4Ward/FrankenFourth: Death Farm

One of the players from our Save the Princess, Mario-esque 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game was away for the week, so Melissa ran a short, two session crawl that had me and the kids exploring a haunted farm. Normally we'd do this with Dungeons & Delvers, but we've already playtested the hell out of that and she's more familiar with FrankenFourth anyway.

I'd intended to play a human fighter because neither of our weekly campaigns had a fighter for an appreciable length of time, but one of the kids wanted to play a dwarf fighter (his go to for Dungeons & Delvers too) so I shifted gears to a human ranger with the Archery and Beast Companion talents (armor piercing 2 with ranged attacks and a level 1 beast respectively).

We managed to clean everything out without having to stop and camp for the night, which is really good considering that Melissa was basically eyeballing the encounters and monster stats. In the end we leveled up, saved someone captured by a flesh golem because he wanted a bride I think, and walked away with nearly 1,000 sp in swag, a few potions, and a book on making your very own flesh golem (because it obviously worked out so well the first time, that at some point we'll give it a shot, too).

Our daughter really likes a specific mini that we got out of I think the second Reaper Bones Kickstarter: normally we treat it as a wizard, but this time I figured she could play a cleric going down the Healing Domain tree to mix things up and give us some added staying power. Here's a shot of her sheet and mini post-level up:


A few people have reacted to FrankenFourth under the assumption that it's a 4E D&D hack. We started with 4E, but quickly deviated from it, stripping out almost all of the complexity in the process. What you see is the essential bits of her character, which fits nicely on a third of a sheet of paper.

You got her stats, Reflex Defense (what you gotta roll to hit her), Armor (reduces damage taken most of the time), Wounds (some comes back with long rest), Vitality (comes back with short rest), and to-hit-and-damage. The boxes at the bottom represent her Favor: when we take damage, she can check one off and reduce it by 1d4.

She wanted to befriend the skeledog, so she's multiclassing into wizard to start going down the necromancy tree in order to get undead minions (thanks to Jacob, the player of Humal in our Age of Worms playtest campaign, for helping "flesh" it out).















Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

4Ward/FrankenFourth: Age of Worms, Episode 406

Cast
  • Humal (level 6 wrathful cambion wizard)
  • Corzale (level 6 dwarf war cleric)
  • Sumia (level 6 elf rogue/ranger)

Summary
The spongy-yet-stone secret door opened into a narrow, pitch black corridor. Sumia had Corzale hold her torch while she snuck ahead to scout it out, but she wasn't able to make it far due to the darkness. Still, she learned that many of the walls looked to be mirrors, and that the corridor branched off at several points.

The party decided to stick along the outermost wall of the corridor, hoping that it would at least make it more difficult for whatever they were certain was lying in wait to ambush them. Case in point, once they'd all filed in something attacked the rearmost skeleton, and per Humal's instructions it chased its assailant out of sight.

During the chaos, Sumia spotted something vaguely like a face peering from behind one of the mirrored walls, but when she pursued it a panel slammed in place behind her, separating her from the rest of the party. Sumia was able to see flickering light from Corzale's torch from another direction, but little else, and when she tried to regroup with the rest of the party whatever had lured her away began stabbing her.

The walls were metal, or at least seemed like metal, but were fortunately thin enough for Corzale's maul to punch through with a few strikes. Still carrying Sumia's torch, they both saw what had lured her away. It was roughly humanoid, pale, and almost looked to be made of wax. The only mark on its otherwise smooth face was the thin scratch of what they assumed was a mouth. It had two arms, but one was much larger and longer and covered in spiky protrusions.

Corzale shielded Sumia from the creature, battering it with her hammer while Sumia loosed arrows, and like the other, actually human-looking doppelgangers it collapsed into a puddle of pale ooze when slain.

Humal commanded his skeletons to attack everyone but Corzale and Sumia, which was when something that looked like Sumia dived upon one of his skeletons and began frantically stabbing at it with a fist-turned-punching dagger. He then commanded his skeletons to attack the Doppel-Sumia, and once they surrounded it the real Sumia was able to maneuver behind it and lodge an arrow into the back of its skull.

While they regrouped, they realized that they were essentially wandering in a maze with mostly mirrored walls. Sumia marked various mirrors with doppelganger ooze, and they soon found a door. It opened into a short passage, which ended in a wall that Sumia discovered was illusionary. Beyond the wall was a wide, octagonal room with more mirrored walls and a circle of chairs at its center. Humal scanned the room with his arcane sight, and discovered that a section of the wall was also illusionary, beyond which was one of the bedrooms they'd investigated earlier.

They returned to the maze and continued exploring until they came across another door. This one opened into a very large chamber, which was both fortunately well-lit and didn't feature yet more mirrors. Bottles, tubes, and other strange machinery was heaped against one of the walls. Amidst the tangled mess was Filge, unconscious and strapped to a table, with a strange helmet attached to his head. On the other side of the chamber, an elaborate throne was perched atop a raised platform.

Eligos was seated in the throne.

Humal asked what he was doing, and he calmly replied that they'd requested information, so he was helping them. He then tried turning the party against Sumia, by stating and answering questions that they'd asked her previously in the mirror-maze to confirm her identity, before following it all up with information that none of them had brought up since their arrival in Dovin.

This both unnerved Sumia and prompted Humal and Corzale to attack. Corzale charged at Eligos, just barely evading a pit trap in front of a set of stairs leading up to the throne, while Humal's skeletons maneuvered about to trap him. Eligos blasted Corzale with fire, but once she'd closed the distance his form changed into that of an axe-wielding bugbear, revealing him to also be some sort of doppelganger.

Humal tried charming him, but when that failed he resorted to conjuring illusionary boxes around his head. Doppeligos remarked about this classic Humal strategy, before reverting back to his "original" form and unleashed more arcane fire upon Humal, just before Corzale splattered him across the floor.

With her companions facing off against Doppeligos, Sumia attempted to free Filge. But, once she cut the straps binding him to the table, he suddenly transformed into a fleshy mass and attacked her. She was unsure as to whether this was truly Filge, a clone, or some other trick, but he didn't respond to her and seemed fully intent on killing her. Fortunately his movement was both slow and clumsy, allowing her to get some distance and kill him with a few well-placed arrows.

While using her maul to shove as much of Doppeligos's jellied remains into the pit, Corzale noticed numerous metal rods and a pair of crystals amidst the mess. The rods explained why Humal's charm had failed: cold iron was naturally resistant to arcane magic. The crystals radiated something akin to divination magic, and while that wasn't Humal's area of expertise he theorized that they contained memories from other creatures.

Sweeping the room with his arcane sight, Humal discovered that some of the machinery was magical, specifically a few clusters of slowly expanding crystals in viscous, fluid-filled jars. Other jars contained brains, which supported Humal's theory and explained how they went about it.

Searching the rest of the room, they found a door behind the throne, which led to a lavishly furnished bedroom. Thanks to Humal's arcane sight they were easily able to identify several magic items, in addition to a chest filled with thousands of silver pieces, a wardrobe packed with clothes, a ritual scroll that Humal would need to translate later, and more documents detailing various treaties and other dealings in Dovin.

One of the magic items was a roughly spherical stone, covered in what looked like scratch marks. When Humal touched it, a voice spoke in his head, instructing him to meet the speaker at the "sewer junction" to discuss the removal of several "troublesome small minds".

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Design Notes
While running these adventures, I've been mostly going by the numbers when it comes to monsters (for treasure I convert it to sp and then usually reduce it, because you can't load up on magic items). This is bad because these adventures were written for 3rd Edition, which requires you to rework monsters so that they're an appropriate challenge.

Case in point, the doppelgangers aren't just doppelgangers, because their math isn't good enough for the math that the characters will be expected to have in this adventure. So, they've got four fighter levels tacked on. The mini-boss is a made-from-scratch, beefed up doppelganger that's I guess intended to challenge a party of whatever level they're supposed to be.

During all of the fights, Sumia didn't suffer any Wound damage, which sucks but maybe isn't that bad considering what's going to happen next (and what happened before, namely her losing a bunch of Wounds), but it still felt too easy. I thought about bumping up monster levels so they'd last longer, but then I realized that since FrankenFourth has actually flat math you don't need to do any of that.

Rather than throw arbitrarily beefed up doppelgangers (and/or drow) at them, I could just use more than what the adventure lists. So, instead of two in the mirror maze, I should have used three or four. When they fought Doppeligos, I added one posing as Filge (since the adventure mentioned one fleeing from the maze to warn him), but given that he was supposed to be a kind of mid-boss I should have added in another pair, maybe even three.

As for adventure changes, we were running out of time and I wanted to get this leg of the adventure done, so skipped over having a bunch of shit show up in the octagon room.

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

Darkest Dungeon (Very Late) Early Access Review

Darkest Dungeon is a rogue-like dungeon crawler that I really wish I hadn't picked up way back when it was still in early access (and this review is based on my experiences then), because though it looks nice it fails to deliver on everything mentioned on its About page.

Before I, er, delve into the bad, I'll start with the good (since it won't take nearly as long): the art and overall concept.

I like the art because it's similar to the style I use (which is in turn based on Mike Mignola), and though the game is pretty minimalist when it comes to animations it didn't really detract from the game.

The concept is also an interesting idea (and one that I'll be using in a future adventure): there's a shitty village surrounded by lots of bad things, and the characters have to clean it all up.

Now the bad.

What makes this game suck is a three-part answer, so let's start with the challenge.

Instead of actually trying to challenge you by forcing you play and learn, it relies entirely on randomizing everything. While this will often result in you barely making it out of the dungeon alive, if at all, it has nothing to do with your skills, knowledge, or experience, and everything to do with how bat-shit random the game is.

You start out by completing a short, straightforward tutorial, and assuming both heroes survive (one or both can in fact die, I guess) you'll have four characters to take into the next dungeon. There's only one to choose from at this point, and the game recommends purchasing 8 food and 4 torches. That sounds like good advice, but the game doesn't tell you how anything works.

Take food for example. You'll be walking along, and the game will randomly ask you if you want to eat or starve. In fact it's so random that you can go through an entire dungeon without a single food event occurring, or have a bunch hit you in rapid succession.

It's not just food that you have to play this guessing game with, but all of your supplies: the number of rooms and arrangement of the dungeon is randomized each time you go in (no matter how many times you go in), and there's no way to even get a guesstimate.

For example I've never used a key, but have "expended", I guess, one or two shovels about an equal number of times (and a couple of times I've needed none or even three). If you don't have enough shovels to dig through an obstruction, then you end up burning through torches I guess digging through it by hand (which can mess up your torch guesstimate).

Speaking of torches, I've also consistently burned through 10+ of them with each crawl, even if I'm just doing the bare minimum of exploring 90% of the rooms.

But you don't want to stock up too much because, not that the game tells you this, any supplies you don't use are discarded when you return to town, even if it makes no goddamn sense: why the hell do you just chuck your remaining shovels and keys?

Combat is equally bad: you'll get a string of misses, enemies will get a string of crits (ramping up your Stress, which leads to another set of problems that I'll get to in a bit), your marching order will get fucked (forcing some characters to spend their turns shuffling about, possibly just to get knocked about again), status effects just won't stick, and so on.

I've fought a group of spiders and had them basically do nothing, but then had another fight with another group of spiders; they focused entirely on my cleric in the rear, until they killed her in a couple of turns.

Another thing that ruins the game are the characters that the game tries to label as heroes.

They aren't. None of them act like heroes, and they don't even have personalities or ambitions. They arrive at random off a wagon, you run them through a random dungeon, and hope that everything just happens to fall into place so you can throw them in the tavern to reduce Stress, grab a fresh batch off the wagon, and run them through another dungeon while the first set recovers.

If anyone dies or gets too annoying due to Stress, you boot them the fuck out of town and replace them.

Rinse and fucking repeat.

You don't get attached to your characters, because at any time you could lose one entirely by events outside of your control (and, frankly, probability). You don't get to build any characters, and while you can rename them what's the point? They'll probably die, go crazy, or someone with a better skill loadout will show up.

Not that the skills particularly matter. Each character has a class, and each class has its own own set of skills that can somewhat differ. For example, I've had a leper with a melee area attack, and another with a single target attack and something else that I never used. I think you can eventually exchange and/or upgrade skills, but I didn't play long enough to bother.

Speaking of not bothering, you won't bother with most skills. When I first played the game I had my crusader routinely use a stun attack and the highwayman use an accuracy/crit boosting skill, but the fights went on forever, and in the end I barely limped away. I started over and tried again, this time just using their single-target attacks, and breezed through the tutorial.

The only classes that had me shake things up were the hellion and vestral: with the hellion I'd spam the hellion's stun shout, using the melee attack when the enemies were whittled down (or there was just one left), and with the vestral I'd just rotate between the single target and full-party heal (using the ranged magic attack if everyone was topped off and she even had it).

Finally, the Stress mechanic is somehow both frustrating and pointless.

You gain Stress just by touring the dungeon (more if your torch is too low), you gain Stress when monsters crit you, and for some reason you gain Stress if you leave the dungeon without finishing it. If your Stress fills up, then the character has a chance to get an Affliction. I've seen them be useful once; most often they are crawl-fuckingly bad.

Afflicted characters will cause you to waste your turn trying to heal them (they just won't let it happen), skip their own turn, shouting at the other characters, causing them to gain Stress faster (leading to a snowball effect of more characters gaining Afflictions), changing their position (likely resulting in you having to spend turns fixing the order), attacking themselves, and more.

The biggest kicker is that if things start going south, you can just leave. You get to keep any loot you picked up, and while your party gains more Stress who the fuck cares? Ditch them all if you want, grab some new meat off the wagon, and try again (probably with similar results).

Conclusion
Ultimately this is a game that you can't feel bad for losing at, because unless you deliberately make a bunch of stupid decisions—not bring supplies, put party members in the "wrong" spot, let your torch constantly peter out—it's never your fault. All you do is build your party, put them in the right spots, guess what supplies you'll need, pick a dungeon, and cross your fingers.

This also means that you won't feel accomplished for successfully completing a dungeon, because your only contribution was a lot of guesswork and some button-pressing. You didn't know how many items you'd need, you didn't know what the dungeon would look like or what you would face, and you didn't build your characters: you just got lucky.

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

A Sundered World: More Character Stuff Preview 9

In A Sundered World, some races have a fixed race move, like the kytheran's made, not born, and the tarchon's call of battle. Others let you choose from a handful, namely the cambion (you pick a sin) and ishim (you pick a domain).

Elves were in the former camp, but in the upcoming more-race-and-class-stuff supplement you'll be able to choose whether to stick with at the edge of sight, or replace it with coral's emissary (the only restriction is that you gotta choose at 1st-level):


Coral's emissary lets you swim in the astral much more quickly than you normally would by drifting (mechanically, it lets you defy danger using DEX instead of INT when you're drifting if you want to), and you can also breathe underwater.

A few moves build upon coral's emissary, but of course there are plenty of others that let you, for example, use DEX when you hack and slash with certain melee weapons, give you a backstab-like ranged attack when you snipe, shape your limbs into ironwood weaponry (and cover your skin in bark), transform into something akin to an enthollow, and more.

If you have any race/class/move/equipment suggestions, or things you want us to clarify, let us know: even though there are currently over 250 new moves (in addition to new gear, including vehicles), there's still time to add more stuff!

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

4Ward/FrankenFourth: Age of Worms, Episode 405


Cast
  • Humal (level 6 wrathful cambion wizard)
  • Corzale (level 6 dwarf war cleric)
  • Sumia (level 6 elf rogue/ranger)

Summary
Sumia disappeared into the water along with several of Humal's skeletons, and to both Humal and Corzale's surprise she emerged in one piece several minutes later. She explained that a twisted underwater passage lead to a wide, dimly-lit chamber, with only a strange, irregular pillar reaching out of the water.

Since this was the only way left for them to go, they figured there must be something more to the room. When they arrived in the chamber, Humal ordered his skeletons to scale the pillar while carrying a rope, which they lowered once they reached the top, providing the rest of the party with a much easier means of ascension.

As Corzale climbed she noticed several thick pipes threading the pillar. They were all made of a single piece of metal, and connected to an oblong, metallic object that was embedded in the side of the pillar. Corzale could not ascertain the purpose the pipes or the object, which upon prolonged inspection looked disconcertingly like a heart.

At the top of the pillar was a metal lever, which was attached to a base that seemed to have been somehow...blended in with the surrounding stone. Sumia pulled the lever: the metal heart began to somehow undulate steadily, the pipes writhed, and they party could hear something popping and snapping within the pillar as it retracted. Fortunately the water receded with it, vanishing completely just before the pillar had finished lowering into the floor.

The party waited for a few minutes to see if anything else would happen, namely a bunch of monsters leaping out of the shadows to attack them. Nothing did, though Corzale was able to hear what sounded like faint, labored breathing coming from one side of the chamber. Sumia lit a torch, but the only thing they could see was an irregular hole in the ground near the edge of the torchlight.

Humal ordered a skeleton to approach the hole, and after a few moments something spoke. It sounded like multiple voices stating the same thing, just out of sync to varying degrees. It commented on a "strange mask it was wearing", and when the party said nothing a deeper set of voices followed up by asking if it needed something.

Sumia asked who was speaking, and a fleshy mass "flowed" out of the hole, quickly taking the shape of something nightmarish, vaguely octopus-like, and seemingly composed of innumerable humanoids that had somehow been fused together. Several of the faces not-quite-in-unison stated that the party did not belong there, while another cluster sounded overjoyed that it was "feeding time".

It dragged itself towards the party using numerous hands, tentacles, and hand-tentacles, knocking Humal's skeletons aside as it went, and scooping up Corzale and Sumia. They tried fighting back, but only Corzale was able to inflict any harm. The creature responded by trying to crush Corzale with its tentacles, but when her armor proved too sturdy it tried a new approach: a cluster of faces congealed into a massive beak and began tearing at her.

Humal had managed to evade the tentacles, but he didn't have enough mana to blind all of the faces, and wasn't sure if the creature could be charmed, so he directed his skeletal minions as best he could against it. The creature's grip soon slackened, which allowed Sumia to finally get her bow free and loose arrows into several of the faces: it suddenly tensed, before slowly slumping to the ground and separated into a pile of humanoid bodies covered in a strange, translucent slime.

Humal used some choice corpses to replace his minions before they returned to the lever. Sumia pulled it again, and the hole puckered and gasped as water erupted from it, again flooding the room while the pillar snapped and popped back into place. When the gruesome process was complete they could see a nearby bridge. It led to a door that appeared to be made entirely from iron, yet was oddly forged to appear as a wooden door bound in iron.

Sumia checked it for traps before opening it. Inside was a wide, long hall filled with doors: each end was capped by iron double-doors, one was on their side to the right, and four were evenly spaced on the wall across from them.

After checking the solitary door—which as far as Sumia could determine was merely a bathroom—they decided to investigate one of the sets of double doors. They weren't locked, and the room contained two tables, both of which were buried in stacks of books, scrolls, and sheets of paper, and notes were scrawled across a very detailed map of Dovin that hung on the far wall: a casual investigation of the materials revealed that the doppelgangers had infiltrated many positions of power in the city.

Sumia shoved as much as she could in her pack and bags, figuring that they could inspect them later and maybe either take out the doppelgangers themselves, or turn the information over to the authorities and let them sort it out.

Next up were the four doors. Each was locked, though nothing Sumia couldn't handle given enough time, but she was dismayed to find that each room was furnished with a pair of beds, two full-body mirrors, and trunks filled with clothing. Or rather, that they seemed to be: while investigating the fourth room Sumia heard the iron double-doors groan. She bolted to the now-pillaged espionage room, but when she found no one there deduced that there must be a hidden passage somewhere.

The party searched every inch of the floor and walls, and eventually Sumia discovered something in one of the corners. As with the rest of the complex, the wall looked to be made of a single piece of stone, but when she touched a section of it it...jiggled, as if made of some gelatinous substance. As expected, when she pushed it aside there was another room beyond...

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Design Notes
I talked about some ways I changed the adventure in this post, but that was just the start. But, I probably won't reveal more beforehand unless we end up missing out on the game again.

I don't even have a normal giant octopus mini (I realized after the fact that Reaper has one, but it wouldn't have gotten here in time/we wouldn't have been able to paint it in time), and though I considered using a roper quickly settled on Hastur from Cthulhu Wars. Not what I was looking for, but at the least more thematically appropriate than a roper.

Jacob commented that it made him think of Fullmetal Alchemist, which is a great manga/anime series (if you watch it, make sure you watch Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood).

I wasn't thinking of that at the time, but coincidentally while reworking and running this adventure it gave me a lot of ideas for the wizard's transmuter suite. Not sure if it will make it into the core game (wizards already have plenty of talents to choose from), but it'll certainly give them the ability to do plenty of things you couldn't do in other D&Dish games (and without having to invest feats and/or insane amounts of time, XP, and money).

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

A Dungeon World Character Sheet That You Can Use

A week or so ago Melissa was tagged in a post on G+, in which someone asked Adam if they could use the new Dungeon World character sheet layout (which was still bad despite taking over a year to finish). The answer was both surprisingly and bewilderingly no: you're stuck using the horrible "classic" sheet, come up with your own, or use someone else's...

...like the blank no-frills one we designed specifically for A Sundered World:


Click here to get the full-sized PDF.

The background section is there because we use that in place of race for our "core" Dungeon World stuff, while race is also there because in A Sundered World races are treated something like compendium classes. So, for the innumerable horde that uses our stuff, put the background move in background, and if you use something with a race then record it over there (and, of course, all you A Sundered World owners already had this and knew what to do).

Unlike the classic sheet, there's plenty of space for gear, none of which is filled out by stuff you're more than likely gonna lose/break/upgrade/replace anyway. All of the move sections are completely blank, which along with having to write in your alignment and bonds is a bit inconvenient, but makes it possible to write in moves from multiclassing and/or compendium classes (and/or race moves if you're using A Sundered World).

Feel free to do whatever with it. I intentionally made it minimalist because we go through a lot of character sheets anyway and we like to save ink (and so do many others judging by all the people that asked me and Melissa to make black-and-white, no background print book variants).

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

Dungeons & Delvers Cover

Melissa finished coloring the cover for Dungeons & Delvers (though I'll probably add some more linework), so now I got a neater image to use for blog posts, the community, and most importantly the actual game.

Let us know what you think.


Why frog-man? Because people demanded frog-man, I guess based entirely on the playtest game where one of the kids played a frog.

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

Bare-Bones Backgrounds

In the rare instance that I actually get to play a role-playing game, for several reasons I usually don't bother with a "deep" backstory, if I even consider a backstory at all.

First, there's the whole character death thing. I know certain groups of people loathe the idea of their excessively detailed characters dying, but for me it's of little concern: I'm perfectly happy fleshing the character out as the campaign progresses, if I even need to.

This leads to the biggest reason: if the DM or GM or whoever is doing a good enough job running the game, I'll likely be more focused on what's actually going on to notice that I didn't burden my character with paragraphs or even pages of almost certainly useless backstory.

Cases in point, I've only played Dresden Files a couple of times, in which an entire session can be completely devoted to character (and city) generation: you think of your high concept, some sort of "trouble" that plagues your character, describe your first "adventure", and then how you met up with two other characters.

In both games our characters' backgrounds never came up in play: we basically did a bunch of pre-game work in order to ultimately generate aspects, so we'd have something to "tag" for bonuses and compels. Looking back it felt like a waste of time, but ironically the most background-intensive campaign I've played wasn't Dresden Files or Dungeon World or some other story game, but Dungeons & Dragons.

Waaay back in 2004, maybe 2005, I played in a 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign in which both DMs (yes, there were two of them) had each of us write up two or three really detailed characters. We're talking at least a page, preferably more, per character. Essentially it was character generation as homework.

The deal was, once we submitted our characters they'd pick one, and from there build up an entire campaign to revolve entirely around them. Yeah, it was the wet dream of special snowflake Tumblrinas everywhere, but at the time I was the default DM so I was just happy to have a chance to play for a change.

Now to the DMs' credit the campaign was fun (eventually), but it had nothing to do with our incredibly extensive backgrounds. Despite playing it up until 12th-level before the campaign fizzled out (as long campaigns are wont to do), we never got to deal with anything from our backgrounds (though a few of us encountered some elements from them): the entire campaign was basically us traveling across a Jupiter-sized world doing odd-jobs and exploring.

Actually, if anything our backgrounds served to hinder the fun, because on at least one occasion a player dropped out (which wasted a bunch of prep), and another wanted to change characters due to boredom (3rd Edition ranger, what can I say?), but the DMs didn't want to scrap all the work they'd done integrating that character's background into the campaign, so they convinced him to keep on playing.

The next 3rd Edition campaign we played marked the first time I tried to run the Age of Worms adventure path (but certainly not the last). During the first session everyone made characters, and through some circuitous, somewhat forced social role-playing (one of the players wasn't big on that sort of thing), the party was eventually rounded up and headed off towards the Whispering Cairn.

This campaign was also really enjoyable, despite none of the characters having detailed backgrounds (if they had one at all) or being integral to the overall plot. Yeah, one or two times I slightly modded an adventure to reference a bit of backstory from one character (basically adding an encounter to The Hall of Harsh Reflections and The Champion's Belt), but a character could die, and a player could opt to change characters, without grinding the entire campaign to a halt or wasting a bunch of prep.

Which was good, since The Whispering Cairn is pretty fucking brutal.
My most successful Dungeons & Dragons campaign, however, was when I originally ran A Sundered World (using 4th Edition, of course). In that campaign, two characters only had very simple motivations (one was looking for a powerful weapon, the other for World Serpent spirit fragments), while the third seemed perfectly fine carting them about astral space in his magic boat in search of abandoned dominions because treasure.

At no point did the players lament the lack of character history, because they were so invested in what they were doing, and what was actually going on in the campaign: in their own words it was the best Dungeons & Dragons campaign they'd ever played.

Much more recently, but still a few years ago, I got the chance to play in an actual long-term Dungeon World campaign.

Not wanting to make things too strange for the GM, we all just stuck to the core book: Ben went with a paladin, Melissa chose a bard (a decision she would later regret, but spurred our decision to upgrade it), and I went with a thief because I didn't want to step on Ben's toes as a fighter, the cleric and wizard didn't really interest me (plus Melissa was already playing the healer), and I hadn't seen the thief in action before.

We sped through bonds, answered a few questions that the GM pitched to us about the setting and starting village before the dice hit the table, and you know what? It was fucking awesome. The most fun I've had playing Dungeon World. Yeah, we didn't spend much-if-any time dwelling on our backgrounds, but that was fine because there was plenty of other fun shit going on.

I'm perfectly happy just picking a race, class, and name, maybe a brief motivation, and then start rolling dice. I can always flesh out the character's history later, ideally if the DM/GM prods me for it because he wants to actually use it for some reason (assuming the character doesn't die or I get bored of it). Of course even if he doesn't, if the DM/GM is good enough then, again, I'll probably be much more focused on what's going on in the actual campaign to even bother.

Plus, DMs/GMs rarely if ever mine character backgrounds for adventure/campaign material: every DM/GM I've played with has an adventure in mind, and I'm not the kind of player that requires some specially tailored plot hook to see what they've come up with. I'm there to play: just point me in the direction of the nearest dungeon environ.

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

4E D&D: Save the Princess, Episode 102

Cast
  • Aka (1st-level red panda hengeyokai slayer)
  • Kabuto (1st-level warforged vampire)
  • Mirai (1st-level human cleric/shaman hybrid)
  • Sho (1st-level spirit-folk cursed swordmage)

Synopsis
On their second day of slogging across the crater, the party came across a wooden, stalk-like growth that snaked up into the sky. Its branches gripped a series of stone platforms at various heights, from which water cascaded into a wide pool surrounding the stalk's roots. The mist and clouds quickly obscured it, so they had no idea how high it reached or how many platforms there were.

A stone bridge reached across the pool to a pipe clutched in the stalk's roots. It appeared unoccupied, and given that this was the first thing they'd seen since they'd entered the crater, they decided to explore it. However, before they were even halfway across the bridge a corpulent, fish-like creature flopped onto the stones behind Kabuto.

Kabuto stared at it while it jerkily stood on a pair of spindly legs, but when it began clumsily wobbling towards him, teeth bared, he turned to warn the rest of the party, which was when it spat a still-living, snapping fish at him. He was surprised that it was able to latch onto his chest, more so when it began easily tearing into his metallic body.

Sho charged and began blasting the bizarre fish-man with his magic up close, while Mirai hung back and battered it with powerful winds. Aka sliced the fish off of Kabuto, who then joined the rest, but after striking the fish-man it vomited forth a small group of smaller and seemingly normal-ish fish. They flopped about on the bridge for a few moments before growing wings, after which they began zipping about and biting the characters as they flew by.

Fortunately they weren't terribly strong, but moments after slicing, scorching, and smashing the fish, both humanoid and flying, a squad of five kappa soldiers emerged from the mist, likely attracted by Sho's flashy display of fire and lightning. Despite their wounds and exhaustion, the party stood their ground; they eventually succeeded in slaying four of the kappa and forcing the last to surrender, but Kabuto was destroyed during the battle.

Behind the Scenes
I reiterated to the group that not only is not every encounter intended to be fought, but many things in this place are going to outclass the lot of them, even if they manage to gain a dozen or so levels (like, given that this is a Mario thing and all, a level 15+ Donkey Kong is somewhere out there).

Fortunately 4th Edition can be pretty forgiving, which means that they'll ideally be able to realize that whatever is kicking their ass is probably going to kill them, so they can try to leg it sooner than later. Unfortunately, this time they stuck around.
I really tried to avoid houseruling the game, but I caved and started doing the "leveling up the party whenever" thing. Otherwise it's gonna take for fucking ever: after everything they've done, including the fights from this session, they were only halfway to 2nd-level. I'm using random tables from Rules Compendium to dole out treasure: they've got a few magic items, just not stuff that's ideal for them. Oh well, there's always the Enchant Item ritual.

Shane wanted to deal more damage, so I managed to convince him to roll up a tiefling oni infernal pact hexblade. That means bye-bye defender, but I've run a campaign with two leaders and a controller, so I think a party of one leader and two strikers will work out juuust fine. If not, they can always roll up new characters!

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

FrankenFourth: Renovating the Hall of Harsh Reflections (Part 1?)

Didn't get a chance to run our Age of Worms FrankenFourth playtest campaign this week, so I figured I'd just talk about some of the ways I'm improving The Hall of Harsh Reflections SO DON'T READ THIS JACOB OR KELLY IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS.

The start of the adventure is mostly unchanged: the characters go to the Free City because they gotta talk to a guy named Eligos about Kyuss worms, they get to the Free City, they beat up a chimera, find Eligos, gotta wait several days for him to get the information they need, and then stay at the Crooked House until some doppelgangers try to frame them.

The only thing I changed at this point—aside from the flavor/lore surrounding doppelgangers, not that it mattered at this point—was the Crooked House: it became Stonehome, a big-ass stone monolith with an inn built around it. Instead of being run by gnomes, you've got (more mythologically accurate) kobolds that use hearths carved into the stone to teleport about the place.

Now, when I ran the adventure the characters ended up getting arrested, drugged, and carted off to a warehouse referred to in the adventure as the Sodden Hold. This is where I started making more changes. Cases in point...

The Doppelgangers
As I mentioned in this post, doppelgangers in FrankenFourth by default aren't a true-breeding race. There are a variety of monsters that would more or less fit the bill as a doppelganger, but most of them are aren't exactly what you'd call "naturally occurring".

The doppelgangers in this adventure were grown by the big-bad wizard Zyrxog in flesh vats (kinda like in The Dying Earth, but more of an alchemy thing than a magical thing), who is skilled enough in transmutation magic that he was able to grant them the ability to change their shape on a whim.

The Mimics
Like doppelgangers, Zyrxog also made the batch of mimics that guard the warehouse. The characters didn't fight them since they got captured, so here's the stat block I didn't get to use:

MIMIC
Level 5 Medium Aberrant

Ability Scores 
STR +3 DEX +1 WIS +1
CON +2 INT -2 CHA +0

Skills 
Athletics +4, Stealth +5

Defense
Initiative +1
Speed 5 feet/20 feet
Fort 13 Ref 11 Will 11
Armor 2 (thick hide)
Wounds 22 Vitality 12 Total 34

Adhesive The mimic can secrete an adhesive on any part of its body. If a creature or object touches it, they are stuck: it takes a Difficulty 13 check for a creature to free itself, or pry an object free. A strong alcohol dissolves the adhesive.

Shapechanger The mimic can assume the general shape of an object anywhere from 8 cubic feet (2 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet) to 125 cubic feet (5 feet by 5 feet by 5 feet) in size. Regardless of what it looks like, its body is hard and has a rough texture.

Offense
Pseudopod +5 to hit; 2d6+3 damage; 15+ the target is restrained by the mimic (Difficulty 13 to escape)

Bite +5 to hit; 2d6+3 damage + 1d6 acid damage

Zyrxog
Zyrxog isn't a mind flayer, but a thulid survivor. That is, someone who got a thulid symbiote latched onto their back, but somehow managed to resist being taken over and mutated by it without dying.
In his normal form he looks more or less human, but his tentacles can unfurl from his mouth.

Originally he was a wizard skilled in transmutation magic (technically he still is, just with some extra thulid abilities), which is again not only where the doppelgangers and mimics came from, but how he was able to construct the entire dungeon (which I'll get to in a bit).

The Sodden Hold, The Hall, And The Giant Octopus
The Sodden Hold is basically unchanged: a few rooms at the front are intended to make it look like a legitimate warehouse, though several crates are actually disguised mimics. A hidden passage along the catwalk leads to the back, which contains the prison cells and dilapidated room filled with water, rusty weapons, flimsy planks, and a pair of invisible stalkers because why not.

Beyond the shithole room, there's a smaller, better maintained room with a square shaft that contains water and a barrel. This ultimately leads to the second level of the dungeon: you gotta swim down, follow an underwater shaft into another room, climb up a pillar, and pull a lever to drain the water.

I was going to leave this part of the dungeon alone, but I thought of something more interesting to do, which isn't hard because it's a published adventure and even the best ones can use some tweaking. See, when the water is lowered you're supposed to be able to pull the lever, sit in the barrel, and let the water just carry you back up to the Sodden Hold level.

The problem is that what do you do if you're in the Sodden Hold and wanna get down, but the water is already up?

Whelp, in the official adventure there's a giant octopus that I guess guards the pillar room. I figure, why not make the octopus yet another result of Zyrxog's experiments? So now it's really smart and fucked up looking because he mashed a bunch of people together with a giant octopus: it'll have faces and arms in addition to tentacles. I'm thinking something like an octopus version of Envy from Fullmetal Alchemist.

Getting back to the barrel issue, in addition to guarding the chamber, I changed it so that if you sit in the barrel and yank on the rope three times, the "octopus" grabs the rope and drags the barrel into the pillar chamber. You can seal the barrel beforehand if you want/need to stay dry, and/or you suck at holding your breath.

The octopus/pillar room is described as being lit by everburning torches, which is something I hate because it's lazy and makes players lazy.

It's lazy because everburning torches (or continual light spells) have been everywhere in this adventure path. Instead of thinking up ways creatures in a dark dungeon would handle a lack of light, the writers just used everburning torches. This makes players lazy because, even if the dungeon isn't pre-lit, they can just buy one (or cast continual light) and stop worrying about torches.

So I ditched the everburning torches. The walls of the pillar room are instead lined with luminescent fungus. It isn't enough to brightly light the place, and has the added effect of giving the place an eerie, alien glow.

The walls also aren't hewn stone: everything looks to be made of a single piece of stone, but it's pinched and lumpy because Zyrxog used his magic to mold a lot of it by hand (riding around on his mimics when necessary to reach high places thanks to their adhesive slime). The doors look like wooden doors bound in iron, but everything is made of iron.

Finally, the pillar in the center is stone, but riddled with metal pipes, and there's a metallic, tumorous mass attached to the side that looks somewhat like a heart. When the lever on top is pulled, the "heart" begins to beat as if it were made of flesh, either draining or filling the chamber with water.

Sketch of kinda what I'm talking about.


Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

Dungeons & Delvers: Into Yig's Coils, Take 2

In the interest of further playtesting armor-as-bonus-Wounds, adventurers with Defense scores, and monsters with Attack Pools, we played through Into Yig's Coils, the Dungeons & Delvers playtest adventure again.

While pretty much every playtest besides the first one or two sessions has gone smoothly—even the playtest campaign we ran using Melissa's adventure Heart of Hemskil—I enjoyed this session because the adventurers were able to clean house with only one long rest, and really that was just because of some horrendously bad luck on their part.

As before, the changes didn't affect the game's speed or complexity in any discernible way, so it looks like we're going to run with them (along with scaling Wounds by class). I'll repost the playtest adventure after incorporating all of the new rules changes (that are relevant to it, at any rate), that way people can read/play it and in the latter case let us know how it went for them.

Something else I want to mention is Melissa and I are considering Kickstarting the game.

As with A Sundered World, we want to wait until the text is almost completely done, because we don't want to be like so many other RPG Kickstarters that end up being severely late, when they come out at all (and we also don't want to end up having to rush out something half-assed). We're almost there: as with the playtest adventure we pretty much just have to adjust everything to account for the new rules.

Once that's done we'll figure out how much art we need, and project a delivery date that—also as with A Sundered World—we can meet while still giving others a chance to read/play the game, and tell us what sucks about it so we can effect changes.

Image Dump







Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

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