Deadly Dungeons 11: The Midas Chest

PocketDimensionChest_AThe walls of this rather large room are painted a bright shade of green, with zig-zagging purple stripes running horizontally around it. It’s apparent that this room appeared festive, once upon a time. But in the eons since then, the paint has chipped and the wall’s many stones have eroded and shifted enough that the pattern is more haunting than happy.

On the north wall there is a massive iron door with no handle or hinges. Every edge of the 10ft high, 7ft wide door is covered by the walls, and floor. Embossed on the door are two daggers, one pointing up and one pointing down. At the tip of each dagger is a line which curves away from the blade. This door is sealed with powerful, ancient magic, and will resist any attempt to open it. Even through the use of a knock spell.

In the center of the room is a small square platform 3 steps off the ground. Atop the platform is a large, ornate archway. It is engraved on both sides with a detailed depiction of a battle between humans and demons. Each army starts at the floor, and is depicted marching up the sides of the archway, until they meet. The humans seem to be winning, as they have pushed the demons back from the center of the arch. Aside from this ornate carving, the archway appears to be a simple structure of stone with no magical properties, or any purpose beyond simple decoration.

Despite this, any who walk through the arch will find themselves magically transported to a different, though obviously similar, room. This room apparently has no doors whatsoever, and the archway is in a recess 3 steps below the rest of the floor, rather than on a platform above it. This room is also in much better repair, with bright red walls, and evenly spaced spots of purple. Observant players may also notice that while the carvings on the archway are very similar in this room, there is a notable difference. On this version of the arch, the demons are winning by a significant margin, and have pushed the humans far down the side of the arch.

PocketDimensionChest_BFor ease of reference, I will refer to the room the players enter initially as Room A, and the room they travel to through the arch as Room B.

Moving back and forth between the two versions of the room has no ill effect. However, it is not possible to simply stick one’s head or arm through the portal. Once any part of a person or object moves under the arch, it is quickly drawn to the other side by an irresistible force.

If the arch is examined carefully, players may notice two subtly placed slits in the carving. One on each “side” of the arch. In Room A, the slit is on the leading demon, while in Room B, the slit is on the leading human. These small spaces are perfectly sized for the blade of a dagger or sword. When a blade, or similar pieces of metal, is placed in the demon slot, the secret door slides open. If the same is done with the human slot, the large iron door slides down into the floor. Note that if these weapons are removed, the doors will close again.

Within each of the hidden areas is a large, closed chest. If opened, the chest in Room A contains 500gp worth of golden vegetables. Lettuce, potatoes, carrots, and rutabagas. If they are pieces of artwork, then they are highly detailed and extremely true to life. They even have golden dirt on them. The chest in Room B is, apparently, empty. In truth, however, the two chests are magically linked.

Whenever something is placed within the chest in Room B, and both chests are closed, those objects will immediately be transported to the chest in Room A. As part of this transportation, the item in the chest will undergo a magical transformation. The nature of that transformation is random, and can be rolled on the chart below. (Roll 1d12. If the players use the chest more than 5 times a day, switch to rolling 1d6). Once a transformation has been performed, it is permanent.

1. Transforms into a deadly poison gas which will be released when the chest is opened.  (3d6 con, using my Simple, Deadly Poisons rules).

2. Crumbles into dust.

3. Is given a horrifying, unholy life. Potatoes will be little screaming balls of flesh, rapiers will be starving creatures wailing for food. A living creature would suffer some dreadful transformation, such as gaining a second head which is not alive, or something of that sort.

4. Transforms into a lovely perfume, which will be released when the chest is opened.

5. Transforms into a basic weapon or piece of armor (sword, mace, staff, shield, helm). It has no special properties, but will take on the appearances of whatever it originally was. A copper coin might become a copper shield with the face of someone important on it. A spear of asparagus might become a literal spear of asparagus.

6. Shrinks to 25% of its original size, and becomes silver. The transformation is crude, and could not be passed off for fine craftsmanship.

7. Transforms into a very fine painting of whatever it was, set amongst appropriate surroundings. (A pitchfork would be depicted leaning against a barn, or held angrily in the hands of an angry mob). Likely of good value as an art piece.

8. Transformed into a quiver of arrows. If these arrows strike a creature, and that creature fails their save, then they will turn into a pile of whatever the original object was. If a spider is placed in the chest, then whoever is struck by the arrows will become a pile of spiders. Note that the weight of the victim determines how big a pile they will be transformed into. So a dwarf will turn into a dwarf-sized pile of spiders, while a titan will turn into a titan-sized pile of spiders. (If a coin receives this result, titan hunting could become a very profitable venture).

9. Whatever is placed in the chest becomes a creature of roughly dog-size, with a dog’s intelligence, and a dog’s loyalty for whomever owned the object placed in the chest. This works even if the object placed in the chest was inanimate. A dagger will become a dog-sized dagger with strange metal legs and eyes.

10. The item(s) double in number. If a cat is placed in the chest, two identical cats will appear. If ten cats are placed in the chest, twenty cats will appear. Note that if the chest in Room B is more than halfway full, then the doubled amount will take up more space than the chest in Room A has. In this event, the doubled items will not be damaged or harmed in any way. However, the moment the lid of the chest is cracked open, it will fling open, and the newly doubled items will fly out as though the chest were under pressure.

11. The only thing in the chest is a small circular medallion with a perfectly realistic painting of whatever was placed inside the chest within it. Whenever this medallion is held firmly in the hand, the wielder will be able to detect the presence and direction of such an item within 100ft. If a book is used, then the wielder will be able to detect all nearby books. This detection ability does allow the wielder to differentiate between distinct objects. So if they are holding a book in one hand and the medallion in the other, they will still be able to detect a different book 60ft away on the other side of a wall.

12. Turned to gold. Retains its shape perfectly, but will likely not retain any of its original function. A golden sword will break easily, a golden crossbow simply will not work, and a golden squirrel will be dead.

Picture Thursday 21: “Entering the Tomb of…” by Jjnaas

Entering the Tomb of... by JjnaasAs I told the artist of this piece, Jjnaas, this isn’t the kind of thing which normally catches my eye. Brightly colored fantasy stories about children really aren’t my thing. Even when I was a kid I was frustrated by how tame some of the stuff aimed at kids could be. But something about this piece is different. The juxtaposition of the adorable, terrified child; the light and life filtering in from the world above, and the profound darkness that surround them, speaks of a true danger which sets my imagination running.

Jjnaas is immensely skilled. His gallery is massive and I absolutely recommend browsing it. Much of his work is not fantasy themed, but a lot of it is and it’s all worth checking out. For example, I love the architecture in this tavern, with the interior balconies creating an interesting setting for adventure. And this piece titled Pilgrim Route is so quiet and adventurous, I wish I had the artistic knowledge to describe it better.


Weather Wizard
The Weather Wizard, one of The Flash’s many foes.

In the past I’ve written that weather is an important element in tabletop gameplay, but I’ve reevaluated that position. Rather than calling it an “important game element,” I think it would be better termed as an “intermediate GM skill.” Yes, including weather in a game enhances the game’s atmosphere, and can potentially provide the players with an interesting handicap or boon. It’s a good addition to a game, but GMs already have a lot of things to keep track of. If something needs to be dropped, weather is the obvious choice. When I first started playing tabletop RPGs, I honestly didn’t notice that every adventure took place on a clear summer’s day. Weather was never mentioned, and nobody ever complained.

Given that weather is non-essential, I want it to require as little work as any mechanic can ever require. Random is good, but in this case, charts are bad. Charts require table space, or GM screen space. When they need to be rolled on, the GM will probably need to spend a few moments finding them. That’s too large a time investment. For weather, I want to roll a die, and immediately be able to interpret the die’s result.

I propose using a 1d12 roll. When play begins, a roll of 1 indicates bad weather, 2-3 indicate inconvenient weather, 4-9 indicate normal weather, 10-11 are nice weather, and 12 is great weather. Each new day out of doors, the GM rolls another 1d12. The same ranges mentioned above are used to determine how the weather changes, with the options being: much worse, slightly worse, unchanged, slightly better, or much better.

The GM determines the weather’s precise nature based on the current climate and season in the player’s location. Both of these elements should be predetermined using the game world’s map, and the campaign calendar. Within this context, the idea of “good” and “bad” weather is relative to how it helps the characters. While crossing plains or forests, rain would be at least inconvenient. In a desert, however, rain would be the best weather you could possibly ask for!

I like how this method utilizes a bell curve, without the annoyance of adding numbers together. Perhaps this weakness comes from my own poor education in math, but adding even small numbers together requires me to pause for a moment and consider. Not long, mind you, but longer than reading a single number off of a die. The system is also fairly easy to memorize: 1,2,3 are bad, anything with double digits (10, 11, 12) is good, and everything else is normal. And even though my decision to use a d12 was based on the probabilities which can be modeled with it, I take some small pleasure in coming up with a new use for the lil’ underutilized guy.

The number 12 has an amazing, underutilized synergy with dice games. But that’s a post for another day!

X-Wing Miniatures Game

Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing Miniatures Game, Box

The other day, a friend I don’t get to see very often brought me a Christmas gift: the X-Wing Miniatures game published last year by Fantasy Flight. It’s a pretty perfect gift, because I’ve been eying that game for months now, and I’ve got a little, tiny, almost insignificant, lifelong passion for the Star Wars. Plus, as my friend noted, the game has a lot of similarities to a board game that I’ve been developing in my spare time. He thought it would be useful for me to see how another designer handled a similar concept.

Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing Miniatures Game 2 TIE Fighters, and 1 X-WingBefore anything else, let me say that the miniatures used for this game are beautiful. Seriously, click that picture! The rest of the pieces are are alright, with some high quality artwork for the pilot cards. But the miniatures? The miniatures for this game are of fucking stellar quality. When I first saw them I thought perhaps they re-used the old Micro Machine molds (which are some of the coolest toys ever). But! I pulled out my old micro-machines box to compare the two, and the models included with the miniatures game are even more detailed! I’m tempted to just keep these things on my desk rather than putting them back in the box. (And if the TIE fighters are as fragile as the old Micro Machine TIEs were, that may not be a bad idea).

The actual play of the game is surprisingly simple. The players agree on the number of “points” which will be used in the skirmish. They then use those points to add ships, pilots, and upgrades to their forces. Once play begins, the players use small dials to secretly choose which maneuver each of their ships will perform, then place the dial next to the relevant ship. Once everyone has selected their maneuvers, the dials are revealed, and the players use included cardboard guides to move their ships around the countertop, or table. And once everybody has finished moving, the ships with an enemy in their firing arc get a chance to attack.

Here’s some photos demonstrating the basic gameplay as I just described it:

Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing Miniatures Game Maneuver Dial

Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing Miniatures Game Straight Ahead Stick!

Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing Miniatures Game Example of Movement

Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing Miniatures Game TIE Fighter Scramble

Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing Miniatures Game Firing Arc

Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing Miniatures Game X-Wing Hits

Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing Miniatures Game Damage and Defense Dice

The gameplay is fast, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

I do have one complaint about the game though, and it’s a big one. This game is designed around expansions. The basic game comes with 2 TIE Fighters and an X-Wing, which I’ve had a lot of fun with. But you’re not really getting the “full experience” until you start shelling out more money for extra ships. Which are expensive at $15 for a single fighter craft, up to ~$30 for larger ships like the Millennium Falcon or Slave I.

I’ve enjoyed the game enough that I’m okay spending some additional money to be able to have larger battles. But not everybody will be. I’d even go so far as to say it feels a bit slimy. Many board games have expansions, but those expansions are usually produced after the game is already a success and the developers believe they can produce more content for it. This game was released simultaneously with its expansions. And while the basic game can stand on its own, it also feels incomplete.

In defense of the game, the miniatures are of very high quality. The productions costs of each ship doubtless contributed to Fantasy Flight’s decision to use this expansion-based distribution model. None the less, I think it would have been better if the basic game included a few more ships. The bump in price would be worth having a more complete-feeling game. They don’t even include enough dice in the basic set! But you can bet there’s a fucking dice pack!

TL;DR: The X-Wing Miniatures Game is fun, and awesome, and I really like it. But if you don’t want to buy the expansions, it is not worth your money.

Kickstarter: Tales of Alethrion

The Animators of The RewardI’m gonna come clean with you guys: I have a kickstarter problem. Since discovering the website a little less than a year ago, I’ve backed a lot more projects than a person of my modest means has any business donating to. Seriously, look at this shit. There’s just something magical about helping someone do what they really want to do with their lives. To be a part of producing something I believe in, even if all I’m able to contribute is a single dollar. Kickstarter is fucking magical.

Before now I’ve made a point not to use Papers & Pencils to promote kickstarters, but today I learned of one which is relevant to something I posted earlier this year. An animated short called “The Reward.” If you’re a new reader, or just didn’t check it out at the time, here it is again:

The Reward from The Animation Workshop on Vimeo.

Even months after first seeing it, I still go back and watch this video now and again. The music is great, the colors are vibrant, and the narrative fills me with a sense of adventure and an urge to roll some dice. And now the folks behind it are trying to produce a series set in the same world. Here’s a look at what they’re planning:

The first episode will tell the tale of the legend behind the mirror and why the map was created. Afterwards the story picks up just as Vito’s and Wilhelm’s epic quest has been concluded. They are now old and mighty heroes who wander the world. The next episodes will focus on new adventurers who travel out and explore the world. They will all be connected by the treasure map and influenced by the spirit of Alethrion.

What we would like to do with this series is to further develop the universe that we created during the making of “The Reward”. There were so many possibilities which we didn’t use in the short film and from the very beginning we wanted it to work like a pilot. In our opinion “The Reward” is a new take on the fantasy genre and has a spirit of wanderlust and fun and not the classic good versus evil. We want to focus on characters and their individual journeys and make stories that challenge the traditional ways of telling a story. It’s important to us that the characters we create feel alive and full of personality. It is our belief that the story and humour will be best told with strong characters.

We want to make the series closely connected to the short film, but still have it’s own appeal as well. It’s important that it follows the spirit but delivers something new. We don’t want to just copy the succes but we want to explore the same universe and feel of The Reward.

We love animation, we love fantasy and we love to make great stories. We see this as a possibility to take the fantasy genre in a direction that is mixed with the modern world and the values we have today. We hope you will help us get this project on it’s feet so we can create something so magical, so epic, so insanely crazy… that you just might go blind…

I’m sold. There’s not nearly enough high quality fantasy adventure animation out there. And given how enchanting the short film is, I believe these fellows have what it takes to do something phenomenal on a larger scale.

So check out their kickstarter, listen to their pitch, and if you are so inclined, help these fellows get funded.

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