The Evil DM

The Evil DM
The Evil DM

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Interesting Areas

What makes a room, corridor, passage, chamber, or area interesting, memorable, and fun?

I read a review of Dwimmermount. The reviewer said, "Here's the thing--as a player, I want my character to kick some ass, be awesome, and have a tale to tell back at the tavern so he can get some action with the serving wenches." The key is having a tale to tell.

Role-playing is about having fun sharing and an adventure with others. That means the players must have interesting and memorable experiences. The line I quoted above implies characters need something to kill. I disagree. For me, nothing is more boring than a continual slog through a dungeon where the players kill monster after monster. In the Original Dungeons and Dragon's book "The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures" page 7 suggests only a third of rooms in a dungeon should have a monster. Monsters should have purpose and reason for being in the area.

Traps, like monsters, can be just another boring slog through the dungeon. Too many traps and the players may decide they want to leave that adventure. There should be a reason for the traps. Putting a trap on a major treasure room makes sense. Putting a trap on chest with eighty gold turns into another boring bookkeeping exercise. Your character cannot go back to the tavern and brag to the serving wench, "I survived the poison trap on the chest with a few gold pieces." Everyone remembers the rolling bolder trap in the movie Raider of the Lost Ark.

I am starting a series of blog posts about interesting areas. Areas that are interesting in their own right, not because the area contains monsters or traps.

I found the head shot of Jonathan Goldsmith here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Has an NPC ever asked your character to do something morally repugnant?

I grew up in a rural area. Before I was born, my parents raised chicks in the hall closet. There was a closet in our hallway. My parents used the closet to raise chicks. When they were old enough, my parents slaughtered as young chickens for food. My father was amazing at jumping rope. All through my childhood, I heard stories about my father cutting the heads off the chickens, gutting them, and then using their intestines as a jump rope.

Today, few people slaughter animals for food. On the other hand, eggs are highly popular. Look at the sales of Egg McMuffin. People are more interested in having eggs without the yokes, e.g. the Egg White McMuffin. They forget eggs are a product of chickens. One of the lines from the movie Coneheads refers to consuming fried chicken embryos. Balut is a developing duck embryo boiled alive and eaten in the shell. Balut is a commonly sold street food in the Philippines.

Food is often associated with both medicine and religion. Celebrations and religious ceremonies often include food. For example, the story of the prodigal son mentions the phrase "roasting the fatted calf". The Jewish feast of Passover includes eating lamb.

Throughout history, man associated eating with religion. Many religions had dietary restrictions and festivals. According to one source, most anthropologists today believe the practice of cannibalism has been part of human behavior since long before recorded history. Humans have killed humans as part of religious rituals and for food. Child sacrifice is just a sub-category of human sacrifice.

I have never played a role-playing game where cannibalism, human sacrifice, and child sacrifice were prominent themes. I decided to spice up my campaign with some interesting situations.

A cleric of an obscure sect wanders into town looking for the party of adventurers. The party developed a reputation of obtaining "things". The cleric arrived in poor shape. Thieves along the way robbed and beat the cleric. The cleric ask the party if they would retrieve some things the sect needs for a religious ritual. The party asked the details. The sect needed three things.
  • Berries picked off of particular bushes at particular times
  • Water from a sacred brook
  • The head of an unborn child
The first two items did not bother the party. They did not worry about taking water from a sacred brook. The party questioned the third item, the head of an unborn child. The party asked the cleric how they would obtain such an item. The cleric replied, "Find a pregnant woman and retrieve the head of the child." In response, the party immediately murdered the cleric.

The party found the cleric's request morally repugnant. Have you ever played a game where a non-player character asked your character to do something morally repugnant? If so, what was your response?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Unemployed Fighter

One of my favorite poems is The Quest by Rudyard Kipling. The first stanza goes like this.

The knight came home from the quest,
Muddied and sore he came.
Battered of shield and crest,
Bannerless, bruised and lame.
Fighting we take no shame,
Better is man for a fall.
Merrily borne, the bugle-horn
Answered the warder's call:—
"Here is my lance to mend (Haro!),
Here is my horse to be shot!
Ay, they were strong, and the fight was long;
But I paid as good as I got!"

I am old enough to remember how the press and public treated soldiers returning from the War in Vietnam. I went into the service after Vietnam. There were three returning soldiers in my platoon during Advanced Individual Training (AIT). All three were drafted to go to Vietnam. The fought and left the service. They had difficulties adjusting to civilian life. It is not unusual for a sergeant in the Army to sign for equipment worth more than a million dollars. A tank commander is usually a sergeant or higher. They sign for the tank and all its associated equipment. That is worth much more than a million dollars. In civilian life, you need to be an executive in a company to sign for equipment worth that much.

In the military, you learn to respect the rank. You may think your officer is dumb, but you must respect his rank. In civilian life, it is common for workers to be disrespectful to their supervisor. In the military, if you disrespect a sergeant you will end up in jail. When I was in the Army, I remember what happened to an arrogant druggie. The sergeant ordered the druggie to clean up a mess. The druggie said something like, "Hell no!" The sergeant informed the private he was insubordinate and would face charges. The druggie took a swing at the sergeant. The sergeant knew there were witnesses who would back up the fact the druggie took the first swing. The sergeant proceeded to beat the shit out the druggie. Then the sergeant drug the druggie up to the company headquarters to face charges. The military teaches you must respect the rank and position, even if you do not respect the person holding the rank or position. That was the reason three Vietnam draftees reenlisted and were in my platoon. Civilian employers did not trust them with valuable equipment. Workers did not respect their position of authority.

How does this relate to role-playing games? In the Original Dungeons and Dragons book, "Men and Magic", page 16 lists the names for the levels of a fighter. A first level fighter is a veteran. This means OD&D assumes a first level fighter has some military experience. In the medieval period, only soldiers received training in the use of swords and armor.

This explains why characters become adventurers. There is an old song, "How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm?" After you have seen a bit of the world, do you really want to go back to the farm? Some do. Others find the rural life style lacking.

I thing I find missing in many fantasy role-playing games is a plausible history for fighters. Where did they learn to use weapons and armor? Swords and armor were never cheap. Where did the fighters get their initial equipment?

In the poem is The Quest by Rudyard Kipling the knight comes home bannerless, bruised, and lame. His horse is hurt so badly it needs to be put shot to put it out of its misery. Today, we have soldiers returning. I hear some saying, "the quest was in vain." Kipling say it best in the last stanza.

"My shame ye count and know.
Ye say the quest is vain.
Ye have not seen my foe.
Ye have not told his slain.
Surely he fights again, again;
But when ye prove his line,
There shall come to your aid my broken blade
In the last, lost fight of mine!
And here is my lance to mend (Haro!),
And here is my horse to be shot!
Ay, they were strong, and the fight was long;
But I paid as good as I got!"

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dynamic Adventures

Have you ever made significant changes to the adventure while running it by changing the map, player handouts, or non-player characters?

My background is software development. One of the principles I learned was documents are never finished. The requirements and specifications change frequently. I apply that concept to adventures.

I am not sure if my players realize I routinely change maps on the fly. For example, a while back the party was exploring a dungeon. I accidentally revealed a part of the map of the dungeon they had not yet explored. While running the adventure I changed the map. Removed corridors and room and added new ones. That is the advantage of a tool like Campaign Cartographer. It is easy to rearrange things.

Sometimes the players state they are worried they will run into some specific monster or situation. I always note those ideas. I usually add those ideas to the campaign a few adventures later.

If you want to use your own maps with Roll20 and other virtual tabletop programs you have load them. Usually you have to load them beforehand. The virtual tabletop programs work with bitmap files, not Computer Aided Design (CAD) type files created by Campaign Cartographer (Campaign Cartographer is actually FastCAD with its own set of symbols). For me, I find the ability to manipulate the maps while running very important.

I draw up my maps and label them. They players normally do not get to see the labels. One of the changes I am constantly making is changing the visibility of the labels. When I draw the maps, I focus on how I want the maps to appear to me. For example, if there is a piece of graffiti written on a wall put that on the map. The players cannot see what the graffiti says until they get close enough to read it. I modify the visibility of the graffiti label during the game.

Graffiti can spice up any dungeon. In the 1972 film The Mechanic, Charles Bronson's character leaves a note for his apprentice that reads, "Steve, if you're reading this it means I didn't make it back. It also means you've broken a filament controlling a 13-second delay trigger. End of game. Bang! You're dead." Imagine the party seeing something written in very small script on the wall. The graffiti reads, "If you are reading this it means you stepped on a pressure plate releasing a delayed blast fireball. Bang! You are dead."

Monday, March 3, 2014

What is the most outrageous treasure you have ever found as a player or given as a DM?

I may have the record for the most outrageous treasure. A player walked out of one of my dungeons with three gems worth one billion gold pieces each.

My memory is a bit fuzzy, this happened almost forty years ago. The adventure started with a large party. There were half-a-dozen player characters. Each player character had several henchmen and hirelings. The party fought their way through the depths of my "Big Dungeon". The henchmen and hirelings died. A group of high-level thieves ambushed the party. They took everything. The left the party naked and tied up. Eventually the party managed to free themselves. This is when they found the secret passage to the lowest level of the dungeon.

I placed the Machine of Lum the Mad on the lowest level of the dungeon. Eldritch Wizardry describes the Machine of Lum the Mad as a gigantic piece of intricate machinery. The machine has a booth large enough for four people. The machine has 70 levers and 30 dials. They affect what is in the booth.

The party had nothing. No weapons, no armor, no equipment. The party ordered remaining henchmen and hirelings into the booth. They died when the party pulled a lever. The party drug the scorched bodies out. An argument ensued over who was going into the chamber and who was going to pull the lever? The characters in the chamber received some amazing powers. But, greed took over. The party pulled more levers and turned more dials. In the end, only a single player character survived. Probably the only reason that character survived is there was no one left to activate the machine.

The single, naked thief wandered through the gigantic machine. He found the Corridor of Lights that powered the machine. Gems covered the walls of the Corridor of Lights. The farther you go down the corridor the more valuable the gems become. However, you must save verses insanity every thirty feet you go down the corridor. The naked thief wandered down far enough to reach the billion gold piece gems. He extracted the gems from the wall. Amazingly, he made all his saving rolls.

Juggling the three basketball sized gems, the naked thief continued exploring the dungeon. He found a teleporter and managed to escape the dungeon with the three gems. He hid the gems while he searched for clothing and a way back to town.

The thief retrieved the gems. He tried to sell one of the gems. One gem was worth more than the entire kingdom. No one could make change for a one-billion gold piece gem. He then tried to hire a gem cutter. He found an old, highly skilled gem cutter. Upon seeing the massive gem, the cutter had a heart attack and died. The thief then found a younger, healthier gem cutter. The cutter stared into the massive gem and passed into catatonia mumbling, "The lights! The lights!"

The player realized the thief could never sell or cut the gems. He purchased a large leather bag and a mace. He placed the gems in the bag. Using the mace, he pounded the massive gems into smaller fragments he could sell.

In the end, the character had millions of gold pieces, not billions.

I found the source for the graphic here.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Swords and Armor

One of the challenges in creating a fantasy campaign is explaining the magical weapons. You can create numerous +1 swords. Where does the magic come from? My approach in the World of Tiglath is different. I placed the campaign in the early copper age. Your average copper sword is made of copper. It can still kill.

In my campaign, bronze is rare. Copper and arsenic create a form of bronze. These type of weapons are +1. Rarer is the knowledge of copper tin bronze. Bronze made of copper and tin is harder and less brittle than copper and arsenic. Weapons made of copper and tin are +2. The knowledge of smelting iron is extremely rare in my campaign. Iron weapons are +3. Wrought iron weapons are +4. Steel is extremely rare. Steel weapons are +5. This is without the need for magic.

Creating steel in the ancient world normally involved harnessing a fire elemental and an air elemental to power the furnace. The result is not magical, but magic is involved.

Magical weapons should have a history and a reason for their creation. I previously blogged about the creation of the Cursed Sword of Zahair.

Cursed Sword of Zahair

An ornate sword covered with filigree, gemstones, and runes down the center of the blade. The sword appears to very valuable. On deeper inspection, the gemstones are only polished glass and semi-precious stones. The filigree is not of gold but lesser metals. The magical runes on the blade read, "Liars believe their own lies". The sword gives its owner the ability to spin wild tales of high adventure where the owner defeated powerful monsters. When the owner tells a wild tale, the sword makes them believe with all their heart the lie they are telling. The owner becomes convinced their exploits are the result of owning the sword. The owner will willingly face certain death to possess the sword. As a weapon, the sword is almost useless. When facing an adversary the owner will turn and run at the first opportunity then later tell a story of how they defeated the adversary after a long battle.

I found the picture of the sword here.

Day 28 - What is the single most important lesson you've learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons?

The single most important lesson I learned from playing Dungeons and Dragons is to take notes. I started playing when I was in the Army stationed in Germany. Every soldier is supposed to carry a pen and a small notebook as part of his uniform. I wrote down many ideas. I transferred my ideas to larger lab notebooks. I still have those notebooks.

Today, I use a computer instead of a paper notebook. I own a Microsoft Surface. It is great for taking notes. Whenever I go anywhere, I take my Surface.

When I run an adventure, I open up a blank Word document and an Excel spreadsheet. I have a template in Excel to keep track of initiative and experience. I write down notes about the adventure in Word.

I found the graphic here