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.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

monsters Monsters MONSTERS!

The monster book got lost in the shuffle of the new year, but I'm back on my bullshit! Focused on writing and tweaking stats as I go. I changed the number of monsters in lair to an actual roll instead of a multiplier, and have been adjusting some combat stats based on threat and description. Just finished page 25 - only 16 pages to go. Then art and/or the extra fun tables.

Always with the art. The art defines the look and feel, sometimes more than the text. The stat blocks are mechanical, the description have some flavor, but pull double duty as mechanical details. That leaves the art and tables. These need to be entirely inspirational to have the desired effect. 

My most recent artist has gone and gotten himself a regular job. I'm quite happy for him, but this means I need to find some new folks. I've got this idea in my head where these aren't detailed drawings, but images and impressions. Like an adventurer quickly sketched something in their notebook. I love what Scrap Princess does - evocative and strange and, most importantly inspirational (and the non-art material is also INCREDIBLE). 

Then I got to thinking, what if I describe a general style (quick and sketchy, backgrounds optional, infer rather than show) and find 5 or 6 artists who want to throw down. I also know that everyone has their own style and asking them to "dress down" is generally not cool - all the art an artists produces is their resume and asking them to do what might be considered 'bad work' would be detrimental. So why not ask Scrap Princess? Frankly, though, I'd be embarrassed to ask Scrap about commission work. Their stuff is so amazing and I'm just a hobbyist doing a vanity project.

But back to it .. the question is which ones get art and which ones get tables? I definitely want at least 1 illustration each page ... or spread? Maybe a few artworks in there can be full-page illustrations of a critter or critters on the opposite page. I don't know yet. First things first, though, I need to find some artists to discuss this with.

Let's make a random table for a monster. And the random d6 says .... #2. A table for the Lost Angels.

The first thing that comes to mind is The Hive - so let's do that!

The Hive of the Lost Angels
1d6The structure is...
1... made from the interred, dug from their tombs and graves, and posed perfectly to praise many-legged Yseth.
2... perfectly symmetrical and focused on an ancient relic buried deep within and submerged in divine honey.
3... and impossible maze of tunnels that must be crawled through, each chamber housing the honored dead.
4... made of chewed holy scriptures and scrolls mixed with the profane rantings of an unknown Shadow Templar.
5... a perfect replica of a shrine of the Eternal Light familiar to the PCs, including corpses dressed in found objects made to look as church members they know.
6... a gigantic pupa, housing an Angelic Queen that has died in her eternal slumber, that will be Yseth reborn.

Add in some world building with the monsters? Sounds like a good plan. I have no idea who Yseth is - that isn't a cannon old world god in my game (yet). And from that last one I wrote she apparently wants to be reborn. The Lost Angels have honored dead - their own? Are they associated indirectly with the Church of Eternal Light (a thing in my game) or connected to the Shadow Templar (also a bad guy thin in my game)? More questions than answers? I'd say that is about perfect!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"Wheels in Motion"

In this post I'm going to break down a bunch of the current adventure/campaign I'm running in Sorrow. We are still playing and there are some threads that haven't been plucked by the players. There are a few spoilers in here - so if you are one of my players, read this later! The whole thing isn't laid out, just where the group has gotten to so far.

An Example of How I Write Adventures

Start with the problem - this is what the players are presented with - the "objective" of the adventure.

0: "There is some sort of reverse-aging plague ... uh oh!"

So now the fun bits: why and then why and then why...

1: Why this plague? The plague is caused by a dungeon that has grown out of control. 

2: Why out of control? Some wizard was working on a time-related thing and screwed it up.

3: Why is it screwed up? He was under pressure and died (and wasn't as good as he thought).

4: Why pressure? His wife pushed him to do it.

5: Why the push? She married him to gain power.

6: Why power? because she knows about a magic wishing dungeon one someone else's property

7: Why this other place? MAGIC WISHING DUNGEON

So that defines a reason for this adventure. Lets add a few complications. Complications are the hooks and subplots.

0.1 The plague is very dangerous - people age to nothing in about 48 hours. It has the potential to spread and disappear all of Haven. Yikes!

2.1 The strange machine built by the now-dead wizard is being run by members of a faerie court

4.1 He was rushing to provide a time potion to the dangerous gang leader Micky the Fish

Now let's flesh out these NPCs a bit - specifically their motivations. 

The wizard: Yent was an esoteric interested in the search for truth. Having the luxury of being upper class, he had the time and money to pursue these things. But he wasn't really a wizard - he was an occult hobbyist (albeit an advanced one), and made mistakes. He was just doing his thing, but was manipulated into going down this route by his wife.

The wife: Ulona was Yent's 4th wife and got with him to try and create a method for extending time because of the Wishing Fountain. How does she know about the wishing fountain? Because she was the lover of Micky the Fish! But she was just using Micky as well (more on that in a moment) because she wants to get to the Wishing Fountain   

Micky the Fish: once an GDD member, ran across the Wishing Fountain during a 'routine' dungeon crawl. He got corrupted and is turning into a terrible monster. Ulona was a hireling of the GDD crew and knows what kind of power Mickey has ... but doesn't care about the details of HOW, she just wants it for her own nefarious purposes. Ulona continued to manipulate Micky even as he became a rampaging murder machine.

The Other Estate: Yent figured out that the Wishing Fountain, which appears from time to time around Haven had a regular pattern and made some calculations. The next appearance was in the nearby Clopman estate. Why? Because the former head of the clopman's was a wizard who was ALSO interested in the Wishing Fountain and built a statue to attract it. Magic, man. Sweet. 

Now with all the bits and pieces sorted I can write up the wheels. These are what drive the campaign. They are the events that unfold if the character's DON'T get involved, but also set the general trajectory. PC interaction is the heart of a good RPG game, so every time the PCs get their grubby selves involved I update the direction of the wheels (and those related to them). For example, the PCs messed up Mickey getting the time potion, so he changed his mind and decided to hunt them down (after they talked about how awesome they were and generally bragged around town).

The Wheels

Wheel 1: The Plague

  • Consume the Blesmont Circle population
  • Consume Magnen Village neighborhood
  • The Hammers (kind of the supernatural police) get involved
  • Spread to All of Shady Thicket
  • CAMPAIGN CHANGE: Massively depopulate Haven before being running its course

Wheel 2: Micky

  • Get the Time Potion
  • Instead of giving it to Ulona, use it himself to "live forever"
  • Continue to grow more murderous and monstrous
  • His gang becomes a cult
  • Consolidate Power in Shady Thicket
  • CAMPIGN CHANGE: The Hammers form up, recruiting for a a war within Haven

Wheel3: Ulona

  • Get the time potion
  • Raid the Clopman estate and enter the dungeon
  • Use the time potion to extend the time it is open (don't want to get trapped)
  • Wish for her cult to get power
  • CAMPAIGN CHANGE: a bad cult-related thing happens

I left out the details on that last bit because while I told my players not to read this ... they might.

What Now?

Now with the big picture laid out, I can start littering clues and connections all over the damned place. Create rumor tables (the Ulona of Vious Moon has been attempting to purchase the Clopman estate), add descriptive notes to encounters that infer something or another (like the dead "wizard's" clothes in the time dungeon indicated he was upper class.

I didn't know what would happen or where the adventure would go. Who ever knows what the fuck players are going to get up to? In this case they stopped the time dungeon/plague, started a gang war against Mickey that ended in street riots and wide-scale destruction, and ended up carousing and getting Imdar Clopman drunk and tricking him into being their friend. Now they are going to attempt to kill off the Wishing Fountain Dungeon. Also one of the PCs killed another PC and has gotten himself addicted to some nasty drugs - which is a completely unrelated but really interesting side plot.

This was over a few months of actual play ... you can't have this much interconnected stuff in a few sessions without spoon-feeding the information. That just feels like telling the players a story I wrote and letting them know what to do next. At any point the crew could have ignored something or gone off on a tangent, let events transpire and the campaign would be irrevocably changed. All of which is AWESOME. And if they get in there and deal with the dungeon cropping up, that will be awesome too. 

And here is the best part - I don't care how the adventure/campaign ends. It doesn't matter as long as it is interesting. I've seen so many adventures (and posts on reddit and whatnot) where there is a foregone conclusion that the PCs will save the say - they will get to a major battle on the top of a mountain and the GM has written up this epic encounter and bla bla bla.

I'm all about setting the wheels in motion. The players' job is to get in there and mess about with things. If they want to stop the impending doom, great! if not, that's cool! if they succeed? fantastic! if they fail? no problem. It isn't about telling a story, it is about having an adventure. The story is what happens when the players retell the adventurer to their friends.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Some Dungeon Geomorphs

I draw a bunch. It seemed like fun but I'm not really into it. Perhaps I'll make some more later? If I do more, I need to change the grid size so I can add them staggered. Or maybe I should figure out what the 'standard' scale is so you can mix and match with other folks' stuff. We shall see. 

Here are some scans. Perhaps I'll make them into individual images suitable for roll20.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Shady Thicket

The city of Haven is absurdly large. The population density is unreasonable. The idea is ludicrous. However, I'm not going for reality, I'm going for insane fun and maximum opportunity.

Haven is broken down into Districts, each acting like a semi-autonomous city-state within the city. There isn't a central "city government" - the place is endless chaos of guild and noble house politics and schemes. Recently in my game the criminal element was a major focus. There was a gang war in the city the adventuring crew organized to take down someone nasty. It was awesome.

This post is about one district: Shady Thicket. I decided to write up a document for each district to give them distinct flavor and color. Here are some screen shots of that. Let me know if you are interested and I'll happily share the pdf with you.

The idea is to give each neighborhood within a district some tone, which gives the entire district a tone. In addition to the description, some people and places. A series of tables to generate random buildings that apply to everywhere in the district and lean into the feel of the neighborhoods in the three regions of the district.

The people and place tables will always be unique, but as I write up more districts - which I'll do in detail as we actually play in them - I can reuse and tweak the building generators. For example, in Smoldering Wharf  docks I may use something like.

 d6 StateFeeling
Bustling / Active
2 Weather-beaten 
 Shady / Criminal 
3 Precarious / Dilapidated  Warehouse / Storage
4DisreputableFish / Fishermen
5 Leaning Heavily  Repairs / Carpentry 
6 Partially Collapsed  Boatswain /Sailors 

In fact I'll use exactly that. :)

You can map a city, but as soon as you've done that you lock things into position. Also, it is boring. I've got a 2-page spread of the district with the walls and major roads (and Greenwine hill). I've drawn on significant sub-streets and added a few buildings to mark specific locations. Everything else is handled with role playing and random tables. Based on an idea from the lastgaspgrimoire (which has SO MUCH GOOD STUFF), I've written up my "city crawl" mechanics to cover chasing someone down an alley, seeing wtf is going on up on those rooftops when the crew inevitably does that, and poking around the Undercity. So the map is simple and we add to it as we need. As we transition to roll20, I can even share it with the players.