Stormtrooper Inferno (cursed aura)

So I have a vague idea for a magical item or ability. You know how stormtroopers never hit the heroes? Well, this item, let’s say it’s a pendant with the Rebel insignia over a bullseye, curses the wearer with a continuous barrage of heavy fire from stormtroopers via extradimensional murder holes (or, OR! even better, they are gated in in clusters, and continually replaced every 5th round).

The wearer and his companions are never hit, but every creature, and every noteworthy object within a certain radius of the wearer must take (lv)d6 damage at the beginning of each round, save vs br. weapon for half. Penalties for narrow corridors etc.

Now go put this in your game!

Some tips: Don’t tell your players what this does, pop a Nystul’s Magical Aura on it so it defies identification. Just hit em with the stormtroopers charging in around every corner and roll lots of meaningless dice behind the screen. Give them xp for stormtroopers downed, until they clue in. Then, stormtroopers only count as downtime weapon training.

Also, there’s a danger in overusing this. Darth Vader might wonder where all his troopers have gotten to, and ride the Deathstar in on a wormhole…

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!

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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. 

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.

A Contest Within a Contest!

As many of you may already know, Dyson Logos has a mapmaking contest.  My own entry surprised even me with its level of pulpy absurdity, and I found myself wondering what the hell I’d do with this, this… thing.  That’s when it hit me!  I’ll piggyback on Dyson’s well-deserved popularity like the smelly parasite I am, and do my own contest!

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So here’s the deal.  You run a one-shot adventure with this map, and submit an AP report to joachimheise at gmail dot com.  The report can be typed, video highlights w/commentary, podcast style, origami, whatever, as long as it conveys the story of your adventure through this, this… thing.  Bonus imaginary high fives for including statted out monsters or NPCs, any additional player handouts, etc.  I’ll be periodically posting these APs here as they trickle in.

As with Dyson’s contest, I’ll be doing a lottery draw of all the submissions, because well, look at my stuff.  I’m in no position to judge anyone.  I think I’ll actually put all your names in a hat and upload a video of me drawing, cuz that’d be fun, right?  I’m thinking one winner in every 5 submissions.  If, by some miracle, I get in substantially more than a handful of submissions, I might have to increase that to every 10 submissions.  Each winner will receive a free commission from yours truly.  This can take the form of one of the following:

  1. Another absurd adventure map, (possibly somewhat) less half-assed, 300dpi with a pdf walkthrough, built around a theme/concept of your choice.
  2. A piece of gaming table music/soundscape custom-built to your specifications.
  3. A picture of me eating spaghetti.

As we all know, it takes considerable time for some of us to get a group together and play something new, especially if that something is out of your average gamer’s comfort zone.  With that in mind, the contest will carry on until April 15th.  That means you guys have almost 2 months to get your shit together.  Break a leg, folks!