The Box of Nails

handmadenailsI’m really glad October had so many Sundays in it this year. Writing four spoopy posts has been a thoroughly enjoyable way to get into the Halloween spirit for me.

If an adventuring party is particularly unfortunate, they may come across a hinged wooden box, of rough make, of a size that would be useful for holding a pair of shoes. The box has a simple latch of twine, which is sealed with yellowed wax. An odd sign, pictured below, has been pressed there.

Inverted Chi RhoIf the box is opened, all present must make a save versus Magic. However, only some will be the true target’s of the box’s curse. It falls upon those who have conceded the agency of their actions to another. Men and women who rise in the morning to do the bidding of another, and fall asleep in the evening only when the tasks given them are complete. This is primarily henchpeople, hirelings, slaves, those under the command of a geas, or those who have sold their soul.

All others who fail their save may think that they have been affected by the box’s malice, but they are merely experiencing its rejection of them. They will retch and vomit until they have nothing left inside of them, and then continue for an hour more. They take 1d6 damage, and if your game uses any sort of stress or sanity mechanic, they ought to get a shit ton of that as well.

Everyone else who fails, (the henchpeople, hirelings, slaves, etc.) do not suffer any vomiting, damage, or psychic torment. They are, however, cursed like a motherfucker.

There is a stage of acute radiation sickness that is grimly referred to as the “Walking Ghost Phase.” At this stage, the bone marrow of the afflicted is gone. Their body can no longer produce white blood cells, their insides are melting. They are turning to goo from the inside out, and they feel absolutely fine.

Sometimes they mistakenly think the worst is over, when in point of fact they are already dead. Their body has completely given up and very shortly they will experience an agonizing death. Nothing can be done to help them.

That is how you should consider those who fail their save against the curse of the box. The save they just made was a save versus Death, and they are now dead. But it will be a very long, very interesting death.

Within the box are nails, which the cursed will fixate upon. They become addicted, and like any addict, they have an amazing talent for feeding their addiction. There is, functionally, no way to prevent the cursed character from getting to the nails when it’s time for a fix. They will pick pockets, sneak into locked rooms, bribe, threaten, and fight. Short of encasing the box in cement, dropping it in the ocean, and keeping the addict under lock & key with 24 hour surveillance on the other side of the world, you’ll just have to accept that the addict will get a nail whenever they want a nail.

When they want nails will be whenever they obey an instruction from their employer. They won’t disrupt or delay their task–being of good service is part of the pleasure of it–but as soon as they have a spare moment they’ll go get one of the nails and hammer it into their body. Favorite locations are into their skulls, their ears, their eyes, nose, between their fingers, into their knees, and eventually just wherever they still have room. Regardless of where they are placed, the nails do not affect the abilities of the character. Someone with nails in both eyes can still see, for example. None the less, it is a grizzly sight to behold, and once the nail is in, it grows roots of iron. It can never be removed without completely destroying the body part it is attached to.

With each nail inserted into the body, the addict’s maximum hit points are lowered by one, and a randomly determined ability score (Str, Con, Dex, Int, Wis, or Cha) is raised by 2.

As per usual, no individual ability score can every rise higher than 18. If a nail would cause that to happen, the ability score is instead raised to 18 (if that was not the case already), and the addict rolls on the following table to determine what happens to them:

  1. The addict becomes a pedophile. If children are nearby, the addict will use any spare moment to seek them out.
  2. The addict gains an expertise of 6-in-6 in a randomly determined skill.
  3. The addict becomes a cannibal, and is compelled to feast on the flesh of their own kind anytime it is available. At least once a week, if not more often.
  4. The addict gains the ability to fly anytime they wave their arms as though they were a bird.
  5. A desire for the pleasures of sadism overwhelms the addict. They become fascinated by torture, and will employ it on anyone they have within their power.
  6. Punches and kicks delivered by the addict strike with inhuman force, dealing 1d12 damage.
  7. The addict becomes an unmanageable gossip. Any secrets they are privy to will become common knowledge almost instantaneously.
  8. The addict gains a Fighter’s attack bonus.
  9. The blood of the addict takes on a very particular, very pungent scent. One that can be smelled from miles away by vampires. At least one such creature with 2d4 hit dice will appear each month.
  10. The addict becomes powerfully telekinetic, and can either move small objects with great speed and precision, or move heavy objects very slowly and clumsily.
  11. The addict becomes haughty and insulting to an extent that would be considered untoward even if it was coming from the prince of a wealthy and powerful kingdom.
  12. The addict gains the ability to grown and shrink at will, from the size of a great oak tree to the size of a baby mouse.
  13. The addict is afflicted with incontinence, and will shit themselves frequently.
  15. The addict becomes very fond of the sound glass and ceramics make when they are shattered, and will break any glass they find.
  16. The addict’s carrying capacity is the stuff of legends. Anything small enough to fit in a backpack can be carried without penalty. no matter how much of it there is. If you keep handing the addict bricks, they’ll keep shoving them in pouches and pockets without any strain on their body until you run out of bricks. Even if you disassemble a whole village worth of houses to do it.
  17. The addict addresses every speaking creature that the party encounters in a boorish, sexually suggestive manner. Never in a nice way either. Less “Your hair glistens in the moonlight like the waters of a fragrant meadow” and more “You smell like a dirty fuck, lemme see that asshole.”
  18. The addict refuses any form of compensation for their efforts, and will direct all pay to their employer. Service is its own reward.
  19. The addict’s pleasure from being subservient rises to the level of sexual fetish. They respond with uncomfortable amounts of pleasure when given commands, and can often be found masturbating after being scolded, or told to do something. They seem to think their employer is complicit in their fetish, and cannot be convinced otherwise.
  20. The addict’s kiss can heal 1d6 hit points.

Because this addiction feeds on subservience, it will never occur rto the addict to leave their employer of their own volition. If they are fired, they will demand to be given the nail boxc as severence. They will not take “no” for an answer, and will attempt force if necessary. In that event they will resent being forced to stand up for themselves (in contradiction to their throbbing need to act subservient). This resentment will likely give rise to a merciless thirst for violences worked upon the one who wronged them.

If they are unemployed and have the box, they will immediately seek out a new employer. Any work, for any amount of pay is acceptable. They may even sell themselves to slavery, so long as they retain access to their nails.

Given their (likely) vile disposition and (probably) great ability, employment will be easy to find with disreputable folk.

Dungeon Mist

It might be found in any dungeon. A thick white mist, singed with blue, and so cold it leaves dew on your skin. It rests in every room and corridor like gentle water–rising into little tidal riots anytime a door swings open. The changing level of the floor causes its depth to vary between your knee and your chest.

If you’re short enough to breathe the stuff, it acts as a mild hallucinogen. You’ll see colorful specters of the dead around you, watching with silent, stoic hatred. At least you tell yourself they’re hallucinations. They aren’t, though. Not really.

In some dungeons, things move beneath the mist. Creatures like Goblins, Kobolds, Halflings, Gremlins, and other various diminutive subspecies. The haunting specters are a small price to pay for this perfect advantage against the hated tallfolk. Anything on the short and nasty side gets a 4-in-6 chance to surprise when walking through the dungeon mist. When fighting, short creatures have concealment.

There is a current to the mist. An undertow you may never realize is moving you if you’re not careful. While walking through corridors, you won’t notice it. Nor will you notice it when examining an object within the environment. It’s so subtle that you’ll just naturally shift your feet to compensate, keeping the object of your focus within view. If, however, you find yourself distracted. If you stop to have a conversation, or engage in combat, then the mist will move you slowly. The referee should move the party about 10′ per round / conversational exchange. The current is clever enough to avoid closed doors, and to slip its victims through small or distinct spaces with great subtlety.

Periodically, a massive wave of mist will rise and flow unchecked through the corridors of the dungeon. The best way to represent this is to add this wave to the encounter table.

Characters might be granted a single round of movement to attempt to dive for safety, or possibly just a save versus Breath to grab onto some nearby object. Otherwise, they will be picked up and tumbled along with the wave, until you are cast off from it in some completely different part of the dungeon. The new location should be determined by whatever the referee finds most amusing, and the mist is under no obligation to release each character in the same place.

Being carried off by the mist will also affect a character’s mind for a time, causing them to suffer a brief madness:

  1. When you close your eyes, instead of blackness, you see another world. You’re standing over the rotting corpse of a murdered child. The body is in a little hut on the edge of a forest village, lit only by candlelight. If you keep your eyes closed you can look around this world, and if you move you will see yourself moving through this world (though your body is still bounded by whatever environment you’re actually present in).
  2. You have been clapped in irons. None of your companions can see your restraints, they might insist that you’re imagining it, but your companions are wrong. If your restraints were fake, you would be able to move your hands more then a foot apart from each other. You’d be able to take strides that covered more than a few inches at a time. Your companions must be the ones who are crazy!
  3. You hear the overwhelming sound of dozens of wailing babies. It drowns out any other sounds you might want to hear (or not want to hear, as the case may be).
  4. Suddenly everything becomes clear. Fragments of conversation connected to brief moments of wakefulness half-remembered after you laid down to sleep last night. Your companions stayed up late to meet in secret. Specifically intending to exclude you and only you while they shared a delicious cake. Your favorite kind of cake! They laughed about it too. About what a fool you were, and how happy they were that you would not have any of the cake. Well…you’ll show them! YOU’LL SHOW THEM!
  5. You are a cat. You have cat concerns, and cat thoughts, and will pursue cat pursuits.
  6. Apparently while ya’ll were trapped in that stupid mist, all of your friends decided to put on scary masks. You do not like them. They are scary. You should tell your friends to take them off. If they refuse, well god damn it, you should just pull the damn things off.

    (Your friends are not actually wearing masks)

    (You just don’t like their faces.)

    (I wrote this entire thing while drunk.)

    (I should probably wait to post it so I can edit it while I’m sober, but I’m not gonna do that.)

LotFP Monster: The Seamster

The Seamster

The world is imperfect. It is unmolded clay crying out for a sculptor. Within every pebble is a statue, within every pen is a poem, and within every group of people is a single perfect person waiting to be born.

The Seamster is a gangly creature. Human shaped, but not quite correctly so. It would be difficult to put a finger on precisely what makes the Seamster look wrong, but anyone who sees it knows that it is. It wears simple clothing that hangs loosly over its slight frame. The pockets of its leather jerkin are filled with threads and needles and other useful odds and ends.

Armor 15, Move 160′ (40′), Hit Dice 6 + 2, 32hp, Sew Attack (No Damage), Morale 8

  • On a successful attack roll, the Seamster has successfully sewn a few stitches into its target. The process is quick and painless, dealing no damage. The thread remains in place until the Seamster chooses to use an attack action to yank it out.
  • When the Seamster manages to get his stitches into you, roll 2d4 to determine the location of the stitch. This also determines the resulting consequence when the Seamster eventually yanks his thread out.
    2. Heart. Yank deals 2d12 damage.
    3. Eyelids. Blind until yanked out. Yank deals 1d8 damage.
    4. Arms. Yank deals 1d6 damage, and forces the victim to make an unmodified attack against a nearby ally, or against themselves.
    5. A shallow stitch on surface skin. 1d6 damage.
    6. Legs. Yank deals 1d6 damage, and the victim stumbles 20′ in the Seamster’s desired direction.
    7. Guts. Yank deals 2d6 damage, and 1d4 Constitution damage.
    8. Genitals. Yank deals 2d6 damage, pluse 2d4 Charisma damage.
  • The thread the Seamster uses is both very fine, and very strong. Every time you think you’ve found it, it slips through your fingers and it takes long moments to find again. Cutting the thread, or following it to the Seamster’s location, is impossible in a combat situation. It may be possible if slower, more deliberate action is an option.
  • As an attack action, the Seamster may attempt to vanish from sight. Any character who was specifically focusing on the Seamster may save versus magic. If anyone succeeds on their save, the Seamster’s vanishing attempt fails. If the save is universally failed, then the Seamster is functionally invisible until it attacks again. There is no limit on how many times the Seamster may attempt this.
  • When determining who is “specifically focusing on the Seamster” for the purposes of making a save against his vanishing ability, be strict. The save is not granted to anyone merely observing the combat, or who is focused on casting spells (in magic, the target is always something of an afterthought).In game terms, only characters whose last action was physically attacking the Seamster should be given a save. (Though, use your discretion in adjudicating edge cases).
  • In a hidden tome of ancient lore, it might be discovered that The Seamster has a weakness. It finds it difficult to attack anyone wearing a thimble. Wearing one of these grants +2 AC against attacks from The Seamster.

If you were ever to engage the Seamster in conversation–unlikely, given its murderous proclivities, but not impossible–it would likely bring the conversation around to its favorite little paradox:

It wonders, first, whether all things must be created by some other thing that came before it. Since this is obviously correct, it wonders where this chain of creation began. What first thing existed, with nothing prior to have created it. This, it posits, must be God. And since nothing other than God can create itself, the Seamster concludes that it must, itself, be God.

The exact details of how the Seamster came to create itself is not a thing it is willing to discuss. It may humor a guess or two, but will quickly demand that any questioning about its origins cease. The seamster sewed itself into existence, that is all anyone needs to know. To speak of the details would be vulgar in the extreme.

Regardless of whether the Seamster strikes at you from the shadows or engages you in an unlikely chat, its end goal is always the same: to find the masterpiece of human life that is hidden within a group of people. Once it has disabled or killed everyone in a group, it will begin its work: picking and choosing the best bits from this body or that. Shaving away all of the excess, leaving only the refined essence of a person. Tucking in a little here, padding out a little there. The Seamster’s masterful stitching will be invisible on the finished product.

When it is done, an entirely new character will exist, taking the best parts of every other character from the slain group. Its Strength will be the highest of their strengths, its Con the highest of their Cons, and so on. The new character’s maximum hit points will be equal to the highest max HP from the slain group. It will have all of their best skills, their best attack bonus, and all of their spellcasting ability. In short, this new character will be MinMax’d to fuck. And all of the players whose PCs were used for parts get to have a roll-off to determine which one of them gets to control this new character. Everybody else has to re-roll.

If The Seamster is somehow killed, then whomever dealt the killing blow is cursed. They must save versus Magic or all of the stitching on their person instantly becomes undone. Their clothing and armor fall to pieces, leaving them naked. Their backpack bursts open, spillings its contents everywhere. The effect is instantaneous, and will not repeat itself if the character acquires new stitched items.

LotFP Class: Torturer

130092_story__wpid-400guillotine17October is the month for spoopiness. Lets get spoopy.

Sometimes people don’t want to be honest with you. Sometimes they’ve got secrets that they’re determined to take to the grave. Fortunately, there are things much worse than death, and you’re intimately familiar with all of them. You can introduce these deceitful cockroaches to pains they’ve never imagined, and soon enough they’ll be telling you things they didn’t even know they knew.

Torturers have a d6 hit die. They use the fighter’s saves and experience table. In combat, Torturers lack the consistency of the fighter, but they compensate in their detailed knowledge of how to maximize suffering. The damage die of whatever weapon the Torturer uses is increased by one step. (A d6 becomes a d8, etc.)

If a Torturer deals the finishing blow to a target, then at their option, the target may be merely helpless rather than slain. Once helpless, they are ready to be plied by the Torturer’s eponymous ability.

Torture requires that a Torturer carry a kit of torturer’s tools with them, which are an encumbering item. These consist of a small variety of knives, clamps, and perhaps a thumbscrew. Once they’ve got a helpless target to play with, the Torturer may use their unique talents to receive the answer to one question per ten minutes of torture.

If there is any reasonable chance that the creature being tortured knows the correct answer to the question, then they will provide it. If you ask a footsoldier about their general’s plans, then this footsoldier just happened to be walking past the general’s tent when a few choice words were being spoken. What they can tell you might be incomplete, but it will be useful.

If there is no reasonable chance that the creature being tortured knows the correct answer (as in you picked up a random child off the street and asked them about the secret plans of a wizard half the world away), then they will lie. The referee, however, should not lie. They should tell the players that the victim doesn’t know anything, and that they’re spouting nonsense just to make the hurt stop. As an experienced Torturer, the PC knows how to spot the difference.

Torturers may ask a number of questions equal to their level, plus 1. After all possible questions have been asked, the victim dies from their injuries. If the Torturer stops 1 question short of their possible amount, then they can keep their victim alive. Asking the same victim any further questions requires a successful heal check, and a week of time to allow them to recover.

Speaking of: every artist needs an eraser. As such, Torturers begin play with a heal skill of 2-in-6. This automatically goes up by 1 at levels 3,  6, 9, and 12. If you do not already use the heal skill in your games, here it is reprinted for the use of the Torturer as a unique class ability:

Using the Heal skill requires a character to have a healing kit handy, which is an encumbering item. On a successful check, the injured character may roll their hit die, and recover the resulting amount of hit points. If the check is succeeded by a margin of 2 or more (for example, if a 1 is rolled when the skill is at 3-in-6), then the patient receives 2 hit dice worth of healing. If the check is succeeded by a margin of 4 or more, the patient receives 3 hit dice of healing.

Healing checks require 3 turns to perform. If a check is attempted when there is only a 1-in-6 chance of success, then failure causes 1 hit point of damage. Inexperienced hands tend to make things worse rather than better.

If the Torturer has access to a fully equipped torture chamber, they may attempt brainwashing. Such a chamber is usually underground, costs at least 10,000 silver pieces to equip, and comes complete with racks, iron maidens, and a collection of sinister alchemical concoctions. Unless the Torturer’s activities are state sanctioned, the location of their torture chamber must also remain a secret. If it is discovered, it will be mobbed and ransacked by a justifiably enraged populace.

Brainwashing requires a helpless victim with at least 1 fewer hit dice than the Torturer. A single attempt takes 1 week of time, after which the Torturer may roll 2d4 on the following table. They may add +1 for every additional 3000 silver pieces they spent stocking their torture chamber.

2. Your victim has successfully fooled you. They faked being brainwashed, and the moment you let your guard down they escaped. They will probably lead an angry mob back here promptly.
3. You overdid it, and your victim is now brain damaged. It’s not a total loss. They’re very suggestible. They’ll do pretty much anything you tell them to. Unfortunately they’ve got so little left inside their head that they’re more likely to break a dish than they are to wash it.
4-6. Stockholm Syndrome has set in hard. Your victim has become devoted to you with an almost religious zealotry. They can’t bear to be away from you for more than a couple hours at a time, and tells anyone who will listen what a great guy you are. They’ll do pretty much anything you tell them, but they’re awkward and obvious about it.
7. Your victim doesn’t really remember the torture, they just have this vague idea that at some point you invited them over for a cup of tea, and during the conversation they realized what a great dude you are. They decided at that point that it really was in their best interests to stick with you and do whatever you tell them to. They function as a henchperson with a loyalty of 11.
8. You’ve turned your victim into a sleeper agent. They will return to their lives and act completely normal. No one will know anything is different about them until a triggering event of your choosing occurs. When that happens, they will carry out whatever instructions you give them with a complete disregard for their own life or safety.

Where Does Story Come From?

A scene from Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack VanceThe argument that a game’s story emerges during play, rather than flowing from behind the referee’s screen, is by now a settled issue. The referee creates the world, and the players create the story through the actions they take within that world. Others have made this argument more eloquently than I can, and I have no intention of retreading that ground. However, recently I had a conversation which posed a further question: how can you get a consistent story to emerge during play?

I used to run D&D as a more narrative-driven game, before I was convinced by the argument above. There are a couple people who’ve said they’d like me to run one again. One of these people, my brother, is a player in my ORWA campaign. After a recent session, he and I sat for several hours chatting, and he complimented me on ORWA’s narrative. Apparently, ORWA is precisely the kind of narrative-driven game he’d been wanting to see me run.

I had to take a minute to wrap my head around why he would say that. From my perspective, ORWA didn’t have any more or less of a narrative than any other game I had run in recent years. There’s adventure in every direction. I don’t push the players towards any particular hooks. I have no plans for how the game will proceed, beyond the scheming of my NPCs. And those schemes are as thwartable as those NPCs are killable.

Simply speaking, I have no “plot” in mind that I’m trying to weave into the game. So why would my brother say that ORWA has a better narrative than other games of mine he has played?

At this point it occurred to me that the gameplay of ORWA has been following a fairly linear narrative path. Not because I planned for it, but because my players discovered a narrative thread and bound themselves to it. (A thread, I might add, that I never intended them to find).

Without going into too much campaign detail, at the end of their first adventure my players discovered a shadowy cabal of wizards called “The Internet.” They were warned, repeatedly, not to mess around with The Internet, but they ignored that advice and confronted one of the secretive wizards anyway. The players demanded better payment for the work they had done, and the wizard agreed, on the condition that the PCs subjugate themselves to the will of The Internet. Under this agreement the PCs are allowed to pursue their own interests so long as they don’t conflict with those of The Internet, and the PCs must be available to perform jobs for The Internet when called upon. The players agreed, and ever since then nearly every adventure has been a mission conducted in service of The Internet.

The players are not bound to this story. They could spend more time pursing their own goals if they want to. They certainly encounter any number of adventure hooks they pass up in favor of waiting for the next Internet mission. They could work to break free of The Internet if they wanted, but aside from a single exception, they don’t seem interested. I don’t know if they’re just being carried forward by momentum at this point, or if they’re eager to see what The Internet will do next.

Whatever the motivation, the fact is that the players found a story that they thought was interesting, and they stuck with it. Every week they pursue the story further, and it grows and evolves accordingly. There are regular characters with whom they’ve developed relationships, not because I’ve decided that those characters will be recurring. But, rather, because those are the characters who live in this corner of the campaign world. And it’s the corner of the campaign world the players have decided to spend their time in.

In the course of any normal D&D campaign, the players will brush up against countless stories. Most of those stories will serve as vignettes. They’ll last an adventure or so, and then the players will be on to something else. That’s fine, because the story that really matters is the story of the PC’s adventures, whatever those adventures may be. Eyes of the Overworld does not suffer for Cugel’s constant motion from one adventure to the next. A great story can be told through many vignettes.

But if you’d like to see a consistent narrative that grows and changes over the course of an entire campaign, there’s no need for the referee to impose that narrative. All that needs to happen is that the players need to pick a narrative to pursue, and stick with it. It could be their own narrative–establishing a kingdom, becoming famous adventurers, exploring some new unknown country; or they could latch themselves to someone elses’ narrative by joining a conspiracy, or a pirate band, or really just joining any organization at all.

The players create the story of the game with their actions. But this conversation with my brother has made me wonder if I’m doing enough to make my players aware of how far their power extends. Perhaps more adventures ought to end in the style of a spaghetti western, with the townsfolk asking the players to stick around and become the sheriff. That would give the players an explicit choice: would they like to see how this story develops further, or do they want to ride off into the sunset to find something new?


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