Monday, October 17, 2016

Breaking the Mold

In the last post, I was asked about the details of the party's adventure and I gave a long answer.  I didn't finish the story, which I said was long, so I thought I would do that now and use it to make a point about monsters.

Let's start with the kelpie I introduced to the party, which I said was different from the Fiend Folio.  The FF describes the kelpie appearing "as a beautiful human woman in order to lure men into deep waters" . . . which of course is done with a charm ability.

Come on.  Did we really need another version of this monster?  Shit, the folio was printed in '81 and this was already such an awful cliche that the writers should have been taken out and bitch-slapped for every version of this they added to the book.  What the hell is it that makes game creators think that DMs need to constantly be charming the party into a near death experience?

When I was 15 and stupid, I did try a few of these scenarios, what with nixies and dryads and whatever the hell else.  They all sucked.  It's the same experience for the party every time: some people make save, some don't, those that make it save those that fail.  Listening to a DM read out random rules from a random splat-book would be more interesting.

Yet these are potentially interesting monsters, if the DM can get the hell away from the obvious dumb-monster response.  Saturday's kelpie in my game was friendly, novel, unexpected and compelling.  No one made a move to kill it (which would have been disastrous for the party) - and for a long time into the future players will talk about the kelpie and remark on its behaviour and someday that will set up another kelpie with a very different agenda.  Rest assured, that agenda isn't going to be charming the party and killing them.  It will be more interesting than that.

Consider.  The solution to the party's dilemma came out of another monster that also behaved differently than its cliched description.

About nine months ago the party was negotiating their way through the Sahara Desert, through a particularly magical part of the landscape.  The party is 7th to 11th level so things have to be more interesting now.  As chance would have it, they came across a creature that wasn't exactly demonic, but had characteristics that suggested such.

So the thief in the party, Nommi, decided to sneak up on it. I have stealth rules that enable thieves to roll 3d6 and then subtract their level from the result.  The number is the distance in five foot hexes that the thief closes to before the target becomes aware.  The target's level is also taken into account if the target has thief-like attributes.  If the thief is within two to three hexes, depending on the amount of armor the thief is wearing, and if the target then rolls against surprise and fails, the thief can backstab.  The rules work the same with an assassin.

In this case, Nommi rolled ridiculously low and ended up with a result of zero.  Thus he slipped right up behind the entity ~ and at that moment, discovered that he was in a position to back-stab a djinn.  I rolled a 1 on a d6 and the djinn was surprised.

The thief decided . . . um, no.  On the whole, it sounded like a really, really bad idea.  So the thief said, "Hello," and the djinn jumped and spun around.  And at that point, the djinn laughed.

The djinn congratulated the thief and remarked on the thief's skills and there was a great exchange as they made friends.  And in gratitude, the djinn granted the party a wish, which the party used, asking to have the McGuffin put into their possession at once.

Unfortunately for the party, this was an icicle of perpetual cold, which created a frozen sphere of about a quarter mile in diameter and affected weather within a thirty-mile radius.  Once the icicle was put in their possession, they were now inside the freeze radius, helplessly frozen inside.  They didn't know this is what the McGuffin did.

The djinn was very sorry and did help the party's back up of henchmen come and spend four months of game time rescuing the party (or rather, trying to rescue the party).  But that is all another story.

The point is that the djinn and Nommi did become friends ~ and Nommi was one of the party aboard the wrecked ship talking to the kelpie.  So, in a flash of inspiration, they called the djinn and got the information they wanted.  They did not have the power to compel the djinn to grant a wish, but the djinn does still know a lot of things and was willing to say so.

Now, I know a lot of DMs would make the djinn very tight-lipped and miserable, and would demand that any information the djinn might give would have to be the result of a wish.  But how straight-jacketed is that?  How much more interesting is it that the party has a djinn as a friend?  A friend, I'll add, who was willing to tell where the djinn's lamp was located ~ which is, again, another story, and another potential adventure someday if the party pursues it.

Things get interesting when DMs get out of the box and begin using these creatures like the intelligent beings they're meant to be - and stop with the most obvious, most annoying angles on their abilities and powers.  Just because a kelpie can charm the party doesn't mean the kelpie wants to.  Maybe the kelpie has other needs or interests. Maybe the kelpie is just friendly.

4 comments:

LTW said...

I do love reading the adventures you create. I like to see how you apply your methods to your own campaign. I've also read that you don't care for sharing war stories. I hope this does not cause you to shy away from sharing yours because you think they are boring to us. You are an author whose's books I have already read, not just another DM on the net.

Mike said...

Great stuff, that's how I've always run things...just how I was brought up on D&D :)

I like this:

"I have stealth rules that enable thieves to roll 3d6 and then subtract their level from the result. The number is the distance in five foot hexes that the thief closes to before the target becomes aware. The target's level is also taken into account if the target has thief-like attributes. If the thief is within two to three hexes, depending on the amount of armor the thief is wearing, and if the target then rolls against surprise and fails, the thief can backstab. The rules work the same with an assassin."

You ever think of doing a OSR / retro-clone product based on your house rules? There is so much crap that sells you could probably do well and I bet any adventures you wrote would be excellent.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I offer a different solution, Mike.

Here are the stealth rules:

https://tao-of-dnd.wikispaces.com/Stealth

They're part of a large, free wiki with plenty of stuff for players and DMs to steal and use at will.

In return, I ask you and others to kindly donate to my Patreon whatever small amount of money that seems right to you:

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3015466

Do it once, do it every month, help me out and I'll have more time and motivation to keep expanding the wiki ~ and you'll feel justified in asking for specific rules you'd like to see added, while I feel responsible for agreeing to make them.

Sound fair?

Scarbrow said...

Just in case somebody stumbles on this post and asks herself: "I wonder if Alexis' proposal is any good?" I will personally vouch for it. It won't be just "good". Like the story on this post, what you'll get is both more than what you expected and more than what you expected was possible or practical to deliver.