Posts Tagged “Personal Stories”
The 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.
- The liquid is poisonous to your body. Roll a save v. poison, or a fortitude save DC 15. Failure causes death.
- A -1 to a random ability score. Use 1d6 to determine.
- Spend 10 minutes vomiting and shaking violently.
- Burn the roof of your mouth really, really badly.
- Antlers sprout from your head.
- 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.
- Skin turns orange.
- Feel pretty good about yourself for the rest of the day.
- 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.
- +20 to your strength for 1 hour.
- A +1 to a random ability score. Use 1d6 to determine.
- +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.
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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!
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.
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.
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Concept art for the original Legend of Zelda, by Katsuya Terada.
My ladyfriend is 3 years younger than I am. It’s a little strange for me, since most of my relationships in the past have been with older women. And though the difference in our numerical ages is small, it sometimes feels as if those few years belie a massive generational gap. Particularly with regards to vidya games. My first console was an NES, while her was an N64, how does that even happen? The poor whippersnap missed the greatest era of gaming: the one I grew up with! I often become frustrated when I make a funny reference, only to realize she probably never used the Konami code, or blew dust out of a cartridge, or heard of games like Doki Doki Panic!
So what in Oerth does this have to do with tabletop RPGs? I’m getting to that. Be patient, geeze.
Recently, because my ladyfriend is pretty cool, she asked me to recommend an oldschool game. Probably because she was impressed by all those cool jokes she’s too young to laugh at. I considered carefully which game would be a good introduction for her, and unsurprisingly settled on my favorite of all time; The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. That game has had a defining impact on my life. It shaped my views on fantasy settings, and informed my opinions about what it means for a game to be ‘good.’ It’s the first game I ever wholeheartedly fell in love with, and that love is part of what originally led me to pursue writing. Hells, the “L” in my monicker stands for “Link,” and I’ve been known by that name for almost half my life. Even ignoring all of the personal value the game has for me, it’s still one of the most polished, well-designed games I’ve ever encountered. And since my ladyfriend is already a fan of the later Zelda titles, it’s about time she was introduced to a proper dark-haired link, rather than the boyband reject seen in more recent games.
Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I think the game is best when played on the Super Nintendo, with that fantastic controller. But before I set her up with the cartridge, I thought I should take a look at it. The last few times I played through LttP I was either using a game boy, or an emulator. Because of that, my SNES copy hadn’t been used in a few years, and I remember experiencing some audio glitches the last time I played it. Plus, with the game being over 20 years old, I worried that the battery wouldn’t be able to hold a save any longer. So I drew the cartridge from its shelf, gently cleaned the connectors with alcohol, nestled it into the console’s bosom, and flipped the big purple power switch up with a satisfying “clack.*”
Yes. That is me. Dressed as Link for Halloween. I was a cool kid.
Yeah, she hasn’t gotten a chance to play it yet. I’m on the second-to-last dungeon in the game and having the time of my life. But again, what does this have to do with tabletop RPGs?
Well, one evening after I’d been playing, I was in bed with a notepad. I began to lazily jot down notes for a Zelda tabletop RPG rooted in the spirit of the pre-Ocarina of Time games. Those random notes quickly evolved into a project which I’ve dubbed the Legend of Zelda Adventure System, or LOZAS for short. It’s what I’ve been blathering on about for the past week. I originally didn’t want to be open about the source material I was working with, in part because I didn’t want to feel obligated to finish it. But it’s become clear to me that I want to take this seriously, so there’s no point in being subtle any longer. Though I don’t know if it actually counts as subtle, since I’ve been tweeting about ‘my zelda system’ every 15 minutes.
I confess, I feel more than a little arrogant announcing that I’m trying to adapt one of the most celebrated games of all time to tabletop. Who the fuck am I? I’m an untested, aspiring game designer. To be perfectly frank, I don’t think I’m up to the task. Oh, I’ll do my best, and I’ll finish the game, and maybe some people will like it. But this is just a goofy little project I started working on for my own amusement. When I do eventually finish LOZAS, it will be the first game I’ve ever designed from the ground up. And like any ‘first,’ it’s probably going to be terrible. But it will be a labor of love, and I can only hope that will help mask some of my inexperience.
So now that I’ve wasted 786 words telling you what the project is and how I came to work on it, why don’t I share a little bit about how the game is shaping up and what my goals are? That way future posts referencing the LOZAS system can at least have some context. While my list of goals is extensive, each one descends from this single goal:
Recreate the style and ‘feel’ of A Link to the Past in a tabletop environment, without forcibly including elements which are not well suited to tabletop play.
Given that, the question becomes: what is the style and feel of LttP? Exploring that question has been an ongoing process as I work on the game, but I do have my thoughts:
Concept art for the original Legend of Zelda, by Katsuya Terada.
Dungeons Zelda games are about dungeons. Even though every game in the series has lots for the player to do outside of dungeons, the underworld is where the real meat of the game can be found. It’s where the player encounters the most varied enemies, finds the most interesting treasure, fights bosses, and achieves the most important quest-progressing goals. As such, the game will be geared towards exploring dungeons. Hyrule is an ancient land, where many forgotten kingdoms have made their home. It is riddled with dozens, hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of underworld citadels just waiting to be explored by heroes.
While dungeons can vary wildly, most dungeons will contain the following elements:
- Lots of monsters.
- Lots of traps.
- Lots of treasure.
- A wondrous item (discussed further below).
- A heart container (discussed further below).
- A Great Monster.
Great Monsters are special creatures within this world. In game terms, you would call them bosses. However, within the setting, they are monsters who have acquired an immense amount of power. They did this either by defeating their fellow monsters and rising to the top of the food chain, or by forging an alliance with a great evil being. Upon defeating a great monster, all the heroes who were involved in the combat gain a level. Defeating great monsters is the only way to advance in level in this game. There are no experience points.
Characters There are two big things about A Link to the Past which do not translate well to a tabletop environment. First, not every adventure can be set in motion by Zelda being kidnapped. Second, not every player can be Link. The former problem is up to the GM to solve, but I hope to give GMs a useful toolbox with my methods for creating dungeons and great monsters. The latter problem, however, is all on me.
Long story short, I’ve determined that the game will use only three classes. The Adventurer is the closest of the three to what Link would be. It’s a class with respectable fighting skills, but which focuses on special abilities. An adventurer can leap across long gaps, climb walls quickly, move without making any sound, etc. Soldiers focus purely on physical combat, and receive bonuses to their attack, damage, critical range, armor class, and battle maneuver score as they increase in level. Sages are the mystics of the game, and probably the class I currently find most interesting. At each level, the sage can permanently add one more spell to its repertoire. I’m doing my best to balance the spells at about the same power level, so that there will be no need for multiple “spell levels.” Each time a spell is cast, the sage must roll an ability check. They are currently allowed to fail the check a number of times per day equal to their level, after which they must rest before they can cast again. Though I worry this may become tedious at higher levels, even with a current max level of 10.
Numerical Simplicity There aren’t many bonuses or penalties in a Zelda game. Sure you might get an upgraded sword or new armor now and again, but the rest of your equipment provides a unique function rather than improving the effect of a function which already exists. So far, the only bonuses and penalties which currently exist in the game are either determined at character creation, or by a character’s class as they level up. The game will employ an maximum AC, and even at high levels health will likely be pretty low for most creatures. So including a lot of +1 items would just make the game messy. Instead, the game should be filled with items like a magic grappling hook which always finds something to latch onto, or a magic glove which lets you see through any wall you touch.
Heart Containers One of the staples of every Zelda game is heart containers. The player begins the game with 3 life. By defeating bosses, the player can gain heart containers which increase that life by 1. Minor as it may seem, I think this is a great idea to use in the game. A sword to the chest kills a great knight just as surely as it would kill a peasant. However, by delving into dungeons, adventurers can find magic items which absorb into their body, allowing them to survive wounds which would kill most people.
Those are some of the larger ideas which come to mind now. I’m sure I’ll continue to write about this project as it progresses.
*Seriously, why in the world did the SNES have such a loud power switch? It was as though Nintendo was trying to alert your parents of when you were playing rather than doing your chores.
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