Deadly Dungeons 25: Mind and Body Passage

Deadly Dungeons, Mind and Body Passage by LSA medium sized room with a flagstone floor. It could potentially contain any variety of set dressings. It could be an audience chamber, or a library, or whatever else is appropriate for the dungeon. However, the task may confuse players if the path between the two secret doors is blocked by anything large.

Two of the flagstones in this room are pressure plates. Each player walking through the room has a 1-in-20 chance of stepping on one of them. Any players who perform a task in the room which would require more movement than simply passing through, have a 1-in-6 chance to activate one of the flagstones. If a flagstone is stepped on, a secret door opens in the wall roughly 15ft away. This door remains open only so long as the flagstone is held down, and will close if the person standing on it steps off.

Inside of each secret room is a monster. The type of monster is not terribly important, though a construct or undead may be the most thematically appropriate. As I imagine it, the same type of monster exists in both rooms. However, if you wished to play to the room’s theme, you might put a brute of a monster in the “body” room, and a cunning or spellcasting monster in the “mind” room.

Regardless of what monster is used, a new one appears in the secret room each time the door is closed. So if a player steps on the pressure plate, releases the monster, and steps off the pressure plate to fight it; then when the player returns to the pressure plate to open the door again, another monster identical to the first will be released. The pressure plate can be held down by any small object weighing at least 50lb (it must have a base small enough that its weight isn’t distributed to other flagstones). An iron spike would also suffice.

Both secret rooms are small, only 10x10ft, and aside from their monsters, they have only one distinguishing feature. On the back wall of the rightmost room is a strawberry-sized, ceramic human brain, painted pink and grey. On the back wall of the leftmost room is a ceramic human man with a muscular frame, and a large cavity in the back of his head. Players who have already discovered and examined the “brain room” will notice that the cavity on the back of the figure’s head is just about the same size as the brain. (Though, of course, both rooms must be discovered interdependently of one another. So players who find this little man may not know a properly sized brain is nearby).

If either ceramic piece is pulled upon by anyone, it easily comes free of the wall, and the puller will discover that it is attached to a strong, steel cord. If the object is released, the ceramic cord will reel back into the wall, pulling the object back into its place.

The cord unreels easily enough, until the object reaches the doorway of the secret room. Once here, players will find themselves completely unable to pull the cord another inch unless they meet the appropriate ability score prerequisite. Only players with a Constitution of 12 or greater can pull the figure of the man’s body beyond the doorway. Likewise, the brain can only be removed from its room by players with an Intelligence score of 12 or greater. If need be, a player who does not meet these ability score prerequisites can hold one of the objects to prevent it from reeling back into its room, but it will require all of their strength to do so.

If the party manages to pull the two pieces together, and place the brain inside of the body, then the cords will disappear, and the tiny man will drop to the floor and come alive. From seemingly nowhere, he will pull out a grappling hook, and throw it up through a hole in the ceiling (which before that moment was solid stone). He will then scramble up the rope, and out of sight, leaving the party alone with the rope leading up into a secret passage.

OPTIONAL: The tiny man steals something of value from whoever was nearest to it at the moment it came alive, and flees with that object through the passage. When the party encounters him again, they will discover that despite his tiny size he is incredibly strong, and brilliantly intelligent.

Not every party will be able to solve this room. Regard that as a feature, or as a bug, as you will.

Note that one of this room’s benefits is that it (eventually) produces an positive result from the normally deadly blunder of stepping on a pressure plate. In future, players will be forced to wonder whether the pressure plates they encounter ought to be avoided entirely, or experimented with.

Picture Thursday 35: Tattooed Mage by Jason Rainville

Tattoed Mage by Jason Rainville

I don’t know exactly where this painting is from, or what it is called, but I do know that the artist is the impressive Jason Rainville.

There’s so much to like about this piece, I hardly know where to begin.

My first impression is one of danger. Those ceramic totem-snakes are menacing as fuck, and I have the distinct impression that the character is angry about the viewers presence. She appears violently insane. Even turning to run would likely provoke an attack. All I can think to do is hold up my hands and back away slowly, and hope she calms down.

Speaking of those serpent creatures, have you ever seen anything so cool in your life?

I’m also quite fond of her nudity. This isn’t nudity as you often see it in fantasy art. This woman is not attractive at the moment. She is, as I mentioned previously, terrifying. My eyes are not drawn to her breasts  or her ass, despite both being shapely and pleasant. Her nakedness is not sensual. It’s a sign of her madness and her desperation. It is the nudity of a screaming newborn. It is feral.

Fucking fantastic. Absolutely fucking fantastic.

2nd Annual Papers & Pencils Reader Survey Results

Accountant CatThe reader survey is over, with my thanks to everyone who participated! I had a total of 46 responses which is a little shy of the 50 I was hoping for, but a respectable improvement over last year’s 38. Another improvement over last year is that this is going up the week after the survey ended, rather than in October. This is partially thanks to Google introducing some better support for surveys in the past year, and partially thanks to the fact that I’m still kind of embarrassed about how long I procrastinated last year, and am eager to do better.

There’s a lot to sift through, so I’ll just jump right in. But quickly, before I do, I’d like to note that the image to the left was the first result when I performed an image search for “accountant cat.” Thank you, Internet. Thank you for being you.

 Are you a regular reader of Papers & Pencils?

Yes, I read every post. 24 52%
Yes, I read most posts. 16 35%
I read the site occasionally. 6 13%
I’ve never read the site prior to taking this survey. (If so, please do not take the survey)! 0 0%

How long have you been reading Papers & Pencils?

Since 2011 6 13%
Since 2012 17 37%
Started reading earlier this year. 23 50%

Upon first looking at this information, one might think the number of readers I pick up each year is increasing. However, cross referencing with the same question from last year, I had 28 readers from 2012, and more than 6 readers from 2011. The most reasonable hypothesis is probably that people don’t tend to read blogs long term. They read a blog for awhile, then move on. I’ll be interested to see if that trend continues next year.

How would you rate the technical aspects of the Papers & Pencils website?

(1 is the worst site on the Internet, 5 is the best site on the Internet.)

1 0 0%
2 0 0%
3 24 52%
4 21 46%
5 1 2%

Could you briefly elaborate on why the site’s tech is good or bad?

(Answers grouped by type.)

Loads quickly. (2)
Loads slowly. (8)
Hard to find specific stuff. (5)
No complaints. (18)
Twitter feeder doesn’t work. (2)
Pictures don’t load. (1)
Needs a search function. (4)
I like the recommended reading. (3)
Color Palette is too dark. (1)
Needs a mobile version. (1)
Wordpress sucks. (1)
Post tags are too messy. (1)
Post tags are great. (1)
More inline links to groups of posts. (1)
Since you’re not on a blogging website, I can access your site from work. (1)

All in all, this turned out a little better than expected. Nobody rated the site below a 3, though it seems as though about half of you guys use RSS readers, which is why there are so many ticks in the “no complaints” column.

My reasons for asking these questions about the quality of the site’s tech are twofold. First, it’s coming up on time to renew my hosting. I’ve always thought the site’s loading times have been a little long, and seeing that so many of you agree with me has convinced me to try to work a hosting upgrade into my budget. Of course, Papers & Pencils will never load as fast as a Blogger website does. Google’s servers are lightning fast. But hopefully we can improve that a little.

Second, I’d really like to rebuild the Papers & Pencils layout from the ground up. This is a huge job, and I worry that I won’t be able to find time for it. But there’s a lot of stuff I really hate about the website’s current format. The difficulty of finding old posts, lack of search function, and that fact that my layout is incompatible with wordpress’s Jetpack plugin are all huge frustrations for me.

Regarding the color palette, I honestly appreciate you letting me know. But I’m probably not going to change that.

Regarding a mobile site, I gave this a solid try when I was designing the site’s layout originally. Unfortunately, neither I nor anyone close to me has a smartphone, which makes testing difficult. I’ll try to make a higher priority of that when I get around to the redesign.

Regarding the post tags, I agree with the guy who thinks they’re too messy. Still working out what I want to do about that in my head. I’m generally not fond of how wordpress handles post tags.

Regarding the fellow who reads from work; rock on brother.

How do you access the posts on Papers & Pencils?

I keep the website bookmarked. 23 50%
I have Papers & Pencils in my RSS reader. 20 43%
It’s in the blogroll of another blog I read. If the newest post looks interesting, I click. 2 4%
I get updates via Twitter. 0 0%
Other 1 2%

How did you first find Papers & Pencils?

Linked from another blog. (14)
Google+ (1)
Google search. (15)
Don’t remember. (3)
Linked from a forum. (2)
I’m your brother. (1)
Played a G+ game with LS (2)
Twitter (1)
Directed here by a friend. (2)
Met the author at Paizocon 2012 and he gave me a business card. (1)

Dude, Paizocon guy, you’re still reading? That’s awesome, I’m glad you’ve been enjoying it! Having lunch with you and your wife was easily the highlight of the convention for me, which didn’t really live up to my expectations otherwise.

Are you one of the 38 champions who participated in the 2012 reader survey last year?

Yes 9 20%
No, I didn’t want to / never got around to it. 2 4%
No, I wasn’t a reader at the time. 35 76%

I think it’s fair to say this supports my hypothesis about most people moving on from blogs after reading them for awhile.

What is your level of involvement with tabletop gaming?

Disinterested 0 0%
Casual 5 11%
Passionate Beginner 6 13%
Avid Player 6 13%
Game Master 23 50%
Aspiring Professional 5 11%
Professional in the tabletop gaming industry 1 2%

Hah! I’ve still got my professional from last year. He or she has yet to reveal themselves to me, but at least they’re still reading. They makes me feel relevant.

I’m interested in the high number of non-GMs among my readership. Given that I mostly post about game master stuff, I wonder what they find useful here.

Are you a blogger yourself?

Yes, I also blog about tabletop games. 11 24%
Yes, but I blog about a topic other than tabletop games. 4 9%
No, I’m not a blogger. 31 67%

What is your tabletop game of choice?

(Multiple answers were allowed).

Pathfinder (14)
Lamentations of the Flame Princess (1)
Dark Heresy (1)
Warhammer 40k (1)
Unspecified Edition of D&D (2)
OD&D (4)
B/X D&D (3)
AD&D (3)
AD&D 2nd Ed (3)
D&D 3.5 (4)
4th Edition D&D (5)
Traveler (1)
ACKS (1)
Custom home-ruled game. (3)
World of Darkness (1)
FATE (2)
Shadowrun (2)
Battletech (1)
Dungeon World (2)
D20 (1)
“Between Systems,” (1)
Conan (1)
DARPG (1) (Dragon Age?)
Warrior, Rogue & Mage (1)
Sixcess (1)
Cortex (1)
Ars Magica (1)
Spells and Steel

Say what you will about the way WotC handled the D&D license, at least they never allowed the clusterfuck of confusing game editions that TSR allowed in the early days. I can hardly keep track of it.

There are a number of these I’d never heard of. I performed some googling for my own curiosity, and included links in case you’re also curious. Sixcess kinda caught my eye, I’m curious to learn more. Spells and Steel appears to be a homebrew system (from Charles Taylor, I suspect)? A cursory google didn’t reveal much about BECMI, save for the fact that it does exist.

I had no idea Pathfinder was still so popular among my readership. I feel kinda bad about not wanting to play it anymore. >.>

Earlier this year I released an adventure module titled “The Hidden Tomb of Slaggoth the Necromancer.”

I didn’t know this module existed. 3 7%
I know the module exists, but have no interest in it. 3 7%
I know the module exists, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. 20 43%
I read the module, but I didn’t like it. 0 0%
I read the module, and I did like it. 17 37%
I’ve played through or run the module, it wasn’t good. 0 0%
I played through or run the module, it was good. 3 7%

Wow! I’ve actually been concerned about how linear the dungeon was, and its general lack of tricky puzzles. It’s good to know so many people enjoyed it.

I don’t want to impose on your time any more than I have, but I’d love to hear any thoughts from people who’ve read it–in particular those who actually ran through it! If you’re so inclined, email me at linkskywalker14 [at] gmail [dot] com.

What is a recent Papers & Pencils post you enjoyed?

Deadly Dungeons (In general) (2)
Magical Marvels 13: Snowstorm Blade (2)
Colorful Characters 26: Ronder Thelleper, the Drunk Warlock (3)
Overview of Pathfinder’s Skills: Perception (1)
Deadly Dungeons 23: Flippy Turny Fally Room (1)
Pathfinder Class Analysis (2)
GM Tips (1) (Not sure if this is what they meant, but it’s my best guess).
Vendor Saving Throw (1)
You Don’t Need to Roll a Character to Start Playing (1)
Magical Marvels 12: Silvertongue Ink (1)
Magical Marvels (In general) (1)
The New Project (1)
Colorful Characters 6: The Owlbear (1)
Colorful Characters (In general) (1)
Not Everything Needs to be Finished (1)
Feat Slot System for Pathfinder (1)
Legend of Zelda Adventure System Combat Notes (1)
Magical Marvels 14: Hat of 5 Birds (1)
When Ginny Bo Fails a Morale Check (1)
Lamentations of the Flame Princess (1)

What is a recent Papers & Pencils post you did not enjoy?

Not Everything Needs to be Finished (3)
LS and the Fuzz Covered Vessel (2)
Magical Marvels 13: Snowstorm Blade (1)
Colorful Characters 26: Ronder Thelleper, the Drunk Warlock (1)
Dear Pathfinder (1)
Pathfinder Class Analysis (1)
Ding! Level Three! (1)
“Honestly nothing, I guess if i had to pick a type of post i like the least I would say picture Thursday’s are a little to short description wise.” (1)
“Some NPC or content posts could be more concise.” (1)
“I prefer looking at technical aspects of gaming.” (1)

It’s super interesting to see which stuff shows up on both lists, am I right?

To the fellow who was made sad by “Not Everything Needs to be Finished,” I’m sorry! While that post was a load off of my mind, but no one is more sad than I am that some of my past projects will never reach fruition. Hopefully someday I’ll make a living off of this stuff, and spend more time finishing stuff!

Regarding the length of my content posts, I agree. I let them get way out of hand. I’ve tried to be more concise with those posts since I came back from hiatus. I hope you’ve enjoyed them more since then. NPC posts might continue to be long, since I often use those as an exercise in writing fiction in addition to creating interesting characters.

Regarding the length of picture Thursday posts, those are unlikely to become longer I’m afraid.

Also, to the fellow who said their favorite recent post was “The Owlbear;” really, dude? That’s the most recent post you enjoyed? It’s one of the oldest posts on the site! I feel inadequate now. ( =p )

Do you leave comments on the site?

Yes, often! 0 0%
Yes, occasionally. 8 18%
I have, once or twice. 12 27%
No, I don’t comment because it’s too much trouble. 3 7%
No, I don’t comment. (For reasons other than it being too much trouble). 22 49%

What is your gender?

Female 1 2%
Male 44 98%
Trans Female 0 0%
Trans Male 0 0%
Other 0 0%

This makes me profoundly sad. My female readership is down 75% since last year! I weep for the gender inclusiveness of our hobby. ;_;

What is your age?

Under 15 0 0%
15-17 2 4%
18-25 14 31%
26-35 19 42%
36-45 7 16%
46-55 3 7%
56+ 0 0%

Hrm, I’ll need to work on getting that “Under 15” readership up by next year!

What is your level of education?

Not yet in highschool. 0 0%
Some highschool. 1 2%
Highschool diploma. 4 9%
Some college. 9 20%
Associates degree / Professional certification. 2 4%
Bachelor’s degree 13 29%
Some graduate school. 3 7%
Master’s degree. 11 24%
JD 1 2%
PhD 1 2%
MD 0 0%

What the what? How in the world do I have such a highly educated readership!? I’m a dropout!

11 of my readers have Master’s degrees! One of my readers has a PhD! That is so cool!

 What sort of work do you do? For food money?

Tourism information
Computer Programmer
Web Architect
Software Developer
Graduate Student (!)
Officiate Soccer/Deliver Pizza
Working on my PhD in physics (!!)
I have a PhD fellowship. (!!!)
Residential remodeling
Web Design
High School English Teacher (Shit! How am I doing?)
Air Force Medical Services
Own software company
IT Professional Banking
VFX student
Adjunct Biology Instructor
Office staff
Information Technology
IT Sysadmin
Business owner
Office Manager and Testing Technician
Software Engineering
Software Support
Computer programming
I am an acting major who works at a truck stop.
Litigator (Hey Gustie!)

Thanks to everyone who answered this question! After last year, reader Gilmoure suggested I add it to the survey. It was a good suggestion, some of you folks are super badasses. Did you see the person who does “Physics” for food money? I like to imagine he or she is a mad scientist.

Do you play tabletop games online, or off?

I play offline whenever I can, but enjoy playing online as well. 18 40%
I much prefer online play. 2 4%
I can’t find an offline group, so I play online. 1 2%
I only play offline. 17 38%
I have no group to play with at all! 3 7%
Other 4 9%


How frequently do you play tabletop games?

More than once per week. 7 16%
Weekly 18 40%
Bi-weekly 7 16%
Monthly 6 13%
Rarely 1 2%
Don’t have any group right now, but I want one! 6 13%


 How long does a typical game session last?

1-3 hours 17 39%
4-6 hours 27 61%
7-9 hours 0 0%
10+ hours 0 0%


 Tabletop RPGs are…

a cooperative storytelling experience. 13 30%
a way to explore imaginative worlds. 8 18%
a tactical adventure simulation. 1 2%
a game of challenges with open-ended solutions. 10 23%
Other 12 27%

The “Other” responses were:

-A mix of everything but most important fun with friends
-All of the above! (3)
-Can’t choose a single one, honestly. It used to be the “tactical adventure simulation” too, but not quite so anymore.
-Exploration and creative problem solving (#2 and #4)
-An escape from the world we live in
-all of the above are valid. tailor the game to the group.
-Both storytelling and tactical, in a proportion that depends on your players
-All of the above! I believe that story is the most important element, but without a well crafted world, and challenging situations story is useless.

I’m shocked by how many of my readers consider themselves story gamers, given how generally derisive I am of making the story the focus of play. I’m glad you folks have been able to find something to enjoy here, despite that disagreement.

 I’ve been very very slowly writing a piece of fiction called “The Girl and the Granite Throne.” It’s linked at the top of every page on the website.

I…huh. I never noticed that there before. 25 61%
Not interested in reading your D&D fanfiction, dude. 7 17%
I’ve read it, not terribly impressed. 1 2%
I’ve read it. It’s alright. 6 15%
I’ve read it, please write more! 2 5%

Not terribly surprised by this response. I’m conflicted, because I’ve got my heart in that story. I want to tell it, but it doesn’t seem like a valuable use of my time given people’s general reaction to it, and the fact that it includes Vecna, a character owned by WotC. So I could never profit from it.

Thanks to everyone who answered this question. I was really curious to know.

You’re a GM, and one of your players tells you they would like to play an Illithid.

What’s an Illithid? 2 5%
No, that’s too overpowered. 1 2%
No, that’s not thematically consistent with this game. 12 27%
Yes, this might prove to be interesting. 6 14%
Yes, but make sure the other players receive some benefits to put them on an even footing. 3 7%
Yes, but plan for some disadvantages the player will face on account of his or her race. 6 14%
Other 14 32%

The “Other” responses were:

-What’s an Illithid do in d20 Modern ;) ? Depends on context.
-go find some illithids and recruit them
-b and c; plus I find it stupid. For the record, Tieflings are also stupid.
-Yes, but you’re going to have to help come up with why you’re part of the group.
-Last two options
-Yes, but you will need to build your way up, train just like the others. Skills will come with time and practice
-Not if it’s your 1st character in that world
-If all the other players are OK with it and you can give me an AMAZING background story for it, we’ll make it work
-Why do you always do this to me!?!? Play normal! [Never, Jeremy! NEVER! MWUAHAHA!]
-“Have you thought about the mob with pitchforks and torches?”
-Depends on the setting
-Yes, but understand that most of the world believes you’re a brutal, evil creature and will treat you that way.
-Only OK in a game where min-maxing doesn’t exist (like. FATE core) or for a beginning player. If a regular wants to play something like that they need to help come up with an errata’d build that won’t hog the spotlight.
-Depends. Experienced players should “know better.” New players should enjoy themselves.

Do you have any disabilities which makes reading Papers & Pencils difficult? If so, how can I accommodate you?

“I have poor eyesight. I fix it with glasses.”

Very funny, you silly person, you.

“I’m stupid”

If education is any indication of intelligence, and my readership isn’t full of liars, then my readership is statistically more intelligent than the average population of the U.S. And you’re among my readership.


Do you have any criticisms of Papers & Pencils not covered above?

Mechanics for mechanics’ sake isn’t that interesting. Ronder Thelleper is an example of that. Where did he grow up, train, how did end up how/where he is? Why is alcohol his only goal and trusted companion? What has he done for alcohol already?

Amusingly, despite the fact that Ronder Thelleper was cited by 3 people as the post they had most enjoyed recently, I actually agree with you. Ronder Thelleper was an idea I’d had the previous week, and I knew I was going to write it for that Friday. Then time got away from me, and the version which went online wasn’t written as thoroughly as I had intended. I think it stands well on its own, but if I’d had more time, I would have answered some of those questions you pose.

I’ve honestly racked my brain for 20 minutes now trying to think of one, and can’t come up with anything. Post more, that’s about it :)

Compliments are my favorite kind of criticism. I hope you’ve enjoyed 5-posts-per-week the last couple weeks!

I would LOVE it if you would put out more deadly dungeons posts =D The creativity in those posts is amazing and they are super helpful to me. My players are just about to start a dungeon with a slide room in it hehe.

Fun fact: the last two Deadly Dungeons posts were written because of this criticism. So there you go, LS delivers.

Deadly Dungeons is one of my favorite post series as well, and won’t be slowing down any time soon. I’d like to do a book of them eventually, if I can.

Can’t think of any criticisms. The ridiculously unkempt beard seems strangely appropriate.

I’m halfway convinced that ridiculously unkempt beards are a prerequisite for success in the tabletop industry. Otherwise I would shave.



I’m not too thrilled that you’re moving away from Pathfinder, but that’s honestly not that big of a deal. I read your site for articles on game philosophy more than anything. I wish you had a cell phone so I could easily chat with you.

This comment looks creepy without context.

You seem awfully caught up in ambition. My experience is that the best work one can do is that which comes easily. It’s good to push yourself, but don’t beat yourself up so much for failing to achieve your aims! I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of my favorite posts (like game stories, or things you’ve learned as a DM, etc.) are some of the ones you’ve put the least effort into (because they’re not “creative”, they’re just pure expressions of your thoughts).

You’re not wrong. Some of my most popular posts have been ones I thought were garbage at the time I wrote them! And I’m definitely caught up in my ambition. I can’t really help it. My ambition, and my hope that someday it will pay off, are the only things which keep me alive.

I didn’t even know you had a big dumb face and an unkept beard (ridiculous or otherwise). Congrats!

LS has a Ridiculous Face and Beard

1) I massively enjoy seeing content (even if open ended) discussing concepts and ideas you have regarding campaign management or making the adventure more lively. This type of post has arguably been the kind of thing that has me coming back for more.

2)I totally understand that you will be posting your characters and whatnot for LotFP from now on, but it would be nice if the post was somehow divided into two portions. One focusing on the concept and the other more on the ruling. Making the transfer of the concept to different rules easier.

1) I will keep this in mind. It’s about time I go back and revisit a lot of the concepts I’ve already discussed. Encumbrance, ration and ammunition tracking. I think I could improve on what I’ve done before, and I keep telling myself I’m going to do it eventually.

2) Most of the content posts have been very crunch-light for awhile, and LotFP is a crunch light system. For most posts, I doubt you’ll even notice the difference. The only posts where the difference will probably be noticeable are Malevolent Monsters (which won’t have a new entry until I start doing promo for the monster book I’m writing), and Colorful Characters. I’ll be curious to know if you’re having difficulty with the different rules. If you are, send me an email (linkskywalker14 [at] gmail [dot] com) and let me know. I’ll see if I can’t work out the kinks.

I have no interest in doing any more of the hours-long pathfinder crunch sessions, but if there’s something else I could do, it’d be good to know!

Your opinions are interesting – the only thing I would mention is this: if you can make Pathfinder better, why don’t you? Thousands and thousands of people are using Kickstarter every day to do just that – and if you can make the game system as good as it sounds in your blog, I have about two dozen people who would fork over $40-$50 for it.

Okay, fun story. In January of this year, a new friend told me they wanted to join my Pathfinder game. This friend is lively and imaginative; perfect for tabletop play. But he’s also impatient, bores easily, and has something of an acerbic sense of humor. I knew the Pathfinder character creation process wouldn’t go well, and he’d be frustrated and annoyed before the game ever started. So I decided to finally work out some quick character generation rules for Pathfinder.

Then I decided that even a quickly generated character would be complex and annoying. Most of my current player’s characters are filled with flaws because the players don’t understand the rules. I decided to undertake a project I had been wanting to undertake for a long time: a full bodied Pathfinder hack. I was going to call it “Play Pathfinder Like LS,” or PPFLLS. My Ability Scores Weighted By Race system began its development here.

THEN I got to the combat system, and decided I didn’t like the way AC or attack rolls worked. Too complicated, too confusing. But I knew that this was too fundamental to change and still call the game “Pathfinder.” Once I changed that, it wasn’t a Pathfinder hack anymore. So I took the plunge, and decided that I was making my own tabletop game system. (This is where “Simple Attacks & Grapples” came from). I needed to change the name, of course. PPFLLS, said out loud, sounded like “Piffls” to me, which sorta sounds like “Pitfalls,” so I called the game “Pitfalls,” until regular commenter Jimmy pointed out to me that there was already a tabletop game called “Pitfalls and Penguins.” I decided to change the name of the game to “Rocksfall,” after another similar trap.

Rocksfall continued in development for awhile, but designing a tabletop RPG is a lot more difficult than I thought it was. And I started to wonder what the fuck I was doing. I decided to refocus my energies. First, to learn about more game systems so I had a better idea of what was out there, and would be better equipped to make Rocksfall someday. Second, to work on some large scale projects (such as a monster book) so that when I do set about making my own system, I have a better idea of the scale of the project I’m getting myself into.

Rocksfall isn’t entirely dead, mind you, I’m just not sure whether I’ll pick it up again someday or not.

I sometimes struggle to find old articles. This is probably a flaw with me, not your site.

No, it’s a flaw with the site. It’s my #1 frustration with the site, actually. I’m going to try to fix it.

I hated to learn that you’ve given up on Pathfinder. But, I totally understand the appeal of OSR-type games. I find Castle & Crusades very tempting.

It was a tough decision. But I don’t think I could continue doing Pathfinder justice anymore. I’m too involved in OSR games these days.

Just re-iterating the quicker/more organized categories. I often refer back to previous articles of yours that I intend to implement in my own games, but I can’t often remember which month/year/etc to look under, nor am I very competent with the search function.

I am sorry. It is a major failing of the site. I’ll do what I can to figure out a better solution.

I would organize and group posts more efficiently.

I would too. It’s a mess right now.

We have some philosophical differences so sometimes your articles are just not relevant to me. You seem very old-school in the type of roleplaying you expect from your players. I’m much more pragmatic: I don’t mind players rolling perception, narrating from a detatched point of view (“I’ll provoke that guy, maybe with something about his mother”), or having combat become basically a board game with miniatures.

I don’t mind players narrating from a detached point of view at all. I quite encourage it, actually. Though you’re right that I don’t like perception rolls or endless rounds of combat. I’m glad you’re still able to find something worth your while here!

I actually really like how Papers&Pencils has come up with a lot of different ways to use the base Pathfinder tabletop system. I have adopted versions of Encumbrance and the Randomized Hex Crawl for my own game, and have tried to simplify things for my players. I know you have talked about writing your own game system, and I think coming up with a simple system that puts power into the players hands would benefit tabletop gamers significantly.

I’d be interested in hearing more about what you mean by “a simple system that puts power into the players hands.” Feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss it a bit (linkskywalker14 [at] gmail [dot] com)

And thank you for your kind words about my ideas. I’ll try to keep them coming!

Was sitting on the edge of my seat all June for new posts and only got 1 :(

I’m sorry. :(

I hope August has made up for it!

Ridiculously Unkempt Beard! I shall call it RUB for short. It is too distractingly amazing. Or is it amazingly distracting? This should be remedied.

Now people can point at my face and say “That’s the RUB, isn’t it?”

Is there anything you would like to add in closing?

Campaign toolbox was also a great post.

Aw, thanks!

Keep it up! Your readers need you! Well, need is maybe a strong word, but we sure do like and appreciate you.

Well, maybe need is just the right word! Maybe some of you would perish without the illumination of my deific intellect!?


Alright then.

Obviously I enjoy your work as I usually check it once a day. I like to think of myself as a good Gamemaster, but I often find myself thinking, “wow, that’s a really cool idea I wouldn’t have thought of.” You are a great writer.

Oh_stop_it_youI lament your breakup with Pathfinder. While I can’t argue with your reasoning and I certainly appreciate you letting our dear Pathfinder down easy, this was the only Pathfinder-friendly blog I read, and I’m certainly going to miss the plug-and-play content I could get here. I am still going to be a regular reader, and I’m not about to attempt to change your mind, but, well, the two of you were so *good* together. Or, rather, you were good for it.


I understand. When I first started Papers & Pencils, I spent a long time looking for good Pathfinder blogs I could read and link to. The scant few PF sites I actually found were nothing but character builds, feat analyses, and play reports. Nobody out there is actually assessing the game, trying to find its flaws and make it better. The only blogs I was able to find which WERE doing that were OSR blogs. Which, coincidentally, is how I was introduced the OSR in the first place.

A lot of the content here should still be good for you as a Pathfinder player. Deadly Dungeons has almost never been game-specific, and many of the GMing posts (like the recent one about bookshelves that I’m very proud of) can be used easily with any game system. I have some amazing Pathfinder-only readers, and I want to make sure they still find as much to interest them here as they can.

Also, thank you for referencing my stupid joke about being in a relationship with pathfinder. It made me smile.

I enjoy the depth and thought you put into many of your posts; something that can be rather lacking in some areas of the internet.

Really, though, that's very nice of you to say.


I just wanted to thank you.
Your blog posts have not only entertained me but have truly enlightened me.
You have great ideas and good tidbits of information that has proven to be very useful in helping me form my first campaign.

and keep up the great work

That’s awesome! Good luck running your first campaign. It will get away from you (all campaigns do), but it’s exciting like nothing else.

I enjoy how open you seem to be to thinking and learning.

The years I spent as a philosophy major had to be good for something, right?

Keep the mind open, and keep up the good work!

Instructions unclear. Attempted to cut open my skull. I’m a vegetable now. Thanks a lot.

(Seriously. Thanks a lot. That was a very nice thing you said to me.)

I’m glad you came back from your time off. The internet was sad without you.

I’m just impressed to learn my presence has such a huge impact on the Internet.

I love your trap rooms, your ideas for the Legend of Zelda (especially the non-experience point advancement system), and your general system write-ups (especially using Xd6 drop the lowest/highest instead of +/- modifiers for race; it can work with class too if you have a small enough selection).
Keep up the awesome work.

I’ll keep the trap rooms coming plentifully. The Legend of Zelda stuff is pretty much done, but if I come up with any more ideas I’ll be sure to share them. And system writeups are my favorites. No other post makes me feel more accomplished than a really good game system.

I’ll keep my work awesome, for you!

Keep it up. Me want more!

Dude be careful. Didn’t you see there’s an English teacher reading this site?

Awesome, amazing blog. I get so much out of your posts as a fairly new DM. I look forward to more articles. If I can suggest one thing, and it may be too much work, but instead of abandoning Pathfinder for LotFP, work on overhauling certain aspects. I enjoy your posts about why Pathfinder doesn’t work as I agree wholeheartedly, but I’d love to see more solid ideas about how to improve them. I’m currently working on a “Swords & Sorcery” style overhaul of PF and you’re previous posts have inspired a lot of that. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

There will absolutely be more criticisms of Pathfinder in the future. If nothing else, the Class Analysis series isn’t done. But I’m sure I have a few other thoughts in me as well.

Keep up with the interesting ideas!

I will!

If you were my DM, I’d buy you a beer.

I don’t drink, but I’d share a beer with you anyway, Internet chum!

Keep up the great work, I’m happy to see this survey and it gives me the push i need to let you know you are doing great instead of being lazy and lurking. I’ve adapted many of your deadly dungeon rooms in different forms and I haven’t been disappointed yet.

Final thought: I started with dnd 3e in middle school and thought it was the end all, then pathfinder gave me that same feeling, howeever as I’ve read your posts I am beginnning to agree that maybe I’ve lost sight of what the point really is… You’ve gotten me into looking at the older editions and I may even play an OSR stlye game in the near future.

That’s fantastic! I’d love to hear about what you think of older editions and OSR style games.

And thanks for filling out the survey. Hearing from readers seriously makes all the time I spend writing worth it.

I miss chatting on twitter about Star Wars books. :-P In all honesty I think of you as an upstanding guy that I would love to be friends with in person. Also, I would love to build a game with you some day. Finally, I really want you to eventually finish more things so I can play and run them! You can do it, Nick! Your stuff is fantastic!

PS: I have found the system I want to run the Slaggoth adventure in. After running Sixcess at Gen Con I am super excited about the system. Also, check out Spectrum Games. They rock.

Ah, you were the guy who plays Sixcess? That game DID look interesting from what little I saw of it. I’m planning to give it a good look later.

Your site is a fount of creativity which both helps and inspires me to create bigger, better and more original things.

I don’t think anyone has ever called me a fount of creativity before. Thank you, it’s very touching to hear that.

Even though our group (not least of all me) got sick of Pathfinder, I am interested to see the class series finished.

It will be. I promise. (Really promise. Not just “I’m planning on it but will probably lose interest” promise.)

Keep up the great work!

I will, but not because you told me to! You’re not my mom!









Formatting a Monster Book

The Bad Child's Book of BeastsAs I mentioned the other day, I’m working on a monster book. The project is going swimmingly so far. For awhile I focused on creating a binder filled with ideas for monsters. Anything from a doodle, to a fully developed creature I’ve used in my own games. After I finished cataloging all of the stray ideas I had already come up with (in the process of which coming up with twice as many NEW ideas, which also had to be cataloged), I started drafting. The goal with drafting is to figure out the broad thrust of what the monster will be like, and work it into a playtestable state. In the last few weeks when rolling an encounter, I’ve just used a random page from my drafts binder. Everything has turned out better than expected so far.

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to playtest some of the drafted monsters, though, I’m starting to wonder about making more formal drafts. All I have for most of the monsters is mechanics and either a doodle, or a short description of their appearance. What else ought to be included? The obvious essentials for every monster are art, statblocks, and descriptions of abilities. That last one is the most problematic, since some monsters have abilities which can be described in a paragraph, while others have more complex abilities requiring 3 or 4. My favorite LotFP monster so far (The Watcher’s Second Creature from Better than Any Man) requires no less than 7 paragraphs to fully describe. With such a wide variance in essential information, I’m not sure how to plan a standard set of supplementary information.

Here’s stuff I’d like to include.

  • A bit about the monster’s origins and typical behavior. Not much, mind you, since I don’t think many people find this sort of thing quite as interesting as I do. Over-explaining a monster’s ecology has been a failing of mine in the past which I’m determined not to repeat with this project. All the same, I think it’s nice to include a little background. Maybe the monster came from hell, or was created by a priest trying to rid his town of non-believers, or was crafted by a wizard, or a mad peasant who got very lucky with some gibberish he was screaming. I enjoy coming up with that information, I think I just need to present it in a much more concise form than I have in the past.
  • Brief, written descriptions. If you own a recent D&D or Pathfinder monster book, you’ve probably seen the italic text right under the monster’s name. Such as for the Ogre: “This lumbering giant’s beady eyes are devoid of wit or kindness, and its puffy face features a mouth with ill-fitting teeth.” I think this is a great addition to a monster book. Sure, a person gifted with descriptive talents could easily draw upon the art for this, but for those who are not, a line or two like this can provide a good springboard.
  • Rumor tables / plot hooks which might inform the players about the monster, and lead them to hunting it down. This would be particularly useful not only because it’s a great assistance to the GM, but also because it’s easy to vary in size. If the monster’s abilities required 10 paragraphs to describe, include only 3 rumors. If the abilities took 2 paragraphs to describe, include 10 rumors.
  • Size scale. This one actually shouldn’t take any additional space. My idea is to find open source silhouettes of humans (which I’m sure shouldn’t be too hard) then place them somewhere in the art, and scale them so that their size is correct, relative to whatever monster is depicted in the image.
  • What to do with dead bodies. I find this idea particularly fascinating. In every game I’ve ever run, at least one player wants to make armor or weapons out of a dead monster’s body parts. Wouldn’t it be cool if monster bodies had some explicitly spelled out uses?
  • Quick reference icons. Another idea from Pathfinder’s bestiaries, where every monster has a number of icons next to their name indicating the creature’s type, native terrain, and preferred climate. While the informational content in Pathfinder’s books isn’t terribly interesting to me, the method of communicating it is. What if intelligent monsters had a little brain next to their name, to let the GM know that these monsters could talk & make deals with players, while any creature without a brain would act as a beast. What other icons might be useful?

I’d be interested to hear my readers thoughts on these. What information is important to you, and what information isn’t?

A Use for Bookshelves: Rumor Tables

Gloomy BookshelfBookshelves are one of my favorite pieces of set dressing for dungeons, as my website’s background attests to. They can come in many shapes and sizes, hide secret doors, contain hidden treasure, don’t take up much floor space, and can go just about anywhere without being out of place. Bedrooms can have bookshelves, dining rooms can have bookshelves, dens, and parlors, and even kitchens can have bookshelves. But in game terms, bookshelves have always presented me with one major problem:

What’s on them?

Players often want to search bookshelves thoroughly, looking for something valuable, and I frequently don’t have anything to give them. More than once I’ve had shelves filled with burned or waterlogged or shredded books, just to avoid the player’s inevitable questions about what the books say. Even the most dedicated game master can’t detail the contents of every bookshelf. Even coming up with titles would be a foolish waste of time.

But what, aside from spellbooks, are players really looking for on bookshelves? Useful information. Information such as:

  • Quest Hooks
  • Locations of treasure
  • Hints about defeating monsters
  • Hints at how magic items they might discover work.
  • Hints about how to bypass traps.
  • Clues to help them understand information gained elsewhere.
  • Secrets they can exploit.
  • Context for the current area, which may or may not be useful to them.

Each bookshelf should be associated with a small table. The table ought to be sized to the number of books on the bookshelf. So a small row of books atop a fireplace mantle might have only a 4 entry table, while a wall-spanning bookshelf would have a table of 12 entries or greater. I, personally, would use a linear probability table (rolling a single die, resulting in equal probability for all possible results) to keep things simpler on the GM side. However, someone willing to put in a little more work could use a bell curve probability table (rolling multiple dice, so results in the middle are more likely; and high or low results are less likely) to represent that some information would be featured more predominantly in multiple books, while other information would be hard to find.

For every 3 exploration turns (30 minutes) that a single player spends perusing the books, roll on the table and tell them the piece of interesting information which caught their eye. The player may repeat this process as many times as they like, receiving a new roll for each 3 turns spent. But the longer they peruse, the more difficult it is to find new information. Any time the GM rolls a result which has occurred already, the player finds nothing new.

If the player wishes, they can read the entire bookshelf all the way through, gaining all of the information it holds. This requires a number of turns equal to the maximum die result, times 100. So for a 1d12 book shelf, it would take 1200 turns, or roughly 8 and 1/3rd days. A generously short amount of time, if you consider how many books are typically contained on a bookshelf, and how long it takes to read a book.

Additional players working together can shorten the reading time proportionally. While it takes 1 reader 3 turns to get a roll on the table, 3 players could get a roll in 1 turn, etc. And of course, random encounter checks should be rolled normally during any period of reading. Otherwise, the choice to sit still and read is one without risk, and you may as well just hand over a list of rumors for every bookshelf encountered.

As an example, here’s a table for a standing bookshelf in an ancient alchemy lab.

  1. The crushed roots of the White Tulily plant, when added to water, create an effective healing potion. [An unlabeled white flower is growing in the neighboring greenhouse.]
  2. A living stalk of Orcish Ivy, which grows only in the nearby Hills of Doom, is more valuable than a fistfull of diamonds.
  3. While the gemstones growing from its branches are quite tempting, the Demonsprout is a deadly, poisonous plant. To be handled with caution. [A sketch here matches a plant sitting on a nearby table.]
  4. The wizard who formerly owned this lab makes mention of a stash of scrolls kept in a hollow board on one of the benches, “just in case.”
  5. While Essence of Squirrel is generally quite useless, those bathed in it will not be attacked by dire squirrels. Several jars of it are kept handy, as this monster is somewhat common in the area.
  6. “The pit trap installed on the other side of the western door has proven quite useful, having caught 3 thieves in the space of two months!”
  7. The lake outside was once called “Lake Elenekish” [While not terribly useful on its own, the players might learn elsewhere that there is a great treasure at the bottom of Lake Elenekish, with no reference to where that lake might be found.]
  8. Journal Entry detailing how the Alchemist’s ungrateful apprentice stole 3 of his most valuable potions, and fled. The alchemist’s only satisfaction is that she appears to have fled into the den of the deadly Oliniphus. While he dares not try to retrieve the potions, at least his apprentice got what she deserved.

Magical Marvels: Hat of 5 Birds

The Hat of 5 Birds - Hair Nest
Image Copyright Devin Dygert

The hat of 5 birds is a curious magical object usually discovered in the form of a blue speckled egg with “Hat of 5 Birds” written in golden letters around it. No instructions on how to use the hat are provided, but some sages may be familiar with the necessary procedure.

If the egg is cracked atop a person’s head, then within the space of a week, five small birds will make their nest amongst the person’s hair. They will fill it with twigs and leaves, turning the person’s head into a tangled mess which will quickly become extremely unhygienic and smelly. Unfortunately, if the nest is removed or significantly tampered with at all, the hat is destroyed and the birds will return to the normal existence of their kind. So anyone desirous of gaining the benefits of the hat must endure the scorn of anyone who finds the smell of bird droppings offensive.

The five birds will follow any mental command they are given by the hat’s wearer. They can retrieve small objects, scout new areas, serve as spotters or guards, or perform any other task the player can think up. Note, however, that the birds are still birds. They gain no special intelligence, and cannot communicate complex ideas. They can mentally share information with the hat’s wearer, but they can do this only when perched within the nest. So they cannot, for example, be left in one room as a guard, and telepathically warn their master when danger is approaching. They must first make their way back to their master’s head, possibly being attacked, or blocked by closed doors.

Note also that the birds still need rest and food. This does not need to be tracked exhaustively, but if 2 birds are told to keep watch all night, then only 3 birds ought to be available for tasks during the day.

If the player chooses to command the birds to attack, the birds will most likely be ineffectual. They are, after all, very small birds. They will only hit on an attack roll of 20, and will only ever deal 1 damage. On the other hand, if the player commands the birds to defend her, they will do so valiantly. Each bird can absorb 1 attack directed at any player they are commanded to defend. Regardless of the attack’s effectiveness, the bird will be killed. The birds cannot defend against attacks unless they are commanded to defend a character before an attack roll is made.

If any of the birds are ever killed, a new bird will come to nest after 1 month’s time.

REMINDER: The second annual Papers & Pencils reader survey is currently open! Please take a moment to fill it out.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...