Monday, May 15, 2017

THE THRICE-CURSED PRISON OF DENDRIC VAST

Built on the back of the cracked canyons of the Goblin Wastes, far enough to keep the prisoners sequestered. It is a great keep of blue stone, where traitors against Orostranthy (and its capital Solemn Cry) too politically dangerous or otherwise dangerous to kill were sent. 

The first curse was the dying words of King Gregs, who was usurped and kept in the castle dungeons and murdered by the wardens. So now the sun does not shine within the castle walls, from the outside it is as if the castle is within shadow, from the inside it is as if the whole world were night forever, sunlight simply does not enter the castle. Looking from the castle walls during the day is looking into a dark land, the castle is cold as winter, no plants grow, and fires are kept burning at all times for heat and light.

The curse of Prince Llolg, a rival of Solemn Cry, who was kept hostage in the prison from boyhood and died. His adult sisters, sorceresses from a western land, pronounced the curse. An immortal monster appeared in the castle. Like a dragon in appearance, but mucal and transparent, its slime corrodes, its wings cannot fly it, it is slow but cunning, and quick when hungry or malicious. It lives in the castle now and goes where it desires, and though when it grows too large the prison puts it to death (at great cost) it returns.

Then the curse of the sky. A stone fell and where it landed the ground was poisoned. Those who live in the castle too long begin to rot from the inside although their bodies seem to maintain consistency and health when they are cut open their bodies are filled with a pus. But the rock is beautiful and it is kept, according to the whims of Dendric Vast.

And Dendric Vast is insane and each day insists on new rules. And the prison is overflowing with the prisoners. And the central prison block has been added onto and added onto and no one person knows exactly what is inside anymore or how it is laid out or how deep the dungeons go. And it is forgotten who is kept prisoner, despite the efforts of the scribes, who toil to record their crimes. And the Prison Knights patrol the countryside searching for criminals, and they patrol the castle searching for criminals, and they patrol the prison searching for criminals. And the prisoners say that the true keepers of the castle are the blind medusa Malareth and Pallid Gross, Carnifex of the Church of Urizen, who are sequestered in opposite ends of the prison, and warring for control.















Thursday, March 2, 2017

Here's my collected thoughts on the MAZE OF THE BLUE MEDUSA

I wrote a few posts on G+ about MAZE OF THE BLUE MEDUSA last Spring and Patrick Stuart the co-author is looking for public posts about it to link to. Here's the transcripts of those posts for easy reference. 

A. A "review?"

A few more (spoiler free) thoughts on THE MAZE OF THE BLUE MEDUSA now that I've read it all the way through, run it once, and spent some time mentally tracing my way through the labyrinth;

- this is the most dungeony dungeon. It has everything you'd expect in a big dungeon: different factions, shifting alliances, magic fountains, cursed treasures, teleportation, strange poisons, history, traps, trick doors, secret passages, rooms with no entrances, riddles, pits, everything.

- there is a lot of really deadly stuff in here, but I think even level one characters could survive and make it out with a good haul if they were smart and very careful.

- it was very easy to run for me. I had read the book through before playing (which the authors recommend) and sure enough it was simple to look at the picture on the painting and just remember what was inside, looking at the text for reference. The layout is ingenious: each section of the maze has a chapter with a labelled close-up that also shows nearby room numbers. Even on a PDF, flipping quickly back and forth between rooms was no problem, because on the zoomed out view the shapes of the rooms and the pictures in them are so vivid that i could identify them. Plus there's nothing egregious or lame that I would want to modify before playing. It's all high quality gameable stuff and has a similar aesthetic to the kinds of weird dark fantasy games i like to run. In the future I might want to tweak stuff here and there just for aesthetics and difficulty, but running it as-is seems like it would pose no problem.

- the hardest part of running this was the characters. I had a lot of trouble remembering exactly how each character got to be in the dungeon and why they were staying there, as well as remembering what they knew, what they would conceal, and what they would be willing to tell, as well as their relationships to the other characters. Information is as important to this dungeon as physical treasure, and I found myself defaulting to my old DM habit of drastically limiting information so as not to give too much away. Many of the character descriptions have specific instructions for which information they do and do not know, and still I had some trouble tracking it. Not to mention I kept getting the uncomfortable feeling that many of these characters were a lot smarter than me. I think the authors have done everything they possibly could to supply the necessary tools to run a huge cast of complex characters (there's literally an alphabetical character index in the back, complete with motivations and a short description)--it was still difficult on this first run.

- the dungeon itself is incredibly evocative and dense and interconnected. Almost every room has a unique feature or character, and a lot of them relate to another sometimes very distant room. In play, the denseness makes for slow going: we played for five hours and got about ten rooms deep with no treasure found, and I don't think I was rolling random encounters even as often as recommended. This isn't bad, just different from how I usually run dungeons, and I'm curious to see what this will feel like as time goes on.

- After my initial read-through I went back and traced my way through different parts of the labyrinth I was curious about, and found myself getting totally lost going between the different people and sections and trying to find the easiest way through the dungeon and the likeliest ways the players might take. You can flip to any one page and the references there (and geographical connections) can send the reader all over the book. It gives a kind of weird vertiginous effect.

- I've spent so much time with this book this weekend that I dreamed about it last night (specifically the exteriors, which don't exist in the book). The art and language and my own obsession for dungeons in particular adds up to an intensity of experience that I haven't found in many of the previous releases from Patrick and Zak, whose dungeons have been groundbreaking but nothing at this scale before. I think part of what makes it work the way it does is its smallness--RAPPAN ATHUK for instance is way too big for me to comprehend all at once, and ditto for most other dungeons that have more than two or three floors.

- I like it

B. Some advice:

Here's how I would work the Medusa Maze into a long-term campaign:

1. Introduce it with a simple and more or less easily attainable and concrete goal, probably something within the first ten rooms, or even the first five. Something that could be gotten within a session of play along with the necessary heist that unlocks the dungeon.

2. Give them a map to their destination, and tell them up front the dungeon's deal--I'd make the NPCs at the dungeon's entrance honest and helpful, or have the NPC giving the players their quest tell them exactly what the dungeon's deal is.

3. Give the players easy access to the entrance, so they can go back over and over more or less whenever they want.

4. Tie stuff outside the dungeon into the inside, so there's really good reason to take a trip inside to get exactly what you need and then escape.

And then I'd relax and let them do whatever. The dungeon is an excellent set up for a heist and is naturally resilient, but it's incredibly dense, dangerous, confusing, big, and scary to explore. And as the players level up and explore the dungeon, there are mechanisms written in which make the dungeon more difficult.

Giving them bite-sized chunks and clear outlines to start, and an easy in and out, would probably do a lot to make the dungeon appealing instead of overwhelming. I could even imagine the PCs clearing out a district, taking out one of the bosses, and installing themselves an HQ or as a faction in the dungeon.

Also I just really like the idea of my players carrying on their adventures a magical painting which leads to a lethal megadungeon whenever they feel brave enough.

C. And a couple play reports (caution, spoilers):

1.

Ran a five hour session of the MAZE OF THE BLUE MEDUSA with a couple friends tonight. Here's some highlights, spoilers galore: present were Jon as Northrop Grumman the Tiny Man With A Riding Dog Rogue and Nick as Melt Banana the Human Paladin of Trump, two thugs in the island city of Tcorsk, hired by Edgar Voad, an aesthete, to steal a painting from the estate of a recently deceased eccentric. Giant land shrimp hung in the palm trees, moonlight washed over the tropical waves. Melt Banana and Northrop Grumman bought forties. Melt Banana and Northrop Grumman pretended to be tax inspectors and bullied the estate manager into letting them in. Melt Banana and Northrop Grumman pretended to have to report the smutty painting False Chanterelle to the morality committee and lugged it back to Edgar Voad's house. Northrop Grumman bullied Edgar Voad into giving them more cash for the painting, while Melt Banana hid in the alley with Northrop Grumman's Rottweiler, Boeing. Edgar Voad, desperate to view his painting in the proper context, forked over the cash, payed them a fiver to hang the painting, and committed suicide in ecstasy when the bound woman came alive and asked them for help. Northrop Grumman cased the kitchen for salami and beer while Melt Banana licked his lips and watched the bound woman. They asked her some questions. She gave some confusing answers ("No don't leave! If you leave the magic will end ... No you mustn't go in the rooms beyond, they're filled with lizard men"). They freed her. They made her promise to sit and watch the other side of the painting while they explored. They re-chained her to the far wall and went inside ("Just an hour lady, if you leave, the magic will end"). They met the blue skinned woman who asked them for art. They went into the room where the shadows make you fall into pits. Northrop Grumman fell into a pit and Melt Banana helped him out. They met the bad king stabbed with swords and tried to bring him back to the blue-skinned woman as a work of art, but were attacked by chameleon women and the king ran away. They went to the room where the mosaic poses a rhyme and if you don't listen, she won't repeat it ("Is this art?" they dead panned). They didn't listen and Northrop Grumman was bitten in half and dragged into the mosaic by the mosaic, and Boeing the Dog as well. Melt Banana ran across the rope bridges and met ("Okay Jon, you can rejoin the game as soon as you have your character sheet") King Hu Harpagos, an idiot and mute reptile man monk who meditated his way into the Medusa Maze in search of his ancestors. King Hu and Melt Banana met the screaming snakechild being mind controlled by chess pieces. King Hu threw napalm on the chess pieces and Melt Banana body slammed them. They found the white room with a single black line down the middle ("Let's stay away from the crazy line room"). They found the black room with the jade tiles that paralyze you. They each got paralyzed and then they made it through. King Hu examined the giant snail for sexual organs ("You find no genitalia"). They drank the bad wine. The end. What a dense dungeon.

Deaths so far: 1.

2.

Session two in the MAZE OF THE BLUE MEDUSA (spoilers ahead): King Hu the Reptile Man and Melt Banana aka "The Knave of Swords" a Paladin of Trump meet Chronia Torn, a naked woman and everything around her is rotting and ancient and weathered and her babbling insect pet with six radial legs trundles across her room and bites King Hu and King Hu likes it and they play together and it bites King Hu and King Hu likes it more and playfully bites back and it bites King Hu and Melt Banana asks Chronia Torn to stop her pet from killing King Hu and she says "Come" and it does. She asks them to bring her silks. She asks them if they've seen, you know, anybody, around. They haven't. She puts on a silk robe and it disintegrates off her body. They want to find treasure. They go into the art galleries. 13 drunk orchidmen stumble out. King Hu tries to burn them with napalm and sets the creepy staring arch of goat skulls on fire. The orchidmen run away. The orchidmen go into the room where the naked critics are. The orchidmen eat some of the bloody critics and the critics stand around and criticize them. King Hu and Melt Banana kill some critics in order to get XP. King Hu vomits slime on the orchidmen. The orchidmen surround King Hu. "They get two attacks each." King Hu is torn apart by orchidmen and his body is digested by plants. Melt Banana runs away. He looks at the room where the tank of bubbling frothing milk and meat chunks is. Melt Banana steals some light-stealing roses from a tangled garden. "I cut a whole bush and carry it around." Melt Banana befriends a scattered group of men in bird masks who call themselves bird gods. They can't agree on whether to help Melt Banana Make The Maze Great Again by building a wall to keep the orchidmen out, and some of them start getting drunk on the bad wine. Vetchling the bird god man agrees to help though. Enter Edogawa Ranpo the Drow Bard. Edogawa Rabpo insults the birdmengods. Edogawa Ranpo insults Melt Banana. Edogawa Ranpo insults a lecturing and argumentative man hung by a noose who starts screaming and attracts the attention of Torgos Zooth, who has a moon for a head and makes them tell the truth. Torgos Zooth asks them questions and appears to not have been paid by his boss in five or ten thousand years, but nonetheless is desperately loyal to her, but wants to rescue his sons from where he thinks they're imprisoned by an invisible mathematician in the Reptile Archives, but doesn't want to go there because the archives and the reptiles and the mummies are her property, and he's breaking the rules by wandering off shift in the first place, and he cries fat moon tears at how stuck he is in life. He offers them food and drink, but they want a crossbow. Edogawa Ranpo insults him and he teleports them to room (roll roll; they say "That's a lot of dice") 247 where a pale guy with vampire fangs is chained between two dim Suns. "Free me... I'm not... a vampire... I'll help you in, your quest... I'll be, helpful to you..." They stake him and decide to rest up there and then they see the hummingbird made of jewels which looks at them and flies away. Melt Banana says "I should definitely not go after the thing that looks like it wants me to go after it." They decide to take a break.
Deaths: 2
Treasure found: Still Zero

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Oops

Here's a couple critical miss tables for when you roll a one!

CRITICAL MISS TABLE

2 Uh-oh, snake-eyes! Either critical hit yourself or roll on the disaster table. 
3 Drop what you’re holding 
4 Trip and fall
5 Trip and fall on your face, you have a bloody nose and take 1d4 damage
6 Throw what you’re holding 1d4x10’ away (roll d4) 1-2 straight ahead  or  3-4 straight behind you 
7 Stop punching yourself! Make an attack roll against you
8 Make an attack roll against another person next to your target, if there aren’t any make one against yourself
9 Weapon breaks in some minor way (string snaps, handle falls off), broken until you get a chance to fix it
10 Jam your hand, ow! Disadvantage with that hand for next round
11 Twist your ankle! Speed is 10 until you’re healed
12 Total fuck-up, lose your next turn. You narrate why.

DISASTER TABLE

Your insane fuck-up is so shameful that you’re now blighted from the sight of the gods. You can no longer cast divine magic, and divine magic no longer affects you. Animals attack you on sight. This lasts until you perform an over-the-top ritual obeisance worth 1d6x100 gold.
3 Your armor gets nicked in a crucial point. Next time your armor would stop an attack, it breaks and you take a critical hit
4 Your weapon gets nicked in a crucial point. Next time you hit with an attack, your weapon shatters into pieces. You and everyone around you needs to make a Dexterity save DC 18 or take 1d4 damage.
5 You fall and break your dominant arm. You just can’t use it until you’re healed or its splinted, and then you’re at disadvantage with that arm until you rest for a week and make a Constitution save DC 15
6 Your weapon nicks an artery. You take 1d8 damage and 1d8 damage at the start of each turn unless the bleeding is somehow stopped. 
7 Your weapon clangs or scrapes super loud. A random encounter immediately joins the fray
8 Your pack breaks and your entire inventory falls onto the floor, anything fragile has a 25% chance of breaking
9 A level 10 thief backstabs you. Where’d he come from???
10 You fall and get a concussion. Unconscious for 1d10 rounds, and take 1d6 damage to all stats.
11 Sorry, you still critical hit yourself, except now you fall down too

12 Earthquake! It goes for 1d6 rounds. Everyone has to make a Dexterity save DC 20 immediately or fall down and can't get up until it's over, even if they don’t they can only move at half speed.  Within 50 miles buildings collapse, avalanches occur, roads are wiped out, bridges crumble. If you’re underground, then every round you take 2d6 damage from the ceiling falling, Dex save 15. Walls and hallways collapse. 5% chance of tsunami.