On Mordor, Where the Jock Orcs Lie

I've been running around Mordor and everything is fine.

Shadow of Mordor allows you to play a zombie(?) bonded with the forger of the rings of power as a wraith and run around and kill orcs. A lot of orcs.

Yes. Celebrimbor. He's your wraith buddy. Gollum shows up also. Ah, the joys of licensed property. I think if they released a game, and had no tie-ins, people would complain. For me, seeing stuff like that yanks me right out of the game. It is the exact same thing with putting Drizzt into a computer game or module.

I wonder, are people daft? Let me try this another way. Do you know anyone in your actual life, who would encounter a known NPC of a licensed property, like Elminster or Drizzt, in a module or computer game, who would react by going "How cool!" It's the Dungeon Masters Non-Player Character on maximum overdrive.

Maybe I just don't know those people. Maybe it's a thing. I don't like it.

That's not even what we're talking about today. We're talking about lousy orcs.

The Orc and the Jock

So, what does the orc do all day?

The orc depicted in the game are visually designed after Peter Jackson's orcs from the films, not the "squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes; in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types" of Tolkien's myth. They appear comforting visually—not disturbingly like asians.

But the game involves you running around orc dominated areas. You spend a lot of time observing orcs as you sneak around. What does the orc do all day?

Apparently his best impression of that guy who beat you up in high school, with a healthy dose of being a sh^&bird.

That's not to say there isn't a high degree of creativity and menace in individual orcs. Each can be promoted if they kill you, and they independently engage in power struggles and get promoted all on their own. Some random orc that got in a lucky stab on you can end up a warchief. And once promoted, they all gain certain personality traits. Some rhyme or sing, others are cowards, and still other braggarts. This is by far the best part of the game.

But for the most part, you're sneaking about listening to orcs. What do orcs do? They drink (grog which you can poison to make them fight each other), they brag, they piss, and they pick on "pinkskins".

So if you're not interacting with the orcs, they act just like stereotypical jocks picking on nerds. Is this because the game is written by programmers? PERHAPS. Whatever the reason, the braggadocio comes off as false. (I'd like to say as an aside, I'm talking only about their actions while you're in stealth. When you actually engage them and the captains, they say some neat things and act in some cool ways.)

But what is the solution? It is a problem that goes beyond this gam, and extends into the entire realm of evil and disposable bad guys. How do you have disposable bad guys? Aren't they people too?

Tolkien himself even struggled with this, revisioning the origin of the orcs over and over, struggling to come up with something that made sense. Even by the time of his death, he had failed to come up with a satisfactory solution.

The question is, what does evil look like when it isn't being evil? All too often our conceptions of evil have more to do with our own psychological fears and failings then actual representations of evil. Personally, I spent a lot of time around people who acted somewhat similarly to the orcs in Mordor (though not quite as craven or cruel) and the conception leaves me feeling less like the orcs are evil, and more like my protagonist is a social reject, which I cannot imagine was the intent.

Not everyone was unpopular/unhappy in high school/college.

What does real, palpable, detects as glowing purple evil do on its day off?

Evil on Vacation

The problem, is, of course, subjective morality. No one, besides the deranged, actually believes that they are committing acts of evil. Even the most unstable acts done by people are simply rational responses from their perspective. What does real, vicious, evil do when nobody is looking?

Well, here are some ideas on that front:

  • Evil doesn't create. It can only corrupt or destroy. 
  • Evil is external and inimical to this plane or force of reality (which still leads to the question of how they spend their free time.)
  • Natural unstoppable forces that care nothing for human concerns or morality (earthquakes or old ones)
  • They are extremists regarding race or outlook. (Nobody cries when you kill a Nazi or Dalek/space nazi)
  • Living weapons (which then give ground to explore what it is a living weapon does in free time)

The whole point is to have faceless mooks you can murder without consequence. But is that of value? Philosophically, what is the problem with accepting that the people you are killing are, you know, actually people?

Probably that probe is a little complex for blowing off steam during a game of some sort, but it doesn't have to be. Gnolls can have little gnoll babies and be hostile to humans. And then you can kill the gnolls. And even they have their own culture, you don't have to respect them. But you don't have to take the extra step and justify them as being irredeemably evil. You could just, you know, be ok with being a murdering douchebag.

One of the changes I've noticed since implementing On the Non-Player Character in all of my games is that some groups and players will leverage social skills to move through the dungeon/adventure instead of combat. It provides another mechanical cog that allows the players to interact with the world in a meaningful way. Literally, due to it being a mechanical objective interface for social conflict, players can leverage that power and talk the bad guy into at the very least not being hostile to the party.

It doesn't stop the bad guys from being jerks, of course, and sometimes they end up being killed anyway, for very good reasons like "I want your magic item." and "Well, I guess you are worth some experience."

Hack & Slash 

On the Doctor's Craft

And what the doctor will tell you when you get your disease. The cures will certainly be better than the ones that the Alchemist provides, right?

1) Extensive bloodletting should result in a complete recovery.
1-2. Something distracts the Chirugeon and he leaves the leeches on too long. You die from blood loss.
3-4. Bloodletting just weakens you, allowing the disease to progress. Advance it one stage.
5-6. The bad humors are all expressed in your blood, and after a week of feeling sickly, your good blood fights off the infection. You are cured!

2) A clyster infused with peppers, oil, and vinegar should be given thrice daily for the period of two weeks.
1-2: The disease is no better or worse, and now you are bleeding anally.
3-4: The disease is cured, although some damage must have occurred, because you've lost bowel control. Perhaps it will return.
5-6: The disease is cured and you've never felt better in your life.

3) The disease is spiritual, and as such, will continue to haunt you. The cure is deglove your own face and then to take the face of another and exchange them.
1: The disease isn't cured, because the face of the person you used was more wicked than yours.
2-3: The disease is cured, but the new face transplant doesn't hold, and you have no face. This causes you to lose 6 Charisma (minimum 3) and without eyelids or lips, your face dries out quite frequently. Your vision is clouded, everything is treated as if it is in dim light.
4-6: Success! it will take some time, however to get used to your new face.

4) The disease has rooted in a specific limb, and amputation and debridement of the limb is the only cure. (Determine the limb randomly). In many cases, once the disease root has been cleansed, the limb can be re-attached with hardly any loss in function.
1: Sadly, the wrong limb was accidentally amputated and it is not able to be reattached.
2-3: The correct limb was amputated and the disease cured, however it is unable to be reattached.
4-5: The disease is cured and the limb reattached, however, it just will never seem to work the same way again. Permanently lose 1 point of Physique.
6: The disease is cured and the limb is reattached flawlessly.

5) Pressure in the brain is preventing you from healing correctly. It should be a simple task to repair, a simple matter of trepanation.
1: The drill went in too far. You still have the disease. Roll once on the Critical Ruin: Mental Damage and Illness Table.
2-3: Your brain might have been nicked. The disease is cured and you need to roll once on the Critical Ruin: Social Anxiety table.
4-5: Success, but the bone removed was ruined. It might be a good idea to wear a helmet for a while.
6: Success! The disease is cured.

6) Onion and Leek, mixed with bull gall and left to sit will create a poultice that will cure the disease.
1-2: Though ineffective, no harm comes to you.
3-6: The poultice turns black and you are free of the disease.

7) Your humors have calcified into hard stones and lodged themselves in your bladders. We'll start by removing the stones in your torso, then, using these S-shaped picks, we'll work through the urethra to get the stones to the entrance of the bladder, and we'll extract them surgically via anal incision
1: Disaster! You still have the disease, and you lose 2 points of Physique permanently from the damage to your torso and groin. Also, bowel control is a distant memory.
2-6: Although painful, the wicked looking stones are removed. Your disease is cured.

8) The only cure available is the consumption of a human heart in front of its dying host.
1-6: It works. Gain 5 Wickedness.

Hack & Slash 

On the Alchemical Cure

Continuing the theme of yesterday, If you contact an Alchemist to cure you disease, roll 1d8 for the cure on the table below.

1. Collect 4 pigs, and allow them to be heavily infested with intestinal parasites and tapeworms. When the pigs are starving and feverish, You must boil a haggis of the worms and pig flesh in your own blood, then consume it.
1: You didn't boil the haggis long enough and the worms survived. The disease is now running rampant and you are infested with tapeworms.
2-4: You eat the mixture, but throw it up before it can do much good. Reduce the disease by 1 stage.
5-6: Success! The disease is cured! You still feel ill and feverish for 24 hours

2.Fecal transplantation is the cure. You must collect the fecal matter of a vegetarian and soak it in milk in the light of the moon overnight. Once complete, you pack the mixture in your mouth and ears for 12 hours.
1: Apparently that wasn't really a vegetarian. The cure fails.
2-3: The experience was so disturbing that it changes you. Roll once on the Critical Ruin: Social Anxiety table. Your disease is cured.
4-6: The mixture is surprisingly palatable and tastes minty! The disease is cured.

3.Bees have been know to be an effective remedy. The three step process involves inserting the affected organs into hives of agitated bees, then coating the badly stung arms in honey, then letting ants eat the honey off of the limb.
1-2: The cure is useless and painful!
3: It does cure the disease, but you gain a terrible phobia of beeeeees.
4-6: Cured!

4.Eyeball fluid is the only cure. The alchemist simply injects a needle into your open eyeball, and extracts some small few drams of jell. Once done, this is soaked into roots, which are then chewed to alleviate the disease. The eye even eventually heals. . . usually.
1: The cure fails and you are now blind in one eye. You have another eye to try again.
2-4: The cure works, but your eye is forever ruined. Your poor depth perception makes all ranged melee and spell attacks penalized.
5-6: The cure works, and in a matter of days vision returns to your eye.

5.The infection can only be burned out. Rot grubs, infused with burning elixir are left to burrow into your arm. They will burn out any sign of the disease and then, once cured, will be killed by the very elixir before they reach your heart and kill you.
1: The disease is cured! Sadly the rot grubs eat your heart before they die.
2-3: The disease is cured! But the damage they did to your internal organs permanently reduces your Physique by 2.
4-5: The disease is cured. Several charred lumps are expelled from your body.

6.The only cure is hydrocephalicy. The alchemist begins injecting first your joints and then your brain with purified, infused water. Though there is a risk of vivid hallucinations, the procedure is guaranteed to work.
1: The procedure doesn't work. The disease advances to the next stage.
2-4: The pressure from the fluid on the brain gives you vivid hallucinations and forces you to roll 1d6 on the Critical Ruin: Mental Damage and Illness table.
5-6: The cure works, with the only side effect being a mild ache in your joints before it rains.

7.The antidote for this particular disease is a virulent poison. However the poison only acts on the disease, having no negative effect on the imbiber. Usually.
1: The disease isn't cured, but the poison sure works on you.
2-3: The disease is cured, but you are also affected by the poison.
4-5: The disease is cured, and you experience no ill effects from the poison.

8.Smelted human hearts have been effective in treating this disease. Cutting the heart out of a dead body and burying it in most grave dirt for two weeks, then digging it up and eating it will cure the disease.
1: Your original disease is cured! But the rotten heart gives you another disease.
2-3: Although disgusting, it remains somewhat effective. The disease regresses one stage.
4-6: Smelted heart is somewhat tasty! The disease is cured, and you wonder what other delicious meats can be smelted.

On Disease in Perdition

I've always been a huge fan of +Logan Knights Last Gasp Disease Generator. It is a thing of beauty. Clearly the best way to handle disease in your games. Inspired by his great work, the following table was developed for Perdition. (Note that whatever sort of game you're playing, the table below requires nearly zero conversion for the creative.)

Disease in Perdition

It's not a clean world. Digging around in trash heaps, trudging through swamps, or being attacked by the local wildlife run the risk of Disease. In Perdition, there are no bacteria or viruses. Disease is an ailment of the soul. When engaged with filth or when exposed to danger, the Agonarch may request that players roll a saving throw versus Poison. On a failure, roll 1d8 + 1/2 your Wickedness on the following table to determine what illness they have contracted. 4d8 hours later, you begin to show symptoms of the illness.

Diseases have stages. Each stage of the disease starts with a time. This is the frequency the saving throw to determine if you heal or get worse. You make another saving throw after this time elapses (taking into account penalties for Affliction points). A successful save causes you to fall back to a previous stage, a failed save moves you to the next stage. A successful save at the end of stage one will cure the disease. Note that the effects of earlier stages don't cease when the disease advances unless noted. Also, traveling back to an earlier stage will retrigger whatever effects that earlier stage had. If you gain enough affliction points during the course of the disease to die, you experience the effects of the last stage of your disease immediately (and die). There is no cure from the final stages of the disease.

Describe the symptoms only, unless someone can succeed at a difficulty 6 Medicine check, in which case they can identify the disease. It takes a difficulty 8 Alchemy or Medicine check for a character to know the cure. These are the same checks a hired Alchemist or Chirugeon must succeed at to know the cure to the disease.

1. Sweaty Bloom: (2 days) Your skin becomes flushed, and you feel hot. You begin to sweat profusely. You become dehydrated, and unless you consume one gallon of water an hour, you gain 1 affliction point. You feel dizzy and exhausted.
            (1 day) Stage 2: You have a high fever and each hour must save or pass out for 1d4 hours. During this time, you continue to sweat and gain affliction points.
            (2 days) Stage 3: A black fungus begins to grow out from your armpits and crotch, covering your body, and your skin begins to crack. You now pass out for 2d4 hours when you fail a saving throw.
            Stage 4: The black fungus causes your body to decompose into warm moist chunks that crumble apart when touched.

2. Black Boils: (3 days) You break out in painful pustules which look black and ooze a golden purple pus. This causes 1d6 points of affliction damage.
            (5 days) Stage 2: The pustules all break open. You take 2d4 points of affliction damage and over 80% of your skin is exposed and raw.
            Stage 3: Your skin scabs over painfully, leaving you with hideous scars, you suffer a permanent -4 penalty to Charisma.

3. Loathing Flux: (7 days), you begin to see things out of the corner of your eyes. Distorted faces leap out at you, and shadowy movement plagues your vision. You gain the Distracted condition.
            (4 days) Stage 2: The visions intensify and you become feverish. It becomes difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy. You must save any time you interact with anybody or anything or gain the Panicked condition for 1d6 turns.
            (4 days) Stage 3: You enter a fugue state, in which you become comatose. You lose 1d4 affliction points a day.
            Stage 4: Your face distorts into a wild grimace and your muscles seize, as you die from fright.

4. Rat Fever: (8 hours), Your muscles and joints begin to ache. You gain 4 affliction points from the pain. You feel nauseous.
            (12 hours) Stage 2: You feel freezing cold and you get violent shakes. You gain 1d6 affliction points during this stage.
            (24 hours) Stage 3: You lose consciousness and your skin is cold and clammy to the touch. Your scent attracts rats in huge numbers. If your body isn't protected, they will eat your body as you sleep.
            Stage 4: Your heartbeat slows, until your lungs fill with water, and you drown in your own fluids.

5. Stone Man Sickness: (1 week), you feel a mild soreness in your joints and muscles. During the course of this disease, you must make an immediate save or be moved up to the next level. Succeeding at this save doesn't drop you back down to an earlier level.
            (1 week), Stage 2: You feel a definite pain when moving your joints. Gain 2d6 affliction points.
            (1 week), Stage 3: Parts of your skin have begun to harden and turn to stone. Gain 2d6 affliction points and +2 to your physical armor class.
            Stage 4: Your body ossifies to the point you can no longer breath and you suffocate to death.

6. Carnophagy: (1 week), You feel nauseous. You vomit up any food you attempt to keep down. Each day you go without sustenance, you acquire 1d4 Affliction points.
            (48 hours), Stage 2: Your skin takes on a pale pallor and becomes stretched. You continue to be have trouble eating, taking 1d4 affliction points per day that you don't eat. You begin to crave raw meat. Any raw meat that you eat, you are able to keep down.
            Stage 3: The disease reaches it's final stage. Your nails grow out into claws, 90% of your hair falls out, and your skin takes on a ghastly pallor.  You can make melee attacks with your hands as if they were light weapons with the qualities: agile, close combat, and swift. You have a complete lack of empathy for living creatures and an overwhelming hunger for raw flesh. You transmit the disease on a successful claw attack.

7. You get the sniffles for a bit, but it turns out it was just a fluke! You're fine!

8. Cyroanimus: (1 month), you experience no ill effects, unless the temperature drops below 50 degrees. If that occurs, you experience an outburst of hives and cracked skin, granting you 1d6 affliction points per day of exposure. You have cold vulnerability, and any cold attack also causes 1d6+1 points of affliction damage.
            (1 month) Stage 2: You become more sensitive to the cold. The effects above are triggered anytime the temperature is below 60 degrees. If the temperature drops below 40, sores break out all over your body, and you gain a cough as lesions develop inside your lungs. Causing 2d6 Affliction damage.
            Stage 3: The condition becomes permanent. You choke to death on bile from the lesions on your lungs if you die from affliction.

9. Spiral agony: (4 hours), You experience muscle tics and odd very short seizures.
            (1 hour) Stage 2: Without warning, your muscles seize in a bizarre spiral pattern, breaking bones. Roll 3d6 to determine the number of affliction points gained.
            Stage 3: Your muscles seize around vital organs, breaking your bones, and breaking your skin open like a grape. If you are lucky, you pass out from the pain, before dying of organ failure. 

10. Polysidious Zyrosphore: (72 hours) Over the course of the first stage, your skin bulges with strange cysts. The bulges are less than one inch high and have a radius of no more than 4 inches.
            (24 hours) Stage 2: Each of the cysts develops a disturbing looking sphincter.
            Stage 3: You feel an overwhelming compulsion to travel to the center of the nearest population center of over 30 people as quickly as possible. You have a single minded devotion to this task. Once there, you begin to attract attention by singing and dancing. Surrounded by a crowd of people, the sphincters burst open, spraying oozy pus-covered sores out to a distance of over 100 feet. This does 2d12 points of affliction damage to you. If you survive, you are cured.

11. Hemorifce hemmorage (12 hours) Your eyes and ears become uncontrollably itchy, causing all your saves and attacks to become penalized.
            (24 hours) Stage 2: You begin bleeding from your ears, eyes and nose. The amount is small, but you still take 1 affliction point per hour.
            Stage 3: A final hemorrhage causes blood to violently shoot out in gouts from every orifice in your body, as your organs liquify, until your skin and bones fall to the floor like an empty sack.

12. Arachoxysm: (3 days) Your skin becomes covered in hundreds of irritating pimple like growths.
            (5 days) Stage 2: The pimple like growths sprout small translucent orbs. This make wearing armor difficult and painful. Any attempt to wear armor causes 1d6 affliction damage and incapacitates the user with pain.
            (2 hours) Stage 3: The translucent orbs sprout 8 eyes and legs and mandibles and grow hair. The newly hatched spiders begin to eat the flesh of their victim, attempting to free their abdomens trapped under the skin. This causes 4d4 affliction points per hour from poison and damage as the spiders consume their host.
            Stage 4: Your body falls apart as thousands of spiders burst from it.

13. Hell Cachexia: (2 days), you begin to sweat and get a terrible fever. You gain the Fatigued condition.
            (4 days) Stage 2: your skin turns translucent and you become feverish, dropping in and out of consciousness. You gain 1d4 affliction points per day.
            (2 days) Stage 3: Your skin turns translucent and your entire body radiates a hellish red.
            Stage 4: Your skin blackens over and your eyes turn red as your soul is consumed from within. Your body becomes a vessel for a fiend to wreak havoc.

14. Caloric Fume: (1 month) Parts of your body bulge and distend. Over the course of the month, limbs and joints will swell, cysts and large pockets of fluid will form, distending your body. You gain the Distracted condition and can no longer wear armor.
            (1 week) Stage 2: The cysts and pockets of fluid begin weeping tiny white worms. This causes 1d4 Affliction point a day, but are otherwise harmless.
            Stage 3: You get feverish, until a giant white worm eats your brain from the inside, gaining all your memories and knowledge. It then bursts from your skull and uses your body to commit atrocities until stopped.

15. Yellow Rout: (1 week) Your skin takes on a yellow shade, and your blood turns a deep purple. Your eyes appear as dark streaked marbles. You have a nasty cough. This stage of the disease grants 1d4 affliction points, and you suffer a permanent -2 penalty to your Physique.
            (24 hours) Stage 2: Your eyes swell and bulge almost comically. Your sweat stings and is darkly discolored. Your skin becomes even more yellow.
            Stage 3: You have a terrible headache, until your eyes burst. You are permanently blind. The disease ravages your body and mind, causing a permanent -2 penalty to all your statistics.

16. Feral Dysentery: (2 days) You exhibit painful stomach cramps and violent diarrhea, with occasionally vomiting. The pain causes 1d6 affliction points, and if you do not remain hydrated, you must make a saving throw versus Death at the end of this period or die from heart failure.
            (2 weeks) Stage 2: You are in severe pain. You gain the Fatigued condition. Any continuous activity such as walking, fighting, etc. for a period of 30 minutes or more causes 1d4 Affliction points.
            Stage 3: Your body shudders and your heart stops, but you still live. All knowledge and wisdom is stripped from you, as you become a feral beast, running off into the wilds, but gaining a hirsute appearance and a +4 to physique.

17. Melancholic Delirium: (1 month) Your joints ache and you go through a powerful depression. For every day not spent in bed rest, gain 1d4 Affliction.
            (2 weeks) Stage 2: It becomes painful and difficult to speak. Your skin grows pale and you become extremely sensitive to sunlight. Your muscles feel week. You gain 1d4 affliction points a day, unless you consume something high in iron (liver, human blood, etc.)
            (24 hours) Stage 3: A small voice inside your head, whispers the effects of the next stage of the disease. You take a Critical Ruin: Mental Damage and Illness critical.
            Stage 4: Over the course of 72 hours, you get a high fever and experience paralysis. You feel a hot wet liquid drain from your ears as parts of your brain melt and you begin to lose control over your body. You retain awareness of this for several excruciating days, until death finally and painfully comes over the course of several hours.

18. Seething Flesh: (3 days) Your flesh becomes covered in small bumps.
            (3 days) Stage 2: The small bumps painfully begin moving around underneath your skin, causing you to itch uncontrollably.
            Stage 3: You collapse in pain, as thousands of small biting bugs begin eating your body and bursting from your skin. It takes several days to actually die from this, many commit suicide before the bugs actually cause death.

Hack & Slash 

On the Hack & Slash Compendium 3

Wait, look what happened.

The third compendium is out!

What's in this crazy 104 page book?! (Folks, that's so many pages!)

Classes. A bunch of them. I'm going to list some.

Arcane Barbarians, Jesters, Paramanders, Spherical Wizards, Blood Warlocks, Blue Mages, Bug Collectors, Calculators, Acrobats, Bounty Hunters, Space Marines, Dragoons.

That's like half of the classes. Classes for 5th edition. Classes for old school games. Classes by Arnold Kemp of Goblin Punch.

Man, I was thinking I'm having a really hard time financially. It's rough. Lots of debt. You know the story.

Wait, nope. STILL FREE. (Well, pay what you want)

Not only that, no, no, but I've put every other single item I've published on sale. On the Non-Player Character .pdf for 9 bucks! Print versions of everything slashed 30% off. Everything on sale. That's going to last until October 31st, when hopefully we'll have another surprise.

Patreons as always, get the book free, free, along with the option for an at cost print copy.

The .pdf is A5, with the same form factor as the other compendiums.

Man, are you going to miss out? Click past without downloading it, and then kicking yourself when stuff goes off sale? I hope not! Tell everyone. The time for sharing the wealth is now!


Print Copy, Perfect Bound at Lulu
.Pdf Copy at RPG.now
My entire .pdf catalog at RPG.now
My entire print catalog at Lulu

Hack & Slash 

On Randomness and Meaning

This ties back into yesterday's post about Haunted Houses.

What is it that really scares a player? What is it that really engages a player?

When you run an adventure, you could sprinkle in Dungeon Dressing. ("here is a dead calm that is warm that smells like urine. The air is hazy with dust. You can hear sobbing and evil laughter in the distance. You find a pile of pottery shards and a cuboard here. You also see a scroll in the room." from here.) In an identical way, when running a horror module, you could sprinkle in horror dressing. ("The front doors slam behind you!")

But even though from almost the earliest documents, you could generate it randomly, it was never meant to be random.

Proof in the Pudding

Let's look at one of the best examples of classic play, the sample dungeon and transcript of play in the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide.
ENTRY CHAMBER: A damp and vaulted chamber 30' square and arched to a 20' high center roof. Arches begin at 8 and meet at a domed peak. Walls are cut stone black, floor is rough. Thick webs hide ceiling. See A & B below.
Thick webs hide the ceiling, because spiders live there.
Heavy oak door with bronze hardware is remarkable only in that if any character listens at it, he or she will detect a moaning which will rise and then fade away. Unbeknownst to listeners, it is the strong breeze which goes through area 2. AS SOON AS THIS DOOR IS OPENED, A WIND GUST WILL EXTINGUISH TORCHES AND BE 50% LIKELY TO BLOW OUT LANTERNS AS WELL. The wind continues to make the corridor impossible for torches until the door IS shut.
The moaning heard is caused by wind and directly affects play.

3. EMPTY CEREMONIAL CHAMBER: . . . A wooden platform, supposedly merely a dais for ceremony and religious rites, was placed against the south wall. This platform being 9’ off the ground enabled the use of the secret door in the south wall—this portal being 8’ wide, 10’ high, and 10' above the floor of the chamber. Amongst the 7 small protruding knobs of stone about 9' above the floor, the 7th pushes in to trigger the door mechanism, and the portal will swing inward (swings east) with a grinding noise. The only clue which still remains are socket holes in the south wall. There are 2 at the 20’ and 2 at the 30’ line (that is, on either side of the centermost 10’ south wall space). Each pair has 1 socket at about 4‘ height, 1 at about 8 . Each socket is 1/2 X 1/2 square and a little deeper. The first socket hole examined by the party will have several splinters of wood (from the platform, of course) which might prove to be another clue to thinking players.

Holes in the wall and splinters of wood are clues to the secret door.

Every room and every example has dressing that is directly related to a concrete fact in the environment. There is dressing that is unrelated to play, the traditional empty room option, such as the blind fish and crabs. These are red herrings.

Related to play

The mistake is when people use randomly generated dressing and dungeons and just communicate that to the players. The problem isn't in the random dressing, the problem is in the Dungeon Master just presenting that information and not attaching meaning behind it. That makes it truly just random, turning it into meaningless noise, which the players will then ignore. 

But here's the awesome thing about random generation. It sparks the mind and opens a door into the chimerical reality of an otherwise empty space. You don't use random dressing tables to add in random dressing, you use random dressing tables to spark you to make connections about why that dressing is there. You can do this both in play and during prepreation. 

This applies to the haunted house. If doors are slamming and shutters are clattering, there should be a reason. To scare your players, the reasons should be obvious and benign, until they are suddenly and horrifically not. 

So if you've ever downloaded or generated a random dungeon that's filled with a random assortment of monsters and dressing and wondered why it didn't go well at the table, that's because the step that was left out was making sure most, if not all, of that random dressing remains meaningful. 

here is a dead calm that is warm that smells like urine. The air is hazy with dust. You can hear sobbing and evil laughter in the distance. You find a pile of pottery shards and a cuboard here. You also see a scroll in the room.
Why does it smell like urine? If it's calm, why is their dust in the air? Who is sobbing? Who is laughing? What did the pottery jar do? What's on the scroll? This combination of random information should spark reasons that your players should be able to discover. Once they realize that there is a reason or purpose behind the descriptions and dressing you relate, they realize that those clues are the clues to their survival, making the game engaging and fun for them.

Hope this helps generate and inspire adventures for you, for a long time to come. 

Hack & Slash 

On the Hell House Beckoning You

Many of my longtime readers will notice that I self-disclose very little on my blog. Partially this is because it's just good business sense, my personality and politics aren't relevant to the design of a lich lord or city template and partially because I'm a private person.

Today, I'm going to break that rule, and say something that will certainly separate me from a portion of my audience. Here goes.

I don't like watching horror films.

I know! I know, I respect the genera, and think it's wonderful that they can be made. People should be free to watch all the sewing mouths to anuses, cutting off your own limb, being eaten alive by zombie movies they want. They are not for me.

But that doesn't mean that I'm unwilling to run a game with a little bit of horror and gore!

The Hell House Beckons

Man, just look at that cover. I may not be as familiar with the source material as KielChenier's adventure kit as some people, but running a haunted house doesn't require it. Every time I've run a haunted house adventure module, it's gone over well. From the classic Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh to the more modern and completely brilliant Slaughterhouse Indigo, Haunted Houses are great places for adventurers to go. Every single time I run them, they end up being crazy fun for the group.

The Hell House Beckons is a complete adventure kit to run a haunted house. It comes with a concise but flavorful backstory, illustrations, flavorful system neutral sub-systems and stats, ghosts and a crazy slasher, and a ton of tables to make running the adventure unique for each group that runs through it.

Kiel sent me a copy, and wanted to know what I thought. What do I think?

  •  Although it's not perfect, there's a lot of useable content here for 10$
  •   I'm surprised the book didn't include the absolute best hook involving haunted houses—the players inherit or win the deed to the haunted house. Instead it suggests that they are "Cleansing" it for some local lord.
  •  There's quite a bit of repetition within the text. Most of it is due to being designed to be used at the table as a reference, but some is contained within the setup and background information and doesn't need to be repeated.
  • *   Considering that it's written, illustrated, and laid out by a single person, these are minor quibbles. It's a 70 page adventure that is different every time you run it, and works as a toolkit you can pull from for other adventures.
  •  The imagery of some of the horror is fantastic. There are some terrifying things that can happen within the house. To avoid spoilers, I'm not going to mention anything specific, except inside this spoiler tag.
  •   Spoiler! Horses smashing their heads through the windows, and killing themselves? Shocking! A mutated halfling with shears wearing a burlap sack that just won't die and keeps popping out in random places? So much fun. Ghosts, hallucinations, forgotten burial grounds, in any other setting then a tabletop game, it would seem like too much. End Spolier
  •  Imagery that's not only terrifying, but fair. The adventure doesn't pull any punches, but unlike most adventures from 1984 to the turn of the century, there are no bullshit gotchas. This adventure isn't on rails, the characters can approach it however they want. There's a whole page devoted to talking about the perspective and attitude to take when running this adventure. I think that's awesome.
  •  The adventure isn't without its challenges to run, either. Minor spoilers ahead, so you may want to avoid reading if you plan to play in it. . . A large portion of the adventure revolves around satisfying ghosts, and in order to know how to do that, there's 800 words of backstory that either has to be read to the players or handed out to them. Players, as we all know, are a lazy breed, and that's a lot of investment to ask of them. I think it's best to just print it out and give it to them in letter form. It suggests that and is already formatted that way for ease of use. (Although you'll have to copy and paste from 3 pages and do a little reformatting in a text editor before printing)
  •   Each room is detailed in bullet point fashion, making it easy to use on the fly.

So, if you're looking for a haunted house to tempt your players with, you could do a lot worse then picking this up. It's a reasonable price, and the money goes to a good cause.

Besides, it's so much fun to ask your players, who's afraid of a haunted house? They think they know better than horror movie protagonists? Let them prove it.

Hack & Slash 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...