Friday, February 27, 2015

Megadungeon Level 10: The Mad Lich's Prison

At long last, the very core of the MegaDungeon - a prison for a mad lich.  The lich was once a fire wizard who burned his way into this inner sanctum in pursuit of  a safe place to hide his phylactery.  He found it, but the Dungeongod tricked the lich by dimensionally anchoring him, waiting until he had wasted his gate and teleport spells, and then barred his escape with a creature immune to all of his fire powers.

Now the lich is trapped with his back and his phylactery against the wall.  If the party manages to make into the lich's prison, they will have beaten the hydrax and now stand as the only things between the lich and freedom.  Not only that, they are standing with yards of his phylactery.  That's some pretty powerful motivation to bring the hammer down on them hard and fast.

No treasure listed here.  As this is the ultimate level of the dungeon it should represent a definitive capstone.  If the party needs more loot, you can stash a couple hundred thousand gold in the phylactery room along with an artifact or campaign specific magic item or two.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Blog Restructuring

In addition to polishing off that nearly ten year old module, yesterday saw a minor restructuring of the blog.  A bunch of stuff from the sidebars has been moved up to the top bar for ease of access including the mini-megadungeon, the play through of Tyranny of Dragons, and some random D&D stuff including yesterday's module.  That frees up some clutter and should make it easier to find the stuff most likely to see use at the table.

Also, why am I so reticent to step off the cliff and dive into the G+ swimming pool?  Is it General misanthropy?  The lingering burns from Facebook?  Weariness with the all-pervasive presence of the drama-llama?  The knowledge that being located way the heck out in the GMT-10 timezone means no chance for gaming in a G+ hangout?  Perhaps I'm just an old man who finally hit his technological event horizon.  After all, none of my grams are instant, and my chaps aren't snapped, so maybe I just don't have the gumption to get my googles plussed.

Tomorrow:  Mini-megadungeon Level 10 - finally, the Big Boss and the bottom of the pit!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

From the Archives - Free 3rd Edition D&D Module

Way back in the height of the days of third edition and the OGL, I wrote a short series of modules suitable for use with first level characters.  This series was intended to fill the gap in first level adventures left by most publishers.  It was also a way to challenge myself to sit and complete something, and to experiment with the new powerful self-publishing tools.  Aside from learning a lot about the process of writing and formatting and such, nothing much came of the whole endeavor.

Those modules languished on an old hard drive for years, but they were recovered along with the mega-dungeon. It ain't much, but it's something to look at while I'm putting together the last few levels of that mega-dungeon. Bear in mind that these are statted up for 3.5, and represent my earliest attempts at writing adventures for other people.  I'd like to think that I've learned a thing or two about the process since producing these, so if you're going to comment on the quality of these...take that into consideration. 


Monday, February 23, 2015

An Adventure 10 Years in the Making

My ten year old daughter ran her first D&D adventure yesterday using the Moldvay ruleset.  She is either a real hard case or an old softy.  The jury is still out.

Out three heroes, Father Zeke Brimstone, the mighty warrior Angel Algerbio, and thief Ezio, find themselves on the run.  Framed for the crime of stealing gold from the village of Rattenrude, a crime for which Ezio would later confess, the trio heavily pursued by pitchfork and torch wielding villagers through a deep dark forest.  Surrounded, and beset at every turn, Angel discovers a normal sized door set into the trunk of a large oak tree.

With no better option the party disappears into the door, to find themselves in a long corridor stretching off into the darkness.  Turning to spike the door shut, they find themselves trapped at the business end of a dead end corridor.  A lone villager, an old man not part of the mob, lies at their feet.

"Don't let him get you as he got me," the old man croaks with his last breath.  Ominous and prophetic words.

Ezio wastes no time turning out the old man's pockets.  No luck.

A passage to the right.  A large room with a minotaur statue and two heavy chests.  A sign above the chests, "CHOOSE ONLY ONE".  No fools, Angel and Zeke search for traps, only to find themselves standing above a series of coin sized holes.  Open the chest and spikes rip into your feet.  A job for the thief.

Ezio climbs the walls to reach the chests safely and chooses poorly.  The chest contains only a pile of desiccated small animal corpses.  The other chest?  Disappeared in a cloud of smoke.  The minotaur statue is made of copper and has dark red eyes.  Do we look at them?  No!  Back to the corridor...

A short ways on, a tile star of the richest blue.  We all jump over it, but the warrior who trips on approach and triggers...nothing!  (Later it would be revealed by a giggling DM that the star had the power to remove a curse affecting the cleric and thief.)

Another large chamber, this one with two waist-high pedestals and a lever.  With no choices, the fighter and cleric strongarm the thief into pulling the lever.  Magic darkness descends and when it lifts, the thief stands on the right pedestal and his identical twin stands on the left.  But which is the real thief?

(To add to the confusion, our DM pulled the thief's player into another room.  They played rock-paper-scissors to decide who was the real Ezio.  Then they returned to the play table.)

Accusations flew.  Tempers flared.  Fingers were pointed.  After literal minutes of confusion, Ezio the player slashes at Ezio the DM and splits the imposter's head wide open!  Which triggers a backlash against the real Ezio - a wicked slash across the forehead.  First blood for the party.  With the death of the imposter, a secret door in the rear of the room opens.

A short hall which is crossed by a wide perpendicular passage - a thick and flowing sewer.  Through the clever use of climbing rope and iron spikes, the disgusting sewage is bypassed.

A small room, two levers, two doors out, and a waist high copper statue of a frog.  When rubbed, the statue emits the spirit of the frog and warns the party, "The Master will destroy you as he destroyed me."  When queried about the levers and doors, the frogs-spirit feigns ignorance, but as Zeke moves to the right lever, it smiles in satisfaction as it disappears.

Zeke doesn't trust the frog-spirit and moves to the left lever, pulls it, and gets sprayed in the chest with acid.  No HP damage, but his armor is degraded by two points.  The doors open, and the party moves out through the one on the right.

A wide circular chamber with four wide pools, three filled with blood.  The back of the chamber dominated by a tall statue of a staff wielding half-man half-snake.  It's the Master!

"My villagers lured you into my trap, and now I will feast on your souls."  He charms the fighter for five turns.  A vicious brawl, the cleric and thief hold off their ensorcelled friend and numerous spells from the Master just long enough for Angel to shrug off the effects of the charm spell.  With her last act of slavery she slashed Zeke to the ground.  That very round, Ezio falls to a flame bolt from the Master.

One on one now, Angel goes berzerk, hammering the Master with her sword.  Again and again the blows rain down like...well, like rain.  Finally, the evil snake man succumbs to the onslaught, shrinking with each blow until Angel finally cuts the Master in half like a dollar store pinata.  He explodes, jewels bursting every which way.  Jewels that contain the souls of his most recent victims.

Misty forms slither into the corpses of Ezio and Zeke. It is their spirits - they yet live!  And still seek a solution to their unstated curses.  The party gathers up the remaining jewels and leaves by way of a doorway in the previous room.  (It was time for church, so we didn't have a chance to investigate the pools in the room.)  The party finds themselves back in the forest, a week later with the heat off.  They walk to the next village, now 65 gp and 250 xp the richer for their harrowing experience.

The Master's Dungeon Trap For Unwary Adventurers
Not bad for a first timer.  We had brutal combat.  Foreshadowing.  A wealth of traps.  Even a doppleganger.  It was obvious she drew on her own exposure to media, in fine DMing tradition. Overall the dungeon was a bit railroady, but on the whole it's a great start to her DMing career.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Return to the Megadungeon: The Dragon Sublevel

A couple of years ago, this blog presented readers with the first ten levels of a miniature mega-dungeon.  The series ended abruptly when the hard drive on which it rested gave up the digital ghost.  Over the last few months a few loyal readers have asked for an explanation, and rather than provide one...aside from the previous sentence...I finally dug up the old hard drive and grabbed the necessary files to finish the thing off.

By way of a refresher, what we're doing here is stocking one of Dyson Logos' impressive full page maps. The only things left to detail are the final boss level, which contains a lich imprisoned by his own limited spell set.  The poor crazed thing is a fire-based mage whose escape has been barred by a powerful creature immune to fire attacks.  Before we get to that final level, though, there are a couple of nooks and crannies left to flesh out.  Sublevels like the green dragon lair in the upper left hand corner only reachable by pulling yourself upstream against the swift underground current.

In retrospect, and having spent time reading through the amazing amount of material scattered throughout the OSR-verse, this dungeon might not be very playable.  It's way too cramped.  Moldvay, Holmes, and the great Gygax himself suggest having plenty of open space, and there aren't very many of those in this dungeon.

More good news on the recovered hard drive front!  I've found a few full-blown modules that I put together almost ten years ago.  These are for Third Edition D&D, and designed for use under the OGL, but they should be suitable for any edition or any OGL game.  Give me a few days to polish one up, and if there's interest, I can probably bang out a few more with little effort.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Charging For the Use of Rods, Staves, and Wands

The concept of 'charges' for rods, staves, and wands has never really sat well with me.  It makes sense from a play standpoint; it limits the power of otherwise game-breaking magic items, and it fits well with the sub-game of logistic optimization.  The need for players to balance out the current need for the item versus the future need gives the economist that lives at the center of my three sizes too small heart a nice warm glow.  Choices between easy victory now and deep regrets later are a staple of this game.

That I haven't used these three ugly mugs
as NPCs in a campaign yet is an absolute travesty.
And yet, the cut-and-dried nature of a simple 'shot counter' just takes away a bit of the mystery and uncertainty that should lie at the heart of powerful magics pretty much everywhere in the game. Discussing the game with my son in the car, we devised a neat method for these items that gives players some idea of how much energy they've got to play with, but leaves the exact amount open to some level of uncertainty.  It also gives the three items their own flavor.

  • Rods - weakest of the three, the powers of rods are either so powerful you only get one use (such as a rod of cancellation) or so limited to low power things that won't break the game (like the immovable rod).
  • Wands - the tool of a wizard, these are basically portable spell holders.  How many spells?  Hard to say.  Each wand is given a die-type, known to the player, that is rolled every time the wand is used.  If that die comes up 1, then the last charge has been used.  Weak wands, like minor illusion, can be assigned a d20, so you can suspect a high number of uses.  Powerful wands, like chain lightning, you'll get an average of 4 uses, maybe more, maybe less.
  • Staves - Staves are a little more reliable than wands, but still not completely predictable.  Staves work similarly, each is assigned a die-type, and that die is rolled every time the staff is used.  For these items, when the die comes up between 1 and 3, the die-type drops by one (i.e. the staff drops from a d20 to a d12).  That means staves have a lot more charges, and you have a much better idea how much more use the staff can handle.  You can even assign different dice to different powers of staves - consider a healing staff that has a d20 cure light, but a d4 raise dead.  It's easy to see which one the players will get more use out of.

This gives you the same resource management sub-game, without having to track individual charges.  It gives the players some idea how much they can rely on an item, but doesn't leave them holding a dozen wands each with one charge left, you know, just in case.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Roll All the Dice - Starting Equipment

Whereas; Purchasing equipment for those first level D&D characters is sometimes a tedious exercise in juggling weight and cost and when can we just get to the dungeon already,

Whereas; Most of a character's generation is already random,

Whereas; Choosing the right niche item "just in case we meet X" is a gamble anyway,Whereas; Roll-All-The-Dice Random Generators are a neat little gimmick,

So be it resolved that the world needs a one page chart that will let players roll all the dice to generate their starting character's equipment.

Roll All the Dice Equipment Chart [PDF]

One thing that might not be clear here.  Your starting cash is basically equal to the difference between the armor and weapons you roll and the armor and weapons you can use.  For example, a thief that rolls an 8 on the armor chart (plate mail and a shield) can only use a shield and leather (which is a roll of 4), so he gets the leather and shield and 4sp for his trouble.

Yes this means that fighting men start with no cash.  They are also the most likely to start with the most expensive gear - them's the breaks.

Yes this means that a fighter might start out the campaign with full plate armor, a shield...and a pitchfork.  There's a story there. A great single sentence story that tells you more about the character than you really need for day one adventuring.

Yes this means all characters start off darn near broke - guess they better not waste any time goofing about in town when there's a perfectly good dungeon nearby.  See also: fully armored knights fighting with a pitchfork.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tyrrany of Dragons - A Fluid Situation

Last session saw our band of adventurers complete their scouting/invasion of the Cult of the Dragon's local cavern headquarters.  In addition to slaying the local warlord and his pet roper, they captured low level boss-cleric Frulam Mondath.  At the cost of one party member, second line dwarven fighter Henry St. John.

Back at the local Greenest Keep, the party met up with two messengers looking for the recently rescued monk, Leosin.  They delivered reports of the cult heading north towards Baldur's Gate by way of two different roads.  The loot collected from the region had been split into two separate wagon trains disguised as traders, one of which was led by the local cult head honcho, a half-black dragon called Rezmir.  Also, one of the messenger's guards was an elven fighter conveniently willing to hook up with the party (read: my new character).

Before picking one of the two trains to pursue, the party opted to descend to the Keep's dungeon for a quick interrogation of the captured cleric, Frulam.  Their first question was a collective, "Wait, you're a woman?"  Bear in mind, that the party had encountered Frulam multiple times, and our DM had consistently described and referred to Frulam as a crusty old dude - with matching crusty old dude miniature.  This week our DM brought along the official WotC DM's screen for the campaign which includes helpful pictures of the major NPCs.  Turns out that crusty old spittle flecked crackpot is actually a hot young chick, possibly of some sort of elven descent.

More like, Whore of the Dragon Queen, amirite?
Apparently WotC changed Frulam's gender at least once during the writing and editing, and a few of the pronouns slipped through the cracks.  During the prisoner questioning some players went with the retro-active gender switch, and some stuck with the new and improved female Frulam, to much confusion.  Either way, Frulam was a tough nut to crack.  She tried to charm the mage, failed miserably, and shut the heck up.  Part of me thinks Frulam disguised herself as a crusty old guy knowing that the resultant confusion would throw off pursuit/focus on the questioning.  Despite some solid intimidation rolls, we didn't really know what questions to ask, so we didn't score any useful intel.

Setting out cross-country to intercept and way-lay the inland wagon train, our heroes stopped for the night at a crowded caravanserai at a river crossing.  Two other groups of travelers had already claimed the best sleeping patches, so the party elected to set up in the lower right of the lavishly prepared, non at all suspicious campsite.

Recognizing the heavy hand of meta-gaming pointing to an obvious ambush, the characters set to investigating the group on the left.  (The group on the right wanted to be left alone and posed less of a threat over on the other side of the river.)  The left hand group consisted of a fat, jovial spice merchant named Aioli with six or so guards.  After sharing a meal, buying a rather nice road mess kit, and surreptitiously scouting the contents of the trader's two wagons, (the flat green things), the party set watch and made camp.

To no one's surprise Aioli was actually a hired hit man whose squad ambushed the party in dead of night.  Aioli had flavored the evening's meal with his special poisoned Aioli Sauce, but no one succumbed, and battle was joined.  Turns out the second group on the right was also hired hit men, and they joined battle as well.

It didn't go well for Aioli, his guards, or the un-named grouchy folks from the other side of the river.  The party has enough area effect attacks to handle the low level mooks, and the spell-casters kept picking the wrong targets - they kept using the wrong spells on people with the best saving throws, things like charming high Wisdom characters, or hitting high Dex characters with area-effect spells.

The wagons had to be left behind, but not before a thorough looting, and the finding of more intelligence:
We're going to need a folder to start tracking the paperwork.
And that was the end of a late night.  We got started late, and by the time everybody sat down at the table, all we really had time for was one session of RP and one combat.  The longer than normal gab session to start the session gave me time to start decorating the campaign note folder with some lovely junior-high doodles, though...
Also, my character was too dumb to help
with the interrogation of Frulam Mondath

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tyranny of Dragons - Take Three

The Cult of the Dragon has (so far) claimed two victims at our table.  Somebody is sending reinforcements in the form of a big dumb elven fighter named Yolo Ellsolor.  Ellsolor is a Quenyan word that roughly translates to moonsurfer.  Yolo is a diminutive, actually an anagram for an elvish phrase that means, "This might be pretty stupid, but I'm totally doing it anyway, bro."

His battle cry is his first name.

Never had much truck with elvish characters in the past, but D5D has warmed me up to the idea of a fighter with some magical ability.  Taking a high elf gives you a free cantrip, and minor illusion is just too much fun.  You can use it as often as you like, so Yolo here tends to pass the long dull moments of his life by "summoning" his pet monkey, Mister Nannerpants, as a travelling companion.  Mister Nannerpants is quite the rascal - can't wait to inflict him on the other players.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Megaduneon to be Named Later - Overland Player Map

As if this blogger didn't have enough irons in the gaming fire, I've been inspired by the likes of Peter Dell'OrtoDyson Logos, and a host of others to start in on a new megadungeon.  As with so many others, it may never see the light of an adventurer's torch.  It's okay, man.  Building, as with exploring, is one of those "journey not destination" things.

The basic set-up of the megadungeon is your standard city-built-over-an-ancient-evil.  As is so often the case, the evil bubbled up, the city fell, and now you've got a mess of ruin at the surface.  The whole lot is overgrown with trees and brambles and hills and other sight-blocking terrain.  Keep that though, we're going to circle back to it in a bit.

Before we talk about those first seven dungeons, though, let's take a look at the players' map for the ruined city to be named later:

What you've got there are eleven named sites to investigate, plus a bunch of collapsed sewer tunnels*.  A few of them are dead-ends, no dungeon to be found anywhere.  A couple are dead-end dungeons with no connection to the main level of the megadungeon.  The rest do contain passages into the dungeon proper, but not all of them are obvious.  At least one of these dungeons contains a straight shot into the dungeon without any preliminary encounters.  The odds of finding that right out of the gate are small, but clever or lucky parties can bypass the ruins.

As this is an old-school sandbox style game, not all of these dungeons are suitable for first level adventuring parties.  Some of them they'll have to come back and deal with when they've got more experience.  Which provides a way to "unlock" new entrances later in the campaign.  This is also a good place to point out that a successful party should be able to find exits from the dungeon to this map if they work their way deep enough into the dungeon proper.

What have we learned?  Nothing if you're paying attention to the smarter old-school bloggers upon whose shoulders I stand.  But if you're balancing on those shoulders with me, maybe this series will help by providing another example of megadungeon crafting.  Worst case scenario, maybe you find a couple ideas to steal for your megadungeon.

*They make fine hidey-holes, but none link up with the main dungeon - that's at least one cliche avoided.