Tuesday, March 31, 2015

losing track of the hours underground
[5e Dwimmermount]

It's been over a month since I wrote a session report, and that's due to a combination of not having free time to write and not having the energy to write. I was not too worried about being behind because I had been recording the sessions, but now I seem to have mislaid the recordings and I have no idea if I accidentally deleted them or simply filed them somewhere that at the time I was sure I would "remember." Here then, to the best of my ability, is the most I can recall from our next three sessions.

As the delve continues I find myself altering more of the adventure. The map was originally meant to be on the inside of a wineskin, but I felt this was totally impractical for a group of dwarves to be using a map that they themselves couldn't even see. Instead, I created the prop map you see below.

The map they acquired from the dead dwarf...click to make big
...the party decided to return to the eastern portion of the level and clear out the final room along the easternmost corridor. But first they had to fight the gelatinous cube in the hallway and they delayed this fight by first inspected the training room, and Ilona destroyed one of the training devices upon Horatius discovering the control panel that activated them.

Returning to the hallway door they prepared for a fight and opened the door, letting the creature slowly glide into the room with them. They fought it with little injury then ventured to the eastern hallway without incident.

The room they sought to explore was an ancient chapel to Mavors, though it appeared to have been desecrated and converted to a shrine of Turms Termax. Tsetsig boldly entered and was instantly surrounded by silvery-black skeletons that lurched out from sconces within marble columns. He attempted to turn the undead to no effect. A brief but intense fight ensued as the rest of the party tried to protect Tsetsig from the brunt of the attacks from the skeletal constructs. At the end of the fight, Tsetsig found the secret passage leading to the hidden treasury. As they took stock of these newfound valuables Tsetsig grasped a scarab wrought of moonsilver and enameled blue. This is when he almost died.

Fifth edition doesn't have very good rules for cursed items and the object in question is a scarab of death which doesn't even seem to exist beyond second edition rules. The item is also one of those "save or die" kind of items which I always regard as dumb and not-fun. I wrote up my own "fifth edition" version that offers a few choices in case someone should happen to grab the scarab recklessly. When the player annonced they were picking up the scarab, I handed him this index card...
...and that's pretty much how I'm going to rewrite "save or die" bullshit for this and any other fifth edition game I run.
It doesn't say it on the card but cutting off a hand would have reduced the character to zero hit points. I think I forgot this in the moment and just had Tsetsig pass out.

After Tsetsig cuts off his own hand they spend a few moments rousing him from unconsciousness and discover the scarab is cursed. The party then decided to rest here, since the secret treasury room was the perfect place to hide. When they were ready to move on they decided to travel southward down the central cross-shaped hallway, expecting to find another circular room with giant centipedes, but along the way they were called out to by voices in the dark. Kobolds in the caves had seen Brughaht traveling with the party and extended an invitation to meet with their master, Guran. They only trusted dwarves and refused to escort Brughaht's friends into the caves, but Brughaht managed to persuade them that Tsetsig wasn't a threat and could be trusted. One kobold insisted on venturing forth to ask Guran for permission and Tsetsig had no objections. After several minutes the kobold returned and welcomed Tsetsig along. While the rest of the party waited, Tsetsig and Brughaht were escorted into the caves to meet with Guran.

They passed several empty chambers as well as a glowing pool of water lit by radiance from above, but Tsetsig began to suspect that something was amiss. They were traveling to far away from the group and he sensed an ambush lying ahead. When he questioned the kobold about the length of their journey the kobold tried to dash forward into the darkness, but Brughaht managed to fell him with one blow. They hid the kobold, now dead and turned to stone, underneath a pile of bones then Tsetsig sent a magical message to the rest of the party warning them that the kobolds were hostile. With a little bit of coordination, the party managed to overcome the kobolds they were with and Gaius Marius unleashed several Sleep spells to disable the remaining kobolds. It was a slaughter!

Tsetsig and Brughaht returned to the rest of the group and they searched the rooms, and upon finding a library they quickly looked for books that may assist them in the dungeon. One stuck out, a manual on the strategy game the two ghosts in the northern portion of the dungeon had been playing. They took the book back to the room and placed it where the ghosts seemed to be handling it, and the ghosts disappeared.

Feeling weary, they decided to return to Muntburg to rest and resupply, and were only ten hours behind Climent.

In Muntburg, Tsetsig and Brughaht both decided to stay in town with some of the money they had acquired. Gaius Marius also stayed behind to assist Tsetsig and Ilona's ancestral claim upon Dwimmermount. A priest of Mavors, Eppius, and a wizard friend of Ilona's who had just arrived in Muntburg, Sulla, both joined the group as they returned to Dwimmermount.

Upon re-entering Dwimmermount, the group heard movement coming from the long main hallway and braced for combat. More silvery-black skeletons strode out of the darkness and they cut them down. The priest, Eppius, having not encountered these creatures before attempted to turn them as undead fruitlessly. The group made their way to the caves quickly, stopping only to examine the double doors leading to the circular room which Ilona believed to hold only "more centipede bullshit." They couldn't enter as the doors were magically sealed, and they had no method of opening the doors.

Technically they did. Horatius carried a rod of opening but the player was concerned about the number of charges it contained and didn't elect to use the item.

In the caves, an ambush was waiting for them, but from the kobolds. The party spied a single spider that shied away from their lantern light, then skittered away into the darkness quickly as they approached. Ilona gave chase and as the rest of the group confidently followed in the darkness with their newly purchased lanterns, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by giant spiders.

I decided that Guran, a servant of the demonspawn, upon realizing that his kobold was not returning with a fresh dwarf for him to corrupt would search for his soldier and discover the betrayed and dead kobolds. He would then report to the demonspawn, whom I named Bram. Bram commanded his spiders from afar to search out for signs of the party and upon hearing the fighting from the hallway the spiders were organized by Bram into an ambush for the group in the caves.

Very quickly, the characters began to fall to the paralytic poison of the spiders' bites. Soon the only one standing was Horatius as he beat back spider after spider and managed to survive just long enough to kill them all. Exhausted and near death, Horatius collapsed around his fallen comrades and soon they began to revive from the poison. In the aftermath they discovered Climent had died during the battle, and around his neck Horatius found a symbol of Termax, signifying that Climent was secretly a cultist.

Because this group had levelled up several times by scouring every single room of the first level I decided to make Bram's spiders slightly tougher than the ones described in the module and this almost killed the party. I have no regrets, they charged in without scouting or preparing, and now they're terrified of spiders.

They re-entered the caves and with no resistance found the room with the moonlit pool of water. Horatius decided to bathe and swim in it, searching the bottom for treasure but finding nothing. In the process every magical item on his person was destroyed, but he picked up a temporary magical resistance which still lingers. In this room they made enough noise that scouting orcs found them and another battle ensued. They managed to defeat the orcs and needed rest, retreating to the library where they spiked the door to protect them from being barged in on.

The orcs were being allowed to search the caves by the kobolds, who had temporarily allied together to repel the human invaders. When Bram's spiders fell, he instructed his kobolds to treaty with the orcs and inform them where they could claim vengeance for their fallen comrades.

The next session started with the players needing a bit of a recap and I was very tired and disorganized due to getting very little sleep.

After Identifying water from the moon pool, Sulla suggested trying to pour water on the magically locked double doors. They tried this but it didn't work. Rather than linger at the double doors longer they entered the caves and went about searching those passageways that they had passed before due to following or evading conflict.

They found the secret back door entrance and saw sunlight outside, not realizing it was still daytime, and then encountered shriekers (which have WAY too many hit points for a creature that just screams) which made the kobolds believe that new invaders were approaching, and so they prepared an ambush. Venturing westward they ran into these kobolds who had set up a quick and makeshift ambush. During the fight, a kobold tipped over a barrel of oil and set it aflame in order to prevent the party from following them. Amongst the spilled oil was a small barrel of gunpowder which exploded with thunderous force.

The gunpowder was my addition, but the kobold fights at this point feel like its just slowing everything else down so I'm trying to make them interesting. The players were really taken aback by it, and the 5d8 damage that some of them suffered from it helped soften them up to make the kobolds actually seem threatening.

Sulla found the Holy Phalange when the party explored the dead end where it was hidden.

The next fight with kobolds was amazingly brief and only lasted three rounds. The party heard them before they saw them and simply rushed forward to catch the kobolds by surprise, which they did. At this point the group decided to explore the dungeon north of the caves so that they could have their map link up where they knew a missing connection had not yet been explored.

They found a room with murals and more ghostly images of Thulian troops marching in the hall. Deciding to take a short rest in a nearby storeroom, they soon heard scrabbling and scratching at the door while Sulla cast an Identify ritual upon the Holy Phalange. They prepared to fight and threw the door open to see the hallway filled with giant beetles. Horatius and Ilona pushed the giant beetles back, defeating them with little expended effort. At the end of Sulla's Identify ritual, he put the Holy Phalange around his neck to Ilona's disgust.

They opened the southern door leading back to the caves and were met by a spider, which then spoke. The voice of Bram spoke through the spider and offered rewards if the characters would ally with him. He claimed to speak for Arach-Nacha and the priest knew this was a demon lord, but played along for now. The rest of the group was willing to hear his offer but only if they could discuss it in person. Bram revealed he had a key to open the magically-sealed double doors along the main hallway, something which had become an obsessive point for some of the players. They agreed to meet with him, but Eppius was very vocal about destroying Bram and all of his spiders. The spider escorted them to Bram's lair and he offered to use his spiders to guard the entrances of Dwimmermount to help cement Ilona's familial claim upon the land. Ilona was considering the deal when Bram revealed that the key looked like a symbol of Mavors, this was the final straw for Eppius and he declared that Bram was an unholy blasphemy.

A long fight ensued between the party and Bram with his spiders, and the party were triumphant without a single person succumbing to the paralytic poison of the spiders. As they began to loot the caves, they heard the approach of more creatures from behind them...

Their map now looks like this:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

all of your gaming criticism is bullshit

I haven't been posting very much lately and that's largely because I keep getting distracted with real life. I'm unhappy with my job, I feel like I don't get enough sleep, and whenever my finances look like they're bouncing back I suffer some inane setback (last week it was my car that needed an injection of $400). I've been working on a few projects for gaming here and there, but haven't been able to adequately finish one to my liking.
  • mind flayers as a playable race for 5e, my latest idea and has the least amount of work done on it (I just started writing it last night)
  • alchemist class for 5e, I've written this scrapped everything and started over then written it again three times now, each time what I've written just doesn't feel like it stacks up against the other classes in terms of balance of power
  • dark elves for LotFP, its not what you think (this one's almost done)
  • my last two sessions of Dwimmermount 5e, I recorded both of them so I wouldn't have to take notes but I just haven't listened to the sessions and written them up (yet)
  • the Cities on the Mountain (not the final name), a megadungeon I've been thinking about for a year (ever since I wrote up the Hidden Fortress) and started drawing maps for this week, I was inspired to finally start working on this project together because of Arnold K's Districts of Lapidir posts (won't see the light of day until I have something solid to share)
  • Hexvouna, a dungeon I have scattered notes on (I should probably cannibalize this project for the megadungeon above)
  • Dwimmermount monsters written up with 5e stats, for the ones that aren't in the 5e Monster Manual (ongoing)
  • deities as stories, an evolving inner monologue about deity descriptions
Each is a work in progress, hanging in my blogger posts as drafts that await finalization and publishing.

Friday, March 6, 2015

lying, manipulating, persuading, and scrutinizing

The 5th edition rules feature a concise list of 18 skills associated with the traditional 6 ability scores. Some of these skills have obvious explanations (Athletics is going to cover climbing and swimming) while other skills are bleakly defined (if I'm searching for a secret door do I use Perception or Investigation?).

Perception versus Investigation
All of the examples with Perception involve hearing things and all of the examples with Investigation involve looking and touching things. This makes me think that calling for a check would really depend on how the player narrates their character's actions, but most of the time it's going to be Investigation.

Passive Perception
The great utility of the passive check is to determine whether a character detects something secret without the need to roll dice and reveal to the player that something is there. I really like the concept of passive skill checks because it means I can flag areas of dungeons ahead of time for things the characters will detect just from walking down the hall or looking around the room for the first time. Also, Stealth checks are countered by Passive Perception, which can also apply to NPCs for when PCs want to sneak past guards or into jewelry stores. This gets into a sticky gray area when it comes time to have social secrecy...

Lying Liars and the Lies they Lie
Deception is a skill under Charisma and Insight is a skill under Wisdom, and according to what's been established on the previous page with Stealth and Passive Perception it would seem that Insight should be Passive and the one attempting to lie rolls their Deception. I've been having PCs roll Insight in some situations and now I'm beginning to think that if I want to maintain consistency that I should revert to the Stealth-Perception dynamic.

Since I started running 5th edition D&D I've had two different players in two different games convinced that an NPC was lying simply due to the circumstances in which the NPC was speaking. In both situations the NPC was not lying, and in both situations I approached the skills in a narrative way. In one situation, I had the player roll their Insight and they rolled above 15 so I decided the NPC was lying in accordance with what the player expected. In the other situation I asked the player what their Passive Insight was and it wasn't above 15 so I decided the NPC wasn't lying. Both situations were wrong.

In both situations I should have ruled that rolling above 15 means the character realizes the NPC was not lying, since the player was so dead certain that they were. Passive Insight should pick up obvious lies. Scrutinizing an NPCs words and body language should have an Insight check to determine the truthfulness of their words.

Get the hell out of my way!
Intimidation is a pretty straight forward social skill, but what does it mean in terms of combat? You can't bluff an Intimidation, because bluffing would fall under Deception. Intimidation requires the will to enact violence. If you fail your Intimidation roll, then you have to make good on your promise of violence. Consider the options:
You threaten someone and they resist, then you inflict violence. Your threat was meaningful.
You threaten someone and they resist, then you do nothing. Your threat was meaningless, it was actually a bluff.
(Sidenote: this is also my primary argument for why I use Manipulate for bluffing in Apocalypse World)
If your threat is meaningful then your target is really just trying to determine one of two things, whether you intend to act upon your threat or whether they can take you in a fight. In either case, the Intimidation roll would tell them either "Yes, he intends to act upon his threat." or "No, I don't think I can take him." and would best be resolved with a contested Perception.
Additionally, I think Intimidation should fall under Strength as a skill, since having an imposing frame (or a slight one) can greatly affect whether or not somebody thinks they can "take" you.

Buddy, can you spare a dime?
Persuasion falls into a strange category where it is a skill used to coerce behavior out of an NPC, but it uses neither subterfuge or brute force. Applying charm and good manners to convince somebody to take a course of action.

Stealth and Intimidation are countered by Perception
Deception and Persuasion are countered by Insight

That's my take on it.