Sunday, January 24, 2016

Foam Cutter

I built a foam cutter today. It works great. I get start into the wonderful world of foam terrain.

Interesting Encounter: Hillbilly Island

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

Hillybilly island is inspired by the X-Files Episode "Home". If you haven't watched it, I will wait while you go catch it on Netflix real quick. Ok, so this encounter takes place on an island which you can place anywhere, making it a nice excursion during a sea voyage.

This island is surrounded by dangerous rocks and there are strange sea monsters that live in the seas nearby, both of which result in many shipwrecks. Along the edge of the island lay the hulks of ships, new and old, claimed by these dangers.

The PCs arrive via shipwreck caused by the rocks or a sea monsters. The island is very small and has two buildings. The smaller building is a shed. The larger building is a house. Both are rickety, one story, and barely standing. The main house has obvious holes where the island has eroded away under the house, causing parts to fall off into the sea.  The roof of either building will not hold a person. The dry wood structures are easily set afire.

On this island, there are three "masters" called Finger, Klubb, and Big Momma. All are a mutant form of large humanoid, perhaps ogre or troll or similar. Finger has one arm that has only one massive finger at the end and carries a massive battleaxe. Klubb carries a large bundle of tree limbs as an improvised large club. Big Momma is a large glob of fat that doesn't usually leave her room. I like to roleplay up their "hillbilly" nature a bit. If the PCs can understand their language, they are in for a treat.

On the island with the three masters are 3 slaves, taken as survivors from the shipwrecks. Two have been there a while and are utterly broken. The remaining is newer and looking to escape. This is a good way to introduce a new PC into an existing campaign.  The newer slave will have suspicions that the meat they are eating are older slaves that have been eliminated. The slaves are chained, but otherwise allowed to come and go without much issue, so long as they follow the orders of the masters. Slaves have no equipment, but know where the large chest is where equipment is kept.

The shed has obvious pieces of bodies being cut up for meat, in addition to furnaces for burning what is left. The house has a living area for the large brothers and their mother, as well as slave quarters.

Between the house and shed is a a small intact boat. It would carry the party and slaves barely, but would be a rough ride with a definite possibility of sinking. Alternately, if the party had time, thy could repair their boat, which would easily carry them all.

The big moral dilemma is whether to grab the slaves and run, leaving future sailors to the terrible fate, or to fight and kill these masters and end the cycle of slavery.

Whichever path the PCs choose, they will be in for a fight. Moving the boat will be noisy and alarm the brothers. Sneaking about will probably alarm the brothers with their scent (How long has it been since the PCs had a bath?).

The brothers are brutal but dumb in combat. If they can engage a target in melee, they can take them down in one round with all hits. However, they aren't using any ranged weapons, so keeping a distance from them is the PCs' best tactic. The fight could very well be deadly. For my level 6 5E party of 6, I used the "Great Ape" stats for the masters, and it worked well.

If the party engages Big Momma, she will fight them with her "grabbing stick" which has one end made from a human hand. She will also slap at them with her huge flabby arms. She is very tough, but not nearly as damaging as the brothers. When angered, she may charge. The paper-thin wooden walls of the house easily collapse, leaving Big Momma a chance to charge through several rooms and overrun several PCs. When Big Momma is killed, 3 needle children will crawl out of her corpse and attack. This is a good time for a sanity mechanic if you have one.

The needle children have long needle-like teeth, giving them a deadly bite that just keeps on bleeding. The victim of these bites will continue to take damage after the bit if the wound is not healed or treated. In addition, the needle children have poisonous claws that can really do a number on the PCs, making them more likely to get bit.  When the needle children feel overpowered they will scatter, run away, and try to hide.

To avoid the fight, the PCs may try to collapse the house further into the sea. Unfortunately, timing of the collapse is unpredictable even with explosives or magic, so it may not work as expected. Use your own style of randomness to determine the outcome. A fire can also destroy the house, but also could spread to the shed and boat, so it is another scenario for the PCs to survive.

Should the PCs defeat the masters and their children, they will have control of the island. However, this is a good time to collapse another section of house into the sea to give the PCs a hint to move on. Either by boat or by repaired ship, the PCs can exit to their next leg of journey.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Injury instead of Death

In some game you want to build a character and run all the way from beginning to end to see all the levels, gather all the experience and loot, and have an epic tale for the ages. In these games, consider dispensing with death rules and instead substituting injuries.

Wait, what?! You can't do that. There is no reward without risk. What will make the players afraid if their characters can't die? That isn't very old school of you. Is this a more millenial PC way of gaming?! What, are you afraid of making your players cry?

Yeah, I have heard all the arguments. The bottom line is that the game is about what the players and GM make it about. Don't force your way of thinking on someone else's game. Death rules, like any other rules, can be changed if so desired. Everyone gets to play their own game.

There is a valid point in the criticism -- there has to be some consequence to making choices. If dying isn't it, what do we use instead?  Of course, we could use the plot to generate negatives, but let's stick with something a bit more mechanical. My suggestion is that we instead substitute injuries. Injuries are long term penalties to a character. Some might be permanent. Some might just take a long time to heal. All injuries occur when "death" criteria are met for your game. Your "death" criteria are entirely up to you and your group. For 5E, you could stick with normal death saving rules, or you could just rule it that death is when you hit zero hit points. To each his own.

For an injury, it has to hit you where it counts. Making a dumb-as-a-rock barbarian dumber doesn't do anything. The injury should apply to a character feature or strength. Let me throw out some examples using 5E:

  • -2 to your highest ability score
  • Disadvantage on your highest skill
  • Loss of an arm (no two-handed or dual wielding) for a melee character
  • Leg injury (half speed) for a character with speed greater than 30 feet
  • Disadvantage on checks to maintain concentration for casters
  • Disadvantage on attacks at over 30 feet for a ranged character
  • Blindness
  • Reduced healing (half healing)
  • Vulnerability to a common damage type (all slashing, bludgeoning, piercing, etc)
A GM could generate a table for a roll after to death to determine the injury based on the character type.  Injuries could heal after several levels (maybe 4 in 5E) or be permanent. In systems with points gained at levels, these could be spent to heal the injuries. Multiple injuries could stack, and perhaps, even after a fixed number of active injuries, the character could still die. This would take a certain kind of group to play out well, but it may be a good alternative to death.

Why is this better? In some games, you want to bring a character all the way through. In these cases, giving that character a serious weakness to overcome takes the place of the death penalty. By converting death, which is wholly uninteresting to the story in many cases, to a weakness, we augment the story with a new aspect. The story becomes better instead of being cut short.