Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Hexing my pathcrawl - big structure of my jungle game

I've gone on record saying that I like to be surprised by my players. (Idiot) "Go off the edge of the map", I think I said. You'll never guess what happens next!

...that's right, I pull out a binder with tables either written on my own or scraped off of better blogs and roll up their doom, is what happens. Here's how I try to add spice and variety to the trip, while keeping my prep work manageable.

My guys are currently exploring the continent of Xen'Drik, Eberron setting. From the world map, Xen'drik is about 5000 miles east to west, 2000 miles north to south, with three big peninsulas and islands tacked on. Back of the envelope says ~16 million square miles of terrain. The group will be unlikely to visit the same place twice; there is no home base, only the ever-moving expedition back home. How do I plan an interesting game?

Hex it up?

If the continent were smaller and our group were more into exploratory hex crawling, I could number off ~50,000 six mile hexes, run a stocking algorithm and sit back in amazement as the players try out yet another type of poisonous fruit or get chased up boobytrapped waterfalls by Drow, Giants, snakes, scorpions and piranhas.

It might get old at some point, but let's label it "Plan B". Boobytrapped waterfalls sound awesome.

Or I could treat the whole trip Indiana Jones style, with travel abstracted so I can zoom in on what's happening at adventure sites along the road back home. But then I miss out on any surprises that the terrain can spring on the party.

Demands on my game

  • players must be able to make a meaningful choice about their travel plans
  • spending game time on travel should be interesting
  • prep work should be minimal, but able to handle unexpected changes of plans

Meaningful choice tells me that I don't want to put the group on a railroad from predetermined site to site; they need to be able to learn about what is ahead, and choose where to go and what to avoid.

I'll cover keeping travel interesting by gauging the table during play. Solutions will be either to condense travel time ("you travel down the river a few days through these horrible marshes - roll to see whether the rations catch a mold or something") or by expanding it into a big part of the session ("there's a net across the river, with giant guards in uniforms patrolling the banks and towers in the distance. Whaddayado?"). Will need to rig the random encounters for a nice mix. Or give a short/long version of each encounter:

Toll post with net across river, a watch tower on either side of the river, giant guards in uniform. Druggie cult run by Shadeer, a naga sorceror looking for wealth and sacrifices to fund her research. Either roll stealth, pay 200 gp in valuables per party member, hand over a party member, or encounter 8 giant guards, 2 serpent folk druids and one naga.

Prep work is where I need to make a choice. I don't want to spend a lot of time slicing up the map with mega, macro and micro hexes. I also want to give a sense of progress along the long journey, which to me means some abstracting of travel time. Solution: a path crawl with quickly generated hexes for when the group goes off the path.

Adventure sites and travel routes

The big structure of Jungle Trek will be a path crawl: alternate between exploring adventure sites and negotiating travel routes. Adventure sites are detailed areas with lots of moving parts such as factions, plots, cities or dungeons. Travel routes connect adventure sites in a point crawl and can be stretched or condensed to taste. During travel, random generators serve up encounters, scenery, challenges and miniature adventure sites. If the party goes off a path and enters the wilderness proper, I'll quickly generate a couple of hexes and stock from random tables. These will include tips on how to navigate back to the paths and sites of the overall map.

In an algorithm:

  1. party sets out towards new adventure site, having found directions in the current site
  2. directions and rumors in the current/previous site hint at dangers along the path
  3. random encounters spit out high points of the trip to the new adventure site
    • if/when the party veers off-piste, generate local hexes with fun encounters and directions to the main attractions on the map
  4. travelers arrive at adventure site and adventure, maim, loot, burn and otherwise obliterify carefully prepped environment
    • if/when the party ignores the main contents of the area but goes exploring, run a local hex crawl again
  5. travelers wring information on the surrounding area from any surviving NPCs or structures
  6. travelers choose their next destination on their journey
Ideally, phases 1 and 5-6 are the start and end of a gaming session, so that I can flesh out a new adventure site in between sessions.

More on the random generators that kick in when the party Wander Off Stage Left To Explore What Lies Beyond Yonder Shrub in my next post - a cute little jungle crawl kit.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Jungle Trek session 3: wyvern bait

Session three of the epic saga of a golem, a dogperson and two deeply scared humans making their way through scenic Xen'Drik. This time on Jungle Trek: trial by stone giant, wyverns on the fornicating plane, mutating altars, Dr. Pepper orchids, and Very Dumb Ogre Mages.

Our noble, heroic, stalwart explorers:

  • Drake - male human healer [non-player character, hireling]
  • Eorie - female human rogue [non-player character, hireling]
  • Santash - male kalashtar psion who shoved his mind into his psicrystal [non-player character]

And their decidedly less Good-aligned fellow travelers:

  • Indiana Gnoll - male Gnoll ranger. Whip. Deranged laugh. [player: Robert]
  • Woody the Warforged Wizard, who shall hereafter be known as Speaker-to-Cows [player: Bas]
Last session, the group introduced themselves to a tribe of stone giants who had issues with the local Drow tribe. Also a flying fortress/tomb hanging over the lake, Wyverns to watch out for, and not-so-subtle hints that three stone giant teenagers were behind the disappearances all along.

Damn kids

After a fight in the ruined school for gifted giants (last class: 40.000 years ago), the party discovers that Annoying Giant Kid #1 (hereafter known as Nephew, because I couldn't be arsed to name him) could not only shoot off invisibility spells, he was also cloaked in a big fat illusion.

Although why you'd want to hide a face like
this is beyond my understanding. Source.
Balancing weight-of-evidence against weight-of-corpse, the team decide on the happy compromise of just taking the head as evidence of Nephew's deep moral issues. They head back to the giant camp, escape a curious wyvern by summoning a magic pony, and are welcomed back...

...with, duh, accusations of having murdered Nephew and working with the despicable Drow all along. Quick talking and even quicker showing of their war trophy means they don't get smashed into a pulp just yet, just thrown into a guarded cave until the chief can go to the ruined school and check the story. The giant kids escape on the magic flying boat that makes endless rounds along the shore and to the floating mass of rock above the lake. Party decides not to pursue in the dead of night.

Briefly going back to school

Signs definitely point to there being something wrong with the giant teenagers, but just to make sure, the party treks back to the ruined tower in the lake with giant chieftain Yrthag in tow. They show earlier finds - a hexed murder-site where the three teenagers jumped a cow herd, dude's corpse near a sacrifice-o-matic magic altar, Nephew's grossly mutated headless corpse.

Chief is convinced and asks the group to bring the kids to justice.

Just one complication. The flying boat they escaped on is falling apart and can't take an adult giant's weight anymore. Could the hilariously undersized visitors, perhaps...?

Wyverns on the motherfucking plane

Party gets unceremoniously dunked into the flying funeral barge by Chief Yrthag when it briefly stops at the ruined tower. Barge groans under the load but doesn't immediately disintegrate. Did I mention the ever-curious wyverns before? I'm pretty sure I did. And the party sure wasn't surprised - displeased, but not surprised - when one of the flying beasties landed, severely damaging the barge but even more severely grabbing hold of NPC Drake and flying off.

That's the party's sole healer being carted off through the air by a highly poisonous semi-dragon, for those who are having trouble picturing the scene.

Adorkable beastie. Found here.

What's my character's motivation? Oh, crap.

And Indiana Gnoll's player, poor Robert who at the start of the campaign confessed he often has trouble deciding on his character's motivation, knows exactly what his Indiana Jones knock-off would do. Try to whip-catch hold of the Wyvern, tame it in mid-air, and wrestle it back to where it needs to go of course!

Some good rolls, even better use of action points and lucky not-getting-stabbed-in-the-guts-with-insta-death-wyvern-poison later, Indy manages to force the wyvern, the healer and himself back to the floating barge.

Which is just then passing through the forcefield hedging out dangerous beasties from the floating tomb. Wyvern gets zapped and flies off shrieking, Warforged party member gets zapped again by giant magic, and the psicrystal with the mind of their NPC telepath buddy in it gets quietly turned to ash. Yeah, that's why the archeologist wasn't commenting on the beautifully preserved giant architecture.

I kept forgetting to have the archeologist-psicrystal dude weigh in. Even when he should be speaking up, he just slips my mind. Problem solved with a fair and square save and 3d6 electricity to the face. Leading facet. Whatever. 

Yes, you can use his dusty remains as a magic component.

The flying tomb fort

Awesome. Source.
Lifted from the awesome Trilemma Adventures, upscaled to fit the size of the previous giant owners. The fortress / tomb is a huge floating d8 with a vertical cylinder drilled down the centre, connecting the three floors. The flying barge docks at the bottom, but the levitation elevators for the cylinder burnt out long ago. It's climbing time for the ranger, rope-wrangling for the NPCs, and then we have to pause and look up how much a sentient golem actually weighs when the wizard can't be arsed to spend his Fly spell on a 30 foot ascent so the ranger needs to haul his ass up. 400 bloody pounds of deadlifting later, the team are on the bottom floor.

Bottom floor: illusion/tapestries of the awesome Giant Wizard Radamenus, who kicked mucho ass 40k years ago, and prepped this tomb/fort for when she would eventually kick the bucket. The bound Djinn and caretaker Ak checks that at least one party member has a honking big gold amulet that identifies them as a bona fide student, informs them that their fellow students are upstairs in the map room, and introduces them to an automatic healing altar powered by radioactive white pearls. Uberfast miniature Drow zoom around the place and clean up scattered pearls so that the party can safely investigate. The altar has a basic 'heal injuries' setting, replacing wounds with pearly white flesh, and more advanced biomantic options.

An exploratory surgery theater next door holds all kinds of sicko scalpels, and one table near the window slit has been cleared to grow funky ashen lotus which pick you right up. Party does not immediately partake of the stuff. Wusses.

Can't wait to inflict my mutations chart on 'em. Found here.
Players immediately decide this is like a real life version of the "customize my character" sliders in e.g. Skyrim and describe how they're going to fuck up their bodies later. I cannot wait.

Seriously happy with finding Trilemma Adventures. These adventure sites consist of a beautiful map and suggestions for locals and contents, which gets my creative juices flowing faster than equally beautiful Dyson's maps. Easier to modify than to start with a blank sheet, I guess.

I've reworked this site a bit to fit into my campaign, added a bound Djinn caretaker that really wants to be set free, foot-high Drow/quickling servants that race around the tomb and repair stuff. Also added a little drug lab on the lower floor, added mutate-the-fuck-out-of-me buttons on the healing altar, and looked up the Pathfinder radiation rules to flesh out the magic white pearls that power the entire site. Finally, some treasure and surprises on the middle and top floor, which haven't been properly explored yet.

Central floor: session is dragging on, I want to end on a bit of excitement, and luckily the noisy climb is enough to finally bring the two remaining giant kids investigating. A fight follows in which they are too angry to properly use all their Oni powers, NPCs go down with a hit of their clubs, and grappling moves almost manage to dump a player character down the tomb's central cylinder and then further down 500 meters to the lake surface. But then the wizard lays down serious damage via summoned elementals and the tide turns.

Ak the Djinn. Stuck in a tomb for
40.000 years and fed up with giant
teenagers hanging around on his lawn.

All-out combat turns into a rout for the two giants, who try to levitate or fly down to the healing altar. It turns out being nice to bound caretakers is a smart thing, as Ak the Djinn conjures up an illusory wall of flames cutting off their entry to the healing room. Arrows and air elementals make short work of the giants' remaining hit points.

A last bit of exploration on the mid level shows the players a huge map room, with floor-to-ceiling illusions of the continent, crossed by ley lines and with 'site of interest' at the intersection.

"Go here for your next adventure." I'm a hack.

Friday, 16 February 2018

My pet mutation charts

Stolen from everyone and their dog. Apologies and thanks! Special cases can be made for when a players wants to add a template to their PC, change their race etc. Will probably throw in a couple of minor mutations on top of that if it ever happens, just to mess things up.

1d20 Minor mutations

  1. Glowing eyes (random color).  Sheds light as candle. 
  2. Wings. d4: bat / bird / flying squirrel / insect. Can glide (descent = horizontal distance) & feather fall safely.
  3. Scales. d6: fine, iridescent / dull, grey / shiny black / bone white / emerald green / red
  4. Feathers. d4: shiny black / mottled brown+green / fluffy white / purple+blue
  5. Cluster of little tentacles on part of your body, moving on their own. d4: belly / chin / hair / hands.
  6. Vertical mouth and eyes.  Asynchronous blinks, too.
  7. Eat food by piercing it with your tongue-spike and draining the fluids. d4+1 damage in grapples.
  8. Once per month you spin a cocoon and sleep in it for 3 days.  You come out looking beautiful, but by the end of the month you're starting to look pretty haggard again.
  9. 1d8 eyes open on random parts of the body
  10. 1d4 additional mouths or leach-like suckers open on random parts of the body
  11. Eyes become unblinking and bulging
  12. Emits a pungent smell when speaking, sweating, or breathing
  13. Hair on head becomes a mass of waving cilia: can feel air currents to detect movement in 5feet
  14. Finger nails and hair grow incredibly fast and must be trimmed at least once per day
  15. Skin becomes cold and clammy, with a thin film: +2 bonus to escape bonds and grapples
  16. Grow 2d2 extra fingers (fingers / thumbs): +1 bonus to gripping things
  17. All semblance of being male or female disappears
  18. Hugely obese. +1 hit point per level, -5 to speed.
  19. Hypermobile: joints bend both ways. +1 to Dexterity, -1 to Strength
  20. Covered in fur.  d4: powerful beard / soft downy fur / spiky punk fur / yeti. Resist 2 points of cold.

1d20 Major mutations

  1. Gain resistance 5 to one type of damage: d6 - piercing / bludgeoning / fire / cold / acid / lightning
  2. Feel no pain. Can keep on fighting until -10 hp, but do not notice wounds.
  3. Nails harden into sharp claws, 1d4+1 damage but -2 penalty to Dex rolls involving your hands
  4. Forked tongue; heightened sense of smell/taste. Detect presence of organics within 20 feet.
  5. Gills - can breathe underwater
  6. Photosynthesis - can go without food for a week, need 1 hour/day of full body exposure to sun.
  7. Character can digest just about anything he fits in his mouth. +2 bonus to resist poisons.
  8. Hyperdrenaline: 2 actions and 2x speed for 1d4 rounds, then disadvantage to all d20 rolls (roll twice, take the worst result) until 8hr rest
  9. Hidden pouch in belly size of two fists, can hide small items in there.
  10. Brute arm, 1d6+1 damage.  d4: crab claw / gorilla arm / bone antler-thing / preying mantis-claw.
  11. Camouflage: skin slowly changes colour depending on environment. +2 bonus to stealth rolls.
  12. Blood becomes acidic - 1 damage/hp of blood to metal and stone. Will damage your own gear.
  13. Immune to diseases, but can still transfer them to others
  14. Grow an extra, smaller arm under one of your armpits. Can carry only light items.
  15. Armored scales provide base AC of 12 instead of 10 when unarmored.
  16. Powerful legs: character can long jump up to his Strength score in meters, half that in height.
  17. While unarmored and carrying up to 1/2 your capacity, can walk walls and ceilings like a spider at half your speed, need at least 3 limbs in contact.
  18. Body becomes semi-gelatinous, can fit through openings the size of your head
  19. Hands and feet become webbed: swim at your normal speed
  20. Long limbs and neck.  2' taller, but sort of giraffe-like. +5 speed