Sunday, April 29, 2018

2018 One Page Dungeon Submission and Creation

A player wanted to hear about the process behind my submission to the One Page Dungeon Contest.
There have been a lot of cool dungeons there over the years, check it out. Anyway.

There's a game called Five Nights at Freddy's that has you working a nightshift at a food joint and trying not to get eaten by haunted animatronic death robots. The fandom is huge and rabid so I decided to watch a let's play to see what all the fuss was about, and then the principles of that game struck me as a potential source of fuel for a dungeon of OSR problem solving a year or two later. Managing a limited amount of time and needing to be in two places at once, and having the best defense against monsters be not swords, but doors. But doors that you can't just cower behind forever. Anyway, I made an attempt at this dungeon a while back in the BFRPG campaign and it went fairly well.
Yellow squares were candle altars, 0 was an hourglass that needed to be turned over every so often to prevent bad stuff, 1 was a bunch of screaming flying heads at the bottom of a pool and little altars that glowed or went dark depending on if a corresponding candle was lit, 2 was  five stone blocks and 6 pressure plates that needed to be depressed to lift a cage around a candle altar, 3 was just a candle altar on an island in a pond, 4 was deep alcoves filled with endless lines of terracotta warriors who were full of black smoke and would animate occasionally, and only move when their chosen target did, 5 was Father Darkness and an altar at the end of a windy tunnel, and6 was an altar and the Golden Bride, but made of glass instead. Also doors simply took 3 rounds to open, stayed open for 3 rounds, and then shut automatically.

The players read the journal left behind, made a plan to patrol the place and assign people to various jobs and lookouts, and all in all did a good job of keeping the candles lit. I had 7 'tiers' of difficulty that made certain enemies 'wake up' and move faster, but the players ended up betraying the demonic host of this place, and while no casualties ensued, they did get teleported to the undersea and I realized having a demon as the source loot was a bad idea, because seriously who would trust a demon. Also, the way the doors worked, it was a bit to easy to simply make a few contingency plans and otherwise stay holed up behind 'em, which made it less of a real time roleplaying challenge with decisions to be made moment to moment and more of a static puzzle solvable from the get-go.

Still, the players found it memorable and mentioned that it was 'stressful' which was the feeling I was aiming for, so I think it was mostly a success. But it could be better! Faster! Submitted to the one page dungeon contest!

First off, the demonic patron of the place is replaced by 'The Device.' The reward of this place is supposed to be reliable and not another source of uncertainty and anxiety. A huge 'we did it' and sigh of relief to make up for the hectic multitasking required to get here.

Secondly, I changed how the doors worked. They're still slow to open, but they have imperfect coverage. Blocking the monsters from coming one way will set them to wandering elsewhere, and they'll eventually find another way in if you don't react to the changing situation. I think this is the most important change besides the candles.

In the original challenge, the reward scaled per number of candles lit. In this one, you have to keep them all lit for at least 10 minutes. This is to set the players running routes of their own rather than huddling in the safest spot and occasionally relighting candles and doing other things. Not many monsters will actually try to extinguish candles, but the core ones that do, the shadow reflections, are best dealt with by getting somebody else to take it down. The trick is that that person will possibly end up spawning a doppelganger themselves unless they try to kill/reach it with no light source, in which case grues will be a problem.

This dungeon actually encourages players splitting up to get more done. Fortunately, players will generally establish checkups on each other in a situation like this and the place is pretty small so when things go bad and get hectic, they'll usually bump into each other as they rush around, especially at slow to open doors.

I guess I can talk about everything in more detail as advice for anyone who might run this place.
First off, the players should be well-informed if they're low level. I'd honestly probably just give them the entire one-page dungeon as the 'adventurer's journal' they find in 7. The rude surprises in this dungeon come from opening a door and finding a monster behind it, or running a patrol route and finding Dave isn't pushing down the water dragon head like he should be. The surprise shouldn't be 'haha this weird ass monster you knew nothing about killed you.' Even the 'bonus monsters' were designed to create specific problems for the players to ponder how to overcome.

Another important thing to remember is time. I assume 1 round of combat = 10 seconds so that if you need to open a door, it's 3 rounds of monsters eating your face if they're already on top of you. Depending on what system you use, you may want to alter door-opening speeds, hallway traversing speeds, and how wakeful the water dragon is.

Also important to remember- there are not wandering monsters. You'll need to keep track of where the players and monsters are on a minute-to-minute basis at least. Don't think of it as tedium, think of it as training for timekeeping! Also if you don't fairly and accurately track the monster movements it makes all this kinda pointless.

One-The Device
The treasure from this thing should be good, aite? Like, if someone solos this place, there should be enough gold for them to level up, easy. This place can be stressful and require a lot more thought to survive so it needs to be worth it. My players really liked the idea of 'fusing' different magic items together, so giving that ability to the Device can be a great way to condense hoards of magical items into unique items, or grant unique abilities to people (though they'd have to stay by the device while it operated on them...).

The Narrow Hall- The design goal here is a shortcut, but a dangerous one. It allows you to skip certain doors and hallways, but really play up the whole 'if a monster catches you while you're squeezing through here you're screwed.' if the Bride is seen (and therefore petrified) in here, she'll need someone on either side to push/pull her out. Or like, someone with giant strength. This dungeon is mostly aimed at low level people who aren't gonna just magic their way through walls or anything.

Two-Tree Altar
This room is pretty simple. It's a dead end or an important route depending on the C door configuration, Also it has a giant tree you could climb if you get cornered. Also, an altar to keep an eye on. Said giant tree also has one of the extra perils sealed inside if the players seek to up their game.

Three- Flooded Room
This is sorta meant to be the spooky basement room. You need to get there to light the altar. But you can't get there without spawning a shadow reflection of yourself and everyone with you... unless you go there in darkness, but that means you won't be able to see Father Darkness coming if he's nearby, and of course grues may be an issue. In the event you go there and get cornered by Father Darkness, you can dive into the water so he can't sense your breathing, at the expense of your torches. You can turn this room into a giant underground lake and have a boat bring the players here and it shouldn't affect the dungeons 'flow.' Normally I'm all for alternate entrances and exits, but this one can be hard to tinker with without throwing off the implications of the layout.

Four- Bride's Room
If you want to throw a surprise at the player, having the bride's abilities be initially unknown is a good option. This is a fairly ignorable room, honestly, but players may very reasonably think 'let's just set a watcher here to keep an eye on her and prevent her from running around.' This won't work, but will make for a good moment when Father Darkness shows up, she scampers off under the cover of his darkness, and the player runs off to tell people that everything's gone wrong.

Flooded Hall-
This initially was way more complicated, but now it's just a hallway divided by a deep trench of water into 2 sides and a rib bridge in the middle. Plus spooky giant bones. In any case, this hallway is just to make more interesting encounters with the monsters due to the separated paths- ranged combat across the watery trench, a battle on the bridge, various stealthy options. It's overall just a more dynamic place than the other halls.

Five- Door Nexus
While the most secure place to hole up is probably the device room,  five also gives good control of the movement of monsters via door manipulation, and is near several altars and the water dragon head. Five is also a deathtrap. If a monster DOES make it in, your exits are either a slow door, or a variety of dangerous hallways.

The Winding Hall
Traversing it takes 1d3 minutes. In terms of speed, it is always inferior compared to other hallways, and can lead to strange shenanigans like a monster pursuing you inside and arriving at the destination before you do. This is a gamble and a way for players to delay and bamboozle monsters by careful use of the B door. 

Six- Water Dragon Room
You can't get here without braving either a shadow reflection or going without light, and the need to constantly push it down or check if it needs pushing down is an important 'loop' of gameplay in this dungeon. Apart from the two levels of elevation that might be able to be turned against monsters and players, this is either a relatively peaceful room or a high traffic route depending on door configuration.

Seven- Blackened Gold Room
The final candle altar is probably also the lowest-traffic room. Enemies and players alike have little reason to choose this route, which may make it a haven for skulking grues. It has the 'adventuring journal' here because it is a likely first room to enter, assuming you use the suggested chain entry, so if you change up how to enter this place I'd suggest also changing the journal location.

Grues The Room
Less of a real room and more an excuse to have an entrance/exit/shortcut to unspeakable depths of your megadungeon. Also, a lightsource left here to keep the Grues from entering will need to be checked on every so often. If the players throw the golden bride down this pit, they should get a good amount of time free of her, but when she returns (2d10 minutes, probably), she'll have a horde of grues with her and will extinguish any light left here to allow them entrance.

The Golden Bride- Though relatively feeble, she is an immortal being who wishes to keep her immortality by chugging gold from the device and due to becoming an inanimate statue if anyone sees her, she literally can only be herself among blind grues and father darkness and so on. Her intended complications are opening doors the players don't want opened, and standing in doors to prevent them from closing. Also she can block the narrow hallway. Chopping her up and other attempts to debilitate her are doomed to fail due to her immortality resetting her to impeccable form whenever she changes forms between unseen flesh human to seen inanimate gold statue. If she makes it into 1, she'll gobble molten gold at a rate of -10% final reward per minute (or like, -10% power if the device is fusing magic items or something), Though on the personal level she's nuisance not threat and she won't bother the altar candles, she'll open doors for Father Darkness and extinguish light sources to sic grues on people and I'd be shocked if the players don't try to find more permanent ways of dealing with her than just keeping an eye on her to keep her statueified.

Father Darkness- It doesn't really matter what Father Darkness actually is so long as he's dangerous enough the party doesn't want to fight him, is shrouded in darkness and so indifferent to light, and can't open doors. I went with an exotic Jiang Shi vampire for a few reasons.
1- You can hide from them by being quiet and holding your breath, allowing low level players a chance
2- Vampiric immortality makes him hard to deal with permanently even for parties that might be able to 'kill' him
3- Level drain is scary to everyone

Father Darkness is THE monster of this place. The door system is designed to keep him at bay, and the layout of the place designed to flee from him until you can get a door between him and you. Getting cornered=death. But note that the darkness blinds him too, so if he catches a player he should be attacking with penalties for being blind, so they should have at least some time before their chi gets sucked out their eyeballs.

Grues- Grues are not all that relevant unless the players start sneaking around in darkness.If you have a light source, you are 100% safe from grues (though they can follow uncomfortably close if you have a candle). If you have no lightsource, you'll probably get eaten. The point of grues is to add an extra 'thing' to check on (a lantern set at the grue shaft, probably) and to make water hazardous, since if you take a dip you'll lose your light source. This assumes the players don't have some bullshit eternal flameless light like Continual light of course. If they do you may as well just take out the grues.

Shadow Reflections- 
These are sort of a 'movement tax' to certain locations. I'd recommend them emerging 1d6 minutes after a player passes the shadow mirrors, then going to hunt down the original and extinguish candles they happen across. As they can only attack the original, it's best to have one person pass the mirrors, then kill the duplicate with someone else. If they get out of hand, you can have other monsters target them for destruction, but if you feel they're not enough of a threat, you can add in doppelganger problems like them being indistinguishable from the original, with their memories but a twisted goal, etc etc. You can also make them extremely weak to other players targeting them- like, goblin weak.
You can also shift the shadow hallways around, or add a third one. They're meant to be enough of a threat that players will sometimes prefer to risk going lightless (and being eaten by a grue) but not so much of a pain that they become the main focus. So don't be afraid to tweak how these work in different cycles.

Golden Seals and Extra Perils
This is a way to add replayability to the dungeon and allow the players to get greedy and bite off more than they can chew. I think my extra perils are well designed with the dungeon in mind, but you could add anything so long as it complicates the basic gameplay loops of the place and isn't just some random killable monster. Also, I'd probably limit the device to only working once and then requiring the seals to be unlocked for 1 extra use of the device per unlocking, lest very clever or powerful characters acquire a low-risk source of infinite wealth.

The Nurikabe- Blocking off a hallway or door with a sudden wall can change things up ridiculously. The Nurikabe should move to other locations after it successfully blocks someone for, say, 1d6 minutes, because it staying in one place forever would be either ignorable or totally scenario-ruining.

Sneaking Slime- This monster can ooze through doors, and breaking rules like that should be spooky to players who have come to rely on the doors.It paralyzes people, extinguishes their light, and leaves them to other monsters. Paralysis shouldn't last long- 1d6 minutes, maybe, so there should be a chance of rescue if someone falls victim to it. It might extinguish altar candles if that's where a player got paralyzed, but shouldn't do so immediately. It should also be extremely slow- a threat only if you stay in the same room as itor get ambushed.

Methane Elemental- Another monster designed to complicate the use of open flame. While the detonations cause damage, the huge noise attracts monsters that aren't already chasing someone. The idea behind this is to make players choose to take a different path when they smell it, douse their torches and risk advancing through it blind, or detonating it intentionally to lure other monsters to that location. Again, if the players have Continual Light pebbles or something, you shouldn't bother with this one.

Hot Dog- A playful dog made of lava. Injects some levity and requires fast thinking on how to distract the creature without angering it. Gets interesting if the Methane Elemental is about, or if you're trying to sneak around in the darkness. Maybe if you're nice enough it'll become your pet!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Armour and/or Armor

gack, I accidentally published this post when it was like half done. If you saw that do me a favor and forget you did

In most OSR games, the only reasons not to wear Plate if you can are
1- you're too poor
1a- You're not that poor but the GM has made plate mega expensive or knight-exclusive or something in an attempt to delay the inevitable upgrade
2- you know for a FACT you'll have to go swimming, stealthing, fancy partying, or sleeping
3- your class or STR doesn't let you wear it

Personally I'd like armor choice to be a less clear-cut decision for dungeon delving. If realism is getting in your face, you can also think as these categories as just 'light, medium, or heavy' armors.

  • Unarmored- The fastest, quietest option. Also it makes you look less threatening, which can be a good thing or a bad thing when it comes to how you'll be treated if you get caught.
  • Leather- You can be stealthy, you can swim, you can even sleep in leather armor. You can climb ropes at a decent pace. I watched some youtube videos and the 'realistic' option here should really be a padded gambeson, which turns out can be quite ornate and stylish.
    I mean if you prefer the light armor option to be some sort of leather-clad dominatrix cowboy thing that's cool too
  • Chain- You are penalized for climbing, jumping, swimming and sneaking, but they aren't totally impossible. Chain can be donned or doffed without help or having to ruin the armor.
    When I googled chain mail I got a lot of 'naked nipples under outer chainmail rings' images so if anyone tells you you have to have under 15 AC to be sexy they're WRONG
  • Plate- though obviously the best for heated combat, it is the worst for flexible dungeoneering. Speedy climbing, any swimming, sneaking, running long distances- all no-go. You can take 1 round to cut yourself out of 1d3 points of AC, possibly lowering your armor level, in the events that you really need to be more lightweight. You generally need assistance to take it on and off though. Also, I reckon fantasy platemail is 'unrealistically' heavy and encumbering because realistically it would NEED to be to stand a chance against stuff like giants and dragons, cuz 'realistically' plate IRL that people have proved you can cartwheel in was made to defend against humans and maybe humans on horses, not half the garbage in the monster manual.
    not actually armor
    And you can still be cute in heavy plate mail without compromising defense
And the other big question is 'can wizards cast spells in armor' or does the terrible power of 17 AC + spellcasting make them too dangerous for any other class to possibly compete?
Personally, I don't think it does, and I think the desire to limit weapon and armor choice stems from a desire to uphold a certain cliche image of wizards being academics in silly hats without any strong in-universe justification for why it should be so. Kinda like how thieves get pigeonholed into being dagger-wielding black-leather gymnast-ninja. And with all the items like Rings of Protection or spells like Shield, it seems to me like 'wizards having sucky AC' isn't even a strong and fundamental facet of early D&D, so I say let thieves and wizards clank around in heavy armor if they want, and maybe it will spur your imagination to  make situations that care about more factors than how high everyone's AC is.
Bulletproof armor worn by Ned Kelly, notorious australian outlaw. Sounds plenty thiefly to me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


This might be too small to read comfortably but here goes. XXX refers to my megadungeon, cuz layer 1 was X shaped.
Cathedral of Damon Kars
Damon Kars was an exercise in rolling up a random high level evil wizard and making him as ruthless and horrible via amoral exploitation of his spells as possible. Also his lair sat atop an alternate entry to the megadungeon.
Horrible things he pulled off
1. Reading players minds and stealing some fatty loot from the dungeon before they could get it
2. Flying after the players invisibly until the party wizard mentioned he was out of spells and then spamming charm spells from midair
3. Turning captured (and subsequently retired from play) characters into NPC minions
4. Casting invisibility on a pet basilisk so that it could be safely handled but as soon as it attacked the invisibility dropped and threatened to petrify any would be attackers
 The players never killed him in his cathedral (which isn't much of a dungeon so much as a regular old building), but scryed on him for like a week to plan an assassination while Damon was in the dungeon (with his Basilisk and dudes of course) trying to charm some Trolls and ended up tranquilizing him with space drugs and then slitting his throat anyway on the way out when a water nymph asked what they were doing with her friend, getting a bounty placed on their head by said nymph for their troubles. But they killed him despite all his no-good tricks and while the fight itself wasn't much, I think it was satisfying to finally outsmart and outmaneuver an intelligent enemy who had been an infrequent but deeply troublesome thorn in their side. It was for me at least.

Damon Kars-  7th level elf magic user, is willing to parley with adventurers for his own ends. Has charmed various bandits that strayed next to his keep and outfitted them with decent equipment emblazoned with his heraldry. Will try hiring adventurers to bring him monsters or people, which he will imprison and repeatedly attempt to charm. Will gladly add adventurers to his charmed horde if they seem easily tricked (8 or less int) or are unwilling to recognize him as ‘lord’ of the region. If his horde of bandits and charmed monsters grows large enough he will dominate the nearby Bandit Cult and begin leading attempts at ‘rescuing’ slaves from the penal mines in an effort to gain a population of peasants to oppress and perhaps to overthrow the Praetor. It’s not impossible that he could succeed, but unless he acquires something truly astounding like a Dragon he will likely chicken out of a full rebellion.

He will gladly hire adventurers to try to retrieve the second basilisk from the XXX, but forays into the XXX from his fort while he is ‘Friendly’ will result in him demanding all treasure be turned over to him as he is the owner of the cathedral and its ‘Basement.’ However, he will offer them rewards if they bring him captured monsters (or people), and could be a handy spellcasting patron for very unscrupulous parties.

Routinely charms a basilisk and keeps it in his throne room on a chain- but turned invisible daily and charmed weekly, so as not to petrify himself or his men. His throne also has a huge mirror behind it, so as to further discourage the basilisk from looking at him. He spoils it horribly, and it is fat and lazy and probably wouldn’t attack him even if it wasn’t charmed. But he’s not taking chances. He likes monsters but knows they don’t necessarily like him.

If attacked he will unleash the basilisk, cast flight, get out of range of any fighters, then charm person on anyone with a bow. If he can charm most the party he will ‘forgive’ them and send them on a dangerous ‘quest of redemption’ to try to get the other Basilisk’s treasure from the dungeon beneath the cathedral. If his charm spells fail or he takes damage, he will fly out the broken stained-glass window. If he is not badly hurt, he will cast invisibility and return to try charming the party as they (presumably) fight the basilisk, otherwise he will rouse his guards and watch them fire slingstones down at the party from the 2nd floor. If both the basilisk and his troops are defeated he will try to get half the gold from his room (he’s too weak to carry more, I rolled for his stats and they were all like 7), if it is too dangerous he will abscond with his pouch of gems and try to hire mercenaries or bandits to kill the PCs. If this fails and he is without funds, he may vindictively try to blind PC’s with Continual Darkness in invisible flying raids, though he is probably too cowardly to go for a kill himself.

His bandits initially had their leader either charmed or killed, but most work for Damon willingly out of fear or respect for his sorcerous powers. He has cast Continual Light on their spears and all over the castle, making it constantly day and making the scruffy-looking bandits appear to have supernatural support. Damon and his men wear blindfolds when they wish to sleep, as darkness and shadow only exist 60’ from the cathedral due to Damon casting multiple Continual Lights every day for many years of his elvish life.It can be seen as a glow on the horizon at night, which serves as beacon to his men and bait to unwary travelers.

Damon Kars
HP 15
AC 10
Medallion of ESP (Damon’s master made this)
Map to Pelicat Nest in Mountains
Ring of Delusional Weakness
Gem of Giant Growth +5 str
Garnet of Remove Curse
1500 Silver
560 PP
Filigree Golden bracelet worth 600GP
20 gems 3xCloudy75GP 4xWell-Cut200GP 13 semiprecious 50gp
Charm Person xxx
Read Language
Detect Magic
Magic Missile

Continual Light/Darkness
Locate Object
ESP (never memorized thanks to medallion)
Invisibility xx (Always has cast one use already on Basilisk in the morning)
Detect Invisible

Water Breathing x

Charm Monster  (Is usually expended before bed on the basilisk once per day)
Remove Curse

M'shesh is a goddess of undeath who thinks death was a stupid and cruel idea, so her afterlife is just her holding all the souls of her worshippers in her arms until her clerics can breathe them into a handy corpse to live on as an undead. I'll probably talk more about her in a later post, she was fairly popular with the players and was a big deal in the campaign.

In anycase, this place wasn't really dealt with 'as intended' because the players unleashed a succubus in the megadungeon below, had lethal party infighting over whether they should make deals with demons or not, and the as the party reconvened and recovered the Succubus left the dungeon and took over the bandits/M'shesh cultists, the demonic charm-revolt causing the deaths of about half the bandit/cultists and all the undead, and leveldraining the high priest down to level 1 while trying to convince him to turn to demon worship. This all allowed a player to end up as new high priest of M'shesh and ultimate savior of the M'sheshan religion, but I never actually got to see how the dungeon was supposed to work, which was 3 layers with some weird connections, loops, and organized humanoids mixed in with sentient and crazed undead which I hoped would lead to complicated sneaking around and maybe some faction infighting if the players unleashed the basement ghouls.

Oh, there's a trapdoor in the corridor from 1 to 4 that drops you into the maze-catacomb of 8. The fall is only 10 feet but you'll probably be eaten by ghouls down there.
And Yellow=Top Floor, Light Blue=Ground Floor, Dark Blue=Basement