Feb 27, 2012

The Labyrinth Table (Unfinished)

A while back my players encountered a labyrinth for which I attempted what was then my longest table, intended to be 100 random things that could be found in rooms of the labyrinth. Rolling each time a door was opened, the contents could be any of the following:

01 Urns filled with pitch
02 Corpse of a warrior, all items unusable
03 1d4 giant ants
04 Stacks of empty urns
05 Straw floor
06 Strawberry vines
07 Blueberry bushes (poison)
08 Open treasure chest containing 2d% gold
09 Heel spike traps on floor
10 Corpse of knight in plate mail, helmet crushed, broadsword
11-15 1d4 Skeletons
16 Corpse of a sorcerer with a wand through his skull
17-19 Dismembered bodies nailed to walls
20 Ghoul
21 Ghost screaming (ghosts will repeat a single action, not responding to any outside interaction)
22 Ghost stabbing another to death
23 Ghost stacking books
24 Ghost clawing at the walls
25 Ghost crying
26 Ghost pacing
27 Man coughing blood. Dies.
28 Ghost, looks at players and then fades away
29 Dart trap
30 Piles of rope
31 Hooks hang from the ceiling
32 Dead dog
33-37 Crazed man
38 Cats. Hiss and then flee through the walls.
39 Cats. Normal. Avoid players.
40-42 Full of snakes. Poisonous.
43-46 2d4 Kobolds
47-48 Filled with candles.
49 Cauldron of water
50 Cauldron of stagnant water
51 Cauldron of frogs
52 Cauldron of fire
53 Cauldron of wine
54 Cauldron of piss
55 Cauldron of poison
56 floor is covered in ants

The chart was never completed, much as I enjoyed toying with all the things wiht which I could fill a cauldron. With some tinkering I'm sure someone could make this into a perfectly serviceable 50-effect chart, but it suited my needs for one session of play and we had some fun, I hope someone else can use it to make an equally enjoyable game. If I decide to complete this someday I will repost the finished work.

Weather Charts

So here are a couple simple charts for weather conditions. These charts can be weighted differently to account for different climates or seasons of the year, as I have done, but I will for the sake of simplicity include only the basic charts here:

 Roll once on each table and combine the results:

Table 1
1-2 Very cold
3-6 Cool
7-15 Average
16-18 Warm
19-20 Very hot

Table 2
1-6 Clear
7-9 Light precipitation (rain/snow/light hail)
10-11 Severe precipitation (storm/blizzard)
12-13 Windy
14-15 Foggy
16-17 Humid
18-19 Dry
20 Special*

*1 Hurricane
2 Tornado
3 Earthquake
4 Flood
5 Volcano eruption
6 Monsoon
7 Tsunami
8 Drought (lasts 1d% days)

Feb 26, 2012

Gatsby, Batman, and Splintering Chairs

I will begin here by saying that I run what is mostly an old-school campaign. Players continue from one game to the next, fighting monsters and getting drunk with the hobbits, and sometimes they actually die. Forever. But what is much more important, and mostly a result, is: players think.
When my players encounter a giant hairy spider, they light torches to burn it. When my players encounter an ancient dwarven automaton, they flick the switch to see what it will do before attacking. And when they see an elf dragged to the gallows... well, they instigate a riot and all Hell breaks loose, but the point is, mine is not a game where players are expected only to fight, kill, and move on to the next room, which brings up the problem I have with the WoTC editions of DnD and the like, what I refer to as late-edition games.
The problem I always encountered when I started off in fourth edition (a brief fling a few years ago) was that in an environment even one table removed from the four-stone-walls-and-a-floor formula I wanted to pick up that table for a shield, get under it, jump on top of it, and hurl it across the room at my opponents. And this is exactly the thought process I expect from my players. Every time I flesh out a random sitting room, I fully expect chairs to be thrown, tables to be lit on fire, and baddies to be skewered with coat racks. Variety truly is the spice of life, and best embraced by beating cultists with splintering chairs.
Unfortunately, the problem I too often found was that using my environment always yielded inferior results to simply using my encounter power. Using my ten-foot-pole to vault over a gnoll was never so surefire as switching places via my dizzying slice (or whatever); rolling under a table never gave me the defense boost of a cleric's blessing; in short I was never so desperately in need of the advantage to try the daring moves that make all those crappy Zorro and Three Musketeers movie adaptations nonetheless entertaining to watch.
And so I did them anyway and was despised by my teammates for not simply selecting the most practical attack card.
And so I grew tired of the fourth edition.
Now those of you who spend your spare time organizing your socks by hex code, arranging your trigonometric identities on flash cards by order of frequency of use, or those who know no better may take delight in choosing the daily power that is X% likely to do Y-Z points of damage and rolling a die that you know will have the sufficient bonus to do what you know is enough damage to take down the goblin which you know can't survive the 2x damage from your backstab/combat advantage/blah/blah/blah. But for my players the thrill is in not knowing.
In my and early edition games the only thing certain is that your first-level wizard can die from a couple of well-rolled punches in the face. You don't know how much health you'll have when you roll it at the next level, and so a first-level early-edition character is desperate. A first-level early-edition character is a schemer. Zac S paints a despairing portrait of the dungeon as a hopeless place, a portrait I allow lovingly to terrify me, and love to let terrify my players. When you are hundreds of feet below ground in the pitch black of a dwarven ruin, you are alone, and you know not from whence the next horror comes, or whether it will finally be the thing to slay you and munch on your bones. When you have ready three encounter powers that can each slaughter a bull in one swing and a daily that could wound mighty Zeus himself, and all within the first five levels, you know no fear. When light is a free spell, you don't shake at the thought that your last torch may be extinguished in the dark depths of Hades, you don't sit and argue over whether your wizard should use his last spell slot for one more magic missile or to conjure food for the party.
It is that desperation that leads to the interesting conflicts. Daztur writes an extensive article analyzing the new edition forms of combat as opposed to old scheming wars, an extreme of the kind of combat I encourage. This "combat-as-war" can actually engage the players more when the scenario is not established as otherwise impossible as in many of Daztur's examples. In a situation that is merely challenging, as I propose, and options left open, the player has the choice, and most often learns to plan in advance to avoid acquaintance with death.
And when the three-hit-point wizard grows into a level twenty demigod the player has been transformed into a man appreciative of his power, who uses it wisely. Contrast and change always yield the most interesting characters. Had Jay Gatsby been all the while rich and not worked his way up, he may have been with and abandoned Daisy, knowing not the time without and taking for granted. Had the young Bruce Wayne not been so happy in his younger years, not been so shocked by pain, death, and crime; he may never have worn his underwear on the outside and jumped off a rooftop, and we would sorely lack our favorite hero. Frank Miller in Year One even goes so far as to show Batman's first attempts and the failures (or near failures) he endured, so that we appreciate his perfection all the more later. The characters that fall and rise again are the ones we love (even Jesus died once, for all you religious folk).
When you have never failed, with your stack of special powers and second winds and action points, you don't know how great, and how lucky, it is to win. My players have all been rendered unconscious, useless, in battle time and again, and now they know just how important it is to plan and work together and they value the turns of fate that we roll every day. Knowing that death looms always on the other side of the polyhedron, they cling to life by tables and splintering chairs and makeshift torches and they see every battle won for the stroke of luck it is and sigh with relief. Another battle well fought, and one more day of life well earned.
Can you say the same when you knew all along you could take down the boss with your 6d12dmg daily power?