Tuesday, July 28, 2020

here’s how I do knowledge checks

Make a knowledge check DC 15. for every 5 points over 15, give them one extra piece of useful knowledge. if it is very obscure, make it dc 20 or higher. some things they will not be able to know, such as what a monster is and its powers, but if they are confronted with something opaque, the knowledge check is a good tool. i like this because it can give them a lot of helpful information at once if they roll well, gives me discretion to tell them what i think would be helpful and useful, keeps them from having to play guessing game, but still has room for flat failure.

Example: “what did I know about that magic barrier preventing us from leaving the astral plane.”

wizard rolls a 22. 

me: “what kind of thing do you want to know?”

wizard: “well, can i still make sub dimensional planes with magic?” this is something he could figure out through trial and error, so the knowledge check is a useful tool to bypass that. but he rolled a 22, so he gets two pieces.

“yes, sub-dimensional planes can still exist. it seems likely the barrier only traps this portion of the astral plane (meaning, the dungeon they’re in) so if you can get out, you can probably escape.”

i like to ask them what they want to know. helps guide the conversation. 

i like to keep the world theyre in mysterious. sometimes there is no way to simply know what is going on because they are experiencing something new or unknown. often, the bulk of the game is trial and error, or learning through failing. 

“whats this floating giant cat in the next room?”

“you have no idea”

cat opens mouth really wide, revealing skull, shoot shoots eye-beams, turns you to marble. see, a knowledge check would just ruin it.

also, sometimes i will give them a piece of knowledge even if they fail, if the knowledge clears something opaque up. maybe a note i wrote to myself explaining the situation, that actually has no intelligible way to communicate. they puzzled over a small floating moon for a while, a wolfman was worshipping it but it didnt seem to do anything, and eventually they resorted to a series of knowledge checks to see if that helped. 

failed at that too, so:

“well, it appears to be a spirit of some kind. but that’s all you know.”

them: “a spirit???”

not exactly helpful per se, but gives the world a little more depth than just, “dont know what that is and it doesnt matter, so lets move on”

i like knowledge checks. a useful roll.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Last of Us (Part One and Two)



At first it feels like a knock-off Half Life, with button mashing quick time events and a clumsy stealth mechanic instead of shooting, but quickly demonstrates itself as superior in its care for demolished urban environments, shocking violence, and surprising beauty. The Last of Us supplies all three in spades, but then expands and expands, reeling out place after place and broadening its emotional scope slowly but deliberately. You start in ruined downtown Boston, then trek a short ways to a small Massachusetts town, then even further to Pittsburgh, and even further than that to Wyoming, Colorado, and finally Salt Lake City. Each traversal manages to feel like a surprise, and each environment gives the game developers a chance to showcase a new kind of ruined beauty and explore the stories of a new kind of people. It really is remarkable.

The moment to moment movement in the game somehow manages to feel important and fun, even though mostly what you're doing is poking around old houses and opening drawers. You know you aren't going to find enough supplies, and that whatever encounter comes next is going to be tough enough that if you don't give yourself an edge it's going to be annoying, so you're pressed to search. Luckily, the houses are detailed and beautiful, and the remains you find there tell deliberate stories of apocalypse, and the little notes and letters you might find left behind are well written and concise. Not to mention, the animations and movements you make when you grab the items are fluid and satisfying. It's a core movement to the game, and it feels good.

In fact, the movement over all feels fluid and intuitive. There's less of that feeling of "snapping" to cover that you get from other cover shooters. Jumping through windows and over counters is quick and quiet. When you get caught, the sprinting and dodging feels break-neck and frantic.

The drawings are realistic but never look real. Everything has a lush, animated quality to it, though the light plays realistically, it feels more like moving through a world inspired by our world, than an attempt to emulate it. It feels rich, and works with both the natural and urban environments, and sometimes is able to recall accurately moments from reality. There is a point mid-way through the game where you wash up on a river shore in Pittsburgh at night, and the night sky is so beautiful and quiet, it reminds me of the real night sky, in a way I have not encountered in a game.

The zombies are not the main event but they are creepy. The game has managed to do something new with zombies to demonstrate how horrible it could be. The fungal blooms that erupt from the zombie corpses are beautiful and alien. The idea of fungal spores permeating an apartment building and infecting the inhabitants hits close to home. The actual enemies feel like video game enemies, and there is not much to say about them, but I enjoyed the idea that, as the infection spreads, the zombies stop becoming killable the way people can be killed, because they are mostly fungus.

The stories of the few people you meet are concise and cruel, but never seem to overstep their bounds. At first they seem sort of stilted and histrionic -- early on, your smuggling partner is bitten by a zombie and sacrifices herself to save you. Ok, well, everyone saw that coming. But we keep meeting people, just a few of them, probably no more than six characters, and each one is drawn directly and quickly, their personality is clear and again if not real-seeming then at least realistic, and their ends are varied and often cruel in ways that are surprising, and just as importantly, affect the main characters, and their relationship to each other.

Joel and Ellie really are an excellent pair of characters. The play between them is obvious, one is a hardened and bitter smuggler and he misses his dead daughter, the other is a naive young girl, who has nevertheless seen her share of sorrow. But the writers really milk it. The whole game is filled with snatches of dialogue and banter between them as they remark on the world around them. Their different takes on what they see, what they care about, their slowness to care for each other, it is really affecting. When they are separated from each other, it is horrible. Joel's difficulty in showing his genuine care for her, and then the relief and feeling with which they embrace finally near the end of the game, is one of the few truly moving moments I've encountered in a game.

Much has been said about the end of the game, I'll say it again. Joel rescues Ellie from a hospital, where the doctors are going to kill her to extract a vaccine from her body. She does not know this is going to happen. To me, it feels natural at this point that Joel would do this, and I support him. He guns down the doctors and gets her out, but when she asks him later what happened, he gives a blatant lie to cover up his guilt and his fear that Ellie would leave him, which Ellie hesitantly and for the time being accepts with a simple "Okay." Again, this is a remarkable moment of story-telling which I have not seen in a game before, a fast ending that illustrates something new but true about both characters, and which ends the story that was being told. The dialogue has a deliberate, written quality that really works here. At the end, the inability of the characters to be really closely intimate, despite their longing for it, is simply illustrated, and then the story ends. It's very, very good.


Man this game is weird. I don't really know what they were going for.

The first thing I noticed is that the characterization is off. Joel no longer seems like Joel. There is a lack of specificity to his character. He doesn't seem like the fucked up, emotionally calloused murderer from the first game, he's more like a sweet and beloved war hero. He's quickly murdered by a character you play as in the tutorial, which is a strange choice but seemed deliberate, though it didn't quite work, as I couldn't tell what they were trying to accomplish. That feeling of not quite knowing what they were trying to accomplish sticks through the game. There's an inconsistency that never lets up.

At some point in the game, I noticed that the grabbing motion feels strange. Your character's gestures when they reach out feel sort of robotic or over-scripted, like over-fluid, maybe uncanny valley. This persists.

Throughout the game, the moment to moment writing is either a little bit off -- the letters and notes you find lack a feeling of directness and authenticity -- or just strange. There are strange sex scenes, strange murders, and a feeling of flatness. The game takes you in a direction for a while, and then stops, or suddenly changes direction.

There's an open world area at the beginning of the game. You're given a map and everything. I figured the rest of the game would have open world elements, but as the game continues, it never shows up again. The rest of the game is really linear, like the last one.

Your allies switch out so often, and there are so many of them, that the game starts to feel a little unmoored. At first your companion is your girlfriend, Dina, a shallow and annoying girl, whose appeal I don't see. Then there's Jesse, a grim and personality-less young man, who stirs some jealousy. About halfway through the game, perspective unexpectedly shifts to Joel's killer, and you play the rest of the game as her, and are accompanied by a number of companions, most of whom die. None of this stirs much feeling.

There is a hollow flatness to the game's events and violence. It is shockingly violent, the streams of blood that spurt from people's necks when you drive your knife into them is cunningly animated. The violence is joyless. There is a sense that the game is trying to demonstrate that violence is bad. Your enemies are given names, they call out to each other. At first this is intense and interesting, but as the game progresses and nothing is done with this information, it feels only manipulative, but to what end?

The game ends in a violent, boring brawl full of close-ups, seemingly meant to demonstrate the worthlessness of revenge. It sucks.

The most remarkable thing about this game is the strange juxtaposition between its realism and density, and the hollowness of the characters, the story, and its message. The visuals are astonishing and mesmerizing, though not exactly beautiful. It evokes a beautiful, ghost-like, foggy, wet place, a conjured Seattle I've never been to but now want to visit. The fog and the ferns and the rain feel magical and full, the dripping water, the rushing torrents of water, the rain, and the storm and lightning, the swelling waves, it's really great. But then the dialogue and people are so flat, and there's that sense of manipulation, that I'm being made to do something I don't want to in order to learn a lesson. That I'm being subjected to the unpleasant impression of violence, just to be taught that violence is unpleasant and bad.

Weird game.

Monday, May 25, 2020

how i did my megadungeon

so, first thing i did was feel like an open world was too tough to run over internet. thought maybe a dungeon would have the right constraint and focus for me to write material and run sessions week after week. told my friends this, not really giving them much choice.

consider the main idea. what is this place? something ruined, with several generations of inhabitants having moved in and out, and several competing factions. what is the goal? something concrete, elusive, but extremely traditional classic d&d, in the manner of the oldest published dungeons. some artifact, an orb maybe, let there be an evil wizard and an evil army, yeah thats classic. they’re all dead and the orb is lost, so the goal is the orb.

the original dungeon layout. secret levels are covered! uncovered levels not encountered don't exist. vaults of zin, snake man city, bloodways from rappan athuk, mercury citadel, shrine to zuggtmoy, all didn't make the cut.
draw an elaborate multi-level layout. draw connections between levels. main idea is, top of the dungeon is three large maps, with sublevels branching off and connecting them. sublevels dont have much to do thematically with main levels. consider some big ideas for these levels and their bosses: a buried pyramid and its pharaoh with a golden dragon, if the golden dragon is released, it wanders the dungeon, like the alien; a vertical level with acidic slime issuing from a tortured unicorn, but the slime is traveling UP and goes through the first levels as a river, so if players follow the source of the river they find an important secret; an upside down castle filled with vampires; far above, visible from the start but not accessible without extreme measures, a flying fortress, kept by a witch queen now captured inside the dungeon; a bottomless pit with an ancient purple dragon; and, perhaps, some others I can’t mention yet.

first draft of level two, bears little resemblance to current level. some neat ideas though. what's pool of black ruin? slow lightning! giant eye absorbs people! one idea that made it through intact: body of illith varn, optional boss now located on level three. headless wizard shoots cursed blood and powered up wizard spells. where's the head...?

first draft of level three, i think. it says level one at the top but pretty sure this is level three.

then immediately stopped playing for a long time, mostly due to job related stress. very sad.

pick it back up a couple years later. have the capacity to do an open world again. but the dungeon is still there and so is the quest. players do a long side quest, constantly telling NPC, “just give us a couple days, we’ll be right there.” then, quest commence.

long journey to the megadungeon.

next step: dont like the old maps anymore. too big, too many levels. should be a little smaller and condensed. let the three levels be the main event, delete and combine some other deeper levels I had in mind. write new total dungeon layout with connections. figure out exactly whats going on with the orb and where to find it, and how. scrap the old level maps and room list, too much whimsy. have a website generate all the dungeon maps. randomize until they look right. print at work after a shift. each main level, 65-70 rooms. each sublevel, 35-40 rooms. total rooms, about 400. no problem.

on each paper map, write the main ideas. brainstorm. write lists of ideas. inside each room, write the idea for each room, like, TRAP, MONSTER, NPC, BOSS, or even something specific. make a list of the bosses, put them in order, brainstorm ideas for each. block out areas of each level for sub areas — SLIME RIVER, BIO RECOMBINATION LAB, MALAGON’S HQ, SWAMP, and so on.

this is one sublevel, the flying fortress of the sky witch, meant to be visited after players make it to level two, but able to be accessed at any time by a dedicated and curious party. pretty typical for my paper maps. most of the ideas in the rooms made it through almost intact, many of the brainstormed ideas did not.
in big notebook at lunch, start making more detailed room list, level by level. this is where i get more specific but still sketchy. “slime river is jumping and playing” “orostranthian elf mecha, ancient war machine” “lich hidden in opulent tomb” and so on.

an important beat in the dungeon: the golden dragon, secreted far underground, meant to be encountered only late in the dungeon. "He has scraped a pit in the ground. The entire room glitters gold. The elaborate and cruel Gods of the psychodesert preside. He rests on a bed of gold, Gold is embedded in his hide, itself smooth gold, like cloth in places, like armor in others. A harsh and unfamiliar reptile scent. It has been awake all this time."

typical notes for level one

as players near area of dungeon, in big text file on computer, fill in concrete details, as much as possible around their current area, so they can go in any direction and it will feel full. let them know if they are close to the edge of the map. if they stray over, use notebook room list in a pinch. write exact numbers for monsters and traps. invent treasure.

room one. set bonus redacted until players find the rest.

the bottom of the tower of slime

some scenes from the flying fortress

write random encounter lists. write giant 100 item random treasure list. 

transpose dungeon maps onto roll20, first by importing map file, then simply by drawing map directly onto roll20. fill with images so it’s like a collage the players can look at during a game. tweak layout so it’s more pleasing and has better flow.

level one! too big to fit on one screen. some secrets remain blacked out
tower of slime, levels one and two

a section of level two

room one: mecha
if there’s time before a game, go back and revise. add complexity. change ideas. deepen characters and add new treasure and monsters. make images more vivid. 

run game.

talk to players about what’s working and what they like and don’t like. talk to players about feeling of overall challenge.

continue forever! actually they're nearing the end of the dungeon now. it'll be two years in september. will they finish before then?? 


Friday, May 15, 2020

100 monster mechanics

I was talking with people about monster mechanics. I've written a lot of monster mechanics in the last few years. Here's everything my players have encountered in the megadungeon so far. I'm leaving off anything that simply deals any extra damage, or is just an added grab, since I use those so often.

1. You can see squirming bulges under their skin. Every hit, tentacle demon babies spray out around them. This creates a swarm. The swarms can merge, if they do, their hit-points are simply merged.

2. 3/day DEPOSIT EGGS on a grabbed target — CON save DC 19 or eggs are forcibly implanted in your flesh, 8d6 dmg and Con save every day DC 19, after 2 failures the eggs hatch into disgusting tentacle demon babies (an additional 20d6 dmg as they hatch out of your flesh)

3. CHAMELEONIC: Disadvantage on attacks against Veck, as his colors shift and meld into the background.

4. COMBO: First attack: Regular

Second attack: Disengage up to 15’, attack everyone in a 15’ line
Third Attack: Attack everyone adjacent to him
Fourth attack: Disengage up to 15’, Knock back up to 15’

5. They are NOT HOSTILE at first, unless they feel they can get a strong advantage and win with few or no casualties. They are very cautious, but will feed the players false information and lead them into traps if possible.

6. stone Armor reduces all incoming weapon damage by 5

7. Laser: Scintillating purple and blue pulsing laser 300 feet long, seeks a target that the mecha has seen in the last ten minutes by the most direct path available (lines only), and targets it and everyone between it and the target

Vents a radioactive cloud in a 20’ radius around it. This incendiary cloud lasts for 10 rounds, affects people who enter it or end their turn in it, and also automatically poisons people affected by it until the end of their next turn.

A chunk of its black armor is torn off, revealing a fleshy pulsing spot underneath. If hit (as a called shot), the mecha takes double damage. 

10.  If anyone enters room, utters spell causing rooms to tip 90 degrees.

11. Able to cast a MASS CURE WOUNDS as recharge 4/5/6.

12. if you’re hit you’re restrained (the ball and chains grant a +10)

13. MIMIC: if you try to open it, you’re stuck to it with a weird sticky previously invisible goo, it gets to attack with advantage, attacks against surprised creatures are automatic critical hits.

14. at will can cast REPULSION, this causes target creatures within 60’ to immediately move their entire movement speed away (no save).

15. Also 1/day can speak a disgusting word, target Con save 18 or is polymorphed into a disgusting lizard.

16. 1/day can breathe clouds of poison in a 20’ cube that CON DC 18 or 2d10 dmg per round and poisoned and movement reduced to 10.

17. Targets opponent and adjacent enemy, each hit deals 4d4 dmg and a stacked bleeding, dealing 1d4 bleeding damage at the start of each round, this lasts until a Medicine check DC 20 or a 3rd level or higher Cure Wounds.

18. 1/multiattack, as part of the attack, the arrow stick in a person and radiate their power, must be removed as an action to stop the effect: 
ELECTRICITY (8d6 in 20’ radius when impact and at the end of players’ turn, others may Dex save 18 to take half dmg, but if you’re wearing metal armor you’re at disadvantage)

19. STATIC (all words come out as hissing static in 20’ radius, spells with V impossible)

20. HOLD PERSON (whole body goes numb and is paralysed, Wis DC 18 to resist)

21. MIND CONTROL (DC 18 wisdom check, comes under direct control of boss as long as arrow is in him, acts at the end of boss’ turn, all attacks gain a +10 dmg)

22. BLINK (roll d20 at start of each turn, on 11+ target blinks into astral plane, swirling psychedelic fogs, monsters can be dimly seen as shadows, only vulnerable to FORCE and PSYCHIC effects, and end of turn target returns to material plane)

23. when someone walks under it, it falls down. +10 and advantage against everyone under it, for 8d8 dmg.

24. Cone 15’ roiling black gas that lingers until the end of the frog’s next turn: CHA DC 13 or reduced to 0 hit-points, and at the same time, maximum health halved, which remains permanent as a curse.

25. Bite +10 d10+10 and suck you for maximum health (gained as temporary hit-points)

26. Can forgo each bite attack to suck in—everyone gets drawn towards it 15’, first person who makes contact gets bit (Strength saving throw 18 to resist)

27. On death: 1. Sleep (no save) 2. Magic missile 5d4+5 3. Color spray 10’ radius (5th level) 4. Cause Fear on killer DC 15 5. Paralyse lower / upper body on killer Wisdom DC 15 6. Fireball 10d6 dmg

28. Snail slings: 1d4+10 dmg, and you’ve got a snail on you that traces corrosive and numbing venom on your body — d10 stacking dmg each round, and Con DC 15 or a random limb goes numb / paralysed. 1 R arm 2 L arm 3. head 4 torso 5 R leg 6 L leg

29. Immune to Weapons, Any weapon that hits it gets stuck in the slime baby.

30. They only attack bleeding people, they are fascinated with blood.

31. his hand leaves a mark, keeping you from healing, as a curse.

32. He’s blind! All attacks are at disadvantage, except his BITE attack is NOT if the target is GRABBED.

33. FOG: At the end of every other round, the fog inside them radiates outwards in a 10’ aura, dealing 1d10 poison dmg and adding a stack of poison.

34. When a spell is cast within 30’ of a blue jelly cube, it explodes, dousing everything within 15’ with blue slime (2d10 dmg).

35. attracted to characters with max HP


37. When it moves through the slime, slime sprays everywhere: everyone within 20’ of the SPIKED WAR MACHINE must Dex DC 15 or take 2d10 acid damage.

38. EMANATE BLACK SPERM at everyone outside 15’ from it (+12 for 1d12 damage, repeating at the end of each turn as the sperm burrows into you, it must be burned out with fire)

39. Movement 30, but he is a slime bender, when he comes to a slime pool it forms a bridge that ferries him across for free movement. He can climb up slime waterfalls this way.

40. 2 attacks per round with his halberd, +12 — 2d8+4 and a stack of poison — 1d10 damage per stack. Player takes 1d10 dmg per point of stack at the start of player turn. Poison is permanent until cured.

41. Expel Poison: Expels poison from his skin, everyone within 10’ must Con save DC 20 or take 1d4 stacks of poison

42. They only attack if someone comes through this room alone.

43. If killed, they explode in a mist of crystal, everyone within 10’ must Dex save DC 15 or be restrained by crystal that takes 20 points of dmg to destroy, or a DC 18 strength check.

44. It takes no damage from weapon attacks,

45. if you get next to it, it can attack by reaction +12 3d10 acid dmg.

46. When it moves, it SCREAMS. Wis save DC 15 or be Frightened and speed is reduced to 10.

47. His skin is SO THICK that he only takes damage if he takes more than 15 points — at that point he takes the entire load.

48. When they ask a question as an action, their targets legs cease to work until they are forced to answer truthfully, no save allowed (this is magic)

49. If they die, their comrades are able to resurrect them — they have trained this way to become unsurpassed warriors

50. aura 30’ deals Con save DC 18 4d10 poison damage every round (save for half), on a failed save you’re poisoned. Your skin gets hard and green.

51. Immune to all damage while wearing the ankh

52. Mass Polymorph (targets 1d4+1 people)

53. STRANGE BOW +12 1d10+10 and impaled into the wall, must take 2d6+10 damage to remove arrow and move

54. They’re so fast that when fighting in melee that almost never miss.'

55. Immune to time-affecting spells

56. Duration of all spells cast on them is reduced to one round due to time dilation

57. One holds a squirming squid creature which he wields as a weapon: deals 3d6+10 poison damage, leaves bright white stripes where its tentacles hit,

58. Other holds a bright red rooster which he wields as a flame-thrower; every round in a 60’ cube in front of him, can breathe fire for 8d6 damage (Dex 15 for half)

59. Resistant to magic,, if a spell misses or fails, it reflects off the shell directly back at the caster.

60. Speed 20, but it leaves a trail of slime, and if you walk through it you must make a Strength saving throw DC 18 or be stuck, and use your action to wrest yourself free, Strength check DC 18.

61. EXTENDABLE ROYAL GAUNTLET HANDS, like Hellboy’s gauntlet except it can shoot out

62. MASSIVE SERPENT BITE: A coiling hydra of serpents bursts from the ground, all in the 10’ area must Dex save DC 18 or 4d10 dmg, then serpents make three bite attacks +12 at 3 targets within 30 feet for an additional 6d10 dmg. 

63. Dream Breath (5/6): 60’ cone, DC 18 Con or 18d6 Poison damage, and begin to fade from reality — For next round all damage dealt is halved, then save again; on failed save, unable to interact with objects or see more than 10’, then save; on third failed save, you are banished to the realm of dreams for one minute (everything overgrown, weird gravity, giant lamp-eyed cats watch you, it’s night time)

64. replace an attack to kiss a grabbed foe — +10 attack to cause to become glued to the triple-men, lose 4d10 max hp

65. Spells cast in his sight are randomly disrupted:

Roll d10
1. Target closest adjacent target
2. Target self
3. Instead of damage do healing
4. All targets also turn invisible
5. All targets also polymorphed into 1. cat 2. lizard. 3. dove 4. dog
6. All targets also fly d10 rounds
7. Spell slot not expended
8. Damage doubled
9. Targets disappear for d10 rounds
10. Spell disappears, comes into effect in d4 rounds

66. Ranged attacks automatically miss due to blowing winds

67. Attacks and powers against her take effect with a 1d4 round delay

68. One single bright green flower, it is poisonous, touching the flower causes you to take 1d10 damage every time you speak, one hour.

69. SLEEP WALL — Cast sleep in a 60’ long, 10’ high, 2” thick wall, any who passes through it must Wisdom save or fall asleep

70. Immune to the type of damage they last took

71. Advantage to attack hurt opponents

72.  it fears cold. It flees from cold, though it will try to smother anything small, smaller than 10 feet cubed.

73. He is immune to weaponry and spells.

74. He is incredibly strong, he will always win a grapple, and after winning, will deal 8d10 damage per round as he methodically rips them apart. 

75. He can break through locked doors and other barriers with an action. 

76. ABSORB SOUND: All within 60’ have their SOUND ABSORBED: 3d12 damage and Con DC 19 or Silenced and Deafened for 1 minute

77. SCREAM All within 60’ must Con DC 17 or 4d10 damage and be deafened until end of next turn

78. WITHER: targets all foes within 30’, causing 12d8 damage, DC 19 con save for half, on fail also 1 levels of exhaustion and making it as if they had not eaten for a week, also causes them to lose a quarter of their bodyweight

79. DEVOUR: swallow a L or smaller target whole, provided they have 100 hitpoints or less. Attack roll, then swallows target, they take 10d10 damage immediately, then take 3d20 dmg per round. 

80. They can scramble over the surface of the water They flicker and glitch when they move, they can pass freely through opponents.

81. The one wielding the dagger catches on fire, he deals 8d6 fire damage to anyone who starts his turn within 20’ of him, and anyone who moves into his aura. This heals his friends and heals him, it cannot be reduced.

82. If attacked it has HP 50 AC 15 and one attack, it spins and at start of next turn shoots a giant purple laser beam 10’ wide 200’ long Dex DC 18 or 18d10 necrotic damage, this destroys the limb knot.

83. Attack +12 4d10 and stick, thereafter dealing 25% total hit-points at the start of each round, and inflicting a level of exhaustion. After four rounds mosquito woman also receives two levels of exhaustion.

84. Its blood is poisonous, when a head is severed, poison blood pours out, if underwater all water in 20 feet is poisoned and deals Con save DC 19 10d6 poison damage, half damage on save, and poisoned (save at end of turn to resist), this poison lingers for 24 hours; over water, the poison sprays straight forward in a 30’ cone.

85. ANYONE FROM NOW ON WHO HEARS THE SONG: When he makes music, must make a Charisma save DC 20, on a failure he accidentally plays the Demon’s song instead, the effect does not work.

86. The song is louder and more clear here. When you hear it, make a Charisma save DC 20. On a failure, you feel sort of dizzy and out of it, you’re dissociating. 

You now make Psychic saving throws with disadvantage, and psychic ability checks and saves are at disadvantage too. This lasts for 24 hours.

87. Mirror Images — Creates 1d4 mirror images, its impossible to tell which is which, they take no damage from area of effect attacks, and on his turn they each cast their own spell, dealing half damage, attacking illith varn causes the usual problems of mirror image, except each one must be dispelled separately as a 4th level spell, they are AC 19 

88. Every time the wolfman takes damage, chunks of fur go flying, when they hit the ground they each turn into a wolf! It starts as a FIRST ITERATION SWARM. Every time the wolfman gains damage, if there is a swarm within 30’ feet and there is a way for his hair to hit the ground, the swarm gains 20 hitpoints. After gaining 100 hitpoints, it becomes SECOND ITERATION. After gaining another 50 hitpoints, it becomes FINAL ITERATION. At this point, damaging the wolfman creates another FIRST ITERATION.

89. When 2 or more targets move within 10’ radius of each other, shoot mini explosive grenades (DC 19 Dex or 4d10 damage)

90. BLINDNESS/DEADNESS. Afflict one opponent with blindness and deafness. No save is allowed, and the effect is permanent.

91. turn INVISIBLE at the end of each turn, this can be dispelled or prevented by the usual means

92. INCENSE BURNERS CAN CATCH SPELLS! A spell that is targeted within 20’ of the censer can be caught in the censer. As a reaction, make an opposed intelligence check (d20+10), if incense burner wins, it catches the SPELL, and may cast it as a bonus action next round

93.And as a bonus action cast a spell:
1. All allies in 10’ radius get +4d10 temporary hitpoints
2. All allies in 10’ radius get extra attack
3. All enemies in 30’ radius movement reduce to 0, cannot leave square (Cha save DC 18)
4. All enemies in 30’ radius damage halved (Cha save DC 18)

94. WARP MIND: DC 20 Charisma save and 2d12 psychic damage, and: 1. Fond memory permanently replaced with demon memory

95. They take out a big sharp drill and start drilling into your head. They only use this if you’re stunned, and it puts them at disadvantage to defenses. 

96.  Brain Worm (range 30, at will, DC 18 intelligence check or 6d6 psychic damage and take movement in a direction octopus guard desires, even into hazards and off ledges)

97. STAKES: If a vampire is incapacitated and then manually staked through the heart at melee, it will be paralysed but not slain. If conscious, it can be incapacitated by being grappled by at least two people. It can then be slain by beheading.

98. These vampires are jumpy: they can jump 30 feet as part of an attack (separate from their move), if the attack hits then they’re on you and can replace one of their unarmed attacks with a vampire bite.

99. Spell: They can do a dance which causes you to dance too, Wisdom DC 16 or restrained for one round, and 10d6 damage as your body twists and contorts

100. BLANK: Smudges an area in a 20’ radius for 1d6 minutes, no concentration required and can be canceled as a reaction. This area ceases to exist. Anything that moves into the area ceases to exist. When the spell ends everything in the area returns to existence. DC 19 DEX save to escape. Anything that touches it gets glitched into the blank. Portions of limbs and objects gets smudged, but you don’t take any damage if you touch it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

i did a podcast!

Alex had me on his new podcast to talk about actual play. We talked about megadungeons, long campaigns, high level play, player challenge, dungeon ecology, NPCs and romance, and some other stuff! It was fun. 

Hope you like it! Thanks Alex!

Friday, April 17, 2020

follower subsystem!

After spending some time in the dungeon (6 months? 20-40 sessions?), my players started recruiting some guys to come with them. Partly because not every player could make every session, so they'd have the option to pad out the team, and partly because the threats in the dungeon were very scary, so they could bring back up if they hit a hard spot. But we all like video games and leveling up, so I gave their followers levels and an upgrade tree. 

XP is split evenly with followers when brought along. You can only bring a number of followers to equal the total number of players + 1. Since our group usually has 4 players, the largest a group can ever be is 5. Meaning if two players join a session, they can bring all three NPCs, and if all four players are present, they can bring one.

If a session has players joining or leaving early, it's okay to teleport followers in and out. It seems worth it to handwave the details in this case.

Followers are controlled directly by players during combat, but won't do anything against their nature. PCs will have to negotiate with or convince followers as normal to do strange or untoward actions, and conversations will be roleplayed. If a follower dies, they can be brought back from the dead, but depending on the circumstances and the players' actions, might not want to fight anymore. This happened to Zaxas, it sort of sucked and I miss him.

Follower stats are determined when they're hired, and depend on their innate capabilities and characteristics. If the players decide to hire some dumb schmuck, they'll have stats to reflect that. 

My players were level 15-17 when we started this and their hirelings are statted to reflect that. They hit level 2 and level 3 with about one session of play each, and then levels 4 and 5 a little bit slower than that.

Are the NPC powers overpowered? Hell yes they are. But the NPCs are pretty flimsy so I think it balances out.


LEVEL 2: 1,000
LEVEL 3: 3,000
LEVEL 4: 6,000
LEVEL 5: 10,000


A rich adventuress from the Moriad. She travels with a ton of money and a craving for new adventures. The players met her when she was bidding for a magic diving bell which can transport the occupant to hell. She went to hell once and came back safely, and they convinced her to travel with them to the Shattered Labyrinths of Illith Varn to seek new knowledge and experiences. Her gimmick is she can gift the players gold instead of upgrading her stats. If they choose this, the gold does not apply to XP.

Ocean Brack 
HP 11, AC 11 
Attack +3 1d8+1 (Rapier)

LEVEL 2: +2d8+2 HP AND +2000 GOLD or +2 AC

Choose one:

HELPFUL KNOWLEDGE (May make a knowledge check with a +10 bonus on pretty much anything, if successful cannot be used until next day)
DODGE (Reduce damage from incoming attack or spell to 0, useable once per day as reaction)
PERCEIVE WEAKNESS (Spend entire action studying foe, then at start of next turn may impart knowledge to give allies within shouting distance +5 on next attack, useable once per day)

LEVEL 3 +2d8+2 HP AND +2000 GOLD or +2 Attack

Choose one:

PARRY AND RIPOSTE (1/turn If hit with an attack, may parry as a reaction to provide her a +d10 AC, if attack then misses, she may riposte)
DISTRACT (Hurls insults at opponent, which must make Wisdom save, on failure is at disadvantage to attack anyone but her, used once per short rest, lasts one round)
LET ME TAKE A LOOK (Makes a Perception or Investigate check with a +15 bonus, useable once per short rest)

LEVEL 4 +2d8+2 HP AND +2000 GOLD or +2 to two saves AND sneak attack 2d6

Choose one:

MAKE A NOTE (Makes notes in her journal exactly describing events as she sees it for up to one minute, including room layout, monster behavior, things spoken, etc, useable once/day)
SNEAK ATTACK (May now sneak attack once per turn with a +4d6 dmg)
MY FATHER KNEW A FELLOW LIKE THIS (Make an opposed Charisma check with a +15 bonus, on a success target treats Ocean as a friendly acquaintance, just like Charm person)

LEVEL 5 +2d8+2 HP AND +2 to two of your choice: AC, ATTACK, or TWO SAVES

Choose one:

HELL MOVE (Attacks five times with a +4 bonus to attack, and may sneak attack with each attack, if the target is killed, a demon is summoned from the corpse of the slain which serves Ocean Brack for one day and one night; the summoned demon is chosen randomly from a secret DM list, or generated randomly; my secret demon list is a spread of standard monster manual demons with a roll of 20 summoning a balor, naturally the first time they used this power they summoned a balor and used it to steamroll a good chunk of the dungeon, I'm still mad about it but fair's fair)


Croda is a giant speaking wolf who fights with a sword in her mouth. I honestly don't remember her backstory at all, except that she hails from frozen Velenheim, kingdom of the white elves and their dead armies. I imagine the wolves there might train in weapons to better hunt their prey. Maybe her pack was killed by elves or zombies. 

Croda the Wolf
HP 31 AC 15
Sword attack +5 1d10+2
Bite +5 1d8+1 and trip

LEVEL 2: +2d12+8 HP, +2 to AC or ATTACK, 


SPIN ATTACK: attack all adjacent, anyone hit is knocked down (1/short rest);
SAVAGE LEAP: After making a successful bite attack, leap up to half movement speed as disengage and then bite again, but must make a bite attack.
KICK: May kick as a bonus action each round for 1d8 dmg and knock back 5’

LEVEL 3: +2d12+8 HP, +2 to TWO SAVES or DAMAGE, 


STRANGE HOWL (All enemies within 60’ must make Wis save or spend next turn using movement crawling like maggots, means movement halved at very least), 
MOON HOWL (Sheds sickly moonlight from no-where, enemies within 60’ take 2d10 radiant damage, no save), 
FOND HOWL (Allies within 15’ gain 2d10 temporary hit-points that last until sunset or sunrise, whichever comes sooner)

LEVEL 4 +2d12+8 HP, +2 to AC or ATTACK,


QUADRUPLE SLASH (Attack four times with wielded weapon, recharge on short rest), 
BITE THE BLOOD (1/short rest, On a successful bite attack, heal 3x that amount on self), 
CRODA’S DANCE (1/short rest, Use all movement speed to perform a strange dance, next attack roll gains a +10 to attack roll and if it hits, target must spend their movement on next turn dancing, and then attack Croda back at least once)

LEVEL 5 +2d12+8 HP +2 to TWO SAVES or DAMAGE, 


MOONLIGHT GREATSWORD (1/long rest wielded weapon now deals +4d6 radiant damage, sheds silvery green light in a 60’ radius, and may shoot beams of moonlight up to a range of 30, dealing damage as the sword; this lasts 1 minute, after which the weapon degrades into rust);
MASSIVE FORM (1/long rest grow to size huge, gain +40 hitpoints, +4 to damage, advantage to strength checks and strength saving throws, and +20 to move, this lasts 10 minutes)


A mantis-man from the Black Jungles of Abazidun, who has ventured north into the wastes of ruined Orostranthy to discover the world! Friendly, wide-eyed, pure of heart, somewhat timid. He looks like Zorak except with mantis blades instead of yellow gloves.

HP 28 AC 18
2 attacks with mantis blades +6 1d8+2
Movement 40, and may jump up to 40 feet
Acrobatics +8

LEVEL 2: +2d8+6 HP, AND +2 DAMAGE or +2 AC

Choose one:

TWIRL (After hitting an opponent, may use a bonus action to attack another different adjacent opponent), 
DECAPITATE (Now deals a critical hit on a 17-19, while a natural 20 deals triple damage), 
FINE SONG (Sings a fine song in battle, giving allies who hear a +1d4 to attack, saves, or damage, this roll is useable once every ten minutes but only during battle)


Choose one:

HYPNO-EYES (Make eye contact with an opponent as an action, opponent makes Wisdom save, on failure is charmed, incapacitated, and has a speed of 0, as long as Zaxas maintains eye-contact, if it takes damage or is shaken awake, useable once/day), 
CAMOUFLAGE (Zaxas may blend in with his surroundings, giving him a +15 bonus to stealth, and 1/day forcing opponents to attack him with disadvantage for 1 minute), 
EXCELLENT BLOW (A single attack this turn that hits deals +2d8 damage and causes opponent to drop whatever they’re holding and may not move on next turn and attack with disadvantage for next turn, useable once per day)

LEVEL 4: +2d8+6 HP AND +2 ATTACK or +2 AC

Choose one:

RAIN OF BLOOD (For 1d4 turns, each attack targets opponent and adjacent target, 1/long rest),
I DINE ON YOU (Zaxas gains an additional bite attack for +1d6 dmg), 
HAVE AT THEE (Every time Zaxas attacks, he may move forward 5 feet and force the target to move backward 5 feet, if this would put the target into a hazard, there is an opposed Strength check, if opponent wins Zaxas cant move them anymore this round)


Choose one:

RADIANT SCREAM (Zaxas screams, the built up radiation of the Black Jungles locked in his body are projected from his spread wings. This creatures a blinding light. All creatures in a 60’ Cone must make a Constitution save DC 16 or take 6d10 Radiation damage; Success means the target takes half damage; on failure, they are blinded and suffer 2d10 Necrotic damage at the start of each turn for a minute as their body decomposes, they may save again after taking damage to end the effect),
 I AM YOUR DEATH (Zaxas attacks six times, and may jump to disengage up to half his movement speed between each attack. The first attack targets all enemies adjacent to Zaxas. The second attack inflicts a bleeding effect that repeats the damage incurred for 1d4 rounds. The third attack targets all enemies in a 15’ cube adjacent to Zaxas. The fourth attack is a sneak attack that automatically deals +4d6 damage. The fifth attack knocks back the target up to 15’, granting a Strength save DC 15 if it would place them in a hazard. The sixth attack is treated as a roll of a raw 20 and deals triple damage.)