Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Daughter of Baba Yaga
[a Sorcerer Origin for 5e]

(inspired by Timothy Brannan's tradition for Basic)

Daughters of Baba Yaga
Your innate magic comes from your ancestry which can be traced back to a powerful witch or mystic. Only the women in your family have this sorcerous blood, but few study and foster the powers it can harness. Any witch that shares a lineage to Baba Yaga can recognize one another on sight regardless of how distant their familial connection might be.

Ritual Spellcasting
At 1st level, choose one spell from any class with the Ritual tag. The spell must be of level you can cast, as shown on the Sorcerer table. The chosen spell counts as a Sorcerer spell for you, but isn't included in the Spells Known column of the Sorcerer Table. You can also cast the spell as a Ritual. When you gain a level in the Sorcerer class, you can replace the chosen spell with another spell, following the same requirements

Occult Servant
Starting at 1st level, you always have a familiar at your command, as per the find familiar spell. If it is killed or destroyed, then after you've completed a long rest you can summon it again from its pocket dimension as a bonus action.

Unseen Witchery
Starting at 6th level, as long as you have at least 1 sorcery point to spend you can detect invisible or concealed creatures of the beast or humanoid type within 30 feet of yourself even if they are behind cover. You cannot sense the presence of undead or constructs, nor can you pinpoint exactly where a living creature you can sense is, but you are aware of when living creatures come near.
Additionally, you can now cast Bestow Curse as if it were part of your available spell list.

False Form
At 14th level, you gain access to the Shapechange spell and can cast it as if it were a 7th-level spell, but when you cast it at a lower level you may not apply Metamagic to the spell. Additionally, you can now cast either Animate Objects or Polymorph as a Quickened spell without spending Sorcery Points, but only if you have the Quicken ability and no other Metamagic may be applied to the casting.

Witching Hour
At 18th level, you stop aging. You are unaffected by any kind of magic that prematurely ages you, and you will never die of old age. After you spend one or more Sorcery Points roll 1d20 and on a roll of 19 or 20 you instantly recover one Sorcery Point.

Monday, July 20, 2015

My players meta-game too much
[5e Dwimmermount]

Table talk included banter about my last blog post, specifically the rival adventuring parties they might cross paths with and the fact that Melissia was, in fact, probably not a woman trapped behind a magical door. Last week they were really keen on freeing Melissia from the room she was trapped in, but this week they couldn't care less. So Melissia is now somebody else, and that somebody else is now Melissia. This means Melissia is going to starve to death if they don't get her out of that room, and fuck it, she's the daughter of a powerful noble and wizard, so there's probably good rep and rewards to be earned from rescuing her. And the somebody else will be far less helpful to them when they finally do encounter her. Or him.

My players who insist on using player knowledge for their character's actions will now simply have to ask themselves: Is Patrick lying on his blog?
Maybe. But there's only one way to be sure.

So, what happened this session?
Bik and his entourage of minotaurs in the throne room were taken down. The players won initiative and got judicious use out of Stinking Cloud and Fireball, and Bik was dead within 3 rounds despite his virtual immunity to poison (this was imparted from a magical item he was wearing, see below).

While the fight was going on, the minotaurs in the dining hall heard the battle, grabbed their axes, and proceeded to rush in, but by the time they started coming into the room the dust was settling and Tsetsig had started casting Animate Dead on Bik's corpse. The second combat took about the same amount of time (7 rounds), but the minotaurs all died tried to rush into the room.

The ratkin that were accompanying the party, Krishka and Puzz, were severely injured and much healing was spent making sure they survived while Horatius went around the room and made sure all of the minotaurs were dead. And then an accounting of Bik and his treasure was performed:

A chest of the mundane held everything, it was only after they dumped out the contents that they saw everything for what it truly was.
A scroll of Knock
A scroll of Speak With Plants.
A wand of magic missiles (per the DMG).
A bag of holding (per the DMG, except this bag has a 1% chance of summoning a spectre every time it's opened) currently holding the corpses of three ratkin - Tsetsig removed two of the corpses but held onto the third (for animating later).
Everice (an ice cube that never melts)
Spike of woodland suicide (the players got a huge kick out of this one)
Amulet of Hope (when worn, shines like a candle, the light will point into the direction of the closest non-portal exit)
1908 silver
1 gold devouring coin (will devour gold coins when placed with them - Ilona wants to spend this at a bank)
Bik's silver crown (worth some gold)
Bik's battle axe (does extra +2 damage, requires attunement)
Bik's bracelet (+2 AC, requires attunement)
Bik's leather belt of Kythirean annhilation (damage resistance to poison, inflict double damage against plants, protection from plants - plant attacks have disadvantage, requires attunement)
Weirdstone (gives advantage on wizard/sorcerer spellcasting rolls, if either dice roll a 1 the wizard/sorceror suffers a mutation, requires attunement)

I outsourced half of this hoard from Goblin Punch because Arnold's ideas appeal to my gaming sensibilities. I've been using his ideas for other parts of the dungeon already so it would be fair to say that if you've been reading his blog for the last year then you could possibly see where some of my inspiration for changing Dwimmermount has come from.

The characters retreated to the cloning chamber to rest. Ilona placed all of her coins into the Chest of the Mundane and some of the magic items were divvied amongst the characters.

Horatius got cloned.

Since I established that the ratkin had been using the cloning chamber to replicate food for themselves (there are four chicken and a single sheep in the cloning chamber) I gave Krishka a relatively good ability to operate the machine. Still, she only succeeded on one of three rolls.

Horatius'es clone came out opposite gender and with a very different personality than his own. He's impulsive and adventurous, and she's careful and cautious. For now, she's a follower, but Horatia is also only a 1st-level Fighter which means could be easily killed by many of the things living on these lower levels.

We ended the session with Horatius exiting the cloning chamber only to be confronted by four rust monsters trying to sniff their way in. (I kept forgetting to roll for random encounters so I decided to just have one and rolled up the rust monsters randomly.)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Megadungeons are pinball, and the party is the ball
[5e Dwimmermount]

While I was thinking about the party's progress through Dwimmermount, it occurred to me that their foray into the first two levels was careful and planned but now that they're encountering more of the factions in the lower levels they are bouncing around exploring and pillaging and destroying quite randomly. Like a game of pinball, the ball comes out at the top in a predictable and measured way but then gravity and the bumpers propel the ball into new directions and you have no idea if it will sink down the center of the table (TPK) or if it will fly along the sides of the bumpers to be smacked upward and propelled through the turnstiles and targets again.

Today I asked the player of Horatius to show up early so we could hash out what happened to him when he split from the party.

Turns out, Horatius almost got killed. Repeatedly.

Braak had mentioned he saw a mimic and he led Horatius and Poach back to a room closer to where they first entered this level. Braak pointed out the room, there was no door but inside the floor was lined with silvery-black mushrooms. Horatius stepped into the room to investigate and promptly fell asleep.

The mushrooms are a sleep trap, and after both Braak and Poach failed their saves as well I decided this was the perfect opportunity to say that Horatius had been asleep for an indeterminate period of time.

Horatius awoke to see Klayqus above him, pleading for him to wake up and help him and his friends. A human wearing the old, battered plate mail of an Adamas soldier was fighting some of the thorgrim alongside a gigantic 7 foot tall, green-skinned repugnant man with a flaming sword. The flaming sword skewered one of the thorgrim, and Horatius tried to plead "These guys aren't evil, they aren't going to hurt you." The green man saw Braak and shouted "Goblin! Kill the goblin!" That settled it for Horatius, these guys had to die.

These are Greenfellow and Tarf, from here. Scarleaf and Gimble will be with them the next time they appear.

The green man charged and Horatius tried to stop him, but failed to do much. Braak ran into the room of silver-black mushrooms and the green man followed while the plated human killed another thorgrim. Braak was stabbed through the chest and was almost certainly dead, and the green man was moving to Poach'es still sleeping body to do the same to him. Kalyqus turned to Horatius and said "We should run."

They fled north, down a corridor to the west, and into a circular room filled with pipes, seemingly a dead end.

Klayqus turned a wheel attached to one of the pipes and sliding wall revealed itself. Horatius was escorted through several secret doors until he arrived at the main thorgrim camp, Klayqus explaining who Horatius was as they encountered every new thorgrim. Horatius had begun to learn the Beastial tongue and was picking up some of what was said, but not all of it.

Klayqus pointed down a corridor and said "The ranine are this way, perhaps your friends are as well?" and Horatius continued onward. He found dead ranine, burned to a crisp, and a few more trying to hide from him. He threatened them with his sword and asked where the wizard that had fried their friends went, they said "Downstairs." Horatius returned to the room with the tapestry and the now-destroyed animated statue and ventured down to the next level.

Encountering another statue, he warily approached it and it spoke the name "Micma!" in an echoing voice. Horatius continued on, fighting a rust monster in the next chamber, finding a secret door concealing treasure, continuing west he was bespelled by confusion and then fell into a pit with a black pudding.

I wasn't trying to kill his character, I never even rolled for random encounters, but he was rolling really poorly whenever he fought anything or rolled a saving throw.

Nearly dead, and stumbling north, he found a minotaur slaughtering ranine with a heavy axe. The minotaur asked if he was friends with the wizard and Horatius impulsively replied "No." The minotaur was also nearly dead and asked for help getting back to his king, Bik. Horatius agreed and they were soon separated by the teleport trap.

Horatius saw light coming from the door where his friends were and his arrival was soon followed by the minotaur, who recognized Sulla and attacked. After a brief fight the party took steps to secure their resting place.

We went slightly backward in time. The last session ended with this rest ending, but now at least Horatius had returned to the group.

Shortly after Horatius reunited with the party, the minotaur found his way into the resting area and attacked Sulla. After a short battle, the ratkin were asked to keep guard while the party rested and healed, and while they rested they debated about what their next action should be. The ratkin insisted that Ilona meet with their leader, Krishka, and so they set off down one of the corridors to find her.

Using ratkin instead of wererats was a big departure, but it allowed me to expand on the connection with sapient rats. The ratkin are the only race within Dwimmermount that I set up to automatically be allies with anybody coming in since their primary agenda is to escape, this means the party did not receive any XP for making an alliance with them.

Upon finding Krishka she asked if the way out of Dwimmermount was clear and Sulla explained they would need to be escorted if they hoped to make it past the horngorblin patrols as well as the mercenaries following Louys Herint, the cleric of Typhon. When asked how they managed to survive for 200 years Krishka explained that there was a small farm where they could produce meat.

Another addition on my part, I put a few chickens and sheep into the cloning chamber and decided that Bik has the key because he killed the former ratkin leader for it. The ratkin have been cloning the chickens and sheep whenever they need more food, but now they're starting to starve because the minotaurs have the only key and won't share.

Ilona was keen on having a guide who knew the layout, even after Krishka drew a map of the level.

Ilona insisted on being shown where this chamber was, and Krishka explained that they wouldn't be able to get in. Along the way, Sulla and Horatius discovered that saying "Micma" would deactivate the teleportation trap, making the level more accessible. They found the cloning chamber doors and couldn't get in, as Krishka predicted, but Horatius found the alteration chamber and they began experimenting with the canopy. Horatius was healed slightly, but Ilona insisted they move onward and confront Bik.

They passed a set of double doors and Horatius tried to open them. A voice spoke from the other side "Hello? Is somebody out there?" and they determined that a woman was trapped behind the doors. Nobody could force the doors open so Sulla explained they did not have a way of getting her out of the room and they would be right back as soon as they found something.

This is Melissia (page 202) and I figure she's absolutely desperate to get out but isn't going to make any offers until she actually sees those doors open. Her powers are slightly different in 5th edition compared to, say, 2nd edition and I don't really like that, so I'll be scanning 2nd edition stats when the party returns to this room.

Incidentally, the past few sessions the Knock spell would have been extremely useful and I've put a single Knock scroll into Bik's treasure hoard. They could use the scroll on Melissia's door or Sulla could spend a week trying to learn the spell. Actually, I've put a ton of minor magic items into Bik's hoard because I assume the ratkin would have amassed a lot of items and the minotaurs are basically slaughtering the ratkin and taking their stuff. The evidence of ratkin deaths has been minimal so far, but a pile of bodies will likely be found in the next session.

Ilona was now determined to confront Bik and led the party down the halls she believed would end up where he and his minotaurs were camped. Indeed, they stumbled into his throne room. Bik almost immediately singled out Levity as somebody to negotiate with since Levity had small horns, and while Levity tried to mollify Bik and make peace with him (in Beastial) Sulla interrupted and soured the conversation by challenging Bik's self-proclaimed authority.

A fight was about to occur, but it was the end of the session...

Friday, July 17, 2015

quick clerical NPC stats [5e]

Acolyte: 1st-level
+3 attack ; 1d6+1 mace , 2 unarmed
AC robe 10 ; scale 14
HP weak 5 ; average 10 ; strong 18
Speed 30
Wisdom +2 ; Medicine +4, Religion +2 ; passive Perception 12
Languages Common, +1 relevant
Spellcasting Modifier +4 ; DC 12
Cantrips sacred flame, spare the dying, thaumaturgy
Spells bless, cure wounds, sanctuary
...of Knowledge: Arcana +5, History +5, +2 relevant Languages, plus spells command, identify
...of Life: +3 hp recovered w/ cure wounds or healing word, plus spells command, healing word
...of Light: cantriplight, warding flare (imposes disadvantage on attacking creature 2/day), plus spells burning hands, faerie fire
...of Nature: Animal Handling +4, cantrip druidcraft, proficient in heavy armor, plus spells animal friendship, speak with animals
...of Tempest: wears chain mail AC 16, 1d6+1 trident (thrown, versatile), thunderous rebuke (use reaction to attack with 2d8 lightning/thunder 2/day), plus spells fog cloud, thunderwave
...of Trickery: give ally advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) rolls, plus spells charm person, disguise self
...of War: wears chain mail AC 16, 1d8+1 longsword, when attacking can also Attack as a Bonus action 2/day plus spells divine favor, shield of faith

Cleric: 5th-level
+4 attack ; 1d6+1 mace , 2 unarmed
AC robe 10 ; scale 14
HP weak 15 ; average 25 ; strong 40
Speed 30
Wisdom +3 ; Medicine +6, Religion +3 ; passive Perception 14
Languages Common, +1 relevant
Spellcasting Modifier +6 ; DC 14
Cantrips guidance, sacred flame, spare the dying, thaumaturgy
Spells bless, command, cure wounds, guiding bolt, sanctuary ; blindness, hold person, prayer of healing, spiritual weapon ; bestow curse, dispel magic, spirit guardians
...of Knowledge: Arcana +6, History +6, +2 relevant Languages, plus spells command, identify ; augury, suggestion
Channel Divinity turn undead, knowledge of the ages (gain proficiency in one skill or tool for 10 minutes)

...of Life: +3 hp recovered w/ cure wounds or healing word, plus spells purify food & drink, healing word ; lesser restoration, spiritual weapon / gentle repose
Channel Divinity turn undead, preserve life (restore 25 hp to one or more creatures within 30 feet - points are divided amongst targets, no more than half hp total)

...of Light: cantriplight, warding flare (imposes disadvantage on attacking creature 3/day), plus spells burning hands, faerie fire ; flaming sphere, scorching ray
Channel Divinity turn undead, radiance of the dawn (dispels darkness and does damage to hostile creatures)

...of Nature: Animal Handling +4, cantrip druidcraft, proficient in heavy armor, plus spells animal friendship, speak with animals ; barkskin, spike growth
Channel Divinity turn undead, charm animals & plants (like turning but each beast and plant is charmed to be friendly to priest + allies)

...of Tempest: wears chain mail AC 16, 1d6+1 trident (thrown, versatile), thunderous rebuke (use reaction to attack with 2d8 lightning/thunder 2/day), plus spells fog cloud, thunderwave ; gust of wind, shatter
Channel Divinity turn undead, inflict maximum damage with thunder/lightning damage spell

...of Trickery: give ally advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) rolls, plus spells charm person, disguise self ; mirror image, pass without trace
Channel Divinity turn undead, invoke duplicity (creates illusionary duplicate, spells can originate from and gives attack rolls advantage when within 5 feet)

...of War: wears chain mail AC 16, 1d8+1 longsword, when attacking can also Attack as a Bonus action 3/day plus spells divine favor, shield of faith ; enhance ability, magic weapon
Channel Divinity turn undead, gain +10 to Attack roll

High priest: 9th-level

Archpriest: 13th-level

Pope: 17th-level

Acolyte of Light : 1st-level
+3 attack ; 1d6+1 mace , 2 unarmed
AC robe 10 ; scale 14
HP weak 5 ; average 10 ; strong 18
Speed 30
Wisdom +2 ; Medicine +4, Religion +2 ; passive Perception 12
Languages Common, +1 relevant
Spellcasting Modifier +4 ; DC 12
Cantrips light, sacred flame, spare the dying, thaumaturgy
Spells bless, cure wounds, sanctuary, burning hands, faerie fire
Reaction: warding flare (imposes disadvantage on attacking creature 2/day)

Cleric of Light : 5th-level
+4 attack ; 1d6+1 mace , 2 unarmed
AC robe 10 ; scale 14
HP weak 15 ; average 25 ; strong 40
Speed 30
Wisdom +3 ; Medicine +6, Religion +3 ; passive Perception 14
Languages Common, +1 relevant
Spellcasting Modifier +6 ; DC 14
Cantrips light, guidance, sacred flame, spare the dying, thaumaturgy
Spells bless, command, cure wounds, guiding bolt, sanctuary, burning hands, faerie fire ; blindness, hold person, prayer of healing, spiritual weapon, flaming sphere, scorching ray ; bestow curse, dispel magic, spirit guardians
Reaction: warding flare (imposes disadvantage on attacking creature 3/day)
Channel Divinity turn undead, radiance of the dawn (dispels darkness and does damage to hostile creatures)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I think level drain is stupid.

I love Dwarf Fortress! It's brutal, unforgiving, and it doesn't care about helping you learn how to play. The lesson of Dwarf Fortress is that eventually, no matter what, you will lose. You will learn from losing, you will grow into a better player, and you will become better and stronger and smarter. But I do not want to play that as a tabletop RPG. That is the closest comparison I can make of what level drain embodies for me, an inescapable death spiral for the character and a "reset button" for the player.

The way level drain was first described to me, and the way I've always envisioned it ever since, was that when your character gets drained they don't lose xp. Instead your level drops but your xp is still used to calculate when you level up. If you don't see a cleric and get a Restoration spell cast then you're simply stuck at that level as you level up. So if you're a 7th level fighter (125k xp for level 8) and you get drained down to level 1, if you manage to acquire 125,000 xp afterwards then you go up to level 2 - until you see a cleric, if ever.

But it turns out that was a houserule.

It would be fair to say that I have never played with a GM who used level drain as described by the rules. Either the GMs I played with didn't understand exactly how it was supposed to work, or they understood it but modified it to fit their personal style. The only time I have encountered level draining monsters were as a cheap way of stripping a PC of their levels. When I started GMing I never used monsters that had level drain abilities, and the one time I had a vampire NPC I just houseruled it as a Constitution drain that would heal the vampire of hit points.

1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
What the rules say: Referred to as energy drain, it causes the character to lose a level without a saving throw. Hit points and abilities from the experience level are lost, and xp is dropped to the mid-point of the next lower level. Characters reduced to zero level can never gain xp again, and zero level characters die when they are drained of a level.
Monster descriptions: Brief summaries of the effect, but descriptions assume you have access to the PHB and DMG.
Recovery options: 7th-level cleric spell recovers a single level by restoring lost experience points to the minimum needed to recover the lost level. There is a time limit of effectiveness based on the cleric's level.

The first time I had a character get level drained, the GM basically isolated my character and forced me into a one-on-one encounter with a spectre, and he only realized as I was about to die that I didn't have a single weapon that could have hurt the thing. I have only ever seen level drain used in this manner, as a personal "challenge" or as a punishment by a pisspoor DM (with one exception, the original Ravenloft module and the third time I ever played D&D). But even if that weren't my experience, the concept is pretty flawed simply because it's not very elegant.

Let's assume an 8th level fighter is going up against a vampire, an 8 HD creature. Seems like a pretty even match, right? But the vampire wins initiative. Suddenly the fighter is 6th level and it's no longer an even match, and if the circumstances of that situation mean the fighter is trapped or was forced into this fight then you're basically playing a game of "Who wins initiative?" followed by a game of "How long can we keep this character alive through sheer luck of dice rolls?" and all because you lost the first round of initiative.

I can't imagine where this might be an acceptable game mechanic because it ranks right up there with "let's have your 14th-level character make this saving throw or else they die" in terms of how fun it is.

Zak Smith has told me that I just need to play smarter, but this statement assumes the GM is smart too (and also assumes the GM isn't some sadistic dickhead who GMs with something to prove). The GM is responsible for setting the stage and delivering information to the players about their environment, and if the information is paltry or even nonexistent, or the GM deliberately ambushes the player, then you're never given the opportunity to play smarter. I've played games where I've never even been given the opportunity to run away, or running away was simply not an option from how the GM described the scenario.

Let's say my character has been asked to hunt down a vampire that's tormenting the little town of Barovia and I ask the GM how he uses level drain, the GM says "vampires have traditional level drain." I would likely try to do everything in my power to avoid confronting the vampire directly. I'd turn his servants against him rather than face him head on. From my personal experience, no GM would ever allow such tactics to work, they would always force a direct confrontation with the main villain or simply allow all of your schemes to spoil in some way.

The same Zak Smith uses level drain for his vampires in Red & Pleasant Land and in that adventure it seems completely appropriate, there are no ambushes or Gotcha! moments written into R&PL. A good GM with smart players could have a grand olde tyme evading the dark machinations of the vampire lords in Voivodja, but if it were me I still wouldn't use level drain as its written.

Let's examine my reasons why.

Exhibit A: Absurdity
A character's xp and level are meant to be an abstract way of determining how skilled and learned a character is, just as hit points is an abstract way of determining overall health and fatigue. Levels are not just a way of giving your character hit points but they also represent stuff your character knows. Fighters know better moves, wizards learn better spells, thieves learn how to sneak and pickpocket better, and so on. When those things disappear because a wight touched your skin it just doesn't make sense because it's not called memory drain.
There's a counterargument that levels don't represent memory but overall skill. When your level is drained you are becoming sluggish and less skilled, hence the loss of skills. Then why doesn't level drain actually do that by draining skills and abilities? Why the abstract overall level? My answer to that is: see Exhibit D.

Exhibit B: Houserules + Paperwork
I have never seen a GM, nor heard of a GM, who uses level drain by the book. Why keep using level drain if nobody actually uses it the way it's written?
The DMG suggests that to be truly accurate when PCs level up you should instruct players to write how many HP they earned as a string of numbers on their character sheet. This was back in 1st edition when you didn't have proficiencies and skill checks and you also had level-based saving throws that weren't tied to ability scores. In both 1st and modern editions, unless you're doing that with every aspect of levelling up then the paperwork involved slows down play, and I would want the mechanic to be elegant and simple. I suspect the reason most people houserule level drain is because of this complexity, the tedium of rewriting a character stops the action at the table.

Exhibit C: Recovery is a bitch!
Unconsciousness and petrify have magical solutions which can end them in one casting. Death is a variable because some GMs don't allow Raise Dead or Resurrection in their games, but according to the rules a single spell can still solve that problem. In comparison Level Drain is not simple, recalculating HP, losing abilities and erasing xp and on top of that Level Drain requires multiple castings of Restoration to correct, and even then you've lost the xp forever so you can't recover completely.
The Restoration spell will only bring the character back up one level per casting, and even then your xp is only restored to the bare minimum of what was necessary to get to that level. That's lame all by itself. The mechanic is simply a way to divest a PC of experience points. The xp lost is completely and utterly unrecoverable. I don't even mind the rule that it might require multiple castings of Restoration to return to the level at which you once were, but the permanent loss of xp is just unacceptable to me. That is primarily why I find the effect so tiresome and nobody seems to want to argue a case for justifying or overlooking this part of the rules.
If a single Restoration could bring you back to what you were at pre-draining (without any loss of xp) then I would likely have less of an issue with it. But then I'm just houseruling it, aren't I?

Exhibit D: Cheap
How do you know it's cheap? There's no save. It just happens. This is the biggest factor about why I think it's dumb. Level drain isn't even in the same category as a save-vs-death or vs-unconsciousness or vs-petrify. Those things suck, but at least they're still simple effects and you get to roll dice.
It's not scary to lose xp and levels permanently, it's eye-rollingly boring. Especially if you're less than 1000 xp away from your next level and some GM springs a level drain on you then you're basically fucked. It's a cheap shot, and Gygax was the king of cheap shots!

In summation
I'm already playing RPGs to have fun and cut loose and I don't like the idea of tracking each individual HP roll every time I level up, or tracking my skills either. Just playing as a wizard and tracking my maximum ability scores in DCC was pretty time-consuming (but not to the point of making that game completely unfun). Furthermore, if I'm playing a high level fighter and I'm only 1000 xp shy of level 9, get drained to 7, then still manage to defeat my enemy and get a Restoration spell, I would still have permanently lost hundreds of thousands of experience points. That's stupid. I would rather play a houserule where I can still recover that lost xp, or in a different game altogether.

More comparisons & addendum

2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
What the rules say: Virtually identical to 1st edition rules except the effect is clarified for all classes with extra paragraphs.
Monster descriptions: Simple descriptions that assume you have a DMG.
Recovery options: Identical to 1st edition, however Wish is made note of as a spell that can cure all lost levels with a single casting.

3rd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
What the rules say: Energy drain is simplified into a cumulative negative effect applied to ability/skill checks, attack rolls, saving throws, hit points, and character level. Saving throws now apply to avoid the energy drain and experience points are unaffected. The rules are completely absent from the PHB and the entirety of the effect's description is in the DMG.
Monster descriptions: Simple summaries which refer to the effect and explain what the saving throw is to avoid.
Recovery options: The cleric spell, Restoration, has been brought down to 4th level but otherwise is identical to the 1st and 2nd edition versions of the 7th-level spell Restoration. A new 7th-level spell, Greater Restoration, recovers all lost levels from an energy drain with a time limit measured in weeks rather than days.

I was expecting there to be a bit more variation between 1st and 2nd editions, but this just shows that 1st and 2nd edition rules changed only in miniscule ways while 3rd edition introduced the first radical departures from the original ruleset.

4th edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
What the rules say: Never mentions level draining in either the PHB or the DMG.
Monster descriptions: Previously level-draining monsters have direct damage attacks with names that are called "life drain" or "soul siphon" but the words level drain and energy drain are never mentioned anywhere. Just reading the Vampire entry without the context of an undead lord it reads like a blood sorceror with tons of attacks that can only damage a single target. Lame.
Recovery options: Rest for an hour and you'll probably be fine (I fucking hate 4th edition).

5th edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
What the rules say: Nothing. It doesn't exist anymore.
Monster descriptions: Monsters that used to have energy drain have been replaced with abilities that lower hit points permanently. This is, to me, scarier than the traditional level drain, however the effect is nerfed right out of the gate since every ability describes that the permanently lost hit points can be recovered after a Long Rest, 5th edition's mechanic for "sleeping it off." The vampire in the 5e Monster Manual just seems like a crude version of Lugosi's Dracula.
Recovery options: Restoration no longer exists. Lesser and Greater Restoration still exist as 2nd- and 4th-level spells, but they now apply healing to different damaging effects.

Losing level drain from the rules completely doesn't seem right. Powerful undead, especially vampires, should have some kind of special attack that you can frighten PCs with. The whole concept behind level draining is that a character drained below zero level becomes an undead version of themselves. You can leave a similar attack in place of level drain and still have an ability to frighten PCs into picking their battles and running away if they need to.

Let's take a look at how some of the OSR systems handle level drain starting with the ones most similar to, or mimicking, the original AD&D rules...

Labyrinth Lord
What the rules say: Alternately refers to effect as energy drain, drain energy, or level drain. Rules are explicit that there is no saving throw and the character loses HD and abilities associated with levels lost, but doesn't mention xp loss.
Monster descriptions: Repeat incomplete summaries of level drain rules, and some descriptions are explicit about losing xp to the minimum of the new level.
Recovery options: Restoration spell recovers one level but with a time limit based upon caster level, also recovers xp to minimum of restored level.

Adventurer Conqueror King
What the rules say: Rules are explicit, calling the effect energy drain. There is no saving throw and the character loses abilities associated with the levels lost, including reducing xp to minimum of new level. Rules also explicitly call out that only ritual magic can reverse the effect.
Monster descriptions: Do not summarize rules but simply refer to the effect as energy drain.
Recovery options: There is no Restoration spell. Wish is called out as an appropriate ritual spell for recovering levels but there is no mention of recovering xp.

Castles & Crusades
What the rules say: Calls the effect energy drain and allows a Constitution-based saving throw to avoid. Explicitly calls out loss of abilities and HD associated with levels lost, and xp is reduced to halfway point toward next level. Characters can be drained to zero level, but drained below zero level causes death.
Monster descriptions: Each monster description gives a brief but comprehensive summary of how the energy drain works.
Recovery options: Restoration spell recovers one lost level, and Greater Restoration spell recovers all lost levels and abilities. Both have time limits based on the level of the spell caster, and neither mentions recovering xp.

What the rules say: Rules are explicit, calling the effect level drain. The character loses abilities associated with the levels lost, including reducing xp to minimum of new level.
Monster descriptions: Alternates between calling it level drain and energy drain, but otherwise simply lists the effect and doesn't repeat a summary of the rules.
Recovery options: Restoration spell recovers one level, has a time limit based upon caster level, and brings the character back to minimum xp for level restored.

Adventures Dark and Deep
What the rules say: I don't own the Game Master's Toolkit
Monster descriptions: I don't own the Bestiary
Recovery options: Restoration spell recovers one lost level, has a time limit based on the level of the caster, and doesn't mention recovering xp.

Adventures in the East Mark
What the rules say: No explicit description within the rules.
Monster descriptions: Referred to as energy loss, it causes a loss of HD and abilities but there is no mention of losing xp.
Recovery options: Restoration recovers all lost levels but must be performed within 24 hours of losing them.

The following OSR systems deviate in significant ways from the original AD&D rules...

Swords & Wizardry
What the rules say: No rules given and no mention of xp loss.
Monster descriptions: Describes effect as level drain, and adds whether the characters dies or becomes the monster in question if reduced to zero level. Effect is described as if level is just another separate set of hit points.
Recovery options: Restoration spell recovers all lost levels.

Dungeon Crawl Classics
What the rules say: No section explicitly describes it.
Monster descriptions: Some monsters have a "drain xp" or "vampire bite" ability that drains xp if a Will save is failed, and nothing describes what happens if xp drops below the current level - probably nothing because in DCC losing 1 point of experience can be potentially devastating. Ironically, there is no vampire in the monster section of the rules.
Recovery options: The Restore Vitality spell only recovers lost ability scores and there is no apparent way of recovering lost xp.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess
What the rules say: Describes the traditional effect of level drain but offers a fairly powerful and brutal Constitution drain rule as an alternative time saving rule.
Monster descriptions: There are no monsters in the rulebooks.
Recovery options: There is no spell for recovering lost levels or lost attribute points.

I really like the way LotFP handles level drain because losing Con is a simple way of tracking the loss of energy and your maximum HP will degrade as you lose Con, plus in the LotFP rules the draining is actually more brutal for a high level character and could be used with a low-level character and still be an equal challenge because it only takes a few drains to die from it but it's always based on the character's Constitution, which rarely goes up and down from level to level.
Unexpectedly, I also really like the DCC method where the character loses 1 xp per drain, even though that's a devastating effect and it's still permanent the character won't lose levels from the effect and will only be pushed back from earning new levels - and ironically, the opposite of how the rule was first explained to me.

How I would bring back Level Drain while running 5th edition D&D

I would let my players decided between two options:

1) use LotFP's alternative system for Con draining. This still gives most characters a lot of breathing room since it only drains 2 Constitution at a time, but give the Vampire double the effectiveness and you've restored a monster to a semblance of brutality that modern players will gasp at. The 4th-level spell Greater Restoration is required to recover this lost Constitution, a Long Rest simply won't cover it.

2) modify the monster entries in the 5th edition Monster Manual so that instead of permanently draining hit points or ability scores convert the damage dice to an XP loss multiplier. 1d4 Strength damage? No, 1d4 x 100 experience points. 4d8 hit points? No, 4d8 x 100 experience points. These effects all have saving throws built in so if you fail the save then the experience points are lost permanently, just like in DCC. This way spells don't need to be modified to accommodate the new rule and a Long Rest still just won't cut it!

Yup, a house rule!
Why not? Everybody else does it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

simple wasting disease

roll a saving throw
success = you shake off the disease with little more than a headache and a sniffle
failure = you lose Constitution immediately and then again every morning until your Con reaches zero or you receive magical healing
how much Con? = roll 1d4+1, divide Constitution by that number (round up)

my Con is 18, the roll is 2 (1+1), you lose 9 Con and you'll be dead by morning
my Con is 9, the roll is 5 (4+1), you lose 2 Con now and 2 Con every morning until you're dead

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"You realize I could kill all of them right now?"
[5e Dwimmermount]

Missing another player this week, the beginning of our Dwimmermount session started with a diversion in order to justify one character's absence and another character's return.

The party heard a bellowing roar echoing from the hall and chamber behind them, and Ilona went rushing back down the way they had come to find the source of the noise. They found Poach surrounded by four squat frog-like men with spears. Poach was bruised and wounded but seemed to be holding his own. The party engaged the frogmen and cut them down rapidly. Poach led them to another room where they found Levity tied up in front of a hideous statue of a frog creature carved out of charred wood. Tsetsig destroyed the statue while Levity explained he had been exploring, looking for one of those mimics, and was captured (again) by the frogmen, the Ranine.

Braak mentioned to Horatius that he thought he saw one of the mimics in another room closer to the stairs and the two of them split off from the group to find the mimic. Poach followed.

Levity led the group through the corridors back to where he had been captured and they found a group of a dozen ranine. Sulla cast a fireball into the center of the group of the frogmen and every single one of them died instantly. From another room, a ranine peered out and surveyed the carnage, he was wearing copper loops around his wrists and ankles and rings jangled from piercings in his lips and nipples. He immediately retreated and the party followed, quickly killing or cowing the other ranine with this cultist.

Rather than wait for them to search rooms, I just had the lead ranine cultist on this level poke his head out of a door and lead them straight to him. I was surprised at how easily Sulla's fireball took out the entire group of them and was expecting them to just slaughter the rest of these guys. I used bullywug stats for the ranine, but I gave them a shrink ability and the cultists can cast some spells (obviously).

They interrogated him and asked him what his people were doing in Dwimmermount. He only spoke Bestial so Sulla questioned him and translated for Ilona. He explained that his people came from a place called the Deep Hollow and they were chased out by giant lizards, they searched upward for a place to breed and many of their people were killed by the Dead Ones but they escaped when they found the Water Ways. The Water Ways led them to this area and they have been fighting "the Black Men" since they arrived (Klayqus and his people, the Thorgrim).

There's not a lot of explanation for why the ranine are on these levels. The book says they come from the Deep Hollows level but they clearly didn't traverse the hallways to get all the way up to this area. I used my best judgment while the players were interrogating them, and gave scant details about the Ossuaries, then in a moment of inspiration decided to give the ranine malleable bones and the ability to shrink their bodies and squeeze through tight spaces. The "Water Ways" was born. None of the players have questioned any of the ranine further about the Water Ways, but if they do this will essentially be the water pipe travel method that is detailed in the introduction.

They tried to negotiate a treaty with this ranine and he spoke of their high priest, Groak, who resided one level lower. "If he's down there, then why are you up here?" "Me told you-wor already, we need more room-wor." "Take us to him, now." and that was that. This ranine cultist, Mona, led them through a few halls and rooms, down stairs, past two groups of other ranine. They were stopped once by another cultist, Bem, who insisted on going with them to find Groak.

Mona and Bem led the party to the cistern in the Hall of Lesser Secrets (level 4, room 30) and Groak was not there, but they did see about two to three dozen other Ranine within the cistern. Another cultist, Gax, stepped forward and challenged Mona and Bem in the Bestial language, saying these creatures don't need to negotiate with Groak because he would just order their death. Levity could understand Bestial and remarked "We are very outnumbered down here." and Sulla replied "You realize I could kill all of them right now? One fireball in the center of this room would do the trick." and since Mona could partially speak Common he stepped toward the door, trying to stay behind Sulla, and spoke in Beastial to Gax "These creatures can understand everything you say." Gax relented and explained that Groak had gone to inspect the trapped corridor, and led them to the western double doors that led to the teleportation trap on this level.

The party experimented with the teleportation trap, accidentally getting split up. Ilona got lost into darkness with Sulla. Tsetsig heard and saw a group of minotaurs fighting ratkin, and judging them to be inferior beasts decided to quietly slip away and ignore them. Levity found a jail cell. Their efforts meant they collectively were learning that each circular area acted as a teleportation pad, and that the destination was random.

You can see the fruits of their efforts on the right, you can also see how I fucked up one of the maps

One of the ratkin had seen Tsetsig and followed him, but after being caught by the teleport trap Sulla was the first to encounter the ratkin. The ratkin immediately recognized Sulla as human and spoke in Ancient Thulian "Do you come from outside of Dwimmermount?" which began a conversation about Queen Ilona's expedition and how the ratkin had survived inside of Dwimmermount for 200 years.

When I first read Dwimmermount, the wererats were the only faction I could imagine being allied with the players because their goal was simple and didn't confront other characters on any level: to escape. I didn't like the lycanthropy aspect of the faction and that's when I wrote up my ratkin race for 5th edition.

Tsetsig, being teleported again, found a series of doors and decided to start opening them, one led to webs and he closed that one, and Ilona caught up with him by the time he opened a second door and saw a statue of Turms Termax. Tsetsig stepped forward to smash the statue, but the statue came to life and smashed him, nearly killing him in one blow.

I'm using stone golem stats (minus the Slow ability) for all of the animated statues.

Hearing the sounds of battle echo in the corridors, the other characters began to frantically jump through teleporting pads. Levity found his way to the fight with the animated statue while Sulla got teleported near the fight between the ratkin and minotaurs. Seeing two ratkin dead and one survivor surrounded by four minotaurs, he lobbed his fireball at the minotaurs and managed to kill three of them. The ratkin ran to Sulla's side and the remaining minotaur charged with his battle axe and struck Sulla down with one blow.

Sulla spent the rest of the fight rolling death saving throws, but the last ratkin pulled him back down the corridor and they both got teleported. Sulla ended up next to the first ratkin he met, Nirkz, and the second ratkin, Puzz, found the fight with the stone statue. The minotaur chased after them both and found the ranine!

The fight with the stone statue was long, and if Levity hadn't been there to heal Ilona she might have fallen to the stone statue's fists. Battered and beaten the party retreated along the corridor and ran through teleportation traps until they were all in the same corridor. They debated trying to rest in the hallway but Tsetsig opened a door, hoping this would be an empty room that they could possibly rest in, and found the armory and weapon storage.

The party didn't bother to bar the doors but simply began to rest quietly with Nirkz and Puzz, the ratkin, keeping watch for them, and that's where we ended the session.

We played far enough along to get to the end of the rest - in truth, I wanted to see if there would be a random encounter (there wasn't) and everybody wanted to learn my new resting rules. Tsetsig and Sulla both wanted to identify the magical suits of armor in the armory and that took an hour, the remainder of their rest took 5 hours. Horatius might have found them and rejoined the party by then, but we won't really know until next Sunday.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Re: why I love Apocalypse World

For a long time I never paid very much attention to the indie RPG scene. I was aware of Indie Press Revolution but I didn't know who Ron Edwards was. I had played a few indies due to a very enthusiastic friend, and for the most part I enjoyed seeing new game mechanics along with the unique scenarios one could encounter from thrusting these games onto players who didn't have any expectations. What I didn't enjoy was that every game seemed to last for only one or two sessions of play, and in such a short span of time I often felt that there was no room for character growth. They were neat little experiments but I came away from most indie games with a sour taste in my mouth and only a handful of good experiences.

The first time a game of Apocalypse World was suggested by somebody in my group I was wary. I had heard of Apocalypse World, though I couldn't tell you what I heard people saying about it beyond describing it as "sexy." I expected that it would be a short game, and that it might have an interesting hook but that after playing it I would also likely forget most of the rules. Ultimately, this expectation is why I didn't fight the suggestion and just said, "Sure, let's try it." I treated playing Apocalypse World like ripping off a band-aid: I was going to get it over with as quickly as possible.

We were given choices of characters to play. Similar to D&D classes, each character starts as a playbook, a character that fits within the genre and conventions of the post-apocalyptic setting. There are 11 playbooks in the rulebook accompanied by 9 more “limited edition” playbooks that can deepen the setting, or make it weirder. There is also a player community that has created over 50 more playbooks for expanding character creation into stranger, crueler, or more horrific directions.

Since my main point of reference to post-apocalyptic settings was one of my favorite films, The Road Warrior, I eyed the Driver, a character with a powerful vehicle who was better behind the wheel than outside of his car. I also got interested in the Hocus and the Brainer because they were psychic characters that had some unique moves related to coercing other characters. When it came time to pick characters I chose mine last. That was a mistake! Other players had managed to choose every character I had been interested in. Out of desperation I grabbed the Chopper, the leader of a rambunctious biker gang, because I (incorrectly) believed it was as close to the Driver as I could still get.

During the first session, one of my gang members was being assaulted by somebody and I said to the GM, the Master of Ceremonies (MC), "I pull out my shotgun and shoot him." I rolled the dice and received the best result possible. The MC asked "Where are you shooting him, exactly?" and I said "As close to the head as possible. What do I roll for damage?" She replied "You don't. He's dead, you blew his head off."

I was stunned into silence. No hit points? No damage? He’s just dead? “That’s what you wanted, right?” the MC asked me. Oh sure, I guess. I had never played a tabletop game before where that kind of power is given to a starting character and is just a single dice roll away. I dived into the game after that and became a murderous wrecking ball knocking over players and NPCs alike in my quest for power.

There is no alignment system, no faux morality scale to judge one’s actions upon, and this freed up playing so I could actually discover where my character’s sympathies lied. I discovered that I was playing a control freak, every setback and each failure felt like an opportunity to rush forward and wreck my opposition. I was the ultimate murderhobo but my prize wasn’t money or magic or anything luxe and fancy, it was simply to declare myself the most unstoppable badass of the wasteland. Anybody who challenged me ended up dead or disfigured. By the time the game ended four months later I had already retired that character, but I never wanted to stop playing the game.

- - -

"There are a million ways to GM games; Apocalypse World calls for one way in particular. This chapter is it. Follow these as rules. The whole rest of the game is built upon this."
- excerpt from the Master of Ceremonies chapter, Apocalypse World

Apocalypse World has a very specific method for GMing the game. The MC is given an agenda to follow with the instruction that everything you say and do is meant to follow this agenda. There are principles of conduct to follow that assist the agenda, and these principles maintain an emotional distance between the MC and the world so that they don't play favorites. There are even rules for what to say, which help to highlight how the MC is in charge but is still playing the same game with the other people sitting around a table.

Characters have very broad abilities called Moves that when executed successfully allow them to push NPCs around, give them things, and can even define new aspects of the game world. Sometimes these Moves come with a heavy price, and failing the roll of one of these Moves can come with a heavier price. Every time you roll the dice, the state of the game can potentially change regardless of success or failure. The characters can’t prevent everything bad from happening, the slow march of entropy eventually seeps in and crumbles away at any status quo that the players try to cement.

I imagine there are numerous internet forums and essays on blogs where the author says something similar to "When you roll dice and the character fails, saying 'nothing happens' is boring." I've heard this sentiment expressed and restated in different ways and I don't know who first said it. I'm sure it was probably first addressed as a bit of generic GMing advice because I can remember hearing the statement as far back as 1993. The Master of Ceremonies chapter in Apocalypse World follows this philosophy not just in advice to the MC, but provides solid rules (the Agenda, the Principles, the Hard Moves) that drive this sort of play. Failure always has something interesting or challenging to throw at the player and every time a player rolls the dice something is either going to happen or going to change.

At it's crunchy core Apocalypse World has a pretty simple mechanic for determining success. You roll two six-sided dice then modify it by one of your character's stats, -2 is the worst and +3 is the best. Other factors could adjust that modifier, but usually it's just one of your stats. If you roll 10 or higher, that's the best possible result. But if you hit between 7 and 9 you get a partial success, or a success with a cost. If you roll 6 or less, you missed the roll completely and the MC gets to make a hard move. Sometimes this hard move is in addition to some negative effect of the roll you were making.

Why does the MC get to make this hard move? Because the MC never rolls dice.

Instead, when a player rolls the dice and they fail the roll this generates the hard move for the MC to use which in turn keeps the action going and sometimes presses the player to make another roll. A hard move is something bad that's going to happen and that you know is likely to happen, or it's letting the player know that something bad is going to happen. If you're in the middle of a gunfight and you miss your roll, it’s obvious to everyone at the table that you're likely to get shot, which could be the MC’s hard move -- the character gets shot.

But the MC might instead declare that a barrage of gunfire forces you behind cover and you lose sight of what's happening, or you might see one of your opponents has a grenade in his hand and he just pulled out the pin, or you might realize that the tractor you're taking cover behind just had a hole blown through the gas tank and the ground at your feet is quickly pooling gasoline. These are all variations of the same hard move, and there are about two dozen hard moves that the MC could use, each is a narrative decision which metaphorically throws a brick at the player’s head. The MC is instructed to always follow up a hard move with the question “What do you do?”

All of these pieces work in concert. The MC’s Agenda tells them what to push for in their Hard Moves, the MC’s Principles keep them brutal and honest and impartial when a Hard Move is called for, and the MC’s Moves keep the game moving along briskly and unpredictably. Follow the rules and Apocalypse World teaches you how to be an effective and exciting GM that is capable of devising challenges on the fly while also being able to sit back and allow the players to drive the action of the campaign. This has always been what I wanted from a GM and what I’ve always striven to do as a GM.

- - -

Apocalypse World is built upon a simple philosophy of scarcity. The characters of Apocalypse World do not have ready access to food, water, shelter, safety, or health. How the players push their characters forward to secure these things often defines what a campaign is about just as much as how a campaign will unfold.

When players create their characters during the first session, this actually builds the skeleton of what a campaign will become. Each player establishes their character not just by the playbooks they selected and the abilities they chose but also by defining who their character is, where they came from, and how they got here. Through the character’s growth in experience, all the way to retirement, the players inform the campaign world around them just as much as anybody else at the table does. It would be fair to say that the players are more in control of the world than the MC is, because the MC merely builds off of what the players give them.

In the game I played, my character was always seeking to overthrow tyranny and injustice. In the course of four sessions I had traded one tyrant for another, and in two more sessions I became the tyrant myself. The MC never prepared for these upsets of power or the turnabout which put my own character into the spotlight. Following the rules allowed the MC to always stay one step ahead of me, and using my character’s Moves brought me to the eventual conclusion that she was just as much a villain as those who had come before her.

Characters in Apocalypse World have their retirement coded into their character sheets, the Playbooks. As you gain experience from session to session, you acquire Advances that expand your character thematically and allow them to “level up.” Some of the “upper level” Advances involve abandoning your current playbook and taking on a new one, or creating a secondary character to play. With my first character, I began to fill every Advance and got access to the “upper level” Advances fairly quickly.

When I brought in my second character I felt like I had made a real achievement because I had succeeded at so much in such a short amount of time. Looking back, I never finished any goal that I had set for myself yet I had ended up with a character who was in control of the local community, was relatively secure, had access to plenty of food and water, and feared by many if not all who came into contact with her.

One of the Advances reads “Retire your character to safety” and by the time I had filled everything else on my first character, it was the only one left for me to choose. I chose the moment of my character’s retirement - the player is always in control of what happens to their character - and could have prolonged it forever if I wanted to. In the end, I asked “I don’t think she would leave for a safe place. Can I retire her as a threat?” and the MC answered “Sure, that’s cool.”

As I write this, I haven’t played Apocalypse World in months. I miss it.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

house rules for [5e]

One of the things I don't like about 5th edition is that I feel like its too easy to bounce back from a fight by taking a long rest. I've had two players in my Dwimmermount game who expressed how they felt clerics were useless, since healing became much less of a concern once resting for 6 hours became a cure-all rinse for HP loss and crippling injuries.

This discussion about 5th edition's superhero tone has led me to meditate some more on what I don't like about 5th edition, and almost everything I don't like is something that was handed down from 4th edition, imagine that!. There are, therefore, a few house rules I plan on installing into my Sunday game:


1) Long Rests take 3+1d4 days, one roll is made for each PC; Long Rests require lots of sleep, no strenuous activity, and plenty of food and water - no more than 2 spells may be cast per day, if any; insuring a Long Rest works without interruption means staying at a monastery, hiding at an inn, holed up in a secret hideout, or something similar; at the end of a Long Rest the character recovers all lost Hit Points as well as all spent Hit Dice

2) Short Rests take 4+1d4 hours, one roll is made for the entire party; Short Rests usually involve sleeping and performing light activities such as reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours; during a Short Rest a character can spend Hit Dice to recover Hit Points just as described in the PHB but one use from a Healer's Kit must also be expended, if a character elects not to spend any Hit Dice then they instead recover spent Hit Dice (up to half of their total) at the end of a Short Rest; at the end of a Short Rest each class recovers different abilities
Barbarians: Rage recovers completely
Bards: Bardic Inspiration recovers after a Short Rest
Clerics: Channel Divinity, Domain Powers, and Spell Slots all recover from a Short Rest (Divine Intervention still recovers at the end of Long Rest)
Druids: Wild Shape can be used a number of times equal to the Druid's Proficiency Bonus before requiring a Short Rest, Natural Recovery still works as normal but requires a use from Wild Shape to be expended (which also takes 1 hour)
Fighters: Action Surge, Superiority Dice, and Indomitable all recover from a Short Rest; Battle Masters get twice as many Superiority Dice; Second Wind can be used a number of times equal to the Fighter's Proficiency Bonus before requiring a Short Rest (Constitution of 14+ can increase bonus HP recovered)
Paladins: Divine Sense, Lay on Hands, Channel Divinity, Cleansing Touch, and all 20th-level Oath Powers all recover after a Short Rest
Rogues: Stroke of Luck can be used twice and recovers after a Short Rest
Sorcerers: Sorcery Points and Wild Magic recover after a Short Rest
Wizards: Arcane Recovery can still be used as described (but it also takes 1 hour to use), Specialist Powers recover after a Short Rest

Dungeoncrawling and Random Encounters

1) During any fight, you always have a 100% chance of being able to successfully run away. Dice are rolled to determine how far away you get before you are completely out of danger. Running from a fight means that you lose the XP you would have otherwise gained from defeating or befriending the creature(s) in the encounter, and the creature(s) has time to recover, regroup, and/or prepare defenses in case you return.

2) Random encounters only have a chance of happening when the PCs take a Short Rest, exit a room and enter into a hallway within the dungeon, or make enough noise in a room to potentially draw the attention of something within it's Perception range.

Non-Player Characters

1) All NPC followers and allies have a secret Loyalty score ranged from 0 to 20, and caps at the highest Charisma in the party. The higher the Loyalty the better. NPCs that are abused, misled, neglected, or ignored lose Loyalty, and NPCs that are treated well, helped, rescued, or otherwise assisted with their bonds and goals gain Loyalty. The score determines how the NPC behaves in stressful situations, but in general, having a Loyalty of 10 or higher means that the NPC is favorably dispositioned to one of the PCs or the entire party.

2) All NPCs have a goal or motivation that determines their natural course of actions. If an NPC with Loyalty has a goal that is at crosspurposes with a PC (or the party), then a Loyalty test is rolled. The DM rolls 1d20 and if the roll is equal to or under the NPCs Loyalty then they continue to act favorably to the PC (or the party as a whole). If the d20 rolls higher than the NPC's Loyalty then they either stop acting in the PC's (party's) best interest either by leaving or working in secret to further their own goal at the cost of a PC's (or the party's) downfall.


1) Inspiration is tied to the player rather than the character. Players can never have more Inspiration than their character's current level, or their highest character's level if they're playing more than one character.

2) Players earn Inspiration by fulfilling or acting upon one of their character's Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, or Flaws

3) Inspiration is used to gain Advantage, and three Inspiration is used to turn a failed roll into a success

Death & Retirement

1) If a character dies, retires, or simply leaves onscreen play temporarily, a replacement character starts with half as many XP.

2) If your character dies while fulfilling or acting upon one of their Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, or Flaws then your replacement character starts with 75% of your dying character's XP total.

Friday, June 19, 2015

"I'm gonna pimp my undead."
[5e Dwimmermount]

I was planning on including another one of Arnold Kemp's rival adventuring parties in this weeks session, even wrote up stats for this group of NPCs to harry the PCs with, but we were down one player and I didn't want to unleash these enemies without everyone being present.

The session started with some fine-tuning details about hobgoblin patrols on the first level, and then Sulla, Ilona, and Horatius ventured down to the second level to search for the four hobgoblins who refused to follow "Queen" Ilona.

The party ventured south and found the Hall of Truth, a place of legend in Dwimmermount where one could become blessed by the gods. Sulla took a look at the letters on the pillars of the room and translated them for the others. Horatius, led by his lack of self-control, immediately touched the pillars in the correct order and was bestowed with the permanent ability to cast Healing Word. Sulla attempted to do the same but was not blessed by the gods (instead, lost 2 hit points permanently). Ilona declined to make the attempt.

The player of Sulla knows Latin and he asked a few pointed questions about the room and kept saying the letters on the pillar were slightly off because the word was "veritas" and that's when the player of Horatius followed one of his character traits and touched the pillars in the right order, I don't remember if I gave him Inspiration for that or not. I determined the spell by rolling a 1d15 and using the 1st-level cleric spell list.

Horatius led the party west, looking for the western stairwell leading down from the first level, but they eventually found that there were no paths that led that far west. They began looking for secret doors and found a small cache of books worth a great deal of money. Sulla mentioned how valuable he thought the books were and Ilona suggested that at some point they would need the hobgoblins to act as labor to clear out the heavy treasures.

Using Passive Perception merely as an indicator that something was off in the room really helped this scene, because it meant everybody started looking for a secret door and Sulla wasn't merely pointing them out anymore.

They entered a room with broken statuary and one lone statue, Sulla recognized it instantly as an elemental creature of some kind. He attempted to address the creature and it spoke of soft things that deserved death. Horatius grew impatient and struck the creature, it fought briefly but before it could fly away Ilona split it into pieces with her silvered pick.

In the room beyond they found graffiti in a multitude of languages, none of which Sulla understood. There was also a chest (a mimic) filled with 27 scrolls of Comprehend Languages. Sulla used one and found that every line of graffiti said "Seek not the gods!" but behind the identical phrase in a plethora of languages was a spell: Tasha's Hideous Laughter. Without the materials to transcribe the spell Sulla would have to return later.

I'm thinking of including a few unofficial spells from now on since I discovered that Sulla already has a copy of the spell but has simply failed to learn it. More details on these new spells once the PCs stumble upon them.

The room full of graffiti looked nothing like this!

The mimic revealed itself by getting up and walking out of the door. They followed it for a bit then realized it must be going to the same place the previous mimic had traveled to, on a lower level, and so they let it go and returned to exploring the southern areas of the second level.

I cross-post these blog entries to G+ and one of the players read a comment there that asked if these were surveillance mimics and so now he believes these mimics are spying on them, but he hasn't tried to hinder them or kill any of them yet. Primarily because he has no reason to in-game, the two mimics they have crossed paths with have only given them treasure and magic scrolls.

They ran into the four hobgoblins, camped out in one of the southern rooms, and one of them tried to hit Sulla but failed miserably. Sulla responded with a Fireball which incinerated all four of the hobgoblins. (If they had killed or defeated the leader, then the other three hobgoblins would have joined up as followers, especially after the leader's feeble attempt to hit Sulla. I rolled a 1.)

They traveled onward and found a room with more of the silvery-black skeletons guarding an abandoned workshop. Another secret door was discovered behind a tapestry and a small panic room with the centuries-old corpse of a Termaxian cultist was inside. Some very well-preserved wine and food were found in huge barrels and Ilona pointed out that they would have more things for the hobgoblins to carry upstairs.

Their path finally connected to the eastern part of the map and they returned to the throne room, but before they arrived they encountered a gelatinous cube. Horatius almost walked into it and Sulla's skeleton was engulfed and absorbed almost instantly (farewell Zombie Lord skeleton, we hardly knew ye), however this cube was much easier to defeat than the previous one which had harried Ilona and Horatius (and Marius and Brüghaht) on the first level.

I use Gelatinous Cubes often enough that I ought to have a miniature for them! (see image) Everybody's higher in level and does a lot more damage. I was surprised at just how quickly the cube died. I had been rolling for random encounters throughout the session and we were getting close to a good stopping point so I decided to just put a random encounter in, rolling up the cube randomly it made sense that the cube would be trying to get into the throne room since Levity was supposed to be there waiting for the rest of them to catch up.

The party returned to the old throne room, and Sulla took one of the burned hobgoblin corpses and reanimated it as his new skeletal servant. He put the old breastplate from the Zombie Lord onto the skeleton and gave it the Zombie Lord's old greatsword then discussed other ways he might be able to "upgrade" his skeleton, and that's where we ended. We're not playing next week and Levity's player won't be with us the next time we play, so it's possible that Levity was not in the throne room at all.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

"When this day is done, I will make you bow to your new Queen."
[5e Dwimmermount]

So, the last session started with me opening up to my players about how I don't really like the 5th edition rules as a whole. I don't plan on changing the ruleset that we're using for this campaign because this started as an experiment. I wanted to GM Dwimmermount and I also wanted to try out the 5th edition rules. I'm enjoying both, but I'm not enjoying the feel of the rules as the PCs ascend in level. The crux of my complaints can be read throughout the comments at this link. I've played a little loose with the gameplay timeline so that I can highlight in this post moments where the rules hit up against my own personal preferences for gameplay.

After resting, the party interviewed the hobgoblins about the dead-but-not-dead things roaming the halls. Rigob spoke of a Zombie Lord that controlled the dead things, and Poach drew them a map which included where their guard posts were. The map was informative, and later they learned it was mostly accurate, but it added very little to what they had already explored.

They ventured to the room where the Zombie Lord could be found and in a very short time came face-to-face with him. He was dressed as an ancient Thulian guardsman and he spoke Old Thulian, surrounded by his zombie minions the Lord declared that the group were trespassers who should submit to his rule. When Sulla declared "Queen" Ilona the rightful ruler of Dwimmermount the Zombie Lord spat "I will never bow to her!" and Sulla disagreed as battle was engaged.

During this fight I got to use reaction on the monster side, which surprised one of my players when he broke through the zombie ranks. It only took them about 4 rounds to destroy the Zombie Lord and all of his zombies, with only a few injuries sustained on their side. At the time this rankled me a little bit because the Zombie Lord only got about two hits in, and he was supposed to be the "boss" of this level. He lasted longer when compared to King Rukruk, which was also a fight I felt was over too quickly.

After they defeated the Zombie Lord, Sulla used one of his spells to reanimate the corpse of the Lord as a skeleton servant and also spotted a secret door leading eastward from the room. Following the path they found another secret door which opened into a pristinely preserved temple.

Passive Perception became something I didn't like in this room. The module doesn't really give a difficulty for discovering the secret door here, but I assumed it would be pretty difficult to find. Sulla's Passive Perception is above 20 and in the moment I simply said "You've found a secret door" but in hindsight I think Passive Perception is too much like a video game mechanic. I don't want it to be an ability that just hands the players a solution to a problem. I decided that from now on when somebody's Passive Perception triggers something I will simply give hints as to what it is, whether it's noise at the end of a tunnel or an unnatural breeze inside of a closed room, but they have to make the narrative decision to engage with the environment and discover what their senses are telling them.

Horatius felt uncomfortable entering the temple, and Levity's skin burned when he tried to pass the secret door leading inside. Horatius had made it to the other side of the temple and discovered a vast crevasse in the next chamber beyond. Levity refused to enter the temple at all. There were two statues on their side of the crevasse and Horatius looked for the closest place to cross over, tied a rope around one statue and himself, then jumped across the chasm. He made it to the other side, and Braak soon crawled across the crevasse along the rope, but nobody else was willing to follow Horatius.

The party decided to split up at this point, with Braak and Horatius continuing east beyond the crevasse and the rest of the party following the northeast passage from the Zombie Lord's chamber.

I just accidentally misspelled that as Xombie. NEW MONSTER! Anyway. I rolled twice for both groups to possibly encounter a wandering monster but the dice favored the players and they didn't encounter anything.

They both found a wide hallway, and very soon met up with each other since they could see each others' lanterns.

Horatius began opening the doors in the hallway, They found a pair of huge dogs that appeared to be on fire. He quickly closed the door and announced to everybody what he had seen. They prepared to reopen the door and engage in a fight, with Sulla muttering that he didn't have many magical options for fighting creatures made of fire, and Horatius said "I thought all wizards could throw lightning bolts?!" The players frequently tabletalk about Sulla's spell list and I translate this as their characters arguing about what magic is capable of, it allows me to say things like "These orcs come barging into the room, they clearly heard you arguing about Sulla's spells."

Horatius flung the door open and the dogs were gone. They took a few cautious steps into the room and one of the dogs came running from around the corner, flame sputtering off it's sides, and it breathed out a gout of flame that engulfed most of them. Battle was engaged and soon they were surrounded by the two hounds who burst forth fiery sprays of heat from their jaws. They killed the two dogs with little trouble then decided to continue down the hall to the south.

Here is a situation where I used two monsters with intelligence and tactical aplomb, only to see it come to no avail. The hell hounds were flanking and using their breath weapons to maximum effectiveness and the party was never afraid of the danger, they cut down the hounds in literally 2 rounds of combat.

Behind another set of doors, they found some zombies and a mimic. They managed to communicate with the mimic for awhile, and Sulla tried to have his zombie servant escort the mimic back to the throne room, but it wandered off further into the dungeon. Mimics only appear in two places in Dwimmermount as written. I have decided to add mimics to Dwimmermount in copious amounts, and I've also made them intelligent, and I've also given them an agenda. Before this adventure I have never, ever used mimics before.

Venturing southward, the party found a room filled with wooden statues. When Levity expressed interest in one by knocking on it, one of the statues came to life and knocked him down to the ground. Before anybody could react, the wooden statue stomped Levity into unconsciousness then proceeded to stand still again. They dragged Levity away from the room and forced a potion of healing down his throat, then collectively decided "We don't go back to that room unless we plan on setting it on fire."

From this point forward, I have beefed up the monsters to make them more challenging. I also got lucky with the rolls for those attacks against Levity. The monster was a wood golem that took everybody by surprise and managed to get a critical hit in on Levity before he could act himself.

After a little more healing for Levity, they pressed onward. Horatius led the way and took the party west and away from the wide hallway. He soon found himself in an impenetrably dark room where his lantern seemed to attract the very shadows along the walls. Surrounded by shadows he felt his strength draining, and both Horatius and Ilona lashed out at the shadows futilely. Sulla's magic made quick work of the shadowy creatures, but not before they had weakened Horatius to the point where he could barely stand carrying the weight of his armor and weapons.

This combat took 4 rounds! The shadows nearly killed Horatius which seems appropriate given that they no longer have a cleric in the party, but one long rest later and Horatius is back to full HP and the effects of the Strength drain are completely gone. *shaking my head*

Retreating back to a hobgoblin guard post north along the corridor, the party decides to consolidate what they have. Both Rigob and Poach were feeling a bit confused that the Queen was exploring the ruins as if the hobgoblins weren't there and ignoring that the food supply was diminished. They demanded that they be given attention and Ilona agreed, they needed to be fed if they were going to follow her. The party decided to retreat from the second level with all of the hobgoblins for now and rest on the first level while they drew up their plans.

Ilona decided she needed to cement her control over Dwimmermount and the hobgoblins gave her the perfect opportunity to do so. Between Ilona, Sulla, and Horatius they coordinated how they would send Braak back to Muntburg to buy food, and they also needed to send a message to Tsetsig and Marius that they would need a regular supply of food to be brought to Dwimmermount.

The last hour of the game was literally just working out all of these details.

Upon returning to the first level the party turned the desecrated temple to Mavors into their base of operations, ignoring the secret door for now.

The hobgoblins would need to patrol and maintain the first level, so they showed the hobgoblins their map and explained all of the dangers of the first level. Guards would be set at the main entrance and the two stairwells leading down into Dwimmermount (but not the secret entrance or the elevator!) and both Tsetsig and Marius would need to return so that they could recognize him and give him safe passage. Ilona set about constructing a makeshift sigil for her house so that her family would also recognize the hobgoblins and not attack them when they arrived.

Braak returned to Muntburg with Poach following behind him. Having grown bored in Muntburg after the last three days, Marius was climbing up the mountain to Dwimmermount and encountered Braak along the way. All three traveled to Muntburg to acquire food then return to Dwimmermount, and the next session is set to begin with their return...

The reason the map looks like its constructed of three pieces of paper is not because I'm bad at drawing maps (though I did make one mistake when drawing one of the hallways of this level) but when I start drawing a map for a dungeon level I hand the piece of paper to one of the players and instruct them how to draw a box for the stairs, letting them place the entrance on the paper. That way, I don't purposefully reveal how the dungeon is laid out by putting the stairs on the grid paper myself.

I will likely offer this explanation every time I show off a map that looks like it was put together with scraps of paper rather than one sheet.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

"This ugly little thing is under my protection!"
[5e Dwimmermount]

After a month of not gaming at all and a long recap with the players, we got back into the dungeon. We've had two sessions since our long break and this is a summary of the first of those two. I'll write up the second session tomorrow and also share the current map.

The characters met Rukruk, the Hobgoblin "king" of Dwimmermount, and proceeded to murder him. Rukruk was holding a smaller creature, with a row of segmented eyes and black skin, that he was convinced had somehow betrayed him. He let the creature go in order to fight the party, and his elite guards came to assist him, but Rukruk fell before any of the guards could affect the battle. As the guards fell, soon only two were left and Sulla demanded that they surrender to Queen Ilona. One backed away from the battle, but the other vowed to fight to the death, and he was cut down by Ilona.

With only one of Rukruk's bodyguards left alive along with the small black-skinned creature, Sulla and Eppius began questioning the two, while Braak occasionally translated for Ilona and Horatius. They soon learned that from Poach, the hobgoblin, that there were about 20 other hobgoblins on this level and at least one scouting party that should be returning to Rukruk's throne room. Klayqus, the small black-skinned creature (originally a thorgrin) detailed how his tribe had no leader, that they were merely trying to survive and he was sent to negotiate a treaty with Rukruk. During the conversation he mentioned that he worshiped Arach-Nacha, the demon lord of spiders, and this enraged Eppius. Sulla declared that Klayqus was under his protection and a fight ensued, and Ilona cut Eppius down almost instantly.

the player playing Eppius had already planned on swapping out to a new character, so everybody was just looking for an excuse to kill Eppius off

Poach spoke of dead-but-alive things that roamed the halls of Dwimmermount, and Klayqus spoke hatefully of his tribe's enmity with the ranine. Klayqus then retreated to a lower level, informing Sulla that if they travel deeper into Dwimmermount they should use the stairwell next to Rukruk's throne, since the other stairwell is being guarded by others of his kind.

As the party backtracked their route, looking for a safe place to camp and rest, they ran into the hobgoblin patrol that Poach spoke of. The patrol was composed of mostly females, led by an outspoken hobgoblin named Rigob. They were dragging a captured tiefling behind them. Poach declared that Ilona was their new Queen and they were charged with retaking and restoring Dwimmermount, which Rigob was skeptical of at first but when Ilona spoke in common to her "subjects" Rigob quickly accepted her rulership and in turn revealed that the hobgoblins all understood the common tongue. The tiefling was freed and introduced himself as Levity, a jester from another world.

Levity is a bard, and it was explained that Levity traveled through a portal to Telluria into Muntburg and has learned a little about Telluria and Dwimmermount and decided to go exploring after hearing recent rumors of groups going up the mouintain, Levity found many headless orc corpses and eventually found a stairwell that he ventured down, while examining a room with many broken silvery-black skeletons (level 2B, room 1) he was captured by the hobgoblin patrol

Levity forgave the hobgoblins rather quickly once he was released, and the group decided to make camp in the main throne room. Over the next 10 hours, the other hobgoblin patrols and guard posts were recalled to the throne room, and most of the hobgoblins swore fealty to Queen Ilona. Only four hobgoblins left claiming that they would not follow Ilona, and Sulla made a mental note of which way they traveled so that he could help hunt them down and kill them later. Ilona also made note that a great majority of these hobgoblins were female.

I made hints that Rigob and Poach were a little restless with Rukruk's rulership, and tried to hint that they were hopeful for more information about how Dwimmermount had fallen, but at first the players were ignoring the hobgoblins' personalities. You can assume that this is what Poach and most of these hobgoblins looks like...