Friday, July 2, 2021

Pease Park District

WTF it is July already. And we have a holiday weekend here in the US. The weather in the northeast is awesome - if you like cold temperatures and rain, which I do.

Anyway, with the new Sorrow in Haven crew formed up, we have a new character map:

and I'm working on the "4-page" for another district - Pease Park.

We also decided to try something with this set of characters which, I feel, is not going to work out well in the long run. I grabbed the Hackmaster 4e Quirks and Flaws tables. I let people roll on them. Rather than Build Points, they get a % bonus to their XP. Things went well for the most part, but one player's character just went completely haywire and down the shitter. I eventually had mercy on them and made them stop rolling on the tables.

If I do include a quirks & flaws mechanic in character creation, it'll have to be be seriously tweaked. Not just for the mechanical aspects (obviously) but to both imply additional role playing and make them feel more "Sorrow in Haven"-y. I don't want adventurers with multiple amputations. One eye is fine (and led to a great in-character story), but who cares about "drooling"? I know HM4e has a lot of parody content ... but it also was a beautiful re-designed version of AD&D.

I think for now I'll spend my effort on setting material.

Oh - and the first (unedited) version of the monster book is ready done. I have more material to write (a few tables here and there) and need to start tracking down some artists to fill it with creatures. But it is in a playable state! So that is pretty sweet.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The TPKs that just happened

In 2 games over the last 2 months I've had 2 TPKs.

Some would consider this a failure. The characters all died? What now?

If you are of the "I'm telling a story about the characters" type of GM yea, you are screwed and your game is a bit hosed up.

But that isn't how I do it. That isn't how you do it either. In any game where character death is not only possible but probable, the game can't be a story. I know I harp on this a lot, but it really frustrates me hearing all these folks talking about "the story".

So all the characters in the BCDH game died off. And it was glorious! Some began praying to Vecna for salvation and became her thralls, others refused. The battle was on. Everyone died OR was no longer a playable PC. What does this mean? That the campaign continues with a new chapter! With those events having unfolded as they did (I really didn't think it would go that way, but hey - players? am I right?) a small cult has become a big cult because they have champions. The 4 characters that 'turned' are now effectively the 4 horsemen of the Rock Apocalypse. The new band of heroes is off to hunt for some weird shit in Barrowmaze (which I'm VERY excited to run). Everyone is down with it.

When it happened, I think this was the first time most of these folks had seen a TPK. They'd all lost a character here and there, but there was some continuity of adventure. This was different. I'm pretty sure (although not entirely sure) that what made it more OK was the intro to the next campaign - their previous actions as players had an impact on the world, and that is pretty awesome.

A TPK isn't just a failure of the adventure, it is an opportunity to change focus - how you as the GM handle it makes a big difference. If all the characters die and you give up and nothing else happens, then it was a boring loss. Make it an epic loss.

In the Sorrow in Haven game everyone knew - THEY KNEW - this dungeon was a deathtrap, a lie, a trick, all bad. Yet they still chose to go in there. A few sessions went by, more and more information about the bigger situation was being presented. They got into a serious situation and weren't entirely sure what to do ... but they could tell no matter what it was going to be bad. And it was. Epically bad! Characters getting stabbed and blasted, curses going nuts, people running away and getting overwhelmed. But here is the important part - everyone had fun.

Everyone had fun with an epic disaster. Because it is just a game! Folks were already talking about their new characters minutes later. Technically they did "resolve" the dungeon, but absolutely not as they had hoped. I had no idea if things were going to go completely sour for the characters, so had to so some quick on-the-fly thinking. Their actions ended up having an effect ON THE CAMPAIGN.

Again - a TPK of heroic adventurers should be dramatic. Not a bunch of 1st level wangers. They are fodder. but a group of seasoned adventurers screwing up like that? Oh you know Shit has got to get Real. So ... Sorrow, the giga-dungeon, the heart of the campaign, is now fully awake. They'll know this soon enough. More importantly though everyone talked about how much fin they had getting their asses handed to them.

Don't misunderstand - these TPKs are not common events. Just happened this way. What I'm trying to get to though is as a GM, don't be afraid of them! Use it as an opportunity to weave your player's actions into the setting and start something new. 

That "story" the GM runs isn't that interesting (sorry - it isn't). But the story that the players have about their epic and catastrophic failure? You know that is going to stick around for some time. The emotional impact of losing all the characters, and the players all feeding off each other, is more than the GM can thrown out. That is ok. GMs are only human, and at any given table just one human. The power of a group is stronger. That is why seeing a movie in a theater full of people who are excited to see it is more fun than watching it at home on your phone.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Rival Adventuring Parties in Barrowmaze (and beyond)

Been on a bit of a break from Sorrow - exhaustion, Memorial Day, etc. Plus the group has been deeply engaged in some dungeoneering which didn't get me super inspired to write anything. My other group rolls some old school D&D (my BX variant BXDH). They are about to jump into the Barrowmaze, and one of the things that is great are the pre-made rival adventuring parties, but i wanted some more. Found this post and loved it, so added them as well. I also dropped the Fearsome Five from the list ... the name just irked me for some reason.

Which rival party? This one (1d100): 

1d100 Rivals
 1 - 8  Bastards of Bogtown 
 9 - 16  Bertrand's Briggands 
 17 - 24  Boon Companions 
 25 - 28  Gorelick, Kesselmann, Voboes, Inginok and Fritch  
 29 - 32  Halma-Khet 
 33 - 36  Lord Farthingale's Men 
 37 - 40  Morgenstern and Sons 
 41 - 48  Norse Whisperers 
 49 - 52  Order of St. Halachris 
 53 - 60  Outriders 
 61 - 68  Renata 
 69 - 72  Sisters of Ynis Nagahl 
 73 - 76  The Dragonslayers 
 77 - 80  The Forsaken 
 81 - 84  The Gallant Comrades 
 85 - 88  The Progeny of Lorbis Vu 
 89 - 100  Unknown (just some mooks)

What the fuck am I going to do with all these rival parties? They are the inspiration to get adventurers moving! 

As part of the restocking of Barrowmaze there is a little restocking table made popular ages ago.
every room they visited:
1: add a monster
2: add a monster with treasure
3-6: left as-is (1 in 6 change of treasure)

I also like this idea, so I'll also be rolling for each space ADJACENT to where they tromped, +2 if they bring back significant loot:

1d20 Situation
 1 - 13  No changes 
 14 - 16  evidence 
 17 - 18  evidence, changed feature 
 19 dead mooks 
 20 dead adventurer 
 21 looted room 
 22 here they are! 

Evidence: broken weapons, signs of a scuffle, discarded torches, scribbling/graffiti (maybe they recognize it)
Evidence, changed feature: broken door, scrapes from secret door, wrecked statue, etc - standard adventurer bullshit
Dead mooks: dead hirelings ... X in 20 they are recognized (X being the # of times they've hired mooks from the guild)
Dead Adventurer: roll on that rivals table and kill someone!
Looted Room: monsters and treasure all gone
Here they Are: the rival party is here. roll again!

 1d6  What's up?
1 All messed up - wounded from battle or traps, either what is/was here or not
2 - 3 Roll for surprise? Depending on what the PCs were up to, roll for surprise, or reaction 
 4 - 6  In the middle of it - fighting, looting, disarming traps, or whatever

In addition to seeing these rival parties fucking up their dungeon(s), they will likely interact with them. Everyone starts with a 0 to the reaction roll for the rival parties (they are rivals after all). Bad interactions lower this, good ones raise it. Nasty rivals might start their faction score at -1d6.

 Faction Score  How they Feel
-9 or worse Nemesis! probably try to kill  you and take your stuff 
 -5 to -8  Enemies: definitely not your friends, will try to take advantage 
 -1 to -4 Jerks: they don't like you, won't give benefit of the doubt
 0 Neutral: just more adventurers adventureing for adventure
 1 to 4 Upnod: acknowledgement and might help a bit
 5 to 8 Respect: will steer clear, maybe share info, they like you cats
 9+ My Good Friend!: will assist, maybe team up, definitely share info

similar faction system for pretty much everyone - not just rival adventuring parties. all factions! those cultists? FS starts at -6. The barkeep they keep tipping goes up to +1d4. This is, more or less, similar to the loyalty scale i use for hirelings

 Loyalty Score  How they Feel
0 They are going to mutiny
 1 - 4  Hate being employed by you, probably steals, definitely talks shit
 5 - 8 Disgruntled, will do bare minimum 
 9 - 12 just a job, but they do it as best they can within reason
 13 - 15 They like you and want to be your actual friend
 16 - 17 Absurdly loyal - may give their life to save yours
 18 True Companion - almost nothing they won't do for you, no questions asked 

so any hirelings have a Loyalty score of 8 or less? maybe that should be another +1 to the adjacent area where rival parties are dicking about. Yep. I'll do that. 4 or less? they'll actually tell about cached gear and the like. fuck the PCs! They are terrible bosses but i need this job to maintain my crippling addiction to smoking crab gills!

Monday, May 31, 2021

TPK and campaigns and GM prep and ranting

The basic D&D game ran into a TPK. It was glorious. In the end that TPK lead to the direction and next chapter of the game. The TPK is an epic situation - complete and total failure, absolute collapse, and should have an impact on the greater game. 

So the 4 characters that turned against the rest of the party because they thought, for various reason, praying to the altar of the Vecna, queen of the damned and primarch of the setting sun, would be good, have become NPCs - in fact they are the "Four Traitors" (the 4 horsemen of the rock apocalypse). These wicked NPCs are racing to do things ... while the party is now racing against them.

as a GM, we decided to move on to this new chapter of the game. i had a ton of material that I wanted to run for my pimped out isle of dread game, but c'est la vie. i can package it up for later consumption. this is why, unless i'm REALLLY into something, preparation and notes and everything are simple.

but back to the TPK ... now to the players feel? they are fine. i hear all these "rpg horror stories" of TPKs, how the GM was awful and unfair and sucked. While these might be part of the case, i also remember one player I had in a game a few years ago. He had been RPGing 'for decades'. great. He lost his fucking mind when his character died. "first time i've ever lose a character". what? he hasn't been playing D&D ... or at least the D&D I play.

At what point did the game become about being heroes? My fantasy rpgs are all about some mooks that are fucking shit up. the challenge is surviving while doing things. you are heroes because you  succeed, yo do not succeed because you are heroes. The later is fine, but the former is how i prefer to play.

so when did that change happen? i think that also is when the "story" because so important. maybe i'm just being a cranky old man, but how the fuck does anyone think that is is fun to play in someone else' story? if the story already exists, the events are pre-determined, then it isn't a game? is it even interactive fiction? if you fudge the dice to get results that are 'better for the story' why are you even rolling dice? want a story? read a book. want to tell a story, write a book. or movies or anything but why why why an RPG, especiallyly one like D&D?

There are, of course, story games. I don't really get this as an entire genre and, frankly, don't care if you try to explain it to me. play what you want. but remember this - if you can't lose it isn't a game. animal crossing? super fun and adorable, but it is a toy, not a game. you can't lose.

ok i'm done.

just play more games. whatever kind you like.

be cool to each other and stop being assholes online.

try something new this summer - like i might actually sty a storygame.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Dragons in Dungeons and Dragons

My group of players finally encountered a dragon in my BX(DH) game. Some of the players are new to D&D, other have been decades of experience. I decided some years ago that making every dragon a  godlike creature that is only worthy of NPC status or apocalyptic end-boss status was pretty lame. I mean the fucking monster is in the name, right? So enter the "thunder lizard".

The short version of the setup is that on the Isle of Dread the village of Tonora has been abandoned because it was beset by a thunder lizard. This being the isle of dread, players assumed a T-rex. When the thunder and lighting of the the dragon was revealed (it was an epic appearance, crawling out of the sea eating the last of a shark) there were two trains of thought.

1) Fuck this. The entire rest of the island is cut off. This is way too powerful for us.

2) Dragons have treasure and I want to get this this thing's treasure.

I did my best to neither encourage or discourage any plans - hanging back as referee judge and letting them debate and make choices. In the end, 2 daring party members identified that the dragon had its hoard under the sea near the short (that gem-finding sword I forgot i handed out like 10 sessions ago came in handy!). The rest hung back and watched - prepared to flee and partly in it for the probable carnage.

The crew was a bit underpowered, but clever. They did some sneaking and used their abilities to their fullest. When the dragon woke up and started rampaging at the interlopers, the battle was FIERCE. All the hirelings but 1 got obliterated. 2 of the PCs got blasted down to unconscious (using the 0 HP = unconscious in my game, -1 is dead) with some lucky rolls.  1 PC got lightninged apart. Everyone was damaged and beaten ... but in the end, they defeated it!

After all, a blue dragon is an 8 HD creature. Some luck and clever tactics & strategies were on their side. The dragon had el blasto breath and some magic, the one character who took draconic as a langue finally got to use it, everyone was sure it was going to be a TPK, but when then the final crossbow bolt did its job there was a collective cheer.

Dan: "That was amazing. I've been plying D&D for 30 years and that is the first time i've ever got to actually fight a dragon". I know - because Dan I an used to play as kids and I had the 'dragons are the badassest things in the universe' problem. Everyone was excited. The crew tangled with and beat the most iconic fantasy monster. It was only 8HD but they thought it was 100HD and still went for it!

They had the option to avoid it. But that lure of something to fuck about with is too strong. The urge to do stupid dangerous things in D&D is what makes D&D amazing. It is the opposite of real life. The dragon is that thing you can't tackle in real life because you are scared of it or maybe it is too much. For example I need to replicate a customer environment in a VM for some testing of of something my devs haven't been able to reproduce, but fuck it, why not?

Overcome your dragon! SLAY IT! It isn't impossible. You might even have a good time doing it and find some sweet treasure. I mean seriously - who doesn't want a sharkskin cloak studded with blue quartz that lets you turn into a shark 1/day. ALso, bragging rights.

You can make dragons gods in your game, world-shaking monstrosities that control the destiny of millions, but i let them be monsters. terrible monsters, but monsters that can be overcome nonetheless. 

Side note - on the way back to Lotamu to get their XP for getting that treasure (you get XP for treasure once you get to civilization in my game) they got ambushed by some giant geckos and a couple of ghouls wearing the discarded gecko skins as a 'disguise'. That almost anihilated the party. That was the most atrocious series of shit rolls I've seen by a group of players in quite some time. But somehow, also fucking awesome. RPGs are dreat.

Game on!

Monday, March 22, 2021

Awesome Trap Follow-up

I talked like I knew what I was talking about in the last post, and (in a twist that shocked no one) it turns out that exact situation came up in the game on Friday night. 

Setup: chest is a small room, chained to the walls - not to lock the chest but to keep it there. Bolts in the stonework, heavy chains with inscriptions (non-magical)  in ancient languages. Claw marks on the ceiling. 

These aren't exact quotas, but pretty close based on my quickly scribbled notes:

Player: "I want to open it but this is clearly a bad idea"

Player 2: "This is a trap ... but what is in there? omg. OPEN IT!"

Player 3: "Dude, dude, dude. Relax. We don't HAVE to open it. But we should open it."

Player 4: "Maybe it has a head in it?"

Player 5: "I get as far away as I can in the hall while encouraging someone else to open it. Don't we have hirelings for this kind of thing?"

Players 1&3: "I like my henchman - no way! You open it."

Player 2: "The Winter Queen isn't keeping the not-dead king's head in here. But what the fuck is she keeping in here?" 

Player 6: <chuckling quietly and grinning> "Consequences be damned - open it, Argento!"

The in-game tension from describing a weird thing got the players all amped up, which was great. The more they fucked around with it without opening it all the way increased the ominous sense of danger - because there was something terrible in there.

It was glorious. They opened it. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

How to Write an Awesome Trap

 This isn't about mechanics, this is about style.

Make it Obvious

If you pit traps hidden unless everyone has a 10' pole, then everyone will carry a 10' pole all the time. If you make door traps undetectable unless folks succeed at a roll, then every fucking dungeon door is searched for traps. "But that makes sense" is fine if we were running some sort of a simulation, but it is FUCKING BORING in real life gaming. I used to do it that way, then one day I came to my senses.

Make traps obvious. Or their effects obvious. Either show the players the trap or a big fucking clue. Got a chest covered with contact poison? Then tell them it is covered with something or throw some dead bodies (or rats) or whatever around the thing. Give the players something to latch on to. If they ignore this, it is at throw own peril.


"There are a few human skulls, cracked with age, littering the hallway." If they focus the light and look down the hall "you see some armor-clad skeletal bodies, headless, about 30' away". There is clearly a trap here - something that decapitates motherfuckers.

Don't Write a Solution 

Let the players come up with a solution. as a good GM, you need to determine if that would work, or how it would work. Just write the situation - the hallway has a bunch of blades that will chop of your head. Very Indiana Jones 3. 

Not writing a solution seems to imply that you don't need to write how it is triggered. Not true. But writing a trigger may imply a solution, but doesn't dictate there is only 1 solution.


  • Player: I'm going to run and dodge my way through'
  • GM: Give me a DEX Check. But failure isn't damage ... it is decapitation
  • Player: serpentine pattern and Naruto style ... LET'S GOOOOOO!

  • Player: I'm going to crawl slowly along the floor feeling for stones that may trigger these stupid blades
  • GM: the blade are not stupid they are awesome. it will take you 2d6+4 minutes to crawl that carefully.
  • Player: ok ... i'm going to use my chalk to mark stuff too
  • GM: great - you do it* and everyone else it only takes 1d6+2 minutes because of your marks

* You do it could and should likely be expanded into some tense role playing for fun, but was too long to write out for my example.

Make them Want to Mess With It

A trap just being a trap for no reason is as boring and lame as a trap that isn't obvious in some manner. Players should have a reason to choose to mess with a trap. Choose is the important word here. Again. Choose. If the trap lies between point and and point B and the characters need to get to point B then it isn't really a choice to interact with the trap. Of course need is a bit sloppy as well. They probably want to, which is different than need to, so want allows for a choice (even if a bit thin).

A trap sprung on completely unsuspecting players means they didn't choose to interact with the danger and makes it feel like a gotcha. If they ignored all the obvious signs, that is their own dumb fault. But as the GM, maybe you didn't do a good enough job of telegraphing. Make a note and figure it out later. Don't beat yourself up. This is just a game after all.


  • Why even go through that passage? Because that door at the end of the hallway has the mark that we've seen on other treasure vault rooms. 
  • The gemstone on the pedestal surrounded by dried blood and looks really valuable. Are the walls covered in blood as well - like an explosion? I really want that topaz...
  • So the statues turn to look at us as we pass by and they all have gold coins for eyes. Like real gold I think (in a game where copper groats are the common currency this is some serious loot). But they are looking at us. Actively. I want those coins! But I don't want to die! Coins ... LOOOT! I get out my prying dagger. Watch my back, wizard! (The wizard steps out of the room because 'fuck this!')

Bonus Fun: Monster as Trap

I've done this a bunch and it is always fun. A trap is an obstacle, something to overcome - a challenge if you will. So are monsters. So why not place a monster that will DESTROY the party - like serious TPK potential - but put it in a state that the characters can avoid it ... but if they mess with it something cool happens. My favorite - sleeping dragon.

Everyone knows that a giant-ass sleeping dragon that is cradling a pile of coins and gems and whatnot. If they trigger the trap (wake the dragon) there will be hell to pay. So sneak by it and avoid the danger ... or figure out a way to get that loot. Of maybe the dragon is blocking an archway that leads to a cool sublevel of the dungeon they heard has a fountain of Beefy Strength or something.

Replace 'dragon' with whatever is awesome for the adventure: Giants, Lovecraftian horrors, infinite amount of huge hunting spiders, hoard of fear burrowing goblins - whatever floats your boat. The idea is to make it a clearly bad idea if they are 'triggered'.

Traps Kill and Maim!

Traps that just do some damage are boring. Traps about always be seriously brutal - kill them fools! Rip off legs and destroy armor. If you make traps just whittle away at hit points they are annoyance and become less interesting. Drop a ceiling on a PC (or hireling if the players are wise) and they'll get the idea. This doesn't mean character's can't survive, but why do 1d6 damage when you can do 10d6 damage? Make that shit BRUTAL.

Traps that Warn or Detain

Fine - I acknowledge that these exist, but they are rarely that interesting. You fell in a pit! Other adventurer's help you out of the pit. But if you take these situations - fall in a pit, drop a net, and so on - then these should warn someone/something else ... and start a race against time! Fall in a pit and a bell rings and a bunch of kobolds with jackal skulls for heads wielding javelins dripping poison come running in 2d10 seconds (like 1 or 2 rounds) from the secret room next door - that is a trap with a pit as part of it.

No Content? Just Advice?

I was going to write up a list of traps or a trap generator, but they are already everywhere and I don't have anything that is so unique as to change your world. So roll something on whatever table, grab results from whatever generator, then make them MORE. 

For some examples I hit up and used what was generated and made it MORE. The traps presented are just traps, so I'm not shitting on that site (it is a really nice generator), but everything is very mechanical. Basically the opposite style of what I'm doing. 

The Web Trap

Original Summary: magic makes webs fill an area and make a really easy DEX Save to avoid or STR to break out.

MORE: What looks like charred ropes hang limply in an area that itself has charred walls. Step in giant spider webs get sprayed all over you (automatic). If anything struggles, they get set on fire! 2 STR Checks to completely escape back the way you came or 4 to get to the far side. 3d6 damage every check (assuming that is rounds or something). ON the far side ... a ruby made of living flame held in the many legs of the Spider Queen Leth.

Bear Trap

Original Summary: bear trap triggered by pressure plate that a macguffin is on (I like that this one has a reason for them to mess with it in their description). Moderate damage (with an attack roll), easy to get out of.

MORE: A series of concentric bear traps can be seen poking through the floor - each one larger than the last, the farthest one clearly closing at about 8' high. Pedestal with Juice of Everlasting Cool - i'm down the pressure plate thing. trigger the plate and BLAM - crushed and pierced to death by those bear traps. The first one does 1d6 damage, then each one after that 1d6 MORE damage than the last - total of 10 of them, each one triggering 1 second later. snap Snap SNAP! And it will destroy the fragile Juice Bottle - because if i can't have it no one can! Better ruined than in the hands of thieves ...

That is all for now. please do some gaming! If you pimp out some traps or do some cool traps in this style, let me know! Time to go clean up the garage and get ready for my Friday night game. Maybe I'll remember to eat lunch today at a normal time.