Death Crypt of the Ultralich – The Artificer’s Workshop

The artificer’s workshop is below the south end of the abbey. It can be reached either by the stairs in the annex behind the hidden door or via the well.

Dungeon Level 3 - Workshop

  1. Artificer’s Bedroom. Skeleton*. Desk w/notes–Read Language will reveal his attempts to build “Daughters”. +1 Plate.
  2. Inner workshop. All manner of tools & blueprints, cogs, springs. A desk, tables, half-assembled bronze constructs. 4x “Daughters” 4HD*, AC3, 40′ 1d6*/1d6. (*stun for one round). Scrap worth 6k gold.
  3. 2x Iron Living Statues. 500 steel ingots.
  4. Workshop supplies. 100 hammers. 25 screwdrivers. 50 wrenches. 25 unknown tools.
  5. 3 patrolling bronze walkers. HD2, AC4 30′ 1d6 (will flee if attacked and summon LS then Daughters.
  6. Anvils, barrels of springs (5x 100 gp each) and gears (5x 100 gp each).

*:active if seal in L2-26 is broken.

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Death Crypt of the Ultra Lich – Old Buried Abbey (Level 2)

This second level is the lower, original abbey that was buried under a layer of dirt and ash. The hole in the chapel of the newer, upper church leads to room 10. The stairs north of 1 lead to the Library. Well in 22 is the back door to the Artificer’s workshop. Capstone in 26 leads to the Crypts (Level 3). Stairs in 27 are the main entrance to the Artificer’s workshop.

Space between 16, 19, 22, and all between 17 and 20 used to be an herb garden for soap-making; it can theoretically be cleared enough to create a “short cut”, but it would hardly be worth the effort. Exterior doors open to solid walls of dirt, stone, and ash. These can be excavated, but will take much longer than the upper tunnels.

Dungeon Level 2 - Main

  1. High arched wall w/stairs going down; spider webs
  2. 1d4 crab spiders
  3. 1d4 crab spiders; rack w/tattered clothes
  4. 1 Mage Spider (2HD)–Light, Read Magic; Scroll of Magic Missile x3; 5pp
  5. Several tables w/books. Most crumble at the touch. 1 is open to an illuminated page showing battle of wizards. Falls apart when touched.
  6. Webbed antechamber
  7. Narthex. 2 empty fonts. Door cannot open. Lever to secret door by west font
  8. 1d4 faded wraiths (2HD, drain only on a 6); 8 vials of holy water. 3k gp, 8 holy symbols
  9. Caved in room. Can be tunneled/excavated
  10. Four Saint Statues making holy gestures (1k gp each)
  11. 1d4 crab spiders; 22 cp, +1 mace
  12. Rows of wooden benches; Altar w/book (scroll of Bless, 5x charges)
  13. Missing door, 2 skeletons*
  14. (Monks’ cells) 2 skeletons*, 85 sp in d
  15. Long tables w/benches
  16. Kitchen. Oven. 4 bottles of wine (bad); rotted, useless ingredients; 24 blackened silver plates (1gp each)
  17. Prayer room w/empty pool
  18. Cabinet reliquary, trapped door (poison needle on cabinet door); Gold Chalice (500 gp), +1 mace, +1 shield
  19. 1 wight*; 700 gp, tapestries/fur blankets, +1 robe
  20. Soap making chemicals, dried plants, 20 bars of fragrant soap (10 gp each)
  21. A piece of tooled metal
  22. A well in the middle of this room goes 50-ft deep; there are buckets (4), rotting rope and 60 ft of chain; 1d8 fire beetles in the well
  23. 3d4 skeletons*; south door has holy symbols and writing. Read magic, languages or local cleric “Beware the life curse”; below is carved “Blessed be the Resurrection”
  24. A bronze, bi-pedal construct [1.5′] wanders these halls clockwise. 4 mauls
  25. Shelves. 2x sets of thieves tools
  26. 9 ghouls – 3 in each alcove. Attack when party enters the room. Jars w/3k cp, 5k sp, 900 gp, jeweled bracelet (1.2k gp), and rosary. Stone circle [capstone] in center of room. Sigil reads “Beware the life curse”
  27. Two metal faces in corners of the room. Stepping into the room triggers them. 1d6 arrow. 1 per round. Attacks as 1HD monser, 30 arrows. Disassembled, worth 1k gp each
  28. Barrels of nails (3), scrap metal (all rusted together)
  29. Barrels of scrap copper 4x (200 gp each)

*Become active undead if capstone seal in room 26 is broken.

Sandboxes?

I came across a bizarre article by DM David yesterday on Sandboxes with the click-baity title “Why Dungeons & Dragons Players Don’t Love Sandboxes as Much as They Think.” His article uses an idea of a sandbox in a way that no DMs I’ve ever played with or who have written on the subject have used the term.

David seems to be using it to describe some sort of absolute free-for-all, nothing planned, no direction to go, the DM just runs with whatever the players decide to do at that moment. It’s nuts, so of course that notion of a sandbox doesn’t work and is not what players really want.

“Sandbox” in every case I’ve seen it used has meant a gaming environment populated with multiple locations to interact with and explore, as opposed to “Here is a dungeon; you are going to explore this dungeon; here is a town; when you’re not in the dungeon, you’re at the town.” The sandbox is typically full of toys; you can play in it and you play with the toys that are there. Sometimes you get more toys, which is always cool, or maybe you find a toy that was hidden under some sand.

Just because players enjoy exploring dungeons doesn’t mean that they’re not in a sandbox game or that they don’t enjoy sandboxing!

Yet David oddly seems to imply that there is some kind of ‘pure’ Sandbox that is devoid of adventure hooks for players to choose from.

sandbox

“Herpty, derp, you put a castle to be explored in your sandbox? Looks like you’re going back towards the rails, friend!”

While there is some sound advice for open-world gaming in David’s post, it’s all derived from attacking a strawman notion of Sandbox gaming that doesn’t exist.

“I think seeding your sandbox with locations for PCs to explore may be pushing your story too hard!” said no ‘railroad-phobic’ player ever.

A sandbox may not have rails, but it has boundaries and things to do; David’s notion of a sandbox sounds more like a desert.

Anyway, ChicagoWiz has also written an interesting rebuttal to David’s piece.

Saving Throws, Pulp Heroes and D&D

Every once in awhile, you’ll hear the complaint that lower level D&D characters don’t feel like the heroic characters from pulp adventures on account of how fragile they are. The low HP means that a couple of good hits will kill those lower level characters, whether in fights or to traps or even something as ignominious as falling down a flight of stairs.

One of my counters to this is that most pulp heroes would be at the lower end of mid-level, contra to what is suggested in many of those old articles where Gary and friends would stat up Cugel or Eric John Stark as being well into double digits with massive pools of HP to prevent low-level PCs from being able to meet and kill these characters just because they were there and they could (though I’m sure they did).

Another bug-bear of oldschool games is the saving throw, particularly in save or die situations. Why should a character with all of that HP be insta-killed?! It’s just not fair! A character who can take 8 full-on sword wounds shouldn’t be able to die just because he was bitten by a snake or had a rock fall on his head!  Besides, that’s entirely unpulpy, right?!

Well, take this from Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, at a point in his career where he’s probably level 27 and has a gorillion hit points:

Tarzan remained very quiet. He did not wish to frighten it away for he realized that one of them must be the prey of the carnivore sneaking upon them, but if he expected the thag to be frightened he soon realized his error in judgment for, uttering low grumblings, the great bull pawed the earth with a front foot, and then, lowering his massive horns, gored it angrily, and the ape-man knew that he was working his short temper up to charging pitch; nor did it seem that this was to take long for already he was advancing menacingly to the accompaniment of thunderous bellowing. His tail was up and his head down as he broke into the trot that precluded the charge.

The ape-man realized that if he was ever struck by those massive horns or that heavy head, his skull would be crushed like an eggshell.

The dizzy spinning that had been caused by the first stretching of the rawhide to his weight had lessened to a gentle turning motion; so that sometimes he faced the thag and sometimes in the opposite direction. The utter helplessness of his position galled the ape-man and gave him more concern than any consideration of impending death. From childhood he had walked hand in hand with the Grim Reaper and he had looked upon death in so many forms that it held no terror for him. He knew that it was the final experience of all created things, that it must as inevitably come to him as to others and while he loved life and did not wish to die, its mere approach induced within him no futile hysteria. But to die without a chance to fight for life was not such an end as Tarzan of the Apes would have chosen. And now, as his body slowly revolved and his eyes were turned away from the charging thag, his heart sank at the thought that he was not even to be vouchsafed the meager satisfaction of meeting death face to face.

Tarzan, with all of his HP was forced to make save-vs-death against some kind of charging inner-earth dire oryx. His saving throw numbers are probably really low at this point, and he probably could’ve made it with anything but a nat 1, but it was still going to be a case of instant-death regardless of how many hit points he has.

This ties back into the game theory that HP doesn’t represent actual wounds but exhaustion and the character’s ability to fight on under pressure in extreme circumstance. Of course, you also might say that it would not be very pulpy to fail your saving throw and be instantly killed, but D&D is a game, and without a genuine sense of risk, your game can end up in a boring slump where everyone knows that everyone is going to live no matter what, so why bother faking the suspense? And in those cases where your life is on the line AND YOU MAKE IT, how much more awesome is it? It makes those times when you could’ve lost your character but didn’t all the more special.

Big Monster Fight

Well, we may have found the solution to the balance issue we’ve begun to encounter in Gutters, Guilds, & Grimoires: bigger monsters.

Most of what we’ve fought has been fairly close to man-sized. Even the bigger things have been between bear and small elephant sized.

Last session, we fought something three stories tall.

Well, okay, some of us fought it, while many of us ran like hell.

We were completing a quest in someplace that was a pocket dimension, a moon, or some other part of the world (we never really figured it out), which meant freeing a celestial or demonic creature we called Jeff. We found Jeff in the middle of an abandoned village located between a fork in a stream surrounded by megalithic wards.

Since Jeff couldn’t talk (he could only sign yes or no), we had a hard time getting a complete picture of what was going on with him and the weird abandoned village. We found that he was trapped, the person who trapped him was nearby, we could free him, the villagers had not trapped him, he had not killed the villagers, he would help us if we freed him, and he would not hurt us if we helped him. We got a nice one point stat boost to luck for freeing him.

We set off to see if we could find the person who’d trapped him and we eventually found a wizard’s cottage. It was locked from the inside, empty, and had a hole in the roof. We dicked around way too long debating whether we should loot the cottage, wait for the person to come back, or decide that Jeff (or someone) had pulled the wizard straight through the roof of his own house.

Then we heard some crashing sounds.

Poking around the village was a thing described as being over 30 feet tall, having a three-eyed Cthulhu head and long spindly Salvador Dali Elephant legs.

Oh, right, I forgot to mention the other complication – the area was filled with obscuring mist and unless you had one of the sage torches with you, you could neither see in the mist nor were you safe from the mist folk who would tear you apart in four rounds tops. We’d left several torches lit along the path back to the mirror, but had only taken three with us. And the bridge across the stream consisted only of a series of rotting logs propped up by piles of rock, and several of the logs had already broken loose on the way over.

When the thing noticed us, we started running like hell. A few of us barely made it across. Others got swept down the stream a bit as the fell in, landing further down the shore out of the light and safety of the torches. Others eventually had to try to jump and swim for it, with most of the bridge gone, losing at least one torch in the process.

The thing used its tendrils to snatch up and try to eat people. Those who couldn’t get away ended up badly mangled and one was eaten. While they figured out that they could hurt it (a couple characters managed to cut off a few of its mouth tendrils and one guy even managed to tie its legs like an AT-AT) the thing was NOT going down easily and there was little indication that it was being more than really annoyed. After it had staggered a bit and fallen into the stream, the characters who’d stayed to fight saw more of them coming –they had just barely managed to convince ONE of the things that they were not worth trying to eat, but there was absolutely nothing they could’ve done once more of them showed up.

Eventually, everyone except for the character who was eaten had either run back or was carried through the mirror portal which we immediately sealed before they could come through. Hoping we don’t have to fight those things again any time soon.

The one really funny thing is that in the big battle against Lord Brinston’s armed guard awhile back, just about everyone in the party ended up with an open-faced helm, so everyone had really good head armor (4); were it not for those helmets doing damage reduction, everyone in the party who did not just run like hell would have had their heads popped off in no more than two hits and been eaten.

Fighting big monsters should be very different than fighting small and medium sized monsters, and it shouldn’t just be reflected in hit points. PCs typically won’t even be able to hit most locations on such creatures (I’ve always thought that if a DM has something like a dragon go toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow, with the PCs he’s running the encounter wrong). A big monster should keep its vital locations out of reach as is reasonable. Really big monsters absolutely should have subparts which could be crippled or destroyed; definitely makes things more interesting than the old Critical Existence Failure at 0HP.

Scaling Issues and Solutions in G3

One of the key features of G3 has been how the difficulty scales and play remains relatively balanced despite discrepancies between PCs’ levels of experience. While it is theoretically possible for a character’s combat potential to top out after 8 sessions or so, the overall fragility of characters in the system has kept things balanced and potentially lethal most of the time. With my latest character, we’re beginning to see a few potential strains on the system, though I think they can be easily addressed.

My current PC is the first true “tank” in the party. We’ve had a few fighter characters before and characters with high (for the system) HP, but my Man-At-Arms is the first time anyone has really tried to make the most of the armor system.

G3 does not use the same sort of passive defenses as D&D. Characters have a raw attack value that is never modified except by disadvantage or advantage. The point of Armor in G3 is damage reduction. Each point of armor reduces the blow by one, though all attacks (except by smaller creatures) do ping damage. So 4 points damage would be reduced by 4 points of armor to 1. The difference between that and 5 points of damage is that the one damage is seen as having penetrated the armor. In the former case, the one damage is representative of the fatigue/being winded/whatever, while the latter, the thing has actually hit you and probably broken skin or bruised you. It’s in the latter case where effects like poison, rot, or corruption would become an issue. (I.E. 4 damage against 4 armor, the ghoul knocks you back and you take your ping, 5 damage against 4 armor, the ghoul has scratched you and you roll for paralysis, even though you’ve lost the same HP).

With 11 HP and 4 armor on all body parts, my Man-At-Arms can take a lot of hits from just about anything before he’s in real trouble. That’s a huge change from when everyone in the party had 1 armor at most and died in 2 hits.

Overall, I think this has caused less strain on the system than people are expecting, because it’s only one character who’s able to tank like that, and we’re still fighting some things that don’t go down easy and can still hurt us really bad. A couple weeks back, we fought a Moth Knight, who must have had ridiculously high armor, because I put nearly 30 damage on him before he died. Plus, he would’ve killed me if he got more than one hit on me. (The rest of the party had ineptly tried and failed to stop me from killing the monster because I was the only person at the table convinced that it was not going to talk with us once it drew its sword; if they had stopped me from killing it and that wasn’t enough to satisfy it, it absolutely could’ve TPKed us, especially if one of its friends showed up).

Last night, we handled an old task of torching a hornets’ nest. On the way, we kicked the crap out of a werewolf, and the hornets’ nest was something of a pushover, and it got me thinking some about the way the system is balanced and how other GMs can keep their games from going out of whack.

While the werewolf seemed like a pushover, it should be noted that there were a lot of us and one of him; a lot of us are big damage dealers now, even if we are glass cannons in many cases. If my character didn’t end up with silver brass knuckles as a trophy for winning a tournament in the fighting pit against the #1 Seed, a Grizzly Bear, the werewolf may have recovered. Even so, I may have been turned into a werewolf – gonna have to find that out next session.

So, what happens when characters are getting too powerful – too likely to be able to hit for double damage and have armor to soak up most normal sized hits?

-More enemies. As a general rule, economy of action in RPGs means that more weak enemies are a bigger threat than fewer strong enemies. Our last really dire fight where someone died and someone else got maimed was a mass combat and involved a wizard trying to spell snipe getting arrowed.

-Ranged weapons are a major equalizer. A lot of fights where we’ve taken big hits have been ones where enemies had crossbows (which ignore some armor) and got a few shots in before we could close the distance. This allowed them to neutralize characters who could survive one hit but sure as hell weren’t willing to take another, so dived for cover.

-Enemies can make attacks for big damage, too. Attacking at disadvantage for extra damage is a way that characters with high attack stats can regularly do much bigger damage, and it’s this damage that can go way above and beyond normal armor soak. Against enemies with chain or better, the average attack from a weapon that does not ignore armor will ping for one; the average attack for extra damage will hit two over even the best armor. The armor will protect a character from a killing blow in almost all cases, but getting knocked down by half your HP in a single hit while wearing decent armor will really make you question how long you can go toe to toe with something.

-Enemies with Armor can make things a bit of a challenge; even two points of armor will keep most mooks from being cloven in twain by a single hit.

-One thing we’ve started to come up against has been enemies with damage immunity. We fought a lot of demons who just shrugged off our attacks; they had to be destroyed using environmental elements. This also gave us a chance to play with some of the combat tools that are not damage oriented.

Another issue we’ve come up with is that, after a certain point, damn near anything rolled is a hit. Advantage and Disadvantage add a bit of granularity on a situational basis, but sometimes you need a little bit more, so we’ve experimented some with doubling up on disadvantages. For instance, when the archers on the streets below were firing at the sorcerer in the window, who was trying to cast planar bolt in a dark room, the archers rolled at double disadvantage – one for the cover, another for the obscured target in the dark. Most missed, a few hit and killed the sorcerer.

Since you can trade advantage for various results, such as extra damage, called shots, disarming/disabling an opponent or somesuch, you really ought not come across many/any situations with multiple advantages on an attack roll, but additional disadvantages can be given to keep things from being too much of a gimme.

Anyway, we’re still testing and tweaking, and seeing what will and will not break the game. Getting a huge influx of loot didn’t quite blow things up like we thought it would, though most of that loot came in the form of weapons and armor. Taking a few decent swords and helmets to dole out among the party members kept the liquidity down. We’ll still have to see what happens if the party ever gets a giant cash haul.

One final thing we realized last session was, since the standard of living rules were implemented, all of the nobles in the city will probably be slightly tougher than us in a fight on account of being better rested. No normal professions offer enough daily income to get players into a bonus HP per day range, but a rich noble who can afford lavish living and wears full plate could theoretically take a couple more really big hits than the average joe. We’ve only fought one guy who that may have been an issue for, and he got ridden down by lancers in the street, so we never found out ourselves just how much that would’ve altered combat.

I can’t say when G3 will see public playtesting, since it’s not my game, but I’ll keep folks aware of any significant developments regarding it.

A Special Message to the OSR & Gaming Community

Kickstarters have been a staple in the OSR and Game Blogging community since well before I became a member. Crowdfunding has been used as a platform for countless bloggers and game devs to get everything from their latest module & supplements to their complete fantasy heartbreakers off the ground and into people’s hands. Even big name publishers have been using it as a tool to get new projects and new printings funded with quick investment capital.

There is, however, a downside that has been seen all too often in our community. It seems like much of the content at Tenkar’s Tavern over the years I’ve been following him has been a litany of failed and delayed Kickstarters. Sometimes life got in the way, other times dishonest folks took the money and ran. Even great companies with established track-records for success sometimes bite off more than they can chew, resulting in some pretty significant delays. The Skinny DM had an excellent article on the situation with Goodman Game’s DCC 4th printing Kickstarter which, despite my fondness for Goodman Games, I absolutely agree with.

So, why do I think you should back our Kickstarter?

A Proven Track Records – In 2016, Cirsova ran 3 successful Kickstarters – one for our first issue, one for our second issue, and one for our third and fourth issues. In all three cases, backers received their rewards almost immediately* after the money cleared through Kickstarter and Amazon Payments. There may have been one or two individual hiccups or items lost or damaged in the post, but I am confident that anyone you’d ask would say that we resolved all issues as quickly and satisfactorily as possible.

We Are Gamers – Before we started the magazine, Cirsova  was a gaming blog. We came out of the RPG Blog Alliance and the OSR community. Many of our contributors are fellow gamers, and the stories we all love and that shape our content are the same stories that shaped our games. Many of the stories we publish are the kind that could be run as a one-off adventure with nothing more than a couple of stat blocs; in fact, that’s almost an unspoken acceptance criteria!

We Exist to Support Writers – More than anything else, Cirsova exists as a Semi-Pro Market to support writers of exciting fiction. There are people out there still writing stories in the vein of Burroughs, Brackett, and Vance, but they need places to sell and publish their stories. Many of the big-name magazines and publishing houses are simply not interested in the kind of adventure fiction that inspired the games so beloved in the OSR. By supporting Cirsova, you allow us to stay open as a market for these writers and to continue paying in the $75-$100 range for short fiction.

Please consider checking out our Kickstarter. It costs only $1 to get both of our 2017 issues**, if you’re just curious. You have to admit, that’s hard to beat. We also offer softcover and hardcover editions of our magazine.

If you have a gamebook, module or other product coming out, or even if you just want to get word out about your blog, consider supporting us with some advertising space. In 2016, we had over a hundred subscribers and ended up selling over 500 copies of our magazine.

*:Needless to say, they received the winter issue when it came out, rather than in September when the money cleared and we sent the fall issue.

**:PDF and eBook.

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