Saturday, April 20, 2019

Read Magic: Return to the Memory Palace



I hated read magic when I was a kid.  Read Magic was the first chink in the armor, the first time I doubted the infallibility of the The Dungeons and Dragons. I did not understand the rules of Dungeons and Dragons very well.

Before reading The Dying Earth all I thought about spells as just some special written words that you memorize and then repeat to cast the spell. Then you forgot them!? And also if the spell wasn’t in your spell book you couldn’t read it? And if you got a scroll you didn’t know what spell it was?!

Some people think of read magic as a spell that is essentially used to read sloppy handwriting. This was not satisfying to me when that was how I thought of the spell worked. Lamentations of the Flame Princess has made this interpretation explicit in its rules, which is disappointing.

I refused to think of it as anything other than a cheap way to gimp magic-users. It was the thing that sowed the seed of discontent in my young heart (even though I always ignored the spell I was still offended on some deep aesthetic level). Read magic is probably what drove me to experiment with GURPS. 

Then I read The Dying Earth and started thinking of Spells as intricate devices you assemble in your mind. Now spells are hyperdimensional structures that a magic-user can unravel to produce a given effect when brought into the physical world. A scroll is created when a magic user instead of assembling the spell in his head creates the hyperdimensional structure within the two-dimensional plane of a piece of paper. This takes one week and costs 100 gold per spell level.

Read Magic creates a double artificial mind palace outside the magic-users mind. The first mind palace functions the same as the magic-user’s. Spells from spell books can be transferred there safely. Spells from scrolls can be copied without unraveling. The second mind palace is different. It provides a glimpse of a potential future in which the spell has been cast. The magic-user can observe the effects of the spell without triggering the original spell structure or affecting the prime material plane. At its heart read magic is a divination spell.


Sometimes when Vizirian came to this place he imagined he was in the mind of a dead god. It was formless and void as if someone had sat down to commit the moment before the birth of the universe to memory. There was no time dwell on the profound immensity however. His party was waiting back below the fallen tower of Zenopus and they needed to know what was written on the scroll.
 The scroll hung before him in the air towering over him. Here it appeared as a giant twisting knot. Looking at it he perceived things he could neither articulate nor understand. Vizirian paused before he willed the structure into the other chamber the one that was less like his mind than even this one and somehow more like the external world yet wholly alien. Then he did it. It was indescribable and bizarre. But then it came to him, Ahh yes, Magic Mouth.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Map Key of the Plague Year 4: How The Party Vaporized the Leader of the Apothecary Brigade by Accident

I put a giant death laser in the center of the city and the Party set half the city on fire and blew up the stronghold containing the evil 7th level Plague Doctor. Here's how it worked. Everyone should put giant death lasers in the middle of their cities.
In the Middle of the City of Clargarser stands Raglom's Tower.
Nupo is a friendly NPC. You can see his house.
Clargarser Keep is was occupied by Meelnos Moosit until he was vaporized.
Raglom's tower or "The Panopticon" rises high above the city. At the top of the tower is a giant dome like the top of an observatory. Slightly below this dome are 4 giant glass lenses that jut out from the tower on big metal arms that resemble thin spider legs. The only entrance to the tower is from underground or by flying into one of the many windows on the upper floor.
The Control Panel Has Three Levers not One.
Here is the upper floor. The shaft was going to have a cool wizard elevator in it but Raglom died before he could complete it so intruders must figure out a way to climb the 130' to the top. If you put this in your campaign maybe the wizard will finish the elevator.

Raglom bought the fossilized dragon at auction. The players spent a week in a mine excavating it and then another week delivering it to the auction. If you use something like this put a bunch of stuff the party sold around tower.
For the levers up is off or closed and down is on or open.
Also the labels are wrong for the levers.
The eastern an western one are reversed.



So,  just above the control room in the tower is the artificial star. I made it so that its possible to keep climbing up the shaft to the room with the star and catch on fire and die due to being too close to the star. No one decided to try that after looking up the shaft and seeing the blinding light at the top. I made the tower like this to convey the power and potential danger of the controls in the control room. That way when the party starts messing with the levers and they hear things moving upstairs, they understand that they are messing with something powerful.

The metal shell around the star lowers in two halves, an eastern half and a western half. Lowering a half will blind people on the corresponding side of the city. Light can be seen pouring over the city from the windows if this happens.

The knobs control the positions of the four lenses. The positions of the knobs correspond to the orientation of the lenses so when a knob is turned to the up position the lens is at the north end of tower. When a knob is turned down then it is south. Knobs can be lined up focusing the light and heat of the star even more. Make sure you do not say that the knobs are all in the same position when the party finds it or they will blow things up right away (unless that is what you want.)

Number of knobs lined up and its effect:

    1: Extreme oppressive punishing heat
    2: Immediate sunburn and blindness if the light is looked at. 1d6 damage per round
    3: Flammable burst into flame. metals begin to melt. people save or die.
    4: Vaporization. Enough energy to convert matter into plasma or whatever fantasy reason you have for stuff to just explode. No saving throw. Get out of the way.

If you keep the first lever in the up position you can adjust the other knobs to where you want them then lower the the first lever and everything will move seamlessly into position. This is not what the party did.  They pulled some levers. Blinded the city. Then they put 3 knobs in the same position and set the eastern half of the city on fire. Then they adjusted the knobs together shooting a death ray down towards the south where it was then aligned with the final lens and aimed at the keep, which exploded. Fortunately the keep was where the plague was being manufactured that was afflicting the city. But They also burned down half the city. Then they asked how much xp they got. They got zero.

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Corpse Worshippers


Map by Paul Haupt
Wearing skull masks and carrying sickles doesn't make you a bad person. Being in a cult led by a sentient skeleton doesn't make you a bad person either. It does mean you have to live in the dungeon for the most part though. But the dungeon is home to dead gods.

Corpse Worshippers love dead gods. Unfortunately, the corpse worshippers have had to turn their attention away from the underworld to fight the apothecary brigade. It is only recently that they have been able to turn their attention back to the underworld to search for dead gods to bring back to the surface, where they can rule again.

The Corpse Worshippers have enlisted the party to find dead gods in the depths of the dungeon too deadly for them to go. They have convinced (maybe) the party that resurrecting dead gods is a good thing and that it will bring peace and prosperity to the starving plague ravaged city above.

In furtherance of their quest Zander Scuttletoes has made a cool map.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Additional Evidence Suggesting that the Illusionist Class is Based on Wall of Serpents


Since this blog doesn't get many views it is easy to obsess over where my traffic is coming from. I started getting some hits from Knights & Knaves so I decided to investigate. Turns out a post I wrote earlier about the possible source material for the phantasmal force spell was at least partially corroborated by Gary Gygax on Dragonsfoot in 2002.


Here is an image that proves I'm a genius.

I feel super smart right now.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Map Key of the Plague Year 4: Humble Pie


Map by Paul Haupt III 

A Throne raised up on a small dais, stone, covered in dust. Also a banquet table in the middle of the room, also stone and covered in dust. On the table are three pristine well decorated cakes. They look delicious, but don't say that. Let the players ask. Describe fondant on one butter cream icing on another, the third perhaps is indescribably, nothing on the surface could compare, a pastry of secret subterranean wonder.

Obviously, it's a trap.

But, before we get to that there is also a secret door (do not write adventures like this). The secret door is in the space behind the throne and the back wall. A successful secret doors roll will reveal a draft behind the throne. The door is unlocked when about the weight of a human is placed on the throne (or more). When there is no such weight, the door is locked.

opening the secret alcove reveals a magical war hammer, which hasn't been identified by my players yet so I am not going to say what it is, and 5 gold nuggets worth 100gp each.

Anyway back to the trap. The cakes are Humble Pies, 1hp mimics created by Zach from Zenopus Archives:

My players were not stupid enough to try and eat the cakes, but you could tell that they kind of wanted to eat the cakes anyway. Traps like this create a kind of longing for death in most PCs. In a way they are the most unfair of all traps. They are so obvious and ridiculous that they become seductive and intoxicating.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Thaddeus Wangshingle and Winslow Mudfish

The other day I came across some old character sheets from 2005 to 2006. I played a thief named Winslow Mudfish and my friend played a cleric named Thaddeus Wangshingle. They started out in small town and tracked a group of mysterious men in black plate mail to the city of Karameikos. There, they thwarted an invasion and eventually wound up getting sucked into the Abyss, where they both perished.

Here is Winslow Mudfish in all his glory. A simple small town thief, who would go on to achieve both great and not so great things.

The most mysterious item he ever got was "The Jawbone of the Gods."
I never figured out what it did.
In the Abyss Winslow got transformed into a bugbear and got a new character sheet.

There are a lot fewer notes on the Abyss.
The Abyss does not contain a lot of NPCs with adventure hooks apparently.

Here is Thaddeus Wangshingle. I believe this drawing depicts Thaddeus after he lost all his equipment being teleported to the Abyss and not his sartorial choices in Karameikos.

The Dread Rod in the lower right corner of this page is the item that finally did everyone in. It wound up completely corrupting Thaddeus. The party wanted to throw it into a portal to the elemental plane of fire to destroy it, but Thaddeus had other plans and rebelled against us.

Here is Thaddeus completely corrupted by the Dread Rod. He started calling himself "Deus Judas," which was also the name the Dread Rod called itself. Honestly, he looks a little less evil here than the hirsute bondage daddy that was his previous incarnation. 

You don't need as much other equipment when you are the human form of the Dread Rod, I guess.
In the end the party fought Thaddeus and some demon, whose name escapes me now. The party won just barely. Winslow Mudfish, seduced by the power of the Dread Rod tried to grab it as it hurled towards the elemental plane of fire. He did reach it, but could not extricate himself from the pull of whatever gate connected the Abyss to the elemental plane of fire. He was sucked in and burst into flames clutching the Dread Rod in paroxysms of agony and the ecstasy of power.

The rest of the party, Norvin the dwarf, guy we found in a cage, and elf with two swords made it back to Karameikos, teleporting into a fountain in the middle of the city.  The End.

Oh yeah, I forgot, They were completely naked when they returned to the prime material plane.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Statistics for the Witherhelm campaign


Homebrew Homunculous asked a question on Reddit about how many I have been running a campaign for a year now and have played 10 sessions. I send out the experience totals in an email after each session so I know how much experience was gained each session. Here are some statistics:


XP
Notes
Deaths
1,970
Double session
4
1,395
1
1,435
1
860
0
898
1
2,505
2
2,613
This XP was the reward of fighting in a mass combat battle, not the result of normal D&D play
0
15,014
Tower of the Stargazer: party got the large horde of treasure
1
14,670
The Party got lucky with the deck of many things
0
75
0
Total XP
41,435
Total Deaths
10
Average XP
4143.5

To make some more sense of these numbers, there are 8 players in the campaign and some play more regularly than others. It is much harder for me to calculate the average XP per player per session because of this but it works out to be about 600 XP or so.  I do use 1 GP = 1 XP and monsters give experience per the table in the Greyhawk supplement.

You might also notice that my game is fairly deadly with on average 1 death per session. This means that although I have given out a hefty amount of XP the game is still only starting to get  mid level D&D since replacement characters all start at level 1. As you can see from the roster below the highest level PC after all this XP is only level 4 and I still have quite a few first level characters.

Current Roster:
Belree the Antiquarian: 1st level elf
Herbert the half-hearted: 2nd level halfling
Larchmont: 3rd level paladin
Lyster: 3th level magic-user
Pyker: 2nd level fighting-man
Sven: 1st level male bikini babe (from black pudding)
Theodora: 1st level magic-user
Zander Scuttletoes: 4th level halfing thief

Roll of the Dead (in order of death):
Fulray the 9th the fighting-man - shot by a bunch of arrows
Hodor the cleric - spear through the chest
Barney the angry peasant - killed by the wraith
Valarakus the magic user -  shot in the back by arrows
Sonya fighting-(wo)man - killed by the wraith
Vern the dwarf - backstabbed by a thief
Rodoh the cleric - poison chest
Vernando the dwarf - killed by goblins
Eladrana the elf - killed by goblins
Fod the halfling -  killed by a trapped chest


Read Magic: Return to the Memory Palace

I hated read magic when I was a kid.   Read Magic was the first chink in the armor, the first time I doubted the infa...