Monday, May 18, 2015

Inspiration alternative [5e]

I've noticed that my players tend to forget about Inspiration. As a player I often only used it as a last resort sort of rolling mechanic. As a GM I forget to dispense so I tend to just say "Everybody gets Inspiration" which kind of screws anybody who hasn't spent theirs, since you either have it or you don't. I've seen some other people tweak Inspiration in different ways and I've decided to take some... uh, inspiration from this and make my own tweaks.
Inspiration is carried by the player and can be transferred from character to character. If one character falls, another may be inspired to rise up. Characters start with no Inspiration whatsoever. Inspiration can only be earned by playing.

Gaining Inspiration
Whenever you play out one of your character's personality traits, follow your character's ideal, or give in to one of your characters drawbacks or bonds, you gain +1 Inspiration. If you do this to your character's detriment, you gain +2 Inspiration. If you do this and it gets your character killed, you gain +3 Inspiration. Your character can never have more Inspiration than their current level. Excess Inspiration is automatically lost.
For example, Bob is playing Robin, a 7th-level Fighter with the Noble background. Robin has the Bond "My loyalty to my sovereign is unwavering." Robin overhears mercenaries who work for Robin's sovereign plotting to desert from their posts before a battle. If Bob intervenes or confronts the mercenaries he could gain 1 Inspiration, if it causes him to lose an ally or suffer greatly he could gain 2 Inspiration, and if Robin gets killed confronting them Bob gains 3 Inspiration. If Bob waits to report the mercenaries to a commanding officer then he gains no Inspiration, he didn't handle them himself.

Using Inspiration
One point of Inspiration can give you advantage or take away disadvantage on a single d20 roll.
Three points of Inspiration can turn one of your unsuccessful d20 rolls into a successful rolls.

Losing Inspiration
When your character dies you roll up a new character at 1st-level and lose all of your Inspiration. Each point of Inspiration you have raises the starting level of your new character by +1. If you were holding onto a maximum amount of Inspiration then your new character would start at the same level as your old character.
For example, Charlie has 5 Inspiration and is playing Tytus, an 8th-level Cleric. When Tytus dies, Charlie rolls up a Rogue, Marigold, and she starts at 6th-level.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


Houston, Texas. The national government and separatists in the country's south may have agreed to a cease-fire and peace talks six weeks ago, but you wouldn't know that here in the stronghold of the rebellion.
Streets in this once-bustling metropolis are mostly empty because so many businesses are closed. Tanks and mobile rocket launchers operated by pro-United States separatists regularly rumble down city streets. And sounds of artillery fire around the airport are so frequent that people ignore it.
"We're used to it," said factory worker Michael Davis, 37.
The continued fighting raises doubts about whether negotiations can settle the bitter dispute over the future of Texas between nationalists who want to preserve a segregated nation and domestic Americans just as determined to return to the United States.
Rebels wearing military fatigues without insignia and carrying rifles can be seen throughout the city, where they have a headquarters building downtown and a command center near the airport. The Texan government estimates there are 1,000 rebels in Houston, though residents say they believe the number is higher.
The city is of great strategic importance to the rebels because of its proximity to Louisiana, with Houston's industrial infrastructure, and a rail network leading to Louisiana's oil pipelines and refineries, the insurgency would be a key factor for moving troops and weapons into Houston for support.
The United Nations estimates more than 300 people have been killed in the larger conflict zone since the cease-fire was announced, raising the death toll since fighting broke out last spring to at least 3,660.
On Monday, a powerful explosion at the Dallas factory used to make ammunition components caused shock waves felt more than a mile away. It was followed by a barrage of rocket fire.
Last week, music teacher John Allen, 26, went to the funeral of fellow music teacher, Andrew Everett Groll, who was killed by a shell on Aug. 24, the first day of school.
Allen stood in the park near his home, listening to the whoosh and bang of artillery fire nearby and joked that they could be soundtracks for a video game.
A visit to the industrial city, which had a population of 1.4 million before the fighting, shows how much it is struggling to return to normalcy even as it remains caught in a war. Schools have restarted, some businesses have reopened, factory workers line up for work to the sound of nearby shelling.
Still, the museum of nature and science downtown, the Mercedes-Benz dealership by the contested airport and many other businesses around town remain shuttered and in shambles. And while rebuilding has begun in areas retaken by American government forces, such as Austin, three hours away, Dallas is in limbo.
"It's difficult to think about what should happen next," said gas station attendant Annabelle Patterson, 27, near evidence of the war: the burned shell of a cell phone booth still being used by other vendors outside of a Dallas Area Rapid Transit station. "We don't know what happens tomorrow, so we live like today's day is the last one."
Patterson is sticking it out here in the hopes that the rebels ultimately prevail. "It should be an independent state without America," she said, noting that her son, a kindergartner, shelters in the basement of her home near the airport while she works. Her family is the only one still living in the neighborhood, where the utility company gave up on making repairs because of repeated shelling-related outages, she said.
"We want to be part of Texas because we are Texans" said her relative and co-worker, Iris Kobe, 42.
While many residents like Patterson side with the rebels and blame America's government for shelling that has damaged homes and businesses all over the city, Paul Koster, 21, says a lot of his friends and the city's business class see the conflict as fomented by Texas, and many are thinking about leaving.
Music teacher Allen has similar thoughts. He supplemented his income by working as a sound engineer at concerts, but the local venue has been closed since the fighting began in May. Over the weekend, Allen met with a friend, singer Vic Spero, to talk about a possible project that could take him out of town.
Allen, who says he's a pacifist, blames both the Texas President Rick Perry and American President Barack Obama for resorting to warfare rather than a peaceful resolution.
In a fair referendum, he thinks Texans would vote to stay in America. But he worries the situation will remain as it is and wind up a frozen conflict like areas of nearby Louisiana and Mississippi - other former American states that sought to align with Texas, and now have rebels occupying part of their countries.
If that happens, would he stay?
"No," Allen said. "I would leave."

(a majority of this writing was lifted from an article about Ukraine from USA Today)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

player responsibilities

"People behave very differently under gold as xp than under monsters as xp." I never played under that style of play, neither have I ever run a game that way. I always played in games where role-playing was the dominant force for xp rewards and during my 2nd edition days that's when I started to see players who would follow a plot that was spoonfed to them from a GM or follow a protocol of behavior that the same GM had established. Bowing to lords, currying favor with locals, haggling with shopkeepers, and asking for opponents to surrender mid-battle. However, some of the worst games I ever played in happened to be because the GM expected their players to role-play their way out of a situation rather than looking for alternative solutions or resorting to violence.

I think it's that expectation of player behavior that makes a bad GM. However, there can be bad players too. Playing badly means following vague descriptors (of class, of alignment, etc.) and never looking for anything outside of the box that has been drawn for them, essentially a bad player is dull and predictable. A good player creates the game as they go and asks the GM to accommodate them, a good player throws creative punches. Rolling with those punches is what makes a good GM.

I once played a cleric-wizard in a game set in Waterdeep, the metropolis of the Forgotten Realms setting, where my character worshipped Gond, god of artifice. I started asking about who owned the land around certain areas and the GM never had easy answers. He finally asked me why I was so interested in who owned what and I told him of my plans to introduce a mass transit system to Waterdeep, utilizing both magic and machinery. I will never forget how he guffawed and said "Yeah, that'll never happen."

The younger version of myself soldiered on, but today if I heard a GM be that dismissive I would confront them with their buffoonery. I had just handed him a whole campaign worth of adventures on a silver platter - corrupt government officials, mobilizing labor, maintaining facilities, funding the construction, monetizing the finished project, attempts at espionage, disputes over property values - and he was more concerned with maintaining his status quo of experience points per session. The same horrible GM who would create impossible to solve problems to force us into role-playing our way out of them didn't want to bite into a veritable feast of role-playing potential that I was just handing over to him.

On the other hand, I've described the ingenious problems that could have arisen from this venture to many other players over the years and they all say the same thing: "Why don't you run that campaign?" and therein lies the problem. Most players don't even create their own goals, I can't expect them to follow one of mine.

I remember another game with another GM that had just as final a moment when it came to shutting down a player's goals. In a game where virtually any character was allowed, I asked to play an ogre and was allowed to do so. The ogres and dwarves of this world were locked in a centuries-long animosity. I don't remember what the two races fought over, but I remember that the GM often used it as a stick to beat my character with. Everywhere our party went we always ran into dwarves who took extra pains to be dicks to my character, and thus also the party. Since my ogre character traveled and adventured alongside another dwarf - a PC playing the only dwarf in the world who seemed to be polite and friendly - I mentioned that there must be friendlier dwarves and as soon as I found them I could forge an ogre-dwarf alliance that would shame the other dwarves. The GM just said "Good luck with that! The only friendly dwarves you're ever going to meet will be player characters."

I was still pretty young and I stopped playing with that group at that time because I took that oafishness personally.

As a player, I always create a lofty goal for my character. Maybe something that could be attainable, but often it is something that a GM could build adventures off of. I hate playing with GMs who expect you to share their goals, or follow their breadcrumbs.

As a GM I always try to foster a player creating goals for their character, and though I don't expect it, I am disappointed when a player would rather just level up then interact with the world. That disappointment probably makes me a weaker GM overall. When I run the Dwimmermount game I feel like the campaign skirts a fine line between role-playing and XP-gathering. The characters have goals and there are some inter-party conflicts brewing, but in relation to the dungeon itself it is just there as a thing for them to conquer rather than to interact with.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

hobgoblins of Dwimmermount

I always forget that deviantart exists, and so this morning I found some more artwork to use as inspirational examples of the rhino-faced hobgoblins in my Dwimmermount campaign.

The Rhino
by dankatcher

Rhino General
by JoseAlvesSilva

Ragin' Rhino Man
by paulabrams

Durge the Rhinoman inks
by joeydes

by brainfog

by 89as13

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ten facts about Hexvouna

Like Courtney Campbell before me, I have decided to take Kiel Chenier's 10 Random Facts challenge. But here I am limiting it to Hexvouna, a megadungeon I am working on with Arnold Kemp:

1) Hexvouna is the name of both the mountain and the ancient city which resides on the top of the mountain. It is sometimes called the Giants' Walk because giants live throughout the habitable areas beneath the walls of Hexvouna.

2) The old palace of Hexvouna has been ravaged by rivers of lava that spring up from within the mountain. These pools of lava sometimes erupt and destroy more buildings, or simply create new rivers of rock stretching down the side of the mountain. The mountain is not a volcano, the lava spreads out from a malfunctioning prison hundreds of feet beneath the city.

3) The last king of Hexvouna held thrall over a demonic spirit, and when he died the demon was freed but cannot return to the Three Hells it spawned from until it finds somebody to open the portals under the dead king's bedchambers.

4) The Ecknoi are a diminutive, primitive people who live inside a 200 foot tall clock tower at the center of Hexvouna. For any who can read the ancient language of the clock, it still keeps perfect time.

5) The original Hexvouna is almost entirely destroyed. The ancient city that is currently called Hexvouna destroyed the old one when it crash landed there 250 years ago.

6) There is an aqueduct and basin of water that still delivers fresh water to the entire ancient city of Hexvouna. The water is supplied to the city magically, but the basin is currently overflowing and creates a waterfall on the northwestern edge of the city walls (and a river down that side of the mountain).

7) There are three ways to enter Hexvouna, every other path is blocked by steep vertical ledges of rock hundreds of feet high. One is through a hidden passage at the base of the mountain behind the walls of a hidden fortress, the second is a difficult hike following the river that spills down the northwestern side of the mountain, and the third is by approaching from the south - through the giants' camp.

8) Within a crack of the city's streets a vast underground graveyard with many crypts can be found, but not a single undead.

9) There are 16 spirits that reside within Hexvouna, they will challenge or reward those who explore Hexvouna according to their nature. The only way to know about the existence of these spirits is to find the ruined temple where they were last tended to by the dwarves, before the dwarves abandoned the mountain.

10) This megadungeon is still being written but was started with the concept of a dungeon that goes up instead of down. Another core design theme is keeping huge central areas for the players to move around in, rather than the cramped corridors of a traditional dungeon crawl. Only two maps have been drawn. Explanations for who lives where and why have yet to be determined for much of the areas, however the facts listed above will not change.

Friday, April 24, 2015

"These are hobgoblins?"
[5e Dwimmermount]

It's been three weeks since we last played Dwimmermount, and with a brief recap of events the players were ready to confront the enemies they heard in the caves swiftly approaching their position.

The party came face to face with Guran, the mad dwarf who had been creating the kobolds. Though they never discovered this as their conversation quickly became combative and antagonistic. When they refused to leave Dwimmermount, or even acknowledge that it belonged to him and his "dwarves," he went berserk and attacked. He was quickly defeated, and his fleeing kobolds were easily hunted down and slaughtered.

They debated over a place where they could rest for an hour or so and mentioned the hidden chapel in the eastern part of the level, but quickly stopped talking about it since they didn't want to reveal the location to Appius. They ventured back to the "timeless room" and discovered three orcs camping. They killed two of the orcs before they could react, but the last one surrendered by offering to show a map to his leader's throne room.

For initiative during combat, I've been having the players roll 1d10 and add their Dexterity bonus. I feel like this gives a better timeline to the round and makes the Dexterity bonus more important than the d20 skill check that the 5e rules call for.

He led them to the circular mosaic room and showed a crude map drawn into the lines of the mosaic, explaining that the circular room here led to another circular room down below and the elaborate graffiti marked Segur's "throne" room.

Sulla, unsatisfied with the map, slit the orc's throat.

They rested in the "timeless room" then explored the magically locked doors to the last circular room off of the main "Mavors corridor" with the key disc they had recovered from the Spawn of Arach-Nacha. Inside they found a chamber that responded to the key disc and Sulla sent his familiar to scout the vertical shaft within.

Three things:
1) I allowed Sulla's familiar to search the entire shaft. 5e rules limit some of the usefulness of the familiar beyond 100 feet, but I decided to allow telepathic communication throughout the entire shaft. Additionally, I don't like the way 5e uses familiars as there seems to be no drawback to using them carelessly.
2) The book doesn't state where exactly the elevator is, so I parked it at the upper level effectively blocking the door to the Divinitarium. Meaning the players will either be forced to turn on the elevator's power or destroy the elevator before they can ever explore this level.
3) We recently discovered that any character can Identify a magic item during a short rest
(DMG p. 136) and Ilona used this ability on Guran's warhammer, which she had looted. Rather than make it a +1 weapon, I gave it better damage and a magical +1 to offhand attacks if the warhammer is used one-handed (even though it is also a versatile weapon).

The party decided to explore the rest of the caves (they had two rooms left to discover) and found Guran's treasure chests as well as two more giant spiders, which they made quick work of. Using my previously detailed method for generating treasure, they found roughly 1600 copper pieces. They also found the shrine to Tyche, where Horatius placed a gold coin amongst the small hoard already in her outstretched hands.

They discovered the Hall of Memories, where I implied that the pillars could potentially be removed from the floor, transported elsewhere, and sold for a vast sum. The scholar amongst them, Sulla, watched the memories and discerned that there were some things revealed in the images that did not match the history he had been taught.

They continued downward to the Reliquary...

at the bottom of the stairs the party was attacked by more of the silvery-black skeletons they had seen in the chapel on the first level, but they made short work of the magical constructs.

Sulla and Ilona wanted to find the other stairwell that led back up to the first level and so they ventured west and came to two doors, one north and one south. They chose to go north and found a storeroom with smashed crates and rotted goods, along with five burlap sacks with man-sized shapes groaning and struggling to get out. They opened one of the sacks to find a dessicated but animated corpse fighting to free itself. They bashed its head in and then spent a few minutes stabbing and bludgeoning the other four sacks.

I'm not sure why this room has five zombies trussed up inside burlap sacks, maybe its detailed somewhere and I forgot, or maybe this is just one of those weirdly random rooms, but it was at this point that I made a little note that one of those sacks did not have a zombie inside of it. This death will come back to haunt them. (maybe even literally)

Continuing to the north, they passed through several rooms. One with four pillars representing the elements surrounding a tiled mosaic of Telluria, and another with pillars made of rare metals. They discussed ways of removing the rare metal pillars but eventually decided to continue onward and return to this room later. They approached the door at the end of this hall, realizing they had traveled quite a distance north, and Sulla could hear voices beyond the door. They were arguing about their leader's decisions and

Sulla's Passive Perception is 20 and he is the only character who can speak Bestial.

They burst into the room and found damaged glass tubes stretched out in rows across the room. On the other side of one of these rows they could see four creatures unlike anything they had seen before. Roughly humanoid forms with thick bulging arms and squat legs, the length of their faces ridged with short black horns protruding where their noses and foreheads should be. They charged in and killed all four of the creatures with little hesitation.

This room is called Stasis Chamber #2. It is described as being identical to Stasis Chamber #1. Stasis Chamber #1 is described as "filled with two dozen vitreum tubes that stand slightly taller than a human being. The tubes are found in four rows of six..." except the shape of both of these rooms doesn't match how that configuration of rows is described. Frustratedly, I just filled in rows of "tubes" on my map and told the players that it would require an action to move through the tubes - due to smashing and forcing their way through reinforced glass (vitreum) - and that each square of vitreum tubes counted as difficult terrain.
You can see in this picture where Ilona smashed through some of the tubes and later Sulla placed a
Grease spell on the floor to prevent the hobgoblins from escaping.

This room, and this entire level, is described as having hobgoblins living here, but I should point out that I've been deliberately describing the orcs to my players as "pig-faced" and using 1st edition AD&D images of orcs to hammer this point home. I decided pretty early on that I wanted every unusual race within Dwimmermount to have some kind of animalistic feature, to imply that when these races were magically created by the Ancients that they were made using existing species.

I'm using the 5e stats for hobgoblins, but I've searched up these images to show what the "hobgoblins" look like.

They explored the southeastern door because one of the hobgoblins had tried to escape through this door. Inside were shelves and cabinets filled with vials and jars, some still held powders and liquids. Sulla cast Detect Magic and took anything that radiated with magic, they abandoned the rest and moved on.

I don't like using nonmagical means for creating potions and since this room has some weird alchemical objects sitting around, I decided on the fly that Sulla's spell would detect anything that was already made and ready to use. I rolled a d10 and got a 7, that's how many potions he found. If the party had an alchemist with them then perhaps I could have played this room out a bit more, but the players were also keen to track down where the hobgoblin wanted to retreat to and a few potions weren't going to slow them down.

They began to turn south in the next room, another chamber filled with vitreum tubes, and immediately saw light at the end of one of the corridors. The party began using ranged attacks as soon as they saw more of the hobgoblins and a brief fight ensued. Two of the hobgoblins tried to escape, but were cut down before they could get very far. Loud noises still echoed down the halls and the party could hear footsteps approaching from beyond the circular room.

At the end of that last round of combat the minis looked like this

their map currently looks like this

and according to my timekeeping they've been awake for a little over 13 hours...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

losing track of the hours underground
[5e Dwimmermount]

It's been over a month since I wrote a session report, and that's due to a combination of not having free time to write and not having the energy to write. I was not too worried about being behind because I had been recording the sessions, but now I seem to have mislaid the recordings and I have no idea if I accidentally deleted them or simply filed them somewhere that at the time I was sure I would "remember." Here then, to the best of my ability, is the most I can recall from our next three sessions.

As the delve continues I find myself altering more of the adventure. The map was originally meant to be on the inside of a wineskin, but I felt this was totally impractical for a group of dwarves to be using a map that they themselves couldn't even see. Instead, I created the prop map you see below.

The map they acquired from the dead to make big
...the party decided to return to the eastern portion of the level and clear out the final room along the easternmost corridor. But first they had to fight the gelatinous cube in the hallway and they delayed this fight by first inspected the training room, and Ilona destroyed one of the training devices upon Horatius discovering the control panel that activated them.

Returning to the hallway door they prepared for a fight and opened the door, letting the creature slowly glide into the room with them. They fought it with little injury then ventured to the eastern hallway without incident.

The room they sought to explore was an ancient chapel to Mavors, though it appeared to have been desecrated and converted to a shrine of Turms Termax. Tsetsig boldly entered and was instantly surrounded by silvery-black skeletons that lurched out from sconces within marble columns. He attempted to turn the undead to no effect. A brief but intense fight ensued as the rest of the party tried to protect Tsetsig from the brunt of the attacks from the skeletal constructs. At the end of the fight, Tsetsig found the secret passage leading to the hidden treasury. As they took stock of these newfound valuables Tsetsig grasped a scarab wrought of moonsilver and enameled blue. This is when he almost died.

Fifth edition doesn't have very good rules for cursed items and the object in question is a scarab of death which doesn't even seem to exist beyond second edition rules. The item is also one of those "save or die" kind of items which I always regard as dumb and not-fun. I wrote up my own "fifth edition" version that offers a few choices in case someone should happen to grab the scarab recklessly. When the player annonced they were picking up the scarab, I handed him this index card...
...and that's pretty much how I'm going to rewrite "save or die" bullshit for this and any other fifth edition game I run.
It doesn't say it on the card but cutting off a hand would have reduced the character to zero hit points. I think I forgot this in the moment and just had Tsetsig pass out.

After Tsetsig cuts off his own hand they spend a few moments rousing him from unconsciousness and discover the scarab is cursed. The party then decided to rest here, since the secret treasury room was the perfect place to hide. When they were ready to move on they decided to travel southward down the central cross-shaped hallway, expecting to find another circular room with giant centipedes, but along the way they were called out to by voices in the dark. Kobolds in the caves had seen Brughaht traveling with the party and extended an invitation to meet with their master, Guran. They only trusted dwarves and refused to escort Brughaht's friends into the caves, but Brughaht managed to persuade them that Tsetsig wasn't a threat and could be trusted. One kobold insisted on venturing forth to ask Guran for permission and Tsetsig had no objections. After several minutes the kobold returned and welcomed Tsetsig along. While the rest of the party waited, Tsetsig and Brughaht were escorted into the caves to meet with Guran.

They passed several empty chambers as well as a glowing pool of water lit by radiance from above, but Tsetsig began to suspect that something was amiss. They were traveling to far away from the group and he sensed an ambush lying ahead. When he questioned the kobold about the length of their journey the kobold tried to dash forward into the darkness, but Brughaht managed to fell him with one blow. They hid the kobold, now dead and turned to stone, underneath a pile of bones then Tsetsig sent a magical message to the rest of the party warning them that the kobolds were hostile. With a little bit of coordination, the party managed to overcome the kobolds they were with and Gaius Marius unleashed several Sleep spells to disable the remaining kobolds. It was a slaughter!

Tsetsig and Brughaht returned to the rest of the group and they searched the rooms, and upon finding a library they quickly looked for books that may assist them in the dungeon. One stuck out, a manual on the strategy game the two ghosts in the northern portion of the dungeon had been playing. They took the book back to the room and placed it where the ghosts seemed to be handling it, and the ghosts disappeared.

Feeling weary, they decided to return to Muntburg to rest and resupply, and were only ten hours behind Climent.

In Muntburg, Tsetsig and Brughaht both decided to stay in town with some of the money they had acquired. Gaius Marius also stayed behind to assist Tsetsig and Ilona's ancestral claim upon Dwimmermount. A priest of Mavors, Eppius, and a wizard friend of Ilona's who had just arrived in Muntburg, Sulla, both joined the group as they returned to Dwimmermount.

Upon re-entering Dwimmermount, the group heard movement coming from the long main hallway and braced for combat. More silvery-black skeletons strode out of the darkness and they cut them down. The priest, Eppius, having not encountered these creatures before attempted to turn them as undead fruitlessly. The group made their way to the caves quickly, stopping only to examine the double doors leading to the circular room which Ilona believed to hold only "more centipede bullshit." They couldn't enter as the doors were magically sealed, and they had no method of opening the doors.

Technically they did. Horatius carried a rod of opening but the player was concerned about the number of charges it contained and didn't elect to use the item.

In the caves, an ambush was waiting for them, but from the kobolds. The party spied a single spider that shied away from their lantern light, then skittered away into the darkness quickly as they approached. Ilona gave chase and as the rest of the group confidently followed in the darkness with their newly purchased lanterns, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by giant spiders.

I decided that Guran, a servant of the demonspawn, upon realizing that his kobold was not returning with a fresh dwarf for him to corrupt would search for his soldier and discover the betrayed and dead kobolds. He would then report to the demonspawn, whom I named Bram. Bram commanded his spiders from afar to search out for signs of the party and upon hearing the fighting from the hallway the spiders were organized by Bram into an ambush for the group in the caves.

Very quickly, the characters began to fall to the paralytic poison of the spiders' bites. Soon the only one standing was Horatius as he beat back spider after spider and managed to survive just long enough to kill them all. Exhausted and near death, Horatius collapsed around his fallen comrades and soon they began to revive from the poison. In the aftermath they discovered Climent had died during the battle, and around his neck Horatius found a symbol of Termax, signifying that Climent was secretly a cultist.

Because this group had levelled up several times by scouring every single room of the first level I decided to make Bram's spiders slightly tougher than the ones described in the module and this almost killed the party. I have no regrets, they charged in without scouting or preparing, and now they're terrified of spiders.

They re-entered the caves and with no resistance found the room with the moonlit pool of water. Horatius decided to bathe and swim in it, searching the bottom for treasure but finding nothing. In the process every magical item on his person was destroyed, but he picked up a temporary magical resistance which still lingers. In this room they made enough noise that scouting orcs found them and another battle ensued. They managed to defeat the orcs and needed rest, retreating to the library where they spiked the door to protect them from being barged in on.

The orcs were being allowed to search the caves by the kobolds, who had temporarily allied together to repel the human invaders. When Bram's spiders fell, he instructed his kobolds to treaty with the orcs and inform them where they could claim vengeance for their fallen comrades.

The next session started with the players needing a bit of a recap and I was very tired and disorganized due to getting very little sleep.

After Identifying water from the moon pool, Sulla suggested trying to pour water on the magically locked double doors. They tried this but it didn't work. Rather than linger at the double doors longer they entered the caves and went about searching those passageways that they had passed before due to following or evading conflict.

They found the secret back door entrance and saw sunlight outside, not realizing it was still daytime, and then encountered shriekers (which have WAY too many hit points for a creature that just screams) which made the kobolds believe that new invaders were approaching, and so they prepared an ambush. Venturing westward they ran into these kobolds who had set up a quick and makeshift ambush. During the fight, a kobold tipped over a barrel of oil and set it aflame in order to prevent the party from following them. Amongst the spilled oil was a small barrel of gunpowder which exploded with thunderous force.

The gunpowder was my addition, but the kobold fights at this point feel like its just slowing everything else down so I'm trying to make them interesting. The players were really taken aback by it, and the 5d8 damage that some of them suffered from it helped soften them up to make the kobolds actually seem threatening.

Sulla found the Holy Phalange when the party explored the dead end where it was hidden.

The next fight with kobolds was amazingly brief and only lasted three rounds. The party heard them before they saw them and simply rushed forward to catch the kobolds by surprise, which they did. At this point the group decided to explore the dungeon north of the caves so that they could have their map link up where they knew a missing connection had not yet been explored.

They found a room with murals and more ghostly images of Thulian troops marching in the hall. Deciding to take a short rest in a nearby storeroom, they soon heard scrabbling and scratching at the door while Sulla cast an Identify ritual upon the Holy Phalange. They prepared to fight and threw the door open to see the hallway filled with giant beetles. Horatius and Ilona pushed the giant beetles back, defeating them with little expended effort. At the end of Sulla's Identify ritual, he put the Holy Phalange around his neck to Ilona's disgust.

They opened the southern door leading back to the caves and were met by a spider, which then spoke. The voice of Bram spoke through the spider and offered rewards if the characters would ally with him. He claimed to speak for Arach-Nacha and the priest knew this was a demon lord, but played along for now. The rest of the group was willing to hear his offer but only if they could discuss it in person. Bram revealed he had a key to open the magically-sealed double doors along the main hallway, something which had become an obsessive point for some of the players. They agreed to meet with him, but Eppius was very vocal about destroying Bram and all of his spiders. The spider escorted them to Bram's lair and he offered to use his spiders to guard the entrances of Dwimmermount to help cement Ilona's familial claim upon the land. Ilona was considering the deal when Bram revealed that the key looked like a symbol of Mavors, this was the final straw for Eppius and he declared that Bram was an unholy blasphemy.

A long fight ensued between the party and Bram with his spiders, and the party were triumphant without a single person succumbing to the paralytic poison of the spiders. As they began to loot the caves, they heard the approach of more creatures from behind them...

Their map now looks like this:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

all of your gaming criticism is bullshit

I haven't been posting very much lately and that's largely because I keep getting distracted with real life. I'm unhappy with my job, I feel like I don't get enough sleep, and whenever my finances look like they're bouncing back I suffer some inane setback (last week it was my car that needed an injection of $400). I've been working on a few projects for gaming here and there, but haven't been able to adequately finish one to my liking.
  • mind flayers as a playable race for 5e, my latest idea and has the least amount of work done on it (I just started writing it last night)
  • alchemist class for 5e, I've written this scrapped everything and started over then written it again three times now, each time what I've written just doesn't feel like it stacks up against the other classes in terms of balance of power
  • dark elves for LotFP, its not what you think (this one's almost done)
  • my last two sessions of Dwimmermount 5e, I recorded both of them so I wouldn't have to take notes but I just haven't listened to the sessions and written them up (yet)
  • the Cities on the Mountain (not the final name), a megadungeon I've been thinking about for a year (ever since I wrote up the Hidden Fortress) and started drawing maps for this week, I was inspired to finally start working on this project together because of Arnold K's Districts of Lapidir posts (won't see the light of day until I have something solid to share)
  • Hexvouna, a dungeon I have scattered notes on (I should probably cannibalize this project for the megadungeon above)
  • Dwimmermount monsters written up with 5e stats, for the ones that aren't in the 5e Monster Manual (ongoing)
  • deities as stories, an evolving inner monologue about deity descriptions
Each is a work in progress, hanging in my blogger posts as drafts that await finalization and publishing.

Friday, March 6, 2015

lying, manipulating, persuading, and scrutinizing

The 5th edition rules feature a concise list of 18 skills associated with the traditional 6 ability scores. Some of these skills have obvious explanations (Athletics is going to cover climbing and swimming) while other skills are bleakly defined (if I'm searching for a secret door do I use Perception or Investigation?).

Perception versus Investigation
All of the examples with Perception involve hearing things and all of the examples with Investigation involve looking and touching things. This makes me think that calling for a check would really depend on how the player narrates their character's actions, but most of the time it's going to be Investigation.

Passive Perception
The great utility of the passive check is to determine whether a character detects something secret without the need to roll dice and reveal to the player that something is there. I really like the concept of passive skill checks because it means I can flag areas of dungeons ahead of time for things the characters will detect just from walking down the hall or looking around the room for the first time. Also, Stealth checks are countered by Passive Perception, which can also apply to NPCs for when PCs want to sneak past guards or into jewelry stores. This gets into a sticky gray area when it comes time to have social secrecy...

Lying Liars and the Lies they Lie
Deception is a skill under Charisma and Insight is a skill under Wisdom, and according to what's been established on the previous page with Stealth and Passive Perception it would seem that Insight should be Passive and the one attempting to lie rolls their Deception. I've been having PCs roll Insight in some situations and now I'm beginning to think that if I want to maintain consistency that I should revert to the Stealth-Perception dynamic.

Since I started running 5th edition D&D I've had two different players in two different games convinced that an NPC was lying simply due to the circumstances in which the NPC was speaking. In both situations the NPC was not lying, and in both situations I approached the skills in a narrative way. In one situation, I had the player roll their Insight and they rolled above 15 so I decided the NPC was lying in accordance with what the player expected. In the other situation I asked the player what their Passive Insight was and it wasn't above 15 so I decided the NPC wasn't lying. Both situations were wrong.

In both situations I should have ruled that rolling above 15 means the character realizes the NPC was not lying, since the player was so dead certain that they were. Passive Insight should pick up obvious lies. Scrutinizing an NPCs words and body language should have an Insight check to determine the truthfulness of their words.

Get the hell out of my way!
Intimidation is a pretty straight forward social skill, but what does it mean in terms of combat? You can't bluff an Intimidation, because bluffing would fall under Deception. Intimidation requires the will to enact violence. If you fail your Intimidation roll, then you have to make good on your promise of violence. Consider the options:
You threaten someone and they resist, then you inflict violence. Your threat was meaningful.
You threaten someone and they resist, then you do nothing. Your threat was meaningless, it was actually a bluff.
(Sidenote: this is also my primary argument for why I use Manipulate for bluffing in Apocalypse World)
If your threat is meaningful then your target is really just trying to determine one of two things, whether you intend to act upon your threat or whether they can take you in a fight. In either case, the Intimidation roll would tell them either "Yes, he intends to act upon his threat." or "No, I don't think I can take him." and would best be resolved with a contested Perception.
Additionally, I think Intimidation should fall under Strength as a skill, since having an imposing frame (or a slight one) can greatly affect whether or not somebody thinks they can "take" you.

Buddy, can you spare a dime?
Persuasion falls into a strange category where it is a skill used to coerce behavior out of an NPC, but it uses neither subterfuge or brute force. Applying charm and good manners to convince somebody to take a course of action.

Stealth and Intimidation are countered by Perception
Deception and Persuasion are countered by Insight

That's my take on it.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Crafting, alchemist's supplies, and proficiency checks

Both the 5th edition PHB and DMG state that proficiency with tools allows one to add their proficiency bonus when using the tools, yet there are no rules given for applying DCs to tasks with the tools or rolls made with tools. In the Player's Handbook, crafting itself is described as a downtime activity (page 187). For every day spent crafting, one or more items worth 5 gold can be crafted per day but half of the market value must be spent as investment. If something costs more than 5 gold, then you make 5 gold of progress per day spent crafting. A vial of acid costs 25 gold so it takes 5 days to make it. A suit of plate armor costs 1500 gold so it takes 300 days to make it.

This is according to the rules in the 5e Player's Handbook, and not according to reality.

In reality it takes about 2 days to make acid, and a suit of armor could probably be made in a few weeks. These rules seem arbitrarily time consuming to me. One hour per gold piece market value of the item to be produced sounds better to me. Half of the market value must still be invested in making the item, and a minimum of one gold piece must be spent (acid takes 25 hours to make and costs 12 gold and 5 silver to make, this includes the cost of a vial to put it in; candles take 1 hour to make and the alchemist makes 100 of them at a cost of 5 silver). Time is invested consecutively and the project is ruined if the alchemist is taken away from the project, though the crafter can still sleep and those hours count towards the investment of time to make the item.

There is also very little information about how to use the different tools that many characters receive proficiency with, and that's only if there happens to be any information at all (page 154).

Alchemist's Supplies is one of those toolkits that has, literally, no information. For 50 gold pieces you get a collection of gear that weighs 5 pounds and presumably allows you to make stuff if you have the right ingredients. In my personal quest to find rules for these tools I instead ended up absorbing information from the books to inform the creation of my own rules.

In the PHB, under equipment in chapter 5 (page 150), there are items that seem like they could have been made by an alchemist listed as purchasable:

Acid, does 2d6 damage, costs 25 gp/vial
Alchemist's fire, set something on fire, 1d4 damage/round, costs 50 gp/flask
Antitoxin, gives advantage on poison saves, costs 50 gp/vial
Candles, cost 1 cp each (its just hot wax but you could make wax that has a scent or wax that releases poison gas)
Ink, costs 10 gp/ounce
Oil, can set somebody on fire (5 damage for 2 rounds), presumably also keeps a lantern lit, costs 1sp/flask
Perfume, smells nice, costs 5 gp/vial
Soap, keeps you clean, costs 2 cp/bar

All of this seems a little weird, like different people wrote these items up. The biggest bang for your buck is clearly acid, as alchemist's fire is twice as expensive as acid and it gives a minimal boost of damage that can easily be saved against. Well, whatever! I'm not here to rewrite everything in the Player's Fucking Handbook! I simply want somebody to be able to make stuff using alchemist's supplies.
Alchemist's Supplies. Anyone with proficiency can use alchemist's supplies to craft any of the following items: acid, alchemist's fire, antitoxin, candles, ink, oil, perfume, soap; any kind of process that might require distillation (liqour) or calcination (the creation of oxides) can also be performed with alchemist's supplies. Proficiency checks are only made whenever the alchemist wishes to study a new substance or plant. Typical DCs are between 10 and 20, but magical substances that are studied would have a DC of 25 to correctly distill and analyze without spoiling the substance or blowing up the alchemist.

Why isn't Poison on this list?
Because there's a Poisoner's Kit listed amongst the available tools. For completeness let's look at the stats for basic poison:
Poison (basic), coat a weapon with it and it does +1d4 damage, costs 100 gp/vial
And against that, acid still stacks up as the best purchase.

The PHB actually gives a write-up for the poisoner's kit (page 154), but all it says is that it "lets you add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make to carft or use poisons." So, to use poisons. The DMG doesn't give any specifics about crafting (page 258) but says you can use the crafting rules in the PHB.

So here's how I would fix that:
Poisoner's Kit. Anyone with proficiency in this tool can craft poison as per the crafting rules. Any poison listed in the DMG (page 257) can be crafted with a poisoner's kit and the gold piece investment required to craft a poison is half of the market value listed for the poison. Carrion Crawler Mucus, Purple Worm Poison, Serpent Venom, and Wyvern Poison are the only exceptions that do not require a gold investment, instead these poisons require harvesting from a dead or incapacitated creature.

Re: Harvesting
The DMG states that you use proficiency with Nature or a Poisoner's Kit, but I would allow these proficiency bonuses to stack.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Competition follows!
[5e Dwimmermount]

Upon their return to the entrance of Dwimmermount, though they were certain they had closed the red doors when they departed they found them now ajar. Cautiously approaching down the steps they saw that stacks of broken furniture had been assembled at the foot of the stairs. It was impossible to enter the room without crawling over the furniture.

During the previous session the PCs could hear the sounds of running men in the hall south of where they fortified and rested, these were the orcs. Unbeknownst to the PCs, the orcs were barricading the room of statues then circling around to regroup in a deeper section of the dungeon, but the orcs ran into the gelatinous cube and lost two more of their number. This was determined randomly by me. The cube still had about 80 hit points and I decided on the fly that the orcs would not expect to run into the cube. There were 7 orcs and I rolled a d6 to determine how many would get caught and couldn't extricate themselves, the cube got two of them. These five orcs then retreated to the second level of the dungeon where their leader, distressed by their failures, sent them back up to redeem themselves for their cowardice. They had laid a trap at the entrance, but this didn't work as expected.

Tsetsig used Thaumaturgy to scatter some of the furniture and they discovered that there were small bells strung from the broken pieces of furniture. The sounds of Bestial language could be heard echoing from deeper in the room and a torch came sailing across the room. The furniture did not catch fire very quickly due to it being scattered, but Braak was able to translate the sounds of Bestial talk that could be heard. "They're retreating and regrouping to the west," he whispered to Horatius. "Great, we're going to explore to the east then!" Horatius replied.

At the beginning of this session, I recapped the events of the previous session and made sure that two of the players had index cards with the stats for the two NPCs that were following the group: Climent Belary and Braak. Braak is a goblin and was hired as a torchbearer by Horatius. Climent is primarily an alchemist, and not suited for adventuring into dungeons. However, he knows the Light cantrip and essentially acts as another torchbearer. The players holding the index cards are in charge of controlling the NPCs, though I did stipulate some actions the NPCs would always take. This saved me time to focus on the dungeon and encounters. (Oh yeah, all of my DMing notes and explanations will be in italics now.)

The group confidently moved through the eastern rooms, stopping to occasionally listen at doors, but finding mostly dust and the tracks of orcs that had been camping here the day before. They entered a circular room with a gallery of masks, and a single corpse. Examining the corpse revealed that it had been lying there for several decades, perhaps longer. Tsetsig Detected Magic in the masks. Gaius took one of the masks off of the wall and triggered a trap that released noxious gas into his face. He coughed and sputtered but walked away unhurt. Tsetsig proceeded to use Thaumaturgy to remove the masks from the walls while the rest of the party remained outside of the room.

Exploring further east, they found themselves at a locked door. Brüghaht picked the lock and threw the door open, only to find himself face to face with an ancient undead warrior, it's glowing blue eyes regarded him hatefully and it stepped forward, ready for violence. Tsetsig realized that many of the jeweled trinkets in this room were military symbols of the Thulian empire, and he tried to command the wight in the Anicent Thulian language to stand down - it seemed to recognize the language but ignored what was said. Ilona rushed forward and battled the wight, and while she was assisted by Horatius and Braak she took grievous injuries before it was felled. The party surveyed the room and realized it was filled with treasure and a perfect place to barricade themselves and rest. A small fire was pitched and Tsetsig went about Identifying the magic items they had acquired while Ilona rested and Gaius inventoried the trinkets and gold they had discovered.

In the original room description (Level 1 - Room 7), the wight's treasure trove is listed as "worth 8,000 gp and weigh 500 lbs." My already-established changes to this system meant that I had 2d800 to roll for the gold piece value of the trinkets and I rolled low, ending up with a value of about 680 in gold pieces but I kept the overall weight the same.
There were a handful of magic items in this room as well. I used the new 5e stats for a Brooch of Shielding and Wand of Magic Missiles but the sword that was listed had cooler flavor text then the "sword +1" that was listed as its magic enhancement. I kept the sword's description
"a slightly-curved single edged adamantine steel blade" but dropped the +1 enhancement - if the sword is used against undead or demons it will count as a magical weapon, but is otherwise unexceptional.
The Thulian War-Masks from the circular room I kept virtually identical to the way they were described but expanded their powers so that the +1 bonus against orcs and other beastmen applied to more types of rolls.

Outside of the locked room, the party could hear the sounds of movement. Somebody had walked past the door but hadn't tried to enter, the sounds of conversation could be heard in the hall, then raised voices turned to the sounds of battle. The group unbarred the door and ventured out to see four humans engaged in a fight with orcs in the circular room where the Thulian War-Masks had been pilfered. The supposed leader of this group fell to one of the orcs, and his assumed lover called out his name "Sken!", then Ilona and Horatius stepped into the room and cut the rest of the orcs down swiftly.

The orcs returned from the east, but didn't find the PCs and so they explored the parts of the level they already knew about - while avoiding the cube in the main hallway of the level. Assuming the invaders had fled outside, the orcs set up a watch at the entrance again and planned to follow any who would enter, and this is where the rival adventuring party came in.

One of these men, who had hurled Fire Bolts at the orcs, thanked the party for their help but insisted that these orc heads were theirs to claim. An argument ensued over who could claim the orc heads and one of the men struck Gaius and another battle began in earnest. The remaining three were cut down quickly, though not before Horatius was turned temporarily insane. In a bit of brilliant spell-managing, Gaius cast a Crown of Madness upon Horatius in order to control his wild thrashing about. "It seems we've got competition now," remarked Tsetsig, who then set about Detecting Magic that these humans were carrying.

When he recovered, Horatius went about the bloody work of cutting off orc heads. The party rested for a few minutes to give Tsetsig time to Identify new magic items carried by the humans. A noose that could Resurrect the wearer and a bone that could fill the room with the smell of cooking meat if it was chewed upon. Hearing about the noose, Brüghaht set about dismembering the body of Sken. Tsetsig put the noose around his own neck and handed the bone to Braak who proceeded to chew on it constantly. The party then moved deeper into the Path of Mavors.

This rival adventuring party is the first one described on a post by Goblin Punch. I used them as written, but any hope of diplomacy deteriorated quickly. I also rolled randomly for the magic bone from another post by Goblin Punch.

The group found evidence in deeper rooms of the failed dwarven expedition. Being led by Horatius, they worked their way to the long hallway with the gelatinous cube and circled around looking for a place to hide from the strange creature. Finding a room filled with more dwarven corpses, they bolted the door behind them in the hopes that the cube would not be able to force its way in. One of the bodies held a map for "the Path of Mavors" and it appeared familiar to what they had already explored.

This is where we called the end of the session (Level 1 - Room 16).

Everybody is still having a fun time with this adventure. We're not playing this coming weekend, which is a little distressing because we are all eagerly looking forward to playing again.

The adventurers' map currently looks like this...

Friday, February 6, 2015

Am I missing something?
Astral Projection vs Plane Shift

Astral Projection takes 1 hour to cast, and consumes 1100 gold pieces of gems and silver for each person affected.
Plane Shift takes 1 action to cast, and uses a 250 gold piece component which is reusable.

Astral Projection projects astral versions of the caster and up to eight willing subjects into the Astral Plane.
Plane Shift instantly teleports yourself and up to eight willing participants to any plane designated during casting.

Astral Projection is a risky spell, since the silver cord connecting your astral body can be severed and separates your body from your soul, killing you instantly.
Plane Shift has no chance of failure, and can even be used offensively to banish planar creatures back to their plane of origin.

Astral Projection is a 9th-level spell.
Plane Shift is a 7th-level spell.

to find a way to play the game that I don't have time to play

I spend a lot of my free time playing video games, and there are some games that I just don't have the time for. The Dark Souls series is one of them. I have watched several videos of people playing through different areas or defeating certain bosses, and I've read a lot of the lore about the game, and everything about the game is really great, except that when I play the game I find it tedious. When I actually sit down to play it I get bored and ultimately abandon it because I don't feel like investing hours of my time in order to occasionally learn nuggets of lore that other, more dedicated players have already thoroughly documented online.

Dark Souls wiki (wikidot)
Dark Souls 2 wiki (wikidot)

Dark Souls wiki (fextralife)
Dark Souls 2 wiki (fextralife)

Now, somebody has created a piece of epic fan art detailing the locations of Lordran as if it were one big cut-away dungeon map, and its amazing!

I'm turning this map into a megadungeon now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"There's a centipede flying down the hall!"
[5e Dwimmermount]

For our second session of Dwimmermount we picked up the game in the middle of a chase. Orcs were fleeing from the party and there was some concern that the orcs would regroup and attack them in force. The party was on the verge of collapse but managed to repel the few attacks that came their way.

Brughaht freed the captive dwarf, Balfur, from the orcs and the two fought their way back to the rest of the group. Though Balfur collapsed from his wounds, Brughaht was able to save his life and valiantly carried him back.

Tsetsig was able to see the presence of a huge gelatinous monster blocking one of the halls that led further into Dwimmermount. There was a giant centipede thrashing away futilely inside the creature and the rest of the party could only see the giant insect unless they stopped to actively look for the creatuire. As the party pursued the orcs down a long hall, the gelatinous cube pursued them at its own slow pace.

Horatius and Ilona secured an empty room along the hall and called for a brief respite. The room held a ghostly apparition of two men playing some type of boardgame, though no action or magic could alter the form of this spectral replica. The orcs appeared to be barricading the north entrance to Dwimmermount, where they had regrouped and collected more of their number. While resting in the room, the sounds of running men could be heard in the south hall followed by the slow pursuit of the gelatinous creature, though no one tried to secure entry to where the party recuperated.

After their rest they ventured through the rooms connected to where they rested and finding nothing of immediate interest ventured toward the entrance, expecting to have to force a fight to secure their escape from Dwimmermount, instead they found the doors had indeed been barricaded from entry but the room was entirely abandoned. They quickly fled the dungeon and returned to Muntburg.

In the fortress town they collected the bounties for their collected orc heads, and the Captain of the Guard was surprised at the number of heads brought in for his posted reward. Horatius immediately visited the Bonding House to hire the goblin he had spoken to the day before, Braak, as a torchbearer. The party rested for the night at the local inn (I allow the PCs to level up only after taking a long rest) and at dawn, as they left the outer castle, the party was approached by a young self-described arcanist by the name of Climent Belary who wished to accompany them. When questioned he offered that there were legends of an "alchemist's door" in Dwimmermount and he wished to discover and study it. (These NPCs are mentioned, with varying amounts of detail, on pages 67 and 69.) They agreed to allow Climent along in their venture.

Then they set off for Dwimmermount again...
...and that's where we left off.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"This feels like an old school dungeon" plus GMing prep & notes [5e Dwimmermount]

Our first session of Dwimmermount kicked off with some final touches of character creation. We spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how all of the characters knew one another and what they were doing in Muntburg, the town that is closest to the megadungeon.

cast of characters
Tsetsig is a cleric of Tenon from the island of Thule. He has travelled to the far off city of Adamas for . . . personal reasons. Tsetsig takes exception to his people being called barbarians because he knows that in truth, all current "civilizations" are in fact barbaric shadows of the once great Thulian empire. Tsetsig wishes to explore Dwimmermount to find evidence of his people's rise to greatness against the Eld, and in doing so lay out a template for how they can rise again and restore the Pax Thulia. It doesn't matter to him if the evidence is real, as long as it can be made to support his goal. He is not naive. He is supremely practical and recognizes that convincing lies are often more effective than confusing truths. Tsetsig has recently escaped from years of prison in Adamas. His body is weakened, but his strength of will has grown great.

Ilona Qoyor Enq is a noble from far off Thule, a cousin to Tsetsig, and a fierce warrior. She had a troubled life back home, and lost favor and positioning with her family due to her emotional conflicts around a bitter family rival. Rather than see her political position compromised further, she ventured to Adamas to rescue her cousin from prison, and now has become interested in the legend of Dwimmermount for she has heard stories that there are miraculous machines that can grant people magical powers without the need for study or training.

Horatius is a former soldier in the Adamas militia, but after mustering out has turned to mercenary work. When Ilona first arrived in Adamas she sought out Horatius for help in freeing her cousin from prison. While Horatius has a reputation for capable fighting amongst those he's worked for, he's not famous. Because he's a local, Horatius is very familiar with how the militia of Adamas would respond to the jailbreak, and because he's a merc he knows a few people who always need underhanded work done and he acted as a liaison for Ilona's inquiries. He has little interest in Dwimmermount beyond getting rich.

Gaius Marius Septimus is another local to Adamas who frequently works as a street busker or stage magician, but secretly his sleight of hand tricks are genuinely performed with arcane magic. While it is not illegal to use magic, sorcerers are not incredibly popular outside of academic and noble circles. Horatius hired Marius for help in falsifying prison records after Tsetsig's jailbreak and in the process of the job discovered Tsetsig's interest in exploring Dwimmermount. With rumors that people have been spotted coming and going from the mountain, Marius looked upon this as an opportunity to explore for hidden and locked away magics.

Brüghaht the dwarf was sharing a cell with Tsetsig when he broke out of prison, and managed to prove himself by neutralizing guards during their escape. Brüghaht feels a little indebted to Tsetsig for the opportunity to break free. In prison for burgling, Brüghaht is an outcast dwarf who refused to pay back the debt to his father for his "birth." He is interested in all of this talk of Dwimmermount since it is considered a holy place by all dwarves, even outcasts.

the story so far
It has been two days since the jailbreak, and our party is hiding out in Muntburg for it lies north of Adamas and is not along any significant travel routes so this would be the last place anybody would look for them. They had spent a day in Muntburg just resting and had time to explore the market grounds. Horatius started up a conversation with a local goblin mercenary, Brakk, but nobody was hired to escort the party in their trek. Tsetsig was supremely confident that they were over-equipped for the journey. Before they left Muntburg, the captain of the guard posted a notice that orcs had been seen on the trails leading up Dwimmermount and the castle would reward 10 gold pieces for every head brought back.

They ventured up the mountain and after several hours reached the red doors that served as the main route in and out of the ancient dungeon. The doors opened quite easily and they found evidence that someone had been here before them right away in the scuffed dust along the steps. Dwarf-sized footprints. Tsetsig cast a light spell upon Horatius' shield and they strode into the first chamber.

In the main entry they found six statues, five of which all depicted the same face. Testsig recognized the statues as vandalized depictions of the gods almost immediately. Before Brüghaht could check any of the doors for traps, Horatius opened a door leading west and saw a small fire at the end of the hall. The orcs that were lounging there did not seem friendly. As the hallway became choked with orcs, Ilona realized they couldn't all see properly and lit a torch.

The orcs fell, one by one, until only one remained. His courage quavered and he ran, deeper into the dungeon. Ilona was determined not to let him escape and chased him into darkness, with Marius and Horatius close behind, but Ilona managed to strike the final blow. The party then went about exploring the adjoining rooms, chopping off orc heads, and dividing the meager treasure at their post.

Ilona explored the dark room and discovered that it was an ancient theatre. The secret passage behind the rotting curtain stuck out like an apple amongst potatoes. She opened the passage and saw light coming from another door at the other end, and while creeping up to it her cousin managed to make a hilarious racket of noise, alerting the orcs on the other side. Another battle ensued, and while many orcs fell several also fled deeper into the dungeon...
this is where we ended

In the photo above you can see where the orc in the rear is running away (upper right) and the "thief" mini is where a tied up dwarf is sitting on the ground (lower left and 'outside' of the room).
You can also see my map technique, I'll draw the rooms on a piece of graph paper but once combat happens I have a larger grid that I draw on and tape together. It works pretty well and can easily be moved around the table which makes it less time consuming than constantly adjusting a battlemap.

the aftermath

One player expressed his amazement that "this feels like an old school dungeon" and another wrote to me, saying "Maybe it was just the exhilaration of running at the monsters rather than away from them, but that was the most fun I've had playing Dungeons & Dragons in many years." I have to admit that I hoped it would feel that way but I was worried that my expectations wouldn't live up to the actual playing of the game. Instead, it was a lot of fun. I had planned the game out as a dungeoncrawl, but I don't know how much of the game's impact came from the module and how much of it came from my use of the monstrous inhabitants and straining available light sources. Going forward, I'm excited that this game is going to be fun.

Even though we spent half the session tweaking characters and faffing about in town buying equipment and learning rumors, there was still plenty of character interaction as well as tactical reformation in the heat of battle. While we're all still picking up the 5th edition rules, the battles were pretty chaotic and messy events that overall ended quickly - except when nobody was hitting anybody.

When I was prepping the adventure I printed off pages from the Dungeon Tracker which came with my pdf version - I don't remember if this was a kickstarter exclusive or if anybody can get it, but its proved itself a useful tool and I may run every future dungeoncrawl like this.

This picture is deliberately blurry so my players can't see any details, but you can make out that I wrote notes at the bottom of the second page: these are for the notable NPCs in this level with little descriptions of what they want and what they'll do to get it.

You can also see some color coding in the map page above, and while you can't see it, I have page numbers for quick reference of the Monster Manual written along the right-hand side of the map page.

In retrospect, the players didn't get very far into the dungeon but it felt like a series of hectic and stumbling fights.

Here you can see some of my color coding. The blue indicates an access point that ascends or leads outside (an orange access point would indicate descending to a lower level), and the pink highlighting of room numbers indicates a light source. This is also, literally, the only rooms that got explored or seen.

I gave the orcs in the guard post a firepit where they were roasting rats, and the orcs in the other two rooms simply have ensconced torches embedded along the walls. Orcs have darkvision but I assume they would just naturally see better with light, and they didn't have a tactical reason to extinguish light sources until some humans barged in and started slaughtering their friends.

some final notes
One of the minor details in Dwimmermount explains that there are 13 zodiac signs. I had the players roll randomly for the month they were born and I haven't done anything with this yet, but I'm thinking each birthsign will have a minor effect, akin to birthsigns in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

I think the treasure in Dwimmermount is excessive and so I'm cutting the value of most treasure. I'm taking the value of treasure and dividing it by 10, and then roll dice that can't exceed double the amount. For example, in the original module the first group of orcs had 1000 gold pieces. Divided by 10 is 100, so I roll 1d100 twice and that's how many gold pieces there are. They found 98 gp!

I am giving experience points based on three metrics: exploration, discovery, and encounters.
Exploration = 5 xp for every room explored, multiplied by the square of the level of the room; each PC gets this reward even if only one character explores a room (ie. exploring a room on the second level nets 20 xp for everyone, exploring a room on the third level nets 45 xp, fourth level = 80 xp, fifth level = 125 xp, etc.).
Discovery = solving mysteries or puzzles in Dwimmermount will net 25 xp for simple mysteries, 50 xp for more complex puzzles, and 100 xp for surpassing deadly traps or scenarios; individual PCs can receive this reward for completing the task but as a rule all characters present receive the reward
Encounters = each monster or NPC has an XP value for being defeated; this XP is divided evenly amongst every PC present (if a monster or NPC is made an ally then the XP award is doubled)

Now, the module also doesn't make much of a distinction of what kinds of coins there are. References are made to Thulian and Termaxian coins, but most of the entries are generic. I've decided that Thulian coins are slightly bigger and are worth more, but the characters won't notice this unless the players actively take an interest in the coins they're finding. I've also decided that silver coins, when they appear in the text, will also be gold coins instead because I see the Termaxian Empire as having collected silver for magical items. In some hidden chambers there might be some silver, but otherwise it's just not present.

The limitations of the poor layout are starkly apparent while running the game. I found myself checking three sections of the book just to clarify the details of a single room. The paragraphs-long faction overview section could have been divided up at the beginning of the chapters where each faction is most prominent and pertinent, and the graph they included for showing the relationships between factions is difficult to read, could have used a simple diagram instead. The details about Dwimmermount's construction fill an earlier chapter that could have been trimmed down and then redistributed into the later chapters. For example, information about the entrance to Dwimmermount is on page 74 in the "Overview of the Dungeon" chapter and the details of the dungeon begin on page 117 where the only mention of the red door entrance is that they are present before the first room.

A lot of my preparations worked out really well however, and I haven't GMed a dungeoncrawl in years so I was pleased with how everything fell into place. Next week I may take more pictures of the actual session so you can see the deluge of miniatures that are on the map at once.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

prepping new games & learning new rules

The game I joined on Saturday had a small amount of upheaval and now I find myself GMing a game of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons in the aftermath of a Lost Mines of Phandelver adventure. The players have written lots of interesting hooks into their characters and I think I have some good adventure ideas set down. Prep for this game was unusually simple once I decided that it wouldn't be a traditional dungeoncrawl. Instead I wrote a single hook for each character and next Saturday will be the real test where I drop the hooks and see how many of the players have their characters bite.

During prep I made a list of all of the creatures in the 5e Monster Manual that could potentially be playable character races. You could consider this a shortlist for revamping Monster Mythology, but I'm using this as a list of potential NPC races:
Aarokocra p.12
Bugbear p.33
Bullywug p.35
Cambion p.36
Centaur p.38
Cyclops p.45
Duergar p.122
Empyrean p.130
Ettin p.132
Gargoyle p.140
Gith p.158
Gnoll p.162
Goblin p.166
Harpy p.181
Hobgoblin p.186
Kenku p.194
Kobold p.195
Kuo-Toa p.199
Lizardfolk p.204
Medusa p.214
Mind Flayer p.222
Minotaur p.223
Myconid p.230
Nothic p.236
Ogre p.237
Oni p.239
Orc p.246
Pixie p.253
Rakshasa p.257
Sahuagin p.263
Salamander p.266
Satyr p.267
Slaad p.274
Sphinx p.280
Sprite p.283
Thri-Kreen p.288
Troglodyte p.290
Troll p.291
Umber Hulk p.292
Xorn p.304
Yeti p.305
Yuan-ti p.308
I even made a rando generator for this list

The Sunday game, in contrast, is going to embark upon a traditional dungeoncrawl using the Dwimmermount megadungeon and, coincidentally, 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. I've been reading the book and taking notes for the last few weeks so I think I'm familiar enough with the upper levels of the dungeon that I shouldn't have any problems - I'll share more about the extensive prepping I did in a future post.

For now, the most surprising thing for me is reading the spells in 5e D&D. The way cantrips work is so much simpler now, but also more powerful. You don't need to worry about light if you have a single magic-user in your party. The cleric has become a much more valuable utility class considering how powerful the create water and purify food spells have become. Just from reading the new rules I would be interested in running a 5e game where the PCs can only be fighters and rogues.

Joesky Tax
Did you know green slime has been nerfed from 'monster' to 'hazard' in 5th edition?
Here is my version of Green Slime as a monster in 5e D&D


Green slimes always move towards the closest creature they can detect.

Armor Class: 8
Hit Points: 22 (3d8+9)
Speed: 10 ft., climb 10 ft.

STR 15 (+2), DEX 6 (-2), CON 14 (+2), INT 1 (-5), WIS 6 (-2), CHA 1 (-5)

Damage Resistances: acid, cold, fire
Damage Immunities: lightning, slashing
Condition Immunities: blinded, charmed, deafened, exhaustion, frightened, prone
Senses: tremorsense 30 ft., passive perception 11
Languages: -
Challenge: 2 (450 xp)

Amorphous. The slime can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.
Spider Climb. The slime can climb difficult surfaces, including upside down on ceilings, without needing to make an ability check.

Slimed. When moving, green slime can enter other creatures' spaces. Whenever the slime enters a creature's space, the creature must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw.
On a successful save, the creature can choose to move back 5 feet or to the side of the slime. A creature that chooses not to be pushed back suffers the consequences of a failed saving throw.
On a failed save, the slime enter the creature's space and makes contact with the creature's body. The creature takes 10 (3d6) acid damage and is slimed (see below). Creatures that are slimed can move and act, but take 10 (3d6) acid damage at the start of each of the slime's turns until they are no longer slimed.
At the start of your turn, you must make a saving throw - follow the rules for making death saving throws, however taking damage or being reduced to 0 hit points will not cause you to fail a slimed saving throw. Failing three of these slimed saving throws turns your character into another green slime, which either adds it's mass (and 22 hit points) to any existing green slime in your space or acts as an independent and new green slime.
Succeeding at these slimed saving throws does not throw off the slime, it merely delays the inevitable.
While you are slimed, the green slime can be scraped off, but whatever implement used to scrape it off takes 10 (3d6) acid damage when it comes into contact with the slime (assume wood is a fragile material and metal is a resilient material, page 247 of the DMG).

Disease. Any magical effect that would cure a subject of disease, including lesser restoration or purify food and drink, when cast upon green slime will instantly destroy it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ratkin for 5e

(Skaven with the serial numbers filed off, and a playable race for 5e)
(inspired entirely by Skaven from Warhammer Fantasy)

Warrens carved beneath sprawling municipalities, wickedly sharpened blades scavenged from centuries of corpses, the squeaks and scrabbling echoes of a language born of rodents, the musty and fetid scent of a black market hidden within the sewers, and the overflowing contempt of those who think they are better than the dwellers in the underdark - the ratfolk have always lived side by side with humanity, but only as cities grow have they become more noticeable, and harder to ignore.

Ratkin are small, rodent-like humanoids; native to subterranean areas under cities and in dry regions. Typical ratkin average between four and five feet in height and weigh roughly 100 pounds. Most have brown fur, although this can vary greatly. Black fur is looked upon as the sign of true strength, and in most cities a ratkin of black fur that is born on the night of a new moon is often taken by the Cult of Thanskachak to be raised as an assassin in service to all ratkin. It is not uncommon for lighter colored ratkin to dye their fur black. Albino ratkin are rare and considered a good omen. Albino, and white-furred, ratkin almost exclusively become clerics, sorcerers, and rulers over other ratkin.

Ratkin have large fangs in the upper jaw structure, their eyes are commonly red, they all have over-grown claws, and a naked tail growing to almost a meter in length. With scrawning arms and legs, and lackly greatly in terms of strenght, ratkin are naturally faster, more agile, and natural diggers. Due to their cowardly nature, ratkin will most likely run then engage in direct conflict. Only when cornered will a ratkin fight with a reckless abandon.

Ratkin are hoarders by nature, and as a whole are masters of commerce, though some are shrewd merchants who carefully navigate the shifting alliances of black markets and bazaars, many ratkin love their stockpiles of interesting items far more than money, and would rather trade for more such prizes to add to their hoards over mere coins. It's common to see a successful crew of ratkin traders rolling out of town with an even larger bundle than they entered with, the whole mess piled precariously high on a cart drawn by giant rats.

They often wear robes to stay cool in the desert or conceal their forms in cities, as they know other humanoids find their rodent features distasteful. In the cities ratkin cling to the shadows and rarely venture out during the daytime, and in the bigger metropolitan areas there is always a secret ratkin marketplace which is literally underground. Ratkin have a strong attraction to shiny jewelry, especially copper, bronze, and gold, and many decorate their ears and tails with small rings made of such metals.

Ratkin thrive within the sewers underneath most human cities and larger towns, where they tend to maintain black markets for the seedier sides of humanity. Larger population centers house entire secondary communities of ratkin living side by side with humans. Many civil engineers have found extra tunnels and passageways added to their handiwork months, and sometimes only days, after finishing construction. Whatever wealth doesn't come to ratkin through trade arrives from scavenging or thievery. They dislike daylight, so many enterprising ratkin forge alliances with humans or halflings to handle larger or more legitimate trade negotiations above ground. Humans and halflings are always welcomed in ratkin warrens, but other races are given a cold shoulder or asked to prove their friendship, if not outright denied entry.

Ratkin are extremely communal, and live in large families where the mother is almost always the head of household. Ratkin share both a high birth rate and infant mortality rate, a typical litter can range anywhere between 6 to 18 infants, roughly half of whom will die during infancy. Women amongst the ratkin think of childbirth and motherhood as a solemn duty, to be unable to bear children is the worst fate to befall a female ratkin. Most ratkin are lucky to survive birth and childhood, and the rest are lucky to know who their father is. Any ratkin who can accumulate vast wealth is often given a kind of governorship over other ratkin, and while trade is important for ratkin survival they don't regard it as a very honorable profession. Warriors are valued over all, and the ratkin who protect their tunnels are always honored with free food and celebratory greetings.

It is rumored that the ratkin have tunneled passageways between every major city on the continent, and have ways of traversing these burrows faster than non-ratkin would be able to. Each ratkin community is autonomous and doesn't answer to any other ratkin leader elsewhere, or refuses to. It would be common to see ratkin traveling either on their own or in small packs. The ratkin population is constantly growing, only to decrease drastically during times of starvation. However, in times of plenty, when a ratkin warren grows overcrowded and the surrounding city won't support a larger community, young ratkin instinctively begin to fight against their elders rather than seek out new places in which to live. These ratkin revolutions are often bloody but brief as new and younger ratkin dethrone the established elder ratkin. As such, ratkin society cannot be trusted to remain stable, but it can be relied upon to be present.

Ratkin are often driven by a desire to seek out new opportunities for trade, both for themselves and for their warrens. Ratkin adventurers may seek potential markets for their clan's goods, keep an eye out for sources of new commodities, or just wander about in hopes of unearthing enough treasure to fund less dangerous business ventures. Ratkin battles are often decided by cunning traps, ambushes, or sabotage of enemy positions.

"The Thirteen" is a misnomer since Ratkin have fourteen gods they venerate. The Horned Mother is the first ratkin, and she is never openly worshipped, nor are shrines or temples ever dedicated to her, but every ratkin will speak her name in reverence and those that blaspheme the Horned Mother are often brutally killed. The thirteen other gods are her children, and the most prominent to be offered prayers or servitude and often referred to as "the Siblings" having been birthed by the Horned Mother.

The thirteen gods the ratkin worship are:
  • Thanskachak, the god of darkness and silence, prayers are often offered to Thanskachak during funerals (there are never priests for Thanskachak, ratkin who honor him become assassins)
  • Arrassi, the goddess of gems and trade, Arrassi's symbol appears wherever a ratkin is trying to buy a thing or has a thing for sale and due to this many non-ratkin erroneously believe that Arrassi's symbol means "marketplace" (priests of Arrassi are the most common and specialize in the domain of Trickery)
  • Vasdra, the goddess of legends and lore, any ratkin who tells a story or shares knowledge is honoring Vasdra (priests of Vasdra run their temples like libraries and specialize in the domain of Knowledge)
  • Gnawdrak, the god of death and curses, no ratkin openly worships Gnawdrak but his name is invoked when fighting non-ratkin
  • Durhakk, the god of storms and winter, ratkin who brave long overland adventures or spend time in harsh climates worship Durhakk (clerics of Durhakk specialize in the domain of Tempests)
  • Thrahisk, the god of mischief and sleep, often depicted as a slothful drunk who plays pranks, there are many stories and folk tales that involve Thrahisk tricking non-ratkin, especially deities (priests of Thrahisk specialize in the domain of Life, most non-ratkin interact with these clerics)
  • Malkzarr, the god of warfare and strength, the only god depicted as having black fur, Malkzarr is not often worshiped openly but his name is always invoked before a fight occurs (priests of Malkzarr specialize in the domain of War)
  • Skrer, the goddess of sunlight and moonlight, worshiped by few ratkin but present in any community where ratkin need to venture above the ground (priests of Skrer specialize in the domain of Light)

  • Khaktabak, the god of justice and time, whenever ratkin must punish one of their own Khaktabak is invoked
  • Varski, the god of travel and art, ratkin who are learning their way in a city or journey between kingdoms or travel by boat offer prayers to Varski (priests are always wandering mendicants)
  • Chatiskikk, the god/goddess of magic, sometimes depicted as a hermaphrodite and sometimes as being sexless Chatiskikk has a presence in every ratkin community even if only superficially (there are no priests of Chatiskikk, but ratkin who become wizards or sorcerers venerate him/her)
    Morsarr, the goddess of gardening and childbirth, always invoked by ratkin who become farmers and expectant mothers (clerics of Morsarr specialize in the domain of Nature)
  • Ichikittar, the god of beauty and poison, a vain and selfish deity whose name is often used as an insult (there are no priests of Ichikittar)

    Male Names: Azock, Belig, Bilik, Buchak, Cro, Curz, Garuk, Glarek, Gorbuck, Gorzun, Irksiz, Kutx, Lizkaz, Mroxk, Murz, Nagrat, Naszuss, Nirkz, Nitz, Niz, Orz, Puzz, Rirag, Shurz, Skeetz, Sorzek, Vedex, Yurt, Yurz
    Female Names: Blorg, Bresh, Crone, Dozz, Fralen, Girch, Haalesh, Hirta, Kalba, Kirat, Kourkr, Molal, Mori, Murz, Olg, Pru, Rir, Rurdu, Ur, Xaort, Zas, Zuul
    Family Names: Azhak, Azaraz, Bazassik, Burmatz, Gaznagar, Gezarr, Prazth, Razel, Tzartar, Vozer

    Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
    Age: Ratkin age at the same rate as humans.
    Size: Ratkin are shorter than most humans but are still considered Medium sized.
    Speed: Ratkin have a walking speed of 25.
    Darkvision: Ratkin have superior vision at night and underground. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
    Ratkin Senses: You have proficiency in the Perception skill.
    Languages: You can speak Common and Ratkin. If there is a written Ratkin language in your region then you can read it as well. The Ratkin language has as many dialects and variations as Common might, and the two often mimic each other in regions where both are spoken. As a rule of thumb, if the humans of an area speak a variation of Common that counts as a separate language then the ratkin of that area also have their own separate version of Ratkin.
    Swarming: Ratkin are adept at swarming over foes during combat. When Ratkin fight alongside an ally, they can Help their ally as a bonus action.
    Ratkin Tenacity: Ratkin gain advantage on any rolls to resist poison or disease.

    Base Height: 4'
    Height Modifier: +2d8
    Base Weight: 100 lb.
    Weight Modifier: x (3d8) lb.

    the Wikipedia page for Skaven (Warhammer)
    the Warhammer Wikia for Skaven
    Children of the Horned Rat - Skaven sourcebook for Warhammer Fantasy
    an OGL book about "ratmen" (circa 3e/d20)
    a Skaven name generator - I used this for the deity and family names