A fashion statement

My players are still plunging into the depths of the Barrowmaze, and as is typical for that dungeon they keep running into a LOT of undead. My “What’s up with these Undead” table does provide flavor now and then, but I use a D30 on it to avoid making the encounters too strange. Also, one of my players has the habit of asking what the creatures look like or are wearing, since they met a group of them in priestly robes who all had valuable holy symbols…

Sure, I could think on my feet as I have so far, but why not a table instead. Nothing too meaty, just something to give me a starting point. Find a suitable row on this – there should be one, most of the special undead types will slot nicely into one of these. Column seven feels like it might be “one use”, at least for some of these entries, but I’ll see when I get to use it in play.

Fashion_trends

Sorry for making this an image, but the tables formatting in WordPress is just too much of a hassle. I’ve provided a PDF for better usability and printing, if anyone should want it.

What’s up with these undead?

I’ve been running Barrowmaze with one of my groups recently; they’re venturing into its depths looking for a cache of Elven Spell Gems needed to use a magical portal, but I wonder if they’ll want to leave even after finding that cache considering all the treasure they’ve found so far.

This module is really good, and it mostly contains everything you need to run it. I’ve been making use of my recent Spicing up Randomness rules for random encounters, but even with foreshadowing there are still a lot of encounters with “generic” undead in the catacombs (especially considering how thorough and noisy my players are), and I wanted to use something simple to spice up some of the “1D6 zombies” encounters. Thus, I’ve created the table below. The way I use it is to roll a D30 on it, with 13-30 meaning nothing out of the ordinary, but that’s really just a matter of taste.

Some of these refer to rules here on the blog (such as the “treat as Lung Sickness” bit) but they are probably fairly self-explanatory and you should probably be able to make a ruling on the fly.

1 An Enchanted Weapon is either (mindless) stuck in or (intelligent) wielded by one of the creatures (GM’s choice what weapon).
2 The creatures are Armored, or more heavily armored than usual if they normally wear protection. Treat their AC as two steps better. The actual armor is rusted, rotted or worn and can be of any specific type.
3 The creatures are stalked by an entourage of 3D6 Giant Rats that devour the scraps they leave behind. They will fall upon and devour any fallen PC’s, and possibly attack the party after combat if the PC’s appear sufficiently weakened.
4 A Lesser Demon is bound in one of the creatures (quite visibly, the creature has a large red pentagram painted on its chest). If the pentagram is disturbed, such as by slaying the creature (except perhaps using called shots or similar), the demon (6 HD, AC 15, 2@+6,D8, Fire Breath 3/day, 20’ cone for 2D8 dmg, save for half) will be released into this plane. Roll Reaction at -4. An intelligent creature marked in this way will use it to threaten the party and attempt to make them release the demon, and then flee to escape its wrath.
5 The creatures are dressed in Clerical Robes and wear gilded holy symbols of an appropriate lawful deity. They possess no special powers. Each holy symbol is worth 50 SP.
6 A number (2D4) of Giant Centipedes live on or in the creatures in a symbiotic relationship. These centipedes will remain on the creatures until brought into melee range, and will then attempt to scurry onto opponents and paralyze them with their venom.
7 One of the creatures has an Arrow of Dragonslaying stuck in it.
8 The creatures are, for some reason, chained together. They make a lot of noise while moving around, they move slower than normal and the chain can possibly cause them any number of practical problems. Intelligent undead will know to minimize these problems, and perhaps even use the chain to their advantage.
9 The creatures are dragging a small cart along. Mindless undead will simply drag it behind them, set on some ancient task now probably pointless. Intelligent undead will use it as a mobile food supply, and in it can be found random valuables worth 500 SP along with a lot of bones and disgusting bits. The cart itself is rickety and worn, but functional.
10 One of the creatures is exceptionally large, at least 7’ tall if the beings are of human size. This creature is hung with decorative bone jewellery, and automatically has maximum HP.
11 The creatures carry a Fungal Infection which has covered them in strange growths. This has granted them an extra HD each. Spores release in a 5’ radius cloud on a successful hit which causes physical damage (i.e. not fire, cold or the like). Those caught in a spore cloud must make a Fortitude save (one per round) or begin to choke (-4 to all activity for a Turn) and become infected with a Fungal Rot (treat as Lung Sickness, but accompanied by growths which spread infectious spores as per above).
12 Someone has hung a string of bells on one of the creatures. Mindless undead will announce their approach from far off and cannot surprise anything. Intelligent undead will attempt a diversion, hiding in ambush while one of them skulks around in a room while wearing the bells.

Undead_Archer

Reactions and Interactions

My latest project, slowed down by summer vacation, has been to examine types of encounters and try to open up the interaction between me and the players with regards to the Reaction Roll, the setup of an encounter and the PC’s options, Parley is an option chosen rarely in D&D as far as I’ve found, and I think that’s regrettable.

One major concern for me is that the Reaction roll would somehow be rolled in secret and it would be for the players to determine if parley is an option. With most groups of players you end up with a situation where attacking instantly to have a chance to perhaps surprise your opponent, or at least not cede any tactical advantage, seems the most prudent choice.

Gustave_dore_crusades_mourzoufle_parleying_with_dandoloMy first step in this process was picking up the excellent On the Non-player Character by Courtney Campbell of Hack & Slash. It’s a very ambitious system for putting these sorts of interactions into a framework, and though I’ve wound up using only the basic bits of it myself I can’t recommend it enough as a starting point if you’re thinking about these kinds of things.

I wound up with a system which basically opens up the Reaction Roll to the players, making them participate and if they so want make that roll themselves. The Reaction Roll also further defines how much the characters can interact with an NPC or a monster before the encounter ends or dissolves into a fight; the guidelines are very basic, and the actions the party can take are broad and subject to some modification on the spot. Generally speaking, the characters can attempt one interaction for each point on the modified Reaction Roll, typically around 5-9 or so depending on the situation. Some of these will call for rolls, possibly further modifying Reaction, while others are automatic or have other interesting circumstances.

It does suit my GM’ing style perfectly though! We usually play along through an encounter naturally, and I sometimes stop and point out that the characters have used up an interaction, that the NPC’s seem to change their attitude or that a roll would be called for if the players press on. So far, I’m very happy with it.

Since I don’t want to leave you empty-handed, I’ll share a single-page handout I prepared based on my thoughts and the lists from On the Non-player Character. You can download it here or in the Library.

The dice tell the Story

Last session, I took one final plunge when it comes to die rolling – I thought it would be a big one, but actually it felt completely natural.

Since about a year I’ve begun rolling almost all rolls in the open; not only does it prevent me from fudging rolls, which I had vowed to stop but found extremely hard after having done so for far too long, but it is also a godsend in a deadly game such as mine. It clearly shows the players that I’m not killing their characters; monsters, traps and a cruel world is.

I held on to three rolls, however – search rolls (which I will keep for mechanical reasons), random encounter checks and rolling to determine which random encounter occurred. All of these still make my “fudging nerve” tickle though; they have a huge effect on game play and pacing. I do everything I can, but those random encounter checks when the party is leaving a dungeon and badly beaten or when we’re close to calling it a night; too hard.

duvanku_diceThe easy solution; open them up. I now simply tell the players it’s time for a check, and have them roll. Normally, they roll one die and the chance for an encounter is 1-in-6; if anything is different, I let them know before the roll. Instead of telling them the risk is greater than 1-in-6, I have them roll more dice; I have some beautiful dice with ornamental “ones” which work great in this situation (next session, the players will learn to fear the dreaded Duvan’Ku Dead Sign since my LotFP dice arrived!). I still determine what the encounter is and how it happens, but they know something is coming (or not, as some random encounters will flee the party, or perhaps just stalk them and wait for them to make camp, which adds even more to the tension).

It felt like a weight off my back. I really can’t recommend open die rolling enough – to everyone.

Encounters

There seem to be as many ways to handle “Encounters” (and actually, even some discrepancies regarding what such a thing entails) as there are Dungeon Masters, and so far I’ve been running it a inconsistently; partly because I’ve been exploring different options together with my players, and partly because I’ve been… well, inconsistent.

Time to formalize things. I’ve been looking at different approaches to surprise, initiative and associated rules and I’ve created this simple 1-page flowchart to show my players. It is heavily influenced by the sequence from d20swsrd found here, and also introduces group initiative and surprise as a slight change to the basic LotFP rules. I love the rules for declaring spells at the onset of combat; it really creates tension around successfully casting them and shows just how important allies and defense is for spellcasters – especially Magic Users.

I also add a couple of rules of my own:

Sitting Duck
I agree that casters should be in serious trouble if they try to cast spells in melee, and the Concentration skill and “combat casting” and all that it added to 3rd edition D&D isn’t really to my tastes. I do think, however, that you should be allowed to try – I don’t like a rule that says “you cant cast spells if engaged in melee”. Instead, I give each opponent that has not yet attacked and which is engaged with a spellcaster a chance to take his/her attack before the spell goes off; just a single point of damage will disrupt the spell. This is in addition to spell declaration at the start of the turn, and I think this opens up a lot of interesting tactical choices – both for caster PCs and when combatting spellcasting enemies.

Better part of Valor
Disengaging can get messy, and I wanted to keep this as simple as possible; let those who have remaining move follow a person who disengages. This is an uncomplicated simulation of the fact that movement in combat is still more or less simultaneous; if you move 60′ per round and your opponent does the same, then you will remain beside each other – to change this, you need allies, clever tactics or to increase your movement speed somehow (such as by running).

You can find a PDF of the flowchart here, or in the Library.