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Archive for March, 2013

Surprise!

Surprise!

An important aspect of fantasy spelunking is the unexpected danger of random encounters. Whenever a party is actively exploring, a wandering monster check should be made every 10 minutes, or in the event of an attention drawing spectacle. If the party is doing everything they can to elude detection, including using stealth to hide with little movement, muffling all sounds and dousing extraneous light, then wandering monster checks should be made every hour.

To check for wandering monsters, roll 1d8. If the result is an 8, roll again on the wandering monster table. This will direct you to the correct subtable for the encounter. Finally check for surprise by rolling 1d6, surprise on 1-2. Distance between sides should be based on the natural fit of the dungeon, with opposing sides being closer depending on the level of surprise; i.e. If both parties are surprised, the enemy should appear around the nearest corner or at the edge of the light source. in other cases, the monsters might tumble out of the very walls upon which the pc’s are leaning.

Wandering Monster Table Level 1
1-2 – Vermin
3-4 – Creature
5-6 – Humanoid
7 – Undead/fiends
8 – Special

Vermin Table (d8)
1 – Giant/dire rats (2-5)
2 – Rat Swarm (6-24)
3 – Giant/vampire Bats (3-18)
4 – Stirges (2-8)
5 – Carrion crawler
6 – Giant Spider
7 – Fire Beetles (2-7)
8 – Giant Centipedes (1-6)

Creature Table (d8)
1 – Giant Badger
2 – Rust monster
3 – Great Cat – Snow Tiger (1-2)
4 – Hell Hounds (1-4)
5 – Cave Bear
6 – Gelatinous Cube
7 – Ankheg
8 – Owlbear

Humanoid Table (d8)
1-2 – Orcs (3-12)
3-4 – Goblins (4-16)
5 – Kobolds (2-12)
6 – Gnolls (2-12)
7 – Human bandits (2-12)
8 – Adventuring party (2-5)

Undead/fiend table (d8)
1-2 – Skeletons (1-20)
3-4 – Zombies (1-12)
5 – Ghouls (1-8)
6 – Ghost
7 – Wight
8 – Devil: Imp

This is an excerpt from the dungeon complex The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord Level 1: The Main Storey

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surprise

A famous work of art by artist Leonard Elmore graces the Basic d&D rulebook. Decades later, another person uses it as inspiration, or even blatant copy, of the art, in a far inferior style. Is it the finest form of flattery, or copyright infringement? You decide:

(I am making a booklet that I will give away or maybe even sell, and want to include art, but lack funds or means to produce actual art, thus these insane scribblings, which I am hoping produces a feeling of a well-meaning, nostalgic nod to past eforts in place of anything actually good.)

surprise 1

This is pretty much the same image just using my inferior skills. Too close to the original?

surprise 2

surprise 2

In an effort to really differentiate, I totally changed it up, losing the monster and just leaving the trap, and also he is a dwarf losing his helmet which cracked me up. Still too close? My judgmental daughter the artist looks at my futile attempts and sighs despairingly…

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Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Playtest bad 'and drawn character sheet

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition* Playtest bad ‘and drawn character sheet

The Basic ‘And Drawn character sheet. inspired by collegiate lined (I hated wide ruled) notebooks full of characters made in that awkward transition between the basic and advanced versions of D&D. Really there was nothing else like them in the world, so simple and full of ignorant hope. So many HP boxes worn through with erasers. So many big black X’s marked in fits of rage or lamentation. These sheets use that original transitional style but are updated to fit a complete 5th edition playtest character onto a single sided sheet of paper.

Above is an 800X1100 jpeg, and here is a link to the PDF: d5charsheet

Enjoy, and please provide feedback or comment. These sheets are mandatory at my table.

*I have decided to stop referring to the next iteration of the worlds most beloved beheading game as “D&D Next!” because it just sounds foolish. Plus, what if they decide to make a 6th edition and refer to the playtest as “D&D Next” then it could lead to mass confusion and rioting, however 5th edition playtest will stand the test of time. So it is written, so be it done.

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mudsorcererWe had a great night of food, friends, and gaming, as usual fueled by the efforts of all, including delicious Thai roast chicken and pork shish kebabs (spell check says I might mean shipboards). The chicken was spiced with an alternative to curry. I didn’t catch the name but it was very good, having much of the same flavor but milder. The pork when finished was as red and hot as a red dwarf star, but painfully delectable. There were also these strange stuffed grape or olive leaves that tasted really, really good, but every person who had one asked at least once what was in them, and despite reading the ingredients, were none the wiser. Marjoram? Shannon has been known to bring odd foods to the table, such as alligator meat, so it is always enlightening to check the ingredients whenever possible. Great dinner.

We had a new player this week, who has some experience with D&D. Despite being a nerd of many years, he only learned 4th edition last year, and taught himself to dm for his group of friends. Playing as the rogue, his character was every bit the rogue. At the end of the night, we were all talking and some one asked him how it was and he obviously had had a great time (just sitting next to whom he was sitting next to I’m sure contributed) but when I asked how he and I compared as dms, he was speechless for at least five minutes, with a sort of glassy look. Finally he said I was much more relaxed. Heh.

I believe he meant that as a compliment, and the evening of play was very consistent with my style of play. We play a very light-hearted game (with occasional short sudden bouts of serious business) and I am a joker by nature, so I can’t help but be as funny as “I can be while dming. Not that I am actually funny, mind, it is just my efforts at humor. The table is also a big mess. Not wanting to draw anything, I decided that with this dungeon crawl, I would use dungeon tiles. This meant that corridors ended up going up and over people’s plates, around a candle, or salt shaker, and often rotated in completely non-euclidian ways. Miniatures were scattered more often by kittens than by stone golems.

I often go into exposition mode and am willing to distort the adventure for the purpose of expanding upon theoretical or philosophical ideas. For instance, I learned this week that the heat density of the universe is lopsided as shown by the cosmic background radiation. The universe is 10 per cent brighter on one side (and there’s a huge cold spot.) This could be linked to patterns in existence before the big bang, since the CMB is supposed to represent the shape of the universe a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the big bang, when the universe was smaller than a single particle. I theorize that this lends credence to the theory of a multiverse, and that the patterns imprinted upon our newborn universe are the latent patterns of the universe from which ours spawned. It seems obvious.

I used this theory of the multiverse to illustrate my point, and even more importantly, to justify why famous characters from across campaigns and editions and levels have all gathered together to go down into a cave. The real reason is that I wanted to playtest the 3/20/13 release of “D&D Next” and one of the included adventures required 10th level characters. Added to this, everyone in the group seemed ready to get back to D&D after four months of modern zombie survival horror. It was a surprise for them to have all their favorite characters converted into 10th level versions for the new playtest. It was an instant success.

Why would all these heroes from different epochs gather together suddenly? Well a small figure in a red robe appeared. He told them he was the master of the dungeon which stood before them, and he explained that all their past lives were nothing more than preparation for this moment. They had only a few hours to break into yonder tomb, and destroy the slumbering corpse of a powerful mud lord and all her minions. Her tomb was in an extra-dimensional space that threatened to break off into a new universe with her mad mud magics, and thereby destroy this reality in the process. Better get a move on!

So that was the set up. They went into a natural cavern, and almost got stumped by the block of granite sealing the entrance to the tomb. For a moment it looked like it might be over before it even started. All the heroes of the ages stood around shrugging, wondering if maybe there might be something better on the other side of the gray mist.

OK, long story short, they went in, ignored the long pools and then the half orc dove into the square pool to retrieve a key the druid had spotted. In the room of tears, they bottled up a vial of acidic tears and found the secret door, then proceeded to get pummeled by stone golems. We had to turn that statue about 150 times as the characters used that room as their hub while exploring all the way to the purple coffin. Poor Cadence the wise stripped off her lucky charm to make room for the new shiny necklace of choke-you-till-your-dead.

It was getting gruesome. she stood there gripping her neck looking hopeless while the party debated what to do. The wizard I mean ranger had the greatest idea. put her in the coffin, cast water breathing on her, which gives gills, and then create water to fill the casket. Or cast polymorph to turn her into a creature with no neck. (I ruled that would not work as the magic item would transfer with all her other items.) Then the rogue remembered the vial of baby-tears acid, which I ruled worked on the necklace because hey magic baby tears. And because it was the best of the three ideas they came up with, but it was a hard call. i would have loved to see the party toting around my wife in a casket full of water all night, heh. In true role playing spirit, she barely said a word during the whole episode. Come to think of it, she might not have talked to me for awhile after that.

(In the module, nothing short of a wish, or a few specific spells could reverse the affect of the necklace. I always like to see the wacky plans my players concoct, things that Abbott and Costello might come up with when they are drunk, and that is how they usually solve things. Crazy antics. It was not the only time that night the ranger used his create water spell. Im just sayin’…)

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I’m working on a new dungeon project, The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord, and thought I would share my first pair of drafts of level 1 of the dungeon. Feel free to use, abuse, or ridicule.
map1

With my second draft I tried a new type of “inverted” graph paper which looks really great in person but doesn’t scan very well. A few of the features are becoming more distinct in this version, and wll reach their full fruition in the final version.

Here be the Ruined Fortress Level 1, draft 2

Here be the Ruined Fortress Level 1, draft 2

The third version is the final version and will be used in the adventure module “The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord – Level 1: The First Storey” with which I am soon to beat my group of players senseless.

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Just a quick post to show off the level 10 pregenerated characters for tonight’s session of the playtest, featuring a remake of a remake of a classic Dungeon adventure, The Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb. All comments (and checking for accuracy) are welcome. Enjoy!

molly5

wulfgar5

hex5

throwmaster5

cady5

felipe5

ria5

thokk5

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leprechaun_of_the_deadThis being the Friday before St Patrick’s day (he was a saint!) we celebrated Irish style, and on the menu we had corned beef and cabbage, lots of it. Two point-cut briskets baked in the oven were the main course, while a pair of cabbages, one green and one purple, were cooked to perfection 3 different ways. I steamed cabbage by putting it in a colander over a pot of boiling water, with butter and salt. I sauteed cabbage in a large pan with grilled onions and butter, and finally, I tried a new way. I put cabbage in the pan with the baking brisket for the last hour. This type of cabbage I referred to as ‘slaw’ since it contained some bits of fat, brisket, and other tidbits. It was arguably the best of the three.

Having found out this week that I am half Irish on my mother’s side, Hatfield of those Hatfields, this was an especially important holiday get-together for me. With some rolls and cupcakes provided by guests, we had a great irish feast. There was a lot of cabbage left at the end of the night, but only a pile of pink fat where the briskets once reposed. Good food, good times. Oh, and we also played some role playing games.

The group was a little smaller and more laid back this week. For awhile now, I have been using a new method of play, where I focus on the players at the table and don’t wait around or go in search of anyone who wanders off from the table. This method seems to work wonders, everyone who stays at the table is interested and having a good time. Even during combat, if it is somebody’s turn to go, and the seat is absent, I move on to the next person. They might just be away for a moment, in which case we assume the character “delayed their turn” until their return, but if a round has come and gone, then delay turns into missed turn. To offset this, “absent” characters are rarely attacked or harmed. I like to think of them as the ghost-form of a character, standing there doing nothing, like some online games use when the character is dead or incapacitated. Their character blinks from transparent blue into vivid color the moment the player sits down and asks what they can do.

Okay then, onto the game for real this time.

The survivors left the bleak house of the suicide serial killer and his yard full of undead hookers poste haste after burning the body and banishing his evil ghost. They drove all night and as dawn broke, the clouds began dispersing, warming the land and melting the ash-laden snow that covered everything, they arrived at their destination: The Church of the Prior Day Saints.

This church was a mostly unknown offshoot of the Church of Latter Day Saints(C) which was founded in the Kansas City area. The Prior Day Saints believe that the savior walked among our neanderthal and cro-magnon ancestors. Otherwise, they are a pretty crazy, cultish bunch. This building was the churches main chapel, and it looked like a small gothic cathedral tucked onto the corner of main street and Mayberry in downtown Smalltown America, an actual town in northern Missouri. Across the street was the town hall, and next door was a bar, the Winchester, and next to that was a free clinic. Around the far side of the street could be seen zombies of ill repute, like drug addicts, junkies, hookers, pimps, and teenage girls. Around the other side of the street were zombies wearing t-shirts and bearing placards with slogans such as “We believe in creation!”

The chapel was surrounded by a black wrought iron fence and the gate was locked. The church itself was stone, with thick iron-reinfoced oaken doors, and tall narrow windows. It also had a small cemetery in the back yard, which held the remains of the churches earliest members. Well, not the cave man ones, but a hundred or two years old. They were once buried there, but now holes in front of the gravestones attested to the dozen or so skeletons meandering on the wrong side of the fence. The skeletons looked black, with a supple leather skin covering them, as though their dessicated flesh had mummified. The scientists in the group pondered the unlikeliness of this situation, but they were reassured once an explanation was made, regarding very dark energy and very dark matter that has been “ionized” by the Zeta radiation emitted from the near miss of Asteroid Z.

No Warm Bodies here

No Warm Bodies here

So, the group formed a corridor of two fighters on each side, while the dozen or so children were passed over the locked gate from the roof of the escalade. Each fighter was attacked by a skeleton, on one side we had the Scarlet Harlot with her customized nail gun (it ran on hate and rage) and her protector, the dauntless Buzz Lombardo, the unsuccessful second cousin of Buzz Lightyear. He flunked out of astronaut training and spent the next 12 years at the university, mostly going to frat parties, while attempting to get a masters degree in Humanities. He will never complete his degree now.

However, they fought well together, and more than once, they helped one another. The scarlet harlot blasted a zombie in the skull with her nail gun just before it bit into Buzz’s neckbeard. Another time, She hit a zombie in the temple with a high speed nail, but it didn’t slay the beast. One of its green glowing eyes started flickering, but the other eye glowered as menacingly as ever. Buzz had a shovel (a fine melee weapon, used similarly to a bohemian ear spoon in close combat) and he used his shovel to pound the nail further into the skeleton’s skull, shattering it.

On the other side of the line stood Dr Zara Zhar and the the video clerk one-eye Jay. They combined forces in much the same way, with Zara blasting limbs off the skeleton with each karate strike, and then Jay would blast their skulls to smithereens with his twin 44 mags. One of the last skeletons was attacking Buzz, and Scarlet was unable to help since she grappled with a fiend of her own. Dead eye Jay turned around, and tried to aim through the children as they were being passed between them. Child, child, child, SPACE, child, child, child, SPACE then BOOM its a hit, the last skeleton’s head exploded into dust.

They front door was locked, so Buzz tried picking the lock… with a fireman’s axe. It wasn’t working, so they went around back and found an unlocked fire exit. They also heard faint praying coming from a tiny cottage in the back corner of the lot, and in it was Father Mmkay, the priest of the chapel. He seemed dazed and said he had seen no one since the dead came to life and has been on his knees praying for the past day and night. He also feared for Abbot Scotty, his assistant priest.

irishcelticcrossThey went inside and checked the ground floor. No zombies, just a big empty chamber with pews, a stained glass window, and an ancient looking stone cross, that looked like a cross with a small circle inscribed near the axis. It was one of the foundational icons of the Church of Prior Day Saints.

Upstairs housed a small domrmitory with bathroom and showers, as well as the abbot’s chambers, which were empty, his bed unslept in. Downstairs had a kitchen and a room for playing bingo, and a locked steel door that led to, you guessed it, the crypt. Four levels of buried dead, all peacefully resting in. Riiiiight…

Luckily, the priest assured them were nothing more than ashes in urns.

The survivors debated whether they should search all four sub-basements, and in the end, they decided it was worth it to be sure. Every level was just row upon row of ash-filled urns, until the very bottom, which was empty except for a stack of crates containing unused urns. Next to that was an old dusty deep freezer. The power was out, so whatever was in there would surely be bad, right? Dr Zara Zhar opened the lid to find out.

It was bad. What happened next has been deemed to vile to ever mention again, so let us wrap this up with the knowledge that while none of the survivors were killed by what leapt shrieking and mewling out of that deep freezer, none were left unscathed, either.

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