Customizable GM screen

The Savage Worlds Customizable GM Screen is just awesome. I spent a few hours transcribing tables into Microsoft Word, printed three sheets of paper out with everything I need to look up quickly during the game, and I've got a nice little Labyrinth Lord screen. Then I searched the web for Thundarr video captures, D&D cartoon video captures, and various scans of module & rulebook art, so I'd have something to show on the outside. It's very very very nerdy, I'm sure I'll get some grief from the players next Wednesday.

I might replace the D&D cartoon panel with more module & rulebook scans, it's nowhere near as evocative as a nice bit of Erol Otus art.

You can click on the pictures to see larger versions.

Yet more new stuff arrived

Bunch of new stuff arrived in the past few days.  This pretty much empties my wallet, no more game purchases this year. I was curious to see somebody else's megadungeon, which is why I bought Stonehell. Haven't done more than flip through the pages so far, it's an interesting approach to a published dungeon - there's a bunch of thematic content about a level, and then the actual room keys are very very brief. Anyhow this isn't a review blog, so that's probably the last you'll here from me on the subject in this blog - I'm just listing these as they are materials I'm using for inspiration. Plus, look at the pretty pictures! Blogs need pretty pictures!

Labyrinth Lord hardcover

Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion hardcover (just for the monsters & spells, sticking to straight LL for the rest of the rules)

Stonehell Dungeon

Fight On! #9

Savage Worlds Customizable GM Screen


A trap avoided...

The players avoided this trap, by just peeking into the room and deciding it was boring.  So no green slime showers, and no out-of-the-box ideas on fun things they could do with a shower that shoots green slime.  Not that it was ever really likely that they would decide to take a shower.  One design principle that I'm sticking to (probably foolishly) is to not re-use unencountered traps & other special features later on in the dungeon.  Once I've stuck it in a room, I'm leaving it there - if it is never seen, so be it.  I want to put some creative pressure on myself with this campaign.

4. Showers
This area contains showers and toilets.  There are cracked tiles on the floor (with the same white material as the walls underneath the tiles), but the porcelain toilet bowls and protonium-metal showerheads and faucets are still intact.  There are some holes in the wall where sinks and counters used to be, but those are gone.  If investigated, the toilet bowls will be found to contain a green slime (AC always hit, HD 2*, hp 13, #AT 1, D dissolve, MV (1’), Save F 1, ML 12).  The same slime is living in the protonium-metal pipes.  It cannot surge upwards from the toilet bowls, but if the showers are turned on, it will spray down on whoever has turned the faucet.


Who Built the Megadungeon

Some background on who built this megadungeon.  Well, I haven't decided yet.  But I do know who built the gatehouse, not that the players will likely ever piece the information together.  Megadungeons are mysterious places, that through their very nature attract dangerous monsters, devious traps, and untold riches.  They are more than just holes in the ground - should you somehow clear a megadungeon from top to bottom of all creatures, loot all its treasure, disarm all its traps, they would slowly reappear.  As nature abhors a vacuum, so it also abhors an empty megadungeon.

In the ancient, forgotten past, this megadungeon and its supernatural resources were discovered, and given the nature of the times, exploited by a megacorporation.  The gatehouse portion of the first level was excavated by the megacorporation, to provide a safe haven for the scientists and explorers that it was sending into the depths.  The men who ran that company had the insight to realize that what they found was more than just bits of treasure guarded by hideous monsters, but a place ruled by physical laws subtly different than those of the surface world.  In this special place, they explored, experimented, and died.  Sealed off for the passing millenia, it has now finally been reopened.

Parts of the gatehouse were used for training potential explorers.  These live training exercises were potentially lethal.  See below, an attempt to teach students of the perils of riddle-traps.

24. Subsurface Training Simulator
This room is unusual in the gatehouse, as the floor, walls, and ceiling are bare stone, uncoated with the white substance found in the other rooms and halls of the gatehouse.  The ceiling, being stone, does not emit any light, and the room is dark.

The north wall of this room has a large protonium-metal chest sitting on a raised dais.  To either side of the chest are two poles, with horizontal rings attached to the top.  The poles, if examined, can be tilted to face the SW and SE corners of the room.

In the alcoves to the southwest and southeast are two crystal living statues (AC 4, HD 3, hp 17, 9, MV (30’), #AT 2, D 1-6/1-6, Save F 3, ML 11), one in each alcove.  They resemble warriors in chainmail, holding swords.  They are standing on stone pedestals – the pedestal in the southeast alcove inscribed with “In Darkness”, and the one to the southwest inscribed with “We Dwell”.

If the players try to open the chest, the living statues will attack until the players leave the room.  The only way to prevent this is to place light sources on each of the two poles, and tilt them so they lean towards the statues.  If this is done, the players can safely open the chest without fear of attack.

In the chest is a gold ingot, inscribed with the words “Simulated Subsurface Treasure”, worth 600 gp.


Some Monsters for the 1st Level

I've started work on the rest of the 1st level.  It will have about 100 rooms, and 20,000 xp worth of monsters and loot (80% of that being loot).  That should allow the characters to reach 2nd level, unless the PC's keep up their current rate of attrition.

I'm using the conceit of level being equivalent to time passed since the gatehouse lever was flipped, and the dungeon opened up to all comers.  So, there would be relatively few incursions in the first level - because I'm not adding doors to the outside on this level, and because this is the first area the PC's will be exploring, the wizards haven't had time to dig very far into the dungeon.

That has some constraints on a "realistic" dungeon ecology.  The first level needs critters who have survived for millenia with no contact with the outside world.  They would, of course, have contact with the inhabitants of lower levels, so it's not nearly as constrained an ecology as the moathouse, which is packed full of cannibalistic automatons.

After the gatehouse, I'm thinking it's time to back down on the super-science and toss in a bit more of the sorcery and savagery.  All right, you the reader can certainly see the super-science here, but to the players it'll just be standard fantasy fare.

Dust Ghost
AC: 8
HD: 1
Move: 90' (30')
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d4
No. Appearing: 1d8
Save As: Fighter: 1
Morale: 10
Treasure Type: nil
Alignment: Chaotic

Philosophers of an early age debated whether an artificial intelligence could have a soul - something that lived on after death.  The dust ghost provides a literal answer to that question, but leaves the greater metaphysical question unanswered.  An automaton that has survived for centuries will leave an imprint of its thought processes and computations in the form of an electrical charge in the surrounding air.  Should the automaton be destroyed, these computations may continue on, powered by the static electricity present between motes of dust in the air.  These computations are necessarily twisted by this new medium, leaving the bodiless intelligence full of uncontrolled fury.

The dust ghost appears as a vaguely humanoid figure, composed of motes of dust in the air, with tiny little glimmers of static electricity flashing over its body.  It will typically arise from the dust of the floor, and surprises opponents on 4-6 on a d6.  It will strike with its fists, causing electrical damage.

Earwig, Giant
AC: 6
HD: 1
Move: 90' (30')
Attacks: 1 (2 after first successful attack)
Damage: 1d4
No. Appearing: 2d6
Save As: Fighter: 1
Morale: 7
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Neutral

These massive insects live off the fungus present in underground ecosystems, but won't turn up their noses (tails?) at a bit of fresh adventurer meat.  Adult giant earwigs are four feet long, with a nasty bite, and a razor-sharp set of pincers on their tail.  On the smaller garden-variety earwig, these pincers are purely ornamental - this is markedly not the case for the giant variety.

On their first successful attack against an opponent, the earwig will run up onto its victim, biting him in some exposed location.  For subsequent attacks, while it is on its victim's body, it will also use its tail.  Both tail and bite do 1d4 points of damage.

The earwig's victim may spend a round flinging the creature from him, to prevent further tail attacks.  This will require a successful "to hit" roll.

Shrieker, Flat
AC: 9
HD: 2
Move: 3' (1')
Attacks: See below
Damage: Nil
No. Appearing: 1d4
Save As: Fighter: 1
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: nil
Alignment: Neutral

The flat shrieker is a less-ambulatory version of the normal shrieker.  It grows as a large, fleshy flat fungus attached to a floor, wall, or ceiling.  As with a normal shrieker, light within 60' or movement with 30' will cause vented sacs on the fungus to open, sounding a hideous shriek for 1d3 rounds.  For each round of shrieking, there is a 50% chance that a wandering monster will come to investigate.



I want the mysterious Mount Rendon to have a strange set of ruins on the top, a relic of a forgotten age.  This structure will have spheres, rusty metal towers, cubes heaped upon cubes, and other bizarre architectural features.  Will the players actually visit it?  I don't know, the dungeon has all the action and stairs down to the lower levels.  Once the gatehouse lever is pulled, there may be a motive to search the ruins for a second entrance to the dungeon.  Certainly, the wizards will be stopping by.

Regardless of all this potential foot-traffic, there needs to be a reason that nobody hangs out in this ruin, salvages its metal, or otherwise visits.  Being a mountain-top, I figure it's a flying reason.  And I also figure that flying reason likes to eat human hearts and casts a human shadow.  Yes, perytons!  Sadly they are not present in the Labyrinth Lord rules, but that gives me a chance to stat them up how I want them to be, and to make something a bit closer to the original portrayal of the beast.

AC: 5
HD: 4
Move: 120' (40')
  Flying: 360' (120')
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6 or 1d10
No. Appearing: 2d4
Save As: Fighter: 4
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: B
Alignment: Neutral

From a distance, the peryton resembles a winged stag.  It has a brownish hide, a large rack of horns, and huge bat-like wings.  Closer inspection reveals that the beast's brownish hide is mixture of brownish fur and dull brown scales, it has four red eyes, two on each side, spaced closely together, and its mouth is full of razor-sharp curved teeth.  Rather than hooves, the peryton's legs end in a pair of clawed fingers.

In combat, the peryton's first attack will be a dive-bomb, where it attempts to impale opponents with its horns.  If the attack hits, it does 1d10 damage and the opponent is stuck in combat with the peryton until either the peryton is killed, or the opponent spends a round trying to disengage (save vs Petrification to successfully disengage).  An opponent caught on the horns may attack and defend himself normally.

After the impale attack (successful or not), further attacks from the peryton will use its bite (1d6 damage).

Should the peryton kill an opponent, it will spend the next 1d3 rounds gnawing off armor and chewing through the victim's chest, to eat the still-warm heart.  It will ignore any attacks during this period, as its lust for human hearts is paramount.

The peryton casts the shadow of a human being.  This is quite disturbing to view when a flock flies overhead, the shadows of men flapping their arms being cast upon the ground.  There are rumors that the peryton somehow holds on to the souls of those it has fed on and uses their shadows - those who have been raised from the dead after a peryton attack speak of memories of flying and hunting the little men who walk upon the ground.



I mentioned in the first recap how dwarves were gray-skinned with big black eyes.  If you missed that, I'm not surprised, it was a very tiny reference.  At the last session, I explained to the player who rolled up the elf Randy that his new character wasn't an Orlando Bloom look-alike, but was gray-skinned, with black eyes, and a mouthful of sharp pointy little teeth.  As you can see, I've made some cosmetic changes to these races.  The only functional change is that I expanded the notion of infravision to cover virtually the entire spectrum of light.  Elves and dwarves can see radio waves, gamma rays, ultraviolet, etc.

Here's a bit more detail on the demihuman races:

Halflings are very short, well-proportioned humans, with gray skin.  Their eyes have pupils slightly larger than normal, but their vision is not particularly enhanced over normal human vision.  Their hair color varies from brown to black.  Halflings prefer to dwell near humans, either living in the actual human cities and towns, or forming villages near the humans.  They have no particular origin myth, and if questioned, would state that they have always lived around humans.  They live no longer than normal humans.

Dwarves are taller than halflings, and strangely proportioned, with wide barrel chests and dense musculature.  They also have gray skin, and their eyes are entirely black, giving them the wide-spectrum vision that they share with elvenkind.  Life halflings, their hair color varies from brown to black.  They prefer to live underground, as they find the sun's light irritating (although they suffer no penalties for being in bright sunlight).  After achieving adulthood, they do not appear to physically age.  Despite this, some aging process must be occurring, as they fall sick and die after three centuries, give or take a few decades.  They have a creation myth that involves escaping from their creator and his goblins.  They cannot abide the presence of goblins, and will almost invariably attack them.

Elves are the strangest of the demihuman races.  They are nearly man-height, average five feet tall, and well-proportioned.  They have gray skin, large black eyes as the dwarves have, with the attendant wide-spectrum vision, thin pointed ears, thin noses with narrow nostrils, and a mouthful of sharp, pointy teeth. They have either jet-black hair, or pigmentless snow-white hair.  Like dwarves, after achieving adulthood, they do not appear to physically age.  They may be immortal, as no elf can recall any that has died of old age, although their memories fade after a thousand years or so.  They do not feel a need to keep written records, experiencing most of history first-hand, but the limits on their memory mean that they have no notions of their origin.  Elves prefer to live among their own kind, in villages deep in the wilderness, away from humanity.

Demihumans do not have their own gods peculiar to them.  Halflings will tend to worship at human temples, but the gods do not see fit to grant them their godly magic.  Dwarves and elves, living apart from humans, have not adopted the worship of any gods.

Posts are Content Only

Just as a general Henchman Abuse manifesto, I'm going to try to keep all posts 100% content.  The megadungeon campaign provides plenty of that, so I'm not worried about my ability to keep the content flowing in the short term.  I basically use this blog to design bits and pieces of my megadungeon, so there's no extra effort here.  I'm not worried about my players stumbling across the blog, since I haven't told them it exists, and it's well beyond unlikely that they'll be spending time reading any D&D blogs or forums.

You might see the occasional review of some product, if my opinion is vastly different from everyone else reviewing it, or if there are no reviews out there... that's about as far afield as I expect to roam.


Comments about the last session

People enjoyed the last session, although the robots raised some eyebrows with Theopolis/Too's player.  That's the way I'm rolling though... but as I've mentioned earlier this will be a gonzo-lite campaign, once they're past the gatehouse the monsters will get a bit more traditional.

I made a few tactical errors, that the players will never notice of course.  I had forgotten to print out the stats for my new monsters, I just had the stat summaries in the key.  This was fine, except that I forgot the -4 to reaction checks on the jury-rigged automatons.  They should have been a bit more hostile than they were.  In future encounters I won't forget.

The other goof-up was on the radioactive stirges.  One of them puked up green goo into henchman Drunk Billy's bloodstream, and I didn't really remember the numbers for what would happen.  I just came up with a new table in my head, and Drunk Billy ended up with a lovely seafoam green complexion, and a +1 to his constitution.  The party was quite impressed with Drunk Billy's many successes.

So a good night overall, but very very lethal.  4 player-character deaths.  Every player at the table (3 made it last night) had at least one death.  It's a good training exercise, though, in what to expect from an old-school megadungeon.  I think they're going to be a bit more circumspect in future exploration.

Sadly, the henchman got the upper hand last night.  After the 4th or 5th attempt to haggle with the henchman Terrence and Phillip, and failing miserably each time on reaction rolls, I decided that they were getting a little homicidal.  Apparently the PC's were the hapless henchmen this time around...

Session recap, 9/22/2010

Here's the recap email I sent this morning for last night's session:


There are old adventurers, and bold adventurers, but no old, bold adventurers.

As Theopolis and the two caravan guards, Terrence and Phillip, stood around the pit full of flaming oil, Rollo Jr was overcome by grief and ran away.  Everyone had a strange feeling he'd show up again.  As he ran away, two new people, hearing the rumor that there was a caravan and gold to be had, wandered up to the cave - an elf named Randy, and Chelmsfordshire's cleric, Bishop Bickering.

There was a heated discussion between the newcomers and Terrence and Phillip about how any loot was to be divided.  Eventually Terrence and Phillip decided that the newcomers would probably die just as fast as Rollo Sr, so they'd wing it and see what happened.

Going to the corridor with the strange metal plate in the floor and the lever, Bishop Bickering decided an experiment was in order.  He would stand at the far end of the corridor near the plate, while Randy would pull the lever.  When he did, the plate flung itself upwards to the ceiling with a crash, and was actually an inverted pyramid of metal.  Bishop Bickering was likewise flung straight up to the ceiling, and broke his neck with a sickening crunch.

Randy moved forward a bit to see what could have happened, and was surprised to see his long sword fly up to the ceiling.  He was not flung up as the good Bishop was however.  Moving the lever back down, the pyramid fell back into its hole and the Bishop's body fell to the floor.

Soon they heard a noise outside, and discovered that village idiot Spaulding had followed them.  They quickly welcome him to the party, over Terrence and Phillip's objections.

After more experimentation with the lever, the party discovered that anything metal would be hurled towards the ceiling.  This had doomed the Bishop in his splint mail.  They flung the lever, stripped all the metal off themselves, and moved whatever wooden objects (tables, bedding, etc) they could find to cover the hole.  When the pulled the lever back down again, the pyramid fell down and slid to one side, and they pushed it out of the way.

In the hole where the pyramid was resting, was a stairway leading down to a cavern.  Theopolis bravely led the way down, with Phillip and Terrence behind him.  As they entered the cavern, a pair of crab spiders rushed along the ceiling and dropped down to attack.  One of the spiders bit through Theopolis's face and killed him messily, but the rest of the party soon had the spiders dead.  The players then turned their attention to the chest in the room.

Spaulding, Terrence, and Phillip had an argument about how to split up the treasure. Terrence had the last word, as he killed Spaulding with a single hit of his flail (taken from the Bishop's corpse).  Randy decided he really had no objections to Terrence and Phillip's way of splitting up the loot.  They opened the chest, split up the 500 gp within, and Terrence and Phillip left.  The chest itself was a wood veneer on top of very thick lead.  Randy also found a map on Theopolis's body.

Randy went back to town, and gathered up a few hardy-looking adventurers, a halfling named P.W. and a fighter named Too.  He also hired four louts in padded armor to help with the fighting, bought them swords and a pair of shields, and they headed off to put the sick rock in the lead chest, and follow the map to a cave on mysterious Mount Rendon.

The map led to a cave, with a protonium-metal door at one end, and a chute in the rock wall next to it.  In went the sick-rock, and the door slid open, revealing an octagonal room with strange white walls and floors, and a glowing white ceiling.  The dust on the floors was covered with criss-crossing tracks.  Three doors led out of the room, with signs reading "Barracks", "Emergency Generator Core", and "Subsurface Research Facility".

They first investigated the barracks door, finding a room with toilets, showerheads, and a series of dark holes in the wall.  They then had one of the louts, Drunk Billy, open a door which he quickly slammed, shouting "It's full of metal men!"

They ran off in the direction of the "Subsurface Research Facility", closing the door behind them.  There was no pursuit, and they decided to head deeper into the dungeon.  They came across a room full of half-metal, half-bone constructs, who told the party they were "looking for parts".  They were in fact scrabbling among piles of small finger bones, toe bones, and other detritus.  The party quickly figured out that the constructs wanted bones or metal to attach to their bodies.  The party agreed to help them find parts, and five of the constructs accompanied the party deeper in.

They passed through a room with a high ceiling and a cage hanging from the ceiling, but decided to press on rather than investigate.  The next room they entered had an enormous glass pillar in the middle full of a green glowing fluid, and lots of pipes, some broken and empty, some full of green goo, and some with football-shaped glowing lumps in them.  A catwalk 40' above could be reached by ladders.  Randy headed up the ladder, and the lumps turned out to be glowing green stirges that flew out and attacked.  Randy and one of the louts was overcome, but eventually the stirges were defeated.

And that was that for this session.  It ran a bit later than it should have, we should probably set a hard stop at 10:30.

See you in 2 weeks,


Some goodies showed up today...

Goodies showed up in the mail today:

The Cursed Chateau 

Lamentation of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Box Set (yeah that's a mouthful)

Death Frost Doom

Wandering Monsters

Just did the wandering monsters, so I'm ready for tomorrow night's session.  Unless of course the players decide to do something other than follow the map to the megadungeon, in which case I'll wing it, probably with the giant stone head from Zardoz coming down from the sky to abuse them.  Nothing says fun like a good beat-down from a bunch of guys in red diapers.

(note:  when I refer to the "Gatehouse", that is the first 31 rooms of the dungeon.  I also haven't done stats for the Peryton yet, if I roll a 12 I'll do that on the fly)

The Wilderness

A roll of 5-6 on a d6 indicates an encounter while traveling through the woods and up the slopes of Mount Rendon.  Roll 2d6 to determine the exact encounter:

2. Wizard
3. 1d6 tiger beetles (AC 3, HD 3+1, #AT 1, D 2-12, MV (50’), Save F 1, ML 9)
4. Wizard raiding party – 2d8 bandits (AC 6, HD 1, #AT 1, D 1-6, MV (40’), Save T 1, ML 8)
5. Wizard vehicle seen moving overhead
6. 2d8 goblins (AC 6, HD 1-1, hp 3, #AT 1, D 1-6, MV (20’), Save Normal Man, ML 7)
7. 2d4 wolves (AC 7, HD 2+2, hp 11, #AT 1, D 1-6, MV (60’), Save F 1, ML 8 (6))
8. 1d8 Moks (AC 5, HD 2, hp 9, #AT 1, D 2-8, MV (30’), Save F 2, ML 8)
9. Human traders
10. Human-shaped shadows of 1d3 perytons flying overhead
11. 1d6 stirges (AC 7, HD 1, hp 5, #AT 1, D 1-3, MV (60’), Save F 2, ML 9)
12. 1d3 Peryton

In the Gatehouse

2-3. 1d3 jury-rigged greater automatons (AC 4, HD 3, hp 14, #AT 1, D 1d6+2, MV (30’), Save F 3, ML 12)
4. A human voice in the distance, but the voice is to faint to be understood (this is the hologram in room 21 being triggered by an automaton)
5. 1d4+1 lesser automatons (AC 5, HD 2, hp 9 each, #AT 1, D 1d6+1, MV (40’), Save F 2, ML 10)
6-8. 1d6 jury-rigged lesser automatons (AC 6, HD 1, hp 4 each, #AT 1, D 1d6, MV (30’), Save F 1, ML 8)
9-10. The distant sound of metal scraping against the floors and walls.  This is the abomination from room 25 on a hunting expedition
10. 1d3 radioactive stirges (AC 7, HD 1+1**, hp 6 each, #AT 1, D 1d3, MV (10’, fly 60’) , Save F 4, ML 12)
11-12. The abomination from room 25


Secret door

In my dungeon, I'm detailing how each secret door and trap works.  I don't want players relying on "find trap" and "find secret door" rolls.  I'd prefer the players succeed by their wits, rather than the characters succeed by their skill rolls.

Towards that end, here is a pair of rooms with a secret door and its opening mechanism described:

5. Barracks
Like the armory, this room is full of tiny bits of smashed furniture.  It also contains 8 lesser automatons (AC 5, HD 2, hp 9 each, #AT 1, D 1d6+1, MV (40’), Save F 2, ML 10).  These automatons have made this room their base of operations.  They keep a stockpile of ancient human bones in the corner, to use for bartering with the jury-rigged automatons.  Mixed in with the human remains are 500 gp, and the wall sconce from room 9.  The automatons have no use for the gold, but couldn’t be bothered separating it out from the valuable skeletons.  The wall sconce is tarnished silver, worth 100 gp, and has some colored wires sticking out the end.  Careful examination will reveal that a portion of the sconce depresses like a trigger.

9. Officer’s Quarters
This room has a heaps of dry-rotted wood everywhere, with fragments of ancient cloth mixed in.  It crumbles to the touch and has no structural value whatsoever, thus the automatons have let it lie.  There is a mirror mounted on the east wall, in a silver frame.  The glass and frame are unbreakable, and will resist attempts to remove them.  A bundle of colored wires are sticking out of a hole in the north wall.  If the wall sconce from room 5 is brought here, the colored wires reattached, and the trigger pulled, the mirror will briefly be covered in a shimmering purple light, and then the glass will disappear, allowing entrance through the secret door.  From the eastern side of the secret door, the door appears as a rectangle of opaque, dull grey metal.  There is a red button that if depressed will cause the secret door to open/close.


Keying the Dungeon

I've been putting off keying the dungeon, mostly because of time constraints.  With only a few days til the session, it's time to get cracking.  I'll post some highlights over the next few days.  I type faster than I can write by hand, so I'll be using Microsoft Word to do the key, and then I'll put up some of the more interesting examples.

While keying, I'll be following the rules Philotomy collated here: http://www.philotomy.com/#creating_dungeon.  The same advice sits in the back of the Moldvay Basic rules.  It's interesting because it ends up creating a lot of empty rooms, and a lot more traps than I have put into dungeons in the past, so it'll be interesting to see how creative I can make these traps be - and how deadly.

On a related note, I'm not happy with the mapping software out there, which is why I've been mapping by hand instead of via computer.  A lot of them do "pretty picture" dungeons, and then there's Campaign Cartographer which has a massive learning curve.  I really want a very easy to use piece of software that creates simple old-school style maps.  They were entirely functional without distracting art that make it harder to use the map in play.  The whole idea of a full-color map with little plants, chairs, individual piles of rock, is kind of ridiculous.  Nobody sees it but the game master, and he doesn't need that to run the game.  It's just visual complexity without purpose.  Did you get the impression I'm not a fan of that style?  Anyhow, I might have to end up writing my own if I can't find something.  Not a task I want to do though, I've got a big enough to-do list as is.


How Gonzo Will It Be?

So how gonzo is this megadungeon going to be?  The answer is, a little, but not very.

I expect some of the encounters with the wizards to get quite goofy.  Despite all the automatons listed below, that's because I have a hard time rationalizing living beings in a gatehouse area that's been sealed off for millenia.  So I came up with some robot buddies to try to steal the bones of the party from their still-living flesh.  Even then, their presentation will be something along the lines of "a shambling horror of steel and bone lurches out of the shadows", nothing too sci-fi going on.  The ones in good repair that the party meets will, of necessity, be a bit futuristic.  As they get further into the dungeon, the critters will veer much more towards classic D&D monsters.

The campaign won't have much in the way of guns, jetpacks, etc.  This is post-apocalyptic in the D&D sense - ruins have been deserted for untold ages, the world has moved on and isn't particularly looking back at a lost past, etc.  Technology is largely turned to dust, and what hasn't isn't any more potent that magic items, so there's not much call for it.

Some of my magic items will be flavored as tech goodies (instead of a dagger +1, you get an equally mystical "phasic knife", which acts exactly the same).  But essentially, that's just so I don't have players being complacent about the magic items they get.  "A dagger +1?  Give it to the henchman!" would be a typical reaction.  However, "The knife is nothing but a thin band of metal bent into the outline of a blade.  On the grip is a red jewel.  When you depress the jewel, the blade is replaced by a field of blue light." is an unknown, and something to be treasured.


Another Automaton

Automaton, Abomination, Greater
AC: 6
HD: 4
Move: 60' (20')
Attacks: 3 weapons
Damage: 1d6 each
No. Appearing: 1
Save As: Fighter: 4
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Chaotic

This abomination is a tangled combination of human remains and the corroded remains of at least a dozen automatons.  It rudely drags itself across the floor using multiple legs and arms, and several active heads make unintelligible noises.  It will attack anything it sees, looking to add more parts to itself.  Its slower speed makes it easy for other automatons to outrun it, however.

If the abomination hits twice successfully in a round while fighting another automaton, it will spend the next round tearing it to pieces and patching it into its own body.  This will heal the abomination for 2d8 hit points.  If the abomination is at full hit points when this happens, it will add another hit die to itself (increasing its max hit points by 1d8).  Should a greater automaton with functioning plasma guns be absorbed, it will use those weapons in preference to blades.

If the abomination hits twice successfully while fighting a PC (or other living creature), it will attempt to integrate the PC into itself, causing an automatic 1d6 points of damage the next round.  If this kills the PC, the abomination will be healed of 1d4 points of damage as it uses the body to reinforce its structure; otherwise, the PC successfully disentangles from the creature.  The PC may attack the abomination, but not flee, while this is going on.

When the automaton is reduced to half hit points (or below), it will break into two lesser abominations, each with the current number of hit points of the automaton.

The abomination is nearly 10 feet across, and cannot traverse smaller corridors, and it takes at least a round to squeeze itself through most doorways, as it needs to reassemble itself.  It is able to attack multiple opponents simultaneously, on all sides of its body.

The multiple, failing minds of this creature make it immune to Charm Person and Fear (Sleep will work normally).

Automaton, Abomination, Lesser
AC: 6
HD: 2
Move: 60' (20')
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: 1d6
No. Appearing: 1
Save As: Fighter: 2
Morale: 10
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Chaotic

The lesser abomination is formed when the greater takes enough damage to be split in two.  It has a vague notion of its damaged state, and its reduced morale makes it slightly less likely to fight to the death.

If two or more lesser abominations are left unmolested for several turns, they will merge into a greater abomination, healing fully in the process.

The lesser abominations are unable to assimilate active automatons or PC's into their structure, as they do not have enough functioning arms to perform the repairs using a struggling individual.


Monsters of the Gatehouse

So the first section of the first level is effectively a gatehouse to the rest of the dungeon.  It's been sealed for millenia, locked away from the outside world and the rest of the dungeon.  So, I figure most of the encounters in there will be automatons, slowly rusting away and going insane as time marches on.

Automaton, Lesser
AC: 5
HD: 2
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: 1d6 + 1
No. Appearing: 1d8
Save As: Fighter: 2
Morale: 10
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Neutral

The automatons are roughly man-like machines fashioned of stainless steel framing, with stainless plates covering particularly vulnerable runs of hydraulic hoses and wiring.  They were created to perform service and maintenance duties.  Their heads are cylindrical, with a speaker grill for speech and two crystalline eyes providing binary vision.  The rust stains on these automatons are minor, and speak to the amount of upkeep they are providing for themselves, through diligent maintenance and/or successful cannibalization of other automatons.  The weapons they carry are crude blades made of sharpened stainless steel plating.  Time has not been kind to their mental functions, and a reaction roll determines their behavior towards PCs.

As automatons have minds, spells such as Charm Person, Sleep, and Fear will work on them (Sleep will cause them to go into "hibernation mode" for the duration of the spell.  They will announce this fact loudly as the lights in their eyes dim, and their bodies slump over midstride, completely motionless).

Automaton, Lesser, Jury-Rigged
AC: 6
HD: 1
Move: 90' (30')
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: 1d6
No. Appearing: 1d8
Save As: Fighter: 1
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Chaotic

The jury-rigged automatons have been badly damaged, and have repaired themselves with whatever was at hand.  For the most part, this is the ancient skeletal remains of the former human staff of the gatehouse.  They are badly rusting, missing large sections of plating over chafed hoses and wiring, and have replaced structural steel with human bones.  The rusty cylinders protecting their heads have often been replaced with cracked human skulls.  Their badly damaged minds are bent on self-preservation, and they will most likely attack PCs for their "fresh parts".  Reaction rolls are at -4.

Automaton, Greater
AC: 3
HD: 4 *
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 2 light plasma guns
Damage: 1d6 each
No. Appearing: 1d4
Save As: Fighter: 4
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Neutral

These automatons are the soldier-class machines.  They are bigger, have heavier plating, and more protection over joints, to prevent damage to hoses and wiring.  Each forearm has an integral plasma gun, capable of firing up to 60' away.

Automaton, Greater, Jury-Rigged
AC: 4
HD: 3
Move: 90' (30')
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: 1d6 + 2
No. Appearing: 1d4
Save As: Fighter: 3
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Chaotic

Like lesser jury-rigged automatons, these machines are a mixture of human bones and machine.  Their plasma guns have long since failed (otherwise they'd be in tip-top shape from parts cannibalization).  Reaction rolls for these automatons are at -4.

Stirge, Radioactive
AC: 7
HD: 1+1 **
Move: 30' (10')
  Flying: 180' (60')
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d3
No. Appearing: 2d4
Save As: Fighter: 4
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: L
Alignment: Chaotic

These stirges became trapped within the gatehouse, and with no living food, they attacked the thinner glass piping in the reactor core, confusing the warm radioactive goo within for human blood.  They have heavily mutated from this diet of glowing green sludge, becoming incredibly-long-lived and able to sustain themselves off the energy-rich goo.  They would certainly welcome the change of diet that the PC's blood would provide, however.

When they attack, for every round after the first attack the stirge remains attached to a victim, on a roll of 1-2 on d6, they will accidentally regurgitate green goo into their victim instead of sucking blood.  If the victim fails a save versus poison, roll a d6 to see the effects on the victim:

1. Dies
2. Loses point of constitution
3. Gains point of strength, but greenish tinge causes loss of 1 charisma
4-6. Takes 1d6 damage

Their radioactive nature has enhanced their resistance to toxins and energies of all sorts, causing them to save as a Level 4 Fighter.

These stirges are green and glowing, and nest inside the broken empty tubes that they have already sucked dry.  From a distance, they look like football-shaped lumps of green goo.


Partial map of first level

I've prepared a partial map of the first level:

To see a larger image, click here: IMG_1357.jpg

This is just a third of the first level.  Once they get to room #31, they flip a switch to open a gate to the next section of the dungeon, and blammo!  Klaxons go off, loud grinding noises echo all over the dungeon, and outside, entrances that have been buried for centuries suddenly burst open, and floodlights illuminate the sky.  Every creature for miles will know something is up and come to investigate.

And thus, the megadungeon's weird-fantasy inhabitants, lurking in the dark for untold years, get to meet the goons from the outside world.  Humanoids, wizards, dragons, and others will flood the place, looking for loot.  So the players will have to contend with outside threats as well as dungeon weirdness as they work their way deeper.

Their big advantage is that their entrance isn't lit up like the sun, so unless they blow it, their entrance will be their little secret.


Cult of Science

The priests of the cult of Science are the result of centuries of distortion of a materialistic world-view.  Their spiritual longings have resulted in the scientific knowledge passed down filling the void that religion normally occupies.

They believe in Science as a literal god, one who performs miracles through normal physical processes.  The beggar in the street who lost his arm, has been healed through the grace of Science, granted a mechanical substitute.  He is now better than human, his arm a symbol of the might of Science, and he proselytizes without end to all who will listen.  Those who don't, are pronounced Very Unscientific, and meet the business end of his mechanical arm.

The priests and acolytes of science wear long white coats as their normal dress, with black gloves covering their hands.  Their bodies are covered with tribal tattoos, and their names are tattooed prominently on their foreheads.  During rituals of Science, the head priest will stand on stilts, elevating his height to 12 or more feet, hiding the stilts under a ridiculously long white lab coat.  He will have his ceremonial safety goggles on as he chants the liturgies:  "Dihydrogen monoxide!  A squared plus b squared equals c squared!  Pyridine-3-carboxylic acid!"

The Scientist, as the acolytes and priests of Science is known, has an empiricist's grasp of science.  He has learned a few tricks on how to repair ancient devices, or how to create certain chemical reactions (preferably ones that go "boom!").  There is no research activity going on, or understanding of the scientific method, however.  Their creed is one of sacred knowledge passed from priest to priest over the ages.

Scientists take a dim view of other gods.  They consider them all subservient to Science.  The occasional pronouncement by an orbital AI-god that "science is the principle governing nature", when questioned by theologians, does little to dissuade the Scientists of their world-view.

Scientists value ancient artifacts and books, and will pronounce donors of such items as performing Very Scientific actions, and may provide other sorts of assistance in return.

Well-established Temples of Science have a 10' tall black pyramidal structure within.  These structures have ladders built into one side, and at the top have numbers in a red light ticking down, one per second, and a small keypad with the numbers 0-9.  On a daily basis, a highly-ranked priest will climb the ladder and enter in a code known only to the most trusted Scientists, causing the numbers to reset.  "This is the sole sacrifice that Science demands of us, my son.  His burden is light.  But his wrath if we neglect our duty is great.  Not a stone in this city would stand should he believe that the people have abandoned his worship!"

Inspired by Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination" and the TV show Lost, of course.


Orbital Gods

I only had two players for the first session (the other two couldn't make it for various reasons), and they ended up rolling a dwarf and a fighter.  I expect that eventually somebody will make a cleric, and I'll have to have some answers ready about religion in this world of wizards and super-science.

Easy enough, a heaping dose of Gene Wolfe and you get... computer AI's behaving as gods towards the human population.

High above the atmosphere, massive satellites containing the hardware necessary to run these AI's orbit the planet.  They number in the dozens, and communicate directly to their followers through "eyes" installed in their temples below.  These eyes are massive screens through which the god can directly observe its followers, and appear to them.

The gods, through means unknown to simple organic minds, are able to grant spells to their priests.  The priests must pray for renewal of their powers at certain times of the day.  These times are linked directly to when the AI's are in orbit directly overhead.

This framework allows for any random god a player desires to be inserted in the game.  When somebody finally picks a cleric, I'll ask them to describe their god, and voila, it's done.  No fuss, no muss.  It's all really an AI with a personality disorder, so pretty much anything will fit in.

There are two gods that I intend will not fit this framework.  The first is Science!  Taking a page from Alfred Bester, there will be a cult worshipping Science as a god itself.  That deserves a post in its own right, so I won't go farther into that right now.

The second is the Crawling Chaos, Nyarlathotep, soul and messenger of the Outer Gods.  The Church of the Starry Wisdom will be present, just because it's nice to have a source for some real nasty Lovecraftian badness when I'm in the mood, which is fairly often.

Wizards, of course, are profoundly uninterested in matters religious.  Their pursuit is of temporal power.  Servitude to a greater power isn't on their agenda, and most have banned churches and temples from their city-states.

The Inner Gods, orbiting the earth in their satellites, are deeply vested in their human followers, directing their actions through personal intervention, towards inscrutable ends.

The Outer Gods, truly immortal, in spheres removed infinitely in both time and space, care not for humanity or this speck of a planet, but an undying eye happened to glance upon the world and the world was made known to the Messenger.  Even wretched oblivion is denied to those who serve the Crawling Chaos - the madness and truth he brings is eternal.


Why It's Thundarr-Inspired...

I don't really have big plans for the campaign world outside of a megadungeon existing.  Of course, my players could decide that hanging out in dungeons stinks on ice, and wander off in some completely other direction.  Which would be entirely fine with me.  At this early stage of the campaign, though, they aren't going to be enticed by any flavorful comments I've made about the rest of the game world outside their immediate sphere of influence, so I expect they'll follow the map to the dungeon and start killin'.

That said, why bother having any ideas for the outside campaign world at all?  I've got a few answers for that:

a. I'll be better able to "wing it" with wandering monsters, random NPC's, etc.  It's a lot easier to keep the campaign coherent if I've got a grab-bag of places, locations, & weird ideas to draw from.  No sense fleshing them out until necessary, but having a grab-bag in the first place is a good idea, I think.  I'll see how often this is useful in practice.

b. I haven't told the players that there's a megadungeon.  I'd prefer they find that out on their own, as the dungeon keeps going deeper.  So having some idea of the campaign world and referring to occasionally it keeps the players from immediately figuring out the true nature of what they're doing.  I'd prefer that they discover the nature of the megadungeon organically, and then go in because they find what is in there compelling, rather than because there isn't an outside world at all.

c. Eventually the players will want to wander farther afield for some reason or other (perhaps even reasons I plant myself), if they have heard of a few of the place names & concepts of the larger world, they can express interest in particular areas, and then I can pander to those interests

That's why to have a campaign world, in general... but the Thundarr/Zothique thing I've going gives me an extra edge:  Easy-to-generate, interesting villains!

The wizards of Thundarr are incredibly compelling villains.  There were tons of them (at least one per episode), each of them was a fairly unique freak of nature, and they had nasty attitudes and plenty of smack-talking.  So making the villain memorable is incredibly easy, it's a chance to mercilessly taunt the players, and if the villain survives, well, the amount of smack-talk that I lay down should give the players a chance to develop a serious grudge against him.

So, I'm modeling the campaign world very loosely on Thundarr/Zothique.  I like the concept of territories ruled by competing wizards, with the bulk of humanity considered just another resource to consume.  Up-and-coming wizards would be wandering the ruins, looking for just the right artifact to graft onto their bodies in some horrific manner.  The ruling wizards of the city-states would have their automatons patrolling the surrounding lands, looking for humans to enslave and bring back to their decaying fortresses of steel and magic.  Hmmm I've just outlined most of my Wandering Monster table there...

Another thing I really like about this setting idea, is that I get to an excuse for NPCs to harass the players as they gain wealth.  Their magic-users will already be feared for their wizard powers, and as other players acquire magic weapons (well, super-science more than magic), they too will be treated as wizards - horrendous outcasts, threats to the well-being of all normal human beings.  They'll either have the locals kowtowing to them, or tarring and feathering them.  I know which behavior I'm inclined towards...


The best part of that session was...

The best part of that session was Theopolis's rampant henchman abuse.  Using his high CHA, he bamboozled Terrence and Phillip, the two guards who abandoned their duties and then returned to rip off their (presumably dead) employer, into hunting around for the highly radioactive stone.  He was then planning to watch them from a distance to see how long it took them to get sick and die, when Rollo Jr. came up and starting shouting "get away!", ruining his nasty little plan.

He considered this all in tune with his Lawful alignment, because "they were jerks and had it coming" or something to that effect.  I'm not sure that Lawful is the best alignment choice here...

Strangely Rollo Jr. is Chaotic, and yet is saving the XP sponges henchmen.

Session recap, 9/8/2010

Taken verbatim from the email to my players:


Here is a recap of tonight's events

The world as our players know it, is separated into city-states, each ruled by a powerful wizard.  Wizards are horribly mutated figures, wielding unimaginable powers.  The players have started in the tiny village of Chelmsfordshire, on the river Chelms, which is about 15 miles from its governing city, Denethix.  The city-state Denethix has an unusually lenient wizard as a ruler (although still horrible to behold, he is said to have a jet-black face, featureless except for a ring of seven eyes).  The wizard lets an elected council run the city's affairs.

Rollo the Dwarf and Theopolis the Fighter were sitting in a tavern in Chelmsfordshire, when a couple of caravan guards, bleeding and filthy, burst through the door, shouting that their caravan had just been attacked by the moktars.  After sighting the two warriors, the guards brought them into their confidence, saying that a rich merchant with a massive, heavy chest that must be filled with gold was with the caravan.  If they acted fast, they could catch up to the moktars and split the riches, now that the merchant was surely slain.  After some negotiating, Rollo and Theopolis agreed to 17% shares each of the spoils.
The burnt wagon of the caravan (perhaps "caravan" was an exaggeration) and a few bodies were found in the forest to the west, and a trail left by the moktars led south to a doorway carved into a cliffside.  Exploring inside, a pit trap was found, with a few sickly moktars nearby as guards.  Rollo and Theopolis led the attack, with many more (strangely sickly) moktars dying under Rollo's blade, but the horde eventually killed him, tossing his body into the pit.  More moktars kept arriving as reinforcements, and by the time the fight ended, 7 moktars were slain, and 2 moktars and a wolf were trapped in the pit.

Searching further into the underground complex, Theopolis and the caravan guards find the merchant, lying near death, covered with sores, and shouting at them to get him out quickly, that there was poison!  After pulling the merchant outside, the merchant gave Theopolis a map, and said that the key was the "sick rock" he had kept in his lead chest.  Before he could explain further, he died.

Theopolis sent the caravan guards inside to look for any kind of strange rock, while he brought the merchant's body back to town.  Theopolis then went off in the woods to wait and see what happened when and if the guards found the rock.  Eventually they came back outside with a large yellow stone.  As they did, Rollo Jr, Rollo's long-lost son, came up, finally ending his search for his father.  Rollo Jr, with his gigantic black dwarven eyes (and gray dwarven skin by the way), is able to see outside the normal spectrum and sees the "sick light" coming from the yellow stone.  He shouts at everyone to get back.

After convincing everyone to stay away from the stone, the party went back inside the complex, and found & killed the moktar war chieftain, also quite sickly.  They found a corridor with a lever at one end, and a dead end at the other, but with a large steel plate in the floor.  Deciding to deal with the trapped moktars and the wolf first, they poured oil into the pit and lit it.

At this point our session ended.  See you all in 2 weeks (Sept 23rd)

First post!

I have joined the limitless ranks of self-absorbed Internet authors, so now I too can ramble endlessly on about things that nobody but I care about.  Since you've shown the bad judgment to be reading this, let me explain a little about the purpose of this blog.

For the past 9 years or so my gaming was limited mostly to D&D 3E, on a monthly basis, as a henchman-abusing player (XP is hard to come by, I don't like sharing).  As levels increase, the proportion of time we spend juggling the little details of combat increases as well.  The irregularity of the sessions is also kind of annoying.  So I started a bi-weekly session where I run the show, at my house.  Mostly Call of Cthulhu & Delta Green.

Then I started reading Grognardia and Planet Algol, and light bulbs go off in my head - it's time to get back to the good old days, when you could slog through a few dozen monsters in an hour no problem.  Not only that, but I'm going to run it hardcore, you roll your 3d6 in order and that's the stats you get.  No re-rolls, live with it, Mr. Fancy-Pants-PC!  Yeah, that's the stuff... A trial run of Keep on the Borderlands proves to be a blast, so once the Delta Green campaign has its inevitable total-party-kill, I let everyone know that the next session is D&D, Basic/Expert.

I'm actually going to use Labyrinth Lord, but the rules aren't here yet, so we started out Moldvay B/X (with its cheaper plate mail and 3d6 starting money).  But next session, it's all Labyrinth Lord.  Which is almost exactly the same as Moldvay, so no real issues there... the reason for this is simple, my little red Basic book and little blue Expert book are falling apart from heavy use back in the day.  Time to get some rulebooks that can withstand actual play.

I love the simplicity of the rules after 9 years of 3rd edition.  It still feels like D&D, there are no skill rules, no real need for thieves actually, as I'm describing each trap in detail as necessary.  Players can use their brains to get by.  Ahh it's all been written before and by better writers than I, so I'll stop praising the old ways now.

The day of the big adventure comes around, and I've got a vague notion of running a megadungeon, but beyond that no clue what I'm going to do.  Never mind, extemporizing is the hallmark of a good DM, so I'll just make things up once my players get here.  It worked out wildly good.  As the players rolled up characters, I sketched up the initial little dungeon (not part of the megadungeon, I'll work up to that, assuming the players don't go off in a different direction entirely), added some humanoids, traps, and a spiffy radioactive surprise.

Ahh yes, the campaign world, I'm thinking, roughly Thundarr the Barbarian meets Gene Wolfe's Long Sun.  Plus Nyarlathotep, because what's a fantasy world without the Crawling Chaos?

I'll be using this blog to post the session recaps that I do for the players after each session (keeps people fresh on what happened), and to toss out some of the campaign ideas I've got squirming around in my head, both to give back to the community that I'm shamelessly stealing from, and to get feedback (that I will also shamelessly steal from).