Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Trap Tuesday: A step back

I will get back to Tomb of Horrors soon. I found a topic that was interesting enough to take a break. While interacting in a 5E group on Facebook I talked to another blogger, Just Kay. She recently blogged about traps here. She wrote a very informative article on traps that made me think.

In Kay's article, she points out there are 5 reasons to build a trap: capture, delay, frighten, kill and something she calls "the Trail of Worth." I agree with 4 of the 5. Kay doesn't explain what a "Trail of Worth" trap is.

Using Kay's classifications, let's revisit the Tomb of Horrors.
How do you classify the pit traps? They could be any of the choices. Realistically (beacuse of character level), they are delay traps.
The Green Devil Face is obviously a kill trap.
The Arch of Mist is a delay trap.
The 3 (4) Armed Statue doesn't really fit with any of the criteria. As I mentioned in Pt 2, I consider this a puzzle. But, it also acts as a trap, It eats resources. (I will touch more on this in a bit.)
The Magic Archway is a delay trap and also extracts a heavy resource toll.
The False Doors in the Great Hall of Spheres act to both delay and kill (?)
The chest traps are kill traps.

Rarely do you see a frightening trap or a capture trap in D&D. Both can remove player agency. A capture trap can be used to drive a plot forward though. An example: The DM needs the characters to negotiate with an orc tribe, and he uses pit traps and net traps to capture the characters in order to facilitate the story.

I suggest adding a couple of more reasons to build traps. The first is alarm. A tripwire attached to a bell isn't made to capture, delay, frighten (although it could double as a deterrent) or kill. It is placed so sentries are warned of intruders before their arrival. Some traps have effects on the trap-maker, not the trap-tripper.

Secondly, a trap may be made to protect something or make it inaccessible. If a diamond on a pillar is protected by a tripwire (or pressure plate, or laser sensor or other trigger) that diamond may drop into a hole that sends it into a vault deeper within the complex. Although similar to a delay trap, this affects the mcguffin instead of the PCs.

Finally, some traps exist only to consume the PCs resources. Tomb of Horrors has 2 (so far!)

As I continue to explore the subject of traps, this list will be expanded. But, as of now, my trap types are:
Affects PCs:

  • Capture
  • Delay
  • Frighten
  • Kill
  • Resource denial
Affects Objects or Enemies:
  • Alarm
  • Protection
Next week, we will get further into the ToH. Unless I find another McGuffin to distract me. Until then, see you in the dungeon halls!


Monday, April 8, 2019

Monster Monday: Trolls

A troll, as it appeared in 1E
Trolls are a ubiquitous and terrifying D&D monster. Trolls are nigh unkillable and able to slaughter low level parties with ease. In D&D a troll is a specific monster, with specific abilities. These abilities remain consistent throughout the editions.
  • Regeneration: This is the hallmark of a D&D troll. It may change somewhat from edition to edition, but regeneration is to be expected of any troll in a D&D game. The regeneration has always made them a challenge but in new editions, they are even more terrifying and challenging. What happens if you chop its arm off? Oh, 5E rules cover that. What about its head? That'll do something great, right? 5E covers that, too.
  • Attacks: Trolls usually have 2 claw attacks and a bite attack.
One thing I've always done is to make 'specialized' trolls for each environment by adjusting resistances, vulnerabilities, and powers to reflect the subtype I have designed.
Image licensed from Adobe
That is what we recently did in Creeping Cold. We took a "standard" troll and changed its regeneration abilities to key with an environment. Its attacks and damage types were adjusted slightly. The changes took an average encounter and turned it memorable, and it still felt like fighting a troll.

I have changed trolls in other ways in the past. A memorable home game in AD&D had a group of trolls with lairs high on a sheer cliff face. These trolls mutated 4 (and sometimes 6) arms to better facilitate climbing. The fact they could get more attacks with the extra arms was terrifying to the characters.

One of the best ways to change player expectations of trolls is changing what types of damage stop their regeneration ability. Every player that has ever had a character reach level 8 knows that trolls cannot regenerate from fire or acid damage. It is easy to change a troll to a fire-typed creature and have the fire actually heal the nemesis. Simply change its skin color to a "warm" shade like yellow, red or orange. This gives the players a visual clue that something is different.

What would Monster Monday be without some encounter ideas?
Travelling from the orcs' territory in a mega-dungeon, the PCs notice that blood stains the walls and floors. Each room has several flasks of lamp oil and broken furniture or wood. At the far end of these strange rooms an open, unworked cavern holds a tribe of trolls.

A solitary troll resides in the King's Forest, not very far from Redstone. The local druid disappeared, and the king fears the troll ate her. The adventurers are sent to dispatch the monstrosity, but learn the troll is actually the druid, cursed by a hag.

An evil dragon has not been spotted in the countryside for some time. It is believed to be dead, and its treasures ripe for picking. The cavern it used as a home is atop a mountain peak. As the PCs get close they are attacked by trolls with strange skin-flaps that connect arms to torsos. The trolls use these skin-flaps to glide through the air, and attack with legs and feet.

Until next time, see you in the dungeon halls!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Trap Tuesday: ToH PT 2

This is the second post on the Tomb of Horrors. The first can be found HERE.

I know it's a day late, and I'm sorry for that. I was surprised at how busy I was with the first 12 hours of the new Kickstarter: Creeping Cold. Now that the obligatory link is out of the way, let's dive back into the Tomb of Horrors. (And again, this blog is full of SPOILERS.)

Backtracking to the Arch of Mist: I mentioned that this can separate parties. It sends incorrect guesses back to the beginning of the module. Following the correct path leads to a puzzle: "The Three Armed Statue." The puzzle has PCs destroy gems in 4 batches.
Destroying these gems once (3 total gems), twice (6 total gems), or thrice (9 total gems) causes nothing to happen.  The 10th gem triggers a Magic Mouth telling the PCs that they have gained something.
So far, I actually like the puzzle. An INVISIBLE Gem of Seeing (really, invisible? after 1000 gp of gems were destroyed? Seems a little much) appears in the severed fourth hand. And the Gem is "immune" to See Invisibility. If the "arm is carelessly moved, the gem will fall off and roll away."
Chances are the arm was carelessly moved before the Gem even appeared. And, the final part of the puzzle? The way out is a crawl-way, covered in illusion to look like the wall around it.

Image of Hall of Great Spheres from ToH
Following the passage from the "Three Armed Statue" leads to a room. (Great Hall of Spheres) with a couple of traps, including the 2nd most famous (the Magic Archway). There are 20 spheres here in the walls and glyphs. Two false doors and the Magic Archway are the only noticeable exits.
The nearest trap to the Three Armed Statue is a false door.  Every time the door is opened, a spear shoots out at a PC, forcing a Save vs Magic to avoid 2d8 damage. (My module only lists 1 of the doors as a trap. Other sources list both.) I am a fan of the false door trap. They are always unexpected (even here) and make for a fun jump-scare. Just don't over-use them!
Besides the Magic Archway, there are actually 3 exits from this room: the way to the Three Armed Statue, a door that needs a spell to open (Knock, Disintegrate, Rock to Mud, or Stone to Flesh), and another crawl-way that is covered with an illusion.
The Magic Archway is what dominates the room, though. As I mentioned previously, this is the 2nd most famous trap in Tomb of Horrors. It looks very similar to the Arch of Mist, but the colors are different. No messing with the stones changes what it looks like through the archway. Any character that goes through the archway is teleported back to the beginning of the dungeon. All of their equipment is teleported to the final boss.
Again, this trap sucks. It's an obvious way to advance. But, it steals your stuff instead. In a tournament or convention game, I would simply re-write it. In a tournament, I would have it take all treasure found within the Tomb and then send them back to the beginning. In a convention game, I would simply have it send them back to the beginning. In a home game, where the PCs can retreat, regroup and try again, I think it is a worthy challenge, and I would leave it alone.

Three Chests from ToH
Moving on to the last room of the day, The Chamber of the 3 Chests. This is another room hidden by an illusion (and again a crawl space). As the name implies, this room has 3 chests within: "gold," "silver" and wood. Both the precious metals are simply plating over iron (and worth less than their weight).
All three of the chests are trapped. The gold chest houses 12 (3 HD) asps. For the sake of verisimilitude I will assume the snakes were in a form of stasis (but, the chest is non-magical). They are venomous, and saves are made at -2. But, I am unsure what the poison does. I guess that it would be the same as a Poisonous Snake from the Monster Manual (3d6 damage).
So, I have a couple of problems with this trap. I mentioned both above. 1st, how do the snakes stay alive? It just feels like sloppy writing on Gygax's part. 2nd, the stats aren't clear on what they actually do.
The second chest is silver, and actually has treasure within: a 1,000 gp crystal case containing a Ring of Protection +1. Removing the crystal case causes 8 darts to shoot upwards, automatically hitting 1-2 PCs with 4 each. Each dart does a d6 damage with no Save or attack roll.
I like this trap. It's not specified in the notes of ways to avoid it, so creative players can find solutions. There is no warning for the trap, however. But, in ToH everyone should assume everything is trapped.
The final chest teleports an "animated statue of a giant" into it as the chest is opened. The skeleton gets 2 attacks/rd (2d6), edged weapons only do 1 damage (no surprise there) and it is immune to magic (and turning).
Overall, the wooden chest trap is unimaginative and I would have liked the skeleton in the gold chest. A different type of trap could have been better here. (As an aside, what happens when both monster chests are opened? Do the skeleton and snakes randomly attack each other?) I would like to see a trap that paralyzes a party member (permanently until removed/dispelled) or a ceiling collapsing trap. Something other than the same thing twice.

So at the end of four rooms, we have 13 traps. Tomb of Horrors is living up to its reputation.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Trap Tuesday -The Trap Module - PT 1

Today on Trap Tuesday I want to talk about the most infamous trap of all. This trap is so insidious that every D&D player has heard of it. Nearly every D&D player from the 80's has a story about how it killed them. Some love it, and some hate it. Know what it is yet?
Original cover of ToH

Yup, it's Tomb of Horrors. This module is the trap module. And today, we are going to start talking about the trap tropes within. Love this module or hate it, ToH has had a profound effect on how traps are viewed and used in D&D. I am putting SPOILER ALERT up now. If you have not played this module and intend to, stop reading. I plan on a few posts on this subject, as ToH is a dense module with a lot of subject matter. Today we will only be covering the entrance hallway superficially. I hope that the reads ask questions and tell me what to elaborate on.
Ignoring the entrance "puzzle" (random choice, unless you are overly cautious or have disposable minions), the first traps an adventuring party comes to are pit traps. Gygax put several pits in the entrance hallway, none of which are in a straight line. (And he uses them to affect 3 out of the 4 uses we outlined previously.)
The next trap is probably the most famous in D&D. The "Face of the Great Green Devil" has confounded players for over 40 years. Without boxed text the details given about the encounter vary wildly. Three clues are emboldened in the text: "Dead, Evil, Magic." These clues should be enough to deter people from jumping in. People grouse about this trap, but if run properly it stands as a good example of an unique trap.
Moving to the immediate left of the Devil Face, we find the weakest of the traps within ToH, the Arch of Mist. It can separate parties (permanently) and does not facilitate fun. If it were modified so that all characters ended near each other (maybe bars separate them or they were 40 feet apart on different ledges) that would lead to interesting encounters. As it stands, this trap has a chance of limiting fun because the party has their time split.
We are still in the entrance hallway, and three different kinds traps already confound. Over the next few weeks, I plan to delve further into the module and discuss if the traps work and why.

See you in the dungeon halls.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Trap Tuesday - Fog

Found on Wikipedia
I love fog. It's elegant and frightening. It elicits an emotional response just at the word. Tracy Hickman used it to great effect in Ravenloft, so much so an entire line was born from the Fog. Today we are going to look at fog in RPGs and specifically as a trap mechanic.
Fog is especially wonderful in RPGs because of the inherit danger of itself. Getting lost, things hidden in its tendrils, lack of vision and losing companions all are very real terrors inside of a fog. Using a poisonous fog like chlorine gas amps the danger up.

Setting up a fog encounter for overland travel is straightforward. Just have the fog roll in on the characters. This alone brings up the tension level, especially in players that have dealt with Ravenloft in the past. But, this does not make the encounter a "trap." It needs additional elements. The fog is just a clue that a trap is imminent.
The next element for using the fog as a trap is a change in the environment. A wolf howls in the distance, with a response from a different direction would be a good example. Now, the players know that something is different. The "landscape" has changed. 5E players should be using Nature or Survival rolls at this point to figure out how to get away from the wolves. OSR players are probably asking for exact descriptions of trees and surrounding environs. (Don't give it to them. They are in a fog, remember?)
At this point, they need to run away from our trap, or spring the trap. Either way, the action gets intense. Running may lead to separation or getting lost. (5E DMs need to use penalties to Survival/Perception/Nature to mimic the fog's effects on the senses.)
The fog in the previous example acts like the tripwire or pressure plate in a typical trap. It lets the players know something isn't right, and something bad could happen. The howling of wolves pushes the characters to action (and actually springs the trap.)
Image from Skyrim
Using fog in a dungeon creates a more immediate reaction. It isn't just another weather condition that the characters are dealing with. Fog in a dungeon is unnatural. The players will immediately know that something is wrong. And they will be cautious.
Hitting a pressure plate (one of our classic trigger elements) the party causes the fog to roll into the room they are in. We could use a Save or Die for chlorine gas (in OSR). A more interesting variant though is concealing something valuable. The trap door in the ceiling actually is a hidden way out of the dungeon. The players will be too worried about surviving to find the hidden prize, though. After 5 minutes the trap closes and resets. Whatever the fog hides, have the players make Saves (PPD for OSR, Con for 5e). Nothing bad happens when they fail, but it keeps them guessing.

Until next time, see you in the dungeon halls.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Trap Tuesday - Icy Weather!

Travelling to Wisconsin for Garycon in early March brought up an interesting trap idea. Weather acts much like a trap in overland adventuring. With this in mind, let's talk about weather and traps.

Inclement weather of most kinds can be used as a trap of sorts. Icy conditions on the ground can cause someone to fall. Torrential rain or snow can obscure vision. Even high winds can force a travelling group off their compass heading. All of these mimic traps in one form or another.

Today, I will start with ice. Ice on the ground can be nearly invisible. Ice storms hurt. If you have ever been in an ice storm, you know the stinging pinch of hard water welting your skin. And as it hits the ground, it becomes more and more treacherous to just walk.
An icy patch may just be a singular hazard along a forested trail, or there may be a sequence of them. Patches of ice can be almost anywhere. A patch can have wildly different consequences based on that location. Wherever one is, it should to be adjudicated as a trap. As I have talked about previously, this event is a lot more fun if the characters can interact with it.  Detecting it (even if it is "black ice") should be easy enough. Rangers, druids and thieves (rogues if you prefer) should be able to find the icy patch with their miscellaneous abilities. Getting through or around the ice may be a different story.
Are they on a high mountain pass, with granite on one side, and air on the other? How do they navigate the ice then? They will come up with a creative solution.
Are they in the middle of a crowded city? They may not be able to avoid the ice. In this case falling down may only hurt their social status. (And it can be used as a comic relief moment.)

How would I actually put rules to these ideas? For OSR games, I would probably force a saving throw for attempting to cross. Depending on the system used, it could be Dexterity based or Paralysis.
I may give barbarians, rangers or other characters bonuses depending on their background and experiences. For a more modern game, I would probably use a straight dexterity check. Whatever system I use, I would add bonuses for creative ideas. Using a walking stick might garner a +1, but making a walker with 4 legs might gain a +8.

Ice storms are a much different obstacle. In addition to the effects above, an ice storm will probably halt overland travel. A storm could force a caravan (or group of adventurers) off their compass heading. And pelting ice should cause damage.
Whatever system I use, I would cause 1d6 damage per 10 minutes of travelling in an ice storm. Tents are not much protection in these circumstances. After the tents are up, I would have everyone take 1d6 every half hour. Spurring a mount forward in an ice storm is dangerous. In addition to the damage, a mount may slip, breaking a leg or causing another injury.

If the group is not on a road, getting lost travelling through an ice storm becomes likely. An OSR group wants a ranger in these circumstances. Adjudicating much like surprise, a ranger would be lost only 1 in 6. Druids and Barbarians only 2 in 6. Everybody else 4 in 6. These numbers can be adjusted for familiar terrain or other factors.
In a modern game, Survival skill check would determine if the group is lost.

Weather as a trap is a strong concept in D&D. It adds some realism to an overland journey and can make fun encounters without being deadly. Over the next couple of weeks, I expect to revisit the idea with other inclement weather types.

See you in the dungeon halls,


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Trap Tuesday- The Pit

We've all used the classic pit trap, with and without spikes. But how can we breathe some new life into this dungeon trope?

1. Change the dungeon path: Make the pit the place to go into rather than avoid: hide a secret door or making an obvious path from the pit. It can be helpful to place some clues in the pit to help the PCs (think ladders attached to the wall or handholds; walls that become blocked off when the trap opens or even a trap floor that opens up and potentially separates the players). This can also be used to have a 'shaft' leading to a lower level that the players may fall through. A 'pit' or shaft above the players in a hallway can also be intriguing and fun for your players to explore.

2. Complicate the escape: We all think the DM has dropped the hammer when you fall into the pit, but if you can complicate the escape it will be a more memorable trap. We have all experienced, "I drop a rope and help them climb out of the pit". But what if there are glass shards embedded into the walls of the pit? Or the sides are oiled or greased and potentially flammable? (See if the players drop a torch into that!) The trick here is to be more creative than simply having another monster inside the pit. We all know the fun that can occur when players are forced to think creatively and work together to solve novel and new challenges.

3. Stymie classic solutions: Anyone who cut their teeth in early D&D editions will come equipped with a healthy variety of mundane solutions and tools for any trap they might encounter. This is that classic list of ten foot poles, pitons, chalk/chalk dust, 10' chain, mirror, ropes, and grappling hooks. So consider using simple solutions to stop this stuff. Break up the 5' and 10' design we all cling to; make a pit that is 11' across; add steam or dust to obscure views; leave nothing for a grappling hook to find purchase on or a rope to attach to.

4. Use Creative Triggers: Rather than having those classic triggers that go off when someone walks across, change the weight requirements so you can catch several of the players rather than that single foolhardy scout. Have the trigger based on something shiny! I've used gold coins with a wire attached to one. What player can pass some some loose coins? Even better, set the stage with the skeleton of a previous adventure who was clearly not as skilled as these players!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Trap Tuesday - Outside the Dungeon

So far we have been talking about dungeon traps. But, traps are a wide and varied subject. Today, we're going to talk about a different kind: the political trap. They don't play at all like a dungeon trap, but they are some of the most important when weaving a story.

Political traps take time, and subtlety. They start small, usually with someone taking an oath: to protect a kingdom, ruler, lover or object.

From there, things slowly push on that oath. A trusted adviser to the ruler tells the oath-taker that something is needed. A magic ring or a flag can protect what was sworn to be protected.

The oath-taker leaves to retrieve the item. Meanwhile, the "trusted" adviser whispers that the oath-taker forsook their oath. And with that, the trap is sprung.

It works much the same way with a lover. A scream in the night pulls the hero to protect an innocent. This leads a seed of doubt in the lover. They begin to wonder why the oath-taker must protect others? They promised to protect me! And again, the trap is sprung.

When the hero(es) return, they are confronted by whoever they swore the oath to. The ruler (or lover) demands to know why they were left unprotected? They may play this part in different way. A lover may show weakness: crying, trembling, yelling or cursing. All of this leads to an ultimatum: do not leave the protected's side.
Meanwhile, the ruler may show strength: calmness, brashness, or accusations. These lead to several options; banishment, imprisonment, or giving a task to prove the oath.

Now, the oath-taker feels the barbs of the trap. They must do what they swore to do. But, how to do that while imprisoned, or banished? The hero should know the adviser is the problem. How to solve it without a head on the chopping block? That is a great trap.

What of being forced to staying near their charge, unable to recover the item needed to stop the inevitable? This trap lends even more storytelling to the game. The group still must adventure, but now they have an albatross around their necks. Do they take an irregular step and Charm an ally? Wrap the protected one in armor and spells and carry them across the wilderness and dungeons?

Where they go from that point is up to the players. And that's why these are great traps.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Trap Tuesday - Green Slime

Ahh, green slime. One of Gary Gygax's cruelest tricks to play on players. For a reminder, let's go over it in a couple of editions.

A creature that comes into contact with green slime takes 5 (1d10) acid damage. . . Against wood or metal, green slime deals 11 (2d20) acid damage. . . (5E DMG, 105).
(Note, these damage values are for a thin layer of 5x5 green slime.)

Swords & Wizardry
Green slime isn’t technically a monster, just an extremely dangerous hazard in underground tombs and other such places. Any metal or organic substance it touches begins to turn to green slime (saving throw). It can be killed with fire or extreme cold, and the transformation process can be arrested by the use of a Cure Disease spell.

AD&D 1E (Quoted from 1E Monster Manual, page 46)
Melanie Cook
MOVE: 0"
% IN LAIR: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil
Green slimes are strange plant growths found in subterranean places. Although they cannot move, they slowly grow, feeding on animal, vegetable and metallic substances. They are sensitive to vibrations and will often drop upon passing creatures from above.
Green slime will attach itself to living flesh, and in 1-4 melee rounds thereafter turn the creature into green slime (no resurrection possible). It eats away wood slowly, consuming but one inch thickness in an hour. Green slime eats metals quickly, going through plate armor in 3 melee
rounds. It can be scraped off quickly (if the scraper is then discarded), excised, frozen, or burned. A cure disease spell kills green slime. Other forms of attack- including weapons or spell - do it no harm.
Occasionally huge slimes or colonies of dozens have been reported.

Turning the Slime Into a Trap
As you can see, the green slime is a trap in and of itself. It doesn't follow the normal rules for a monster, as far back as 1E. Just fireball your friend before he touches you. But, it can be so much worse.

Forgive my awful drawing skills.
Today, we are combining the green slime with a covered pit trap. When someone walks across the covered pit trap, it drops them into a massive vat of green slime. Someone alone in a dungeon that doesn't find this trap will almost surely die to it.

But, what about groups? That's where this trap gets fun. A halfling rogue may scout ahead of the party, and not even trip the trap. You can set whatever amount of weight you want for the pivot.
Two warriors go next, single file. They weigh about the same, so the trap doesn't move. But, when the wizard steps behind the second warrior, the trap triggers (because the wizard doesn't have heavy armor and weapons.) Oops, two dead adventurers. And the cleric is still on the far side of the trap, freaking out.

How I Would Adjudicate The Trap
First, I would describe the room or the hallway its in. "The air here is sharp and acrid. It's also somewhat dry compared to the other areas you have been in the complex. You occasionally hear a drip noise from somewhere you can't pinpoint."
Next, I would set a fairly high DC for finding the pit. For 5E this would be 20+. For OSR games, it would be a 15% penalty to Find Traps. The reason for this is twofold. First, this is a high-level trap. I wouldn't throw it at any characters less than level 10, no matter which system. Second, I want wiggle room for how they explore the area. If they just tamp with a 10' pole, no bonus (remember to set the pivot weight at 40+ lbs). If they pour water down the hallway, I will give them a bonus. Players are creative people, and I want to be able to reward the creativity without sacrificing lethality.
Finally, I would use the trap as intended. If it is not found, it should kill someone. Like, gone forever. And their gear. If it is found, I would let them come up with creative solutions to "locking" the trap. Maybe they lay ropes tightly over it, and spike them into the ground. Maybe they just use it as a gold storage facility (keeping the upward-moving side at ground level). Maybe they come up with something entirely unexpected.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Top 5 DM Tips - Rocky

Uncle Matt's D&D Studio has been doing a series of guests with their Top 5 GM picks. It seemed like an excellent topic for a post. But, I run a mega-dungeon as my normal game, so my list will have a different emphasis than a standard one.

1. Keep a list of NPCs handy. Both who they regularly interact with, and new names that may never show up again. I know that my players talk to Bear Jarl, Acidopholis, King Johan and others regularly. I don't necessarily remember shopkeep names or mannerisms. Keep that list available in a moment's notice. They may also negotiate with orcs, goblins, or other denizens in the dark. Be prepared!

2. Don't use bosses by the book. If something is a "boss" for a level, it should be special. It may be extra HPs, or a special attack (fire-breathing goblins always make a nice surprise), extra attacks or anything else that may set it apart from the common version.

3. Let the players get in over their heads. Let them go deeper than you expect. Keep throwing traps, puzzles and monsters at them. Even two at a time. They will surprise you with how they deal with their backs against the wall.
3a. Don't let them win. But make sure that they usually do win. This may mean that a monster has fewer HPs than anticipated. It may mean that the trap hits the monsters too. However it happens, the players should feel like they accomplished something (or died trying.)

4. Know your megadungeon. Make sure the PCs' actions have consequences for the creatures within. Maybe the orcs take over the decimated goblin territory (even taking in goblins as shock troops.) Maybe something bigger seals the power vacuum. Removing one group may cause dominoes to fall throughout the dungeon (the goblins are removed, so the hobgoblins begin to withdraw from the dungeon, for example.)
Know that a trap has been set off, and doesn't re-trigger. Know when your PCs break doors. Mark these things on your map or key. Keep the changes consistent.

5. Let the players choose the path of the game. You're running a mega-dungeon. Nobody will ever see the whole thing. The players will seek out what they find interesting.

6. (BONUS!) Remember the Holy Trinity of Megadungeons. Exploration, Puzzle-solving, Role-playing. These are what drive the megadungeon forward. Use them. Every session.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Garycon with the Bulettes!

Hi everyone,

I am running two (identical) events at Garycon this year, both in the megadungeon Mord Mar. I am running the revised Citadel of Mord Mar. In the old school way: get in, find the loot and get out (hopefully alive!)

Four towers can be explored within the tower. Can you find the old king's secret valuables? Maybe you want to find the hidden library? Is bashing undead heads more to your liking? Or just exploring for the sake of knowledge? All of these things are possible, if you live long enough.

Thursday 10 am - event #1672
Thursday 5 pm - event #1673

I have permission to add to the ongoing campaign of Frog God Games. This means that you will be able to use the characters from this event in future events (anything marked as Mythrus Tower.) This includes your magic items, experience and any other perks (or drawbacks) you may get. 

If you already have a Mythrus Tower character, I ask that you limit the characters to 3rd level or less (unless everyone has a higher-level character. Then all bets are off.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Trap Tuesday: A Pressure Plate

Wooden Door from Dungeon Keeper
Last week I dove into the basics of traps. This week I will give you a complete trap. Taking one of the basic building blocks, we will go through the parts of this trap, step by step.

The complete trap is as follows: A door hides a pressure plate, held down from the latch of the knob. Once the knob is turned, the pressure plate releases. This opens murder holes on both sides of the corridor immediately next to the door.

When the door is pushed open (because we don't want a door to stop 1/2 of our murder-hobo death machine), a second pressure plate is released, filling the immediate area with arrows. (And presumably one or more pesky thieves.

That's the crux of the trap. And most of the people reading this could run it just from that information.

What makes this different form other traps? What makes this trap more fun than a pit trap?

Using a pit trap in a game goes something like this:
GM: "You continue walking down the corridor in your standard marching order, the thief is 20' ahead of the party." (dice roll) "When the fighter gets half-way to the thief, the floor open up underneath her, and she crashes with a loud thud at the bottom of a pit." (More dice roll) "She takes 4 damage."

Using the door trap:
GM: "Your thief has checked the door for traps, and found none." (The two pressure plates were nearly impossible to detect, being hidden by the door.) "As you turn the handle, there is a muted 'click' sound from within the door handle. Small holes open up in the walls on both sides of the thief. What do you do?"

As you can see, the players are given choices for their characters' actions. The fighter may use her shield to protect her companion. The wizard may cast a spell to protect the thief. The thief may just attempt to push the door open and hope that his save is high enough to avoid damage (or death, if those things are poisoned.) But, everyone has an option on how to engage the situation.

When you are designing traps, it is important to make them opportunities for your players' creativity and ingenuity to shine through. Simple traps that just become saving throw, take damage, become hum drum and drab after playing in a dungeon for awhile. Traps can be an opportunity for us as GM's to shine and release our creativity. They can become keystones in those stories our players tell about games ("Remember that door that trapped your hand!"). The element of suspense and surprise in these moments is what will make a trap and a gaming session memorable for your players. So get out there and make memories!

Until next time, I'll see your traps in the dungeon halls!

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Reason for The Season

The Holiday Season just ended and I thought this would be a good opportunity to look at holidays in your games. Festivals in Dungeons and Dragons game seem to be an overlooked aspect of our games. I have made a greater effort to fill this void in my own games. I did this partly to make a more pious seeming society where religion was part of the day to day lives of the NPCs.

Medieval festivals were a status symbol for the wealthy and we all know that the elite were seated at the 'high table'. Feasting often lasted all day and in some cases several days. Some sources cite that medieval workers received 8 weeks off because of festivals and holidays! That is quite a bit of time and 1/6th of the year was spent in these celebrations. I know that I am definitely not representing that in my game world. My poor workers get little to no time off currently but that is all changing now. I am sharing with you the resources I've put together for this endeavor.

Food and Drink: This is a great time to lighten your players' purses by selling them seasonal libations and any interesting foods you can describe. My last festival saw the party enjoying spring pastries with onions, bacon, and cheeses. This is the time you can push interesting drinks to your players too. I always end up creating lore for my game worlds while doing this. I recently had a one eyed, one legged dwarf win the local brewing contest by selling a lambic made with apples of some sort called Grim Jack. One of my players ended up purchasing two casks of this and used one several sessions later to enhance a roleplaying experience.

Games: these were an important part of the medieval festivals. From my research, I've found that their were kids games and adult games.

Adult games included: tug of war, stone throwing (by weight and distance), races, games utilizing balls

So here are my rules for using some of these activities in your 5E games:
Tug-of-War: This can be handled with simple opposed Strength checks. I handled the Strength checks in three ways to see how they would work. First, I just 'paired' the players against their opponent; Second, I set a target difficulty for each increment (12, 15, 18) and the greater number of successes on each side 'won' the increment; and Third, I added the roll totals for each side to determine the winner. This last method was the most time consuming and pulled us out of the experience the most. My players seemed to really enjoy the Second method and st
ated their preference for it. I set a 'distance' of 3 for mine and each round of success moved the other team 1 increment towards the target.

Stone-Throwing: In this game, I used three rock sizes for ammunition. Small- 1d2 damage, range 50', Medium- 1d4 damage, range  30', and Large- 1d6 damage, range 10'. I placed targets at 20', 30', 40', and 50' and gave each target 4 HP. You can assign any prize structure that fits your game.

Golden Bloom:  This game is run by a local druid. 12 flowers of the GM's choice can be used. The druid charges the players a SP to play. He places a GP in one of the flowers and uses Druidcraft to close the buds. He then shuffles them. I gave my players an opposed Perception Vs. Sleight of Hand (+5) to identify the flower. If the matched, they were able to eliminate a single flower. For every 2 points greater than the druid, they could eliminate another flower. I then secretly rolled a d12 and asked them which flower they thought it was.

Field Plowing: This activity involves plowing the longest and straightest furrow in a field. An oxen is hitched to a plow and players make 5 attempts at a DC 15 Strength (plus farming proficiency). Each roll scores points and the competitor with the highest point total wins.

Roll            12       15       18      20    25
Points          1        2        3        4      5

My players have had a good time in activities like this. They can break up the regular pace of a game, give them a chance to explore new areas, and an opportunity to introduce new NPCs. I encourage you to steal my ideas, be creative, and Game On!


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Trap Tuesday

Hello all, Rocky here, trying to make good on my New Year's resolution to make at least one blog post a week. Today, I thought I would look at some trap tropes. These are rudimentary level ideas, with the goal to build upon them throughout the year. To build a house, you need the blocks, right?
Punji Stake Pit

The first trap trope that comes to mind is the pit trap. This trap shows up everywhere. B2, S1, G1 . . . the list goes on and on. Covered or uncovered, the pit trap pushes low level adventurers to find creative solutions to moving through dungeons. Add spikes at the bottom of the pit for more effect. This trap gets old, but never goes out of style.

The next trap that fledgling adventurers usually deal with is the needle trap. The needle is shot by a spring, when something disturbs it. It could be pushing a tumbler out of the way without the key, opening a chest (or door, or pretty much anything) or stepping on a pressure plate. In older editions of D&D, this trap generally meant Save or Die. In newer editions, it could be a Save or gain a status effect (exhaustion, stunned, or even poisoned).

Raiders of the Lost Arc
Pressure plates are part of a larger trap trope. Remember the boulder that chased Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Arc? That was a pressure plate trap. As a DM, this element of a trap may be the most useful of all trap parts. Need a trigger to shut a door? How about a ceiling collapse? Alerting monsters with a loud noise? Need to open a pit trap? The list of pressure plate uses is endless. They can be concealed in walls, floors, chests, doors, hinges or pretty much anywhere its needed.

The next type of trap is a tripwire. Tripwires are similar to pressure plates, because they can have a myriad of uses. Going back to Lucas, the net trap that captures the rebels on the Forest Moon of Endor is a tripwire trap. In D&D tripwires frequently are used to alert creatures of intruders. This may be a bell, or rocks falling or anything else that makes noise. Sometimes tripwires are used to immobilize creatures (like the net trap above.) Other tripwires may cause a cave-in, release rushing water, or another hazard that doesn't directly hit the characters.

When thinking of traps, don't forget monsters. I did a blog listing some monsters that double as traps a while ago. You can read (or re-read) it: Lurker Above.

Throughout the year, Ian and I will be revisiting this topic as we have material. We will look at combining these triggers with other effects (swinging blades for example.) Traps in fantasy gaming are limited only by your imagination.

I'll see you in the dungeon corridors.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy New Year!

Hi all,
Rocky here to catch you up on the Bulettes for 2019. We expect to have a great year in gaming. Starting the year right, Ian is getting interviewed by Tenkar tomorrow evening. Expect to see it on Anchor soon.
An example of Ian's improving map skills
We are getting to the end of Thieves' War. We are at the point of looking for art. I am going to start fidgeting with layout tonight. It should definitely be ready for Garycon. We may even get lucky and have it for Totalcon.
Speaking of cons, we have a pretty great list of cons that the Bulettes will be appearing at.
First up is Totalcon, Feb 21-24 in Boston. Boston's winters can't be much worse than Michigan's, right? It's a new convention for me, and my wife will be attending her first convention.
Next, we are going to Garycon, March 7-10 in Lake Geneva. The Gygax family throws a hell-of-a-convention. I won't miss it. Ian and I will be a panel member of a seminar: Event 1475. I have also submitted a couple of Mord Mar events. They are still pending.
After that, we head to NTRPG. It takes place in Dallas June 6-9. A discount is still available for tickets on the website too. We (with SGP) are hosting a room at the convention, so we will be easy to find. I will be running a few games, just don't know for sure what they will be yet.
We are unsure about heading to Gamehole this year. We both love the convention, but we both have little kids, so Halloween may be a no-go. The wives have control over this one.

I hope to have at least two releases this year. Possibly even three. Thieves' War has been mentioned already. My re-write of Mord Mar, The Citadel is 80% done. Ian has been expanding the area around Redstone southward. I have a lot of notes for the swamp to the northwest. Either or both of those areas may show up as a hex-crawl type module before the holidays next year. We will be producing all of our releases this year in 5E and Swords & Wizardry versions.

See you all in the dungeon halls!