Monday, July 20, 2020

Soft Skills in Running a Game

I was writing the chapter on GMing my homebrew game, His Majesty the Worm, and I got to a section where I felt conflicted. The thing I wanted to say ("Jesus, just be fucking nice and learn how to read a room") felt unhelpful and insulting. I'm not sure Wil Wheaton ever really helped anybody with his oft quoted maxim. 

Roleplaying games have been compared to sex. You usually do it with friends. Sometimes you pay someone to be your dungeon master. Sometimes safe words help. Sometimes you don’t need them. Ultimately, it’s important that everybody involved enthusiastically consents to the stuff that’s going on and everybody has fun.

I've read a lot of project management books as part of my professional development. I've used a ton of these techniques in my gaming hobby. I thought I might write them down here in case they are helpful for anybody else. 

Caveat: I am the sort of guy who sometimes makes scripts to follow before I make a phone call, so take from that what you will. I find tools or procedures sometimes make me more comfortable when handling social situations.

Finding people to play with

I have a consistent gaming group. I feel blessed. They are friendly, tractable, open to new experiences, enthusiastic about the rules, funny, welcoming. They're great. 

I got this group by looking for games in my local area. I used a LFG website. I joined a D&D game and found a few people who were nice, and after I got to know them I invited them to join my own game. (I continued to play with them in their own games; I wasn't just pretending to join to find fodder for my own interests.)

Once you have nerd friends, you find other nerd friends. Breaking into a new friend group can be daunting, but it is doable. 

When I had an established game, I had the ability to invite new players into the hobby. Honestly, this is the best source for good players: they're free of gaming prejudices, force you to actually learn the rules when they ask you questions you don't expect, and have incredible insights into the peripheries of running table top games. I've found new players to be some of the most enthusiastic and talented role-players I've ever had the pleasure to game with. Invite new people and teach them many different games

Running a game

The number one rule for running a game is consistency. Play at the same time. Don't skip sessions. A skipped game starts a chain reaction where players (and the GM!) begin to think "Wow, this game isn't that important, I guess." 

That said, the real world always takes precedence over the fake world. If bad luck necessitates several players missing a session, it's not the end of the world (or the game). Don't try and cobble together a game night with just two people. Cancel that session and try again next week.

If a player is inconsistent in attendance, talk to them as soon as the pattern develops. Have an honest conversation about how much they want to play and how they're enjoying the game. If there's a problem in the game's content you can solve, try and solve it. If they are a player with poor time management skills, they might not be a good fit for your game. (Consistent attendance is one of the things that is important for me as the GM.)

I credit consistent play to my fairly good record of "completed campaigns" vs "abandoned games." 

Sensitive subjects

I am not currently using explicit consent tools in my normal weekly game. I usually game with friends. I'm explicit about the game's content up front. The game's content is mostly vanilla. This feels like it's appropriate for this particular table and this particular campaign. 

I use a session 0 to talk about the table rules for my game, set expectations, and get a sense of each player's boundaries. I use the Same Page Tool when running my session 0.

This is an important opportunity to make sure that sensitive subjects are treated with the respect that they deserve. If you plan on including difficult themes in your game, make this apparent up front. For example, if you’re intending to deal with themes of slavery, just say so upfront. Roleplaying games can be opportunities to confront important real world issues. They can also be the opportunity to escape these and not think about them at all.

Be respectful when listening to player’s reactions. Don’t put players on the spot (e.g., “Do you have any triggering subjects that we should avoid?”). This can be well intentioned but can make some players uncomfortable. Rather, ask open-ended questions that allow for honest feedback. 

Once the game has started, I check in regularly with the table. If someone looks uncomfortable, I will either check in verbally ("Hey, is this going into weird territory? We can pull a veil over this and move on,") or check in after the session if it seems more appropriate to be discrete ("Hey, I could tell that the group was sort of making a lot of jokes about your character this session. I'm confident they were doing it as a goof, but I wanted to check in to see how you were feeling about tonight's session"). 

Work together to find out what subjects are and are not appropriate for your friends.

Inviting new players to join a running game

If I invite a new player to join the game, I ask them to meet me downtown for a drink. I then essentially run a session 0 just for them--I explain the rules of the game, ask for buy-in about the subject matter, and ask gentle, open-ended questions that help me understand what subjects need to be handled with care.

For every new player, I try to tell them that not every game is for every person. You can like TV and not like every show. You can enjoy RPGs and not enjoy every game. That's fine. I tell them that if my game isn't their cup of tea, I would love to hear how I could improve it--or give them a chance to bow out gracefully. 

Dealing with problems

You are doing hard work by GMing. I assume you want to do this hard work because you want your friends to have fun. If they are not having fun, you will want to know (I assume). This is done by asking honestly for feedback and providing a safe and discrete space to receive the feedback.

The first one informs the second. Some people say they want feedback, but you can tell that you're just hurting their feelings when you give it to them. If you're serious about wanting feedback, people will be able to tell.

If someone is having a problem, you should feel goddamn grateful they were brave enough to tell you about it and excited about solving it with them. 

You solve problems by talking. This might seem obvious, but maybe it's not. When someone brings up a problem, thank them for bringing it up. Tell them you're sorry they had this problem. Don't make excuses. 

Sometimes, just talking is enough to solve the problem. After a chat, you both feel good and can continue playing.

Sometimes, you'll need to adjust content in your game in response to player feedback. That's fine: if you value your friends' fun, you can make adjustments to accommodate them. Apologize and correct the course. 

Sometimes the problem is with another player. If the player who had the problem is comfortable with it, you can discreetly talk to the other player. Or, you can all grab a drink together and talk it out. You're adults. Be kind to each other.

Asking for feedback and then respectfully listening to your players is the best tool you have to deal with problems in your game. 

Mistakes at the game table

You're going to make mistakes as a GM. At the beginning of just about every session, I say something sort of like this:
"Hey, I made the wrong call last week. I said that it should be a free action to get something from your belt, but I thought about it and decided that it'd be better if you actually had to use a move action to do that. I get this might make your potions a little harder to use in combat, but I think it will be better for the game. Let's try this rule for a little while and we'll check back in after a week or two, okay?"

Literally every session, I feel as if I could have done one or two things a little better. Instead of feeling guilty about it, I just publicly apologize. 95% of the time, this conciliation of the mistake is enough; you can move on. Sometimes, you'll need to apologize to a specific player privately and then publicly acknowledge the mistake and what you'll be doing in the future instead. 

In conclusion

Running a game is a collection of a bunch of soft skills. You're going to make mistakes and social missteps. That's okay. If you feel as if you've hurt someone's feelings, apologize and take responsibility. You are going to get better at gaming as you continue to do it, including the chores of running the game.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Spell Formatting Questionnaire

I'm sure all three of my followers will be riveted by this topic...

I'm not yet at the layout stage of His Majesty the Worm, but I am editing and clarifying the appendices. That means I'm messing with the formatting of the spell lists. 

I have basically two options for the spells layout. Which of these do you like better, humble reader?

OPTION A (no bullet points)

Component: A pouch of powder made from wild marjoram, thyme, verbena, and myrtle leaves 
The sorcerer takes a pinch of the component powder and blows it towards the target of this spell. The target creature enters a rage. Attack actions they make gain favor, but they must always play the lowest value card they draw for their Initiative. 
Creatures immune to anger (such as non-sentient constructs) are not affected by this spell. 
This spell must be maintained with concentration. 

Command Undead 
Component: Poppet woven of branches and tied with grass picked from a graveyard on the night of the new moon
This spell allows the sorcerer to exert control over an undead creature. The target undead suffers the Control effect. The sorcerer’s order can be a number of words equal to their Wands attribute. Longer commands may be issued by spending multiple Resolve on this spell—each additional Resolve grants [Wands] more words. 

This spell lasts until the order is fulfilled. The Resolve spent on casting this spell can never refresh as long as this spell is active.

OPTION B (bullet points)

Component: A pouch of powder made from wild marjoram, thyme, verbena, and myrtle leaves
The sorcerer takes a pinch of the component powder and blows it towards the target of this spell. The target creature enters a rage.
·         Attack actions the target makes gain favor, but they must always play the lowest value card they draw for their Initiative.
·         Creatures immune to anger (such as non-sentient constructs) are not affected by this spell.
This spell must be maintained with concentration.

Command Undead
Component: Poppet woven of branches and tied with grass picked from a graveyard on the night of the new moon
This spell allows the sorcerer to exert control over an undead creature.
·         The target undead suffers the Control effect.
·         The sorcerer’s order can be a number of words equal to their Wands attribute.
o   Longer commands may be issued by spending multiple Resolve on this spell—each additional Resolve grants [Wands] more words.

This spell lasts until the order is fulfilled. The Resolve spent on casting this spell can never refresh as long as this spell is active.


Does the prose section feel cluttered? Do the bullet points feel too much?

I'm sure that actual design geeks would laugh at the simplicity of this question, so please mock me in the comments. Thoughts? Opinions?

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Conflict of Space: A Voidheist Hack (Hack of a Hack)

My friends and I have been playing Edge of the Empire recently. I complained about the game's writing on Twitter, but my buddy running it is a really good GM so I'm still having a really good time. But it got me thinking about the sort of Star Wars game I'd like to run.

Chris McDowall is like, such a super smart guy. I love the way he writes about his game design for Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland. He recently hacked together two games (Blades in the Dark and MOTHERSHIP) to make a sci-fi horror game called Voidheist. When I was reading it, I thought "Damn, this is actually the sci-fi game I want to play."

So I made a hack of the hack. I wrote "Conflict of Space" at the top, so I guess that's its name. It is not a real game. I just renamed and recolored some things.

I did this as an exercise to make myself feel good this week. I didn't have anything else to do with it, so I'm putting it here.


A sci-fi horror game is pretty different from the science fantasy cinema of Star Wars. Why hack this into a Star Wars game?

Well, I thought Voidheist's bones were good would provide a good chassis. Here are big differences I tinkered with:

  • If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine: Voidheist is a game of horror. It's dangerous and deadly. Star Wars heroes get beaten, battered, and left gasping--but only die on their own terms. First, I changed what happened at 6 Harm - players choose to be taken out or to die heroically. Second, I changed the Hull Gauge to the Shields Gauge for star ship combat. You tick down Shields before you start actually blasting out systems and doing damage to the ship. 
  • May the Force be with you: The most interesting part about Star Wars is the space wizards. The Print Gauge was Voidheist's attempt to rationalize the story-game-esque doublethink of Blade's flashback mechanic. It is replaced with The Way Gauge, which lets everybody at the table dabble in having flashes of insight and calling on space-magic. It changes the central fulcrum of the game's bennie system--not doing retroactive prep, not creative item crafting, but asking the GM questions.
  • Made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs: MOTHERSHIP had some dope space ship building rules. I added those back in. Space ship creation is fun and I like to do it. I actually really like the space ship rules I've made here. Not crunchy, not chewy--my sweet spot. 
Anyway, this was just a dumb thing I did this week. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Rolemaster-esque Critical Tables, or, "No more hit points"

There was something very diagetic about the MERP critical tables. Sometimes they did something lame like, "Blow to the leg, +5 hits," but sometimes they were like "Solid blow to the chest. Ribs crushed. Lungs collapse. Will die in 6 rounds." The critical tables sidestep the hit point attrition. Sometimes they'd blast your kneecaps out, or puncture your eye (unless you were lucky enough to be wearing a helm), or whatever. No fiddling with hit points--just "this happens now."

I think MERP can absolutely be lumped into the category of "combat as a fail state." Way more than giving your starting magic-user 4 HP. 

Anyway, here's a subsystem for D&D-like games to ignore HP. Each wound sucks, unless you have armor. 

I Have No HP (And I Must Scream)

After you successfully hit a target, don't roll damage. Instead, roll a d20 and consult the appropriate wound table. 

The d20 pops. If you roll a 20, roll again and add the result. 

If you roll a critical success on your attack roll, add +10 to your wound roll.

Rolls of 40+ are treated as 40. Rolls of 1 or less are treated as 1. (I imagine all sorts of damage bonuses or penalties can be applied to the wound roll.)

If you are struck, you can choose to sacrifice a piece of armor you are wearing for -10 to the wound roll. This must be done before the wound roll is made.

Bleeding Rules: Several wounds cause bleeding. If you are bleeding, you spend your action to a) make a Wisdom check to bandage yourself or b) use an herbal poultice to stop the bleeding automatically. If you take any action other than "sitting and trying to stymie the bleeding," you must make a Constitution check at the beginning of your action. Take a penalty to your check equal to the number of open bleeding wounds you have. If you fail, you are stunned and lose your action. If you fail three times, you fall unconscious from blood loss. You can bind your friend's wounds, too, of course.

Then, through the black smoke, he spotted the huge shadow of his ...

Here are the tables. Open them up for that Google Spreadsheet goodness. 

The counter fulcrum to this is that the healing/recovery system needs to be equally diagenic. There needs to be long lists of tables of herbs that "heal lung damage" or "are good for sprained muscles." In a pinch, rest 1 week to recover from most of these effects.


I spent probably too long rewriting MERP criticals into this format. I think this is, like, an "okay" pass, but would probably really be messy at the table. Too much stuff to track. I have -2 to all actions, -1 to AC, and if I run I'll start bleeding? Ugh how much writing do I want players to do? (Answer: Almost none.) 

Anyway, I just thought I'd throw the idea out there to see what stuck. Would you use this at your table? How would you make HP and wounds more "diagenic"? How could we finally kill HP once and for all?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Classic Fantasy Races for the GLoG

I'm a goddamn sucker for classic fantasy and this post is for my basic bitch predilections.

One of the things I like so much about the GLoG is its class system. It has a nice sweet spot for "defining character traits" and "no character building 1-20 synergy bullshit."

Another thing I like are race-as-class. Most people run GLoG as having races providing one, small optional weird perk. Like, you can be a slugman and climb up walls on a trail of slime, or whatever. But that lacks the essential good juju of race-as-class.

The idea of having races as classes being optional tickles me. You can be a dwarf cleric if you want by taking cleric levels, and just "also be a dwarf." But with the GLoG, you can mix and match. Dwarf A, B and Cleric A, B would be pretty cool.

Here are five GLoG classes that exemplify classic fantasy races. You can't mix and match unless you're a half-race. If you don't at least have the A level of your race, you're perceived as a racial outcast and misfit.

From Dungeon Meshi, different race options


Humans are not as hardy as the immortal elves, being given to sickness and age. Nor are they as crafty as the underfolk, being slow to develop the crafts of alchemy and lore of natural philosophy. Yet mankind has one gift that surpasses every other: war.

Mankind is built for war. The crafts they have learned from dwarves and elves have been turned ingeniously to this purpose. They breed and maturely quickly to resupply their cities with men and women lost to hardship. They are fierce, doughty, and brave. Using their arts of war, mankind has conquered much of the Wide World. They are the conquering kings, proud and terrible.

Every human template grants 1 Mastery and +1 HP.

Starting Equipment: an heirloom tool, a one-handed weapon, a mundane pet: a cat, a dog, a horse, a goat, a rat, a chicken, whatever
Bonus Language: The Common Tongue is one of the human's cleverest inventions: a magical language that can always be understood by other speaking peoples. 
Not everybody can speak Common, just understand it. It freaks certain things out to hear it spoken ("How do I understand you? Are you in my brain? Get out!"). 

A - Master of Horses
B - Tall, Hateful
C - Communal
D - Proud

Master of Horses 
You grew up around animals and can handle them pretty well. When trained, they do incredibly improbable things.

Essentially, you can treat trained animals you keep and feed as henchmen. If it's like a war dog or war horse, they can fight beside you like a low-level fighter. 

Unless something very, very unfortunate happens, this ability ensures your favorite pet will survive even when knocked out of the fight. 

You gain either a +1 to your Strength or Constitution stat, to a maximum of 9.

Humans use one dice step higher when rolling damage: d3 -> d4 -> d6 -> d8, etc. For most weapons, this will be a d8.

Your Mastery points give a +2 bonus per point spent, instead of +1. 

A remote uncle dies and leaves you a great inheritance; the local lord notices your rising fame and bribes you; whatever happens, you gain a minor noble title. Name your new noble house, select heraldry and house words. 

When you fight under your own banner or wear your own heraldry, you gain +1 Attack and Defense. 

Hirelings now have a starting Loyalty of 10 instead of 6.

Anybody sworn to your service may choose to fill one of their empty Save slots with one of your Saves. Tales of your near demise are very popular, and everybody benefits from your experience. 


A dwarf is an obsessive creature. He loves to create. When he discovers what craft most interests him, he dedicates himself completely to it. His hours are spent perfecting his craft, innovating in his craft, critiquing examples of his craft, and tearing it all down so he can start again and do it right this time. Really, drinking is the only thing that keeps a dwarf steady. It evens him out, mellows him down, lets his mind work on problems that aren't exclusively about his craftwork.

All this obsessiveness pays off. Dwarf-craft is both practical and beautiful. It is highly sought after, which makes them rich. This is important for dwarves, who know the purpose of life: construct your tomb, because that's where you're going to spend the rest of eternity. Woe to the dwarf whose ghost goes into the afterlife bored. 

Every dwarf template grants 1 inventory slot. This slot is inside the dwarf's beard. Nobody can find it unless they shave the dwarf. 

Starting equipment: mattock, tinker's kit, half-filled book of grudges
Bonus language: Iglishmek - The dwarves teach Iglishmek to no one. It cannot be translated by someone who does not know it. It is altogether secret. It cannot be decoded. Comprehend Language spells fail. 

A - Goldnose, Crafty
B - Handy if Not Handsome, Stout
C - Obsessive
D - Stubborn

You can smell gold, jewels, gems, silver--minerals and crystals of value. If you stand at a crossroads and sniff, the GM will tell you which direction has the most treasure. If you sniff in an empty room, the GM will tell you if you smell the faint odor of potentially buried treasure. 

You can identify works of craft: you have a good idea of who created it, its origins, its purposes, its powers, and its curses.

Handy if Not Handsome
As long as you have basic tools you can make significant repairs to a single object overnight. If a shield has been sundered or spear shaken, you can repair them with a single night of work. You don't even need sleep when you work: your obsession is refreshing.

You gain either a +1 bonus to your Constitution or Wisdom stat, to a maximum of 9.

Once in his life, a dwarf descends into a hole and comes out with his life's work: some magic item of excellent craft. 

During downtime, you can declare that you are using this ability. Work with your GM to design an appropriate magic item that exemplifies your "life story." You can only create one magic item in this way, ever. 

You get so stubborn even spells stop affecting you. You are now a magic null zone. Magic of any kind, both good and bad, cannot work on you. Shaving your beard cancels this ability.


Elves are at home in the wilds of the world. They are renowned for their wood-craft, and can move silently when stalking through the forest, disturbing neither twig nor leaf. They are also renowned for their great beauty, being called the fairest of all people. Many mortals hold them in awe. At times they are merry, and take great delight in dances and parties, which they will hold in the middle of forests, enwrapped in multi-colored lights. Other times, they are grim as aged kings. They keep their own laws, which are ancient and unknown to mortal men. Their ways are strange. In truth, the Elves are like a force of nature – they embody the gentle spring rain, the summer’s thunderstorm, the calm of autumn and the bleakness of winter.

Each elf template grants a +2 bonus to Stealth while in the wilderness. 

Starting equipment: a musical instrument, a phial of luminous starlight, hunting bow
Bonus language: Osanwe Kenta - If two speakers of this language stare at each other in the eyes, they can communicate by mind speech. You cannot lie in the psychic speech of Osanwe Kenta.

A - Star Eyed, Immortal
B - Glamorous, Enchanted
C - Wood-weird, +1 Magic Dice
D - Uncanny, +1 Magic Dice

Star Eyed
Elves treat starlight as sunlight. If they can see the stars, they can see as well as they can during the day. This doesn't help in dark, underground dungeons, but is helpful in the wilderness.

Each elf keeps a tree as a home. If the elf dies, the tree dies, and vice versa. As long as this tree is alive, the elf will not die from old age. 

Practically, this means that elves cannot be magically aged. They do not suffer either mundane or magical disease. If severely wounded, the elf never looks gross. His scars look cool and beautiful.

You gain either a +1 bonus to your Dexterity or Intelligence stat, to a maximum of 9.

Elves cast spells by singing. One spell is called their "heartspell." The heartspell is drawn from the elementalist wizard list. Elves derive their "type" from their heartspell, e.g., mist elves cast feather fall, dark elves cast light, etc. 

Elves may wear elfy robes and gain 1 Magic Dice with which to cast this spell. If they do not have Magic Dice from robes or wizard levels, they may always cast their heartspell by taking 1d6 damage. The value of the damage dice is treated as the spell's [value], if relevant.

Each great forest, tall mountain, and deep lake has a spell hidden in it. If you spend the night sleeping in a new, significant, natural location, you can learn this hidden spell. Make an Intelligence check. If you succeed, the GM will give you of a new elementalist spell appropriate to the place of power. You'll have to travel to different biomes to learn the whole breadth of the elementalist's spell list.

You permanently gain the effects of the spell Wizard's Vision, without any attribute loss. You call this spell "Elf Vision," and claim that wizards stole it from your people--that's why it drives them insane to use.


Gnomes are what becomes of the children that elves steal. When elves get a wild hair to raise a child (elves  don't procreate normally), they sneak into human lands and steal a baby. In their place they leave a changeling--a log of alder wood or a goblin wrapped in a glamour of a human child. The glamour never lasts very long. Then they take the human baby back to Elfland and turn it into a gnome.

A gnome has the blessing of immortality but not agelessness. A gnome grows old but never dies. They never grow much larger than human children, but soon grow liver spots, long beards, bee-sting noses, yellowed nails, hunched backs. Eventually, they might grow into trees. 

By the time this happens, their elven "parents" have long since lost interest. 

Each gnome template grants +1 skill slot.  

Starting equipment: hallucinogenic mushrooms (1 dose), lantern, 30' length of scarves tied together (as silk rope), nine-pound hammer

A - Clever Eared, Tongue of Beast and Birds
B - Gnarled, Wise 
C - Foresighted
D - Deep Memory

Clever Eared
You hear would-be ambushers moments before they attack. When surprised, you have a 3-in-6 chance to act anyway.

Tongue of Beast and Birds
Gnomes make study of the languages of animals. When encountering a new type of natural animal, you can make an Intelligence check to see if they have studied that animal's tongue. Different beast languages are somewhat narrow: Mouse and Rat languages are different, for example (but perhaps in the same language family). Keep a list of all the animals you can speak to. Animal languages take up a skill slot.

You gain either a +1 bonus to your Intelligence or Wisdom stat, to a maximum of 9.

When you sleep at night, you may ask the GM one question of something in the akashic record.

Once per day, you can ask the GM: "If I do X, will Y happen?". The GM will honestly answer "yes," "no," or "maybe."

Deep Memory
When you ask a question using Wise, you can immediately ask a follow-up question after the GM has given you an answer. 


Halflings are a peaceable people, good-natured, and inclined to be friendly. When dwarves make stuff, it's the halflings who turn that stuff into gold. Of course, they take a little commission for their trouble. This is generally agreed upon to be a good relationship, because dwarves and humans don't always see eye to eye. Besides, dwarves would rather be making.

Halflings also fill in the gaps in domestic work. Dwarves might not notice that their workshops fill up with old scraps, empty oil cans, and soot, but the halflings certainly do. Halflings like the finer things in life. They like things to be clean, put together, and respectable. Therefore, if something needs cleaning, fixing, mending, and put-right, halflings often do that job themselves.

If halflings have one failing, it’s their love of their comforts. Few people like eating as much as halflings enjoy their auntie's mushroom pie. Few people like drinking as much as halflings enjoy the pint of bitter from the Bird and Baby Tavern. Few people like smoking as much as halflings enjoy a pipe full of Old Toby from the summer harvest of '45. 

Each halfling template grants a +1 bonus to Save rolls.

Starting equipment: cooking gear, walking staff, pipe and pipeweed
Bonus language: Halfling Argot - Whatever the local language is, halflings speak a clever little variant of it. The argot is designed to sound like normal conversation from an outside, but is full of hidden meaning, rhyming words, and ironies that are apparent only to those fluent in halfling argot. "By mercy, two birds went flying over my head in the blue of this summer's morning," might actually mean "Say, do you want to rob that stupid looking human over there? Very good, let's use the lost violin grift."

A - Gourmand, Love of Comfort
B - Jolly, Small
C - Common Sense (critical dodge threshhold goes up)
D - Damned Little Buggers

You have exceptional taste. With just a tiny taste of food, you can tell what the ingredients are (e.g., if there's a little extra poison in there). This lets you backwards engineer most potions.

Love of Comfort
Whenever you gain a drunkenness point, you can heal 1d4 HP. You can do this a number of times equal to the number of your halfling templates until you sleep it off.

When you encounter a creature for the first time, you have a 3-in-6 chance to change their Disposition to "Curious" or "Friendly." People just seem to like you.

You gain either a +1 bonus to your Dexterity or Charisma stat, to a maximum of 9.

Common Sense
You critically succeed dodge attempts on an 18, 19, or 20. This lets you make an attack or combat maneuver in retribution.

Damned Little Buggers
Whenever a larger enemy misses you with a melee attack, you may force them to make another melee attack against a target within range. It's possible to make enemies hit themselves with this ability.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Thief's Knacks

Ostensibly this is still an "OSR"y blog so here's some OSRish content.

Some people have problems with the thief.
a) Wait, so, what do I need to roll if I'm a fighter and I'm trying to pick a pocket? Can I just...not do it?
b) OK so I am a thief and I am picking a pocket holy shit I only have 20% to succeed? I kind of suck.
c) Hang on, so the wizard can just cast Knock, and then turn Invisible? OK, let the damn wizard break in and steal the teapot, then.

Some people have proposed generous rule interpretations that let you play the thief "straight" and fix some of these perceived problems. 

Some people have translated the percentile table to a d20 table, to resolve the multiple type of resolution mechanics in the game.

Personally, I really like Lamentation's d6 Skill Rolls and how the Specialist gains points in it. It's my favorite base rule set for mostly this reason.

Here is ANOTHER thing to do with thieves thiefs.

The Caffeinated Symposium: Book Review--LANKHMAR: TALES OF FAFHRD ...
Lookin' good, boys

Thief Knacks

A village witch once told me that a thief was actually a very, very specialized sorcerer. The missionary from O told me that actually thiefs tapped into their psi powers. The Beggar's Guild told me that the Thief's Guild was actually a cult, and whispered of forbidden rites of ancestor worship and the terrifying grave of deified guild masters deep in the vaults of Thief House.

Whatever the truth, all thiefs have seven supernatural abilities. Some can use them more frequently than others.

Anybody can sneak. The thief makes the Sign of Silence and stills the air around him.

Anybody can climb a wall. The thief uses the Invocation of the Spider and runs to the top of the Tower of the White Elephant.

Basically, whenever you're trying to do something by mundane means, use your rule set's resolution mechanics. A Xd6 roll, an attribute test, whatever.

A thief can choose to use one of their knacks instead. They can use each of their seven knacks once per day. When a knack is used, roll on the thief's percentile skill table. On a success, the knack is refreshed and may be used again. On a failure, the knack is gone until the next time the sun crosses the horizon.

(Yes, that means that thiefs can use their knacks once during the day, and then again during the night.)

Here are the knacks. They have boring names. Thiefs who use them understand that naming things with flair to be one of their primary duties.

Climb Sheer Surfaces
You can climb a sheer surface like a spider. This knack lasts as long as you're continuously ascending; a thief can climb the Tower of Babel using this knack. However, you cannot stop moving or the knack will end.

Find and Disarm Trap
When you use this knack, you can ask the GM if one particular thing is trapped. If it is, the GM will tell you what the trap is, what its triggers are, and what you need to do in the fiction to disarm it. Disarming traps in this way almost never require a roll.

Hear Noise
When you use this knack, point your finger towards something. You can hear perfectly what you're pointing towards.

  • If your fingers are pressed against a door, you can hear what's being discussed in the next room. 
  • If you point towards an area with hiding enemies, you can tell how many lie in ambush by hearing their hearts beating. 
  • If you point at someone you can see, even if they're miles away, you can hear them as clearly as if you were standing next to them. 
Hide in Shadow
You can step into your own shadow. While in your shadow, you're practically invisible. The only things that can hurt you are magic weapons or spells that target ethereal creatures. However, you can't move or interact with your environment while in your shadow. 

Move Silently
You can utterly still the area around you as long as you hold your breath. Nothing within 10' of you makes any noise. You can smash through a window. You can gank a husband and not worry about his screams waking up his wife, lying in bed beside him. You can pat the wildly barking dog on the head. It's all good. 

Pick Locks
You make a secret knock--like the Fonz on a jukebox. A locked or magically sealed door/chest/shackles instantly pops open. Even barred or stuck doors pop open. 

Pick Pockets
The GM tells you everything that the person is carrying. You've opened their inventory. Select one thing. It's now in your inventory. Nobody notices until it makes sense for them to do so. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Maidens and the Moon: The Siege Castle

Another in my series of posts about my Zelda-esque campaign. I've been playtesting my heartbreaker using an amalgamation of blogs I like, Instagram artists that inspire me, and some A+ OSR modules. Read the big inspiration post before going on. 

And, again, there's material here that my players have not uncovered yet. If you're in my game, be ye warned that this way lies ruin(ed fun). 

haven't done a ton to clean my notes up for public consumption. Apologies. This is a gritty glimpse into the way I make notes.

have done some work to inject commentary on how the playtest went as the players went through the dungeon. Retrospective-ing is one of the reasons I'm mocking up these play reports.

The Siege Castle

A thousand siege engines, heaped together, held together by a spine of twisted spears. It plods along on armored feet, each made from a thousand iron boots. It's head is a nest of ballistas and trebuchets.  

It was the Moon King's greatest weapon. Now that the peninsula is pacified (and his attentions have turned elsewhere), the Siege Castle is retiring on the battlefield where it legs were first broken.

The Siege Castle wants war. It wants to feel spears clash against its skin. It wants to burn battalions under its lava spigots. It wants to scoop up knights in its jaws and crush them inside their armor until the pulp runs down its chin.

But it can't move. It's rusting apart, dying a slow death. Rain has accomplished what armies could not. It dies like a wolf; Fenris after Ragnarok.

It is still hungry. It is still capable of assimilating metal and weapons into itself. It is still capable of growing. (That's how it got so big--it returned from the war bigger than when it set out.)

It has servants, too, but they are clumsy things, meant to kill, not to repair. The knowledge and the tools needed to mend it are in the city.

At night, you can hear it groaning out on the battlefield. You can see the forge-fires still smoldering behind its ribs. Every once in a while, it makes an attempt to move.  You can hear the anguished metal tearing from a mile away. 

And yet it does move, slowly and painfully. Every month it drags itself a few feet closer to the Moon Castle. Does it still wish to curl up at the feet like a loyal dog? Or does it wish revenge for its abandonment?

Note: Any use of a hearthember inside the Siege Castle will summon a Campfire Sprite (see below).
  1. Resources taxed
  2. Resources taxed
  3. Resources taxed
  4. Resources taxed
  5. Resources taxed
  6. [Serendipity] Shuddering - The castle shudders and moans, like a cow in labor. The metal walls tremor disturbingly like flesh.
  7. [Serendipity] Shuddering - The castle shudders and moans, like a cow in labor. The metal walls tremor disturbingly like flesh.
  8. [Serendipity] Maze Golem - A large, animate statue of stone with a red stone glowing in its chest and a single glowing cyclopean eye is placidly making repairs here. (The maze golem won’t attack unless disturbed from his work.)
  9. [Serendipity] Maze Golem - A large, animate statue of stone with a red stone glowing in its chest and a single glowing cyclopean eye is placidly making repairs here. (The maze golem won’t attack unless disturbed from his work.)
  10. [Serendipity] Steam Trap - A thin razor of steam is escaping from a nearby pipe, invisible except for a high whine. The steam acts like a light saber and slices right through the first person in the marching order unless they succeed on a Test of Cups.
  11. [Serendipity] Steam Trap - A thin razor of steam is escaping from a nearby pipe, invisible except for a high whine. The steam acts like a light saber and slices right through the first person in the marching order unless they succeed on a Test of Cups.
  12. [Encounter] Totally Not Three Goblins in a Trenchcoat - I am a mighty wizard! For your moneys, I shall sell you this powerful magical bomb! It’s a good deal, and I am a mighty wizard.
  13. [Encounter] Totally Not Three Goblins in a Trenchcoat - I am a mighty wizard! For your moneys, I shall sell you this powerful magical bomb! It’s a good deal, and I am a mighty wizard.
  14. [Encounter] Blade Collectors - 3 Blade Collectors skuttle on the ceiling, baffled by the PC’s entrance. They ignore anybody not wearing metal armor, initially.
  15. [Encounter] Nipterror - [PC] number of Nipterrors phase through the wall, grinning eerily at the PCs. They want something to eat. They eat nightmares, and will trade passage for a story about nightmares. Otherwise, they’ll take a BITE out of the PCs.
  16. [Encounter] Nipterror - [PC] number of Nipterrors phase through the wall, grinning eerily at the PCs. They want something to eat. They eat nightmares, and will trade passage for a story about nightmares. Otherwise, they’ll take a BITE out of the PCs.
  17. [Encounter] Torchknights - [PC] number Torchknights are in this room, drinking and gambling. They look for honorable sport with the PCs.
  18. [Encounter] Torchknights - [PC] number Torchknights are in this room, drinking and gambling. They look for honorable sport with the PCs.
  19. [Encounter] Maze Cannon - A Maze Cannon patrols this area, ready to engage with any intruders with extreme prejudice.
  20. [Encounter] Maze Cannon - A Maze Cannon patrols this area, ready to engage with any intruders with extreme prejudice.
  21. Clue or revelation

Playtest Notes: In my "core" game of His Majesty the Worm I found it very useful to have 20 discrete options on my Meatgrinder table. Each zone was pretty large and had several hexes in it--each zone was a dungeon in its right. Characters came and went. Repetition was to be avoided.

The dungeons of "Maidens and the Moon" are much smaller--usually only 8-12 rooms. As such, having a random table of 20 events is a bit overkill. I doubled up here, to good effect.


Blade Collector
A scuttling creature who walks on four, sloth-like claws. It’s head is skull-like, and its arched back is a hardened carapace. Weaponry of all sorts--broken spear shafts, swords, axes, arrows--are embedded in the carapace. It moves cautiously, turning its head left and right.
HD: 4
The blade collector is blind to organic material. Iron and metal is most “real” to it, and it focuses on it the most. It’s unaware that animals or plants exist. Humans wearing metal enrage it.
Special: Immune to weapons - any weapon used against it sinks into its carapace like butter and becomes stuck.
* Defeat the fucker by throwing it off of a cliff, tricking it into a trap, blowing it up with a fireball...whatever.
* If you succeed, you get [draw] mundane items and 1 special masterwork weapon.

Campfire Sprite
Mischievous, reeking havoc on the party as it spreads fire. Will spark off of a hearthfire the PCs light inside of the Siege Castle.
HD 1
Special: Leaps onto something flammable. Flames must be put out or the PC takes 1 Wound at the start of their next turn.

Oh man, these little guys. 
HD: 4, but they don’t die from violence
Special: Shifty Buggers - Can disengage for free. Never suffer an opportunity attack
Bombardiers - Prepare bombs as any action. Throw bombs that blast everyone in a zone for a Wound.

Maze Cannon
Three-legged platform, decorated with ancient glyphs, with a canon projecting from it. A red stone glows on the top of the platform, illuminating the space around it. 
HD: 8
Special: Blast everybody in one direction with a fireball. This makes the cannon skitter backwards several steps. 
* Cannot right itself if “Tripped.” Trapped like a turtle on its back.
* The magic stone is worth 50s if sold.

Maze Golem
A cobblestone giant, ancient glyphs winding his way across his grey body. Its hands and feet end in three-pronged claws. A single, glowing red eye looks out of its head. In the center of its body is a red glowing stone. Moss and bird droppings cover its shoulders. 
HD 12
Special: Immune to magic
Vaporwave - As a last measure, can blast a laser that deals a Critical Wound. 

A huge floating head, surrounded by a halo of swords, with one giant eye and a huge, wicked, smiling mouth. It meanders through the air towards you, clacking its jaws. 
(Note: Can mimic any voice)
Wants: To hear your worst fears
HD 6
Special: Of Two Worlds - Can shift between spectral world (transparent) and physical world by discarding any card. 
Teleport - Can teleport to another zone that it can see

An iron suit of armor clanks towards you. It’s lit from within by a terrible red fire, spilling out of the cracks of the armor. 
Part zeal, part showy ironwork hearth, the blazing torchknights are spirits created
on occasion when a weary fighting man dies asleep in front of a fireplace. These soldiers were sometimes top professionals, but just as often they were the gouty, drunken, or slothful.  
Wants: To drink beer, to gamble
HD: 4
Special: Heat Metal - Everyone in the zone carrying metal items must drop them or take 1 Wound.
Immune to Magic due to its metal content
Weakness - Takes damage from water or being extinguished

Zones of the Siege Castle
One of my lesser good maps

The Red Ring Army (Outside the Castle)
A bunch of goblins and pit-fighters that have befriended the Siege Castle by hosting gladiatorial combats where the Siege Castle can watch. They treat the Siege Castle like a Roman emperor when deciding when to kill an surrendering opponent.

If the Siege Castle nods, they live. If it roars, they die. It doesn't nod very often.

The leader of the Red Ring Army is the Kill Boss.

A goblin in a suit of armor shaped like a pig-man. Beat him and you can approach THE WAR GOD.

The leader of the Red Ring Army that gathers in the trenches of the Siege Castle Wastes. 

A hulking golem. A rusty suit of iron armor wielding a truly huge morning star. He wants to be seen as big and tall, but is actually quite a small goblin under all of that. 

Likes: To boss people around, to be given compliments, to actually have a challenging fight (as long as things go in his favor)

Hates: To be called “small” (especially “shrimpy” — hates shrimp because of it)

Wants: To keep his goblin army satisfied in blood, chaos, and honor, but quickly running out of ideas. He has an existential idea that someday soon they’ll get bored of this juvenile shit, but will never say that out loud. Needs a new paradigm.

What Can He Do?
He can command, like, a hundred deathless goblins to destroy whatever he points his finger towards. 
In a one-on-one combat, he’s super jacked in a very classic way. No gimmicks, just hits HARD and is hard to hurt. 


Here are three sample goblins. They act as yes men for KILL BOSS, so you can interact with them.

Magnus Intractable
A bombardier, and anxious to put his specialty to good use. Bad use? Anyway, he’s a bad little fucker.
Likes: The smell of naphtha in the morning, excitement and exhilaration
Dislikes: Being bored (starting to be bored by the Army)

Noted Groan
Has a beautiful purple mustache and a haughty air. Thinks of himself as a tactical genius.
Likes: Tactics, feeling smart, games of chess (but he cheats)
Dislikes:  Feeling hungry (food is running short)
Wants: Groan will offer you money if you take a letter to the General in Drood Forest for him.

Mark Me Unreasonable
Goofy. Wears a brown hood that totally obscures his face, except for his upturned batty nose. A good pal and moral center of the three goblins. Keeps Noted Groan and Magnus Intractable in line. Doesn’t talk a lot.
Likes: Dogs and rats and stuff. He really likes neat little beasties.
Dislikes: Being lonely (misses the Goblin Market)

Gladiatorial Matches
Things that make you unpopular with goblins:
* using the same tactic twice
* always being cruel
* always being kind

Things that make you popular with the goblins:
Showing off, e.g. saying "I don't need this sword to FUCK YOU UP!" and then throwing your sword into the audience.
Good insults.  (Criterion: did most of the players laugh?)

The Weapontake: PCs are stripped of their weaponry which is put in a general pile. The PCs play rock paper scissors with KILL BOSS to get first call on the weaponry.
Also in the pile are:
* A turnip on a string and shield
* A pike with a pig’s head stuck on it
* A blowgun with darts
* A wavy dagger and horned helmet (+1 armor)

Mother May I: KILL BOSS acts as the arena master for the battle. Every round, he shouts out some new rule. Whoever doesn't follow them gets shot by the goblin enforcers with crossbows.

* No looking!  (Everyone fights with eyes closed.  First person to open them gets shot.)
* Everyone pray!  (Last person to drop to their knees gets shot!)
* Everyone be nice!  Everyone has to stop fighting and hug each other.  Anyone who is mean gets shot.
* Okay now fight some more!  Resume fighting.
* Gimme some money!  Whoever gives the least gets shot.  (NPCs each donate 1d20-10 (min 0)).
* Eat this bread!  Drops a loaf of bread on the ground.  Everyone has to take a bite.  Lasts person to take a bite gets shot.
* The floor is lava!  Last person standing on the floor is shot.  (Climbing on the BOSS is okay.  There's also a couple of chairs around here, but not enough.)

Surprises: There are two surprises during the flow of combat, introduced by KILL BOSS:
* A Troll!: A troll with a long nose, long green hair, and terrible halitosis will be released into the pit by Kill Boss, who announces a “surprise cameo guest star.”
* Just Playing Dead: When the last goblin is against the wall, the other goblins reveal they were just playing dead.

...If more gladiatorial matches are needed:
Troll-Ball - the teams face off in an arena with two large goalposts. Two trolls are released into the arena, painted some garish color and hopped up on goblin drugs that make them regenerate health even faster. The goal is to get a troll to go through your opponents goal. Each team is given a starting torch, but everyone is encouraged to light things on fire in order to herd the trolls. The crowd will boo if you kill a troll, as they’re famous troll-ball athletes, and their mother will be released from her holding cell into the arena.

Save the Princess - A famous goblin reenactment of the Theft of the Short Princess. The PC’s are playing the roles of the Short Princesses’ guards, namely fighting naked and covered in paint. The ‘Short Princess’ is a dress-wearing hog at the top of a classic stone tower. The PC’s have 3 rounds to prepare before waves of goblins are dispatched to steal the Princess. I had various tools spread around the tower, flasks of oil, swamp gas balloons, marbles, a cat in a cage, moldy apples; lots of junk. The first wave of goblins just rushed the tower, the second wave used grappling hooks and catapults, and finally the third wave used a plethora of flying devices to try and snatch the pig off the tower. Any goblins playing dead cheated and got up on the third round.

Rules for Gladiatorial Matches: You can use a Wands action to hype up the crowd and win favor. When you win favor, the crowd tosses in one of the following:
S: A broken bottle or punjee stick or board with a nail in it. Does 2 Wounds on a hit, and breaks.
P: Coin equal to value x 5 (to be collected by winner after match)
C: Takaleshi jelly
W: Roses

Takaleshi jelly lets you make actions as interrupts by spending a Resolve, but makes you jittery (disfavor to fine manipulation).

When you get X favor, you become a crowd favorite. Different crowds have different thresholds for favor. The graveyard boys need about 5 to be impressed. The Siege Castle needs 12+.

Playtest Notes: The players had bumped into the "Tournament" rules before in the City, but I think they worked especially well here.

Sometimes the "Mother May I" rules confused the PCs, but they learned after getting the sharp end of some crossbow bolts. For example, the players were inclined to translate the order to "pray" to say a quick burst of prayer out loud. They, of course, saw the goblins drop to their knees, drop their weapons, and crawl around. I say that they had no reason to be surprised when their piteous piety earned them a crossbow attack.

The players went into the Red Ring Army pretty blind. They weren't trying to get to the Siege Castle, they were just trying to deliver a fragile tea pot from Granny Goblin (in the Goblin Market)  to the goblins stationed here to make them feel nostalgic and go back home. Because one of the players botched their attempt to sweet talk the goblins, they were thrown in the gladiatorial pits and made to go through this whole rigmarole.

The Lucky Pig (Outside the Castle)
Inside the Red Ring Army’s encampment is a lucky pig statue. It costs X+2 silver to activate, where X equals the number of castles you’ve defeated.

Playtest Note: I've talked about the Lucky Pig Statues before. Very successful. Recommend for anybody.

Approaching the Siege Castle
You can just run towards the Siege Castle. It’s not a good idea.

It fires at anyone that it sees approaching. Trebuchets hurl metal slag. It requires a devastating 5 separate Swords tests to make it across the field of wreck and ruin. There are half-dug trenches, destroyed ballistas, and suits of ruined power armor between the Siege Castle and you. Good, non-repetitive ideas give favor on the test. A failure deals a Critical Wound.

If the party gets a nod in a gladiatorial match in the Red Ring Army, they will be allowed to approach the Castle.

Playtest Note: My players were entered unwillingly into the Red Ring's tournaments. When they won and hyped up the crowd, the Siege Castle nodded for them to approach. The goblins encouraged them to go up, saying this was their "last chance." The PCs ran towards the Siege Castle--even though they hadn't planned on it. 

At the same time, the players managed to convince the Red Ring Army to go back to the Goblin Market by way of the gift of Granny Goblin's tea pot and some good "Charisma" tests. As such, they successfully unlocked the goblin race for future PCs. They only have to go to the Goblin Market to get a new character. 

0. The Mouth of the Castle
A face like a malformed metal bulldog lowers itself. It’s eyes are canons. Metal shrieks as the shuddering castle beast opens its mouth. A huge cavern, with teeth made of shields, opens in front of you. Inside it is dark. It smells of oil, soot, and smoke. 

1. The Cooling Chamber
A factory room, barely made for human habitation. The floor is made out of rows of pipes, the ceiling is chugging machinery. 

It is cold. White frost creeps over the walls. You can see your breath.

Set into the back of the wall there are large, foggy glass containers. They are opaque with frost, but about five feet high and three feet wide. 

To the left is a door with a crank in its center (LOCKED) (room 2). To the right is a hallway that hums “thrump….thrump...thrump” (room 6).

* Wipe away the frost on the outside of the giant-sized hermetic jars to find mummified corpses. 
* If broken open, the corpses will arise and try and fight the PCs. They fight mindlessly, like ghouls. 
* However, the fluid inside the jars is always cold to the touch. If harvested, the COLD LIQUID can extinguish a serious fire instantly, and freeze a substantial amount of water it is introduced to. Handy for both fire and water elementals. Harvest it into hermetic bottles for an added benefit later in the dungeon. 

Playtest Note: My players camped, uncomfortably, in the Cooling Room. They were trying to recover from the tournament. This prompted a Campfire Sprite to show up. They carried him around like a little buddy on a torch for a while, but eventually traded him away. 

When the players tried to leave the room, they triggered a steam jet trap towards room 6. They found it by hearing the whine and experimented around until they found the lethal jet.

One of them cast a portable hole spell on the door to 2 and peered inside to find (random encounter) Not Three Goblins in a Trenchcoat. They talked to them a while and convinced the Not Three Goblins to open the door. As such, the players progressed down the left path for a while. 

2. Machinduma
A coiled machine sits alone in a dark room.  It looks like the polished extrusion of some massive crustacean, with gently fluted crests and warped gullies. The front is the tallest part, and you must slip between some flying buttresses to reach the "front" of the machine.

There are two alcoves here, set into the machine like eye sockets.  Above them, words in an ancient script. 

Past the machine, there is a cramped “hallway” of pipes that lead into darkness (Room 3).

* The script is elven. It reads: One is taken. The other improved.
* The Machinduma has stats as four ogres in full plate, fighting in tight square formation.
* If you put two objects into the alcoves, the chambers will slowly recess and then close off.  Out of the two objects, the more valuable one will be taken by the machine.  The less valuable object will be returned in an improved form.
Shitty swords will be made excellent.  A magical sword will be made amazing.  A non-magical item may be made into a magical one, but the enchantment will be a trifling one.
* A living creature that is improved will be given a random beneficial mutation.
* If you do a lot of exchanges with the Machinduma, and if you show a certain ambivalence for human life, it will start offering you fetch quests.  It will extrude soft white disks with writing on them, which dessicate and crumble away from the warm, bloody interior of the machine.

Playtest Notes: My players experimented briefly with the machiduma, but returned to it a few times over the course of the dungeon. They thought that small items were going to be much more powerful than they were ("I put in a ROCK and a DAGGER...what does it do?"), but eventually grokked the deal. Before they left, almost everybody had a fancy, shiny new item based on some combination and recombination. Fun thing. Major thanks to Goblinpunch for the encounter.

3. The War Room
There is a table here, somewhat oblong, on which is a mechanism like a 3D printer consisting of an x axis and a y axis.  The table has faded paint with a map of the world of the Maze on it. 

On the back wall of the room is a large set of double metal doors. The doors are literally red hot--they radiate an incredible heat and glow with a crimson light. 

A ladder affixed to the wall leads up through a trapdoor in the ceiling, into darkness.

The x axis has 11 points and the y axis has 8 and a half. 

* When the mechanism is set, a handprint glyph: CONFIRM? Flashes on the map of the Maze.
* Press your hand to the glyph. The mechanism locks into place and cannot be changed. 
* You feel the whole castle shudder. 
* The coordinate that was locked into is being bombarded by the Siege Castle’s long distance weapons. 
* It can do this once before its munitions are expended. 
* That place is fucking rubble now. 

The double doors cannot be reasonably opened as long as they are hot. They scorch the hands of anybody who actually touches them (which is easily telegraphed). They lead to Room 9.
* Of course, the PCs can come up with some shenanigans. Perhaps employing the COLD LIQUID from the Cooling Chamber.
* These doors cool down if the Boiler Room is sabotaged.

Playtest Notes: My players used a portable hole spell to peep the room and found several Blade Collectors (random encounter). The party had heard a rumor of them from the Lucky Pig so they were pretty scared of them. They double backed and disarmed the steam trap to progress through the right-hand path.

4. The Spires of Smoke
You come into the fresh air, although it is night outside. The distant stars gleam down on you.

A catwalk loops around a large tower of blackened stone and iron--like a colossal chimney coming out of a cathedral’s spire. At the top, smoke belches into the night sky. It smells acrid.

Following the catwalk leads you to a gap between two smokestacks. You see a door set into the other smokestack, with a small metal “porch.” There’s easily 50 yards (400 feet) between the two smokestacks.
* “As you watch, a squat, shirtless man wearing a helmet steps out of the door onto the porch. He lights a goblin thatch (the equivalent of a cigarette). He hasn’t spotted you, yet.”
* This is the Siege King.
* If the Siege King spots the PCs, he will drop his cigarette and go quickly back into his room (Room 5). He’ll summon [PC-1] Maze Cannons into room 3.
* The PCs are left with a conundrum of how to bridge the gap.

Playtest Note: This worked well. Showing the PCs a glimpse of the main bad guy BEFORE they could encounter him was a good way to frame the encounter and hint about what was going to come. If you have the opportunity to show off your baddies before your PCs just punch 'em in the face, I recommend you do it. 

5. The Siege King’s Personal Quarters
A small round room is found in the smoke stack. It is warm and humid here. 

A hay-stuffed sleeping mat is plopped against one wall. It smells bad. 

A chamber pot, unemptied, sits nearby. It smells bad. 

A pile of 1256 silver sits unstacked and uncounted near a rag doll in the shape of the Siege Castle. The rag doll is kind of cute, but smells bad

At the foot of the sleeping mat is a chest. The chest is closed (and locked). 
* The key is on the Siege King.
* Inside the chest is a collection of ancient elven cogs. 
* You can use them to repair the Cloud Factory. 
You can also sell them for 500s to a rare collector of antiquities in the Wicked City. (Nobody else is very interested in elven artifacts.)

A single door opens onto the expanse of the Siege Castle’s back. Dozens of smoke stacks billow smoke below the door’s small porch.

Playtest Note: My players never found this room.

6. The Hall of Fans
A long, cylindrical hall into darkness. Every fifteen feet, large industrial fans slowly turn. The fans push cool air from the cooling chamber down into the bowels of the castle, and seem passable if you’re quick. 
* There are four fans. Test of Pentacles to get past the fans. Failure results in a Wound, but it breaks the fan so that nobody else will get stuck in that one. 
* Obviously, you can also jam the fans using ingenuity.

Playtest Notes: My players did the good OSR thing of investigating the fans, finding the screws, and then slowly unscrewing them. It ran down their torches, but their cleverness let them bypass the obstacle completely. 

7. The Boiler Room
Five large black boilers hiss and clatter, huge piping connected to them like veins to a heart. In the darkness, you feel immense heat radiating from them. Pipes, like columns, dissect the room. Valves as big as ship’s wheels are affixed to the pipes and walls, hot steam leaking from them.

The room is puddled with warm water. 

You hear the clanking of a chain in the darkness. 

In the darkness, you glimpse an opening beyond the boilers--a single door.
* GUN DOG LIVES HERE. It’s chained to a boiler by a rusty chain. The chain is easily broken. 
* Gun Dog - A dog with a cluster of cannons in place of its head.  Fires teeth.  HD 1. 

If players fiddle with the valves, they will find them very hard to move. They can make a Test of Swords to move them, or dislodge them with grease. 
* If successful, a random character in the room will take 1 Wound from steam shooting from the vent.
* If the boiler itself is broken (which will take some skilled sabotage, or 2 damage in one go), it ruptures and bursts. This deals 4 Wounds to everyone in the room after 1 turn. 
* This makes the HOT DOOR in room 3 become cool. This powers down the mechanism of the War Room and the Hall of Fans. 

The door leads into a small room with a lever in it. If you pull the lever, the small room reveals itself to be an elevator. It ascends to Room 8.

Playtest Notes: This room held a random encounter of nipterrors, which sort of tempered the PCs' willingness to interact with the furnaces or the gundog. They traded some nightmares to the nipterrors (by describing them out loud), managed to tame the gundog enough to get close to it, broke its chain, and then high-tailed it out of the room. 

8. The Magnet and the Lava
An immense pit, like that shaft that Luke fell down in Empire, opens before you. Lava slowly churns after a staggering 100’ drop straight down. The red cast from the fiery magma illuminates the cavernous room. The smell of sulfur and the intense heat coming from the lava all but chokes you; it is very difficult to breathe.

There is a thin metal ledge that winds around the west wall of the shaft towards an opening opposite you. There are spikes driven into the wall at ten foot intervals along the ledge. Along the thin ledge, about halfway to the other opening, is a metal plate affixed to the wall. You cannot read what, if anything, is etched on it. In the center of the ceiling is an orb of metal.

* Characters wishing to cross the cavern by way of the ledge must move slowly and carefully. * The stakes driven into the wall may be used for support and may have ropes tied to them.
* The orb of metal in the center of the ceiling is a lodestone mechanism. When the characters enter the cavern, if they are carrying any metal whatsoever, the lodestone senses their presence and begins to activate. It emits a hum and slight electrical charge, which grows stronger with each round.
* Any steel or iron within the cavern is drawn to the lodestone, where it is held for 1 round. 
* If anybody is already holding onto the spikes stuck in the walls, they may make a Test of Swords. Otherwise, it’s too late.
* Afterwards, the lodestone de-activates, dropping the item into the lava below.
* The metal plate has the word "SHUT OFF VALVE" printed on it. Behind it, a series of disconnected pipes. 

Playtest Note: By this time, we've moved online to roll20. I deconstructed one of those online pipe puzzles and recreated it on the map. When the players got to the metal plate, I just gave them a number of minutes based on their characters stats and made them play the game. It went over pretty well. The player did the puzzle with only a few seconds to spare, which I think made them feel fairly triumphant. This was a good puzzle to transpose to the online scope. Before we moved online, I had planned on passing out one of the puzzles from the Mansions of Madness boardgame. 

9. The Central Furnace
In the center of the room is a large hearth. In the center of the hearth is a bright golden-red flame, about man’s height. It has a malicious face: it cackles like an evil jester, smiling broadly. The flame sits on top of a mountain of coals--and in the middle of it all, a pile of golden hair.

A thick-set man is tending the flame. The Siege King is naked to the waist. He has a dad bod--once muscular, but now with a significant pudge. The only armor he wears is a black full helm. You cannot see his face through the iron slits. He wears a blade strapped across his back. He’s carrying a shovel, which he’s using to shovel a pile of coal near the central hearth.

The room is well lit by the fire, circular, and domed. There’s a heat vent over the hearth. The vent leads to four interconnected furnaces set at cardinal points around the room. 

Each of the four furnaces chug and glow brightly with red flame, which it channels towards the Central Flame. 

Can make a number of moves equal to the number of intact furnaces.
Splashing significant amounts of water onto it (like the COLD LIQUID) will deal 3 damage to the flame. 
The Flame does not take damage traditionally. In fact, if you just hit it with your weapon, a blast of hot air from one of the four furnaces will immediately refresh it. The weapon you struck it with will be Notched.
If the furnaces are destroyed, you CAN hit the flame with weapons, but it still Notches your weapon.
Special: The Flame can fling fire balls to anybody it can see. These blasts deal 1 Wound and catch the opposition on fire. If on fire, they take another Wound at the top of their turn unless they spend a Recovery action to get rid of the condition.

Additional Rules:
* PCs may break the four furnaces to deal damage the Flame. 
* Breaking the furnaces requires doing 5 damage, which will then deal 5 damage directly to the Flame.
* The Siege King LOVES the Siege Castle. He treats it like the Rancor tamer treated the Rancor. 
* When the Castle is destroyed, all the fight goes out of the Siege King. He weeps openly. 
* The Siege King will use a miscellaneous card to shovel coal to heal the Castle’s Heart. This heals 1 damage.

Siege King: HD 4
The Siege King carries a normal helm, the goreblade, a pack of dragon’s teeth, and a key.
Treasure of Siege Castle: The Goreblade
Looted from the Siege King’s back (he wears it, but never uses it). 
Every hit just makes, like, blood and guts go everywhere. WAY more guts than a thing has. Breaks the morale of whoever is hit by it, even if it doesn't do a lot of damage. 

Playtest Notes: 
The players burst into the room, kicked the Siege King near to death (before they realized he wasn't really a threat), and then managed to dismantle the piping between the Central Flame and the furnaces--they realized the pipes were easier to destroy than the furnaces themselves. This didn't trigger the blowback damage to the Central Flame, but it did reduce the number of moves he could make each round. 

Ultimately, this encounter's toughness was scaled a bit high for my PCs. A few of them were on death's door at the end of it. Because they had done significant damage to the Siege King as well, they managed to convince him to give up. The Siege King calmed the Central Flame down, in turn, and handed over Princess Sun's hair willingly. They all parted on good terms. One of the players has a crush on the Siege King (and vice versa). 

I really enjoy games where players can negotiate with monsters, make friends out of enemies, and end encounters without just pinging creatures down to their last HP.