Tag Archive | dungeons and dragons

TPK: Post-Mortem

Nine sessions into my latest game and the hammer came down.

A TPK.

Yes, at least one of my players would object to me saying that, since their character managed to flee the conflict wounded, reach an island, and crawl beneath their overturned rowboat as the buzzing of a group of stirges approached.
And as is always the case I wonder what went wrong.

Yes, there were bad decisions and bad dice rolls, and one night we should’ve called the game at a cliff-hanger point instead of pressing on – but things happened as they happened. Now everyone’s making new characters (and we’re changing the rule set while staying in the same setting), but as is the case it’s time for introspection and dissecting the game to see what worked and what didn’t.

Here we go…

THE BASICS

Rule set: Through the Sunken lands by Flatland Games. It’s a retroclone and one I’ve used before.

Characters: A Pirate Captain, the Goblin’s Child, and the Student of the Dark Arts (players could pick playbooks from either Through Sunken Lands or Beyond the Wall). This ended up being a fighter/thief, a fighter/thief/mage, and a mage. The playbooks are fun, but they can be disappointing when the rolls don’t go your way. Despite two fighter types I don’t think anyone started with a strength above 13.

House Rules: The use of fortune points was expanded. Spend two to shrug off a spell effect. Spend a fortune point to regain a HD of HP on a short rest.

Advancement: XP was a combination of pop quiz style (each adventure offered a basic amount of XP for accomplishing certain goals) and XP for loot. Loot however needed to be spent in town. A carousing table was used.

Since characters got XP for loot, there were instances of one character splitting off from the party, getting very lucky, and getting loot the other characters never knew about. (The players knew and rolled their eyes in disgust… or at least I imagine they did. We play online without any cameras, but I swear I could hear the eye rolls.) This also meant times where the party had loot they needed to convert to XP, but had to travel to a bigger settlement to spend it. This was the situation before they died. Still I liked this mechanic and the mix of XP awards. But it did incentivize a certain selfishness among the players (or at least it did in that one heel player). This, however, fit the sword & sorcery vibe in my opinion. Whether the selfishness led to the TPK is debatable. The party never really came together as a group loyal to each other and able to strategize together.

Equipment: Inventory slots and a usage die. Both of these worked well, but they did seem to have an infinite amount of rope.

THINGS THAT MAYBE DIDN’T WORK

Nothing. I’m perfect.

Uhhh… I mean…

Time Management: You get a feel for the game and when something tells you this is a good point to end the session, end the session. It’s okay to finish 35 minutes ahead of the usual time. Better too short than too long. If the game had been cut early one night, then players would’ve had a week to prep/ask questions before going into the encounter that killed them*.

Avoid Bullet Time: There’s a tendency to want to play out every moment of game time. That’s not always necessary. The loot mechanic of get back to town to gain XP maybe encouraged some bullet time, since if the game ended with them making camp, the next session would then be them getting back home. Often a random encounter would happen that would then thwart their objective to get home and send them deeper into danger and deeper into turns and bullet time.

Telegraph Threats: It’s fun to make things weird and unpredictable, but (as an example) giving a goblin a breath weapon where they can vomit out a slurry of jagged gravel that does D6 damage to everyone in range may be fun, but A) it induces paranoia in players, which can lead to analysis paralysis, B) it also makes it difficult for players to determine what they should worry about.

Information Economy in the Fog of War: Is it punishing the players by withholding information about their current mission, because they spent their one opportunity to research things researching some other information they thought was more important? Is that a failure on the GM’s part for not telegraphing what details are important? Should the GM even worry about this? Are players supposed to say (hell, even know!) the magic words that will trigger an NPC to give the relevant information or should players just be given the damn information that might be relevant? In other words…

Should players hear about a thing (that may be relevant) even if they never ask about the thing?

Questions. Questions.

* Yes, that character made it back to the beach so the campaign actually ended with the lone survivor cowering under an overturned rowboat and a fade to black as buzzing approached.

Mysthead #4

And here it is…

Mysthead #4, a system neutral micro-setting for seafaring fantasy adventures.

Inside you will find multiple generators, a local region and the many peoples who live there, several unique curiosities, a hexflower encounter matrix for seafaring events, and more!

You can find it at DrivethruRPG (affiliate link) or here at itch.io: https://myxomycetes.itch.io/mysthead-4

Enjoy!

Invasion of the Spider Things

I made a little pamphlet of six generators for your tabletop role-playing games. It outlines an invasion of alien spider things from another world. How they came here? What they want? Where they lair? And what makes their webs so strange.

Use it in all your paranoid little games.

Find it here: https://myxomycetes.itch.io/invasion-of-the-spider-things

Into the Odd: Actual Play

I recently ran a game of Into the Odd using the scrypthouse write-up from my Mysthead 3 ‘zine (itch.io page here). It was fun. The players were repairman sent to determine why a local scrypthouse had gone silent.

Using the pathetic fallacy generator from the ‘zine, I rolled up a house that craved silence and dampened sounds. For the cause of the trouble I decided the local corps members had come into contact with a void wraith and been taken over by a bad signal. I also stuck a roaming void miasma around the station’s roof and a juvenile pig herder having an altercation with a rival adventurer nearby.

The players arrived. When they got within sight of the house they promptly heard shouting, gun shots, and the squeals of pigs. Approaching with caution, they came upon a scene of dead pigs, angry pigs, a shouting swineherd, and an old man in heavy armor standing atop a rock reloading his rifle. So the players split up. One approached the swineherd, the other approached the old man. Sadly, the pigs caught the latter repairman’s scent and attacked.

Chaos ensued. The repairmen drove the pigs away and took the swineherd hostage. The child proved belligerent and eventually escaped. The old man introduced himself and gave some backstory. He came here to meet a friend. The station’s locked. The pigs are weird. Yadda. Yadda. Time to go in.

One repairman starts work on unlocking the door while the other does a sweep of the building’s perimeter. He doesn’t get far before the miasma attacks those at the front of the house. Fortunately, they managed to get the door unlocked and get inside. Things get worse from there.

The interior’s a mess. The corps technicians are all signal-zombies. Exploration happens. One repairman gets infected with a lexical fungus (mildly amusing, but dropped after a few minutes). They reach the brazen head and find it disconnected. Before they can check it out the old man’s friend walks in and kills the old man with a belch of void static. Cut off from the front door the repairmen have no choice but to flee deeper into the station. They manage to reach the basement and activate the back-up brazen head. It gives them some suggestions, but really the repairmen are as freaked out by it as all the signal-zombie weirdness upstairs. Or downstairs now. The void wraith’s found its way into the basement.

More cat-and-mousing ensues. The repairmen manage to get back upstairs. One’s now for high-tailing it out of the station while the other wants to destroy the void-wraith. High-tailer reluctantly agrees to assist. The void-wraith shows up and the plan’s to lure it into a room full of gizmos and zap it. This works, but doesn’t kill it. High-tailer runs for the door, while the other grabs the old man’s gun.

*click*

The old man hadn’t a chance to reload the gun before getting killed. The void-wraith kills the repairman. High-tailer returns and kills the void-wraith. The corps techs return to their sense. The void miasma disappears. The surviving repairman gathers up the dead.

OVERALL
I liked it. It felt like running B/X D&D without the baggage. Combat took me a bit to get used to. And the lexical fungus proved more a spark for a few table laughs than a solid game mechanic. Now I’m thinking how to run ItO as as a Numenera-esque settlement-building game. My take is that the system’s aesthetic is fueled as much by its illustrations as by its mechanics, and it doesn’t have to be some flavor of Edwardian Paranoia.

Mysthead 2 // Who or What Is the Boss?

Hey all,

I’ve put together another issue of “Mysthead” my RPG fanzine. You can get it and the first issue by supporting me on patreon. CLICK THIS TO GO THERE. In this issue you’ll find lore about Mysthead’s elf and goblin populations, a playable gossiping spider race-class (“The Rumormonger Spider”) for Old School Essentials, and tables to generate whispering skulls, hot spider gossip, and elf-goblin political structures. So as not to make this post a complete advertisement, I’ve included the elf-goblin political structure generator below.

Take care for now!

***

Elves and goblins often have peculiar ways of governing themselves. While all manner of geases may determine what actions may or may not be taken when within either ones domain, there is usually some higher authority consulted in times of great peril or confusion. Often these have a clear criteria they follow: the most cunning, the eldest, those who achieve some renown. Other times the criteria is more obscure.

Below you will find an assortment of odd sovereigns to rule over your goblins and elves. Roll, choose, and/or mix and match:

  1. A class of astronomers who seek advice from the stars. Their wisdom is renowned.
  2. An ancient tree at the center of the Arkenwyld and served by an order of life-bound guardians.
  3. A sacred book that rewrites itself every day.
  4. A great elder abstracted with age and lingering on the brink of stupor.
  5. A young sovereign wrestling with their first bout of nostalgia.
  6. Your mom. My mom. Every body’s mom. The literal All-Mother
  7. An ancient ethernaut stranded in this world by the vortex shoals.
  8. A squabbling court of siblings intriguing against each other and eager to find allies.
  9. A council of ancients, so old they resemble cicadas. Time has no meaning to them.
  10. A singing harp, whoever can master its song rules for a decade.
  11. A council of white-coated priests who read the movements of rats in a maze.
  12. A set of bone dice kept locked in a vault. They bear no numbers or glyphs and can only be read by a trained seer.
  13. A human child, obnoxious and utterly spoiled. The child’s about eleven.
  14. Three gnomes in a trench coat. It started as a gag but now they’re in too deep.
  15. A spider of epic proportions that feeds on secrets and makes its lair in a darkness beyond reason.
  16. The movements of some infernal or divine beast like a hen or a pig. It is attended by priests and kept within a heavily guarded enclosure.
  17. The winner of an extreme athletic event done without assistance and far from sober. Not all who attempt it return.
  18. An odd stone that weeps a slurry that induces visions. It’s not from this world, nor even this reality. The hangovers are abysmal, but it works.
  19. An elf sovereign exiled from another land. They are keen to get their revenge and regain their kingdom.
  20. An intelligent monster like an ogre magi, dragon, or sphinx kept as a prisoner. They are treated with reverence but know they live in a gilded cage and long for their freedom.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Krevborna Edition

This is the write-up of the current state of my d&d game for new players. It’s been going since December and the party is now near 5th level. The game’s set in Jack Shear’s Krevborna, a Gothic Horror setting. However, the longer the game’s gone on the more apparent that I can’t do horror well.

A fact you will see if you continue reading.

Inn Keeper

Inn Keeper

THE START: THE RED STAR INN

Three strangers sheltering from a storm at the Red Star Inn wake to screams in the night. They are Caladan and Geb, a half-vampire knight and human soldier, and “Bob”, a spy who has had her name and past stolen by a wandering stranger. They discover the innkeeper and his entire family murdered. Who did it? What did it? This was an investigative adventure where all their fellow guests in the inn were suspects. Caladan was out of his element since there was no clear opponent to kill. In the end it turned out to be an intellect devourer jumping from victim to victim. I wrote it up in detail here, but you don’t need to read that. 

Hommlet

WAKEHOLLOW

After defeating the devourer, Caladan, Geb, and “Bob” escorted some of the survivors to the nearby Abbey of Saint Seska in the town of Wakehollow. At the abbey they met Landar, a foundling raised by the church who seemed to be imbued with divine power. News reached the town that a recent storm washed away the side of a hill and exposed the entrance to an ancient tomb. Landar joined the party in their exploration of the tomb, where they encountered the shade of Bjorn the Bonesinger, former minstrel in the court of the ancient Witch King. Geb died in the battle against Bjorn causing Caladan to descend into despair.

Back in town, the party recovered and made friends with a stranger named Bred, a wild magic sorcerer of shockingly cautious disposition. Bred joined the party and accompanied them west to investigate a tower suspected of serving as a base for a group of raiders.

black tower krevborna

THE TOWER

Very quickly it became apparent that the tower was not the raiders base but they were in fact inhabiting a series of nearby caves discovered by “Bob”. However, Landar believed the tower might hold some secrets and wanted to explore it further. Caladan saw this as a distraction and abandoned the group deciding to explore the caves on his own. Inside the tower, Landar, “Bob”, and Bred defeated a host of shades escaped from Hell and encountered a nothic by the name of Gibberstrike. In exchange for secrets, Gibberstrike told them about the Chaos Priest behind the raids and how a secret passage beneath the tower led into the caves. Meanwhile Caladan defeated a bunch of goblins but got taken prisoner when ogre reinforcements arrived.

caves-of-chaos-assembled-patreon

THE CAVES OF CHAOS

Caladan founds himself locked up with the survivors of a merchant caravan, a deranged gnoll, and a sullen orc named Maulglum. He befriended the orc and together they hatched an escape plan. Meanwhile, Landar, Bob, and Bred must pass through a haunted crypt to reach the secret passage Gibberstrike described. Barely surviving an attack by the crypt’s ghoul inhabitant, they reached the passage and pressed on into the caves. They arrived just in time for Caladan’s prison riot. A huge melee ensued and the party defeated the hobgoblin and bugbear prison guards (as well as the deranged gnoll).

Afterwards came a big information exchange between party members and prisoners. Landar was for using the prison block as a trap to whittle away at the raiders, while Caladan was for going after the Chaos Priest and “completing the mission”. The surviving merchants (including the shifty slave-trading one who assisted in the fighting) decided to return through the secret passage while Maulglum the Orc stayed with Caladan. Bred and “Bob” sided with Caladan and set off to slay the priest. Before leaving one of the merchants told “Bob” about a village a few days west of the tower where everyone is named “Bob”.

The party infiltrated the lair of the chaos priest by disguising themselves as acolytes. They reached the priest’s inner sanctum right in the middle of a ritual to raise a host of undead foot soldiers. Another big melee ensued with Bob and Bred lending spell support and Landar calling upon the power of the saints. The party won the day without casualties and the priest was slain.

well souls

THE WELL OF SOULS

Landar had a dream that a great evil lurks beneath the well from which the chaos priest sought to raise his army. In that dream he also glimpsed the shield of Saint Seska buried beneath a pile of bones. After the party rests Landar convinced them to climb down the well and put an end to the great evil lurking there. They agreed and climbed down to discover a bone littered cavern housing a portal to the depths of the abyss. Between the party and the portal were a host of undead and terrifying maggot creatures. The party managed (barely) to win their way onto a series of ledges that traversed much of the cavern and avoided the threats on the floor.

Halfway to the portal they each heard a voice in their head drawing them towards a side passage. Caladan was for exploring the passage but Landar was skeptical. Bred said that if anything the side passage might be more defensible than the ledges, so the party decided to explore it.

Down the passage they found an ancient shrine to the Queen of Shadows built in the era of Witch Kings. It had been profaned by the abyssal powers and the party was soon confronted by the undead occupants now lurking in the shrine. The party managed to defeat them and set about resting. The voice, however, convinced Caladan to perform a ritual, bonding his weapons to a shadow spirit. Landar doubted any good would come of this.

The party reached the portal to the abyss where they saw the shield of St. Seska embedded in a nearby tree made from human bones. They crossed over while no undead were nearby and managed to wrestle the shield free from the tree. This woke the guardian beast hidden within the tree. Battling the demon creature to a stand-off, the party led by Landar managed to retreat back to the cavern with the shield before the portal closed (although Caladan was all for battling on with the beast and “Bob” nearly got trapped on the wrong side as the portal closed).      

crossroads

THE PARTY SPLITS UP

Out of the well the party recovered in the temple. Caladan was for assisting Maulglum in leading the orcs against the rest of the caves’ inhabitants. Bob was for going west to check out this village full of Bobs. And Landar and Bred were for returning to Wakehollow. So the party split up, and this bit was played out via messenger using a very rough version of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins rules, a PBtA game.

ork-art-fentezi-voin-topor-984

ORC WAR

Caladan and Maulglum returned to the orc-held caverns and managed to impress the orc leader Strak. The orcs agreed that now that the chaos priest was dead it was time for the orcs to reclaim the caverns. They proclaimed against the hobgoblins and their allies. A series of pitched battles were fought in the canyon with Caladan lending his support to the orcs. The orcs nearly claimed the caves early on, but an ambush of fell beasts forced their lines to crumble and allowed the hobgoblins to claim the upper hand.

In the middle of the night Caladan led a raid upon the strongest of the fell beasts with the aid of a squad of orcs and three barrels of gunpowder. Drawn by all the noise a new battle ensued and Strak and the hobgoblin king managed to confront each other in battle. But at the last moment the orc’s shaman (a hobgoblin in disguise) murdered Strak. Maulglum attacked the shaman and Caladan went to do battle with the hobgoblin king. It was a close one, but in the end Caladan won. However not many orcs survived the war. Caladan set about training the remaining orcs into a fighting legion to be employed in protecting the road.

I should say I’ve made the vampires of the setting something like the Roman empire with the orcs having been a regular part of their armies. That Caladan is half-vampire gave him an in when dealing with them.

Mxyzptlk

THE BOBS OF WALLBURG

Bob traveled west staying in remote villages, earning her keep by telling stories. She eventually reached Wallburg the village of Bobs. There she found a much deserted village save for three inhabitants all named Bob. From them she learned that all the villagers lost their names and identities to a wandering stranger named Bob. Bob learned there are more inhabitants in an old building in town and discovered the rest of the villagers have all melted together into one gibbering mass of eyes and mouths. Turns out if Bob doesn’t get her name back she too will be afflicted by the same gibbering disease. Before the gibbering mouther managed to eat her, Bob’s rescued by an extradimensional frog wizard named Zasgam. They’re after the Bob for stealing Zasgam’s prized gemstone. Zasgam offers to help Bob find Bob if she and her companions will retrieve the gemstone. Bob agrees.

murkmire

MURKMIRE

Landar and Bred returned to Wakehollow where they split up because Bred wanted to go to a big city. Landar presented the shield to Mother Disaine at the Abbey and learned that a Witchfinder was in Wakehollow pursuing a heretical outlaw. Landar joined the Witchfinder and his group as they tracked the outlaw to Murkmire, a nearby seaside ruin. They found Murkmire overrun by sahugin and discovered that the outlaw hoped to awaken a great evil submerged off the coast with the help of the sahugin queen. Much bloodshed ensued and only by the Witchfinder’s sacrifice was the outlaw slain. Landar however was shaken. He returned to Wakehollow and decided it best to remain as the town’s protector than wander the roads as an adventurer.

shakespeare-in-love-usbr-1998-martin-clunes-and-joseph-fiennes-date-1998-photo-by-mary-evansmiramaxuniversalbedford-fallsronald-granteverett-collection

THE QUEEN IN LAVENDER (PART 1)

While on his own Bred wanted all the culture he could get and nothing says culture like the theater!

So he heard about several upcoming plays in nearby cities and decided to see The Exuberance of Pinfolo as performed by Wiswym Nonce & Players in the city of Creedhall. Bred hoped to audition for a part, but unfortunately when he got there he found Wiswym to be drunk and depressed because his actors had all abandoned him. It turned out that two great cosmic events were unfolding in Creedhall at that time and no one gave two shits for the theater.

First, the archfey Queen Maeve was celebrating her procession and her devotees thronged the city with their floats and parades. Second, the star Amalfi was oscillating along the chromaspectral wavelength an event of such celestial import that half the city had become amateur astronomers. Undeterred, Bred managed to convince Wiswym that the show must go on and the two hatched a plan to put on a play so sensational that all of Creedhall would be forced to notice. To this end Wiswym decided to put on a production of the infamous play The Queen in Lavender. And to avoid the play’s habit of driving its actors mad, Wiswym chose to cast inmates from the local asylum for disturbed individuals in most of the parts.

A whirlwind rehearsal ensued, and several dangerous mishaps occur. On opening night Bred started to have second thoughts. Especially after half way into the performance he noticed all the fake stage knives had been replaced with very real sacrificial daggers.

Muttering his battle cry (“One. Two. Three. Fuck it!”) he stepped onto the stage. The show must go on!

klaus nomi

THE QUEEN IN LAVENDER (PART 2)

(Around here we got back to playing D&D 5e)

A few days before Bred’s big night, Zasgam the Frog Wizard and Bob dimension doored to the tower where they met Caladan as he trained his orcs. Caladan appointed Maulglum as chief while he was gone and joined Bob and the Frog Wizard. Landar, however, decided to remain in Wakehollow as he believed the town would benefit more by his continued presence. Bob and Caladan bid him well and continue on with Zasgam to Creedhall. As they get closer Zasgam informed them that a cosmic disturbance prevented the Frog Wizard from getting close to the city and Bob and Caladan would need to go on alone.

They managed to reach the city and learned where Bred was, arriving at the stage just at the climactic sacrifice scene unfolded. The sacrifice was a success and a rift opened to where the Queen in Lavender and her star spawn horrors dwelled. Mayhem ensued. Most of the cast was slain or in league with the star spawn horrors and an audience member proved to be an archfey in disguise (Prince Vorash, Lord of Misrule) come to watch the play for the lulz. Caladan and Bob attempted to rescue Bred. Bred attempted to stay alive. Wiswym Nonce got his face eaten and Prince Vorash was so amused he decided to polymorph Caladan into a gorilla. More mayhem ensued, but in the end the star spawn and cultists all died (except one, who escaped giggling and laughing into the night…)

A day later Zasgam was able to enter Creedhall, and asked if the party was ready to retrieve the gemstone. They said yes, and so zimzamallakabam Zasgam transported them to the stone’s current location on the astral plane.

Which is where we will begin next time!

Green+Slaad

The Red Star Inn

Had the first session of a new D&D campaign. I’m running it with 5e using Jack Shear’s Krevborna setting. Like all good campaigns do, the first session started in an inn…

Inn Keeper

I pretty much rely on three opening scenarios to bring an adventuring party together: escape from jail, shipwreck, or solve a murder. Here I was using the latter. Having read some on the Gumshoe system I used the simple rule that the players will always find the clue. Their dice rolls will only determine how clear the information they learn is.

So far there’s only three players. There’s the fighter from a (vampiric) family of Lamasthu nobles who had once been the vessel for a demonic power. Another former soldier from Lamasthu who had witnessed his village destroyed. And a bard escaping the criminal underworld of the nearby city Piskaro. In the middle of the night a murder occurred. The innkeeper and his family brutally slain. The culprit? A guest in the inn. The suspects:

  • A gambler and his body guard
  • A farmer and his son
  • A much less likable farmer
  • A merchant
  • A beggar woman prone to visions
  • An old priest and a young acolyte

Most everyone had a secret. The merchant was having an affair with the innkeeper’s wife and had been seen going downstairs in the middle of the night. The unlikable farmer was a lookout for a bandit gang. The beggar woman had the serving girl’s crushed skull in her bag. The young acolyte was actually a woman in disguise on the run from her family. And there was a dead soldier in the barn.

Things happened. Unexpected things.

The gambler and his bodyguard were designed to be a bandit/thug encounter, but the party negotiated with them. Sort of. One of the fighter players came upon the pair robbing the inn’s till and instead of trying to stop them let them go. The other fighter got attacked by the devourer without knowing where it was coming from. And the bard did a decent job playing detective.

The real culprit? An intellect devourer that was using its ability to hop from skull to skull. It made an attack or two against the party without them realizing what was going on except they felt their skulls being crushed. Its goal was to get inside the priest’s skull and leave the inn. But to do that it had to leave a trail of dead bodies behind it. The merchant, the two adult farmers, and the priest all wound up getting taken over by the devourer with the requisite scenes of player character interrogating one of them only to have the suspect’s head suddenly explode as the devourer fled to another occupant.

Combat against the devourer proved rough. One fighter got knocked out and the other failed a fear check and proved less than effective.* In the end the bard’s spells proved more valuable than either fighter in fighting a creature resistant to so many attack types. Now the player’s have agreed to replace the priest as the acolyte’s escort to a nearby abbey in the marsh.

Next game scheduled for Sunday.

* Invariably the player who writes the longest backstory about what a bad ass they are will not roll above a 10 on a D20 for at least 75% of the adventure.