Monday, June 26, 2017

taking inspiration where you can get it

Howdy, all!  I'm spending this week on the shore of Lake Namakagon in northern Wisconsin.  Today the family and I went out for lunch to the Bierstube, a little bar and grill attached to Garmisch, a small lakeside resort with a kitschy Bavarian romantic aesthetic not uncommon in parts of the midwest of the U.S.  True fact: the fanciest restaurant I knew about as a kid was a German place in Peoria, Illinois with great sausages and a suit of plate armor on display in the dining room.  

The Bierstube itself was remodeled a decade or two back, to go with a more contemporary hunting lodge look, but it is still kitschy as hell.  Exhibit A:


That's two bear cubs stuffed and displayed hanging from the rafters and holding lanterns.  A little grotesque, perhaps, but also inspirational:

Lantern Bear
AC: 7
HD: 2
Mv: 120', climb 90'
Attacks: 1 claw and 1 bite
Dmg: d4/d4
# App: d6
Save: Elf 2
Morale: 7
Treasure: C
Alignment: Chaos

Lantern Bears appear as three to four foot tall upright ursinoids, but they are actually members of the goblinoid family of beings.  Each Lantern Bear carries a hooded lantern that glows with an unearthly pale light.  At a distance these lights are easily mistaken for will-o-wisps.

No undead will come within 30' of the light of a Lantern Bear.  Because of this effect, Lantern Bears often serve as messengers, couriers, and escorts to other monsters who wish to communicate or travel through dungeon areas infested by undead.  With a favorable reaction roll and an appropriate bribe (fresh meat, high quality liquor, and/or gold), they can be hired by adventurers for up to 12 turns of activity.  If the party is rude or cheapskates, the Lantern Bears may accept the offer of employment but lead the adventurers to their doom.

Although normally fighting with a claw and a bite attack, a desperate or cornered Lantern Bear will smash its lantern against a foe.  If the lantern hits, it does 2d6 burning damage followed by another 2d6 damage the following round.  The victim (or its corpse) will glow with a faerie fire effect in the dark for the next 1-6 days.

Lantern Bears speak their own tongue, a bit of the guttural patois used by nearly all goblinoids (gobbocommon), and, typically, one other tongue such as goblish, bugbear, or common.

When killed, the lanterns of these monsters burn for d6 additional turns--retaining their special properties for that period--after which they lose their magical properties.  After that, they can still be used as normal lanterns.  Note that Lantern Bears do not normally use any oil in their lanterns.  Rather, the light is a function of the monster's inherent magical nature.  Thus, the fuel of multiple lanterns cannot be pooled to extend the magical light of a single burning lantern.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Friday, June 23, 2017

Vaults of Vyzor, session #5

Yareh Falsong before visiting the Verdant Vault.

Roster

Sneakerly Trull, half-orc thief - Zak Smith
Mozzarella, mangy cur purchased by Sneakerly - NPC
Yareh Falsong, one-armed thief - Sam Mameli
Barnabus Sleet, muscle wizard (think Flex Mentallo) - Maxime Goluchik
Otto One-Eye, 0-level mercenary hired by Barnabus - NPC (first use of the new hireling rules)
Man Rider, hideously mutated goblin paladin of chaos - Jez Gordon

This motley crew opted to explore the first level of the Vaults below the Verdant Scriptorium, an area previously unexplored by any PC.  Much of the expedition was spent carefully mapping a series of corridors and doors, looking for secret doors, and examining a strange 'water wall' room.  Various party members in various states of intoxication try to explain at various times what exactly they saw, but it is not entirely clear whether the room is full of water or the walls are made of water or what.


Anyway, let's talk about the wolves.  Apparently a pack of intelligent and creepy wolves guards the entrance to the dungeon and will bargain with adventurers, trading food for passage further into the level.  It is suggested that you avoid their gaze, but no details are offered as to what happens if you don't.

Somewhere just beyond the wolves is a room with a pull rope near a door.  Pulling it sounds an unseen gong, summoning orc guards.  Apparently the Orcs of the Red Hand control at least part of this level as well.  The party was able to trick the orcs so that they only had to fight two orcs warriors instead of a whole band of them.  Where the rest of them went is not known.


While searching for secret doors around a suspicious 'hole' in the map, a pair of wandering ghouls showed up.  One of them fumbled its first attack and Flair flopped onto the floor in front of the party.  Yarseh put her crossbow to the back of its head and killed it gangland execution style.  Meanwhile, hero of the beach Barnabus Sleet went all Fist of the North Star on the other and upper cut its head clean off.  Not bad for a couple of first level chumps.  But they couldn't finish them off before one of them took a big ol' bite out of Otto One-Eye.  

Fortunately, Man Rider had some magic healing on him.  I don't know where he got this stuff, but he had these monster eyeballs that one could eat for something like d6+3 healing each.  Did I mention that Man Rider is a damn weirdo?  He started life as a relatively normal goblin, but thanks to his devotion to a Games Workshop style god of chaos, he now looks like this:

Don't worry, he's on our side! (I think.)
This will come in handy later when Sneakerly convinces the orc bosses of the level that Man Rider is an emissary from the demon lord Orcagorgon, but I am getting ahead of myself.  So Otto is an ordinary light infantry spear dude.  He's in a dark and dangerous dungeon.  He is not that smart and is easily confused.  The poor guy doesn't have a left eye and he pawned his eye-patch months ago for beer money.  Now he narrowly escapes death at the jaws of a ghoul.  He's lost a lot of blood and is maybe a little faint, when the blue tentacled menace of the team hands him an eyeball.  Otto does the obvious thing with it and pops it into his eye socket.

That's not using the medicine as recommended, but I rule that it will heal him.  Zak pulls out his copy of Realms of Chaos and Jez rolls on the mutation chart to see what else happens.  I say either the result has to be made to work with the situation or else there is no further side effect.  The roll is "gain prehensile tail."  After some back-and-forth I decide that the mercenary will henceforth be known as Otto of the Prehensile Eye.  Not only can he see out of it, but his new monster eye works like a tentacle, he can see around corners with it, etc.

Not long after the party is approaching a set of stairs down, presumably to level 2, when they are attacked by archers in the darkness.  And these archers are using buzzsaw arrows.


One of the buzzsaw arrows shears a buttock clean off Man Rider.  Thanks, Arduin critical hit charts.  Barnabus the Muscle Wizard charges the orc archers and lays into one of them with his mighty fist.  Only after punching this orc in the gut does he see that this guy is the orcish equivalent of Bolo Yeung in full Bloodsport badass mode.


Barnubus ducks some vicious chops and strikes, activating his hero halo to cast sleep on the orc archers.  They are then slain.  For a single round, Orco Yeung versus Flex Mentallo looked like it was going to be the most epic first level encounter I have ever seen.  But then it was all over.

There's a lever here, which Man Rider immediately pulls.  It drops a pair of portcullises that the orcs should have used to trap the party, but they got excited about the prospect of shooting them and forgot about it.  I tend to assume that orcs have stooge level intelligence, merely because it amuses me.  Anyway, Man Rider lowering and raising the portcullis creates enough noise to draw the attention of the orc boss in the next room, as well as his cronies.
It's an orc bard, with his pals an orc magic-user and an orc... elf?  Okay, here's the first thing.  I'm adapting some oldy moldy dungeon levels for this campaign, right?  And the basis for this level has an evil human bard, and evil wizard type, and an evil elf as the bosses of the orcs here.  In the context of my larger dungeon, this is one of the levels controlled by the Orcs of the Red Hand.  There's no reason why 3 non-orcs would be in charge here.  So I made them into orcs.  This obviously creates the problem of why an orc archer is dressing like Peter Pan, but since when have any of my dungeons made total sense anyway?

So here's the second thing.  I know for a fact that Zak hates bards.  You would not believe how delighted I was when the party opted to explore the level with an evil orcish bard in it.  And then they actually made over to the section of the dungeon the evil bard occupies!  So of course there's a big tornado of violence that starts when Sneakerly convinces the locals to pay obeisance to Man Rider, herald of Orcagorgon.  The three anomalous orcs are slain.  For good measure, Zak smashes the bard's mandolin.  Does that make up a tiny bit for the time I killed his PC's dog?  I hope so.

Somewhere along the way Man Rider and Yareh put their heads together and decide to transplant Bolo's arm on her body.  Man Rider calls upon dark forces and Realms of Chaos is consulted a second time.  A few dice throws later Yareh has a beefy orc-arm and a boosted strength score, but her legs have mutated into those of a crow.

The party then loots the treasury of the orc bard and crew, carting off some nice things and four iron trunks full of coins.  They also rescue Dale, a human fighter that was a member of Dundermachen's doomed expedition.  Dale was being tortured by the bard for information, which was unfortunate for Dale, seeing as how he knows two things: jack and shit.

The party carries their loot and Dale back to the surface, throwing the Bargain Wolves a bag of orc limbs to assure their safe passage back up to the Verdant Scriptorium.  It's Miller time.


ONGOING ROLL OF THE DEAD

Limpy the Naileteer (Jeff Call)
Engsal the Enchanter (Alex Joneth)
Elfbraham Lincoln (Jeff Call)
Littlens (0-level NPC)
Biggens (0-level NPC)
Stimpy (0-level NPC)
Ren (0-level NPC)

After one expedition to the Verdant Vault.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ruin All the Places

When I sketch out some ruins from scratch, they don't always feel ruin-y enough for me.  We're talking about proper ruins here: wrecked castles, burn-out ghost towns, Scooby Doo haunted mansions, etc.  So I thought I'd try thinking about a better procedure than treating the ruins as an above ground dungeon.  Here's what I've got so far.

I - Begin with Theft
Dig through free online adventures and/or your personal pile of game crap and find one of those bright shiny home base areas.  The titular Keep on the Borderlands or Village of Hommlet, to give a couple examples.  To build your ruins, you're going to assume that these places as written exist in your campaign's past.

II - Figure Out Who or What To Blame
You need to figure out why the original locals moved out.  Look over the notes for your campaign history.  Any really good catastrophes or epic wars you can tie your ruins to?  Did this place succumb to the Rain of Colorless Fire?  Did the Wind Dukes of Aaqa make their final stand here three ages back?  You've got that lovely campaign history, you might as well use it.  Alternatively, you can use this ruin to unveil a heretofore unknown chapter in the history of your milieu.  Sure, you could just chalk the whole ruin up to a local war of no import or a forest fire or something, but why not take the opportunity to make it a little more epic?

III - Snuff Out That Point of Light
So how wrecked does your location become?  And it what ways?  Redraw the map with some intact areas, some reduced to rubble and some structures completely scrubbed from the face of the earth.  Look over the key for the original version and look for little details that pop out.  Like, say, the mention of a blue velvet couch in the parlor of a rich merchant.  Maybe that couch is still there, but it is dusty or mildewy, tattered or stained.  Make sure your ruins are peppered with these small tokens of past lives.  Also, add lots of cobwebs.

IV - Leverage Your Wandering Monster Charts
If the people move out, what moves in?  Your local wilderness encounter charts should be helpful here.  Obviously you want some sort of main monster to eat the PCs faces off, but don't forget to add some ordinary snakes or bats or things like that.  And maybe some hostile mold or fungus.

V - Think About What Remains
What memories of this place still echo in the mortal world?  Does the noble family that once ruled here linger on as the poor relation to some more powerful dynasty?  Do the locals tell the story of how the place was destroyed, or why?  Do you need to go back and add a weeping ghost or wailing poltergeist to the key?  If so, the original adventure provides you with a bunch of possible people to haunt the place, as well as some leads as to what might be anchoring their soul to the spot.

VI - No Building Inspectors Here
Finally, consider adding some environmental hazards.  No maintenance has been done to this place in decades, perhaps centuries.  Walls may be ready to crumble, floors or ceilings can collapse.  If you like the disease rules in your system, maybe the local water supply has gone off or perhaps there are rusty nails unwary adventurers can get tetanus from.

Obviously, this is a bit of a slog to do for every little rubble pile in your game.  But if you need an upper level to your dungeon or a place to serve as the X spot on a treasure map, it ought to do some good work.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Meet the locals: Vyzor hirelings

A large number of semi-active adventurers have become permanent fixtures in and around Castle Vyzor.  Most of the time, these individuals are happy to sponge off the generosity of the Sorcerer of the Blue Mask.  Occasionally--often due to gambling debts or unpaid bar tabs--they get desperate enough to actually venture into the dungeons for a small fee and possibly a share of the loot.  This is where your PC comes in.  For just a few gold pieces, you can hire one of these poor fools and probably lead them to their doom.

Since these are unique (hopefully-)recurring characters, you can only recruit and control one hireling at a time.  These folks generally work on a per-session basis.  If they survive an adventure, they go back into the hiring pool.  If a single session of game play involves more than one expedition (i.e. you exit the dungeon and go back in) then you must make a morale role (modified by the DM if the previous expedition was particularly harrowing or enriching) to cajole your hireling back into the Vaults.

To recruit one of these folks, spend 10gp, 25gp, or 100gp.  Consult the Charisma chart to find out what die you may roll on the roster below.  If you don’t like the result, you can choose not to hire anyone but you’re out the gold and don’t get to try again; whoever you rolled is your best prospect given the time and money available.




CHARISMA



3
4-8
9-12
13-17
18
10gp
you get Willy
d4
d6
d10
d20
25gp
d6
d10
d12
d20
d30
100gp
d10
d12
d20
d30
choose

Note that one of the reasons why you want the largest die possible is because the chart is basically ordered by competence.  Hireling #10 and #18 may both be first level Fighters, but #10 will require more oversight than #18.  Not that #18 is without his own issues.  That guy thinks he’s the hero in a sword-and-sorcery novel.

Ability scores are generally irrelevant for these people.  For simplicity’s sake, they all range from 9 to 12.  You can assume fighters have a 12 Str and an 9 Int, for instance.

Hit points are rolled anew for each expedition.  Fighters and dwarves get d8.  Clerics, elves, and halflings get d6.  Everyone else gets d4.

Most characters start with no equipment save the weapon and armor listed below, with the following exceptions: Thieves generally have a crummy lockpick or two.  Clerics possess a shoddy wooden holy symbol.  And magic-users own a poorly organized spellbook incomprehensible to anyone else.  Other specialists probably have the basics to practice their profession.  Any equipment purchased for hirelings stay with them after the expedition is over, though these folks have a tendency to misplace, break, or otherwise lose equipment.

Spellcasters get random BX spells.  Reroll between expeditions.  These characters are generally too incompetent to learn or teach new spells.

Anyone with a standard class (not a zero level weenie) earns half experience and is entitled to a half a share of moneys earned.  All hirelings will automatically carouse if they can afford to do so, earning half XP.

Should something unfortunate happen to one of these poor wretches, a replacement will appear on the chart that may or may not be of the same class.  Should a hireling experience a windfall, they may retire at the DM’s discretion.

These rules generally replace normal henchmen and hireling rules, but you can bring in henchmen from other FLAILSNAILS campaigns.  Also, if there is a shortage of PCs, the DM may still fill out the party with some of boring spearmen.

ROSTER
Die Roll
Name
Class
Weapon
Armor
Miscellaneous
1
Willy Whats-his-name
0-Level (Loser)
club
rags
absolutely non-descript
2
Otto One-Eye
0-Level (Mercenary)
spear
rags
no left eye; nasty gaping hole
3
Young John
0-Level (Likely Lad)
dagger
rags
eager to please
4
Little Liam Linkboy
0-Level (Misc)
none
rags
torchbearer, won't fight
5
Jonesy
0-Level (Mercenary)
shortbow, empty quiver
rags
shifty little mofo
6
John Lackwit
0-Level (Loser)
had a club, but lost it
rags
needs constant supervision
7
Richard Half-beard
Thief
dagger
rags
bad burn on side of face
8
Wicked Juliana
Fighter
battle axe
leather
merciless
9
Sly Henry
Thief
dagger
rags
calls himself Sly, actually a fool
10
Adam o' the Dung Heap
Fighter
mace
shield
oh God, the stench
11
Poor Brother Rupert
Cleric
staff
raggedy robe
sold his holy symbol to feed the poorer
12
Baguette
Halfling
dagger
leather
kid sister of Fromage and Escargot
13
Balphazad the Befuddled
Magic-User
staff
tattered robe
would forget his beard if it wasn't glued on
14
Kernick
0-Level (Mercenary)
rusty polearm
chain
not from around here, speaks very little Common
15
Emma Bright-Eyes
0-Level (Likely Lass)
sling, 2d6 stones
patchwork dress
an innocent; if she gets killed you might actually cry
16
Walter the Physick
0-Level (Misc)
dagger
threadbare robe
physician (quack?), non-combatant
17
Slightly Creepy Kerra
Thief
dagger
leather
the way she smiles when she draws her dagger...
18
Hugo the Slayer
Fighter
sword & dagger
leather
can't actually dual wield, alternates attacks
19
Fromage
Halfling
shortbow, d8 arrows
leather
middle brother of Baguette and Escargot
20
Gwalin Rustbritches
Dwarf
warhammer
leather & shield
hated by other dwarves, no one knows why
21
Runaway Tom
0-Level (Likely Lad)
staff
rags
something about that boy ain't quite right
22
Sister Hilda
Cleric
mace
shield
smites evil with joy
23
Alice Talks to Crows
Magic-User
staff
robe
certain all animals speak Common but choose not to
24
Ralf the Pathetic
Fighter
sword
shield, helmet
woe-is-me disgraced knight
25
Fat Roger
Thief
shortsword
rags
armor costs 150% for size adjustments
26
Gilbert the Heretic
Cleric
club
shield
won't shut up about angels
27
Morwena the Hedgewitch
Magic-User
dagger
robe
you can't stop staring at the wart on her nose
28
Escargot
Halfling
shortsword
leather&shield
eldest brother of Baguette and Fromage
29
Oombur Axebutt
Dwarf
handaxe
chain&shield
composes songs, not bad at it but his singing is terrible
30
Mellifor of the Brazen Hand
Elf
longsword
chainmail
right hand made of brass (semi-functional)

Mercenaries are capable of holding their own with human-like foes such as orcs and goblins.  They are less stalwart against weird monsters and undead.

Losers are generally incompetent.  They are nonetheless useful because once per expedition they can be used as cannon fodder to absorb some doom that would otherwise befall their employer.  E.g. that orc axe that would have split you in twain actually kills Willy instead.

Likely Lads and Lasses are the most competent and daring of zero-level characters.  At the end of each expedition, there is a 1 in 6 chance they ‘graduate’ to an actual adventuring class.  Their new class will be identical to that of their recent employer, if possible.  (E.g. a Likely Lass who worked for a Dwarf will probably become a Fighter.)