Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Play Report: Tower of the Stargazer

Over the break, I had the opportunity to run Tower of the Stargazer using the 52 Pages ruleset for visiting family. Results were excellent.

The cast of characters:

Zoltar the Rogue, STR 9 DEX 13 INT 12 WIS 12 CON 11 CHA 10, 5HP, wielding a short sword and dagger

Root the Elf, STR 8 DEX 11 INT 10 WIS 10 CON 12 CHA 13, 5HP, wielding a shortsword and hammer, knowing the spells Disguise and Phantasm

Displaying IMG_1349.JPGJermandry the Fighter, STR 16 DEX 8 IINT 11 WIS 11 CON 14 CHA 8, 9HP, with Longsword, Shield, and Greatsword

Blooberton the 'Dwarf', STR 15 DEX 13 INT 10 WIS 6 CON 17 CHA 5, 9HP, with Battleaxe and Shield. His CHA of 5 is readily explained by the bizarre wasting disease which left him looking like a hairy mutant flumph.

After a basic explanation of the rules and a fairly lengthy discussion of equipment purchases and distribution, during which Zoltar suggested they all take advantage of the free slings and sling stones mentioned in the equipment list, and the group discovered they couldn't afford any better armor for any of them, the four found themselves standing in the hilly region surrounding the mysterious Wizard's Tower, having heard of another crew's plans to break in in five days' time.

The crew observed the tower for a few minutes, noting the lighting strikes and the four metal spikes, and decided to patrol around the base in order to look for any entrances at a safe distance. They take note of the stairs up to the large double doors, but find no other doors or windows. They also find the corpse of Del Lorenzo, and Blooberton assesses the bent grapple and warns that perhaps climbing wouldn't be a good idea.

Root advises that they might want to avoid alerting any inhabitants of the tower to their presence, but also suggests testing the door in some way to see what happens. The gang decides to load their slings with loose stones and fire a volley at the door. The four stones bounce and ring loudly off the door's metal. Next, they decided to have Zoltar advance and attempt the doorknob. He cautions the rest of them to stay at the foot of the stairs, weapons ready. Ascending the steps, he takes a quick note of the two large knockers, and the two serpent-shaped handles before he grasps one firmly.

Despite his speed, he is unable to avoid the handle's sharp teeth as it darts forward and bites deep into his hand. His companions rush up the steps as he collapses, the handle returning to its former shape. Black and purple corruption spread across his fingers and wrist. Blooberton and Root clean the wound and suck out some of the poison, saving his wrist. His pinky and ring finger, however, crumble and fall off.

The team discusses various methods of killing the door handle. First, they pour some lamp oil on it ant set it alight – this succeeds only in blackening it. They try pouring water on it next, reasoning that this is a magical contraption and could react to anything at all. This effort only cleans the handle. Next, they gingerly hook the handle with Zoltar's grapple, assigning Jermandry the task of pulling back on it while Blooberton prepares to set the thing alight once it comes alive.

After a sharp tug, the handle twists and slips free of the grappling hook, and Blooberton lights the remaining oil – but too late, as the handle returns to its metallic, impervious position.

The four discuss trying to behead the serpent with Blooberton's axe, and then maybe trying to pull the doors open by hooking the knocker, but the latter plan is rejected as the knocker swings outwards and is considered to be a poor grip. Eventually Zoltar grabs the knocker with his damaged hand and knocks.

A deep gonging rings through the tower and out into the hills. After a pause, both doors swing open, and the party's torchlight illuminates some kind of parlor, with two tables, a north door, and an eastern door. Both doors are oak, with a circular brass handle – but the serpent-handles have set the group on edge, and they spend some time considering these doors and whether they pose any danger. They decide to split into two pairs and simultaneously open both doors. Root and Blooberton take the north door, Zoltar and Jermandry the south. The doors creak open, neither group having decided to take any precautions.

Zoltar and Jermandry find a small closet filled with musty old clothes, and use their blades to push through the robes and check pockets, but they find only chewed holes and moth eggs. Zoltar's player declined my offer to give him any moth eggs.

Root and Blooberton, on the other hand, discover a fancy stting room with a glass cabinet, a stone statue, a table, and stairs up. They are soon joined by the other group, and proceed to examine everything in the room. Jermandry looks under and over the central table, finding nothing, while Root opens the cabinet and looks through the china plates within. They notice that nothing in the tower has been covered with any dust so far, and continue to be suspicious that strange magic could hide within the room. Root picks up a china plate, and the whole group watches intently, weapons drawn, as she smashes it to the floor. They keep their guard up as the sound echoes through the tower, but nothing happens. The party then sets the table, as if for a meal, using the china and one of the four bottles of wine found in the cabinet, to see if it causes anything magical to happen.

Continuing up the stairs, the adventurers arrive in a kind of kitchen/dining room, with a short hallway to the east. They move quickly to the three doors in that hallway, and again decide on simultaneous opening – Root and Jermandry entering the northern door, and Zoltar and Blooberton each taking a southern door. They find nothing but old, musty, broken beds, but Root finds a key underneath the head servant's bed, and Jermandry picks up his diary. They bring this to Zoltar, the only literate party member, who finds that it's the diary of the tower's head servant, which details the time he spent purchasing rare books and other materials relating to the exploration of outer spheres, but cuts out abruptly after an entry discussing the wizard's murderous rage and his plans to escape.

The group progresses to the next staircase, and are disturbed by the trickle of blood oozing down it. Jermandry tries the key, but it doesn't work – and the blood flow increases slightly. Next Zoltar moves forward and tries to pick the lock, succeeding only in pushing a loose object out of the other side before getting temporarily blinded by a blast of blood. He cleans himself off, and the other party members look apprehensive at the prospect of triggering whatever is causing the flow. But the unknown still calls to them, and Jermandry inserts his crowbar into the jamb, and levers it free with a harsh crack.

A massive blood flow knocks him and Root all the way back down the stairs, dealing some heavy bruising and scrapes along the way. Jermandry and Zoltar are able to cling to the walls as the flood slackens, and catch a glimpse of some kind of figure looming in the center of the next room.

Zoltar sticks to the shadows as Jermandry advances into the room, with the other adventurers staying back. There they see the wizard Calcidius, who explains he was trapped in the salt circle by mistake and offers 100 silver coins for Jermandry to free him. Zoltar whispers, “That is some weak shit,” and Jermandry fakes moving to brush away the salt, but stops short and asks Calcidius for at least 10,000 silvers. The wizard tells them, “Free me, or I will pull your guts out of your nostrils,” but Jermandry refuses, and instead makes a great show of walking back down the stairs and wishing Calcidius luck. Zoltar watches carefully to make sure the wizard has no other means of escaping, and sees only Calcidius' red-faced cursing.

The adventurers discuss ways of trying to get information out of Calcidius, and moving through the room, and decide on having Root cast her Disguise spell to appear like his former assistant to see what he does. Unfortunately, the powerful wizard sees right through the spell and declares that he is not fooled by puny Elf magic, and that he finds roast Elf a great delicacy. Then Blooberton walks up the staircase, and the adventurers do their best to ignore the wizard's enraged shouts as they pick their way through the room.

They find a bronze hovering disk, and figure out that it operates as a magical elevator, locating two unexplored floors below them and two above. Blooberton examines the Star Crystal, and prepares to push it out of its holder with a weapon haft when Zoltar stops him, saying that it risks disrupting the salt circle. Instead he gingerly picks it up, apprehensive that it could be trapped, and places the heavy crystal into his bag. Meanwhile, Zoltar finds a book on Calcidius' desk and throws that into his bag, and the rest of the party determines nothing else in the room is worthwhile.

Root and Jermandry ascend to the fifth floor, reasoning that there should be a fighter in both groups, and find themselves in a large domed chamber with a cupola to the north, three large bins to the west, and pool of liquid in the south. They first walk up to the cupola and find another book sitting there, which they send down to Zoltar. Next, they inspect the pool of fluid and find it filled with bizarre fish, which have a set of six fins, a corkscrew tail, and eyestalks. Jermandry crumbles off a bit of hardtack and throws in three pieces. Two are intercepted midair by leaping fish, while the third hisses and bubbles as the fluid dissolves it. Both decide that they won't be sticking their toes in.

Meanwhile, Zoltar goes up alone to the fourth floor, finding two doors and deciding to open the eastern one, which is encased in a heavy rubber gasket. A rush of cold air greets him as he gazes on a small metal chest and another gasket-cased door to the north. He pries open the chest with his blade, and is hit by a gust of even colder air. Inside are forty-seven vials of some kind of frozen red fluid. He decides that anything kept frozen in an already-freezing room can't be good, and opens the door to the north.

Below him, Blooberton tries unsuccessfully to taunt the wizard, who simply jeers at Blooberton's unfortunate appearance. The dwarf soon tires of this and ascends to the fourth floor, deciding to open the western, normal door rather than follow Zoltar's path through the frozen room.

On Level 5, Jermandry and Root throw a couple coal hunks into the fish pool. Some are eaten, only to be quickly spit back out. Others hit the fluid and dissolve. Next they find that the third bin is filled with a small amount of a fine black powder, which they unsuccessfully attempt to scoop up with their blades. Root scoops up some with her right hand, and, suffering no ill effects, throws the clump into the fish pool. The fish ignore the powder, which also dissolves into the fluid.

After opening the second gasketed door, Zoltar finds himself in a large library, filled with glass and metallurgy works. He finds a second door in the south wall, and opens it to meet Blooberton shuffling into a kind of reading room. On a table in the room is a thick book called “Surviving the Interorbular Ether,” which he quickly ascertains as complex enough it could take a week for him to read. Instead, he opens the other two books and quickly pages through them, discovering that one of them is incoherent and clearly written by a madman, and the other seems to be a fairly lucid description of creatures on the sphere Necropoli Centauri.

Upstairs Root and Jermandry run out of ideas of things to throw into the fish pool, and take the elevator to the first dungeon level. They find themselves in a large room, with a door to the west and one to the south, an alcove to the north with five mirrors, and a lab space with tons of dissected animal and bird bodies – and one human. They move up to the mirror hall, where Jermandry stands with weapon readied as Root steps up and peers deeply into the northernmost mirror. The glass brightens, and then bursts – unable to resist, she falls back, face and upper body covered with serious burns. Jermandry runs back to the elevator shaft and shouts for help.

Zoltar and Blooberton had already descended to the lowest dungeon level. They had spent only a couple minutes browsing the Eldritch Library, which they found filled with scrolls about knots, books about alien creatures, and strange encyclopedias. Zoltar defeated a ghost in a hand of poker (a foregone conclusion for this Referee) in order to gain access, but they were uninterested in spending much time browsing the contents. At the very bottom of the tower, however, they found what they were looking for – over 40,000 silvers worth of gold and jewels!

Rushing back up to the first dungeon level, they perform first aid on Root and Blooberton washes her wounds, bringing her up to one hit point but leaving her still very exhausted and disoriented. The party then moves to the south door, and Blooberton rushes into the room, weapons readied.

The precaution is proven necessary when four cadavers, which had been resting in the prison Blooberton finds himself in, rush forward, shouting “FREE US!” and rending with vicious ectoplasmic claws. Blooberton crushes one with a single heavy blow, and Zoltar pushes forwards as Blooberton's shield and heavy armor ward off the corpse ghosts' blows. Root comments that these ghosts are irrational, as she can't save them if they try to kill her, but I as Ref said that it could be like how drowning people are liable to drown their rescuers in their panic. Despite these humanizing comments, the party has no trouble destroying the ghosts, although some of their lesser blows do annoyingly pass straight through, and the party stands triumphant in the long prison hallway.

First, they approach the strange fifteen-armed skeleton, visually inspecting it and fearing that it could jump up and attack them. It doesn't, and they take special note of the cobwebs spun throughout its bleached form.

Next, they gather around the fifth cadaver, which is dressed in rags and didn't attack when they entered the room. Blooberton moves forward and pokes it with his 10' pole. Unfortunately, nobody notices the cadaver's throat squirm before a large slug-thing leaps majestically from its mouth, aiming directly for Blooberton. Fortunately, he (somehow) ducks and the thing lands on the floor, and escapes into a drain before anyone can react.

Finally they return to the workshop room and examine a lab table with an intricate microscope, slides of red liquid, and a rack of red vials, similar to those in the freezer room. Jermandry decides that looking at the slides probably isn't a good idea, but he takes one of the vials to compare it to the freezer vials and see if they can figure out what's in them.

The group next opens the western door, finding hundreds of crates of strange bones, and a rope ladder hanging from a trapdoor in the ceiling. They decide that opening the crates won't be necessary, and split up again – Blooberton and Zoltar returning to Calcidius' bedroom to attempt an interrogation, while Jermandry and Root ascend to the fourth floor to compare vials.

Calcidius proves to be as unresponsive a subject as ever, his disposition being completely unchanged as the party makes various threats, like setting two of his metallurgy books on fire and describing plans to sell the Star Crystal, buy a bomb and bring the whole tower down. He says only that he'll bring their puny lives crashing down far more painfully than any explosion ever could, and tells them that sooner or later he'll be out of the circle, and then he'll string them up by their entrails.

On Level 5, the whole party turns to the cupola and its control panel, succeeding in opening the roof, extending the telescope, and retracting the lens. The fourth switch only causes a hum to start, but then stop after about thirty seconds. Zoltar peers through the telescope and watches strange creatures bop across an orange horizon under a fuchsia sky. They retract the lens but leave the roof open to the lightning-filled sky, and turn back to the fish pool.

Zoltar and Blooberton return to the workshop and pick up on. of the vials, planning to pour it onto the sewn-up cadaver there. To Zoltar's surprise, once he uncaps the vial, the pungent blood inside takes some kind of strange snake form and begins attacking, leaping past his head and glancing off Blooberton's partial medium armor. Their weapons are ineffectual, and Zoltar's attempts to set it alight with his torch are clumsy and the blood creature easily dodges them. Blooberton tries splashing it with water, to no effect. Zoltar then drops his blade and unfurls a burlap sack, and then – critical hit – scoops the blood up mid-air and ties shut the bag.

Jermandry and Root pick up a frozen vial, and hear Zoltar and Blooberton shouting up from the bottom of the tower not to open either one. Instead, they move to the top of the tower and throw each one into the fish pool, where they both dissolve – a black puff of smoke rising from where the blood burned.

Downstairs, Zoltar and Blooberton try throwing the wriggling bag of blood at one of the mirrors, but are disappointed when it fails to get blasted. They reunite with Jermandry and Root on the bottom level, where they begin trying out all possible combinations of the force-field machine.

After a couple pulls, Blooberton is shocked by a charged lever and begins manipulating them from afar with the 10' pole. However, none of the combinations result in any visible changes to the fields, and none of the party attempts anything other than a visual inspection, so after several dozen attempts they decide to grab the Star Crystal, the remaining china, the bottles of wine, the blood vials, and any books they can carry and flee. They also pause to unravel the gold thread from the cadaver, making short work of the “John Carpenter-esque” entrails which leap to the attack.

Final Thoughts

I'll post reviews of 52 Pages and Tower of the Stargazer tomorrow with more thoughts, but in short – I thought it worked pretty well. The players felt that their haul (the “obvious” treasure) was a tidy profit, even if it was only about 5-10% of what's in the module. Zoltar said that he would try hawking the stolen blood vials as a kind of instant attack device – definitely a novel solution – or else they could try to rig a contraption to get them to kill Calcidius. I liked that the tower actually supported a couple of different motivations – the players weren't just focused on the gold, but also were drawn into the mystery of the place's magic, technology, and especially the fish. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saving Throws

I've been dissatisfied with saving throws as normally presented for a while now, primarily because their progression curve is just so confusingly uneven - in LotFP, for example, they generally jump up by two every three levels, but sometimes it's three, and sometime's it's five. Secondly, the periodization - if saves are another method of making characters more survivable the more player time is invested in them, I'd prefer them to scale up in tandem with that time investment, rather than at every third level.

I also really liked Gus L.'s idea of decreasing Death Saves. It's a crutch that helps out starting characters but automatically falls away as they (and the player) gets more experience, it telegraphs the idea that you can't expect to be saved from the consequences of your mistakes as you keep playing, and finally, it works pretty well as an implied aging mechanic. 

So, thinking about it further, I decided to go with a four-save system - Body, Reflex, Mind, and Luck. The first three is the basic three-save system. Body protects you from poison and exhaustion. Reflex protects you from triggering traps. Mind is rolled against magical effects, both live and device-based. Luck is your "Save vs. Death."

Here's the basic progression:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Body 17 16 15 14 13 12 11
Reflex 14




Mind 15


Luck 8


In the same vein of a decreasing Luck score, I wanted each save to behave differently. All of them slow down after level 7, in keeping with the general idea of higher levels providing diminishing returns. (Originally I tried slowing down after level 10, but the progressions I used lined up better at level 7, with all four saves lining up for levels 7, 13, and 19.) 

Therefore, the Body save starts high and rapidly increases - +1 every level, followed by +1 every other level - reflecting your character starting a bit doughy but quickly becoming much tougher, in time to protect against the more powerful poisonous monsters they're likely to face at higher levels. 

Reflex starts high, but only gets +1 every other level, followed by +1 every third level. This way, you start out comparatively well-protected against traps, but it doesn't increase as quickly as the dangers you face - you'll be forced to rely more on your own wits and attention to your surroundings than the saving throw. 

Mind saves take the opposite tack - starting fairly high, but getting a +1 only every two levels at first, then increasing to +1 every other level. I wanted this to reflect the relative rarity of magic-using enemies in the early levels, but with an accelerating scale of improvement as they become harder for players to simply avoid. It also makes in-game sense to me, with the characters gaining better abilities to fight magical effects as they are brought in more direct contact with them.

Luck takes the same scale as Mind, but decreases. -1 every third level, then -1 every other level. 

With a basic progression figured out, I whipped up four specific save progressions:



Level 1 7 13 19
Level 1 7 13 19
Body 16 10 7 4
Body 14 8 5 2
Reflex 12 9 7 5
Reflex 13 10 8 6
Mind 14 12 9 6
Mind 16 14 11 8
Luck 6 8 11 14
Luck 8 10 13 16



Level 1 7 13 19
Level 1 7 13 19
Body 17 11 8 5
Body 15 9 6 3
Reflex 10 7 5 3
Reflex 15 13 11 9
Mind 15 13 10 7
Mind 12 10 7 4
Luck 9 11 14 17
Luck 10 12 15 18
Divine, of course, can be used for clerics, paladins, etc. Arcane gets applied to magic-users and illusionist types. Physical for fighter types. "Lucky" for thieves and halfling types. I'm working on a seven-class system for Veil, which applies the Lucky progression to the Pioneer (a frontier-styled Specialist), the Arcane to the Magus and the Illusionist, the Divine to Assassins and Clerics (due to Assassins being based on the original religious Hashishin order) and Physical to Fighters and Barbarians. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Caatinga, a One Page Dungeon
This is a one-page setting/adventure I wrote up for Brendan's Halloween contest. It's based on Backlands, the contemporary account of a bloody revolt in the Brazilian badlands at the close of the 19th century.

I wanted to capture the book's (fundamentally racist, of course) Lamarckian sense of moral & evolution, with the evils of the environment considered to directly cause the evils of the backlander revolutionaries. I also wanted to capture the Caatinga region's incredible ecological adaptations, since it's characterized by quite dramatic seasonal variations. The environment consistently defeated the Brazilian army, and here it's intended to do the same to the hapless adventuring party.

Finally, I've found it interesting that a lot of research into the motivations & risk factors for people joining weird cults has actually found that, ironically, more intelligent people are likelier to fall prey to some weird fringe society. So, the Caatinga reflects that.

Click the picture download it. Have fun!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: Zzarchov Kowalski's Scenic Dunnsmouth (PDF)

Scenic Dunnsmouth is great. Get it.

A bit more detail:

Dunnsmouth is a delightfully creepy swamp hamlet, which is randomly generated using some dice, a deck of cards, and a piece of paper. Therefore, you're effectively getting thousands of possible towns for your buck, most of which revolve around a mutant Spider Cult, and all of which will include: the reality-warping Time Cube, a Roma witch, a cannibal serial killer with a thing for bear traps and rock falls, and backwoods incest, rivalries, murder, and sin. It has an amazingly pulpy, '40s Radio Horror Adventure feel, and a lot of possibilities. The scenario is geared for a 3rd or 4th level party, or maybe a bit higher.


The module starts off with a description of Dunsmouth, three different ways you might draw a party into the swamp, the two major elements of the module, and a description of how to generate the town. It's all easy reading, and town generation is very straightforward - I generated three towns in 50 minutes, and if I was about to run it it would probably take about that long to generate a single town, print out all the NPCs that appeared, and be ready to go. The whole thing really boils down to three or four major steps - roll the dice, draw the cards, figure out which NPCs are present and where, and tidy up. But Zzarchov splits it up into fourteen crystal clear mini-steps, which is very helpful, and prevents you from having to flip back and forth across scores of pages to figure everything out.

The next part discusses the most important locations in town. Some of these are guaranteed to appear, though their status (and sanity) depends on how the dice came out. There are also two "kickers," each of which have a 50% chance of being a special location - so Dunnsmouth could play host to one or two elves (one of which is, to my mind at least, one of the top 3 most horrifying NPC's in the book), or perhaps an old fortification, or possibly some light industry.

After this comes the largest part of the book. Dunnsmouth is inhabited by up to four families, one for each suit in the deck of cards, with each card representing one household. So this book nets you 52 households, with multiple NPC's in each one, only 10-12 of which will actually appear in the game. The presence or absence of certain individuals and the relative strength of each family can provide a lot of fuel for blood feuds and drama, even if the Spider Cult doesn't make an appearance.

Finally, we have an appendix and index of sorts, with references for some of the items and spider-mutants that might be found, and a helpful step-by-step example of town generation.


I think my favorite part of the module is how the way each location is changed by the NPCs inhabiting it, or how each household's behavior & characteristics are altered by the spider mutation, gives you much better insights into their psychology than a simple description does. Ivanovik and Magda are potentially located at any one of the ten special locations, and in addition to that, have several possible homesteads they might build if not. Reading about how they (and the Original Spider) set up and fortify each location, reacting to its unique characteristics, more than makes up for the scant direct information we're given  about who they are. The infection does the same for the rest of the NPCs - simmering resentments and hidden attractions are brought to the fore by the spider gene's quest to reproduce and dominate. It's showing, not telling.

I also liked (as I mentioned before) the replayability and variety built into the module. You could keep running it, with a different setup each time, or you could mine out its stockpile of NPCs and use them to spice up other, less distinctive villages. There are a few "joke" NPCs in the book (used if you fail to completely clean the deck), which you could always throw in by choice if you wanted to move from horror to Bizarro. (Although the Black Joker, Jesse McLaud, didn't strike me as that bizarre, and I left him in the deck). I think this aspect, makes this the perfect module for a new DM to run - it's like training wheels, but still puts you through the paces of personalizing a scenario and forces you to think through it beforehand, rather than blindly assuming it's all ready to go.

Finally, the art by Jez Gordon is amazing. It evokes a delightful, pulpy-horror feel and really helps conjure the darkness and fear that's found in Dunnsmouth. The character portraits in particular are very well-done, in most cases conveying just as much information as the character descriptions themselves. They also make great icons for player maps (as I've done below) so you can show them who lives in town without immediately giving away any information about family allegiances or ranks.


Since this is my first review, I should state that I'm not always looking for the same thing out of every module, so of course everything's going to be pretty subjective. My main critique is that, for all the characters this module has, I felt like only a handful of them actually had character. Almost all of them are pretty cartoonish backwoods stereotypes of one type or another. I don't think this will come up in the course of running the actual module, because you'll only have a dozen households and it's clearly intended to be a bunch of cartoonish backwoods stereotypes - but after the thirtieth straight page, it got exhausting. Few of them are actually compelling enough to draw a party into their struggles and feuds, Spider Cult or no. Because of this, I don't think Dunnsmouth lives up to its promise of "moral peril." Maybe it's just my Utilitarian ethics, but there's really no character sympathetic enough, or interesting enough, to give me much pause. The module wants you to be forced to decide, what am I willing to do to save these people? But I'm stuck on whether I want to save any of them at all, aside from a generic "well these people have children!" element.


The full text of the actual Time Cube Treatise is available online. I just love that this turned up in an RPG somewhere. Needless to say, my Dunnsmouth will have 96-hour days.

Always offer your players the chance to purchase Dunnsmouth's debt at the start of the module. It's my favorite, by far, of the three "leads" - it gets your party right up in the villager's faces, and I'm pretty sure most versions won't actually be able to scrape up the cash.

Though there's a certain romance to the idea of rolling the dice and rolling with the result, I think it's worth generating two towns, and picking whichever one seems more interesting at a glance. That way, you can take the second town, remove duplicate characters and generally align it with the "Expanding Dunnsmouth" section at the back, and add a bit of heft to the module if you need to.

Duncasters? A secret shame? A defunct cult with a mountain headquarters? Zzarchov's practically yelling at you to put Death Frost Doom in the mountains next to the swamp.

Maybe you don't tell players about the Time Cube. Maybe you just draw concentric circles around it on the player map, mark down the slowdown ratios, and let them figure out the distortion themselves.

Town Sampler

So I whipped up player and referee maps for each of the towns I rolled, just to show a bit of the variety you can get from the module.

Scenic Dunnsmouths

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Tools of Others

Like most people, I use a ton of other people's ideas and tools to make my games run better, or just to get a bit of inspiration. So, here are a few tools and compilations I've made recently to facilitate my use of other people's tools.

First up, since it's currently trending, is +Arnold K.'s Career Paths character generation. If you haven't seen it, look at it - it's a cool hack of regular 3d6-based attribute generation that creates a bit of vague history, and it's a lot more elegant than some of the crazy Excel-formula-based versions I've seen, and a lot less involved than Beyond the Wall's analogous approach.
Click me!
What I did was make a bunch of cards to make the Statistically Anal method of generating your character's adolescence significantly less anal. Instead of rolling a d15, you just cut this out, place the cards face down, and everyone picks one. I used a bunch of Telecanter's silhouettes on the reverse side to add a bit of Rorschach-ish psychology to card selection. A few questions are edited a bit here and there so they could all come out the same size.

I didn't do the Careers section mostly to save time and to leave starting PC's with a bit more blank space. So, instead of rolling 1d6 for each stat during Adolescence, I'll have players roll 2d6.
Right here.

Next is the Peddlers of the Deep Dark table from Aeons and Auguries. Basically, it's a pretty cool (if die-roll-intensive) underground trade caravan generator. Unfortunately, bits and pieces of it are scattered all over JD Jarvis' blog, so I put it all in one place.

I included all of the Peddlers info, the Dungeoneer's Cache generator, and information on all of the unique items in both tables - that includes the Magic Ropes, Candles, and Footwear posts. Plus a bit of organizational tweaking.

Finally, Justin Alexander's Node-based Design has been pretty much the guide for running my campaigns, and the Three Clue Rule a great tool for coming up with plots on the fly, in a way that the players can meaningfully interact with. But, as I've mentioned before, I'm a visual thinker, and outline's just don't do it for me - so I set up two on-the-fly node sheets, for the Layer Cake and Loop models. Each node has its clues listed, with a bit of space to describe the node, and each of the clues leading to the other nodes.
You know the drill. The Layer Cake one is here.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Reaction-Roll Stealth

So far, the skill-based stealth system I've been using has been difficult to run without a battlemat, while the default "X on 1d6 to surprise" system still strikes me as pithy and undramatic (except in the simple case of encounters). But the reaction roll, which I've been using extensively through On the Non-Player Character, fits the bill perfectly - instead of binary success/failure, you get piling bonuses which slowly push you towards success or failure. Additionally, this is consistent with the current systemic division I'm contemplating - using d20s for the combat system, 2d6 for noncombat rolls, and dice pools for anything to do with magic. The following stealth system is mostly inspired by On the Non-Player character, and a bit from this Google+ discussion.

Stealth actions are resolved in segments of one minute, rolling 2d6 (plus Dex mod) each time. Bonuses are persistent, and cumulative. Consult the following table:

2Found or -4You're surprised!
3 - 5-2No surprise
6 - 80You surprise!
9 - 11+2Ranged backstab!
12+4 or HiddenMelee backstab!

Sneaking is used for any actions you take while undetected. The following bonuses apply:

No movement or other actions (hiding): +4
Combining two actions (moving twice, moving while tracking, etc.) -4 per action
Trickster/thief/etc. +level
Distance: +1 per 100' from nearest sentry/enemy, -1 per 10' closer than 100'
Terrain/weather/etc.: +2 or -2 depending on conditions

Found means that stealth ends (for you) and you're detected. Start encounter as normal - stealth can no longer be used. You can, of course, try to hide again - you can roll on the Sneak table instead of taking another action each round, with cumulative bonuses. Stealth starts again once you get Hidden.

Backstabbing is what you roll when you're trying to end stealth and initiate combat. On a 2, you totally bungle it, and your opponent gets to act against you in the surprise round, while on a 6 or higher, you surprise them, getting a free round. On a 9 or higher, you've spent enough time observing and positioning yourself to get a sweet sniper shot on an opponent, gaining a +4 to hit. On a 12, you're close enough to do it with a melee weapon, and can precisely target weak points or chinks in your opponent's armor - you get a +4 bonus to hit, and deal double damage.

Backstab bonuses:
Multiple actions (opening a door and then backstabbing, for example): -4 per action
Trickster/thief/etc.: +level
Distance: -1 per 100' from target, +1 per 10' closer than 100'
Terrain/weather/etc.: +2 or -2 depending on conditions

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lineup 2014

It's a new year, and I've resolved to get some regularly scheduled programming up on here. There are a few small side projects I've been working on, and my Qelong campaign is starting to pick up steam, but 2014 is really going to be held up by a few tentpole projects. In order:

The province of Acacia has been the only safe domain on the New Continent for over a decade, enriching its citizens and its rulers through a steady trade in wondrous furs, exotic herbs, and tough lumber. Now, however, the mercenaries of the Union Charter have set up competing forts, and inciting the natives to make war on the Acacians and on each other. As the balance of power whirls out of control, once-human things stir in the darkness, and the prehistoric forests begin to reveal exactly how they can stand the test of time...

For centuries, the Dark Continent has lain in state. Exoticized, exploited, or ignored by oceangoing imperiums, the Dark Continent is known as exactly that - a broad curlicue of unknown land, a rudimentary coast, a mockery of both cartographic authority and royal power. But there will soon be bands of human adventurers spilling across the Dark Continent's baking hills and steaming jungles, erecting coastal forts and way stations, penetrating deep into the ancient Elven homelands and the tropical cradle of Dwarven civilization. Will your band be swallowed up by its trackless hinterlands, or will they stumble to the coast, heavy with looted gold?

It's 1931 in the Tennessee Valley. Herbert Hoover is President, lending his name to shantytowns all across America, and Henry Hollis Horton is Governor, embroiled in scandals following the bankruptcy of his political allies, and the loss of $6,000,000 in corrupt endeavors. The law is largely in its own hands, and nobody important is interested in investigating those "haunted" woods up the river, or the "cursed" treasure hidden deep within a local cave...

Forgottenland is what happened in my head when the Old School Renaissance got run over by the Drive-By Truckers. Outside the Valley, society grinds on much as we know it. Inside the Valley, crooked cops hunt backwoods moonshiners, lynch mobs ensure white rule with institutionalized terrorism, and mythical beasts guard buried treasure in shadowed forests.


The Faith rules the world, and God rules the Faith. But who can ever know how God wishes to be served?

Veil is both my main campaign setting and what I'll call the gaming system I'm currently using. This is a grittier adventure fantasy, where rewards are swift, but death is swifter, clinging to your heels like an ancient cobweb.


I get vibes from a lot of different things, and I like to write about them. I'll review anything that has something I'd like imprinted into my projects, and put it here.