Monday, August 28, 2017

1d30 odd things abandoned on the side of the road.

  1. A long trail of discarded plate armor, then a sack of skin, flesh, and entrails.
  2. A clockwork wind-up doll, impaled on a spear.
  3. A crying baby with features indicating unusual parentage.
  4. A huge and forlorn dog leashed to a stake.
  5. A handkerchief with flecks of blood and the initials LG.
  6. A bucket of water with a live fish inside.
  7. A moonshine still.
  8. The moon.
  9. A bloodstained stump, in which an executioner's axe is embedded.
  10. A pouch of foreign coins.
  11. A key to a very, very small lock.
  12. A dozen grandfather clocks.
  13. A feather, 10 feet long.
  14. A sign post to the nearest town, half-buried in dirt and leaves.
  15. A sack containing a roast potato, salt beef, an apple, and an honey-and-oat bun.
  16. An invitation to a fancy party addressed to someone who almost has a PC's name.
  17. A dueling glove with 6 fingers, stuck 15 feet off the ground in a thornbush or something.
  18. The private diary of a traveling maid.
  19. A church bell.
  20. A neatly arranged stack of blank papers, only some of which have been blown away.
  21. A giant ice cube. Roll again or decide what's inside, if anything.
  22. A coffin. Possibly occupied.
  23. A wagon with no wheels, but stocked with some valuable but perishable good.
  24. A catapult. 
  25. 6 identical chests. 1 is a mimic, 1 is just a carving, 1 is locked and full of its own keys, 1 is full of live mice, 1 contains sensitive information, and 1 contains 6 identical jewelry boxes...
  26. A bottle of excellent wine.
  27. A game board, set up mid-game. Air around it is unnaturally cold (or hot)
  28. Wanted posters of the PCs describing crimes they haven't committed.
  29. A portable altar of a god so inconsequential and petty that this is actually their only altar.
  30. A wacky-looking caterpillar in a cage and a single mithril fish-hook.
  31. Roll Twice
The way I see it, tables are only half the story, and the other half is for another GM to look at and go 'hmmm... okay that's what this means.' 
30, for instance. I could say 'oh this is for a ritual where you catch something outrageous by baiting a fishing line with the caterpillar and whatever you catch is bound to be your loyal steed for a year and a day and some mustache-twirler planned to catch a dragon with it to destroy his rival in love but abandoned it because he found out that his rival had been called off to war where he'd surely never return, leaving the fair Melissandra to remain an eligible bachelorette'

But since every campaign is different, I think it is better to give you a fraction of that and let you fill in the gaps with stuff that suits your campaign and your players.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Halflings, Children, and other Innocuous Characters

I've never really been a fan of any of the 'classic' nonhuman races, but I've always been even more skeptical of the value of the little guys. A stealthy human, with some darkvision, no big weapons, maybe some magical tricks? I liked The Hobbit too, but you don't have to be 3 feet tall to be an underdog, and if all being 3 feet tall means is no big weapons and like, -2 Strength, who cares, especially if you're swimming in other bonuses like +4 vs ogres and so on. That just makes you an inexplicably durable badass tiny tank.

I'm also a great fan of this post

Anyway I tried to make a Little Person class that encourages actually playing like a 6-foot tall guy with a sword is as dangerous to you as a giant is to that 6-foot guy. Works for children characters as well, because you occasionally get someone who wants to be a kid. Or even just someone with a pacifistic noncombatant role.

Little Person
Each template of Little gives you-
-1 HP
-1 Encumbrance Slot
-1 Damage dealt
-1 Move (but only for running speed, agility is unaffected)
Also, d8 weapons probably take 2 hands, and d10 weapons are just too big to wield.

Or if you're using HD, d4 hd

A- Beneath Notice
B- Mostly Harmless
C- Good Karma
D- Willing Meatshields

Beneath Notice- If you're trying to hide from something bigger than you and have a reasonable hiding spot, it won't find you*. This applies to magic crap as well- if Dark Beige Wizard Sauronemon tries to scry for you in his crystal ball, so long as you're trying to be stealthy and not rampaging around in combat or a party, he shouldn't be able to find you.
*But I'm trying to encourage a certain kind of gameplay, so. If you've attacked someone when you had the option to sneak by or otherwise avoid them, you lose this protection against them. So sure, go ahead and backstab wildly, but once you're stained with blood, well, whatever you've offended will be coming to get you and you are no longer Beneath Notice. Maybe you should have just taken a thief level.

Mostly Harmless- You get +1 to reaction checks for each level of Little Person (to a max of +4 in case you're translating this to a bigger system) when attempting to appear harmless, sympathetic, innocuous, etc. People let their guard down around you and don't expect you to be some sort of psycho killer or uber wizard (pretty much the only options for characters) and are more prone to treating you nicely and both doing you favors and asking you to do favors for them. In combat, you'll usually be the last choice of target (unless you just shanked someone in the junk) and even stuff like maneating alien squidmonsters from beyond whose first action against Gruff McStuff would be to eat his face will probably ignore you so long as you don't bother them or interfere with their plans and don't linger about TOO long. Also, if you surrender, you will be captured but able to escape in 1d6 hours by loosening your bonds or befriending the jailer or whatever.
Again, this sort of protection vanishes once you break the 'truce.'

Good Karma
Whenever something notably bad happens to you (like getting smacked for max damage or having your in-laws show up to visit), you get a Fate Point. You're not actually playing Fate but that's okay, you're playing a janky frankenstein homebrew. You can only have 1 Fate Point at a time, and it's technically called Good Karma because copyright, just in case. Spend it to tweak a roll by +1 or -1, or do narrative Fate Point stuff, like declaring the window has curtains to hide behind or you remind the cultist of his dead daughter whose death turned him to dark rituals of resurrection in the first place or something.

Willing Meatshields
Retainers, pet dogs, sympathetic NPCs, etc can sacrifice themselves for you like a sundering shield (-1d12 damage)+the ability to move you a few feet out of harms way, so long as they've grown to have even a little fondness for you. This lets them also take the hits from things like basilisk gazes you failed your save against, or being crushed by a boulder, or whatever. Other players can do this too if they wish, taking the damage/awful effect themselves- they aren't automatically killed, but do automatically fail saves and have 0 defense. If you become a ruthless murderhobo exploiting the nurturing instincts of others for the sake of mechanical benefits you lose this level and have to take something else, you little monster. This is for good little children/hobbits/goblins who make connections with the world and learn the value of friendship, not munchkins.

Though come to think of it, it could be funny to go that route. Howzabout there can be a 'Manipulative Psychopath' class that has a nasty version of this ability so you can continue your NPC sundering with fake smiles and a cold heart. But that's for later.

BFRPG version as per request of one of my players.
The Noncombatant- You receive all the above abilities at level 1. You cannot use weapons that deal more than 1d6 damage, but may inflict melee damage as nonlethal subdual damage for no penalty. Wearing armor heavier than leather or a shield makes you look threatening enough to remove your 'mostly harmless' abilities, and may be too loud and clanky for you to stay 'beneath notice.' You can utilize magic items as a wizard, though you do not cast spells yourself- magic tends to be as friendly towards you as anything else.

Finally, you also should have some sort of skill or background. You could be an indolent elf princess, a canny dwarf horse merchant, a halfling baker, an undergrad human psychologist from another world, etc etc. This skill shouldn't be an adventuring skill, but you never know when it might come in handy anyway. If you build a stronghold (generally at level 9ish), you'll attract 2d6 1st level noncombatants related to your skill, +1d6 unusual friends you made during your adventures who give up their old dungeon habitats in favor of hanging out at your house, or at least nearby if they're a manticore who won't fit though the door or something.


Level- to hit
Hit Dice
1- +1

Death Ray or Poison
or Petrify

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Demon Masks and Other Wandering Monsters of Depth 1

My encounter charts for the 1st level of my megadungeon were pretty simple, but I think they worked well- mostly.

Honey Skeleton
This is just a slow skeleton, burdened skeleton with a beehive inside them. You can charge and bash them apart just like you could any other lone, unarmed skeleton, but then you're fighting a swarm of angry bees. But you can't just ignore it like you could a regular beehive, because the skeletons want to rip out your skeleton!

My players didn't find many in the dungeon, but bees that colonized various zombies and skeletons were found above ground fairly frequently. They required specific tactics to kill, but weren't huge threats so long as you applied a modicum of strategy and respect to how you dealt with them. I was kinda proud of this enemy because it punished straightforward approaches but was really easy to deal with with even simple spells, flasks of oil, and/or Turn Undead. It's good to encourage and reward lateral thinking, lest fights devolve into mindless HP vs Attack Value slugathons.

Anyway, these haven't seen much use outside of 'enemy that you should outwit rather than fight head on.' Combining them with other encounters is something I keep meaning and forgetting to do, but honey skeletons are a great mix of trashy minion and hazardous complication.

Demon Mask
Stats as a stirge- latches onto people, sucks blood, not a lot of HP. Turns out with low-level to-hit rolls and bad luck, even a single one attacking from surprise can horrify low level adventurers.

But these added a degree of caution to the players- they attacked if you walked in front of them, but were otherwise inert. They don't even have peripheral vision, so crawling foils them. Good for making the players think about how they approached things, spatially speaking. I hoped players would walk into a double encounter of a Honey Skeleton and a room full of these hanging on the walls, with the honey skeleton blundering around activating the masks and the players having to either deal with a swarm of masks, or take down the skeleton fast without rousing the beehive. But alas, they listened at a door, heard bees, and walked away.

Demon masks feel like great encounters to me because they have rules, and obvious ones. Lots of monsters have these 'rules.' Don't look at basilisks. Don't cut off hydra heads unless you can burn the stumps. That sort of thing. Demon Masks had a clear set of rules, and clear punishments if you violated the rules, but exploiting the weaknesses of those rules let the players get easy victories. They may be minor victories, but they earned 'em by examining how the masks worked, not just how tough they were when it came to dice rolling. I think they enjoyed getting the upper hand on the demon masks, sneaking up on them from the side and burning them, even when they were strong enough to just beat them down.

Oh, the demon masks also turn corpses into undead if left alone to fuse to their faces. So that's a neat built in dungeon repopulation mechanic I got to use, both to reanimate a bunch of goblin corpses that the players sicced masks on, and once to turn a dead player into a shambling zombie to chase the surviving players out of the dungeon with. That was fun.

To be frank, I totally used shriekers wrong most the time, putting them in random dead end corridors where their screaming was pretty much irrelevant as they were chopped up, burned, and so on. What I should have done is put them in the middle of pathways and near other, scarier monsters, turning them into danger amplifiers rather than arbitrary extra wandering monster checks+ burning oil tax.

One thing shriekers are good as is dungeon repopulation- have them grow on dead flesh, so returning to the scenes of slaughter in 'cleared' areas turns out to be not so safe after all.

Still, one thing I don't like is rolling to kill a creature with no attacks- kinda a waste of time, but at the same time shriekers are pretty durable. This could be solved by either making shriekers fragile and easy to kill, or possibly more threatening- deafening characters, or having other fungus buddies that are poisonous or mobile and angry or whatever. Next time I use shriekers, I'll make them cool I swear.

Sideways Goblins and Rightways Goblins-
There was a deeply entertaining magic crystal that reoriented people to face south. As expected and hoped some players used this to help explore the dungeon, even venturing out into the open as a cleric balloon lashed to donkeys, other players, and so on. One character, Townlocke the cleric, stayed sideways for a very long time.

But more importantly, there was a bit of dungeon politics going on- the Sideways Goblins could walk down long holes and engage players from weird areas due to their altered gravity, while the Rightways goblins were your standard dungeon goblins. Though their hatred of each other didn't manifest into full blown goblin politics sessions, having both factions was still important to me because it had the potential for more than just goblin bashing. Being Sideways wasn't even good for the sideways goblins in most encounters with the players, but that's just it- it showed that the dungeon was an environment that existed independently of the players. The sideways goblins had to string up ropes and iron spikes hammered into the walls to get around.

Or maybe this just tickled my GM sensibilities and the players didn't think it was all that cool. But I really liked the sideways goblins- goblins with one weird gimmick that totally changed how I ran them and saw the dungeon, looking at the dungeon as a series of deadly shafts and rooms with the doors halfway up them, because that's how the sideways goblins saw it.

Oh, and the Rightways goblins were important to have around because if everything is weird, nothing is. Rightways goblins keep it real.

Zombie Ogres
Not just zombie ogres. Zombie ogres in plate mail, with iron spikes driven through them and iron chains dangling and occasional really bizarre weapons, like a giant multi-headed flail where the flail heads were collected from petrified basilisk victims.
Kinda like this, but with more armor and demonic masks on its back instead of candles

Anyway, I described this thing as horribly as I could the first time the players found one because it had twice as much HP as the entire party combined, could squish any given player in one hit pretty easy, and had so much AC that they didn't have much chance of hitting it.

Anyway, these are wandering 'miniboss' encounters that offered a minor reward (master keys to depth 1, though the players got their hands on those from the key room before ever killing one) and a double reward of both removing the zogre from the encounter chart and of stopping demon masks from resupplying in certain areas... and also hinting at the presence of undead more horrible than the relatively innocuous Honey Skeletons. The idea was that players could wait until they were strong enough to destroy them in fair combat (Which they did, and it was a tedious, regrettable slog) or they could maybe use the environment to kill them early on.

Why Wandering Monsters
Wandering monsters prevent the 5 minute adventuring day problem. If there's a chance of meeting dumb resource draining monsters all the time, you want to make sure your expeditions matter, that you go in deep and come out rich, even if you have to take risks and push your luck.

Masks and Honey Skeletons provide initial exciting gimmicks, but soon become nothing but drains on oil reserves and maybe HP unless encountered in weird terrain or with other monsters (which I wish I had done more often, but alas).

Goblin packs were mostly drains on Sleep spells rather than real threats, but were also a goal in a way since each goblin head was worth 5GP. A classic minor risk, minor reward encounter, but as the demand for gold became higher, goblin hunting became less appealing. Furthermore, goblins were a source of information if you could capture one and convince it to tell you about traps and treasure.

The Ogres, of course, were 'oh no' moments when one came wandering up, but as the clerics grew in level, it became simple enough to just Turn and ignore them.

But while it lasted, this was a solid encounter table, despite being so simple.

Of course, as the characters outgrew these encounters, they were also wiping them out and making room for new encounters... over the course of play, the random encounters of depth 1 now look more like this.

1-Honey Skeleton
2-Wererats from Depth 2 impersonating another human encounter
3-Riikhites (Essentially Paladins)
4-Escaped Demons (Totally the players' faults)
5-Lightspear Bandits (Servants of an evil wizard wielding Spears of Continual Light)
6-Zombie Ogre (or Rival Adventurers if the zogre of the area is slain already)

Though still dangerous, the dungeon has mostly been overrun by humans from the surface, and become a real mess of talking and diplomacy and factional nonsense compared to the old stuff. Remember- Megadungeons don't get 'cleared' they get changed by the actions of the PCs, and that's definitely happened here. The fatty loot and player interest is more directed towards the lower levels, but the altered encounter charts means that they now have a different set of 'rules' to learn and exploit on their way to the lower depths and back.