The Maze of One-Way Doors

One Way DoorNot too long ago, I played in a game which contained a maze of one-way doors. From one side they appeared to be normal doors. However, once the players had walked through them and the door was closed, it simply did not exist on the other side. Whether this is the work of marvelous engineering, or simply magic, it’s not important. The important thing is that once the players walk through a door, they cannot walk back out the way they came. They must move forwards.

I liked the idea, and so decided to give it a go myself. I constructed a maze of moderate size. It was primarily made up of empty 10′ x 10′ rooms, but there were a number of puzzle and challenge rooms to add variety, along with a pretty interesting encounter table. I thought it would be a lot of fun to run through, and to my delight, the players did find it and enter the maze.

The players in this group are very good, though, and they were careful in their approach. The party’s fighter entered alone at first. He opened a new door to look through it, and in doing so caused the door he’d come through to close. He returned to where the door had been, and pounded on the wall to let his companions know they should open the door, which they did.

Having discovered the trick, the party decided to leave one party member in each room they passed. So one party member would stay outside, and the remaining two would enter the first room. Then one of them would remain in the first room, while the last party member went into all of the adjacent rooms, and opened all of the doors in there to look inside those rooms. Using this method, they were able to discover a route from the first room, back to the outside of the maze. Since they knew a way out, and thus no longer needed someone outside the maze, they were able to systematically map a large portion of the maze.

The players were clever, and I approve of clever play. Unfortunately, it wasn’t fun. For them or for me. Essentially all I was doing was reading them a long list of room descriptions within their searchable zone, while they took notes. The encounters were entertaining, but the encounters could have happened anywhere. They would have been improved by placing them outside of the maze, because the maze was boring.

Eventually the players gave up and headed off to a different area of the dungeon. And I’m left to wonder: can a maze of one-way doors be done better, or is it simply never going to be fun if your players are cautious and skilled?

Some thoughts on how it might be improved for more highly skilled players:

  • I had a warning of sorts printed above the door. “To enter is easy. To become lost is easier. To return is failure. To die is worse.” I thought it was cool and thematic, but it’s what put the players on edge in the first place. Without it, they probably all would have entered the first door together. I think, though, that they’d still have landed on the same strategy. Particularly if they ended up on one of the many failed paths which leads back outside of the maze.
  • There’s no reason to assume that a one-way door would allow sound to pass through it. By soundproofing the maze, I could prevent the characters from requesting a door be opened from the other side. Of course, I can’t stop the players sitting at the table together from talking, and telling them they can’t just seems dickish. Plus, the workaround seems obvious: “Open this door 60 seconds after it closes.”
  • I like one-way door mazes because they’re a challenging trap which could conceivably be engineered. But if I’m willing to amp up the magic, I could say that each door is a normal, two-way door so long as there are people on both sides of it. Only when everybody has passed through the door will it become a one-way door. And, so long as any door in the room is a two-way door, none of the other doors in the room exist. (So one can only attempt to move forward once everyone has entered the new room and become trapped in it.)

I’d be curious to hear other’s thoughts on one-way-door mazes.

Picture Thursday 39: “For All that Could Have Been” by Noah Bradley

Noah-Bradley_For-All-That-Could-Have-BeenI like the way the artist divides the viewer’s attention between the figures on the left, and the citadel on the right, even though most of the space is filled with an empty wasteland. Further, I like the fact that only one of the figures really seems to be grieving amidst the graves. The rest have had their attention drawn away by the light shooting into the heavens. Is the lone figure’s grief so great, or has he simply not yet noticed? Do the others stare in wonderment, or do they know what this light heralds? Perhaps another such light is why this graveyard exists in the first place.

Noah Bradley seems like a very interesting fellow, and he’s got loads of art like this. Take a look!

Link: Everyone is John

Straight JacketI take it this has been floating around the Internet for some time, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it, so perhaps it will be the first time you’ve seen it as well.

Everyone is John” is a game which emphasizes the creation of a shared narrative, which places it well outside of my normal wheelhouse*. It’s also competitive, which is strange but kind of cool.

In the game, the players each take on the roll of a single personality within the profoundly incompetent, schizophrenic protagonist; “John.” Each of the players has some very basic skills, and some goals. The players fight for control of their shared body, and try to accomplish more of their own goals than the other personalities do.

At two pages, the rules are worth a read for entertainment value alone. And actually playing the game wouldn’t take all that long. I may give it a try next time one of my players needs to arrive late / leave early.

The Depths of the Dungeon Moon: 20+ Questions

Halfling in a Hallway

THIS DOCUMENT IS OUT OF DATE. PLEASE CONSULT DUNGEON MOON Q & A INSTEAD.

Jeff’s 20 questions are an exercise to help a GM add functional details to their campaign world. The type of details which will actually come up in play, and which the players will probably be curious about anyway. Since I will (eventually, hopefully) be running open sessions of The Depths of the Dungeon Moon, this may be of interest. (I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few questions I thought were relevant. I may add more over time as people ask me questions which seem to deserve answers).

Does the Dungeon Moon have weather?

Yes, and this is one of the few aspects of the sphere which has remained functioning relatively as it was intended to. Clouds, rain, and wind are common. Rain is the primary source of water for most villages. The natural sun provides the sphere with light and warmth, though due to the artificial atmosphere, the sky is always black.

It should be noted that the Dungeon Moon has no seasons.

What races & classes are available to play?

While many intelligent races inhabit the sphere, the only race available to play at present is humans. However, if you wish to play an elf, dwarf, or halfling, you may play those races as though they are a class. If you wish to play an elf, then your character will be a human with a “Spellsword,” or “Warlock” class. Racial options can be expanded beyond humans if the party is able to make alliances with other races.

Currently, classes are restricted to those present in the Lamentations of the Flame Princess core book. Though if you have a different class you’d wish to play, I would be willing to consider it.

Does this campaign include firearms?

Yes, as presented in the firearms section of the LotFP Rules & Magic hardcover. However, they must be purchased at 3x rural prices.

What is the deal with my cleric’s religion?

The gods of the sphere are not far-off, ephemeral deities. Any such god off is too far away to help you. The only gods of the sphere are the gods which live on or in the sphere. Typically these are normal creatures, such as humans, oozes, or even pigs, which have merged with an indistinct divine energy. The process by which this occurs is not entirely clear, but that does not make these gods any less divine. Notably, gods are as vulnerable to attack as any other monster. But they’re not a force to be attacked lightly.

Becoming a cleric involves finding a god, and making an offering to it which pleases it. The god then blesses the cleric, and the cleric may call upon the god’s divine energy to cast spells. This is one of the few non-insane reasons to leave the safety of the towns.

How did my Magic User learn his craft?

The Sphere is a citadel built by the greatest magic user of all time, and inhabited by a society of magic users for hundreds of years. And while those most gifted in the magical arts abandoned the sphere about 40 years ago, there are no shortage of less skilled practitioners willing to trade their paltry knowledge to an apprentice. It makes them feel important, plus apprentices are very useful for trying new spells on. Not to mention the mountains of magical scrolls and spells and devices which are commonly discovered in the depths.

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

Standard equipment can be purchased during character creation at city prices. After that, standard equipment can be purchased in the town of Stockton at rural prices.

Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

No non-human creatures can enter the towns due to the warding enchantments placed upon them. There are blacksmiths in Stockton with the skills to perform the task, but asking them to step outside the town’s protective runes will require a lot of persuasion, and a lot of silver.

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

The Motherless Warlock who created the Sphere was mightier than any wizard who came before him, or any wizard who has been here since.

At present, a relatively harmless Necromancer named Laif Arkturus is probably the mightiest wizard known to exist. He’s primarily an academic, but does not hesitate to prove his power and skill when it is necessary.

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
In a land with few warriors, the greatest warrior is whomever braves the depths and survives to tell the tale–and does so more than any of the other warriors in the room.
Who is the richest person in the land?
The town of Stockton has heard rumors that there is a woman in a far off town called Noshenburg. Her name is Lia Hune. She found an immense treasure in the caverns, and now lives like a queen.
Where can we go to get some magical healing?
Aside from any magical healing provided by player characters, or by items they find, there is no magical healing available in Stockton, nor any nearby location. However, each session of play will begin with full hit points.
Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
Poison and disease can be dealt with by the Old Herbert the Herbalist. His methods are odd, and he’s never managed to teach them to anyone else, but he can get you fixed up in Stockton for a moderate fee. Where he gets his materials is a mystery, since no plants grow within or even within sight of Stockton. But no one ever sees him leave, and he refuses to tell anyone his secrets. Anything else on that list, and I’m afraid you’re on your own.
Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
Magic users are free agents. Any “guilds” which may exist are, at best, loose confederations whose existence is not widely publicized.
Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
None of these services are readily available in Stockton at present.
Where can I hire mercenaries?
The members of the party are not the only foolhardy young folk, eager to leave town. Stockton is full of whippersnappers eager to “Step over the line.” Unfortunately, they are universally untrained.
Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
Showing weapons within towns is generally considered impolite, but most people are understanding when they know that a person frequently leaves the safety of the town’s protective charms. People’s opinions on Magic Users tend to go either way: either they’re “the ones who got us all stuck on this rock heap,” or they’re “the ones who might figure out how to get us off this rock heap.”
Most towns are very small communities, and don’t have much in the way of formalized laws.

Which way to the nearest tavern?

Stockton has no booze. This sad fact has led people to develop some very strange hobbies.

What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

There is a herd of Acidhoof Antelope outside of Stockton. Ending that threat would mean that the few trade caravans which exist would make their way into Stockton more often.

Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

No. Most people are afraid to leave their own towns, so war is out of the question.

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

The town closest to Stockton, Aberton, has such a place. Recall that these places have no booze, and thus people tend to develop rather odd hobbies. Fortunately, this barbarism has been banned in STockton.

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

Plenty. But they are secret.

What is there to eat around here?

Flavorless, disgusting gruel. And water. The gruel congeals from the air each day in a giant dish at the center of every town. It’s probably all you’ve ever eaten. If you were lucky, your parents were able to give you a loaf of bread for your birthday one year, and it was the greatest birthday gift you ever received.

On the Sphere, actual food is one of the greatest treasures you can uncover.

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

It is said that somewhere on the sphere–everybody has a different idea of where–is a lush valley of vegetation. To find this, and to be able to distribute its bounty across the sphere, would make a person wealthy indeed.

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

It’s nothing more than a rumor, but when Ulfric of the Blasphemous Dead left the sphere, it is said he left his gold and many of his magical devices behind. It is also said that he left four undead hekatonkheires to guard his citadel in case he ever chose to return for his things.

Magical Marvels 17: Spell Lock Axe

Spell Lock Axe
An image from Okikiifa.com.

This mundane looking axe is appears at first to be the most useless magic item ever made. When a successful attack is made against a target, the player rolls no damage. The axe instead passes harmlessly through the target, as though the axe were an illusion. The only proof that the blow even landed is a puff of purple, foul-smelling smoke which lingers a moment after a successful blow.

The true value of the axe will become apparent only when it is used against a magic user. The axe severs the link between the magician’s corporeal body, and the metaphysical energies which she commands. As a result, a magic user who is struck with this weapon will be unable to cast spells. The MU will not be made immediately aware of this, and may attempt to cast a spell (or several) before realizing their powers have been somehow blocked.

The bond between the magician and the power of her craft heals quickly, however. The power to cast spells normally will return 1d10 minutes after the blow is struck. (This should be rolled instead of damage.)

The axe should still work against most creatures which use magic. Creatures which rely on magic to exist on this plane (such as demons, or ghosts) will instead be banished for 1d10 minutes.

Picture Thursday 38: Kel’Thuzad by unknown Blizzard artist

Kel Thuzad ModelBecause game models aren’t just blocks of pixels with colors associated with them. Someone put creative energy into this, and when it’s good, it ought to be recognized.

Liches in the Warcraft games look cool. In particular, this is the Naxxramas model of Kel’Thuzad. If you are unfamiliar with either of those names, there’s a pretty dandy, 3-page short story which explores them a little bit. Or if you don’t care, that works too. Neither are really important to the artwork.

The sort of half spectral, half physical design is pulled off really well here. The ornate robes might seem unnecessary and out of place. But liches were once human, why wouldn’t they manifest with some of the trappings of earthly power to which they still cling? Their skull becomes bestial, with sharp teeth and horns, because why WOULDN’T an evil ritual meant to overcome death cause a person to gain demonic features? I like the chains the most, I think. Normally chains on a ghost represent the weight of guilt. It’s about justice for those who have done wrong. Here, I think, the chain is the only remaining connection between the lich’s body and soul. The chain cannot be damaged directly, but its presence lets those who see a lich know that their phylactery is intact. Were the phylactery destroyed, the chains would break.

Also, mateys, do not forget that today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Avast!

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