Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Panic Rooms (An Optional Rule for Old School Games)

Home Sweet Home

One of my favorite rules to appear in the OSR blogosphere was Dungeons & Dawn Patrol by Jeff Rients. However, I do fear that it makes tricks which cut the party off from an obvious means of retreat to be too harsh. This sort of trick is extremely common in classic dungeons, with examples including: one-way doors, waterfalls, chutes, turnstiles, rotating hallways, teleportation traps, along with a variety of similar nefarious devices. Unless there is a relatively easy way for players to escape from that point, referees who employ such tricks will likely be dooming their players to an awful demise. Since I absolutely love these sorts of shenanigans, I've devised a workaround which I hope will still evoke the same terror I've seen the original produce (as a player in Nightwick Abbey on G+).

Panic Rooms

A temporary reprieve
On very rare occasions delvers may discover a refuge from the terrors of the Underworld in a remote corner of the dungeon. Often tucked behind hidden doors, easily fortified and with only a single entrance, these rooms act as a place for PCs to rest long enough to regather their strength. When one of these panic rooms is discovered a kindly referee will inform their players of their fortuitous discovery. Alternatively, the referee may require a party to determine on their own what constitutes a panic room, with harsh consequences for failure, namely the Dungeons & Dawn Patrol table.

At the end of a session the party may rest in a panic room for a single eight hour period. However, these places are only 'safe' in comparison to the rest of the dungeon hell that surrounds them and should be used only in the most desperate of circumstances. Avoiding wandering monsters requires that the party hide in total darkness while maintaining an absolute silence. Despite these precautions, players are still likely to periodically hear a variety of sounds outside the door, from growling and heavy breathing to loud crashes as the more stubborn predators attempt to force their way in. 

Sleep Tight

Following this harrowing experience players roll for hit points twice (as per my Living It Up rule), take the lower value, and then divide that in half. It is highly suggested that players beat a hasty retreat to the surface, if they are able to. If, for whatever reason, the party does not return to the surface they must utilize a different panic room or roll on the Dungeons & Dawn Patrol table as their original hiding spot is effectively 'blown' and will remain so for 2d4 weeks. Furthermore, spending more than one night in a dungeon is really pushing your luck. On the second night there is a 2 in 6 chance of disaster despite being in a panic room. Roll on the following Couchsurfing in the Dungeon table:

1: ASSAULT ON DUNGEON 13 The monsters know you're in there, and by god, they're getting in. Roll wandering monsters 1d4+2 times; the lot of them are on the other side of the door and are actively trying to kick it in.
2: TROLL TOLL Randomly choose one intelligent monster from a nearby level, preferably an organized group of some kind. They've entrenched themselves outside of your panic room and demand that all nonmagical treasures are turned over immediately.
3: DOOR TO THE NETHERWORLD A secret door has materialized in your panic room. Roll 1d4, this determines how many floors down it connects to. The wandering monster from that level about to break in on the players has a 4 in 6 chance of surprise.
4: ONE OF US! ONE OF US! The dungeon has claimed you as its own. Doors open for you automatically and you can see in the dark. Unfortunately, it may not be so easy to leave. As the party nears the entrance each PC must save vs paralyzation. Failure indicates that the character cannot go any further, as if blocked by a Wall of Force. Those who pass their save will find that they are free to go. Party members left behind must save versus death each night or transform into a monster. Remove Curse will allow the afflicted to escape, but will only work before they undergo their metamorphosis.

Each night spent in the dungeon after the second increases the chance of disaster, increasing the chance of mishap by one per day (3 in 6, 4 in 6, etc).

In conjunction with the rules above, here are a pair of magic items for helping the party escape a terrible fate when trapped in the dungeon.

Rocket from the Tombs: Appearing to be a metal wheel similar to those used to open submarine doors, this one-use item can be attached to any wall in the dungeon. Doing so will indicate a faint outline of a rounded secret door and, if the wheel is turned, reveals the interior of a NASA-style rocket. Immediately a loud Majel Barrett voice announces, "LAUNCH IMMINENT. TAKE-OFF IN 30...29...28..." The players will have three rounds to get inside and buckle up. At the end of the third round the rocket takes off, blasting them out of the dungeon and into the air. As they sail through the cloud the seats will automatically eject from the ship, parachutes opening to ensure a safe landing. The rocket continues to hurdle into space, eventually reaching the nearest moon (or, alternatively, being shot down by orbital lasers). No evidence of the rocket's path can be found in the dungeon, nor can the original secret door be reopened. The only evidence of the ship's flight will be scorch marks on the surface.

Shit! Get in, get in, get in...

Panic Button: This common minor magic item is a large red button labeled 'PANIC' set on a flat black base. Panic Buttons can be found throughout the dungeon, generally in piles of 2d4 set beneath a poster of two gugs leaning back-to-back, arms crossed. The poster reads:

Drax Brothers
Dungeon Extraction Specialists
Since 504 AE

Turns out that no joke is too dumb for this blog

Attached to the base is a sticker which states the following:

To Panic Room: Half
To Surface: All
Minimum 500 gp value
Arrival Estimated in 1-3 Turns
Satisfaction Guaranteed

If the button is depressed the two gugs will appear in 1d3 turns, as stated. If they find the PCs engaged in combat they will quickly move in to extract the party from the situation and whisk them away a short distance, otherwise they will demand payment up front. The party must pay one half of all nonmagical treasure to be escorted to the nearest panic room or all treasure gained to be taken to the surface. The Drax Brothers do not negotiate terms.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Greyskull Chapel

So, I've been listening to a lot of older country music recently and it has inspired a couple D&D ideas. Here is the silliest of the lot:



Greyskull Chapel

Many dangers reside deep within the dungeons of Krül, but on rare occasions delvers may find succor in small hidden shrines dedicated to a forgotten cult. While the tenants of this warrior faith have been forgotten (as have their origins), rumors persist amongst adventurers of the power that still resides in this underworld chapels.

A Greystone Chapel may be identified by the imposing portal which bars entrance, a skull of monstrous proportions whose distended mouth holds a trap door. Should a Fighting Man approach such a portal with reverence, there is a 50% chance that the trap door will swing open. Beyond the trap door is a small grey stone cave with a bare altar. Fighting Men which pray at this altar will be imbued with divine favor.

If favored by the unknown gods of the Greyskull Chapel, the Fighting Man may call upon their blessing in the future. By raising their weapon above their head and shouting, "By the power of Greyskull!" they will find themselves imbued with incredible strength (equal to a potion of Heroism) as a bolt of electricity strikes their weapon. When this incredible transformation occurs the Fighting Man will become more tan and muscular and all clothes worn will be replaced with a pair of fur underwear (excluding partial armor). Clothes worn will return at the end of the effect.

Additionally, while under the effect of the blessing, Fighting Men may shout "I have the power!" to inflict maximum damage upon landing a successful blow. This effect may only be used once.

Fighting Man can only call upon such a blessing once after receiving divine favor, and will find the doors of the chapel will remain barred after their initial visit. However, if a similar chapel is found elsewhere in the underworld the Fighting Man may approach it independently and receive an identical blessing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Worldcube (A Magic Item for Labyrinth Lord)

The worldcube activated

The worldcube is a cube comprised of six square mirrors, 8' on a side, held together by a steel frame. Studying the reflections of these mirrors will show rippling images which will appear for short intervals before disappearing. These images depict alien worlds unlike anything known. Strangely, each mirror depicts a different world in these brief flashes.

Touching the worldcube reveals that the mirrors are only semi-solid and constant pressure from a fingertip can penetrate their surface. Should a person or object pass through the surface of the cube it begins to flash rapidly with a bright white light, revealing an empty chamber within. If someone enters the cube, they can see clearly through the mirrors they just passed through, and can exit just as easily. The worldcube will continue to flash for one turn before disappearing entirely.

Inactive worldcube

Anyone or anything within the worldcube when it disappears will experience a nauseous sensation as the cube tumbles downward through empty space. As it turns, any people or objects within will find that the walls have become very solid (although still transparent), and they will take 1d6 damage as they are tossed wildly about. Outside, what appears to be a raging storm of iridescent energy pushes them to and fro. Experienced dimensional travelers will note that this is one of the more chaotic areas of the Overworld, known to be extremely hazardous to all life.

After 15-30 seconds of falling the worldcube will land on a foreign world completely unlike their own. However, as far as anyone is aware, the worldcube never visits the same place twice. Although there are no constants to these places, they are commonly extremely alien, full of hostile life and rich with incredible magical and technological treasures. This combination ensures that adventurers are frequently attracted to the cube, as it offers high risks but high rewards to the bold.

The worldcube in transit

Once the worldcube has landed it will be completely inert for four hours, responding in no way to outside stimuli (although it will allow objects within to step out). At the end of this period, the worldcube will once again flash rapidly for one full turn. At the end of this turn it will disappear once more, returning to the spot where it was originally activated.

Inspection of the cube after its return will indicate that one of the alien worlds depicted (the one which was recently visited) has disappeared. In 1-4 weeks time a new world will appear on the surface.

Note: LLs which use the worldcube are encouraged to design six small locations / dungeons on alien worlds which are extremely deadly but have truly wild treasures within. When the party enters the cube, roll 1d6 to determine which they end up in.

Veteran worldcube delvers.

Site Redesign and New Header

Thanks to the amazing design chops of David Johnson, concept artist and graphics guy, we've got an awesome new header and layout.

What do you think?

P.S. Check out more of Dave's stuff here.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Murderous Menagerie: Sea Mummy

The following is inspired by a bull session during the most recent Hill Cantons game.

Sea Mummies

When the Annihilation Event occurred, it had a catastrophic effect on the biosphere of Krül, but none suffered so much as the sea life of the dying planet. As the oceans slowly dried up, leaving only billowing deserts in their wake, the vast majority of the oceanographic ecosystems perished. Some few, however, managed to cling to life. One such organism was the thumbnail-sized swarming scavengers known as Brill, a pest much-feared by seafarers and pirates.

A Brill specimen

While the Brill are corpse-feeders, they are not simply content to await fresh prey. Instead, they use the recently deceased as a form of locomotion, using their fine claws to pluck at nerve fibers, causing the corpse to move jerkily. Generally, these corpses will simply wander in search of the newly-dead, but Brill have been known to aggressively attack when endangered or hungry, often dragging sailors from the deck into the depths below.

Once the oceans died, the Brill proved to be remarkably resilient. Nesting inside of corpses, they entered a state of suspended animation while the body slowly dried into a dessicated husk. Millions of Brill still lie in a half-living state buried between the dunes, waiting for precious moisture to bring them to life once again.

Host to thousands of Brill
No. Enc.: 1-6
 Alignment: Neutral
Hoard Class: None
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d8, swarm vomit (see below)
Save: F5
Morale: 10
XP: 135

While still in a dried, 'husk' state the Sea Mummy is completely inactive and unable to move or attack. The mummy is extremely dry and brittle at this point and is easily set aflame. If the mummy should be exposed to water, however, it will quickly come to life and the Brill inside will be ravenously hungry, attacking wildly (hence the high Morale).

When attacking, the Sea Mummy will lunge forward with a bite attack. If successful, the corpse vomits forth hundreds of Brill into the injury, requiring an immediate savings throw vs. Poison or Death or take an additional 1d6 damage per turn as they burrow into the character's flesh unless steps are taken to remove them. Should a character die from a Brill swarm, they will rise as a Sea Mummy 1d4 hours after death.

As the Sea Mummy is little more than a suit of clothes for the swarm of Brill beneath, when the creature takes 1/2 total HP in damage it begins to break apart, releasing a 2 HD Insect Swarm (see Labyrinth Lord for details). Upon death, an identical swarm will also emerge from the destroyed corpse. This second swarm will merge with the first if it still survives.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Gamma World's Appendix N (Part 1 of 2)

Hiero's Journey and Hothouse
What They Indicate About the Implied Gamma World

Unlike AD&D, Gamma World's Appendix N is woefully short, comprised of Hothouse by Brian Aldiss, Starman's Son by Andre Norton, Hiero's Journey by Sterling Lanier, and Ralph Bakshi's Wizards. What we can learn from these sources, however, indicates a unique post-apocalyptic vision encoded within the core book but, sadly, often misrepresented in the later supplements. Today we're going to examine two books on this list: Sterling Lanier's Hiero's Journey and Brian Aldiss' Hothouse.

It's a Jungle out there: In Hothouse, civilization has long since passed and the world has become overrun with creatures they reign much higher than man on the food chain. Those who survive must hide in the shadows of species which have supplanted our own, for they fight battles of survival and propagation beyond our limited scope. Instead, man has become scavengers which must eke out a meager existence. This is not Twilight 2000, where humanity is slowly retaking the world. It is a game pockets of humanity totally isolated from one another, surrounded by a wilderness that can (and will) easily destroy them.

Conspiracies everywhere: Hiero's Journey depicts the struggle between the Metz Republic, a small bastion of humanity, and a creeping wilderness which slowly destroys outlying farmsteads, cuts off trade routes, and murders any explorers who look beyond the boundaries of their homes. Over the course of the novel, however, we learn that these seemingly random attacks come from a conspiracy known as the Unclean, which organizes and coordinates attacks by the monsters of the wildlands. There are two parallel organizations in early TSR publications, one obvious and another less so. The first is the Red Death, and more generally the cryptic alliances of Gamma World in general. In the case of the Red Death (and their inspiration, the Unclean), these organizations are dedicated to destroying the last remnants of human civilization and work through proxies and spies, most notably through monsters which they have bred or subverted to their will.

The second group which fits this description are the priests which pull the strings behind the Caves of Chaos in Keep on the Borderlands. Although not much is revealed about their goals or methods, one can infer certain things. First, they are dedicated to destroying human civilization. Second, they employ monstrous humanoids as their primary agents, and often set these pawns at odds with one another in a Darwinian struggle for supremacy. Third, they stay hidden, preferring to let their attacks to be aggression by savages and monsters. This all perfectly fits the Unclean, and invokes a world where seemingly random violence is in actuality coolly calculated by beings who wish for nothing less than to strike the final blow against mankind.

Beasts are not Men: In both Hiero's Journey and (to a lesser extent) Hothouse we observe a variety of mutated species which have developed from different animals, often with strange and unusual powers. Unlike what may seem implicit in Gamma World's character generation, however, these are not one-of-a-kind critters each with their own unique powers. Instead, they are small tribal groups, usually living within a small territory, which are slowly developing their own cultures. Each have their own understanding of the world around them, and many have radically different viewpoints. Predatory catfolk, dolphin slavers, secretive bear-men, and so forth, each bearing a unique outlook.

This method actually allows for a tremendous amount of setting design by the player during character creation, as the critters they roll up indicate an entirely new species, and the character traits the PCs display indicate species-wide cultural norms. Encourage players to define their people in play, and leave blank spaces on your map for PC species to inhabit.

Gamma World "End Game": Looking at Hothouse and Hiero's Journey, one can see why the setting was so appealing to Ward and "Jaquet", inasmuch as they perfectly emulate the D&D arc of play. Hothouse is a picaresque in the purest sense, where the characters wander from one place to another, in constant peril while fooling (and being fooled by) an absurd cast of strange characters. Hiero's Journey, on the other hand, represents a later stage of play, one of clearing the wilderness and building a new civilization atop the ruins of the old, the "domain game" that Chris Kutalik so perfectly described.

Perhaps what makes Gamma World's domain management unique is that it centers largely around a "gold rush" for technology. The goal is not just to dig up ray guns from the dungeon, but rather to learn how to recreate these resources. As indicated in Hiero's Journey, such a process is slow and painful, although the stakes are extremely high. Such technology is fiercely fought over by the various conspiracies and city-states and must be carefully hidden so as not to attract spies and thieves. If the PCs are to take and hold territory, the secrets of the Ancients must be unlocked.

Part 2 will analyze Ralph Bakshi's Wizards as well as Andre Norton's Starman's Son, just as soon as I've consumed them.
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