Monday, February 1, 2016

Ternketh VI: The Mess

This post will wrap up the events from Saturday night's running.  The remaining characters below ground have opened the door the harpy is certain to have gone through, and discovered more zombies:

Only three characters: Demifee, Holly & Sharper.

I'm sorry I didn't get a screen shot of this before the fighting began.  This is just two rounds into the combat.  Sharper opened the door on the top right, surprised the zombies (the third time in a row I rolled a two or less for surprise!) and rushed in.  It took a round for them to get into position.  Demifee leapt on the table (easy, as she had the bench to step on) and hit the one zombie for three damage.  Holly then hit the other for six and Sharper ran along the benches and missed.  The zombies attacked back, hitting Holly for not enough to stun and two of them smacking Demifee around for 10 damage - enough to stun her.  This is where the running finally ended (this was the last combat round I ran).

I want to remark on how my bad luck will seriously affect the party's game.  I can set up really cruel and miserable monsters, but if the party comes into the room and I consistently roll that the monsters are surprised, then lose initiative to the party after that, I'm giving two free attacks to the party every damn time.  This gives them enough starting hits to cause the enemy to be more easily stunned, letting the party walk through tough monsters even though they do have heavy hit points.

I don't mind.  As I always say, I'm not invested - if the party gets lucky, good!  The risk going in was the same - it isn't the party's fault if I have a pair of threes when they pull a full house.  I know that there are DMs who will shift and re-balance the adventure as their luck proves to be bad, but I think this is wrong.  The party ought to be rewarded for good luck just the same as if their luck is bad and mine is good.

This is a full dungeon and there are plenty of opportunities for my luck to change.  I don't believe in empty dungeon room after empty dungeon room; thus I build my monsters so that I can attack the party again and again with something, even if that something is so minor it's only good for attrition.  Attrition counts!  When the party comes to the end of the combat, having already expended their healing powers (oh my gawd, I'm not talking about the ridiculous pathfinder/4e healing bullshit here), all I want is for them to pause before finally being faced with the big bad.  Attrition throughout the adventure will make a big, big difference when the end game comes around.

I'm surprised that many DMs don't seem to get this.  Minimalizing healing is a huge part of the game.  How can the players possibly give a crap about characters who more closely fit the Wile E. Coyote stereotype (can take damage endlessly with no effect) and not John McClane?  When they get to the end, we want their characters bleeding, limping, sore, broken and tired; not with every hair in place, strolling in without a care.  How is it that the same fanboys who bitch endlessly about a scar that was obtained in scene 23 is now missing in scene 24 want to run characters who do the equivalent of rushing off to the make-up trailer before having to fight the big bad?

Anyway, the benches in the above image are all original work - and like everything else in the dungeon, they're interactive.  Some might have noticed in this series that several of the chairs have been moved around as necessary, for characters to get past.

Here's a shot of all the underground in one picture, showing how much was explored and where the characters are now in relation to each other:

As of Saturday, Jan 30, 2016

If anyone wants to see any of these features close up, let me know and I'll post them on the blog on on twitter, whichever is easier.  For those who don't know, my twitter is @Tao_of_DnD.  For example, here's a look at the crossbowman Fehim who is up in the keep's yard:

I really, really like how sharp I've made the crossbow.


  1. I'm with you when allowing players to enjoy their occasional streaks of good fortune...there'll be plenty of streaks of bad fortune down the road (often resulting in messy, untimely death).

    I have to say, I'm very interested to watch the expected attrition occur in your game. That's quite a troop the players have organized for this raid...I'm really curious to see how many survive the exploration!

    [and that is one burly crossbowman, just BTW]

  2. Yes, perhaps I did draw that a little thick.

  3. I have questions about the lighting.

    Do you generally have everything covered in black then erase/make it transparent as the party moves through or just black out obvious corners and not worry about blacking everything out? And if you have done both at one time or the other were the parties reactions/emotions significantly different between the two while you were running it?

    Just curious as I am starting to run my game on my laptop like this and think these posts are a great excuse to dig into how presentation may affect game play.

  4. I've added the black background for the blog. The background the players were playing with was white hexes.

    I have the file separated into three layers on the publisher file. A foreground, where the players move; a background, that can be seen but can't be manipulated without going to the background; and finally a sub-background where the content the players haven't investigated yet is, which can't be seen without opening the file.

    When the players enter a new room, I turn off the player's monitor, cut the room out of the sub-background file, place it on the background file and then turn on the player's monitor again. It is a little annoying but not too bad. I didn't get any complaints.

  5. Thanks, that sounds like an easy way of doing it. I will have to give it a try.

  6. I have only ever played Pathfinder and 4e (with the "everyone can heal themselves" ability), and I am curious about how healing is different in earlier editions. Are clerics simply able to take fewer heal spells, or are there other restrictions? Have you had to put additional restrictions in place to limit healing to a good level? Are players forced to save healing for emergencies like a dying character rather than topping up between/during encounters?

    I like the idea of actually being able to wear the party down.

  7. Samuel,

    In traditional advanced, a 1-2 level cleric can only heal once per day, using the 1st level spell cure light wounds for 1-8 hp. I increase that to 5-8.

    A 3-6th level cleric can only heal twice, adding the 2nd level spell aid for 2-12 hp. And that's only if you use the Unearthed Arcana rules, which I do.

    A 7-8th level cleric can heal three times, adding the 4th level spell, cure serious wounds for 3-17 hp. I increase this to 20-40.

    According to the spells, you can't share the hit points around to multiple persons, but I allow this.

    Druids have some comparable spells, but they aren't much better.

    In the old games I used to play, DMs would pile the party up with plenty of healing and extra healing potions, so that we were usually carrying around two each. I think this is excessive. I allow characters to buy something called "healing salves" which aren't exactly magic (well, sort of), are quite weak in effect and are murderously expensive.

    So you see, a big difference from the later editions and versions.

  8. Alexis, I'm worried this question might come off sounding a bit gamey, but it's not meant to: what, if anything prevents your players from resting a day between each encounter to recharge spells, heal, etc? Is it completely player-driven where they don't want to lose momentum? Do you make use of tough wandering monsters? Is a resting party more easily surprised to the point where their vulnerability exceeds the resting benefits? Maybe some of all the above...but as you pointed out, the development and growth of these characters spans years...if they want to fully recharge their batteries between each fight (and dodge any chance of attrition), do you interfere?

  9. Nothing is stopping the party from retreating, if they wish.

    Don't forget, however, that the denizens of the keep - the harpies - aren't expecting the party and may therefore not be organized. Given warning, if there's more than one, they could be more vigilant the next day - or they could fly out and attack the party aboard their ship, or even take steps to destroy the party's ship, if the ship tries to move away (it moves slower than the harpies fly).

    Once invested, it isn't always a simple matter of bowing out and saying, "Excuse me, be back tomorrow; please don't set up any traps while we're gone."

  10. Got it, that makes sense. Thanks for the reply.


If you wish to leave a comment on this blog, contact with a direct message. Comments, agreed upon by reader and author, are published every Saturday.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.