Page Collection for ^2012-12

2012-12-01 Commando Mission

This post contains a reusable element from my Caverns of Slime adventure. I wanted to offer a structure for a “commando mission” that can be played through in a short session. My sessions typically last for a bit less than three hours, unfortunately. The mission is to disable a fortified dam guarded by “goons”—damned creatures fused with an exoskeleton that keeps them alive but controlled by the operator of the dam, forced to guard the structure that keeps them enslaved.

There are three elements to the mission: getting into the structure, destroying a key element, getting out. The challenges on the way out also contain a little “riddle”: the referee quickly reads lists a list of locations and asks the players to reverse this list in order to succeed in their escape. It’s better than a typical Riddle Game and somewhat grounded in the imagined world. Do you agree? Unfair?

What do you think of the drowning rules I’ve been using? “victims save vs. death every round or drown unless water breathing” I felt that in a high level adventure, save or die challenges can be more prevalent because raising the dead is easily available. What about this line of thinking: ok or misguided?

This is what I wrote:

getting into the dam

  • a frontal assault using captured panzer ships (these can be captured in different section—think ironclad warships): defensive fire slowly destroys the ship but cannot prevent a beach head in a protected corner; breaching the sealed outer gates takes ten rounds; appropriate spells reduce the time required by one round each; on rounds 2, 5 and 8 a three legged stalker arrives to stop the intruders (HD 8; AC 0; Atk 2 blaster (6d6 each; save vs. wands for half); MV 21)
  • an aerial assault using captured air sharks or kite catapults (either of these can be captured in a different section, the orcs ride air sharks and the ghouls use catapults and kits to launch attacks on ships): soon the searchlights will have discovered the flying attackers (unless invisible) and blasters start tracing defensive patterns into the air (and blasting chunks out of the ceiling hundreds of feet above); the approach takes five rounds; save vs. wands every round or be hit for 6d6 damage; after the second hit, fall and take damage as appropriate (shot down in the 2nd round: 4d6, 3rd round: 3d6, 4th round: 2d6; last round: 1d6); finding and breaching a sealed outer gate still takes ten rounds (see first entry)
  • an underwater approach using magic or a submarine (this adventure does not have a submarine, perhaps your players have extraplanar help): finding and breaching a sealed outer gate still takes ten rounds (see first entry), but no stalkers will arive to defend the gate; instead, the noise attracts two giant ancient eels (HD 8; AC 8; Atk 1 bite (3d6); MV 15 swim; will grab a victim on a 20 and swim away the next round; while grabbed, victims save vs. death every round or drown unless water breathing; drowning victims in metal armor cannot swim and continue to down unless they have a way to return to the surface)
  • an infiltration using captured exoskeletons: getting into the exoskeletons is easy; they automatically adapt to different body plans; after two minutes needles and tubes insert themselves into the pilot; removing a pilot will now do 5d6 damage; use open lock by anybody else present for half damage; after fusing with the exoskeleton, save vs. spells every time you act against central command; infiltration is otherwise unproblematic when inside an exoskeleton; wearing an exoskeleton also has benefits (AC 3, Atk 1 slam +3 (1d6+3) due to Str 18; MV 6)

inside the dam

  • jamming the generator: once inside, heading deeper and deeper, following the humming of the turbines, you’ll end up in the generator hall; let characters with blunt weapons roll damage every round; a total of 20 points of damage halts some cog wheels; a total of 30 points results in sparks flying and strong vibrations; a total of 40 points results in dramatic power failure, red alert in the entire dam fortress, red emergency lights; a total of 50 points results in loss of control over the main axle, turbines turning loose and ripping through the walls and a major flooding in a few moments; think about the Titanic sinking


  • taking over the control room: once inside, heading higher and higher up will lead the party into the control room; there are 12 goons (HD 5; AC 3, Atk 1 slam +3 (1d6+3) due to Str 18; MV 6) and their master, Leverage of Fear, an eight-armed monstrosity of steel and a few human elements (HD 12; AC 2; Atk 6 blades (1d6 each); MV 9; two shields it can use as a last defense to block a mortal blow, shattering the shield and ignoring the damage dealt); see above if the party decides to parlay

Leverage of Fear is an eight-armed monstrosity of steel and a few organic elements of human descent. It hates what needs to be done but does it anyway—maintaining the dam, picking up survivors and turning them into goons by forcing them into an exoskeleton and waiting until they are fused and therefore dependent on a working dam. It can usually be found in the dam’s control room.

getting out

Once the power supply is disrupted, an emergency response kicks in designed to fight disruption and restore power. Players need to succeed at two tasks in order to save any friends and they need to succeed at four tasks in order to prevent restoration of power. If the players don’t succeed in either goal after six challenges, they fail: they will have to make a daring escape on a speed boat downriver and flee into the Tentacle Caves in order avoid death or imprisonment in hell (improvise a cell and guardians in the Prison of Dis).

  1. 3d6 goons (HD 5; AC 3; Atk 1 slam +3 (1d6+3); MV 6; in combat the poor creature locked inside will be begging for forgiveness and cry for help even as it fights) have been alerted to the party’s presence by imperceptible sensors embedded into the walls and ceilings of the building
  2. 2d6 goons have activated a tunnel digger juggernaut (HD 12; AC 1; Atk blades (1d6 against all); MV 6; the rotating blades attack all creatures in its path with a single attack roll; it cannot attack flanking creatures)
  3. the party has been deceived into a low lying dead end; as they realize their mistake, a torrent of water starts flooding the room; if the party can deal 30 points of damage to the gate locking them in using blunt weapons or magic, they succeed; if the water keeps rising: during the fourth and fifth round anybody wanting to deal damage must save vs. death or gasp for air in panic; if the party fails, they may escape via small air ducts and end up loosing a lot of time trying to find higher ground
  4. the party is lost as the water rises; quickly ask them to reverse the following sequence: down the steep steel stair, past the gallery overlooking the turbines, down past the parked tunnel digging juggernauts, through the gate with the red and white stripes and then down the concrete stairs into the bedrock; don’t let them take notes and don’t let them discuss their answer for too long, but be generous when comparing their answers with the list
  5. a sentient iron golem snake as big as a train is giving chase; make sure every player is faster than the golem or make sure that the party can lock three doors behind them using magic; if the party fails they can fight (HD 12; AC 2; Atk 1 bite (3d6); MV 6; immune to magic; anybody hit must save vs. death or be overrun and suffer an additional 2d6 the next round) or they can make a desperate escape using emergency floats down waste tunnels and end up in the Tentacle Caves (see below)
  6. the tunnels are flooded with poisonous gas; save vs. poison or loose consciousness for half an hour (no waking using ordinary means); soon after four mechanical hounds will show up (HD 4; AC 2; Atk 1 bite (2d6); MV 12); again, the party can make a desperate escape using emergency floats down waste tunnels and end up in the Tentacle Caves

If the party flees into the Tentacle Caves, they will have to face a group of 1d6 stone polyps (HD 6; AC 0; Atk 1 bite (2d6), 8 tentacles (save vs. petrification of fall unconscious and be dragged towards the mouth); MV 3). Remember that this location is the complication arising from having failed at the previous challenge. That’s why there is not a lot of treasure or information to be found in these caves. Allow a thoroughly beaten party to emerge without a fight if they sacrifice important equipment and significant treasure.

(To be fair, there’s not much treasure to be found on this mission anyway. Maybe there should be?)


Comments on 2012-12-01 Commando Mission

Chris Robert
The only change I would make is change “tunnel digging juggernaut” to “tunnel diggernaut.”

Chris Robert 2012-12-02 08:29 UTC

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2012-12-04 Short Descriptions

Over on the Hill Cantons, Chris wonders about Mastering Wilderness Description at the Table. Back in 2008, I wrote Keep It Short. I still try.

He pointed to the opening paragraphs of The Willows by Algernon Blackwood and illustrated how he’d strip it down. I’m willing to go further than that, however.

Here’s what I wrote:

In my experience, brevity is the most important. Players care about doing things, they care about treasure, monsters, interactions. That’s why they are perfectly happy with this: “After leaving Vienna, the Danube spreads out and the country becomes a swamp for miles upon miles. You see a vast sea of low willow-bushes before you…”

I guess it has an anchor (Vienna), an object (Danube), a change (spread), nature (swamp), some mood (miles upon miles), some detail (low willow-bushes), direct addressing (you see) and little else.

In terms of process, the most important feedback is what players are doing. As soon as one of the seems to be paying attention to something else, I cut the description short and go directly to “something happens!” or “what do you do?” Then, upon enquiry, I improvise more detail as required. This is rare and confirms my suspicion: my players value brevity above all.

When I wrote Caverns of Slime, I was also trying to keep things short. When I wrote How To Write A Module, I said: “In order to further aid improvisation every location starts with a sentence or two setting the mood, a list of impressions (sounds, sights), a list of names to use—little things that I’d appreciate as a referee.”

Here’s an example:

“The tunnel opens into a big cavern. On the ceiling, you see a glowing city with light bubbles and hanging bridges and gray webbing holding everything together.”

At the far end of the cave lies a lake. The stone wall rising from the water is wet. A dark fungus moss grows here, fed by water raining down from a black hole above. Flying or climbing up this wet tunnel will lead you to the realm of the Shroom Lord.

  • spider webs cover every hanging house
  • rope bridges connect platforms
  • this huge mass of webbing is secured by glowing glas balloons
  • water is diverted from the Fungus Falls at the back and distributed using wooden half pipes
  • occasionally ropes reach down to the cave floor below
  • the cave floor itself is covered in broken bones, the fallen remains of what the spider people feed upon

This city is one of the few places down here where the party can make friends and rest.

The above is then followed by events (encounters, monsters) and non-player characters (in this case, a spell-casting aranea).


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2012-12-06 Cold

I have a cold. Third day at home. No more fever today, but my nose still seems to contain more on the inside than one would have thought possible when looking at it from the outside.

When I’m awake, I play a lot of Skyrim. Amazing how closely the weather seems to match the weather outside. Switzerland in winter… To be more precise, all the big cities are in the flat lands north of the Alps and south of the Jura Mountains (a bunch of hills, we’d say). In winter, the sky is usually overcast. If you want to see the sun, you have to go up. We live under a leaden sky. In the cities, the snow melts quickly. Outside, patches of white on brown grass.


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2012-12-07 Female Warriors

Recently, Rachel wondered about Warrior women: how to include female characters in a historical RPG?

I left a coment:

I think I’d go for genre conventions, thus if we’re playing a historical RPG, then the histories written by men are my guide. For my Pendragon campaign, for example, I felt that the fiction and the campaign focuses on the deeds of men. The rules also have a separate section for female characters that I could have ignored but which decided to keep in the game, wondering whether they’d add variety. Later I realized that it was going to be hard for me to run adventures mixing martial prowess and female characters created with these rules and so I ended up with an all-male cast of characters.

For me, that is a reason not to play a historical RPG. I’d prefer a fantasy or alternate history version where we either have characters of all genders or the game is about the inequality itself. Much like I don’t like to have slaves in my games unless we’re playing a game about fighting slavers.

I don’t enjoy importing real world problems into my games unless we can engage with them.

If we create characters again, I think simply allowing female knights using the exact same rules as male knights is what I’m going to do.

Just to be clear I practically don’t play strictly historical role-playing games. We play in Fantasy Japan, we play in the Gaslight Twenties where H.P. Lovecraft was right, we play in a D&D madness that is but vaguely inspired by the medieval ages and the classification of polearms—none of that requires any gender imbalance.

An excellent rule of thumb I like to pursue in my fantasy role-playing games is something I once read on a blog post elsewhere. When introducing a non-player character, roll a d6:

1young man
2young woman
3middle aged man
4middle aged woman
5old man
6old woman

I remember when I was young, all my characters were between 16 and 18. These days all my characters are in their thirties. All my non-player characters where men unless they were a witch. Rolling a die forces me to randomize where I apparently have prejudice. That is a good thing.

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2012-12-11 Player Engagement

What motivates a referee? I think positive feedback is a key element. I’m not just thinking of players thanking you for running the game or players saying that they like your style. What I really enjoy is players who get excited when they’re thinking of the next session, players who’re sad if they have to miss a session, players who tell other people about the funny things they did, the terrible things that happened. Player engagement is intoxicating, infectious.

DM Peter recently ended one of the campaigns I’m playing in, citing lack of player engagement. It’s a tricky subject: who is responsible for it, how do you measure it, how do you foster it? Here’s what has worked for me.

Alpha players are always at the forefront of everything. They edit the campaign wiki. They write a log. They never loose track of their character’s experience, wealth, equipment and encumbrance. Their characters have plans. Their characters have issues. If you get one or two of them, that’s great. I found that my games can take a lot of casual gamers, however. Not everybody needs to be an alpha players. Quiet people, hard working people, parents, people with little time between sessions are just as entertaining at the table. Realizing this has made it possible for me to enjoy more games. If I need more games to fill the time between sessions, I run more games or join more campaigns.

Session reports are a measurable by-product of our games. Long session reports that cast the events in a mythical light, provide more intimate glimpses of the characters, provide extra details and entertaining complications are great. There will always be players that don’t have the time to write such session reports and there will always be players that don’t have the time read such session reports. Preposterous, you might think. And yet, this thought will set you up for disappointment. If one person keeps a few notes on the back of their character sheet and can bring everybody back up to speed at the beginning of the next session, that works just as well. Realizing this, I have cut down on my session report writing. These days, I don’t write to entertain, I write to remember. A short list of events is all that is required. Now I no longer feel close to session writer burnout, I’m no longer disappointed by the disinterest of my fellow players.

Player contributions are an inspiration: I try to encourage players to contribute little elements to our fairly traditional game. Sometimes the personality traits of a player character turn out to be the personality traits of an entire culture. Sometimes the ambitions of a player can shape an arc of the campaign. Sometimes, however, none of the players seem to be willing to contribute anything other than playing their character. In this case, a referee might feel cornered into the role of the untiring entertainer, a thankless job of crafting adventures for unappreciative players. This can be deadly for a sandbox campaign. I have found two solutions to this problem in my campaign:

  1. Recurring villains and big bosses are ideal. They get mentioned at least once every session. Their goons can be defeated, their lieutenants keep showing up, they keep looming in the distance. The lich queen of grey elves. I think that an invisible enemy doesn’t do the same job. We want players to engage with their nemesis. How can they hate unknown forces? There can be betrayal at the very end, there can be reveals further down the line, but in the end, the players must feel like there is a constant, personal threat by a limited number of known enemies that they can focus on.
  2. Achievable goals are the positive counterpart to villains. I present these as opportunities for players. There’s a dead god and some people still pray to him. Maybe a player takes it upon himself to revive the dead god. There are temples to a god of justice and rumors of her paladins. Maybe a player want to pursue this? Maybe a dead character can be offered this choice in order to get revived? I think the key part here is that these are options presented to the players as part of the setting. These are not part of character creation. I also think it’s important to keep introducing more of these goals such that players have a real choice. Don’t invest a lot of work into these options before a player has picked it. Start developing it once players are hooked.

Addictive elements to game play. Yes, it’s mean. It’s called the variable ratio reinforcement schedule: a reinforcement schedule in which the number of responses necessary to produce reinforcement varies from trial to trial, according to Wikipedia. I feel that’s why unbalanced encounters are fun. There can be two or three sessions where practically no treasure is found and characters gain less than a hundred experience points each and other sessions where the major hoard is found and each character gets a thousand experience points or more. Knowing this puts some of them on edge. They want to make sure not to miss the one gold session that will pay off big time.

I hope these points help you adjust your expectations and help you increase player engagement in your campaigns.


Comments on 2012-12-11 Player Engagement

Nice write-up. Have ever thought about what keeps you at the table as player?

– Stefan 2012-12-14 18:39 UTC

Yes! :)

I suspect it can all be found somewhere on this blog, hidden here and there… Perhaps How I Roll might be a good starting point, although it collects a lot of stuff from a referee perspective.

Thinking back, this is what I would say based on the last few years.

  1. there must be regular sessions (if we only play once every four weeks, that strains my enthusiasm)
  2. there must be solid planning (if I can’t plan ahead, I will start giving it lower priority and end up cancelling sessions)
  3. the rules must be simple (I don’t feel like reading a lot)
  4. character generation must be fast (I enjoy playing, not the making of characters)
  5. no intro sessions, long backstories to write (I enjoy spending time at the table with friends, none of the other things)
  6. gaining levels must be earned (no regular gains just for showing up)
  7. gaining power must be slow (no levelling up every session or two)
  8. there must be actual risk involved (otherwise I don’t feel like having earned success)
  9. there must be choice (to get out of bad situations, to influence the future of the campaign)
  10. there must not be homework (I like to write a short session report, but interaction on a forum or campaign wiki are not my thing: I’d rather we play more often)
  11. I also like to find the occasional huge treasure instead of regular small stuff
  12. I dislike formalized session structure (meet, plan, go, fight, loot, return—it turns out to be repetitive)
  13. I don’t like players wining and complaining (whether it is about their character, the referee’s decisions, the loot or whatever else)
  14. I don’t like hopeless situations (let it be a short and violent TPK and let’s make new characters as soon as possible)
  15. I like a lot of information and choice (I find this empowering, also known as player agency)
  16. I think players having to work hard to learn something about the setting is not fun because it is information that enables informed choice
  17. I dislike long fights
  18. I dislike long planning
  19. I guess I like experimenting with the environment every now and then
  20. But mostly I like short fights and strategic decision making (should we stay or leave, fight or run, take it or leave it, …)
  21. I don’t like homophobic or racist jokes

Given this list, I think previous “tests” telling me I was mostly a storyteller were plain wrong and didn’t account for the kind of game I like.

AlexSchroeder 2012-12-14 19:42 UTC

What about ambience? Do you care for stuff like flickering candles and matching music or not at all? The fact that you didn’t mention this point and that I haven’t seen any of this in one of your games might give a hint, though ;-)

Do you think these things can help create an intense gaming experience and keep the players focused on the things happening on the table?

– Stefan 2012-12-14 20:44 UTC

I do not think that candles and the like would improve my game experience. It would be fun if somebody else organized it and it would be fun, but it would be unrelated fun. As for music, I have music playing in our appartment practically nonstop. That’s why I like to play movie or game soundtracks in the background. I don’t think that preparing particular tracks for particular scenes is worth the effort, however. Whenever I tried it, I was distracted and felt stressed out. What I like to do as a player, however, is to keep the iPod nearby and switch tracks to something appropriate every now and then. As a player, I have enough down time to be able to focus on the music. The only scene where this visibly helps, however, is when I switch to some droning Lustmord just as the party is confronted with ancient evil… I did that to good effect a handful of times.

AlexSchroeder 2012-12-15 00:20 UTC

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2012-12-12 An Echo Resounding Summary

I need a simple one page summary of An Echo Resounding for the players in my game.

Every location on the map can have values. These are measured in three categories: military, wealth and social. These values are provided by different kinds of assets.

  1. customs cannot be changed: the people living in a particular location might have a spartan culture resulting in a military value of 4
  2. buildings can be built and torn down: barracks provide a military value of 2
  3. processes can be implemented and aborted: military spending converts the wealth of a location to military value at a rate of 2:1

Some buildings a domain might start building:

Asset M W S
Barracks 2
Palisade 2
School 2
Market 2
Shrine 2
Militia 1

Yes, since the militia can’t move, it essentially acts like a building: an immobile asset.

Total up all the value provided by the assets in your domain.

Compare your domain’s values to the upkeep cost of all the units in your domain. Units are usually mobile and consist of roughly a hundred individuals.

Some military units:

Unit HD AC MV Attacks SV ML Upkeep Traits
Light Infantry 17120’1d6F171M 1W 0S Spear Tactics
Heavy Infantry 2490’1d8F282M 2W 0S
Ape Soldiers 46120’1d8F273M 3W 0S

Every month, the player domain gets two domain moves. The bold ones are the important ones.

  1. attack a location (with units)
  2. disband an asset
  3. establish an asset (requires three successful checks: difficulty is 12 + sum of the values provided, roll d20 + bonus based on your domain’s existing values, all difficulties go down by one with each failed roll)
  4. establish or erase a location (on the map)
  5. move a unit
  6. punish atrocity (needs scapegoat)
  7. rectify disruption (removes 1d4+2 points of disruption)
  8. repair an asset (heal units for many hit-points as the domain has military value, distribute at will, scarce units require 2:1 and rare units require 4:1)
  9. solve an obstacle (requires a unit of a particular type at hand to reduce the local obstacle by 1d4 on a successful saving throw + bonus based on your domain’s appropriate value, see table below; failed saves result in a point of disruption)
  10. withdraw treasure

Your domain’s values may also provide a bonus for the domain moves described above:


The various kinds of obstacles and which units are best used to solve them:

Obstacle Value Type Unit
Disorder Military Guardsmen
Uprising Military any military unit
Poverty Wealth Merchant
Ignorance Wealth Sage
Despair Social Prophet
Corruption Social Magistrate

Military units were listed above. The other unit types also have upkeep costs:

Unit MV SV Upkeep
Merchant 120’T10M 2W 0S
Sage 120’M10M 2W 0S
Prophet 120’C10M 0W 2S
Magistrate 120’T10M 0W 2S


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2012-12-14 Alleine

Nach dem Aikido Training gestern hatte ich das Gefühl wieder krank zu werden. Kopfweh, die Nase läuft. Habe ängstlich Fieber gemessen, aber war nichts los. Dann habe ich mir ein schönes, ausgiebiges Frühstück gegönnt. Bin extra in den Laden gegangen, um Zopf zu kaufen. Freitags habe ich frei. Seit dem Claudia 100% arbeitet, habe ich wieder einen Tag “frei”. Ich habe stundenlang Questionable Content gelesen. Ein Webcomic wie eine Soap. Freunde, Quatschen, … was wir früher in der WG “Reden über Sex und Beziehungen” genannt hätten. Erstaundlich, wie empfänglich ich dafür bin. Dann habe ich im Prinz Eisenherz Sammelband 2 weiter gelesen. Comics aus den Jahren 1939 und 1940! Am späten Nachmittag habe ich mich dann aufgerafft, Haare schneiden zu gehen. Zurück gekommen und Abendessen gemacht.

  1. zwei Tomaten und Mozarella Salat
  2. eine Scheibe Dinkel Brot
  3. ein Stück Apfel und Mandel Wähe
  4. eine Avocado
  5. eine Schüssel Glacé
  6. ein Whiskey
  7. ein Whiskey
  8. noch ein Whiskey

Wahrlich ein Problem, alleine Comics zu lesen, Alkohol zu trinken, französische Musik zu hören – im Questionable Content werden immer wieder mal Indie Bands erwähnt, und so habe ich meine alten CDs mal angeschaut. Dinge, die ich schon ewig nicht gehört habe; Dinge, die ich nicht einmal digitalisiert habe. Im Moment: des Visages des Figures. Ich vermute, die CD hatte ich damals wegen dem Lied Le vent nous portera gekauft. Wenn es nicht so kalt wäre, hätte ich das Bedürfnis, hinaus in die Stadt zu rennen, Freunde zu treffen, … der Comic macht mich fertig, haha. Wenn meine Schwester und meine Cousine hier wären, würde das wie am Schnürchen laufen! Aber in der Nähe wohnt niemand. Kinder bekommen, weg gezogen, die alte, verrauchte Bar schon seit zwanzig Jahren nicht mehr betreten, irgendwie fehlt mir etwas. Bald bin ich so weit und höre mir wieder Notre besoin de consolation est impossible à rassasier von den Têtes Raides an.

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Comments on 2012-12-14 Alleine

Dirk Remmecke
Danke für den Hinweis auf “Questionable Content”. Macht wirklich süchtig. Hat mich an “Ménage à 3” erinnert.

Dirk Remmecke 2013-01-12 16:01 UTC

Danke für die Empfehlung, habe mir gerade die ersten paar Seiten angeschaut und in meine Leseliste aufgenommen. :)

AlexSchroeder 2013-01-12 17:29 UTC

alarm, dieser post tönt mega traurig :( ich starte zur aufheiterung wieder das grillen-in-oerlikon isch guet ? lg domi

– Domi 2013-04-30 16:27 UTC

Super Idee! :)

AlexSchroeder 2013-05-01 00:48 UTC

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2012-12-20 Monsters

A while ago, I worked on Caverns of Slime for Fight On! #14. I recently made it available as a free PDF. (I should add a license to it: Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike for the text!) Here are some of its monsters I wrote up.

This list also contains two instances of rituals. I describe them as follows: “Rituals are the ceremonies and prayers that take many minutes to perform, usually powered by demon lords and devils.” The first monster can be summoned by a ritual that player characters can be taught by “a winged pig man with four legs and wielding a blood falchion.” The last monster, on the other hand, performs a handful of rituals that player characters can learn through observation.

; Bel, Slayer of Men, a summoned demon: HD 10; AC 2; Atk 1 flaming whip (no damage but on a hit it grants +4 on the hit with the sword in the same round and on a 20 it disarms the opponent), 1 flaming sword (3d6); MV 9; flaming aura deals an extra 1d6 to everybody nearby; immune to non-magic weapons; immune to fire); this may be the same ritual that the mage-wraith in the Warrens of the Troglodytes had learned

; Merquishti, a giant intelligent spider hungry for meat – and conversation: HD 8; AC 4; Atk 1 bite (1d6); MV 15; when bitten, save vs. poison or fall comatose for 24h; can set up area web traps); it speaks the language of giant spiders, a dialect of subsurface elves and the common tongue of all demons; if asked about gold, the spider will know that a knight’s golden armor was carried down this way by devil worshipers a “very long time” ago; if asked about the destination, the spider will mention a city of evil half-spiders preying on the caverns and tunnels below; when the conversation ends, the spider considers capturing a party member by triggering a web trap (save vs. wands or be trapped in a web; the web prevents spellcasting; trapped victims need to deal 20 points of damage using a dagger or a similar small blade; free allies can aid trapped victims using larger blades

; Earth Elementals surface, eager to take back any gems the party may have “stolen” from the deep earth: HD 6; AC 0; Atk 1 bite (2d6); MV 9; immune against fire and electricity; can melt into the surrounding rocks in one round

; Nixies enjoying a bath, apparently ignorant of any males approaching: HD 3; AC 8; Atk 1 bite (1d6); charm man 3×/day, kiss of water breathing for charmed men at will

; Stone Polyps are growing on the stone walls, immobile, with their arms limp and soft; as soon as a warm creature passes nearby, however, they activate: HD 6; AC 0; Atk 1 bite (2d6), 8 tentacles (save vs. petrification of fall unconscious and be dragged towards the mouth); MV 3

; Shroom Lord is growing his own circle of psychotic colors: HD 15; AC 5; Atk 1 smash (2d6), 1 lick (poison); MV 9; licked victims must save vs. poison or be charmed

The shroom lord can be observed for days as it sings its telepathic praise to the Gibbering Fungus God. A very patient person interested in mushroom magic can learn the following rituals through simple observation:

  1. the care of magic mushrooms requires an appropriate dark and humid cave, spores, a rotting corpse and a lot of spit; when cared for, these will grow up to three feet in height within four days; the mushroom will keep for a single day only
  2. the summoning of the Gibbering Fungus God requires a deep hole in the ground and a fresh magic mushroom; partake of the mushroom and sing the psychic psalm of the greatest mycelian panopticon (learning it requires some form of ESP even though anybody may notice that psychic energies emanate from the shroom lord as it sings to its flock); the fungus god will materialize in the form of a huge toad head within half an hour; licking it will grant servants visions of the future; on a failed save vs. poison these visions are confusing and wrong, otherwise they act as powerful and lurid divination magic (the divination magic will only work for those people that ate of magic mushrooms grown with their own spit)
  3. the circle of psychotic colors requires a circle of at least six magic mushrooms; each mushroom must be sacrificed a small animal such as a cat; the animal corpse is absorbed by the magic mushroom and a few hours later these mushrooms can be activated with a touch—save vs. poison or roll a d6:
    1. close your eyes for just a second and fall asleep immediately
    2. chase an erotic fantasy and run away
    3. bad trip paralyzes you with fear
    4. drop weapons, bend over and barf
    5. close your eyes and enjoy the visions
    6. everybody else seems slow and stupid, take two actions

Another monster, related to the circle of psychotic colors: any enemies that fell asleep because of the spores will die over night and rise as a spore zombie.

; Spore Zombie: HD 2; AC 8; Atk 1 bite (1d6); when smashed, anybody in melee must roll a d6 as described above


Comments on 2012-12-20 Monsters

In a fight, I imagine the shroom lord to jump from mushroom to mushroom like a magic hare, grow to the size of a rhino, manifest swirling colors, huge eyes with spiral patterns, ethereal hands growing from his back and caressing you as he attempts to grab your head and stick his long tongue through your visor and lick your eyeballs. As he jumps and moves, he triggers at least one magic mushroom every round. Those who fight him in melee might trigger more. Perhaps two characters can fight him without triggering magic mushrooms? I imagine neutralize poison to prevent the magic mushroom effect.

In an adventure I imagine that befriending the shroom lord can help you navigate a tricky poisonous forest and he might arrange for myconid guards. He might also have planted his circle of mushrooms on top of a hoard of fairy gold, or a magic land barge, or a cyanogenic Titan Anemone that will poison and enchant the land for five miles in every direction if allowed to grow.

AlexSchroeder 2014-08-12 07:42 UTC

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2012-12-22 More Monsters

Recently I started extracting the monsters from my Caverns of Slime adventure and posting it on this blog. The idea is that this way, people might spot something they like without having to go through the thirty or fourty pages of the adventure. It also makes it easier to leave a comment on a particular element.

When I wrote Caverns of Slime, I decided that all of the magic-users in the adventure would have a complete spell book with new names for all the spells. I hoped that referees would then pick the effects from obvious matches in their rule book or improvise something interesting. That’s how I handle it. Does this work for you? Would you have preferred me to use the standard spell names and list new spells at the end as appears to be the standard approach these days?

; ghoul: HD 3; AC 6; Atk 2 claws and 1 bite (1d6 each); MV 9; victims need to save vs. paralysis or be paralysed; these ghouls prefer to eat their helpless victims during combat; in subsequent rounds roll a d6 and loose 1. eye, 2. arm, 3. other arm, 4. liver, 5. heart, 6. brain; mutilated corpses rise as ghouls within the hour and grow terrible claws if an arm or two was lost

; bulbous demon: HD 13; AC 6; Atk 1 bite (2d6); MV 3; victims need to save vs. paralysis or suffer the same fate as a ghoul victim; can only be hit by magic weapons

; lemur: HD 1; AC 6; Atk 1 bite (1d6); MV 3

; psychic lampreys: HD 5; AC 5; Atk 1 bite (2d6) and 1 psi storm (save vs. paralysis or faint for 1d6 rounds); MV 3 fly

; spider warrior: HD 5; AC 3; Atk 2 weapons and bite (1d8, 1d8, 1d6); MV 9 climbing

; Kilistrexta, arachnid queen: HD 12; AC 3; Atk 1 bite (1d6); MV 6 climbing

; giant spider, intelligent: HD 6; AC 3; Atk 2 claws and bite (1d6 each); MV 9 climbing; save vs. poison when bitten or fall unconscious as your internal organs are slowly digested; terminal damage after one hour; these are effectively spider barbarians, cruel and angry, always trying to rob and steal from their city dwelling relatives; they respect violence

; giant ant: HD 4; AC 3; Atk 1 bite (2d6), acid spray (3d6); MV 9

; great mother of the ants: HD 15; AC 4; Atk 1 bite (3d6), MV 3; pheromone powers: all giant ants will know when their queen needs help; the acid vapours in the queen’s cave require a save vs. poison every round to act

; gargantuan centipede queen: HD 12; AC 3; Atk 1 bite (3d6), MV 6; save vs. poison or die in excruciating pain within three rounds

; Atraxaka, arachnomatrix, is willing to trade in spells and information: no stats given but I’d base her on the arachnid queen: HD 13; AC 3; Atk 1 bite (1d6); MV 6 climbing

Spells of the arachnomatrix (level 13):

1st level 2nd level 3rd level 4th level
the friendship of lesser mindshunting and webbingthe tongues of strangersjumping through space on the strands of our forefathers
power of mimicrytriangulation of know objectselectric powers of destructionsubjugation of reason
communion with animalsconquest of gravitypowers of flightarachnophobia of the highest degree
telestrangulation using strands of webbingdetection of magical energiessilken words of binding
5th level 6th level 7th level
travel to the shadow landscommunicating with the ancient earth spiritsmysteries of astral chords and travel to foreign worlds
contacting the spider lords of the beyond(unassigned)

Atraxaka also knows how to build a rod of electric destruction (shoots lightning bolts for 3d6 at will with a 5% chance to hit somebody near the intended victim unless the wielder has four arms to aim it with).


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2012-12-23 Social Media this Year

I’m looking back at my blog and trying to remember the things that happened.

Google+ replaced Twitter, for all my talk about role-playing needs. For a while, my tweets were all about gaming. These days I use Twitter as an alternative to RSS for the kind of news that I might want to look into every now and then without wanting to read everything.

  1. EFF
  2. BoingBoing
  3. Techdirt
  4. Anonymous

(Although I’m following Ars Technica on Google+, so perhaps everything will end up on Google+, eventually.)

I also have a few friends on Twitter that aren’t very active elsewhere.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be hanging out on Twitter and Facebook. I heard somebody say that Facebook is for the important people you know and Google+ is for the interesting people you don’t know. 2012 was also the year I stopped using (a free, federated Twitter alternative).

I think that in general this blog has had few readers to begin with and has lost some. There are less comments because I write less about Emacs and tech issues. I guess I get a few comments on Google+ every now and then. I have never been one to try and maximize comments, however. I’m getting what I’m aiming for, I guess. :)

In general, therefore, the blog has also lost a bit of urgency. I no longer post little one-paragraph posts talking about the movies I saw. (Before yesterday it was Cloud Atlas which was nice, but not mind-blowing; yesterday it was The Hobbit part one, which was very beautiful; I could spend hours in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. Today I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild which reminded me of one of the best movies in recent years, Winter’s Bone. But then it started to stretch and had some surreal elements I didn’t like, so in the end I wasn’t as happy with it as I was at the beginning.)
No longer true, apparently?

At the same time, with the ads and the privacy issues of Facebook and Instagram, operating my own blog has become more important. I still host my pictures on Flickr and I’m happy I never stopped doing that. I pay their hosting fees and hope this means I don’t need to suffer ads and privacy violations.

My blog still uses Oddmuse. It’s a Perl script that I’ve been maintaining for over a decade, now. It still works! I use the same software for Emacs Wiki. Since many people are used to the many editors of Wikipedia and the features of MediaWiki, they criticize my choice every now and then. 2012 was no different. This time, however, I wrote a longer reply: How Emacs Wiki Works. (In fact, a separate wiki called WikEmacs was created using Mediawiki. I’m not sure how well it does.)

One of the benefits of the services I no longer like that much was that they allowed me to keep in touch with my family. My sister, my cousin and my mother in law are on Facebook. My mother, my half-sister and my half-brother are on Twitter where we all have private accounts linked to each other such that it occasionally feels like a family chat. I’ve started using Instagram as a way to tell people that I’m alive and invite the occasional comment by automatically uploading the pictures to this family chat on Twitter and to Facebook. I think it worked really well and now I’m not quite sure what I should be using instead. Rely on IFTTT?

The use of Instagram and all the ironic hipster hate online has revealed that I had already been a hipster long before it was cool!

There was also a tiny flash of activity on Community Wiki. A Facebook group for the wiki got created. Fierce editing did not resume. Wikis as a discussion medium seem to have gone the way of the Dodo. When I look at MeatballWiki, I don’t understand what’s going on. The wikis I was interested in as a discussion of social media are no longer active. Perhaps social media must be discussed using itself. I wonder where Instagram gets discused. Using screenshots?


Comments on 2012-12-23 Social Media this Year

Ugh, Meatball Wiki is full of spam.

AlexSchroeder 2012-12-26 13:30 UTC

Well, you already know but I still think wiki has a future, as pointed to by Smallest Federated Wiki. There are some flaws / issues with SFW, mainly I think because not enough people are working on it, but it’s still the signpost for how wiki could evolve.

Would still love to see you and other UseMod / OddMuse people look at ways to engage, even if you don’t switch over.

2012 is the year when it just became more and more clear that we need our own space and shouldn’t be dependent on Fb / Tw / G+ etc.

Fb / Tw / G+ offer two compelling things : 1) an aggregate river of stuff from people we care about, 2) really easy transclusion from various rich media sites.

We could have a distributed river architecture if we took RSS and some kind of pubsub architecture (eg. RssCloud) seriously. SFW has made transclusion protocols central to its philosophy. If we pick up on both, figure out how to get the most important things we get from the mainstream working smoothly, we can create a compelling alternative on our terms. And one of the interesting, overlooked, facts about G+ is that it showed that significant numbers of people are still willing to experiment with alternatives. As long as you can get a critical mass of around 20 people you care about to use it, G+ is as valuable as anything else. You don’t need 1 billion users. You aren’t trying to take over the world at this point, just to have a syndication / discussion architecture which isn’t owned by THEM.

PhilJones 2012-12-26 14:03 UTC

take it serious :)

MattisManzel 2012-12-26 20:52 UTC

The state of MeatBall is indeed sad. Since it seems inevitable that groups disperse, I am inclined to agree with Phil’s statements favoring SFW. At least that way, ones’ content persists. DaveWiner seems to be doing some interesting stuff with what he calls Rivers. I haven’t decided to try to set that up yet because I personally just don’t have the need and so I would rather allocate my time to the Tiddly* way.

– HansWobbe 2012-12-26 22:37 UTC

I started a new wiki this year: :) With some help there from the people behind and offering advice on starting local wiki.

SamRose 2012-12-27 01:23 UTC

Social media is indeed the place where people are discussing social media. Maybe a small subset using some version of etherpad. Google docs (drive) have taken over where wiki once was strong. People have heard the siren song of services hosted and payed for by someone other than themselves.

I’ve gotten more into RDF/SPARQL myself, and thinking about how to incorporate that into online activity.

SamRose 2012-12-27 01:27 UTC

I did not know LocalWiki, with interesting minimalist look and interesting features (special about maps?).

Lately, people made good wikis with python (HattaWiki)

JuanmaMP 2012-12-28 14:46 UTC

Some of the discussion happened on the Facebook group, and I copied extracts to Community:SocialMedia and related pages.

AlexSchroeder 2012-12-29 23:04 UTC

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2012-12-24 Recommended PPG Blog Posts For This Year

I think of myself as an Old School RPG blogger. Looking back, these are the posts I’d recommend.

2012-01-24 Changing Gameplay Over Time
“The promise of ever changing game play is what makes D&D interesting. The reason this works, I think, is because the spells you gain don’t simply scale. The game changes if you can be invisible and fly. The game changes when you can dimension door and teleport. The game changes when you can travel to the planes. Outside of the specific rules, the tradition also encourages changes to the game when you reach name level and build a stronghold, and it changes once more when you start to forge alliances with and wage wars against neighbors.”
2012-02-09 How To Write A Module
I finally finished Caverns of Slime in 2012. This blog post is a write up of the guidelines I used to write this high level adventure.
2012-02-09 Social Skills Revisited
This is more of a link to an article Courtney wrote on his blog regarding interactions with non-player characters. In terms of my approach to the game, Courtney remains one the most influential bloggers. “I enjoy the acting at the table because it’s funny. That’s why I prefer not to replace social interactions with dice rolling. But that doesn’t mean that social interactions cannot be quantified. Have a list of needs, traits and desires ready and pick two.”
2012-02-18 Ode to Ode to Black Dougal
“Reading Ode to Black Dougal really made me appreciate the Basic/Expert edition of D&D by Moldvay, Cook & Marsh. Let me link to his awesome series, B/X is my Favorite.”
2012-02-28 I don't like Bennies
“I’d rather agonize over a decision to fight, I’d rather weep because of the blows of fate bringing me down (and not because I made a deal with the referee and got a fate point for it but because I made a mistake).”
2012-03-04 Old School Fanzines
Basically a list of links to RPG fanzines. I assume this might remain a useful resource for a few years.
2012-05-09 Commenting As I Go (1PDC)
2012-05-12 More One Page Dungeon Recommendations
2012-05-13 More Recommended Dungeons
2012-05-22 Even More Recommended Dungeons
2012-05-30 The Last Batch Of Favorites
I’ve run the One Page Dungeon Contest 2012 again and these are the entries I personally recommend. If you don’t have the time to look through them all, look through these.
2012-05-22 Thinking About Solar System RPG
A return to the topics of this year: I like change over time, I don’t like unified resolution mechanics. “Abstract combat, abstract conflict resolution, and I’m wondering whether as a gamer, I might prefer more grounding.”
2012-05-15 The Forgotten Depths
I really liked inventing monster stats for this One Page “Dungeon” (actually a one page hexcrawl). This is when I decided that I want to quickly invent my own monster stats when writing stuff up so that I’m no longer bound by any licensing terms.
2012-06-20 Hexcrawl Procedure
The step-by-step instructions of how I run my hexcrawls and the assumptions I’m making. Something to add to my Swiss Referee Style Manual.
2012-07-06 Training Players
How I handle lies, promises and torture at my table. Basically, I don’t lie to my players, the non-player characters keep their promises and I don’t want to hear about torture at my table.
2012-08-15 Unbalanced Encounters Are Fun
“I think the key here is that what brings me back to the gaming table is the same thing that makes slot machines addictive. It’s called the variable ratio reinforcement schedule: a reinforcement schedule in which the number of responses necessary to produce reinforcement varies from trial to trial, according to Wikipedia.”
2012-08-24 Ursomancy
The first of a handful of posts where I tried to extract useful bits from my Caverns of Slime adventure. I feel that these bits make a nice blog post, allow people to comment, allow people to learn about the adventure without having to download and read more than thirty pages. I know that I download a lot of stuff that I end up not reading.
2012-09-01 SVG Character Sheet
I posted a number of times about the a little web application I wrote that generates random Labyrinth Lord characters including random equipment. You can also use it to just link to a good looking character sheet of your own from a forum, wiki or blog. All the values shown can be changed using URL parameters.
2012-10-11 Traveller, Spelljammer, Planescape
My campaign had taken a turn towards Planescape and Spelljammer, and I discovered that I could use the Traveller subsector random map generator for my Fantasy campaign.
2012-11-17 How To Build A Dungeon
Much like the hexcrawl procedure I had posted earlier this year, this post talks about three dungeons I used in my games and how I went about developing them.

And I think that’s it! The blog posts I returned to, the blog posts I felt are worthy of being read again. If you want more stuff to read, there is a similar overview for 2011.


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2012-12 Book Club

What: Wilt by Tom Sharpe

When: 19 December, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional ;))

Where: Bistro Lochergut (tram 2+3 ‘Lochergut’)

This is a funny, light read, good for a busy December schedule – still a bit over 300 pages but let’s try!

Henry Wilt, tied to a daft job and a domineering wife, has just been passed over for promotion yet again. Ahead of him at the Polytechnic stretch years of trying to thump literature into the heads of plasterers, joiners, butchers and the like. And things are no better at home where his massive wife, Eva, is given to boundless and unpredictable fits of enthusiasm - for transcendental meditation, yoga or the trampoline. But if Wilt can do nothing about his job, he can do something about his wife, in imagination at least, and his fantasies grow daily more murderous and more concrete.

After a peculiarly nasty experience at a party thrown by particularly nasty Americans, Wilt finds himself in several embarrassing positions: Eva stalks out in stratospheric dudgeon, and Wilt, under the inspiration of gin, puts one of his more vindictive fantasies into effect. But suspicions are instantly aroused and Wilt rapidly achieves an unenviable notoriety in the role of The Man Helping Police With Their Enquiries. Or is he exactly helping? Wilt’s problem - although he’s on the other side of the fence - is the same as Inspector Flint’s: where is Eva Wilt? But Wilt begins to flourish in the heat of the investigation, and as the police stoke the flames of circumstantial evidence, Wilt deploys all his powers to show that the Law can’t tell a Missing Person from a hole in the ground.

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