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!