Get Your Cold Dead Clown Hands Off Me

I've been very lazy the past 2 weeks, I only keyed up a half-dozen rooms or so.  I've got about a dozen more to go.  I'll see if I can finish it up tomorrow night and add a bit of polish to some rooms that I'm not quite satisfied with.

For tonight, though, I've got an idea for the second level.  The second level is the primary hunting ground of the morlocks, so it's going to have fat-n-juicy vermin.  It will also have a troglodyte tribe, and I might toss in a minor hive mind & his goblin minions.  Most fearsome of all, though, will be the horrible Painted Men.

As the not-yet-named megacorporation delved further into the Anomalous Subsurface Environment, and solidified their hold on the upper levels, they converted the rooms to their own use.  Conference rooms, labs, dining, kitchens, and labs are all present on the first level.  The second level was also pretty well conquered by the megacorp, and turned over to its use.  A large chunk of this level was used for living quarters and day care, for the families of the scientists and explorers sequestered in this dark pit.

When the ASE was sealed off 3,000 years ago, the humans within were left to fend for themselves in the dark.  Some evolved into screechmen and morlocks (or were these always there, waiting to be born into this sunless pit?).  On the second level, family values ruled over all other considerations.  The trapped families there turned their attention to amusing their children, and their children's children, and so on, attempting to push back the darkness with hope and love.

It didn't work, of course.  Their chambers contain the decrepit remains of funhouses, carousels, and other carnival rides and games.  The things that live their now have been twisted by the passing of millenia within the megadungeon, and are now the Painted Men.

Yes, clowns.  I fear clowns.  Their unchanging expressions hide their true emotions and intents.  All clowns hold murder in their hearts.

There are tons of opportunities for goofy "special" encounters and random magical effects in a carnival.  So I'll stick one underground, and fill it with malicious clowns.  This may end up being more of a sub-level, as troglodytes wouldn't put up with roaming around the fairgrounds.  Plus, I'm pretty sure my players would kill me if I filled 100 rooms with clowns.

Whatever other humanoids reside on the second level, they will have learned to fear the Painted Men and their fearsome blend of butchery, cannibalism, and slapstick hilarity.


My Stupidest Monster: Gorillapede

Over on Roles, Rules, and Rolls, Roger has been analyzing the Fiend Folio and picking out all the good critters.  Of course in his latest post, he's started talking about the abysmally stupid ones.  Shockingly, the gorilla bear was tossed into the mix.  From a purely functional standpoint, it adds nothing to either a gorilla or a bear, but cross-breeding gorillas is such a wonderful thing to do, I think you have to at least applaud the attempt.

I posted a few alternative gorilla hybrids, one of them being the Gorillapede.  Most any monster that pops into my head, no matter how stupid, I'm willing to toss into a dungeon (I'm looking at you, Malignant Sphere).  But, the Gorillapede... it's too embarrassing.  I'm posting its stats, and if somebody wants to use it, more power to you.  It only brings me shame, and will remain in its box.  Back in the box, Gorillapede!  Back!

I'm probably not being read by enough interested people for this to work, but it sparked an idea for a D&D challenge.  I dare you, whoever you are, to come up with a fundamentally stupid monster, stat it up, and post it somewhere.  Something that's got interesting stuff going on, but is packaged so ridiculously that your family disavows you entirely.  Additional props for posting without a disclaimer stating you know how stupid it is.  Yeah, I'm cowarding out on that front, but it's just a sign of how deeply stupid I consider the Gorillapede.

If enough people do this, we could put together a glorious Menagerie of Shame and dump it on Lulu for the unsuspecting...  oh to dream.  Yes, I know, I have problems...

No. Enc: 1
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 10
Attacks: 6, or 4, or 2
Damage: 1d4 each
Save: F10
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: None
XP: 2400

The gorillapede is a horrible cross between a gorilla and a centipede. The creature is twenty feet long, and composed of black chitinous segments, with hairy gorilla arms sprouting from the sides of each segment.  Its head is also that of a snarling gorilla.

The creature has one segment per foot of length.  Whenever it takes a single attack that deals more than 8 points of damage, apply the damage to it, and if the gorillapede survives it will split into two of equal length.  A fresh, angry gorilla head will burst forth from the wound as the tail end pulls away.

Each half of the gorillapede will have the same hit points as before it split, but each has two fewer attacks per round. Thus, a 20' gorillapede would split into two 10' gorillapedes that attack four times each, and those could be split into a total of four 5' gorillapedes that attack twice each.  Note that gorillapedes cannot be split into less than three segments.

Clever players will, of course, start focusing their energies on slashing just the front of the beast, so they do not accidentally cut it in half.  Any attack doing more than 8 points of damage, when players are focusing exclusively on the forward portion of the gorillapede (and it has more than three segments remaining), will cause it to instantly tear off its own head (and the first segment of its body), hurling the still-snarling thing down upon its attacker.  If the player so targeted fails a save vs. breath weapon, he will take 3d6 points of damage as the dying head-segment expends its gorilla-fueled fury.  A fresh gorilla head will, of course, re-appear to take the place of the one just thrown.


Horror of Dracula

I just watched Horror of Dracula.  It's a fun movie, but a bit slow, and it could use a lot more Christopher Lee and less rambling monologues by Peter Cushing.

As I watched, I was impressed by a few things.  His castle was very nice and tidy, and he even had pineapple available for Harker on his arrival.  Dracula is definitely up for a Good Cryptkeeping award.  He's got a pretty nice travel-coffin as well.  This Dracula likes luxury.  He's also got a barely contained fury under his veneer of civilization.  His fight with his "bride" early in the movie is my favorite part.  There's nothing civilized there - just two killing machines facing off over Harker's oh-so-delicious blood.

So, naturally, my thoughts turn to the megadungeon.  What place is there for a vampire in the Anomalous Subsurface Environment?  The answer is easy - the lower levels.  They've got too many hit dice for level 1.  Duh.

I don't plan to just have any old wanna-be vampires in my dungeon though.  If I'm going to place an iconic monster like that, I'll stick to the best.  Dracula himself!  Specifically, the savage blood-drinking hell-beast who wears a thin veneer of civilization, but casts it aside whenever it is mildly inconvenient.  Unbridled rage is his natural state.  He'll of course have his three brides with him, and maybe a "Lost Boys" contingent of recently turned adventurers.

Detailing his lair isn't really necessary right now, that's many many levels down.  He'll have been interred for several thousand years at this point, and bored out of his undead mind.  Oh, the fun he'll have as rumors of surface-folk invading the dungeon trickle down to his lair.  He'll also have fresh pineapple waiting.  Not sure how yet, but he's an excellent host when he's not tearing your throat out.  He'll find a way.

I like using iconic creatures like Dracula because they don't require a lot of definition to communicate mood to the players.  "Count Toothula", or any other vampire I came up with myself, wouldn't carry nearly the same emotional and intellectual freight as Dracula.  Name drop that guy, and the party is going into full paranoia mode, and presumably doing their best to never accidentally stumble across his lair.

That's the same reason I drop in things like the Church of Starry Wisdom.  The players (some of them, at least) are going to know what that means, and it saves me work on building mood and suspense.  It would be an absolute cheap trick in a literary work, but this is a game, not literature.  Anything that makes the dungeon more fun is fair play.


Robotic Bigfoot Attacks!

As I finish off these last couple of rooms, I find myself less and less able to resist going full gonzo...

180. Bigfoot on Display
Standing on a pedestal at the southern end of this room is a circular black pedestal, upon which stands a sasquatron.  A cylinder of bluish light rises up from the pedestal base to the ceiling.  Anyone touching the bluish light will be burned for 1d4 points of damage.

On the rear of the pedestal (facing the southern wall), is a small white switch.  Flipping the switch will cause the field of bluish light to disappear, and the sasquatron (AC 7, HD 4, hp 18, #AT 1, D 1-8, MV (30’), Save F4, ML 9) will be released from stasis and attack.  The sasquatron’s head-sphere contains 15 zircon gemstones, worth 25 gp each.

The pedestal generates a stasis field.  The creature to be held in stasis must be standing entirely on the pedestal, or else it will take 1d4 points of burning damage as it is forced off by the bluish field.

Attempts to remove the pedestal, which is firmly affixed to the floor, will destroy it.

No. Enc: 1d4
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d8
Save: F4
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: See below
XP: 190

The sasquatron is a gigantic, hairy humanoid that has undergone terrible modifications.  The monster stands 8’ tall, and has thick brown pelt.  Its head is a cylinder of black metal, studded with glowing, blinking gems, and encased in a clear polycarbonate sphere, and its right arm has been replaced by the claw of a giant crab.  The sasquatron stands upright, and makes agonized roars when agitated, which is almost always (+4 to reaction rolls).  Where the roars come from is unclear, as this monstrosity has no visible mouth.  It attacks with its massive claw, while beating its chest with its “normal” hand.

The sasquatron is immune to sleep, charm, and other mind-affecting spells.  If subjected to an electrical attack, roll d6 to determine the effect:

1-2. Stunned for 1d3 rounds
3-4. Healed for 1d6 points of damage
5-6. No effect

Should the polycarbonate sphere be unscrewed (or pried off via an Open Doors roll), 5d6 small colorful gems worth 25 gp each can be recovered.


Getting a little goofy

I'm tired and getting a little goofy trying to finish off this map key.

174. Undead Meditation
Two robed and hooded figures sit on the floor, with a golden hookah between them.  If anyone enters the room, they will rise, pulling their hoods back, revealing that they are two blade zombies (AC 7, HD 2, hp 9 each, #AT 2 (hand blade, head butt at -4), D 1d8/1d4, MV (40’), Save F2, ML 12).  The zombies have been made from troglodyte corpses, and are in an advanced state of decomposition.

The hookah is worth 500 gp.

Blade Zombie
No. Enc: 2d4
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 2 (hand blade, head butt at -4)
Damage: 1d8 / 1d4
Save: F2
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: None
XP: 38

The blade zombie is much like a normal zombie, but blades have been plunged through the back of its head so that they emerge from the eye sockets.  Blades are likewise embedded in its wrists, extending out through the palm and past the fingers.

The blade zombie attacks by slashing with a hand blade, and head-butting.  The head-butt attack has a penalty of -4 to hit.

Like normal zombies, blade zombies are immune to charm and sleep, and must attack last each round.


Treasure Mollusk

Right now, I'm just finishing up some loose ends for the first level of the Anomalous Subsurface Environment.  Mostly, that's refining some traps, and finishing off the last of the new monsters.  After 30 years of playing D&D, I'm a little tired of the typical monsters, and almost everything I put in is something new - either a re-skinned existing monster, or something entirely novel.  It keeps the players on their toes, and it keeps my eyes from glazing over.  I don't think I ever want to write up another kobold lair again in this lifetime.

For one of the last rooms in the dungeon key, I had written "some kind of construct made of treasure."  I think the gatehouse has been filled with enough constructs, though, and I was in a mimic/trapper/lurker above/piercer kind of mood.  Those are all higher hit dice than I should reasonably be using on the first level, so here's something custom, that keeps my original monster-made-of-treasure idea.  My players make a comment about mimics every time they see a chest, so they have this coming.

After finishing up these loose ends in the first level, I'll be preparing lists of henchmen and wizard encounters, and posting them over the next week.  Then, it's time to install my old copy of Dungeon Designer 2 and see if I can come up with some reasonable electronic copies of the map.  I'll need decent electronic copies to put together a PDF of the first level of the megadungeon for people to take a look at.

Anyhow, here's my contribution to the timeless D&D tradition of "ha ha! gotcha!" monsters.

Treasure Mollusk
No. Enc: 1d6
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 2, or see below
Damage: 1d6 each, or see below
Save: F3
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: XXI
XP: 95

These mollusks, in their natural form, are 4’ wide grotesque lumps of muscle and organs, with several slimy tentacle-like appendages.  They are ringed with jewel-like eyes on short stalks, and their bodies excrete an incredibly sticky slime.

The mollusk uses this adhesive slime to attach treasure (primarily coins) to itself, and weapons to the end of its two primary pseudopods.  It will then settle into a pile on a dungeon floor, with only its jewel-like eyes visible through the layer of treasure, and wait for prey, surprising on 1-4 on a d6.

On each successful hit, the victim must save vs. paralyzation or be stuck to the treasure mollusck’s pseudopod.  While a pseudopod is stuck to a character, it is no longer used as a weapon, and the character will only have to contend against one pseudopod, albeit at a +1 penalty to AC.

Once stuck to both primary pseudopods, the character will be drawn towards the mollusk’s mouthparts on the next round, which will attempt to bite for 1d8 points of damage.  A character stuck to both pseudopods suffers a +4 penalty to AC.

A character may spend a round attempting to break free from a pseudopod, by making an Open Doors check.  If successful, he has broken free of one pseudopod.  Other party members may also attempt to pull the character free, by making Open Doors checks.

Should a mollusk fail a morale check while stuck to a character, it will drag its victim along behind it, until that character successfully breaks free from both pseudopods.


Dungeon Clockworks Cont'd: Dungeon Elementals

The Anomalous Subsurface Environment has no villainous mastermind running the dungeon.  It's got villains, some of which are undoubtedly masterminds, or at the very least Hive Minds, but they didn't make the dungeon, they don't run it, they just live in it.  None of this is particularly safe to bring up in conversation with aforementioned villains, but that's the way it is.  The ASE is a metaphysical space realized in stone, trap, and monster.

As I mentioned in last night's post, the dungeon, by necessity, has secret levels of clockworks operating its traps.  These need to be maintained by someone.  The simplest solution would be for the dungeon would maintain itself, simply refusing to obey the law of conservation of mass and energy.  While that is true, a megadungeon has a personality, and expresses that in how it goes about maintaining itself.  This personality is expressed as the dungeon elemental.

I'm not a fan of the elemental planes, or any of the traditional D&D cosmology.  I like the notion of elementals as material spirits, drawn from the surrounding environment.  In that tradition, the dungeon elemental would be a spiritual expression of the physical dungeon, representing its metaphysical will.  On the other hand, an Elemental Plane of Dungeons would be pretty cool.

Do note, that the dungeon as semi-sentient force is, of course, a metaphor for the Dungeon Master himself.  So another way to look at the Dungeon Elemental is as a DM Elemental.

Dungeon Elemental, Lesser
No. Enc: 1 (3d6)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40')
  Gaseous: 90' (30')
Armor Class: -1
Hit Dice: 6
Attacks: 1
Damage: 2d8
Save: F6
Morale: 11
Hoard Class: XVII
XP: 1,070

The dungeon elemental, or "Door Closer" as it is referred to by the few adventurers who have encountered them, is a physical expression of a dungeon's will.  It performs basic upkeep on the dungeon when there are no intelligent entities to do so, ensuring that traps are in good working order, doors continue to function relatively smoothly, the air is ventilated enough to support the dungeon ecology, and that vital support columns and buttresses are in no risk of collapse.

The elemental appears as a red humanoid, extremely thin, wiry, and flexible, with sharp black claws on its hands and feet.  It has no ears or nostrils, just a pair of empty eye sockets and a lamprey-like mouth, with nested circles of sharp teeth.  It has no bones, and is able to compress itself and squeeze through incredibly tight spaces.  The elemental may become invisible three times per day, and may assume gaseous form twice per day (for 6 turns duration).

Dungeon elementals can only be damaged by magic weapons.

Encounters in a normal dungeon level with a dungeon elemental are brief and from a distance.  The elemental uses its powers to remain unobserved, and it will do its best to avoid combat, or interaction of any kind, with any dungeon inhabitants and/or intruding adventurers.  A sighting of these creatures is rare indeed, and few are the experienced adventurers who speak of seeing the strange red ghost moving swiftly through the dungeon, closing doors and repairing broken traps.

The dungeon elementals spend most of their time in secret levels between the "normal" dungeon levels.  These secret levels contain the massive flywheels, gears, and chains used to operate the dungeon's traps, systems for air purification, pumps to move water through the dungeon, and other equipment required to keep the dungeon a suitable environment for the bizarre menagerie of monsters that make it home.  The secret levels have powerful dweomers preventing detection of these hidden spaces by normal or magical means.  Should an unlucky adventuring party accidentally find their way to one of these secret levels, they will be mercilessly attacked until dead.  The dungeon wants to keep its secrets, and dead men tell no tales.

The elementals are intelligent, but have no will or desire of their own.  They exist only to serve the dungeon.


Dungeon Clockworks

I love mechanical traps, much more than magical traps.  Mechanical traps are something the players can figure out, they don't require any hand-waviness or DM fiat, and it's a fun bit of mental engineering to put them together.  They're a dungeon staple, and staple of movies, e.g. Raiders of the Lost Ark.

But, I wonder how they work behind the scenes.

There was an episode of X-Files that gave me a minor revelation about bowling allies.  The alley, seen from the outside, ends at a wall of pins.  In this episode of the X-Files (at least I think it was the X-Files, could've been something else, it was a long time ago), there was something behind the alley, and a worker was back there with all the machinery.  Never mind the worker's horrible fate, the man had to deal with bowling shoes all day, he's really better off.  What interested me was the fact that there was a giant clockwork mechanism behind the surface that the bowling alley patrons saw, responsible for moving all the balls along and setting up the pins.

Now, if the dungeon is full of all these traps, that are constantly resetting to nail the next foolish adventuring party, there must be vast flywheels, gears, and other bits of machinery driving the traps.  Where are they?  They never show up on a map.  The answer is simple - the dungeon has secret levels you can't see.  Levels between the levels.  Levels full of vast spaces, acres of whirling wheels and chains.

But in the deeper levels, someone made a mistake.  There's a crack.  There's a way into the places between the levels.  If the players are particularly unlucky, they'll find it, and they'll go inside.

Because somebody resets the traps.  Somebody repairs the ancient columns supporting the thousand feet of stone above.  Somebody winds those hidden flywheels.  Somebody lives between the levels.


More about last night's session

So yeah.  I stabbed my finger into the map, right where the trap was, as I imitated the automaton's robot-y voice "Our trap!  There!"  And Rollo Jr. IMMEDIATELY ran out and opened the door.  Rolled the dice and it wasn't fatal, although by rights it should have been.

I didn't include my many rude comments about Too's decidedly unenthusiastic choice of character name (stuff along the lines of "Wow, your parents must have had low expectations for you.  I bet you had an older brother who died, and your parents just gave up hope that you'd survive."), nor the comments about the horrid quality of their map.  My insults did prompt the mapper to take some shots of the map with his camera so he could put a more cohesive version together at home.  The map is spread out over two pages, half of it is upside down, there's no indication where one part connects to another.  Not my problem though.

Anyhow, the point of this follow-up post is not to mock my players behind their backs, it's much more fun to do it to their faces.  I wanted to bring up some things I've noticed, and ask some questions of You, The Readers.

a. Over the last few sessions, the players have had phenomenal luck with their reaction rolls.  Nothing they meet wants to kill them, even with +4 modifiers.  I was wondering how often people use reaction rolls?  I like them, it means nobody knows what will happen during an encounter.  The idea of becoming buddies with the screechmen or goblins in the absence of a Hive Mind seems a little ridiculous though.  So I'm thinking of +4 modifiers to those rolls.  The morlocks in the first level, I'd leave as normal reaction rolls - humans aren't on the normal hunting list, so maybe they'll want to chat.  Or share a shank of goblin meat.

b. On a related note, does anybody ever use reaction rolls for dungeon vermin with animal-level intelligence?  Stirges, giant beetles, etc?

c. This one isn't a question.  Lt. Hammer is a 4 HD monster with 2 attacks.  Two weeks ago, I got to see how that sort of fight would work out in practice with the crystal statues vs. the jury-rigged automatons.  Automatons win with heavy casualties.  The original encounter, I had Lt. Hammer with two 3 HD buddies.  I probably would have left it, except Lt. Hammer is in the way of the dungeon - if he had a bad reaction roll, the party would have to fight their way through him.  So the buddies had to go - that would be a TPK every time.

d. So the last-minute scrambling to get the 1st level keyed was sort of pointless, as the party ended up messing around in the gatehouse all night.  On the plus side, I'm ahead of the game, which is where I like to be, and I can polish up some of the "meh" encounters on the level.

e. The players started asking about nearby towns last night, as Chelmsfordshire was fresh out of fools willing to die in a dungeon.  I described the area as an outer ring of poor farming villages, a smaller inner ring of well-populated towns, and the city of Denethix in the middle.  I'm going to need to put together some henchman tables, and some stock NPC's to pull out as the players get more involved in the cities and towns.

f. The players explore, on average, 9 rooms per session so far.  They are also gaining XP pretty slowly, as the best loot is well hidden, or in the hands of hideous monsters.  They did manage to find the magic shield though, and without dying from the yellow mold, which was a shocker.  I had the automatons with the 500gp in loose change let the players walk off with it, because the automatons simply didn't want it - it was there as an afterthought, just the collected pocket-change from the bone-piles they had been stockpiling.

g. The players are very afraid of dusty floors now.  I gleefully roll dice whenever they "check the dust."  Can't be too careful...

h. Nobody checks the toilets.  My green slime continues to be ignored.

i. Yeah my NPC names come from TV shows and movies.  And when that doesn't work, I pick the most puerile, adolescent names imaginable.  "Stinkborough" is not one of my prouder moments.  But, the inexplicable stench of rotting meat throughout the town spooked the players a bit, and made them think I had some kind of evil plan going on.

Session recap, 10/20/2010

Here's the recap email I just sent for tonight's session:


Here's your session recap:

Back in Chelmsfordshire, Too commissioned the construction of a 20' retractable aluminum pole.  After this was constructed, Too and Rollo Jr. spent a day traveling to the next village, Stinkborough.  They reached the village at nightfall, and were greeted by the horrid stench of rotten meat.  They went to the tavern in the center of the village, The Pig's Bride, and found it full of drunken country bumpkins.

The pair made their pitch for a couple of henchmen to join them, and Father Flaherty (1st level cleric) and three other goons decided to try their fortune adventuring.  There was a brief conversation about Flaherty's religion.  He venerated all the gods, of course, but particularly served Crom, the god of earth and steel.  He started at Rollo, and asked him "Do you know what the gods think of dwarves?"  Rollo replied "No", and was enlightened by Flaherty: "Not much."

In the morning, they purchased equipment (padded armor, shields, and weapons) for their new hires, and began the long march to the dungeon.  Deep in the woods, the party heard the loud shouting of many men in the distance.  "We'll kill all the brutals!"  "Yeah! Kill 'em all!" and such were heard.  The party decided to sneak around, and whoever the men were, they were soon left behind.

In the cave that serves as the entrance to the dungeon, the party found a black bear.  Too, Rollo Jr., and one of the hired goons peppered it with arrows, and it retreated back into the dungeon.  The party followed, and the bear was cornered in the first octagonal room, as all the doors were closed.  More arrows were fired, and the bear rushed the hired goon, mauling him to death.  Too and Rollo Jr. dropped their bows, drew their weapons, and quickly slaughtered the bear.  Brief prayers were said for the dead, and the survivors thanked Crom for the improved division of treasure that would result, and the party went further into the dungeon.

Heading into territory only briefly explored by previous expeditions, they walked through an ancient bathroom, and from there into a room full of metal constructs.  These constructs showed only mild signs of rust, and hadn't had to replace any of their parts with bones.

Too asked them questions:
"What are you?"  "We are... are... servant androids"
"Who do you serve?"  "Company employees"
"What do you do?"  "Janitorial duties!"
"Why aren't you using bones?"  "We maintain ourselves!  We take parts from the others!"
"What is this place?"  "The gatehouse.  It was built by the... the... the..."  "Company?"  "Yes, it was a company.  It was built to control access to the Anomalous Subsurface Environment, before they moved down."
"How do you activate the gate?"  "Power was restored a few weeks ago.  It is already activated."

Rollo joined in:
"I have some oil.  You could use it for lubrication.  Do you want it?"  "Yes".  Handing the automaton a flask of oil, it thrusts it back.  "Not good for lubrication!"

Rollo then went off to search a pile of bones in the corner.  He found many scattered gold coins, and a wall sconce with wires dangling out of it.

Rollo asked more questions:
"Can I have these?" pointing to the coins.  "Yes"
"What is to the north?"  The automaton grabs the map, and jams a metal finger at it.  "Our trap!" it exclaims.

Rollo then ran off to the room to the north, and immediately opens the door in the northern wall.  A massive protonium-metal pipe suspended by wire swung down, hitting him in the chest and knocking him to the floor.

Too and the henchmen left the automatons and went up to Rollo, and Flaherty cast cure light wounds upon the dwarf.  They then headed into this northern passage, and searched the rooms off this hallway.  In one room, they found a pair of golden eagle pins, each with three stars engraved on it.  In another, there was a large mirror on the wall, and a hole with wires sticking out.  Rollo connected the wires from the hole with the wall sconce, pushed the sconce into the wall, but nothing happened.  He examined the sconce, and saw that a portion of it was a trigger.  When he pressed the trigger, the mirror shimmered with a purple light, and disappeared, revealing a hallway behind it.

As the party crossed into the corridor, a pair of bone-and-metal automatons entered the room.  The oft-repeated robot battle cry of "Parts! Parts!" was sounded, and the automatons charged.  The party retreated into the hallway behind the mirror and pressed on a nearby red button, and the opening was replaced with a sheet of grayish metal.  They heard metal fists banging on the other side, but the automatons were unable to find a way through.

Searching these halls, the party came across a room with ancient, rusted shelving, covered with yellow mold.  Too extended his pole and started prodding it, and about half the time he poked the fungus, gigantic clouds of spores would explode out of it.  Fortunately, the pole allowed them to remain at a safe distance from the fungus.  His poking discovered a large bulky object under the fungus on one of the shelves, and he prodded it off the shelf.  When it landed on the floor, it was clear that it was a shield of some white material, much like the walls of this complex.  It was still partially covered with fungus, however, that was still exploding with spores on contact.  Rollo had the idea of tossing a flaming flask of oil onto it, which they did, and the fungus burned off nicely.  Too then claimed the shielf for himself.

The eastern of this secret corridor ended in a large sheet of protonium-metal, with a handle.  Pushing the sheet outwards, they found themselves in the same room that they had fought the strange dust-beings during the last expedition to the complex.  Now oriented, they made their way through the brightly-lit halls to some unexplored rooms in the southeastern portion of the "gatehouse".

The first room they explored, was a small room with many shelves, holding 5 yellowish cylinders with cracked crystal lenses on one end.  There was also a small chest on the floor, with a keyhole.  Rollo tried opening it with a crowbar, but failed.  Too gave it a shot, and when the lock gave, a needle flew out of the chest.  Fortunately he was standing to the side, and the needle flew by harmlessly.  The chest was empty, however.

Heading a bit farther south, they came to a room occupied by a much larger automaton, with no visible tubes or wiring - this one was heavily armored.  It also had a large pod on each arm, with small holes at the ends.  Sitting nearby were three footlockers.

The automaton looked shocked to see them.  "Humans!  Huh."

"So how long have you been here?"  "Three thousand blah blah blah years.  Let me tell you, it's been boring."
"So who are you?"  "I'm Lieutenant Hammer.  Soldier-class automaton.  Yeah, look at these babies, this is what I'm talking about."  The automaton proudly flexed its metal arms.
"Can we open those boxes?"  "Absolutely not!  That's my pay!"
"You get paid?"  "Of course I get paid.  Eventually, I serve long enough, I became a free citizen.  Probably should've happened by now, after three thousand years."
"What are you doing here?"  "I'm guarding the Anomalous Subsurface Environment.  Stupid name for a big dark pit, isn't it?  Orders are that nothing comes up."
"What are you guarding it from?"  "Oh, little fleshy things like you.  A few blasts of my plasma cannons and they run off though."
"If we go down, can we come up or will you shoot us?"  "Oh.  I suppose I can let you come back up."
"Will you come down with us?"  "Absolutely not!  I've got orders!  Until they're rescinded, I stay right here."
"What's to the north?"  "More of those junked-up automatons, all stuck together.  Surprised you made it here alive if you came through there."
"What's to the south?"  "The Anomalous Subsurface Environment."

At this point, the party decided that they should head back to town to resupply before heading down into the Anomalous Subsurface Environment.  On the way back, tragedy struck.  The party ran into a flock of five stirges, who swept down to feed upon the five members of the party.  The henchmen, in their pitiful padded armor, were quickly sucked dry by the stirges.  Rollo and Too defeated the stirges that attacked them, and the rest of the flock, satiated and not wanting to meet the fate of their fellows, flew away.

Rollo and Too made it back to the village of Stinkborough with further incident.


Unguarded Treasure

I'm scrambling to finish keying Level 1 before tomorrow night's session.  So this post will be brief.  Here's one of the big payoff rooms in the first level, if the players can find it.  And if they can figure out that this stuff is worth carting out.  And if they can hire the moving company it will take to get it all back to town.  They've walked by a lot of treasure so far without finding it or realizing it was worth anything.

147. Secret Conference Room
This room has a large, ornately carved mahogany table, worth 500 gp.  It is surrounded by 8 clawfoot mahogany chairs, with deteriorated leather padding, worth 50 gp each.  On top of the table is an empty crystal decanter, worth 100 gp, and four crystal ashtrays worth 50 gp each.

There is a cabinet along the northwest wall.  It contains 7 bottles of ancient wine, turned to worthless vinegar after so many passing millennia.  It also has an opaque black bottle labeled “Water from Fountain, Level 3, Preserved”, that will act as a potion of healing.  The cabinet is also made of ornately carved mahogany, and is worth 250 gp.

Along the southwest wall is a mahogany roll-top desk, worth 350 gp.  Within the desk is a scroll inscribed with the magic-user spell sleep, and a brilliantly reflective protonium-metal dagger (treat as dagger +1, and it will detect as magic).

The secret door to the east is not secret from this side, of course.  It may be opened using large stainless steel handles mounted into the stone door.


Baiting the Trap

In my last post, I complained a bit how the Tower of the Stargazer's traps punished inquisitiveness.  It stands to reason that I should present an alternative rather than just grumble bitterly and shake my fist.

For "normal" trapped areas, I like to leave clues that something out of the ordinary is going on, so players are on their guard.  Then, their inquisitiveness will lead to figuring out the trap, or triggering it in such a way that they think it was their fault, not mine, that the trap went off.  I showed one of these in this post:  First Trap of the First Level

My favorite trap, however, is when it is combined with a treasure.  When that happens, I almost invariably use the treasure as bait, or as an integral part of the trap.  I make it absolutely obvious that something is up - it's not a bunch of gold carefully hidden, and, haha! it's coated with poison!  Rather, it's right out in the open, exactly where it shouldn't be, daring the adventurers to figure out what the catch is.  Because there's always a catch.  And thus, I present...

126. Bejeweled Bung
In the center of this room is an elongated dome, 4’ high, resembling a beehive.  Plunged into the top of the dome is a golden spike, with a ruby attached.

The beehive is hollow, and filled with poison gas.  If the spike is removed, the gas will be released into the room.  The person who released the gas must save vs. poison or die.  Others in the room have 1 round to immediately leave, or they too must save vs. poison or die.  If someone successfully saves, but remains in the gas, they will have to make another save every round they remain in the poison.

If the door is not shut after the gas is released, it will spread into room 125 as well.  It will take 1d6 days for the gas to dissipate, due to the lack of ventilation.  Leaving both the door between 125 and 126, and the door between 125 and 130, open will cause the gas to dissipate much more rapidly, in only 2d6 turns.

The ruby may be safely pried off the spike without causing the gas to be released, should the players try that.

The golden spike is worth 200 gp, and the ruby an additional 400 gp.


LotFP: Weird Fantasy RPG

Today, I had a couple of friends over and we tried out Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy RPG. The fellows rolled up 2 PC's each, 2 dwarves, a fighter, and a cleric, and off they went to the Tower of the Stargazer.

I'll give the session report momentarily (and it WILL HAVE SPOILERS so if you don't want to know how the Tower of the Stargazer runs, stop reading before you hit the session report).  Before that, some comments about the LotFP:WFRPG.

1. Physically, the rulebooks are little booklets with paper covers.  I don't believe they would survive continuous play very well.  The print is very small as well, which makes it annoying to read.  There's no index either.  The physical presentation would be greatly enhanced by a single 8 1/2" by 11" hardcover book with larger print, and by the addition of an index.  It also has tiny dice and a tiny pencil.  My box set was missing the promised sheets of graph paper, but somehow I'll get by without that.

2. The cover artwork is astoundingly cool.  I like that the female fighter is in some sort of full-dress-coat leather armor, rather than a chainmail bikini.  Or even worse than the chainmail bikini, a set of dungeonpunk armor.  She's stylin' and practical.  The Type V demon is topless, but tastefully topless.  If a hideous snake monster can be tasteful, that is.  It's pretty uncontroversial, although I expect that for any serious attempt at retail penetration, the hair will have to be modified to drape over her chest (just my guess of course, I'm not in the game publishing biz so I could be completely wrong, and maybe the author isn't going for retail penetration anyhow).  Other art is OK, but it's clear where the big art budget went.

3. The tutorial is silly-long, for a product that is pretty much guaranteed to be picked up only by people who've already played D&D.

4. There was only a little bit of combat this afternoon, so we didn't explore the various new combat mechanics (parry, etc).  Nobody rolled a specialist (thief) either, but the skill system for them is really really well done, it fits right into the game seamlessly, and doesn't feel tacked-on like other skill systems.  It's ascending AC, too, if that's something you care about.  I like it better than descending AC, personally.

5. There's no bestiary.  The author has a section where he encourages everyone to make up their own unique monsters, and about substituting humans in for humanoids in published adventures.  I'm not a fan of that approach, as the monsters are part of what makes these games fun.  Every game has a bestiary for a reason, because they are fun.  Clipping out fun for ideological reasons doesn't seem like a good idea.  In the event a new DM picks up the game, he's also going to be left without any model monsters to emulate.

6. The character sheets available on the web site are formatted for A4, which I was afraid would prevent me from using them.  They printed fine on regular paper when I selected "fit to paper size" though, so all was well there.


7. The intro adventure is very punishing for inquisitive players.  If you investigate anything in the tower too deeply, it turns around and bites you.  Literally in many cases.  I don't have a problem with the front door, it sets the tone, and you get a save, but many of the inquisitive actions you do in the tower can get you killed, with no warning beforehand.  It encourages players to never touch anything, which isn't really how I like to run things.  NOTE - I haven't read the Weird World intro adventure yet, that may have a different tone.  Everything else in the boxed set, I've gone through.  Also note, my players were decidedly un-inquisitive in this session, and missed a lot of the death traps.

8. The rulebooks are very nihilistic in tone, but the intro adventure seemed to be a more traditional D&D dungeon-crawl feel.  The sample gameplay session in the tutorial was also very D&D-esque.  So the nihilism isn't an inherent part of the gameplay, at least as far as the Tower of the Stargazer went. Probably a good thing, it's hard to be nihilistic when you're stuffing your face full of pizza.

Overall, it played just like a D&D session.  So what you get buying the boxed set, is a clone with some interesting features, that I'm sure are discussed elsewhere better than I'm discussing here.  You get ascending AC, a really nice skill system for thieves, some tweaks to combat (parries, etc), and fighters being the only class who improves in attacks as they level (which really makes you wonder what the point of a dwarf or halfling is, but it's a very humanocentric game, so I suspect they are intentionally being made less desirable).  You also get the nihilistic weird-fantasy style that the author advocates.  He is a very good writer, so the rules are entertaining to read.  So in a nutshell, it's a cleaned-up rule system, deviating in many points from a standard D&D clone, plus some attitude in the rules.  It'd be more of a win if the physical presentation was better, as it stands I expect regular play would destroy the rulebooks in short order.

And now, the session recap.  MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW.

(by the way, please excuse the writing style on these recaps, I'm basically just doing speed-typing here to dump the whole thing out before I forget what happened, I know I'm mixing tenses, being repetitive, etc)

Our intrepid party, consisting of dwarf Rollo, fighter George, cleric Shippy, and dwarf Groo, are brought to the base of a mysterious tower by the Adventure Railroad.  The tower is 80' tall, with a dome at the top, ringed by metal spikes, and completely windowless.  The area around the tower in a 50' radius is completely turned to ash.  At the edge of this circle of devastation stand four massive metal spikes, 40' tall.  Lightning continually hammers down on these metal spikes, and occasionally on to the ground around the tower.  The party considers heading back towards the Adventure Railroad to find a less scary wizard's tower to assault, but it appears the train has already left the station.  With nothing else left to do, George approaches the entrance.

The tower entrance is a massive pair of doors, each with a serpent-shaped handle and a door knocker.  George uses the knocker, and the doors silently swing inwards.  He beckons the rest of the rest of the party forwards, and they enter the tower.  They explore the tower's first floor, finding a trap door under a large pile of fake crates, and four bottles of wine.  Deciding that they want to stick to the tower, which they know is only 60' wide, and thus an easier mapping chore, they head upstairs to the second level and ignore the trap door.

On the second level, they see another set of stairs leading up to the third floor, trickling blood down the steps.  Before investigating the blood, they search the third floor, finding a diary of a servant who ran from his insane wizard master, and a key.  They then head upstairs, following the blood, and find that it comes from a massive iron door at the top of the stairs.  The blood is leaking from the keyhole.  The key they have doesn't fit, so they head back downstairs to the trap door.

Heading down, they find themselves in a store room full of crates with whimsical labels such as "The shoulder blade of a soldier who loved God."  Opening the crates, they find exactly what the labels indicated - various bones.

They headed into the next room, and found a laboratory with several small dead animals with sewn-up wounds, and a human cadaver sewn up with gold thread.  George yanked out the gold thread, and was shocked to find the corpse's intestines leap up to strangle him.  After a short fight, the party subdued the innards, and they continued exploring the room.  They found a microscope, a box of slides with blood samples, and several vials of a red substance.  They ignored those, and George investigated a hall full of mirrors.  The mirror at the end of the hall blazed with a brilliant light, and poor George was singed by the power of it.

Giving up on all that, the party headed south to a corridor full of cells.  Corpses immediately leaped up in the cells, floating a few inches above the floor, and somehow floated through the bars towards George.  George stood in the doorway and gave his all, sending many corpses back to their graves, but the last floating corpse tore his throat out.  The rest of the party slew the remaining corpse, and then lit the whole pile of them (and George) on fire.  After the fire died down, they explored the rest of the cells, finding a skeleton with 15 arms and 4 spines, and a corpse that when disturbed spat out a leech, that the party quickly smashed.

They then fooled with a strange shaft in the eastern side of the tower.  It had a dial that could be pointed at various numbers.  They pointed it to the number 1, and a disc floated down in front of them, to the bottom of the shaft below them.  Moving the dial to 2, the disc floated to floor level.  They stepped on to the disc (over two trips, as the disc was too small for all of them), and moved the dial to 1 and floated down to the bottom of the shaft.

In this area, they found a room with 4 levers, and many blue force-fields barring the way towards 10 treasure chests.  They found that objects touching the force fields would explode.  After fooling with the levers, they gave themselves some electric shocks, but were otherwise unable to cause any force fields to disappear.  They decided to rest for a few days in the relative safety of this room, and recover from their wounds.

Returning to the elevator, they set the dial to 3 and rode up into another level of the tower.  Opening the door to this level, they found themselves on the other side of the bleeding-iron-door.

A wizard trapped in a circle of salt asked for assistance, suggesting that he'd give the party 100gp if they erased the salt circle, so he could escape.  He explained it was a tragic accident that left him trapped.  The party asked him how long he'd been trapped there, and the wizard exploded in rage, threatening to kill them all if they didn't break the circle immediately.  The party taunted him for a while, then looted the room while the wizard watched impotently, taking a key from the door, a large crystal, as big as a man's head, and a book from the wizard's desk.

Heading up the elevator to the next level, they found a freezer room, with a cold metal box full of blood samples.  The party decided to just close the box and move on.  Next, they found a library, full of ancient books, that needed to be handled extremely carefully, with gloves, tongs, and special lighting.  Groo went through the library, tossing every single book to the floor, gleefully watching them disintegrate under his ungentle care.

As the wound their way through this level of the tower, they ended up in a room where a ghostly figure materialized, asking if anyone wanted to gamble their soul in a game of skill and chance, to remove a force field preventing the party from entering the next room.  The cleric Shippy agreed immediately, and a fierce game of checkers ensued.  Shippy prevailed, and kept his soul, and the force field disappeared.  This led to another library, where Groo started trashing all the books again, although these books were newer and didn't disintegrate on contact.

Taking the elevator to the next level, the party found themselves in a room with a retracted telescope, bins of charcoal and black powder, a control panel, a book on a pedestal, and a fish pool.  Rollo took the book and shoved it in his pack, and then tried feeding rations to the fish in the pool.  He was shocked to see the crumbled rations fizz and hiss as they hit the pool of water.  Shippy started fooling around with the control panel, and found a way to open the dome at the top of the tower.  He then closed, hit another lever, and the telescope started extending.  As it became clear it was going to hit the closed tower roof, he hit the lever to open the roof, but it was too late - the telescape smashed against the roof, and chunks of glass and metal fell to the ground, slicing clean through Shippy's skull.

They returned to the bottommost level of the tower to fool with the levers some more, but had no luck making the force fields disappear.  They decided to take the loot gathered so far, declare victory, and go home.


Morlock Surprise

I am keying the dungeon in two passes.  First pass,  I go through the map and mark each room as X (trap), M (monster), T (treasure), S (special), or a combination of those.  As I do that for each room, I write a one-liner describing what should go there.  Most of the rooms are pretty easy to populate, but after a while my brain goes numb, and I just write "special here, figure out later".

During the second pass, I'm going through each room and expanding the description to more clearly state what I was thinking (it's very easy for me to forget details in the middle of a session), and to come up with ideas for those "figure out later" areas.

This particular pair of rooms was a "T" and an "M".  The "T" got this one-liner:  "Net trap, rings bells when triggered, morlocks in room 137 attack."  I thought it was pretty lame while I was writing it down, but after fleshing it out a bit, this could easily be a TPK (total party kill, for those not familiar with the acronym).  Players beware...

136. Present from the Morlocks
The floor of this room is covered with debris (stone, wood, and bits of dried fungus). The far southern wall is covered with some kind of fungus, running from floor to ceiling.

Suspended from the ceiling is a large net of leather, dyed gray like the stone ceiling above.  It has several bits of rusty metal tied to it.

There is a tripwire buried under carefully placed bits of loose debris in the center of the room.  It runs down to the southern wall and up, under the fungus, to the net.  If tripped by a player crossing the room, or poking around in the debris with a pole, the net will drop, trapping all players in the northern 30’ by 30’ section of the room.  A save vs. paralyzation will allow players who are near the exits or southern end of the room to escape the net.  Other players are automatically caught.

The metal tied to the nets will make quite a racket as it falls, alerting the morlocks in room 137, who will come to see if they have captured the delicious goblin-flesh they have been hunting for.  They aren’t averse to a bit of human, of course.  It will take one round for the morlocks to arrive.

It will take 8 points of damage from an edged weapon to cut a player free from the net (no roll to hit needed).  Each player caught will need to be freed individually.  A player caught in the net may try to cut himself free, but cannot effectively attack or defend against the morlocks (and will thus have no Dexterity bonus to AC while trapped).

If players explicitly look at the ceiling, they will see the net.  Otherwise, they have only a 1 in 6 chance (roll once for the entire party).  The tripwire running up the southern wall has been deliberately buried under fungus placed here by the morlocks, and is not normally detectable.

137. Morlock Hunting Party
6 morlocks (AC 8, HD 1, hp 5 each, #AT 1, D 1-6, MV (40’), Save F1, ML 9) are here, waiting for the trap in room 136 to be triggered.


S is for Special

The Moldvay guidelines encourage a lot of "S" rooms on my map, which stands for Special.  And what is a special?  It's a weird encounter that isn't necessarily a trap, treasure, or monster, although it certainly could have those elements.  Dungeons are not "normal" environments, and trying to fill a megadungeon with things that make sense, makes for predictability, which makes for boredom.  Those "S" rooms are important.

Some of my "special" rooms are going to be deliberate reveals of information about the megadungeon.  These are to give players some goals.  Others are going to be ideas that I don't have fully fleshed out yet.  Player interactions will help determine the direction I take them.  Finally, some will just be plain weird and/or nonsensical.  The players can make of that what they will.  The only important guideline is that they should follow the level "theme" if it has one.  This is a grim-horror-themed level, so there won't be much whimsy here.

I've explained about the God's Eyes a bit in this post:  Orbital Gods.  I dropped a broken one into the gatehouse, that just whispered incomprehensibly and then was silent.  I think I'll drop in one that is in contact with a sinister entity.  This raises a few questions:  can this God's Eye contact other divine beings?  is the sinister entity a god, or a devil, or something else entirely?  can it be carted out of the dungeon?  This is one of my not-quite-fleshed-out-ideas, so I'll see what the players do with it, and what inspiration strikes during play.

118. God’s Eye
This God’s Eye is a large black metal circle, 10’ in diameter, with an intact imaging screen.  When the players first enter the room, the God’s Eye will be filled with the image of a giant, slit-pupiled eye, moving about, watching the party.  The pupil is black, and the rest of the eye is a deep purple.

Anyone touching the God’s Eye must save vs. magic or be forced to attack the party for 1d3 rounds.

On subsequent visits to this room, the God’s Eye will only show the slit-pupiled eye on a roll of 1-2 on a d6.  There is no ill effect from touching the God’s Eye while the slit-pupiled eye is not present.


First Trap of the First Level

So I've got 16 traps to make in the first level.  I prefer to have memorable and interesting traps, but it's a pain to come up with so many.  No way to finish except by starting, so here's trap #1.

101. Eyeful of Jellies
The 10’ by 10’ square area in the center of this room has an intricate carving of a face with a gaping mouth and empty eye sockets on each side.  The floor around this central area is covered with a dozen skeletons.

The eye sockets are recessed, and have voids above them.  In each right eye socket is a small lever.  Should anything less than all four levers be pulled simultaneously, eight corpses jellies (AC 9, HD 1+2, hp 6, #AT 1, D 1-6, Save F 1, ML 12) will be released, one from each eye socket.  Every player with their hands on a lever when this occurs will be subject to an attack from a corpse jelly as it is released.  The players will be surprised on a 1-4 on a d6.  The jellies will use the first round of combat to engulf the skeletons, if they are within reach when the jellies are released.

If all four levers are pulled simultaneously, the stone behind each of the mouths will lift away, allowing the players to crawl through into room 102.

102. Tarnished Bones

This room contains a skeleton made of tarnished silver.  The skeleton is worth 900 gp.



The goblins of this post-apocalyptic world are short, spindly, hairless, gray-skinned humanoids, with oversized heads, mere slits for noses and ears, mouths full of sharp pointy teeth, and massive black eyes.  In their natural state, they communicate in hisses and yelps, and are barely above the level of animals.  They wear rancid furs and random scraps of metal as armor, and wield whatever weapons they have been able to steal from their victims.

You may have noticed some similarity between the goblins and the demi-humans, particularly the elves.  Gray skin and black eyes are the major thread linking them, and the elves have even more goblinoid characteristics.  It's not a coincidence.

The goblins are but the servitors of the awful Hive Minds.  They are bestial on their own, but when a Hive Mind is present, it fills the goblins with its will, its desire, its hate for the natives of the terrible world it cannot escape.

The Hive Minds are gigantic, tentacled brains, residing in massive jars of briny, yellowish fluid.  They rely on their goblin slaves to interact with the outside world, always keeping their physical bodies well away from harm.  Hive Mind powers increase as they age.   A juvenile Hive Mind is only able to possess one or two goblins directly, and at short range, while only giving general mental orders to the others.  A mature Hive Mind is capable of much more, over greater distances, and its powers are capable of influencing, and even killing, humans.

The Hive Minds are jealous of the human use of magic.  They are incapable of using magic themselves, and consider it a dire threat.  They captured humans long ago, and put them through extensive breeding and hybridization programs with their goblin servants, to try and create a soldier-slave capable of using this magic for their own ends.  Their failures were the dwarves and halflings, but with elves they succeeded.  The human will was too strong to reliably control, however, and the Hive Minds eventually terminated their experiment, burning the test subjects alive.  A few managed to escape, and established the demi-human races in the apocalyptic wastelands of Earth.

The original Hive Minds on Earth arrived from other worlds in extra-dimensional craft that have been bound to the planet by inexplicable aetheric influences.  No new Hive Mind has arrived in many thousands of years, and most of those remaining are the spore-bred descendants of the originals.  Their technology is lost to them, as it cannot be replicated without extensive manufacturing facilities and materials not to be found on Earth.

There you have it, goblin history in a nutshell, and the horrible secrets of the demi-humans are revealed.  I just love brains-in-jars.  It adds some Atomic Age cinema flavoring to the campaign.  I'll introduce the Hive Minds at some point after the first level, they're a bit too gonzo to fit in with the horror theme of the first level.


Keying Level 1

So I've got 100 rooms to key for the dungeon.  Following the distribution in the back of the Moldvay Basic rules, that breaks out as follows:

1/6 monster w/ treasure = 16-17 rooms
1/6 monster, no treasure = 16-17 rooms
1/18 trap with treasure = 5-6 rooms
1/9 trap, no treasure = 11 rooms
1/6 special = 16-17 rooms
1/18 unguarded treasure = 5-6 rooms
5/18 empty = 28 rooms

That's 17 traps, and 17 specials.  That's where all the real work lies.  Sticking a bunch of monsters in a room is easy, it's the creative bits with traps and specials that's hard.

To help with that, I'm going to theme the level and use that to guide what's going to populate the "special" rooms.  For the traps, I'll be hitting the Dungeon Alphabet up for some ideas, and try to be creative.  I'll also try to make it a bit obvious where there are traps, so the players will have no one to blame but themselves when they fall into one.  Or when one falls onto them.

The theme will be "horror and suspense."  The gatehouse was definitely robot-gonzo, so I'll change up the mood a bit with the players being stalked through the dungeons by psychotic flesh-hungry freaks.  Screechmen, morlocks, and goblins, oh my.

The "specials" will largely be areas where the players can pick up some hints as to what this place is, and how deep it goes.  There are some big unsolved mysteries here, the first of which is why has the place been closed up for 3,000 years.  I don't know, of course, but I'll pose the question via some in-game event, and see what the players start coming up with.  And then I'll see how I can use their theories against them.  I mean, I'll see how I can use their theories to construct an enjoyable shared gaming experience.  That kills them.

Oh yeah, the goblins... more on those tomorrow.  Or maybe the day after.  I'm keeping the stats but badly mangling the monster behind them.  You'll just have to wait and see.


Customizable GM Screen, revisited

The D&D cartoon panel was too lame.  Zardoz + Conan = awesome.  The revised Savage Worlds customizable DM screen, for your viewing pleasure (click for larger version):


Screaming Freaks

My dungeon will be filled with screaming freaks.  The players will hear them coming.  The players will have nowhere to run.  They will fall from the ceiling, and they will feed.

No. Enc: 2d6 (5d8)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40')
  Climb:  60’ (20’)
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 1
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6
Save: F1
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: XX
XP: 10

These degenerate humanoids may have had human ancestors in the distant past, but they bear only slight resemblance in the current day.  They are pigmentless albinos, entirely eyeless, with massive pointed ears, mouths full of fangs, and claws on their hands and feet.  Both males and females may be encountered in a group, and both are equally vicious.  They do not wear clothing, and attack with their filthy claws.

The screechmen use echolocation to find their prey.  Rather than the quiet clicks of bats, the screechmen issue horrible screams at regular intervals.  It is thus virtually impossible to be surprised by a screechman.

On the flip side, these screams are letting the screechmen know about the party’s presence, so it is impossible to surprise a screaming screechman.  It is also incredibly hard to escape a screechman hunting party, as their screams allow them to “see” as far as 120’.

A silence spell will effectively blind a screechman, giving them a -4 penalty to hit.

These creatures can crawl on walls and ceilings at half their normal movement rate.

Screechmen do collect treasure in their lair, as they greatly enjoy hearing the clink of coin against coin.


Designing a monster: the Malignant Sphere

So here's my thought process as I came up with this particular monster.

Last week, I'm thinking, it would be cool to have a section of the megadungeon have gas spores. I never use gas spores. I'll put in dozens of them. Dozens will serenely float towards the players, waiting to pop and spread spore-y death.

Then I thought about it a bit more, and it occurred to me that my players would think I was an imbecile to put dozens of gas spores in. A conga line of beholders heading towards them. They'd probably think they really were beholders, given all the pep talks about dungeon deadliness I've had with them. And really, it is kind of a stupid idea. But now I'm focused on floating orbs, lots of floating orbs. Like balloons, or bubbles.

Yeah, I'll have evil bubbles that attack the characters. They won't look like beholders, so now it's cool. How threatening is a bubble though? They'll just bounce off the guy's head? How would that even hurt? I guess they'll be electrical. No, they'll absorb life force. Like negative energy or something. But I hate negative energy. Whatever, they damage people by touching them. But how hard can it be to avoid a bubble? It's a big round thing. Nobody would get hit by that.

I know, they'll have tentacles. No, then they won't be bubbles, they'll be tentacle things. I want a bubble. OK, if it's a bubble, it can probably change shapes. So it can whip out something to touch the players. Right, a whip of bubbly death.

And after this derailed train of thought, I present to you an utterly silly monster, the Malignant Sphere. I'm probably going to use them anyways. Speak up and let me know if it's too stupid though.

Malignant Sphere
No. Enc: 4d6
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 1d4 hit points
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d4
Save: F1
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: None
XP: 5

The malignant sphere appears to be a translucent, iridescent bubble, two feet in diameter. It moves by floating through the air, and attacks by extruding a thin tendril, that it stabs at its opponent. Contact with the sphere or its tendril causes 1d4 points of damage, as it absorbs its victim’s life force. The sphere is incapable of harming undead or constructs, only living creatures.

If the tendril is damaged, it will merely absorb the damaged tendril and slash out with a newly-extruded one.

The sphere is a hollow bubble, and when slain, will audibly pop, and drop to the ground as a thin puddle of iridescent slime.

A preferred tactic of the malignant sphere is to hover close to the ceiling near doorways, waiting to drop down on unsuspecting adventurers.

Requiem for a Henchman

Drunk Billy... will be missed

I'll post something a bit more serious later. I need to do some megadungeon keying first!


More about last night's session

Drunk Billy... will be missed.

It was a bad night for henchmen, but a great night for the party.  And wow, they just couldn't lose a reaction roll.  Monsters just love my players.

First, a little bit about my encounter design philosophy - when I put an encounter or trap together, I don't worry at all about how the players will defeat it.  I have no idea what they'll do.  Last night is a great example of that.  When faced with murderous crystal statues, they bartered dead henchmen for services.  It was chancy, especially with the +4 reaction modifiers the automatons have, but the dice favored them, and they handily defeated the trap.  I had no idea how they'd get that.  I didn't think they'd figure the riddle bit out, it wasn't an obvious riddle with an obvious answer, but I left the encounter in just to see what they'd do.

The first key thing to remember is that there are more of them than there are of you.  Whatever you put together, they're probably going to be able to figure a way around it.  The second key thing to remember, is when you are faced with something the rules don't cover, if the players are being clever, let them get away with stuff.  Make a roll if it's appropriate, but let the players know your estimation of the odds so they can make informed decisions, and then see what happens.  Arbitrary failure will cheese people off, when they think they're coming up with good ideas.

I had figured the session would start with the party trying to get out of the dungeon, as we had a mismatch between characters in the dungeon and players who showed up.  The party ended up exploring most of the gatehouse area before finding the way out, and I was getting nervous they'd find the way down to the first level and start hunting around for exits to the surface there.  Fortunately that didn't happen.  I didn't have any of the first level keyed, and while I'm able to improvise, for dungeon areas I really prefer to have things keyed advance.  For town and wilderness, I almost never key anything and just wing it, but dungeons, I like to have stuff plotted out.

I was pleased when one of the players, upon leaving the dungeon, said "Hey, we didn't explore it all, we can keep going back in for more treasure."  Yes, yes, you'll be going back in for the length of the campaign most likely...  as I've stated before, my players have no idea this is a megadungeon campaign.  I want to see if they find the dungeon compelling enough to keep revisiting on their own.  I imagine there will be occasional forays to other places, to shake things up a bit, but the dungeon will probably be a theme.

Another parting comment was that they have the impression they'll have to go to the big city to hire some more henchmen.  They're right, the small farming community of Chelmsfordshire is pretty much fresh out of willing louts, and getting quite full of angry widows and mothers.  The recent sales of loot are likely to attract unwanted interest as well.

So I've got a few tasks to do over the next 2 weeks:

a. Key the dungeon
b. Come up with some 1st level henchmen.  In particular, they may end up with an agent of the Church of Starry Wisdom, which has their own reasons for wanting to head down into the deep.  It'll all be driven by random tables though, so if the dice continue to favor the party, they'll only have the loyalist and stupidest henchmen in town.  I'm hoping for "sinister" though.
c. Come up with some wizard encounters.  Eventually they're going to run into a wilderness wandering monster, and some of those are going to be megalomaniacal wizards.  Plus, it'll be interesting to start name-dropping the wizards of the surrounding city-states, and rogue wizards of note, once the party reaches the city of Denethix
d. Make more monsters.  After 30 years, I'm tired of the same-old, same-old monsters.  I'm liking the morlocks in the Labyrinth Lord rules, there will be a nest of them, and I'll probably load up with a bit more dungeon vermin.  I need to come up with some interesting low-level critters that like to hoard treasure though.

This is all fairly achievable.  It only took 2 nights to key the 30-room dungeon, so it's about 6 nights of work to key the first level, if I work at the same pace.  The rest of the tasks to finish are all simple enough.  Nothing tonight though, I'm feeling a bit under the weather, and I want to read the Lamentation of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy RPG rules and see what the fuss is about.

Session recap, 10/6/2010

Here's the recap email I just sent for tonight's session:


Here's the recap of events for the Oct 6th session:

As Too, P.W., and the 3 surviving henchmen watched, the 5 bone-and-metal constructs that had accompanied them into the cylindrical room fell upon the corpses of elf Randy and henchman Zorno.  They began chopping the corpses to pieces, and cutting the meat away to get at the bones, tussling with each other to get the best femurs.

The party moved east, leaving the bone/metal monsters behind.  They found a room with two doors leading out, a recessed area in the wall with a red wire and a blue wire sticking out, and a metal bin in the center of the room, filled with many wires

The halfling P.W. went back west to gather see what had happened, and found that the constructs were gone, leaving a pair of filleted corpses and some of Randy's equipment behind.  He gathered up the useful bits of Randy's stuff and returned to the others.

P.W. then ordered Drunk Billy to open one of the doors, at which point Drunk Billy and the other henchmen told them to stick it, and that they were getting out of there.  The three henchmen marched off west back towards the cylindrical room, where nothing remained except the filleted corpses of Randy and Zorno.  P.W. and Too followed them at a safe distance into the cylindrical room, where the henchmen headed south to the room with the cage.  They heard the henchmen exclaim "What the..." in surprise, and then voices shouting "Parts! Parts!".  The two PC's decided to leave the henchmen to their fate, and climbed up a ladder to the upper catwalk, and then headed west through the door, hoping to find a way out of the dungeon.

They entered a small room with a few doors leading out, and many cabinets attached to the west wall.  As they entered, the dust at their feet rose up into humanoid shapes, filled with sparkling light.  Deciding discretion is the better part of valor, P.W. and Too slammed the door shut and retreated back through the cylindrical room, to the room with the bin of wires.

From there, they headed deeper into the dungeon, and came upon a seemingly empty room.  When they entered, a transparent man in clothing of ancient design appeared, facing away from them, and said the following:  "Welcome, visitors and employees, to the Subsurface Research Facility!  As you prepare to enter the Subsurface Environment, remember to follow your Expedition Checklist, and listen to the instructions of your guide at all times.  We have been accident free for three thousand, seven hundred, twenty nine years, 11 months, and 2 days.  A company record!  Don’t be the team to break it!"  He then disappeared.  According to the party's map, the corridor out of this room would probably lead back to the bone-and-metal constructs, and they decided to retreat back into some other unexplored passages rather than face the constructs again, worrying that they might want to take their bones.

Going even deeper, the pair came into a room with a large jewelled metal frame on the wall, with bits of jagged broken plastic material sticking out of it.  When P.W. began prying the jewels from the frame, it made a strange whispering, but he couldn't make out what it was saying.  He then continued prying the gems out.

Heading south from there, they came upon a room with a row of lockers on the east side.  In the rotting cloth at the bottom of the lockers, they managed to collect 500 s.p.

In the next room, they came across 10 more of the bone-and-metal constructs.  These constructs stared at the party warily, shouting "Humans!  Humans!".  The constructs didn't appear hostile, so they questioned them, about what was through the door to the west, and the constructs answered "Nothing!".  When asked what was to the north, the direction the party had come from, the constructs became agitated and started shouting "Danger! Danger!"  With no more questions, the pair headed west.

At the end of a corridor they found a strange bank-vault-like door, but the cylindrical opening mechanism was missing a bar to turn it.  Too used his sword, and they opened the vault.  It led into a room with many wooden tables, with many empty glass containers on those tables.  In the center of the room, on the floor, was a metal disk, and above it floated an 8 foot wide sphere of brilliant bluish-white light.

They experimented with tossing things through.  First Too grabbed a glass container off a table (and the table collapsed into dust as Too removed it, dropping the remaining containers to the floor where they shatterd), and threw it through the light.  Nothing happened to the container, except shattering as it hit the floor.  Then they retreated to a door on the south end of the room and hurled a flask of oil through the light.  It burst into flames as it went through.

The experiment concluded, the party continued through that door to the south, and after heading through another empty room, found they had arrived again at the set of stairs leading up to the first room of the dungeon.  They quickly headed up and back to town, selling their hard-earned loot.

P.W. went on his merry way for the time being, and Too met up with Rollo Jr. and the replacement priest that had been sent from Dethethix, Gutboy Barrellhouse, a worshipper of Thor.  After a brief discussion, they decided that they should really be looking for some easy money in the dungeon on top of Mount Rendon.  They hired and equipped a pair of henchmen from the local louts, Leo and Twonk.  Gutboy also purchased a guard dog, that he named Rufus.

They returned to the dungeon at the top of Mount Rendon, and head northeast through the door marked "Emergency Generator Core".  In here, they found another octagonal room, with a door to the north marked "Emergency Generator Core", and a door to the east marked "Authorized Personnel Only."  They opened the door, and saw a 5' wide corridor that ended at a closed door, some 50' away.  They had Leo go first, followed by Twonk, followed by the rest of the party.  At the halfway point, Leo stepped on a pressure plate, and behind him a pit trap opened, dropping Twonk 20' into an iron cage, suspended from the ceiling of the room below.  Twonk was clearly dead, his neck bent at an unnatural angle.  As the party stared at his body, a group of metal-and-bone constructs entered the room below and pointed upwards, shouting "Parts! Parts!"

The party made their way over the pit to the door at the far end and tried opening it, but the door was firmly shut.  They gave up on that, and returned to the octagonal room and headed north.  There, they found they had made their way to the room with the strange sparkling dust-creatures and the cabinets.   They decided to fight the dust-creatures, and with the help of Rufus made short work of them.  Rollo Jr. was wounded, but Gutboy's magic quickly healed him.

A search of the cabinets revealed many ancient papers within, but the words written thereon didn't make any sense, so they left the papers behind.

The party made their way back through the cylindrical room, the room with the wire bin, and headed in a different direction, finding a room that was dark inside.  Rollo Jr. entered and scouted the room using his infravision.  He found a dais with a chest upon it, and two poles with rings at the ends on either side of the chest.  In the corners of the room were two crystal statues, and the pedestals they stood on were inscribed with "We Dwell" and "In Darkness" respectively.  He lit a torch and the rest of the party entered.  Rollo Jr. was able to move the poles so they pointed at the statues, and then opened the chest.  Within he saw a gold bar, with the words "Simulated Subsurface Treasure" written on it.  As the party stared in confusion at the gold bar, the statues came to life and proceeded to hack Leo into pieces.  The survivors ran out of the room in terror, but stopped when they realized there was no pursuit.  Rollo looked back inside the room, and saw that it had been restored to its original state.

The party then went and got Leo's remains, and headed south to the room with 10 bone-and-metal constructs.  Gutboy offered the constructs a deal:  parts for their assistance in defeating the crystal statues.  The constructs agreed, and Rollo brought Leo's body in.  The constructs fell upon it, slashing the body to pieces, and replacing their old, ancient bones with these new fresh ones.  One of the constructs peeled the flesh off poor Leo's skull, and placed it over the remains of its metallic head.

With this gruesome mob in tow, the party returned to the darkened chamber, positioned five automatons around each statue, hung some of Leo's belongings from each pole, pointed the poles at the statues, and opened the chest.  The statues came to life, and in the battle that ensued, both statues and four constructs were destroyed.  The constructs then began tearing apart their fallen comrades for parts.

Rollo and Gutboy had a discussion about the purpose of the rooms they had found.  Gutboy thought the darkened room may have been some sort of museum, with its "Simulated Subsurface Treasure".  Rollo thought the room with the sphere of light must have been the emergency generator core that the signs mentioned.

The party then decided that it was time to head back to town, so they returned and sold the latest batch of loot.  As it turns out, the "Simulated Subsurface Treasure" was a genuine gold bar, worth 600 gp.


Rumors and a Name for the Megadungeon

In module B2 (among others), a handy-dandy list of rumors is presented, so the players can get some leads to follow when they go off adventuring.  This is a little trickier given the background I've come up with for my megadungeon.  Since it hasn't been accessible for the past 3,000 years, there's no rumors to be had (well, there is one rumor that the Church of Starry Wisdom has been desperately clinging to, but they won't be sharing it with the party).

I'm going to initially handle this problem by letting the players find fragments of research and exploration notes from the original megacorporation foray into the dungeon.  The research notes will be very brief, as I don't plan to sit at the table and orate a pages-long monograph on megadungeon exploration.  I'm planning a sentence of background, to let the players in on some of the megadungeon history, and a sentence of rumor, to let them know what might be found in the deeper levels.  This will give them some goals, so they aren't feeling completely aimless as they wander around.  It will also let them know that getting to the deeper levels may be interesting, as I haven't told them that this is a megadungeon.  That's something they are going to have to find out on their own.

An example would be, "...authorized construction of an on-site subsurface lab.  They're also interested in getting more samples from the pool in B-level, after the test subjects' tumors..."

As the players go deeper, time will pass, and wizards, surface monsters, rival adventuring parties, and the city guard from the "friendly" city-state of Denethix will begin exploring the megadungeon through its alternate entrances.  At that point, I'll have a plausible source for a random-rumors table, and I'll start dropping hints true and false at the local taverns.

The megacorporation responsible for the construction of the gatehouse, and the subsequent sealing off of the megadungeon, named the place the "Anomalous Subsurface Environment."  It's a fairly bland name, for a place that defied known physical laws and promised untold riches to its explorers.

Probably the "Jackpot we're all rich if we don't die horribly Caves" name was already taken. JWARIWDDHC isn't quite as nice an acronym as ASE, either.

Augh! Get it off me!

So looking at the entries I did for the giant polychaete worm and the giant earwig, it's clear I have serious issues with creepy-crawlies clinging to people.  I'm opposed, in case it needs clarification.  Unless it's clinging to a henchman, those guys have it coming.

The polychaete worm attack is very similar to the earwig's cling-attack.  Fortunately, they are very far apart in levels, so the players will have plenty of time to forget the horror of carnivorous earwigs before the worm appears.  I do think I will add some more abilities to the polychaete worm though.  It's spines are loaded with neurotoxins, so I'll have anything going hand-to-hand with it, or using a bite attack, have to save vs. paralyzation on a successful hit.  That's not really going to affect the PC's, who will be using weapons, but if they've picked up any creature-buddies by that time, it may come into play.


Polychaete worm, giant

Probably everyone has read the story of this hideous thing, the giant polychaete worm that popped up in an aquarium:  Barry the giant sea worm.  In any case, it's going to be making an appearance at some point.  The photos of it filled me with such utter revulsion (childhood memories of being bitten by his littler cousins while I tried to hook them for use as fishing bait), that I'm inspired to make a mid-level monster from it.

And yeah, it's Chaotic.  When you look that ugly, you've picked sides.

Worm, polychaete, giant
No. Enc: 1d6
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 90' (30')
  Swim:  150' (50')
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 5
Attacks: 1
Damage: 2d6
Save: F5
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: VII
XP: 350

The giant polychaete worm is one of the most feared creatures in the sea.  In appearance, it is as revolting a specimen of worm as can be imagined, with thousands of legs running down the sides of its 20' long body, each leg tipped with a single sharp claw.  The head of the worm has a nasty set of mandibles, designed not just to bite meat off, but to tear through the flesh of its prey.

Once the worm has successfully bitten an opponent, it will hang on and continue chewing through its victim for each round thereafter, automatically doing another 2d6 damage each round.  The victim has a +2 bonus to hit the worm while it is gnawing away at his chest, seeking out his still-beating heart for a mid-afternoon snack.  It's hard to miss the 20' long worm hanging off your body, after all.  After damage is applied each round, the victim may attempt a save vs. petrification to see if he can shake off the worm.

The giant polychaete worm requires a moist environment to live, but can leave the water for a few hours at a time with no ill effects.  These creatures are typically found in the ocean, but are occasionally also found in underground pools and lakes, feeding on dungeon inhabitants.  It is particularly vulnerable to fire, taking double damage from fire-based attacks.

Whatever treasure the worm has will be incidentals that it has consumed along with its victims, and adventurers will have to cut into its gut to retrieve the loot.  This is time consuming, as it has a hard exoskeleton, and the gut extends the length of the creature's body.


Level 1 map

I finished the first draft of the map for level 1 of the megadungeon.

Click the image to get the larger version that you can actually kind-of-read.


Corpse Jelly

No, it's not a condiment, it's a monster.  Although if there's a market for corpse jelly, let me know, because I've got to do something with all these bodies.

I've switched to Labyrinth Lord style stat blocks for my monster posts.  The only substantive change is the "hoard class", which uses a roman numeral, as opposed to the "treasure type".

Corpse Jelly
No. Enc: 1d4
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 10' (3')
  On Skeleton:  90' (30')
Armor Class: 9 (or as armor)
Hit Dice:1+2
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6 + see below
Save: F 1
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: VI
XP: 21

This clear jelly, in its natural state, will attack as other jellies and oozes, by flowing along the ground and attempting to engulf victims.  Once it has engulfed a victim and digested its flesh, it uses the victim's skeletal structure to move around more quickly.  Being able to hold a skeleton together and cause it to walk is the creature's strength and its weakness, as the corpse jelly cannot absorb blows as well as more traditional jellies and oozes (thus its low hit dice).

A corpse jelly will attempt to kill all creatures it meets.  It will not stop to feed on a corpse until all creatures around are dead.  Once it begins feeding, it will abandon the old skeleton and engulf the new corpse.

When the corpse jelly strikes, it leaves a smear of itself on the victim.  If the victim dies within the next 24 hours (and isn't consumed by the parent corpse jelly), this smear will itself consume the body and become a new corpse jelly.  A corpse jelly that kills multiple victims will only consume one, leaving the rest to its spawn.  It takes 48 hours for a new corpse jelly to grow and consume its host.  The corpse jelly smears cause no damage to living hosts, and will die off within a day.

The corpse jelly replaces its victim's flesh as it consumes it.  The jelly will thus be wearing any armor the victim had when he died.  The jelly will remove gloves so its hands are free to strike.  Its touch is both acidic and paralyzing.  If a victim fails to save, he will be paralyzed for 1d4 rounds.

When reduced to 1 or 2 hit points, the jelly's skeleton will be damaged beyond use, and it will flow off the skeleton to attack as a normal jelly (with reduced movement rate).  A skeleton-less jelly that encounters an undamaged skeleton will spend 1 round to engulf the skeleton, healing itself 1d4 hit points in the process, if damaged.