Play Report

So I ran a game today. Me and another player had to hit the bed early so we only played about 4 hours. That’s a good length of time though and the players explored almost all of the first floor.

It started with the players discovering a tunnel under an abandoned house in the slums. They went to a house across the street where some locals were hanging around. They couldn’t understand the diction of the wizard but gathered “Some folks live in that house across the street and it’s not a trap house anymore.” The party got on good terms with them even without having opium to trade. After a bit of silver, the neighbors agreed to keep squatters from entering the house.

The players went through the tunnel and after a bit of problem solving, managed to get their way into the first floor of the library. They were careful to obscure the entry way to the tunnel and played smart in general. They tried to diplomacy anything intelligent, avoided combat, burned books to avoid using a bunch of torches, threw meat on the floor so a random encounter(3 headed giant cat) would leave them alone, etc. One interesting thing they did was that when figuring out that a door was trapped, would use hammers/chisels/crowbars to take out the wall next to it. The dice was lucky to them as far as random encounters went.

After fighting an animate brass statue, exploring anchorite chambers and poking around, they met the eldery children. The adventure was about getting in their good graces. These are elderly people in the dungeon acting as little kids, getting up to hoodlum stuff and playing games. The players first got their attention by having the rabbit player(halfling class) act cute around them. After giving them some water and agreeing to help them hunt Billy(Fuck Billy! became a repeating statement) the players were now on a quest. After a mishap ending in two children being crushed to death(quick looting to discover pixie dust occurred and blaming it on Billy worked out) they found Billies hiding hole but not Billy. A scroll of ease loneliness and a key were the only bits of value. Things got pretty heated when during a discussion with the lost children “I can try to get you guys into wizard school.” was mentioned. Many threats and then promises to get them acceptance to mage college.

After looting some anchorite chambers, the players came upon a ghost professor. The rabbit said of the aging effect “That’s the worst fucking thing you can punish someone with. Take my hp and my gold, man but don’t take years off my guys life.” After returning back to West Baltimore(as they started to call the city), they bought clothes to disguise themselves as students for the ghost and started to fortify their house. I think next session I’m going to have some more things go on with the neighborhood. The players are memeing on starting a community organization to improve the slums since they’re “part of the community now.”

Back in the dungeon they listened to the professor’s lecture on the recurrence of the soul, nostalgia of the soul and items outside time. The wizard stated “I didn’t spend years in wizard school to go into a dungeon and sit through more fucking lectures.” The professor was pretty sharp with them and furious about having to wait so long as well as having only 3 students attend class. After leaving, he dissipated, leaving a bit of treasure, a key and the stone of change(which exists outside time).

The players did a bit more exploring, tunneling through a wall at one point, fighting an ooze and mapping out most of the first level. A tricky part was that when finding the main lair of the lost children; giving them water and acceptance letters(forged the night before) to gain their trust was easy. An over riding motive for the party was to get their hands on pixie dust so they could sell it on the street, get those pixie leaners(when a leaner is floating 5ft up) spread all over the city. The hard part was that the fairy with them still had her sanity. Pretty quickly, the players told her the truth of what they wanted or were doing and worked a bargain with her. 1 or 2 uses of pixie dust a week as long as regular food and water is trucked into the dungeon, more services if the players do a bit more for her. A passive aggressive insult snipe started back and forth between the pixie and dwarf, becoming lewd and rude very quick. Both she and the dwarf were refusing to let the other have the last word, it was pretty fun.

Overall a good session. I was surprised how much “history of the dungeon” the magic mirror(which shows past events but as they are remembered by living people rather than how they happened) though only the broad strokes were shown.

I almost forgot, I got to bust the game table in today. We played some dungeon synth and had a comfy time.

Before game

dmsetup

After game

dmsetupafterward

Negadungeons and Misery Crawls

First off, I have a new dungeon coming out soon. Likely sometime at the end of next month I’ll be able to release a free 50-roomer.

I know discussing the negadungeon is 2015 tier but I was thinking about it after reading Gus L’s post on misery crawls. I feel like he really missed the point of what the defining feature of this “un-fun anti-adventure” thing is when folks bitch about it.

He zeroes in on “low character competence” and “high lethality” as things people dislike about the anti-adventure. Then he goes on about how it’s not really different from a regular d&d campaign. He keeps zeroing in on how “the extraordinary risks are what people have issue with” and whatnot. Last game I was a player in, I was Grimgar the Bastard, rules as written moldvay thief. I stayed alive and it was a rewarding game. Note that word, rewarding. Definitely an appropriately lethal game.

The joy of gaming is risk, gambles and challenge to get a reward. Miserycrawls don’t subvert the adventure by amping up the risk or challenge. They do so by removing reward. You strategize, plan, gamble and take big risks. After all of this, your only reward is a fuck you and a big slap in the face. Take for example Tower of the Stargazer. One of the big disappointments I’ve had since after buying LotFP, I was really looking forward to reading some Raggi adventure. Notice the wizard. The winning move is to not interact, pretend he doesn’t exist. Out of like 12 potions and vials, only of them 2 don’t fuck you in some way. The microscope slides, mirrors and telescopes all punish the player for interacting with them.

This is a museum, not a dungeon. If played intelligently, the players should take a tour(oh look gore! How scary!) and keep any interaction with the environment to a minimum. There’s no risk or gamble when the only option is either save or die, or not interacting at all. Where’s the intelligent smart play with such a simplistic choice?

That’s the thing about these sort of anti-adventures. It’s not that they’re deadly. Aside from a preponderance of “Now you touched a door and have to new character. Loot your old one for gold and spellbooks to get stronger. Somehow making a 1st level character in a 1st level adventure is a fail state I should take seriously” It’s that there’s no real point to risking the lethality. Without a reward to dangle in front of the players, only morons would gamble. It’s simplistic if your entire decision is “Be punished for interacting with something or move along to another room to look at the scenery” rather than “How do I interact with this?”

Herbalism

Sitting down and writing out a giant list of herbs at the start of a campaign when herbs might not even come up is kinda annoying. So I have this system.

Essentially, the player and GM create new herb types on the spot. These herbs are added to a ledger of herbs. Over time, the campaign grows a list of herb types that help flesh out a bit of the flora of the setting.
Finding New Herbs
A player first states the effect of the herb they are looking for. If they want a stimulant, an herb to cure poison, to heal wounds, etc. The GM rolls for the players bushcraft skill(lotfp) or intelligence and adds bonuses for any special nature skills. The GM adds to the roll depending on herb rarity with uncommon herbs reducing chance by 1 on a d6(3 on d20) and rare herbs reducing by 2 on a d6(6 on d20)
Common herbs do not require this roll.
On a failure, the herbs cannot be found. On success, the character knows that the herbs can be found in a specific area 1d4*6 miles away. On a 20, the herbs can be found at the characters feet.

When a new type of Herb is found
When an herb is found, the GM notes the areas it’s found in(mountains, hills, forest, swamp, plains, etc.) and what form it’s taken in such as poultice or infusion. These notes are then added to a ledger of found herbs. These herbs can only be foraged in areas that match the description of their growing conditions. When attempting to find a new herb, a -1(or -3 on d20) is added for every herb with the same effect or climate as where the player is trying to find the herb.

Foraging for already known Herbs
Foraging for herbs works as foraging with units of herbs replacing units of food. A unit of rare herbs is equivalent to three food units,
uncommon equals two food and a common herb equals one food unit.
A player can forage for both food and herbs by making separate rolls and investing travel points into both of them. A player can only forage for herbs in a location in which they can be found.

 

Herb Effects
All herbs are consumed upon use.
Common herbs: Give +1 hp on resting.
Uncommon Herbs: Can be used in place of medical supplies.
Rare Herbs: All have a specific effect.
Spoilage: Herbs lose potency after one week and herbal potions lose
potency after one month.
Example Rare Herb Effects
Remove charmed or frightened conditions
Doubles distance of low light visibility
An ink only visible under moonlight
Temporary muteness Poison +1 DR for 1d4 rounds
Causes 1d4 damage and resistance to poison damage
Gain an odor which repels insects, animals and vermin
Creatures have disadvantage to detect the user by scent

Fail Forward is Hand-Holding Nannyism

When you fail a roll in a game, you should succeed at a cost. That’s how fate describes it. Failure takes a person out of the frying pan and into the fire. You failed to pick a lock so now you pick it but make so much noise that enemies are waiting on the other side! You climb the cliff but rolled low so there are griffins on the other side now! It’s always transparent when gm’s do this. It makes it look like your game isn’t robust enough to handle failure. Players usually know when gm’s pull shit out of their ass in such an obvious way.

This leads to a theater of the absurd. Every roll just has to up the stakes. Failure should be meaningful! Because stories are meaningful and the act of playing events in real time should use the same principles as a passively experienced work of fiction! Things can’t just happen because no, no, emotion and connection only occurs in the context of the dramatically meaningful.

Success at a cost is a wrong solution to a real problem. When a character dies, the game and “story” ends right then and there of course. Yes, of course. If the group needs an artifact and fails to break down a door to get it, they have no other options. The villain can’t get the artifact. The players can’t go in through a window, tunnel through a wall or trick an npc into getting the item for them. Failing forward is trying to solve the problem of play totally stopping because the party failed. The idea being that this fails to progress the story.

This problem exists as long as adventure design is linear. Especially in the scene followed by scene approach that’s having a resurgence of popularity. Success at a cost or general fail forward mechanics only masks a problem more fundamental than the rules of the game. As long as there are failure states that are unacceptable to play, failure cannot be allowed to occur. If failure states are acceptable to play, then failure will never stop play from progressing. If the villain winning would stop the game, then why is the villain even in the game? Player agency and making it their story rather than yours requires open design with a possibility of failure. If you’re writing a mystery adventure and one specific clue or roll is required for the adventure to continue, then you’ve fucked up in adventure writing. This is pretty basic shit, call of cthulhu had it figured out by the 90’s.

So get out there and allow your players to fail. See if they go try to succeed sideways rather than failing forward. It’s pretty fun that way.

Formatting Matters

I’ve been working on a new adventure lately. I ran it in a proto-form 4 years ago, as a complete adventure 2 years ago and now I’m writing out an updated and improved version.

first draft

This is the entrance. For the house, I need to finish up the list of security measures and street activity. The idea is for the entrance to the dungeon to be a moderately dynamic area. How the players get to the tunnel isn’t important really, but keeping the entrance secure should provide role-play opportunities. As important as content though is formatting. I need the house section to fit in one column with important areas and sections .”popping” out. This sharpens design, I can’t afford to ramble.

Too many modules pay no attention to formatting. I love Gus L but some of his maps are unreadable. Pages of single spaced writing in “unique” fonts makes for a word soup. I’m looking to skim through an adventure and then run it within the next week when I use a module. Useability is just as important as content.

The “outsider/punk” aesthetic is a cover for laziness. Jesus fuck people, it’s not hard to download libre office and spend 5 minutes thinking about formatting. You don’t need to get indesign or spend any money beyond a 200 dollar used laptop on amazon to have the resources for formatting your shit. Deep Carbon Observatory is an 8/10 on content but 6/10 overall due to the outright laziness of the formatting. I just don’t buy that there’s some sort of artistic reasoning behind the formatting that makes the module twice as many pages and twice as hard as it should be to use. The module was written in a single spaced stream and then printed out with no other real thought to formatting. In your heart, you know this to be true.

Why do indie products seem hostile to any basic ideas around formatting at times? Only the ignorant thinks things like 125% spacing is “exotic” or “high falutin”