Thursday, June 27, 2013

Down the back way: After Play Report 6

Calawas - Elf Thief (Katz)
Amalia - High Elf Cleric (Paraj)
Volbak - Dwarf Knight (Jim)
Lamaevhun - Wood Elf Scout (Tim)
Ilsildel - High Elf Wizard (Martin)
Chief - Wood Elf Barbarian (Catherine)

John Porter, employed as a laborer and horse-hand by the party
Titus Longfellow, employed as a man-at-arms by Isildel
Matthias Wimbledon, novice of St. Cuthbert, employed by Calawas

Our intrepid heroes came back to Hommlet with purses considerably fuller than when they left it last to the smell of smoke in the air. The villagers seemed tense, and the half-trained militia was out in more force than before, but life seemed to be going on as usual. They stopped to weather the night in the Inn of the Welcome Wench, where Volbak once again discovered ale and they learned that a great amount of smoke had come from the Moathouse a few days ago and put everyone on edge, though the plume was out now. Had the Moathouse burnt down in their absence?

There was only one way to tell, so after sunrise and Master Gundigroot's impeccable victuals they reclaimed their ponies and set off on the old overgrown trail.

It wasn't long before they found the Moathouse and the source of smoke. Someone had burned a wide, wobbly circle - three hundred feet, give or take a little - around the whole thing, razing off the underbrush and making unmarked approach basically impossible.

They did the sensible thing and set up camp outside the circle in the swamp - an uncomfortable and wet affair, but also unmarked so far as they could tell - and decided to spy out the surrounds.

 The first thing they discovered is that someone had worked to close a portcullis over the entrance to the Moathouse, though the drawbridge was still down, half-rotted as it was. Lamaevhun saw no real signs of occupancy, but as he poked around in the bog outside the kill-zone he stumbled across a large, foul-smelling hole in the ground about six hundred feet out, big enough for two men abreast and tall enough for a man on horseback.

He went back and informed the party, and after some discussion, they decided to leave John with the horses and the camp and head down the hole to see where it went. They got there without incident and started filing down the hole, finding that it was a nasty, rank and foul den of something or other - bones strewn about the place, along with offal and other filth - when, just Titus (keeping rearguard) stepped down the rampish first portion to the dank inside, he crumpled like a sack of meat.

Amalia and Lamaevhun were in back, and luckily heard the sound of rattling armor and the dull thud as the hireling went down. They turned around and were faced with a large, hairy, foetid beast with a nasty-looking club in one hand splattered with blood and a questionable-looking bag in the other.

Things weren't looking that good. Titus was dead, and the two people who could reach his assailant were the Cleric and the Scout. Lamaevhun lost no time drawing and shooting, and Amalia drew her sword and attacked, but the whatever-it-was didn't seem hardly fazed. It just dodged out of the way, took a cursory swipe at Amalia, and started dragging Titus off, though they could tell it had a hard time with his heavy body. Meanwhile the rest of the party wasn't really in position to help: Chief and Volbak were in the front, far enough away from the melee to take too much time getting there.

Meanwhile Chief had found some kind of impaling stick trap down there in the murk and Calawas went forward to look at it.

Fortunately, Isildel was in the middle and had by now forced his way to the back, and Amalia got in one lucky swing that made the whatever-it-was think twice about dragging off Titus. It dropped him, kicked something in the bushes that put up a jangling of bells much further down in the hole, and for a few seconds there was a sort of chase - them slowed by the bog, it slowed by its wounds - before it dropped down into the reeds and disappeared right before their eyes.

Isildel wasn't having that. He didn't know exactly where it was, but exactly isn't necessary with threshold magic, so soon there was a  12-yard wide fire. Up popped the nasty with a howl and booked it out of the fire...then lay down again.

That's fine. 12 yards wasn't enough? How about THIRTY?! I AM AN ANGRY WIZARD!
Yeah, it was kinda like that.

Up it popped again, howling louder than before. After a few seconds, it collapsed in the middle of the blaze. About thirty seconds later as the three were trudging back to the hole, there was a loud explosion and some differently-colored tongues of flame for a bit, then all was still.

(Fortunately for them, the fire didn't catch on its own too well, what with the swampy terrain.)

Oh, and it turned out that Matthais checked Titus over and found that he wasn't really dead, just very close. Some magical healing fixed that up well enough and, after a bit of rest around the entrance to the hole, the party went back in. Calowas had long since disarmed the primitive tension trap.

About fifty feet further down the hole, it became a tunnel of wet but dressed stone and took on a gentle but definite downward slope. After another few hundred feet, Calowas in front heard what he took to maybe be voices and the scrape of leather against stone, so they doused the arrow they'd been using as a light source (Continual Light) and he crept forward in the dark.

Pretty soon he found a wall. Feeling along it, the edges seemed like they fit into grooves in the tunnel walls, as though this thing were meant to be lifted out of place. Putting his ear to the wall, he heard muffled voices beyond.



This session showcased two things very well: One was the true potential nastiness of an absurdly high level of stealth (aided by Chameleon and Camouflage) on the part of the bugbear. -20 for being in plain sight and being watched when you drop into cover? No problem! The other was the advantages of Threshold Magic as a system.

Isildel was able to throw gross magical power at the problem to solve it. At the same time, I could see Martin making the decision, "Do I want to blow all my tally now, on this? Or do I save it up for something else, and dribble it out a little at a time?" So far, a Tally of 30 has worked fairly well, and it promotes real decision-making about a limited resource.

For some reason, session recaps are really hard for me to write, and I think that's part of why I've been negligent with this blog (on top of everything else). I still have a lot to do, though. Since the best way to do a difficult task is to actually sit down and do it, I'm going to post the rest of the session recaps until I'm all caught up. Any further ideas I have can always sit as draft posts.

Friday, June 21, 2013

New spell and other miscellanry

Do you like session reports? I like session reports. I've mentioned before that what finally inspired me to run the Temple of Elemental Evil is session reports, especially Peter's. +Jason Woollard has a blog full of well-written session reports. They read like stories, which is the best kind.

Mucking around with putting together a small dungeon on the side, I invented a new spell. Some background: the precept of the dungeon is that it's a reptile-man shrine, from back when their civilization ruled the earth, à la H.P. Lovecraft or R.E.H.

Blessing of the Eye      (Special)

Duration: See below
Cost to cast: 5. Cannot be maintained, must be recast. See below
Time to cast: 10 sec
Prerequisites: None, or See Secrets, or whatever. The idea is this is a secret spell.

Casting Blessing of the Eye requires the caster to draw a rune of Kiskig's Eye on a solid surface in his own blood. The caster takes 1 HP of damage for each day of duration, chosen at time of casting, that does not heal until the spell ends. Once cast, the Eye disappears from the surface as though soaking in (though Mage Sight will allow it to be seen).

While the Eye is active, the caster can see through it at any time without concentration and can cast spells through the Eye as though in its exact location.

Any night the caster sleeps while the eye is active, he is affected by nightmares as per the Nightmares disadvantage on B144 (SC roll 12 or less). I recommend something like The Shadow out of Time

Questions I forsee

Why cast this instead of Wizard Eye or Invisible Wizard Eye? You can cast through Kiskig's Eye. You cannot cast through Wizard Eyes. Also, this lasts longer.

What abuse potential do you see? First thing that popped into my mind when I put my player hat on was drawing this on a sheet of paper and slipping it under doors. Second was drawing this on my allies so I could always see where they were and cast spells on them or their enemies. This might be especially egregious since I could sit at home in my tower and still be useful on the adventure.

If you don't like these potential uses, specify that the spell must be cast on some relatively immovable surface (like a wall or a door) and/or that the maximum range is also dependent on HP expenditure; something like 1 HP per mile or league should work.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Re-stocking the Temple

"Any group of humans or small humanoids within the dungeon is able to replace its losses (to adventurers) at the rate of one per day. Larger humanoids (3 + 1 or more Hit Dice) can replace one each three days; monsters can replace their numbers at the rate of one per week.
If the Temple forces are not heavily pressed by the party, they actually grow at the rates given above." - Temple of Elemental Evil, by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentz
I feel comfortable saying that, with Dungeon Fantasy's different off-time pacing, this would be downright murder on a party. You go back to town for a week and the dungeon is back at full strength! Well, at least the parts you visited are. The other levels? They're stronger. Enjoy!

No, thanks. So, what to do? After all, the dungeon should restock and change at least somewhat. At the same time, I can't reveal everything here, because I have at least one player who reads this blog.

First is to split the dungeon up into sections. Rather than restocking the dungeon as a whole, I think it makes more sense in this case to treat different parts of the dungeon as different groups. Decide what geography belongs to which groups, and note down whether a given group has a particular character - for example, one group might be composed more of brigands and normal demi-humans, while another might lean toward subterranean monsters, and a third toward  undead.

Each section should have a source that can be dealt with by PCs. This could be a single leader, an inner cabal, an attractive resource, or whatever. If something happens to the source, the members of this section either desert or join another section over the next week. Assume that half the remaining members desert regardless, and that the other half is split between compatible factions that have room. By 'compatible' I mean that the section doesn't have an emphasis contrary to the emphasis of the section it's poaching from; brigands are unlikely to join eldritch horrors. Special cases (e.g. conversion of those brigands into skeletons for the undead section) are at the discretion of the GM.

Then, for each section, decide how much capacity they have, and where they are now in filling that capacity. This is probably most easily done by counting empty rooms that could be turned into full rooms and fudging a bit for dungeon backstory. The Temple was sacked fifty years ago; at that time it was a major force of evil in the land. Lots of structural damage was done, and the Temple is nothing like what it was once. Knowing that, I'm going to eyeball it and say that most or all of the sections are at 80% capacity. This means both that each group of creatures could grow by 1/5th before being at capacity, but also that 1/5th of the number of populated rooms is how many empty rooms could be used to house new recruits. (Example: let's say section 1 has 20 populated rooms and 33 not populated. This means that 4 of those empty rooms could have recruits move in.) Once a section is at 100% capacity, it won't grow any further. (If you like, continue to roll to restock and instead of adding replace monsters.)

Each section can also have modifiers on either the Restock Chance or the Restock Roster table. For example, one section in the Temple has a Restock Chance modifier of -1 but a Restock Roster modifier of +6.

Once you've done all that, roll weekly on the table below:

Restock Chance
Roll (2d6)Result
2Catastrophe! Roll twice on the restock table and lose that many forces.
3-7No change
8-9Roll once on the restock table. Recruit for losses only; do not gain extra forces.
10-11Roll once on the restock table.
12Roll twice on the restock table.

Restock Roster
Roll (1d6)Result
0Appropriately-sized group of local fauna moves in. (E.g., horde of rats, 1 bear)
11 easy to find recruit. (E.g., 1 brigand)
21d6 easy to find recruits.
32d6 easy to find recruits, or 1 uncommon recruit. (E.g., 2d6 orcs, 1 gnoll)
41d6 uncommon recruits and 1d6 easy to find recruits.
5Either 2d6 uncommon recruits or 1 rare recruit, and 1d6 easy to find recruit. (E.g., 2d6 ogres or 1 werewolf, plus 1d6 brigands)
6Roll twice more.
71d6 rare recruits and 1d6 easy to find recruits.
81d6 rare recruits, 1d6 uncommon recruits, and 1d6 easy to find recruits.
91d6 rare recruits, 2d6 uncommon recruits, and 1d6 easy to find recruits.
102d6 rare recruits, 1d6 uncommon recruits, and 2d6 easy to find recruits.
112d6 rare recruits, 2d6 uncommon recruits, and 3d6 easy to find recruits.
122d6 rare recruits, 3d6 uncommon recruits, and 3d6 easy to find recruits. Alternatively, 1 unique monster.

Any new group will have only their own equipment and pocket-change as treasure, along with whatever was already in the room. (Plug for Dungeon Fantasy Adventures 1: it has a random pocket-change loot table in the back.) However, any new group that gets another batch of reinforcements will have appropriate treasure, to represent their successes.

Feel free to assign modifiers, especially to the second table's roll. If a section is particularly strong or well-known, it should get plusses, as everyone wants to join the winners. A weak section should get minuses. There might be situational modifiers as well - for example, the Cult of Our Aquatic Masters might get a hefty bonus after a local flood. 

Consequences of Success

What happens when the PCs knock out a section? For 1d6 weeks, nothing. That area remains deserted. After that time is up, roll another d6. On a 6, a new faction takes up residence; make it roughly as strong as the surrounding factions. This can either be a completely new force, or defectors from the other factions making common cause and setting up their own power base. On any other roll, divide the empty area between the nearby factions. This will probably be a roughly equal division, but if one faction is significantly stronger than the others it might claim more. Move one or two groups from their current places in the section to the new area, but otherwise wait on restock rolls to add recruits.


The tables above aren't organized by foe difficulty, but instead by ease of recruitment based on the fuzzy factors of likelihood of joining the cause and the population of the realm around the dungeon. "Easy to find" doesn't mean "mook" and "uncommon" doesn't mean "worthy", though the categories probably roughly track one another. This reflects my bias that the behaviour of the world should track only loosely with the capability of the PCs. If you disagree, the wording is easy enough to switch, I think.

Where did these numbers come from? Nowhere. I thought them up out of the blue. If you're inclined, please playtest this and give me feedback, but use at your own risk. Still, I hope it's helpful, and I did at least familiarize myself with the probabilities involved beforehand.

Also, as an aside, does anyone know how to make tables in Blogger without editing the HTML? I'm fine with doing that, but it'd be nice if I needn't.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Eyes of the Overworld

With all credit due to Jack Vance.
Like this, only pink
Eyes of the Overworld are brittle, concave cups of a slightly pinkish material. The inner edge keeps itself moist through some mystical method or other.

When placed over the eyes, Eyes of the Overworld shrink to fit over the eye. Anyone wearing them is obvious; they look like pink globules over the eyes. They are very slightly sticky on the interior surface and so will stay in place through all manner of exertion after placement, but they are easy to remove, with a single Ready action per eye if done in combat.

When worn, the world appears a happier, more beauteous place to the world. Ordinary men and women appear as queens and kings, as does the wearer himself; the ugly is rendered beautiful. It affects all senses, so that the dumpy hermit with a speech impediment appears instead to have regal features and raiments and to speak with refinement. This has several beneficial effects:

  • Immunity to Sense-Based attacks. You cannot be affected by a basilisk's gaze or a ghast's stench while wearing the Eyes.
  • Immunity to Fright Checks and all fear effects.
  • Temporary annulment of some disadvantages like Chronic Depression or Manic Depressive
  • Other small effects as the GM sees fit. Examples might include a reduction in cost of living, since you're now satisfied with a broken-down hovel and slop, and a bonus to reaction rolls from some people since you're liable to treat them courteously.
However, there are a few drawbacks as well:

  • Between -5 and -10 on Naturalist, Hidden Lore, and other skills used to identify monsters and items, depending on how much the GM feels the Eyes of the Overworld change the appearance to make it presentable to you.
  • Complete inability to use Merchant or other value-appraisal skills.
  • The Eyes are very easy to shatter. Any attack to the eyes that does at least HP/10 points of damage shatters an Eye and drives the shards into your eye, causing an additional HP/5 injury.
  • The Eyes are mildly addictive. Each day spent continuously wearing them, the wearer must make a Will +4 roll or refuse to take them off. If they are forcibly removed, make another Will roll. the wearer suffers Chronic Depression (15 or less) for (24 +- margin of success) hours.
The Eyes must be worn on all eyes to be effective. If not enough Eyes are worn,  the user gets a splitting headache - treat it as being in Medium Pain for as long as the wearer keeps the Eye(s) on, and for 1d seconds after.

Nobody knows the origins of the Eyes of the Overworld. Some say that a wizard of old perfected a technique for creating them from the lenses of Eyes of Death. Others claim they are relics of a god who was slain for his beautiful scales, and these scales are the Eyes themselves. Still others claim they are excreted as spore casings by certain types of fungi that live at magical nexi.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Random Encounter tables are useful: After play report 5

Calawas - Elf Thief (Katz)
Amalia - High Elf Cleric (Paraj)
Volbak - Dwarf Knight (Jim)
Lamaevhun - Wood Elf Scout (Tim)
Ilsildel - High Elf Wizard (Martin)
Chief - Wood Elf Barbarian (Catherine)

The PCs had decided to head back to Verbobonc to clear their debts by getting rid of their absurdly large book and do their general buying and selling in a large town instead of tiny Hommlet.

The walk there was mostly uneventful, though they did come across a group of traders and peasants making the trek out to Hommlet, until the third day. On that day, near dusk, they saw dust in the distance and wisely decided to get off the road and onto a nearby hillock.

No sooner had they accomplished this than the dust resolved itself into twenty-odd horsemen. From the road these horsemen claimed to be collecting a toll for use of the road in the name of on Lord Diego. Pretty much everyone in the party thought this was a ruse, and a poor one at that, since the admittedly well-equipped men didn't bother with any standards or devices other than a red armband.

After several tense minutes which involved two of the "men-at-arms" entering the camp while leaving the other eighteen on the road in a show of goodwill, Volbak, who has taken on the role of party leader, decided to let them take their tithe and go. Which they did, claiming a pair of crystal goblets and a fine broadsword "for the safe use of the road through the territory of Lord Diego, rightful ruler of these lands."

They reached Verbobonc without further incident.

In Verbobonc was a bit of accounting and a bit of rumourmongering to the effect that the eastern reaches are again becoming unsafe unless you travel in large groups - though not everyone in the city believes that. Notable expenditures included Isildel learning Create Fire after the fiasco with the green slime and the hiring on of a porter by the party, a shield-bearer by Isildel to cover him while casting spells, and a healer by Calowas. Despite groaning over the cost, they chose to pay all three the monthly rate.

In addition, Calowas got an audience with one of the Duke's chancellors and informed the man about the band claiming to be working for a Lord Diego. That got a serious frown and a "we'll send some people to look into it" to which Calowas responded, "We'd be happy to be those people" and the chancellor responded, "No, I think we'll send some soldiers to look into it." Bandit lords claiming territory out from under the rightful duke is nothing to sniff at.

On the way back, the trip out through the populated lands was marked only by the occasional farmer using the road to travel to his neighboring village. However, once they reached the Kron hills, about three days out from Hommlet they were overtaken by a gnomish patrol. Relations with the gnomes were cordial to the point where they camped together and they got a chance to try some of the gnomish marching brew. It was potent stuff; so much so that the party isn't sure where Amalia ended up for the rest of the night.

From the gnomes they learned that there has been an increase in orcish and hobgoblin overland movements to dangerous levels. This very patrol had, four days previous, rousted two trolls from a relatively new den in the hills.

Oh, and did we mention the green dragon? But don't worry about that; it's hardly ever seen.

The next morning they set out and in another three days' time they made it to Hommlet, where the smell of smoke hung in the air, and that's where we stopped.


Don't ever leave a session report as long as I have for this one. I have a strangely good memory for details, but still, it's best to report on these things when they're fresh.

I never actually expected to get use out of my random encounter tables. Not only did I get use out of them, but we actually had a whole session based around them, and they created a plot to boot. Furthermore, with the exception of the accounting in the middle, I'm fairly sure all of the players were engaged and interested in the game. Goes to show that random encounters overland aren't the same thing as random encounters in the dungeon.

Speaking of accounting, does anyone have any tips for making that go as quickly as possible other than do it all between sessions? Sometimes that's not feasible, since I can't end each session back in town.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Encumbrance tracker spreadsheet

I cribbed up a spreadsheet for tracking encumbrance in real time that shows the total weight, the current encumbrance level, and the effect on dodge and move. Now I can require players to track encumbrance (or do so for their hirelings or other NPCs) without having it bog down the game.

You can get it either in OpenOffice format or Excel.

In order to use it, fill in the (N)PC's name and all the fields in grey: Lifting ST, Unencumbered Move, and Unencumbered Dodge.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Breaking the hiatius

I'm finally back. Life has been keeping me from this blog and most other past-times lately, but that's all over.

It's hard, coming back to something like this after such a long break. I pretty much stopped thinking of this project except in odd moments because there wasn't the necessary cognitive space. That being the case, this post probably won't contain too much useful information for people looking to play the Temple in GURPS or convert other AD&D material. Sorry.

I still have a lot of posts I need to write, and I will get on that this week and in the weeks to come. Despite the fact that I stopped doing pretty much any preparation, I did keep gaming, so there are session reports that need to be fleshed out and posted. (This is the blessing both of lots of front-loaded preparation and the fact that T1-T4 contains the Moathouse as a separate starter dungeon.) On the flip side, I don't think I'm going to continue the Know Your Options posts; other bloggers in the GURPS niche can cover DF-centric tactics much better than I can. Perhaps I'll pick them back up once I have some experience under my belt. We'll see.

Beyond that, I need to consider what needs doing next. The Moathouse is basically done, but I still need to work on Nulb and the Temple itself, where I've done very little. I think I'm going to stat up Nulb with City Stats in a rudimentary fashion, because I hope that will help me answer some questions about using it as a base for adventurers, like how much wealth the local economy can absorb, and how the town will change over time because of PC influence.

I also need to work out a new note system, since the method I currently have just doesn't work very well. I'm stuck flipping back and forth. I have a few ideas on that score that I'll try out and report on, but if anyone wants to come forward detailing what you do to keep track of treasure and monsters in the dungeon, I'd love to hear it.

I might occasionally wander off-topic; I've been considering a sort of hex-crawl campaign for a while now, though I don't expect it to ever get off the ground. It's for when the Temple's been gone through and we're ready to move on to something else - an eventuality I expect to take years to arrive.

Finally, I think I'm going to move down to a Monday-Thursday update schedule for the moment. That could change once I get my thoughts in order. It isn't the best thing for the blog, but the point of the blog was to force me to continue working on the Temple and to be a repository of useful information, not as an end in itself.

Since I'm a big believer in not posting if you don't have anything useful to say, I'll bring up something I've been mulling over for a bit now. I'm considering restricting spells learnable in town to those without any pre-requisites, unless the town or mage in question has special connections. Other spells would have to be picked up in the dungeon or researched. I don't know how much I like this idea: on the one hand, it brings back that flavor of why a wizard would delve and it makes magical scrolls and the like treasure truly worth it. On the other, it hamstrings mages, perhaps too much. Maybe I could combine it with not requiring pre-requisites for spells learned from spellbooks and scrolls? If I do that, and simply make learning spells from town prohibitively expensive, it might perform the same function without being too much of a handicap for spell-casters.

Monday, June 3, 2013

NPCs do the craziest things

I love wacky NPC personalities, so when I find inspiration, I have to share it.
The man loves his onion

(Should be back to regular posting next week! Yay!)