Thursday, August 30, 2018

Mord Mar - Session 6

We weren't able to play Mord Mar last week, due to a family funeral. This week we played on Monday for the first time, due to kids returning to school and Scouts. As it was our first delve on a new day (and a player needing a ride and getting home late,) we had a short session. It was just one encounter, but it was a doozy.

The party this week:
Moira, the Magic-User
Radovan - Human Cleric (of Odin?) now of Marshield Ironbeard
Khazgar Stonehand - Dwarf Fighter
Boris - Dwarf Fighter/Thief
Seed - Human Fighter
Red - Human Ranger
Firban Brighthand - Halfling Thief
Dustin's Brother - Human Wizard

A new paladin hireling
A magic-user hireling

The party is working on making good their promise to Ander, making their way toward the Forge. A step in this direction, they decided, was taking the bounty on the hydra. The talked with Tammerick Alebeard (the head of the Adventurer's Guild) about the bounty. He offered 15,000 gp. They asked some questions. Where's the hydra? What else is in the area? That kind of thing.

3 potions of healing were available this week, and bought by the party. The magic items for sale were extremely powerful, but the only one bought was a Ring of Protection +2 (by Firban.) He is paying through the nose for it, over time.

What they didn't ask is how to get there. So they headed into the dungeon, looking for the hydra, knowing where it was, but not how to get there. They found Inkweaver's Wall, a written legend of how the dwarves transitioned from runes and stone to parchment writing. They followed the Wall to the first intersection. They looked for street signs, and found that the dwarves carved the road names in the center of intersections, diagonally. So, without knowing which road was which, they realized they didn't know where to go, so they headed back home.

They went to purchase a map from the local cartographer. They bought a map of the entire Forge District for 1000 gp, and headed back in.

Following their map, they headed near the hydra's lair. Blocking the way, orcs and gnolls were having a battle in the street. They stayed back a bit, and watched. Seeing a couple of trolls on the gnolls side, and the same ogre-creatures from session 4 on the orcs side. They waited and crossed the intersection, avoiding attacks. Then they heard the rumbling, from the direction they were travelling. Khazgar looked for a quick way off the street, and kicked open a door to an apparent old records office. He made a save as he stepped inside. Most of the party followed, just as the hydra charged down the street at the battling humanoids.

Hydra battle!
The hydra breathed fire on the combatants! The remaining gnolls turned to face the creature, while the orcs fled. The party stepped out to surround the hydra, but as the paladin hireling stepped back to prepare bowshots, he noticed 3 little hydras too!

The mommy hydra continued to engage with the humanoids, while the party dealt with the little ones. They all breathed fire, killing the new paladin. Almost everyone in the battle group took damage. (Moira was smart enough to be off to the side, as was Dustin's Brother.) Khazgar killed a hydra-ling, and mommy was enraged. She breathed fire, and charged. A few party members managed a couple of hits in the meantime (including magic missiles from the both magic-users.) As she stepped up to breathe again, Seed delivered a mighty blow (max damage!) to bring her down. Somewhere in the chaos, the other hireling also dropped.

Searching her lair, they found lots of scrolls. Protection from Elementals (double duration), Protection from Drowning (2 targets for 3 days!), hold moster, teleport(!), detect invisibility, lightning bolt, magic missile (x2), bless, and Raise Dead!

Four gnolls remained alive. They parlayed, and the gnolls have agreed to become henchmen (!) to the group. They're not sure what to do with them, yet, so they left them in the records office, and said they would return in a week.

They claimed their 15,000 gp reward and the session ended. We will see what happens next week. Khazgar's player won't be available, so that may change the dynamic. We'll see...

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Mord Mar - Session 5

We had another successful delve into the dungeon yesterday.  The delvers:

Moira, the Magic-User
Radovan - Human Cleric (of Odin?)
Khazgar Stonehand - Dwarf Fighter
Boris - Dwarf Fighter/Thief
Seed - Human Fighter
Red - Human Ranger
Firban Brighthand - Halfling Thief
Dustin's Brother - Human Wizard

This week a few magic items were available for sale:
+1 Short Sword - bought by Seed
Potion of Clairvoyance - bought by ???
Figure of Wonderous Power: Onyx Dog - bought by Firban
This purchase made Seed unable to afford the plate mail he ordered. So, Red bought it instead.

The party listened to some rumors, again none directly pertinent to the delve. They decided to head to the Citadel, and finish up what they missed last time.

On the way in, they ran across four large black ants "harvesting a large dead humanoid." They waited about 20 minutes, and stayed out of the way. The ants left, jaws full of meat, and ignored the party. The party checked the dead body and grabbed a pair of nice boots, but they smelled like death.

In the statue room, they ran into some serious trouble: a "brain with a beak and 8 tentacles hanging down." They engaged, poorly, and the grell spread out damage between 5-6 party members before going down. Nothing seriously though.

They headed up the stairs to the second floor, and found most of the paintings in the "gem-tree room" were gone. Only Auror Oaktooth's portrait remained. The party grabbed it and headed south. They explored a couple of bedrooms, which were empty. Following the corridor first to the south, then to the west, they came to a large room.

A skeleton was sprawled over an open chest. A chunk of the ceiling had fallen into the center of the room, leaving a large pile of rubble. A few doors led out of the room, too. Part of the party approached the chest cautiously. The rest waited a ways back.
While the chest was being inspected, the party that hung back noticed movement in the rubble. Everyone threw some oil, and then a torch. The chest inspectors went back to searching for traps.
Meanwhile, the fire from the oil was "sucked down and went out abruptly."
The party stood around trying to figure out what to do. Suddenly, an ooze dropped from the ceiling onto See, Red and Khazgar. A fight ensued, with Red taking some damage from the party (the ooze attached to him, and shared all damage taken.) Again, they won without major injury. Radovan burnt some healing, and they checked the loot: A bunch of coin, and a magic coin too!
They played around with the coin for a bit, and eventually found that when flipped onto the ground, a "warrior from valhalla" shows up for an hour. Dubbed Mr. Valhalla, they moved through one of the doors, into a kitchen.

The kitchen had several bugs in the cupboards, including a giant tick that attached itself to Mr Valhalla. No permanent damage to the party, but no treasure either.

The next room was the old king's bedroom. A talking face on the wall in the corner conversed with them. Eventually, they figured out the way to get the face to open the secret door. Inside, they found a teleporter node with the following runes: protection, sun, treasure.

They grew a pair, and tried the teleporter. Nobody expected what happened next. They showed up in King Johan's throne room. With a pile of treasure falling on them...
A few got buried in the avalanche of coins, and guards showed up almost immediately. The guards moved the party away from the treasure and waited for the king to arrive.

The king was quite thankful for the new pile of treasure. Each of the PC's received 1000 gp as a reward from the king's new horde. Well, not Firban who backtalked the king. He was given a ring, with a geas "to find my father's crown." Then he was give his share of gold. 

Not a lot of gold this session. But, there were a few magic items:
the Magic Coin of Mr Valhalla
the Stinky Boots give +10% move silently
plus all the purchased magic! A pretty good score, overall.

Overall, a fun session. The party thinks they don't want to mess with the Citadel anymore. We will see next week.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Mord Mar - Session 4 at The Girffin's Rest

Tonight's Roster:

Tharum - Elf Thief/Magic-User
Firban Brighthand - Halfling Thief
Radovan - Human Cleric (of Odin?)
Khazgar Stonehand - Dwarf Fighter
Boris - Dwarf Fighter/Thief
Seed - Human Fighter
Sylvester - Elven Thief

Two hirelings also went with the party:
Moira, the Magic-User
Tomas, the Paladin

The party started tonight's session by asking around, gathering rumors, and shopping. Oil, holy water, plate armor (ordered last week by Khazgar) and a few other things were purchased. It was noted that the price of oil is going up... 15 flasks were bought, and no store had any left.

Three potions of healing, one potion of extra-healing and a potion of fly were available. Seed, Firban (I think,) and Khazgar grabbed the potions of healing. Khazgar scraped up enough gold to also grab the extra-healing.

They asked about the runestones first. They were told several pieces of information about them:
1. There were weapons that runestones could lock into and empower.
2. Shields also were once slotted for runestones.
3. Some runestones could be used to power spells. The example given by the Old Man was "using a fire runestone will create the biggest fireball possible." (Translation: using a runestone while casting will max out the spell.)
4. Runestones can be used in ritual spell casting. Not much else is known about this ...

Next, Firban headed to the temples to get the curse from the coin looked at. He was told it was basically a soul jar, except someone else had control of when the soul would "jump." Remove Curse? 4000 gp.... Firban didn't have that much, so he made a deal with the Church of Lady Luck 250 gp and a favor....

Rumors were bought, nothing truly notable.

The party headed back to the "goblin section" of the Citadel. Along the way, one of the teleporters activated, with a 10' tall, gray skinned humanoid carrying a primitive axe and dressed in rags stepping out. The party moved into a standard attack vector. The brute attacked Tomas, chopping off his head. As it did so, a second creature stepped out of the teleporter. Someone shot the second "ogre," but it ignored the party. As it stepped up, the first creature fell dead from arrows and blows. The second creature grabbed it by the hair and drug it back to the teleporter, grabbing Tomas's head as a trophy.

Khazgar, "trying to appear casual," watched this creature jab its finger into a rune-hole to activate the teleporter. They were gone.
Since they were still close to Var Nae, they returned Tomas's remaining body to the city before continuing. The gate guards told them that the creatures were some type of statue bound in skin, but they hadn't been seen before (at least not since the Fall of the City.)

Without further incident, they found their way back to the throne room. But, the secret door was open! Tharum creapt up to see what was going on and found a green-skinned dwarf as it finished un-burying the Goblin Mirror. He was polite, introducing himself as "Ander."
The party took some time conversing with Ander, and almost threatening him. He shape-changed into a green dragon, and continued the polite conversation. Ander asked if goblin was a delicacy among the people of Var Nae as well. Boris said yes, but everyone else looked a little sick from the question.

Ander requested that they delay a rival, a red dragon in the Forge. He suggested that they would not be able to kill the red, but if they could "lock him in for a month or so, they would be rewarded with magic treasure." Ander gave them a Scroll of Communication as well, "in exchange for the mirror, with generosity." The scroll allows one brief conversation with Ander.
Ander heads out with a bunch of food (to lure goblins!) that Firban gave him and the mirror.

The party then moved up the stairs, finding a large room with a stone oak tree, 7 paintings, a couple of doors and the stairs continuing to ascend. Hanging from the tree were 10 sapphires, rubies and citrines. Seed shot a citrine off the tree with his bow. They inspected it, and found an eye "inside of the gem. It looked to be etched on the inside of the gem." None of the gems on the tree had an eye. A ruby was plucked from the tree, and immediately an etched eye appeared within that one. Seed used his pick-axe to destroy the citrine, which caused a thump somewhere above them.

Moving up the stairs to investigate what evil this could be, they find a room with two passageways out. There is also a painting of a young dwarf boy hanging on the wall. Khazgar deduces that this is young King Johan, and grabs it to return to Var Nae. They head through the south passage.

They follow it around a corner, and see 6 statues, all of which have looks of pain on their faces. They were not made of the same stone as the citadel. Instead, they were made of a "material almost like concrete."

Next they checked the two doors from this room, and found a bathroom with still-running water and a handless dwarven skeleton. As Boris is "inspecting" a toilet, two skeletal hands attack him! One attaches, almost killing him. Sylvester and Tharum throw holy water, killing the attached hand. The other hand attacks seed, but misses. The party makes quick work of that one as well. The corpse had a silver and mithril belt, worth 1000 gp.

The next door was once a bar, but nothing of note was there.

They head down the hallway from the statue gallery, and open a door to find the remnants of a library, with a large glowing crystalline golem inside. Through trial and error, they find that it is an information "robot." Seed, Boris, and Khazgar all successfully use it to ask questions.
Then Tharum touches it. And it zaps him with lightning until he is dead. Apparently, dwarves are racist against elves.* Before Tharum died, he spotted a secret door on the far side of the library.

The secret door led to a small chapel, with a golden chalice and silver bowl on an altar. The chalice was noticed to have a symbol of Bashael Ashmouth hidden on it underside. The bowl had 5 good gods symbols on its underside. Both went into loot bags.

The party pushed ahead one more room, as it was getting late, and found the source of the THUMP from earlier: a stoneflower. My poor stoneflower could not make any good rolls, only scoring a few points of damage, spread around the party, before succumbing to the onslaught of the PCs. But, they found an artifact attached to it! The Rune Burruk, a magical bell, that when rung removes all enchantments within 30' of it. Permanently.

*The reason that elves cannot touch the golem is actually in the histories of Mord Mar. Egg, the great wizard, was human and created the golem for the dwarves. But, it was during a time of war with the Dark Elves. So, as a precaution, they decided to make it unusable by elves. Poor Tharum paid the price of paranoia.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Mord Mar - Session 3 at the Griffin's Rest

We were full up at ten players this week. Here's the roster:

The new characters:
Sylvester - Elven Thief
Holin Hammerback - Dwarven Cleric
Grumble - Human Magic-User

The established characters:
Red - Human Ranger
Tharum - Elf Thief/Magic-User
Firban Brighthand - Halfling Thief
Radovan - Human Cleric (of Odin?)
Khazgar Stonehand - Dwarf Fighter
Boris - Dwarf Fighter/Thief
Seed - Human Fighter

We started of in Var Nae, as always. Radovan had special ordered 2 healing potions, which were available. This took up a lot of the Mother Shena's (the alchemist) time, so only one was available for general sale (which was bought up.) The party spent gold on rumors, the most notable of which was "My grandfather worked in the castle, and always said there is a secret door behind the throne." Seed buys  a pick-axe. (Other equipment was bought, but this is notable.)
The bounty board had changed. Goblin ears went from 1 gp to 5 sp bounty. The owlbear was removed because the group was successful. Thora Silverbeard now needs more silver for her smithy, price based on quantity. Acidander has gained the attention of the Guild. The green dragon's head is worth 5000 gp, and a map to his lair is worth 1000. The Church of Blain Oreweaver has begun offering 500 gp for recovered religious texts.

After some discussion, they decided to head toward the Citadel again, taking the Transport Hallway toward the east end of Forge Road. Along the way, they encountered 19(!) goblins and their hobgoblin commander. Someone tossed a flaming oil to drop 1. Tharum cast a weak sleep spell, getting 4-5 of them as they moved up to encounter range. Then he casts another sleep from a scroll he had penned. This one knocked out around 13 more. Two goblins were left standing. The ranged attackers: Sylvester, Firban, Boris and Seed blasted the hobgoblin with projectiles. He dropped almost immediately. The two goblins turned to flee, and the archers dropped them too.
They looted the corpses finding: 38 cp, 7 sp, 10 gp, 2 pp, a longsword, shield and chainmail. 18 goblin ears were recovered, one set burning away in oil.

The rest of the trip to the Citadel was uneventful. Reaching the gate, they find that the Northeast Tower doesn't have doors like all of the other towers. (I think) Sylvester snuck ahead to the edge of the courtyard. He peered into the darkness to see . . . a decapitated 1-clawed owlbear hunched in the deepest shadows waiting for something to enter the courtyard.

Sneaking back, he describes the scene. The party decides to lob oil to the corner close to the owlbear, and throw a rock to trigger it. They threw a lot of oil. Khazgar arcs a torch high in the sky to land on the huge puddle of oil, then throws the rock and misses. Firban connects with the second rock, animating the owlbear. As this happens, a statue of a minotaur steps from around the other nearby corner. The owlbear charges through the fire, dying again before it reaches the party.
The minotaur statue communicates telepathically, telling them it wants the goblins out. A few seconds later it disappears, leaving a copper coin in its place, which Firban snatches up. The coin is "ancient, with a mountain on one side, and a dwarf on the other." Firban passes his save.

They find a broken wall into tower, scout it and are attacked by two red ants. Red takes a hit, but makes his save from the poison. The ants are dropped quickly. In the rubble they find a dwarven runestone: Protection. It is noted that the red ants were immediately aggressive, while the black ants met a week ago were not.

Finally entering the Citadel, the party finds their way blocked by a door. It isn't trapped or locked according to the theives, but they can't get it open. Seed uses his new pickaxe to break the door, and immediately falls prone on the far side. The 10 goblins in the room all attack him, bringing him to 0 hp.
The party, now in full recovery mode begin to move in to save their dying friend. Boris steps over Seed to protect him, while both clerics move up with Cure Wounds. The archers get into position to shoot any goblins that they can see through the door. The goblins move and all strike at Boris with 6 of them hitting, dropping him dead instantly. Seed stands up, rejuvinated from  Cure Wounds, and they make quick work of 9 of the goblins. The tenth goblin runs through a far door. Tharum moves up to see what happened while most of the other party members are scooping the pile of treasure in the corner or tending to Seed and Boris.
Tharum watches the goblin open a door, and several large mosquito-like creatures swarm out of it, killing the goblin. Tharum shuts the door. They bar the door haphazardly with some rubble, collect the rest of the treasure and Boris' body and head back to Var Nae.

So, we have an hour left of playtime at this point. We have a discussion about making one more delve. In the interest of time, I allow Boris to be Resurrected for 500 gp. Firban fails his save against evil, and is enthralled by the coin he picked up earlier. His face has replaced the dwarven face on the coin. They spend the night in town, paying 10 gp for curative magic as needed and head back to the Citadel the next day.

No random encounters to be had :(, they end up back where they were and pop the door open. Tharum goes down by the "bug door" and sees another door, but doesn't open it. Meanwhile, Firban is drawn in the opposite direction, going into a room with several statues. Most are kings, queens and heroes of Mord Mar, but one statue is faced toward the corner, its details hidden.This is the statue (Bashael Ashmouth) that Firban is enthralled by, and he stands in front of it, not moving. (At this point another character became enthralled by the statue as well, I just don't remember who.)
The dwarves of the party quickly notice that unlike the other statues, this one is not carved from the stone, but placed here instead. The tell Seed to take it down with hisy pick-axe, which he is happy to do. This breaks the curse on the characters and nets a 500 xp bonus.

They enter the throne room, to find 10 dead goblins and several dead mosquitoes there. A magical mirror hangs on the wall, and the fabled Throne of Mord Mar rests quietly. They grab the ears, find the secret door behind the throne (damn Tharum's elf nose.) and three more runestones: Treasure, Ore, Sun. They remove the mirror from the wall, and hide it in the room behind the secret door, piling rocks on top of it. (The room had a thick layer of dust and "hadn't been entered in several hundred years.")

The session is over, with Firban leveling up.

GM's notes:
I don't have a hard rule for Raising Dead people yet. That was a one-of because: 1. He sacrificed himself for another party member 2. We were late on time 3. They could return to town easily. I will work on it.

S&W is GREAT for a large table game. At no point did anyone feel like they didn't contribute or were part of the action! If they did, they didn't mention it to me (and I asked.)

I began using the Dwarven Forge tiles as 5' squares instead of 10'. I like it better this way. OD&D allowed 3 people across in a 10' section. This ups that to 4, but I think it will be good. It took all of us a little getting used to. The rule will be "no more than 3 characters on a tile." It may or may not work. We will see long-term.

The rumors are really helping the party. I have about 300 of them, with about 33% being false.

The Transportation Hallway is now "open." They have a few runes, but no idea what they do, or where they go. We will see what happens with that. PLAYERS: Var = Sun in the dwarven language. Nae = portal, opening, door, gate etc.

Bashael Ashmouth has shown up a couple of times. Was he a player in bringing down the Old City?

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Griffin's Nest 3 presummary

We had a really good session tonight. 10 players showed, and 1 died. Many goblins were killed, and more were routed by their own actions...
Full summary tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Mord Mar - Session 2 at the Griffin's Rest

Tonight's session had the same characters as last week, plus one more. Here's the adventurer list:

Red - Human Ranger
Tharum - Elf Thief/Magic-User
Firban Brighthand - Halfling Thief
Radovan - Human Cleric (of Odin?)
Khazgar Stonehand - Dwarf Fighter
Boris - Dwarf Fighter/Thief

and the new character:
Seed - Human Fighter

The group started in town, looking for some things to spend their loot on from last session. Each of the original party members bought a Potion of Healing. Tharum to Mighty Minions and picked up a henchman, a female human magic-user, named Moira. She agreed to join the delve for a 10% share and 1 spell of her choice from Tharum's spellbook. (She chose Web at the end of the adventure.)

The party listened to several rumors, the most notable were: "magic no longer works in the Citadel," and "the hydra prefers elf flesh to dwarf flesh." (Both were heard by Tharum.)

The party decided to take the Forge Road northwards to the Citadel. Along the way, they saw a gray bag sitting in the middle of the road. Checking it on all sides for traps, Firban decided to open it. And was bitten to 0 hit points! A bag of teeth had found its way to a major road, and got a victim! Boris stepped up as his little friend fell, and shredded the bag. 8 gp were found. Radovan healed Firban and they were back on the road.

Soon they were approaching the Citadel from the south. It was supposed to be a quick stop, to make sure that magic worked. Well, that was not the case. They approached the entry under the castle wall, Seeing doors in both west and east sides of the entryway, they investigate. 

The door on the left is locked, but not trapped. They spend some time checking it out thoroughly, going so far as unlocking the door. Firban accomplished this task, and watched it re-lock itself immediately. A crowbar was tried, to no avail.
Meanwhile, the owlbear noticed them trying to get into the door. Fortunately, they had a ranger in the party, and were not surprised. A combat ensued. The owlbear lasted 2 rounds, only landing one hit on Tharum. (Missed bear-hug damage by 1. 😒)

As the party is taking pieces of the owlbear (head, steaks, feathers are things I remember for sure,) a group of three apes make their presence known. They all stood a head taller than the humans, and carried 7' long stone spears (all stone, including the shaft.) Moira had the very rare spell "Comprehend Languages" memorized (a fortunate coincidence and a DM Fiat, all in one!)

A round of hilarity ensued as Khazgar, Seed and Moira can understand the apes, but cannot respond. They attempt several gestures, but the apes could not understand. Eventually, the groups separate with no hostilities.

The party resumes their door messing. This time, they do some checking, and open the east door. Khazgar steps inside, and gets attacked by a ghoul! He (for the second session in a row) is paralyzed! The party otherwise makes quick work of them, thanks to Radavan rolling 20 on 2d10! Further into the room is a desk. Overall, the treasure in the room is 1 silver key, 2 gems, and a 1000 gp necklace.

They take the silver key and try it in the west wall door. It works! Inside is a room with 8 black ants. They shut the door, leaving the ants to their machinations

They move through a double door at the far end of the ghoul room, and enter a strange almost z shaped room. A door to the left, and a few more doors in the further compartment were noticed. In the further compartment, 8 dwarven skeletons could be seen. As they approach, they see a tripwire separating the skeletons from the party. Seed throws a few rocks at the skeletons, but nothing seems to happen.
As they are figuring out what to do, they listen at the near door, and hear bones moving around. They decide to send Radovan and Boris into the room near the skeletons. The skeletons turn their heads to look at Radovan. 
"Why do you disturb our rest?"
"We seek to return the dwarves to their homes." 
"The taint of this mountain will never be washed away. That is a fool's errand."
A few more words were exchanged, but that's the most important bits.

They decide to check the door nearest where they entered instead of pushing through the dwarf skeletons. Again, not trapped or locked. Seed opens the door, and gets blasted by a ballista, pinning him and Boris to the wall.

Combat ensues with the skeleton with an axe. The skeleton casts a spell on the next round! Mirror Image and movement. The party shoots a few arrows and take a couple of swings. The skeleton wades into combat, attacking 3 different party members! The party attacks again. Seed breaks loose and runs toward the exit. The skeleton wins initiative, and casts Sleep! This leaves Seed (at 1 hp after the ballista, Khazgar (who moved to load the ballista) and Tharum as the only members standing.

Now, here's a note about Seed's player. He is my eight-year-old son, Hanson. He was forced to make a choice, and I presented it like this: "You have 2 choices, be the survivor, or the hero. You can get out the door, and live. But, all of the treasures you have gotten so far (except the silver key) are on the other characters." He chose to stay and fight.

Khazigar awakens Radovan and Moira with his next actions (one in movement, the other in melee.) Tharum awakens Red. Meanwhile, the skeleton misses Seed. (Hero indeed!)

The party finally drops the skeletal fighter-mage. At this point it was 9:00, so we called it a night. They took the ballista (500 gp) and the fighter-mage's axe (an axe of spell-storing named Heart-Killer, or Heart-Slayer or something similar. The dwarven runes on the axe are ancient and impossible to translate exactly.)

A few DM's notes:
I felt bad for Tharum's player tonight. He chose Sleep as his spell, and never had the chance to cast it. He expected either a) to hit the goblins, or b) to go back to the Lords' District. Unfortunately, they ended up in the undead section of the citadel.
The owlbear (and the skeletal fighter-mage) rolled very poorly. There should have been more blood. But, that's why we roll the dice.
Everyone seems to be having a blast with the gritty style of S&W. They have quickly gotten used to the round robin style combat and the lethality of combat. 
We are approaching level 2 for at least Firban. The others have more XP to go, but I would bet most of the single class characters hit 2 next week. 
The bag of teeth. 

The ghoul room. Post ghouls. The rats on the left represented ants. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

New adventures, Same Mord Mar

Griffin's Rest Mord Mar Session #1

After the break, I have finally revamped a lot of Mord Mar. This was in anticipation of running the megadungeon at my FLGS, The Griffin's Rest. We had our inaugural game this afternoon. I missed one player (not realizing he was there for the game - Sorry, Farber! Next week!) We had 10 registered on the site, but 6 showed up (plus the player I missed).

We did character generation (see this post) and I plopped the wanted posters onto the table. Now, keep in mind, I expected them to go for the low hanging fruit - goblins. That went awry quickly.

Here's the character list:

Human Ranger (name unknown)
Elf Thief/Magic-User (name unknown)
Firban Brighthand - Halfling Thief
Radovan - Human Cleric (of Odin?)
Khazgar Stonehand - Dwarf Fighter
Boris - Dwarf Fighter/Thief

Khazgar was quickly the defacto leader, and he convinced the party to look for the Opalaxe Clan's axe.  This brought the party quickly away from anything I had planned. (The joys of a sandbox game!)

They headed down the teleportation hallway toward Forge Road. A wandering monster check brought them face to face with a returning party. These adventurers warned the party that the giant rats were "very active" today. They talked about the bear-owl, confirming it is still in the Keep's central area. No, goblins haven't been active. Probably because of the bear-owl thing. Pleasantries were said and the groups separated.

Nothing else happened on the way to the Old City. On the Forge Road, they take the first right available and head into the Lords' District. The road here is quite different. It is 10' wide instead of 30'. It has a ceiling about 20' tall. They follow the road, and find "paths" staggered on both sides of the passage about 45' apart. (On each side of the road there is 90' between "paths.")

They listen at a few, and choose the 7th one (630' down the road). They follow the path to a 50' square carved "cavern" with a golden colored door at the far end. Before entering, they search and find a pit trap. The elf notices a secret door at the bottom of the pit, about 4' tall. They open it and find a stairway that winds down into the darkness, but heightens back to 10' quickly.

They decide to check the golden colored door first, and find it untrapped, and easy to open. Inside they see a doorway on the left wall, a stairway up straight ahead and a closed door to the right. Khazgar enters and notices a statue on the left wall. Approaching and inspecting it, he sees a holy symbol of Bashiel Ashmouth and some runes under the symbol. He fails his save, and falls over.

Firban steps in to help him, and the statue's head follows the halfling around. Eventually, the group gets Khazgar out (with the help of Boris.) Radovan inspects the runes and also becomes paralyzed. The statue's head follows any non-dwarf in the room, apparently too.

The thieves here something BIG stomping around upstairs as the paralysis wears off. A huge statue comes down the stairs and the party flees, shutting the golden colored door behind them. The statue blasts the door off the hinges and pursues. The party flees into the secret door at the bottom of the pit, assuming that the giant statue would not fit. They were right.

Following the stairs (which were carved by dwarves, but not master craftsmen like the rest of the stonework seen) leads them to a room with an open sarcophagus, and an altar (again to Basheel.) The elf notices that there is a secret door behind the altar. Khazgar inspects the sarcophagus and skeleton inside, and finds an axe matching the description of the Opalaxe Clan's. He grabs it, after hitting the skeleton's skull. This triggers something appearing in the corner. It looks like a flaming skeleton.

Combat ensues, and Khazgar is dropped. The human ranger is able to finish the flaming beast a few seconds later, after taking a hefty blow himself. Boris inspects the sarcophagus closer, and finds that there is a secret compartment under the skeleton. Meanwhile, Radovan heals Khazgar. Boris pops the hidden compartment, releasing a green gas into the room, and those in its range make their saves. 250 gp, 200 sp and 2 gems are hauled out.

Meanwhile, Firban has figured out how to open the secret door. It opens into a similar room, with a larger altar inside. There are also 8 skeletons standing inside. They decide to leave for the day, with their new treasure. They make their way back to the pit trap, and see that the statue has re-entered the house, and replaced the door (it hangs askew, but has covered the doorway.)

They rest for 2 days, and head back to finish the room with the skeletons. People take turns crossing the threshold, only to find that a magical darkness doesn't let those in the room see. But, the people outside can see in.

They worry that the skeletons will attack, so they lasso the skeleton nearest the altar, dragging it out, and making the altar begin to glow. It does not animate. Instead they find it was bound with mithril wire(!) and begin to unwind it. They repeat the process with the other skeletons, but they each collapse instead of getting drug out.

Thinking the threat is contained, the Elf MU-Thief steps into the room again, finding that the light from the altar allows him to see. He finds a secret compartment on the altar, and an Iron Cobra attacks from within. He flees and the party makes quick work of it.

Khazgar decides to smash the skulls of the skeletons, and they all begin to coalesce in the room. They shut the door and flee. As they do so, the skeleton they pulled out magically moves toward the secret door and begins beating on it.

End of Session

We had a lot of fun. I wasn't prepared for them heading in this direction. But, we all had a blast. The players got a real good taste of what megadungeon play feels like. Everyone had fun, and I expect them all back next week! I love sessions like this.

There will be a signup sheet for next week up sometime tomorrow in the FB group and on the website. Look for it.

*EDIT* the axe they found was not the Opalaxe clan's. It was a +1 axe, which is now in use by the party.

Wanted Posters

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Citadel, it's a changing

As you know, I am prepping for a FLGS game of Mord Mar. The beautiful thing about this is: I get to update the game, based on playtesting from other campaigns. Well, the whole Old City is getting a face lift.
1st up: the Citadel. Instead of a monolithic structure, it is becoming four towers, with a courtyard in the middle. The courtyard is surrounded by walls. Some of the portcullis from the roads will be open, and some closed. The Transitionary is at the center of the courtyard. (This is the main stairwell between levels.) Goblins still control one of the towers, but the others need to be discovered through play.
Each tower is three levels tall, and 60' square. Some may have basements, cellars, attics or other non-symmetrical levels. The walls connecting the towers are two stories tall and 20' wide. Inside of these walls were once bunks, weapons lockers, a few offices and other guard necessities.

2nd in line, the Old City itself. The map has had a total re-working. All of our favorite places are still there, but they are (probably) in different places.

More to come!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Griffin's Rest Character Generation

I am going to start running Mord Mar at the FLGS, The Griffin's Rest next Tuesday. This post details how we will create characters. We use the Swords & Wizardry Complete rules.

Step 1: Roll Stats
Roll 3d6 (3 6-sided dice) 6 times, then assign as you see fit to the following:

Strength: This stat primarily affects combat and carrying power. Note: Only FIGHTERS gain a damage modifier from strength (this does not include rangers, or paladins.) All classes do gain the TO HIT modifier.

Dexterity: A dexterity of 13 or higher gives a +1 attack bonus to ranged MISSILE combat (this does NOT include axes, daggers or other THROWN weapons.) A dexterity of 13 or higher also gives a +1 bonus to AC. FIGHTERS with a  15 (or better) dexterity gain a Parry ability.

Constitution: A Constitution of 13 or higher gives a +1 HP per Hit Die. (So a ranger with Con 14 would get +2 HP at level 1!) Constitution also determines how likely a Resurrection Spell will work on the character.

Intelligence: This stat determines the number of languages and spells that a character may know. It also determines the highest spell level magic-users can learn, as well as their likelihood to understand a new spell found.

Wisdom: A wisdom of 15+ grants a bonus 1st level spell to clerics. Any character with a wisdom of 13+ gains a 5% bonus to all XP gained.

Charisma: A charisma of 13+ gives a 5% bonus to all XP gained. It also determines how many Specialty Hirelings the character may have. (Specialty Hirelings are NPCs that have a class, and may accompany the main character in the dungeon.)

Step 2: Choose a class.
Assassin: A specialized thief, who can use poisons. (Humans only)
Bonus starting equipment: Assassins may choose 1 of the following: 2 flasks of oil, 2 holy water, charmed garlic or wolfsbane to have in their beginning equipment.

Cleric: A warrior-priest. Clerics cast beneficial magic, and may cause undead to flee from their presence. (Dwarf, Half-Elf, and Human only)
Bonus staring equipment: 1 holy water and a silver holy symbol of the cleric's deity.

Druid: A devout follower of nature's ideals. A 2nd tier physical fighter, with a wide range of 2nd tier spells. They gain a wide array of natural abilities like determine if water is clean. (Humans only)
Bonus starting equipment: 1 scroll case and a sprig of holly.

Fighter: A pure warrior, with an understanding of all weapons and armors. (Any Race)
Bonus starting equipment: any weapon of the player's choice and 20 arrows (if applicable to the weapon)

Magic-User: A spell caster, learning the arts from tomes and knowledge. Magic-users have a wide array of utilitarian and offensive spells. Magic-users are the weakest toe-to-toe fighting class. (Elf, Half-Elf, Humans only)
Bonus starting equipment: spellbook, and 1 scroll case

Monk: Monks may not be played.

Paladin: A holy warrior, dedicated to fighting Chaos in all of its forms. They gain a myriad of abilities to help them do this, including a healing touch and increased saving throws. (Human only)
Bonus starting equipment: 2 holy water

Ranger: A warrior, with the ability to track. Rangers are rarely surprised. Eventually rangers can learn both clerical and magic user spells. (Humans only)
Bonus starting equipment: short bow and 20 arrows

Thief: Masters of stealth and cunning. Thieves can hide, find and remove traps, pick locks and climb more effectively than other people. They can also unleash a devastating "backstab" attack at appropriate times.
Bonus starting equipment: thieves' tools, small sack

Step 3: Choose a race
Dwarves: The stout, bearded subterranean dweller. These are the people that built Mord Mar. They gain a +4 to all saves vs magic. Dwarves notice changes in stonework easily. Dwarves may see in darkness 60'. Dwarves may only reach 6th level as a fighter, and 5th level as a cleric. Dwarves may begin play with both the fighter and thief classes (distributing XP equally between the classes.)

Elves: Elves, immortal pointy-eared forest dwellers, can see in the dark 60', cannot be paralyzed by ghouls, and can find secret doors easily. Elves may begin play as fighter/magic-users, or fighter/magic-user/thieves.Multi-class fighters may attain 4th level, and multi-class magic-users may attain 8th level. Elves cannot learn spells beyond 5th level. Elves cannot be raised or resurrected.

Half-elves: A cross-bread between elves and humans. They can see in darkness up to 60', have an easier time of finding secret doors. Half-elves may begin play as Fighter/Magic-Users or Fighter/Magic-User/Clerics. Half-elves may reach level 6 as fighters or magic-users, and level 4 as clerics.

Halflings: Short, friendly folk, modeled after the trademarked hobbits. Halflings gain a +1 attack bonus when using missile weapons, and a +4 to saves vs, magic. Halflings may only advance to 4th level in fighter.

Humans: Humans have no special advantages or disadvantages, except the ability to be any class.

Step 4: Gain equipment
Each character begins play with one weapon appropriate to their class, 1 set of armor appropriate to their class (excluding plate armor), 5 days of dried rations, 2 waterskins, backpack, and bedroll

Each character may choose one of the following packages:

Package 1: shovel,  5 candles, crowbar, 10' pole, hammer and 5 iron spikes, 5 torches, flint and steel, 2d10 gp

Package 2: flask of holy water, 5 pieces of parchment, 1 quill, 1 bottle of ink, flint and steel, hooded lantern, 3 flasks of oil, 1d6 gp

Package 3: block and tackle, 50' hemp rope, 5 pieces of chalk, 2 small sacks (15 lb capacity), bullseye lantern, 2 flasks of oil, flint and steel, 2d6 gp

Step 5: Determine spells
Clerics and Druids may memorize any spells of the appropriate level of their choice
Magic-Users begin with the minimum number of new spells per their intelligence. The player chooses one spell that the automatically know, and the remainder are rolled randomly (using the M-U's chance to understand.)

Step 5: Delve into the world of Mord Mar and have fun!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Mord Mar Update

As I type this, I am preparing for a new campaign. This new campaign will be in the style of Gary Gygax's home campaign, and run at The Griffin's Rest. This will be a hard reset to "default" settings. The events of past campaigns will show up as time passes, allowing other groups to experience the timeline freshly.

It is going to be an episodic campaign, with about 4 hours of delve time per session. I will be using the Swords and Wizardry rules set, as it is simple. This will allow us to maximize the time at the table, not spend a whole session on one scene.

I am excited about this new project. It is moving closer to getting Mord Mar into a publishable format. In the downtime, I have figured out several of the problems that Mord Mar presents. For example, the Old City is mapable, but not really keyable. The solution to this problem is pretty novel. I intend to name about 30%-60% of the buildings. I will include generic floor plans for common building types (homes, businesses, mushroom farms, etc.) It will be up to the individual DMs to flesh them out.

Mord Mar has grown and changed in the 5 years I have been working on it. But, it has been for the better every time. Now I hope a whole new crop of gamers enjoy the old style of role-playing.

Expect more news on Mord Mar soon. I intend to start running in the next couple of weeks and to put up play reports. In the meantime, look for the Silver Bulette Blog. I have shifted everything not Mord Mar to there.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Monster Monday - Basilisk

Today, I continue to highlight a monster found in Rappan Athuk. There are 3 days left on Frog God's Kickstarter. I am thinking of moving Monster Monday over to the Silver Bulette blog, and focusing entirely on megadungeons here. I will make the decision in the next week or so.

In the meantime, today's Monster Monday features the basilisk. There is a section in Rappan Athuk called (gasp!) Basilisk Caverns. Wandering monsters in this area have a 50% chance of being basilisks. In the S&W version, all movement is halved, due to rough terrain. Saves must be made for moving faster, with failures meaning the character has fallen, taking 1d3 damage.

Similar to the cockatrice, the basilisk comes from mythology of Europe. (Read about it here.) They are a far mark different from what has evolved in the Dungeons and Dragons mythos, though. Here's the S&W (Complete, 3rd print, pg 100) stats:
HD: 6
AC: 4 [15]
Attacks: Bite (1d10)
Saving Throw: 11
Special: Petrifying gaze
Move: 6
Alignment: Neutrality
Challenge Level/XP: 8/800

Basilisks are great lizards whose gaze turns to stone anyone meeting its eye. (One way of resolving this: fighting without looking incurs a -4 penalty to hit.) If the basilisk's own gaze is reflected back at it, it has a 10% chance to force the basilisk into a saving throw against being turned to stone itself.

In AD&D, the basilisk has 8 legs, and its gaze reaches astral (turning the target to stone) and ethereal (simply killing the target).

Basilisks are a strange creature. There has been a lot of talk this week about dungeon ecologies (watch this video for more), and I would like to address it with the basilisk.

Basilisks are subterranean, and turn their potential meals to stone. I postulate, then, that they eat the stone. This makes basilisks a fantastic dungeon dweller. As a DM looking for visimilitude, it is unnecessary to have anything else near the basilisk's lair.

With this in mind, let's take a look at some interesting ways to use a basilisk in a game.

Basilisks pair well with almost any intelligent creature. In a lower level of Mord Mar, there are three trolls, with a trained basilisk. They keep its eyes covered unless in battle. The trolls try to maneuver the basilisk to the hallway, then remove the blindfold. The basilisk then charges whatever is moving that it can see, forcing saves against its gaze.

A pair of basilisks can be a deadly encounter, no matter the level of the characters. A mated pair of basilisks often hunt in the catacombs beneath a church. They know how to use angles to keep their prey within eyesight of at least one of them, and attack at perpendicular angles. Many adventurers have not returned after promising to rid the burial grounds of the threat.

A basilisk died in the Unholy Grounds. All creatures that die here return as undead. This undead basilisk is a ghoul, but has allied itself with several wraiths, as they seem immune to its gaze. This group terrorizes any living being that enters their floor of the dungeon.

The basilisk is not a boss monster. Its gaze attack means it is feared like one, though. When characters face a basilisk unprepared, there is often one or more casualties. Throw one (or more) at your players, and watch them squeal and run!

Artwork owned by Frog God Games, and used with permission.

Friday, March 23, 2018

How To Stop Trap Detection Dice Rolling

In the last blog, I talked a lot about trap and secret door detection. But, I didn't really say how to put it into practice, other than "be descriptive." Let's break that down a little bit. Here's a couple of descriptions of places where traps may be located.

"As you approach the door at the end of the hallway, you notice the keystone in the door's archway is carved like a skull. The door itself is a eight planks, held together by two brass bindings. The door does not have a latch, only a pull-ring. The damp of the dungeon has caused the wood to swell, making a tight seal between the door and the stone."

"The massive oak and iron door has the signs of water damage down it. The handle, a turning knob, is made of brass, and has a light patina. A keyhole, about a centimeter tall sits directly underneath the knob. As you approach, you see that the door opens toward you, and scratch marks gouge the floor where the door has been opened. What do you do?"

"The iron-bound chest squats on the pedestal before you. A brass lock holds the chest closed. From here, you can see that someone once tried to force the lock, causing damage to the keyhole. There is a 5' circle of dust surrounding the pedestal, that is not present in the rest of the room. What do you want to do?"

When training the players on when to search, and when not to, there are some methods that can help.
1. Keywords: When players look for traps and secret doors, its best to spoon feed them for a bit, to get them used to the new play style. Use words like damage, blood, gouges, skulls, and others that make them feel uneasy. As they grow more accustomed to the play style you can start using more subtle descriptions.
2. Blatancy: Murder holes, floors and walls stained with blood, nozzles, spikes, big red buttons all are immediate clues that point to a trap.
3. Notate things that are out of the ordinary: A different colored flagstone, a shelf with a metal lip, or the cladding of a chest that appears loose. These are clues that will make players immediately think trap.

That's the easy part. The harder part is to get them to stop searching everything, and everywhere. Several things can help.
1. Have a discussion before the session begins. Explain to them that you are changing how the detect/remove rules work. Tell them that you will use key words in your descriptions (but not what they are), and they need to be players and characters.
2. Make sure they understand the consequences of taking too much time. As I mentioned previously, Gary built in a clock to keep the players moving. But, in today's story driven game, there are more effective methods. The princess will be sacrificed at midnight is a great way to get people moving, and less cautious about where they step. Adding a time element to the story makes it feel less like rules and more like expediency.
3. Have a whole session, or even several, where no traps are found. At all. Eventually, they will let their guard down. At least enough to not deal with dice in every room and corridor.
4. Make them describe everything they are doing to search for traps. Everything. Not just "I search the floor." How do they search the floor? What do they use? Make them understand (and waste valuable play time) what it entails. When they get nothing accomplished other than searching a 30' corridor in a whole play session, they will rethink how they approach searching.

These are a few ways to help mitigate the dice rolling trap.

Traps and Secret Doors in the OSR

Door art by Patrick E. Pullen
Thanks to Jonathan Pickens on the OSGR Facebook page, I am writing this post. He postulated: "What purpose do traps and secret doors serve in today's games? I mean, players have so come to expect these and have devised well-known methods to counteract them (10 ft.-poles, iron spikes, etc.), much of the tension now boils down to rolls of the dice rather than player intelligence and agency."

Let's talk about TRAPS first. I decided to take a look at 1E AD&D for the discussion, as it is the most familiar system to most players in the OSR. In order to find traps with "rolls of the dice" a thief is needed in the party. They have a base 20% chance at first level (and 99% at 17th.) But, let's dig into the text and see exactly what this means.
PHB pg 27: "Finding/removing traps pertains to relatively small mechanical devices such as poisoned needles, spring blades, and the like. Finding is accomplished by inspection, and they are nullified by mechanical removal or being rendered harmless."
PHB pg 28: " Finding/Removing Traps is accomplished in exactly the same manor as opening locks. Roll for each function separately (a trap must be located before removal can be attempted). One try per thief is allowed. Success deactivates the trap.
PHB pg 45:
Find Traps (Divination)
Level: 2
Range: 3"
Duration: 3 turns
Area of Effect: 1" path
Explanation/Description: When a cleric casts a find traps spell, all traps - concealed normally or magically - of magical or mechanical nature become visible to him or her. Note that this spell is directional, and the caster must face the desired direction to determine if a trap is laid in that particular direction.

DMG pg 19: "Use the time requirements for opening locks. Time counts for each function. Small or large traps can be found, but not magical or magically hidden traps."
Here's where things get interesting. Gary is verbose here, so read it thoroughly, and carefully.
DMG pg 97: "Detection of Unusual Circumstances, Traps, And Hearing Noise: Regardless of the means, it takes effort and concentration to perform any of these activities . . . [examples] . . .To sum it all up, DON'T GIVE PLAYERS A FREE LUNCH! Tell them what they "see", allow them to draw their own conclusions and initiate whatever actions they desire. You are the source of their input, a time keeper, and the motivator of all not connected with them. . .

Assume that your players are continually wasting time (thus making the so-called adventure drag out into a boring session of dice rolling and delay) if they are checking endlessly for traps and listening at every door. If this persists despite the obvious displeasure you express, the requirements that helmets be doffed and mail coifs removed to listen at a door, and then be carefully replaced, the warnings about ear seekers, and frequent checking for wandering monsters (q.v.), then you will have to take more direct part in things. Mocking their over-cautious behavior as near cowardice, rolling huge handfuls of dice and then telling them the results are negative, and statements to the effect that: "You detect nothing, and nothing has detected YOU so far --", might suffice. If the problem should continue, then rooms full with silent monsters will turn the tide, but that is the stuff of later adventures."

Wow. That's actually a lot of information to disseminate. Let's go through, page by page.
Pg 27-28 PHB is the basic rundown of the thief's ability. But, it also severely limits the thief's abilities. The ability is to find relatively small traps. A thief walking down a corridor, by strict interpretation of the rules, cannot find a pit trap or collapsing ceiling. Also note, there are other limitations that don't show up in the PHB. Gary liked to never give the players all of the information.
On page 45 of the PHB, Gary actually gives clerics a much stronger ability than the thief. But, it is severely more limited in time, and therefore scope. To understand how limited it is, we have to look at the times that everything takes in D&D. A turn is 10 rounds, or 10 minutes. And he expects that adventurers rest 1 turn out of every 6 (10 minutes per hour). Moving and mapping a 90' section of corridor takes 1 full turn. So, 270' of corridor can be checked for traps with this spell. Less if a room is being searched. But, it does notice every trap.
The DMG is where all of this starts to matter, though. In the DMG on pg 19, it is revealed that magical traps cannot be found by thieves (no matter their percentages.)  On the same page, we find that most locks take 1-4 rounds, with some taking up to 10 rounds to pick. So, finding a trap takes the same amount of time. So does disarming a trap. On DMG pg 38 "(melees or other actions which result in fractional turns should be rounded up to make complete turns.)" So, finding a trap takes one turn, so does disarming a trap. That's 2/3 of a wandering monster check. Even if you allow players to check for traps in a 10' corridor, that's a wandering monster check every 30' without finding a trap.
But, pg 97 of the DMG is what drives everything home. Most doors and corridors are not going to be trapped. It is the DM's job to give descriptive clues of when to check for traps. The description is what makes the game. Without it, there is just endless rolling to see if a trap can be found. It is necessary to push the players away from rolling dice to find traps, and move them to a descriptive cue to search.

Now, Secret Doors are a similar, but different monster.
PHB 16: "Secret or concealed doors are difficult to hide from elves. Merely passing within 10' of the latter makes an elven character 16 2/3% (1 in 6) likely to notice it. If actively searching for such doors, elven characters are 33 1/3% (2 in 6) likely to find a secret door and 50% likely (3 in 6) to discover a concealed portal.
DMG 97 (see the paragraphs on traps above): Secret Doors: These are portals which are made to appear to be a normal part of the surface they are in. They con possibly be sensed or detected by characters who are actively concentrating on such activity, or their possible location may be discovered by tapping (though the hollow place could be another passage or room beyond which has no portal in the hollow-sounding surface). Discovery does not mean that access to the door mechanism has been discovered, however. Checking requires a very thorough examination of the possible secret door area. You may use either of two methods to allow discovery of the mechanism which operates the portal:
1. You may designate probability by a linear curve, typically with a d6. Thus, a secret door is discovered 1 in 6 by any non-elf, 2 in 6 by elven or half-elven characters, each character being allowed to roll each turn in checking a 10' X 10' area. This also allows you to have some secret
doors more difficult to discover, the linear curve being a d8 or d10.
2. You may have the discovery of the existence of the secret door enable player characters to attempt to operate it by actual manipulation, i.e. the players concerned give instructions as to how they will have their characters attempt to make it function: "Turn the wall sconce.", "Slide it left.", "Press the small protrusion, and see if it pivots.", "Pull the chain." It is quite acceptable to have a mixture of methods of discovering the operation of secret door.
DMG 136: Wand of Secret Door and Trap location: This wand has an effective radius of 1" for secret door location, 3" for trap location. When the wand is energized it will pulse and point to whichever thing it is to locate if a secret door/trap is within location range. Note that it locates either one or the other, not both during one operation. It requires 1 round to function and draws 1 charge. The wand may be recharged.

There's a lot less information about secret (and concealed) doors. But, let's go step-by-step. PHB 16 states that passive detection of a secret door by an elf DOES NOT HAPPEN. It only happens with concealed doors (i.e. the latter from the previous sentence). Even actively searching, elves only have a 2 in 6 of finding secret doors.
DMG 97 goes even further away from the auto-successes from dice rolls. The rule moves the doors down the "dice ladder" if the DM feels it is warranted. It also blatantly states that false positives should be given for secret doors (. . . has no portal in the hollow-sounding surface.)
The other important part of this passage is time (again). Each turn (10 minutes) allows for one character to search one 10' x 10' section. To search a 30' square room would take a party of four 3 turns (the time it takes to check for wandering monsters). To have each member check each wall would take 14 turns (remember, every 6th turn is a rest). That's four wandering monster checks, and a 5th one not very far away.
Finally, there is the Wand. It detects secret doors within 10' of the user, and traps within 30' of the user. It only works in one direction, and takes a full round to use. Although it can be helpful, it is only a stopgap, or possibly a "I'm sure. Let's use the wand to be 100%."

Summary, for those of you who don't want to read all of that ^^^
The long and the short of this all goes back to time and wandering monsters. AD&D had slow movement, a difficult rest period, and two wandering monster checks per hour. If PCs intend to search every nook and cranny meticulously, they are going to pay with blood from the wandering monsters.
Instead, it is vital that the DM give vibrant descriptions of the surroundings, so that players can make informed decisions when to search, and when to move. They will always be prodding with their 10' poles, but I assume that's in the time frames given by Gary above. Thieves don't get to roll for large traps anyway, so it makes sense for the PCs to use other methods to mitigate the dangers in a hum-drum hallway.
Use adjectives. Teach the players to think, not just roll dice. And your game and their play will be well rewarded for it.

Swords & Wizardry follows all of the rules above, except elves can passively find secret doors. However, the rules don't state anything for concealed doors. So, just change those sideways S to hidden doors with curtains, rugs, furniture, stucco or paintings. They will catch on that their dice rolling isn't working. Or they won't. Either way, the game will be more fun.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Monster Monday - Stone Golem

I'm finally back from GaryCon and my anniversary weekend. Both were great, and GaryCon will be a story for a different time. Right now, its Monster Monday!

The people at Frog God Games are doing a Rappan Athuk Kickstarter right now, so I decided to open my S&W copy to a random page and use a monster from there. I opened it to page 145, and had a nasty encounter stare me in the face:

A great statue of an angelic being stands here at the head of a 30–40 ft.
diameter cavern, wings outspread, wearing armor, and with sword raised
on high. Strangely, the statue faces down the cavern away from the PCs as
they enter. The walls of the cavern have been smoothed, and carved with
images of oversized human warriors marching in the same direction. At
the far end of the cavern rests another vault door, opened by turning the
wheel at its center 10 times counterclockwise.
The great statue is a masterfully crafted greater stone golem, though
it only activates if the Ravager itself comes into view—even standing
still for direct attacks from lesser creatures. However, hidden amid the
carved images in the walls are 20 hasted stone golems, and which move
to intercept anyone moving into the cavern.
All golems are made of the same iridescent stone that coats the walls
of this cavern, and even if completely destroyed they regenerate from the
walls at the rate listed below, so long as the stone remains magical.
 I don't know which of the Frogs wrote this particular nasty encounter (but I would bet Bill.) But, this encounter shows how monsters can be used in different ways from a "standard book encounter." Just because a monster has stats in a book, that doesn't mean they can't be tweaked and adjusted to fit into a different hole. (Ian does this well in his Orbs series with the chimera statue in Undying Orb.)

This concept is one of the reasons why I enjoy doing Monster Monday so much. Now, let's take a look at the book stats of the Stone Golem (From Swords & Wizardry Complete, by Matt Finch):

Golem, Stone
Hit Dice: 60 hit points
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Attacks: Fist (3d8)
Saving Throw: 3
Special: Unaffected by +1 or lesser weapons, immune to most spells
Move: 6
Alignment: Neutrality
Challenge Level/XP: 16/3,200
Stone golems are massive stone statues animated by very powerful
magics (much more than just animate object, in other words). They are
slowed by fire spells, damaged by rock-to-mud spells, and healed by
the reverse. Spells that affect rock, and fire spells, are the only ones that
affect stone golems. They can only be hit by +2 or better weapons.
(In AD&D they also have a Slow spell available to them.)

Golems are great for "dead" dungeons and tombs. The can remain inert for eons, don't need to consume anything (including oxygen,) can be programmed by their creators, and can appear as normal statues, blending into otherwise benign landscapes.

Golems are just as useful in "living" dungeons. Gray Varnum, a druid, was defeated by a challenger and thus reduced in rank to Druid (12th level.) The loss devastated his ego, and he has gone insane as a result. He constructed a stone golem in the shape of a giant starfish, which covers the entrance to his underwater cave. He resides inside, living out his days in the shape of a lobster.

Necromancers also find golems useful. Barriz Hajile cannot sneak his undead inside city walls. But, his stone cart, with a tongue oddly shaped by hands, passes by the guards on a weekly basis. He bides his time within the city, and if a person gets too close, they are added to the "burial cart" if nobody else is around.

Magic-users aren't the only people that find golems useful. The great warrior, Osphan found one in a forgotten tomb, and paid a sage a great sum to find its command words. Now, he uses the stone golem to guard his slaves.

As you can see, the biggest drawback to a golem is it can never be independent. At least, not normally. They are programmed or respond to commands from their owners.
Deep within Mord Mar, there is a level that breaks enchantments. But, this level doesn't destroy magic items, it just "frees" them from being commanded. At least golems roam this level, destroying all living creatures that they come across. The entrance is partially blocked by a huge ship (which was once a Folding Boat.)

Golems are the stuff that make DMs dream of ever better encounters. They are incredibly strong, resilient, resistant to magic and can take any form. Here's a list of some golem forms I have used in the past:

dragon (always a hit!)
giant (ho-hum)
medusa (what was powerful enough to turn a medusa to stone? Add the medusa's gaze attack for more evil DMly fun.)
sailing ship
spider, giant
statue (particularly cruel is a god or demon.)

All of these golems play very differently when they hit the table. Let me know what kinds you have used!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Monster Monday - Mimic

Sorry everyone, I missed last week's Monster Monday. I was finishing up the Silvery Moon Tavern, and was able to push it to have copies in print for Gary Con. It should also be on sale Thursday (March 9) on RPGNow. Now that I'm done with my excuses, let's get to the monster of the week!

The Mimic is a strange creature. It morphs its body into something that intelligent creatures might want in order to eat them. The classic example is a treasure chest, but there are several other examples that we will look at shortly.

Mimics first showed up in D&D around AD&D 1E, at least in the Monster Manual. PC Gamer says they showed up as early as 1974, but I don't know where. Mimics appear in the Monster Manual, where Gygax writes: " . . . are subterranean creatures which cannot stand the light of the sun. They are able to perfectly mimic stone or wood. There are two varieties, the large . . . and the slightly smaller, intelligent sort. While the former will attack anything . . . the latter are generally friendly if offered food."
There is a "killer mimic" in the Slavers series (A3), the Juggernaut in Temple of Elemental Evil is a "cousin." But, the most famous mimic of all is quite disgusting: Dungie. Dungie is a mimic that appears in Rappan Athuk. He was turned into an immortal mimic when he ingested a Staff of the Magi. He has a natural form: "a disgusting bubbling mass of vile feces and gurgling fluids." But, usually, he is sitting on a privy as a super clean toilet seat.

Mimics are the ultimate trap. They are a monster that can assume the form of what the characters want most: an exit, a treasure chest, even a bench to sit on.

Deep within the bowls of Devil's Dilemma, it is said that a room full of levers exists. All of these need to be pulled down simultaneously. But, one lever (and part of the stone wall behind it) is actually a mimic. When the mimic lever is pulled, the entire wall envelops whoever pulled the lever.

The Old Manor has a pipe organ, rumored to grant wishes if a particular series of notes is played. The bench near the keys is actually a mimic, waiting for the next victim.

A mad wizard bound a mimic to an iron golem as an outer "skin." When the golem attacks, the mimic lashes out and grabs the target, often carrying them into the air (if dwarf sized or smaller) or forcing them to Save or lose their weapon.

The rats in the basement of the inn snuck through the sewers to get there. Eventually, a mimic found the same path, and now resides as a bed in the least-rented room.

Artwork by Indi Martin © 2015

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monster Monday - Vegepygmy

As Gary Con draws closer, I continue to look at Gary's monsters and their impact in the RPG world. Today, we talk about the vegepygmy. They first appeared in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. To put it mildly, vegepygmies are a strange Gygaxian concoction.

They are one of few monsters with multiple HD listings (from 1-6 in Monster Manual II.) They are intelligent(ish), and form "regional bands, living by scavenging and hunting" (MMII p 124.) Vegepygmies are "born" through a russet mold killing a "character." (We will dive into that in a moment.) They generally have pigmentation similar to their environment, and can be found underground or in deep forests.

Let's talk about the reproduction cycle of the vegepygmy. They can replicate through "russet mold or propagating buds from their bodies." This seems odd, even for a Gygaxian ecology. Typically molds and oozes make more of themselves by "eating" people. And what happens when a russet mold eats a non-character? Say a rust monster wanders up to that yummy looking "rust" and gets spored. Does that make a vegepygmy? (See below for the answer.)

Vegepygmies, for all of their strangeness, are a great megadungeon faction. With two types of reproduction, and a built in trap (russet mold,) they can hold territory well. I would personally make them adversarial to the myconids of your dungeon. (And that just happened in Mord Mar.)

The great dragon, Tibalis, has taken a liking to the vegepygmy tribe near his volcanic lair. He allows them to stay, in exchange for any metal items they scavenge from their prey. The vegepygmies in return have been taught magical spells: comprehend languages, push, and spider climb. Each group of five has one such spellcaster present.

A russet mold infected a rust monster, which spawned a new type of vegepygmy. This one looks the same as the others in its band, but it hungers for the metal that people wear. Its attacks act like a rust monster, rusting metal. The sub-chief of the band recognizes this unique trait, and keeps this rustypygmy nearby in case of attacks from orcs or other humanoids.

A splinter group of vegepygmies has been chased away from its band, due to their blue coloration. These vegepygmies have developed a form of telepathy, and are searching for warriors to destroy their former band-mates.

Thump-pound-thump lost his way in a large cavern. It desperately wants to get home, and is searching for a way to communicate that to a group of dwarves when the group stumbles across the scene.

Vegepygmies are a great addition to a gonzo game. They can be made to work in other places, but lose some of their luster moving to conform with the other creatures in the world around them.

Artwork used under license from Headless Hydra. Artist: Bruno Balixa

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Archetypes of Megadungeons

When Matt asked me in the interview about what megadungeon I would recommend, I stated Grande Temple of Jing. But, there are many types of megadungeons. They all feel and play differently. So, that information may be inaccurate for some people. I would like to go through a few of the megadungeon archetypes and help people find what kind of megadungeon they may be looking for.
Image from my copy of Rob Kuntz's El Raja Key
It hangs on my wall and is beautiful.

1. The Underworld Megadungeon: This is the "classic" megadungeon. When people talk about megadungeons, these are the first that come to mind. Castle Greyhawk (Ruins or Zagyg), Undermountain, and Dwimmermount fall into this category.
These megadungeons are the original type of megadungeon. From The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures: "Before it is possible to conduct a campaign of adventures in the mazey dungeons, it is necessary for the referee to sit down with pencil in hand and draw these labyrinths on graph paper. Unquestionably this will require a great deal of time and effort and imagination. The dungeons should look something like the example given below, with numerous levels which sprawl in all directions, not necessarily stacked neatly above each other in a straight line." (pg 3) Gygax continues to talk about the concept until page 8.

 2. The Funhouse Megadungeon: A funhouse megadungeon is like a circus. You never know what's next. It could be a full zoo of every creature in every monster book (like World's Largest Dungeon.) It could be the personal playground of a trickster god (like Grande Temple of Jing.) It could be a spoof on a famous dungeon (WG7 Castle Greyhawk.)

3. The Story Megadungeon: A story megadungeon revolves around a plot line to delve the dungeon. Often, these are megadungeons only in the sense that most of the action takes place in the same dungeon, and they advance through many levels. Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk and Expedition to Undermountain are examples of this. To a lesser degree, Castle Whiterock follows this paradigm.

4. The Beer-and-Pretzels Megadungeon: These megadungeons are a lot like movies. They have sets and set-pieces, and, characters and, a lot of action. Games within Beer-and-Pretzels megadungons tend to be episodic. Go in, get the treasure, get out. No real exploring, just a goal and a fight. Rappan Athuk fits this category for me.

Most megadungeons fit into multiple categories on this list, but here's where I feel each of the megadungeons in my physical collections fall:

B4: The Lost City
Castle of the Mad Archmage
Castle Zagyg

Grande Temple of Jing
Lich Dungeon
The Emerald Spire
WG7: Castle Greyhawk
World's Largest Dungeon (and City?)

Story Megadungeon
Castle Whiterock
The Expedition Series from 3.X (Greyhawk, Undermountain)
The Temple of Elemental Evil

Barrowmaze (There's a 5E version in the link!)
Rappan Athuk

Monday, February 12, 2018

Monster Monday - Gelatinous Cube

As I type this up, I am waiting for my interview with OSGR. The guys over there have been kind to me, highlighting my blog a few weeks ago, and now doing that interview. But, that's not why we are here today. Today, it's monsters. Specifically the Jello Mold Gelatinous Cube.
Artwork by Scott Hershberger, used under license

As I was doing my research for this, I noticed that wikipedia mentions them in the OD&D boxed set. I didn't see them in there. They are mentioned in Greyhawk, however. Here's Gary's description (pg 39-40):
"As the name implies, these monsters are shaped very much like cubes, typically being about 10’ per side so as to be able to sweep clean of all living materials (as well as dead cells) the floor and walls of the labyrinthine dungeon passages. Any flesh which comes in contact with a Gelatinous Cube becomes anesthetized unless a saving throw vs. paralyzation is made. The touch also causes 2–8 points of damage as the creature seeks to dissolve and devour flesh. These creatures are subject to normal weapons and fire, but lightning, cold, paralyzation, fear, and polymorph attacks do not harm them. Many ’Cubes have rich treasures within their semi-transparent bodies, for they pick up metallic and otherwise non-digestible objects in their rounds, and these items often remain within the body for long periods of time before being redeposited."
That last sentence is the most interesting to me. It gives a legitimate reason why a ring or other item may be on the floor randomly.

As we move forward in time, we find the gelatinous cube holds its position as chief dungeon clean-up through editions. It appears in the 1E Monster Manual, 2E's Monstrous Compendium, the Monstrous Manual (under the heading Oozes, Slimes and Jellies, where it remains through 5E,) and in Monster Manuals for 3rd, 4th and 5th edition. It appears in Holmes and BECMI. The gelatinous cube has established itself firmly in all editions.

The appeal of the gelatinous cube is easy to see. A nearly invisible block of jello moves through corridors cleaning up everything in its path. They are difficult to see, dangerous and potentially hold treasure well above their pay grade. Coupled with their dangerous paralyzation attack, gelatinous cubes are fun to fight. 
But, I barely ever remember fighting one. I have fought a few in Undermountain. I am betting the DMs placed them there, though. I'm sure there are some published, and would love it if the readers would tell me where. 

Mord Mar's history of gelatinous cubes is a bit different. They were actually made by the dwarves to keep the city and sewers clean. They were discovered through an alchemical process, and the machine that makes them is still operational. Or maybe, its operational again. Either way, threats continue to spew forth in the old city.

As the party continues down a corridor, they find a trail of coins, haphazardly strewn about. Soon they stumble across a belt buckle, buttons, a dagger, an axe and finally a suit of plate armor. A cliff shears the end of the corridor shortly after the armor. At the bottom is a gelatinous cube that has been unable to leave the pit. The cube encompasses the whole ground level of the pit, and is difficult to detect, with penalties for the PCs being distracted (by climbing.) {I told you I found that sentence interesting.}

An ooze druid created his own lair deep within a dungeon. Entering through a normal cave, it looks like a huge cavern, with a sickly green tint. In actuality, the druid has anchored several gelatinous cubes in place, creating "walls" for his labyrinth.

Gnolls, with some help from an ogre mage, managed to trap a gelatinous cube in the ceiling of their complex. They fashioned a trap (tripwire, pressure plate or lever) that drops the cube onto the occupants of the room or corridor.

Gelatinous cubes are mindless creatures that live and move only to eat. This fact makes them different than most other encounters. When designing with a gelatinous cube in mind, always remember they often act like living traps. This makes them more of a memorable encounter than one just slurping down a hallway.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Earlier this week, a FB post asked what was the best D&D supplement people ever bought. I answered with "Undermountain." Another poster asked me why. I gave a short answer,
"It was a mammoth resource. I have probably played or run 20 campaigns inside of it." I promised to expand on that explanation.

My initial statement is true. Undermountain is mammoth. 4 poster sized maps in the first boxed set. I love those poster maps. They immediately invoke a feeling of infinite space to explore. The terrain varies: water, worked passages, caverns, pyramids and ziggarauts can all be found on those maps. Even the city-within-a-dungeon Skullport is there.

Next, I want to take a second to talk about the Monstrous Compendiums. I loved those things. TSR executed them wrong, but they were still amazing. Why didn't they charge an extra $1-2 and print them on heavier paper? With only 1 monster to a page? That's why they excelled. They could be moved around and put into binders with your maps and notes. Undermountain came with 8 pages of those glorious Monstrous Compendium pages. The Elder Orb Beholder has even become iconic of the larger D&D universe. The other monsters within are strange, unique and evocative of the dungeon. Seeing those monsters all those years ago showed me how monsters could be more than cannon-fodder. They could be part of the lore of the dungeon itself (cough Xanathar cough.)

The books in the boxed set are the least inspiring for me. Campaign Guide does a good enough job of explaining how to run a megadungeon, but they are less evocative than other works in D&D. About 200 set encounters and six or so adventures seemed less than what should have been with those giant maps. But, the point was to give DMs the power to make Undermountain their own. It was just too much open space. Even notes like "Orcs control NE corner of level 1" or "this space is great for a hidden treasure and opponent" would have given new DMs a direction.

What I love the most about Undermountain is the Cards that came with the box. Eight of them: Pit Traps (1-3),Treasure Tables, Smash Traps, Snares and Lures, Dungeon Dressing, and Magical Doors all have their own reference cards. These short descriptions were more memorable to me as a fledgling DM than all of the splash and flair of the maps.
"Creatures passing through this door are instantly gated to a specific or random location . . ." How can a sentence like that not get you thinking about possibilities to put the players in.
I have never been very good at designing traps. Maybe these cards are why. A full five of eight are dedicated to traps, with the "doors" card having 1/3 of a side of traps as well. That's a lot of traps. And, unlike Grimtooth, these traps were (almost) fair.

I owe a lot of my D&D career to finding and loving Undermountain. Without it I would have never found other great dungeons. I would have never picked up Rappan Athuk, Castle Zagyg or Barrowmaze or the Grande Temple of Jing. Hell, I may have given up on D&D a long time ago if Undermountain didn't exist.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Monster Monday - Rust Monster

Art from Fat Goblin, used under license

Never doing damage, the rust monster still strikes terror into the heart of the bravest warrior. Instead of biting and clawing, the monster rusts weapons and armor away. The rust monster is a creature that many of us grognards cut our teeth on. My earliest memory of this creature is from Frank Mentzer's Basic (Red) D&D boxed set. It featured in the solo adventure in the Player's Guide.

Rust monsters are almost as old as the game itself. The rust monster first appeared in the Greyhawk Supplement for OD&D. Gygax said: "RUST MONSTERS: These seemingly inoffensive creatures are the bane of metal with a ferrous content, for as their name implies they have the effect of rust upon such substances, and this happens nearly instantaneously. Any hits by or upon a Rust Monster cause even magical weapons to rust and fall to flakes. Armor is affected in a like manner. The creature is very fast, being attracted to the smell of the iron-based metals, and when alone it will devour the rust it has caused." (Greyhawk, pg 39.) They have appeared in every edition of the game since: Mentzer's Basic (mentioned above), Monster Manual (AD&D), Monstrous Compendium (AD&D 2E), Monster Manual (3 and 3.5), Monster Manual 2 (4E), and Monster Manual (5E).

Here are the Swords & Wizardry stats for rust monsters:
HD: 5
AC: 2 (17)
Attacks: 2 antennae
Save: 12
Alignment: neutral
Number Encountered: 1-2
CR/XP: 5/240

Rust monsters are fast, but not deadly by themselves. In different editions they wavered between eating ferrous metals only and eating any metal (gold, silver, etc.) To best challenge a party with rust monsters, they need to be paired with something else. 

The great wizard Peln Fearlash wished solitude. To facilitate this, he created a trap at his front door. Three harpies reside in the antechamber. Their crooning activates a sliding door that releases rust monsters into the room.

An anis hag deep in the forest keeps a rust monster as a pet to get rid of the pesky warriors gear that she cannot cook. 

The ogres in Darkmoon Keep breed rust monsters and release them into the forest around their keep. They have not mastered metallurgy, but have found a way to even the odds.

The man-apes of the southern jungles worship a mammoth rust monster as a god.

Giant rock weasels have made their burrow inside of a rust monster carcass. This close contact has caused their claws to gain the ability to rust metal, just like a rust monster.