Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Turning 3.5 Dungeon Encounters into a dungeon, Part 1/20

on pages 79-81 of the 3.5 DM's guide, there's encounters by dungeon level, and they are hot garbage. With around 20+ encounters per level sorted only by rough CR, they're doomed to make the worst sort of random content. So I decided to try to make some sense of 'em, probably unwisely.

1st level of the dungeon has 4 entries for largely mechanically identical d3 small poisonous critters- Snakes, spiders, scorpions, and centipedes. Also a swarm of regular spiders but that at least has swarm rules. It also has dire rats, giant firebeetles, and stirges, all of which are pretty much 'a 1-hit nuisance' with stirges having their latch on thing and firebeetles having their 'torches' as loot.

Also in the 'can't be negotiated with (probably)' vein are d4 human warrior skeletons and d3 human commoner zombies.

Let's combine all these into ONE thing.

They glow with a sickly radiance that leeches the life from everything illuminated by it, dealing 1 damage to organic beings upon being illuminated and 1 damage upon leaving the radius of illumination. Staying inside he illumination is safe though- your system adapts to the mild aura of death. They also suck blood with their long probiscuses (probiscii?) and lethal hits indicate they've stabbed it into your heart or brain or something. This light makes them easy to see coming, but their maggots also reanimate corpses into glowing zombies, so corpse disposal/recovery is a must.

So- we've got a light source with an exploitable effect, nuisance enemies that aren't worth fighting due to no treasure and an annoying ability, an excuse and boost for the undead, and some pretty good encounters that I bet you wouldn't get from d3 enraged footlong centipedes. Imagine a room illuminated by twilight moths behind crystal- you can charge through and eat the HP tax every time you want to pass through, you can lure enemies here to soften them up, you can break the crystal container and deal with the angry moths. Or a room where the moths flit about a huge cavern over which a  bridge is suspended- coming in and out of their light will be lethal unless you have a portable source of Skull Moth light to keep yourself adapted to skull-light. And you can bet the dungeon denizens carry around maggoty glowing skulls for light and damage... speaking of, there are
d3 dwarves, d3 elves, d3+1 gobbos, d4+2 Kobolds, and d3 orcs.

Let's say 'screw that' and have there be 5 groups of 3 humans, all ostensibly fellow adventurers who haven't banded together because of various cultural tensions.

Group #1- Foreigners- Nobody speaks their language, their swords are weird, and their armor is lacquered wood. They have a flag. Invaders? Enemy scouts? What's the deal here?
Group #2- Local Yokels- Clubs and such. Their reaction to you is largely based on your recent exploits in the area. They'll assume you're no good bandits/cultists/foreigners if you have no recent exploits, and won't be impressed. Maybe they survived the calamity that befell the town and are surviving townsfolk.
Group #3- Mercenaries/Bandits- There's not a war on, so they're hoping to get some income with a little tomb robbing. Bad blood with group #4.
Group #4- Local Woodsmen- Here with a hunting dog and a reason. Maybe they're here to lynch some bandits, or look for a missing person. Everyone kinda looks banditish down here though.
Group #5- Demon cultists- Yeah, there's a lot of demons on these encounters. Pretty much just more local yokels, but they want to get human sacrifices for their wicked masters. Indistinguishable from yokels.

Roleplaying, dilemmas, and some factional politicking will be a lot more likely with humans than some goblins would be. The other route I could see with those d3 demihumans would be them being a fellow adventuring party that got split up, but then they're more like unique encounters more than ones you'd be fine with rerolling.

Finally, we have a lemure, which is a sadsack low level demon, a krenshaw, which is like a dog with a really scary face, and a darkmantle, which is a flying squid that drops magical darkness.

Let's turn the Lemure into an Imp. It's a familiar/spy for the cultists and isn't here to fight. Chase scenes! Low-Level Faustian Bargains! Deception! I don't think lemures even talk, so imp is just better.

The darkmantle can be a mutant Skull Moth that flutters around blind because it produces Darkness instead of light, as will its maggots. A huge roiling mass of darkness that drains your life looks a lot scarier than it is, and could complicate things like that bridge mentioned earlier, or other encounters. The moth shouldn't be perfectly in the middle of the darkness either- dealing with this roaming blind spot will take more than a to hit roll at -4 (unless the moth has closed to melee at -4 to hit itself, I suppose).

The Krenshaw should just be a big dog, usually (4/6) chained up. Maybe it belongs to one of the human groups? Or maybe it's just a wild animal. Could be guarding something. Anyone have Speak with Animal? Releasing and feeding it gets you a loyal hound, but you'll need the key. Or you could just shoot it with arrows while it's tied up, but unless you're very sneaky, it's sure to bark and alert others.

Anyway. Having snakes AND scorpions AND spiders AND centipedes won't make for an interesting encounter chart. Having a few encounters that can be different based on terrain, social context, past actions, etc etc... thats what will end up stocking the dungeon with good encounters.

Door+ Moth- You can see the light through the cracks, so you know what you're getting into before you open it. Alternately, doors provide an escape route both from the light and the bloodthirsty insects.

Door+Human- If it's locked, one of the other groups might have the key. Maybe it's just held shut by people on the other side. Maybe they spiked it shut for a good reason.

Door+Dog- It could be a sentry, barking to alert those on the other side. Maybe it chased something TO the door and wants to get through, but lacking thumbs, it can.

Door+Imp- The imp could fly away with the key, possibly trying to lead you into danger. Or maybe the imp wants to bargain for information- it'll tell you which door leads to treasure/where the key is/whatever in exchange for something.

Pit+Moth- A dead, glowing maggoty zombie at the bottom? Maybe a big high-ceiling'd room filled with moths and the pits provide cover to get across. Or maybe they've been breeding in a closed pit trap and opening it will unleash a swarm. A wide pit could be a deathtrap with one bobbing around overhead, bringing you in and out of the light, and you unable to reach it.

Pit+Human-Using a pit as terrain to fight you, trying to trip you in to split the party. 3 dudes with slings could be nasty if they've got pits to keep you away. Maybe they're hiding in shallow pits and ambushing those who come near, or throwing treasure into the pit as idiot bait.

Pit+Dog- A dog in a pit is a pitiable sight, but that's all I got.

Bridge+Moth- Similar to pit. If it's very narrow, the people at the front and back might get swarmed and not have anyone available to help. If things get bad, you might have to jump off in the hope the bottom is safer.

Bridge+Human- If they're threatening to cut it down from the other side, that's a strong bargaining point. Maybe one blocks the way in a none-shall-pass deal. Or just in a toll-bridge way. Just hand over some treasure rather than fight the plate-armored knight 1v1 on a narrow bridge, that's the way...

Bridge+Dog- If you are being pursued by hounds and can't get behind a door, a bridge could be a good choke point

So what I'm getting here is maybe 1 level with some subtunnels and caverns between pits and off bridges- the undead probably lurk down here, and then patrols/scouts of humans trying to catch/avoid each other while managing the threat of the moths. Dogs are generally related to the humans, unless they're feral encounters to befriend or fend off.

I think this place could be an 'above-ground' dungeon- it's a ruined village overrun by feral dogs and rival bands of scavenging humans who are preyed upon by the demon cult and the Skull Moths. Keys are required for the intact structures, which are storehouses and sleeping-areas for the humans. The moths and undead are underground and inside mainly. The town is on a mountain slope and a deep ravine is crossed by a bridge, but access to the bridge is behind a busted up and locked watchtower... something like this
That's the Ravine in the middle

 Nameless buildings have 1d6 rooms, 2d4 in the rich district. Doors locked, broken, floors collapsing into cellars every so often as 'pit traps.' Maybe there's some actual pit traps in the streets dug by the bandits to catch those damn dogs. The demon cult is in the rich district, and the crystal cage filled with moths was probably set up by them in the gate house. There may be secret tunnels between houses poor and rich (though not from poor to rich, as there's the ravine in the way), it's just the poor ones are more likely to be collapsed earth tunnels and the rich ones are more likely to have Skull Moths and undead lurking in stone cellars. Maybe undead with some coin purses, even, that the other human squatters have been too spooked to take from 'em. The poor district has probably been looted pretty thoroughly and the loot in the rich district has probably been consolidated by the demon cult, so the sort of loot you find is 'rusty lantern' or 'dented pot.' Fighting Human Groups for their equipment may be lucrative. Human Groups also give a good excuse to replace dead characters speedily.

The keep is sorta ruined and can be entered without a key, and that'll be Depth 2. Diving down the ravine takes you to like, depth 5 or something. FUTURE EDIT- Depth 4

There's probably only 15 people in this ruined town total, as well as maybe a dozen feral dogs, though the dog packs are kept on the east side by the locked and moth-trapped gatehouse
Random Encounter/stocking
1-Human Group
2-Human Group
3-Human Group
4-Mutant Skullmoth- As it is shrouded in darkness, it bumbles about in the day too.
5-Imp- It can fly freely over the chasm and does so to whisper promises of treasure and cult membership
6-Feral Dog, 2HD, may bark and alert other dogs & nearby humans, Skullmoth if Night

Replace a Human Group with ' d3 Skullmoth Zombies' for every 2 groups slain, and replace Skullmoth Zombies with d3 Skullmoths (Night) if the zombies aren't dealt with within a week.

Killing Skullmoths (mutant or otherwise) or the Dogs embolden nearby bandits to move in and replace them, and that can be your eternal cycle of restocking assuming nothing ever changes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Travel and Light in the Sunset Realms

So you want to travel across the wild wilderness. The travails of your travels depend largely on your light source. Stuff like food and maps is important too, of course- if you have a road or a river or some other very solid idiot-proof way of navigation, roll one fewer darkness die. If you aren't traveling and instead stay put (as most castles do) roll two fewer darkness dice.

These are not a replacement of random encounters, oh no. They are in addition- but they are also rolled once per trip, or for very long trips, once per change of lightsource.

Direct Sunlight- The most common time to travel. Helios looms overhead either for a short visit (or just as business as usual if you're in the Noonlands) and if any moonspawned monstrosities show their face above ground, they're probably going to get their shit smote. Your concerns will be other humans and maybe a pack of wild dogs or something. You can see a long ways, make note of landmarks, it's great.

Indirect Sunlight- Maybe there's a cloudy sky, or Helios is just a ruddy glow behind the horizon mountains, or you're beneath the thick canopy of a forest. Stupid and desperate monsters might come out in these conditions, though crafty ones know better than to tempt Helios. If you're traveling in this sort of near-night darkness, you should stick to roads and be sure you have torches on hand in case Helios drifts away. For those out in the Daylands, this is their standard and they are mostly used to it, though they prefer to only travel under the light of Helios when possible.

Roll a single Darkness Die for these travels.

Torchlight and other portable light sources- The light and law of Helios isn't around anymore. Whether you're underground, in a night phase of the Sunset Realms, or beneath a star-exclusive sky, you must realize that there is nothing between you and the dark but a small and feeble light. The kings of the securest castles still shudder when candles flicker in their chambers of stone, and people traveling by torchlight fear the unseen beyond their fires.

Roll two Darkness dice, so long as your lights last. If you have to venture beyond the light of a campfire for more wood, you're already in trouble.

Starlight- The stars, whatever they are, are distant and pitiless. Cold gleams of light on shiny leaves and gurgling water is all you might sometimes see apart from silhouettes and outlines, strange and terrible in this useless starlight. You are effectively blind when it comes to fighting and spotting things, but you can sometimes make out nearby movement and large objects.

Roll three Darkness dice.

Blind Dark- There is no light, none at all. Graves and caves are this dark. Even a second's exposure to this taints you until you are exposed to Direct Sunlight, and you roll an extra darkness die until this shadow is cleansed. But even a distant town, or a lone star, or an errant firefly, are enough to ward off actual darkness

You roll no darkness dice for extended times in this level of darkness, because the grues will get hungry before you do. A few hours is all you have. Maybe less, if you've been flirting with the darkness with teases of snuffed candles and hooded glances of flickering lanterns.

Moonlight- Moons aren't as bright as the sun and their light is often pale or off-color- it's hard to see color in Moonlight. Depending on the moon and your situation, traveling by Moonlight can be relatively safe, or it can be suicide. Moonlanders rely on Moonlight the same as Noonlanders rely on sunlight, and bold Daylanders sometimes set out in the light of a visiting moon for an early start, confident that Helios will arrive to chase off the offending moon and provide warm sunlight soon enough.
No Darkness Dice are rolled in Moonlight. Whatever their horrors, they are horrors of light, not dark.

Darkness Dice
1- Monster. If you're lucky, you've heard local information and it won't be a blind date with destiny.
2-Sign of monster. Two Signs in one journey indicate the monster appearing anyway
3- Lost. Could be mundane, could be warped space. Either way, you'll likely be rolling darkness dice again
4-Malevolence- Disease. Hronir. Evil shadows. Misplaced items. Mutation. Curse. Madness. That which lies unseen is ontologically uncertain.
5-Landmark- Something is here that wasn't before. A road leading off, a ruined tower, a gorge, stairs going down.
6- Local Color.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Chton and d12 Horrible Places To Find One

A Chton from the outside
Indistinguishable from cracked walls and statues, veins of glaze on pottery, flaking paint, perhaps even a tattoo, their vile nature can be revealed if their host 'armor' is cracked open, revealing the pus and alkali within. They exist as a pattern of cracks unique to each Chton, which spreads like a blight, allowing them to exist simultaneously in every iteration of their patterns. They dwell in long lost ruins, as the natural earth rejects their pattern and grinds them to nothingness. But upon manmade structures, or even on the shattered bones of wounded men...

Just imagine the insides of the walls being like this and smelling like bleach
 The Chton isn't the meaty stuff. It's not even the hard substance the cracks have corrupted. It's the pattern itself, it's what's missing. You can't get rid of it with a hammer, entropy is their ally. Damaging the pattern just makes them replicate from the force of the blow, endless fractal repetition of themselves splintering and cracking off. Admittedly, you could grind and smash them into dust until the manifestations were too tiny to matter. But perhaps whatever was used to hit it will acquire some hairline fractures as well. And even if you do get rid of one instance of the crack pattern, there might be more of the same elsewhere, and it will remember you because it's the same entity, just in more than one place at once.

The pus within is bad. It could burn like acid, it could attract monsters. It could taste like milk and honey and heroin and feed a whole cult of addict worshippers just, licking and sucking on some cracks in a dungeon wall. Maybe it heals them, keeps them strong. It's probably mutagenic too.

Chton prefer being in the biggest, most solid structures they can, trying to convert entire buildings into crack-riddled ruins, where the pus drips from every corner and the eyes watch from everywhere. Such a lair is likely beyond the powers of men to undo. But without followers, they can't do this quickly. They could be limited to a single brick or cobblestone for decades, waiting for someone to drop a pot or break a hip on them so they can crack the pot to replicate their pattern. Cracked masks can poison and corrupt anyone who puts them on. Cracked porcelain dollies prey on children who pick them from the midden-heaps. Cracked cups deliver pus to anyone who drinks out of them. The worst is when someone fractures their skull on a Chton, because then the Chton is literally inside their head, dripping poison into their brain, whispering madness into their ears. Not that Chton actually talk.

Chton are more like hauntings or curses or entire cultish organizations than individual monsters. You don't fight them, you imprison them, cut off their means of influencing the world, and you hope there isn't some brick 200 miles away plotting revenge even as you bury the Chtonized mountain temple in an artificial avalanche you called down with the help of 3 goats and 500 feet of rope. They don't have any statblock or defined powers, but they should lean towards inducing paranoia, slow poisons, corruption, alerting minions, spying.

Horrible places to find a Chton, though some are more horrible if you don't know what a Chton is and some are more horrible if you do
1- In a mirror hanging in a house or shop. The mirror shows what the Chton wants it to, now. Maybe it'll trick the players by not reflecting someone. Or maybe by not reflecting them. Maybe reflecting the party with one of them as a doppelganger.
2-A ruined, cracked, tower built on the edges of great canyons and ravines. Only at the top of the infested tower can you look around and see the rifts in the earth for their true shape.
3-a dry lakebed of cracked mud. So many square meters of cracked mud, all alike. The dam that let the lake dry out is vital to irrigating nearby villages in times of drought.
4-An iceberg, drifting along the sea. It gouged your ship, not enough to sink it immediately. No, you've plenty of time to take refuge on the iceberg.
5-In the bricks of a market square of a city. How long has it been there? Is it too late?
6- In the lid of the giant clay pot your camels are hauling water in, with a week of desert in every location.
7-Upon the skulls of an ancient burial mound that was looted before you got here. What few skulls remain, anyway.
8- Fine spiderweb cracks on the lens of the spyglass that's been navigating you through the high seas these last weeks.
9- On the bottle of the potion you just drank. You had been so relieved when it didn't shatter from your fall down the pit trap.
10- Glimmering in the heart of the almost flawless gemstone you just recovered. You can still sell it.
11-The boiled eggs you brought for rations. Or rather, their shells. Too similar to the potion and water? Okay, howsabout on the hatching monster eggs?
12-Every single vial of holy water from the local church is cracked in exactly the same way. And their stained glass windows. Maybe the bell.

What happens if a Chton is so big you fall in?
If you thought this post sucked, you know what doesn't suck? The Enigma of Amigara Fault