Category Archives: Adventure Sketch

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)

Adventure Background
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.

Random Encounters
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.

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My Personal Head Canon on Transformers Combiners

Now that I have made a character for Jacob Blackmon’s upcoming Transformers RPG (though in my case, I made a Joe), I have been thinking about the multiverse of Transformers stories, including multiple animated series (and multiple continuities within some of the series), movies, comics, games, and so on, and what I take away from them to form my own personal, preferred versin of a history and reality for those characters and stories.

And, weirdly, combiners. So, here’s my personal headcanon, for editorial purposes, with no challenge to anyone’scopyright. Also, this article is not Open Content, and is not covered by the OGL.

For my own head canon, I always wanted there to be a total of 3 true gestalt combiners with hard reasons why they aren’t in every battle, and more aren’t made.And it all begins with one of my favorite Autbots, Omega Supreme.

Omega Supreme was a proto-combiner, able to form multiple elements outside of his robot form but still a single Autobot consciousness. Though extremely powerful, he was built long before the Cybertronian Civial War as a true military weaponand thus requires vast amounts of Energon to be active. Ancient and one of the most dangerous of all Cybertronians, his vast Energon needs when in action meant he could only be called on in extreme situations.

Even so, countering Omega Supreme remains a top priority for the Decepticons. When Starscream finds ancient Progenitor Ur-Matrix Tech from the Lost Age of Cybertron, he decides (in order to counter Omega Supreme and prove his superiority to Megatron), to creates a group of new Decepticons who can combine their power to form a mega-Transformer. These are the Constructicons, and when combined into Devastator they are more powerful than Omega Supreme. However, Megatron was able to blow Devastator back into their component parts (not a trick anyone else has ever mastered), and thus the Constructicons accept Megatron as their leader, ending Starscreams bid for power. Devastator remains a major power for the Decepticons, but the Constructions don’t like each other, dislike becoming Devastator, and like Omega Supreme tend to run out of Energon when in Devastator form. Megatron tries to keep them in reserve for pivitol moments in battle.

To counter Devastator, Optimus Prime uses the Autobot Matrix of Leadership to create Autobots for the first time, focusing entirely on bravery, loyalty, and raw power. These turn out to be the primal Dinobots. Though not combiners, they are extremely rugged and as a group they have a fair track record against Devastator. Additionally they are no more Energon-expending than standard Transformers, allowing them to be involved in action regularly, though Optimus often trusts them with defensive positions, where they can be called up to stop Devastator if necessary.

Now in possession of the Progenitor Ur-Matrix Tech found by Starscream, and wishing to create a super-weapon more than a match for either Omega Supreme or the Dinobots, Megatron orders Shockwave to build a war-machine combiner group. These are the Combaticons, who form the extremely powerful (and Energon efficient) Bruticus. However, while the Combaticons are loyal to Megatron and Shockwave, and Bruticus can operate for long periods of time, Bruticus turns out to be a berserker nearly as likely to smash ally as foe. Again, this somewhat limits the cicumstances in which he can be deployed.

Knowing the Decepticons would use whatever they had to create combiners to try again, Bumblebee infiltrated Shockwave’s labs, and recorded the Combiner-creation process. Stealing the very last of the Progenitor Ur-Matrix Tech and returning it to the Autobots, the group’s best minds (including Perceptor and Wheeljack) design the Aerialbots, who can combine to become Superion. Superion is as energon-efficient as Bruticus, and mentally stable, but not nearly as powerful. Superion is a major threat to the majority of lone cybertronians, but can’t match the raw power of any other combiner.

Lacking the ancient Progenitor Ur-Matrix Tech, no other full gestalt combiners can currently be created, though a few efforts have resulted in 2-robot combiners, headmasters, triple-changes, vehicle-mode combiners (where several robot forms combine into one large vehicle, generally a starcraft or ship), City-Class Transformers, and multipart Cybertronians (where one personality can split into multiple smaller robot forms, all still part of the same mind).

And there’s my entirely-personal preferred Transformers Combiner head-canon.

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Storytime: The Insane 20-Person, 14-Hour, Multiple ttRPG Game System Adventure I Played In At WorldCon 1984

Over the weekend I was reminiscing about my first big convention, the 42nd WorldCon when I was 13 years old, and how I wandered around by myself in LA with hundreds of dollars for most of a week. For those curious about the whole post, it’s at the end of this blog entry.

But one of the things I have gotten the most feedback on from that story was mentioning I played in a “20-player, 14-hour game of mixed Basic/Expert D&D, 1st ed AD&D, 2nd ed Boot Hill, & Metamorphosis Alpha.” And, yeah, that was pretty crazy. Several people have asked me to talk more about that game, and it was darn near 40 years ago, but I’ll give a quick rundown to the best of my recollection.

There were lots of “Open Gaming” rooms at the 1984 WorldCon, spread over numerous hotels, which were set aside for people to just organize their own game sessions. I am sure there were organized tournaments and scheduled games as well, but I didn’t interact with that end of things at all (and still rarely do). Instead, I had a backpack with my favorite characters, a bunch of dice, some snacks, and a couple of rulebooks, and looked for people interested in striking up an ad hoc game. That was how gaming had been handled in the tiny convention that was my first taste of cons in Norman the year before, so that was what I expected to be the “standard.”

And, there was a pretty robust 24/7 gaming scene in at least one of the hotels, and I got a few games in. But the one I remember best started about 5-6pm, I think on Thursday (might have been Friday), and came together because a charismatic young man (I thought of him as “an adult” at the time, I’d guess now he was somewhere in his 20s, likely college-aged) stood on a chair in one of the biggest open-game rooms, and shouted he would run a game for any number of people, allowing any characters, from any game system, all together.

There was a lot of slack-jawed disbelief, but when he started setting up multiple fishing tackle boxes of dice, miniatures, and terrain, a bunch of us got interested and went over to see what was up. There were 20 of us players (give or take), and only 3 open round banquet tables in the room. I mentioned there were spare tables a couple of floors down and a young woman (older than me, but I thought not by much — I do not remember her name… I don’t think though it might have been Susan, but she had what I thought was an adorable Canadian accent) said we should go steel them. And she was leading the mission, because she was going to playing an Expert Thief.

So a few of went with her, rode an escalator down one level, cleared and grabbed two round tables no one seemed to be using, rolled them down the hall, had 2-person teams brace them on the escalator for a ride up, and rolled them down to the game room.

The GM had the now 5 tables arranged in a circle, stored his stuff on the floor under them, stood in the middle, and explained the game. First, he really meant any character, any game system. We each got to do one thing in a round, and he’d deal with each of us in our native game system. If there was one monster, the Metamorphasis Alpha characters would fire gyrojet rounds at it, the various D&D players swing swords and fling spells, and the Boot Hill gang (all of one table IIRC) could fan revolvers and unload shotguns. I’m pretty sure he played fast and loose with the rules, all the rules, but it never interfered with the game.

I played a high-level cleric who worshipped Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel, and carried said saint’s cudgel as an artifact. There were several D&D characters of various editions and classes, a flying psychic telekinetic blue whale and it’s ally a white 4-armed gorilla covered in chitinous armor plates, a Boot Hill outlaw gang (maybe called the Broken Trestle Gang?), and I am absolutely forgetting several folks.

The GM got straight to the set-up, explaining that each of us had a dream where we were told by a wispy voice that only we could save everything, and the End was coming to destroy the Demiurges, destroying all of reality, and we had to stop it. And then our characters woke up on an island covered in various ship, train, and carriage wrecks, with a huge ruby tower at the center. We roleplayed introductions briefly, dealt with the fact several characters thought they were still dreaming (or had gone mad, or were high on bad moonshine, or all of the above)… and then just as we were trying to figure out who would be in charge and what we were going to do, creatures that looked like the garthim from the Dark Crystal came wading out of the water to attack us, and they had small turrets on their shells with machine guns in them.

It was quickly clear that if you didn’t have cover, the machine guns would chew you up. And if you did have cover, the guns would chew it up in a few rounds. So we tried to cover each other and fell back toward the ruby tower. But we couldn’t get in the front door. So, the flying blue whale told us all to climb on board it, and it flew up the tower… and through a big crack in the sky.

And we went reality-hopping on a psychic mutant blue whale. If someone’s character died, they ran to go grab food (we all pitched in), then usually came back to watch, at least for a few hours.

I absolutely can’t remember everything that happened. We stayed up all night, eating cold pizza and drinking warm Pepsi, and I had the time of my life. There were undead WWII battleships, living “evil eyes” that would fly into the wound of a dead person to become a “third eye” and possess them, floating islands, reality and alternate planes curling back on each other, and at least a little time was spent in fantasy, Old West, and Generation Ship in Space settings. One of the D&D rogues ended up with a sawed-off Boot Hill shotgun. One of the Boot Hill gang members got a ray gun from Metamorphasis Alpha. The psychic blue whale sacrificed itself to save us when a spiked ghost train attacked us in the Astral Plane by crashing into it head-on, while an AD&D wizard riding it broke his Staff of the Magi on its cowcatcher.

We worked out that The End wanted all our worlds to stop existing, and had discovered our worlds all existed because the Demiurges willed them to, and all the Demiurges were gathered in one place, and it was going to kill them, but we could stop it. And the flying eyes all belonged to an extradimensional creature that served as a lookout for the End. It had a weird name, like “That Which Disapproves,” though I doubt that’s exactly right.

We played all evening, all night, and well into the next morning. Character after character died, but we knew it was okay, because if we stopped the End, they would live again, and if we didn’t we’d all cease to exist.

We ended up with just 5-6 of us left, in the Modern Era, in LA, hunting the End through the halls of a hotel… and finally found it. It was a scrawny, unimpressive, short boogeyman, lurking outside a room at the hotel. And it was looking through the door at… us.

Us, the players. We were the Demiurges. The End wanted to kill us, and if our characters didn’t stop it, we, as real-world people, would be killed by it. The idea thrilled me…and freaked me out.

But the last few heroes (including my cleric) destroyed the End, ensuring that the worlds of adventure would continue forever. And we realized we could, as our characters, go into the room and meet ourselves, as players. And in that moment, having gorged myself on junk food and soda and been awake for something like 36 hours and playing for 14, I believed. But, we decided in-character that might freak out the Demiurges, so we left.

Also, there was something about a dartboard. There was a folding-cabinet bar-style dartboard in that hotel conference room for some reason, and it came into play in the story of the End, but I can’t for the life or me remember how.

And the game ended. We exchanged long-distance phone numbers and address and promised to keep in touch and I, at least, had lost all that info by the end of the weekend.

Then I went and slept in the Anime Room, because it was closer than my hotel room.

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For those of you who want some context, here’s the story I posted on Social Media about my time at the 42nd WorldCon.

I don’t have kids, and I am well aware that things were different 40 years ago. But apparently even people my own age are shocked to learn my mother was fine with me wandering around LA on my own at age 13 with $500 on me.

Though to be fair, $300 of that was traveler’s checks.

It was for the 42nd WorldCon, and I was almost 14.

My mother went with me, and we had a hotel room, but we mostly checked in on a notepad in the room. We rarely saw each other.

She was filking. I was gaming.

I went to a Elfquest #20 Howl/release party. A woman dressed as Nightfall flirted with me and gave me first-ever romantic kiss (from someone I didn’t even know the real name of).

Saw the anime Lensman movie.

Was part of a banquet table heist so we could fit more gamers in a room.

Rode to Disneyland with C.J. Cherryh.

Ate breakfast at a diner counter at 4am, discussing Return of the Jedi with some nightflyers who weren’t, AFAICT, die-hard geeks.

Played a 20-player, 14-hour game of mixed Basic/Expert D&D, 1st ed AD&D, 2nd ed Boot Hill, & Metamorphosis Alpha.

Bought my first junk metal wall-hanged sword.
Broke my first junk metal wall-hanger sword.
Bought my second junk-metal wall-hanger sword.

Got offered, and declined, my first beer from a stranger.

Ordered a delivery pizza just for me to eat watching movies, for the first time.

Saw, for the first time, ALIEN, Dawn of the Dead, Heavy Metal, Flesh Gordon, Dark Star, Sapphire & Steel, The Quatermass Experiment, Mad Max, Life of Brian, Clockwork Orange, and Zardoz. The video quality was often terrible, and some may have been taped off movie screens.

That was my 2nd or 3rd scifi convention ever, and it would be a high-point until I got to a Gen Con in the late 1990s.

I was a BIG 13-year old, in both height and weight. I’d never been unsupervised while away from my home town before. We didn’t have cell phone, or pagers.

Now as it turns out, I was fine. I can’t say if it was genius parenting, or luck, but the experience was formative for me in a lot of ways. Not the least of which was I saw how total strangers reacted when someone whipped out a big wad of $20s, and stopped doing that.

Ideas For “Hidden World” Modern Fantasy Settings

I have a long track record of loving what I think of “Hidden World” modern fantasy settings. A lot of it comes from my reading of pulp novels as a child, but certainly a number of more recent authors and stories have fed into it as well. Whether it’s magic nannies coming to save children from the troubles of everyday life, caretakers with magic devices in their homes who take in children during the Blitz (and possibly animate armor soldier to fight Nazis), wizard acting like detectives in the modern world, fantasy detectives doing the hard boiled act in feudal settings, magic worlds beneath the streets of London (or New York, or heck Dallas), immortal swordsmen, secret clans of assassins, bounty hunters (literally) from hell, busters-of-ghosts, psychic subcultures, revenant goths, or WWII witches and werewolves, I’m there for it.

Or, you know, ShadowFinder.

Sometimes I have ideas I think would work well within Hidden World settings, often while taking in Hidden World stories and thinking of directions the worldbuilding could go, but doesn’t.

Here are some.

Ancient Wards

Numerous magical defenses have been invented over the millennia, but the most common were developed in the 1200s, 1300s, and 1400s. These wards are far more effective against types of weapons that were invented after they wards were developed. Thus a fist or claw is almost always effective against creatures and mages with ancient wards, and clubs, swords, and bows are more likely to be effective than firearms, flamethrowers, and grenades… though if someone is carrying around an ancient design of Chinese fire lance, there’s a good chance they are doing so for a good reason.

Gravedigger Clan

When you need a body removed quickly and without evidence, but also need it to be treated with respect and buried with honors and traditions proper to its life, you call the Gravedigger Clan. A cult devoted to a wide range of gods of the dead and burial from different pantheons, and devoted to preventing the rise of undead and corpse-curses, the Gravedigger Clan is neutral in all other affiars, and offer their services fast and free to anyone who knows how to get hold of them.

The Mask Arcade

The Mask Arcade is a massive dance club and cocktail lounge that has multiple tiers, indoor and outdoor areas, several different themes, and a number of private, semi-private, and VIP areas scattered about its premises. Numerous street performers wander about at all times, sometimes stunt exhibitions are held, and there are numerous small stages where weird acts can perform. It also requires all attendees to dress in costume, and taking pictures is forbidden and strictly enforced. There’s always a line to get in, and bouncers walk the line and let people with costumes with “the right look for tonight’s theme” go in ahead of the line through various side entrances.

Officially, this is because it’s schtick is to be a nonstop costume ball cranked to 11 that attracts celebrities and . Actually, it’s because the Mask Arcade is designed to be a neutral ground for Hidden World ladies, lords, adventurers, monsters, and agents to meet, move about freely (even if they have horns, or fangs, or wear armored trench coats and carry katanas), and do business.

Ninjamancy

Almost no one is attacked by hordes of ninja. However, all true ninjas are trained in the art of summoning, and everything they summon looks like a ninja, and appears when conjured by stepping out of shadows and from behind cover. These conjureninjas can be used to try to assassinate, or cover a true ninja’s escape, but they are also often used as distractions while the true ninja carries out their actual mission, or as cover to all the true ninja to get closer to a target while looking just like the summoned ninjamancy. As a result hordes of ninja appear to jump out of nowhere, and experienced Hidden World agents know you need to kill them all, because one might be the true ninja you can’t afford to ignore.

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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.

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Movies To Use for MegaRuins Inspirations

One common response to yesterday’s MegaRuins campaign ideas article was to ask “what kinds of ttRPG adventures would happen in this setting?” That’s a great question, and one I feel too few ttRPG campaign ideas address. The short answer is “anything you like,” since MegaRuins was conceived as a setting, not a specific plot or theme, but that’s not particularly helpful to a GM looking for inspiration. So, instead, here’s a list of movies that I believe are good inspirations for MegaRuins ttRPG plots.

These movies ALL have a range of content warnings to consider before watching them. Please take appropriate care for yourself, and maybe check out a site such as doesthedogdie.com if there are ideas and visuals you don’t need getting added to your head. (Goodness knows I’m not always in the right headspace to witness recreations of cruelty, horror, or trauma).

(Art by azstondesgins)

Aliens (1986)/Attack the Block (2011), Deep Rising (1998)/Gremlins 2 (1990)/Re-Animator (1985)/Resident Evil (2002)/The Silent Sea (2021)/The Thing (1984)/Virus (1999)
The “trapped somewhere with unexpected horrors” genre includes a lot more than the movies I listed, but they feel representative. Whether a secret lab or ground zero of some new threat, the area is remote or locked down and they aren’t trapped in there with you… you’re trapped in there with them.

The more interesting the “there” you are trapped in, the more fun as a ttRPG scenario. It’s one thing to face a shapeshifting alien mutant zombie in an underground lab run by a mad AI, and something very different to do it on the city-block-sized gondola of a rotating ten-mile-high Ferris wheel arcology… with a mad AI.

The Belko Experiment (2016)/Mayhem (2017)
You might want to change why this happens (this is a great place for a rogue AI to make terrible decisions for what it feels are logical reasons, for example), and you can change from just an office environment to any sealable section of your MegaRuin/MegaStructure, but the core idea of Battle Royal In A Building remains both a good kickoff for a dystopian campaign, and a nice backdrop to set something else for the PCs to have to do, like rescue someone important (a la Escape From New York) or use the distraction for a heist (shades of Army of the Dead).

Daylight (1996), Meteor (1979), The Poseidon Adventure (1972 and 2005… and Poseidon in 2006), Skyscraper (2018), The Towering Inferno (1974)
If I was splitting hairs more narrowly I’d make a distinction between movies where you are trying to prevent or mitigate a disaster, and those where you are just trying to survive it. Both plots are great sources of ttRPG scenarios, though since a Gm has less control than a scriptwriter you may end up planning to run one of these plots and end up with PCs (though great success… or great failure) end up mostly tackling the other. And, of course, there’s the related sub-genre of running rescue missions in such conditions, which leans more closely to San Andreas (2015), Volcano (1997), and The Wave (2015), or of crooks using the opportunity to try to pull off a crime such as in Hard Rain (1998) or The Hurricane Heist (2018).

Die Hard (1988), Dredd (2012), The Raid (2011), The Rock (1996)
Criminals in buildings, and the need to stop them/survive their plot/get to them, can have the dystopian and/or scifi level ratcheted up when instead of a highrise, the building is an underground megacavern saltmine arcology, miles-long bridge city connecting continents, or any other MegaRuin.

Escape From New York (1981), Escape Plan (2013), The Platform (2019)
Whether the MegaRuin has been turned into a prison out of convenience, or it had a prison to begin with that’s now far more dangerous or uncontrolled than planned, dystopian prison stories offer a lot of options for PC adventures.

High-Rise (2015)
This is much more about societal breakdown than the kind of action-adventure I tend to thin of as near-future-dystopia ttRPG hooks… but there are a lot of different types of games and gamers out there, and this could translate very easily to a crumbling MegaStructure gone wrong.

Cube (1997), Death Race (2008), Death Race 2000 (1975), Escape Room (2019), The Most Dangerous Game (1932 and 2022), Hunger Games (2012)
The why can be adjusted to meet GM taste, the core issue is that the PCs have been put someplace full of traps, killer vehicles, and/or other contestants, and are being watched and hunted. Maybe it’s a 1-time thing… maybe it’s a weekly broadcast for the depraved masses.

Das Boot (1981), Murder on the Orient Express (1974 at al), Snowpiercer (2013), Speed (1994), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974 and 1998), Train to Busan (2016), Under Siege (1992), Unstoppable (2020)
Very little links these movies except that they all primarily take place on or around a vehicle… and that’s my point. Watching all of these should give you a great idea how to have a special setting influence lots of different genres of story, and that insight applies directly to doing near-future stories in structures that don’t exist yet. It’d be easy to put Speed on a building-sized dirigible, Murder on the Orient Express in an underwater mansion with hours before the next sub shuttle comes along, or Unstoppable on a space elevator car heading up toward the top anchor at dangerous speed.

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Gatekeeper’s Campaign for PF2, Session 1, Part 1

Since people asked for it, here’s part 1 of the notes for session 1 of my Gatekeepers game for PF2.

It’s early fall in Tidegate, and the storm season has been unusually bad. As we begin play, a major storm has caused a ship to wreck on the shore north of town, and most of the town council and senior people of note have gone to help survivors. As is the norm for local disasters, survivors are being brought to the Smoke Pine Taven, and all the PCs end up there to help settle people in. The many cats of the Smoke Pine are all present, but staying well out of reach of anyone.

Among other things the PCs have someone manning to Smoke Pine’s door, so they can open it to let people in but otherwise hold it closed against the wind and rain. The PC spots two councilmembers struggling towards the door – Syrkin Dale, who is clearly injured, being part-carried by Pottage (who is also struggling with a giant cauldron of his modestly famous “Feel-Better Soup”).

The PCs help them in and patch up Syrkin Dale, and determine that in the rough category of “Battle, Beast, or Debris,” the wound seems caused by debris. Syrkin explains that one of his tenant farmers’ children were last seen playing in a tower of the Old Keep outside of town, and hadn’t shown up since the storm began. Syrkin had gone to look for them, heard them calling for help from the tower’s basement saying they were tapped and the basement was flooding, but then a piece of the old tower’s structure fell on him and both injured him and blocked the only door in. Syrkin staggered to town to get help, and Pottage had spotted him and helped him in.

PCs note that Syrkin seems very annoyed Pottage is the person who found and helped him… and Pottage doesn’t seem to notice. Also, the Smoke Pine’s cats take turns coming up to and rubbing happily on Pottage.

With all the townsfolk who would normally go help already busy outside of town with the shipwreck, and a flooding basement not something that can wait to be dealt with later, the PCs decide they need to go save the children themselves. The Smoke Pine’s owner, Nana Cutthroat, gives them some gear to help, and they rush out into the storm.

The tower is up on a hill that’s a bit steep under the best of circumstances, and is a dangerous mudslide waiting to happen in the heavy rain. With some careful use of ropes and letting the most nimble PCs go up first, the group manages the ascent without incident.

The tower is a ruin, with a staircase on the outside spiraling up to the top of its 25-foot wall (the roof long-since gone), a pile of rubble on the other side making a rough but passable ramp, and a single door that does seem to be blocked by some collapsed timber. The PCs split up, with half heading toward the blocked door, and half heading to the stairs to seek an alternate way in.

As the PCs approach the blocked door, it slams down having obviously been rigged as a trap. Four sailors are just inside, all with thin leather handwraps common to sailors from the Akkaron region of the Continental Empire. One sailor has a headband, the other three have sigils freshly cut into their exposed foreheads. The headwrapped sailor yelled “They’re *all* here! Kill them!”

Fight ensues.

More foes climb up from the basement, warning children below to shut up.

Jaedyn opts to leap from the top wall down onto the new targets, a 30-foot leap. The player invokes the white Mystery Point, which allows her a good roll and Jaedyn discovers the wind is swirling around and guiding her. Morgan leaps after her, his player using a blue Mystery Point, and the rainwater water guides him. Nambra takes a critical hit from a crossbow, and is knocked out.

As the PCs defeat the sailors, they discover the stone of the tower is literally drinking up any spilled blood. The PCs begin to haul fallen bodies outside, beyond the apparent reach of the thirsty stone. Averill uses his telekinesis to pull Nambra out of the tower, so it can’t access her blood, which also required the power of a Mystery Point. However, they don’t manage to do so before enough blood gathers to form a icy blood paraelemental, which they must defeat.

Trying to get the children saved, allies patched up, and bodies moved, Hollyhock’s player expends the green Mystery Token, and the muddy ground supports her, preventing her from sinking in.

The fight is over, but the game session goes on (to be covered in Part 2).

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Gatekeepers PF2 Campaign Index

This is an updated index of all the articles I’ve written about my “Gatekeepers” campaign for Pathfinder Second Edition.

(The “Smoke Pine Taven,” in Tidegate. … Yes, “Taven.” Art by Asaneee.)

GAME SESSION NOTES

List of Player Characters

Session 1 Part 1; Part 2

RULES ARTICLES

How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 1: Rules Options
The initial list of houserules and optional rules the campaign began with.

How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 2: Houserules
The campaign begins with a few pure houserules in place to alter the feel and flow of the game system.

Gatekeepers Campaign, for PF2 – Optional Rule Houserules, 1.0
I got rules options, and I have houserules… and I have houserules FOR my rules options. These are those.

Gatekeepers Campaign for PF2 – Mystery Points
In Session 1 I presented the players with Mystery Points, which represented something their characters did not understand, but the players could still choose to have their characters interact with.

Gatekeeper’s GM Rulings: Animal Companions
Sometimes I make Rule 0 calls during a game, and I want to keep track of them. These are from Session 1, and are both about animal companions.

WORLDBUILDING ARTICLES

How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 3: Themes and Baselines
Not a comprehensive review of the world or the goals of the campaign, but just enough info to let players start to consider what characters they want to play. Brief discussion of tone, society, languages, and gods.

How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 4: Quickstart Kheyus Gazetteer
A quick look at the island the PCs start on, and an even quicker look at the larger world it is part of.

How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 5: Quickstart Tidegate Gazetteer
A quick look at the town the PCs start in.

Three Things I Plan To Use in Gatekeepers
Caliburn, Gollusks, and Firemud.

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Supers Idea: EuroVigil

Be it a comics pitch, background worldbuiding idea, or a supers adventure sketch, here’s a quick rundown on the concept of EuroVigil.

The EuroVigil Hero Contest has been held every year, in one form of another, since 1946. Hosted by the European Broadcasting Guild (EBG), it was originally an opportunity for the ad hoc WWII costumed heroes to gain greater visibility and compete to be members of the Peers, the Eurpoean Superhero Group set up to ensure the escape Nazi villains of the era would be unable to clone fallen madmen and tyrants, build factories to produce hordes of evil robots, train cyborg wolf armies, or unleash mind-control devices, all of which were surprisingly common concerns at the time.

Each hero for the EuroVigil is nominated by local agencies in their home country, the process for which can vary wildly. In France, it is determined by popular public acclaim. Germany trusts the Federal Minister for Empowered Affairs. In England, it remains one of the legal prerogatives of the Monarch to choose an entrant, though the decision is normally vetted and researched at great length before an announcement is made. Norway leaves it to their oldest serving Peer to select a candidate. Greece, Italy, and Spain all have a series of regional contests, and so on.

One selected, the contestants are broken into “Flights,” each of which is assigned to a region of Europe half the time, and to the Peer’s training facility half the time. While assigned to a region, each Flight is assisted in finding and handling crimes, disasters, and public appearances. When at the Peers facility, the heroes are tested in a variety of ways, from obstacle courses to sparring matches to being pitted against various simulated common dangerous situations (burning buildings, hostage rescue, sinking boats, and so on).

After each weekly set of events is finished television and radio broadcasts are put together to show highlights, and nearly all the raw footage can be viewed online. Each participating country then issues a set of votes, half determined by a panel of experts (often including retired heroes, firefighters, and civilian oversight groups), and half by the popular vote of the country’s population. The lowest vote-getters are cut from the program immediately, and a new week of events begins.

Though the program has remained popular for 3/4 of a century, there are criticisms. Often charismatic or kitschy contestants receive more votes than boring but effective heroes. National and international politics are seen as playing an oversized role in early selection and the editing of each week’s broadcasts. Some entrants are accused of seeking fame and fortune rather than a life of service and helping others. However, most winners do receive and accept an invitation to become one of the Peers, now the official European Union superhero team, and numerous runners-up have attracted enough support to become successful major international heroes.

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#MotiePitch: Spread

Or rather than a movie pitch, you could use this as the plot to an adventure, a backstory, or a campaign kickoff.

Spread

A new viral breaks out. It has a very slow incubation period, very few external symptoms, and requires personal contact to spread, so by the time it is detected it exists worldwide, and no one is sure how many people have it.

People who get it are largely immune to bacteria, fungus, parasites, and other viruses. Also, they can recognize each other by touch, and have a primal urge to care for and protect each other. They aren’t telepathic and don’t always agree on anything else (including the best way to protect and care for each other), but they do all feel “curing” them, or slowing the spread of the virus, is bad. And some “Spreaders” feel their best bet is to infect as many people as possible, so the number of them that want to protect each other goes up, even though that requires lots of close personal contact.

Meanwhile, governments of the world begin to realize Spreaders could mean the end of the existing global power structure. First they try to deny Spreaders have any benefits, then briefly hammer on the truth unknowns — will Spread mutate? What are the long-term effects? But quickly, it becomes a combination of clanism and competing narratives. Stories claim some Spreaders have begun attacking anyone not infected in zombie-like biting sprees, but no one knows if it’s true and, even if it is, how common it is or what provocations might be present. More believable reports claim in in 1 million people die slow, agonizing deaths if they catch the Spread, but even that can’t be proven to the masses one way or another.

Spread becomes a new global faction, growing through a dedicated outreach program of its members without any core leader, debatable ideology, or unified message. Spreaders claim universal infection would mean utopia. Ethical objectors say much too much is unknown about how Spread will impact humanity over generations, philosophers object to the biological compunction of it overriding free will, and uninfected people in power simply have no interest in losing their positions to a virus.

Can a compromise be found, or will humanity destroy itself because of an infection that makes it want to selflessly help itself?

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