Simplifying Encumbrance for Dungeon Weariness

The old standby
The old standby

In my last post, I struggled a bit to determine the DC for “encumbrance as encounter,” or a Weariness check as I dubbed it. I got a lot of positive feedback on the post, but Noah pretty fairly pointed out that there’s still a lot of work getting in the way of the fun in documenting encumbrance as suggested. I agree, and at the time I was thinking that a highly customized character sheet was really the only good way to make it simple. I essentially repeated the sentiment to Harley and expressed the additional difficulties I was having thinking how to incorporate it with DCC specifically, given the armor check penalty already incorporated in those rules. I had a few different thoughts on tweaks and revisions I could make to fit it into DCC, and how a sheet would look that would make it less difficult to track in any D&D-ish system.

Until tonight, when I realized that DCC’s armor check penalty not only didn’t need to be modified, but that it actually could be the key to really simplifying this for any D&D-like game, and not requiring a major character sheet overhaul. Here’s what I’ve got …

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Dungeon Weariness: Encumbrance & Exhaustion as Encounter

In my last post, I jumped off from Brendan’s thoughts on lighting as encounter with a couple of ways to simulate the passage of time, and as usual my personal favorite is the playing card method. Last night, while perusing the LotFP Rules & Magic book for no particular reason, I started thinking about it some more, and I think there’s more that can be handled by the “four suit” method. (To recap, base encounters on playing cards and torches go out every time all four suits have been drawn.)

First, one tweak I’d make to lighting in particular. I previously suggested that lanterns should run out of oil every other time the four suits are drawn. Even as I wrote this I didn’t love it, as one of the goals of the card method is to keep things very simple: Every time you draw X, then Y happens. I noticed in LotFP, lantern oil lasts a full 24 hours, and while this is a bit more generous than I’m inclined to be, it did lead me to my solution. Every time torches go out, there is a 1-in-3 chance that lanterns run out of oil as well. This makes lanterns theoretically infinite, but the odds are low.

IMG_2406 grenadier 2004 hirelings

Continue reading “Dungeon Weariness: Encumbrance & Exhaustion as Encounter”

Lighting as Dungeon Encounter: Two Methods

David Trampier

Brendan at Necropraxis recently had a great post on using the random encounter die as a time-tracker — instead of just triggering wandering monsters, the encounter die could also lead to torches burning out or lanterns running out of oil.

As initially written, he advises just ignoring such results for the first two or three turns when it would seem unreasonable for new light sources to be dying. But it got me thinking, “What if there were a simple way to simulate time passage in the check itself?” Two ways popped into my mind, actually.

Continue reading “Lighting as Dungeon Encounter: Two Methods”

Return of the Blog: Miniatures and Kobolds

Turns out that I took most of June off from blogging completely – I didn’t even do the Wednesday art posts. I’m OK with that, I think it was good to have a little break. Sitting on a deck right on the bay in OCMD was paradise, but it’s been a tough month at work and there wasn’t a lot of mental energy left to put into the blog. I’m hoping to see a little relief in the work day world in the coming weeks.

Still, I’m thinking that I am going to have a lighter posting schedule over the summer months, or at least a lighter schedule posting gameable material for others to use. Since I started the blog, I’ve had a lot less time to dedicate to painting miniatures, which is something I greatly enjoy. With everyone’s posts lately about their Bones Kickstarter rewards arriving (hopefully mine will soon), it’s really got the painting bug back in me. So I’m thinking that over the next few months I’ll drop down to one regular post a week, the Wednesday art posts, and various photo posts of minis. My only sticking point is that I’ll need to try and take good photos of my minis – my wife has a very nice camera, so no problem there, but I’ll need to make or buy a lightbox.

In news from the game table, this past Friday night I ran the June session of our mostly monthly DCC game. Last time we played, the party had decided they would trek out from Split River across the Hushed Valley to seek the fabled keep of the Emerald Enchanter. In prep for the session, I put together card-based wilderness encounter tables and hex content tables for the Hushed Valley and read the Emerald Enchanter module twice, just in case they made it all the way across the valley with time to spare in the evening’s session. Also between sessions, Mike and I did some video chat roleplaying to address his character’s efforts to purchase some real estate in town. As a result he met Kale Rodale, the most notable and wealthy wizard in Split River, owner of several mining interests and member of the ruling council. Joey Diamonds and Rodale came to a very reasonable mortgage agreement on a long-played out copper mine that was converted to living quarters for indentured miners but was recently infested with kobolds.

Evolution of the D&D Kobold -- I'm bigger on dog-lizard than dragon-like
Evolution of the D&D Kobold — I’m bigger on dog-lizard than dragon-like

I figured that by the time the party got back to town after the expedition to the Emerald Enchanter, clearing out the kobolds would be a simple after thought. However, we had three new players joining in on the game that night, each with a retinue of 0-levels, so the experienced adventuring party members decided to have the group clear out to kobolds first. After all, they had overstayed their room deposit at the Obsidian Sage and though the innkeeper was overly understanding, there was also a retinue of Shessan merchants coming in and buying out the place for the next few weeks. So they figured, “Kill the kobolds and we’ll have some place to come back to.”

When I was young, I was pretty damn good at improvising my adventures. These days, I find myself much less adept. I don’t have to do a crazy amount of prep, I just need to lay out at least a few things to riff on, or develop some tables ahead of time like I did in anticipation of wilderness travel. I think I’m at my best when I’m actually running modules – I don’t have trouble committing most of them to memory pretty quickly, and I am totally comfortable riffing or winging within the provided context. Now, I had already drawn a simple map of this mine to share with Mike, so I had a basic layout, but I ended up deciding that most of the real action would take place off the map I had already drawn, in a deeper mine. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of particularly intriguing elements prior to the combat on which we closed the night. I should have busted out Dyson’s Delves to at least give it a more interesting layout.

So far even that last combat is mostly just orcs and goblins charging toward the party in a large tunnel from a far larger mining chamber. I say “is” because I had to call time at a point when it was unreasonable to play the combat out any further; next game will resume in the middle of the action. The only real quirks are that my goblins are entering the tunnel on the ceiling, 20’ above the ground, and dropping on the players from there, and that my orcs have to contend with their unholy hunger. Said orcish hunger did lead to the death of Percival, the halfling haberdasher and original member of the Company of the Starless Sea, but the shit-priest Sherman Funk currently has plans to try and resurrect the impeccably dressed hobbit as a filth-ridden mockery of his former self, an “unhol-fling” if you will.

I’m racking the brain to try to flavor this up before the next session so that it doesn’t just turn out to be a bunch of linear tunnels and some traditional evil humanoids, and I’ve got a couple ideas I’m solid on, so hopefully there’ll be a little more gonzo Appendix N before this ends.

In Death, Members of Project Murder-Hobo Have a Name: Sepulcher of the Mountain God Play Report

For our last few sessions I’ve been running a slighly modded version of Purple Duck Games‘ module AL2 – Sepulcher of the Mountain God. This post will contain some spoilers for that adventure, so read at your own risk.

After emerging from the underground river that carried them potentially thousands of miles from the small village which had previously been their whole world, the Company of the Starless Sea found themselves in Split River, a booming mining town. It is centered around an ancient and enduring mountain highway built by a forgotten empire; to the north the highway splits and spreads throughout the 1,000 Valleys where it remains the primary means of trade and transit between valleys. Heading south leads to the southern edge of the 1,000 Valleys and beyond that ultimately to Punjar, Tarnished Jewel of the Lorian Sea, where the iron, precious metals, and glow-rock mined in Split River sells for a premium.

Rather than heading to the cheap flophouses littering the edge of the mining sites, the party managed to barter their magic chaos incense censer for two weeks stay at the town’s finest inn, the Obsidian Sage, a many-floored rest stop and bathhouse as old as the highway itself. The name comes from an extremely lifelike black stone sculpture of a man working at a desk that sits on a raised dias in the center of the tavern room. The party acclimated themselves to the surroundings, played to the locals’ fascination with their emergence from the underground river, and began what looks to be regular patronage of Marlborough’s House of Enigmas. In said shop, Percival the halfling haberdasher managed to secure the purchase of 4 doses of giant centipede venom, a mild toxin with a severe impact on those it affects — complete and permanent amnesia.

They also picked up on some local rumors and gossip and decided that their next excursion would be to the recently uncovered tomb doors on one of the mining paths above town. Being a but smaller in number, they elected to hire local drunkard and miner Marcus Hayes as a guide and torch-bearer. Shifty Jack quickly dubbed the hireling “Roger” and the rest of the party followed suite, despite Marcus’s protestations.

After a two hour hike up a mining trail, the party reached the doors to the tomb, only to discover that three like-minded folk had beat them to the punch. These others hadn’t noticed them, though, so the party stayed in hiding to watch the rivals’ efforts to open the doors — efforts that ended with all three of them crushed between two horizontal stone columns that shot out from the surrounding rock like pistons. Now aware of the exact threat, Shakey Dog Buchanen (resident thief) proceeded to examine the entrance. During his 30 minute attempt to gain safe entry, the trap was triggered once but he managed to narrowly avoid doom.

Once the threat of the door was disabled, the party crowbarred the heavy stone doors partially open and proceeded into the darkness beyond. The encounter with the barbarian zombies was a tough one, with both halflings ending up on death’s door. Percival was saved through great effort at filthy, filthy healing by Sherman Funk, former gong farmer and cleric of Nimulrun. Ippie Skabipillie, halfling chicken butcher, was not so lucky and met his end that day.

They found the path through the stalagmites and stalactites on the southern wall of the cavern and came to the shrine of Ee-Rah and the great hall beyond. Sherman Funk swiftly proceeded to “sanctify” the ritual bowl from the shrine with excrement and then put it in his sack of night soil to be used as a scoop. Olaf the Oaf, strong and dim-witted mendicant, picked up the heavy stone idol of Ee-Rah and hid it in a nook of the cavern for later retrieval.

Next, they passed through an open set of double doors painted with what appeared to be very old dried blood. Then came a closed set of engraved bronze double doors, which Shakey Dog examined, went to open, and got splattered by as they slammed forward, being as it was actually a single spring loaded plate hiding the actual wooden doors that led forward.

At that point, Alex being short any player characters, he decided to roll up Marcus/Roger as a 0-level to play. Marcus had already been sketched as a somewhat despondent drunk, so Alex immediately started playing him as someone very unsure about continuing in light of what he had seen thus far, thinking it was about time to get back to the tavern since his flask had run dry. That’s when Percival said, “Here, drink this,” and Marcus took a swig of the giant centipede poison.

“There, aren’t you feeling better now?”

“Huh …”

“Roger, are you feeling better? Nasty bump on the head but that drink should clear you right up.”

“Wha … what? Who? Where am I? Who are you people?”

“Oh, still a bit groggy. It’ll be fine though. We’re your friends. Your name is Roger, and you love to open doors.”

“R … Really? I don’t know … Why are we in this dark tunnel? Where the hell am I?”

“You are with friends, and you were just about to open these doors right here. It’s really your life’s purpose, door opening.”

“No. No! Where is this crazy place?! Who are you crazy people?! Who am I?! AHHHHH!!!!”

At which point Marcus/Roger bolted up, opened the door after all, and ran straight forward screaming at the top of his lungs.

On the other side of the door was a long room full of columns and leading toward a throne on which a giant skeleton sat, sans skull. Above the skeleton was a huge carving of the face of Ee-Rah, the barbarian mountain god. And in sconces on four of the columns were large animated stone servant of the mountain god.

Marcus/Roger just kept running and screaming while the rest of the party tried to figure out how to handle the large animated statues moving to attack. Eventually he started pounding on the wall looking for a way out, which opened up a secret door, which he also proceeded to run through screaming. Very shortly thereafter he ran over a trip wire, causing a significant portion of rock to fall from the ceiling and bringing his running and screaming days to a very definite end.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party had to dispatch four large, angry statues, and then deal with the wrathful visage of the Mountain God himself, he insisted he could destroy them but would instead demand restitution. If they could recover the skull of Veyache, the champion on the the throne, from the servants of the mire-god Gelhidres who dwelt below, he would let them go on their way.

Good times.

The Ace of 3d4 Goblins: Playing Card-Based Random Encounters for Dungeons, Part 2

So you’ve decided to use playing cards instead of dice to determine random encounters in your dungeon. The next step is to create an encounter table that corresponds to your cards, so that a single draw not only tells you that there is an encounter, but it also tells you what is encountered.

Going with six cards corresponding to encounters but assuming that you don’t have an easy way to distinguish between Jokers, you’ve got 5 spots to fill. That’s not as much variety as you see on a typical dungeon encounter chart, so that’s a tradeoff — but maybe not all that much of a tradeoff.

Thanks AnyDice

There are all sorts of dungeon encounter tables out there using all sorts of dice, but I’m going to state with no supporting evidence whatsoever that 2d6 tables are a fairly common option. Looking at the distribution of 2d6, the five most common results (5-9) will come up 66.7% of the time, so you’d end up with one of those five results well more than half the time anyway.

At this point, it’s just a simple matter of filling out the encounters, remembering that the Joker encounter can come up twice. A simple first-level dungeon might look something like this:

  • Joker — 4d4 kobolds
  • Jack/Spades — 1d3 giant spiders
  • Queen/Spades — 2d4 orcs
  • King/Spades — 2d4 skeletons
  • Ace/Spades — 3d4 goblins

Personally I’d add a little “dungeon dressing” to the mix, but I would assign that to a different suit. It increases the overall chance that something is encountered, but  it doesn’t cut into the odds of running into a standard wandering monster. If the PCs keep revisiting the same dungeon level and the same dressing result keeps coming up, it’s clearly an adventure hook waiting to happen.

  • Jack/Clubs — Whispering voices seem to come from the shadows
  • Queen/Clubs — The low rumbling of earth shifting is heard overhead
  • King/Clubs — A wailing spirit appears but ignores the PCs
  • Ace/Clubs — The temperature drops suddenly, forming frost on stone and metal

You can also use this method to incorporate special hazards/effects that can potentially occur after a certain amount of time. To riff on one of my dungeon dressing effects from above, PCs exploring a mine could be risking a cave-in. You could note that for every Diamond face/ace drawn, the PCs hear rumbling and you make a mark in your notes. When the fourth Diamond comes out, a cave-in occurs around the PCs.

Finally, if you want to spice things up with an encounter that’s really tough for that dungeon level, such as an ogre in an otherwise 1st-level dungeon, it’s important to remember that encounter must always correspond to the ace of spades.

And Don’t Forget the Joker: Playing Card-Based Random Encounters for Dungeons

HeroQuest Wandering MonsterI’ve previously posted about methods using playing cards for wilderness and night travel hazards; now I’m going to take a look at using the same method for the most classic hazards of all — dungeon random encounters. There’s going to be a tiny bit of math in this post, which is to say there will be numbers, which is likely far more intimidating to me than it is to you.

First, let’s get a baseline for how common dungeon random encounters are using traditional dice-based methods. DCC RPG doesn’t provide any rules that cover this, so let’s assume the tried-and-true standard from Labyrinth Lord (i.e., B/X): For every two turns elapsed, the DM rolls 1d6 and an encounter occurs on a 1. This works out roughly to a 16.7% chance of an encounter per two turns, or roughly 8.4% per turn.

When looking at the probabilities of the cards, I’m going to assume 54 cards in the deck (Jokers left in), since that’s what I’m using for wilderness hazards. Ideally I’d like to draw a card every turn rather than every other turn; it just seems simpler to me. Check off a box for light sources, draw a card and check for encounters. Also, I don’t intend to reshuffle the deck until the PCs leave the dungeon. This means going through the full deck equates to 9 in-game hours spent dungeoneering, which makes for a really convenient way to know when the party is starting to need serious rest.

The chance of drawing any one card from a 54 card deck is 1.85%, therefore the closest results I can get to the 8.4% chance provided by the d6 are 7.4% if four cards generate encounters or 9.3% if five cards generate encounters. Of those two, I would lean toward the four-card option for simplicity sake — a face card or ace from a single suit corresponds to an encounter. Easy.

But I’m not going with either of those options. Instead, I am going to say that, at the very least, a face card or ace from a single suit and the two Jokers correspond to encounters.  This ups the chance per turn to 11.2%, an increased likelihood of 33%. Besides just wanting to beat up my players, why am I doing this? I am doing it because under the card method the chance of further random encounters changes as one draws the cards that correspond to encounters.

Using the d6 method, the odds of a random encounter on any given two turn sequence never increases or decreases. Using the card method, however, if two of the six encounter cards come out on the first two turns of exploration, then the chance of an encounter on the subsequent turn has dropped to from 11% to 7.7%. The statistical pendulum can also swing the other way, of course; if the PCs have still only faced two of the six encounters 20 turns into dungeon exploration, the chance of a random encounter on turn 21 has increased to 11.8%. If they get all the way to turn 40 and luckily manage to avoid any further random encounter beyond those first two? The chance of a random encounter on turn 41 is 28.6%.

This is one of the things I love about the card method: Given enough time exploring the dungeon, the number of random encounters is both finite and inevitable. There are only so many beasties that are wandering a given level of the dungeon at a time, but hang around down there long enough and no matter how careful you are, you’ll eventually attract their attention.

Next time I’ll look at another reason I like the card method — the same card that determines there is an encounter can also determine what is encountered.

Sailors on the Starless Sea Play Report, Part 3

This weekend my funnel party reconvened to tackle the final portion of Sailors on the Starless Sea (the previous two reports can be found here and here). We got a slightly late start owing to the effects of St. Patrick’s Day weekend on a Sunday morning — thanks, Gloucester City pub crawl! It actually worked out well, though: There was enough time to finish the module, do some “back in town” orientation and equipment buying, and have the party pick up on a thread for their next adventure.


At the end of our last session, the party just reached the far shore of the Starless Sea and leveled the surviving characters into actual 1st-level adventurers. At this point, the party consisted of:

  • Joey Diamonds and Shifty Jack — Warriors
  • Ippie and Percival — Halflings
  • Shakey Dog Buchanen — Thief
  • Sherman Funk — Cleric of Nimulrun, God of Filth (former gong farmer)

I started the session reestablishing the scene of the ziggurat covered by dozens of beastmen in a religious frenzy along with the PC’s countrymen being led to the slaughter. There were maybe five seconds of silence before they immediately responded that they were putting on the Chaos Priest robes (“Sherman Funk is never taking them off.”) and pulling the old wookiee-prisoner routine. Rather than four humans donning the robes, however, they opted for one human prisoner and one priest’s robe filled by a halfling standing on the shoulders of another halfling. The two halflings made out well enough on Agility and Strength checks to pull it off all the way to the top of the ziggurat, where the party encountered the beastmen acolytes and three prisoners ready to be sacrificed.

The PC’s launched their attack during the surprise round as the next sacrifice was thrown into the flames. They made short work of the standard beastmen and faired pretty well against the acolytes, though they didn’t manage to stop the shaman from pitching the effigy of Molan into the fire … not that it mattered much. The animated effigy of the Chaos Lord rolled terribly. He literally didn’t hit once! Right after he emerged from the pit, Shifty Jack stabbed at his flaming eye and succeeded on a blinding deed. Then Shakey Dog snuck back down the ramp a short way to climb back up the side of the ziggurat; the thief managed to sneak his way up behind the Chaos Lord and land a backstab. On the subsequent round the two halflings and the cleric joined to drop Molan before the rest of the beastmen could reach the top, while Joey Diamond kept the shaman occupied.

The next round, Shakey Dog was the sucker who grabbed for the armor and flail. He got slammed by the emerging magma monster, though I ruled that he was not quite burned beyond a shot at a Recover the Body roll (pretty damn generous of me in hindsight).

It was only once the magma monster emerged that the players started chucking the flaming skulls, but given the combo of successfully using deed dice to aim for precise parts  of the magma’s form and highly damaging crits rolled on the skull tossing, I ended up shaving a round off of the monster’s lifespan. During which it mostly just wildly gesticulated and melted as it tried to maintain it’s form in the face of the magic used against it.

All the while, Shifty Jack had taken to defending the top of the ramp from the onslaught of beastmen, cowing them back with deeds used to swing his torch in a wide, intimidating arc while keeping them in sight of the rest party *ahem* “KILLING YOUR FUCKING GOD!!!”

Percival ran over to the body of Shakey Dog and proceeded to repeatedly slap him in the face whilst shouting “Wake up! We’re winning!” Shakey pulled off the Luck roll and lost a point of Agility for his troubles — but really, with a name like Shakey Dog he totally should have a limp.

Once the cavern started crumbling, the beastmen began to panic and flee, some crushed by rocks and others heading for the dragon-ship. The PCs proceeded to scoop up coins as well as finally free the two remaining sacrificial villagers, whom they then instructed to also scoop up coins. When I secretly rolled to see how many rounds they had before this whole thing collapsed on top of them, they got the maximum 8 rounds. So they managed to be very greedy and also fight their way back to the dragon-ship in time.

The end of the adventure leaves the ultimate destiny of the PCs in the judge’s hands; I knew I didn’t want them to go back to the small village they hailed from, but I did want them to choose their own course of action. I settled on the idea that the ship would ultimately take them to a town far away from their home and extended the final paragraph of block text from the module:

The towering wave propels you with terrifying speed towards the distant carven wall! Ahead, through a sea of towering whitecaps and the debris of falling boulders you spy the mouth of a narrow cave! The dragon-prowed ship rides down the crest of the giant wave and shoots into the rocky maw, the howling surf crashing all around you!

The ship rocks and lists wildly as the torrent carries it ever deeper into the pitch black earth. Desperately clinging to the boat and each other, all sense of time and space are lost as you speed forward. Eventually, though none can say how long, the travel of the ship calms and thin beams of light pierce the blackness from the high cavern ceiling.

Hours pass with the infrequent and dimming light showing no shore or alcove to offer respite, and the forward current still too strong to push against. Moving ever onward in the dark, you hold to wakingness to the point of exhaustion until you collapse, to the point of dehydration until you dare reach overboard to cup the still driving water in your hands. Have you been sailing for hours, for days? Has the sun ceased to be? Have you sailed across this starless sea to some wretched pit of hell?

At last, as even the strongest willed among you begin to feel your grip on reality rapidly loosen, a light appears ahead, at first like a guiding star in the impossible distance and then exploding in size, a blinding maw of white expanding to consume all of your being.

A thousand daggers stab your eyes as the ship emerges into the full light of day, pulling you through a chasm surrounded by towering mountains on both sides. The ship groans and cracks as the ancient wood is assaulted by the sun for the first time in countless generations. Before long, you are riding noticeably lower and water begins to seep up around your feet.

As you feel the boards pulling apart, in the blink of an eye the crumbling rock walls around you have opened wide and given way to carved towers and thatched roofs — the river has taken you right into the heart of a mountain city! Men and dwarves alike stop their business and gaze in wonder as you sail through their midst on this river that emerges from the depths of the earth. Several folk spring to action upon seeing your plight, as the ship is now barely held together above water. They throw a heavy rope your way, allowing you pull yourselves onto the canal banks, the last of you just barely holding on as the dragon-ship at last disintegrates away into the water below.

I said it in the intro to my first play report, and I’ll say it again: This adventure is a classic. This was one of the most purely fun campaign kickoffs I’ve ever experienced, and I can’t wait to see where these devious murderhobos go from here.

Saturday Morning Maps: Caves of Yth


I may be taking a respite from trying to post a map every week; I missed last week because I didn’t have time to get anything drawn and a break would give me some time to build up a reserve on those weeks I do have time. I don’t have a big back-catalog of maps to use because of several purges of my notes I’ve conducted over the years in the interest of reducing clutter. The current game, so far, is leaning toward me running pre-published modules, which fits well with the life/work schedule, but doesn’t provide me a lot of reason to be drawing maps for myself (besides the sheer enjoyment I derive from it, which is considerable).

So let’s call this the potential beginning of an indefinitely long hiatus on committing to posting one of these every week (but there may still be some weeks I do). How’s that for noncommittal?

Saturday Morning Maps: The Gate Seeker’s Cave

Click it to big it.
Click it to big it.

A quick and simple one this week — the icons are not necessarily intended to be to scale, and there’s really not much to the map itself. Maybe an inspiration piece for something I can spend more time on later?