Category Archives: Adventure Design
7 Days of the Tomb Lands, a #Dungeon23 Project
Well, who knows how long it’ll last, but I managed 7 encounters in the Tomb Lands (my #Dungeon23 project) in 7 days.
Check them out here! https://www.patreon.com/posts/76655396
Gatekeeper’s Campaign for PF2, Session 3
Since people still seem interested, here’s the notes for session 3 of my Gatekeepers game for PF2.
The PCs wake having stayed the night at the farm run by Morgan’s Dad — whose name is Ferris, and can go by Goodman Ferris, Yeoman Ferris, or Landsman Ferris (since he owns his own land and has the deed on register in the Imperial Archive on the Continent). Player’s start to jokingly refer to him as “MorgansDa.”
The storms which have wracked the area for the entire autumn have suddenly stopped, but it’s unseasonably cold – winter cold. There’s barely any wind, the sky is clear but the air crisp, and the night was so cold dry wood cracked and frost formed on stones around the farm.
Heading out from MorganDa’s Farm, the Pcs see a group of 7 sailors coming down to road to the farm, pushing a cart. Hailing them, the PCs discover they are from the “King of the Crest,” an enormous 14-decked imperial Gantharian warship (Ganthar being a major kingdom on the Continent). The sailors are looking to buy food, and offer to pay in gold, or double-price in spellsalt. Gantharians being legendarily proper and polite there’s no sense of threat, so Morgan takes most of the sailors (lead by Deckmaster Rithan) goes to take to Ferris and see about buying some food.
“Bohrgun the Badly-Named” (the ship’s bosun) – stays with the other PCs to answer questions. They learn the Continental Empire nation of Curtalia, “the Grainhouse of the Empire,” has been stricken by a blight that both destroys crops and rots food in warehouses within hours. Curtalia is being avoided and quarantined, but many of the major food stores of the Empire are already infected. The King of the Crest managed not to put in at any quarantined harbors (which would have led to it being quarantined), but as a result it is seriously low on foodstuffs.
Further, the PCs are told Tidesgate is being flooded by other ships looking to buy food. Because the sea is suddenly becalmed, only ships large enough to afford a storm witch or sea warden (druid) can make it to the island easily, and those ships are too big to put in anywhere by Tidesgate or Seagrace. Most are avoiding Seagrace unless they have contacts or contracts there, so Tidesgate is being inundated with big ships.
MorganDa agrees to sell some preserved food, all for spell salt, and the Pcs get to see that he has potato cellars on his land that aren’t easily spotted (being under trap doors covered in sod and then under scattered hay and where he parks his empty wagons and large items waiting for repair.
The group then head back to Tidesgate. As they approach they see other groups of sailors from different nations (not all from the Continental empire) heading out of town, but in this case each is accompanied by someone the group recognizes as a responsible citizen of Tidesgate (often guards-for-hire). The harbor is choked with huge warships, many from distant lands that normally bypass this island when making a route along the Circle Trade, but must now be desperate for supplies. One is a huge ship with a spiked roof covering it, and rows of long oars in addition to massive ribbed sails, and is clearly not from any nation of the nearby Continent.
(Art by Juulijs)
In town, the price of food is skyrocketing in town as captains go door-to-door to buy anything people will spare, and send their men out of town to buy from farms directly (such as the Gantharian soldiers were doing). Rumor is some ship’s crews are threatening or outright stealing, while others offering to buy with spell salt at x2 to x5 food’s normal cost, and even black sugar is being used at 2/3 its normal value. Some are sending foraging parties into the plains and woods, which is technically illegal. The law is normally ignored, but there are so many now that local residents that depend on forage are beginning to run low on food, and there’s been a spike in apparent wolf and trihorn steer attacks, suggesting the sailors are stirring up trouble.
The PCs see Pottage’s Tottage has been turned into a central depository, with townsfolk bringing anything they are willing to part with to sell on consignment (and then locking their home’s doors and placing “No Thing For Sale” signs on them), while Pottage takes lists of desired items from a line of ship’s quartermasters, and makes them wait until each evening for him to say what each can buy, and at what price. The PCs grab a moment to update Pottage in private.
Then they head to Hexer Hellaina’s, to report to her. She pays them well for the information (in spell salt), and buys the black glass they got from the broken salt circle around the burial grounds (last game session). That she pays for with silver. Hellaina promises to update the Town Council.
Later, the Town Council wants to see the PCs, and confirms what Hellaina told them. In addition to Tidegate’s other issues, the council tells the PCs it’s been falling below freezing already, months before the norm, and hard freezes are expected in the next few days. The entire fall crops are in danger of being lost, and only having farmers putting out torches all night, every night, may keep that from happening.
With all this, the Tidesgate Council is spread impossibly thin by the combination of early freezes and hungry sailors. They are called on to watch the docks, keep fights from breaking out, and enforce usually-ignored laws on hoarding and cornering markets. The PCs offer to help, and the Council asks them to go to Southmount Farms, 2 days south beyond the God-Knuckle Hills. The farm is normally reliable in regular fortnightly deliveries, and now they are 4 days late. The Council sent Briarbrow Hooffoot (a cousin of Holly’s) to check it out, and he has not returned yet.
Southmount is run by the Braddoc family, who are regular suppliers of the Smoke Pine Taven, old friends of Morgan’s father and Averill’s family. They make “the Clear,” a very high ABV liquid that tastes like stale fire, which Nana Cutthroat often uses to add kick to drinks she has watered down, so people don’t realize how little of the original booze is left in the version for sale.
The PCs head out south the next day. They discuss their concern about things getting worse in town, especially if panic sets in about a lack of food, or folks sell too much of their emergency reserves and then the fall harvest falls.
As they enter the God-Knuckle Hills, they come across 5 shambler zombies, caught on a hill surrounded by a flash flood river from the heavy rains in previous weeks. They identify one of them as a farmhand at Southmount. The shamblers seem to be constantly trying to cough up something (like a hairball). The PCs jump the rushing creek and destroy the 5 shamblers. They also conclude that these are created intentionally with necromancy, not spontaneous undead that sometimes rise. The bodies seem diseased. The heroes burn them, making sure they do so in a hollow that will keep the ashed from running into the local water supply.
End Session 3.
I have a Patreon, which makes these blog posts possible. If you enjoy these posts, join my Patreon!
Gatekeeper’s Campaign for PF2, Session 2 (Part 4 of 4)
Here’s part four (of 4) of my Game Session 2 notes for my Gatekeeper’s campaign for PF2 (part one here, part two here, and part three here). The articles at the Gatekeeper Index can remind you of all the characters, backstory, rules changes, and setup, if you want a refresher.
The PCs set to camp, and a massive thunderstorm moves in (similar to ones they have been seeing for several says to the north, including producing weird green lightning bolts where one bolt strikes down, and 5 more curl up from the same point in the clouds to arc back into the sky).
While camping, Nambra and Brôg sense something while on watch. They wake everyone, and Nambra is able to identify it’s location within a few feet due to her Whisper Elf hearing, but no one can see it. Calling out to the unknown creature, it replies that they are in danger, and the PCs realize it’s the 7-legged giant spider Morgan freed from its collar. The PCs try to strike up a conversation, with Holly specifically inviting it to come talk to them on future evenings, but it proves difficult. The spider often repeats part of all of what the PCs say as its response to them, with changes in emphasis (“Are you our friend?” “AM I your friend?”). A few skill checks in, it’s decided that it really does under stand them and wants to communicate, but its grasp of their cultural norms is weak, so it tries to mimic their speech patterns as much as it can to try to be talking the way the PCs talk. After repeating “You’re in danger” a few more times, the spider flees into the night. In the morning, the PCs find the waterproof web canopy it made for itself some distance off from their camp.
In the morning, the PCs find the edge of the Eirsyus burial grounds. It’s cutoff from the rest of the forest by a roughly-30-foot-wide break in the trees and large bushes, which Averill confirms is salted earth, likely as part of an occult “firebreak” to keep the spirits of the place bound within the burial ground. The PCs can see old cairns and burial pits covered by heavy rock that must have been quarried elsewhere. They decide to walk around the burial grounds once to see what can be seen from the firebreak before going inside.
During lunch, on the forest side of the firebreak, they are attacked by a festrog which burrows up out of the earth to attack them, starting with a surprise attack just behind Averill. It is riddled with diseased pustules, boils, and supperating rashes, and the stench is nearly as bad as it’s actual attacks. The PCs defeat it, and it rots away before their eyes. The hole is crawled out of is at least 20 feet deep, and the top lined with detritus from the festrog’s diseased flesh. The PCs decide to ignore it, for now.
Walking the firebreak around the 400 or so acres of the burial grounds reveals a crater — apparently a lightning strike — that’s destroyed part of the firebreak. Within the crater are tiny black lightning-shaped buts of obsidian. Jaedyn decides to try to use salt to complete the line through the crater, but as the group adds salt, storm clouds and green glows begin to boil into existence just above them. They stop, and clear the salt they’d already added, and the clouds dissipate.
The PCs gather all they can find (using Averill’s telekinesis, rather than getting into the crater), and decide to stay here overnight, roughly 100 feet from the crater, to observe the burial grounds at night.
The first watch hears something scurrying around in the burial grounds, but can’t see it. They talk at it, and it replies, promising all sorts of information if they give it some of their blood. They need not step into the grounds… a few drops soaked onto a cloth they toss to it would suffice. The PCs refuse, and the creature scurries away.
Second watch spots a wight-with-lock-in-its-forehead, far into the burial grounds. It uproots an old, dead tree with 1 arm, and suddenly throws it at the PC’s camp. The tress explodes when it crosses the line of the firebreak, and the PCs take a little damage. The wight rushes the firebreak as the PCs deal with the fallout of the exploding trees, but it is incapable of pushing past some invisible barrier at the edge of the firebreak. The PCs try to talk to it, it demands they give it their blood, saying blood is the key, but it is eventually thrown back by the invisible barrier, deep into the burial ground, and is not seen or heard again.
The third watch hears strange howling within the burial ground, which is answered by similar howls on the forest side. This goes on for a bit, and then two volkyr (same kind of evil spirit reincarnated as wild beasts they faced yesterday) leap from the woods to attack them. Averill is nearly knocked out in a single blow, but the PCs manage to win the fight.
As dawn approaches, a few of the PCs can ear a creepy clicking, scraping noise coming from the crater. The party goes to investigate, and discovers tiny salt crystals (all 5-sided, and flickering with 5 different colors) are growing in the crater. As they grow, the crater slowly fills in with dirt. By morning, there is no longer any sign of a lightning strike having broken the line of the firebreak. The PCs aren’t sure if their presence caused that, or if it was perhaps removing the lightning obsidian that allowed the line to heal? As a test the PCs run a line of salt over where the crater was, and nothing unusual happens.
The voice of the 7-legged giant spider comes from the forest side, saying in apparent awe that they stayed on “the line” all night, and guarded it. It is now repaired, claims the spider. But when the PCs try to ask the spider questions, it just repeats (you are all in danger,” and flees.
The PCs still have unanswered questions (Why did a wight want to buy food? Who was Chandra Chase and why did she pretend to have been hired by Pottage? Who collared the 7-legged spider, why was it kidnapping people, and what are its intentions now? What caused a storm that blew a crater in the firebreak of the burial grounds? Why do groups of 5 get pulled together, and then suffer terrible fates, once a generation? What is the Underhill Grove?), but decide for now to head back with the information and materials they have gathered.
End Session 2
I have a Patreon, which makes these blog posts possible. If you enjoy these posts, join my Patreon!
Gatekeeper’s Campaign for PF2, Session 2 (Part 3)
Part three of my Game Session 2 notes for my Gatekeeper’s campaign for PF2 (part one here, and part two here). The articles at the Gatekeeper Index can remind you of all the characters, backstory, rules changes, and setup, if you want a refresher.
The PCs gather at Pottage’s Tottage, and briefly update each other on their experiences of the day. Then they go inside and, to their relief, Pottage is in fact present and willing to explain what’s going on… such as he knows it.
Pottage reveals to the PCs that while he was indeed a foundling, he was found with a trunk of possessions that Nana Cutthroat kept for him until he was a young teen, when she gave it over to him. He discovered in the trunk a family journal, which claimed his family had been moving back and forth between Tidegate and the Continent for generations, trying to solve the mystery of “The Five.”
According to that tome and the research he has done since, every generation 5 people of different backgrounds who happen to be in Tidegate are drawn together, seem to begin to engage in a mystery of some kind, and then are cursed, killed, or disappear. A few generations ago one was a member of his family, and his line has been trying to figure out what is going on ever since. Often the deaths appear to be part of something ritualistic, though it’s not always at the hands of Bloodletters. Different groups, from lone wizards to wicked gollusks, have seemed intent on killing The Five each generation.
So Pottage doesn’t know what is going on, but seeing 5 of them suddenly falling into strange events he was immediately convinced they were this generations example of an event that has ben going on for at least 200 years (since the Continental Empire absorbed Khetonnia and destroyed Eirsyus). He’s spent his whole adult life preparing to help whoever the 5 turned out to be, and now the time has come. He’s been trying to learn all he can and though he has snippets — for example, the Underhill Grove is supposedly a place or group that can aid the Five, but he doesn’t know anything else about it — the core of what causes the Five to be drawn together, and who then destroys them, and why, is still a mystery to him.
And, his shop turns out to be full of secret compartments and hidden shelves. This is where he keeps his tools, tomes, and supplies, since he spends most of his time here watching over his store. Pottage notes that there was no sign of the “new girl” Chandra Chase (who Averill and Morgan ran into), but his personal chambers above the shop, and his locked valuables storage, and his basement deep storage, and his small warehouse were all thoroughly searched and left disheveled, but there’s no sign anyone found his hidden spaces in his open-to-everyone storefront.
Jaedyn suddenly asks if Chandra was the kind of “too gorgeous for it to be normal” that might mark her as a gollusk, and while no one is sure, the idea is bookmarked for later.
Pottage can’t explain the 7-legged spider that grabbed him, though he can say it appeared to be laying in wait for him. He was trying to sneak in the back way of his shop, when he and then his employee Mac where grabbed, poisoned, and wrapped up. Upon hearing about the stranger with a lock in its forehead and red motes for eyes, he notes is sounds like a wight, and was dressed in fashion common in Eirsyus roughly 200 years ago. When shown the coins Nambra grabbed (which the wight spent), Pottage pulls out of of his secret draws which has a book on local Numismatics, and confirms they are of an old Eirysus city-state from the last days of those realms before the Continental Empire crushed them. They have only been seen in recent years in old Eirysus graves.
There is, he notes, an old Eirysus burial ground roughly a day north at the southern tip of the eastern edge of the Wildwood. Upon consulting a map, Morgan confirms that was the direction the giant spider dashed off to when it fled out of town. Although they can’t be as perceive, Jaedyn and Holly also note the wight seemed to be going that way when it turns into smoke.
The PCs agree they are going to go check out the old Eirysus burial grounds, to see if they can find more info. They want to leave in the morning, but Pottage suggests they get out of town now, before the town council can decide to order them to stay here until things are all sorted out. The group decides to go to Morgan’s father’s farm, one of many within a couple hours of Tidegate, stay there for the night, and set out at first light. Pottage promises to do more research about the giant spider and the sigil on its back, and the wight.
The PCs make it safely to Morgan’s father’s farm, where those who have never been before are a bit surprised by its architecture. The entire farm is walled with a stone wall taller than a typical human, which is rare but not unknown, and the main farmhouse and neighboring barn are stone with slate roofs. It is known Morgan’s father left the island years ago, before Morgan was born, because his original home burned down, so mostly his sturdy, stone construction is attributed to that (and, perhaps, the adventuring money he made while he was gone). The farmhouse is big enough that 20 could live there long-term, and 100 people shelter in it, but it’s just home to Morgan and his father at the moment. It has 2 indoor baths with copper water tanks you can heat with a fire, a huge kitchen, and apparently multiple cellars with extensive emergency supplies.
(Morgan’s Fathers House… sorta. The roof should be slate tiles, and wall taller, the gate sturdier, and the windows all narrower and with heavy shutters. But, you know, other than that… Art by Midge9282)
Hearing that they might be tracking a wight, Morgan’s father does two things. First, he tells them if they run into a wight, they should run immediately. Secondly, he gives them a glass bottle totally wrapped in a wicker cover. he says it’s Vingarian Brandy – from Vingarie, on the Continent. Supposedly helps with level loss and doom from contact with undead (“brings warmth back into your soul”). He doesn’t know if it’s true, but it seems worth trying if they get in trouble.
The next day the PCs head north. Since there is no path or road directly to the burial grounds, they must us exploration activities to arrive without getting lost or delayed. Everyone is able to do so except Averill, who just shrugs and follows along when he thinks north is one direction, and everyone else believes it’s the exact opposite way.
Late in the day, the group is attacked by a volkyr — a vicious creature that looks like a cross between a wolf and a wolverine and has flat, all-black eyes. Local lore claims volkyr are reincarnated evil spirits –not born nor breeding like typical animals, but fel souls of mortals that step full-grown out of unlit places to cause pain and misery. The creature begins the fight with a charge, and nearly drops Morgan in a single blow. But the group is able to fight it off, and afterward patch up Morgan.
By then, it’s dusk, and the party decides to camp and continue on to the burial grounds in the morning.
End of Part 3.
I have a Patreon, which makes these blog posts possible. If you enjoy these posts, join my Patreon!
Gatekeeper’s Campaign for PF2, Session 2 (Part 2)
Part two of my Game Session 2 notes for my Gatekeeper’s campaign for PF2 (part one here). The articles at the Gatekeeper Index can remind you of all the characters, backstory, rules changes, and setup, if you want a refresher.
Morgan quickly climbs up to the top of Pottage’s Tottage, and sees a Large spider with a face he realizes matches the one he saw looking over the edge. It has struggling people-sized silk bundles webbed to its hind legs, a bright red sigil on its back, and seems to naturally have just 7 legs (4 on the left, 3 on the right). The spider sees him, covers itself in a fog cloud that moves with it, and jumps away to another roof. Morgan follows town protocol by raising an alarm (screaming “MONSTER! GIANT SPIDER!”), and goes after it. (Chase Rules)
Averill tries to follow from the ground and raise the alarm.
Meanwhile, the PCs at the Smoke Pine Taven are passing out food bundles. The system is simple, a line forms by the counter. Everyone throws down a couple of copper and gets a bundle. But Jaedyn sees a figure she does not know, who is wearing a cloak, completely covering their hands with its edge and totally covering their head with its hood. While it’s not unusual for shy strangers to come in off a ship, one being that covered is odd and with the recent weirdness makes Jaedyn suspicious. She opts to hand it a food bundle in a way that causes it to fall at the last second, hoping to get the creature to look up to grab it. (Thievery check) This succeeds, and she sees it has a desiccated face, a lock built into its forehead (like the front of a padlock), and it’s eyes are hollow black pits, with tiny bright red motes of light far, far back within the eye sockets.
It hisses at her, and runs to exist the Smoke Pine.
Jaedyn throws a knife in an effort to pin its hood to a wall so it is jerked back and its face is revealed. She succeeds, and the whole cloak comes off. The desiccated creature flees out into the street. Holly grabs its food and runs after it. Nambra takes this opportunity to conceal herself from anyone in the Smoke Pine, especially the cats. Jaedyn grabs the dropped cloak, the runs after Holly.
Holly wants to get ahead of the fleeing figure (Chase Rules), and eventually does so. She offers it the food pack, saying it’s done nothing wrong. It crouches and replies “Give me your BLOOD!” Taken aback, Holly refuses, and the creature turns into smoke and flies away faster than be followed.
It begins to rain.
Morgan is chasing the jumping cloud of fog that has a giant spider in it, while Aervill tries to rally people in the streets below. Eventually Morgan catches up to it and, since the fog is made of water vapor, tries to access his water powers (sending a hero point) to dispel it. that succeeds, and the spider creature seems surprised. Getting a better look at it, Morgan sees it has a black collar around its neck, with inward-bent hooks that dig at the spider’s flesh and cause trails of smoke to trail upward from the contact. Morgan tries to access his water powers again, succeeds, and uses them to form curved blades of ice that cut the collar free of the spider creature.
The spider gasps, drops the two figures strapped to its legs, looks at Morgan and chokes out “You’re in DANGER!” Then, it flees.
Morgan cuts the two figures loose, discovering they are Pottage and Mac. He and Averill get back together, and Pottage comes to enough to say he’d like his return to be kept secret for now. Morgan and Averill agree, and happen to mention the new woman working at the Tottage, Chandra Chase, didn’t know he was back yet. Pottage is concern because he hasn’t hired anyone new, and doesn’t know a Chandra. Pottage promises to meet them in a bit at the Tottage, but asks if and can they get Mac to Hexer Helaina, since he’s not recovering as fast. They agree, and while Morgan takes Mac to Hellaina, he sends Averill to go get Jaedyn, Holly, and Nambra and bring them to the Tottage as well.
Nambra, as it happens, noticed the two coins the desiccated figure used to buy food looked different from any others she’s seen, and exchanges them for two coins of her own. Holly and Jaedyn come back in, noting the figure disappeared. Nana Cutthroat comes up to them and hears the description, and says it sounds like a wight. She is asked if wights are common in Tidegate, and affirms they are not. There was one wight captain who couldn’t set foot off his ship that used to come to port now and then, and they allowed it, but it turned out he had a plot to have his ship carried by millions of tiny crabs, and then a holy knight from the Continental Empire showed up and destroyed him.
But, Nana Cutthroat notes, this cloak seems older than that. She gives it a deep sniff, then suddenly says she must talk to the council, and rushed off into the rain, with the cloak.
And just then, Averill shows up, and explains why they should go to the Tottage.
End Part 2.
I have a Patreon, which makes these blog posts possible. If you enjoy these posts, join my Patreon!
Gatekeeper’s Campaign for PF2, Session 2 (Part 1)
As long as there is interest, I’ll keep posting Game Session notes for my Gatekeepers game for PF2. Due to work, illness, holidays, and one players dedication to seeing a single specific college football game every year (Bedlam), it’s been a long time since session 1.
The articles at the Gatekeeper Index can remind you of all the characters, backstory, rules changes, and setup, if you want a refresher.
The day after taking Hexer Hellaina to the ruined tower outside of town, the PCs want to go talk to Pottage, since he seemed to know what was going on. But, they discover, while they were out all day with Hellaina, the Town Council sent Pottage to Seagrace, to bring the Duchess of tides a report on the recent events around Tidegate. It’s expected to be a week or so round trip. Pottage is often sent on such trips, as he has people he trusts to run his store without him (Pottage’s Tottage), has no other official duties in town, lacks family that might need him, and is younger than other councilors who might otherwise be free to make the trip.
The PCs go about their lives. Holly spends time focusing on the strange new elemental energy she accessed n the first session. So does Morgan, though he does so through the sword exercises his ex-adventurer father taught him. Jaedyn practices with the amazing rapier Nana Cutthroat seems to have just had sitting around to give her. Nambra hunts. Averill puts in extra shifts as a telekinetic dock worker.
It remains an unusually stormy fall.
After a week the PCs get together at the Smoke Pine Taven, and discuss what to do. Pottage should be back now, but no one has seen him. Several PCs notice that Guster, one of the most stand-offish of the semiferal cats that hang around the Smoke Pine stays near Holly, which is unusual. He is also recently well-brushed, and that’s unusual. He’s the same cat that sat on Holly in Session 1 when the PCs warmed by the fireplace in the common room. The PCs wonder if he is a spy for a local witch?
With a major storm threatening, they decide to have Averill and Morgan go to Pottage’s Tottage to see if he’s back, or if his employees have an eta. Meanwhile, the storm looks to have winds strong enough to blow cinders back into the homes of people with simple, cheap chimneys. That means lots of folks will be coming to the Smoke Pine to grab packs of food wrapped in cheesecloth, so they can eat cooked food but close the flue on their fireplaces for the storm, so the other PCs stick around to see if Guster eventually leaves the Smoke Pine, so they can follow him.
Upon arriving at Pottage’s Tottage, Averill and Morgan see Mac, a human who works for Pottage and is famous for moving and talking slowly, battening down the window shutters. The front door is open, so they go in, and encounter a gorgeous young woman they have never seen before. She says her name is Chandra Chace, is very friendly, and says Pottage hasn’t returned yet. So, the two PCs head back out… and Morgan notices he’s hearing shutters around the back of the building bang continuously in the wind. Mac should be able to secure a shutter quickly, so the fact this is still banging is weird. Morgan finds Mac’s prints in the soft earth around the shop, and follows them around to the back where they lead up to the banging shutter and just… stop.
Morgan looks up at the top of the shop, and for a spilt second sees a lumpy, hair-covered face with two giant round black eyes and… fangs? But the face, twice the size of a human’s, ducks back behind the ridgeline of the roof just as Morgan spots it.
End Part 1. I’ll get to part Two tomorrow.
I have a Patreon, which makes these blog posts possible. If you enjoy these posts, join my Patreon!
Nasty Trick Ideas for ttRPGs #BadMoodGameDesign
Sometimes, I’m in a bad mood but the writing must flow. If I can, I try to channel my bad mood into writing that might benefit from a harsh attitude. Sometimes that means writing a whole monster or villain’s plot. Sometimes it just means jotting down a thought or two and trying to get the vindictive part of my mood expunged before moving on to other things. In this latter case, I often end up with just one or two things in my ideas folder, waiting for me to use them.
But my #BadmoodGameDesign ideas list is getting pretty full, so I thought I take some of those concepts out and offering them up as prompts for GMs and adventure writers to springboard off of. I’m starting with ideas for Nasty Tricks to sprinkle into a ttRPG campaign. However, be warned. Nasty tricks are like salt and pepper. A little can make a bland offerings better, but too much ruins it.
We’ll start with a look at three classics of the nasty trick ouvre.
(Art by czitrox)
Self-Aware Villains: Look, if trolls are only vulnerable to fire and they aren’t mindless, they’re going to try to mitigate that vulnerability. Now, sure, a troll could work with a sorcerer able to cast antifire protection spells on it. But it could also only attack merchants crossing a narrow bride (so it can stand in the creek during the fight), or raid farms only during rainstorms, or have a lair in a wet cave behind a waterfall, and so on.
This isn’t limited to feudal fantasy concepts. If Omegaman is sickened by the radiation of Omeganite, he should have an armored radiation suit to protect him. If Mechamen can be shut down by gold dust being jammed into their cooling ports they should wear air filters (even though they don’t need to breathe). If Mrs. Sdrawkcabtiyas is banished if she says her own name backwards, maybe she wires her jaw shut.
Pick any foe with a weakness, and think about how it can be reduced.
Wound Traps: Use your games normal rules for traps or hazards, but the “trap” is a person or creature’s injury. This might be a cruel lure, where a harmless or cute animal or innocent person is intentionally injured and left where foes of the trapper find them, or a combat complication where a specific form of attack leaves all its wounds trapped. The easiest way to explain a trapped wound is a curse of some kind, but real-world concepts such as having a wounded person lay on or near a mine or grenade that goes off if anyone gets near them.
Note that if you use the hidden trap version of this nasty trick for more than one story arc, your players are going to quite reasonably insist on searching for traps anytime anyone or anything needs help, and that can slow the game to a crawl. On the other hand, if you use attacks that cause trapped wounds the PCs know about but just have to deal with, healing-focused characters may feel picked on.
Xanatos Gambits: Yep, taken from the TV Trope, and inspired by the trope’s name-giver, a Xanatos Gambit is a villain’s plot where all possible outcomes benefit the villain, so no act by the heroes/PCs can harm the villain. For obvious reasons these are HARD to set up as a GM, frustrating for players (as, done properly, they leave the players with no win conditions), and can blow up in unexpected ways if the Pcs start trying tothnk outside the box and risk doing soemthing, anything, thegambit-creator didn;t foresee.
Here’s an example of a typical Xanato Gambit – The main villain tricks a major agent of an opposing villain to carry out crimes that benefit the main villain. If the PCs don’t stop the agent, the crimes benefit the main villain as planned. If they do stop the agent, the opposing villain is weakened without the main villain risking resources or exposure. If the the PCs reveal the main villain is behind the new orders, the agent realizes if they are found out by their original boss they’ll be killed as traitors, so they begin working for the main villain.
In my experience, this kind of nasty trick often works best as legend/background. If Lady Needle is well-known for pulling off this kind of gambit, and the players learn of some such she has used to her benefit against other people before they came along, it can make the players cautious and nervous when going up against her. If they are clever enough, by all means let their efforts to find unexpected outcomes pay off.
But if they Leeroy Jenkins everything even after hearing about Lady Needle’s webs of planning?
If you are reading this, maybe you’d like to consider supporting more blog posts like this (and then asking for more System Agnostic GM Advice) by pledging a small amount to my Patreon?
Spicing Up ttRPG Combats: Local Benefits and Drawbacks
One way to make combat encounters more interesting is to add local features that can affect the course of the battle. Regardless of game system and whether using maps and miniatures, vtts, or theater of the mind, you can make a simple attack by brigands (or mob enforcers, walking tanks, dragons, or whatever lese works in your campaign) more complex and memorable by adding quicksand, tar pits, rickety bridges, vines, dense underbrush, boulders, eldritch altars, holy sites, traps, fog, and dozens of other elements.
Today I am going to discuss two kinds of elements — local benefits, and local drawbacks.
A Local Benefit: Anything that makes the PCs’ easier, but only in part of an encounter or only in limited ways. The most common examples of this in ttRPG adventures are concealment, cover, and holy auras, and those are great places to start. These can be ad hoc ( a pile of rocks that characters can get on top of or crouch behind), or more explicitly set up (an old ruined defensive wall still has a single one-person crenelated tower a archer or spellcaster can take cover within, and only two easily-guarded stairs grant access to it, allowing melee-focused characters to intercept foes trying to reach the tower top). Local benefits can be as simple as having the high ground or an easily defensible position, or as complex as a narrow zone on the map that can be seen by an allied sniper, fighting fire elementals in the rain, or having a space where PCs can set up traps and extra supplies in advance.
A Local Drawback: Anything that makes the PCs’ lives more difficult, but only in part of the encounter or only in a limited way. While things like monstrous spider webs, difficult or slippery terrain, enemies with cover, traps, and unholy magical auras are fairly common in ttRPG adventures, it’s possible to spread well beyond these examples For example, fighting in a cave behind a waterfall can drown out all sound, or fighting full amphibious foes around a deep, black pool they can easily see and move through but the PCs (or at least most of them) can’t.
It’s true that anything that counts as a local benefit for the heroes can be reversed to be a local drawback, but look out for things that seem local but are actually the only location the majority of the action is going to happen. A fight with a staircase on the field might well lead to a few interesting combat moments, but if the fight is focused almost entirely on getting up or down those stairs, they go from a regional effect to the majority of the terrain used in the encounter. There’s nothing conceptually wrong with that, but it can greatly magnify the impact the added element has on both overall fun and the outcome of the encounter
This Blog Made Possible by Patreon!
All my articles are possible due to support from my patrons, and many are suggested by those patrons! If you want to encourage more game-system-agnostic encounter-building advice, or ask for something else, or just stick some money in a tip jar, check out my Patreon!
Root of the Problem (A Pathfinder 1e Mini-Adventure)
I recently applied for a full-time, remote, full-benefits, game writing position at Foundry. (One thing I have learned in this industry is that you need to keep up with changing needs and markets.) While I didn’t make the final cut, I did get far enough along to do a timed writing test. I was given instructions at 10am by email, and had to return my work by noon. The test called for an adventure in any game system I wished, that included a missing druid as part of the plot and at minimum one encounter that included investigation, one that included talking to an NPC, and one that was potentially a fight. The main prompt was “The wilderness surrounding a remote town has become perilous. Wildlife that previously avoided contact with humans is now overcome with some form of madness or disease, attacking townsfolk with reckless ferocity. A local druid and longtime protector of the region has gone missing. The protagonists are tasked with investigating the nature of this affliction and resolving it, if possible.”
Obviously, with just two hours for a complete adventure I just managed a “first draft” level of manuscript. But I thought people might be interested in what a produced. So, with Foundry’s express permission, here is “Root of the Problem,” a Pathfinder 1st -edition Mini-Adventure for 3-4 characters of 1st level. By Owen K.C. Stephens.
(Art by Chaotic Design Studio, and not part of the original writing test)
The Crosstimbers are a dense and ancient forest, filled with towering evergreen trees that rise up to 300 feet tall, smaller trees that grow in clumps so tight that their limbs cross and weave together to form natural platforms, and dense, thorny underbrush that is often impassable to anything larger than a rabbit. They are also the site of an ancient battle thousands of years ago, between a powerful necromancer queen and a court of faeries. Though relics of this battle are mostly buried deep beneath the roots and moss of the forest, their influence can sometimes reach up to the surface level.
One such ancient power is the Grave of Lord Vaugir, also known as the Baron of Stakes. A powerful wight warrior who served the necromancer queen, Vaugir had a particular hatred of vampires (even those who were theoretically his allies), and carried a number of wooden stakes he used to both unsure those he killed would not raise as vampires naturally, and to destroy any vampire he could successfully accuse of treachery to their queen. Lord Vaugir was slain by a group of faerie Swan Knights, and buried in a stone tomb hundreds of feet below the surface. While Vaugir himself remains trapped in the tomb, a few roots of one redwood have cracked one corner of his burial vault, and been tainted by his undead powers.
This influence has not gone unnoticed, as the dwarven druid Ferron Ironbark has long known one of the Crosstimber’s mighty trees was fighting some dread infection. Ironbark has monitored the tree for decades, doing his best to heal and nurture it in the hopes it would overcome what ailment was attacking it. However, at the last new moon, the necromantic energy finally took control of one of the redwood’s roots right at the surface becoming the Grave Root and, when Ferron came to visit it, it impaled him through the heart. Ferron’s apprentice, a brownie named Rumpleridge, managed to drag Ferron back to the druid’s grove, and has watched over the body to ensure it won’t rise as some form of undead.
The Grave Root still does not control more than one short length of the redwood it is attached to. It cannot free itself, and cannot, yet, taint the entire massive tree it’s attached to. However, it can reach a spring adjacent to where the redwood grows, and has been tainting that water for a month now. The spring is a common watering hole for native fauna, which are also being tainted by the Grave Root’s power. This makes them ravenously hungry and much more aggressive than usual, but also causes them to work together and not attack one another regardless of the natural instincts.
Not far from Ferron’s grove is the town of Highmoss-On-The-Hill (often just referred to as “Highmoss”), a walled settlement just outside the Crosstimbers. The people of Highmoss have long been on good terms with Ferron, and work to maintain a sustainable relationship with the Crosstimbers. They gather herbs and wild mushrooms, hunt only as much food as they can eat, drag out dead timber for their own use, and make sure any foray into the forest is able to come home before nightfall. While an occasional attack by minor monsters or wild animals is not unknown, in the past month anyone who stays in the Crosstimbers for more than 2-3 hours has suffered an attack by wolves, wolverines, a bear, or even packs of apparently-rabid squirrels. No one has seen Ferron (and the town is unaware he has died), and in recent days some townsfolk have been attacked within sight of Highmoss’s walls, not even within the Crosstimbers.
The Town Council has decided someone must venture into the Crosstimbers are travel to Ferron’s Grove, a 6-hour trip down a well-known path, and speak to the druid. This group should confer with Ferron, determine what is going on, and if possible assist him in fixing it. The more experienced hunters in town who would normally undertake such a missing are missing or too injured from wildlife attacks to attempt it, so the PCs have been chosen to do so. It is the height of summer, and daylight lasts 15 hours from sunup to sundown. If the PCs hurry it is hoped they can enter the Crosstimbers at dawn, consult with Ferron, solve the issue, and return before sundown.
Wandering around the Crosstimbers is genuinely much more dangerous than usual, and there’s a chance the PCs may encounter some of the fauna that has been affected by the water tainted by the Grave Root. Until the water source is cleaned, for each hour the PCs are exploring the Crosstimbers there is a 20% chance of the PCs being confronted by one of following random
encounters. That chance doubles at night, and is halved if the PCs have been confronted by an
encounter in the past hour.
[Insert CR ½-1 random animal encounters here]
The Dead Hunter
The trail is marred by the smell of blood and signs of a vicious fight. Torn leather and cloth are scattered about, and a few tufts of black fur sit matted in old pools of blood.
This is the location where a Highmoss senior hunter, Apaxus Longshank, was attacked and killed by a pack of black wolves tainted by the spring next to the Grave Root. His body was dragged off the trail when they ate him, and a DC 10 Survival check to track or DC 15 Perception check to spot signs of the drag marks can locate him.
Examining the body show bite marks that can be identified as wolves, but the more significant clues are on Longshank’s own weapons. He fought with a masterwork handaxe and shortsword, which are still clutched in what’s left of his hands. They are bloody from the fight, but the blood is streaked with dark, oily slime. A DC 10 Knowledge (religion) check reveals this is necroplasm, a material sometimes used in place of blood by undead creatures. Finding it mixed with actual blood suggests the attacking wolves had been tainted by undead energy, but not yet true undead.
The Grove of Ferron Ironbark
The dense canopy of leaves and branches above break open, and light shines down to reveals a small, neat grove just off the path. There is a round hut with neatly fitted stone walls, a low, wide wooden door, and a roof apparently made of interwoven tree leaves and needles. A firepit sits in the middle of the clearing, with a wooden framework holding a small iron cauldron and
kettle side-by-side above it, but there is no fire now.
To one side of the clearing a neat pile of rocks has been build in an elongated dome roughly five feet long and three feet high. Laying next to it is a short humanoid, no taller than a human’s knee, with a bulbous head topped with a pointed felt cap.
This is the grove of Ferron Ironbark, but now it is his burial place. The brownie Rumpleridge build a stone cairn for his teacher and friend Ferron, and guards it all day and night. Rumpleridge won’t notice or acknowledge the PCs unless they call out to him, and even then, he’s slow to realize who they are or what they want. But eventually his enormous tear-streaked eyes will focus on them, and he’ll answer their questions as best he can. Rumpleridge wants to honor his teacher’s alliance with Highmoss, but is unwilling to leave the cairn for any reason. He plans to stay here through the summer and fall, and only come winter will he consider moving on.
Rumpleridge knows the general backstory of the Crosstimbers, but not the details of Lord Vaugir’s tomb or creeping influence. He does know Ferron was convinced some ancient, deeply buried evil was tainting a specific redwood an hour from the grove, at a major watering hole, and that a root from that tree impaled the druid. He gets tearful when he admits he saw the event,
and that it took all his strength and cunning to drag Ferron back home, and bury him.
Rumpleridge knows animals are going rogue, and can confirm that behavior began when Ferron was killed. It doesn’t occur to Rumpleridge that the Grave Root is infecting the nearby watering hole, but he does mention the infected redwood is “By the main watering hole in this section of woods,” and if a PC asks if the watering hole could be the source of the problem, Rumpleridge agrees the animals becoming vicious are all ones that would periodically drink there. As Ferron had been checking on the tainted redwood for decades, there is a well-worn path leading from the clearing here to the watering hole.
If attacked or pushed too hard to render aid, Rumpleridge will use his brownie powers to harass and confuse the PCs, but he won’t risk harming them. If he must, he flees into the Crosstimbers, and only returns to the cairn after the PCs have left.
The Grave Root
A large pond sits in a low point in the forest, a short outcropping of rocks surrounding it to the north and west, and the roots of a mighty redwood bordering it to the south and east. The surface of the pond’s water seems oily and black, with dark swirls spinning within it though there seems to be no breeze or current to cause the movement. At the southern edge of the pond, one root among the masses is darker, wetter, and more gnarled than the others, it’s 10-15 foot length pulsing slightly. The tip of the root moves, dipping itself into the pool to release a black ooze that joins the oily darkness covering all the water. The root then curls up, rising like a wooden tentacle, and sways back and forth.
The Grave Root uses the stats for a Draugir (HP 19, Bestiary 2), but with the following changes.
It has 15 feet of reach. It is immobile. It can fire a hunk of its own rotting bark as a target as a ranged attack that uses its slam attack, but has a range increment of 20 feet.
If the Grave Root notices the PCs, it immediately attacks. If destroyed, it breaks down into rotting mulch, and the oily blackness begins to clear from the water (taking 2-3 hours to be fully gone). If a PC drinks the water before it is clear, they are immediately confused and affected by the rage spell for 1d10 minutes.
The oily material on the pond is necroplasm, and PCs who found Longshank’s body can identify it as the same as was in the blood on his weapons. Without the Grave root, the water will run clear within hours, and the tainted animals return to normal within a few days.
Continuing the Adventure
Dealing with the Grave Root eliminated the immediate problem, but the risk presented by Lord Vaugir’s tomb remains. Striking up a friendship with Rumpleridge can help explore the region and safely travel further into the Crosstimbers. Seeking a senior member of the faerie court that claims rulership over the forest may reveal the true nature of the evils buried beneath it, and
lead to finding and dealing with Lord Vaugir, and other threats like him.
Supported by Patreon!
All my articles are possible due to support from my patrons, and many are suggested by those patrons! If you want to encourage more micro-adventures or PF1 content, or just stick some money in a tip jar, check out my Patreon!
A PF2 NPC Idea, an Arboreal: Old Witch Hazel
I’ve had the dreaded scheduling conflict eat the past couple of Saturday games, and the next few don’t look good either, so no new session posts for my Gatekeeper’s campaign for PF2 for a while. But I am still jotting down PF2 ideas when they come to me, especially those that feel like they might make for interesting encounters or adventureplots.
I don’t know that this one will ever make it into the campaign, but if so I’ll list this to my Gatekeeper’s campaign index.
Old Witch Hazel
Also known as Grantha Mountain-Ash and Quickbeam Lament, Old Witch Hazel is legendarily old and grumpy arboreal (sometimes called a “treant” by locals) that appears to be a moss-covered, partially burned rowan tree, possibly wrapped around a larger, even older tree, with foliage and berries in states representing all 4 seasons. Old Witch Hazel can supposedly be bribed to teach occult and primal magic secrets, but no one knows anyone who has ever successfully done so. The treant is also known to oppose hags, skelm, and evil fey. While a few folks say this is also just rumor and myth, there are dozens of people who will attest to having seen Old Witch Hazel drive such creatures away from small farm communities, roads, and peaceful groves.
Old Witch Hazel is also well-known for thrashing younger humanoids, apparently for no reason. Such attacks always take place outside of settlements, and many adults claim that clearly the treant is warning adolescents away from dangerous creatures or punishing them for bad behavior or violating some secret tree-pace, perhaps without knowing it. Those that have been beaten by Old Witch Hazel protect their innocence, claiming they had done nothing and gone nowhere to invite such treatment.
When Old Witch Hazel attacks youngsters, all its attacks are nonlethal(taking the normal -2 to its attacks for dealing nonlethal damage). It also often throws clusters of rotting berries, which act like moderate water bombs (except they smell worse). If any target attempts to protect someone Old Witch Hazel was attacking, the treant always switches to the defender, ignoring the old target as long as it doesn’t make new attacks. After everyone has been hit at least once, or anyone knocked unconscious, Old Witch Hazel lets them flee, and wanders off into the nearest woods.
I have a Patreon, which makes these blog posts possible. If you enjoy these posts, join my Patreon!