In my new podcast on Goodman Game’s upcoming role-playing game, Mutant Crawl Classics, we have a section called Mutagenesis where we take something from media and turn it into an item for use in the game. Here is my first entry. Should be compatible for use with Dungeon Crawl Classics as well.
Tube of Blue Concentrate
Source: Jack Vance, Cugel the Clever stories
Delivered: Glowburn, Episode 001
Tech Level: 1 Complexity Level: 1
Range: 120’ (about 50 paces)
Special: All targets must make a DC 12 Fortitude save or be unconscious for 1d8 minutes.
Power: None (1 usage per tube)
A solution of blue concentrate can spray out into about a 45° arc reaching up to 120’ away. All targets without cover must make a DC 12 Fortitude save or be unconscious for 1d8 minutes.
This does not work underwater and washing off the blue concentrate with water will terminate the effects and the target will be revived.
The user must make a DC 5 luck check to fire this weapon. Failure indicates that this tube might have a fault (roll on “What can go wrong”).
Theoretical History: This weapon was probably a tool of an ancient police force and is meant to be used against humanoids. Given that, it might be totally ineffective against larger creatures. This is up to the Judge.
Literal/Actual Description: This is a white tube about an inch in a half in diameter and about 8 inches long with a white button on the top. One end of the tube is solid blue (indicating that this is the end that the blue concentrate will be ejected.)
What can go wrong (d6):
- Active Ingredient has degraded – The “knock-out” effect just isn’t there any more. It just makes the targets blue.
- Expellent has expired – Range is significantly reduced to 5 feet or may just drip out of the tube like honey.
- Trigger Jams – doesn’t go off right now but once the trigger is pressed it will go off in 1d100 minutes.
- Active Ingredient has mutated – It now doesn’t “Knock” anyone out but all that fail the DC 12 Fortitude save rages like a barbarian (extra turn this round and use +1D larger than normal for their actions.)
- Explosion – The device explodes and its “Knock-out” effects cover all targets in a full 360° up to 10 feet away. Those directly behind the caster get a +5 on their saving throw.
- Back-fire – the blue concentrate fires out the rear and effects the user. They are coated with the entire contents and must make the DC 12 Fortitude save with a -5 penalty or suffer double the effects.
Five total strangers got together and played Shadow of the Demon Lord for Roll20CON. Only one player was experienced with this system. Including me, the game master, It was a first run for all others. Now we all have traveled down the RPG road many times and our Roll20 skills and equipment were satisfactory but there is always that wondering on how this is going to go.
The session was a total success and here, from actual experience, is a GM lessons learned about this game and its material.
Easy to Learn – Before I run an RPG system, I will read through the core manual about 3 times and then I still have some doubt. I didn’t this time. I checked on some things that are usually gotchas to me and they were as I expected. It was a very easy system to pick up for player and GM alike.
Deep Level-0 Characters – Players get to pick the important stuff. Still get to roll for some randomness. Come out with a very personal and interesting Level-0 character. All without the hubbub of an ability generation scheme discussion & decisions or “GM over the shoulder rolls”. This was a hidden gem that I didn’t know how much I liked until we flew past that point that is usually a pain in the butt.
Boons and Banes and Beat a 10 – I now underestimated what a slick tool this really is. I think I underestimated it at first. We used it. It made sense. There were no arguments about it. I learned quickly that it was so adjustable and simple that we could use it for soft moves as well. At one point, a character wanted to slide across the table and jab his dagger at the monster for his attack at the end. “Make an agility check to see if you get a boon or a bane on your attack roll.” BAM! A soft move (using a Dungeon World term here). No game balance was (or could have been) thrown off. It made sense for the fiction. It pleased the player that their character had more input into their own more complex move. It was then that I understood an elegance in this system.
Initiative System – In only a 2.5 hour session, we got in four combats. That is on the high end with my other games. I am pleased with that. My lesson learned here is that I need to do a better job of tracking it with Roll20. This is something that we just need to be more comfortable with. We understood it. We did it. It just wasn’t as smooth our first session. All on us. When I say “us” I mean me.
Level Up – “Wait, I told you to level up and walked away from the keyboard for like five minutes. What do you all mean you are ready to go?” – Nuff said!
Creature Diversity – Even the 4-5 different low levels monsters we fought put up for very different challenges. The zombies were hard to kill but could be taken out with head shots (high attack roles). The large spider had a mechanic that let it skitter away when approached. That felt very spidery. The creature catalog is where I like things to be very different and they are.
Modules are packed with more than you think – If you have ever gotten your hands on a SotDL module, you will find yourself looking at about four pages of text. Don’t be deceived, there is a lot of stuff here. In the Kickstarter exclusive module, In Need of Killing, I ran it for 2.5 hours. I added only a couple of things inspired by the module but because this was a one-shot, I skimmed some other items. The group just got to their second room in the main section. These four pages, if done right could easily cover 3 short or two long game sessions. Much is easily expanded on.
I have a good feel for this system now and would enjoy running it some more. I always suspected this to be a good system but now I know it is.
Just the other day, Ethan Gilsdorf shared the video of his TED Talk, Why Dungeons & Dragons is Good For You (In Real Life). I have watched it several times and and applaud every time. He has spoken to the world what I want to tell all around me. Especially those that shun it and those that don’t know me because I’m too “in the closet” about this wonderful thing in my life.
Right after I read his book, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, I posted my 2010 blog post about the game that I relayed here again in 2015.
I’m glad his message was short enough so that most will watch to the conclusion but deep in my heart, I know there is at least another 40 minutes more that he could have expanded on.
I praise Ethan because he has risen to the top and shouted to the world what is good and wholesome about this misunderstood tool of understanding.
What questions should I ask myself after a night of playing as a DM?
Every group is different so look back on your sessions and ask the following questions.
- How was the role-play:combat mix? – some groups
like more combat and less role-play others a just the
opposite. My group still likes 4e style skill
challenges so I moved them forward to our 5e games.
Some groups hate puzzles, some like them. Keep your
pulse on the mix.
- How was the DM exposition:inter-PC role play mix?
– I found at first my players will just interact with me
so I do things to put them in situations to encourage
them to discuss, in character, things with each other.
Good DM moments are when you realize you have been
playing for 20 minutes and haven’t said a word.
- What was going on when it seemed like the players
were having the most fun? – Yea, do more of that. One
player who is always quiet ended up getting challenged
in a one on one fight and ended up with excellent roles
killing his opponent before taking a single hit. I have
never seen the player smile so much. Bingo!
- What slugged the game down and what can be done to
speed that part up? – I sometimes create one page
cheat sheets and hand them out that contain info that
they struggle with like combat actions or skills
explanations or rules of the skills challenge if they
different from my standard rules. If I am expecting
mounted or underwater combat or there is a map with
special terrain rules then I will have those printed out
so we aren’t delving into the PHB.
- What did they say after the game (and even before
the game)? – The DM is always playing. In between
games, before the game, at the break, after the game.
Ears always open.
- Who had their day-in-the-sun? Who needs their
moment to shine? How can you provide that? – Make sure
you spread the love around. Who hasn’t seen it for a
while. Yea, Aivel got his 1v1 and Dax the Bard stole
the RP scene and Willow found a shiny trinket but Curnan
got left out this session so lets make sure there is
something for him next session. How has “treasure” been
- What parts did you struggle with? – not a session
has ended where I didn’t have something I did well and
something I did not do well and need to improve upon.
- What can you do in your prep to mitigate this
during the next session? – Struggled with NPC names,
have a list of some next time. Struggled in
description, update your room/setting notes to include
sights, sounds and smells. Struggled with managing your
NPC in a battle, how can you included them as a special
boon instead that you give to the players (On Dyntas
round, he will immobilize one enemy each turn for one
turn, players track this)
- What can you surprise them with in the next session
that they haven’t seen before?
- Battle map with special terrain
- Battle map with a fair escape
- Combo Combat/Skills Challenge encounter
- In game gambling game
- Something super silly/funny – attack by goblins who
think they are immortal who have built a seige engine
out of bamboo and an uncooperative cow.
- Switch from encounter built adventure to a classic
- Try a mystery
We have our first glance at the party I have taken the liberty of naming, the Delving Wayfarers.
- Piotr, Priest of Lon (Male Human Cleric)
- Harlan, Locksmith (Male Halfling Thief)
- Bond: Weasel it out of Priest Piotr on what really is his purpose
- Mereina, Sorceress (Female Elven Wizard)
- Alias: Hexwrought
- Marl, Guard (Male Human Fighter)
- Looks: Salt & Pepper Beard
- Signature Weapon: Flail
Follow & Play:
- If you want to follow the adventure then search Twitter for the hashtag #kotbdw.
- If you want to participate in this Unlimited Players adventure entitled The Keep on the Borderlands, then tweet something about the player to the tag #kotbplayer. This is an excellent tag/channel to follow to see what table talk is going on as well.
“What can I tweet about?” – Anything you might do at the tabletop
- Initial stat distribution
- What a character might say
- The worlds pantheon
- Initial Spells
- Prepared Spells
- Direction when there is a choice
- Art/Sketches of the characters, npc, lands or creatures
- Battle instincts
- World building
Story thus far:
The Delving Wayfarers have traveled from the capitol to the Keep on the Borderlands and was questioned by the guards at the main gate. The Priest Piotr introduced his companions and requested to avail themselves of the protection the keep promises. The guard has agreed and is ushering them inside to meet with the corporal.
This is an experiment. I have decided to run the classic module, B2: Keep on the Borderlands over twitter with Dungeon World rules. This will be a slow, long running adventure as it has to fit into tweets and I don’t want to spam any of those that follow me (although at this time that wouldn’t be too many people, maybe fewer as time goes on).
How am I going to do this? I will post what the DM would say over my D&D twitter account (@DnDBill) with the hashtag #KotBdw which stands for Keep on the Borderlands Dungeon World. Here is a search link for #KotBdw.
At times, I will post recaps here so that other’s can get a feel of what has happened so far and pick up, if interested, on this collective story.
I don’t want to flood anyone with this so I will try to keep it to 1d4 posts per day with the understanding that it might now be an everyday thing at all anyway.
But what about players? The party is made up of exactly one fighter, one rogue, one wizard and one cleric. I will eventually have Dungeon World sheets for these that I will post here in case any is interested and as they are fleshed out. They will be “played” by any collective suggestions from the twitter world at large that tweet back to me with #KotBplayer in their tweet. Basically
- #KotBdw: Adventure Canon
- #KotBplayer: Player Suggestions – incoming channel
If it comes to a point where multiple people are suggesting conflicting actions of a character then I will pick the most popular or go with the most plausible. I’m sure if this goes long enough then these characters should develop personalities of their own and I will use that collective persona to guide the actions.
What if nobody plays? I will make logical choices and keep (no pun intended) this going as long as it is interesting. Remember it is just an experiment.
How long will it take to get through the module this way? The idea here is to enjoy the Journey, not the destination. The real answer is, I don’t know. Months? Years?
How can you play along? Tweet back to me. Guide these characters. Send in suggestions. Send in feedback. Send in character builds or art I can post. Participate however you think would be fun for all.
The art is from the cover of the module by the artist Jim Roslof and I post here giving him full credit and my gratitude as he gave me my first visuals into this wonderful hobby. Jim, you are missed.
In the Dungeon World section on monsters and with the spirit of making the fantastic world fantastic, it is alluded to that some monsters would be considered just too powerful for things like hit points and armor. Being a die hard D&D Dungeon Master and intrigued with Dungeon World, this perplexed me until last night.
In addition to reading about Dungeon World, I had picked up from a thrift store The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories and the second short story in here called The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth by Lord Dunsany. The section in question is on the Dragon-crocodile Tharagavverug:
And the magician of Allathurion answered: “He is the dragon-crocodile who haunts the Northern marshes and ravages the homesteads by their marge. And the hide of his back is of steel, and his under parts are of iron; but along the midst of his back, over his spine, there lies a narrow strip of unearthly steel. This strip of steel is Sacnoth, and it may be neither cleft nor molten, and there is nothing in the world that may avail to break it, nor even leave a scratch upon its surface. It is of the length of a good sword, and of the breadth thereof. Shouldst thou prevail against Tharagavverug, his hide may be melted away from Sacnoth in a furnace; but there is only one thing that may sharpen Sacnoth’s edge, and this is one of Tharagavverug’s own steel eyes; and the other eye thou must fasten to Sacnoth’s hilt, and it will watch for thee. But it is a hard task to vanquish Tharagavverug, for no sword can pierce his hide; his back cannot be broken, and he can neither burn nor drown. In one way only can Tharagavverug die, and that is by starving.”
Then sorrow fell upon Leothric, but the magician spoke on:
“If a man drive Tharagavverug away from his food with a stick for three days, he will starve on the third day at sunset. And though he is not vulnerable, yet in one spot he may take hurt, for his nose is only of lead. A sword would merely lay bare the uncleavable bronze beneath, but if his nose be smitten constantly with a stick he will always recoil from the pain, and thus may Tharagavverug, to left and right, be driven away from his food.”
Then Leothric said: “What is Tharagavverug’s food?”
And the magician of Allathurion said: “His food is men.”
Then it hit me that this is what DW is talking about. That there are monsters that can be defeated or conquered but not by sword but by wits and conquered isn’t necessarily the death of the creature. These monsters are part hazard and part puzzle.
In a Reddit discussion on this, one of the participants drew up a very nice DW definition of Sacnoth for our use if such an adventure calls for it:
Sacnoth Close, Unbreakable, 1 Piercing, Forceful, +1 Damage, 1 weight
A blade of unearthly steel. The eye of Tharagavverug, fastened to its hilt, glows with a pale blue light.
- When you undertake a perilous journey in the lands Tharagavverug is familiar with and take the trailblazer job you succeed as if you rolled a 10+.
- You can breach any door, including magical steel doors that are invincible to other attacks.
- You can easily and silently cut through rope, including magical silk that is unbreakable by other means.
- Demons and dragons know of Sacnoth and fear it. Almost all flee once they recognize the sword.
- The eye of Tharagavverug watches your blind spots and alerts you to any danger. It can see as well by night as by day.
- +1 to defy danger against dangers which rely on subtlety or stealth.
- Sacnoth can counter music based magic, such as the Bard’s Arcane Art.
The whole story is available here for your reading/listening pleasure.
A lot of Dungeon Masters make the mistake of thinking that every combat should have the same goal. To kill the monsters and stay alive.
It is as bad as if every barkeep had the same personality or every merchant was trying to screw you over. You know what to expect and then the game gets boring. When players get bored, they find other stuff to do.
If you are a Dungeon Master, challenge yourself to come up with combats that have different goals and see if that delights your players. The goal here is that they are not perfectly balanced. Some are impossible and some are a lot easier and should be easy to win. Here are some examples:
- Survive Until Reinforcements Show Up: Here the monster is way outside your teams ability to defeat it until reinforcements show up…then end the battle because no one wants to play out 5 monsters vs 5 PC + 25 NPCs.
- Handle the Problem Monster Differently: Some monsters can’t be killed and probably needed to be treated as a trap. I have a Reddit post over on the Dungeon World subreddit on this.
- Get To The Other Side: Could be a single or a couple of things outside your ability to defeat but all you have to do is get to the “fair escape” and get out alive. This encounter is begging for an interesting map.
- Get an Object and Get Out: Maybe some cat & mouse stuff here.
- Hold ‘Em Off While I do …: Must defend until a task is accomplished…great to combine with a skills challenge.
- Humor: Yea, this game is supposed to be fun and sometimes even funny. I have thrown some deranged goblins who thought they were invincible due to misreading a prophecy at my adventureres. I think a cow powered siege engine was in the works as well.
- To Feel Heroic: Sometimes it should be something that should be stomped. Make the encounter on the easy side and let the group feel like they whooped butt.
- Because It Made Sense: If the Gnolls were at war in this dungeon against some goblins and the PCs have been at it and surviving (barely) with the Gnolls, doesn’t it make sense that they would run across some goblins who have lost some battles recently. Sure – it enriches the environment and backs up the story.
It gives the players something else to think about. Is this monster even something we can beat? What if we can’t? Why are we fighting it? Why is it here? How else can we deal with that? What the hell are these goblins thinking and why do they have a cow…with war paint?
The Homunculus Dispenser
Erevan and Aradane were growing tired of the rude little homunculus they had discovered in the dining room of this strange complex. He seemed to know more than he was letting on but talking to him was taxing their patience and neither had any left to draw on. Erevan snapped first and struck the tiny human which helped the wizard feel better. The vile minion, now put properly in his place whispered, “I see you are a stern master mister Erevan and I won’t disappoint…” A surprising thunk sounded and one of Aradane’s four remaining arrows was sunk deep into the eye socket of the small creature, killing it instantly.
Erevan whirled around in frustration, “I had finally gotten through to the creep and you go and do that! We needed a guide to this place and that was probably our best chance.”
Aradane shrugged off the complaint. At least the foul mouthed creature wouldn’t be bothering them again and they can get on finding a way out of here or at least a storeroom of sorts. He needed some more arrows and some strong drink.
To their surprise, in walked another homunculus and in his grimy, squeaky voice spoke, “as I was saying Master Erevan, I won’t disappoint you again.”
This large glass vat is 6’ in diameter and 8’ in height, barrel shaped and sits on an a sturdy three legged stand. The stand is made out of a silvery metal with identical runes carved into each of the three legs and holds the glass vat about two feet above the ground. The glass is thick, distorting somewhat the contents inside. When examined in good light, players can see, floating in a thick greenish fluid, small, odd shaped balls of flesh that resemble some (3d6) creatures curled up in the fetal position. The top of the vat is also glass and without any distinguishable seam. If the characters squeeze below the vat and look up, they will see what looks like an opening larger than any single balled up creature inside. The opening is covered with a strange thick black ooze that becomes as hard as steel when touched but appears malleable if observed for any length of time.
The homunculus (5e MM pg. 188) curled up inside are identical and exist in a dormant state. There will always be one outside the vat wandering around which the party usually encounters first. The magic of the Homunculus Dispenser maintains a link to the active homunculus and when it detects its death, revives one of the dormant copies, imbibes it with the collective conscious they all share and releases it out of the port at the bottom. The link is maintained across the entire plane.
Due to its extraordinary life cycle, the homunculus (or any creature you want to use) probably has several memories of dying and can be more easily coerced into taking risks. It however knows it is not immortal and it’s attitude may in fact swing the other way (due to numerous death experiences) as the count of spare bodies dwindles. The active homunculus may have knowledge of his bond with the device and the other hosts but never seems to give it that much thought.
The Homunculus Dispenser and associated creature was most likely the creation of a powerful wizard who himself lived in a dangerous area and grew tired of losing and retraining assistants. The homunculus would have memories of such a person in his life and may be able to provide as much or as little info as needed by the current storyline. At the least, he can describe in detail the cleaning work he did for his old master and the punishments he received when he didn’t do such a good job.
The Homunculus Dispenser can be moved although it is very heavy. If broken (AC: 18, HP: 200, vulnerable to fire and cold damage), the lifeless dormant creatures and their sticky fluid they are suspended gush out covering a 40’ square area. If that were to happen, the current living homunculus becomes the last.
If the dispensing process is observed, the party sees a balled up homunculus slip through the black ooze and land safely in the area below the vat and in between the three legs of the stand. It is covered in a thin layer of fluid. It begins to stretch. After blinking a few times, it crawls out from under the vat, stands up and begins to get back to his tasks as he sees fit.
If the DM allows, a side quest could be written and run that allows the party to collect the necessary parts to build such a device. Among that which would need collected would be a highly specialized long lost (presumably) ritual and a candidate creature. The ritual would take care of cloning the creature (3d6 again), putting the clones in a dormant state and dispensing the first to reenter the world.
The Homunculus Dispenser is a great way to introduce a local NPC to a dungeon, tower or keep that isn’t much affected by the usual results of such a creature being around a party that finds themselves in life or death combat every other room.
Before the discovery of the dispenser, it is usually comical watching the party trying to figure out how this little creature keeps showing up, death after death after death.
I usually make the homunculus somewhat of a rude masochist as that is likely to get him killed (by the party initially) and spring on them this strange phenomenon.