Tuesday, February 12, 2019

My GM Philosphy

We all do this a little differently, so I figured it might be helpful if I shared what goes on inside my brain when I sit behind a GM screen.

For me, D&D is first-and-foremost a game. That means there are game elements at work: Puzzles, mysteries, tactical combats, hidden timelines, all that. It’s a fair game. Your enemies play by the same rules as you do. Yes, there may be some unpredictable stuff, things that occasionally blind-side you, or epic level NPCs who can do things that aren’t specifically spelled out in the rules. With time and effort and a little luck, you can learn to do all those epic and wonderful things too.

D&D is an odd game in that its win condition is a little nebulous – When I’m playing a Character, a win occurs whenever I accomplish a goal with style. It’s more about accumulating a mass of small wins than one really big one, but with a bit of time and cleverness and luck, a big win can definitely happen. When I’m GMing, a win is any truly memorable session. If you’re laughing about the time the ranger knocked the high priestess out cold by hiding around a corner and smacking her in the face with a shovel, two years after the session wrapped, that’s a win.

You can definitely lose at D&D, though. These, to me, are all-too-common losses—
•The table isn’t communicating effectively
•One player repeatedly alienates the group, usually by stubbornly clinging to their narrow interpretation of something (a rule, an alignment, a tactic, etc)
•Players forget that the GM is a player, too, and take for granted all the extra time, creativity, and prep work that GMing requires.
•Players are still mentally playing the last game, and aren’t paying attention to the one they’re in right now. This can be as innocent as the Rogue taking a bunch of trap damage because he forgot to search (which isn’t really a loss, just sloppy play), or as insidious as sabotaging the party’s best efforts because you’d rather be playing another system (and if this campaign wrapped early because of a TPK…)

These losses don’t have to be fatal, but they do need to be addressed when they happen. D&D is a hugely social game, and pretending like the only important game elements are the ones written down on your character sheet is silly. Role-playing isn’t just about creating a character, it’s about learning how to communicate effectively.  No matter how good we think we are at that, each and every one of us can find new ways to improve.

Teamwork makes the dream work.
Back to the game: I use die rolls to determine the outcome when there’s uncertainty about the outcome. If you try to bully the king, it doesn’t matter if you nat 20 on your Charisma roll. You’re getting thrown in the dungeon. Good dice won’t undo a bad idea, and talking smack to the king is always a bad idea. Likewise, NPCs remember how you treated them the last time, and they’ll treat you accordingly the next time you meet.

When appropriate, I use Morale tests and Reaction rolls to determine NPC motivations behind-the-scenes. It’s a hold-over from Basic D&D, but I keep using it because it keeps working.

Essentially, every NPC has a morale score (usually determined by rolling 2d6, or sometimes just assigning a common number—wild animals are 4-6, most people are 7-8, trained soldiers are 10, etc). When something morale-breaking happens (loss of 50% hit points, asked to drink acid, etc), they test morale by rolling 2d6. If they roll over, they break, and quit the task in-character. Otherwise, they keep at it.

Reaction rolls are used to determine how an NPC (usually a minor one) reacts to you when the social script takes a turn. You’re talking to the bartender and you casually mention that you’ve just killed seven people. This bartender is a random commoner who might not even have a stat-line, and now he’s got a hard choice. The GM rolls 3d6 and adds your character’s Charisma modifier, either positive or negative. If the roll is 10+, the NPC reacts favorably to you (“Only seven, eh? Guy in yesterday said he killed nine.”) If it’s 6+, the NPC reacts neutrally (“Oh? Well, um, sounds like thirsty work.  Can I get you a beer?” And thinks, “This guy’s probably lying, but I need to call the city guard just to be safe.”) Less than 6, and it won’t be great (“You bastard! My aunt was stabbed this morning by a man in a tan coat! Draw steel!”).

Lastly, I tend to interpret things in the PCs favor. My rationale is that, as the GM, I have access to everything. I can always make the game harder. PCs only get so much to work with, so why not let them have their fun? This sometimes leads to people getting shocked by difficult traps / puzzles / monsters / social encounters down the road, because I’ve been pretty lenient early on. So we’re clear: Giving you the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean, “I’ll take it easy on you.” So, there you go. You’ve been warned.

How to be an awesome PC in one of my games:

• Know the rules well enough to play your character. It’s fine to ask clarifying questions, and to ask for rulings, and all of that, but you should at least know what dice to roll and what numbers to add to them in order to make an attack.

• Try to strike a balance between roleplaying your character and doing things that are useful for your team. Don’t insist on rolling a Halfling ranger who only uses a longbow (attacking with disadvantage all the time because it’s some ancestral blah blah blah); don’t be an alpha-gamer who micro-manages everyone else’s movement phase or wastes time looting EVERY GODDAMN THING like he’s playing modded Skyrim without encumbrance rules. Make good, interesting decisions while in-character. It sounds simple, but that simple tenet is the Coca-Cola secret flavor formula for playing D&D.

• Help other players when they have rules questions. Or lore questions. Or any question at all that doesn’t need to be answered by the GM. There’s only one of me but there are several of you.

• Pay attention to the lore of the setting, and make a character who interacts with it. My settings are always filled with weird in-jokes and hidden references and if you actually pick up on them, damn, I love you for it. Plus, there are always hidden clues on how to beat bad guys and solve puzzles, so there’s something in it for you, too.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Dark Age of Sigmar - Time-Stamp: Feb 2019

Right, then. I've gotten excited about Dark Age of Sigmar, and because I'm going to be pushing into new territory, I'm going to share some photos of my current mini collection. Some of this stuff goes back about 10 years, some of it's about 3-4 years old. I haven't taken photos of anything current, mostly 'cause there hasn't been much new going on. I haven't really done anything with regard to minis for the past 2 or 3 years. But, the bug's bit again, and while I figure out what that entails, here's a bookmark.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Some Nearby Towns in the Badlands

Valley of Fire, Nevada [Wikimedia Commons]

Lormond, pop 21,000. Not so much a town as the largest major city in the Badlands. Lots of stuff to see and do, and plenty of trouble to get into. More later.

Scarletton, pop 2,500. Famous for its hospitality. Lots of great inns and restaurants, including—
·         The Barbarian’s Alehouse (14 g.p./night), famous for herb-encrusted goat shanks
·         The Screeching Carp (12 g.p./night), famous for its fish beer and bacon-wrapped-bacon
·         Newt’s Nest, a bawdy tavern where men of rank or privilege go slumming
·         Skull Market, where orc-tribes come to trade openly with the human population
Scarletton is centrally located between Lormond and several smaller communities, so it’s a natural trade center.

Hurstmouth, pop 5,800. Originally built to exploit easy access to a freshwater stream, Hurstmouth is now a gateway to the Underworld. Law enforcement hasn’t kept up with the influx of new faces, and Hurstmouth is a dangerous place where unwary people lose their fortunes and their lives with startling regularity.
·         Donna Portia’s Magick Emporium, selling high-priced treasures to Underworld expeditions and wealthy tourists from Nyctopolis*
·         A lawfully-inclined constable named Rossdell Post, leader of a recently-formed town militia, has begun imposing fatal punishments for a variety of poorly-defined crimes.
·         The Paladin’s Rest has a reputation for being the best whorehouse in the Badlands.

Central Bluff, pop 740. Built around the tower of the mysterious Crystal Maiden, this little community is largely isolated from the outside world. Its people are whispered to be “wild eyed” and unpredictable. Its major industries are mining and the harvesting, preparation, and sale of rare gems.
·         The Crystal Maiden is an unpredictable creature who wields magical authority over ice and snow. She appears in different guises to those who seek her, but most say there is something “insect-like” about her form. If she has a name besides the Crystal Maiden, none in Central Bluff will share it with outsiders.

Wild Nevada [S4:E1]

Verdant Grove, pop ?? (est. 80-120). Due to some long-held custom of belief, the people of Verdant Grove wear only green clothes. It’s otherwise an unremarkable backwater full of loggers, skinners, trappers, and leatherworkers, who [some say] practice odd religious rites under the full moon.

Vandarbarton, pop ?? (est. 80-100). Poor farmland, a misty forest full of scrawny predators, some ramshackle huts, and a medium-sized herd of cattle. Also, a bar: Barren Crossing, where you can buy whiskey or beer, and the locals throw in suspicious glares for free.

Slattenby, pop ?? (est. 20-60). A flooded, miserable little hovel of a village, built in the shadow of Deathfrost Mountain** amid the Howling Forest on the shores of Barnacle Lake.

Badlands at the Blue Gate, Utah [Wikimedia Commons]
*,**: Names borrowed from the works of Zak Sabbath, James Raggi, and/or Patrick Stuart.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

On Making Life is Strange Into Dark Souls

"People are always ruining things for you."
-Holden Caulfield

This is the tale of how I experienced the indie adventure game Life is Strange.

It started as a dare. A few of us were talking shit about video games, mostly belittling one anothers' abysmal tastes, and a few choice words spiked our collective blood pressure high enough that the Dark Souls / Life is Strange Throwdown of 2017 was set in motion. And executed.


My friend Jon played Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin for a good 14 hours. I commend his efforts, as he was pretty cynical about the whole From Software mystique and I think he's at least started to see why I like the Dark Souls vibe as much as I do. However, the game I recommended was Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition, which he has yet to play.

I played Life is Strange for 1 hour, which was 45 minutes longer than I wanted to play. Once I realized the game mechanics were essentially going to be cut scenes and dialogue trees, I became frustratingly bored and the game itself felt like a chore. The bit with the paint bucket and the sprinklers and bitchy Veronica or Victoria or whoever, the girl you can't just fucking walk past and get into the dorms, was the first time I told the game out loud to go fuck itself. I got to the end of Chapter 1 and decided I was done.

For perspective, these are five games (off the top of my head) that I really like, and have played in the last couple years:

Darkest Dungeon
Master of Orion 2
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition
The Binding of Isaac

All of which are a million miles away from Life is Strange in terms of theme, mechanics, and ... well, basically everything. Dark Souls, Binding, and Overwatch are all dexterity based, revealing their vague-yet-intriguing worlds through masterful use of context. MOO2 and Darkest Dungeon are not dexterity based, instead requiring the player to build their own world within the game's rules and setting. All have very few cut scenes, very little dialogue, lots of significant choices, lots of variable challenges, and tons of player agency.

Life is Strange, on the other hand...

Ok, before I go off-road into the pseudoscientific quagmire of "what makes a game fun to play," let me abruptly switch gears: I'm not trying to bare my amygdala, or even assert that one type of game is better than another. Merely, I'm offering an explanation for why I found Life is Strange so frustrating to play.

As a game, I can only say two things about it with any sincerity: "I found it horribly dull" and "It's not my kind of game."

That said, I wasn't willing to let my prejudices get in the way of a good experience, and besides, I was still curious about what made people recommend it. The more I consciously dismissed it, the more curious I became in my unguarded moments. I was starting to obsess over it, honestly. I tried watching an 8 hour long video on YouTube which was essentially a Let's Play without any talking, but I found my attention drifting and abandoned it.

Then I found this:

And then I was all, "Ok, let's do this." And I did. And I laughed. And I re-watched critical scenes without Adam's commentary later so I could make up my mind for myself. And you know what? Despite the mountain of odds which were stacked against both myself and the game, I actually really liked Life is Strange.

Adam hated it for predictable reasons (which, I must digress, is one of the reasons I like his movie review channel - even though my tastes diverge from his fairly often, his critical voice is consistent). But I enjoyed the story once it got going. Yes, the game is a pastiche hacked together from a bunch of other, better-executed ideas, but buried somewhere beneath the horrible dialogue and cringey cliches, there's something sort of sublime that's worth experiencing.

Rather than wax on about all the things that were wrong with it, I'm going to discuss what I liked.

The Soundtrack
Whether or not one likes the original score + licensed tracks is a matter of taste, but you've got to admit, the music fits the mood of the game so well. Not really a whole lot else to say about this, other than, "Damn fine job!" Obstacles has been stuck in my head for two days now.

The Dialogue
It's utterly atrocious, but in a way that's so bad it's good. Saying hella is fun. I missed that phase in the mid-2000s because I went to college in the rural Midwest, so it never showed up organically in my dialogue. Now that I'm in my thirties and much too far from cool to care, it's great. Hella great, in fact.

The Architecture
This is it. This is the thing that got to me and won me over. It requires a shift in perception - you can't take the game literally for this to work. You gotta let your right-brain take over, shut off your left-brain logic, and try to enjoy the interplay of symbols and overlapping meanings within the narrative.

Life is Strange (and the story it tells) is a dream-like meditation on the fear of success. Max's desire to be an artist (but her hesitation at handing in her photos in Episode 1) is the narrative-in-brief, or the fugue, or the mantra, which will be repeated over and over and over. The mysterious storm bearing down on Arcadia Bay represents The Unknown - all possible outcomes, good and bad, but mostly the bad ones as far as Max can imagine them, and Chloe represents Max's comfort zone. Max wants to be as close to her comfort zone as possible, but she knows it can't last. Chloe is so much fun but, in the long-term, she will be toxic. She's like drugs, refined sugar, or never leaving home. If Max chooses to stay with her, she commits a kind of suicide - in one sequence, this plays out with Max literally needing to kill Chloe in order to escape from her past. In another, Max is successful and living in San Francisco, but Chloe herself is dead.

Chloe gives Max all kinds of great and memorable experiences, and Max wants to hold on to her forever. But Chloe can't last - She is inevitably slain by Mr. Jefferson (who represents Death in the physical, metaphysical and spiritual sense; he brings the inevitable loss of innocence which Max is hoping to delay forever). Max's battle with Jefferson is telling in that she needs outside assistance in the form of David Madsen in order to defeat him, cooperating with her former (perceived) enemy in order to overcome her real one.

Madsen represents everything Max finds distasteful about the world. War, narrow-mindedness, intolerance, violence, patriarchy, etc. Despite all of Madsen's negative traits, Max knows she must align herself with him, if only for a moment, in order to beat back her true adversary, Death. By choosing to do so, even if it's only to save herself, Max regains a measure of control over the loss of her innocence. The loss still happens. Death is still confronted. But when the struggle is over, Madsen frees her and she can stand again, on her own. The story could very well end here and be a cautionary tale, but Max has magic powers, so why would she want to end her tale in this bleakest of timelines?

She goes to a timeline where everything is great and Chloe is alive and they can be together, only... There's that storm. The Unknown. The Future is coming to take away Max's past, and Max has a choice: She can act to preserve the innocence of others, or she can act to preserve herself. Only, no matter what she does in this moment, she must be selfish. She is creating the world she wants to live in. She is choosing to be the person she will be for the rest of her life. All of this power is now, finally, inescapably, being released via her agency, and she will be responsible for everything that happens next.

Chloe, her comfort zone, tries to convince Max that it's all right to sacrifice her. And that's the beautiful ending, the meaningful ending, the ending that we wish we could choose because it means we're good people and willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. We are worthy of our future. We have chosen to discard our innocence. Our character has been tested and we've come out ahead. We can sleep at night, even though we will always carry a Chloe-shaped scar, and there will be dreams which we kiss our secret lovers even as we know we must, inevitably, wake up, and leave them all over again.

There's also the ending that I chose. The bitter end. The one where Max says, "Fuck this place, fuck your narrative, fuck your apotheosis. I want what I want and I will take it no matter the cost." Because that's how I saw Max, and on some level, that's how I see myself. We both fuck up important things, things which should be clear and unambiguous but which we can't seem to let go of and move beyond. We cling to our comfort zones despite knowing better. We dream, and occasionally even act, but we are weak people and the world pays a cost for our weakness. We think we are acting out of love but, in the dark, at night, alone, we know we are acting for our benefit alone.

This revelation makes us numb and guilty and ruins our lives and the lives of those we care about, but we were weak when it mattered the most, and this is what we have, now. Our reward is ruin, but at least we held on to our beautiful, blue-haired delusions. Comfort is our final bulwark against despair.


Of course, there's a silver lining: This is all just a game. You can always go back and choose the other ending. If being selfless and beautiful has proven to be too much of a burden, you can always choose to put your own happiness first. If ignoring your own failures while you focus inward has begun to lose its luster, you can always choose to be a better person and correct your past mistakes.

Metaphorically, we make Max's "hard choice" every day. If you're past the age of innocence, if you've confronted the reality of your own death, and if that confrontation has led you to make any sort of real decision about your life, then you've already killed and saved Chloe a thousand times. Big decisions - whether to go to college, or move to Rome, or ask out a crush - act as obvious anchor points for this metaphor, but so do the small ones.

On a personal level, in my struggle with weight loss, I destroy Arcadia Bay every time I choose donuts over salad. I fuck up every time I sleep in instead of going for that morning walk. I inevitably pay for it, and will keep paying for it, because my decision can't be undone. But I can choose the right ending the next time. It will never be enjoyable to sacrifice Chloe. My eyes will never light up in sadistic glee as I leave her to die on that windy hilltop. I will never teleport away cackling.

But I can still choose to do it.

It's only through acknowledging her unspoken desires and choosing to act on them, one way or the other, that Max is able to move forward with her life.

Likewise, I really wanted to play more Dark Souls and not some indie game marketed to teenage girls. I needed to turn Life is Strange into a meta version of Dark Souls in order to access it. I needed to find my own path, to fail, to meditate, to try again. I needed to get frustrated and quit. I needed to be miserable with it. Then, and only then, could I approach it with enough emotional jet fuel to blast through it and see what the experience was all about. And really, I'm glad I did, because it showed me a real truth about myself, and despite everything, in the end, it was good.

Hella good, in fact.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Atlantis (A Lamentations of the Flame Princess Campaign Seed)

Game System: Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
The gist: It's old-school D&D (Basic/Expert base rules) with a twist: It's got weird magic, it's got a ton of metal influences, and it's set up to play in an "early Modern period" instead of the default "pseudo-Medieval" of Dungeons & Dragons. What I like is that it's a fairly straightforward, simple rule set in which you can easily make a character in 10 minutes. And that's great, because all characters are fragile and the world is a bizarre and brutal place.

The Setting:

It is June 1, 1618.

Atlantis has re-appeared in the North Atlantic after a two-hundred and twelve year absence. She is still inhabited by descendants of the brave French and Spanish settlers who risked all to settle her shores between her discovery by Admiral Diego de Camiña on August 4, 1450 and May 14, 1506, when the entire island disappeared without a trace.

The first continental power to re-establish communication (and thereby dominance) over the Atlanteans stands to profit substantially. Atlantis is rich in natural resources, as well as exotic creatures and rare metals found nowhere else in all the world. Whichever crown calls Atlantis her ally (or, better yet, her vassal) will stand tall above her enemies - and in these uncertain times, friends are few, and enemies are everywhere.

As a group, you'll need to choose a patron:

France. You are part of the entourage of Roul Pasquier, a Parisian diplomat. Your duty is to guard Pasquier as he conducts affairs in Soluna, Atlantis' capital, as well as to perform any 'unsavory' duties he assigns to you. Pasquier is a wealthy man, and his family owns several iron mines. He wants you to discover new sources of mineral wealth on Atlantis, and to buy, cajole, bully, coerce, and otherwise take the rights to that wealth. For the glory of France, of course.

Rome. You're part of the Vatican's expedition to Atlantis. Officially, you're there to act as guards for the esteemed Cardinal Francisco Bertello as he conducts affairs in Soluna, Atlantis' capital. Unofficially, you are relic hunters, acquiring magic, art, and treasure for the Catholic church. You are also tasked with endeavoring to understand how an island could disappear and re-appear in such an inexplicable fashion, and to root out and destroy heresy and darkness wherever it might appear.

Independent. You're mercenaries, adventurers, and privateers. Although you're under-funded and don't have any crowns backing you up, you're also completely unfettered by their expectations. Your story begins in Soluna, Atlantis' capital, shortly after you part ways with the Spanish merchant vessel which brought you here from Europe.


And if you're a GM wondering about influences and such:
The Default Setting. Essentially the skeleton I'm hanging the rest of the game on, at least as far as adventures in Atlantis go.
The Inspiration. Turtledove's prose is overly verbose and repetitive, but his ideas can be pretty neat sometimes.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sewer Rats Primer (Chesterwick Part 2)

This is a long overdue continuation of this post about the Sewer Rats.

The year is 1542, and you've got the most thankless job in the Empire. If you don't die fighting oozes in a shit-pipe, you might just retire young and rich! And full of trauma, but whatever, gold pieces pay for therapy, so go on - get in there, draw your blade, and stop complaining about the smell!

Sheldon: Senile old human (?) druid. Primary questgiver. Can also provide curse removal and disease-curing services, though it’s a total crap-shoot as to whether or not it’ll work.
Captain Turk: Cocksure halfling fighter and veteran Sewer Rat. Competition / clean-up. Always gunning for your glory and taking your quests.
Gorgool: Earth Elemental. Will pay you with raw gold for metal, gems, and jewelry, and vice versa.
Grandma Hiderender: Retired half-orc barbarian. Buys and sells low-level magic items. Tells great stories from her wild killin’ and revelin’ days.
Maeve: Disgraced apprentice witch. Half-elf. Slightly mad. She helps write spells and collect material components for arcane casters who need that kind of thing.
Jerome: Intelligent, free-willed zombie. Leader of the Undead Collective.  Not a Sewer Rat, but very familiar with the sewers, and helpful toward the Guild.

Other Factions
The Kings’ Guard. Royal knights fond of taking all the credit whenever they intercede. They’re a big authority on all sorts of Fighter/Paladin stuff.
The Alchemists Guild. Notorious polluters who hate paying taxes.
Netherstorm University. The city’s premiere college of wizardry.
Akaga Dojo. Continuing a fine tradition of martial training and philosophy.
The Undead Collective. The city’s civic-minded, free-willed undead.
The Dwarf Quarter. Divided between Roeni mountain-dwarves who want to overthrow the king and city-dwarves who like Chesterwick better. They worship Moradin and (allegedly) give espionage quests.
The Thieves’ Guild. They’ve got a truce with the Sewer Rats at the beginning of the campaign, but that may change. They keep track of how much gold the PCs are accumulating and don’t like it when the Rats kill their members. Rogue stuff.
The Steamfitters’ Union. An endless source of escort quests and obnoxious NPCs.
The Great Library. Not affiliated with Netherstorm University, and they’ll let you know it, too, even if you don’t care. They’re mostly Clerics of Cobb, god of knowledge, and they’ll buy weird books and religious paraphernalia. They’re also a great source of general information. Cleric/Warlock stuff.
The Church of Heironeous. The ultra-baroque chivalric arch-paladin god watches over his people, and sometimes gives them quests. Cleric/Paladin stuff.
Stabby’s Place. The black-market, kobold-run undercity bar that every fantasy city needs.
The Lich King. The real ruler behind the scenes. High level stuff.
The Duergar. They really want to invade and take over the city.
The Stone Circle. Druids who are very concerned that life isn’t being extinguished willy-nilly, and will quite likely protest against most of the stuff the PCs do once they find out.
The Temple of Dagoth. Discount hexes and bingo on Thursdays. Side-quest-givers for evil PCs.

General Random Encounters in the Sewers (d100)
2d4 Rat Swarms
2d4 Wererats
1d6 Giant Spiders
3d6 Zombies
1d4 Gargoyles
3d10 Bandits (d6: 1-4 no leader, 5 5th level Fighter, 6 6th level Warlock)
Oozes (d6: 1-3 Gray Ooze, 4-5 Ochre Jelly, 6 Black Pudding)
No Encounter
Roll three times and triple the number of dice used to determine # of enemies.

Random Side-Quest Generator
The Stone Circle
Needs you to rescue one of their novice members from…
The Spider Pits
The Steamfitters’ Union
Is being threatened by a group of bloodthirsty bandits who are hiding in...
The Ant Caves
The Undead Collective
Discovered a screeching monolith; it’s awful and they want you to get rid of it by returning it to…
The Lost City of Zinje
The Alchemists’ Guild
One of their high-ranking members is sick and can only be cured by a fungus that grows in…
The Sinking Quarter
Netherstorm University
Lost an important McGuffin ages ago, but new information leads them to believe it’s in the…
The Old, Skull-filled Temple of Erythnul
The Church of Heironeous
Needs to perform a ritual / fix a pipe / etc., except there is a rampaging plutonium elemental who killed the last crew, and it was last seen in…
The Gypsum Caverns
The Thieves Guild
Needs you to scout out this place and make a map.
Be thorough. Don’t ask stupid questions.
The Dripping Forest
Akaga Dojo
Has important business in a weird spot, and needs bodyguards to make it safely through…
The Canyon of the Wurm
The Dwarf Quarter
Roll d8. It’s just like that, only a pack of gargoyles stalks the PCs the whole time and attack them if they get into a fight with something else.
The Pit of Annihilation
The Great Library
Roll d8. It’s just like that only there is an undisclosed faction opposed to it and they will send 2d6 Assassins to stop the Sewer Rats in their tracks.
The Duergar Pipes

Friday, June 9, 2017

"Shadow of the Demon Lord" Yard Sale

Once upon a time, I was flirting with the idea of running a Shadow of the Demon Lord campaign. For various reasons it never materialized. I re-discovered my notes this afternoon while organizing my desktop, and figured I might as well share it with you, The Internet, in the hopes that someone, someday, plays the campaign I envisioned. Also, if you're familiar with Carcosa, you'll probably see where I was going with this...

A Hell-bound Fetch [Phantom or Wraith] haunts this road, killing at his whim. He wears black armor covered in unholy symbols and wields an oversized black iron greatsword. Each time he is killed, the person killing him becomes him. If the players kill the Fetch and take/wear his things, the villagers in the towns nearby will notice and attempt to capture the heroes and bury them alive beneath tons of rubble. Unwitting heroes wishing to avoid this fate must be quick to seek out a scholar or a priest.

The fetch is called Iron Samuel. He was a killer who slew the constable, then took the town’s girls for his own, killing whoever tried to intervene. He raped and murdered twenty-nine people before Michael Turner, the blacksmith, stuck a hot poker down his throat while he slept. They burnt Iron Sam’s body at the stake, and his armor and weapons were broken. Thirty-seven days later, Turner emerged from his smithy looking exactly like Iron Samuel, wearing armor forged to look exactly like Sam’s. He killed eleven in a fit of madness before Bill Mortonson gouged his eyes out with a trowel. Forty-four days later, Mortonson appeared in Iron Samuel’s armor, wielding his sword, and killed eighteen. He fled into the night.

In a funeral shaft dug into a weathered hilltop is the forgotten grave of a long-dead sorcerer. Clutched in the remains’ bony fingers is a stoppered vial filled with a mysterious green-glowing potion. Drinking the potion causes one to enter a hallucinogenic state for 2 hours, and to be visited by visions of forgotten, arcane gods.

The gods have polyhedral heads (platonic solids) and address the PC as "Initiate."  The PC may ask a question of each god. D4 is concerned with ascension. D6 is concerned with progress. D8 is concerned with war. D10 is concerned with measurement. D12 is concerned with the unknown. D20 is Advent, the God of Adventure, and will answer any question truthfully in exchange for a random curse or mutation. The PC need not ask any questions.

In the swamp is an empty catacomb containing ancient coins and jewelry, curious figures made of precious metals, and similar treasures (with a combined value of 500 silver). If taken the thieves will be unerringly tracked down in 3-6 days by the 3 Mummies [Barrow Wights] which inhabit this catacomb.

An elderly Ogre lurks among the gullies and ravines. It is voracious and will fight to the death; in fact, its only desire is to die in battle.

A clockwork creature is barely visible from within a small pit crawling with poisonous myriapods
[Rot Scarab Swarm] Upon closer inspection, the clockwork creature is badly damaged and cannot be salvaged, except for its left arm: A clockwork character who takes 4-7 days to replace its arm with this one has its Strength increased by 1.

The faeries direct you to the Unbreakable Stick, taken from the world’s first tree. It holds up an unstable rock ceiling; removing it will collapse tons of rubble on you. If only there were a way to remove it without setting off the trap…

Near the outskirts of a notoriously difficult to traverse bog lay a castle occupied by 6 Ogres led by a Champion.

A dozen crumbling huts mark the remains of an abandoned hamlet. A solitary Living Tar clings to the ceiling of the largest hut, waiting for prey. 500 silver may be scrounged from the ruins.

Did someone say treasure?
A magnificent brass necklace. It is of exotic workmanship, set with stylized images of stars and planets. You can use an action to instantly and safely teleport yourself and up to five willing creatures within your reach to a destination chosen by the GM. This object has one use.

A matching pair of limestone bracelets. They appear to have been made by an underground race of men. They emit a field in a 10-yard-radius sphere around you that keeps out normal insects.

An elegant platinum and walrus tusk breastplate. You do not become fatigued from exposure to extreme heat or cold.

A bronze spearhead on a birchwood shaft, engraved with images of the sun and set with obsidian flakes. It is of ancient workmanship. The object radiates menace. Creatures within 5 yards of it make Will challenge rolls with 1 bane to resist being frightened.