The Evil DM

The Evil DM
The Evil DM

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Locked Door

This is a quick overview of the party's current situation.

The Marazzer invaded the country of Greth. The Marazzer slaughtered the army of Greth on the Plains of Lethe. The party avoided the slaughter by the Marazzer because they were still going through basic training. Iroine is a witch leading a rebellion against the Marazzer. The party wants to reach the hut of Iroine.

Iroine lives in a swamp. Few ever survive entering the swamp. Fewer still ever make it to the hut of Iroine. Most get lost in the swamp and die. The party came to the village of Appary looking for a way to reach the hut of Iroine. A platoon of Marazzer soldiers occupied Appary. The party poisoned the Marazzer killing the soldiers.

Chinyere is the Apothecary in Appary. Chinyere knows a way to get to the hut of Iroine. She will only provide the instructions if the party solves a puzzle.

In order to solve the puzzle the party needed to get a flower from the garden of Noelani. Noelani said she would give the party one of her Night Blooming Witches Blood flowers if they investigate the sounds coming from down in a storage room in her basement.

The party investigates the storage room and finds an ant tunnel. The ant are about one foot long in size. The party kills several ants, then retreat to heal and rest. The party tells Noelani about the ants. They say they will get rid of the ants but recommend that Noelani lock the door to the storage closet behind them.

The party ventures back down into the ant hive. They kill several ants. The worker ants grab the eggs and retreat into an alcove. The worker ants form a line of defense to protect the eggs. The sorceress casts a Burning Spray spell killing all the ant eggs. The worker ants go insane and attack the party. The party retreats up into the storage closet. Noelani locked the door to the storage closet as the party suggested. The worker ants are in hot pursuit of the evil monsters that killed all their eggs.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

More Than One-Way to Skin a Vault

A key to keeping player's interest is to provide unique and unusual situations. The party fights its way through a horde of creatures. Victorious, the party searches for treasure. They find the entrance to a vault. At this point, the party says, "We take everything of value from the vault." The party is now ready to move on. After a while, this gets somewhat boring for both the players and the DM.

Consider this slightly different scenario. The party finds the entrance to a vault. In front of the vault is a pile of the dry, desiccated bodies of a previous group of adventurers. As a last act, one of previous group wrote in their own blood, "Death is waiting behind the door." One way to make the scenario even more interesting is to include a scroll of Speak with Dead among the effects of the dead adventurers.

Clive Barker wrote a short story called "The Inhuman Condition". The plot involves a rope with three knots. Untying a knot unleashes a supernatural beast. A big knot of string holds the vault door closed instead of a complex lock. Scrawled in dried blood is "Don't untie the knot!" The party is now faced the same problem as Alexander the Great when the Phrygians presented him Gordian knot.

When the party opens the vault, the find only a dark green beret monogrammed with the name Julian, a single copper coin, and a note. Written with fine calligraphy the note says, "I left a coin for your trouble."

The image is from a bank vault in Oklahoma after a tornado hit. Twenty-two people survived because they hid in the bank vault. No disrespect is intended for those affected by the tornado.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Total Party Kill as a Player Character

A few years ago, I was playing a fighter in a moderately high-level campaign. I cannot remember how I offended the player with the wizard character. I did something. The player decided to kill my character. In the middle of battle, the wizard would cast a spell at my fighter instead of the creatures we were fighting. This happened repeatedly. I decided to get even.

As a high-level fighter, I asked the DM if I could create a small army of followers. I organized them as a company of soldiers. In the campaign, they would not have stood a chance against the creatures we were battling. The rest of the party thought I was being a little weird having a small army.

We started a new quest. The party marched off to explore some ancient ruin. My army followed. Just before the party entered the ruin, I briefed my troops. I handed the commander several bags of gold and some gems. I instructed the troop to start building fortifications to engage the party when we returned.

The adventure took several weeks of game time. I coordinated with the DM on how my troops were doing building the fortifications. The troops created a killing zone around the entrance to the ruin. They dug sixty-foot deep pits all around the exit filling them with spikes. The built up several berms with fighting positions. The troops built four very large ballista. The steel tipped ballista bolts were six-inches in diameter. The troops carefully aimed the ballista at the exit. They built a large trebuchet with a basket filled with barrels of oil. Everything was in place.

The wizard tried to kill my fighter twice during the adventure. My fighter barely survived. As we returned I told the party I would run ahead to check for any problems. I exited the ruin and told the troops to get ready for action. I ran back to the party. I told the party the path was clear ahead. I walked with the party to the exit. I opened the door. Shouted "Fire", and jumped down into one of the sixty-foot deep pits with spikes.

The first ballista bolt hit the wizard square in the chest killing her instantly. The following bolts slaughtered the party. The DM rolled for the trebuchet hit. It was a critical fumble. Instead of hitting the entrance, the barrels of flaming oil landed short, straight down into the pit with my character. My fighter was tough. Falling sixty feet onto spikes was just a scratch. The thirty dice of damage from the barrels of flaming oil did my character in.

That was my pyrrhic victory over the wizard. A group of low-level followers slaughtered the entire party without taking a single hit point of damage. That was my total party kill as a player character.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Stair Creaked, and a Squeaky Mouse Scurried Noisily Through the Wall

The title is a line from the story The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs. A band of adventurers enters the old ruined castle. They find a staircase leading down. They found the entrance to the dungeon. As they carefully go down the stairs, one of the steps creaks.

Creaking steps are common in old buildings. The party investigates the creaking step. They find a hole in the wood. When they look into the hole, they see several pairs of eyes looking back at them. The party rips up the stairs. They find a nest of mice living inside the staircase. The mice have torn open a rag doll and used the stuffing as their nest. The rag doll is in tatters. In the doll's hair is made of yarn. An ancient ornate ivory hairpin holds the last dirty strands of yarn to the dolls tattered head. Carved into the hairpin is the name, "Lorinda".

Adding the details to the simple act of going down the steps adds suspense, a sense of danger, and intrigue. Who was Lorinda? Killing a few mice will not provide much experience. The name Lorinda could be the start of an entirely new quest.

Staircases should be another place to add interesting things. In the movie Blade Runner, Gaff leaves small origami creatures for Deckard to find. What would a band of adventurers do if they found an origami unicorn on the staircase?

Monday, January 20, 2014

6000 Were Captured and Crucified Along the Whole Road from Capua to Rome

The movie Spartacus was one. At the end of the movie, Crassus orders his troops to crucify the six thousand captured slaves along the whole road from Capua to Rome. Only an empire as vast as Rome could handle such an order.

The problem of the logistics of crucifying six thousand is staggering. The Romans believed in order. It would be unthinkable for the troops to run out of captives to crucify. It is also unthinkable for them to have too many captives left when they reach Rome. The order implies the captives are to be equally spaced along the entire way.

According to Google Maps, the distance from Capua to Rome is 118.8 miles. This means they crucified a slave approximately every 105 feet. The Romans did not have Global Positioning Systems. The Romans created itinerarium, which listed all the cities, villages, and stops and the distance between them. Consider the simple problem of determining how far apart to space the captives. The Romans did not use Arabic Numbers. They used Roman Numerals. Someone had to add up all the distances then divide by the number of captives. Someone did the calculation without the aid of an abacus or calculator and using Roman Numerals.

If you need to crucify six thousand captives, you need to cut down six thousand trees. It requires four nails for each captive. Based on historical evidence, the nail went through the heel of the victim. The Romans nailed each foot on opposite sides of the wooden upright. One nail through the left wrist, one through the right wrist, one through the left heel, and one through the right heel. Nails were expensive in the ancient world. We know the Romans recycled the nails between crucifixions. The order required crucifying all six thousand.

A table of organization and equipment defines the organization, staffing, and equipment assigned to a military unit. The organization of legions varied greatly over time. Legions typically had 4,800 soldiers. Each legion had ten cohorts each with 480 soldiers. Each cohorts had 6 centuries of 80 men each. We can assume a century would routinely carry enough nails to handle ten crucifixions. Each legion had sixty centuries. A legion may have routinely had enough nails for six hundred crucifixions. Crassus came to the battle with ten legions. That means Crassus would probably had enough nails on hand only needing the tree trunks, which they could cut down along the way.

Normally crucifixion victim died in a few days. The legions of Crassus needed to take the bodies down in order to collect the valuable nails. The Romans dug pits called puticuli for the dead bodies.

I patterned the Marazzer after the ancient Assyrians in my World of Tiglath campaign. The Assyrians were very cruel compared to the Romans. Ashurnasirpal, one of the rulers of ancient Assyria, says, "In strife and conflict I besieged and conquered the city. I felled 3,000 of their fighting men with the sword. I captured many troops alive. I cut off some of their arms and hands; others I cut off their noses, ears, and extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made one pile of the living and another one of heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city."

In the World of Tiglath the Marazzer are cruel like the Assyrians, but organized like the Romans. After the battle on the Plains of Lethe, the commanders of the Marazzer ordered the flaying of five thousand soldiers of Greth as part of a competition. The rules were simple. Your victim had to survive the process of removing all their skin. The victim that lived the longest won the prize.

The Marazzer methodically planned the competition. They executed five thousand soldiers. They promptly tanned the hides of all the victims. They turned the leather into numerous items. The Nazis made lampshades from the skin of human victims. Marazzer made Elf-Skin boots. They have similar magical properties to Elven Boots, but are make from the skins of dead elves.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

It's Life, But Not as We Know It

The Internet contains numerous articles about creating an ecology for your dungeon. Creating a dungeon ecology is an interesting thought experiment. A forest has a vibrant ecology. However, a party of adventurers will get bored if all they run into are chipmunks, rabbits, and deer. A dungeon master needs to include something challenging. Players will abandon the campaign if they go through endless descriptions of beautiful forest creatures living in harmony without any conflict.

One solution is making the creatures less benign. For example, the party notices the squirrels stop what they are doing and watch every move the party makes. One of the squirrels scampers up ahead to the next set of trees. You see the squirrel communicating with the next group of squirrels, which start watching the party. The squirrels observe every step the party takes and forwards the information to the next group of squirrels. The forest no longer seems benign. Someone or something with intelligence is watching the party.

A dungeon master can make any environment feel alive. It does not require living creatures. Consider a simple set of empty rooms in a dungeon setting. The party enters the first room. They find nothing. As they enter the second room, the door to the first room loudly slams shut. The party decides to spike the door open. When they enter the third room, the door to the first room slams. The party runs back and sees the door is now spiked shut. Something closed the door.

A cleaver DM keeps the party interested by variety. In the forest, instead of only squirrels the party sees the squirrel run up to a crow. The squirrel seems to communicate with the crow. The crow flies off. In a dungeon, the dungeon master has a variety of options. In the movie The Changeling (1980), one of the scariest scenes is a web rubber ball bouncing down the stairs.

Imagine the reaction of a party of adventurers when they read graffiti on the wall saying, "The lunatic is in the hall". Later as they find more graffiti saying, "The lunatic is in my head". I stole this idea from the lyrics to Brain Damage by Pink Floyd.

Most players do not care if your dungeon ecology is logically consistent. They care if the dungeon is fun and interesting. This is the core of the complaints in the reviews of the Dwimmermount megadungeon.

In addition to making the adventure fun and interesting, you need to provide the opportunity to kill something. I love sessions where none of the players needs to swing a sword. However, experience teaches I need to provide something for the party to kill or some of the players will get bored.

Back in the forest, the party continues down the path. The party sees the squirrels and crows watching their every move. Suddenly, the squirrels pelt the party with acorns. The acorns cause no damage. The party can kill a bunch of squirrels or ignore them. As the party progresses down the path, the squirrels continue their barrage of acorns. The party sees a squire step out on a branch holding an unusual looking acorn. The squire bites the stem off the acorn, then with all its strength throws the acorn. The acorn hits the fighter and explodes causing 1D6 damage.

A squire with an acorn grenade is almost as much fun as a Kobold with a ballista.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jewelry Puzzle

Carvel pillaged a mage's home. The mage was working on decoding an ancient map to a powerful artifact. They map was made from five pieces of jewelry. The jewelry was only ornate copper with semi-precious stones. Carvel used the jewelry to try to seduce five different women. The pieces of jewelry all had a different number of semi-precious stones. The pieces of jewelry had from one to five semi-precious gemstone.
  • A necklace was one of the pieces of jewelry
  • Velda did not get the ring
  • Tanicha's piece of jewelry had one semi-precious gemstone less than the pendant
  • Parvani's piece of jewelry had exactly one semi-precious gemstone less than the amulet but exactly one more than the piece of jewelry with garnets
  • Fotina's piece of jewelry had only one semi-precious gemstone
  • The bracelet has two semi-precious gemstones
  • There are three agate semi-precious gemstones in one piece of jewelry
  • Channa's piece of jewelry has four semi-precious gemstones
  • There are five semi-precious onyx gemstones in one piece of jewelry
  • The piece of jewelry with opals has exactly two more semi-precious gemstones than the one with the amber semi-precious gemstones
For each woman determine the type of jewelry, the type of gemstones, and the number.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Carnivorous Lunar Activities

Six months ago the country of Greth realized Marazzer was going to invade. Greth mobilized for war. The King of Greth, called up ever man or woman between the ages of seventeen and thirty-five able to wield a sword or cast a spell to fight and defend their country.

The forces of Greth assembled on the plains of Lethe to drive the Marazzer back across the sea. The forces of Marazzer slaughtered the armies of Greth. The few survivors of the initial attack became the objects of the Marazzer "skinning game". Marazzer soldiers attempt to remove all the skin from their prisoner. The winner is the soldier who is able to fully skin his victim and have his victim live the longest without their skin. The screams of the survivors carried for miles.

After the slaughter, a troop of Marazzer marched into the town of Appary. They took control of the town. However, unexpected difficulties faced the Marazzer. The soldiers tasked with patrolling and guarding the town at night started to disappear. All they found were bloodstains and torn armor.

Something was slowly killing the Marazzer. The people in the town had a good idea what was causing the disappearance. For years, many in the town knew a family of lycanthropes lived a few miles away. Occasionally, a sheep or cow turn up missing. The town suspected Osmin was the cause. However, Osmin traded with the town, kept to himself, and never harmed any of the inhabitants of the town.

A lycanthrope is a human shape shifter. According to the Monster Manual (fourth Edition), pg. 180, lycanthrope is hereditary. This means lycanthropes are not disease victims. Lycanthropes are carriers of Filth Fever and Moon Frenzy, but not the ability to shape change.

The party of adventurers came to the town of Appary. They convinced Osmin to take out the guards while the party poisoned the rest of the Marazzer soldiers. The plan worked.

Now the town is free of the Marazzer. What would happen if the Marazzer returned? All the able-bodied men and women of the town lie dead on the planes of Lethe. The population of the town are people in their forties and children, usually grandchildren. How can the town defend itself from the Marazzer?

The party came up with an interesting idea. Convince Osmin to spread Lycanthrope to all the townspeople. If lycanthrope is only hereditary then victims of a lycanthrope can get sick and die but not turn into a lycanthrope. If it is easy to transmit lycanthrope then it because a plague. As someone wrote, when a lycanthrope assumes their animal shape they are only interested in the three F's of basic survival: feeding, fighting and ... reproduction.

Imagine an entire town filled with new lycanthropes. Lycanthropes could reproduce two ways. First, they could reproduce sexually. Second, they could reproduce by spreading the disease. Lycanthrope would spread across the world.

In the World of Tiglath, lycanthrope is a disease. When lycanthrope takes on their animal form, they cannot attack to subdue. The lycanthrope does a normal attack. If the victim survives the attack, the victim must then make a fortitude save. Only ten percent of normal non-player characters will survive the fortitude check. That ten percent will become lycanthropes.

Lycanthropes can reproduce sexually. If most common form is a male lycanthrope attacking a non-lycanthrope female. This is a bizarre form of bestiality. Instead of spreading the disease through biting the victim, the male spread the disease sexually. Offspring of this mating have a 50% chance of inheriting the disease.

The less common form is a female lycanthrope having sex with a non-lycanthrope male. In this case, the female lycanthrope usually kills and eats the non-lycanthrope male in a form of sexual cannibalism. The female lycanthrope may kill and eat the male before, during, or after the sexual act.

As part of the bribe to Osmin, the party provided a large quantity of catnip and a keg of ale. Osmin is not a werewolf. Osmin is a werepanther a sub-species of werejaguar. The primary effect of catnip causes a hallucinogenic effect on cats. A secondary effect of catnip is as an aphrodisiac.

Imagine a slightly drunk werepanther tripping on catnip and "looking for love".

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I'm new around here. What do you want me to kill?

One challenge with online gaming is the high turnover rate of players. I rarely run a session without a new player. I try to create a campaign with a specific feel. I created a history of the world establishing major plot lines.

There are many ways to bringing a new player into the campaign. When playing around a physical table, the group of players is normally static. The players normally warn the dungeon master when a new player will be attending. This allows the dungeon master to work out a situation where the party meets the new character. The dungeon master can provide the new player an overview of the campaign. The dungeon master hopes the player will read the overview. With online playing, it is common for a player to join at the last minute.

I frequently have new players who have never used Dungeons and Dragons fourth edition. I started out with the original Dungeons and Dragons in the white box. I remember the first game I played. We started playing about 6:00 PM in the evening and ended around 7:00 AM. It took about an hour for the three of us to create our characters.

Spending an hour a session to create new characters and introduce the setting would really slow down online gaming. I feel players today want to spend about as much time creating a new character as they do when they create a new character in Skyrim or Mass Effect 3. They want to jump into the action.

This is my personal conflict. How do I introduce new characters to a complex campaign quickly without losing the feel of the campaign? I tried a few session where I designed scenarios for the new characters to join the party. In one session, the party found the new players locked in cages. I developed a back-story how a faction in the campaign captured, bound, hooded, and gagged the new characters. The faction then threw the new characters into cages. This worked because the party was exploring a dungeon. I prepared by setting up rooms specifically for the new characters. The party had not explored three directions in the dungeon. I set up conditional rooms in each of those directions and hoped the party would not backtrack and go some other way.

Constructing scenarios to introduce new characters is more effort than it is worth. The character may only play one session then leave. The simple solution is the new characters materialize as part of the party. No introduction. They just start playing. The players introduce their characters to the rest of the party. That works but does not introduce the history campaign.

For several sessions, the first thing I did was provide an overview of the campaign. I intended to create a video on YouTube introducing the campaign. The problem is will the new players actually prepare for their first session? Based on my experience over the last year I thought it unlikely all the players would spend the time preparing. I know some would. I also know some would not.

Now I just start the session. I give a brief overview of the current situation. I let the other players introduce the situation from their viewpoint. I only give a history when it affects the play of the game. This follows the classic epic convention of being in medias res. In Medias Res is Latin for "it begins in the middle of things" and then has flashbacks to explain action leading up to that point.

At first, starting without the backstory seemed contrived in roleplaying. However, it actually adds to the feeling of "being a stranger in a strange land". Player can start the campaign and learn through on-the-job training.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Grids? We ain't got no grids. We don't need no stinkin' grids!

In the 1948 film adaptation of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the Mexican bandit leader named "Gold Hat" says, "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!" That feeling sums up my attitude about grids in tabletop roleplaying games.

The most effective story is not the one you tell to someone, it is the one the person tells himself. Another name for this is the theater of the mind. Dungeons and Dragons offers the opportunity for immersive roleplaying. Players become attached to the character they created. The attachment is not to the figurine they use to represent the character. The attachment is not to the sheet of paper with the statistics representing the character. The attachment is to the persona and history of the character.

I create maps to organize the adventure. I enjoy creating maps with Campaign Cartographer. In the past, I created both square grids and hex grids for the maps. I found the grids cumbersome and detracting.

Denver is an example of a real-life city with a grid problem. The oldest part of Denver follows a grid oriented diagonal to the four cardinal direction. The rest of Denver follows a grid oriented to the four cardinal directions. This means there are a large number of streets with forty-five degree turns. Denver does not line up on a simple grid. The Flatiron building in New York emphasizes the non-rectangular orientation of the streets.

I can draw a section of a map, then pick up the section and rotate the section an arbitrary amount and join that up with another section. Creating a scenario similar to Denver. The map should not be the focus of the adventure. The map helps me organize the game scenario. My goal is to create an immersive roleplaying adventure for the players. My focus is on the theater of the mind.

Think back on your best roleplaying adventure. I doubt the details of the layout of the grid, the miniatures, or the map are the most memorable. What is memorable is the actions of the characters, both player and non-player characters. You may remember, "I rolled four twenties in a row" or "I rolled four ones in a row" but few will remember, "I rolled a seven, a fifteen, a twelve, and a nineteen". The reason you remember a one or a twenty is they have significance to advancing the game.

If a player says, "my character slides up against the wall trying to hide in the shadows." Does the grid matter? What matters is the actions of the character, the monsters, and the environment.

"My thief slides up against the wall trying to hide in the shadows. Using the heads of the gargoyles carved into the wall my thief climbs up to the second level. While the rest of the party distracts the ogre, I position my thief so I can jump on the ogre's back. Then I jump. With one dagger, I cut off the magical amulet around the ogre's neck. I plunge the other dagger into the ogre's neck."

"As you climb up the wall, the third gargoyle's head opens its eyes, and bites your foot...."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Problem with Five-Foot Grids

My office is approximately fifteen feet by twelve feet in size. That is does not produce an even number of five foot squares. The most common interior door width is thirty inches, not five feet. This causes problems with a gaming system that uses five-foot grids.

I started playing Dungeons and Dragons years ago when stationed in Europe. I used millimeter graph paper instead of the five-squares to the inch most gamers in the United States used. I picked up a 0.3 mm mechanical pencil. They are not as common as the 0.5 and 0.7 mm pencils you find today. I used 1 mm equaled 1 foot. All my walls were one foot thick, similar to the thickness of the walls found in old buildings in Europe.

This allowed creating dungeons that are difficult to map on standard five-squares to the inch graph paper. For example, just make a series of square rooms that are twelve feet wide with one-foot thick walls. If you use a little variety, some rooms are twelve feet wide; some are fourteen feet wide, and so on. Players trying to map the dungeon have a difficult time getting the scale correct. This allows hiding a small treasure room in-plain sight. Slipping a two-foot deep treasure room between rooms is easy. I know how much junk I can cram into a two-foot deep closet. Picture Fibber McGee's infamous hall closet.

Departing from standard five-foot squares causes havoc with games like Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition (4E). I tend to be a devious dungeon master. I enjoy running a game where the party kills themselves. I was running a campaign where one of the player characters loved to use a fireball as his first defense. If anything happened, you could bet the wizard would cast a fireball. I created a dungeon specifically for that character.

Instead of your standard five-foot wide hallways with eight-foot ceilings I created a dungeon where the main hallways were only thirty inches wide (2'6"). The ceiling was only sixty-six inches high (5'6"). This allowed most characters to slide into the dungeon. A small band of creatures about ten inches tall, looking like Barbie dolls attacked the party. The creatures then retreated into their lair. The party took the bait and followed. I worked out the entire volume of the dungeon beforehand. A fireball from the wizard filled a larger volume than the entire dungeon. The main corridor lead to a small circular room about four-foot in diameter. Around the main chamber had three tiers, each about eighteen inches high. This allowed a large number of the Barbie dolls to attack using small little bows.

The logical solution was to retreat. Instead, the wizard cast his fireball. The dungeon exploded. I believe only the fighter survived the blast and the damage from the collapsing dungeon. He received a lot of experience for the death of hundreds of Barbie dolls.

The point is there is no way to play that adventure using five-foot grids.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Itsy-bitsy Spider Climbed up the Wolf's Bane Stalk

In the last adventure, the party managed to poison sixteen Marazzer soldiers and their leader. The party then piled all the dead bodies into their cart. The image is reminiscent of the scene in "For a Few Dollars More". The party decided to hide the bodies at Wolf's Bane Bottom, where they found the wolf's bane and killed spiders the last time.

Although the party headed out in the middle of the night, for some reason, they figured there was no danger from the spiders. They were wrong. After a long battle, the party killed a dozen Hatchling Deathjump Spider. The spider are about ten inches across. The spiders are not the huge Skyrim style spiders.

After killing the spiders, the party placed the dead soldiers around the nearly empty keg of ale. They posed the soldiers to look as if they were partying and died from an attack of the spiders. The party then gathered up the dead body of the adventurer they found in the last adventure.

They arrived at the Dead Eye's Moon Inn waking Sapphire, the innkeeper. Sapphire identified the dead adventurer as Kaenan, a down-on-his-luck farmer that lived next door to the inn. The party left the dead body of Kaenan in their cart.

Imagine the shock of Sita, Kaenan widow, waking up to a huge, ugly, half-orc pounding on her door. The half-orc then announced Kaenan was dead from spider bites. Sita's screams of terror and loss woke the sleeping town. The party managed to convince Sita and the town they were not the source of Keanan's death.

The party announced that they had freed the town from the Marazzer. The town met this with some skepticism. Then the party started searching the tents of the dead Marazzer.

The party searched the tent of Ahmad, the lieutenant of the Marazeer force in Appary, finding gold and some records on clay tablets. One of the tablets described the death of Carmit, a priest of the Sanctuary of Innocence. They found priest's body in the torture chamber used to test initiates into the priesthood. The record warned to be on the lookout anyone with an Efreet, since a death in the sanctuary would bind an Efreet to someone's control.

The party found three tablets documenting the finding of headless bodies. The first tablet described nine bodies, three of them Marazzer soldiers, missing their heads. Something cleanly removed the heads without spilling any blood. Nothing else was missing. The second tablet listed two more headless bodies. The third tablet listed another four headless bodies, making a total of fifteen. The Marazzer were concerned the forced of Greth somehow unleashed something when they were preparing for their ill-fated defense against the invasion by the Marazzer.

In going through the records, the party found a receipt for one-hundred gold paid to Erskin for information.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Queen of Poisons

According to Wikipedia, Wolf's Bane or Aconitum, is also known as "the queen of poisons". Wikipedia goes on to say, "with large doses death is almost instantaneous." In the last adventure, the party used the Queen of Poisons to take out the forces of Marazzer encamped near Appary.

The party is looking for a way to the Hut of Iroine. They heard Iroine is leading a resistance against the Marazzer. The Marazzer in Appary were slowly disappearing in the middle of the night. The Marazzer suspected some sort of large cat. The party suspected a werewolf was responsible.

The party determined it was not a werewolf but some other form of lycanthrope, probably a weretiger. The party purchased a large quantity of catnip from the Little Shop of Flowers run by Chinyere. Chinyere was out of wolf's bane. The Marazzer had purchased all she had. Chinyere offered the party three gold pieces for each bunch of wolf's bane they could gather. Chinyere warned the party of the danger of wolf's bane.

Erskin, a sixteen-year-old native of Appary, approached the part asking if they knew a way to get rid of the Marazzer. He told the party about a meeting at Green Door Woodworking to discuss getting rid of the Marazzer.

The party headed off to gather wolf's bane. They found a body near the grove of wolf's bane. The person was dead from some sort of insect or spider bite. They party started gathering wolf's bane. A group of spiders the size of dinner plates attached the party. The battle with the spiders turned out to be difficult. In part because the microphone of the person with the highest-level character was muted. Again, a small band of first level monsters nearly killed the party. The party recovered and collected a large number of bunches of wolf's bane.

The party came up with a plan to use the wolf's bane to kill the Marazzer. They purchased two barrels of ale from Mansur, also known as Dead Eye because of the damage to one of his eyes by a weretiger.

Sapphire, the Inn Keeper, expressed her doubts about the plan. The party convinced Sapphire they would protect her. Sapphire warned the party Erskin may not be telling the truth about the meeting to get rid of the Marazzer. Sapphire led the party to Osmin, who she suspected was the weretiger killing the Marazzer. After some negotiation, Osmin agreed to attack the Marazzer camp later that night when he received a signal from the party.

The party spiked one of the barrels of ale with wolf's bane. While the bard entertained the Marazzer troops, the party plied them with ale. After the second serving of ale, the party switched the barrel to the poisoned one. Of the seventeen Marazzer troops watching the entertainment, fourteen did not notice the poison until they fell over dead. The Queen of Death caused almost instantaneous death. Three noticed the poison and attacked. The party dispatched them. Osmin, the weretiger, dispatched the other guards.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Did the Dragon Breath on Us or Not?

Did the Dragon Breath on Us or Not?

Years ago, one of the players in the campaign was a bit of a rule lawyer. I am sure you have run into the type of player that knows all the rules backwards and forwards. In the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons, a dragon could only use their breath weapon three times a day.

A dragon was terrorizing a small town. Each night the dragon would come stomping up to the walls protecting the town and roar loudly. The town knew it was a dragon from the huge footprints and claw marks on the walls. The town left piles of gold outside the walls hoping the dragon would go away.

The group of adventurers heard of the plight of the town and set off to kill the dragon. They planned an elaborate ruse. They set up a three wagons filled with a variety of goods. The party separated the wagons so that a dragon’s breath would only affect one wagon at a time. The party dug a pit with a trap door to hide in. The plan was to use ventriloquism to make it appear the party was in the first wagons and let the dragon burn that up, then use ventriloquism to make it appear the party was in second wagon, and so on. That way the party could force the dragon to use up its daily quota of breath weapons. The plan was the party would then spring out of the pit and attach the dragon.

The plan appeared to work like clockwork. The party heard the roars and stomping of the dragon. They party used ventriloquism to plead for mercy from the first wagon. The first wagon went up in flame. The party repeated the process with the second and third wagon. Confident they were safe from the breath weapon the party sprung from their pit. I asked the party to roll a saving throw. The rule lawyer objected, "Dragons can only use their breath weapon three times a day."

My reply was, "You need to save verses a fireball."

"But, but, dragons don’t cast fireballs."

Two ambitious trolls found a staff of fireballs and came up with a plan to shakedown the town. The trolls carved two tree stumps into the shape of a dragon’s footprint. They used a spear to carve claw marks into the walls of the town. The staff of fireballs provided the flames.

The party of adventurers were disappointed in the rather small horde of gold the trolls accumulated. The party used the staff of fireballs to level the town, killing everyone in the town, and taking everything of value.

It was an interesting adventure to run. I did not expect the party to level the town.

Just because it leaves tracks like a dragon, claw marks like a dragon, and sets fire to things like a dragon; it does not always mean it is a dragon. It could be two trolls with a staff of fireballs.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Quest for Knowledge

One of the oldest spy stories is record in the book of Numbers in the Bible.

When Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, he said to them, "Go up there into the Negev; then go up into the hill country. See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. How is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? How is the land, is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not?" Numbers 13:17-20a (NASB)
World of Warcraft is infamous for quests where you need to get some number of trophies from killing a specific creature. Skyrim has similar quests, for example, the quest to kill ten bears and gather their pelts. Video games have a difficult time asking for qualitative answers. Tabletop roleplaying games have no difficulty giving quests requiring qualitative instead of quantitative answers.

The party receives a quest to spy on an enemy installation. They need to determine if the enemy is prepared to fight off an attack. Are there guards? If there are guards, are they alert or just going through the motions? What is the best direction to attack the installation?

Quest like these provide player the opportunity to strategize and plan. Charging straight up the middle without considering the strength of the defenders is a sure strategy for defeat. The party needs to determine how strong a defense. Observing the guards provides insight on their capabilities. One of the weaknesses of Skyrim is guards are only on alert for a short time. I once tried to use a monster like Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th. The party found a safe place to hole up and plotted how to kill the monster. None of the party would venture out alone, unlike the movies. The party was paranoid about every noise and movement. In Skyrim, you can sneak into a thieves den and kill the guards one by one. The guards will go on alert for a little while, and then settle back into their usual unobservant ways. In real life, it would take weeks, months, or even years before the guards would stop thinking how something killed one of their own in a sneak attack. That can break the morale of the guards. Snipers can effectively destroy the effectiveness of a force by killing only a few. If you killed eight of the ten guards the last two guard would probably run away or at least call for reinforcements.

Planning an attack require gathering information. The information may be only partial or incomplete. For example, you do not know the exact number of guards, but the party can count the number on duty at any time. They can deduce there are at least three times that number if the guards follow a standard rotation. The key is knowledge.

This is very similar to solving a logic problem. You have a set of facts or clues. You need to use logic to determine the best course of action. The difference is formal logic problems have one and only one solution. There may be many possible solutions to attacking an enemy installation. However, not all solutions are as effective.

Most fantasy roleplaying adventures focus on the hack-and-slash. Consider giving your party a quest where they need to obtain information instead of killing.