Tag Archives: My Games

Tavern Tales 3 & Deadly Dungeons 15: The Funny Tea Room

TheFunnyTeaRoomThe room is simple, largely conforming to the architectural style and level of dilapidation of the surrounding rooms. It is good if this room can be placed adjacent to a dining hall or kitchen, as when the dungeon was active, this room produced a drink which (for some reason) was favored by the lord or lady of the place.

It is dominated by a large pit in the floor, 5ft deep, filled with a swirling, bubbling, steaming liquid of a faintly brown color. On the wall of the room is a large rack covered in pegs, and from many of the pegs hang wooden mugs with a copper inlay. The mugs themselves are essentially worthless, being worth ~3cp each, for a total of 20-60 cups in all. The liquid in the floor both smells, and tastes, like a mild tea. If any one drinks it, they are affected by one of the following, determined by rolling 1d12. All effects are permanent, unless noted otherwise.

  1. The liquid is poisonous to your body. Roll a save v. poison, or a fortitude save DC 15. Failure causes death.
  2. A -1 to a random ability score. Use 1d6 to determine.
  3. Spend 10 minutes vomiting and shaking violently.
  4. Burn the roof of your mouth really, really badly.
  5. Antlers sprout from your head.
  6. Tiny, inefficient wings sprout from your back. They might be of *some* use keeping cool or jumping an extra 3-4 inches, but that’s about it.
  7. Skin turns orange.
  8. Feel pretty good about yourself for the rest of the day.
  9. A scorpion stinger grows in your mouth. It is not harmful to you, nor does it interfere with normal tasks. It can be used to sting anything you put your mouth on, delivering a poison which deals 1d6 CON damage per turn, for 3 turns.
  10. +20 to your strength for 1 hour.
  11. A +1 to a random ability score. Use 1d6 to determine.
  12. +1 level.

Players may continue to drink from the pit as many times as they like. Effects will stack with each other, and any effect rolled twice for the same character should be properly “enhanced” according to GM discretion.  However, once a character has rolled a 9 or higher, their body will have adapted to the effects of the brew. From then on, regardless of the mixture they create (see below), or what they roll, no magical effect will occur. The drink is still quite tasty, though. They’ll find they enjoy it even more than before.

Adjacent to this room is a room filled with barrels. These barrels each contain a mixture which, when combined with the tea-water in the previous room, will slightly alter the random roll. If a barrel is completely dumped into the tea-water pit, then the additive will become inert after 10 minutes. If any two of these are mixed together, then their numerical bonuses or penalties will average. Orange spiral overrides anything it is mixed with. If any of these are consumed without being combined with the tea water, it tastes so awful the players will reflexively spit it out. Forced consumption causes death.

The symbols on the barrels, and their effects, are:

  • Blue Square. Smells like meat-juice. -4 to the random roll.
  • Purple Triangle. Smells like a bowl of raw egg. -2 to the random roll.
  • Red circle. Smells like beets. +2 to the random roll.
  • Black “X.” Smells like coffee. +4 to the random roll.
  • Orange Spiral. Smells almost sickeningly sweet. The random roll is replaced by a 1d6 roll to determine the player’s skin color: 1. Bright Red, 2. Blue, 3. Green, 4. Purple, 5. Orange, 6. Transparent. This effect functions even after the player has become immune to the tea-water’s other effects.

The above room appears in the megadungeon my players are currently exploring, Castle Nalew. They discovered it yesterday, and I think we probably spent an hour or more there. They tried every concoction they could think of, and much of the above information is stuff I had to improvise when they asked questions I wasn’t prepared for. Other information I had to improvise was: what happens when you become transparent twice, and what happens when you feed the liquid to a green ooze?

I could write a rather lengthy post about how much fun we had with this, but much of it would probably come across as “you had to be there” humor. However there is one story which is so impossibly perfect, I could not resist sharing it.

The very first character to dare drinking from the tea was the party’s monk. He rolled a seven, meaning his skin turned orange. Later, when they discovered the barrels in the next room, the monk was the first to try the orange spiral concoction, rolled a 5, making him orange a second time. I said that while he had been “Trump Orange,” he was now a wholly inhuman neon orange. After popping around to a few different colors, he again hit orange twice in a row, causing him to actually begin to glow orange with the strength of several candles.

The character’s name?


Sometimes the dice are the best comedians at the table.

Colorful Characters 25: Sestronatara

“Cleopatra” by John William Waterhouse.
“Cleopatra” by John William Waterhouse.

NOTE: If you participate in my monthly ToKiMo Pathfinder campaign, I advise you against reading this post. It will be much more fun for you to encounter this information through play, than it will be fore you to read it here.

Six hundred years ago, she lived a peasant’s life, and knew herself by a peasant’s name. A name which does not matter, and which she has long since forgotten. Sestronatara was born from that peasant she once was, when her mistress drained her of human weakness and gifted to her a new existence as a fledgeling vampire. In that existence she has served her mistress, as fledgelings do. As she aged she grew in power, and independence. When she had been in her mistress service for roughly a century, she was given a task:

Travel to the Castle Nalew, ancient sanctum of the mad god who one walked the earth. There, locate the Blade of Boleshi, which the mad god crafted from the carapace of the mother of spiders. Retrieve it, and return.

Dutifully, Sestronatara crossed the oceans and deserts of the world, and entered the dread god’s labyrinth to begin her search. She wandered the dungeon’s halls, slaying or enslaving all she met there. Shortly after she arrived, she encountered a paladin; a dwarf named Elzhemer. He also sought the Blade of Boleshi, determined to destroy such an evil artifact. The two fought to a stalemate before retreating to continue their search with a renewed sense of urgency.

For thirty years the two searched, and fought, neither gaining the upper hand. Sestronatara became impatient, and plotted to end her game with the infuriating Elzhemer. In their next encounter, she ‘lost’ her journal while fleeing from her foe. Within, he found every note she’d made for 30 years, and combining her knowledge with his, he knew precisely where to find the long-sought blade.

But unbeknownst to the righteous Elzhemer, his nemesis had disguised herself as a spider on the ceiling. She followed his every step, through hundreds of rooms and countless deadly traps, until the two reached their prize. Before Elzhemer could move to claim the cursed blade, Sestronatara let fall her disguise and made to kill the dwarf. For a day, sparks from clashing weapons were the chamber’s only light, and howls of rage and pain were its only sound. When all seemed lost for him, Elzhemer smashed a glass vial of holy water against the vampire’s head, burning away her skin and hair, leaving her head forever bald. But Sestronatara recovered, and proved victorious. With the Blade of Boleshi, she cut her foe’s hands away, then chained him so she could drag the meat to her mistress.

But when Sestronatara reached the entrance of the dungeon, she found she could not leave. In the 30 years the two had been here, a group of powerful wizards and clerics had banded together and sealed Castle Nalew against any entrance or exit. The vampiress raged and beat against the barrier, but could not escape. And in her 30 years of exploration, she had never discovered another pathway out. The pair were trapped.

Five hundred years have passed since then. Sestronatara has claimed a small wing of Nalew for herself, and filled it with her own fledgelings and slaves. To occupy herself, she collects what objects of beauty can be found in the dungeon, and will offer a good price for any art piece. She has grown powerful, and independent. No longer does she wish to serve the mistress who created her–though she still keeps the Blade of Boleshi hidden away. She cannot disobey her mistress’ final command.

In her chambers, beard grey with age, the handless Elzhemer remains chained. A pedestal has been placed just out of his arm’s reach, and upon it is a hammer and wooden stake he could never hope to use without hands. The paladin’s anguish soothes her.

Sestonatara (CR 8)

XP: 4,800
Female Human Vampire, Sorceress 6
NE Undaed
Init +9; Senses Perception +14, Darkvision (60ft)


AC 23, Flat Footed 17, Touch 17 [10 + Dex(6) + Natural(6) + Dodge(1)]
hp 67 (6d8 + 36)
Fast Healing 5
Fort +3 (Immune unless effect can target objects, or is harmless) Ref +8 Will +6
DR 15/Magic & Silver
Resist Fire 20, Channel 4, Cold 15, Electricity 10
Immunities Mind affecting effects, Bleed, Death effects, Disease, Paralysis, Poison, Sleep effects, Stunning, Nonlethal Damage, Ability Drain, Energy Drain, Physical Ability Score Damage, Exhaustion, Fatigue effects, Death from massive damage, effects which require a fortitude save


Speed 30ft
Melee Staff + 8 (1d4 + 5, 20/x2)(Reflex save DC: 11 v. being knocked flat)
Melee Slam +6 (1d4 + 3, 20/x2)(Magic Weapon)(Energy Drain)
Sorcerer Spells (CL 6th; Concentration +11; +2 save DC for Evocation spells)
3rd (4/day) — Lightning Bolt
2nd (7/day) — False Life, Scorching Ray, Shatter
1st (6/day) — Chill Touch, Burning Hands, Magic Missile, Mage Armor, True Strike
0 (at will) — Dancing Lights, Flare, Light, Ray of Frost, Blood, Message, Daze
Bloodline Undead
Bloodline Arcana Corporeal undead are susceptible to your mind-affecting spells.
Bloodline Powers
Grave Touch — Able to summon a familiar.
Death’s Gift — Resist cold 5, and DR 5/Magic & Silver


Str 16 (+3) Dex 20 (+5) Con — (–) Int 13 (+1) Wis 6 (-2) Cha 21 (+5)
Base Atk +3; CMB +6; CMD 21
Feats Iron Will, Spell Focus/Greater Spell Focus (Evocation), Dominate Focus (+1 Dominate DC), Alertness, Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes, Toughness, Eschew Materials,
Skills Perception(+12), Spellcraft (+10), Use Magic Device (+14),
Languages Common, The Gravespeech, Draconic, Goblin
–Blood Drain: If an opponent is pinned, may deal 1d4 Con damage per round. Gains +5 HP (or +5 temporary HP) for each round blood is drained.
Children of the Night: 1/day, summon 1d6+1 rat swarms, 1d4+1 bat swarms, or 2d6 wolves as a standard action. Creatures arrive in 2d6 rounds, and remain for 1 hour.
–Create Spawn: Creatures slain by blood drain or energy drain rise as subservient vampires within 1d4 days.
–Dominate: Target must succeed on a will save (DC 19) or fall under the effects of a Dominate spell.
–Energy Drain: Creatures hit by slam attacks gain two negative levels.
–Change Shape: May assume the form of a dire bat or wolf, as Beast Shape II
–Gaseous Form:
As a standard action, or upon reaching 0 HP, the vampire can assume Gaseous Form indefinitely. Has a fly speed of 20ft with perfect maneuverability.
–Shadowless: Casts no shadows, nor is he reflected in a mirror
–Spider Climb: May climb surfaces as though under the effects of the Spider Climb spell.
–Combat Reflexes: May make up to 5 attacks of opportunity per round. Even while flat footed.

–Aversion: Cannot tolerate the strong odor of garlic, mirrors, nor strongly presented holy symbols. Must succeed on a DC 25 will save each round, or stay at least 5ft away from these objects.
Entrance: Cannot enter any private home or dwelling unless invited by someone with the authority to do so.
–Sunlight: Exposure to direct sunlight causes the staggered condition in the first round, and utter destruction in the second round.
–Running Water: Being submerged in running water deals damage equal to 1/3rd of max hit points per round. Upon reaching 0HP, the character cannot escape using gaseous form as normal.
–Wooden Stake: If a wooden stake is driven through the heart while Sestronatara is helpless, she is instantly slain. However, if the stake is ever removed, she returns to life unless her head is also severed and burned.

Gear Staff of Impact (+2, Knockdown), Key Ring (Opens her secret treasure room), Wand of Fireball (8 charges), Close-Call-Cloak (+1 to all saves)

Fast Playing Skirmishes

Arabs Skirmishing in the Mountains, 1863 by Eugène Delacroix
Arabs Skirmishing in the Mountains, 1863 by Eugène Delacroix

Recently the tide turned in the ongoing war between the elves of the Western forest, and the orcs who had settled in the ruins there. A series of defeats has forced the orcs into retreat. Rather than flee North into dwarven lands, or South where they would likely be subjugated by the Lich, they began migrating East, and established three settlements in the north of the Plains of Nalew. No one holds a true claim on this land, though there is a small human settlement, named Overton, at the confluence of the River Nalew and the Drall River.

The humans of Overton have obviously been distressed by this development. They appealed to the elves for aide, but the elves say they have enough orcs to worry about in their own lands, and are not interested in risking lives in solving human problems. To make matters worse, the orcs have recently erected a fourth settlement. This one south of the River Nalew, a day’s ride from Overton itself, and very clearly an encroachment on human territory.

Fortunately, the local adventuring party returned to town about this time. The mayor begged them for help, and they agreed to do what they could to get rid of the orc problem. Unwilling to take such a large force head-on, the players devised a more cunning plan. First, they did some recruiting around town, and found 10 able-bodied adults willing to join them in battle. Second, they approached the elves again, and laid out a plan which would minimize the risk to elven lives. They also reminded the elves that orcs breed fast, and allowing them to settle so close to elven territory would given them the opportunity to re-invade within 10-20 years. The elves agreed to lend the players 30 archers; but only on the condition that the only real risk be to the players.

The lynchpin of the plan was Betsie, the minotauress PC. For the most part, this has been a humans-only campaign, but I allowed one of the players to take control of Betsie when her paladin died and Betsie was the only friendly NPC around. The players figured that the Orcs, as fellow monstrous humanoids, may be inclined to trust Betsie more than they would trust a human. The plan was that Betsie would tell the orcs that the forest west of Nalew had ruins similar to those the orcs had occupied in the Eastern forest, and that ever since the tribe of Gnolls she’d been in charge of had been killed by humans, there was no one there to occupy the territory. (All of this was pretty much true). Further, Betsie would claim, the ruins were filled with treasure, which she would prove with a massive 5000gp diamond the players had recovered from the area.

The player’s hope was that the Orcs would agree, and she could lead each of the four colonies (one by one) into a bottleneck between a large hill and a river, where they’d be ambushed by the humans, elves, and the rest of the party. It was a solid plan. Or, rather, it was an insane plan, but one which met the minimum standard for logical thinking which constitutes a good plan in D&D. Shortly after the plan was made, one of our players had to leave, and we decided to play board games for the rest of the evening.

That was a month ago. I had that long to figure out how to handle the player’s plan. It’s a good enough plan that I didn’t want to simply have it blow up in their faces; at least not by fiat. Assuming that the reaction dice didn’t cause the orcs to attack her on sight, and the player made her case well enough, I figured the plan would go off. (Though no way were the orcs going to be dumb enough to go in one at a time. They were gonna get together with the other three camps, and march in there 100 warriors strong).

So how do I run this scenario? 100 orcs, 30 elves, 10 humans, and 5 PCs. Obviously I don’t want to model a battle with 140 NPCs at the table, because that would take a week and be immensely boring. I do want it to be random though, because that will create a more interesting scenario than one I’ve scripted. Given the small number of forces on each side of the engagement, I do want to track how many die, but I don’t want a battle between NPCs to take up too much of my time. It has to be about the players, and their actions during the combat. Those actions of the players should also have some bearing on the fight’s outcome, though, even if it’s small.

What I eventually came up with was based on the dice chain mechanic of DCC RPG. The chain I used was 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, 1d12, 1d14, 1d16, 1d20, 1d24, 1d30. Each round, each of the factions would roll one of these dice against the other factions, killing that many members.

Assuming nothing went wrong with the player’s plan, the first round of combat would be a surprise round from the elves. I assumed they’d have plenty of time to line up their shots, so the opening volley from the elves killed 3d6 + 12 orcs. So most of the elves would make kill shots, but it wouldn’t be able to exceed the actual number of elves participating.

The PC who was in charge of the 10 humans had chosen a position a little removed from the bottleneck, and I told him it would take 1 full round of charging before he could get into position to attack. Once they were able to engage, I figured the humans could kill 1d10 – 2 orcs each round (as these are not trained warriors), and the orcs could kill 1d10 humans each round.

Starting on the second round (after the surprise) the orcs could kill 1d4-2 elves each round, with a result of 0 or less meaning they still had not spotted any elves. While the elves, now dealing with the chaos of battle rather than a well timed ambush, would be able to kill 1d30 each round.

While all of this was going on, the players would be in the thick of the battle. Each round they faced off against several different orcs (I invented 6-8 variant orcs to keep things interesting). These death-rolls would be be made openly between each round of combat, so the players could see how the battle was progressing around them.

The majority of play time during the battle was focused on the players, with brief interludes between each round while I rolled to see which combatants on each side had died. As the battle progressed, the ‘kill dice’ I rolled were modified by several factors:

  • No faction can ever roll a die with a potential to result in more kills than there are attackers. For example, the elves can continue to roll a d30 for as long as there are 30 elves, but once an elf dies, they move down 1 space on the die chain, to 1d24.
  • Once the orcs score their first kill against the elves, they’ve figured out how to spot the elves and jump up to a full 1d4 on the die chain.
  • Each round, as the elven positioning is further revealed, the orcs roll a die which is one higher up on the die chain.
  • Each orc the players kill will be matched by the elves, who gain a +1 on their kill roll. The result cannot exceed the number of remaining attackers.
  • Any PC knocked to 0HP or lower, or who flees from the fight, will give give the orcs a boost of 1 extra step up the die chain.
  • If the PCs successfully kill 5 orcs in a single round, the elves will rally and receive a +10 to their kill roll.
  • Once any of the 3 factions is reduced below 20 members standing, roll a 1d20 morale check each round. If the result is equal to or lower than the number of fighters standing, the faction will press on. If the result is higher, then the faction will break and flee from the battlefield.

These rules only took me about 20 minutes to come up with, but it seemed like a solid method of running a skirmish like this. And it did work pretty well in play, though I did end up straying from the plan a few times when I lost track of what had happened. The players did succeed in slaying the orcs, though with only 10 elves left alive they may want to watch their back if they ever venture into the Western forest again.

Any of my readers have a better method of running a battle like this one?

Placing Treasure

A Hoard of Treasure including items of artistic value
Art from “Excerpts: Hoards” posted by Wizards of the Coast

In the comments to yesterday’s post, regular commentor Jimmy asked:

“I’m bad at placing treasure. Any advice on that?”

You’re not alone, Jimmy. I’m bad at placing treasure too! I even wrote about it just a few months back:

“I also have a bad habit of being a great deal more generous with treasure than I ought to be, because I’m worried about keeping my players engaged in the adventure if they don’t feel suitably rewarded.”

It hasn’t been long since I wrote that, but if I do say so myself, I think I’ve improved a great deal. I’m sure many GMs would scoff at how wealthy I’ve allowed my players to become. But I no longer feel as though treasure “gets away from me.” A lot of different elements come together to support this, so I’ll go over them and hopefully some of what has helped me will help you.

Traditional Dungeon Crawling.

Like many young GMs, the dungeon crawl for which the game was named didn’t interest me when I began crafting adventures. Its only within the last year that I’ve reflected on my own gaming history, and realized that I’d avoided many of the fundamental experiences of D&D which are commonly considered “played out.”

My first real dungeon crawling experience was a mere 6 months ago when I began playing in Vaults of Pahvelorn. Since that experience, I’ve worked similar dungeons into my own games. Dungeons with fifty or a hundred rooms, each of which must be navigated slowly to avoid traps, and carefully examined for hints.

The traditional dungeon crawl is limiting in a good way. It reduced the game to its core elements: the players want treasure, and the environment wants to kill them. The rooms are puzzles where failure means death and success means gold. The obfuscation of heroism is torn away and the game’s foundations are laid bare.

There are many different kinds of adventures, and most of them can be fun. But having thoroughly experienced the game in its fundamental state, I now have a much better grasp for what players must do to earn their treasure.

Greater Rewards Require Greater Trials

It’s easy to get into the first room of the dungeon. Any treasure found there will be minor, if there’s any treasure to find at all. After all: it’s easy. Many adventurers have come this far before you, and would have carried off anything of value long ago. If you want to find some of the good treasure, you’ll need to make your way past deadly traps and merciless monsters which have scared off or killed the adventurers who came before you.

The really good treasure will be behind secret doors, and guarded by deadly monsters or traps.

Gold, Hidden in Non-Gold Form

When we think of hidden treasure, we think of secret alcoves, and gems buried in a pile of fireplace ash. But this is only the most obvious way of hiding treasure. A much better way is to hide treasure in plain sight, as books, fine clothing, land deeds, exotic animals, bags of spices, or any other number of possibilities.

Recognizing treasure is part of the game’s challenge. You can tell your players flat-out that they find 3 silk gowns when they open the dusty armoire. They may or may not realize they’re looking at 300 gold pieces worth of tailoring.


While I confess I still struggle with encumbrance in my games, it cannot be undervalued. The character’s income is limited by their carrying capacity. In a society where learning has largely been lost, the discovery of an ancient library deep underground could be worth more than a dragon’s hoard! But books are heavy. How many can each PC actually carry themselves?

Make the players think about whether they’d like to take multiple trips, or hire a crew to get it all out in one go. Make them wonder if the treasure will still be there if they turn their back on it for a few hours. These are interesting choices for the players to face, and go a long way towards maintaining a reasonable level of wealth for them.

Missed Treasure is Forever Lost

Let your players miss treasure, and never hint that they missed it. It may be difficult as fuck, and I’m not perfect about it, but I’ve found it to be an essential skill to practice. I take immense delight in hiding treasure as well as I can without making it downright impossible to find. (with a fair scattering of less difficult to find treasure to keep my players from getting discouraged).

Often, this means my players miss out on a really cool magical sword or badass piece of artwork that I was looking forward to them finding. But that’s okay, because you can always use that treasure again later. And when they do find some of the better hidden treasure, it’s exciting. Both for them, and you.

1d6 For Wasting Time

In keeping with oldschool rules, roll 1d6 once every 10 minutes of in-game time. If a 1 is rolled, then the players encounter a monster appropriate to the area they’re in. If that’s too much fighting for your game, bump the die up to 1d8 or 1d10. The important thing is that there is a penalty for wasting time. The players can search every 10′ square segment of wall in the entire dungeon for secret doors a dozen times over if they please. But they’re going to encounter a shit-ton of monsters while doing it.

Making time a resource which the players have to be careful about wasting, makes them more focused on their goals, and less likely to search for treasure by process of elimination. This means that more of your hidden treasure will stay hidden as noted by the point above. And while I’m never happy to see my players miss out on something cool, I would rather reward smart play than time wasting.

1d6 For Cleverness

Sometimes, while exploring a room looking for treasure, players will look in a place that the GM never even considered. And sometimes that hiding spot is so damned clever that the GM decides they’re going to remember it so they can use it in the future. When that happens, I roll 1d6. On a 6, I tell the player they find a small amount of treasure, despite the fact that I never placed any there.

The treasure they find is usually pretty minimal. A sack of 20 gold pieces or a small gemstone worth about that much.

Budget by Section

This is an idea I just thought of today, so I’ve not tried it, but it seems as though it would be helpful.

Divide your dungeon (or other adventuring area) into whatever sections seem natural. For most dungeons, a single level of the dungeon would probably be most appropriate. Determine what level you think your players ought to reach for completing that section of the dungeon. Look up how much gold the players should have at that point on the wealth-by-level table, then increase that value by 50% to account for the treasure the players probably won’t find.

The resulting gold-piece value should be the sum-total of all the treasure in that section.

Does anybody else have tips? I could still use some improvement myself!

EDIT: Generally speaking I prefer not to edit posts once they’ve gone up, but I’ve just remembered an entire section I had intended to add to this post, and completely forgot about. Apparently I didn’t add it to my notes!

Hoards are for Dragons

Sometimes its appropriate to make a big pile of treasure, or “Treasure Hoard.” A hoard will typically represent multiple types of treasure, and require a great feat of skill to obtain. Hoards should not be the default method of placing treasure. Most treasure should be found piece-by-piece. A coinpurse in this room, a valuable painting in the next. These smaller items are still exciting to find, and they provide context for the day that the players finally do discover a true hoard of treasure.

If every chest contains an assortment of gold, gems, and magic items; then such treasure is the player’s expectation, when it should be a coveted and exciting accomplishment.

Tavern Tales 2: Ooze, Poison, and Near Death Experiences

Gray Ooze, as depicted by Paizo
Gray Ooze, as depicted by Paizo

It’s been awhile, but I have a few more Tavern Tales to tell, if you’ve got the time!

Underwater Ooze

Over the last few months, Brendan‘s Vaults of Pahvelorn campaign has become one of the best parts of my week. I love the game, I love the group, and I love having the opportunity to be a player as a change of pace. I’ve also enjoyed the challenging, and high-mortality style of Brendan’s GMing, despite the fact that it cost me one of my favorite PCs ever. As a group, we’ve learned to be cautious, and when its best to simply run away. I think we’ve become quite skilled at navigating the depths, but our explorations are far from done. And just this past week, we encountered a challenge which very nearly defeated us entirely.

In a large cave, amidst a forest of glass trees, we discovered a series of ziggurats. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say, we had reason to believe there was treasure in those ancient structures. We ventured down the stairs which led into the first, and were immediately confronted with an octagonal room filled thigh-deep with water. We could see a dry passageway leading further into the dungeon straight across the room, as well as a stone slab with a body atop it that we wanted to investigate. But the water was murky, and even a first level adventurer would know not to step into any water you can’t see the bottom of.

We tested the bottom of the water with our 10ft poles, and felt only thick sludge. We thought perhaps it would be safe to trudge through–but when we withdrew our poles, we noticed that the metal hooks mounted on the ends of them were completely gone. Our rat catcher, Beni Profane, pulled a rat forth from his pouch and tossed it squarely into the center of the room, and we all watched expectantly. At first the tiny cr5eature frantically swam back towards us, and dry land. But the rodent didn’t make it three feet before a grey, gloppish ooze rose up from the water, and came down on the rate, dragging it beneath the surface.

Now thoroughly convinced that we didn’t want to step into the water. we broke some of our 10ft poles in half, and used rope to tie foot hold knots to each half, thus constructing a crude pair of stilts. We tied a rope to Beni–as he is our most dextrous party member–and sent him staggering through the mucky black waters to the other side. Once he had successfully made it there, he used an iron spike to mount the rope to the wall, then tossed the end back to us. We constructed a crude bridge of two ropes–one for our arms, and one for our legs–and began to cross one by one.

The dice were not with us, though, and the second to cross–our beloved hireling Levis–caused the rope to snap from the wall. He fell with a splash into the water, and lost all composure. He miraculously managed to flee from the water without too much injury, and continued fleeing towards the ziggurat’s entrance, where we later found him dead from an unknown source.

The rest of us managed to reattach the bridge and make it across. The entire process took at least 40 minutes of game time. But it was well worth it!

…I’m kidding of course. We didn’t find a single copper piece in the entire Ziggurat. And in addition to losing Levis, one of the player characters–Satyavati–also lost his life while fighting a monster in that next room.

Without question, that was our most dismal delve into the depths yet. And I adored it.

Poisoned Journal

I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned this or not, but recently my younger brother asked me to introduce him to the hobby.  I threw together a quick amalgamation of OD&D rules I gleaned from playing in Vaults of Pahvelorn, made a dungeon, and told him we’d play for three hours on the the following Saturday. Six weeks later, it has turned into a running campaign which I’ve dubbed Dungeons & Dragons & Little Brothers; or D&D&LB for short. Running the game has unfortunately pushed back a few other projects I wanted to work on, but I’ve also been having a great deal of fun with it, so I don’t mind.

In a recent game the party found part of an ancient manor house which had fallen into the earth in ages past. Most of it had been destroyed, but a few rooms remained largely intact, and could be accessed directly from the caves they were exploring. They had good luck finding treasures here, and when they encountered a largely intact, luxurious office room, they started to get pretty excited. Too excited to check under the desk as they normally would have. They didn’t notice the dire rat nesting there until it leapt out to defend its territory. My brother’s character, Garret, took a bite to the face which dropped him to -2 hp.

Now, the way I handle death in this game is thus: If the character reaches 0 hp, then they are unconscious. They can be revived after 10-60 minutes, but cannot fight or move quickly, lest they risk reopening their wounds and taking 1 hp of damage. If the player ever falls below 0 hp, they must make a save versus death. If their save succeeds, then they return to 0 hp and are unconscious. Characters who succeed on a save versus death also receive a permanent disability, based on the manner of their near death. If the save is failed…well…roll 3d6 for your stats, in order.

As it so happened, Garret succeed on his save. He was left with a permanent hole in his cheek which cost him 1 point of Charisma, and was reduced to limping around at 0 hp, but was otherwise none the worse for wear. Garret’s companion, Drako, urged that they should return to the surface so he could recover. But Garret insisted that they had cleared the room of danger, and it would be a shame to go back without looking through the room to see what they could find. As it turned out, Garret was correct. That single room held more treasure than the party had yet discovered in the rest of the dungeon combined. They found ancient books of law from before the fall of human civilization, and even managed to procure a piece of fine sculpture, dedicated to a powerful goddess.

Unfortunately, Garret had been wrong about clearing the room of dangers. For while there were no more vicious creatures there to attack them, there was a vicious poison dart trap. One which stung Garret in the palm when he attempted to open a locked journal. He failed his save versus poison, and had to be dragged back to town by Drako. Even before they made it to the surface, Garret’s mental state had been reduced to that of a vegetable, and it cost the Party every penny they had earned that day, just to restore his mind.

Near Death at the North Tower

For the most part, I’ve been very proud of how quickly my younger brother adapted to the dangers of OD&D. Despite his actions in the previous story, he’s made more good choices than bad ones. But even good players sometimes have bad tactics. And no player is immune from the occasional wrath of poor fortune.

While investigating those underground manor houses, the players came upon a deed to the “North Tower.” They did some investigating, and discovered that the building was still standing, the deed was still valid, and their new property was only a half day’s travel from the town they were residing in. Truth be told I didn’t expect them to find that deed as quickly as they did, but that’s the nature of the game. Sometimes players surprise you.

They decided to go investigate their new property, and promptly found themselves in a pitched battle with the bandits who had claimed the tower as their hideout. It was an absolute route. The magic user was the first to go down. His “Shield” spell gave him an AC of 3 against normal missiles, so he tried to stand in front and offer cover for his companions. The first volley of arrows overcame his increased armor class, and he went down, barely making his save v. death to remain unconscious at 0 hp. The players barred the door from the outside, dragged their companion around a corner, and tried to revive him so they could flee. The bandits immediately succeded on their first 1-in-6 chance to break the door open, and charged out swords and arrows blazing.

Drako held up a leather tarp to obscure her form, and ran for the trees, but an arrow hit her in the leg for 3, which is exactly the amount of HP she had at the time. Garret held out a good while longer with the help of the party’s two hirelings, but he and one of them were both dropped to 0 hp within a few rounds. The remaining hireling wasn’t about to fight on alone, and surrendered. For a moment, I thought my brother was about to learn what TPK stands for. But then I noticed something: Every single member of the party had miraculously ended up at 0 HP. Only one of them had even needed to make a save vs. death.

I couldn’t see why a group of bandits would kill a group of potentially valuable prisoners, so a few days later, the party awoke in a prison, and began to plot their escape.

Critical Hit and Critical Fumble Charts for Pathfinder

Nothing beats a natural 20! Red mage from Brian Clevinger's 8-Bit Theater
Panel from 8-Bit Theater, by Bryan Clevinger

I’ve been trying to write a post about critical hits and fumbles for awhile now. A stupidly long while, actually. Like, a month and a half. I’ve had this general idea about wanting to discuss the various ways I’ve seen people handle attack rolls of 1 or 20, but I haven’t been able to pin down what I want to say about it.

I first got to thinking about this when I started playing in my friend Gustie’s Anomalous Subsurface Environment game, where I am a thief named Nire the Dead. Gustie has a really cool method of handling critical hits, where the attacker can either deal double damage, or do ‘something cool.’ It’s a mechanic which doesn’t simply allow players to be creative and try crazy things, but encourages it. A player can always say they want to try something cool, but often the odds of success make a simple attack the obviously better choice. By pre-confirming that something cool will work, the mechanic has an incredibly freeing effect on the player’s imagination.

All of that said, I don’t know if I would want to implement Gustie’s system in Pathfinder. Combat maneuvers already provide a working structure for ‘cool stuff,’ and it’s an extremely efficient one which rewards player ingenuity. I feel like the two systems might not mesh well with one another. Despite not wanting to use Gustie’s system, though, I do want to try something a little more colorful than the basic double damage / critical miss system that Pathfinder uses.

For the last few weeks, Brendan’s Vaults of Pahvelorn game has been using a pair of tables he got from a Lammantations of the Flame Princess supplement. I don’t own LotFP, so I can’t speak to the table’s full content. But anytime a 1 or a 20 is rolled, Brendan asks us to roll a 30 sided die, and something wonderful, or terrible, results. I’ve been fascinated to watch how this table has affected the group. We’re all on the edge of our seat, waiting to find out what the d30’s roll will produce–and there have been some doozies. Like the time one of us rolled a 20, which resulted in a miss, but they then ‘learned from it,’ and gained 1 point to their wisdom score. Or the time one of the party’s cleric’s was granted a new level on the spot.

We’ve had an immense amount of fun with the LotFP tables. But for my Pathfinder games, I wanted to find something a little more grounded. That’s when I discovered a post on Delta’s D&D Hotspot with some fantastic tables from an old dragon magazine. You should definitely take a moment to look over those tables. They’re very nearly perfect. All I’ve done below is parse them down from four charts, to two. And from a d%, to a d30.

Note that a little creativity, and judgement is required from the GM when using these tables. What does it mean in game terms when an orc loses an eye? (Perhaps they’re easier to backstab or flank)? What exactly happens to a shortbow when it’s damaged? (Perhaps the character cannot bend it as far without breaking it, and thus the bow’s range is reduced by half)? I’ve tried to predict circumstances which would make any of the results invalid, and provide contingencies for them. But if you choose to use these tables, I’m sure you’ll discover a few that I missed, and need to either re-roll, or make a judgement call.

Critical Hits (Roll 1d30)

Any attack roll of 20 is a critical hit. Any other other attack roll within critical range must be confirmed as per Pathfinder’s rules.

1-10) Standard critical damage as indicated by the weapon type.
Critical multiplier increased by 1. (If a weapon deals double damage on a critical hit, then it would deal triple damage. If the weapon deals triple damage, then it would deal quadruple damage, and so on.)
Normal damage, and weapon is knocked from the opponent’s hands. (If enemy uses natural weapons, such as a bite attack, those weapons are damaged and rendered unusable.)
Normal damage, and opponent’s shield is knocked out of their hands. (If no shield is present, weapon is knocked away instead, as described for 16)
Normal damage, plus opponent’s armor (or natural armor) is damaged, reducing its AC bonus by 1. Armor can be repaired for 1/2 base cost. (If armor is magical, re-roll.)
Normal damage, plus the opponent’s ear is struck, and destroyed. (If the target is wearing a helm, attack deals normal damage, and helm is knocked off.)
Normal damage, plus the opponent’s eye is struck, and destroyed. (If the target is wearing a helm, attack deals normal damage and helm is knocked off.)
Normal damage, plus the opponent’s knee is struck. They are reduced to 1/2 movement speed.
Critical damage, plus the opponent’s right arm is destroyed (Either cut off, or damaged beyond usability).
Critical damage, plus the opponent’s left arm is destroyed (Either cut off, or damaged beyond usability).
Critical damage, plus the opponent’s right leg is destroyed (Either cut off, or damaged beyond usability).
Critical damage, plus the opponent’s left leg is destroyed (Either cut off, or damaged beyond usability).
Critical damage, plus severe damage to the abdomen. (Heavy bleeding, either from a wound, or internally). Target will continue to lose 10 hp every turn (10 minutes) until bbleeding is stopped.
Critical damage, plus severe damage to one of the target’s lungs. Target is left gasping on the ground until tended to. Suffers a permanent loss of 4 Constitution (which also causes a loss of 2hp/level). This ability loss is from the destruction of a lung, and cannot be recovered by anything less than a Regenerate spell.
The attack strikes the chest, and severely damages the heart. The target is immediately reduced to -1 hp.
The attack strikes the head. The target immediately drops to -1 hp and suffers the permanent loss of 4 Wisdom. This ability loss is from brain damage, and cannot be recovered by anything less than a Regenerate spell. (If the target is wearing a helmet, this attack instead deals critical damage, and knocks the helmet from the target’s head).
Roll twice.

Critical Fumble (Roll 1d30)

Any attack roll of 1 is a critical fumble.

1-10) Complete miss.
11-12) Fumbler’s movements put them off balance. They take a -1 penalty to their armor class for the next round.
13) Fumbler’s movements put them severely off balance. They lose Dexterity, Shield, and Dodge bonuses to AC for the next round. If losing these bonuses does not reduce the fumbler’s AC, then they still must take a -1 penalty.
14-15) Fumbler trips, and falls prone.
16) Fumbler trips, falls prone, and strikes their head. Stunned for 1d4 rounds. (If fumbler is wearing a helmet, then they are not stunned, but their helmet is knocked off).
17-18) Weapon is damaged and loses some of its effectiveness, but is still usable. Specifics are up to the GM. Weapon can be repaired for 1/2 of the weapon’s base cost. (Magical weapons are unaffected, and merely miss).
19) Weapon is damaged and loses some of its effectiveness, but is still usable. Specifics are up to the GM. Weapon can be repaired for 1/2 base cost. This includes magical weapons.
20-21) Weapon is destroyed. Can be reassembled for 3/4 of the weapon’s base cost. (Magical weapons are unaffected, and merely miss).
22) Weapon is destroyed. Can be reassembled for 3/4 of the weapon’s base cost. This includes magical weapons.
23) Weapon is dropped.
24) Weapon is sent flying.
25) Shield is dropped. (If no shield is held, weapon is dropped).
26) Fumbler twists their ankle, and is reduced to 1/2 speed until they have a day to rest.
27) If fumbler wears a helm, it becomes twisted, leaving them unable to see. (If no helm is worn, this is simply a miss).
28) A nearby ally is struck for 1/2 damage. (If no ally is nearby, this is merely a miss).
29) A nearby ally is struck for normal damage. (If no ally is nearby, this is merely a miss).
30) Roll Twice.

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