Two things are on my mind at the moment. “Dirty Santa” style gift –exchange games, and treasure division in dungeon-delving style fantasy RPGs. These two things have nothing to do with each other, and yet…
Let me interrupt my own train of thought to point out that I’m not claiming this is a good idea. I strongly suspect it’s a bad idea. But, it IS an idea, and sometimes those demand our attention.
So, let’s combine Dirty Santa and Treasure Division.
Decide how many items there are to be divided. We’ll call this the number of “picks.” If there’s money or other bulk valuables you can divide the total value by the number of people in the party who get treasure (we’ll call them folks), and treat each amount of that value as one pick. (So if there is 2400 gp of coins and gems, and five folks dividing the treasure, that’s five picks worth 480 gp each.)
Divide the total number of picks by the number of folks, and round up.
Double that number, and each of the folks get that many takes. A take represents selecting an item of loot to keep. They should track their takes.
To decide who gets to spend a take first, players all secretly bid how many takes they will spend for that privilege. Then reveal the bids. Whoever bid the most goes first, and the order after id determined by who bid the 2nd most, and so on. In case of ties, roll off to see who goes earlier.
The person who goes first expends 1 pick to select an item. At least for the moment, it is theirs.
The next person may expend 1 pick to select an item left in the pool, or may expend TWO picks to take the item already selected by the person who went first. If that happens, the person who went first gets one pick back.
Proceed in order. On each turn, a folk can do one of these things:
A: Expend one pick to select an item no one has selected yet.
B: Select an item someone else has. This requires you to spend a number of picks equal to 1 + the number of people who have already picked it. So if two people have already picked it, you have to spend three picks. No matter how many picks you spend, one pick goes back to the person you take it from.
C: Select an item someone else has that you were the very first person to pick. This costs only one pick, no matter how many people have picked it since.
Repeat this process until you run out of items, or everyone runs out of picks. If you run out of items, the process is over. If everyone runs out of picks when there are still items left, everyone gets back all the picks they began with, and keep going.
Speaking of Ideas
Here’s an idea; why not support my Patreon? It’s the main way to encourage me to produce more blog posts so if you enjoyed this, maybe it’s worth a dollar a month?
Adventure idea: A community of unusually short-tailed, round-headed ratfolk (an ethnicity called ‘voles’ by other local races) who live in borrows (boroughs?) outside a major city have begun to be assaulted and driven out of local markets by rougher citizens of the city. The settlers accuse the ratfolk of theft, and desecration of several shrines within the city, saying the ratfolk move through the city’s sewers and drains, and have even been seen trying to get at children asleep in their homes.
The ratfolk proclaim their innocence, and point out they warned the city’s leaders weeks ago that wererats had been spotted in the thick brush of a nearby woods. The ratfolk believe the wererats have infected some city dwellers. The city government thinks the ratfolk are making false claims about wererats to protect some ratfolk hooligans, and thus aren’t taking it seriously.
Thus the ratfolk need help, because the wererats (who do indeed walk among them, including a few wererat ratfolk who only have a modest appearance change in hybrid form) are a demon cult who wish to summon agents of their demonic patron, a scavenger lord who spreads disease and uses vrocks as his agents. The wererats have summoned one vrock already, and want two more so they can do a dance of ruin beneath the city streets! So, the rastfolk want to hire some outsiders (the PCs) to fairly investigate.
The players must separate fact from fiction, deal with hunting down were rats both in the city sewers and hiding in plain site among the ratfllk, and ultimately deal with the apocalyptic whereat demon cult’s plans.
The name of the adventure?
“Vrock and Vole”
So here is the idea:
Dungeon speed runs as a team sport, on roller skates. “Roller Dungeon Team T-Shirts” optional, but the Absalom Abyssals Woman’s Speed Destruction Team is my favorite.
EVERYONE is on roller skates. Heroes, monsters, gelatinous cubes… everyone.
Every PC must have half their levels in barbarian, brawler, cavalier, fighter, investigator, kineticist, monk, ninja, rogue, or slayer.
For these mandatory class levels, you get +4 skill points per level, and the Skating skill. Also, any class that has Ride replaces it with Skating.
Skating works like Ride, but your “mount” is a pair of skates that take your space. Anything you could do on a mount, you can instead do on skates. All skates have a 30 foot move rate and, like a mount, if you control your skates without taking an action, you get a full action.
Skates are never battle-trained mounts, unless you would get a mount as a class feature like cavaliers).
All dungeons should be 2 CR lower than the APL *your spellcaster assistance has been limited after all, and you are making speed runs).
You only get full XP and treasure for a combat or trap encounter if you finish it in 5 rounds or less. For every round more than that, you lose 25% of your XP and treasure. An encounter begins when you become aware of it, so scouting eats into your time. If you complete an encounter in less than 4 rounds, you get a 10% treasure bonus for each round less time you take.
It’s assumed you have an audience, so Performance combat is an option.
Combine with DungeonBall! or X-Crawl as desired.
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I kind of want to write “SpaceThulhu 1889!”
“To defend an Earth on the brink of War, man must take to the stars in ships driven by steam and ether!”
“And face horrors never before imagined.”
1. The Dagon Drive
2. The Statement of Captain Randolph Carter
3. Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Crew
4. Nyarlathotep Nebula
5. Herbert West — Chairman of the Royal Reanimation Society
6. The Colour Out Here in Space
7. The Whisperer on Mars
8. The Eclipse Over Innsmouth
9. The Fall of Cthulhu
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I kinda want to write an adventure set on the Isle of Misfit Magic Items.
“So you have a 9th level spell as a prerequisite. Oh! Are you a ring of wishes?”
“No!” (sobs) “I’m a ring of foresight. I’m a ring with literally the only 9th level spell no one cares about.”
“Well… at least you’re an intelligent item!”
“Not that intelligent. I can’t spell.”
“But you have a spell in you!”
“Yeah… but it’s ‘Foursight’!”
… Along with the Gem of Climbing, Cloak of Elven Strength, and Rope of Holding.
Silly Scares are super short Pathfinder rules to add a bit of a fright to a fear-themed game, without getting at all serious.
Shark- (Simple Hazard Template, +2 CR)
The Shark- (read “shark blank”) template increases the danger of hazards by making them shark-related. Thus a forest fire becomes a “shark-forest fire,” clearly a case where a shark-forest catches on fire.
When a shark-hazard forces a character to make a saving throw, or it makes an attack against a character, or it deals damage to a character, the sharkiness of it also makes an attack. This is a bite. It has an attack bonus equal to the CR of the hazard x1.5, and deals 1d8 damage per 2 CR of the encounter. Any one event only results in a single attack
So if caught in a CR 8 shark-forest fire, each time a character had to make a Fortitude save to avoid nonlethal heat damage, the character would also be subject to a shark bite (+12 to hit, 4d8 damage). Even if the character both failed a save and took heat damage, the character would still be subject to only a single bite attack.
Any skill to identify a hazard gains a bonus equal to the hazard’s CR if it is a shark-hazard. Because an entire shark-forest burning is hard to miss.
A shark-hazard returns after 1 year + 4d20 – 4d20 days if it is not destroyed properly. (This is often referred to as a “sequel” to the original shark hazard.) Destroying it properly requires a complex plan capable to both ending the hazard, and simultaneously killing a number of sharks equal to double the hazard’s CR.
It doesn’t matter what the plan is, as long as it is complex, ends a normal hazard, and kills a bunch of sharks.
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Silly Scares are super short Pathfinder rules to add a bit of a fright to a fear-themed game, without getting at all serious.
Drunken Spirit (Simple Template, +2 CR)
A drunken spirit is a form of ghost that died while tripping balls. It only exists for, and can only interact with, creatures that are suffering the staggered condition, or are sickened as a result of drinking too much alcohol. For other characters the drunk spirit cannot be seen, affected by any spell or ability, or even confirmed to exist by anything up to 9and including) miracle and wish.
Similarly, the drunken spirit can do nothing to those who cannot affect it. The drunken spirit treats itself as incorporeal for all unattended, inanimate objects, so it walks through walls and can’t pick up or throw rocks. (A giant with the drunken spirit template can still use its throw rocks ability, but they are steins of sloshing booze).
Any creature can have this template. Although it is theoretically an undead, it doesn’t act like an undead for creatures that can interact with it, and can’t be affected by other creatures, so that doesn’t matter.
Any affect that can sober up a creature damages a drunken spirit (roughly 1d6 points of damage per spell level of the effect), and anything that makes you drunk heals them.
An easy way to introduce a drunken spirit is to have one appear when a character is staggered, and then it follows that character until it is seen again. This can also be a kind of horror for play and character alike, as the GM assures other players the PC claiming to see something is wrong, while that character takes damage. For an extra level of confusion, you can decide any damage the drunken spirit deals to the staggered of drunk PC appears self-inflicted.
I am oft assaulted with cries about the unrealism of RPG “dungeons,” when conversing with less chthonic game fans. Even ignoring the cognitive dissonance of claiming fireballs are fine but you can’t have many geographically isolated regions of high-danger that include mushrooms that can sustain an ecosystem, I think dungeons have gotten a bad rap because so many are run as nothing more than endless mazes of unconnected threats. I prefer short, focused delves downward and thematically linked quarantine sites that happen to be underground to monolithic puzzles of mega-corridors, but I think limited-access, PC-channeling adventure sites have a lot going for them and can be part of a strong, logical narrative. While they are not “dungeons” in the penal sense, I believe lots of good stories use sites any good Dungeon Master can recognize as a place for wandering monsters, 10-foot poles and trap checks.
Since moving pictures are worth 1,000 blog posts, to support the case for dungeons in stories (and offer a little inspiration) we now present:
Top Ten Movie Dungeons
- The Mountain of Power (Conan the Barbarian, `982)
Given how popular D&D was with young teen boys in 1982, the orgy scene in this movie may have been a hit with that segment of the RPG crowd more for bare breasts than the thematic conflict of free-spirited freebooter mercenaries against a totalitarian cult regime of nihilistic excess. But it’s still great music, a great fight, and a great dungeon.
- The City of Lost Children (The City of Lost Children)
Not only is this a great-looking locale oozing with color that, if well described, could keep players enraptured regardless of the plot, it’s a wonderful set-up. The City is an actual prison, a place where the inhabitants cannot escape. Ruled by a mad scientist and patrolled by his golems, the City has traps, oddities, and a “thieves’ guild” run by an octopus. And a man-mountain of a hero must find his way through all of it on a rescue mission, which is about as typical an RPG dungeon plot as I can think of, though done this way it feels fresh again.
- The Lair of Vermithrax Pejorative (Dragonslayer)
The fiery lair of the dragon in Dragonslayer has elements to be seen in many RPG dungeons that came after – altars for live sacrifice, hordes of smaller threats, strange terrain (the burning water), caverns with tactically interesting ledges and, of course, a dragon. Given this movie came out in 1981 it clearly is not the origin of Dungeons and Dragons (despite having both), but it’s fair to say it was an influence for years. Of course those elements are far from the only things fantasy RPGs borrow from this movie (though interestingly it’s the spear and shield seen most often, not the d8 of ultimate power or ash of archmage summoning – so style over substance began early).
- LV-426 (Aliens)
Yes, it’s a science fiction setting, but the overrun colonial habitats (and alien hive) certainly qualify as a dungeon by RPG standards. The heroes must search it, avoid being ambushed, rescue prisoners, fight monsters, and find the end Boss Monster. And it’s not hard to envision fiendish ants or otherworldly horrors replacing xenomorphs, or knights and wizards standing in for marines and pulse guns.
Every other movie in this series includes at least one locale that counts too, but I think Aliens has the most adventurous take on the theme.
- The Gameboard (Jumanji)
The game Jumani is a perfect example of a dungeon without walls. It’s all random encounters, and it requires an artifact of major mojo to pull off, but it forces the heroes to go from event to event, and gets to ignore pesky details like the food chain or why encounter 5 doesn’t eat encounter 9 before the protagonists show up. And the end goal is always clearly visible, though you can’t be sure how long it’ll take to get there.
- The Labyrinth (Labyrinth)
Okay, it’s a well-known truism in fantasy rpg adventure design that mazes make for bad adventure settings. This is only true if the PCs are asked to map every T-intersection, 45-degree angle, and granite colonnade. If instead the maze is a setting, a vast country filled with its own people, threats and odd encounters and the GM gets the players from scene to scene with no need for hours of dull mapping, Labyrinth shows how to keep the maze as interesting as it was when Theseus was first asked to be delivery food.
- The Apartment Building (Rec/Quarantine)
If I’ll allow sci-fi, there’s no reason I wouldn’t look to horror for good dungeons, and this one (in either the American remake or the original movie) is great. One of the nice touches is that when the characters enter it, they have no idea it’s going to become a sealed-off, tightly-cramped series of rooms with monsters in them. And the story sets up a three-tiered threat: zombies, whatever is turning people into zombies, and the local authorities that won’t let the protagonists out – a great way to keep a dungeon from feeling like reheated subterranean leftovers.
Other horror options include the Machine of the Damned/Haunted House from 13 Ghosts, the land of Freddy’s nightmares, and every camp any teenager has even been beheaded in.
- Chinatown Beneath (Big Trouble in Little China)
From a secret door in a wizard’s domicile to random monster encounters (“It will come out no more!”) to mysterious substances (Black Blood of the Earth), trapped elevators, sewer connections, a hidden underground temple, mounds of dead fish, and a floating eye-monster spy, this dungeon setting has it all. It’s also one of the few examples where the heroes are in-and-out of the same subterranean complex more than once, which lends itself well to the way most PCs tackle big warrens of evil.
- Caverns of the Wendol (13th Warrior)
Announced with a boldly asked question – “Is there a cave?!” – the caverns of the Wendol savages from 13th Warrior begin a running battle that uses more stealth than many cinematic dungeon-stomps. From sneaking past (and/or assassinating) guards to the boss-monster fight with the Mother of the Wendol to the “secret escape” through underwater passages, this is a tightly focused, high-speed dungeon that isn’t emulated enough in many RPG campaigns.
- Moria (LotR: Fellowship of the Rings):
I often think of this as THE dungeon, because I suspect it’s literary counterpart is the origin of dungeons in RPGs. In addition to good backstory, a strong story reason for entering, a mystically locked door, hoards of goblins and a mysterious follower, Moria gives us the Balrog, one of the all-time great Boss Monsters.
This entry is also a stand-in for all the subterranean adventure sites in Lord of the Rings movies, from the caves of Helm’s Deep to Shelob’s lair.
An Anachronistic Adventures “Adventure Sketch” for four characters of 4th-6th level, set in a Progress Level 4 campaign.
Adventure Sketches are the framework for an adventure, with a rough breakdown of the who, where, when, why and how. A GM still needs to fill in the blanks, but there’s enough here to run a game with some fast thinking (or flesh it out to suit your own needs). Monsters either use options available at various sites online, or give notes how to convert such online resources.
Professor Edward Prendick, Jr., working in isolation on Noble Isle to continue the work of his father, has managed to devolve modern creatures into those of the Jurassic period, especially dinosaurs. To keep them from escaping the Professor created the “Tithonian Tower,” an Eiffel Tower-like broadcast station able to create the “primal wave,” a frequency that forces all prehistoric creatures to move to within at least a few miles of it.
While he is still working to perfect the devolution process (for some reason many of the dinosaurs he devolves from birds maintain their feathers, which he is sure is wrong), the Professor is short on funds and must find a major source of income.
His supply contact on the nearest mainland, Captain Karl Englehorn, convinced Professor Prendick to take on investors. Depending on GM needs the investors might be members of one of the nations of WW I, or of WWII (Nazis are particularly popular, but what if it was an off-the-books American or British plan?), millionaire businessmen looking to create an event destination for the ultra-rich (“Jurassic Island”), or an aging moviemaker looking for his big comeback film. The Professor assumes that as long as the buildings for guests are outside the Tithonian Tower’s range, no dinosaurs will get close enough to cause problems. The big unveiling is in a few days.
Unfortunately, a major storm rolls in, and lightning hammers the island. A lightning strike has taken out the Tithonian Tower, and large waves have broken the sea gates around a saltwater lagoon holding numerous 30-40 foot long pliosauruses, who swim into the waters around Noble Isle.
That’s when the heroes arrive.
They likely arrive as a group. Maybe they are a military analysis team, sent to figure out where money is going during the war. Or a news team, to cover the upcoming Big Event. Or a rich patron and her security detail, coming to see the Big Event. Or the film crew gathered by the aging moviemaker without being told what they’d be filming. Or unrelated innocents who have to be rescued by small Noble Isle boats when their ship’s engine is mysterious torn out and the ship happens to drift by. Or each may have a different reason for being there compiled from those starting points.
In any case, the heroes are brought to the main pavilions, where they are told the seas are getting worse. The small boats of Noble Isle can’t handle the increasing waves anymore, and any larger ships that could do so that might be contacted by radio can’t risk getting close to the island. The Professor is content to just wait out the storm.
Then the compsognathuses attack.
It’s a sudden swarm of 12 of the dinosaurs into the main dining room, attacking everyone and everything. Present are (at least) the Professor, Jack Wright (the portly chief engineer), and Captain Engelhorn, and likely some serving staff. Not only must the PCs survive, but how many NPCs they save impacts the adventure.
After the attack, if Professor Prendick is alive, he realizes the Tithonian Tower must be down, and an expedition must go restore it, or eventually dinosaurs will swarm the compound and kill everyone. He also notes he has a single man-portable primal wave repeller (+2 deflection bonus to AC against attacks from dinosaurs, megafauna, and pterosaur), at his lighthouse lab (see below) if those going to attempt to make it to the Tower want to risk a trip there first.
If the professor is dead, either a survivor or the professor’s notebook lead PCs to head to the nearby lighthouse lab, where his control panels are, which can ID the problem. If the PCs have to go to the lighthouse, they face an encounter of two pteranodons, drawn to the lighthouse’s light and are unlikely to find the hidden primal wave repeller without some tracking or analysis class features.
If anyone asks if there are velociraptors or Tyrannosauruses on the island, he angrily answers that of course there are not! That would be irresponsible… since both those dinosaurs are from the Cretaceous, NOT the Jurassic. He is, after all, a scientist.
If chief engineer Jack Wright is alive, he can sketch out the things that might have gone wrong with the Tithonian Tower if it was hit by lightning, and raid the beached boats for parts to fix it, giving the PCs the materials they need and a bonus to fix the Tithonian Tower once they arrive and a +4 circumstance bonus for checks to do so. He’ll go along if PCs insist, but he’s a 4th-level expert with low physical ability scores, and is overweight enough to count as heavily encumbered even when not carrying anything. He’s not convinced he’d survive long enough to be any help.
If Wright is dead, either the Professor or his notebook can provide a general idea of what might need fixing, but no one thinks to grab parts from the boats. Instead, either the Professor or his notebook, or Wright’s files (in his office in the same building as the attack) point to an Engineering Shack half a mile beyond the Tithonian Tower, The PCs can get everything they need from there, but they’ll either have to carry enough stuff to encumber at least two of them (thus making the encounters at the Tower more difficult), or they’ll have to go to the Tower to identify the problem, then go to the Engineering Shack for supplies, and then back to the Tower to fix it.
Crossing Jurassic Island
If Captain Engelhorn is alive, he can use one of the small boats to get the PCs halfway to the Tithonian Tower by taking them up a river. No one else knows the islands rivers well enough, and if the PCs try it they end up stuck on a sandbar, needing to walk.
There is a single pliosaurus attack (use stats for an elasmosaurus, though the pliosaurus has no neck) during Engelhorn’s boat trip, but it cuts the number of other random encounters from 4 to 2, so the PCs potentially have one less fight. It also reduced the trip from a six hour walk to a one hour ride and three hour walk, which may reduce fatigue.
Additionally, Engelhorn reveals that he has discovered a hand-cranked Klaxon ™ sometimes drives off dinosaurs, and is willing to part with a spare. Engelhorn hasn’t revealed this to anyone else yet, to ensure he had a bargaining chip for when the big money begins to roll in. (The klaxon takes two hands to operate, and allows a PC to make an Intimidate check to demoralize a dinosaur. On a natural 20, the dino turns away from the noise and flees).
Walking toward Tithonian Tower results in 4 random encounters. Taking Engelhorn’s ride results in 2 random encounters for the last half of the trip only. Staying on the beech results in 1 random encounter every hour, for the 14 hours it is before a ship comes along to rescue people.
Jurassic Island Random Encounters
Roll 1d6. Until every encounter has happened once, don’t repeat any. If in the ocean, every encounter is 1d8-5 (minimum 1) pliosauruses.
1. Brachiosaurus wanders by. As long as it is not attacked, detained, or bothered, it just trundles off.
2. Nest of 10 archaeopteryxes
3. One angry edmontonia (Like an ankylosaurus without the club on the tail, but with boney shoulder spikes. Use an ankylosaurus, without the stun attack, but add a gore attack that acts as the tail attack but deals piercing damage, and it cannot target the same creature with both gore and tail attacks in the same round)
4. Pack of 12 abrictosauruses (use velociraptors without talon attacks, reducing them to CR 1 each)
5. One angry stegosaurus
6. A hunting pair of cryolophosauruses (size large theropod with a distinctive horned crest on its skull). Use stats for megaraptors, but remove talons, foreclaws, and pounce. Add a slam attack (+4, 1d6+3). Its brain is so primitive, it gains the mindless trait. The two cryolophosauruses are a CR 6 encounter.
If the PCs didn’t save chief engineer Jack Wright, they must got to the Engineering Shack to find the full blueprints of the wiring of the Tithonian Tower. (Professor Prendick knows the scientific principle behind the primal wave, but he let Wright design the various electrical supply components.)
The Engineering Shack, of course, is in the middle of the stomping grounds of a VERY annoyed camptosaurus (use stats for an iguanodon). However, someone with good wild empathy or similar ability to attempt to befriend animals could, with effort and if allies make no attacks, discover the camptosaurus is annoyed because it has burns on one foot (from a near lightning strike). A successful effort to befriend, followed by a successful DC 17 Heal check, results in the camptosaurus stomping off in peace. It then shadows the PCs, and if they get into serious trouble, comes to aid them.
If no one can attempt to befriend it, or no one makes a Heal effort, or the Heal check fails, it attacks.
Tithonian Tower is a mini-Eiffel Tower (60 feet tall), with electric generators haflway up. To get to them, the PCs must deal with the unquestioned master of Jurassic Island, an allosaurus which is it addicted to (and is now in withdrawal from) the primal wave. The Tower has clearly had one corner generator 30 feet up damaged, and is a DC 10 to Climb. Of course, 30 feet is within reach of the Huge allosaurus (and its 15 feet of reach), and if it notices anyone on the Tower, it attacks them first.
Fixing the generator takes five successful DC 25 Knowledge (engineering) or appropriate Craft checks, and 50 lbs. of electronic parts (or 25 lbs. if material was gained from the chief engineer).
Fixing it also allows the PCs the make Perception or knowledge-gathering ability checks to realize the generator was hooked to wires designed to draw in lightning. Its destruction was inevitable when the first major storm hit the island.
Once it’s fixed, the PCs must escape, because all the dinosaurs are now headed toward them (2 random encounters, or 1 to get back to Engelhorn’s boat if it was available).
Back at the Beach
Returning to the beach, if the PCs investigate they can determine that Professor Prendick sabotaged his own tower. If he’s alive and is confronted, he confesses, and calls for his NEW creation, which he planned to give the island to once the dinosaurs left – Mighty Kon Jo, a girallon with the Giant Creature template. If the Professor is dead, a search of his lab turns up a secret map to a cove with his “New Ultimate Purpose,” and a trip there reveals the angry Kon Jo. If the PCs don’t investigate, anyone they left alive at the beach says THEY searched, and found the map. If no one goes to look at the cove, Kon Jo shows up just before the rescue boats.
If the PCs befriended the camptosaurus, and it hasn’t helped yet, it shows up on the opposite side of the beach and challenges Kon Jo. In any case, Kon Jo either tries to rescue the professor, or avenge him by killing all PCs.
Once Kon Jo is dead, ships show up to rescue the PCs.
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