While I'm editing the rather large campaign The Heart of Fire, I figure I'd share a few of the elements from it that aren't quite spoilers but give a sense of the things I'm trying to do with this module.
Let's start off simple with a rather dangerous discovery: what if there was a Bag of Holding that is flawed, causing the pocket dimension within the bag to begin imploding?
The Vortex Bag is a seemingly innocuous bag, very similar in appearance to the traditional Bag of Holding, except that once it's open will suck in everything in the area and, once inside, begins to crush it with powerful force. The only way to avoid it is to try to crawl out of it or destroy the bag. And if one starts to bash at the bag while there are people still inside, those victims may not appreciate it much.
Hope you enjoy. Until the release of The Heart of Fire, I may be releasing a few other things. It's just so hard to decide what to reveal without spoiling it...
I am currently developing another module titled The Heart of Fire. In a style that seems to be somewhat typical of me, it's another big one - 116 pages at current count - but I think this module might actually be more usable because of the way it's designed. It's not a linear path... It's effectively a dungeon crawl where the players can take multiple paths to their primary objective, or deviate to do something that has nothing to do with the primary objective, or just wander around and kill stuff. There are several roleplaying options, lots of traps and lots of monsters. Should be fun!
The module is about 90% done, and all that remains is the design of three different rooms and for me to write a whole lot of fluff for the rest of the module (as I've said many a time before, I'm no good at fluff).
Recently, as part of the "RPG chat" that occurs every Thursday, the discussion came up about how one goes about creating a campaign. A lot of people mentioned how they have a hard time with the "nitty gritty", putting together the mechanics on how things work, and have a much better time just coming up with stories or descriptions of things. I am the complete opposite: I guess it's because I've been a computer programmer for thirty years, but I have a tendency to do all the mechanics first and foremost, and then fill in the blanks and make the story around that.
Case in point: in The Heart of Fire, the first thing I designed was the full stat block and tactical encounter map for the endgame boss. I had no idea what his motivations were, or why he was a "boss" in the first place for that matter. I had no clue what environment he would be in, or what would be involved along the way in order to get to where he is at. In the module there is currently a group of zealots known as the Blackfire Order that worship said boss, but at the time I created the boss' stat block that cult didn't even exist; I hadn't thought of it at all. I had a fully documented Level 12 Solo Controller with an arsenal of traps and devices around his lair, but I didn't quite know what to do with it. Everything leading up that didn't exist, and at the time I had no clue what it would be.
Over time I built a world around it, but I built it one stone at a time. Whereas some people may have a vision of the story from beginning to end in their head, I didn't have the faintest idea where it would go. Eventually I created the Blackfire Order (the aforementioned zealots), and another group of antagonists that get in the way, and the maze of tunnels inside the volcano that the boss calls home, and the island on which the volcano stands, and the small fishing village at the opposite end of the island where the encounter starts. Actually, I didn't even get that far yet: the page on which I am meant to describe Serpent's Cove - the village where the party begins their adventure - is completely blank. I haven't written a thing about it.
But every creature, trap and hazard has a stat block. I know exactly how much XP every room has, and I know exactly what level the PCs will be if they take certain paths. I have 36 encounter areas with detailed mechanics, ranging from every unique monster's stat block to the hit points and defenses of the average temple door... but every single one of them has a "read aloud" section that currently blank.
That's just the way I am, I guess. I'll deal with it sooner or later...
In the meantime, I thought I'd try an experiment and see if anyone out there will bite. After I created the boss and his lair, I created the following map:
At the time I didn't know what to do with it, or where it was going to go, or what's in it. Now I have a vague idea, but still nothing concrete. But like I said above, I know every mechanical detail about the encounter that's just outside the door to the North (7 monsters, EL 11, 2,950 XP) and the specifics on the trap that secures the door... but that's it.
I made the map using the "OK, let's see what looks cool here" school of design. A massive pile of coins lying in wait underwater? Let me mess with the transparency and color contrast to make the water look weird... Lit braziers? Let me see how putting an aura around the flame looks...
All in all, a neat little map... That's devoid of content.
So I leave this to you: using the map above, design what the contents of the room will be. Put in as many death traps as you want, pile it full of enough monsters so that they can't move, devise some sinister puzzle or contraption that makes it difficult to get so much as a coin out of this place. The room could be a real treasure vault, or a place of watery doom. Use your imagination!
Conditions: The only condition is that you do not alter the structural content of the room. You can add all the creatures you want, but you must not change the appearance of the room by adding objects. At least not initially, that is - objects might appear after the room is interacted with, such as things popping out from the walls, rising out of the ground, or simply appearing out of thin air - but when the players enter the room must be as it appears above. Again, monsters are the exception: put whatever you want.
Game System: The design could be of any level, and preferably for D&D 4e although I will accept other game systems with D&D mechanics (from 1st Ed D&D to Pathfinder). You can even "fourthcore" it, if you're so inclined.
Judging: Depending on how many entries we get, I will either judge them myself or find judges to take a look. We'll see.
Prize: These days I cannot guarantee retail prizes like I've done before as I don't have the resources to buy them, but I could guarantee prizes I myself have created since they're free to me.
So the winner - or winners, if there is a tie - will get a voucher from Drive Thru RPG for all the products I have listed there (CC1: The Complete Collection, retail value $13.96):
- The Endless Winter
- The Dragon's Master
- The Heart of Fire (once it is completed)
- M1: The Wayside Inn tactical map
- M2: The Ring of Stones tactical map
And, to be honest, if your design knocks my socks off maybe we can work something out to include part of all of it in The Heart of Fire. Of course, you will get credit for the creation in every way possible. No guarantees, but I like to keep my options open.
Deadline: All entries must be in by midnight December 18th, 2011.
So if you're up to it, show the world what you can do!
I guess it would help to add the email: send it to email@example.com!
Gosh, has it been that long since a post?
As of late, my life has been somewhat complicated due to work and "real life", but that's not to say that I'm sitting on my hands doing nothing.
Recently I've given a lot of thought to my campaign The Coming Dark, and I'm starting to realize the problems with it. Maybe it's overexposure, maybe it's disillusionment, maybe it's the infamous "DM burnout"... I don't know. The one issue I have with it that I can point to and say "that's a problem" is that it's somewhat of a linear adventure; everything must happen in a certain order, and the players really have no option to diverge from the set path. At first I didn't have much a problem with it, but participating in a few games and seeing the community's commentary on the subject makes me realize that not many people really want an adventure that is "on rails". Players want diversity, an option to diverge from the path before them and get creative with the world around them. They seem to want an open system, an environment where the DM ends up improvising a lot that goes on.
For that reason, I've once again began to work on another campaign, and it's another big one (100+ pages as we speak) but it has a lot of room to play around in.
The premise (this is a very rough draft):
A long time ago, a great dragon known as Vulkanon lived inside a volcano on the small island of Pyrias, from which he tormented and destroyed everything around him. A group of adventurers led by a mage named Raylen Darathar entered the volcano to stop this menace... Nobody knows what happened inside, but Raylen was the only person to escape the volcano alive. Even so, he was successful and the volcano fell silent. The great dragon was no more.
But something inside Raylen changed as a result of the experience, and he became more hostile towards the people of the surrounding islands. The residents of Serpent's Cove - a small fishing village on the far end of the island of Pyrias - had a great deal of conflict with the mage, and eventually they had no choice but to banish him from the island. Raylen died shortly thereafter.
Now, several decades later, Mazon Darathar - Raylen's son - has returned to the island of Pyrias with one objective: revive the great dragon Vulkanon and use his immense power to destroy the village that banished his father. Filled with vengeance and the need revenge, he entered the volcano... and the tremors have started once again. No one knows whether it's even possible for him to revive the great dragon, but the village of Serpent's Cove and the surrounding islands can't take that chance.
Here are some of the features in it:
- The primary setting is an island with a volcano on it, giving the players the opportunity to explore the island itself before delving in to the dungeons towards their primary goal.
- Besides the two major quests, there are several side quests that the players can pursue. Plus there are a few areas that are surprises, such as a hidden vault of treasure somewhere in the mountain.
- There are actually two separate dungeons that the players can traverse to reach their goal: one of them is the Temple of Blackfire, populated by the religious zealots of the Blackfire Order that worship their "great dragon god" Vulkanon, and the site of the original temple that was abandoned due to a landslide but is now the point of entry of a large group of orcs that seek to claim the temple's treasures. Players are not require to go through both areas to reach their primary objective, but if they are in the mood to explore or to get more glory and treasure (such as the hidden vault, or a powerful artifact, or just a boatload of experience and things to kill) they can enter these areas easily.
- It is theoretically possible to reach the "endgame" encounters without any combat at all, using a series of complex skill challenges and a lot of roleplaying.
So I'm somewhat pleased with this new module, and if people out there don't run it as-is there sure are various concepts in it that can be reused. As I said, it's a big one but the players are not expected to visit every room in it. There are two areas that link up to the BBEG's inner sanctum, and even in those areas there are multiple paths and side rooms they can explore. Lots of encounters, lots of traps and the occasional solo thrown in for good measure.
As a sample of the product, I'm including two excerpts. The reason I'm including these is not only to give you a taste but they are some of the areas I'm somewhat concerned about in terms of mechanics.
- The Blackfire crypt in the abandoned temple, now homw to a group of undead horrors that seek to suck the life out of the living. Although this is loosely based on the Deathgrasp Sarcophagus in Dragon Magazine - instead of one, there are eight sarcophagi - I debated whether to make this a trap or an actual set of creatures. It's kind of both, so I hope I've documented it adequately enough to make it an interesting situation.
- The Heart of Fire, an artifact that can be assembled and has extraordinary power over elemental fire. I've never created a sentient artifact before and flavor text isn't really my strong point, so I'm concerned whether this is overpowered, underpowered or just plain wrong.
Feedback on the above is appreciated!
The module doesn't have an official name yet, but it is intended for a full party of level 10 characters and should be available within the month. I still have the usual issues - no artwork, and I despertately need to find someone to draw me a map of the island - but it's getting there.
One of these days I'll re-visit The Coming Dark, perhaps rework it so that it's not so linear.
Anyway, stay tuned; I'm still around!
On an unrelated note, The Endless Winter is now available in softcover color on Drive Thru RPG! It's on Lulu as well, but almost 80% more expensive as I've mentioned before. And as soon as I get around to making cover art for it, The Dragon's Master will be up there as well.
Please visit the Darklight Interactive page on Drive Thru RPG and enjoy my stuff!
When I get around to it (that's a common theme with me, if you haven't noticed), I will finish creating my own store front where all these products will be available as well. Stay tuned for that, too!
WARNING: Possible campaign spoilers.
I've recently been having a bit of a mental dilemma with certain traps in my campaign.
My previous post talked about a specific hazard that has both positive and detrimental effects, and issues that come up as it relates to forced movement. Now I'm dealing with a solo trap that... well... I'm not sure if it should be a "trap" in the first place, at least in terms of how a "trap" is defined by the 4e rulebooks.
NOTE: In order to avoid spoilers, I will be talking in a general sense and have created a radically different object that has the same issues: the Black Obelisk.
You see, there's this object that is extremely powerful. One could argue that it's also intelligent, in the same manner that artifacts are but at a much more powerful scale. And it has friends, creatures that want to protect it and the area ahead.
One could argue that that's a trap or hazard, but I have some issues with that:
- The object's mechanics are beyond the scope of the traditional trap's statistic block. Most traps have a single attack or action they take; this object would have more options.
- The object provides an aura that protects its allies, so it technically functions as a controller. If it were to have healing or regenerative properties, it could also be considered a "leader".
- The object has multiple attack types, and some of those attacks or actions are not as intense as its bigger hits, so it has Minor and Standard actions. It could also conceivably have interrupt actions and make opportunity attacks.
- The object is powerful enough that it can't simply be dispelled by a few rolls (such as the traditional Arcana-/Religion/Thievery-based skill challenge, for example), and there's no chance of it being defeated by a single Thievery roll. It should take significantly more work to disable it, so much so that it's probably easier to destroy than to disable.
With that in mind, a thought occurred to me: what if this was a creature? That also has some issues:
- It is an object, and as such falls under certain guidelines in terms of defenses and durability (see "Object Properties" in the Dungeon Master's Guide). Granted, those defenses will probably be boosted because of the nature of the object, but it's still an object nonetheless.
- It has no brain or mind of its own (one could argue its attacks are by design or due to some sort of programming), so it doesn't have a Will defense. It would also be immune to other mind-affecting keywords and specific attack types: disease, poison, gaze, psychic, charm, fear and so on.
- It's anchored to the ground, which means it can't be force moved and probably cannot fall prone.
- It doesn't provoke opportunity attacks because its physical state never changes; it cannot "let its guard down" (see the definition of "Opportunity Actions" in the Player's Handbook) because it really doesn't have a dynamic guard like a living creature would. It also doesn't have eyes, so it qualifies as having "all around vision" and blindsight.
- Unless one of the creatures in the encounter is a mason, it can't heal. For that matter, it doesn't know what it is to be "bloodied" either. When it drops to 0 hit points, it is destroyed.
So I decided to make my object a "object monster", treating it as an Elite monster with a somewhat modified stat block.
As an example, I have created the Black Obelisk "creature" below. I admit I threw this one together rather quickly (I even had to make post-production changes to the image in Photoshop to remove spoilers) and only made it for this blog post to give you an idea of the sort of thing I had in mind.
As you may notice, the important differences are in the top section (hit points) and in the "Traits" section, where the obvious differences between a monster and a common trap are. Beyond that, it's a monster. I hesitated including the attributes at the bottom since they don't apply and are hardly used, but whatever.
Now this "creature" is not meant to be alone; it comes with any number of other guys. Those guys in turn draw power from the obelisk, regenerating their wounds and gaining protection from the obelisk's own attacks.
Now that I've decided on this hybrid, I might end up using it in multiple places. I don't know... I somehow prefer creature mechanics compared to trap mechanics, at least for the simpler non-deathtrap traps.
WARNING: If you're one of my players, this might contain spoilerific material!
I have a bit of a quandary, and figured this was as good a place as any to talk about it... Well, at least here you can speak in blurbs larger than 140 characters anyway.
As part of my campaign, I have one room that in addition to a lot of bad guys and a few other traps there is a stream of shallow water. This water - what I refer to as a Calming Waters hazard - heals the creature that touches them quite a bit (gain a used healing surge or recover your surge value in hit points, +5 temporary hit points, make an immediate save versus an effect), but that wave of healing energy is so powerful and overwhelming that it has a nasty side effect: it knocks you unconscious for at least one full turn.
In a non-combat situation that's all well and good; if a player chooses to drink from the water, well, that's his prerogative. And if he falls asleep because of it he can wake up (eventually). But what if this is a combat situation?
In the same room I have some bad guys, guys that may not even know themselves the power of the water, so they do not know how much of a tactical advantage it would be if their enemy would simply keel over and fall asleep if they so much as touched it. But they will enter combat the same way they would against any other foe, using the powers that come naturally to them. In this case, they have powers that perform forced movement (Thunderwave, for example), so it is conceivable that they could push their enemies in to the water without intending to do that in the first place.
Question: If someone is force moved in to this hazard, do they get a saving throw?
There are some factors to consider here...
First off, if you force move an enemy in to "hindering terrain", they get a saving throw; that rule is pretty cut and dry. For the record, here's the text from "Forced Movement" in the original Dungeon Master's Guide:
Hindering Terrain: Forced movement can force targets into hindering terrain. Targets forced into hindering terrain receive a saving throw immediately before entering the unsafe square they are forced into. Success leaves the target prone at the edge of the square before entering the unsafe square.
...and the text for "Hindering Terrain" from the Rules Compendium:
A type of terrain that hinders creatures, usually by damaging them. Examples: Pits, lava, and deep water. A creature can make a saving throw when it is pulled, pushed, slid, or teleported into hindering terrain.
But is it really hindering terrain? I can't help but think that the concept of whether a patch of land is "unsafe" is up to interpretation by the creature. The enemy may not know it's hindering terrain or that it poses a threat, choosing simply to walk safely around it and not get their feet wet. "Pits, lava and deep water" are pretty clearly dangerous, so an enemy would have it in his best interests to avoid them, but the calm waters are visually nothing more than a shallow (no more than a foot deep), crystal clear pool of water. To the naked eye, it's only difficult terrain until something comes in contact with it.
So if I were a player who got pushed in to the water and the DM tells me "make a saving throw", my first question would be "why?" The act of making the saving throw indicates to me that the water *is* dangerous, something that I probably didn't have any idea of beforehand. It immediately ruins the illusion that the water is either harmless or can have a positive effect.
My issue isn't about saving throws during the entire encounter... My issue is with the first saving throw, when a blissfully unaware creature finds themselves ankle deep in really soothing water until they black out.
The way I handled it before is that the first time it happened that person would not get a saving throw, and the hazard would attack normally. If it missed, they would still not know it is "unsafe", so others that went in wouldn't get a save either. But from the first time it hits and knocks out a target, everyone gets a save.
If this were "fourthcore", there wouldn't be a doubt: you're going in whether you like it or not. Actually, the waters probably wouldn't even get an attack roll and knock you on your ass instantly, but that's not quite the case here.
What do you think?