Friday, 14 April 2017

Dolmenwood: Grimalkin Tweaks

Image result for cheshire cat

I've been running a couple of parallel campaigns set in Dolmenwood, since the autumn, and have finally got to see the grimalkin class presented in Wormskin issue one in play. The class is a lot of fun: what's not to like about a fairy cat which can fight, pick locks, and cast spells and has three different shapes to shift between?

However, I've noticed a few issues with the class, in play:

  1. Grimalkin are small: around 3-4' high, about the same size as trad D&D halflings. Like halflings, they can only use small weapons, but they don't gain the associated benefits of being small, namely: an AC bonus when in combat with large creatures.
  2. The main means of transition between the humanoid form (estray) and the moggy form (chester) is the consumption or avoidance of town rats. While this is a charming idea, I've found it troublesome in play, for several reasons. Firstly, in my experience, when PCs are in town, the presence or not of rats is rarely something that comes up explicitly. Of course, the referee could bear this in mind, if a grimalkin PC is present, but it's not a part of the usual course of a game session. Secondly, whatever the PC may think, the player wants to stay in estray. In chester, the grimalkin's class abilities are greatly reduced and the state would be avoided by most players. This leads to the non-cat-like behaviour of avoiding rats! This, for me, is the main issue with the mechanics as written. Thirdly, if the character is avoiding rats "like the plague", that means they should avoid going into town. This presents logistical difficulties: does the grimalkin PC stay in the forest when the others in the party go shopping in town? Do they not sleep in the inn with the others? It encourages a "split the party" mentality, which is hassle to deal with. In the end, I've found that I've just completely ignored the whole rats thing, which is a shame.
  3. Though the PC grimalkin in my games has never got into chester (yet), I do notice that the abilities of that form are a little vaguely defined.
  4. While transitioning back to estray from chester just requires either alteration magic or stopping eating town rats, the transition back from the third form -- wilder -- is far more difficult. It requires a potion made from obscure ingredients which -- as the grimalkin in this state is highly chaotic -- the character's companions would have to attain and administer. As wilder is something of an "emergency state" for a grimalkin, this difficulty in changing back to its more civilised form seems ok, in and of itself. The issue here is more theoretical: without companions to look out for it, how would a grimalkin ever transform from wilder back to estray?
So, I've been thinking of trying out the following tweaks:
  1. This is simple. Just give grimalkin the same AC bonus as halflings get: +2 when attacked by a larger-than-human creature.
  2. Fixing the issue with rats requires a larger change to the class. What I'm thinking of has several aspects. Firstly, to restore the cat-like glee at killing rodents, I'd specify that grimalkin compulsively attack rats (including giant rats), unless a save versus spells is successful (in situations where the character tries to suppress the instinct). Secondly, I'd undo the connection between eating rats and going into chester. Instead, we could say that (continuing the theme of certain types of magic triggering a grimalkin's transformations) every time a grimalkin in estray is targeted by transformative magic, there is a 50% chance of it entering chester. To come back, a further application of alteration magic can be used or (for sake of playability) the character reverts at dawn. I'd also stipulate that a grimalkin can willingly enter or choose to remain in chester. A willing transformation would take 1d6 rounds. (All of the PC's clothing and equipment melds into its body, when in chester.)
  3. We can say that a grimalkin in chester is intelligent and can understand language, but can only respond in yowls and meows. The addition of a claw/claw/bite attack routine (d2 damage per hit) also seems reasonable.
  4. I think simply saying that a grimalkin in wilder has an X-in-6 chance per some period of naturally (spontaneously) reverting to estray would fix this theoretical issue. For playability as a PC race, I'd make this pretty lenient: a 1-in-6 chance per day, say.
I'll be interested to try out these tweaks to see how they work in practice and if they address the issues I've had with the class.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Weird That Befell Drigbolton: A Bit About the Layout

If you've not heard the word on the street about the impending fall of a star into Dolmenwood, check out this post first!

Now that we're on the same page, I wanted to share a few ideas on what went into the layout design for the adventure. I wanted to create something that's as usable at the table as possible. Of course, there are many different ways to approach this and I don't claim to have found the perfect solution or anything like that, but I did put quite a lot of thought into it. Here are the main concepts:

  1. No chunks of information split across spreads. In book form, it's possible to view two pages of information at once (the left page and the right page) -- one spread. Anything that splits across spreads requires page-flipping. In an adventure, where the DM needs a quick overview of information and the ability to quickly scan and absorb chunks of description, page-flipping is a real drag. (Aside: I'm actually continually surprised how few RPG layouts pay any attention to this. The D&D 5 books are, for example, terrible in this regard.) So, while some of the longer sections of content in TWTBD span multiple spreads, this is consciously kept to a minimum and no individual chunks of information (i.e. individual or connected paragraphs) do so.
  2. Boxed-text summaries. As is to be expected from an adventure, a large part of the book consists of wilderness or dungeon area descriptions. Some of these are very minimal, but some describe relatively complex scenes with a lot of "moving parts", so require more text to fully describe. All area descriptions begin with a short paragraph of boxed-text. This does not play the role of read-aloud text for the players; it provides the DM with a brief summary of the area. The intention is that, once the DM has fully read through the module, these boxed-text summaries will aid as a memory jog for what's in each area.
  3. Further details in headed paragraphs. Leading on from the boxed-text summaries of the adventure areas, further points of interest are elaborated in short sections, each preceded by a heading. This makes them very easy to quickly jump to when players say they want to investigate a certain feature of a location.
  4. Monster stats. A simple thing, but worth noting: monster stat blocks are standardised and all begin with the name of the monster highlighted in a character style which is only used for that purpose. Again, this makes them easy to visually pick out and jump to.
  5. Cheat sheets. Finally, I created three cheat sheets summarising all locales in the adventure, one for the titular hamlet of Drigbolton, one for the surrounding wilderness, and one for the main "dungeon" locale of the adventure. These are not included in the printed book -- instead they're a separate PDF designed for home printing. Each cheat sheet consists of a map marked with numbered locales and very brief summaries of each marked location, along with the page number (in the main book) of the full description. In this way, the cheat sheets form the "backbone" of running the adventure, with the book referred to for more detail when the PCs investigate different areas. This kind of high-level summarising is something that I often feel is lacking in published adventures and I hope these pre-made cheat sheets will be a useful addition to this adventure!
So, there you have it. I really hope that the thought that I put into the layout pays off and makes the adventure easy to run. The book is intended to look nice, too, of course (and Andrew's artwork certainly looks wonderful!), but the main intention is that it's usable as a gaming artefact that will provide quite a few sessions of fun exploration into the weird. I'm looking forward to hearing what people think of it, once it's out in the world...

Coming soon! (Still waiting for those print proof copies to arrive...)

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Weird That Befell Drigbolton: What's This All About Then?

As announced recently, the first module in the Dolmenwood Adventures line -- The Weird That Befell Drigbolton -- is primed for publication and should be unveiled some time in the next few weeks.

Thus far, little concrete information on the module has been revealed, merely that it is "An investigative, event-based module for characters of 3rd-5th level, set in and around the backwater hamlet of Drigbolton, on the northern verge of Dolmenwood."

So, to whet your appetites, here's a bit more info:
  • The adventure revolves around the fall of a star to earth in the Dolmenwood region. (Though the events and locations in the module are trivial to transplant into any campaign setting.)
  • The core of the star has crashed on the moor, close to the rustic hamlet of Drigbolton. The crater is surrounded by a phosphorescent, pinkish jelly to which the local wildlife has taken a liking.
  • The people of Drigbolton, investigating the site of the crash, have also discovered that the pink jelly is delicious and nourishing and have taken to mixing into their food and drink. They have interpreted the fall of the star as a gift from heaven and the jelly as "manna". The hamlet is now in a state of perpetual festival, as the need to farm, hunt, and forage no longer dominates the villagers' lives.
  • As the star fell, parts of it broke away and crashed in other locations in the Drigbolton area. The presence of these star-parts has begun to warp the nature of reality in the sites where they have fallen -- the stuff of stars is not meant to mix with the rude matter of the earthly plane.
  • The core of the star, while currently brooding in dormancy, is not, however, inert -- its bitter consciousness remains intact and is scheming to reassemble the missing parts, restoring itself to full potency.
  • Left unchecked, the presence of a fully conscious star on earth may have grave repercussions. Will a band of bold, wily, reckless, or simply unlucky adventurers stumble onto the scene and interfere with the star's plans? Only YOU can say.
The crater and the core of the star, by Andrew Walter

As the module is set up, the player characters come onto the scene a few days after the fall of the star, having heard rumour of odd astronomical phenomena. The referee may have players simply stumble onto the weird goings-on around Drigbolton, but several other hooks are detailed:
  • The adventurers may be hired by a wizard or alchemist to collect chunks of valuable star-metal which broke away during the star's descent.
  • They may be commissioned to investigate the cause of the star's fall, which is surely not by accident. The secret machinations of a wizard of great power are suspected to be behind this.
  • They may be sent on the trail of an occult tome of ill-repute -- the Black Book of Llareggub -- which is believed to be in the possession of someone in the Drigbolton region. (Could this book be in some way related to the falling star?)
So, there you have it. Keep your eyes peeled for further details and announcements!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Weird That Befell Drigbolton: A Dolmenwood Adventure -- Coming Soon!

A Dolmenwood Adventure

Written by Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk
Illustrated by Andrew Walter
Cartography by Kelvin Green

An investigative, event-based module for characters of 3rd-5th level, set in and around the backwater hamlet of Drigbolton, on the northern verge of Dolmenwood.

More info / tantalisation to follow!

Coming Soon! (Like, the next few weeks? The files have been submitted to the printer and are being analysed as we speak!)

Friday, 17 February 2017

Wormskin 5 and Cross-Class Subterfuge out now in PDF!

Missives from the Necrotic Gnome!

Two new releases have crawled out of our dungeons in the last week:

1. Wormskin Issue Five by Gavin Norman, Greg Gorgonmilk, and the usual coterie of rascally collaborators. The latest instalment in the chronicles of Dolmenwood, this issue unveils the sinister cabal of sorcerers who dominate the Wood's arcane energies -- the Drune. Also details 7 hexes around the region called Hag's Addle and describes the titular hag and her lair in depth. The issue is rounded off with four new monsters: boggin, brambling, drune, flammbraggyrd.

(The print edition of Wormskin 5 is in progress. It should be available in the next week or so.)

2. Cross-Class Subterfuge by Greg Gorgonmilk. A short but eminently usable pamphlet containing guidelines and charts for those whose tastes chafe against the traditional Thief class. These rules describe a means of dissolving the Thief class and redistributing its sneaky abilities to other character types. Now the whole party can know the joys of moving silently and hiding in shadows!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Jungle Megadungeon: More Dead Snake-Cultists

Here's a few more monsters which may be encountered in the surface areas of the jungle megadungeon, where the ruins of a snake-cult temple are located. In the two fungus-infested mummies presented, we begin to see a "twisted biology" theme coming through. The main megadungeon is envisaged to be the lair of a long-dead vivimancer, with experimental life-forms having oozed out into the surrounding jungle, over the centuries since the labs have been abandoned.

HD 7+4, AC 6 (bronze breastplate), Att: bronze warhammer (1d8+2) or snake vomit, Mv 120’ (40’), Ml 10, Al LE, XP 900

The corpses of eunuch high priests, bodies swollen to grotesque proportions on a diet consisting solely of whole snakes -- a great honour among the cultists of Thaa. In death, their organs were removed and the body cavity filled with mummified snakes. Interred in robes of gold and silver thread (worth 250gp undamaged) and great, bronze breastplates, they remain in a state of undeath, ready to defend their tombs against intruders.

Snake vomit: three times per encounter, an eater-of-snakes can vomit forth a stream of writhing, snapping-jawed, mummified snakes, targeting characters within 10’ and a 90° cone. Characters in this area suffer damage equal to the eater-of-snakes’ current hit point total, with a save versus breath weapons for half damage.

Mushroom-Head Mummy
HD 3 (suffer double damage from fire, but emit screech), AC 8, Att: 2 × throttling (1d6), Mv 120’ (40’), Ml 11, Al C, XP 65

Mummified snake-cultists whose rest has been disturbed by the incursion of fungal mycelia. Their cloth-wrapped bodies are now riddled with fungus, a great, garish bloom erupting from the top of the head. These corpses are now under the control of the mushrooms, which cause them to rise from the grave, if disturbed by light or sound. The mushrooms seek to attack and kill any creatures they come across, providing more fodder for their mycelia.

Note that mushroom-head mummies are not undead and thus cannot be turned.

Screech: if damaged with fire, the mushrooms inside the mummy let out an ear-splitting screech, causing 1d3 damage to all within 30’ and triggering a check for wandering monsters.

Puffball Mummy
HD 5+2 (suffer double damage from fire), AC 8 (spore cloud when hit), Att: 2 × throttling (1d6), Mv 90’ (30’), Ml 11, Al C, XP 460

Blessed members of the snake-cult who, in death, were ritualistically mummified and placed in tombs among the temple complex. Over centuries, fungal mycelia have crept into their coffers, infecting the corpses. Light or sound will cause them to rise from their graves, bent on attacking those who disturb them. The mummies’ bodies are now little more than grossly swollen husks filled with fungal spores. A dust of spores drifts from the crowns of their heads and their bodies are fit to burst, if damaged.

Note that puffball mummies are not undead and thus cannot be turned.

Spore cloud: when a puffball mummy is damaged, a great cloud of fungal spores are released. All within 10’ of the mummy must save versus poison or breathe in a lungful of spores. This has two effects: 1. 1d6 choking damage for three rounds; 2. the spores take root and grow inside the victim. Unless cured by magic (e.g. cure disease), one thus afflicted swells up, over the course of a month, and then dies, being entirely taken over by the puffball fungus (effectively becoming a puffball mummy).

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Jungle Megadungeon: Snake-Cult Zombies

I've been running Barrowmaze recently and enjoying it a great deal. It's inspired thoughts about writing a megadungeon of my own, set in a jungle.

I've started writing up a few ideas. Here are a few monsters, to start with.

Snake-Cultist Zombie
HD 2, AC 8, Att: bronze dagger (1d4) or curse, Mv 120’ (40’), Ml 10, Al LE, XP 29

Fanatics of the snake-cult who swore to protect the temple in death as in life. Their ritualistically scarred bodies have been preserved by magic and lain to rest wrapped in golden silks (worth 25gp, if undamaged). The lingering spirits of these men and women will be awoken to avenge any who disturb their rest.

Curse: upon rising, a snake-cult zombie may pronounce a curse upon intruders. The curse affects one target whom the zombie lays eyes upon as it wakes. The target must save versus spells or tremble with fear, incurring a -2 penalty to attacks and a 25% chance of spell failure for 1d6 turns.

Snake-Priestess Zombie
HD 4, AC 7, Att: gaze or bronze scimitar (1d6) + constriction (2d4), Mv 120’ (40’), Ml 10, Al LE, XP 190

Female aspirants selected for their sensuous beauty and ruthless devotion to the cult. In life, they were initiated in the secret rites of the priestesses, becoming semi-ophiomorphs -- their eyes and tongues are those of snakes and, in place of legs, they move upon great serpentine tails (10’ long). Finally, they were ritually impaled to bring about a state of lingering undeath. They now serve as sleepless guardians of precious treasures.

Gaze: one whom a snake-priestess zombie focuses her gaze upon must save versus spells. Failure indicates that visions of writhing serpents cause the victim’s will to be overcome. One thus afflicted becomes a mind-slave of the priestess, following her mental commands. Another saving throw is allowed, each time the victim suffers damage. If the snake-priestess dies, any under her command fall unconscious for 1d6 turns.

Constriction: using her great tail, a snake-priestess zombie may grab and constrict a victim. Once an attack with the tail succeeds, the victim is grappled and suffers automatic damage (2d4) each round, as well as a -2 penalty to attack rolls.

Temple Guard Zombie
HD 4+3, AC 5 (bronze plate), Att: bronze broadsword (1d8) + bite (1d8 + poison), Mv 120’ (40’), Ml 10, Al LE, XP 215

Warrior temple guards whose tattooed bodies have been preserved by magic to watch over tombs and shrines of the serpent cult for all eternity. During life, these men underwent a process of physical transformation via dark rituals, gaining deadly, snake-like fangs.

Poison: one bitten by a guardian zombie of the snake-cult must save versus poison or suffer one hit point of damage per turn. The poison lasts indefinitely, until it is neutralised or the victim dies. (Poison from multiple bites is not cumulative.)