Picture Thursday 30: “Orpheus and Eurydice” G.F. Watts

Neoclassical greek mythology art Orpheus and eurydiceYou may have noticed posting has dropped off rather suddenly here. Some large issues, and larger questions, have popped up in my personal life. Resolving them may require most of my free time for a little while. I considered putting the blog on a month-long hiatus, and I haven’t discounted that option entirely yet, but for now I think I’ll stick to a “post when I have a moment” schedule. Hopefully I can get back to games soon!

SO, this image.

Resurrection is a tricky concept in games. If a character can be brought back to life, then what is the danger of death? It’s a question as old as gaming, and one with a lot of potential answers. The question, and the various answers to it, are all very interesting. I’ll write about them another time.

For now, look at this picture of Orpheus bringing his dead wife Eurydice back from the underworld. The image is terrifying to behold. The juxtaposed affection and lifelessness depicted here are disturbing. And while “you must charm the god of death with your music” is perhaps too high a bar for character resurrection in a game, this painting expresses something I like to see in character resurrection.

It is a herculean task to accomplish, and even when it is done, the resurrected person is never quite the same.

Vendor Saving Throw

Medieval Street Vendor
Taken from Eulalia Hath a Blogge

The question of “what can my players buy in this town?” is an important one. The availability of equipment creates limits on the player which can force them to make more interesting choices. It can also spur them into traveling abroad, exploring the wider world in search of some place where they can find the things they need.

I’ve used a variety of methods to determine what can and what cannot be found in a given town. And I’ve read many more methods than I have tried using. I’ve never really found anything which worked well for me.

Often times, when my players have discovered a new town, I just wing it. I figure out roughly what kind of town it is, and how big it is, and from there it’s normally pretty obvious what can be bought and what cannot. In a farming village, of course you can find a pitchfork to buy. Sure, there’s probably someone with a sword who wouldn’t mind selling it. No, nobody here can cast healing magic for you.

I can think of no reason why this casual method of determining what is available for sale should not be formally adopted as my “official” method. The only hole are the few items which straddle the line between “obviously,” and “obviously not.” For example, a suit of chainmail armor. It’s possible one of the villagers has a set they’d be willing to part with, but it’s also possible none of them do. The logical thing to do is to roll to see if there’s a such a suit of armor available.

Here is what I propose: every town has a saving throw which is rolled when it’s not clear to the GM whether an item would be available or not. For 80% of what the players might ask for, the answer should be obvious based on the size, wealth, and function of the community. For anything else, 1d20 is rolled against the town’s saving throw. A roll equal to or higher than the target number means the item is available, less than the target number means none are.

The target number would get smaller, the larger a town becomes. An outpost or camp with 5-15 people in it would have a target number of 20. A small farming village where everyone knows everybody else might be 17. A town with a thousand or so people in it might be as low as 14. A major metropolis could get down to 9 or 10.

I’m going to start using this method in one of my campaigns, and see how it works out.

Deadly Dungeons 22: The Slide Room

The Sliding RoomThis room is exceptionally simple in function, but can prove quite confusing to players. Particularly if they need to flee quickly!

The room itself (shown here in red) is actually just a small chamber which rests inside of a much larger one. It is mounted to the walls, floor, and ceiling of the larger chamber by a set of expertly crafted rails, which have been treated with a magical oil which does not degrade over time. So perfect are the mechanisms which move this room, that it does not produce the normal rumbling vibrations which would normally be a dead giveaway that something was amiss. Those who are particularly in tune with the ground (such as dwarfs) should be given a chance to notice the movement, but only when they are inside of the moving room itself. And even then, their ability to detect the movement is not certain.

Every corridor which can be used to approach this room is strewn with pressure plates. When activated, these plates will cause the room to move into position to receive the approaching characters. The pressure plates are specifically placed far enough away from the sliding room that it will have ample time to be in position before anyone is within eyesight of its doors. If these pressure plates are detected and avoided, there is a 4-in-6 chance that the room will not be in position when the players arrive, and they will instead find themselves looking into a long featureless room. If the players choose to enter this room, roll a check every few turn to determine if the sliding room moves to crush them.

The inside of the sliding room itself is almost entirely featureless and boring. It must be, or else the extremely sensitive weight detection mechanism would be too difficult to calibrate! So long as any character is inside of it, the room will move to a new position any time one of its doors is closed. If it is at the south-most position, it will move north, if it is in the north-most position, it will move south. If it is in one of the two central positions, randomly determine whether it will move north or south.

So, for example, if the red room is in the position shown above, and the players approached it from the curving corridor on the southern side of the map, then it would glide to the south-most part of the larger chamber before they arrive. If they see the room, and all enter it, then close the door behind them, the room will glide back to the position shown on the map. If they then exit it, and close the door behind them, it will not move, because there is no weight inside of it (unless they left equipment weighing at least 30lb behind). If the party’s halfling then enters the room, and closes the door leaving the others outside, they will see the room slide away with their halfling inside of it.

The 1 Hour Dungeon

1 Hour DungeonRemember when you told your mom that you were leaving food out “as an experiment?” but really you just didn’t want to clean it up? No? That was just me? Well that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing with my GMing lately. I’ve been shamefully avoiding preparation, and justifying my laziness by calling it an experiment in improvisation. But unlike my childhood self, I’m legitimately interested in how the experiment will turn out. So after working on being a better improvisor for the last few weeks, I thought it would be an interesting change of pace to sit down and give myself a single hour to create an entire dungeon adventure. The idea is to simulate the time crunch I experience while improvising a dungeon for my players, while still actually preparing something in advance of the game.

This is what I came up with, all within 60 minutes, which includes the map. I have cleaned up the text a bit, though. I don’t want to ask anyone to understand my sketchy shorthand.

Note that my thought is that this would be used with a game system similar to the one I wrote about last Wednesday. The idea is that the players begin with no classes at all, similar to The Funnel of DCC RPG. As they play through this dungeon, they will seek to define their character.

General Info:

Old man Herst recently pulled down a bunch of trees at the end of his property. His onions were profitable last year, and he’d like to increase his crop this year. While tilling the soil, though, he discovered the most peculiar thing: a stone stairway! Leading right down into the earth! It was the damndest sight he ever done seen, and when he was telling the tale down at the pub that evening, you overheard him.

It’s perhaps 2 in the morning now, and you and your friends have gathered around the stairs. You’ve heard it said that treasures can sometimes be found beneath the earth–treasure enough that a bunch of farm hands like yourselves could buy a better life for yourselves.

Mouse PersonRoom 1: The walls and floor are a moss-covered flagstone. Stones are missing here and there, exposing the earth. The ceiling is almost entirely exposed earth, supported by stone arches which criss-cross the ceiling. Roots poke through here and there, and it looks as though it wouldn’t take much for the dirt to collapse into the room. These conditions persist throughout the dungeon, unless otherwise indicated.

There’s also a good deal of timber in this room, stacked in piles against the east and western walls. It is clearly old and rotten, perhaps part of the structure which originally stood over these stairs.

Exits to the North and South are visible upon entering the room. The secret exit to the West can be revealed by moving the timber aside.

There are 6 mouse-folk here, huddled in the corner and clutching their clubs. Their fur is mottled, and they appear to be malnourished.

Room 2: The walls have corpse shelves here, though most of these are empty. There are 12 shelves in all, but only three bodies remain. Close examination of any of the empty shelves will reveal a small pressure plate in roughly the same spot on each shelf. Pressing the plate does nothing. Close examination of the wall across from any shelf will reveal a small hole, the purpose of which is unclear.

Moving any of the three bodies which remain releases the pressure plate under their heads, and a crossbow bolt is fired at the player’s back from across the room. Also under each of these bodies, roughly where the small of the back would be, is a small ovoid piece of amber. Each is worth 10gp.

Room 3: Some of the floor stones here have been pulled free, and water from above has formed into a pond which is 2ft deep at its deepest point. There are six mouse people here, drinking the water. Two more stand guard.

Aside from the water, there are three shelves in the room which were once filled with books. The shelves have now been knocked over, and the books scattered about the floor. Most are torn to pieces, and nearly all of them are covered in black mildew and small mushrooms. Thoroughly searching through the books will reveal only one book which is still in good condition. It is written in an odd script, but anyone who makes a successful intelligence check will strangely be able to read it.

Studying the book from cover-to-cover takes 8 hours. Once completed, the reader’s mind will be awakened to magical power. The player may immediately become a 1st level wizard, and may use this book to prepare a 5lb Mage Hand spell.

Once someone has been awakened in this manner, the book must rest for 100 years before it can awaken another.

Room 4: Most of the stones from the walls and ceiling have been piled in the center of the room in a 4ft high mass. Mouse folk have burrowed small nests in the dirt here. There are 14 adult mouse people here, and 26 young.

Beneath the pile of stone is a small chest containing the treasures of the mouse people: 16 gp, 42 sp, 317 cp, and 1 ruby worth 25gp.

The secret door in this room is opened by pushing on a hidden stone, and can only be discovered by performing a search check on the appropriate wall.

Room 5: In the center of this room is a wooden chair with skulls piled up around the base of it. Several skulls are nailed to the sides and legs of the chair as well. A young man in black robes with skulls haphazardly sewn onto the shoulders is nervously pacing here. He is Hezaphezus the Malevolent Bringer of Doom and Unlife. An inept necromancer of 18 years. He already cast all of his spells for the day, but carries a dagger and a Wand of Cold, which deals 1d6 damage and has 1d10 charges. Also on his person are 30 gp.

Room 6: Eight shambling corpses are here, banging on the door which leads to room 5. If zombies can show emotion, these zombies are angry. They’re so intent on getting through the door that they will not pay attention to the players unless they are attacked.

The flagstones on the floor of this room make a spiral pattern which twists towards the center of the room. At the center of the floor is a glass lens, about 1ft in diameter. If you look through it, you will see the plane which your soul would be bound for if you died today.

Room 7: This is the lair of the Spidersnake. The room has no obvious features upon entering. However, it is bisected by the web of the spidersnake, and anyone attempting to move from one door to the other will become tangled.

The spidersnake itself rests in a web funnel it made in the ceiling of the room. Among the bodies in this funnel the players can find 40 sp, 8gp, and a sword whose blade always seems to be covered in a thin layer of green slime. This is a Sword of Rotbane, which sets fire to any undead it successfully strikes.

Room 8: A statue on the Western wall stretches an arm straight out, pointing at a spot on the floor. The statue wears a crown. If the base of the statue is inspected, the players will find writing which reads only “The Pretender.”

Any player who kneels before the statue will cause a crossbow bolt to fire from the tip of the pointing finger.

Stairs: The dungeon descends further down…though to what I have not yet determined.

Deadly Dungeons 21: Firebelly Statue

Firebelly SilvertongueBuilt into the wall is a huge iron statue of a man’s torso. The man’s pot-belly starts at the floor, and the man’s head meets the ceiling at eye level. His massive hands grip tightly to the floor, which is indented and twisted to fit around his clasping fingers.

There is a large opening in the belly of the statue, with a fireplace inside of it. Preferably this statue would be used in an inhabited area, so that the players can first encounter it with a fire blazing. This isn’t necessary, however the puzzle will probably be more difficult to figure out if there’s not an active fire.

At the base of the iron statue is an engraving, apparently an epitaph for whomever the statue depicts.

May the world never forget the name of Elric Warmaker. So skilled in war that he came to be called the man of the iron skin, for no wound would scar his body. He fought with a fire in his belly, and united all the peoples of the Uklik.

The gods had given him more than a warriors gifts, for in peace he spoke with a silver tongue. He won twice as many wars with his words as he ever did with stone and steel.

Though the mouth of the statue does not appear unusual upon viewing, it in fact is on very discrete hinges. Having been undisturbed for centuries, though, these hinges are quite stuck. The only way to open the mouth would be with a crowbar, or other lever instrument. Within the mouth is a silver tongue the size of a grown man’s torso. The value is not high as a piece of art, but such a large amount of silver is worth plenty on its own!

Lifting it might be difficult though.

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