Fog of War @ the Table

Something I’ve been grumbling and fretting over pretty much since I started DMing is how to present and slowly reveal a map to players.  For the longest time, I simply redrew on-the-spot while referring to a master key behind the screen, which I know works great for a lot of people, and also allows a greater degree of improvisation, but when you combine a penchant for perfection with mediocre drawing skills, you invariably get bored players.  I’ve had many thoughts on this over the years, up to and including such ridiculous ideas as drawing maps entirely in blacklight marker, sheeting them in plastic, and lighting them up from below a glass table with a blacklight-bulbed, magnetic flashlight whose bonding counterpart would be a moving iron ring on the map which circumscribed the players’ torch-range.  Urghklbthgurgle.

I tried using sheep’s wool, then teddy bear stuffing for fog of war, which worked OK, and looked awesome, but it was a little poofy and hard to form, resulting in some accidental reveals.  I also toyed with smooth pebbles and glass beads for a time, which again looked awesome, but god, it took a lot of work.  Then there was the dry-erase marker fiasco:  Covering a plastic sheet with a thick layer of marker, and rubbing it off as the map beneath was revealed.  Turns out it wasn’t all that dry-erase.  Or it just didn’t work with the plastic I was using, I don’t know.  And bringing wet cloths into the equation just ruined the night.

What I did take away from that brain fart was the idea of blowing up a map and printing it out in several A4 sheets, taping them together, and rolling them into plastic sheets for safe transport.  This worked for a time; I could draw PCs, NPCs, creatures, features etc directly onto the plastic sheet with an ordinary bic pen and wipe it off afterwards without too much ugly scarring.

However, I discovered that rolling up my maps was doing more damage over time than simply drawing on them would.  Plus, the plastic gets ratty after a few sessions, and that costs money too.  If I were to continue with that method, I’d need an artist’s bigass portfolio case, (you know, the big flat leather square ones with room for whatever you want to throw on the easel) so I could pack and unpack the maps without having to roll them.   I had to just say “hold up, there’s gotta be a cheaper way to do all this”.

Luckily, I now DM from the home, so I don’t have transport to worry about.  I can just keep a map’s sheets together with paperclips, and lay them out one at a time on the table, so: ImageAnd for the fog of war, I had a stroke of brilliance.  (Please don’t tell me if I’m reinventing the wheel here, I’m happy in my illusion of innovative grandeur thank you very much.)  Print out clouds!  A quick image search got me some nice clouds with a blank background, and I did some quick layering and resizing.  A few printouts and some very sore scissor-fingers later, and voila!

Image

ImageThese clouds had their maiden voyage last session, and I gotta say, they work like a charm.  With several A4-sized ones covering the majority of the unexplored regions, the medium ones being pushed around the far borders, and the small ones covering hallways beyond obtuse wall angles and such, it all runs rather smoothly.  And it looks almost as good as teddy bear stuffing.  Almost. 

Bhalakyne’s Bookmark

Slumping away the mangled bodies of its nobleman passengers, you find in the overturned carriage a simple wooden gift chest.  In the chest is a lone scroll with a footnote that reads;

To my faithful apprentice.  While inspecting the spellwards this morning, I was rather disturbed to find that the silent alarm on a certain door in my library had been tripped.  Unfortunately, more pressing matters called me away shortly thereafter, so I cannot be there myself to look into it.  Take this key and return to the grounds after dark tonight. I want you to do some sleuthing.  Use this scroll, and send word immediately ere you discover who has been reading, and what it is that they have read, in the forbidden section of my library.

Signed, Bhalakyne of the Emerald Rookery


Lv 4 Divination Image

Range: 0

Components: V, S, M

Duration: 1 round/level

Casting Time: 1 round

Area of Effect: none

Saving Throw: Special

 

To cast this spell, the caster places a single pearl upon an ordinary, plain bookmark. Over the course of a round, as the caster mutters and waggles the appropriate eldritch prompts, the pearl melts and insinuates itself onto the bookmark in elegant inlaid whorls. Starting next round, once per round for the duration of the spell, the bookmark may be touched to any book, letter, scroll or similar reading material, and relay certain information to the caster. The caster will gain immediate knowledge of which pages were viewed last time the book was open, and will view the event in his mind’s eye for as long as the bookmark is touching the material.  This viewing is purely visual, and may be performed only once per object.

 

This spell may be cast in conjunction with the following spells, to great effect: True Seeing, Infravision, Ultravision, Detect Invisibility, Detect Illusion, or Detect Phase will allow the caster to purge subterfuges and camouflage from his vision. A Haste spell, cast on the reading material by touch, will double the viewing speed, thus providing the caster with twice as much information in the same amount of time.

 

Bhalakyne’s Bookmark is especially powerful in that it is immune to any detection on the part of the creature who last read the material, as the scrying occurs in the reader’s future, and thus cannot be detected during the reading. However, the reading material itself may, if it is magical, have (had) its own protections against Bhalakyne’s Bookmark.

 

Material components are an ordinary bookmark and a pearl. After the duration, the items remain fused, and become a mundane, ridiculously ornate bookmark which the caster might be able to sell for the original value of the pearl, if he finds some ostentatious fop who likes that sort of thing.

Image attribution:  http://diablo.wikia.com/wiki/Deckard_Cain

The Gavelkind Greaves of Succession

Upon receiving a vision from Tyr of a terrible undead plague, Lord Brick the minotaur paladin decided that a refashioning of the greaves on his Plate Mail of Light was in order.

Firstly, the Greaves increase Brick’s MOV rate by 3.  Their primary effect, however, is achieved through a holy machination of Law and judgment, a protocol that is stippled into their design.  Constructed cleverly to overlap Brick’s Plate Mail of Light, the patterned whorls and holes in the Greaves allow light from Brick’s plate mail to slip through in very specific divine arrangements.  These arrangements enforce, with holy power, any agreement of will and estate established by those who touch them.

 

In practice, this means that any undead body that, while it was occupied by a living soul, had written up a testament dividing its earthly goods, must save vs. Petrification upon touching the Greaves.  Lawful or controlled undead make their saves at a -4 penalty.  On a fail, undead of HD 6 or less are logicked back into their resting places as normal corpses, by the very fact that their earthly goods have been passed on in accordance with their will, and therefore they, too, must have passed on.  Corpses so affected are shielded by Tyr’s grace from being raised again, unless the Greaves are destroyed.  Undead of HD 7 or higher that fail their saves receive 8d8 damage as though from Holy Water, and any controlling connection to them is severed.

 

On a pass, an undead of any level has its earthly goods returned to it immediately.  This might very well mean that a large wardrobe, several dozen books and letters, a crate of silverware, other various household goods, and the deed to the house itself appear in neat, ordered stacks and ranks around the undead.  Alternatively, if the deceased’s possessions weigh more than the deceased, the undead is transported to its possessions where they are in greatest concentration, and any scattered possessions join it in the same place.  This might mean that a zombie pops up, along with the contents of a hotel room, in the middle of an enclosure of grazing rothé.

 

In a society in which written deeds are not used, an undead would not receive the deed to his house, but rather be teleported to the house itself, popping up in its old favourite room.  Any current inhabitants are expelled by invisible force if they fail a saving throw vs spell, unless they were a lawful part of the deceased’s household during its life.

 

Having passed its save and had its possessions returned to it, there is a 70% chance that the undead will begin to put its possessions to everyday or practical use, by virtue of cell memory.  This figure might be adjusted up or down by up to 30% in accordance with the degree of degradation of the flesh (and therefore the function-memory of its composite cells), the WIS and level of the undead’s controller, or the undead’s inherent Lawful or Chaotic nature.  Popping up in his old study, an archaeologist’s corpse might begin leafing through dig blueprints, pointing at things and making sketches in the margins, without having any actual intelligent thought or reason behind the process.  The aforementioned zombie cattle-owner might start driving his rothé out to pasture, or simply fish out a cigar and start mechanically smoking it.  This behavior will carry on indefinitely, until the possessions are removed, the necromantic animation is dispelled, or the undead is otherwise turned or controlled.

 

The definition of a binding agreement of will and estate varies dependent on the society by which the creature, in life, was governed.  A pauper of negligible possessions in a bureaucratic and meticulously governed city might leave naught but a chewed-upon cow’s femur to his son.  If the transfer of ownership of animal wastes is not governed by processes of state, and there is furthermore no official documentation beyond tacit processes of inheritance to establish the son as the new owner, the cow’s femur does not render the pauper’s undead corpse vulnerable to the Greaves, and the undead will be immune.

 

By the same token, an undead Gnoll, having bequeathed the cow’s femur by way of tribal custom to his firstborn, would indeed be vulnerable to the workings of the Greaves.  No will or official documentation is necessary to make the process of succession binding, as the Gnoll’s governing society is devoid of such customs.

 

Failing its save, the Gnoll corpse would once more be lifeless.  Passing its save, the undead Gnoll would suddenly have the cow’s femur in its hand, and the tribal agreement of succession would be null and void.  In societies wherein such processes are governed by magical means, such as by a witch doctor or a board of clerics, said governors, wherever they are, are liable to feel the change, and perhaps infer that the deceased is no longer, or never was, deceased.

 

Animal societies may be valid in some cases as well.  If, by the law of the pack, the biggest male gets first pick of the bones and meat in a buried stash left by a deceased hyena, that hyena’s animated corpse would be vulnerable to the effect of the Greaves.

 

As a rule of thumb, within any group of animated corpses, 70% of them will have societally valid legacies, and will thus be vulnerable to the Greaves.  At the DM’s discretion, this may vary by up to 30%, based on the levels of bureaucracy, intelligence, ritual nature, lawfulness, and poverty, relative to each other, present in the source societies.

 

Regarding the specifications, provenance and maintenance of the Greaves:  They are crafted with tooled leather and platinum.  The leather was tanned from the underbelly of a golden dragon who, at Tyr’s behest, bequeathed it in his will unto Brick.  The dragon made the caravan arrangements for its transport to the Underdark through use of his innate Quest ability upon a willing troupe of merchants devoted to Tyr.  The platinum ingots were mined from Mount Celestia, and inserted into the heart of the dead dragon, then cut out three days later, weighed upon golden scales, smelted beneath the light of a crescent moon, and then forged into rivets, loops and screws upon a workbench whose surfaces were periodically soaked in holy water and sacred oils.

 

The greaves are a +2 item for the purposes of magical item saving throws, but do not stack with the +2 AC bonus granted by the Plate Mail of Light.  They weigh 20 pounds together, and engirdle Brick’s legs up to just below the hip, fitting snugly around the ankles of his Boots of Striding.  Each Greave’s total length is 4 feet.

 

The magic of the Greaves will not work under a shroud of Darkness, or through dense cloth or some other obscuring material, as its performance is dependent upon an exactingly detailed play of light from the plate mail and through the Greaves into open air.  Any damage done to the Greaves will similarly negate their effect until such time as a sufficiently skilled devotee of Tyr can repair them.

Astral Lenses

Image(image attribution rgbstock.com)

Astral Lenses allow 3 creatures the combined ability to perform a “Portage” into a parallel Timestream.  The Lenses are layered to form the dark colour spectrum (red, green, and blue).  Single or double Lenses will only allow a small window into the parallel Timestream, and that window will be limited.  A creature will be able to reach his hand out at arm’s length through a single or double Astral Lens, but he won’t be able to see, touch or retrieve just anything.  Simply putting one’s hand into an alternate Timestream without preamble also carries its own dangers: A creature doing so must also save vs. Positive-Plane energy poisoning.

The Colours and What They Do

Through a Green lens, organic matter will be clear and tangible.  Through a Red lens, spirits, souls, and other cruces of sentience will be clear and tangible (assuming the PC has the ability to see or touch such entities to begin with).  Through a Blue lens, mineral or inert material will be clear and tangible.

Note that selective viewing through one Lens will not allow a creature to see through entities viewable only by another Lens.  Wielding a Green Lens and purposefully eschewing the Blue Lens will not allow a creature to see a body behind a stone wall.  Instead, the wall will be represented by a formless mass of shadow, and will block sight to the other side as a wall normally would.  If anything, the Lenses restrict sight even more, as even a clear glass windowpane would be an obscuring mass of shadow when not viewed through the Blue Lens.

How Do I Get One?

An Astral Lens, though it can be a physical object, is typically a magical anomaly existing only in the vision of a creature so endowed.  Typically, only demigods, archmages of chronomancy, or high priests of the Elven god of time Labelas Enoreth, would be gifted with (or capable of procuring or wielding) more than one Lens.  Some possible other ways to procure a Lens are:

1)      to subject oneself to repeated blasts of Positive-Plane energy filtered through carefully aligned crystal prisms, after many years of careful study on their position and timing.  Though the theories documented by chronomancers for this procedure are sound, only one archmage in history has actually survived the process.  He went hopelessly mad, and is currently busy killing off versions of himself in parallel Timestreams and eating their brains.

2)      to contract a form of degenerative illness known in wizardly circles as metacausal ague.  People in direct causal relation to events or persons that have been erased from the Timestream often contract this, as their minds wither under a spectral gamma-storm of existential reshuffling.  It’s never healthy to be caught in the crossfire when the Universe rights itself.

3)      to be thrown by divine force into another Timestream without warning.

4)      to cross Timestreams so often that, eventually, one can only exist in the dark spectrum that straddles all Timestreams.  Such unfortunate creatures live within their Lens, and are unable to fully corporealize in any single Timestream.  Reality for these beings is a confusing blur of infinite causal branches.  They wade downstream through a realm of exponentially dilating probability and commensurately contracting Time, never able to actually engage with any of it.  Eventually, as they crawl downstream and expand to encompass hundreds and even thousands of Timestreams, they slow to the point of crystallizing, and become vast prismatic libraries documenting their own last living moments through each Timestream.  Chronomancers refer to these horizon-spanning corpse-artefacts of frozen probability as the Bridges of Prophecy, and speak in reverence of the sheer weight of algorithmic knowledge that could be extrapolated from a thorough decoding of their panoramic surfaces.  It is theorized that one could gather enough probabilistic data to predict the future with great accuracy in any given Timestream, if one could only survive long enough between Timestreams without suffering the same fate as one’s object of study.

The Layering

In order to access other Timestreams with at least a small measure of safety, one must layer multiple Astral Lenses, one of each colour.  When these Lenses are layered together, they can be expanded in the shared mind’s eye of the creatures that own them, to form an Area of Effect within which the creatures may operate for a short time in a parallel Timestream.  Things will be slightly different within this parallel Timestream.  People will have made different choices, created and destroyed different things, etc.  These changes will generally regress to something similar to your own Timestream, given time, thus containing wild ripple effects that could cause major divergences over the course of centuries.  However, that is not to say that they are not without impact for the PCs.  Certain NPCs might be alive, where before they were not.  Certain wars or skirmishes might have been lost or averted, public figures will be in varied standing and demeanor, etc.

The process of creating and entering this Area of Effect is referred to as a Portage.  The Portage is performed with a variation on Blackjack rules.  Each player will be dealt two cards, one face-down below another face-up.  The players will try to get as close to 21 as possible without going over.  Face cards are 11, and Aces are 1 or 11, player’s choice.  The DM will not deal any cards to herself at first.

Each player in turn says either “Hit me”, “Hold”, or “Reveal”.  Unlike regular Blackjack, a player cannot receive more than one card in his turn.  When all 3 players have gone, one round has passed in game time.

Whenever a player says “hit me”, the DM can also deal herself a card.  If that card is equal to no more than half the value of another player’s top card (rounded up), she can hit the player’s stack with it, thus increasing that player’s total score.

Holding or Revealing does not prevent a player from performing any of the 3 actions on their next turn.

Revealing

Each player will have a target figure equal to 21 – (½ level), rounded up.  For example, a Level 7 player’s target figure is 17.  When a player’s score reaches or exceeds this figure, he can choose to Reveal on his turn.  The first player to Reveal immediately draws 1m2 on the map.  This is the beginning of the Area of Effect.

After the first Reveal, whenever a player that has Revealed has a turn, he may spend his degree of success on either meters squared or duration.  For example, our 7th level character Reveals at 18 and lays down 1m2 on the map.  On his next turn, he Holds, and can lay down an addition 1m2 and purchase 1 round of duration, or lay down 2m2, or buy 2 rounds of duration.  The turn after, he bravely says “Hit me” and, lucky dog that he is, gets a 2.  This brings his score to 20, 3 higher than the base success, which means he has a degree of success of 4 to spend on meters squared or duration.

The danger of Revealing earlier than the other players is that the DM can still hit you with cards half as low as your top card, and push you over 21.  To avoid this, try to end with low cards.

On scoring 21, the degree of success is counted as double.  Our 7th level guy would be laying down 10 points into AoE and duration each turn!

Click Your Heels, Dorothy!

When all 3 players Hold consecutively, the ritual is complete, the cards put away, and the PCs alight into the AoE through no force of their own, drifting serenely through the Portage and into the other Timestream, eyes flashing a dazzling convergence of Red, Blue and Green.  The duration countdown begins.  The players can move and act freely within the other Timestream for their earned duration.  Other creatures of this or the other Timestream will not notice the Portage or the AoE, unless they too possess Lenses.  They will, however, notice the players’ (dis)appearance.

The Portage uses an Anchor on the other side.  This can be either an object or a person.  The AoE will move with the Anchor, should the Anchor change position.  When the duration ends, every creature in contact with the Anchor will be jerked back into the PCs’ Timestream.

If a PC (or any thing or creature they brought with them) comes into contact with the edge of the AoE, they are immediately vaporized by Positive-Plane energy.  Creatures and PCs level 5 or higher may make a saving throw versus spell; if they pass, they instead lose two random limbs and take 5d8 Positive-Plane energy damage.  Creatures immune to Positive-Plane energy may pass through at will.

But Wait… What Happens Over 21?

Scoring over 21 is a consistently horrible thing to do.  All scores over 21 must be Revealed immediately, and their effects are resolved at once, before turns are continued.

  • At 22, the players must take STR checks or get sucked in.  The offending player makes his check with a +4 penalty.  The ritual ends immediately, but the Portage can still be completed as long as either all or none of the players passed their STR checks.  If only 1 or 2 of the players got sucked in, the Portage closes and they are stranded on the other side.
  • At 23, 2d10 denizens of the Astral are attracted to the Portage, and swarm around the AoE.  There is a 50/50 chance of them appearing in the one or the other Timestream, and the players will not be able to tell which.  They will not be able to break through into the AoE until the duration ends, at which point the PCs are either holding the Anchor or not.
  • At 24, the target Timestream is switched out with another Timestream.
  • At 25, 2d8 random creatures belonging to the other Timestream who have or will, in the course of past or future, pass(ed) through the AoE, are pulled out of their own place in the Timestream and into the present, within the AoE.
  • At 26, the party, their AoE and their Portage are teleported to a random world location.
  • At 27, each PC rolls up a Wild Surge.  The offending player rolls up 2.
  • At 28, the Portage’s Anchor on the other side is changed to a random creature or object within the AoE.  The players will know that something is wrong with the Anchor, as it will suddenly be grey.  The ritual ends immediately, and the players are pulled in so long as there is at least 1 round’s duration.  In order to spot the new Anchor, all three must look directly at it at the same time.  Coordinating their gazes requires 1 round per target.
  • At 29, the ritual ends immediately, and each player is blinded by an intensely hot, supernova-grade light for 1d4 rounds and blasted with 5d8 Positive-Plane energy damage.  They can save vs Breath Weapon for half damage.  The offending player gets 10d8 damage.  Those who critically fail their save (by 4 or more) must also follow the saving throw procedure for Positive-Plane energy poisoning. This blast of radiation is merely an echo of what happens inside the AoE in the other Timestream.  Everything within a 5m radius of the Anchor is atomized as though it had come into direct contact with the Positive Material Plane.  Even the landscape, the air, everything in a 5m sphere is nullified.  The anchor itself survives, and has a 50% chance of being pulled into the PCs’ Timestream.  From 5m and out to the edges of the AoE, if any edges go beyond 5m, all vegetation is vaporized, and all creatures receive 10d8 Positive-Plane energy damage.  Those who fail their saves must follow the saving throw procedure for Positive-Plane energy poisoning (think I’ve spammed that enough now).
  • At 30, Labelas Enoreth, the Elven god of Time, sends an archangel with a +5 flaming longsword to destroy the offender for having so abused his power.  The archangel will ignore the other party members unless attacked by them.  If the offender immediately falls to his knees and offers his neck, there is a 50% chance that the angel will instead deliver him to Labelas’ throne room for judgment.
  • At 31, roll 1d4+1d6+20 and use this result.  Do this twice.
  • At 32, the offender ascends immediately to godhood.

The Jokers

If the DM hits a player with a Joker, step 31 is immediately invoked.  If the DM draws a Joker to her own stack, the AoE becomes omnipresent, and the duration becomes permanent until dispelled by all 3 players grabbing the Anchor to return to their own Timestream.  They can, in effect, wander the other Timestream indefinitely.  However, should the Anchor be destroyed, they would die with it, and atomize everything within 5m of them as per #29.

 

The Mythical White Lens

Legend speaks of a being of the Timestreams whose mind holds in its eye a White Lens.  This being was once a human scholar who had spent far too long crossing Timestreams and became trapped.  He somehow avoided the inevitable fate of crystallizing into a Bridge of Prophecy, and now he assumes a plethora of potential forms simultaneously, but is bound by none of them.  His/her/its perception of reality and the flow of time is so profoundly esoteric that engaging him in conversation would be utterly impossible.  They say he wanders in and out of important moments in history and in futures past, gibbering and unleashing the occasional wild surge in a seizure of transcendent chronomancy.

According to theoretical chronomancers, a White Lens would render the Weave of magic itself clear and tangible.  If this is correct, this being, referred to in legend simply as the White Lens, can cast magic in multiple Timestreams and at multiple points in history, most probably with no control whatsoever, and without actually entering the real Multiverse.  Some fringe theorists even speculate that his very presence ripples back to the birth of the Multiverse, and that he serves as the unwitting primogenitor of the Plane of Limbo and, by extension, of Chaos itself as a supra-abstract entity.

Positive-Plane Energy Poisoning

So this is one for those familiar with the multiverse of Planes in Forgotten Realms etc.  I’ve equated energy from the Positive Material Plane with radiation, and thus whipped up a nifty little series of horrific saves for creatures thus inflicted.

Creatures subject to Positive-Plane energy poisoning make the following poison saves, moving down the list each round until a save is made.  Each failed save accumulates a -1 penalty on future saves.

Short-Term:  (each round)

1.  Confusion (as per spell)
2.  Bleeding from all orifices for 3 turns (1 Wound Check/round)*
3.  Unconsciousness.

Long-Term:  (each morning)

4.  Bone marrow dessication, -3 DEX permanently

5.  Fever for 1d4 days, -1 WIS per day permanently
6.  Hair loss, -1 CHA (-4 for Dwarves)
7.  Continued Bleeding 1d4 days (1 Wound Check/turn)*

Endgame:  (each tenday)

8.  Eye cataracts, rapid degeneration results in permanent blindness in 1d10 days

9.  A Vomiting, 3-hour-long death.

Cure Disease, Remove Curse, Neutralize Poison, Slow Poison and other restorative magics will have no bearing on the practical effects of failed poison saves, with two exceptions:  Regeneration will cure 4), 6), and 8), and healing spells will still heal damage.  If the victim dies, the body will remain irradiated for 1d10 years, and will thus be forced to continue with the checks where he left off if resurrected.  However, once a save is made, there is no need to make further checks as long as the creature leaves the irradiated AoE within 1 turn.

Recuperation from that point requires a number of tendays equal to the last save’s number on the list.  For example, having saved successfully from eye cataracts, a creature would still have to spend 8 tendays recovering.  Any strenuous effort during this time causes a creature to have to start from the top of the list again, with a cumulative save penalty equal to the number of weeks of recovery left.

*Wound Checks are referring to my Houserule Wounds system  The HP equivalent to a Wound Check would be something like 1 to 3 HP in this case.

The Order of the Broken Moon

Order of the Broken Moon

This is how I spent my evening the other day, and it was a great time.  This is the banner for the Order of the Broken Moon, a new brotherhood being formed under the guidance of my Tyr paladin character.  I’ve never done a banner or coat-of-arms like this before, so it was fun just to try it out.  I’m no artist, but I’m actually pretty proud of the way it turned out.

The brotherhood’s ambition is to make every slave a free man in the Duergar city in which our party currently finds themselves.  Now, that story arc could probably complete itself just fine without this banner.  It’s nothing that I had to do, and certainly nothing my DM would demand of me.  I just felt like doing it, and I think that’s what made it so much fun.  Most of my creative tasks these days seem burdened by a miasma of purpose.  Why, I say, why?  There was a moment back there where I had nearly forgotten the joy of creation for its own sake.  But now I’m back.  Let chaos reign!

Players with cell phones

We’ve all had this problem at some point.  You’re in the middle of framing a scene or answering a question from a player, when you look to your left and see the other guy staring at his crotch, the led light swirling in his beady little turtle eyes.  You feel like slapping him, but suppress the urge.  After all, we’re all adults here.  You’re not a schoolteacher, trying to keep his kids in line.  You’re just a dude hanging with his buddies and playing a game.  If a fellow adult feels the need to check his phone, he must have a good reason.  …right?

And quite often, there is a good reason.  So you keep cool, and carry on, filling him in with a curt but polite second explanation if there’s something he suddenly doesn’t get.  Or, if it’s the 3rd time this session, you say “Huh, guess your character must have been daydreaming,” or some other passive-aggressive hint.  Or you lunge across the table, grab him by his hair and smash his head into a bloody pulp on the battle mat don’t let it get that far, because now you have (cue majestic horn promenade)…

A Guide to the Horrific Undoing of He Who Gazes Too Deep Into the Astral Mists!

That’s right.  Here’s how it works.  Whenever you notice Dude on his phone, put a little tick by his name on your xp notes, or something else equally handy and hidden, and roll a d6 minus the number of ticks on his name.  If you get a -1 or below, Dude’s character’s 3rd eye has drifted too far into the 361st degree.  The horrors that lurk in the periphery of your campaign world have been stirred into life by his prying eyes!  He’s seen Something That Cannot Be Unseen!

This could mean many things, depending on your campaign world.  You might want to make a chart, like this:

-1:  The soul of the nearest dying creature gets sucked into Dude’s head instead of going to the afterlife.

-2:  Dude becomes a magnet for the undead.  They will always attack him first.  If multiple characters get this, subsequent Dudes instead become magnets for demons, insects, darkness (causing light to bend around him and avoid being within 10′ of him, even the magical variety), the list goes on.  If you have that many players on cell phones, you need more than this chart to help your game.

-3:  Dude is afflicted with “fading sickness”.  Each hour that passes, there is a cumulative 1% chance that he will spend the next hour invisible.  When the chance is 100%, he becomes a Ghost.

-4:  Imps break through a dimensional rift created in Dude’s forehead, ripping with them 1d6 Intelligence points, causing a near-fatal wound on the way out, and leaving a scar that makes Dude look like a retarded unicorn.  Poor dude.

-5:  A random appendage rots and falls off.  Penalize DEX and/or STR appropriately.

-6:  Dude learns a horrific truth about the fundamental structure of the universe/multiverse, and is compelled to write it down.  Forever.  Because it can’t ever be perfectly expressed in simple mortal language, but every waking moment he spends trying to resist the urge brings him closer to madness.  And eventually, his empty stomach will shrivel, his parched throat will crack, his hand will cramp up and give out, his body will fail in its compulsion, and the madness will take over whatever is left.  It will start with an increased taste for red meat, then blatantly cannibalistic drives, perverted lusts involving the internal organs of lizards, etc, and devolve into all manner of foul desires, any act of carnage or bacchanalia that just might be brutal and shocking enough to his conscious mind to drive out the infernal truth that smolders behind his eyelids.

Caveat:  If your player is going through a rough time, be sensitive.  Don’t use this.  The fact that he’s showing up to game in spite of life issues means he’s either using it as a much-needed escape, or he’s sufficiently dedicated to the game that he makes time for it, possibly at the expense of other things.  He might still have some life-related shit to take care of on his phone periodically, that’s fine.  Don’t punish him for being there.