Deadly Dungeons 28: Ladder Conundrum

LadderCrankIf it isn’t clear, this is a vertical map. Also it is not to scale.

The first thing the players are liable to notice in this room is the crank. It’s large, with a bit of rope wrapped around it. The end of the rope disappears into a hole in the floor. If the players choose to look around, they’ll discover a fairly obvious trap door. It’s much too small for a human, or even a halfling, to fit through, and there is no easy means of opening it. (Though a bit of prying will yield results).

If the players are able to screw up their courage to fiddle with the mysterious crank, and turn it, it will pull more rope out of the ground. Simultaneously, a ladder will begin to rise from beneath the trap door. The ladder is made of wood, and wobbles a little, but will not break unless put through undue stress.

The crank can be turned until the top rung of the ladder reaches a height of 200 ft–just high enough for it to be equal with a small alcove high on the wall which leads to other areas of the dungeon.

Unfortunately, while this alcove is normally open, turning the crank below causes a heavy sliding door to descend from the ceiling. This door has no handholds, and is flush with the walls around it. Players on the top rung of the ladder will find no purchase for a grappling hook. And lifting the 300lb door while standing on the top rung of the ladder would be a feat of exceptional difficulty.

The door and the ladder move relative to one another, so that the door is not completely open until the ladder is all of the way down, and it is not all the way closed until the ladder is extended to it’s maximum height. The door, however, is only 6ft tall. So when the ladder is at half-height (100ft), the door will only be open 3ft; when the ladder is at three-quarters height (150ft), the door will only be open 1.5ft; etc.

I’m curious to experiment with this room. It clearly works best as a low level challenge, since high level characters will have access to spells and ability which will make overcoming this room child’s play. However, I honestly can’t think of a good way for 1st or 2nd level characters to overcome this challenge.

Anybody have any ideas?

Picture Thursday 44: Brother System by Nick Patterson

Brother System by Nick PattersonI’ve kind of got monsters on my mind, if you haven’t noticed.

This is a piece from Nick Patterson, an artist who does a lot of the weird surrealist stuff that I’ve been into lately. Stormwatcher and Tank Thing are both good examples of his recent work, I think. He creates images which are, for lack of any better description, fucked up in the best possible way.

But this particular piece, Brother System, really gets the creative energy pumping in my head. The contrast of black & white ink with the stark red of each creature’s inhumanity gives immediate impact to their monstrosity. The expression on the visible face is frightening, but also vacant and terrified. I think the idea of such a horrible monster being scared is much more unsettling than if it was made to look menacing.

The two appear to be wearing suits over their bodies, with just their face exposed. Are they technologically advanced, or are they the remains of someone who was technologically advanced? They certainly seem to be in control of themselves, given their vulcan mind-meld posture. What are they doing? Perhaps (lacking a tongue or lips) they are forced to communicate via tactile telepathy?

You should absolutely check out more of Nick Patterson’s gallery. It’s rife with ideas for a creepy adventure.

Dissecting Monsters: The Watcher’s Second Creature from “Better Than Any Man”

The Defenders Second Creature-The Watcher’s Second Creature-
Armor  immaterial,  10  Hit  Dice,  Movement 180’ fly, 1 tumor attack (see below), Morale 12.

The creature attacks by willing a tumor to grow in a target within 100’, and it accomplishes this with a normal to-hit roll. Targets which are hit grow a tumor of some size. Roll 1d4 to determine this tumor’s “size factor.” This is the amount of encumbrance points the tumor adds to the target and the chances in 6 that, when the character is successfully attacked, the attack hits the tumor.

If  a  tumor  is  hit,  the  character  takes  normal  damage from the attack plus the same damage again as the trauma causes the tumor to release toxins into the character’s body. (This will happen every time  the  character  is  damaged  by  an  area  effect  attack  as  well.)  Then  the
victim must make a saving throw versus Poison, or suffer 1d4 more points of damage.

Keep track of the damage the character suffers due to those failed Poison saves. When the amount cumulatively suffered by that specific type of damage (even if some is healed along the way) equals the character’s maximum Hit Points, the character is taken over by the tumor and transforms into a living mass of cancer. Game over.

The  victim’s  tumors  have  eyes  all  over  them  in  the  same  manner  that the creature itself does. The creature can see out of the eyes on its victims’ tumors.

A tumor can be reduced in size each time a healing spell of any type is specifically cast on the tumor—for each 6 that comes up on the die rolls for the healing spell, the tumor shrinks one size. Such applications of the healing do only affect the tumor and do not heal damage. If a character is exposed to radiation, a saving throw versus Poison will also shrink a tumor one size. Time may also change the size of a tumor. Every month the character should save versus Poison. If the save is successful, the tumor shrinks a size, if the roll is less than half of what would have been needed, the tumor grows one size. When the tumor is at size factor zero, it is gone permanently.

The creature does not technically exist by any measure other than “I can see it!” and so it may sense and move through solid objects as if they were not there. Physical objects pass through it and existing on six dimensions simultaneously (none of them this one except as a mirage) it is even immune to all magic.

The creature is itself harmed by magical attacks made against the tumors of its victims, including physical attacks made with magic weapons. These
attacks do damage to both the victim and the creature.

This beast is almost more of a force of nature than it is a monster. Encountering it is like encountering an avalanche or an erupting volcano. The most sound strategy is to flee from it. If you try to fight something like that, you end up buried in snow, melted to slag, or in this case, riddled with cancer.

The Defender’s second creature isn’t quite as invulnerable as it might seem at first. Like other monsters from this series, there is an obscure trick which allows it to be defeated easily if the trick is discovered. Unlike the other creatures, that trick is really the only way to kill the thing. Nothing else will work. In most cases, I would say that’s poor monster design. A game of “guess what the GM is thinking,” which is never fun.

However, there are a few mitigating factors here. First, the creature has no real attacks. It can create tumors, and the tumors are dangerous, but they’re more of a long term danger. The players have as much time as they need to think about the tumors, and what to do with them. The only time the tumors actually put the character’s life in danger is when the character is the subject of attack. And if the character is being attacked, then their life is in danger anyway. The cancer is more of an imposed vulnerability than it is an attack.

Second, the creature’s completely immaterial nature (literally nothing in this world seems to exist for it) should make it very quickly obvious to any competent group of players that they need to retreat. When the players are informed that their weapons pass through it as though it were an illusion–as do their spells, magic items, and other methods of attack–then if they don’t retreat to reassess the situation, they’re being foolish. Likely some member of their party will be cancerous by this point, but as stated above, the cancer isn’t really that dangerous unless the group decides to ignore it entirely.

And once the players do flee from this beast, the fact that the eye-covered cancerous growths look very much like a corporeal version of the creature they just fled from seems to me a very good indication that they should stab it.

One thing I’d be curious to know is how much of the treatment information the players ought to be able to find in their world. If the cleric says “I want to try to cure this cancer, how do I do that?” should the GM tell them that casting healing spells directly on the tumor might have some effect, or is that something the players need to decipher for themselves? Personally, I’d tell my players that sort of thing, but I wonder if that is what was intended.

This is easily my favorite monster from the module.

Picture Thursday 43: Oliphek by Heather Gwinn

Oliphek by Heather GwinnCheck out this badass. You’ll be able to buy him and all his friends, with statblocks, in my upcoming book. Doesn’t that sound cool? Of course it sounds cool.

Heather and I only recently started working together, after I stumbled across her work whilst browsing Imgur. She’s a delight to work with, and has a surreal, creepy, fucked-up kind of artistic style which makes my monsters look as strange as I want them to be. She also works fast. Like, wicked fast. I’ve been trying to work faster to compensate.

You should check out more of her work. It’s worth your time.

Dissecting Monsters: The Defender’s Creature from “Better Than Any Man”

The Defender's Creature
Illustration by Jennifer Rodgers

Lets go!

-The Defender’s Creature-
See the description for statistics. Morale 12.

While the creature appears as a brain resting in a tentacle-laden pod, it is actually an adaptive creature which drains the abilities of those around it in order to have any abilities of its own.

This draining of abilities is applicable to whoever and whatever is near (within 100’) and takes them for itself and its master. The character or creature with the best Armor rating loses it and both the creature and The Defender instead have it. The character or creature with the weapon doing the most damage loses it and the creature and The Defender instead have it each. The character or creature with the fastest movement becomes unable to move and the creature and The Defender instead have that movement capability. The character or creature with the most Hit Points loses them (being reduced to 1d6 Hit Points), and the creature and The Defender instead have them as their Hit Points each.

Special abilities or attacks are likewise absorbed. Any character or creature with Magic-User spell capabilities loses them, and the creature and Defender instead have the spell capabilities between them. Cleric spell ability is not absorbed.

Once an “absorbed” character or creature moves out of the 100’ range of this ability, they regain their abilities and the creature and Defender lose them (although spells cast by The Defender, or the creature, are still expended).

My first impression of The Defender’s Creature was that it was a pain in the ass. So much bookkeeping! Everybody announce the amount of damage your weapon does. Uh oh, two people have weapons which deal the same damage? Um, do either weapons have tie-breaking special abilities? What about speed? Everyone is playing a human with 120′ speed, so I guess we randomly determine someone to be stuck, yeah?

Buuuuuuut despite some minor frustrations at the start of this combat, the effect it has on battle is (I think) a very interesting one. If the PCs attack this creature, they lose all of their best abilities, quite literally. Abilities which likely formed the basis for any typical attack strategy. The beefy fighter who normally charges in to protect the casters suddenly has less HP and less armor than the party’s magic user. And the party’s magic user, lacking her spells, is reduced to attacking with sticks and stones.

If this comes as a surprise to the party, their immediate response should probably be to retreat. Unfortunately, one of their number (either the fastest, or just a random person if they all have the same move speed) cannot move under their own power. The party is forced either to abandon their companion, or attempt to carry her while under assault by two creatures wailing on them with the fighter’s badass magic sword.

Just now I notice that, interestingly, the creature’s description doesn’t say that this effect only occurs when it is attacking. It merely says that it draws abilities from everyone within 100′. Within the context of the module, the creatures obey their masters perfectly (thus why all of them have morale 12), and it is entirely possible for the players to encounter their masters (known as “The Seven”) on friendly terms. So, when the party arrive to have a friendly discussion with The Defender, the magic user loses her spells, and the fighter’s HP and armor class drop. That’s a curious detail–a warning to let the players know that engaging this creature is dangerous.

Also interesting that, like The Provider’s creature, there’s a very simple, hidden way to kill this creature with ease: make sure there’s no one within 100′ of it. The description is explicit. It drains the abilities of those around it “in order to have any abilities of its own.” A generous interpretation of this would leave the best completely vulnerable. Unable to move or fight or avoid attacks. As I read it, though, the monster wouldn’t even have HP if there was no one at all within 100′.

The moment it is alone, it dies. I like that.

Deadly Dungeons 27: Undead Disposal Chamber

Undead Disposal ChamberThere are two entrances to this room, but the players are extremely unlikely to find the alternate entrance. It is usually obscured from view and out-of-the-way, intended to be found only by those it ensnares. It is much more likely that players will find the entrance to the termination chamber–a place this room’s designers enjoyed frequenting themselves to drink beer and laugh at the undead who fell into their trap.

In the center of the main room is a large pillar of green gelatin, with several dead bodies deteriorating within it. The stench of it fills the room with an acrid smell, like burning plastic. This pillar is completely and infallibly fatal to all undead creatures. Even a creature who can normally escape mundane destruction cannot escape the doom of the pillar. For example, if a lich were destroyed here, their phylactery (wherever it might be) would burst into flames.

Spaced around the pillar are four magically animated ropes, ending in lassos. They are attracted to movement, and will pounce like coiled snakes on anything which moves within the room. Those who are targeted must make a save v. palatalization, or be tangled by the lasso. Once tangled, the character must make a strength check each round to avoid being drawn 10′ closer to the pillar. The ropes have 15hp, are magically hardened, and self-repairing. They can only be damaged by slashing or cutting weapons (piercing or bludgeoning weapons are ineffective). The ropes ignore 2 points of damage from any attack, and heal 1d4 hp each round–even if completely severed. It is unlikely to come up, but the ropes are also partially ethereal, allowing them to tangle incorporeal creatures.

To the side of the room, a ramp leads down to a small secondary chamber with railings along the walls perpendicular to the ramp. (On my map, these are the north and south walls). Embedded in one wall is a skull carved from a massive ruby, with a strange black liquid flowing over its surface in defiance of gravity. Living creatures who stand in the presence of this object immediately become ill, and must make a saving throw versus poison or vomit on the spot. It is a powerful talisman of negative energy, and provides an irresistible draw to any undead creature which passes within 100 miles. Opposite this talisman is an iron door, standing open, leading out into a cave.

The floor of this room is a very sensitive pressure plate. Whenever it detects any weight, the iron door will close automatically, and seal itself until the room no longer detects weight. Once closed, the wall opposite the ramp will begin to move, forcing whatever is in the room to move out onto the ramp, and within range of the lassos.

The various devices and traps in these rooms are likely to give players a clear impression that the pillar of gelatin is deadly. However, this is only true if you’re an undead creature! For the living, the pillar produces mostly positive (if unpredictable) effects. Roll 2d6 for any living player who ends up inside the pillar:

2. The next time your character would die, they are instead returned to full health, with any of their ailments removed.

3. You, and every ally within 100ft of you, gain a +2 bonus to saving throws.

4.  The next time you would be level drained by an undead creature, you instead gain one level. This only works once.

5. Undead of 5 HD or less will always cower before you.

6. Your maximum hit points is permanently increased by 10 + your current level.

7. Any undead creature you touch (with your flesh, not your weapons) takes 1d8 damage. This damage is applied if undead deal damage to you with their hands / mouths / other body parts.

8. You become entirely immune to disease.

9. 8 hours of sleep will always be enough to completely restore your HP. It will not heal other ailments.

10. By giving an undead creature a hard stare, you force it to make a save versus magic at a -4 penalty, or cower before you.

11. You begin to age in reverse. You will regress back to 15 years of age (one year at a time), then switch back to normal aging again. There are no negative physical or mental effects of the age regression.

12. Undead creatures who touch you must make a save versus magic or be destroyed. You still take damage as normal, but suffer no ill effects from the creature’s powers or abilities. Note that there is no effect if you touch the undead. They must touch you of their own volition.

An unfortunate side effect of the gelatin is that it produces cancerous tumors in living subjects. Fortunately, these tumors grow very slowly, and will take 100 years to kill someone. Each subsequent use of the pillar after the first, however, divides the number of years by 4. (25 on second use, 6.25 years on third use, 1.5 years for the third use, and so on). It is left to the GM’s imagination what toll the cancer should take on the player.

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Thoughts and theories on tabletop games.