Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Ten Random Facts About Loegria

Lore Garbage! I am so down for this.
Some random self-indulgent facts about the country in which my players are currently embroiled.

1. I only decided on the name "Loegria" a couple of weeks ago, even though this campaign map has been in use for several years. Loegria itself is an alternate version of England, the result of me mashing my original map onto the real world and messing up the geography.
Originally it was called "Tralsk" but I stopped using that after a year because I thought it was lame.

Here it is crudely overlaid. Behold that wacky new coastline.

2. The world's history is a mashup of Dwimmermount, Hammers of the God, real history, and my own ideas of how demihumans and magic fit into all that. Thus the Gods are giant satellite-golems, elves are half-blooded descendants of the Red Elves of Mars, and Dwarves were once lords of it all.

3. Humanity was enslaved by the Halfling Empire until 0AD when Yeshua the First Cleric found the Gods and catalysed mankind's rebellion. Real world history generally reasserts at this point. The the Roman Theocracy echoes the Roman Empire (they liberated Loegria from the Halflings in 43AD) and replaces Dwimmermount's Thulians.

4. AD stands for After Domination. BC stands for Before Choice.

5. The immortal Fated King rules Loegria as he has done since 1066. While tradition states that the Fated King is the same king that conquered Loegria nearly 500 years ago, in actual fact there has been a succession of rulers since then. As each King dies a new host is secretly found amongst the populace. When a new king is acclimated their soul and personality is sucked into the Fated King's crown to join the souls of all previous rulers. Unless the host is particularly strong-willed the resulting personality-melange is actually pretty moderate and far-sighted.

6. The planet's core is host to a creature called Shub-Niggurath, a planet-eating organism that reproduces like a virus. Its initial impact formed the moon. Over the course of aeons it takes over a planet's core then grows and grows, eventually detonating to scatter thousands of space-faring spores to continue the cycle.
Such an organism seeds life upon the planet which it infests. This is merely an accident of biology. All life on Earth owes its existence to the organism in the planet's core, an organism that will be the cause of the planet's death. Its lysis draws near.

7. The tendril of Shub-Niggurath in Loegria was released by the actions of a previous band of PCs, indirectly causing the mold and slimes and all the rest. The Undead Army currently ravaging the country (as it has been for a couple of real years now, thanks Death Frost Doom!) are part of an ancient failsafe to counter and re-imprison it. The undead aren't affected by the mold, and the ritual to imprison a tendril of Shub-Niggurath requires over 1000 willing sacrifices.

8. The Twin Cities of Edge and Dwarrow are two cities sort of overlaid upon each other. The citizens of one "city" completely ignore the citizens of the other. This is not in any way a magical effect, although supernatural entities consider them entirely separate and thus will only attack one or the other.

9. Fortress City Fate is the only place in the known world where people can be brought back to life. Living there is both hedonistic and incredibly expensive as a result, with an economy based on the buying and selling of the "Raise". Professions are encouraged to enter or leave the enclosed economic system via a byzantine and constantly changing system of taxes, levies and incentives. Outside of the Actuarial Corp, few professions have any real security within Fate's convoluted yet socially responsible framework.
People put up with this because living in Fate is the best standard of living one could attain in this life.

10. An ancient dragon known as the Grudge Drake was captured and de-winged by the goblins of the Drudge Wastes long ago. It it many storeys tall and covered in crudely worked armour plate, its movement powering the great goblin machines built all over its body. The goblins use it as a walking fortress, moving factory, and regenerating food source.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Arcana Skill for LotFP

I've added a few skills to the Specialist's suite of options before, namely adding Music, First Aid and Sailing. They all get used occasionally, Sailing not so much (yet) and I doubt anybody'll take Music unless I leave Orpheus' lyre lying around somewhere. First Aid gets a good workout though, and conveniently doesn't upstage magical healing.

But there's an odd one out in the original nine skills - Architecture.
This never comes up. For one, if someone asks if one part of a structure was built at a different time to another I'll just tell them. For another, I don't write this stuff down until players ask me what the cave walls are made of and I blurt out the first sedimentary rock that comes into my head like an idiot.
And worse, I gave Dwarfs the ability to innately know direction and feel whether they're ascending or descending underground, which means they don't even need their architecture bonus by level.

Hence, replacement.

Thieves using magic scrolls (at a risk of failure) is pretty standard in trad D&D.
I also dislike both the "take a sip to identify the potion" and "skull the potion to see what happens" models of potion identification. People identifying potions wrong though... that has appeal.

Hence, Arcana.

"Oh this is definitely a Scroll of Sidelong Smirk"


Arcana: This skill is used to identify potions and scrolls and to cast spells from magical devices such as scrolls, wands and staffs. Intelligence modifier applies.
Identification of magical devices takes a turn and is rolled in secret. Success means you have correctly identified the item (but not necessarily its effects). Failure means you have misidentified the object as a random other object of its type.
You can use Arcana to cast spells from magical devices, but it is perilous. If you fail, look up the number you rolled on the Casting Failure table below.

Casting Failure:
6 – Casting fails, no ill effects.
5 – Item charge or scroll wasted.
4 – As 5, and a Chaos Burst is released.
3 – As 4, and a random spell is cast instead with the caster as the target.
2 – As 3, and a Summon spell is cast with creature HD equal to spell level.

Spellcasters do not need to use Arcana to cast spells from wands and staves, and can cast from scrolls with no chance of failure if they have previously cast Read Magic on the item.
A spellcaster who has Identify prepared and uncast gains a +2 bonus to Arcana.

Some corollaries to the above:
 - Identifying items only tells you what they're called (eg. Potion of ESP, Wand of Fireballs) not their effects or whether they're cursed.
 - You only get one try per object, but of course multiple people can have a guess and hopefully argue about it. If two people guess the same thing it's probably correct.
 - You can't use Arcana to identify anything more interesting than your bog standard limited-use magic item. It's useless against cool stuff like LotFP-grade magic player fuckers.
 - Using Arcana to identify an item sets off Explosive Runes and similar magical defenses if present.

If you are wondering how you are supposed to keep track of misidentified potions and scrolls, give scrolls and potions and stuff a tracking number.
What you do is give them the correct tracking number but the wrong name.
So if potion #161 is a Potion of Invisibility they just write down "Potion #161" on their sheet.
When they go to identify it they think it's a Potion of Poison, so they write that down (if they trust themselves, that is).
Later when they're trying to spike the Duke's dinner with the poison you go "what number potion was that again?" and laugh when the guy turns invisible.
This is also useful for working out just what the "red potion" a player picked up months ago actually is. Plus if they find the same potion number at a later date they'll know what it is for sure! Look at that player skill coming in useful.

The idea behind the Casting Failure table is that someone with a higher Arcana skill has more chance of success and less bad possibilities if they do fuck up.
Someone with a 3 in 6 Arcana skill has a 50/50 chance of casting correctly and will definitely not accidentally cast random spells or Summon if they fail.
If they've got a 5 in 6 Arcana skill the worst outcome is that nothing happens.

Int modifier applies because LotFP's ability score descriptions are pretty firm on Intelligence representing pre-game knowledge and magical aptitude. That fits the Arcana skill to a T!
Wizards are also likely to start with a better-than-average Arcana score since Intelligence is their main thing.
Anything that increases the usefulness of the mental scores is good, too.

The spellcaster Identify bonus is due to cantrips. In LotFP, Identify requires a lab and some dosh and a day. Having it grant a bonus makes Identify more of a valid option when you're dungeon-crawling the wizard's tower.
Between a +3 intelligence modifier and Identify, an 18 Int wizard can have a 6 in 6 Arcana score.

"Ahhh yes, the Most Efficacious Ritual of Get the Fuck Out of My Office"


Thematically it's a bit like Knock and Spider Climb. Wizards can open locks and climb way better than a Specialist, but only a limited number of times per day and they've got to prep it in advance.
The Thief/Rogue/Specialist does it all day long, but imperfectly.
Same with Arcana, a Wizard can use Read Magic or Identify to work out what stuff does way better than a Specialist, but only a limited number of times per day and they've got to prep it in advance.
Doing stuff perfectly a few times per day vs doing stuff imperfectly all day long is THE spellcaster/skillmonkey divide.

Arcana doesn't actually tell you what an item does, mind you. You'll need Read Magic or Identify for that. At least the Specialist can help you work out what's identifying properly!

In terms of in-universe justification, Wizards are basically just crazy people who do magic by feel. It's not fancy book learnin', it's scrawling-insane-gibberish-on-the-asylum-walls-in-you-own-faeces learnin'. It's voices-from-beyond-talking-to-you-through-your-dog learnin'.
If you're not quite so insane you might discover that there are disturbing parallels between the writings and works of different wizards, and it's these parallels are what allow the Arcana-focussed Specialist to decipher and use their writings. These Specialists are likely a little bit mad themselves or have just a touch of the Sight.

Alternatively - maybe like in Harry Potter, wizards are just too lazy to learn anything for themselves because magic does everything for them. If you can mumbo-jumbo yourself a perfect answer, why bother learning something you might get wrong?
It's like doing maths in your head when you've got a calculator right there. Sure you could carry your old sofa all the way to the tip by yourself or you could just call up your mate Gavin to come get it in his ute tomorrow. Learn how to read Japanese or use Google Translate. Read fifty books to get an idea of both sides of a debate or just look it up on wikipedia.
Wizards are either super lazy or too caught up in the whole ripping-through-the-skein-of-reality-for-personal-gain thing to spend time learning how to tell a Potion of Flying from a Potion of Oh Fuck My Skin Just Flew Off.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Terrence Rapmaster's 31st Annual Trap Expo and Dungeon of Terror

I ran this dungeon filled solely with nefarious traps for the UK OSR game day last Saturday.
If you live in the UK you should come to the next one! Join this G+ community to learn more.

The basic setup is thus -
The players wake up in a dungeon.
Above them, members of their family are trapped in cages suspended from the ceiling. Above that, maybe 60' from the floor, are long windows of a viewing gallery. A fancy looking eccentric is surrounded by a large variety of well dressed individuals sipping champagne and sampling canapés while peering down at the PCs.

"Hello and welcome to Terence Rapmaster's 31st Annual Trap Expo and Dungeon of Terror! Any traps you see here today are available for purchase after the show.
"Below us are our involunteers. In the likely event of their death and dismemberment at the hands of the traps of this establishment, another member of their statistically improbably statistically identical family members will be released to take their place.
"Around the maze are chests which, though potentially also trapped, may contain items that will give you a competitive edge. Find the exit and you and your remaining family are free to leave.
 "In the centre of the room you will find some mercifully untrapped items to assist you, don't say I don't do anything for you lovelies. Good luck!"

Terence and the socialites will follow the party around from room to room watching their progress. Every room has some sort of viewing gallery, usually high up, which allows the guests to view the proceedings. Terence himself will make pithy comments and bad puns as the PCs experience the many traps in the maze, occasionally spruiking their price and describing the vagaries of magic items for the assembled audience.

The family members are replacement characters with identical stats. They have two spare family members each, and when they die another character is released from their cage in the central chamber. Due to Terence's ongoing commentary the new character knows pretty much everything the old one did.
Three lives! Use them wisely.
When replaced, the player must name the new character and state their relationship to the deceased.
"Bob 2, Bob's brother" is, of course, totally acceptable.

The Map

Bereft of scanner, I present this crudely cropped photograph

The dungeon is loosely themed around a bunch of different elements. See Room (8) for a picture of it.
The layout came to me in a dream and since I only had a couple of days to go until game day I was very glad to have the inspiration.

The traps are meant to start out more classic and traditional in the centre and get more ridiculous and esoteric as you get to the edges. Magic items found in one side of the dungeon tend to be useful for traps on the opposite side, both for irony's sake and to make the dungeon get easier over time, and if the players happen to head away from the exit they'll generally find more helpful items for the same reason.

Rooms are usually lit by ever-burning torches in sconces which can be removed easily and safely. Light's not meant to be a big issue here. Every room and corridor has magical unbreakable glass (installed after the contestants broke through and killed everyone at the party a few years ago) through which the trap and its effects can be viewed.

Obviously these traps are based around player skill. If you use pathfindery perception and disable device checks it'll be much more boring.
Pictures of the original design/inspiration included when I can find it!

Though the map has charming little memory joggers drawn all over it so you might be able to use it like a one-page dungeon, here are the traps in detail.

Hallway Traps

a. Flame trap operated by pressure plate. 2d6 damage, save vs breath for half.
b. Covered pit trap. 10' deep. 1d6 fall damage.
c. Stairs become ramp halfway down, slide towards (11). Save vs Paralyse to catch yourself but anyone that fails knocks down everyone below them anyway.
d. Ramp drops at the top to release a rolling boulder when a pressure plate is stepped on halfway down. Checks depend on what the players do to escape. If it gets them they're squished no save.
e. Mirror gives impression of continuing corridor across 50' deep pit but is, in fact, reflecting a fake corridor set at a 90 degree angle. Fake corridors lead to short fake room painted like the lava room in (4), candles behind holes in wall give impression of glowing lava from a distance.
f. Entire staircase built on axle in centre. If weight unbalanced at top, whole thing spins into spikes.
g. Foot caught in step by snare, gas ensues ten seconds later. Save or Die for victim and anyone helping them.
h. Gravity trap switches "down" to "east" when crossing halfway point, sending people flying out into (13) where they will be dumped in the piranha infested water.
i. 30' pit behind black curtain. 3d6 damage.
j. Long, low passage requires crawling. Rubber wheels in walls send them flying into spike wall.
k. Spikes on ceiling seem connected to some sort of stamping mechanism. In fact, swings outwards on a hinge. 3d6 damage, save vs paralyze to jump out of the way in time.
l. Pit has spiky iron bar across it, foiling attempts to jump across. Feeding items into the nearby hopper (1/3 chance any particular item is enough) retracts the bar.
m. Green slime. A classic!
n. Metal vault door has wheel to open it and lifts upwards. Warm to the touch - contains molten lead that spills out under the door and down the stairs if opened.
o. Spring loaded door blasts opener backwards, likely into the fire-and-spikes pit. Save vs Paralyze to land "safely" on the M pillar as you fly past.
p. Dip in passageway (see picture), upper section contains pure hydrogen. Detonates if torches brought in. 3d6 damage, Save vs Breath halves.

Room Traps

1. Central room. No traps! Replacement family members in cages.
Four coloured archways: North - Red, East - White, South - Blue, West - Brown.
In centre of room - Two 10' poles, a sling, a bag of 20 rocks, a lantern with oil.

2. Room is warm.
Weapon rack attached to north wall holds a sword, axe, hammer, spear and shield. Each, if examined, has metal wire spiraling down the hilt from the head.
Weapon heads lean on incredibly hot metal nodes, conducting intense heat through the heads and the wires. Picking one up without taking it off the node and letting it cool down deals 1d6 damage.

3. Black stone golem on slim walkway across a lake of boiling wax.
Wax vapor fills the steamy air and the bubbling wax has slopped all over the walkway.
The golem has 6HD and is made of flint. Striking the golem with steel creates an explosion in the paraffin-fume air for 2d6 damage, throwing the golem backwards 20' and the striker back 50'.
See, Patrick? It's in the book!
4. Glass floor over glowing magma.
Room is stinking hot, especially close to the two open holes in the glass in the corners of the room.
Long, low corridor has a chest and a glowing sign at the end, but the words on the sign cannot be made out at distance.
Halfway along the corridor the magma begins rising in the main room, being forced up through the open holes and spreading across the entrance to the long corridor.
Sign says "You blew it!", chest contains Helm of Internal Oxygen Supply. Works via a small portal that leads to a Rapmaster-brand Air Box in which your personal supply of air is stored (array of scented airs available for premium customers). The portal, of course, works both ways, so taking the helm off underwater or in poisonous gas will fill your personal air storage with that substance.

5. Billowing, heavier-than-air poison gas in cavernous room, giving the impression of a large, gaseous underground lake beyond a small sandy shoreline.
An island pokes out from the lake, on which can be seen a chest.
An illusory boat bobs about on the gas, anyone attempting to get in will fall through into the poisonous cloud.
A fishing rod is buried in the sand of the beach. It seems to have something tugging on the end of the line. If the sand is dug away, it will be discovered to be merely two foot deep with the fishing rod held steady within a stone tube. Any person gripping the rod will have their hands magically glued to it. Pulling the rod from the stone tube or otherwise releasing the tension means the person will be slingshotted far across to the island where they will take 2d6 damage on impact.
The chest contains a Belt of Levitation that causes the wearer to float 5' above the ground. Needless to say, the poison gas is not solid ground.
6. Rickety room laid out like an empty room of a dilapidated house. Hole in centre of floor goes clear down three storeys.
Rickety wooden beam across hole in centre is safe but looks splintery and awful. North wall looks like it could collapse any moment but has thin ledge you could walk on. If you walk on the north ledge the wall will collapse and throw you to your doom. South wall looks safer but the thin ledge is much more cracked and horrible. If you walk on the south ledge it will collapse from under you and send you falling to your doom.
Behind north wall is a chest on a section of dependable dungeon floor. The chest contains a Whistle of Turkey Summoning which, if blown, summons a turkey onto your head. It is the same turkey each time, so if you get the turkey killed you'll keep teleporting the turkey's corpse onto your head.

7. Doors close on entry and re-open on their own after 30 minutes.
3-inch holes in glass floor, murky and poisonous green-tinged water beneath.
Lever in centre of room. Pull it and the water heats up, becoming hot enough to create steam in a couple of minutes. This fills the room with poisonous steam and cooks those within for ten minutes.

8. Balcony overlooking diagram of dungeon theme areas, oriented to the dungeon layout.
The layout is painted on wooden floor. If someone jumps off the balcony the boards are spring loaded with blades between, annihilating their legs.

9. Pit trap seems to be a short jump over a 40' deep pit to the chest on the opposite side of the room, in fact there is just a wall painted like that attached to the ceiling in between.
Chest does actually exist if you can swing under the wall somehow and contains a Crown of Darkest Timeline - creates a ghost of you who goes towards the nearest trap and gets killed by a spectral version of it. 3 charges.
Door on west wall releases poisoned dart from small hole in east wall to hit the opener at arse-level. If party members are in between they might get hit instead. Save or die.
Behind door, a chest containing a Ring of Door Passing - allows you to walk straight through doors (and only doors) like they ain't even there.

10. Chest in centre of pool on small island.
Pool contains three 2HD water elementals. Chest contains a Ring of Plant Control - psychic mastery over plants and plant monsters.

11. A bare room with three trapdoors on the ceiling and holes around the upper walls.
The trapdoors have got a skull, an hourglass and a black cat painted on respectively.
Steel wall slams shut over entrance from (c) and water begins pouring into the room over the next ten minutes.
The trapdoors are set up such that only one can be opened at a time.
The skull trapdoor contains thousands of poisonous spiders. Save or die.
Opening the hourglass trapdoor causes the water to rapidly drain from the room... then refill.
The black cat trapdoor is the exit because cats hate water.

12. Scything blades swing through grooves in the ice-covered floor. Getting the timing right would be easy were it not for the ice. If proper precautions aren't taken, Dex check per blade to avoid 2d6 damage.

13. Pool full of piranha and shark-infested water, small island with chest across lake.
Boat against shore begins leaking halfway across and will sink unless swift action is taken.
Chest contains Ring of Fire Resistance - immunity to flame and steam, half damage from thicker hot substances like lava and boiling wax.

14. 30' pit trap followed by another 30' pit trap with an illusory floor hiding it. Jumping over one will make you fall through the floor into the next.

15. Floor covered in gold coins, ten foot poles, and a chest. Chest contains a Decanter of Endless Water.
Floor is actually thin planks of wood covering murky black piranha-infested water, the weight of a single adventurer will cause everything to collapse.

16. Room halved by glass wall with door in between. Room behind glass contains a chest, a noose attached to the ceiling, and a chair beneath the noose.
When the chest is opened the door slams shut. Inside the chest is a note saying "Tough luck buddy, you're here forever" and a Knife of Eternal Wounds. The knife inflicts wounds which never heal, dealing 1 damage per turn per wound inflicted by the knife... forever.
Sustained weight on the noose for 20 seconds opens the door.
17. Spongy black floor. Two eyes in middle of room retract as party enters. Floor safe, smooth grey ceiling is actually a Lurker Above.

18. Fourteen glass statues stand at attention around the room. If smashed form very sharp shards that go everywhere. If chest opened the guards do not animate as one might expect. Instead the floor hinges downwards at the dotted line to form a funnel that slides everything in the room into a heap in the middle. Deals 1d6 damage plus 1d6 for each statue that has been smashed. Those shards'll getcha.
Chest contains an Armlet of Schadenfreude. Any character who witnesses the death of the wearer gains 1d8 HP even above normal maximum.

19. Spikes slowly emerge from floor and ceiling, ceiling begins moving downwards to crush anyone inside in three rounds. Holes in wall outside north door contain insects and a lever each.
Reaching in to pull a lever requires a Wisdom check (or Willpower, if available) due to the squickiness of the bugs. If failed, next round anybody inside the room can make a Charisma check to force the lever-puller to reach in.
East lever opens the east door but a hand grabs their wrist as they get their hand around the lever, pulling it requires winning a wrestling roll versus the hand.
The west lever opens the west door but its hole contains poisonous bugs which force a Save or Die if gloves or other precautions aren't taken.

20. Fleshy fungal pillar in centre of room has four tentacles and 4HD and can attack up to 4 targets for d4 damage. Killing the plant monster collapses the ceiling around its corpse, dealing 4d4 damage to all inside.
21. Rolling boulder from (d) stops in a depression at the end of the room. If touched, a metal rod blasts it back out like a pinball and it rolls all the way back up the stairs and up the ramp, resetting the trap and squishing anybody in its way.

22. Chest in middle of semicircular room. If chest opened, the room spins to reveal a wall of fire arrows which shoot anybody standing back in the corridor. 2 rows of 5 arrows dealing d6 damage each and setting victims on fire as though they're covered in burning oil. The opener of the chest is perfectly safe.
Chest contains Ring of Poison Resistance set with three glowing green gems. Each charge allows the wearer to automatically pass a save versus poison. Three charges, as each charge is used one of the gems stops glowing.

23. Metal fan on ceiling, holes high up on walls, sandy floor, chest.
If chest opened - door locks, fan starts on ceiling, sand flows in from holes, sandy whirlwind starts up. After 2 rounds the sand blast deals 1d6 damage per round for 5 rounds.
Chest contains a geiger counter that crackles based on proximity to magic.

24. Ridiculous wheel trap. Behold diagram. The only difference is that there's no metal wall at the top and the wheels are attached to the walls by long bars, allowing the trap to be reset.

25. Sheep-in-sheep's-clothing. Lovely forest glade, four trees strewn with vines, the ground is covered in flowers and lush green grass, stepping stones lead from doors to centre. In centre, rabbit sitting on stump turns to face any door that opens.
Vines on trees are venomous snakes. Grass tangles your feet and releases a deadly soporific. Even the soil is corrosive.
Rabbit is simply a painted wooden model of a rabbit mounted on a swivel in the stump, and the garden paths are not dangerous.

26. Cut-off pillars are the only means of getting across this room. Fire and spikes cover the floor 100' down. On each pillar is inscribed a letter. The wall reads "Walk in the Name of God".
On the diagram players can jump 6 squares distance safely.
The correct path is IEHOVA.
The wrong pillars do as follows -
J: Collapses. Fall into the fire and die.
S: Sticky. Permanently stuck to pillar, but you could conceivably take off your shoes and keep going.
U: Unstable. Top of the pillar wobbles around, dex check to stay on, another dex check to jump off.
M: Madness. Go insane, attacking anyone who jumps near your pillar.
E: Explosion! Deals 2d6 damage and throws in random direction. Does not apply to the E on the right (soz Patrick).
H: Hands. Hands grab from the wall and hold you while other hands punch you in the face for 1d4 damage per round.
Possible other paths are JEHOVAH, JESUS, IESUS and (in case they went that meta) JAMES. If you're running this dungeon yourself I'd suggest putting your own name in there somehow.

Movie mystery: If there's no J in the Latin alphabet, who wrote it on the stones?

27. Door to room has "Over thinking, over analysing, separate the body from the mind" carved into the wood.
In the centre of the room is a dais upon which rests a chest. Mounted on the wall is a glowing green sign depicting a running man, a downward arrow, and a vertical rectangle. If you are running this in a place with an exit sign nearby, describe the nearest exit sign in similar terms.
All of these things are perfectly safe... until the psychic metatrap comes into play.
Whatever traps or evidence of traps the players search for are there. They exist and were already in the room when they entered it because the psychic trap has read the characters' fears via their players.
If outside the room, traps are set off by opening the door. If inside the room, opening the chest or messing with the exit sign sets off all the traps at once then makes the wall slide back to reveal the way out.
For instance if the players check for arrow holes in the walls, there will be arrow holes in the walls from which arrows will fly. If they check for evidence of a crushing ceiling they will find grind marks down the walls. If they look for the seam of a pit trap on the floor they will find the seam of a pit trap all the way across the floor.
If the players don't check for traps they'll be completely safe. It's a pity you've spent a whole dungeon making them paranoid.

To illustrate the final room, when I ran this Chris assumed the clue meant a blade would come out of the wall and cut his head off if he opened the door without courage (literally separating the body from the mind). Verily, when he checked there were slots in the walls through which blades might pop out! Unfortunately even if he had been right they spent another ten minutes or so deliberating and trying out another door, and so they were sprung when he opened the door and cut his head off.
Inside, Paolo (I think it was?) checked the chest for all sorts of poison darts and a poisoned lock and scything blades and discovered it was covered with the things all over every inch of the surface. When Patrick pressed the exit sign, everyone had to save vs death against a spray poisonous darts that hit everyone in the room. Luckily he and Nathan passed their saves and managed to escape the dungeon. Good end!

Since I'm naming people, Barry got the fishing pole from (5) stuck to his hands for basically the whole game, surviving the trap since Paolo had Unseen Servant'd the levitation belt over from the island. The people hanging onto him (Patrick and Nathan) died on impact with the island. Nathan later talked about the game day (including this dungeon!) in a podcast.
My favourite bits were Paolo managing to take off his Belt of Levitation just before he jumped into the mirror pit trap in (e), and everyone's massive paranoia in room 25 as I described a nice safe forest glade with what everyone knew was a wolf-in-sheeps-clothing in the middle of it.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Cast this spell then kill your family.

Immortality is a big ticket item for wizards.
The players in my game have met a few wizards in their travels and they're invariably old and crazy and have lived forever and are age-old frenemies with other old wizards. They all try to kill each other but after so long who else really understands them?
They're also usually too powerful to deal with and have arbitrarily strong magical powers.

I liked how in the Black Company novels all the most powerful wizards kill their families and anyone connected to their past history to eliminate knowledge of their true name. The whole bit where you yell "I NAME YOUR NAME!" and their powers fail forever is also super rad.

So this is how wizards become immortal. It has ramifications for high-level wizard attitudes towards life, the underhanded and paranoid way they wage war against each other, and best of all fits sundry fantasy tropes. It's mainly only useful for NPCs but who knows? Maybe you have a reeaally long running campaign or time skips and time travel shenanigans going on.
It also means that immortal wizards have got to have done some terrible things to get where they are which means magic-users are even more feared and hated.
This spell should, fortunately, protect them from the ensuing lynchings.
Cost is given as per LotFP silver standard. Change it to gp if you use that.

I still wish this show hadn't gone downhill

Isaac's Bane
Magic-User Level 1
This spell brings immortality. The only means by which the caster may be killed is at the hands of a blood relative or by a person who speaks their true name.
The caster must cast this spell on their firstborn son on the night of his birth. Every year, on the child's birthday, this spell must be cast on the child again. 
Each successive casting requires anointing the child with expensive oils within a thaumaturgic circle of rare and magical ingredients. The ritual components must be worth at least 500sp per year of the child's age and are consumed in the casting. At the culmination of each ritual the child must blow out a number of candles corresponding to their age, symbolically "snuffing out" their life lived thus far.
When the child is thirteen this spell must be cast a final time and the child killed by violent means. A knife is traditional though not strictly necessary. At this point the spell is complete and the caster attains immortality.
This spell is a perversion of the soul. The effects of any beneficial spell cast by a Lawful being are reversed for the caster. The caster cannot be taken below 0HP unless it is by the direct hand of a blood relation or by a person who speaks their true name. This is not to say they are immune to pain, merely that their bodies cannot sustain more than superficial damage.

Sometimes the gods intervene and keep their pimp hand strong.

Logical consequences
  • Killing off the rest of your family is a good idea. The other option is to protect them from your enemies and be a super good guy. However you are immortal, and so in a few generations there will be so many descendants that damn near anyone could kill you.
  • Wiping all record of your existence from history is a good idea. If somebody found records of your birth they might learn your true name and tell everyone and then damn near anyone could kill you.
  • Wizards will have crazy wizard names they made up themselves, possibly many of them. They might leak a different fake name to each of their enemies, so if someone who is sent to kill them shouts "Constance Merryweather!" the wizard can go "HA! Graphalax sent you, didn't he!?"
  • Wizards fight each other through trickery and guile and paranoia. They can't kill each other directly with spells so must find workarounds and edge cases.
  • One method is to clone your enemy through toenail clippings or bits of hair. Wizards rarely leave their magically fortified towers to prevent this happening.
  • Another is simply to trap your enemy somewhere he can never leave, although doubtless they will get free eventually (see also: Calcidius in Tower of the Stargazer)
  • Make sure to send adventurers to smash up enemy research and foil their plans. They always believe the "evil wizard" excuse.
  • Leave shiny knickknacks and gewgaws and boxes of money around the place. With luck any adventurers who raid the place on another's orders will take those and leave the REAL valuables. Cursed weapons too, just to fuck with them.
  • In any case, the life of an immortal wizard is one of paranoia and ever more complex research into things that are useless to anyone else but super important to killing one of your rivals. This is one source of cursed artifacts, items of malignant intent, and magical objects of seemingly no use to anyone.
  •  Immortal wizards probably look pretty old. It takes thirteen years to cast the spell, plus you've got to build up enough savings to afford the ritual ingredient overhead (45500sp all up), and if you had children before finding this spell you've missed the boat.
  • From the child's perspective they'll get things like "Your birthdays are weird compared to other kids and Dad sometimes cries when he looks at you especially when he's been drinking, he doesn't do that for your other brothers and sisters" or "Ever since you remember, some weird old guy turns up once a year on your birthday to do some weird chanting but your mum never knows about it and thinks you're making it up" or "You've lived your entire life in the cellar".
  •  DID YOU KNOW the modern birthday ritual is a sick joke based on this spell?
I should also mention that in situations such as these there is a strikingly large rate of long-lost relatives showing up to slay their filicidal forefather. Whether it be by babies floated down rivers to be raised by royalty or your parents skipping town while all the babies are killed or your long-thought-dead son accidentally nutting you with a discus, somehow they always turn up.
The first time someone takes an immortal wizard down to 0HP I'd give them a chance to have been a long-lost blood relative. Maybe 1 in 100?

I was entertaining an idea for a long while where some baddie or other would yell "I NAME YOUR NAME!" and say the PC's player's name and it would be all meta, but then I thought that sounded like a shit idea.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

So I Ran Scenic Dunnsmouth

Some choice quotes from my players:
  • "Oh I get it it's like the Bayou."
  • "Don't stop mind-controlling the chick you idiot. Oh now you've done it."
  • "I would love a frog croissant thank you that would be lovely." 
  • "It wasn't a pig, it was a rape victim."
  • "I'll only fuck the triplets if they take me to the spider."
  • "I am talking out of character here - can you please stop scaring my girlfriend."
  • "I'm going to bite the hobbit! Oh I thought I had to bite people now. Sorry man I got the wrong idea."
  • "Can someone punch this fucking baby"
  • "I Command the spider to BITE!"
  • "I'm just going to stab Uncle Ivan how is he even still alive at this point."

What did I change?

I ran this as a one-shot, so to make things interesting I gave each player a different secret goal. Some of the goals conflicted with other people's goals, but nobody knew which.
They were still all ostensibly there to collect the backlog of the town's tithes, having collectively chipped in all their savings to buy the debt from the Church in the opening spiel.
Due to the vagaries of fate the Original Spider was outside the village, squatting on the site of the Van Kaus Secret Shame. I made a little dungeon lair for it to live in. Only a few rooms in a spider temple because I wanted the focus to be on Dunnsmouth, not dungeon crawling.

I foolishly left the original map in Australia, so you'll have to make do with this terrible phone photograph.

My Dunnsmouth

Any post about actual play in Dunnsmouth is inevitably going to require an explanation of my Dunnsmouth, since rolling up the town is the module's chief gimmick.

- Infection Level 1. Only one house was actually infected by the spider cult. Luckily it was Ester Duncaster, the Duncaster matriarch, so between her and her children there were a fair few infected.
- Uncle Ivanovik was in the church. Good luck getting the tithes out of there, everyone.
- The Original Spider landed in the mausoleum, meaning that it was instead in the mountains on the site of the Van Kaus Secret Shame.
- The Elven Spy's tree house was present but the elf himself was off on creepy elf business.
- Only a single Von Kaus, Erik, was present, living under a boat next to his family's old mausoleum. I guess that means the other families killed off the Van Kaus when they discovered their spider worshipping ways. Since Erik's gimmick is being the Time Cube Dude, I figure he avoided this fate because he was stuck in the Cube's time vortex during the lynchings and now keeps out of the way.
- Village is otherwise mainly made up of the Duncaster clan, with a couple of creepy Samsons and a couple of posh Dunlops around for variety.
- Bubba Samson was in the village, which I was happy about because he was the creepiest dude when I was reading through the book. As luck would have it, his rape victim "wife" is a long-thought-dead Duncaster girl he has tied up in his shack, which tied in nicely with the rest of the village and fueled a lot of lynch-mob-based gameplay.

I was considering rerolling since only one house was infected, but between Bubba Samson, Uncle Ivanovik in the Church, and the way the Van Kaus Secret Shame being the spider cult meant I could tie everything in One-Shot Dunnsmouth into a neat package, I kept it. And I'm glad I did!

Was it good?

Generating Dunnsmouth was interesting because I got a better grasp of the village dynamics than I would have gained just by reading a pre-populated one with pre-written relationships. I'm sure Logan's Corpathium would be the same.
The Van Kaus spider cult thing sort of evolved organically from making sense of the results, which is exactly what I want out of a random generator.
I want to make something similar so I can just roll out a village on the fly in a sandbox but I haven't quite worked out how to do that yet. Dunnsmouth and Corpathium work because they're specific and detailed, and the interaction between those specific, detailed parts makes a lot of interesting complexity. Anyway, something to think about.

Dunnsmouth itself was really cool, the different families having their own characters (Duncaster nice but poor, Samsons horrible rednecks, etc) meant that it was easy to characterise different people. I did a Southern drawl for most people, keeping it nice and Southern Hospitality-y with the Duncasters and I GON' KILL YOO redneck for the Samsons. That was fun. Only downside is that I occasionally find myself saying "YOU WAN' SUMMA MAH RIIIIIBS?" as though it is a pop culture reference rather than me hamming up an imaginary person's voice in a nerd game.

I can't find fault in the module because it did everything I needed. It created a cool and evocative scenario before the game, and it was there for me when things went crazy during the game.
Within the first ten minutes the players split up into several separate groups, so I was suddenly on the ropes trying to handle several interdependent character threads constantly crossing and joining and looping and influencing one another. Thank goodness time was wacky in Dunnsmouth so I could handwave issues with chronology.
The book made it easy to find the town's inhabitants (the playing card thing really helped with this) and as I said before, having generated the town myself meant that I had a deeper grasp of Dunnsmouth than I would have had otherwise. Intuitively knowing what'll happen when two families meet meant that I had more brain CPU cycles to devote to actually keeping a handle on what people were doing in the game.

Verdict: It's real fun to use to generate the village, it's real fun to run at the table, and best of all its reusable so I can do it all again!

I don't know what's happened to my phone but man these came out bad. This is the Van Kaus spider temple.

What happened when I ran it?

Contrary to my usual MO, I asked them what class they wanted to be then pregenerated their characters. The same six results rolled on 3d6, but assigned to their stats at random.
Between their classes and their random failed professions, I gave them some secret goals to push them towards interesting things in Dunnsmouth.
Luckily most of them fit pretty easily, but the Ranger chick got Sinecure as her previous job so ended up being a spoilt rich girl with a magic wax seal.
At the start of the game I did a bit of a storygamey "Ok so you're a Fighter who used to be a Lawyer, what's the story there?" question and answer thing which actually worked really well.

Dramatis Personae:
  • A Fighter. Lawyer who turned to fightin' due to a mid-life crisis. Secretly a sleeper agent of the Spider Cult. Secret goal: Rendezvous with spider cultists in Dunnsmouth, infect other PCs with spider venom.
  • A Rogue (Specialist 1). Cutpurse turned female bounty hunter. Secret goal: Take the head of Ivan Ivanovik, also known as "Uncle Ivan" and "Daddy Mantrap" and take it home in a box to claim the bounty.
  • A Cleric. Drug farmer who saw the light of God during a good trip. Secret goal: Discover the nature of the Van Kaus Secret Shame and destroy its unholy source.
  • A Ranger (Specialist 1). A spoiled daddy's girl who spent much of her coddled childhood playing in the forest. Read lots of books on forbidden lore while daddy was away. Has an idealised view of adventurers from children's stories. Secret goal: Use the wax seal stamp on the Time Cube and thereby become its master, just like in the tales!
  • A Halfling. Minstrel with a banjo. Secret goal: Dominate the Spider God, using it to reclaim the Halfling birthright of dominion over Man.


Party arrive in Dunnsmouth by boat, dock at the jetty and meet cute Zillah Duncaster who offers to give them a skiff in exchange for a kiss. Halfling mind-controls her instead, bringing her along in the skiff as his mind slave.
Meanwhile the Cleric goes up the hill and meets good-for-nothing Nebuchadnezzar (holy shit I spelt that right first time) Duncaster and shares his drug soup, splitting the party. The Rogue briefly asks the boy about a man named Uncle Ivan, gets an answer involving the Church, then splits the party further by sneaking off up the hill and making her way towards the Elven Spy's weird tree.

The rest of the party on the skiff hear about Bubba Samson's famous ribs from Zillah and decide to go get some. On reaching his house they begin to barter their scant currency for ribs. A banging sound comes from Bubba's shack but he explains it away as a pig that got into his house.
The Halfling releases his hold on Zillah and attempts to mind-control Bubba into giving him ribs for free. He fails, and Zillah yells "Bubba that lil man try to take over mah brain!" so Bubba grabs his cleaver and starts chasing the Halfling and the Ranger across the swamp.
The Fighter doubles back to check out the house and realised Zillah has left with the skiff.

During all this, the Cleric has the tithing documentation and so makes his way to Ester's house to tithe her. Stymied by their general poverty, he meets her lusty sons and beautiful triplet daughters. He also hears about how they are devoutly religious and worship the God in the Mountains every single day.
The triplets attempt to seduce him and, figuring this mountain god is the unholy abomination and seeing the sons eying him warily, he tells them he'll only have sex with them if they take him to see their god up in the mountain. I don't even have to try.

The Rogue has now checked out the Elven Spy's tree and taken some valuables. From the branches she can see the Church and sets off towards it, hunting Uncle Ivan. She enters the Church, narrowly avoiding a bear trap snapping out of a pile of leaves at the entrance, and discovers that the people sitting on the pews have been stuffed.
Footsteps and a grinding of metal against stone can be heard as a creepy old voice starts laughing and talking about how a mouse must has entered his trap.

The Fighter enters Bubba's house, discovering the banging sound was Hannah Duncaster. She cries and says "No Bubba I din't mean to" before realising it's somebody else and thinking it's one of Bubba's tricks. This is suddenly very heavy and everyone wants to kill Bubba. The Fighter frees her, trashes the place, then helps her across the bog to Jebediah's house. Celebrations quickly turn into a lynch mob.

The Ranger and the Halfling have reached Beverley Dunlop's mansion by this point. She treats the Ranger, who is a spoilt rich kid, like royalty and treats the Halfling as her mongrel manservant. The main dish is "croissant" by which she means "frog".
Soon enough Bubba is banging on the door. The Halfling hides in a cupboard while Beverley, of course, believes everything Bubba is saying about that horrible little boy that was in here. The Ranger feigns ignorance, but some good rolls on Beverley's part let her trace the Halfling's muddy steps to her linen closet. The Halfling darts out into the swamp but loses his knife on the way out when Bubba smashes his hand with the cleaver.

The party is now completely separated. The Cleric is in the mountains with the triplets, the Fighter is rousing a lynch mob, the Rogue is being hunted in the Church, the Ranger is eating a frog croissant at Beverley's house, and the Halfling is hiding in the swamp.
It is a mess.

In the mountains, the Cleric enters the spider cult temple with the girls. He is going to kill the spider and complete his secret goal. Instead the spider leaps out and bites him, turning him (no save) into a cult member. He is given a new secret goal: convert others to the spider cult.

In the Church the Rogue is scared and desperate. She tries to get onto the walkways of the upper level, choosing to take the ladder rather than climb up the walls. The ladder is trapped and halfway up it jolts as a bear trap falls from above. She swings out of the way but isn't quick enough as it snaps onto her leg. She cries out, and through blurry eyes and terrible pain hanging halfway up a ladder in a dark and horrible church she sees a gloating Uncle Ivanovik approach with his giant rusty axe.

The Ranger slips out of Beverley's mansion, hoping to explore and find the Time Cube. She tries to unlock the door to the mausoleum and manages to lockpick her way in, finding the interior creepy but uninteresting and covered in webs. She then meets Erik Van Kaus in his upturned boat. They hit it off and she buys his Time Cube Manifesto. I give her my phone with the time cube site to read and she starts reading it and acting like a crazy person which is brilliant.
She persuades Erik to take her to the Time Cube and stamps it with her wax seal, gaining mastery of the Cube and lordship over Old Man Time who leaves the cube to do her bidding. As it does so, the years catch up to Erik and he ages to ash. Time reasserts itself in Dunnsmouth. She is now a time lord and has completed her secret goal, so she heads towards the Church while rambling about four simultaneous days.

The lynch mob reaches Beverley's home and the Fighter slays Bubba Samson with a rapier to the heart. The mob then goes off to kill the others Samsons on Dunc Samson's farm.
The Fighter goes to the Church because the Rogue is his girlfriend in real life and she's in dire trouble. The Halfling follows now that Bubba is dead. The Cleric goes to the Church to collect the tithes he's still ostensibly owed.

Inside the Church, the Rogue tries some kung fu ninja rope trick where she'll swing past Uncle Ivan, throw a dagger in his eye on the way, and escape. She fails and falls and he chops her in two with a critical on the upswing.
The Fighter and Halfling turn up in time to see this, the Fighter challenges Uncle Ivanovik to a battle.
The Ranger turns up and rewinds time for the Rogue, restoring her to life but with no idea about what happened in the past few minutes. She then fast-forwards time in a bubble around Uncle Ivanovik, turning him into an old man. Then she rambles about the time cube some more.
The Cleric turns up and jumps on the Halfling to bite him, then realises that he's meant to get the spider to bite people. He apologises but the Halfling's secret goal is to mind-control the spider so they both go head up the mountain.

Everyone's been ignoring the old man, he's old but still hateful and attacks the Rogue, nearly killing her a second time. The Fighter stabs him and takes his axe, decapitating Uncle Ivan. The Rogue accuses the Fighter's player of peeking at her secret goal, then stuffs the head in a box and runs back to the boat. She sails away leaving everyone else behind, completing her objective.

Meanwhile up the mountain the Halfling explores the spider temple with the Cleric. They find a room covered with webs and creepy half-baby spider mutants. The mutants leap on the Halfling, paralyzing him.
I say "The last thing you see is the spider god's head and many eyes as it bites into your neck".
"Wait," says the Halfling, "it's looking into my eyes right? Can I mind control it?"
"Oh shit, yea you totally can."
So the Halfling Dominates the spider god, completing his objective. Triumphantly he stands up, but the Cleric is casting a spell.
"What are you casting?" I ask the Cleric.
"Command on the spider!" he says, then points at the Halfling and says "BITE!"

End result
To my great surprise, everyone won.