Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Map: New Campaign World Hexmap (draft)

Okay, so I'm working on my new campaign world.  I decided early on that one thing I needed to get down early in the process was the world map.  Once I got to the point where I was detailing the historical events of the inhabitants geography would have to play a big part.  I tried doing it in Campaign Cartographer 2 but found that drawing continents was just too fiddly and frustrating.  Then I bought Hexographer to try out.  Hex maps are pretty crude but I think of Hexographer as a sort of rapid prototyping tool good for slapping down terrain quickly.

The world for my setting is a divinely-created flat world with a sky dome over it.  It floats amidst the roiling elemental chaos and thus needs something to hold it together.  That something is a set of five elemental nodes, one for each of the five elements (earth, fire, wood, metal, and water).  Water (cold) is in the north, wood in the east, earth in the center, metal in the west, and fire in the south.  These nodes influence the weather, terrain, and flora & fauna in their area of the world.

Note the different water depths, which go from shallower in the south to deeper in the north.  The northern continent is really just a huge ice mass.  Naturally there are miles of tunnels and caves down in there.  Also, see the ice island over on the west?  I plan to have a huge iceberg perpetually circling it on currents.  Carved into it is an ice city inhabited by the descendants of the followers of an exiled dwarf who tried to crown himself emperor.  Due to the magical basis of the island having formed around something in the first place, the dwarves there are all now creatures of elemental cold.  The cold preserves them in a sort of immortality--as long as they stay on the iceberg.

World Hex Map

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Angels and Demons: Brought Up Evil

Okay, so for my new campaign setting I've included a period of fairly ancient history called the War of Angels and Demons.  During this period of (probably) a couple centuries two groups of powerful beings fought a war over the world.  The Demons sought to destroy life and beauty but also to take control and build war bases.  The Angels came, at first, to thwart the war aims of the Demons but soon took on the task of preserving the life and beauty threatened by the Demons.  In reality both the "Angels" and "Demons" were composed of several allied factions.  After the portals to this world were sealed by the Conclaves of Yin and Yang, the two sides could no longer call for allies and reinforcements.  As the constant warfare wore down their numbers the combatants became more cautious in risking battle.

Today the factions of the Angels and Demons are pantheons of deities reigning over the various areas of the world they controlled when divine warfare ceased.  This means that there are still on-going wars of religion, tensions even between some factions of Angels, and areas ruled by one or more evil "Demon" deities.  For my game I'm going with the concept that deities seek worship by mortals because worship transfers psychic energies to the deities worshipped.  Thus even evil deities seek to amass mortal followers in order to increase their power.  So in the areas held by the Demon deities and pantheons mortals are brought up to worship and sacrifice to their Demon gods and goddesses.  Even in Angel areas individuals and small groups will direct worship to Demon deities in the hopes of being granted powers and given other favors.

So in regions controlled by Demon deities, a capital city might contain an impressive temple looking something like this (thanks to Monsieur Philippe Drouillet):

Monday, January 28, 2013

Maybe Wishes Do Come True: ROBOTECH Movie and Miniatures!

Okay, so occasionally I head over to ICv2 which has news on gaming, movies, etc.  Ever so often there is a minor tidbit of interest--but not this time.  Oh, no my friends, not this time.  As I have let slip in earlier posts I am a mecha fan, and a Robotech fan in particular.  So what to my wondering eyes doth appear but:

Warner Bros. Names Director for 'Robotech': "Warner Bros. has been developing a big screen, live-action adaptation of Robotech since 2007."


Robotech RPG Tactics: Defense of Macross Island:   "This deluxe box set game contains dozens of mecha such as Veritech Fighters and Destroids."  Yup, gonna be buying me one of them as soon as possible.

So, yeah, that rocks. <smiles serenely>

How I Do Criticals for Pathfinder (or D&D)

Okay, so when I got back into RPGs in the early 2000s I bought D&D 3rd Edition because it was the "current" version and because the details in the reviews I read all sounded pretty good.  After I bought it and gave it a proper read I was not at all happy with the way critical hits were handled.  Granted, they were at least putting some thought into it instead of just making it double damage on a natural 20.  But all they really did is make it a lot more fiddly and complicated, which is not what you want with combat mechanics (because combat should be fast) and played into the hands of min-maxer types.

The problem with the original idea of double damage on a critical hit is that if the damage roll is low the "critical" hit could do less damage than a normal hit.  For instance if your regular damage is 1d8+1, then if you roll a 1 for damage your big, scary critical is just 3 points.  So I decided that critical damage should be seriously dangerous, but that the procedure should be simple.

After some research and experimentation I decided that I would scrap the 3E/Pathfinder approach and run it like this:
- critical hits only occur on a straight natural 20 on the d20
- damage is full damage plus a regular damage roll.  Example: if regular damage would be 1d8+1, then a critical hit would do 9 + (1d8+1) points of damage.

That's simple and effective.

I also allow players the option of rolling a hit location die (the kind with the hit location actually on the die--no charts needed).  Then I add some extra effect based on the location.  A head crit can result in stunning, being knocked unconscious, or possibly instant death.  A leg hit might knock the victim down or make that leg useless until healed.  I prefer to  improvise these extra effects based on the situation and on "what would be cool" rather than use charts or cards.  It seems to me that charts and cards often give results inappropriate to the situation and then we have to fudge things to make the crit result fit.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Map: Port Zarasa

Okay, so this is the full map from which the Desert Scholar's House map was taken.  I originally put it together for a murder mystery adventure set in the desert land of Osirion in Pathfinder's Golarion campaign setting.  Later I renamed it Port Zarasa to change the location, although I then realized that the new location wasn't a desert region anyway.  This map was made with Campaign Cartographer 2.

Map of Port Zarasa

Map of Port Zarasa

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Campaign: Gotham Knights

Okay, so this post is a cameo appearance by my good friend and fellow gamer Bill.  A while back he presented us with a very cool campaign teaser.  The game is based on the Batman series wherein the PCs are orphans raised by Bruce and Selena Wayne, now returned to avenge their deaths and rescue Gotham.  There are notes at the end about character creation for the campaign (we're actually using the new Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition); I'm going to present my character in a future post.


Lightning flashed across the sky, briefly illuminating Gotham cemetery. There was no roar of thunder, though, as if the heavens knew the noise would be unwelcome to the throng of visitors to this solemn place. The rain had not let up for the past three weeks, nor had it increased. It was a steady downpour, as if the city wept for the lives now being remembered. Lives extinguished in a flash of fire. Commissioner James Gordon stood with many others, umbrella in hand, sheltering those nearest the coffins. Though it was years ago, Gordon vividly recalled a similar event with the same devastating consequences. Though these lives were taken in a fiery crash, rather than a mugging, it still left the city in a state of shock and turmoil.

Gordon glanced down the line of chairs before him, three rows of five, all but seven filled by those in their late teens, early twenties. The 'children' of the deceased. Their eyes looked lost, hollow, much like those of a younger child so long ago. Another flash of lightning illuminated a high hill out of the corner of his eye, throwing jagged shadows of the other seven huddled close together near a mausoleum. They had refused to join their 'siblings', their silence shouting a denial of everything. The fact that their 'parents' had died of an accident. That 'pilot error' was blamed on the crash of the private plane. They hadn't listened to the evidence, refused the insurance investigation, and scoffed at the final report. Denial, Jim knew, was hard to overcome.

He turned to the priest, Father O'Riely, as he wound down his benediction. Two city officials stepped up the cranks and began to slowly lower the coffins into the their graves as the line of mourners took their turns in dropping flowers on them. Gordon looked up into the rain, wondering if he'd ever feel warm again. While the name lived on a city's most notable bloodline had just ended. Gordon turned to Bullock, grinning at the dress blues he had pulled from somewhere, and nodded. With crisp commands the sergeant ordered the twenty-one gun salute, the crack of the rifles causing the family members closest by to shudder. After the third volley the rifles were lowered and the officers marched away, leaving Gordon alone with the eight children. One by one the children, last of the mourners, stood and dropped their flowers into the grave then strode away to the waiting limo.

Gordon hunched closer into his overcoat and shoved his hands into his pocket. He stood there while the last of the children came down the hill to the grave. They said nothing, simply stared into the pit where their parents had been lain for several minutes. Then, one by one, they dropped a flower into the grave - and, Gordon noticed, a drop of blood as well. They turned, then, and left, still without saying a word, and made their way to join the others. Gordon felt a small chill go through him and the wind rustled his coat. He watched the limo pull away with the other vehicles, surrounded by a police escort. The report has said that the crash was indeed an accident, however the escort made Gordon feel better. With a small sigh the Commissioner took one last look at the statues that marked the graves, and the plaque that went with them:

Here lie Bruce and Selina Wayne
Taken from us at a young age
May God comfort them in their new lives

Gordon wondered if God was still watching over Gotham. Another flash of lightning lit the cemetery as the caretakers began covering the graves.

This time thunder pealed in its wake.

* * * * *

You were the last ones to be summoned into the living room, having been asked by Prudence to wait in the reception room until you were called. Running hands idly along familiar furniture, you reminisced about the time you spent in this mansion. About the couple that took you into their lives and off of the streets, or out of the shelters. They were lively, fun, and - admittedly - a little enigmatic. However, there was always Alfred, who was surrogate father - or grand-father, butler, confidant, and all around presence. It was a sad day when you left, though a happy day too. You left to make something more of the life that the Waynes had given you, with promises of visits during the holidays and birthdays (which you may or may not have kept). It was a long wait, but soon Prudence entered the room.

Prudence, too, had been one of those taken in by the Waynes; however, instead of latching onto Bruce or Selina, she had found a comfortable place at Alfred's side and it wasn't shocking to find out that she had stayed on as his helper. She actually looked rather stately in her skirt-suit as she led you through the foyer into the living room. Their stood Alfred, looking far older than he had any right to be. The butler had seemed so full of British vigor and propriety, but now he looked worn - tired. As you entered and sat Prudence closed and locked the doors then returned to Alfred's side and waited.

"Forgive me, Masters and Misses." he began after a small silence. "Please forgive this old gentleman's gentleman his lack of proper propriety in this affair; however, I must admit to my emotions tangling up my decorum."

Clearing his throat, the butler took a deep breath before continuing.

"Now, onto matters. I have been instructed by Master and Missus Wayne's will to offer you a choice on the matter of your inheritance." Alfred said. He pulled seven envelopes from his jacket and laid them on the coffee table.

"Your parents have left you a tidy sum in trust for this day. At present accounting, even with the recent decline of the market, your holdings in this trust top the tens-of-millions. Each of you may take the envelope with your name upon them and depart."

"Or, you may accept a far riskier, and I dare say dangerous, endeavor. One that would make you the full heirs to the Wayne dynasty. However, before you accept the latter, I must inform you that if you chose it there is no guarantee that you will not become paupers down the road."

Alfred leveled his most penetrating gaze at you, judging your thoughts. After a few moments of no-one reaching for envelopes, he smiled albeit sadly.

"Of course. Master Bruce and Missus Selina were always shrewd judges of character. So be it." he said, nodding and picking up the envelopes. "Follow me."

With that the butler placed the envelopes into his jacket pocket then turned and led you to a grandfather clock. He turned the hands of the clock to 4:20 and pulled on one of the pendulums. You were shocked to see the clock swing open on a secret hinge and watch Alfred disappear into the passage beyond. Prudence gestured for you to precede her and, with nothing else to do, you followed...

... into the most shocking discovery of your lives. You followed Alfred through the passage and down the stairs. You followed across the bridge spanning the large lake below - and the myriad of ocean vessels there. You followed past an armored motorcycle and a car that would never be forgotten. You followed, past the hanger of an easily recognizable aircraft. You followed Alfred into the greatest secret in Gotham. You followed him...

... into the BATCAVE.

Alfred stood before a massive computer, currently off. He had turned on the lights to allow you to see the cave in its full splendor and waited patiently for you to absorb this. When you finally turned to him he wore a smile that was both happy and sad. He swept his hand to encompass everything.

"Welcome, to your legacy." he stated simply. Alfred and Prudence gave you a few moments of silence to take it all in. Bruce and Selina Wayne had been the Batman and the Huntress, Gotham's night protectors. It was too unreal, too unimaginable.

"I assure you, masters and misses, this is quite real." Alfred said, as if reading your thoughts. "The Waynes were very generous people - with their time, their money, and... well, and their blood."

Prudence laid a hand on Alfred's shoulder as the British gentleman choked out the last words.

"Forgive me, again. This computer has the last entry of Bruce Wayne... of the Batman, before the 'accident' took his life. Please, listen to it before you make any decisions on what you will do."

Alfred took a ragged breath then closed his eyes.

"I am afraid that I am far too old to become embroiled in the affairs of vigilantism and vengeance again. I have buried two sets of employers, both as dear to me as family. I have no wish to bury a third set." Alfred's eyes were sad, tired. Far sadder and tired than any of you had ever seen before. The elderly gentleman's gentleman bobbed his head once then turned, laying a gentle hand on Prudence's shoulder. After exchanging a small smile with her he made his way back into the mansion. Prudence watched him then turned to the rest of you. Holding herself with an air of crisp dignity and purpose, she walked over to the computer and switched it on. There was a small whine and hum as the large screen powered up and lights appeared on the console. The computer completed its diagnostics with a beep and suddenly the bat-symbol appeared on the screen.

"Entry: last."

The words emitted from the giant speakers at the side of the computer and the voice of the Batman was unmistakable.

"I finally found Selina. She was at the docks, warehouse thirteen."

Batman's voice sound pained and he often stopped mid-sentence. His labored breathing could be heard even through the recording.

"What they had done to her... God, what they had done to her..."

There was more pain in his voice this time, pain which ripped through the souls of those listening. You could imagine a tear-stained Bruce Wayne standing over the console, grieving.

"They had tortured her, perhaps for days. It had been over a week since she'd disappeared, and the GPS signal from her costume was not transmitting. Ironically, or sadistically, they had left her mask in place."

There was a fit of coughing before the recording continued.

"I knew it was trap but I couldn't leave her there. The bomb exploded just as I reached the doors, throwing us both into the river. I was barely able to make it back to the cave. Alfred and Prudence did what they could but there was just too much damage. The police had found evidence of both the Batman and Huntress being at the explosion. I couldn't risk going to a hospital and there was no doctor I could trust. I have to protect the secret, have to hold on long enough to do that."

"To our children, who should be hearing this, I ask one thing of you: find out who murdered your mother and bring them to justice. Everything that I have owned is now yours, make use of it. I understand well the drive of vengeance so I warn you to never let it rule you - you must rule it. Once you have found your mother's murderer, I will leave the fate of this place, and the city, to you. Gotham will need a new set of protectors - I hope that you will rise to challenge."

"Good-bye, my children."

The recording ends and Prudence looks to you with a raised eyebrow.


This is the main teaser for the DC: Universe campaign/adventure. If you're interested in playing then please read-on.

The campaign will be based out of Gotham city however anyone that has been following the Batman comic will need to note there are several changes in this continuum.

First, there have never been any super powered individuals seen in this universe. That isn't to say that there aren't any heroes, just that none of the heroes have inherent super abilities. There's no Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, or Martian Manhunter.

Second, no supreme races have shown up to bestow upon normal humans any superhuman abilities. So, Green Lantern does not exists nor does Starman.

What this means is that all of the heroes that have appeared have been normal human beings with either exceptional training, backing, and/or intelligence. So your character concepts will be limited to mechanical augmentation, training, or gimickers. Also, while there will be the requisite action, and a bit of detective work (don't worry, I'll be taking into consideration that you all are not your characters :) ), I want this campaign to be more character driven. I'm not looking for Angst-ville but some drive behind the characters would be nice. :)

Another note is that the destruction of Gotham has not happened - the city is fine. And by 'fine' I mean that it's still standing. For now. :)

If I haven't driven you off yet then please send me a character concept that we can discuss (don't reply to all unless you'd like everyone to know about your characters). Here's some background information for you:

1. All of the characters were adopted by the Waynes - Selina and Bruce never had any natural children. The characters were adopted at a minimum age of six to a maximum of twelve, and they were adopted as much from off of the street as they were from orphanages.

2. All of the characters left Wayne manor between the ages of seventeen and twenty. No one hung around the house looking for hand-outs or anything. All of your characters have some sort of drive behind them (none are slack-abouts).

3. During your time at the Wayne manor one of the parents saw to the physical fitness of your character. Selina Wayne primarily trained the girls while Bruce trained both (note: this comes into play for skills that your character may have picked up during their time at the manor).

4. Only one child was trained by Alfred and that is Prudence.

5. Using Prudence as a baseline, she was adopted by the Waynes fifteen years ago, at age five. I'll use the present year as the year of the Wayne's death, so Prudence was born in 1992 and she hasn't had her birthday yet (thus making her 19 and not 20). Your characters should be no older than 25 and no younger than 18.

Right now don't worry about the mechanics of your characters - just give me a concept we can discuss (as I seem to have the only book right now).

One more note: I would like to see characters that have a main theme for their powers. What I mean by that is this: most beginning heroes go one of two methods when they think up their powers: attack or defense.

Batman, for all of his gadgets and such, is primarily attack - remove them before they can come at you.
Captain America is mainly defense - use the shield to gain as much of an advantage before committing.
Iron Man (at the start) - defense: protect myself so I have more time to respond.

So I'd like you to think about your character first in that respect: do they attack or defend. I'm not going to accept any character that has major power in both without some major limitations.

Map: Desert Scholar's House

Okay, so here's another map I did up but this time with Campaign Cartographer 2 (CC2).  This one's an older one I dug out of my folders.  It was part of a small desert town I did up in CC2 a couple years ago.  I'm going to see if I can get the entire town to load up so I can post it.  I found that CC2 had a tendency to ruin map projects by either crashing or failing to save changes.  I took to always keeping two copies of every map as I was working on them just in case.  Even then I was always a bit nervous opening a file in case it got corrupted.

The Desert Scholar's House by the River

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Map: Tomb Temple of the Handfasted Wizards

Okay, so I've decided to do a rather more ambitious map than the one I did for Secret Santicore and an earlier small one.  I've done a larger map than before and experimented with some new techniques.  I drew the map on 0.25 inch blue-lined graph paper, scanned it in with the scanner's sepia tone setting, then added the spraypaint shading in Paint.  Simple techniques but a decent result.  The story I whipped up for it uses deities from the Forgotten Realms/Faerun campaign setting.

Tomb Temple of the Handfasted Mages

Long ago the wizard Geldross and the wizardess Emeniana fell deeply in love.  Their romance began when they were studying magic at the same school and remained strong right until the end.  Not being inclined towards most religions they joined their lives together in a traditional handfasting ceremony rather than a religious rite.  Later in life they settled down in the small town of Aplennburg high in the mountains.  By then they were powerful wizards and had several loyal followers who were themselves very accomplished.  The pair soon came to be the de facto rulers of Alpennburg and the surrounding valleys.  The people looked to them for protection and advice for both were adept in magic and studied many other sorts of lore and knowledge besides.  The lovers gradually took up the worship of Mystra, Azuth, and Savras, these being the deities most closely associated with lore and magic, and built a combined temple to all three deities in the town.  The temple had with it a school for local children and a small library to spread knowledge.

Eventually they grew old and used their magic to build themselves a tomb in secluded mountain dell.  The tomb was designed with a crypt for each of them and shrines to the three deities of knowledge and magic.  The location was revealed only to their closest followers.  At last the two died, the first of old age and the second soon after of grief and despair.  Their followers used magic items prepared ahead of time to secretly convey the bodies to the tomb, activate certain magics, and seal the entrance.  The followers then took over ruling the town and neighboring valleys, calling the small territory the Mountain Magehold.  Due to its secluded location the tomb remained undiscovered for many long years.

The Map

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The All-Elf Campaign?

Okay, so a little while ago I threw out some thoughts about doing an all-dwarf campaign.  Part of the idea of this was from the way Old School Hack, the original D&D, and similar games treat dwarves, elves, and halflings as classes rather than races.  It's an interesting design idea, making the non-human races classes, but personally I find it limits player choice way too much.  But anyway, jumping off from the idea of the all-dwarf campaign I thought I'd do a companion article on an all-elf campaign.

My impression is that the only real all-elf campaigns out there are drow ones.  Even though elves are popular as a player class I've noticed that there are a lot of elf haters out there as well.  That makes it tough to do an all-elf game (probably as tough as an all-dwarf game).  If you're planning a D&D-ish setting then you have to decide whether all the elves have to be from the same sub-type:

Eladrin (cosmopolitan "civilized" urban types)
Wood Elves (classic woodsy Robin Hood with pointy ears types)
Wild Elves (Xtreme Wood Elves, more mysterious and savage)

...or whether to have members from all of these groups thrown together.  Given the difficulty of getting an all-elf game off the ground in the first place it's probably better to let players play any sort of elf they want.  Plus that way you give players more choice (a biggie for me) and get more interesting combinations of characters in the party.

In the spirit of the all-dwarf campaign, only elves can have separate classes.  All other races (human, halfling, and dwarf) are race-as-class.  So using the classes in Pathfinder I'd go with:

Archer (Fighter, but must be bow-focused)


Monday, January 21, 2013

Urbancrawl Rules for Slacker DMs: Chinese Takeout Style

Okay, so I occasionally drop by Zak S.'s blog "Playing D&D With Porn Stars" to see what he's got going on.  Zak is a weirdo--in a good way (I think).  He comes up with almost surreal ideas.  Some I don't really like, some I don't really understand, but some are really brilliant.  (This post is about one of the brilliant ones, BTW)

Today I stumbled on a very old post of his called Urbancrawl Rules for Slacker DMs.  Sometimes RPG blogs have really interesting posts (hint, hint), but I digress.  Anyway the Urbancrawl Rules are a way to run an urban sandbox "hex crawl" without any real prep other than the cool map which is not exactly a map.  He starts by spelling out the numbers ONE through TEN in huge letters clustered together and somewhat distorted on a page.  The letters are linked and the lines of the letters become the major thoroughfares.  [Check out the pics on his post and you'll see what I mean.]  But the problem is that once you have the city "map" underway, it's still obviously the words for one through ten.  Cool when you first look at it as a concept, and a cool tool for DMs, but I think the final map will look dorky and preschoolish to anyone else.

Ah, but what if you used the Chinese characters for the numbers instead of English words?  Well first let's take a look at those characters:
Hmm, the problem compared with the English words (or most other languages with an alphabet) is that there are far less lines to work with to make streets.  You could just make the characters bigger to fill the space and just say that the lines are huge royal boulevards or canals or something.  But it won't look anywhere as busy and intricate.  Luckily, Chinese has a second, fancier version of each character for use in accounting because they are harder to alter fraudulently:
Ah, much better! Now, Zak seems to like dropping dice on pages or charts to get results.  So I cut some 3x5 index cards in half and drew these accounting style characters on them.  Then I dropped them on a piece of blank paper to get random orientations, rearranged them slightly to link up and glued them onto the paper:

Hmm, not too bad.  Of course to me it still looks like a jumble of Chinese words.  But to someone who doesn't know characters it's probably a random oriental collage art thingy.  Next is to put a piece of tracing paper on top (yes, there are paint programs, but I like hands-on art) and trace and extend the lines, making sure to trace each character in a separate color.

I'll get to that in a later post.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

RPG Blog Carnival January 2013: New Beginnings

Okay, so Kobold Enterprise is hosting the RPG Blog Carnival for this month.  The theme is "new beginnings", with some starter suggestions of:
  • Retcons/New Ages in home brewed or commercial settings.
  • Epiphanies about projects and their new directions.
  • New starts for characters, or even whole campaigns.
  • Insights on the hobby, or aspects of it.
New beginnings is a very interesting topic to me right now, since I'm building a new campaign setting, experimenting with many new games at our Wednesday night group, preparing for the final session of an epic game and thus talking about what's next for that group.  I've already posted about my new campaign and some of our experiences on Wednesday night so I thought I should do something new for the carnival.

So, let's talk about Cressa the Monk.  Back in college I was in an AD&D game run by my friend George.  This was my first exposure to AD&D and my return to the D&D world after my bad experiences with the original masochistic D&D game.  I worried that the game was still the amateurish crap of OD&D, just with artwork done by the author's older, high school brother instead of his younger, middle school brother.  Nevertheless I was attracted to all the different classes available for play in AD&D, as opposed to the very limited opportunities in the Chivalry & Sorcery rules I used.  I decided on a monk, because it was totally unlike anything in C&S and had some cool abilities.  This was Cressa, Monk of Tyche (George used the Greek Pantheon for his game).  We had a great time, with many memorable moments.  Eventually we all graduated and the game became a fond memory.

Fast forward about ten years and I was invited to play in an on-going high level AD&D 2nd Edition game run by Rob.  Since I'd enjoyed playing Cressa (up to 7th level), I thought I'd just convert her to AD&D 2E.  This would be a new beginning for Cressa: new higher level, new magic items, new game world.  Well, this was my first time jumping into a high level game and I really didn't enjoy that aspect of it.  The high level spells, the piles of magic items--it just didn't feel right.  Plus jumping into a long-running campaign was slightly disorienting.  I felt like I'd let Cressa down, sort of like when you convince a friend to take a job and it turns out kind of sucky for them.

So now I'm in another game where I jumped into a long-running D&D 3E campaign, creating a 14th level cleric who is now 19th level.  That campaign has one final epic encounter with the Big Bad Evil Guys and then we'll decide where to go next.  The general consensus is that we'll start something new rather than push on into epic level territory.  So that means a new character.

I was very tempted to once again resurrect Cressa and give her a new beginning.  But I have some other ideas: a male elf boreal Sorcerer, female dwarf hospitaler paladin, male elf fighter (bow), and half-elf human ancestor oracle.  So, yeah, I think I'll leave Cressa where she is rather than forcing another new beginning for her.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Playtest: The World Between for Fictive Hack (2)

Okay, so I ran a one-shot playtest scenario of The World Between for Fictive Hack for my group recently and everyone had a great time with it.  Then my players informed me that it was not, in fact, a one-shot scenario but that there would be another episode--and soon.  Luckily for me the game ended with them in a huge circular crypt dedicated to Father Lothak, god of the sea.  I added in some extra corridors and additional circular crypts, some will-o-the wisp variants, some fish-people who were temporary allies of the druid they'd dealt with last time, and we were off and running.

Our Heroes:
Dan: Dea, a Hunter
Bill: Mereda, an Archer
Kaiser: Kev, a Thief
Mike: Sly, an Assassin [Mike couldn't make this session]
Kirk: Nominie, a Damsel of the Lady

Within a few moments of the dying breath of the druid, the elemental barriers forming the odd maze dedicated to the god Charlak faded away.  As the fire pits dropped to mere embers the room became very, very dark.  The thief quickly lit his bullseye lantern and they surveyed their surroundings carefully.  The lantern offered far too little illumination for the huge cylindrical vault but they noted large bronze crypt portals on the ground floor, smaller stone-sealed individual crypts in rows above, and possibly the opening to a corridor off a balcony on the third level.  Kev, who assured everyone once again that he was an "adventurer, not a thief", suggested looking in the impressive large crypts around the main floor.  They agreed and slowly dragged one of the corroded doors open.

To their horror and hideous amorphous creature (a Babbler, done fish-person style) covered in shining scales, fishy eyes, and gasping mouths poured out of the darkness and moved to engulf them.  The creature's appearance and bizarre babbling cries sent Mereda and Dea fleeing into the darkness.  Kev and Nominie struggled with it briefly before retreating to join their friends.  Kev first tried to put on the druid's magic fire bracers but was unsuccessful.  Kev then attempted to lure it into one of the ember-filled fire trenches but lost his nerve and ran for the entrance as well.  Mereda and Dea headed up the wide corridor leading out but were surprised to not see daylight from the narrow ravine outside.  Reaching the opening they found it blocked with a mass of thick thorn bushes, apparently there due to druidic or fey magic.  The rest of the party joined them and they set to work hacking at it with a pair of small hatchets.  Just as they finished hacking an opening onto the landing beyond the creature emerged from the darkness behind them in pursuit.  In a panic they crossed back over the ravine by hopping across the old stone columns, swinging on vines, and using Kev's rope and grappling hook.  The thing dropped off the ledge behind them and disappeared down into the tangled undergrowth.

They debated doubling back to explore the passage leading off the balcony, but finally decided they'd had enough for one day.  Then Dea noticed the water running past their feet from the long passageway leading back to the seashore.  Looking up it, they saw an ever-increasing flow of water rushing down at them--clearly the tide was coming in!  They then remembered that the outermost portal was set down near the low tide mark on the narrow rocky beach.  They then realized that the entire place might fill up at high tide.  They again debated going back and climbing up to the balcony but decided that the risk of being trapped and drowned was too great.  The incoming water was up to their thighs as they struggled against each wave surging over the threshold at the top.  Using Kev's rope and grappling hook plus much grit and determination they worked their way to the top.

Dea noticed something outside and found to her dismay that a group of about eight fish-people with tridents were bobbing in the surf just outside the portal, babbling in their odd language.  Apparently they planned to enter once the burial complex had enough water in it.  The party tensely debated the merits of making a dash for the path which led up to the cliff top from the shore but didn't think their chances were good.  So, they waded back down the hall and recrossed the ravine.  As they crossed they noted that it was already filling with surging tidal brine, suggesting that there were openings below which connected with the sea at high tide.  The desperate crew splashed back across the main crypt, the floor already a few inches deep in water.  Kev once again employed his grappling hook [DM: easily the most useful item of equipment in the party] to put a rope in place.  Dea went up first to scout but stopped short upon seeing the faces of the two Dark Rose fairies looking down at him.  They'd forgotten about the archdruid's erstwhile allies whom Nominie had persuaded to withdraw.  The two perched on the edge of the balcony on either side of the rope, apparently planning some mischief.

The water was filling the room below and the fairies waited above with unfriendly grins on their faces.  Mereda got her bow ready, but Dea hit upon a brilliant ploy.  She asked if the fairies had enjoyed the cake.  Puzzled, they asked her what cake she was talking about.  Dea explained that they had given the one fairy outside an entire cake to share with them all.  Enraged at being cheated of their fair share, the fairies leaped off the balcony and flew out the entrance.  Relieved, and amused, the party quickly scrambled up the rope.  As they headed into the dark narrow passage ahead they heard the sounds of an altercation erupting between the fairies and the fish-people.

Pushing ahead they were taken aback as a ghostly figure with sword and shield emerged from the gloom ahead.  However, they were relieved to find that it was only a statue marking the architectural transition from the entrance hall into several short hallways lined with small crypts.  Then, suddenly the statue leapt our at them!  No, actually it was a ghostly apparition jumping out from the statue.  It soon faded but they were shaken by the horrific encounter.  As they began to relax Dea noticed a small child, actually a youngling of the fish-people, standing quietly in the corridor to their right [DM: actually a will-o-wisp].  It was pale and ghostly and beckoned to them to follow.  Dea was affected, but the others held her back and helped her break it's enchantment.  They explored several corridors, being frightened several more times by guardian statues and lured by small, ghostly fish younglings.  They began to worry about finding a way out of the darkness before it all filled with seawater.  During their explorations they found two more large cylindrical crypt chambers like the one where they had encountered the archdruid.  Both were filling with surging water from below.

Then they heard more of the strange speech of the fish-folk, coming from the hallway to the balcony they'd used.  They were no closer to finding an exit, the tide was rising to trap them, and the fish-people were filling the only way out.  But then they sighted some daylight.  It was coming from a fourth large cylindrical tiered crypt chamber to the south.  This one, however, had a sort of netting forming a top floor at the level of the door and there was a crude ladder-net leading to an opening where the ceiling had collapsed in.  The daylight was streaming down from outside--freedom!  Inside were several fish-folk, including a shaman repeatedly performing an odd rite around a large clay brazier.

The group hid and let the arriving group of fish-folk enter the room.  They saw that the warriors were carrying the heads of the two fairies.  Apparently the altercation had turned deadly.  The newcomers greeted the small group near the shaman, all of whom stared intently at the clay brazier as the rite continued.  The new group of fishmen departed by the ladder-net.  The party then attempted to sneak by the aquatic savages to the ladder-net but were discovered halfway through.  Battle was joined, and not with the party in advantageous positions.  The fight featured our heroes using arrows and thrown weapons to cut the net floor out from under most of their opponents and drop them into the waters far below.  Kev again tried putting on the druidic bracers in mid-fight to fry some fish, but got them on backwards.  All then scrambled up the net into the woods above the coast.  They rested a bit and decided to return to town.

[DM: thus endeth Episode Two of my one-episode play test of The World Between for Fictive Hack.]

Monday, January 14, 2013

Gnome Stew New Year, New Game (NYNG) Carnival 2013

Okay, so the Gnome Stew blog is again running a New Year, New Game blog carnival for 2013 (see below for links).  Now, I'm not sure if I'll actually get the chance to run this as a full campaign but I got CthulhuTech about a year ago and I've been reading it and buying more source books.  Part of the setting is that an army of cultists (and who knows what else) cut a swath of destruction eastwards from Tibet across China and southeast Asia and on into Australia.  Now, the CthulhuTech setting offers various ways to play a game in it.  So I got to thinking about the aftermath of the rampage of an army of insane Cthulhu cultists through an area. Surely there would be survivors, a desperate few who through luck or cunning managed to escape the horrors of the massacre.  Eventually the havoc would die down as the army moved on.

For this game the players are those few survivors in Chongqing in China who cautiously emerged from their hiding places and headed to the main train station, which was the last evacuation site announced on the news.  The city will still have roaming bands of cultists, weird Cthulhoid zombies, and other horrors wandering the city.  All communications are out and they have no idea where any "safe zones" might be.

 Because it's a zombie/post-apocalyptic type game, mecha, engels (biological mecha), and tagers (human/creature symbionts) aren't really appropriate.  The most appropriate professions for characters will be:
Arcane Investigator
Ashcroft Foundation Advisor
Federal Agent
Intelligence Agent
Occult Scholar

Game Intro/Teaser
It's been quiet for three days now but your food is running out.  From what you can see from your hiding place the streets are deserted--well, except for the occasional flicker of movement off in the distance.  Plumes of smoke still rise from burning industrial facilities.  Most of the tall buildings looming over the city are burned out shells, pockmarked from weapons fire and the claws of huge nightmare creatures.  The last you heard before the communications went down was that everyone in your part of the city was to head to the main rail station for evacuation.  Other means of transport near you were already destroyed or never arrived as scheduled.  The military had held off the cultist horde for a couple days but it wasn't enough.  Besides all kinds of weirdness started breaking out in places all over the city even before the main force broke through.  There's not much chance of evacuation at the station now, but it's the best place to link up with other survivors so you'll have someone to watch your back.

[This post was written for the second annual New Year, New Game blog carnival hosted by Gnome Stew as part of the 2013 New Year, New Game challenge.]

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Pagodas at the Edge of the World

Okay, so I've always liked fantasy landscapes showing islands floating in the air.  And so I decided that I wanted floating big things (islands, castles, cities, etc.) in my new campaign world.  But how to account for lots of big floating things?  Well, one part of my campaign's Epic History is where the cryptic gods of the Yin and Yang emerged from obscurity to bring the world back into balance after it was ravaged by the warring Angels and Demons.  However, they went too far and actually fell in to fighting each other and actually damaged the balance further.  The ancient primordial gods were forced to return and impose a truce.  Then the primordials forced the Yin and the Yang to erect reinforcing wards to restore the balance of yin and yang forces underpinning the world physically and magically.  When the wards were completed they not only restored the balance but also strengthened the outer arcane barriers which cut off the portals to the home realms of the Angels and Demons.

These huge new wards were set floating in the air all around the edge of the world, with the four in the far corners of the world being larger and more powerful.  The Yin and Yang gods called them pagodas to indicate their divine function.  These huge warding pagodas were intricate constructions of stone, decorated and strengthened with metals and gems, and infused with either Yin (shadow) or Yang (radiance) power.  Sixty-four of the massive pagodas were built, resembling huge floating shrines; half of them were Yin and half Yang, each marked with one of the 64 Yin-Yang hexagram glyphs.

Each pagoda has within it a soaring vaulted shrine containing a massive sacred stele with its particular glyph.  There are also temple guardians, priests, monks, and other inhabitants.  Each pagoda is led by an avatar of one of the Yin or Yang Conclave deities.  The primary functions of the inhabitants are to perform holy rites to maintain the ward, and to worship and honor the associated god (Yin Conclave or Yang Conclave).  The temple guardians include mortal creatures, divine creatures, spirits, and inanimate constructs.

However, the pagodas were built many, many centuries ago and a lot has happened to them since.  Some are now a mere remnant, most of the structure blasted away.  Others are shattered ruins, scarred and pitted by violent incidents of one sort or another.  Many bear marks of conflict but continue to function as their creators intended.  Some appear outwardly the same but have new occupants; one is rumored to now contain an entire town of sky-pirates.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review: Cerulean Seas (for Pathfinder)

Okay, so a little while ago I bought Cerulean Seas from Alluria Publishing.  To be honest, when I first heard about this product I sort of blew it off, visions of Ariel the Little Mermaid began swimming around in my head.  But later on I was in search of more campaign world settings to devour and gave it another look.  One of the things I decided for my new campaign world is that the undersea and underground regions will be as richly peopled as the dry land above ground. So I decided that I should check out Cerulean Seas.

Cerulean Seas is superb.  Rather than publishing a Pathfinder add-on sourcebook which allows DMs and players to extend their campaigns into occasional underwater jaunts, they stripped Pathfinder down and rebuilt it from the ground up.  Cerulean Seas is set on a world where the dry land civilizations were destroyed, leaving only the undersea ones.  That puts all the focus on the oceans, although there are a couple amphibious races.  The book starts with a good overview of the undersea and coastal environment and their effects on movement, etc.  Next are the races: there are twelve races, a couple from Pathfinder but most completely new.  The new races provide a great range of interesting options to play but you need to mentally reorient from the standard humans, dwarves, etc.  The standard core classes from Pathfinder are included albeit with slight adaptations but there are also three completely new races: the kahuna, mariner, and siren.  These are designed to replace the druid, ranger, and bard classes.  I think they're all pretty cool.

The game also has its own set of deities, different currency types, a range of completely new armor types, a whole marine bestiary, and a lot of other cool new stuff custom designed for the new setting.  I'm really impressed with the care and thoroughness the authors took to really review, research, and rethink to create a fully detailed campaign setting.  So if you're considering running an undersea game for a change I do recommend Cerulean Seas.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Question of the Half-Orc

Okay, so I really don't like the idea of the half-orc "race" in gaming.  Apparently the idea comes from the Uruk-hai in The Lord of the Rings and first appeared in AD&D (even though I don't remember it).  I don't like idea for two reasons: my basic mental picture of orcs and the subtext of how an orc would mate with a non-orc.

First off, let's take the mental picture.  I remember paintings by the Hildebrandt brothers in a Middle Earth calendar I owned way back when.  One is a scene with the orcs sitting around a fire at night with Merry and Pippin tied up nearby, the other a scene from a siege.  The orcs are depicted with porcine faces, rather like green pig-men or boar-men.  Otherworld Miniatures in the UK has a cool-looking line of miniatures with this look.  I rather liked that visual concept for them.  Later I played AD&D and the drawing of them in the Monster Manual also had the piggy look.  So that's how I always thought of them for gaming.  The AD&D orcs were a race of boar type beast-people: ugly, smelly, aggressive, dangerous, and violent.  No "normal" person (human, elf, dwarf, etc.) would consider mating with them and besides it wouldn't be genetically possible for any mating to be fertile.  I quite literally never considered that such a creature as a half-orc would exist.

Secondly, there's the subtext of rape.  There really is the built-in suggestion that any half-orc must be the result of a violent sexual assault by a male orc against a humanoid female.  I find that disturbing because that subtext was unnecessary.  If the game designers wanted to add a playable race with attributes which complement the fighter or barbarian classes (in the way that the elf complements the wizard or the halfling complements the thief), why didn't they come up with one which stands on its own?  They later added the dragonborn, the warforged, and the goliath.  All of those are strong/tough races which appeal to players.  So why add a race which implies that all of its members are evidence of a crime?  Was it to be more gritty, more edgy, more hardcore, more badass?  Perhaps, but the rest of the game didn't move in that direction.  It stands out as a design decision.  And if the orcs aren't the evil monsters of their reputation, but rather a misunderstood proud tribal people, why not just make them a playable race directly the way World of Warcraft did?  Really, I would prefer to have orcs or hobgoblins as a player race straight up than half-orcs.

There's also the question of half-orcs being accepted into humanoid society.  I just don't find it credible that half-orcs would be accepted in most "civilized" areas.  Sure, you can make that aspect of the character background an element of the campaign and roleplay the interactions.  But wouldn't half-orcs be so rare as to be seen as freakish half-monsters?  Well, perhaps you could have an area of the campaign world where invading orcs wiped out the defending human army, thus killing most of the military age males, and then proceeded to settle on the land and take the women as "wives".  An entire generation of half-orcs would ensue.  I vaguely recall something like that happening with the mongol invasions.  Perhaps if the orcs remained for a couple generations and then withdrew, much as the mongols withdrew from their conquests in the west, an entire region might be left heavily populated with half-orcs.  Several generations after that, or maybe a century or so later the "people" of that area would all be half-orcs but much removed from the original invasion.  That would be a more plausible way to have significant numbers of half-orcs in a campaign world with less social stigma, at least in neighboring countries.

But for the campaign world I'm working on the orcs will be the boar-people of my early imaginings.  They will be one of a number of "beast peoples" created by the nature gods of earth, sky, and sea in imitation of the First Races (dwarf, human, and elf) created by the First Gods.  As literally the children of a lesser god they simply are not cut from the same cloth as the First Races.  The nature gods shaped them using the animal creatures of their respective domains and have not the power to endow them with the same higher innate intellect and cultural talents of the human, elven, and dwarven civilizations.  The orcs and other beast peoples are closer to nature and the nature gods.  They are more feral and animal-like in their behavior and social structures.  And thus they must remain, for such is the essence of their being.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Inspiration From Art - Christophe Vacher

Okay, so recently I came across a fantastic site/blog on Tumblr called Defenestrador which is chock-full of cool fantasy art.  And not just any art but really top quality works.  In the past I didn't really link artwork together with my gaming, except what was in the monster manuals, etc.  But a couple years ago as I was casting around for material for a new campaign world I discovered (yes, I know, sounds like a porn site, sigh) for some brain candy.  I did indeed find a lot of cool stuff, some to show the players at the table, but most to spark ideas for world-building.

So, on Defenestrador's site I came across this magnificent work by Christophe Vacher entitled Stormbreakers:

I love the huge primal-looking ship coming through the clouds with lightning arcing off it.  I'm very glad it's not another crappy "pirate ship in the sky" like too many similar works.  Instead it looks like it's made of solidified clouds or rock and its dimensions are clearly not simply a direct ripoff of historical ship designs.  It does not look like the manufactured work of regular humanoid races.  I thought to myself how cool it would be to have the players see this primal vision passing by early in a campaign and then much later have them go aboard for some epic mission!

In the campaign world I'm building there is a sky-god and a god of the oceans (two the the five major nature deities).  So from this painting I'm thinking that once long, long ago the sky god expressed admiration for the beautiful sailing vessels crafted by the original mortal races.  Pleased that crafts inspired by his oceans had drawn such praise, the ocean god took mists, waves, and corals and fashioned a huge sky-canoe as a gift for the sky-god.  The sky-god named it Stormbreaker and gave it sails of living storms and rigging of lightning to make it fly.  Stormbreaker has sailed the skies ever since, wreathed in clouds and lightning.  It is semi-intelligent and is almost as much a pet as a possession of the sky-god.  The deity usually lets it wander as it wills, usually high in the skies, but when angered may send it as a warning to mortals.

I was also thinking that this unique vessel might also have the special (unique?) ability to pierce the Dome of the Sky which covers the world and protects it from the boiling primal elemental chaos beyond.  Thus at some point in an epic campaign, the heroes will need to approach the sky-god to use the Stormbreaker to leave the world and sail out into the elemental chaos--perhaps over to another similarly domed world or to confront elemental beings.

So there is an example of how I take art which I find inspirational and use the visions to spin into game ideas.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Secret Santicore Gift: Below the Torch and Tankard (mini dungeon)

Okay, so we're off to another year!  Happy New Year everyone!  One of the things I'm hoping to add to my plucky little blog is some maps.  As I mentioned recently, I'm a big fan of the maps by the gurus over at Dyson's Dodecahedron and Lapsus Calumni (check them out) and so I want to start doing maps on some sort of regular basis.  Back around October I joined the Secret Santicore project for 2012 and was assigned doing a dungeon under a tavern.  Although the project proper was postponed, a couple blogs have been posting the "gifts".  I haven't seen my "gift" posted, possibly because it needed a map done for it by someone.  I thought about posting just the text because anyone could sketch out a map from the descriptions but decided that would be kind of cheesy.  So I did up a map yesterday and thought I'd go ahead and post the whole thing for everyone to peruse.  It's an old school style dungeon, but system-neutral.

Below the Torch and Tankard

It's a rough and tumble sort of place, but Brewmaster Norgus of the Torch and Tankard knows his craft.  Well, until last week when he was found dead in the cellar with wounds and burns and cobwebs all about his body.  In his hand he held an old bit of parchment with four poetic mottoes written on it.  His wife, Nellie Norgus, couldn't care less about all that, but business dropped off once word got out--and besides, there's no way she's going down into the ale cellar until she's sure it's safe.  She hands the party the parchment with the mottoes on it and wishes them good luck.

The Old Poetic Mottoes

With Humility, One Knows One’s True Place

With Bravery, One Stands When They Fly

With Honesty, One Will Not Lose Face

With Loyalty, One Draws The Last Breath

The Torch and Tankard actually used to be the brewery of a larger monastery which stood here a long time back.  It burned down in a huge fire and all they could save was the brewery.  But before it was a brewery it was a mausouleum for a small paladin order, with three crypts for heroes of the order.   The brewmaster accidentally let a huge hogshead get loose and it smashed through the crumbly old brick wall and revealed a passage beyond.  Brewmaster Norgus took the antique motto scroll out of its frame over the bar and headed down.

0. Cellar of the Torch and Tankard. This 30' by 20' room is under the kitchen in the rear of the tavern.  A flight of sturdy wooden stairs leads down, and there is also a big trap door they use to hoist the heavy kegs, barrels, and hogsheads into the cool cellar.  The cellar is filled with the aromas of the many lovely beverages stored therein.  The large opening in the north wall beckons, bits of rubble strewn nearby.

1. Entrance Hall.  This marble-lined hallway has a 30' section with steps going down 10', a curving landing, and then another 30' section with steps going down a further 10'; the hallway is 10' high, and 5' wide.  At the end is an open doorway.  On either side of it is a niche with a life-sized statue of an angel. The angel on the left is holding a two-handed sword reverently in front of it; the one on the right is holding a shield and longsword at the ready.
[Trap 1: The phrase "With Humility, One Knows One’s True Place" is carved into the marble over the doorway.  It is a clue that one must pass through the doorway bowed doubled over or kneeling or set off the trap.  A spell to reveal magic will show the doorway is divinely enchanted.  The first person through the doorway will trigger the divine magical punishment which will reduce their strength by half for 24 hours.

2. Ceremonial Chamber.  This grand chamber is also lined with beautiful marble.  It is 40' square with an arched ceiling 40' high in the center.  In the middle of the room is a low basin set in the floor.  It is apparently designed to hold liquid and is 2' deep at the center [water poured into this basin and prayed over by a good cleric will yield one flask of Holy Water per day.]  A large ornate bronze lantern about 5' tall and 2' around hangs from a heavy bronze chain set in the center of the ceiling.  There is an open doorway in the center of each side of the room.  The one to the south has no wording over it and leads to the cellar of the Torch and Tankard.  Each of the other three has one of the other mottoes carved into the lintel above it:

3. Hall of the Brave Brother.  One the east side of the Ceremonial Chamber is an open doorway and above the doorway to this hall is the motto "With Bravery, One Stands When They Fly". From the doorway a set of steps leads down 5' to a straight hallway 30' long, 10' high, and 5' wide which slopes gently down towards a bronze-bound marble door with a very realistic carving of a medusa on it. 
[Trap 3: Once all of the party has entered, a scary illusion of a spectral medusa will fly towards the party forcing each member to save against fear.  Those who save (are Brave) will see that it is an illusion and receive an Ancient Blessing lasting 24 hours which gives them +1 to all rolls during that time. .  Those who fail will be forced to flee and the illusion will rake them with spectral claws, the wounds on their backs marking them as cowards who ran away; even if the wounds are healed a set of scars (Marks of the Coward) will remain on their backs for 24 hours.]

3a. Crypt of the Brave Brother.  The door to the crypt is unlocked.  Inside is a 20' square room with an arched ceiling.  The walls are carved with scenes of the warrior brother paladins bravely facing all manner of dangers.  In the center is a plain marble sarcophagus with a massive bronze lid and the name "Holy Brother Lurien" engraved on the end facing the door.  The lid has three long steel handles along each side with which to lift the lid.  It takes at least two persons to lift the heavy lid
[Trap 3a: As soon as anyone gets within 5' of the sarcophagus, the handles heat up red hot (it will take bravery to grip those handles, won't it?).  At least two of the people lifting the lid will need to pass a tough will or constitution save to hold the hot handles long enough to remove the lid entirely.  Those failing the save will lose half their dexterity (for tasks requiring their hands) for 24 hours.]

4. Hall of the Honest Brother. Above the doorway to this hallway on the north is the motto "With Honesty, One Will Not Lose Face".  From the open doorway a level hallway 30' long, 10' high, and 5' wide leads towards a bronze-bound marble door with a very realistic carving of a locked treasure chest.
[Trap 4: Once all of the party has entered they will each simultaneously experience a vision (the DM should take each player apart from the group to play out this scene).  A voice, apparently the deceased brother, asks: "Has one finally come to take out my treasures?  Are you the one who will remove them?  Answer me that I may know if the day has finally come."  A player who says no (an Honest person who would not rob a grave) will hear "Then may your prayers received favor"; they receive an Ancient Blessing lasting 24 hours which gives them +1 to all rolls during that time.  A player who says yes (a dishonest person who would rob a grave) will be sprayed in the face with acid from holes in the walls and ceiling, thus being visually defiled ("losing face") as one who would defile.]

4a. Crypt of the Honest Brother.  The door to the crypt is unlocked.  Inside is a 20' square room with an arched ceiling.  The walls are carved with scenes of the warrior brother paladins doing all manner of works of charity.  In the center is a plain marble sarcophagus with a massive bronze lid and the name "Holy Brother Maronius" engraved on the end facing the door.  The party will quickly discover that the sarcophagus can only be opened if the lid is swiveled--but a thief may detect that turning it one way unlocks it, the other way sets off a trap.
[Trap 4a: If they swivel it clockwise, the trap goes off.  A blast of holy flame rips through the chamber.  A save is allowed to dive out the door (if close enough).  Damage should be about one third of health.]

5. Hall of the Loyal Brother.  Above the doorway on the west to this hall is the motto "With Loyalty, One Draws The Last Breath".  From the open doorway a set of steps leads up to a hallway 30' long, 10' high, and 5' wide straight towards a bronze-bound marble door with a very realistic carving of a two fully armored brothers of the order shaking hands.
[Trap 5: Once all of the party has entered they will each simultaneously experience a vision (the DM should take each player apart from the group to play out this scene).  A suave and seductive voice enters their head and says "You know, there's a secret hiding place down here where the old brotherhood kept all their treasure.  I know where it is.  Gold is of no use to me where I am but sacrificed souls are; likewise souls are of no use to you there but gold is, isn't it?  Let us make a pact: their souls for the gold--I can show you how to kill them easily with one of the deadly traps here."  Characters who refuse receive an Ancient Blessing lasting 24 hours which gives them +1 to all rolls during that time.  If the character agrees, a blast of poison gas shoots out from the walls and envelopes their head, causing them to lose half their constitution for 24 hours.]

5a. Crypt of the Loyal Brother.  The door to the crypt is unlocked.  Inside is a 20' square room with an arched ceiling.  The walls are carved with scenes of the warrior brother paladins suffering martyrdom through all manner of cruel tortures.  In the center is a plain marble sarcophagus with a massive bronze lid and the name "Holy Brother Culwen" engraved on the end facing the door.  The party will soon discover that the massive bronze lid of the sarcophagous has spring-loaded catches on each corner which require one person on each corner working together to get it open (or if a party of less than four players, then just one person on each end).
[Trap 5a: If they attempt to open it any other way than the correct way, then the entire floor slides back into the walls.  A save is allowed to jump up onto the sarcophagus or out the door, if close enough.  Anyone left where the floor was will fall 10' into a pit full of spikes which now surrounds the sarcophagus.  (The damage should be about one third of the health of the character.)]

DM Notes
  • The traps outside the crypt chambers are meant to severely chastise unworthy intruders but give them a chance to escape alive and reconsider the choices they've made in life.
  • The traps inside the crypts are meant to kill any intruders so clearly determined to do evil that they would persevere to rob the resting places of the honored dead.