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Tag Archives: Pathfinder

Dungeon Ideas: The Ghost Ship

The cloth sails hang in tatters, yet other sails, spectral things of blue light, propel the ship forward. On deck, it’s crew, seemingly unconcerned about the hideous wounds that mar their translucent bodies, work diligently, combating a storm that has long since broken, preparing for a battle that came and went years past. For them, it is not over. For them, it will never be over.

Who doesn’t love a good ghost ship? The Flying Dutchman. The Black Pearl. The… unnamed ship carrying Death in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner? I thought it had a name, but google is telling me I was wrong… Come on, Coleridge, we need details!

Oh well. Whatever the name of them, exploring a ghost ship is our next stop in dungeon ideas. (For the last idea for a dungeon-outside-of-a-dungeon, go here.)

The Ghost Ship

Large sailing vessels can start anywhere around 150 feet long and get up to twice that. At dozens of feet wide, and with multiple decks, that leaves you thousands of square feet of exploration space. The nature of the ship allows for these spaces to be used in unique ways, too. Do players climb the ropes in the rigging? Has the bilge flooded, necessitating swimming to find the lost treasure in it? How does the ship pitching and rolling affect the combat on the main deck?

Speaking of combat, the enemies inhabiting a ghost ship are as varied as the undead that fill most gaming systems. In Pathfinder, there’s even a fair number of specifically aquatic undead, such as Draugr and Brykolakas. Make them the crew, throw in a ghost captain, and you’ve got yourself some baddies. Of course, maybe you want to go further. Maybe “ghost ship” doesn’t mean a ship with ghosts on it, but rather a ship possessed by the spirits of the dead. With that mindset, the ship itself can be an enemy. Rigging ropes lash out to try to snare players. Deck boards become like water, players dropping into them, before solidifying again, trapping them in the wood. The bell that calls sailors to arms rings and rings and won’t stop it’s infernal ringing, and each time it does it drives the players one step closer to madness. Ok, so you might have to play with the rules a little bit to get some of those effects, but it could be well worth it.

A ghost ship as a dungeon really shines when it comes to the plot of your adventure. Unlike ancient tombs or deep caverns, your players aren’t likely to just randomly explore their way onto a ghost ship, so why are they there? Do they have to find a way to escape? Perhaps a cursed compass teleported them here, and they have to find it’s pair on the ship to get off. Has this ship been sinking merchant vessels? The ghost captain has to be destroyed to save innocent lives. Or maybe they have to find a way to break the curse that has kept the ship sailing? Deliver it’s last load of cargo, expose the traitorous first mate who sold them out to an ambush, return the stolen cursed treasure to the forbidden land from which it came. The nature of ghosts and undeath mean that simply destroying the ship and its crew may not be enough… They will just return the next full moon, or the next time an albatross is slain, or when a poor soul accidentally sails over the sunken wreck, or whatnot. “Winning” the dungeon could require problem solving outside stabbing the boss bad guy until it’s dead, then.

What do you think? How would you work a ghost ship into a campaign? Mechanically, what would make a ghost ship different from any other boat? Let me know in the comments.

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Posted by on June 7, 2017 in Role-Playing Games

 

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Brews out of the Box 4: Baron of Shadows

Baron of Shadows

Description: Even as you approach, he continues to chant, low in his throat. He is a tall man, his skeletal thinness emphasized by the mask designed to look like a skull covering the top portion of his face. His clothing is black, or perhaps a very dark purple, but clearly of good quality and cut. The flickering light cast by the torched burning to either side of him make all the shadows in the room jump and dance… But, as you watch, you realize that his moves more than any others. Before you can cry out warning, his shadow flows across the floor towards you and attacks.

Idea: I’ve written before about different ways to make boss fights more interesting than a one-sided slug fest, and the Baron came out of that. He was a caster (an Oracle of the Dark Tapestry, in Pathfinder) of a sufficient level to challenge the party. But on top of that he had extra abilities. His shadow could reach out and interact with the players, getting one free Combat Maneuver per round, with a bonus based on the Baron’s charisma. I contemplated allowing the shadow more actions, but I didn’t want to make it too powerful. If you’d like to make it more of a challenge, the shadow could attack or perform other actions.

And, yes, if any of you are wondering, I did get a fair amount of inspiration from Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog. Hecks, even his cultist chanting when my party encountered him was based on the “are you ready” refrain from Facilier’s “Friend’s on the Other Side.”

Mechanics: Obviously, the main flavour of the Baron comes from his shadow. Mechanically, the Baron himself functioned as an Oracle. His shadow, however, acted on his turn independently of him. It had a reach of 15 ft. and could perform on Combat Maneuver per round, without a penalty for failing (you can’t trip a shadow, after all). The shadow didn’t have to worry about things like difficult terrain or attacks of opportunity. If, however, all of the sources of light were extinguished, the shadow could no longer attack. Similarly, the shadow could not go through solid barriers that prevent light.

Statistics: Because the Baron of Shadows is almost more like a template that you would add to a creature rather than a full creature, I’m going to write it’s stats that way.

Template can only be added to a spell-casting creature.

CR: Same as base creature +1

HP: Same as base creature, + HD equal to 1/2 base creatures class HD.

Special Rule:

-Shadow: Once per turn, Baron of Shadows can make one combat maneuver attempt against a creature within 15 feet. These maneuvers have a CMB equal to the Baron’s base attack bonus + relevant spell casting ability (charisma for sorcerers, oracles, and bards, intelligence for wizards, etc.). These attempts do not provoke attacks of opportunity. Failed attempts do not allow retaliatory attempts against the shadow.

If, at any point, there is no source of light in the same area as the Baron to cast a shadow, the Baron loses this ability. The shadow cannot pass through any objects that block light, though it can travel around such objects, as long as it does not travel more than 15 feet from the Baron in total.

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Homebrews, Role-Playing Games

 

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Deadly Decisions: Should a GM Kill Off Player Characters?

No.

Ok, so I was once told that, when writing (specifically for school, but we’ll count it here), if your thesis asks a question that can be answered with only a yes or no, you shouldn’t bother writing it. So, with that in mind, I’m going to go into a bit more nuances than a straight no. But should, generally speaking, a GM kill of a player’s character?

No. Just… No.

I can hear the cry of RPG purists now. “The rules!” they yell. “If the dice say they die, then they should die!” I’ll remind those people of two things: (1) It’s a game; it’s supposed to be fun, and the rules of most modern editions of D&D and the like point that out; and (2) My blog has a running theme of fudging rules in order to make a game more enjoyable; if that’s a problem for you, you’re not going to much like anything that comes next.

Yes, in the rules of most RPGs (my experience is mainly in D&D and Pathfinder, so that’s what I’m going to refer to most), characters can die if things go badly for them. A bad decision, an unlucky roll of the dice, a particularly poorly-planned encounter… These things could kill you. And, yes, if you’re playing by the rules, characters will probably die, eventually.

But it’s a game, folks. It’s supposed to be fun. And do you know what’s not fun? Watching your roll to stop yourself from falling into a bottomless pit come up a one. Or, conversely, watching the GM roll a critical hit on you for the third time in a row. These things happen, it’s just probability. And probability can be a boring, vindictive, jerk sometimes. So there are times when it’s important to tell probability to go have a long walk in a dark, monster-infested woods, while wearing bright colors and beef-jerky flavored body spray.

In other words, lie. It’s sort of why those GM screens exist. That third critical? Aw shucks, it was actually only a 3. That bottomless pit? An illusion, tied to a reverse gravity trap that suspends your character helplessly in the air (real bottomless pits are expensive, after all). We’re all good. You don’t want to let your players get off completely free; you want it to feel like the game has risk, has consequences. But you can walk a line between making the game feel dangerous and actually making it deadly.

And again, the purists rail, “that’s not the point of the game!” Ok, if that’s how you like your game, fine. I have a friend who likes a quote that he heard… somewhere (neither of us know where; if you do, feel free to comment): In games like D&D, you treat a character like a car in Grand Theft Auto; ride it hard and, when you get bored, crash it into a wall. I disagree, not with the idea that you can play a character that way, but that you should. There’s no right way to play, really. If you want to play your character recklessly and to heck with the consequences, go for it. If your group wants to play hard ball with the rules and kill people, go for it.

But don’t force it on anyone.

If your players are attached to the characters (lots of people are) or otherwise don’t like them dying, don’t kill them. Even if you have to cheat, fudge dice, make nonsense up, don’t kill them. Threaten them. Hurt them. Make them think you’re going to kill them… But don’t kill them. And for the love of peanut-butter, as a player, don’t kill off your own character as a player by playing so recklessly you endanger everyone else. Your character diving headfirst into an unwinnable battle or making dumb choices can impact the rest of the party and, if they’re not ok with that style of reckless play and having to make new characters, there’s going to be resentment.

You want to drive your car into a brick wall? Don’t do it with the rest of your party in the back seat.

Again, I’m not saying you have to listen to me. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consequences for player decisions or that you shouldn’t be somewhat beholden to what the dice say. But, if your players don’t like the idea of their characters dying, why put them through something that they don’t think is fun? It kind of ruins the whole “game” part of “role-playing games,” don’t you think?

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2017 in Role-Playing Games

 

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Dungeon Ideas: The Great Tree

A RPG adventure can take place just about anywhere you can think of. They can be social affairs, spanning the streets and back alleys of a metropolis. They can be sea-fairing escapades, rooted on the deck of a pirate’s ship. They can even cross the planes of existence, taking place in the depths of the abyss or in the realm of dreams. But the most common path adventurers take is probably though dungeons. Catacombs or caverns or underground labyrinths, dungeons are a frequent sight in RPGs. They didn’t name the game “Socializing and Dragons,” after all.

There a times when the standard dungeons, stone and gates and so on, just doesn’t cut it. It grows dull. Repetitive. Dare I say it, cliche? So every so often, you may want an adventure location to go beyond the dank and dingy underground.

Let’s look at some options for unusual dungeons, starting with…

The Great Tree

This massive landmark, centuries old, is more than 30 feet across at it’s base and stands some two- or three-hundred feet tall. It’s canopy spreads wide and thick enough that, standing beneath it, it seems as dark as night. Some say it was the world’s first tree. Some say it marked the spot where an ancient god, long forgotten, died. Still other’s say it was born of a rift between the very elemental planes, connecting this world to another.

The Great Tree has an ecology as unique as it is. Itself a living thing, it’s roots crawling through the land for acres, the Tree supports life around and within it. Burrowing insects leave tunnels through it’s core big enough for a man to walk through. Fey, and other spirits of nature, inhabit its wood. Its crown supports the nest of giant owls, who hunt anything, animal or man, fool enough to walk beneath the tree’s shadow at night.

Adventuring through a tree creates some unique areas for player exploration. Maybe the tunnels left by the bugs work as a series of caves (just hope the creatures that made them aren’t hungry). Maybe the branches are thick and tangled enough to create platforms players can walk across (but watch your step – it’s a long way down). How can players climb the tree to reach their goal at the top? Or maybe their problem is the opposite; stranded in the nest of a great bird of prey, how can they descend the tree before the bird’s chicks wake hungry?

Even if things like bug tunnels and animal bolt-holes end up being treated the same as underground tunnels and caverns, exploring a giant tree can allow for unique flavour and experiences. Consider the risk of weather-worn branches, or the amount of sticky sap a tree that size might produce. What happens when leaves or acorns begin falling? What sort of problems or opportunities does being entirely surrounded by wood and living matter create for players used to impassible walls of stone?

I’d be amiss not to point out that, if you’d rather, you don’t need to make a tree particularly large to achieve this kind of “dungeon.” You could always make your players very small. Small enough, perhaps, that the mice that live among the roots of the tree, the wasps that have a nest in its branches, become far more dangerous than the usual pests.

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And that’s The Great Tree as dungeon idea. What do you guys think? If you like the idea of me posting the occasional notion for unusual dungeons, let me know.  Of course, if you’d like me to focus more on either the story of these dungeons or more mechanical ideas and aspects, let me know that, too, and I’ll focus more in that direction in the future. The comments are always open for any thoughts you might like to share.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2017 in Role-Playing Games

 

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Puzzle This Out v.2: Large Scale Puzzles in RPGs

In a previous post, I mentioned liking puzzles in my role-playing game. Sometimes, though, throwing a quick puzzle into combat- or social-based dungeon isn’t satisfying enough… Or worse, comes off as forced or cliched. So sometimes, instead of putting puzzles in a dungeon, I like puzzles that are the dungeon.

Rather than plopping a puzzle in the middle of a dungeon crawl, consider making the dungeon itself run as a puzzle. In each room or area, you can have your combat encounters or social encounters or what not, but the overall dungeon can be a puzzle, too. This can be done with how players travel through the dungeon, reoccurring challenges throughout the adventure, or making the whole adventure take place in a location or setting outside what players take for typical.

The advantage of this kind of large scale puzzle is simple: it’s different. It’s a change from the riddle-doors and puzzle-chests that could otherwise become common sights in dungeon. They make for a memorable dungeon, filled with unique puzzle challenges.

Of course, this kind of idea can backfire, too. If your players don’t enjoy the puzzle that you design your dungeon around, then they have a long, long time to slog through it. Worse still, if they can’t figure it out, the entire dungeon becomes nothing but one frustrating stumbling block after another. So, perhaps more so than with stand-alone puzzles, you need to ensure large scale puzzles aren’t too hard or abstract, or you need to give the players an out if they get stuck.

That’s all well and good for the idea of a large-scale puzzle, but what about the details? What do I mean, really? Well, here’s some examples of large scale puzzles in dungeons and adventures.

The Sliding Dungeon: This dungeons is composed of a number of square rooms, each identical in size. In certain rooms, there are controls that give a bird’s eye view of the dungeon layout. The dungeon controls work like those 3×3 (or bigger, if you want more of a challenge) sliding puzzles, where pieces are moved into blank spaces without any being lifted or turned. Doors only open when lined up with other doors, rooms that are inaccessible can become accessible by moving them, etc. If the players want to explore every room (or get to a specific one), they need to figure out how to arrange the puzzle to make a path.

The Spinning Dungeon: This is similar to the sliding dungeon, only rather than square rooms, the dungeon is built on concentric rings. Again, by accessing controls, the players can rearrange the dungeon, this time by spinning the rings to line up passages or change the layout of rooms.

The Living Dungeon: Remember the time you had to go into Jabu-Jabu’s belly in Legend of Zelda? (And if you don’t know Ocarina of Time, I’m sorry you had such a sad childhood.) Anyways, this is like that. Whether it’s in the belly of some massive beast, or in a building with living walls of eldritch horror, having the dungeon be a living entity (whether good, evil, or benign) can open up some unique hurdles players have to overcome, and perhaps even more interesting (or unexpected) solutions. What happens if you attack living walls? Or make the creature sneeze or swallow when you’re stuck at an impassable sphincter? (Any circular muscle is a sphincter, get your mind out of the gutter.) Once the players figure out some of their options that living dungeons allow, they can tackle obstacles in ways that they never could in a standard one.

Two-Worlds: Imagine a dungeon that exists in two (or more) states: this could be past and future, for instance, or different planes of existences. If the players have a way of traversing these two states, then obstacles can be encountered that can only be overcome in one of the multiple states. Impassable door in the past? Jump to the future, where it has rusted and rotted to the point of falling down. Ancient dragon guarding the treasure in the future? Hop to the past, where it’s a mere baby. I once ran a dungeon that jumped between the real world and the world of dreams; the goals were in the real world, but players could do things in the world of dreams that they couldn’t awake. Bottomless chasm that you have to get across? You can fly in dreams. Tiny doorway? Dream that you’re shrinking. All it takes is some consideration of how you want the mechanics of traveling back and forth between the multiple versions of the dungeon to work.

Portable Doors: What happens if you put a portable hole on a wall? Or the ceiling? Ok, so if you are following the rules, probably nothing interesting. But that’s boring, so make up your own portable hole. Think of all the fun that could be had with a door frame that creates a passage wherever it’s placed, or a hole that can be used to climb between floors and then moved. This kind of trick needs a bit more planning, I think (so the players don’t just carve themselves a path straight through whatever they’re going through), but with a few mechanical limitations to the tool, it could make for a unique type of exploration.

Those are just 5 examples of large scale puzzles or reoccurring challenges that you can shape a dungeon around. Can you think of more? Share some of your own ideas in the comments, or let me know what you think about using large scale puzzles to change up your adventures.

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2017 in Role-Playing Games

 

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