Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dealing with Unnatural Horrors

Dungeoneers encounter a lot of weird and terrible things. Eventually they get used to it, their sense of terror dulled by repeated encounters with the horrors of the Underworld. Here are some game mechanics to deal with it. When the adventurers encounter some serious weird shit:
  • Character: 2d6+WIT+Jaded Points (see below)
  • GM: 2d6+Danger (as determined by the vicious monster, terrible dungeon level, or horrific situation)
 Legendary Success 
 Don't freak out and gain a permanent +1 for Jaded Points
Critical Success
 Don't freak out and gain advantage on your next Weird shit roll
 Don't freak out
 Freak Out
 Roll 1d4 on the Freak Out Table
Critical Failure
 Serious Freak Out
 Roll 1d6 on the Freak Out Table
Legendary Failure
  Complete Freak Out 
 Roll 2d4 on the Freak Out Table

Freak Out Table
 Die Roll
 Character is stunned for 1d20 counts (plus any initiative roll)
 Roll everything at disadvantage until things are better
 Curl into a ball and cower until things are better
 Run away screaming for 5 minutes, then hyperventilate until things are better
 Everything Out 
 Evacuate bowels and bladder, drop everything, and roll 1d4 on the Freak Out Table
 Go full on catatonic for 1d6 hours even after things are better
 Attack everything because you can now see everyone is one of THEM! things may never get better ...
 Permanently lose 1 WIT and roll 1d4+4 on the Freak Out Table

"Things are Better"
This is entirely subjective and up to the GM and the situation.  Monsters may need to be defeated or shown to be able to be defeated, the tide may need to turn for a battle, the character may need to be dragged away from the horrible sight, or whatever makes sense. 

Ignoring Weird Shit
If the character's Jaded Points are equal to or more than the weird thing, no roll is needed; the situation has no effect on the character. Characters always begin with 0 Jaded Points until they get to adventuring.

Conditional Success
If anyone chooses a conditional success they don't freak out but, as usual, the GM will add something unpleasant to the situation. Suggestions are phobias, ticks, or odd behaviors than manifest and increase intensity over several gaming sessions.

OSR Rules
Not using playing Sorrow in Haven? Understood.

  • Replace WIT with WIS modifier (using the good old -3 to +3).
  • Replace Danger with Monster HD or Dungeon Level or encounter level or some gauge of how weird/bad the situation is on a scale from 1 to 10.
  • Replace Freakout result #1 1d20 counts with 1d2 rounds.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Killing the Heart of the Dungeon

Sorrow in Haven has a unique mechanic in which the adventurer crew can defeat the "living" dungeons. All dungeons have a Heart that, if destroyed (or mitigated/resolved), will silence the dungeon and stop its growth. The Heart may be a creature, on object, or something more abstract. If the Heart is not dealt with the dungeon will repopulate itself and may continue to grow.

Types of Hearts
If the GM needs some inspiration, roll 1d6 to determine the type of dungeon heart.

 1 - 8 
 9 - 11 

Monsters at the heart of the dungeon are the most common. In the local parlance of the Guild of Defenestration, these are referred to as the "Boss" of the dungeon. These creatures are invariably more powerful than the general inhabitants of the dungeon, either through physical power (a blood ogre), influence (sneaky goblin sorcerer), or a combination of the two (the much feared dragon). On rare occasion the creature is something innocuous (hellcat kitten) or difficult to identify (invisible stalker).

1 - 5
 Irulux the brute, a demon hound that eats only ash and tears. 
6 - 8
 Bishop Crux, an undead cleric that controls a doomsday cult. 
 9 - 10 
 Power + Influence 
 Dormut the Dragon, a massive beast with mind control.
 Terr, the lost goblin of which the dungeon is her nightmare.
 Os, the ghost of a faerie prince who does not know he is dead. 

Objects have the greatest range of possibilities.  Since dungeons are often thought to be shadows of places that the Underworld has already spread, objects are often localized/specific to the dungeon, but just as easily can be wildly anachronistic or out of place.  Heart objects could be living things that are not "monsters", relics, or treasures that are worshiped by the denizens. Removing relics and treasures from the dungeon have the same effect as destroying them, but there may be other consequences once removed from the dungeon.

1 - 4
 Altar of Ket, stained with blood of sweat of the enslaved.
6 - 7
 Simon's Pocket watch, ticking backwards, forever broken. 
8 - 9
Living Thing
 The Red Oak that lives within the Gardens of Kesh.
 The Eternal Chain, unbreakable links and unthinking torment. 
 11 - 12 
 Crown of Darvik, a horned skull wrapped in flame.

These are simply the most complex dungeons to resolve, because the concept could be an emotion that needs to be eliminated (fear of the light), a resolution to a conflict (broker a peace between the Almec and Frinda factions), or even more abstract (suffer in salt). The GM will provide numerous clues as to the concept and the players need to determine the solution. These dungeons are thankfully rare, for they provide the most complex challenges to the Guild (and to players).

When the heart of the dungeon has been dealt with, the dungeon will eventually seal up and their shadow fades. How this manifests itself is different from dungeon to dungeon.

 The Slow Burn
 Immediate Collapse 
Fade Away
Everything Stops
Lingering Rot

The Slow Burn
With the destruction of the heart, the dungeon begins to erode slowly but surely. It doesn't collapse, but the entire dungeon takes on a wavering astral quality as parts of it simple cease to exist.  Area disappear at about 1 per hour, but not in any particular order.  Dungeoneers can explore a bit more, but if trapped will simply disappear with everything else.

Immediate Collapse
This happens fast - usually within a minute or two of the heart being dealt with.  The dungeon literally begins to collapse in on itself - walls tumbling, rooms erupting, stone and smoke and dust covering everything.  When this happens, the dungeoneers had best beat a hasty retreat, because lingering for even a few moments can seal their fate.  Many have lost their lives escaping collapsing dungeons.

Fade Away
This is similar to the slow burn, but the entire dungeon begins to fade into non-existence at once.  Everything becomes more shadowy and obstacles and creatures can no longer affect the party.  The fade is fairly quick, so tarry too long and one will find themselves in the Gloom.  A few intrepid souls have managed to come back from the Gloom, but never return as they went in.

Everything Stops
The dungeon becomes frozen in time - it is a mural or statue, a point of history that never existed. Dungeoneers can linger and learn, but as soon as they leave the place no longer exists.  Looting is not an option as everything takes on a 2-dimensional quality.  Some Lore Keepers have keep a dungeon in this state open for some time to study it, but they are in danger of causing the Underworld to erupt anew - and it is always much more dangerous that it was before.

Lingering Rot
Everyone hates the lingering rot.  The dungeon begins to rot as though it were a living creature.  Walls bleed, creatures fall apart and decay, the place fills with stinking goop and wretched miasma.  These places linger for a few days, and the area in which they burst into the World of Light fester a bit as well.  Those who explore a dungeon that is rotting are at extreme risk of contracting some rather nasty diseases.

Some dungeons without a heart stop being a threat and become utterly devoid and empty, but do not disappear.  They no longer birth traps and beasts not hold relics and treasure.  They are empty rooms and chambers that are often taken over by the citizens of Haven (for good or bad).  The Undercity is built from these places.  What is most disconcerting is that some of them hold passages deeper into the Underworld ...

Monday, December 11, 2017

Random Event Tables

Wandering monsters are cool, but I've always wanted more than just monsters - I want events!  Events are not necessarily encounters or things the players can directly interact with, but more along with the lines of dressing and setting and tone.

As an example, this is the random event table from the Gardens of Kesh
1d12 every Turn
1: Spores
2: Plants
3: Conflict
4: Facility
5: Wandering Monster
6-7: Lair Encounter
8-12: Nothing

Spores - this helps identify that the dungeon is dangerous
The air quality is pretty terrible in this dungeon because of the spores and pollen.  Characters have to pass a CON save or start to cough and sputter. Characters lose some END, but don't know how much until they lose it through damage or Giving it Their All.

Plants - these events show that the dungeon is alive
The Gardens are a living place where plants have gone crazy.  When this result comes up, roll 1d6:
  1. The party will be split as the plants fill the corridor/room
  2. PC pined against the wall/floor and takes 1d4 damage every 10 counts
  3. Random item is lost in the bramble
  4. Vines produce a prodigious amount of green berries
  5. Vines produce orange fruits
  6. Plants flower that stink like corpses and ooze blood
Conflict - the conflict results shows the dungeon is contested
There are two factions already in conflict in this dungeon. In an area within earshot, the crew can hear the two factions fighting.

Facility - these results show history and background
The dungeon used to be Lab 44A Advanced Botany Facility and while mostly defunct, still functions from time to time.  Roll 1d6.
  1. Pages a scientists to the observation deck
  2. Sprinklers turn on/off
  3. Air Quality update (Evacuate / Warning / Concern / Resolved)
  4. Emergency Red Lights turn on/off
  5. Underfoot plumbing makes a racket (50% rumbling as well)
  6. Electronic beeping coming from 1-3 a small speaker in the wall, 4-6 all over the damn place
So every turn there is a 57% chance that SOMETHING happens. This is a seriously active place. Of the events that do take place, the majority (57%) are things that set the tone and describe the dungeon, may impact play mechanically, or may allow for some problem solving or interaction. The rest (43%) are encounters with a random monster (including the factions) or a definitely faction encounter (lair meaning nearest lair).

Lair Encounter is particularly useful too - as monster "lairs" are changed through play, the encounter table changes simply because the closest lair is something different - faction A is nearly wiped out?  Faction B starts showing up more often.

All of this makes this particular dungeon incredibly interactive and busy outside of the keyed areas. One could easily drop the roll rate to every other turn or roll every turn on 1d20 to lighten the activity load.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Monsters and Encounter Sets

With a new campaign comes the question of monsters. Having all new monsters adds a level of surprise, but i also want players to be able to learn, so if everything is new every time, then they can't make strategic decisions (just tactical ones).  So I've decided on two things
  1. a mix of classic fantasy monsters and new content
  2. to group the monsters into sets
Set 1: Dungeon Specific Monsters
These are the monsters that live in a specific dungeon. They are often going to be unique things or variants of other more common creatures.

Set 2: Dungeon Type Monsters
Since there is a semi-formal classification of dungeons, similar creatures will be found in all of them. Deshi spearmen can often be found in Garden dungeons, while Children of Silence (a type of undead) are found in Tomb dungeons with fair regularity. Some will be classic and some new.

Set 3: Dungeon General Monsters
These are the buggers that just show up anywhere and will comprise a lot of the classic creatures - fire beetles, giant rats, skeletons, goblins and the like.

These three sets also apply to wilderness settings once I get that far
Set 1: Monsters that live in The Upturn'd Glade
Set 2: Monsters that live in Forest settings
Set 3: Monsters that can be found in any wilderness setting

Stocking & Wandering
But back to the dungeons, once I've got the basics and clearly defined encounters and need to flesh things out, when a random stocking roll calls for a monster I'll roll 1d6:
  • 1-3: Dungeon Specific
  • 4-5: Dungeon Type
  • 6: Dungeon General
But on the random encounter table, when a random monster is called for:
  • 1-3: Dungeon General
  • 4-5: Dungeon Type
  • 6: Dungeon Specific
The reason that the specific creatures get a lesser value is that there is a entry on my random encounter table that is for "Creatures from the Nearest Lair" which are always going to be dungeon specific monsters.

One of the treasures that will be discovered through adventuring are pages from the Phantasmagorica, which is basically the monster manual / monstrous compendium / hacklopedia of beasts for the Sorrow in Haven campaign. Players can add these to a binder and throw whatever additional information they see fit on there - add/remove/whatever.  Once it is in the binder, it is "common" knowledge.

Lore Keepers
Speaking of monster lore and common knowledge, the Guild Of Defenestration also has some info on monsters, but it is the most common of knowledge - if any exists at all.  It is a source for players to get some insight into what their characters know, a little helping hand that makes sense within the campaign structure.  It is not, however, a library of useful facts that can be mined. No telling if what the Lore Keepers know is even true.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Dungeon types

The Guild of Defenestration does their best to categorize and classify dungeons because there is some sort of a pattern there - some insight that can be gained.

1. Gorehaven
Violence, torture, blood, and gore are the hallmarks of this type of dungeon. Heads on spikes and pools of boiling pus decorate chambers where the pit traps also crush your legs so you can't escape the flood of salt ants that roll over your body.

2. Gardens
Ruins of other places overrun by nature, often nature with a dark malice.  Sentient plants, poison, and aggressive spores are common. One also must watch out for the humidity and fungal diseases that are common. The ruins vary in type, but many have echoes of the Machine Core or the Temples.

3. Temples
These places have a feel of grand ancient places dedicated to strange and often terrible gods. There are often cultists or adherents of some sort; temple guardians constructs or summoned beasts holy to the gods are common as well.  Temple hearts tend to be abstract ideas rather than things.

4. Tombs
Akin to temples, the tombs are just that - the resting place of something or somethings. While undead are fairly common within the underworld, tombs tend to have a profusion of the damned things. They also tend to have more loot in the form of burial gifts.  Entering without a Templar is ill advised.

5. Underdark
Caves, caverns, and natural formations that are shadows or links to a vast network that which lives below the earth of Eradu. Creatures that do not need light hunt for survival, cruel cultures exist that despise the light, and sleeping titans are all things to be aware of in these dungeons.

6. Machine Core
There is a place where machines are everywhere - machines and technology beyond our understanding. Huge gears with levers, pipes that belch forth corrosive steam, and things more fragile made of magic and copper wire. There is a will, an intelligence, a presence that watches over it all.

7. Voidstructs
The esoterics Martin Caldwell Eascher and Schroeder Bhore describe these places as beyond reason as we can understand it. They are thought to be rare glimpses directly into the deep reaches Underworld; gravity, time, and space mean nothing here - at least to our senses.  The creatures here are often "n-dimensional" and particularly dangerous.

8. Otherworld
Some dungeons are clearly alien worlds or utterly alternate dimensions. These places are the most terrifying, and the things that live here, if they are alive, are known to induce madness wit their mere presence.  Dungeoneers should be overly cautious in these realms.

What is What [GM Stuff]
When creating a new dungeon or even dungeon level, roll to see what the base type is:
1 - 20Gorehaven
 21 - 40 Garden
41 - 60Temple
61 - 76Tombs
77 - 88Underdark
89 - 94 Machine Core 
95 - 98Voidstruct
99 - 00Otherworld

Sorrow in Haven Character Creation

Sorrow in Haven is a dangerous game, characters can perish from combat rather easily, traps in the underworld are brutal and unforgiving, and social interactions can turn deadly if you insult the wrong fellow.  As such, I want character creation to be quick.

1) Ability scores

  • Roll the 7 scores
  • If the total modifiers are less than +1, this is a henchman, set aside and start over
  • Assign the scores to the abilities you prefer

2) Background [Optional]

  • Roll on the Background table or choose one from the list
3) Select a Character Class

  • Choose one of the 6 classes
  • write down initial abilities, choose 3rd initial ability

4) Secondary Scores

  • Calculate secondary ability scores based on primary ability scores
  • END and VIT determined by CON and class
  • Damage determined by class
5) Memories and Connections [Optional]

  • Roll on the random memory inspiration table ans answer character questions
  • Roll and choose form the list of character connections
6) Starting Loot and Gear
  • Roll for starting cash
  • Buy gear
Nothing particularly mind bending or earth shattering there, but the process allows for 2 things
  1. the option stuff is truly optional - skip it and a character can be built in 5 minutes
  2. the optional stuff can be done after the first adventure - so players can create characters that, if they survive, can explore their pasts and how they know each other.
Non-Optional Stuff
In a game where a character can die off in the first encounter, have fast character generation so the player can get engaged again immediately is important. However, the background, memories, and connections help create a more fleshed out character that, if they survive, has a place within the world and within the party.  

This works to inspire a starting point for memories as well as offer a soft mechanical advantage in play. This is a single die roll or choice from a chart.

Players spending tons of time creating backgrounds for characters is fine, but they don't always mesh up with the vision or the campaign.  The Memories of the Past questions ask strange questions or give inspirational moments for the player to riff off of to help flesh out their character.  This also becomes an interactive process if the other players help refine the answers. This can quite some time depending on how gregarious the players are.

I've played in far too many games where we either hand-waved or ignored the fact that the characters, as developed, had no place adventuring together - paladins and thieves, barbarians and wizards, good clerics and clearly seedy characters - it always set my teeth on edge.  The Connections section, inspired by Fiasco,  has no mechanical effect, it simply sets up the relationship between characters.  The more characters there are, the more complex this process becomes, but the more satisfying the results.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Massive Overhaul!

For the last several months I've been thinking about the games I've been running over the years.  I had a successful massive campaign spanning several years and multiple groups. I've run some good old fashioned dungeon crawls and a seriously sweet city campaign as well.  The most recent run using Dungeon World was ... not successful. I wasn't having fun running it and it wasn't coming together like I wanted.  I made things too big.

I also have issues with game system.  D&D 5e is OK, but it is too broad of scope and doesn't feel like I want - characters are too powerful.  Basic D&D is sweet, but doesn't have the dynamic action built into the system.  HackMaster is full of awesome ideas and in the end far too fiddly. DW has great focused characters, but is too narrative and the advancement too flat.

Rather than tweak and mod existing systems I took some inspiration from the DIY school.  I looted ideas I liked from various places and systems and combined them.  The campaign setting and system are called (at least for the moment):

Sorrow in Haven and the Endless Grey

The rules manuscript is nearly complete (as far as I can tell).  The setting write-up is still skeletal, but coming along nicely.  The game mechanics and character creation are designed to slot together into the setting. Character creation is straight forward but flexible enough to allow for most character types. Combat is dynamic and deadly, but taking chances comes with sweet rewards. Advancement is quick. The magic system allows for straight forward use or to be as fiddly and complex as the player wants to make it. Action resolution is universal and a simple opposed roll.  All in all it is fast and furious and the mechanics support the style of play it is designed for.

This might be "the one" for me.