Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The 4e Avenger

Someone brought a copy of the 4e PHBII to game the other night. I immediately turned to check out the Avenger. Why?

One of the PCs I've most enjoyed playing is Tarbold - a priest of Tritherion in a heavily-houseruled 2nd edition game with very generous multiclassing. In 3.5 terms, he would have been something like a gestalt cleric/rogue. Unfortunately, outside of the game I played him in, I haven't been able to model him well. Why?

Well, most fantasy games don't do divine/rogue types well. Tarbold was a priest, but he was also extremely stealthy and could backstab with the best of them.

Also, Tarbold was very gimmicky. I played him like a Holy Batman. He had a Rod of Lordly Might that he'd use as a tool as much as a weapon... and a Belt of Many Pouches in which he kept a huge variety of things (from jars of paint to changes of clothing to extra weapons to paste gems) so that he'd be prepared for any contingency.

I've tried 4e, and I wasn't impressed, but the Avenger class in 4e feels a lot like how I played Tarbold... in particular, it looks like it preserves a lot of the flavor I was going for with the character: someone empowered by his god to strike out at enemies from the darkness. That sort of character was a ton of fun for me to play... and it is tempting.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Trap of the Vermin King

As promised:

Trap of the Vermin King

This dungeon is intentionally left system-neutral. There aren't any stats for monsters, and there isn't any firm level of treasure. For an example on how to adapt this: The roach swarms that appear could be normal roaches (appropriate for low-level PCs), poisonous roaches, or even mechanical constructs that inject poison into their victims (appropriate for high-level PCs).

Visual inspiration:

1. The Entry

The entryway slopes downward toward a large, iron door. The ground of the sloped area is an iron grating covered with gravel over a foot deep. Unless PCs are very careful, gravel will fall into the grating below, annoying the roaches that live there.

The door is locked. (moderate difficulty) If the PCs linger in the area for any longer than necessary, the roach swarm (if disturbed) will attack.

2. Mechanical Hall

The western wall of this hallway is covered in gears and levers that appear to be part of some near-indecipherable machine. Inspection may reveal that the device is connected to the doors to areas 3 and 7. If the device is not activated (very difficult) and the door to either area 3 or 7 is opened, the bars in Area 7 are raised, releasing the Roach Golem. If the door to area 3 is opened without activating the machine, the door between areas 2 and 7 will swing open, and the Roach Golem will move toward area 3.

The door to area 18 is sealed, with no lock.
The other doors are closed, but not locked.

Activating the machine or causing noise at the door to area 18 will alert to Vermin King to the PCs presence (see area 15).

3. Mechanical Storage

This room is filled with tables covered in mechanical junk. If the PCs search the junk thoroughly, they may find several items of value.

4. Hall of fungus

This hallway is filled with mounds of fungus, bloated roaches, and a horrible stench. If the Roach Golem kills anything other than a small-sized humanoid, it will attempt to place the corpse in this hallway. The spores in the air in this hallway are hallucinogenic. There is no lock on the door to room 5.

5. The False Prison

The south wall of this room has been covered by scrawled writing in the language of goblins. It is surprisingly erudite, making historical allusions. It is, however, grammatically awful and raving in tone. It describes being trapped in this room for weeks. It describes the room as a square with one exit: a single, locked door.

6. Empty Room

This room is free for you to adapt as you wish. Put something in here that will tie things into your campaign... or just put an orc with a pie in here...

7. Golem Hall

Behind the bars in room 7 lies the Roach Golem. A mechanical monstrosity the size of a tiger, the roach golem will attempt to kill anything living that is larger than a roach. (It will ignore the undead.) If it was released (see area 2) but did not move to attack the PCs in area 3, it will be roaming area 7 randomly. If not released, it will remain still unless damaged upon which it will begin to destroy the bars that hold it (which will not take very long). If the golem was not released via area 2, there will be two Chittering Stalkers (see area 10) here.

The wall between areas 7 and 16 is perforated with several small holes. These holes are not straight, and cannot be seen through. Someone listening at this wall, however, may hear skittering noises beyond.

8. Golem Workshop

This room contains a non-working version of the roach golem, as well as a variety of tools and spare parts. Three small constructs of insectoid design (each of which bears some resemblance to the Roach Golem) are in this room. They are designed to assist with mechanical tasks (and outfitted with appropriate tools) and will attack anyone who causes damage or attempts to steal something here.

9. Feeding Room

This room is full of dried husks that were once corpses. Most of them were large animals native to the surrounding area, but a few humanoids can be found. Eating some of the fresher corpses are undead abominations - Chittering Stalkers. These are ghouls which appear to have once been goblins. They have mandibles and extra limbs which have been grafted to them. Some of these are mechanical while others are the reanimated limbs of giant insects.

Some items of value can be found among the corpses. Some of the humanoid corpses may have been adventurers...

10. Hive Room

This room is the dwelling place of the Chittering Stalkers, and there are nearly twice as many here as there were in area 9. On close inspection, some of these may have once been small humanoids other than goblins.. The Stalkers have built cocoon-like nests and tunnels along the walls, and they can travel through them without being seen. There is a secret passage, accessible only from one of these tunnels, between areas 10 and 12. If the battle goes badly for the Stalkers, they will retreat to room 12.

11. Trophy Room

Both doors to this room are locked. The south wall of this room is lined with taxidermied heads of predators - dire wolves, bears, and even some arcane beasts. Their eyes have been replaced by gemstones. The heads are all animated undead, but they remain still until either touched or until one of the PCs approaches the southeast corner of the room. In either of these cases, they animate and attack, making as much noise as possible. The plaques upon which they are mounted have mechanical legs attached which allow the heads to move along the floor and walls.

12. Arsenal

The arsenal is guarded by two skeletal bugbears wearing war carapaces fitted with an extra pair of mechanical limbs. They are armed with halberds.

The stock of the arsenal includes war carapaces for each of the Chittering Stalkers. If the Chittering Stalkers fled here from room 10, they will have donned the carapaces (which takes them a full round), improving both their armor and weaponry. There are some weapons usable by humanoids in a locked and trapped wardrobe.

13. The Prototype

The outer door to this room is unlocked, but the inner doors are locked (easy) iron gates. A switch in area 15 will open the inner doors and cause the outer door to swing close and lock. Unlocking the iron gates will also cause the outer door to swing close and lock, though this mechanism may be detected and deactivated (hard).

Inside this room is a giant spitting cockroach. The beast is capable of spitting acid at a range of 15'. Its carapace is coated in rune-covered, beaten silver that has been woven with protective enchantments.

14. The Library

The Southwest wall of this room is covered by a bookcase. The other walls are covered in scrawled notes and diagrams. The notes are primarily in Goblin, and a careful inspection will recognize the handwriting as similar to that in area 5. The notes and diagrams are primarily concerned with entomology, necromancy, and mechanics. Most of the machinery in the Lair is detailed. The books are a mix of these topics as well, and are in a variety of languages. Some minor spellbooks and scrolls may be found here.

15. Parlor of The Vermin King

The double doors open into a room of surprisingly opulent furnishings. A large painting on the northeast wall, depicting a regal-looking hobgoblin warrior in formal battle dress (who might be recognizable as a historical figure of moderate importance), swings open to reveal a secret door into area 18. There are small openings in the wall between here and room 16. There is also a switch on the wall just south of the doors to this room that activates the doors in area 13.

If the Vermin King is unaware of the party, he will be in this room when they enter. If the Vermin King is aware of the party, he will wait here and attempt to trap them in area 13. If the fight goes against him, he will command roach swarms to pour out from area 16 and he will retreat to area 18.

The Vermin King is an undead hobgoblin arcanist who has an affinity for vermin. He can communicate with them and command them at will. He carries an exotic throwing blade that turns into a vermin swarm upon striking (or missing, for that matter). The swarm can attack his enemies or return to him as he wishes.

16. Swarm Storage

Without excavation, this area is not accessible to anything larger than a rat. It contains several swarms of roaches that the Vermin King can command. It also contains a significant amount of coinage.

17. Cold Storage

This room is kept very cold via an enchanted stone in the room's center. It contains a few corpses of small-sized humanoids. Most of them appear to have been killed by large slashes (the roach golem?). The Cold Stone is a three foot high stone pillar that radiates a zone of near-freezing temperatures. The humanoids have not been stripped of their belongings. If the Roach Golem is freed (via area 2) there will be two Chittering Stalkers (see area 10) in this room.

18. Operating Room

This room contains a large table in the center of the southern part of the room. The walls in the southern half of the room are lined with racks holding corpses. These racks are mechanized - each of them can extend out into the room to place the corpse it holds onto the table. The control mechanism is located in the eastern corner of the room (the door to area 2 can also be opened from here). If The Vermin King flees into this room, he can activate this mechanism so that all the racks begin quickly extending and retracting, rendering the room dangerous and slowing pursuit. Some of the corpses (all small humanoids) are animated as mindless undead. They may have extra limbs (mechanical or insectoid) grafted onto them with varying degrees of effectiveness. The walls of northern part of the room are lined with tools that range from torture implements to surgical tools to mechanical equipment.

Monday, March 23, 2009

OPEN GAME TABLE: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs

The RPG Blog Anthology is now available. I'd say it was a long time coming, but Jonathon over at The Core Mechanic put it together in what seems like a surprisingly short time given the work of wrangling so many contributers.

Open Game Table is truly a "Best of" the RPG blogging community. An open call went out across many blogs for nominees, and nominated entries were voted on by a crew of volunteers. I feel honored (and, perhaps, somewhat surprised) to have two of my blog posts included in it. I haven't gotten my hard copy yet, but I've seen the PDF, and the book is impressive. It has ten chapters, with something for just about everyone - players and GMs alike - who is interested in RPGs. To give you a peek at the range of material covered, here are the chapter titles:
  1. Play Style
  2. Game Play
  3. Characters & Players
  4. Monsters & NPCs
  5. Encounters, Settings, and Locations
  6. Adventure Design
  7. Campaign Setting Design
  8. Classes, Action, and Equipment
  9. RPG History & Commentary
  10. The RPG Toolbox.
If you're reading this, you aren't new to RPG blogs, but you may not know the full range that is out there. You can check out the RPG Bloggers Network, but the amount of material there can be dizzying. The Anthology introduces you to some of the best that the web has to offer. It can provide an entry point into one of the best - and least known - resources for RPG material out there.

In addition to material gleaned from the blogs, the Anthology also includes a good bit of original art. There are a few pieces in there that I'm not fond of, but some of it is very good - and my understanding is that most of it was created to specifically accompany the articles in the book.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reskinning d20 Monk Weapons

I recently started playing a monk in a 3.5 game. The setting is fairly well-defined, and there weren't any asian-analogue cultures to draw from. Monks didn't exist in the setting until I wanted to play them. Then they became a martial order within the church of the sun god that had its origins in a clan of Eagle Totem barbarian-types who were assimilated.

Of course, the special monk weapons didn't make much sense, thematically, for this. It isn't that this group shouldn't have special weapons, but monk weapons tend to be based on agricultural implements... which (given conversations I've had with the GM) fit neither the origins of the order nor their role in the church.

So, instead, my character can use... ummm... monk weapons that have different appearances:
  • The Sai. This does 1d4 bludgeoning damage, is good at disarming and can be thrown. My version? A sun-shaped cross between a blunt wind-fire wheel and a chakram.
  • Shuriken. Small throwing weapons that do 1d2 damage, but can be used as swiftly as ammunition. My version? Throwing needles modeled on eagle talons.
  • Nunchaku. Similar to the sai, but does more damage and cannot be thrown. This easily becomes a larger, differently-balanced version of the sun-wheel, above.
  • The Kama. 1d6 slashing+tripping. This will look similar, with the blade being a stylized eagle's head with a sun pattern and a sharpened beak.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lair of the Leprechuan

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

The Perils of Dual GMing

Angela and I have been running our Woodstock game together. In some ways, it is very nice to have two GMs, but it can also be tricky. Here are some problems we've run into:
  • Lack of flexibility - You know how sometimes, as a GM, you just sort of wing it? With two GMs, that's tricky. You don't want to step on each other's toes, and you probably aren't telepathic. You may need to take a quick break for discussion.
  • Splitting up the party - This is a mixed blessing. With two GMs, it is easy to split up the party and have one of you take a player or two into another room. Unfortunately, it might be too easy to do this. The more of this that happens, the less coherent the campaign becomes.
  • Splitting up the NPCs - In general, you want to split up the NPCs to be run by a single GM. This provides consistency in NPC personality and knowledge. It also allows you to more or less evenly share screen time. You need to be flexible with this, though. Circumstances might make it more convenient for the other GM to run a particular NPC. Run with it. Sometimes, two NPCs run by one GM will be involved in the same conversation. Pass one off to the other GM.
  • Share screen time -This is related to the last note. If one GM ends up taking the bulk of the screen time one game, make sure that doesn't happen next game: give the other GM the central bit of the session to run. The last thing you want is for the GMs to be bitter at each other.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Undead Arkham Asylum

Over on How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days or Less, Odyssey asked for some inspiration for her megadungeon project. My contribution tickled me, so I thought I'd expand on it a bit.

Years ago, the city was overrun by a wave of madness. We are still unsure of its origins. Some say it was an arcane experiment gone awry, others say that there was a breach to one of the Outer Planes - maybe even the intervention of a mad god. Still others say it was intentional. The problem isn't that there's no one to pin it on. Rather, we had too many suspects.

The madness gave rise to The Madmen. We didn't know what else to call them. At first, we thought they were just eccentrics. A local businessman started acting like a bird. An investigator with the Watch turned his house into an elaborate maze, offering a prize to the person who could figure out its riddle.

Then a gardener poisoned a man for stepping on one of her flowers. The investigator's house evolved into a deathtrap. The bird-man began staging elaborate thefts from his former business partners. Other Madmen (and women) appeared: a burglar who thought she was a cat, a man who claimed to live forever, a former magistrate with a scarred visage, and more. They all had their goals... and the means to pursue them. The city was on the brink of chaos. It was the personification of chaos itself - the man who dressed as a Jester - who pushed things over the edge. He was rode the wave of chaos, seeming to direct it by instinct. If there was a single man who was truly responsible for all that happened, it was he... but he was practically the only one of them who never did claim responsibility.

One man rose up to stop the madness. We don't know who he was - or even if he was a man at all. He would come from the sky, his cloak stretched behind him like the wings of some giant bird - or bat. Some called him the spirit of the city. He was known by many names, the Dark Knight, the Grey Hawk, the Bat, and others. He was feared... and praised.

He disappeared once his task was finished. Those he defeated were locked away, underground, in a special dungeon built to hold them. A statue to him was built to mark the entrance.

The Madmen are all long-dead now, but whatever madness infected them lasted beyond death. Laughter can be heard from the dungeon. Recently, there have been... sightings: a skeleton in a top hat; a ghostly, red-hooded cloak; a walking corpse surrounded by the cold of the grave, a shrived figure - looking more like a scarecrow than a man - who brings terror to the heart of all who see him; and, more than sightings, there is the mad laugh that people know is the laugh of the Jester...

The death toll is climbing. People have reported things stolen and there seems to be patterns in the thefts. Some say that the Dead Madmen are using their dungeon as a base of operations. . .

Who will take up the mantle of the Dark Knight? Who will stop them?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Jenn began her D&D game (3.5) this past week. The setup is a human-centric post-dungeon society. There aren't adventurers. The world is fairly peaceful under a single human mageocracy. Nonhuman races are marginalized. I'm playing a monk who is associated with the church of Saterus (official state religion). Other PCs include a wizard who is apprenticed to the Magistrate of the town we are in, a druid who lives on the outskirts of town, a fighter who does odd jobs around town, and a homeless guy (a rogue). We're all human, and it is a remarkably balanced party. The game promises to be somewhat political, which should be interesting.

I owe you all a writeup of Woodstock session three as well as a dungeon map-thing. They are coming. Life and other projects have been eating into my time for this blog of late, but I have not forgotten you.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Rising Stars

One of the guys I game with was gushing about Rising Stars, the J. Michael Straczynski comic series. He'd just found his trade paperbacks and had re-read them. I remembered hearing about them, so I asked him If I could borrow them. He was more than happy to oblige.

When I brought them home, my housemate reacted with mild disgust. She was familiar with the series and thought that the characters were one-dimensional and the portrayal of women was outright sexist. After reading it, I don't wholly disagree with her, but I do think that there are things of value to be gleaned from the books.

Generally speaking, the book chronicles the Pederson Specials. It begins with a mysterious, energetic explosion over Pederson, Illinois. All 113 of the unborn children in Pederson who were in utero at the time of the explosion (including one who was conceived during it) developed superhuman abilities later in life.

The premise isn't exactly original. It sounds a lot like Marvel's New Universe, The 4400, Aberrant, and Wild Cards. The story borrowed heavily from The Watchmen, Highlander, and Miracleman. While it wasn't particularly ground-breaking, there are worse sources to borrow from. OK, it also arguably borrowed from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which is just such a worse source...

I also thought the ending was predictable and, well, somewhat lame.

The representation of women was, well... of the two main female characters, one of them had the power to be super-beautiful while the other ended up being a manipulative and evil temptress, with what were effectively... ummm... super-mood-swings.

I can understand the criticism there.

I'm not making these books out to sound that great, am I? There were some good points...

The one-dimensional criticism I was less sympathetic to, primarily because there was substantial character growth. Characters began as fairly simple (multiple long-haired bad boy loners in trenchcoats), but developed along with the story. The way it takes a simple, contrived concept and turning it into a more well-rounded character is one of the two things that I think make the book useful as RPG-inspirational reading.

The other is the setting itself. No, it isn't incredibly original, but it does provide for the following:
  • A large, but manageable, cast of characters (113, in this case)
  • Built-in relationships between the PCs and PCs and NPCs (the Pederson Specials mostly grew up together and were all the same age... and were tied together by bonds of family, friendship, and locality).
  • A common mystery (what was the nature of the source of their power?)
  • Common struggles (Specials vs. normals) that provide them with more reason to associate with each other
All of these things are useful contrivances in an RPG, and you could do a lot worse in a supers game than to steal some ideas from here.