakes too, accumulating resources might mitigate the sting of death through bad choices while giving a little bit of a buffer to the new character's survival.

I really like Jeff Rient's ideas of Heroic Sendoffs and Vengeance Oaths.  In fact, I'd forgotten about them until today (and thinking some version of them should have been in the house rules compilation).  Both of these allow players to turn character deaths into opportunities.  Death grants players new choices.

How else might we keep the benefits of death in-game while ameliorating its anti-climax?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Now That's a Hill Giant

Because hill giants were the weakest of the hierarchy of giants set up as adversaries for players climbing in level, much the way humanoids were, they seem pretty weak.  But in folklore they were awe inspiring, these huge humans that would prey on us. Check this guy out:

 Illustration by Ernst Liebenauer in Brüder Grimm : Deutsche sagen (1912).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Three for the Season

The host whose apartment we used for our session is out of town, so no adventuring tonight.  I do have some interesting ideas for posts I'm working on--a chart and a handout-- but in the meantime have some public domain images:

These are by Robert Anning Bell and I found them in a book of Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Visual Armor Chart

I like that Swords & Wizardry Core has a picture of fighters wearing each armor type with the Armor Class underneath them.  But inexplicably they gave one of these fighters a shield and then put them out of order, making it pretty useless for a quick reference when you're at the table and trying to remember what AC ring mail is.

This is one of those problems that is showing me DMs of different experience levels need different things (It's odd to me that after 30 years products still don't seem to acknowledge this).  When first starting out there are so many things you have to keep track of, aids can be really helpful.  Now, I pretty much have them memorized.  But it took a lot of fumbling looks in the book with play paused to do that.

So a while back I set out to make a chart for myself and to show players when they start out.  It isn't too important for my players because to speed up start of play I've pretty much let everyone start with leather armor, but I realize this won't always be the case.

One problem I ran across is that there doesn't seem to be a historic "leather armor" the way there is scale mail or chain mail hauberks.  Yes I've heard of cuir bouilli, but it sure doesn't show up much in books about armor or historical accounts. Another problem is that books on armor tend to two approaches 1) using period illustrations like those in the picture above, which tend to be so crude that the do little more than show us the various ways mails were artistically represented, or 2) using photographs of existing specimens, which skews everything to the odd, extremely expensive, and pieces lucky enough to survive.  What this all means is that I have to search old books looking for suitable illustrations of armor types, in just the right position. Difficult.

I wonder if I should drop leather armor altogether and go for something like padded armor in its place: gambesons, arming doublets, the quilted or cloth armors that a warrior too poor to wear mial would probably more likely be wearing.  Here is as far as I got with my chart:

 Another issue is my conflicting urges between simplicity and detail.  I like a world that has scale mail, and ring mail, and half-plate.  I also like a system that has unarmored and three armor types neatly separated by 2s.  Maybe I could present it to players as armor classes and have ring be a type of mail, just a poor one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

John D. Batten - XII

Beware the Bridge of Blood.  Love the bridge here.  The witch just wants to have a chat.

Fairy Monsters IV

I feel like my creative tank is dry, posting something I consider worthy of your interest every day is difficult.  But, must continue making . . .

These fae are a little off even for fae.  Each suffers from the delusion that it is an everyday object, say a chest or a torch.  And will try to contort their little bipedal forms into some semblance of that object.  They can be engaged in a rousing conversation of whsy it's like to be, say a chamber pot, or bag of coins.

Vermillion Slime
Found pooled around ancient trees in sleepy swamps, touching this slime will cause it to begin taking on the form of the toucher, until a perfect copy lies, as if asleep, at their feet.

Dancing Hole
A hole that is always a few feet to the left of where you thought it was.  Terrible if you drop a wand or ring in one.  Watch your step.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Forming a Party

I've been reading your great comments and thinking about the chaos of my last session.  Chaos in the sense of the "party's" decision making in the dungeon.  If I had a more homogeneous group in the level of experience or if I was certain that this same group of folks would continue meeting regularly I would let them muddle through as Scott suggests.  But, one player has already told me he won't be able to play on Fridays anymore.  And both of the brand new players told me they were disappointed that they only got through two rooms.  The party actually got through four rooms and had two battles, but I interpreting their disappointment as being about the same chaos I'm talking about.

James C. mentioned  Tuckman's stages of group development.  So, how might I help these players that don't know each other turn from rabble into an adventuring party.  Don't worry, I'm not going to turn this into a team building exercise or take them on a ropes course.  I think I'll just give them some questions that they should probably be thinking about even if they don't ever arrive at explicit answers.  Here are a five:
  1. What are we trying to achieve?
  2. What are we trying to find?
  3. What will we do if we encounter a door?
  4. What will we do if we encounter something strange and dangerous?
  5. When should turn around and head back to town?

Are there other questions you would consider important for an adventuring party?  I'm guessing that experienced players probably decide on these things without even thinking about them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

More Revised Handouts

I revised the weapon chart that you saw before giving it to my players.  I added missile weapons.  I couldn't find a decent javelin picture in time, but I like the variety of bo-shuriken for darts.  I also converted to digest size:

If you look closely you can see the captions on the right are smaller than the left.  That's because I shrank the whole first image and then added the missile weapons to scale.  The way OpenOffice, excuse me, I guess it's LibreOffice now, handles picture captions is clunky and hard to work with.  I'm constantly bumping into the limits of these tools.

After noticing the needs that came up last session, I also completely revised my character sheets and made some Hireling record sheets too. Here is the character sheet:

And the hireling record sheet:

Hirelings Revised

It was good to get to play again and be able to make some revisions based on more than theory.  One of my players was having his hireling do literally everything first: open doors, walk into rooms, touch things.  It started irritating me, not only is it craven, but pretty much my idea of evil.

So I decided to formalize my hireling Articles of Agreement.  I'll call it the Oath of Agreement, or the Five Fingers.  And in Nidus, hirelings that follow it and expect it to be followed will wear a red sash.  I call them guilded, but I imagine Nidus as being too chaotic to have a guild, more like the oath and word of mouth is the power.

During our session, I was role-playing the hireling as resistant, and kept doing reaction rolls, but now if the player is insistent on treating his hired help like something disposable word will get out and no one will work for him.  Or their fees will be sky-high.

Here is the Oath:
For 5 gold a day or a half-share of treasure, In good faith I will:
  •   Obey, knowing it puts neither I nor any innocent at risk.
  •   Protect you and yours, knowing you will protect me in return.
  •   Wield gear carefully and well, knowing I will keep it at our journey's end.
  •   Remain resolute, knowing you will never bewitch me without my consent.
  •   Stand serene, knowing in the event of the worst, my remains will be returned respectfully along with a quarter-share to my kin.
Here is a 3x5 card I made to record the hirelings name, traits and encumbrance:

And here is the pdf with my revised rules for acquiring hirelings.

Thanks to rorschachhamster and JDJarvis, I incorporated your ideas into the revised Articles.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Sodden Temple - Post Play

I was a little disappointed on how Friday's session went, mostly because of logistical issues.  And I think those were mostly out of my hands (I'm still thinking about it all).

First, the woman who instigated the session and who I mentioned joking about having to wear a costume was a no-show, with no contact as to why.

Second, another player emailed an hour before, to say she couldn't come. That was a bummer because it 1) she was one of the people who had never played an rpg and 2) she was one of 3 women supposed to come.  I'm always happy to get women players, I don't want my sessions to be some kind of poker night, men's exclusive.

Third, I had previously thought that with 9 people hirelings would be overkill.  But with only 5 people present at start time I said, "Okay, hirelings if you want them."  We made characters, started playing, and then two more gentlemen showed up (They had trouble finding the apartment).

One of these late arrivals is a Magic player, but neither had played an rpg.  I'm very conscious of helping new players into the game.  I try to design my handouts for that. I try to explain their choices clearly to them and give them time.  But the situation here didn't seem to allow for that.  I let the two roll up stats for two of the hirelings.  I think they were a little confused and wonder if I should have just made the other 5 people wait while I spent some time introducing these two to the game better.

Anyway, then we were finally off:

Mollie (DP)
Toral (DP)
Gail    (MU)
Archon III (MU)
Derek (F)
G (F)
+5 hirelings
(note DP = Divine-Petitioner, my version of clerics/priests)

The party had heard of a temple the earth's movement had pushed up from a local bay.  It had apparently happened months before they finally heard word of it.  They set out to try and make their fortune.

The temple's exterior was completely covered in figures carved in relief and every single figure had had it's head removed.  Inside the door they found a damp corridor with reliefs covering the walls: the same figures depicting what seem to be profane acts but difficult to tell with all the heads intentionally chiseled off.

Through a door they entered a medium sized room with a pedestal in the center.  It held a verdigrised platter with a tongue-like pointer.  From the ceiling a tubular gong.  Connected to the pedestal by a sodden silk rope, a wooden mallet.  They found the platter could be spun and had four iconic images on it.

Derek turned to one of the images and found nothing happened.  Then he struck the gong and everyone saw him become suddenly thinner, by 15 pounds.  Another spin and G suggested shooting the gong with an arrow.  A door opened in front of the party.  They passed through it.

They followed a straight passage lit by sconces.  The passage was shaking and they heard something very large moving behind a door up ahead.  A banging.  Something LARGE.  Shaking the whole HALLWAY.  They decide to open the door.

In a large room, the floor covered with thousands of copper coins, they saw what looked to be an elephant with a giant fly's head.  A GIANT FLY'S HEAD.  They decide to go in to the room.  Actually, Derek, with some difficulty, convinced his hireling to enter the room.  John's trait being "abundance of loyalty" and having a decent die roll, I allow for it.  On entering the room, he sees a stairway down and begins sidling towards it.

Derek and G enter the room and begin moving towards the stairs.  The beast seems UNCONCERNED with their presence.  G decides to shoot an arrow into it's eye.  Battle commences.  Gail still outside the door with Toral and his hirelings decides to slam it shut.  Later they decide they need to enter and have difficulty opening the door again.

Molly asks for Sanctuary and begins filling her backpack with copper coins.  A general melee begins.  G is sprayed by acid, Toral sacrifices his shield to avoid certain death, and eventually darts, arrows, crossbow bolts and a few sword whacks bring the fearsome creature to its end.

The party hears a commotion from the corridor they came in from.  A large group of cultists in black and red silk robes!  They are screaming something about the "holy beast."  One of the henchmen, wounded already dies as he lights oil poured in front of the door.  Two of the cultists get tangled in each other's robes (simultaneous 1s!) and thus the party has an opportunity to flee down the stairs.

I'll condense the rest, they go through one room, into a huge room filled with columns, blithely trek into the center of the room, are surrounded by fly cultists and ultimately prevail in battle after losing, Archon, Toral, and most of the hirelings.

I am not a killer DM.  My dungeon is not a fun house.  Why, oh, why would a party intentionally engage a huge, freakish-looking creature when given several opportunities to avoid it?  They got lucky with the creature itself, as my players always seem to do.  But what happened is that they really depleted their resources.  Divine-Petitioners in my world have diminishing returns on their miracle requests.  Both DPs blew their 70% miracle on hiding during the combat.  One of the two magic spells the party possessed, magic missile, was also blown in the combat.  And the noise had me roll for wandering monsters that brought the fly cultists, cutting off their immediate exit.

Basically it was rabble go down into the dungeon, kill and get killed.

Part of the problem is player inexperience, but part of it is just the chaos of a random party of people.  I'd tried to impose a caller early on, but the players were excited, assertive and kept forgetting the caller, so I let it slide.  Maybe I should have been more firm.

I know the idea of meeting in a tavern before a dungeon delve is derided as the ultimate cliche, but I wonder if I could have helped these 7 people have a little more cohesion somehow.  I don't mean letting them tell their imaginary backstories, as you can see from the fates of Toral and Archon that's a self-indulgent waste of time.  What I mean is a way for these players to decide on a kind of real world hierarchy, or at least decision making process, and to think a little about their goals.  I suppose I could have an NPC be the party leader, but I really don't want to do that.

Well, they seemed to have fun, there were some funny moments.  I think I need to play again this Friday, to continue the emergent story and let them fully feel the consequences of their decisions if they are going to learn from them.  I'll keep you updated.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Visual Weapon Chart

I mentioned here that I liked the simple, visual way the Lone Wolf books presented the weapons available to your character.  Here is my attempt at that.  Wish I had better images for some of the weapons.  Don't know if I'll have time to make a missile weapon one before the session tonight.

Get the pdf here.  Now I can just put this in front of players when they need to pick a weapon.  Blunts are together.  The three longest require two hands: pretty easy to explain I think.  Okay, I got to get to work.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Sodden Temple

Some quick ideas while I've got a break:

  • I think I'll have a "machine" on the second level that will combine two creatures put into it.  The fly worshipers are using it to make fly-human hybrids.  Don't know what the original temple used it for.
  • I think I want to use shoes that magically lead you on a path.  I had something I called Clement's Docent, but have since found out one kind of very tall platform shoe was the chopine.  I'll have one of the fly cultists have them in a bag and they will safely lead the wearer through a trap-filled corridor on the second level . . . which means I need to put one there.
  • I want to put a lot of colorful, odd potions around.
  • My player count is somewhere close to 9 now, don't know what I'm getting myself into.  But I need to keep them challenged/interested.  I'm thinking some big, ugly things, or swarms of smaller weaker things might keep everyone busy.  I can't think of anything really big and horrible, maybe the cultists combined an elephant with a fly?  Yeah that might be nasty.  For small creatures coming in swarms, maybe just giant flies (cat-sized), or maybe the cultists combined crabs or squirrels with maggots.  Uggh.  Maybe the amphibians got to the "machine" and made some frog-spider hybrids or something.  This combining thing could give me a lot of mileage.
  • If I could get to a color printer I'd like to have some big gems in the treasure, and pass out cards when they're found.
  • I also went back through things that might make the players feel vulnerable.  I'm going to throw in as many as I can. 


My thoughts are scattered right now; Thursday is my busiest day at work but 6:30 tomorrow I'll be DMing between 6 and 8 people.  Two to three of them have never played a rpg.  Only 2 have ever played with me before.  I'm not really ready.  On Grognardia, James mentioned the style of play he does being hard to do if he's having an "off" day.  Man, I can understand that.  I wonder if the reason I don't play more than I do is that DMing is such a taxing performance for me.  I'm a little bit of a perfectionist and an introvert so, to improv details, improv combat explanations, improv npc voices and reactions takes a lot of juice.  Ah well, too bad "Dungeon Master" wasn't a paid position.

If you're my player stop reading here.

I think I'll have the party explore the EZ-Map dungeon.  Looking at it, it seems sort of boring in its simplicity, but maybe that will work like a constraint and make me bring my game.

I need to at least sketch out a second level.  Haven't yet.

A few of my solutions to the flexibility/verisimilitude problem are layered history and the quotidian distressed.

So, History: I think this dungeon was a temple to some dire power built on top of some timeless alien artifact.  It was sunk into the sea at some point, and an earthquake brought it back to the surface.  After its re-emergence it was used as a temple to some fly totem and finally invaded by amphibious creatures that are warring with the fly shamans.

That lets me have weird Lovecraftian inscriptions lower in the temple, even artifacts that might bring horrible creatures to life.  It also allows ominous temple murals and reliefs depicting heinous but human acts and I'm imagining that temple deity's face scratched out everywhere by someone.  And then the gross fly totems everywhere: maggots, half-fly-half-man things, and finally whatever these frog/salamander dudes have as culture.

And The Distressed Environment:  It was under the sea so everything is damp, dripping, mildewed, bits of coral stuck to murals.  Also, things are weakened by the earthquake: broken walls, collapsed tunnels.  But especially there can be anything weird in this place if I just imagine it was flotsam.  Yes, I think there should be something very unlikely to be here found in a wooden crate that was washed inside.  But what?  Perhaps a Wardian Case or maybe a futurisitc machine with knobs that cause interesting thing to happen to those that turn them.

Okay, just that little bit has made me feel less scattered. I think I could run something interesting right now if I had to.  I think I'll read back through my blog for ideas of magic items to plop in this place.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hippo Thieves

I'm trawling through the public domain looking for a good book of animal tracks, came across this and felt I had to share.  When you match the picture up with the title of the book, it's like something out of Encounter Critical:

from Out of doors; a selection of original articles on practical natural history (1882).  I suppose to the right person, that might be practical.

Fairy Monsters III

I think I'm failing to make these light and airy, some of the previous were kind of creepy, but hey, I'm trying.  Here's a few more iconic D&D monsters in Fairy versions:

Owl Badger
More owl than badger this stocky creature swoops in silently to attack.  Why would a magic-user wish to combine an owl with a badger?  Who knows,  to allow for burrowing on steep hills?

Umber Nymphs
These are nymphs in the sense of immature insects.  Hundreds of tiny green things weaving a circular pattern on logs, or rocks in the forest, a pattern so entrancing . . .

Looks like a fairy the way a dried leaf looks like a leaf.  Hard, prickly, these fae continue to live when by all rights they appear they should be dead.


With the last one I was trying for what a fairy lich might be, but it doesn't feel right.  Traditionally, fairies weren't supposed to have souls anyway, right?  So a fairy isn't any more alive than a leaf in the first place.  Ah, well.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

John D. Batten - XI

This guy has the minerals, cruising on his swan towards three dragons.  And he looks nude . . . ?

3 Questions & a Thought

I have a possibility of a big attendance this Friday.  I'm pretty sure I can handle the logistics of DMing 8, maybe 10 people in combat etc.  But in the dungeon, a party of that size seems like a pretty big group if there are tight passages, stairs, turns, etc.  I remember a big party in a session of mine that seemed more comfortable splitting up and going two directions at once.

1) How does party size affect they way they interact with a map?


OD&D has doors being stuck by default, with a push required to open them.  A roll of 1 or 2 opens, which gives you a stuck door 2/3s of the time.

2) If you play using this rule, do your parties get into situations where they can no longer explore a dungeon because of stuck doors?


Tavis Allison has a great post pointing out the detail filled maps of the Mines of Khunmar, including which direction doors swing open.  Being the noob that I am, door swing direction completly escaped me.  But now thinking on it, I imagine yanking open a stuck door or forcing one open would be equally surprise-ruining.  Is knowing this detail about barring doors?

3) How has door direction come into play in your sessions?


*) After complaining about people making fun of playing D&D, I realized some people might be doing it to ease tension upon entering an unknown social situation.  I mean, most people probably don't know what we do when we play and are afraid of "doing it wrong."  (Although, the young woman I mentioned is probably not an example of this, she seems to look forward to Friday the way someone might look forward to cow-tipping).


And to make your time worthwhile, here is my coin for joesky (sort of like the OSR's boatman):

Portable Fire

A rug weighing a stone and smelling of creosote, when unrolled, reveals a foot-high fire.  When rolled up again, all heat and smoke dissipates, as if there were never a fire.

Magic System Features

I've been thinking about psionics and how to make a system that satisfies me with its simplicity and flavor.  In doing so, I realized that psionics differ from Vancian magic in lots of categories.  I think it might be helpful to try to map out those categories.  Once we have them, we might even be able to generate a new unthought-of system of magic.  So, just as they come to me:

How much preparation?  Priests in 2e needed none.  Warlocks needed none.  First edition material components add another degree to the mix, meaning you have to decide what to cast and be literally prepared.  Rituals requiring components are the opposite.  So, it seems there are two divisions here: Spell selection and then literal preparation.

What spells are possible?  So, even though a priest may call spells as needed, what those spells are does not change.  The opposite would be Ars Magic, or how I was envisioning runic magic; magic that must be creatively constructed at time of casting.  This is a little different than selection, because a system might allow for creation of spells but require selection of castable one each day.

How long to cast?  This seems minor to me because abstracted time can be fast forwarded and it seems to only come into play as instant casting/long enough to be disrupted.  (What if spells took multiple sessions to cast?) I'm thinking now that this an preparation could be combined into how difficult magic is to cast.

What is the cost of casting?  If you take away the simple device of Vancian spell slots, how is magic limited?  The second most common option seems to be spell points.  Psionics takes this approach.  Any system involving blood sacrifice is dealing with this feature.  Material components hit this too, when an expensive gem needs to be used up in casting.

How learnable is magic? This can be like D&D's % chance to know a spell or Psionics chance of knowing devotions.  But it can also be who can learn, because Psionics traditionally could be had by any class.  So, this may be two categories, too.  Who can learn, and how difficult to learn spells (even if limited to magic-uers).  Let's call the first accessibility and the second availability.

How powerful is magic?  Old school D&D's system sections spells off into level by how powerful they are.  Many spells are affected by caster level too.  With old school psionics you could randomly end up with a minor devotion or a major science and yet, the effectiveness of most powers rose with character level.  A spell point system might allow variable powered casting of the same spell.

How reliable is magic?  Second edition psionics treated powers like proficiencies, i.e. skills.  You could fail.  This is like Fourth editions chance of stinking cloud to "miss."  Older editions have a little of this show up in saving throws.

What does magic effect?  Okay, this is probably a lot of categories in one, but I'm thinking of psionics' direct attack powers here.  Some magic-users spells are similar, but most affect targets or not depending on saving throws. Psionics has something similar to melee combat, only it isn't.  I'm thinking wizard spell duels might fit here. Does magic affect hit points, target state, target stats, etc.

What is necessary for magic?  I don't really consider clerics asking gods for spells "magic."  But traditional ideas of magic often involved asking for effects from otherworldly powers.  This shows up in Fantasy Wargaming and even 2e's Al-Quadim caster type. I'm not sure how to categorize this.  Does a spell system identical to 1e's, but requiring demons look any different in practice?  Maybe the difference is the implied risk.  So, this would be another possible cost.  Maybe we could call it caster risk.

As always with categories, we could probably combine some of these and divide others, but to reorganize these into a draft list:
What is magic?
  • Creation
  • Selection
  • Affects
Who uses magic?
  • Accessibility
  • Availability
What is the cost of magic?
  • Preparation
  • Limitations
  • Risk
How effective is magic?
  • Reliability
  • Power
And now, without the organizing questions:
  1. Creation
  2. Selection
  3. Affects
  4. Accessibility
  5. Availability
  6. Preparation
  7. Limitations
  8. Risk
  9. Reliability
  10. Power
The Manual of Planes has a numerical system of denoting how magical alternate prime material planes are.  I don't have it in front of me, but we might use a similar system here.  Assign a number to each category will tell you how difficult, how reliable etc.  I'm naturally drawn to 1-10, so, you could roll 1d10 for each category and see if you can make sense of the magic system that results.

I'm at work with no dice, but let me try a web dice roller:

That looks like: Although possible to create new spells, spells are pretty much set.  Spells probably have no saves or rolls to hit, might even function identical to melee combat. Only magic-users can use spells but they can use pretty much any of the set spells.  Preparation is a pain, probably a system of rituals.  Few limitations, which makes sense if there is a lot of cost already built into the preparations. No risk at all.  Spells are super reliable and very powerful.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fairy Monsters II

Blink Crows
Known to cause great chaos at weddings, coronations, and even arcane rituals.  Said to have a language of their own.

Resinous Sphere

These fist-sized spheres are composed of sticky, amber resin.  They will roll down the holes of small animals, engulf the inhabitants one by one, and slowly digest them.  Often found rolling slowly through meadows in the thousands.

Striped Fae
A magpie that can turn into a skunk and back at will.  Is known to gather small hoards of bright objects and protect them with its foul spray.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fairy Monsters

If fairies are little people with wings and faerie dragons are little dragons with wings, what would fairy versions of monsters be?

Fe-rust fae
These look like palm-sized rust monsters, only marked like lady bugs.  Anything they touch with their antennae turns to iron.  Apparently they migrate and return to let their young feed on their rusty former targets.

Fae Bulette
Transparent with dragon fly wings, these creatures swoop out of thick fogs to eat horseflies and tiny fairy pegasi.  It is said that a small section of their back chitin can be polished into a lens of true seeing.

These can be seen happily hovering about cliffsides where they burrow to build nests.  Peasants have been known to camp out under their nests because they poop gems!

Saturday, October 2, 2010


I'm up in the mountains had to help cut some limbs that were a fire hazard and also trying to get some work done up here where it's cooler.

Oldschool 4e
Got to play 4e again last night. I'm going to claim responsibility for warping the DM who is also my player to oldschool ways. I'm always blathering about old school stuff when he's around and I gave him Exquisite Corpses book as a gift. Last time I played his game we fought some sogothy-frog creature (I crawled up its cloaca and was attacking its brain from the inside, heh heh). There was a weird fountain feeding into its pool which had water that gives permanent magical effects. One sip gave me the ability to split my body into a swarm of centipedes and then reform. But there seemed to be an air of danger, so one sip was enough for me. Well, fast forward a few play sessions that I've missed. I show up and the party gnome has shifted gender and the other party member's head is now a skull with bleeding eyes! Apparently the gnome has a craving for drinking the damn magical water and still carries several bottles.

We killed a mummy. Then encountered a bird creature with four strong legs. The DM seemed sure we were doomed when he saw its stats but the gnome offered it some of the special water, DM rolls . . . its thirsty, it starts drinking! Ha ha. Uh oh, one drink heals it, then its immune to poison, suddenly its ESP allows us to hear its squawking in our minds. Finally, it takes one sip too many and dies. And that made us go up in level (of course, in 4e we seem to go up in level like every three fights). Craziness.

4e Redbox
Just a bit of anecdotal data.  Talking with one of the players from that session, he excitedly told me, "Did you hear they're putting out the old rules again, in the red box?"  I don't think this player started as far back as Mentzer, so nostalgia wasn't an issue here, he just seemed to think it was cool.  When I set him straight on what came in the red box (a streamlined version of the game we were playing that moment) he seemed disappointed and even put out.  Might not be a good idea to get tricky with your marketing.

Session Ahead
It looks like I'm going to get to DM again next Friday. Interesting thing is, might have several brand new players again. The young woman asking me about playing was taking it all as a joke, you know ha ha, "Should I wear a costume?" I know some bloggers talk about how people they meet don't really have a conception of roleplaying, or even think roleplaying is interesting, yadda yadda. Listen, I have never met a non-gamer that doesn't consider D&D juvenile, satanic or both. We have a serious marketing issue here. How did a fad that swept the whole nation become such an outsider hobby?

Anyway, for this young woman and her friends I think I'll have to make a very dark gritty adventure, maybe in a sinking dungeon. Filthy water, floating rotten things, traps that sever limbs. You know, to welcome her to the hobby. I'm half joking. I would definitely try to show her, yes we can drink, have fun, be social, even be goofy, but it can be really fun when are hearts start beating quickly because we aren't sure if our character can get out of the muddy temple of evil alive.

I like how a lot of blogs have been doing monsters and movie reviews and all kinds of Halloweeny stuff for October. I thought, "Hey, maybe I should do that." But then I realized almost everything I post is creepy. Maybe I should do the opposite and try to post the most positive, gauzy, elfy, happy stuff I can invent, ha ha. Hope you're having a great weekend.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fantasy Animation Using Free Tools

Thought this might interest you for several reasons: Its got a dragon, it uses tools that could aid DIY, and Blender is an example of a project that was successfully "ransomed" as Rob Conley talks about here.
"'Sintel' is an independently produced short film, initiated by the Blender Foundation as a means to further improve and validate the free/open source 3D creation suite Blender. With initial funding provided by 1000s of donations via the internet community, it has again proven to be a viable development model for both open 3D technology as for independent animation film."
via Metafilter, with more info on the project there.


Can't sleep, so have a place to park your mummy: