Monday, January 21, 2019

Death, But Make it Spooky

I've been in the process of putting together a players guide for my upcoming spooky forest game and I put into writing some fun death rules. My players tend to get attached to their characters and I've provided ways to avoid that unfortunate situation where a character dies midway through a session leaving one player benched for a couple of hours. Without further ado here is Death in the Bitterwood. These rules will likely be used for a 5E game but here's hoping I can add more weird curses to it in the future.



The Bitterwood is often very dangerous. Death might become common while exploring and you should be prepared for that. Resurrection magic is unseen in these parts but other options exist. After death, you may make a new character with a level matching the Party Level - 1. They will level up to Party Level upon surviving one session. When you die in session you have 3 options.

Change in Perspective. 
Take control of an NPC ally until the session ends.
(Easiest option, keeps the player involved and allows a possible permanent replacement to emerge.

Walking Dead. If your body can be retrieved, taken to a safe location, and your allies can perform a DC10 medicine check, you can be brought back to the land of the living temporarily. For the remainder of the session, you can play your character, who has been brought back with half of its maximum HP. You can’t be healed by magic in this state. If you fall unconscious in this state you die permanently. At the end of the session, the grit and bandages keeping your character alive run out.
(This one gives the character a chance to finish off lingering business without undoing the death. It also rewards players for retrieving the bodies of their allies).

Petition the Things in the Dark. If your body cannot be retrieved, your spirit can hold on at a price. You return to life whole of body and unsound of mind. You harbor a general curse and a specific curse and are always aware of them. The general curse is as follows:

  • You cannot stray more than 6 miles from the Bitterwood or you will die (painfully)

The specific curse is as follows (roll 1d10)

  1. Hunger: Your body always needs more to eat yet you waste away. You require twice as many rations to avoid exhaustion. You have disadvantage on Constitution Checks and Saves.
  2. Wolf: You are always pursued by a large, white wolf. You can fight it off but it always comes back within a day. Eventually, it will win.
  3. Tether: Someone you are close to takes damage whenever you do. If you can’t decide, each day the forest decides for you. Those tethered see a ghostly string connecting them to you.
  4. Faceless: Your face melts away leaving only vacant eye holes and a slit mouth. You have disadvantage on all Charisma Checks and Saves.
  5. Gibbering: You are unable to speak any common language. You are at disadvantage to attack with your spells and creatures have advantage on saves against your spells.
  6. Master's Call: Your mind becomes weak to suggestion. You have disadvantage on all Wisdom Saves and Checks. Any attempts you make to navigate will always lead you deeper into the wood.
  7. We Are Many: Everyone looks like you now. Animals look like strange stretched out versions of you. Your allies look like you cosplaying your allies. Killing anyone that looks like you makes you go unconscious from the shock of it all.
  8. Tar: You feel like you are constantly covered in thick tar. Your movement is stiff and speaking feels like drowning. Movement speed is halved.
  9. Lies: Large crows follow you around. they insist on calling you “Maddened of the Woods” and spin tales of your awful debauchery to anyone that will listen. Like all good rumors, these spread like wildfire.
  10. Changeling: You are actually a changeling pretending to be you. Healing magic hurts you and animals fear you. Your actual “corpse” is somewhere in the woods. If you find it and dispose of it no one will know of your true nature.

Dying after you’ve been cursed turns you into a creature of the night. Your character becomes an NPC under the DM’s control.

(The curses are meant to be more evocative than balanced. They show off the spooky sorts of things that could happen to those lost in the woods. I intend to apply a few of these to NPCs the players find to make it feel like a more concrete part of the world.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Running OSR (for the first time)

Over the holiday season, I ran Tomb of the Serpent King not only once but twice with two different parties. I also used the opportunity to playtest my 5e character creation hack.

My players were used to 5e so I did some explaining on how the tomb isn't balanced for their level one characters, furthermore, I tried out gold as XP and gave them an NPC hireling and a donkey as possible secondary resources.

1st Party 

 This party of three made their way to the tomb with Gabe, a local youth who has agreed to stash and transport the party's treasure for a flat fee. Featured in the party was a Tabaxi Monk, a Goblin Bard, and a Human Barbarian. They were definitely more cavalier with encounters. They triggered quite a few traps but learned to start avoiding them once they entered the true tomb. There was a fight against the black pudding which they smartly kited around to avoid the lethal nature of its pseudopods. One player did some cool shenanigans with the ring that lets you remove your eye and see through it by combining it with mage hand. There was almost a TPK as the players attempted to face the Stone Cobra Guardian head on. Following their near-death experience, they took advantage of the bottomless pit and stealth to dispatch the guardian. The dungeon barnacles stumped them for a bit so they continued on towards the goblin pits. At this point, things went poorly. The goblins moved in numbers the party wasn't well prepared for, forcing the party to use oil and firebombs to keep them at bay while retreating. With a sizable haul of treasure retrieved the party voted to head back to town and sell their treasure for more efficient resources. At this point, we ended the session. (This was the only party that made use of the hireling and sent him out ahead to get some gold safely out of the dungeon.)

2nd Party

This party of three featured an Elf Barbarian, a Human Wizard, and an Elf Rogue. This party was much more cautious about traps and were only seriously hurt by the lightning trap. They briefly encountered the Basilisk but chose to take an alternative path to avoid such a dangerous creature. They briefly split the party and the hidden mummy claws almost killed the rogue. The black pudding was trapped in the tomb it came from due to the wizard setting off a minor cave in with some spells. Upon reaching the Stone Cobra Guardian they made a few exploratory attempts to test its strength and opted for the stealth+push off cliff combo right away. After defeating the Guardian and reaching the dungeon barnacles we called it for the night.  


Tomb of the Serpent King: The 1st group enjoyed the dungeon and being able to solve problems creatively. The stand out encounter for them was definitely the fight and later toppling of the Stone Cobra Guardian. They took a route that completely avoided the Basilisk so they never got to experience that section of the dungeon. The 2nd group enjoyed the camaraderie and seemed slightly disappointed that combat was almost always solved by wit rather than fisticuffs. I'm hoping to finish the dungeon sometime down the line and expose the players to the other weird things within.

5E Character Creation Hack: All the players seemed to appreciate the fast rolling nature of the 5E Templates. One of the players wanted to switch out weapons for their background and another wanted more choices than the given 6.

Gold as Experience: This one didn't elicit any specific reactions. It did encourage more exploration and planning on how to exit the dungeon safely. More importantly, it kept them away from the mindset of dungeons having a final boss.

Overall: I enjoyed myself immensely and might try a simpler system next time.