April 26, 2009

Random Wilderness Encounters Part II - The South Marshes

Making random encounter tables was fun the first time. I think I'll continue. This table presents ten random encounters in the South Marshes, south of Fallcrest. The area is suitable for adventurers of level 4-6.

Every day of wilderness travel, the adventurers have a 50% chance of a random wilderness encounter. If it happens, roll 1d10 and consult the table.

  • 1: 2 Phantom Warriors and 3 Spectres. Long ago, a band of mercenaries tried - and failed - to build a fortress in the marsh. Invade the ruins of Blackblade Hold, put the restless spirits to rest and steal their treasures.
  • 2: 4 Orc Drudges, 2 Orc Berserkers, 1 Orc Raider and 1 Orc Eye of Gruumsh. Is there an orc camp nearby?
  • 3: 2 Greenscale Hunters, 2 Greenscale Darters and 1 Greenscale Marsh Mystic. The local lizardman tribe is usually peaceful, but reacts badly to intruders. Making friends with the tribe might grant the PC:s a safe place to camp away from home, and they can point the group to nearby trouble (read: all the other encounters in this table).
  • 4: 2 Ghouls and 3 Wights. There's an old crypt near Blackblade Hold. It's likely to have treasure.
  • 5: 1 Cave Bear and 3 Bugbear Stranglers. A tribe of Bugbears is terrorizing the area. The lizardfolk would pay handsomely for their heads, and they might have treasure.
  • 6: 2 Shadar-Kai Chainfighter, 1 Shadar-Kai Gloomblade and 2 Shadow Hounds. There is a portal to the Shadowfell in the darkest, deepest parts of the marsh. This can take the PC:s near Doomhold in that place - a fortress held by Shadar-Kai and Dark Ones.
  • 7: 2 Sahuagin Priests, 2 Sahuagin Raiders and 5 Sahuagin Guards. The Sahuagin have a lair somewhere along the coast filled with their stolen loot.
  • 8: 1 (tame) Carrion Crawler and 4 Crimson Acolytes. A cult of Orcus is holed up in a collection of rotting huts in a corner of the swamp. Find them, kill them, take their stuff. The church of the Raven Queen or Pelor might thank you.
  • 9: 1 Eladrin Twilight Incanter, 2 Fey Knights and 2 Spectral Panthers. The most vibrant parts of the marsh have a portal to near Everfall in the Feywild. It is an Eladrin city, and the Eladrin are know to go on Wild Hunts occasionally.
  • 10: 1 Foulspawn Grue and 4 Foulspawn Manglers. Where did these guys come from? Can they be stopped? Of course they can.

If a rolled encounter is connected to a "solved" adventures, it does not occur. In this case, reroll once. If the second roll also indicates a "dead" encounter, no encounter happnens. In this way, the wilderness becomes safer as the heroes finish quests.

(Here, encounters range from level 4 to 8.)

April 19, 2009

Avoiding grind in D&D4

Stalker0 on EN World posted a guide to avoid grindy combats in D&D4. All credit to him (and to Skallgrim who added some points).

(This is pretty much a "note to self", but maybe it helps someone else.)

Stalker0’s Guide to Anti-grind

A common complaint of 4e is the notion of “grind”. From the majority of discussions, grind seems to be widely defined as the point in combat where the party has effectively “won”, but have not yet beaten the monsters. Bereft of encounter powers, the players begin beating the remaining creatures down with an endless series of at will powers while the monsters continue to attacks. The monsters at this point have little chance of harming the party past anything a short rest can’t fix. In other words, it’s combat with no purpose.

I have now played and dmed in a party from 3rd to 11th, and I have seen a lot of what causes grind, and what leads to exciting combats. Here are my findings for those who are interested.

Note: My group has always had one striker. Further, we have not yet played past 11th level. If you feel your grind is due to no strikers or to very high level play, this guide may not be as much help to you.

Higher level Monsters – The Source of Grind

In some ways, 4e combat works exactly the opposite way of 3rd edition. In 3rd edition, when you threw high level encounters at your party, you often risked the chance of quickly killing some or all of your party (offense scaled quicker than defense). Such combats were often the source of great drama and excitement coupled with poignant loss and sometimes outright anger when a character was defeated.

In 4e, it works the opposite way (defense scales faster than offense). In 4e, fighting high level monsters usually doesn’t kill your party quickly as their damage doesn’t scale that fast. But the monsters have very high defenses and hit points making them hard to hit and very hard to kill…which leads to the concept of grind.

So my first piece of advice….focus your combat designs at the same level as your party. Use monsters of the party’s level (and scale other monsters into that range to accomplish the same). Your goal is to generate as much challenge to your party as you can with a standard monster group, and the rest of the guide is designed to help you do that.

Also, you may find some other pleasant side effects to sticking with standard monster encounters. My group has been steadily changing their opinion on maximizing their attack stats and damage, because the reality is 4e combats are decently quick when they are put at the party’s level, and you don’t have to be optimized to fight such encounters.

Know thy Monsters

The first tool in the DMs toolbox is his large variety of monsters and monster types. Knowing how to utilize these types can go a long way towards helping you create fun and challenging encounters…right at the party’s level.

1) Artillery – Artillery is my favorite monster type from an anti-grind perspective. They combine high attack bonuses and damage with weak defense, the perfect way to challenge your party without them having to go through hell and back to kill the creature.
a. Lower level Artillery – Artillery is the best monster type for monsters that are lower than your party’s level. Their attack bonuses are high and they often hit defenses other than AC. I often use artillery 2 levels lower than my party and they still back a punch!
b. Use focus fire with Artillery – If you think your party seems nearly invincible at times, show them fear with focused fired artillery. Two or three artillery monsters hitting the same party member can drain them quickly. Also switch targets to bloodied creatures to create a sense of excitement and fear in your players.
c. Protect your Artillery! – Artillery is frail, so give them some front line support or terrain to cover them. I find artillery so effective, that often my players will take OAs and use skills to cross terrain to take out the artillery first. It creates a great sense of accomplishment and helps to shake up the standard routine of some combats.

2) Brutes – Even though they have exceptional amounts of hitpoints, brutes have low defenses, and so often aren’t as grindy as soldiers.
a. Check your errata – The Monster Manual’s errata increased the damage of many of the brutes. Make sure you are giving your brutes their correct damage.
b. Combine with minions – Brutes have good damage but often suffer from low attack bonuses. Use minions to aid another and flank, providing +4 to your attack rolls!
c. Combine with auto damage and auras – Brutes excel in areas where everyone is taking autodamage. They can take the pain far long than anything else. Use terrain that hurts everyone to give brutes an edge and to speed up combats.

3) Controllers – Controllers can be a tricky monster type to use properly, but are very good at taking a low level group of monsters and making them more effective against the party. Anti-grind requires using control, without using too much control.
a. Watch your action denying effects – Controllers with action denying effects (daze, stun, immobilize, slow) can be fun to use and help to challenge a party, but used too often and they can create boredom at the table. (try using a well protected gibbering mouther and watch the grind begin!) Rarely use two controllers that deny actions together.
b. Spread the control around. Players might hate getting controlled once, but you can really make a player bored by controlling him the entire fight. Feel free when possible to spread your heinous effects to the rest of your party, sharing is caring after all
c. Use terrain. Controllers, more than other monster types, tend to benefit a lot from terrain. Using terrain can help make a controller effective, but also provide your party a way to use the terrain against them.

4) Lurkers – I have found lurkers to be a quirky monster types, with a lot of grab bag abilities. I don’t recommend them as a common monster, but they can be useful for their surprise factor.
a. Lurkers are mid combat fighters – There’s always an urge to get all of your monsters out on the table as quickly as possible, but many lurkers have the ability to remain undetected for large portions of the fight. Use that to surprise your players.
b. Cull the weak – Lurkers are excellent foes to take an unsuspecting party member down quickly. Wait for a player to get down to bloodied or below, and right before his cleric buddy can give him that heal, your lurker comes out and hits him hard. This can be great for shaking up a fight that the party sees as completely in their favor, and suddenly bring the drama right back to the combat.
c. Get in, and get gone. Lurkers are masters of retreat and often shouldn’t be “killed”. Use them to provide surprise damage, but don’t require your players to kill them to move on. Have them retreat, perhaps to be used again later.

5) Skirmishers – These are probably your mainstay in most fights. They have decent but not high defenses, and can provide solid damage when used properly.
a. Use other monsters to gain combat advantage – A lot of skirmishers gain their big damages from combat advantage. Combine skirmishers with minions to set up flanks, or use brutes to really provide some damage focus. Many controllers are also good at providing combat advantage.
b. Know when to fold them – Skirmishers are designed for hit and run attacks, so hit….and then run! If the fight is going badly, feel free to have skirmishers start escaping….only to join up with another encounter and fight again! This prevents the late combat grind people complain about, and hey it makes sense…skirmishers are cowards!

6) Soldiers – Soldiers are the most grindy monster type. They have exceptionally high defenses and hitpoints, and don’t have that much offense. In short….grind city. While the occasional solider is good to take hits of your brute or to protect your artillery, don’t use soldiers on mass or the fight will end in a slug fest.

7) Minions – Some love minions, others hate them, but they can be used to great effect to increase the challenge of your combats without really increasing the grind.
a. Sprinkle to taste – As many have noted on the boards, once you’re near paragon level 4 minions doesn’t normally offer the same challenge as a monster. With that in mind, feel free to just throw in some minions to a fight to bump up the challenge a bit.
b. Use flanking, and aid another to increase offense. This is my golden rule of minions…never actually attack with them. Why attack for 6-8 damage when I can flank, and then use aid another (which quickly becomes nearly automatic around level 5) to give my awesome brute a +4 to attack? If you have never appreciated the offensive power of minions…try this out, you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes.
c. Spread your minions out – Minions bunched together is just asking to get killed quickly. Attack from multiple sides and spread your minions out to keep them alive long enough to do some good (or evil as the case may be).
d. Charge the back line. Minions can often get past the party’s front line defenders more easily than a single big monster. Use that to start aiding your ranged attacks against the party’s backline.

8) Elites – Elites do get some cries of grind but generally I find them a solid monster type if you don’t overuse them.
a. 1 Elite with Party vs 2 Elites – 2 Elites often feel more grindy to a party than 1 elite with a group of monsters because it takes so long for the first bloodied and dead condition to hit the combat. 1 Elite is good as a corner piece of a group of monsters that the party can kill more easily. I often love to use brutish elites wading into the front of combat with artillery backing it up. If you are going to use 2 elites, I recommend one frontline and one ranged (artillery) type as it balances greater offensive with weaker defense. Two solider or brute elites can take a long time to beat up.
b. Save your AP for the finishing move – An elite often doesn’t have the offense of two regular monsters which can give the players a sense of security and lead to feelings of grind. Use action points to change this mindset. Instead of using your action point at the beginning of the combat (where the party’s leader can easily fix the damage), use it right after the attack that just bloodied a party member to try and knock him out. 4e characters can usually take the heat, but it emphasizes how strong an elite can be and that the party should never be too comfortable fighting one even as the fight draws to a close.

9) Solos – This creature is the hallmark of the “4e is grindy” movement. Everyone seems to have a story about the solo combat that took 4 hours and was less fun than watching grass grow (and yes, I’ve got one too). Solos more than any other monster require special handling to avoid grind, but they can be a very memorable fight when used well.
a. Never use a solo higher level than the party – This may seem like blasphemy but I think it is the greatest cause of solo grind that people experience. As I mentioned in the start of the article, higher level monsters gain a lot of defense and only a little offense. For the solo, that’s even more so. You’ll actually be amazed how quick (without being too quick) and fun a solo fight can be with a solo of your party’s level.
b. Solos don’t have to be solo. These guys are often your heinous bad guys, its okay to give them minions and other things to bump up the challenge of the combat for that epic fight.
c. Terrain and Gimmicks – Think about this, how often in fantasy when the hero encounters the final bad guy do they stand on a flat plain and just hammer away for 2 minutes? Solo fights really benefit from good use of terrain. Often your solo will have a lair, use it! Have terrain that changes as the combat goes on to keep it fresh. Also, feel free to use a few gimmicks... a ritual that the party must stop, a skill challenge that will help the party against the solo that they can perform during the combat, etc.
d. Monologue/Roleplay – It doesn’t work with all solos, but many of them are intelligent, an important plot piece, and utterly arrogant (I mean if you could take on 5 other people of your same power level wouldn’t you be?). If you don’t do it commonly, solo fights are a great time to have the villain start talking and roleplay with the party. Even if the combat lasts a long time, for the party its tempered because they are fighting and roleplaying at the same time and that can really make the fight memorable.
e. Use your AP for true destruction, or to get away – Just like elites, solos shouldn’t just blow their AP, as at the start of the fight the party has plenty of resources to take care of things. It’s at the moment when one of your players is at its weakest that using an AP can drive home a solos power. However, consider an alternate use for a solo fight that is not intended to be the last. I call this the “Recurring Villain” power. Save both AP until the solo is bloodied, and then do a full run with 2 AP worth of extra movement to leave the fight. The solo fight lasts only lasts half as long as normal, and the party now has a hated foe to finish later. This is probably the best method of avoiding grind with solos that are a higher level than the party. You can have the solo run to avoid massive grind, and eventually when its time for the final fight the party can face the solo, now having gained enough levels to be his equal.

Using Terrain and Events

There are times when I wish WOTC had put terrain as an entry in the monster’s manual. In 4e, where you fight is just as important as what you fight that if you aren’t using terrain you are cutting off one of the major tools in the DM’s arsenal. For anti-grind purposes, terrain is absolutely wonderful because it doesn’t have hitpoints. Terrain can be as heinous as you want, but its effects tend to die down the second the monsters are defeated. I could go on and on about terrain, but since this is a guide for avoiding grind and not for terrain, I will focus on effects you can use to avoid grind in your combats.

Increasing Damage
One way to avoid grind is to have things die faster, through a terrain or event effect that either boosts offense or just does damage. This category is for boosters that players (and monsters) can take some measure of control over. Some examples:
1) Square of Doom – Whether it’s a pit, a black crystal plant that attacks people and immobilizes them, or a house on fire, basically if a monster or player goes into the square, they take damage.
2) Damaging Aura – An altar giving off necrotic energy, a combat near lava, swimming in scalding water, etc. Make part or all of the combat in the aura to increase damage done. Use energy types your monsters or your players have resistance to to give one of the sides an edge.
3) Attack bonuses/Defense Penalty: A holy site that gives attack bonuses to powers with the radiant keyword, a damning curse that gives all fey creatures a -2 to defenses, or simply a +1 attack bonus to ranged attacks for higher ground.

Increasing Unpredictability
Another option is to add some surprise to your combat, so that even as the fight rounds add up, the players are always on their toes for that next effect. Or you add effects harsh enough that no one can assume the combat is over until it’s over. Once again, it’s generally useful to use damaging effects as that speed up combat.

1) Random terrain effect – A geyser that goes off every random number of rounds, lava that bubbles up in random place, a broken artifact that pulses with power and damages all around it.
2) Increase the power of crits – A black mist that does 5 necrotic damage per round, but when it infects a deep wound (person took a crit) the person starts taking 15 damage per round. Or a powerful site of heroes, crits add +2d6 extra damage.

Adding a Clock
The ticking clock can add a sense of suspense and drama to a combat, and forces players to think of ways to end fights quick.
1) The longer we fight, the more we die – A large scale damaging aura that affects the whole fight, a monster that gets stronger that longer the fight continues (offense of course, not defense)
2) Nasty effect in three, two, one… - A pit that will unleash damned souls in 10 rounds, a guardian statue that is animating and will attack.
3) We must stop the ritual! – A dark ritual will be completed in 5 rounds, a strong demon beast is being summoned and must be stopped.

Tactics to Avoid Grind
In many cases, you don’t need to change what you put in combats, but how you have your monsters act can reduce grind.

Focus Fire, even if it kills you
Characters in 4e are pretty tough, but even the most stalwart fighter can be taken down when everyone starts concentrating on him. Now its easy to do with ranged characters, but feel free to have your monsters move in to swarm a character….even provoking OA’s. It both kills your monsters faster, and puts more pressure on the party. Also, it lets defenders use some of their marking tricks. Just don’t do it to the same character every time!

Trade OA’s for Flanking
By a similar token, don’t be afraid to have a monster take an OA once in a while in order to get into flanking. That +2 makes a difference, and it helps grind. Of course, choose monsters that this makes sense for. Its unlikely that kobolds would be so reckless, but a bloodthirsty orc might.

Allies and Enemies – Kill them all!
When you have area effect users, let them attack their own comrades if it means getting more pain on the party.

Master is dead! I surrender!
In many cases, some of the monsters may work for or be slaves of the other monsters. If the party kills the leader, have the other monsters surrender.

Whoa we are getting slaughtered, I’m outta here!
Unless your monsters are set up to fight until killed (ie many undead), it’s very reasonable to have them get out of the fight if things are going badly for them.

Putting it Together

Using the guide, the goal is to create standard level encounters that are unique and challenging to the party through use of monsters and terrain. As you get better at this, you will need less and less higher level effects to hurt your party, and I have found once you get to that point grind starts magically disappearing.

I hope the guide was of use, good luck in your games!

And as I mentioned, Skallgrim spake thusly:

Really good article. I'd like to offer a few ideas which are compatible with yours, but rather different in emphasis.

The grind seems to be widely defined as the point in combat where the party has effectively “won”, but have not yet beaten the monsters.

One way of "avoiding the grind" is not to avoid this point, but to reveal, at this point, that the party is WRONG. What the party had previously thought to be "the grind" is actually the "intermission".

This can be accomplished in several ways. One of the easiest is the "wave". Simply introduce more opposition at this point. Of course, it is best if this opposition makes sense (enemy reserves, monsters attracted to the commotion). It is also important to factor these enemies into the overall encounter level. Don't add so many monsters that the encounter becomes impossibly hard for the party.

Two good options (at least) exist here. You can add Minions, which do not add substantial challenge or XP to the encounter, but can certainly spice up what had seemed to be a boring grind. This is a very good option for enemy reserves and the like. In addition, minions are a good opposition for parties which have already spend many of their encounter or daily powers, and are reduced to basic attacks and at-will powers.

The other option is the "Godzilla" theme. Add a powerful monster which attacks the party and the opposition indiscriminately. This can allow you to remove pesky "straggler" monsters more quickly (and also prevent the party from interrogating them) and lets you show off the damage potential of the elite (or solo) without wiping a party member. This is a better option when the party has husbanded their resources, and still has a substantial amount of daily and encounter powers to work with. Envision, if you will, a battle in a dank, subterranean cavern. The party has defeated the troglodytes, and is engaged in "cleaning up" the last few of the opposition. Suddenly, a giant lizard (cave drake, purple worm, whatever) crashes through a cavern wall, and devours a trodlodyte whole, pushing its bulk through the opening.

Another option, distinct from the "wave" in many ways, is the "power-up". Perhaps the last bandit is succumbing to Lycanthropy, and "wolfs out" under pressure. Perhaps the cultist has bound a demon into his own body. Perhaps the ritual the adventurers interrupted simply needed ANY sacrifices, and the slain enemies are just as good as the rescued hostages. This is similar to the "Godzilla" idea, but ideally, it should be possible for the adventurers to either avert the threat, or, at least, have some foreshadowing of the threat, so that they can see it coming and possibly postion themselves for it, or reserve some powers to deal with it. Ideally, this should basically be a much more challenging encounter than it originally appeared to the adventurers, but should still be more of a "culmination" encounter than the suprise value of a Godzilla encounter. I can just hear the party saying "Hey, this fight against the Evil High Priest is going pretty well.....Aaaaaaaaah!".

I realize this is much less intelligently written, and much less elegantly structured than your very nice article, but I do think that "re-imagining" the grind can also be a valid tactic too.

Both excellent advice. Again, not written by me, but by Stalker0 and Skallgrim.

Random Loot-Imitating Monsters

(One more for April's RPG Blog Carnival.)

Last week, I wrote about random chimeric monsters and mentioned that you could do the second part of the "wonky monster trifecta" by rolling for random loot and making up a reason why and how some weird dungeon critter is mimicking it.

(The third part is just random weirdoes like flumphs and flail snails.)

Then I got inspired and figured that I might as well write up some ideas. Let's go down the list on the right of this page (skipping categories and psionic items):

Coin: An insect with a coin-shaped shell with random patterns on the "upside". When it's lying flat on the ground, no legs or head can be seen. Attentive characters will notice that it doesn't have reeded edges, and the "emblem" of the coin is just random lines. If it is touched, the bug attacks and injects a strong poison. Then it skitters away and waits for the prey to die.

Gem: Same idea as for the coin, really, though I'm imagining something larger and more crab-like. Picture this Caribbean hermit crab with a bigger and more shiny shell - big enough for the crab to hide entirely within.

Potion: Honorary mention really. "Potions" that are really poison are a classic, though a miniature ooze stored in a flask is a nice twist.

Rod: Imagine this squid, but with an external shell (if it isn't already, the article doesn't tell) that it hides within. Looks like a really nasty rod, doesn't it. Well, "nasty" is right. Touch it and a bundle of tentacles emerge and attacks! For bonus weirdness, the shells might be useful for making actual magic rods.

Ring: What looks like a plain metal ring is actually the feeding orifice of an interdimensional beastie. Yes, I stole this idea from the Bag of Devouring. Yes, both sides of the ring lead into the maw of the beast, don't ask me how that works.

This also works for bracers and circlets.

Wand/Staff: A viper/constrictor having evolved a woody texture so that it looks like a wooden shaft when lying on the ground. Attacks when handled.

Lots of mollusks and insects with fancy shells, eh? In my defense, that's how many official monsters work too. Hope it helps someone and wasn't just silly.

What's On My Blogroll?

I'll show you mine if you show me yours. Actually, I'll just go ahead and show you mine. It's over there to the right.

  • Ars Ludi seems mostly dead, but it has some awesome articles in the archive - mainly the West Marches stuff, but also in the GM craft and Game design categories. Worth a look, though maybe there's no need to have it sitting on your RSS reader feed.
  • ASCII Dreams is a really nice roguelike development blog. The author is making an Angband variant, but posts are pretty rarely about that, so it's good even if you don't care for Angband (which I don't).
  • Asmor is the guy who makes those great utilities for D&D 4 you might have heard of - the Monster Maker and Random Treasure Generator seem to be the most popular ones.
  • Eleven Foot Pole isn't a giant from Warsaw, but a blog MST3K:ing every single room of the Keep on the Shadowfell adventure by WOTC. He's about to finish that up and move on to Thunderspire Labyrinth. KOTS gets some pretty scathing critique, but he finds a few good points with it too.
  • Grognardia is what it sounds like - a blog about the older editions of D&D, circa OD&D and thereabout. Still manages to pull in a newbie like me, somehow. Must be good or something.
  • Keep on the Gaming Lands is Mike Mearls' blog. Almost feels like fandom linking to it, but he usually writes good stuff, and isn't afraid of pointing out stuff he feels could be improved in that game he helped writing.
  • Monsters and Manuals is just written by this guy, you know. And this stuff is just weird.
  • Musings Of The Chatty DM is a good general read. Hard to point out something specific, though.
  • Finally, RGRD is a Google Group (and a proper mailing list) for roguelike development. Worth checking occasionally, when it's not being swarmed with ad spam.

Well, that's my list. Hope someone found something new.

April 14, 2009

Chatty DM and Chgowitz Runs A Dungeon Design Contest

Note to self: Write up a dungeon for this contest.

Note to the rest of you: Do so as well. Beating me won't be hard.

If nothing else, keep an eye out for the submission compilation.

April 12, 2009

Random Chimeric Monsters

(This post is a part of the RPG Blog Carnival.)

We've all read the Stupid Monsters someone was paid to make article, haven't we? Go do so if you haven't. Don't forget to check part II.

Anyway, "silly monsters" are, in my opinion, as much a part of D&D lore as Greyhawk and Beholders. D&D wouldn't be the same without Owlbears, Mimics, Leucrottas and their ilk.

Weird monsters seem to be made up of one third "Two animals mashed together", one third "creatures mimicking loot or common dungeon features" and one third random other stuff (flail snails and flumphs).

Item mimickers are easy to come up with. Roll up some random treasure and make up a justification to how a creature is masquerading as that item. That generator likes to generate coins and gems, so just make up little flesh-burrowing bugs that looks like coins or gems and proceed to skip those entries in the future. (The coin golem is another classic.)

Random animal mashups could be a little harder. One might be tempted to just modify existing mashups - resulting in hawkbears and dragon-winged manticores. In a fit of inspiration, I compiled a list of random animals to roll on (mainly taken from the d20 SRD).

1 Ape
2 Ant
3 Baboon
4 Badger
5 Bat
6 Bear
7 Beetle
8 Bison
9 Boar
10 Camel
11 Cat
12 Cheetah
13 Crocodile
14 Deer
15 Dog
16 Donkey
17 Eagle
18 Elephant
19 Hawk
20 Horse
21 Hyena
22 Leopard
23 Lion
24 Lizard
25 Manta Ray/Stingray
26 Monkey
27 Mule
28 Octopus
29 Owl
30 Pony
31 Rat
32 Raven
33 Rhinoceros
34 Scorpion
35 Shark
36 Snake
37 Spider
38 Squid
39 Tiger
40 Toad
41 Wasp
42 Weasel
43 Whale
44 Wolf
45 Wolverine

So bring out your d45:s and roll a pair (Invisible Castle might help) to generate endless kooky monsters (or technically 45^2 monsters, which is 2025). Let me try it for you:

  • Weasel + ape = The APEWEASEL, a gaunt apelike beast with a surprisingly flexible body and a nasty bite. (Not that I'd want a gorilla to bite me.)
  • Donkey + snake = The SNAKEY. Looks like a regular donkey at first glance, and does indeed use this appearance to attract predators, but has a ridiculously poisonous bite and kicks just as hard as a regular donkey.
  • Hawk + lion = The LIONHAWK. Looks a lot like a manticore, but without the spiky tail.
  • Elephant + manta ray = The rogue ELEPHANTA - roughly as large as a pony - glides silently along the steppe on its wing-fins, ready to spear unwary travellers on its tusks.
  • Boar + spider = The SPOAR, an eight-legged tusked monstrosity, prowling the woods with the patience and stealth of a web-spinning spider and the fearlessness of a boar.
  • Hyena + snake = The HYENADDER. A creation of the demon lord Yeenoghu, this fell beast has a hyena's build, but the skin texture and poisonous fangs of an adder.
  • Stingray + octopus = The OCTOSTINGER has not one, but eight stingers at the tips of its tentacles. Divers beware.
  • Wolverine + rhinoceros = The WOLVERHINO won't stop goring you with its horn until it hears bones crack.
  • Lion + manta ray = The LANTA is an aquatic version of the lionhawk. It preys on coastal settlements and fishing boats.
  • Deer + elephant = The DEEREPHANT just has a lot of sharp stuff on its head. Seriously, what do you expect me to do with that?

There you go, ten random monsters. Bet you a dollar some of them already existed.

April 11, 2009

5-step Dungeons

The Chatty DM linked to 5-room dungeons, which is a collection of submissions for some contest. The interesting part, however, is the setup for the contest - the 5-room dungeon. It is a schematic for making short dungeons, are very relevant to my interests.

See, I was thinking of making a small setting with "delves" scattered around it, and that 5-room template looks like a nice guide to making them.

Enough chatter, what's the guide like? It lists five rooms and what purpose they serve in the grand scheme of things. It's very narrativistic, in a way.

The template can be read here, or at the end of that big PDF with all the contest submissions, but allow me to summarize:

  • Room One: Entrance And Guardian sets up the reason why the place isn't already looted and should also set the mood for the dungeon. I note that they also suggest having a non-native creature that's moved in, but wouldn't that conflict with setting the mood?
  • Room Two: Puzzle Or Roleplaying Challenge mixes it up with a puzzle challenge. If the entrance was a puzzle (The gate to Moria, anyone?) put a fight here. Variety is the point of this room.
  • Room Three: Trick or Setback is a classic storytelling technique - shoot down the protagonist in the middle of the story. Now they're motivated to pull themselves up from the floor and take out their frustration on whatever is in room four (and maybe five).
  • Room Four: Climax, Big Battle or Conflict. Level Boss! Make this memorable, of course. Having a fake level boss in room three is kind of a classic.
  • Room Five: Reward, Revelation, Plot Twist will probably often be a hint towards the next adventure. It doesn't have to be a fifth physical room - finding some interesting clue in the Level Boss's lair is a good example.

That's it. I've saved it for further perusal.

April 09, 2009

James Maliszewski Starts Up His Megadungeon Project

A better title than "Megadungeon.net online", no? James Maliszewski has been talking about starting up a big, free megadungeon project for a while now, and now it's online.

The backstory is that an order of monks parked their monastery on a cave of evil to bottle it up. It struck back, and now the monastery makes up the upper levels in a megadungeon with Sealed Evil in A Can at the bottom. Maybe not in a can, that part isn't written yet.

Plenty of empty pages so far, but some really nice maps. Watch the main page or the RSS feed, I guess.

RIP Dave Arneson

Should be accurate this time.

As I said last time, I didn't know the man, but he and Gygax kicked off the entire roleplaying hobby and I'm going to post something. So godspeed, Mr. Arneson.

(Insert "rolling in his grave" joke here if you want, but it felt a little early to me.)

April 08, 2009

Free Exalted. That's Nice.

I don't want to get involved in the whole WotC-pulling-their-PDFs debacle, but a bunch of other game companies decided to be classy and run sales of their PDF game books. That's excellent.

Anyway, White Wolf decided to give away the Exalted core rules for free. Read the details at their site. I couldn't be arsed to pay money for it*, but free is free. Definitely getting it and checking it out. Hey, it's how I got interested in Ars Magica (4:th edition was free as PDF).

*) Not their fault. Just the whole "I already own a heroic fantasy game" thing.

April 07, 2009

RIP Dave Arneson Dave Arneson Still Alive

Well fuck. Dave Arneson, one of the co-creators of D&D, is dead. James Maliszewski states it better than me.

(I can't claim to know either him or Gary Gygax, but by damn, I'm at least going to make a post about it.)

Edit: The rumors of Mr. Arneson's death are greatly exaggerated. Oops. I trust Maliszewski had reason to trust his sources, though.

April 05, 2009

Why Funny Games Suck

(This post is a part of the RPG Blog Carnival.)

I own a Swedish game called Svenil. It's about pensioners, postmen and other stereotypical misfits going on adventures in Swedish suburbs. I've read it once and never played it.

The problem with games trying to be funny is that they often are a funny read at the expense of being a good game. Svenil has silly classes and skills, but doesn't really explain well what one is supposed to do in the setting. The end result is a game that's not really made to be played.

The opposite is a game that's meant to inspire funny situations, but has a functional system. Being burnt by Svenil, I haven't really checked out those, but... Paranoia? Toon? Just guesses.

One time, I saw the GURPS Discworld book in my local FLGS. I wonder which kind of "funny game" that is.

Legends & Lore

As in, the book of pantheons for AD&D. Which is freely downloadable from Wizards' site. (Scroll down to "Rules".) It's sans Melniboneans and Great Old Ones and in barely formatted RTF format, but still... And now I will blather about transferring it to D&D4.

See, divine abilities are usually either absolute or work by percentile rolls. If you can stand rolling percentile dice in the pseudo-d20 system, it's eminently portable. Take, for example, the abilities of "All Gods":

All Gods
All gods, from Lesser to Demi-, have the powers described this section. Although these are powerful abilities, they are taken for granted by the deities in this book.
Immortality: All gods are immortal. The only way for a god to die is to be destroyed by a god of higher statue in magical or physical combat. Otherwise, any god that suffers an attack that should destroy it simply disperses, then reassembles later (roll percentile dice to determine number of days). So, for example, a god which is seemingly torn apart by a powerful artifact would simply be dispersed, only to reassemble later.
Teleport: All gods possess the innate ability to instantly teleport to any point on the same plane. They can do this at will and without any chance of error.
Initiative: When dealing with mortals, all gods automatically receive the initiative. Of course, they can choose to simply wait and see what the mortals opt to do, but they may always act first if they desire.
Comprehend Languages: All gods understand and can speak any language. It is assumed that this includes written and spoken languages as well as other, more unusual, forms of communication like the light and color based dialect of the will o’wisp.
Magic Use: All gods may use any spell of any level. This includes the spells of priests or wizards and does not require the use of spell books, prayers, or material, verbal, and somatic components. In short, invoking such powers requires the slightest act of will on the part of these incredible beings.

Okay, the last part references spells, but you can just port it right over (Wizards and Clerics still use "spells") or say that gods now may use any power available to a player character. Of course, if you want to make gods manageable in combat, you may want to strike that part and give them powers. But teleporting at will? Always winning initiative? Speaking any language? That's just fine.

There's more, of course. The book goes on to stat up generic Greater, Immediate and Lesser Gods, Demigods and Heroes. I'll just quote the Greater God stats:

Greater Gods
In addition to the abilities above, Greater gods can do practically anything. In most cases, they are the gods who created the rest of the pantheon. Some of their additional abilities include.
Shapeshifting: Greater gods can transform themselves into any object, animate or inanimate, of any size. In some cases, beings of this stature have been known to assume planetary proportions.
Magic Resistance: Greater gods are 100% resistant to mortal magics, 75% resistant to the magic of gods of lesser ranks, and 50% resistant to the spells of other greater gods.
Saving Throws: All greater gods are assumed to automatically make all saving throws required of them. This is a reflection of their great abilities, mental powers, and physical stamina .
Planar Travel: Just as they can teleport across space without error, so too can they travel between the various planes of existence at will. As mentioned earlier, however, even these powerful beings cannot enter the true Prime Material Plane.
Sensing Ability: These beings are truly omniscient. That is, they know what is happening everywhere at all times. In many cases, they can accurately predict the precise actions of mortals and other gods based on their vast knowledge.
Creation: Greater Gods can create any object, animate or inanimate, they can think of. This process is draining, however, since they are converting their own energy stores into physical objects. Therefore, the god must rest for one turn per ton of mass he or she wishes to manifest. Thus, the creation of a 10 ton stone statue would require that the god rest for 10 turns (100 minutes) afterward.
Life and Death: Greater gods can kill any living mortal creature with but a thought. Likewise, they can bestow life upon any slain mortal being anywhere. Of course, another greater god can reverse effect immediately if so desired.
Communication: Greater gods can speak directly and secretly to any being across any void and through any physical or mystical barrier. This power transcends the bounds of space and planes, but not (as a rule) time.
Multi-tasks: Greater gods can perform any number of tasks at once. Of course, natural limitations based on their current physical form may apply, but there is never a penalty on their actions due to complexity.
Avatars: Greater gods can employ up to ten avatars at a time, moving them between planes at will. If one is destroyed, it requires one day to make another.
Granted Abilities: A greater god can grant any power or spell of any level to his or her priests. It is through this ability that deities give priests and paladins their magical powers.

Magic Resistance is an interesting one. Any magic used by a PC just fizzles against a greater god. And if Odin and Zeus (indeed Greater Gods in the sourcebook) duke it out, their attack spells work half the time. In a D&D4 conversion, the question is whether to port this straight over (use the percentages for any power including martial ones) or use it in addition to level appropriate defenses (first you roll to attack, then the god gets to use it's magic resistance). I feel that using the percentages might give the Gods a special feel - even the system is different when encountering them!

For comparision, even a demigod is 70% resistant to "magic" used by a mortal. That's still "just" a 30% hit rate compared to the approx. 50% hit rate a PC could expect against level-appropriate monsters.

And then there's saving throws, which mean different things in AD&D and 4E. (For those who don't know, AD&D's saving throws represent 4Es defenses, while 4Es saving throws are a normally straight d20 roll to end a magic effect. If you roll 10 or more, it stops.) Still, I'd use this as written. Greater Gods end all "save ends" effects at the end of their turn.

Then the book gets into crunch, including how to become a Demigod (already covered in 4E). Over and out for me.

In 4E, deitites are a lot simpler. Their non-combat abilities aren't statted up, true, but their combat specialty also boils down to "Normally, a deity discorporates and retreats for a while when brought to half HP. By performing a specific quest, the PC:s can disable this ability." Works for me, but Legends & Lore is just so interesting.