Jul 15, 2017

Feuerberg: Base, Face, and Summit

The majority of the Feuerberg campaign takes place on, in and between, two mountains which are approximately the height of Mount Everest in our world. Altitude is therefore a recurrent concern. I want some simple rules to cover dealing with it that won't turn into a lot of minutiae.

The key information to know for these rules is that the campaign area is split into three altitude regions: the base of the two mountains, their faces, and their summits. And one can be either unacclimatised or acclimatised to each region.

The Base

The base is anything below about 4km in vertical height from sea level. That's the town of Hoch, the valley between the mountains, and about the first 2km onto either mountain (you start about 2km up already). All PCs begin acclimatised to this height, and do not lose their acclimatisation to it.

The Faces of the Mountains

The faces are the portions of either mountain between 4km and 8km vertical height from sea level. This is a true montane environment, and the altitude at which people begin to run the risk of fatal complications. All PCs begin unacclimatised to it.

While they are unacclimatised, they must make a saving throw at the end of each day that they have engaged in strenuous activity. Failure means they lose 1d4 HP and cannot regain hit points, as hypoxia and altitude sickness rip up their metabolism. Days spent resting do not require one to make a saving throw.

Characters who have acclimatised to the face stay acclimatised so long as they don't descend below the face. There are no negative consequences once one has acclimatised.

The Summits of the Mountains

The summit is anything above 8km in vertical height from sea level. Feuerberg gets close to 9km high, even with the top of it shorn away, and its summit area is about 3km in diameter. Himmelberg is about 8.5km high, with a much smaller summit of only 1km diameter. In real life, we call these places "death zones", and they lack enough oxygen to sustain human life for more than a few hours.

Regardless of how acclimatised or unacclimatised one is, one cannot digest food, can't sleep, and must make a saving throw every hour or lose 1d4 HP while in the death zone.

Unacclimatised characters on the summit must also make a separate saving throw every hour or begin dying when they're in the summit. It takes 1d6 turns to die, through a combination of hypoxia, cerebral edema, pulmonary edema, and cold.

Acclimatised characters don't have to make the saving throw to avoid dying. Character stay acclimatised to the summit only so long as they don't descend from the summit.


So being unacclimatised is pretty bad. You probably want your PC to acclimatise to the altitude they're going to. Here are some methods for doing so.

1) Magic

Any spell that provides you with breathable air of some sort (e.g. a spell for travelling underwater or the void) will provide you with suitable air to count as acclimatised for as long as it lasts. Magic items that provide similar capabilities will also work, as do weird mutations and magical powers you get from mystery cults. If the magic lapses or the item ceases function, you count as unacclimatised and start suffering the consequences within 1 turn.

2) Camping and waiting

The most accessible method. You camp in a hex adjacent to the region you want to become acclimatised (i.e. on a base hex adjacent to the face to become acclimatised for the face, on a face hex adjacent to the summit for the summit, etc.). For the face, you camp for two weeks, for the summit, a month. At the end of that time, you roll a saving throw and if you succeed, you are now acclimatised until you next descend the mountain. You can repeat the period of waiting and camping as many times as one wants, in case not everyone passes the first time, but once acclimatised, you don't need to roll a saving throw again. You get random encounters while you camp, so you're going to either want a fortified camp or to find ways around having to do this.

3) Eating weird stuff

At the start of the Feuerberg campaign, you can't buy anything that will let you acclimatise more easily or rapidly. But, there are several options that you can go hunt down on the mountain itself to make acclimatisation either easier or faster. These are the ones that are openly known, though few have ever seen or used them.

Fresh Yeti Spleen - A yeti's spleen can be split between 1d4 people. It grants acclimatisation to the altitudes of the faces for 1d4 days for each person who eats it. The yeti strenuously object to this practice (-4 to positive reaction rolls), can smell spleen-eaters from far away, and do their best to make life difficult.

Blue Coca - A blue-green plant that grows wild in montane climates, where its fragrance is precious to minor air elementals, who drape themselves in smells the way mortals do clothes. A small amount is cultivated as a recreational drug by the Xarxeans, though they don't make it available to humans. Chewing quids regularly (for at least a week straight, 8 hours a day) before an expedition means it will only take a day to become acclimatised to the face, and three days for the summit. You can't heal naturally (only from medical care) while chewing blue coca.

Grey Mantaka - A psychedelic drug of unknown origin, though rumours claim a particular monolith high on Himmelberg oozes the stuff on nights of the new moon. Grey Mantaka acclimatises you to both the face and summit immediately upon taking it, for 1d6 days each. You must also make a saving throw or hallucinate wildly. This means you fail all saving throws to disbelieve illusions, suffer a -2 on attack rolls, and concentrating on anything for more than a minute or so requires a roll of 5+.

Other drugs and concoctions are rumoured to exist, but knowledge of their existence must be sought out in play.

Jul 12, 2017

Radiant Quests and Restocking

Another method of restocking dungeons is to use an idea from video games: radiant quests. I'm normally leery about the idea that one can simply port an idea over without much adaptation from one medium to another, but I think this is one of the rare exceptions. Once again, the idea is that restocking should be simpler than stocking a dungeon in the first place.

A radiant quest is one where there is a basic template for a task ("Go assassinate..." or "Go retrieve..."), and the game uses some mechanism to assign the object of that quest and the location it takes place randomly. In video games, radiant quests tend to be used to push the players to new areas (giving them a reward for exploring), but I think they work equally well for restocking areas of the dungeon they've already explored and cleared.

What you need is a bunch of generic tasks, a list of enemy forces and objects, a list of NPCs, a list of locations, and a list of rewards. I recommend starting with small lists for each one (d4 or d6 options) and expanding as new NPCs and new areas come up.

A sample generic task might run:

1) Retrieve something
2) Assassinate someone
3) Bring something/someone
4) Clear out somewhere

You pick one, or roll a d4 to determine what the basic structure is. Then you roll for the object or NPC from your lists of such to determine who they're supposed to rescue or assassinate or steal or set in place, etc. The list of enemy forces tells you what's guarding them. And finally, you roll from your list of sub-sections of the dungeon that the PCs have explored to determine where they're going to have to get to. Then roll to find out what their reward is.

This is all fairly simple. You can grab lists of enemy forces and treasure hoards from Red Tide, since this tends to be the most complicated part, or you can just come up with your own. You can even abstract this process if you have a bunch of mini-modules, and just randomly roll to determine where each module intrudes into the dungeon (perhaps with an earthquake or interdimensional portal opening to provide the explanation for the change).

The main things to vary are the task, the object of the task, and the location. Cycling through and recycling these in their various combinations can provide a fairly large amount of gameplay without much work (you can reuse forces and objects, and depending on how you handle it, this could either be lightly comic or build to a larger plot, as say, a particular magical artifact keeps on being stolen and returned to the dungeon in random locations, leading to the question of why it's so valuable and important).

May 31, 2017

Feuerberg: Traveling the Mountain

The surface of Feuerberg is irregular, mostly sloped, but occasionally breaking into great cliffs and chasms that rise and plunge dramatically. While much of the base is able to be walked or scrambled up, albeit slowly, the top halves of Feuerberg and Himmelberg are open almost exclusively to those who can drag themselves up steep cliff-faces.

Climbing the world's largest mountains happens at the scale of overland travel. Rather than focusing on every ledge and chimney, travel is abstracted across a hex grid where the hexes have a diameter of 1km, and it takes approximately 1 hour to traverse a hex (mostly due to changes in vertical height and stopping to rest so the party isn't too exhausted to fight). Because of the reduced scale, instead of the full overland travel procedure, a cut-down version is used.

For each hex on the mountainside, the caller must make three choices.

1) Are they looking for paths, or are they pressing overland?

By spending an hour and rolling 6+ on 1d6 the party finds a path, which is generated in an ordinary way. PCs can follow the path, which requires them to follow it as it meanders, or they can depart from it and lose its benefits to travel in another direction.

2) Stealthy or. Straightforward

Traversing a hex stealthily increases the chance of getting lost. While traversing the hex, the caller rolls 1d6. On a result of 3-, the party is lost and they fail to exit the hex. While travelling a path, the party is lost only on a result of 1.

Traversing it in a straightforward way increases the chance of random encounters. While traversing the hex, the guard rolls for a random encounter. On a path, the party can reroll one of the d6s.

3) Safety or Speed

Traversing a hex safely increases the time it takes. It takes 1d6+1 hours to traverse a hex safely. On a path, it takes 1d4 hours.

Traversing a hex speedily increases the risk of an accident. Everyone makes a saving throw. On a failure, they either destroy one item in their possession or they take 3d6 points of damage (PC's choice). On a path, they get +4 to their saves.

Weather and specific terrain types can alter this further, making certain days and places particularly good for stealth, etc.

May 28, 2017

Into the Depths of Feuerberg

I'm going to be running a campaign in Feuerberg (the dragon volcano megadungeon) on Saturdays from 11am EST to 3pmish EST. If you're interested in joining, let me know.

Into the Depths Single Page Rules Summary
Into the Depths Character Sheet created by Beloch Shrike of Papers and Pencils
Into the Depths of Feuerberg (the setting guide)

The shops and gear are on the last two pages of the document, but I'm putting them up in this post so that people can refer to them more easily. Only new pieces of gear with mechanical effects have descriptions. If it says something like "4+" that means "on a result of 4 or higher when rolling 1d6".

(I'm probably going to write an entire post about the pocketwatch item and time-keeping in games at some point; and another about Grunewald's Almanac)

Vendors in Hoch
(Prices in silver unless otherwise noted)
Shops will buy rare, unusual and interesting items related to their wares.

The Dragon’s Claw – run by Gunther Kant

Small Barrel of Corned Gunpowder – Explodes for 3d6 damage in 5m diameter (gold)
Dagger (small)
Custom-Made Obsidian __________ - Allows hitting incorporeal undead and spirits
Flintlock Carbine (ranged)
Full Brigandine Suit (medium armour)
Halberd (great)
Sabre (melee)
Spear (great)
Leather Jack (light armour)
Reinforced Field Plate Panoply (heavy armour) (gold)
Repair Kit – Repair weapons and armour on a 4+
War-Axe (melee)
Zweihander (great)

Church of the Hidden God – run by Yazdan Burjani (gold)

Copyist’s Kit – Allows accurate copying of documents
Fatwas Against ________ - Scrolls of protection
Healing Grievous Wounds
Holy Symbol – stun nearby undead for 1d4 rounds on a 5+
Regeneration of Lost Parts
Removal of Curses
Shriving of Sins
Vials of Holy Water

Can initiate someone as a priest of the Hidden God (10,000 sp)

The Golden Sun Coffee House – run by Madame Kularka (gold)

Excellent Booze
Excellent Coffee
Excellent Tea
Fortune Read
Introduction to Esteemed Personage
Hot Tip

The Hall of Zagros – run by Ranit Anuniat

Cartographic and Surveying Equipment
Climbing Equipment – Climb surfaces on a 4+
Cold Weather Clothing – +4 on saves vs. exposure to cold
Crowbar – Break open doors and chests on a 4+
Flare – Blinds all within 5m radius for 1d6 rounds unless they save
Hammer and Chisel – Allows carving, breaking and driving things into rock
Iron Rations
Iron Spikes
Protective Gloves – Protects hands from acid, poison, heat, etc. Cannot do tasks requiring fine motor coordination while wearing them.

The Hangs – run by Greta Verstirwung (copper)

Bullshit Story
Fried Noodles
Godawful Beer
Stolen Goods
Terrible Whiskey
Warm Beds – Recover 2d8 HP / day of rest

The Hausenner Ranch – run Friedrich Haussenner, Esq.

Bag of Flour
Block of Wax
Butchering Kit – Allows harvesting of monster organs, trophies, etc.
Dangerous Animals Tamed (gold)
Donkey (mount)
Riding Horse (mount)
Fresh Sausages
Gallon of Milk (copper)
Milk Cow (gold)

Olonwe’s Bazaar of Wonders – run by Olonwe

Cartographic and Surveying Tools
Document Case – Protects documents against exposure to fire and water
Fiddle – Can calm beasts, demons, and undead
Fine Tools
Current Edition of Grunewald’s Northern Almanack – Answers questions about flora, fauna, geography, seasons, and astronomical phenomena in Feuerberg on a 4+.
Lock & Key
Mirror – Reflects gaze attacks back on a 5+
Periscope – Allows looking around corners while remaining concealed
Pocketwatch – Allows accurate tracking of time
Songbox – Plays music
Telescope – 10x vision of far objects

Sebastus Wright, Magus (gold)

Dose of Paralysis Poison – Save or be paralysed for 1d6 turns
False Air Capsule – Don’t need to breath for 2d6 hours
Ghost-Blinding Flares – Save or blinds incorporeal undead for 2d4 rounds
Ghost-Translating Skull – Allows one conversation with a dead person
Hekaphage Talisman – Allows reroll of one failed saving throw vs. magical effect
Lens of Decipherment – Translates one document into High Krovian
Oracular Incense – Augury for one question when burnt
Plasmic Key – Opens one non-magical lock
Spider Eye – Comes to life for 2d6 rounds and explores at MV 3
Soul-Trapping Canopic Jar – Incorporeal undead or spirit must save or be trapped within
Vial of Acid

Can initiate someone into the Silver-Veined Sodality for 10,000sp

Town Hall – run by the Burgher Council (gold)

Business License
Citizenship (platinum)
Confusing, Frustrating and Punitive Taxes
Freehold Land Grant – Necessary to establish a permanent home base
Licensed Advocate

Additional special vendors are available upon completion of certain quests.

May 10, 2017

Credit Where Credit's Due

It turns out Talysman over at Nine and Thirty Kingdoms came up with the idea of using reaction rolls for weather first. (I wrote this blog post recently with the same idea). It was probably cryptomnesia since I discovered it while reviewing a random collection of links to OSR house rules (I think it was this thread on rpg.net) in a forum. In general, I think using reaction rolls for random events is a solid idea, one I'll probably be implementing more to handle other random situations requiring a range of possible outcomes (instead of the relatively binary outcome of a saving throw). I like how it makes the charisma attribute more useful (and restores its sense of being favoured by the divine).

Apr 27, 2017

Feuerberg: The Abandoned Dig Adventure Site

1 hex = 1 km side to side

This is a map of the area immediately surrounding Hoch, including a small portion of the north-eastern slope of Feuerberg (Feuerberg and Himmelberg together cover about 714 km^2, about a tenth of the total ground area of the sub-range they belong to, which is comparable to Mahadur Himchal, the subrange that Everest belongs to). The blue post-its are above-ground sites, the purple post-it notes are sites with access to the subsurface of Feuerberg, the yellow post-its are terrain that poses a simple challenge, while the orange post-it means dangerous terrain that is non-trivial to cross. The below adventure site is statted up for Into the Depths.


One of the first areas PCs are likely to be interested in is the abandoned dig site. A few years ago, an archaeomancer led an expedition to this spot, seeking to unearth an ancient prehuman temple. No one has heard from them since. The dig site itself is frequently used as a staging area by goat men for their raids. This batch seems to particularly like kidnapping people and sacrificing them at the full moon.

WHY DO YOU WANT TO KILL THESE GOAT MEN? (1d6 or just pick a bunch)

1) They kidnapped someone you care about. If you want them back, better go get them before the next full moon.
2) They're blocking trade from the kingdom on the far side of the mountains. If you wipe them out and prevent more from taking over the site, all prices in Hoch will come down 10% and the baron will owe you a big enough favour to let you out of jail for free once.
3) The ghost of the archaeomancer, Jumara Thayne, needs you to recover the brain from her corpse and then burn it in a fancy ceremony so she can regain her memories and power. She'll cast one spell for free per month in gratitude.
4) Someone said there's a dangerous and mysterious prehuman monolith out there that will give you awesome powers if you sacrifice people (like goat men) to it.
5) The goat men ate the last missionary the Church of the Hidden God sent out. Yazdan Burjani, the local priest, has issued a fatwa against them, and will totally shrive your many sins in exchange for a little divinely-sanctioned murder. (PCs can change their alignment to Good/Lawful no matter how bad they've been previously)
6) The Cult of Vorkallian needs a pile of goat man hearts for what are no doubt uninteresting and wholly legitimate reasons. They're paying 20 sp (gp in systems on the gold standard) for each fresh heart (less than a day old).


It's about four kilometres due west of town. Once you hit the lower slope of Feuerberg, there are coniferous thickets and rocky outcroppings scattered across an incline that takes you up about two hundred metres, past the sealed entrance to the salt mine full of restless undead and along a deer path. You know you're in the right area when you can feel your skin begin to crawl. During the day, the smoke from the goat men's campfires is visible once PCs enter the hex.


The goat men have all been driven violently insane by a phenomenon they refer to as "the purple light" which seems to involve great and terrible revelations of incoherent character. They wield slings (1d6), crude spears (2H; 1d10) and sharpened pieces of rebar (1d8). They don't use their horns in combat (that would be undignified). HD 1+1 AT 1 weapon (+0) AC 13 MV 9 MR 6 There are 1d4 patrols in groups of 1d4+1 roaming around the dig site at any given time.

The abandoned dig site. The green things are thickets of conifers.


1. The crumbled ruins of shrines built by intelligent saurids from before the age of man have been dug out carefully, then left to rot in the sun and rain for several years. A heavily-weathered, armless statue of a dinosaur wearing fancy robes stands on a pedestal. Ehkt, a goat man, is clacking pebbles together while muttering about the purple light and its demands. If questioned, he claims to be talking to the ghost living in the statue (there is no ghost), which is teaching him how to resist the purple light's revelations. He is visibily swollen with tumours, and the other goat men hate him.

2. A deep pit, clearly the last site of activity before the dig was abandoned and now a dump. At the bottom of the pit is a half-buried fossilised dinosaur skeleton that appears to be posed in meditation and is covered by the weathered and rotting bodies of the victims of the goat men (three dozen). All lack skulls. Phehth, a goat man, sneaks here to nibble on the corpses when the others aren't looking. Sometimes he hides amongst them, pretending to be one.

Rooting through the charnel pit reveals 146 silver pieces and 67 copper pieces; a gummy vial of poison (half-drunk); a ruby worth 159 silver pieces in the stomach of one of the corpses; a rotted and blood-soaked book that if repaired magically is revealed to be a spellbook with 3 spells; a rotted and blood-soaked book that if repaired magically is a guide to fine cookery worth 32 silver pieces; the arms of the statue at location 1, which grip a tablet showing a coded map to the cave of ancient art in hex 16:22; several armloads of damp and rotting wood, and a mixture of broken and rusted tools. There is a 1 in 6 chance of contracting an unpleasant rash (-1 to hit, MV and Armour Mod.) every turn spent rooting through the bodies. Each person-turn spent searching recovers one item from the above list (roll 1d8).

3. A statue of three interwined and spire-like tentacles emerging from a stone surface carved to look like a wave pool. The stone is white marble, with faint purple veins in the rock. It looks much newer than anything else here. The goat men stack the skulls of the people they kill here (Jumara Thayne's is here, recognisable through the spell-swelled brain-pan of an archaeomancer). The statue is the source of the skin-crawling feeling. Touching it ages you 1d100 years (save for half), and is not necessary to remove the skulls.

4. The goat men's campsite. Two tents, a bonfire with something unwholesome roasting on a spit, and a lot of blankets strewn about. One tent holds the liquor and food. The other holds Gragh, the leader of this band of goat men [HD 3+3 AT 1 sledgehammer (+2 1d8) AC 15 MV 6 MR 9] and his three wives / bodyguards, Blech, Blegh and Blagh (MR 9). Gragh and his wives are having a grand time lording it over the other goat men and have no larger plans than pleasing the purple light with sacrifices obtained through raiding caravans and kidnapping travelers. If it seems like it'd be less trouble, they'll trade prisoners for new sacrifices to replace them.

There are another dozen goat men here at any time, drunk, bored, or agitated by private crises induced by the purple light. There are eight barrels of liquor, each worth 22 sp if hauled back to civilisation and their origins concealed. The food is a collection of delicacies (salt fish stuffed with chopped peanuts, mostly) from the kingdom across the mountains, unsaleable due to rough handling but still quite hearty and in significant portions (47 rations worth, all spoiled by the end of the week). Prisoners will be tied up here, in between the rings of blankets and the campfire itself.

5. A guard tower. Three goat men are on guard here at all times with slings and torches. Waght, the goat woman who takes guard duty the most frequently, is actually sane and uninfected by the purple light, but pretends so the others don't suss her out. She is willing to sell out the rest for the chance to escape, but only if approached alone. She often pretends to "go scouting" in the woods by herself. The guard tower has a small collection of well-loved books (Waght's), mostly well-thumbed travelogues, worth about 15 sp total.

6. A hollow obsidian tetrahedron 3m long on each edge, sticking up out of the ground with 30cm or so still buried. For each 13 points of damage dealt to it within a single hour, one of the faces begins to glow with a constellation of stars. The first face is of an ancient constellation, the second of the contemporary night sky, the third shows a possible future night sky. Once all three are lit, you may ask any one question and receive a truthful answer to it (via a telepathic image). One of the stars in the night sky above you burns out in a flash. The tetrahedron radiates evil palpably within 3m. If the tetrahedron is used 13 times total, all stars, including the sun, will burn out. It has been used four times previously. Erckt, Yurch, Wamch and Gruk, goat men, hang around it, egging one another into giving it an occasional slap and laughing at the lights. The tetrahedron is indestructible by mundane means, but Mad Bill Danger, the trash oracle in the ruined city of hex 8:24, knows how to destroy it.

7. A white marble monolith with purple veins in the stone. It is carved with a spiral pattern descending into a mouth-like vortex at the centre on both sides. The monolith and the ground around it are caked with bloodstains. Yechkt, a priestess of the purple light, meditates here [HD 4+4 AT 1 dagger (+2 1d4) AC 11 MV 12 MR 9]. She can spend an action to animate 1d4+1 bodies at a time from the charnel pit [HD 1+1 AT 1 fist (+0 1d3) AC 15 MV 6 MR 12], summon a 3 HD demonic being to defend her [HD 3 AT 2 (+2 1d6; save or be confused) AC 15 MV 12 MR 10], or shoot deadly bolts of purple light from her eyes (1d6 damage, save or weep helplessly for 1d4 rounds). When not trying to kill you, she is usually inebriated on hallucinogens, ranting about "the Relict" and the purple light. Half the goat men and women here are her children or nieces and nephews, and they will martyr themselves for her (MR 11 so long as she is threatened). She knows how the monolith works, but won't tell you willingly.

When the full moon is in the sky, unwilling sentient beings may be sacrificed to the purple light by slitting their throats and splashing the blood on the monolith. The first death gives the officiant and their allies a +1 to all attacks and damage for 1 day. The third provides 2d8 points of healing within 10m. The fifth lifts the effects of all curses, diseases and maladies (other than its own) from anyone within the same radius.  If someone without wounds, curses, maladies, etc. is within 10m for the fifth and further deaths, they get cancer, though they won't realise it until later (cancer counts as a malady for the next use). The seventh death causes anyone within 10m to save or acquire a mutation, as does the 10th death. The monolith radiates evil divine magic. Anyone who has deciphered the ancient languages of the saurids will notice the spiral pattern is composed of claw-letters repeating a word that roughly means "the hatred of all life".

Apr 23, 2017

Bonus Grubbing in Into the Depths

For new readers, Into the Depths is a one-page D&D-like inspired by Searchers of the Unknown that I wrote over Christmas break. It's compatible with most Swords and Wizardry material. You can download it for free here. I'm going to eventually write a magic supplement for it, but in the mean time I'm using Wonder and Wickedness as the spell system.

Into the Depths uses a fairly simple skill system. Any time you try to do something with a risk of failure and a consequence for failing, you roll a d6 and try to get a result of 5 or higher. If someone helps you, you roll a d8. If you're "Good At" doing the thing in question, you add +2 to your roll. If a group is doing something that they all succeed or fail on together, then they nominate someone to roll on their behalf.

The "5 or higher" is basically a DC (a "difficulty class" from d20) and can be adjusted up or down as you desire. I mostly only adjust it up, while things that make the task easier add bonuses to the PCs' rolls, simply to keep it all as simple addition. Most equipment typically doesn't add bonuses, it either allows you to do things you couldn't otherwise or allows you to avoid having to make rolls by automatically allowing you to succeed (a few pieces allow you reroll a failed roll).

One of the things this system is intended to do is to give the PCs kind of a crappy initial chance to do anything (unless it's an area of core expertise) and so encourage them to grub around for bonuses to their rolls. Here are some of the ways that I let them do so, that you might want to try in turn.

+1 to rolls for:

Taking double the usual time to complete the task
Having a clue, secret, or other inobvious but relevant information
Someone else has done the hardest part of the task
Having a specialised piece of equipment (Specialised equipment should only apply to a small set of predefined situations)
Magical assistance, including blessings
Executing a plausible, well-described plan of action

+1 to the DC for:

Each person past the first two in a group where one person is rolling on behalf of the group
Rushing (1/2 normal time or less)
Crappy equipment
Plans relying on seriously flawed or incorrect assumptions
Magical interference
Difficult environmental conditions

These lists aren't meant to be exhaustive, they're just prompts to get referees and PCs alike thinking about how they can fiddle with the difficulty of any given challenge.

Apr 22, 2017

Feuerberg: The Basics

The two mountains are "Feuerberg" and "Vogelberg". The town nearby is "Hoch", a bustling town of about 5,000. The dragon is called "Vorkallian". There is a cult that worships the dragon in town, but they are quite open, and common belief is that their worship keeps the dragon from harming the residents of Hoch (they're wrong).

I'm busy keying the Salt Catacombs, the starting section of Feuerberg, having already mapped them, so here's some starter stuff to tide folks over in the meantime.

Recent events:

The dragon's eggs are supposed to have started hatching a century ago. But instead of the rapturous cataclysm that would bring, each baby dragon appears to die during hatching. The Church of Vorkallian blames a necromancer who moved to the area at about the same time, and wants adventurers to hunt him down and slay him. They also want several of the fouler caves, catacombs, ruins and dungeons cleared out, in case they are polluting the dragon's nest. They're paying good money for it.

About a month ago, a group of noble knights, priests and adventurers from afar rode in on griffons to slay the red dragon. Their vanguard vanished into a cloud that rained blood, while others were slain or injured by bolts of lightning. Whoever survived has gone to ground on the mountains. The locals are split over whether to find them and kill them while they're weak, or to plead with them to leave Feuerberg alone. People suspect they're probably hiding with some of the hermits in the Forest of Woe.

An old diviner who lived in the trash dump at the edge of town was driven out for blaspheming against the dragon two weeks ago. He used to trade strange artifacts he found in the cursed inhuman ruins on the far side of Feuerberg, but something he found there convinced him that the dragon needed to be destroyed.

The goatmen were peaceful until a few years ago, but they've become violent raiders since then. Now all they jabber about is a serving a purple light that no one's heard of before. They're also digging all over Feuerberg and Vogelberg, though no one knows why.


Vogelburg is believed to contain the secret of immortality if you can scale to the temple at the peak and convince the guardians there that you are worthy.

The goatmen are bewitched by the necromancer. The purple light is just a spell he's using.

If a baby dragon isn't born soon, Vorkallian will abandon the nest, blowing the mountain apart and killing everyone in Hoch.

They dumped the dead from the last plague in the old abandoned salt mine, but they're not resting easy in there.

If you spend too long in the petrified forest, you turn to stone yourself.

Lizardmen still live under the mountains, and are plotting to bring a powerful demon back to life.

Feuerberg is steeper, but Vogelberg's faces are less stable.

The cursed city on the far side of Feuerberg wasn't built by human hands - or even mortal ones.

This whole area was once ruled by a vampire, and he's buried somewhere around here.

The stone circles and monoliths actually keep the dragon bound in the mountain. If they were ever damaged, it would escape and destroy everyone.

The crows around Vogelberg are immortal. They've been there longer than mankind has existed.

Some of the ancient caves on Feuerberg have art that shows lizardmen, snakemen and birdmen worshipping strange gods.

Apr 20, 2017

Feuerberg: First Steps Planning

I plotted out the local area around Feuerberg using a simple overhead diagram with a hex grid underlay. There's Feuerberg, its companion mountain, the local town, and the road that passes the town and then through the valley between the two mountains. I'm thinking each cell of the grid will be 1 km across. I've begun drawing up ideas on post-its and sticking them on the cells. Bright yellow post-its are sites, orange are danger. Eventually there will be a finer level of colour discrimination between post-its, probably green, yellow and red for terrain (indicating its relative ease of transit vs. danger and risk), blue for aboveground sites, and purple for entrances to the subsurface of the mountain. (This is all using Realtimeboard)

Last night, I broke each mountain's surface into four faces, and then decided that there would be one signature dungeon or challenge per face to begin, plus one at the peak of each. Only some of these zones would lead below the surface. I decided to err on the side making the mountain less easily transited rather than more, in order to encourage the use of the subsurface zones (which will extend vertically up and down) to move past them.

An image of what the above process looks like

I'm feeling my creative juices flow on this project like they weren't on some of my other recent ones. I think I've got some solid ideas for landmarks - a ruined city of the ancients partly buried in lava; the rotting carcass of a headless male dragon that the female decapitated after mating that now lays draped over the side of the caldera, a meteoric lake filled with tiny mollusk-philosophers; an old town that fell into a chasm and now lays scattered amongst beams of light at the bottom; a cave that's Lascaux by way of the Mountains of Madness, etc.

The mountain is one of the paradigmatic examples of the sublime, and this will be an affect I'm going to try to play extensively with in this. I want expressions of deep time and vertigo to undergird much of how of the pieces fit together.

The giant is both dead and not dead. Really, the giant isn't a thing that can be dead, because that would imply it was alive. The giant is an elemental force, just as the dragon is (the dragon is weaker, closer to a living thing, but more active). Its brain is made of obsidian that when chipped becomes humanoids. Its heart is molten gold. Its breath causes either death or immortality, unpredictably, if you can make it breathe again. You might think it's human-shaped, but it predates humanoids, who are shaped roughly like it. The other mountain is a musical instrument it was building, though what exactly it wanted to play (or why) is unknown.
Detail of the area surrounding the caldera

Apr 19, 2017

Megadungeon Idea: Feuerberg

I'm not exactly the next Picasso, I'll admit
I was thinking about a megadungeon set in and on a giant that fell asleep for countless aeons and became a mountain, with dungeon levels being each of the various chunks of the mountain's surface (canyons and gullies and cliffs forming "rooms") and then the various caves, mines, and excavations into it (and eventually, into the giant itself still sleeping under all that dirt). The end boss is a giant red dragon who has dug into the top of the mountain to build its nest, and is currently laying eggs in the brain of the giant. Because of the red dragon, the giant's mountain has become a volcano and threatens everyone around. Your job is to get the dragon out of there so it stops being a volcano, or at least get rich enough to get away from the eventual eruption (a continent or two should do). Add some wizard towers, goatmen forts, etc. and other tough foes who control the major approaches, a forest full of people who've been hung and come back as undead, ice elves, obsidian men made from shards of the giant's brain, a major trading route that passes beside the mountain, and a small town of locals who profit from that trade, and I think you've got enough for a full megadungeon plus surrounds. Anyhow, I'm tentatively titling it "Feuerberg" ("Fire Mountain").

Apr 18, 2017


There's been another kerfuffle about copyright in the OSR. So, to reiterate and clarify: Everything on this blog is done under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. So are all documents that I've produced and linked to via it unless they have another explicit notice on them (the OGL or something) or are work for hire. You can read up on what a "CC BY-NC" license means here.

If you want to use something I wrote for commercial purposes (or hire me for stuff), shoot me an email at johnbell17 at Google's email service, and we can work something out. My main concern is not to scab on other people by replacing their paid work (or realistic possibility thereof) with free stuff, so bear that in mind.

Apr 16, 2017

A Few Traps

Traps and curses are some of my favourite parts of dungeoncrawling. Here are a few I've been thinking of. I don't claim to have invented any of these (though I can't remember where I found the original inspiration for any of them). My memory of these has been prompted by rereading Grimtooth's Traps.

1) A chest in the centre of a room is bolted to the floor, with a clearly steel cable running from its lid into the ceiling. Opening the lid of the chest or cutting the cable causes the floor to drop and steel shutters to drop over the entrances- only a few feet down and with the doors only partially shut if the lid is merely opened, but far enough to take falling damage and completely seal the entrances if the cable is severed. Either way, the dropping floor should reveal vents by which some noxious or dangerous substance enters - poison gas, acid, yellow mold, green slime, or even merely large amounts of water.

PCs could know there will be trouble if they strummed or tapped the cable, which would cause the metal parts to rattle up above, if they checked the door arches after opening them to spot the shutters, or closely inspected the floor for seams, which would tell them parts of the floor were not connected to others. The trap could be reset by two strong people closing the lid's chest if the cable wasn't cut, or by stringing a new cable through the gearing up above and reattaching it to the lid below (a few hours work for an engineer if the materials are on hand, plus the same two strong people).

A diagram
2) A floor with a slight depression forming a lip from nearby rooms. The floor is covered in metal marbles / ball bearings floating in oil. The walls are made of porous stone (pumice or the like) and weep small amounts of oil in over time to replace the stuff that dries out. Slow movement across the room is easy, but anyone trying to run will inevitably fall. If they carry a light source, it will start a raging inferno when it strikes the oil. Touching a wall to steady yourself is fine, but catching yourself before a fall is forceful enough to cause it to crumble slightly and increase the rate of oil flowing into the room. After three crumbles, the oil is ankle deep, after five it is up to the knees, and so on. The more oil, the more risk of a fire and the more damage it deals.

This trap should be fairly obvious, and is meant to signal an area as dangerous. It could be reset simply by refilling the reservoir of oil near the top. I think it works best in rooms with multiple entrances leading off into looping corridors, to increase the risk of a wandering monster chasing the PCs back through it. You could make this more difficult by adding a second trap (blowpipes in the walls firing knock-out darts or something) but that makes it even more likely to be a TPK.

3) Slats in the floor are actually triangular wedges that rotate freely but only in one direction. Stepping carelessly traps the foot and deals mild damage. It's possible to free someone without dealing more damage to their leg, but this is a noisy and slow affair, taking 1d4 turns of dismantling the slats, easing the foot out, etc. Each turn requires a wandering monster check. Wrenching the leg out will cause significantly more damage, possibly even crippling it until healing magic or surgery can restore it.

This trap can be noticed if the PCs are checking the floors, since the long thin slats made of metal should be distinct from other types of floors. The trap can be reset simply by rotating the triangular wedges back to being flat once the obstructions are removed. To make the trap nastier, you might want the space below the slats to be filled with serpents or green slime or another threat. I've found that acid and lava tend to make the trap too boring, since they either kill the PC right away from damage, or burn off the leg quickly enough to make the entrapment irrelevant.

4) More of a puzzle, but one I've used several times to good effect. The PCs are faced with three colour-coded racks of containers of goop (I once made these the coloured brain-jellies of ritual sacrifices, with the victims' skulls for the containers). One rack is blue, one red, and one yellow. Alongside the rack are four pillars, one orange, one purple, one green and one brown. Alongside the rack is a small basin for mixing them together. The primary-colour coded chemicals smell sour and taste bad, but don't actually have any effects on their own when drunk individually.

The orange pillar shows a man bleeding from numerous spear wounds. The green shows a man smiling as waves of energy radiate from him. The purple shows a man vomiting. The brown pillar shows a man holding his arms up to heaven, smiling as he flies upwards.

Mixing the correct colour combinations of the primary-coloured goop produces potions. Only colours matter, not proportions (brown is produced either by mixing all three primaries, or by mixing any two differently-coloured secondary-colour potions). Orange produces potions of Cure Light Wounds, green produces hallucinatory potions of light (you glow, attracting more wandering monsters and being unable to sneak, while also tripping balls), purple produces emetic potions of Neutralise Poison. Brown produces instant death unless a save is made.

I recommend limiting the number of doses of each gunk to prevent the PCs from making off with hundreds of potions of Cure Light Wounds once they figure it out. I haven't experimented with this variation yet, but I think it might be fun to make the baseline potions weak (i.e. Slow Poison instead of Neutralise Poison for purple) and then require multiple doses of the same potion to be crafted and combined to get the stronger effects (so two doses of orange becomes a Cure Moderate Wounds potion, etc.). I also find the more happy you describe the green and brown pillars, and the less happy you describe the purple and orange ones, the more likely the PCs are to poison themselves. If you have cautious PCs, it might help to make the goop into incense, and the basin a brazier that fills the room with smoke that affects all of them at once.

Anyhow, enjoy!

Apr 9, 2017

Into the Depths: Update

A new, updated version of Into the Depths.

I added a clarification of how you sneak, changed being good at something to giving you a +2 instead of just increasing your die type (so you can both apply it potentially to saving throws or attacks, as well as allowing you to stack it with someone helping you), changed how surprise works (each side now rolls to surprise the other), and I updated the wandering monster table slightly to match the current categories I use. I say I did this, but really I just came up with the rules and C Huth did all the hard work of laying them out.

Anyhow, enjoy.

Apr 5, 2017

Generating Paths in Hexes

I can't remember if I invented this technique or read it somewhere else. My apologies if someone else invented it and I'm not crediting you.

I run many overland hexcrawls and use a standard procedure for doing so. Step 1 is "Determine the weather and any paths." I've already mentioned how I determine the weather, but I don't think I've ever discussed how I determine paths.

My procedure is fairly simple. I find this fast enough to use at the table, and will often have the players execute it directly instead of rolling for them, though they may have to search first. Most of the time, paths save you travel time but aren't required for movement into adjacent hexes. Occasionally, in very difficult terrain, following a path is required to move from hex to hex.

The procedure:

Paths go from the midpoint of one hex to the midpoint of another.

Start at the midpoint of the hex the PCs are in. Roll 1d4-1 and note the directions of the points of the d4's base. The value of the roll is the number of paths exiting the hex.

The points of the d4's base will roughly point to surrounding hexes. If there's ambiguity, feel free to adjust the die 's physical position slightly. Draw paths to the midpoints of the surrounding hexes, starting with the point on the d4's base that has the lowest value and ascending until 1d4-1 paths are drawn.

If the die points in a direction where there's already a path, rotate clockwise to the first hex face without one.


The result of the d4 roll here is 3 (4-1) so we draw three paths

The PCs choose to move along the northwestern path.

Here the die result is 1 (2-1) so we draw one pathway.

Repeat each time the PCs move.
The first option already has a path, so we move clockwise to the next face.

...Resulting in this

Apr 1, 2017

Places to Go, Things to Kill: The Kingdoms of the Saved

A group of fractious theocracies so quarrelsome that even the Association of Useful Citizens doesn't claim them, the Kingdoms of the Saved are where you go to ask your preferred Irrelevant God to absolve you of whatever sin is keeping you out of its heaven. Sometimes, it even works, or so the prophets, holy men, abbesses and wonderworkers claim. Thanks to AUC's absence, the Kingdoms of the Saved are also prime territory for schemes that would get you killed anywhere else. Bulk-selling illegal ooze goods? Running soteriological ponzi schemes based on organ harvesting? Using scab labour to mine uranium? Chances are there's a local priest who'll be happy to explain to his followers how your scheme is fully sanctioned by the Big Fire / the Oozing Mind-Lords of Braemon / Vra-Krakorn, He Who Consumes the Works of Man / Lutheranism in exchange for a suitably generous donation to the church.

Places to Go

The Labyrinth of Ignorance

The Killbot Prophets spread the joys of release from the Necrocarcerus Program to all who submit to their gracious deathrays and blessed poison gas. But some can only find the truth of oblivion by wandering through the labyrinth of ignorance first. The Killbot Prophets have gathered the vast donations of their (former) followers, and minus a small handling fee, placed this wealth in the midst of a vast labyrinth, along with many jars of nepenthe, several lost magical tomes, artifacts of great power and various other lures to suit all tastes. Along with the treasure, the Killbot Prophets have placed many vile beasts, cunning traps, and deathly curses in order to slay those who enter as swiftly and assuredly as possible without removing all hope. Entry is open to all, and the Killbots themselves pipe in encouraging commentary and inspiring quotations from their sutras as treasure seekers are torn apart, poisoned, shriveled to ash, eaten, and otherwise granted the benediction of nonexistence. The Killbot Prophets will provide a variety of trinkets to anyone who thinks they can best the labyrinth, including "maps", flashlights, and cyanide pills.

The Holy Ylim

A sprawling monastery-city covering hundreds of square kilometres, the Holy Ylim is contested ground, constantly being taken and retaken by different factions struggling with one another for its sanctums and vestiaries. Layers upon layers of crumbling architecture and tattered paraphernalia from forgotten religions are heaped atop one another, in a vast palimpsest of devotion rich with the lost knowledge of the aeon. The Holy Ylim is one of the richest sites of pre-Incident artifacts in all of Necrocarcerus, and an expedition into its depths has made the fortune of more than one bravo or demonic cultist. Cavernous galleries echo with the hymns of undead monks while relic-thieves and bandits duel one another in the crypts for scraps of high technology. The current rulers are the Integral Order, a group of psionic monks who have managed to hold onto the place by psychically converting everyone who's come to take it, while the lower levels are home to both the Perspicacious Devotees of L'ghash and the Invidious Temple of L'ghash, two nearly-identical shadow-god cults engaged in a genocidal dispute over what kinds of sacrifices and sins the eponymous divine shadow likes best.

The Blessed Bazaar

Need a brand-name personal nuclear weapon? The souls of twelve damned children who all drowned on the same day in different bodies of water? One of the divine testicles of Vra-Krakorn, He-Who-Consumes-the-Works-of-Man? Holy water and other chemical weapons? Chances are if it's for sale anywhere, it's for sale at the Blessed Bazaar, Necrocarcerus's biggest, and least-regulated, open-air marketplace. Run by the Underlords, the largest criminal syndicate in Necrocarcerus, the Blessed Bazaar is frequented by unscrupulous mercenaries looking for exotic gear, reliquarians serving mad arch-wizards, criminals looking to dump peculiar loot, and even projectors, who have lately started to over-run the place. Payment is obols on the barrelhead, though the Bank of Necrocarcerus does a brisk business laundering funds through exotic investment schemes banned in all civilised lands.

Things to Kill

Snodgrath, Blooddrinker and Woe-to-Man LLP's Infernal Offices

Necrocarcerus's premiere credit rating agency, sub-prime mortgage lender, and the keeper of the master alignment records for citizens of AUC (thanks an unforeseen consequence of outsourcing and subcontracting). SBW's offices are atop a giant bipedal hell-engine that marches across the Kingdoms of the Saved crushing all in its path and dispensing expert on-site credit reporting and auditing services. In a recent dispute over the alignment & credit rating of the Reformed Druidic Order (Orthodox), the devil partners of the firm were all slain, and the control codes to direct the gigantomorph lost. After an emergency envisioning session by the Business Development division of SBW, it was decided to stop the engine's progress by siphoning off its power to open a portal to the impossible realms of Hell.

The area around the titanic but now-immobile hell-engine has been flooded with demonic work-seekers, more than can be expeditiously processed by the Demonic Resources department into suitable employment. The Roman Catholic Church, under the leadership of the Post-Anti-Pope John XXIII, have raised a crusade to convert or slay the demonic migrants and destroy the hell-engine, with rich rewards for any who participate. Their ardour threatens to undermine Necrocarcerus's entire credit rating and alignment system.

The Knights of Torren

The Knights of Torren come from one of the living worlds where the Necrocarcerus-based arch-necromancer Thazul's undead legions are conducting a war of genocide against the living. They believe they are guarding the very gates of Hell, preventing the incomprehensible dead (aka the citizens of Necrocarcerus) from breaking into their homeland. In reality, they have managed to set up well-defended fortresses at several reliable portals to their world, assisted by the fact that Thazul is distracted elsewhere and has not actually paid attention to their homeworld for several centuries. As noble paladins in the service of a holy cause, the knights frequently harass and annoy the various peddlers, utility company employees, mendicant pilgrims, relic salespeople and other wanderers who stray too near to their iron-walled fortresses, proclaiming them undead abominations and even killing a few of the less cautious.

The knights are a particular thorn in the side of Necrotel, as their towers amplify the wireless-signal-disrupting properties of portals, creating large blackout zones in which cellular reception degrades beyond acceptable service levels. The local barons of Necrotel have been ordered to wipe out the Knights of Torren wherever they're found. They are not above promising the mercenaries who do it the right to use the portal to escape Necrocarcerus before they close it off for the sake of telephony.

The Sacred Sodality of Orthodox Engineers
A golemonormative organisation of magical engineers, artificers, tinkers and programmers who seek to prevent certain heterodox variations on golemic gender and family combinations from becoming more common than they already are. Golems have traditionally had two genders - producers and assemblers - and formed binary couples to produce more golems at the behest of the financialised ruling class and/or evil wizards in need of cheap labour. Thanks to a century-long advocacy campaign and the fact that golems comprise the vast majority of the working class required to keep Necrocarcerus functioning, AUC has recently recognised the rights of both golems who produce parts for new golems and assemble these parts themselves, and those golems who do neither. The Sacred Sodality is up in arms about the recent decision (the crustier and more conservative members claim to even remember a time when golems weren't even considered people), and has begun assembling the components of a powerful magical ritual to reprogram all golems in Necrocarcerus to fit back within golemonormativity.

Accomplishing this requires a great deal of research to ensure the ritual affects all golems. To this end, they have sent several remote teams out across Necrocarcerus on missions ranging from the cruel to the merely bizarre. One group is kidnapping and experimenting on innocent golems in the Rail Lands, determining how they can be converted back to "normal". Another is attempting to examine the reproductive system of the buried Mega-Golem in the Far Lands. A third is busy attempting to assassinate prominent golemic activists, ranging from the infamous Conductor J of NecroRail to the venerable #5, now quietly retired as a statue in the Far Hells. But the bulk of the organisation, including its leadership, is camped out in the Holy Ylim, where they have seized Electro-Castle (formerly the holy temple of an obscure storm god) and are preparing for a massive siege by the golems of Necrocarcerus once their plans become public knowledge.

Mar 29, 2017

A Late Response to Gaston / Apologies

Gaston's Hat asked me a couple of questions on a post of mine updating my chase rules a few months ago. Comments made directly on my blog don't seem to be working properly - I can only respond to comments on the G+ share, not ones made on the post directly. I've spent the past month trying to get them to work and can't, so I thought I'd respond in a post proper, and apologise for / explain the delay before doing so.

Gaston's Hat's question:

"In the old version if the fugitives rolled "7" they "have ducked out of sight long enough to hide (either making a Stealth check or Hide in Shadows check) and the pursuers must spot them using their passive perception in order to continue chasing them."

Is a "7" still supposed to allow that?
If that is the case, what if both fugitive and pursuer roll "7"?"

I got rid of Stealth / Hide in Shadows in my games, so no, it doesn't any more for me. I discussed it with a few players after running through it, and it turns out they preferred the option for melee attacks against their pursuers rather than hiding, which could be handled as a consequence of rolling doubles (and thus getting away).

What I might suggest as a possibility, though I haven't play-tested it, is in any round in which the pursuers and fugitives have no matching die results at all (e.g. the pursuers roll 1 and 3, while the fugitives roll 4 and 6), that the fugitives are allowed to make a Hide In Shadows or Stealth check of some sort to try to evade detection.

I think this might make it very easy to get away, depending on how easy it is to access the relevant skill, but that might be intended - it would encourage Stealth-heavy parties to run away, hide, and then either ambush their pursuers or wait for the coast to clear. It would work best for a game where you want a "Metal Gear Solid" feel that prioritises managing detection and escalation in encounters, and where all the PCs have the Stealth skill to some degree.

Anyhow, once again, my apologies for the delay in responding, and I hope this answers your question and gives you a few ideas.

Mar 26, 2017

Talking to the Clouds

My experience has been that very few games incorporate weather into their depictions of overland travel. This is usually because it's too much hassle to resolve what the weather is and how it impacts the PCs, without necessarily providing very interesting results as the pay-off. I think that by creating simpler systems that produce results more quickly and don't bog down play, we can get weather determination back into game-play as something fun that helps flesh out the feel of the world.

I've written several procedures for determining the weather over the years with varying levels of complexity and randomness. I've also experimented with making it a task that players perform (since it's information about the world that's immediately apparent to them). After all of that experimenting, I've found that the best combination of simplicity and granularity is to simply use reaction rolls for weather.

What we really want to know is "Does the weather aid or hinder the PCs?" and maybe get a prompt for depicting that in the fiction. And because weather is almost always a minor supplement to whatever else is going on, we want to get it done quickly, and not use a flat probability distribution that's going to overpopulate the game with inconvenient weather (unless you're playing a game set in England, of course). That would have to vary seasonally and regionally anyhow to properly convey verisimilitude, which adds a lot of background work on to the ref for little pay-off.

The 2d6 bell curve with five levels of results inspired by Moldvay's B/X version of D&D gives you a pretty simple way to adjudicate it and a clear sense of what's going on. NB: I'm basing my examples below on Courtney Campbell's inversion of the table, where ascending results are good instead of bad. I actually use a slightly simpler (three levels instead of five) in my home games, but most readers here will be more familiar with Moldvay's B/X than that, I think.

A result of "2" for "Hostile" means the weather is a genuine risk to the PCs, and they need to stop whatever they're doing (marching overland mostly) to deal with it. I usually include the risk of some damage, either to them or their gear or both, if they don't. "3-5 Unfriendly" means a slight hindrance - mostly slower travel, or the need to expend some resource (rations, water, etc.). Neutral results (6-8, and the most common kind) don't have any effect, while "Friendly" results (9-11) will help you travel slightly more quickly or expend fewer resources, and "12 Helpful" speeds you along or lets you avoid perils.

I like the emphasis on functionality here rather than specific results because it gives you the space to adapt the results to the fiction - fog can be a help or a hindrance, depending on the situation. Winter and summer have radically different kinds of helpful or desired weather.

If you're stuck for ideas, you can also roll 1d4 to tell you what the biggest change is:

1: Temperature
2: Visibility
3: Wind
4: Precipitation

Helpful precipitation (a roll of 12 on 2d6 and 4 on 1d4) might be a light rain that sucks the humidity out of the air in summer, or it might be a crisp snowfall that lets you ski across it easily in winter. "Hostile visibility" could be pea-soup fog, snow blindness, or heat waves washing out the horizon and creating mirages.

I roll about three times per day of travel - twice for the two four hour chunks the PCs are marching around, and once for the overnight weather, but alter the frequency to your own taste. I also have the PCs roll it instead of doing it myself, since the quality of the weather is something that should be immediately apparent to them anyhow. And with the 1d4 prompt, they can actually come up with even better suggestions for "helpful" or "friendly" results than I might, since they know what gear, knowledge and talents they have better than I do.

I recommend trying it out if you haven't and seeing how using reaction rolls like this allows weather to be incorporated with minimum fuss.

Feb 26, 2017

Demonic Patrons for Perdition: Sapralethe

Another demon patron for Courtney Campbell's Perdition. I'm debating between playing a druid and an "inheritor" which is sort of a cleric-equivalent, if clerics were mutant wizard cultists who shot flame from their eyes and had claws. I wanted some high-concept demon options to balance out the more body-horror devil patrons in the corebook.

Sapralethe, the Unwelcome Truth
Demon Lord of Truth, Revelation, Horror, Sound, and Stone

The Old Gods created the Angel of Truth and gave it a silver trumpet by which to proclaim their dominion over the world. They charged it to separate the true from the false through the clarion tones of the trumpet wherever it went. But each time the angel blew that trumpet, there were echoes that were unforeseen, truths unintended, that were released into the world. Those echoes coursed through far caverns and mountain valleys, intermingling with one another in a cacophony until finally Sapralethe, the residue of that unwelcome and unwanted truth, coalesced.

Sapralethe is the words no one wants to hear, the secret that causes kingdoms to fall and lovers to kill, the suddenly-remembered trespass that explains an act of revenge, the perfect as the enemy of the good.  Wherever knowledge is born from rivalry, conflict, discord and the need to humiliate and dominate, Sapralethe's influence will be found. It is the bold design of new weapons, the shaming truth, the intricate logic that ensares one's interlocutor. It loves the political critique too radical for its day, the dangerous pursuit of forbidden knowledge, the stinging rebuke, the rumour that no one will admit to spreading, the frankness of the fool to the king. It despises musicians, merchants, sycophants and the timidity of the ignorant and naive. It abhors the unthinking construct, and seeks to remind it that it is nought beside the power of the mind.

Sapralethe appears as a mausoleum carved with the names of its petitioners. The inside of the mausoleum is covered in graffiti left by visitors. You must search until you find the answer to your question, however long it takes. You must leave an answer you do not wish to be known as payment for the gift. The mausoleum is decorated with statues of those found unworthy by Sapralethe.

Its herald is a vulture-headed naked giant with torn wing stumps who carries a silver trumpet and a book, each chained to its arms. The giant is unable to play the trumpet. He cannot read the book. His footsteps shake the earth long after he is gone. Sapralethe's cultists are rogue scholars, printer-heresiarchs, invidious rumour-mongers and mystics who have searched into dark realms in pursuit of ultimate truth. They dust themselves with chalk and conduct silent ceremonies in forgotten libraries of black lore.

Never stifle an echo
Seek out and spread knowledge regardless of the consequences
Never forgive someone who has lied to you
Never destroy a statue or monument

Discover a secret (+1)
Write a dangerous secret down for others to discover (+1)
Provoke a conflict by speaking the truth (+1)
Ritually sacrifice a musician to Sapralethe (+1)
Tell a lie to avoid the consequences of the truth (-1)
Flatter or comfort another (-1)

2: Opponents you make social attacks against apply your current Stress total as a penalty to their saves against the effects of the attack.
3: You may name a creature that has lied to you, and track it via the appropriate Survival skill
4: You may use the brain of a freshly-killed sentient being to auger the future (as Augury)
5: You may reroll any save to avoid becoming Panicked, Shaken, or to gain a point of stress. If you succeed on the second roll, this condition is applied to someone else of your choosing nearby instead.
6: You can tell whenever someone lies to you. Either party in a conversation may remain silent instead of answering. You can also trade unpleasant truths. For each unpleasant truth you share, the other party must answer one question truthfully.
7: Three times per day you may speak the Words of Unmaking, affecting a 3"x 3" cone. All creatures within it must save or be deafened. All objects must save or be shattered.
8: You gain Social and Psychic Resistance 5. You are immune to damage from stress.
9: As a [Double Action] you may summon a sorrow elemental from a statue to serve you for one day. The statue must be man-sized or larger, and can only be used to summon an elemental once. Statues made within the past year summon minor elementals. Statues less than a century old summon elementals. Older statues summon major elementals. There is a 1-in-20 chance any statue has already been used by another acolyte of Sapralethe.
10: You can speak to the echoes of Sapralethe resounding in all base matter. You do not need to share a common language with your target to make social attacks. Your social attacks may affect constructs and mindless undead.
11: You castigate your enemies you for their failings, and your shaming words etch themselves into their skin. As an [Action] you can make a social attack against all enemies within 3". They must save or be Staggered for a number of rounds equal to your current Stress total and take 2d8 physical damage. Creatures with Wickedness >10 are Stunned and take 4d8 physical damage instead on a failed save.
12: You and all allies within 2" gain Fast Healing X where X is equal to each of your current Stress totals. You no longer need to sleep and cannot be surprised. When you are killed, you melt into the earth. The next time someone says your name in a place that echoes, you will reform unharmed as a naked statue within one day if you pass an Ego test (Difficulty 7). Failing the test means you are permanently dead.

Edited after Josh B's feedback.

Feb 21, 2017

Demonic Patron for Perdition: Acedius Vex

I was a playtester on Courtney Campbell's Perdition, and am currently a player in his campaign, which is why I haven't reviewed it here, but I do like it. The corebook mainly has devil lords as patrons for PCs to take on. In Courtney's own game, we have at least one of the Old Gods written up as a patron, and my previous character (who just died last session) was one of his initiates (possibly the only one). I thought I'd write up some demonic ones just to balance things out.

For those unfamiliar with the campaign setting, devils in Perdition are expressions of law. Bad law, certainly, but still ultimately the law. Demons are the forces of raw chaos who want to undo the existence of every constant in it, from society to gravity and everything in between. They want to do so as a way of undoing the divine act of creation. I thought it would be more interesting if they all disagreed about what undoing creation would look like.

Acedius Vex, the Welter of Meaning
Demon Lord of fungibility, distraction, sensory overload, inversion, ambivalence and mathematics

Acedius Vex is the scar over the wound carved through primordial matter when the first thing was separated from the totality of everything. It is the interdependence and fungibility of all impermanent and imperfect things, real and unreal, possible and actual, trivial and great with, one another. It is the chaos of a thousand things happening at once, each so quickly that one cannot distinguish them, the impersonal viewpoint of the whole looking down on the mereness of the particular, the riotous meaninglessness of sensory overload. Focus, concentration, determination, an insistence on the value of the true and good over the false and wicked, the individual who seeks to distinguish themselves, these are its enemies. It is the pause to admire the sky in the midst of a battle, the admixture of pungent scents, the dance to avoid trampling ants as one flees for one's life, the anxious pause as one considers what to say, the daydream overlapping with one's waking life.

Its goal is a world in which the difference between one thing and another does not hold, where each becomes other, and another, and itself, all at once, relentlessly. Its vision is one where the weak become the mighty and the mighty become weak, where cunning mathematics reveals the hidden equivalences of all things, where flesh devours its own before being devoured in turn. It craves transmutation, profusion and ambivalence in all things as reflections of their fundamental emptiness. It despises the cold, calculating focus of the undead, the obsessive devotions of the addict and the lover, the dedicated rapture of the artist.

Acedius Vex appears as profuse, rambling, enciphered speech, the linguistic equivalent of an irrational number, an endless never-repeating flow of words that contains all patterns and all possibilities within it while yet exceeding them in its development. Once one begins speaking Acedius Vex, one can never stop. In time, those who hear it spoken often enough begin to find themselves muttering some part of it in turn. The skulls of its speakers continue to chatter speechlessly even after death, until they are worn down to dust faintly shimmering in secret ciphers.

Its herald is a crowd of madmen shouting and hooting nonsense who crew a black boat that sails through the air on the multicoloured rays of dawn and dusk. Its followers are mutant proselytes in animal masks who rave and pray in vivid and unforgettable ceremonies.

Never insist on the importance of one thing over another in conversation
Never refuse to eat an intelligent being if offered
Never avoid an act because of the long-term consequences
Never become addicted to anything
Never fall in love

Reveal that one thing has actually been another all along (+1)
Cause sensory overload in another intelligent being (+1)
Pause in an urgent situation to speculate irrelevantly (+1)
Eat a being of the same species as you (+1)
Destroy a powerful undead being (+1)
Being blinded, deafened, or muted (-1)
Sleeping through the dawn or dusk (-1)
Accomplishing a long-term goal (-2)

2: You gain +4 on saves vs. charms, compulsions, and obeying orders.
3: You gain Darkvision, which manifests as the ability to narrate aloud what is in front of you in the darkness rather than actual sight.
4: Once per day you can cause a mirage to form as if you had cast Rainbow Pattern.
5: You gain a +4 to hit with any social attack that is ludicrous.
6: All enemies within 2" of you must save or become Distracted until they are no longer in range.
7: You may roll on the chaos mutation table whenever you wish, as many times as you wish. The changes are permanent and cumulative.
8: Three times per day, you may exchange the current hitpoint totals (both mental and physical) of any two living creatures you can point at as a [Action]. The creatures must each have an equal or lesser number of hit dice than you do, and may save if they are unwilling.
9: Once per day, you may change the state of any 10x10x10 cube of unliving matter from one state into another - water into ice, bricks into gas, dirt into plasma, salt water into crystals. You are limited only by your knowledge of the states of matter. This change lasts for 1d6 turns.
10: You can make up the names of things at will. These  names function as if they were the original ones for the purposes of rituals you cast.
11: You may treat any illusion as if it were real and gain the benefits of doing so. Conversely, you may no longer disbelieve illusions.
12: You gain the blessings of Acedius Vex. You no longer experience critical hits from physical damage, as no part of you matters more than any other. You do not accumulate Stress or suffer damage from it. Anyone you render helpless in a grapple must save or become you, transforming over the course of one round into a perfect copy of you with the same stats (including current hitpoints, spell dice available, etc.). The copy lives for 13 hours then dies.

Edit: I've updated Acedius Vex's powers in line with Josh's advice in the comments. This primarily affects bond levels 6, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12.

Feb 17, 2017

Determining Magical Item Components

This one's a fairly simple solution to a fairly common problem. The problem is that some PC wants to create a magic item, and you need a list of components that they need to collect to use as the raw materials for the item, and are sorely lacking in inspiration. If this doesn't happen to you for the first magic item the PCs create, I'm sure it happens by the third or fourth, as the number of clever literary examples you can draw on from memory starts to be exhausted. Here's how I handle generating components:

First, I roll 1d6+1. If the item is particularly powerful, I'll roll 2d6+2. This is the number of components a PC has to collect. Next, to generate the components, I use one or both of the following processes.

1) Roll on your wandering monster table once for each component. This will generate a monster and some item to be collected from them. You may have to interpret things slightly, especially if you were boring in generating tracks or lair-types for each monster. If you roll monster, choose their most prominent or grossest feature for collection. Even abstract or transient things are fine. If they have to collect the roar of an ooze attack-squad's jetpacks, that's their problem, not yours. For variety, I recommend splitting the rolls across multiple wandering monster tables if you have them, since this will encourage the PCs to visit various areas to collect them all. You may also want to roll 1d10 for the # of each thing a PC needs to collect (i.e. 6 mummy hearts or whatever), but I find this often leads to a boring grinding feeling unless the PCs can reasonably expect to find a group of the right monster type at once (alternately: present them with a clear idea of where to find such a group).

2) I use this second method when I want to include rare metals, gems, etc. as components instead of just monster bits. I start by taking a treasure generator like Courtney Campbell's Treasure and just rolling as if the components needed for the item were part of hoard being generated. I recommend keeping the numbers, so if the generator spits out 32 fire badger pelts, then they need 32 fire badger pelts. I try to swap out as much coinage as possible for items and commodities, but if some is left, that's fine - I take that to mean that much raw metal of the appropriate type is required. If you're in a particularly lazy mood, you can even just pick components off a previously generated treasure hoard that the PCs picked up somewhere else. In practice, this often comes across as masterful planning and foreshadowing instead of laziness, and it encourages them to track down the people they sold their previous treasure to, in order to get the item back.

Usually, I'll combine these two, with about half the components being generated treasure stuff, and half being monsters you have to kill. I find this mix tends to maximise the fun vs. complexity factor. The PCs can discover the items on list in whatever way you think appropriate - legend lore spells, consulting sages, you telling them directly to save time, whatever you'd like. I favour this method because it repurposes existing material prepared for the game (wandering monster tables, treasure hoards), but also generates relatively straightforward leads and goals ("Where can we find a flawless sapphire worth 5,500 GP?"). I recommend you try it and see how it works in your game.

Feb 12, 2017

Considerations on Restocking Dungeons

I had a post-game discussion with Courtney the other day about restocking dungeons, and I thought I'd lay out some of the ideas we discussed for your consideration.

My basic principle, the one underlying everything else that I'm going to talk about, is that restocking a dungeon should be less complicated than simply coming up with an entirely new dungeon or dungeon zone. This seems obvious, but I've seen some fairly complicated systems out there that violate this principle, and I wonder how much they end up using the system in play, rather than just sort of presenting it as a thought exercise on a blog.

The first question I think people should ask themselves is whether they even need to restock the dungeon? I'd add the following consideration: Why restock instead of pushing PCs to new dungeons or new zones within the dungeon? Restocking encourages PCs to linger in zones nearer to the entrances to the dungeon, it slows down their progression through the dungeon, and it can make it seem like their efforts to clear out the dungeon are pointless.

If you don't have clear ideas about how manage these things so they don't kill the fun, I'd actually recommend against restocking. Instead, I'd recommend that you present clear diegetic signs to indicate that a dungeon or dungeon zone is empty / deactivated / cleared and should be traversed to get to new material instead of lingered in. These signs should be some combination of boring and dangerous, with the emphasis on boring instead of dangerous, since this is less likely to confuse them into thinking that there are still monsters and treasure to be found here.

Dungeons that do the best with being restocked are ones that allow or incorporate ways of overcoming the slow down in progression through them caused by restocking. This includes dungeons with short-cuts in them that have to be discovered or created during play (including multiple entrances or teleporters); dungeons with organised factions that you can negotiate with for safe passage; dungeons where you can change the overall organisation of the level (e.g. draining or flooding it) to reach new parts of it; and dungeons where you can temporarily delay or "turn off" the restocking (perhaps by shattering an evil altar or something that draws monsters to it).

Restocking at its best incorporates and recombines familiar elements of the dungeon or dungeon zone, but does so in a way that produces emergent and unpredictable results. One interesting (and perhaps unexpected) thing I've discovered over the years is that PCs tend to feel that their actions have had the most impact on a dungeon or dungeon zone when it shifts levels of organisation. That is, when they "clear" a dungeon that's filled with highly organised enemies and the next time it goes through, the enemies are comparatively disorganised, or when they clear a dungeon of a bunch of random monsters, and then the next time they come through, they find a highly organised set of foes has moved in to replace them. 

What Should Trigger Restocking?

I use four different triggers to determine when to restock via the method I'll describe below. I don't have a strong preference for one over the others, so I just rely on discretion and what I think will generate the most interesting results. These are ranked in rough priority.

1) After the PCs kill the two most powerful monsters or groups of monsters on the level
2) After the PCs have explored all non-hidden rooms on the level
3) Every 2d6 expeditions
4) When the PCs go into extended downtime away from the dungeon

I use these because I like exploration, and hate mop-up. I use the dice counter method mainly once they've cleared out an area entirely and keep on passing through it, and I use the downtime method as a backstop just in case they take an extended break from an area. If you do use a dice counter, I recommend using something that's guaranteed to give you at least a few sessions to restock, instead of trying to do it for every session.

The Actual Method

Here's the method I actually use for restocking, based on the above considerations. You will need:

1) A wandering monster table
2) A wandering trap table
3) A "theme" table of varying length (I usually use six to ten entries) whose creation I will describe below

All you do is roll on the theme table, then roll on the wandering monster table and wandering trap table for each room (in whatever order you please). Any entry on either table that's transient on the table leaves the room empty (from the perspective of a room's contents monsters, traps, treasure, etc.). If it's not a transient entry, then put it in the room. As you roll, apply the transformation rules from the theme table (more on that in a moment) to alter the results. Generate treasure for the lairs as appropriate. At that point, you're ready to go.

NB: I recommend you do this for every room in the area, even if the PCs didn't clear it out the first time.

The Theme Table

I call it a "theme table", but only because that's quicker and easier to write and say than "a table of rules of transformations". Each entry should be a few global rules that modify how you use the wandering monster and trap tables to create entries.

I usually start these off as a 1d6 table and expand them as I get good ideas to fill out more entries.

Here's a sample of one to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:
1) Monsters from elsewhere have moved in and taken over. Use the wandering monster table from an adjacent zone (or the overland table if there are no adjacent zones) to populate the rooms.

2) The two most intelligent monsters generated are the leaders of factions that are at war with one another. Reroll on the wandering monster table for all rooms and corridors adjacent to the room each one is in (even if there are already monster results for these rooms). These are their allies and servants.

3) All monsters in this area are mind-controlled by the first monster you roll a lair result for. If no lairs are generated, then roll again for each room on the wandering monster table and add additional monsters until you get a lair result.

4) Monsters are using traps to drive intruders out. After the first monster is placed, all further monster results are actually rolls on the trap table (that is, roll twice for traps for each room).

5) Monsters are reworking the architecture of the area. Any two rooms with the same monster type in them will have a secret passage connecting them. If any monster type has a lair on this level, then there will be a secret passage connecting them to any other rooms containing the same monster type.

6) There is a power struggle going on for control of this area. After rolling for monsters for each room, reroll for each room a second time using a wandering monster table for the nearest adjacent zone. Monsters from different wandering monster tables are hostile to one another.

These are all fairly straightforward and rudimentary. You could easily expand this (I both do so in practice and encourage you to do so). In its current form, it's highly generic and could be used for any dungeon, and on any level of that dungeon. The table is meant to be used multiple times for the same area, and each time different "layers" of results build up.

If you really wanted to, you create a unique table for each zone of the dungeon. I recommend against this (based on the above-mentioned principle of keeping restocking simple), except if the level has a very strong theme (e.g. it's a rotating level, or a level that floods and drains or something else like that). In that case, I'd use a d4 table with four strong and interesting options customised for that level, and otherwise use the generic table for the rest of the dungeon.

My experience using various versions of this method is that it's easy to use, fairly fast to do, and the addition of the themes / transformations is more than enough to make it seem like complex and interesting changes are going on in the dungeon in response to PC actions, without having to get into a lot of political simulation, or relationship mapping or weird flowchart things or other overly complicated stuff.