Saturday, March 26, 2016

Report: Maze of the Blue Medusa!

On Thursday night, +Ken Baumann was kind enough to run a preview of Maze of the Blue Medusa, a megadungeon out soon on his own Satyr Press imprint. If you're reading this, I'm sure you know the deets: art by +Zak Sabbath (Playing D&D With Porn Stars, A Red & Pleasant Land, Vornheim) and words by +Patrick Stuart (False Machine, Deep Carbon Observatory, Fire on the Velvet Horizon).

Here's what happened. Spoilers follow. Ken plans to run a few more sessions as he gears up to run the Maze at cons this summer, so if you want to get in on those, stop here.


The cast of characters:
Gladys, a dwarf wizard, played by +Chris Weller (Rolang's Creeping Doom)
Halyard Fourguy, a half-elf barbarian, played by Chris
Issari Ricin, a human paladin, played by John
Milo, a halfling rogue, played by +Kiel Chenier (Dungeons and Donuts)
Severin, an elf rogue, played by me
Smudge, a gnome druid, played by Brian

Together we formed a ragtag and unscrupulous society of art collectors, having recently acquired the obscure masterwork False Chanterelle from a fencer of stolen paintings. It came with an unusual suggestion for its appreciation: hang on a room's north wall and view under the light of a full moon.

Naturally we obliged, and when the moonlight hit the pigment the chained woman in the painting turned and beckoned us to her. Suddenly we found ourselves standing in the depicted room with the woman, a painting of the place from which we'd come on the wall behind us. She begged for release, and with a swing of Halyard's axe we broke her bonds. She promptly backed away toward the painting until both she and it vanished. A fine how-do-you-do.

Rummaging through the room, Severin discovered a vial of unholy water, giving us all the sense that the woman had in fact been some evil priestess intent on switching places with us here, wherever "here" was.

To find out, we left through the only available door and found ourselves in the presence of a blue-skinned draconic woman pacing in a large empty room. She introduced herself as Lady Capilli and welcomed us to the medusa's maze, offering to pay us for any of the countless "nice things" around the maze we could recover for her. All in all, the nicest greeting for a prison-inside-a-painting we could hope for. Unfortunately, as an avowed aesthete she declined to tell us any more about the maze for fear of spoiling our experience. How considerate.

We left the lady and set off into a brightly lit circular room. Severin crossed the room to scout an open archway with Smudge following close behind. A little too close, turns out, because as soon as Severin cast a shadow in the room's uncanny light, Smudge fell right in as though it were a hole. Severin saved the gnome just as a hand dropped onto his face. A severed hand, in fact, with an eye in the palm. Suddenly overcome with a violent urge, Severin drew his rapier and stabbed at his friend Smudge, who dodged the thrust. Issari pried the awful hand from the rogue's face, but holding onto it proved too much, and it skittered into the darkness.

Using our lamps and torches to obliterate the room's shadows, we pressed forward through the archway to discover a regal-looking old man run through with three huge swords. Though in great pain, he was still up and walking. He begged for death, instructing us to pull the swords from him while noting that we probably shouldn't be near him when we did. Milo tied rope around the swords' hilts and bravely/foolishly volunteered to hold the man while the rest of us cowered around the corner and pulled on the ropes. The man was torn to bits and a mass of green vapor escaped him, dousing our lights.

As the vapor began to coalesce into three figures, Milo picked up the swords and ran into the adjoining room with the rest of us in tow, where we discovered three thrones. The figures turned out to be the old man's vaporized thanes: one golden and blinding, one flickering and electric, and one leafy and wild. They wanted the swords.

We dispatched the thanes with only one incident of running into a wall, and in the fray Milo discovered riddles written on each blade:

"You'd like to spend the night with me, but if you spend the day with me, we'll sleep together."
"I am a heavy burden, but anyone would take me from you."
"My clock counts years, not hours."

Examining the thrones, we discovered slots in the armrests and decorations on each: grapes, a crown, and a tree. Matching each to the correct sword, we placed them in their slots and heard a door unlock in the previous room. This led to a rope bridge over a chasm and beyond that a huge chamber.

This was a sight to behold: a giant worm writhing and drooling with madness in the center, babbling in an unknown language (translated as "I want rockth, I want rockth," by the druid) and a near-complete set of large stone chess pieces against the west wall, missing only two rooks. Severin snuck past the worm to inspect the chess pieces, and that's when things got weird. Thanks to a four-in-a-row streak of rolling 1s on Wisdom saves, four fingers on one hand broke themselves and he began to totter off toward the worm. He was saved by his friends, who stopped him and killed the worm. Cutting open its belly, the paladin Issari discovered the missing rooks and a scroll of petrification.

We tried to rest, but who should come creeping along but our old friend the severed hand. Its gaze made Halyard weep with fright, and the hand tried to take this chance to choke the life from him. Smudge saved him with a well-cast mage hand, though the nasty little bugger managed to escape again.

From here, we had two choices: northwest or northeast. The northwest chamber proved to be a no-go, full of scary black liquid and floating green gems that froze Severin in place for a few minutes.

So northeast: a small, stark-white room with a straight black line along the floor from the entrance to the exit. Smudge intuited that we should try to keep to the line and we set off in single file. Suddenly the line began to contort into shapes representing all our greatest fears, a path that would take forever to traverse. We resolved to go one at a time, but just as Smudge was almost across the room, a large scarab fell from the ceiling, biting him into unconsciousness and munching on the books in his pack.

The scroll of petrification from the worm's stomach turned out to be a dud, but Gladys finally killed the scarab with a ray of frost, and Severin bounded into the room to revive the fallen gnome. Turns out he doesn't know much about reviving fallen gnomes, but luckily Smudge came to on his own, and the group moved down the hall into a large chamber. There we met a blue-haired girl, nude and beautiful, and we had sense that we had just entered a temporal distortion.

"What took you so long?" she asked, and the session ended.

It was a blast. Ken is a great DM and "you're more than welcome to try" was the refrain of the night, as it should be. There were no stock encounters, and all NPCs and monsters felt thoughtful and unique. It seems the encounter table includes things like resource exhaustion to spice things up, which is something I've been doing in my games too.

The severed hand was pretty interesting. It seemed to be a random encounter - it would attack quickly and escape back into the shadows. I usually only include cannon fodder of the "d6 wolves" variety on random encounter tables rather than unique monsters meant to be faced more than once. Meeting the same creature in several random places gave the impression that some monsters wander the maze while others stay put. I liked the effect.

I enjoyed the metatext of art and "gaze". Medusas attack by looking at you and kill you by turning you into art. You get into the maze by looking at a stolen painting, and Lady Capilli offered to pay us to steal more art in the maze. She called herself an aesthete and gave us license to kill bloody-mouthed art critics on sight. The severed hand has its own multi-effect gaze attack (incidentally, I thought it was really smart of Ken to have players roll the effect and not the DM - there's no more fearful moment in a game than when you roll and know it's gonna be bad, but you don't know how bad). It comes off as playful rather than heavy-handed, but it helped give an unexpected coherence to the proceedings.

It's great how self-contained the whole thing is. It requires no longwinded campaign context - it creates its own context, as a megadungeon should (See Zak on Koolhaas on Bigness here). I can see this as a source for one-shot sessions that would never be the same twice.

In all, a great night. This was actually my first time playing a character in about a decade - I seem to be the only one interested in DMing among my friends. Gonna be hard to top this. Thanks to the other players, thanks to Ken, and thanks to Zak and Patrick for another killer experience.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Things That Could Use A Red & Pleasant Landing

This is mostly something for me to come back to later.

Oz. Duh.
Phantom Tollbooth
Harry Potter. As you can probably tell from my previous post, I think this would make a great megadungeon.
Wild Things

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Wizard School Die-Drop Generator

I read the first of those seven popular books about wizard school in the 90s, I think. Never did get around to the rest. This is like that. Sort of.

To generate a wing of the school:
1. Determine the architectural style.
2. Drop a bunch of dice (d4-d12) on a piece of graph paper. Draw the rooms somewhat haphazardly. 
3. Drop dice (d4-d20) again to give the rooms complications. The Oddities sometimes alter a room and sometimes just replace the room.

  1. Pre-Romanesque, crumbling
  2. Romanesque
  3. Gothic
  4. Mannerist baroque
  5. Faux-Egyptian art deco
  6. Neoclassical in the heavy, monumental Third Reich way
  7. Brutalist
  8. Like an Edward Gordon Craig set

d4 Student quarters
  1. Griffindor student quarters
  2. Hufflepuff student quarters
  3. Ravenclaw student quarters
  4. Slitherin student quarters

d6 Facilities
  1. Stairwell
  2. Bathroom
  3. Storage
  4. Study
  5. Common room
  6. Detention hall

d8 More facilities
  1. Library
  2. Dining hall
  3. Kitchen
  4. Pantry
  5. Art studio
  6. Music studio
  7. Trophy room
  8. Gymnasium

d10 Classrooms
  1. Diabolism classroom
  2. Elementalism classroom
  3. Necromancy classroom
  4. Psychomancy classroom
  5. Spiritualism classroom
  6. Translocation classroom
  7. Vivimancy classroom
  8. Alchemy laboratory
  9. Potions laboratory
  10. Anatomy laboratory

d12 Faculty
  1. Formal hall
  2. Faculty lounge
  3. Diabolist faculty quarters
  4. Elementalist faculty quarters
  5. Necromancer faculty quarters
  6. Psychomancer faculty quarters
  7. Spiritualist faculty quarters
  8. Translocator faculty quarters
  9. Vivimancer faculty quarters
  10. Alchemist faculty quarters
  11. Herbalist faculty quarters
  12. Zoologist faculty quarters

  1. Abandoned
  2. Hidden door east or west
  3. Hidden door north or south
  4. Always locked
  5. Treasure
  6. ODDITY (roll below)
  7. Hidden door up
  9. Hidden door down
  10. ODDITY
  11. Hidden compartment
  12. ODDITY
  13. In disrepair - floor may collapse
  14. Overgrown with vines, roots, moss, flowers
  15. Always in darkness
  16. Always bathed in eerie light - no shadows
  17. Music constantly plays
  18. Completely hidden room
  19. Treasure
  20. ODDITY

  1. A teacher once cast a silence spell during detention and it is still active. No noise of any kind in this room.
  2. This wing is built sideways.
  3. Room fills up with jelly beans once a month.
  4. Site of an ancient murder. Blood is still fresh and may take the form of the murdered wizard.
  5. Door leads back into the same room you just left.
  6. Door leads to a room in another wing of the school.
  7. Intersects with a “regular” D&D party searching a dungeon for treasure.
  8. The more you walk towards something in this room, the farther away it gets. You can only get around by walking backwards.
  9. The ghosts in this room like to play practical jokes.
  10. Children become old, wizened versions of themselves and adults become children.
  11. PCs switch bodies in this room only.
  12. Gender-swapped versions of the PCs challenge them to a wizard duel.
  13. All chairs were once great wizards. Know one extra random spell while sitting. Chairs can’t be moved.
  14. To-scale cutaway model of this wing. Moving things in the model will move them in real life.
  15. Former lounge of one of the houses. Talking with the portraits will reveal one house secret.
  16. Site of a horrendous demon-summoning ritual.
  17. As above but the demon still inhabits an innocuous-looking object in the room useful to one of the PCs.
  18. Portrait of a former headmaster. Knows the password to the headmaster’s quarters.
  19. Friction in this room is drastically reduced.
  20. No gravity.
  21. The longer the PCs stay in this room, the more angry they will get with each other.
  22. Ghost of student playing hide and seek. Doesn’t realize it died hiding.
  23. Secret entrance into and out of school.
  24. Hiding goblin promises reward if it can be returned to the Goblin Bank without being seen.
  25. Houses the Debate Club: knocking someone out with it will force them to concede a point you've been arguing. 1d6 nonlethal.
  26. All doors lock until one person pays another a genuine compliment. Partially worn motto on the wall reads, “...then don't say anything at all.”
  27. Other living things in this room cannot be seen.
  28. If underground, partially flooded. If above, filled with bubbles.
  29. Zoo with only presumed extinct species.
  30. Table set with lavish feast. Harmless.
  31. The mice in this room put on moving renditions of Shakespeare’s tragedies.
  32. Staring into the mirrors of this room, anyone plotting harm against you will appear behind you in the reflection.
  33. Walking through a half-sized door in this room, you will emerge mouse-sized out of a hole in the wall elsewhere in the school. Returning through the same hole is the only way to regain your size.
  34. Houses a not-quite scale model of the solar system with the planets on tracks orbiting the sun in the center of the room, all in the correct current position. Notes on plaques for each celestial body, written as though the author had been there.
  35. PCs fall in love with the first person they see in this room. Lasts until the PC leaves.
  36. Contains a portrait of one of the PCs’ ancestors. Will berate or congratulate the PC for events in the campaign.
  37. To reach the other doors in this room, PCs must traverse the walls and ceiling on impossible Escher-style stairs. If they don't believe the stairs will work, they need to climb, but if they do believe they have no problem.
  38. Aviary with birds of every hue. Can be instructed to flock into portraits of everyone who has been through this room in the last day.
  39. Liquor cabinet has been left open. One bottle is labeled “POISON DO NOT DRINK.” It really is poison.
  40. Class frozen in time from d6 hundred years ago.
  41. Wizard diploma mill: goblins are stealing official school stationery for bullshit bird-correspondence courses “affiliated” with the school.
  42. Students arranging for a quidditch team to take the fall for a bet.
  43. A senior’s secret weed greenhouse. He is trying to breed a strain that will let you hear colors.
  44. Always raining. The impossibly high ceiling is lost in clouds. Everything is slippery.
  45. On weekdays, time in this room passes at half the rate of the outside world. On weekends, it passes at twice the rate.
  46. 3d12 crows sit perched around the room, silently judging. If anyone says anything negative about the crows, they attack. If they aren’t bribed with food, they will inform the faculty if students have been snooping where they shouldn’t.
  47. Cool upperclassmen smoking and listening to Pulp and Radiohead. Will pressure the PCs to steal a professor’s possession for entrance into the clique.
  48. Oven. A pastry baked with malice for its intended recipient will look delicious, but will poison them. A pastry baked with love will look revolting to its intended, but will taste delicious and cause them to fall in love with the baker.
  49. All set up for a black mass and human sacrifice which will begin in d4 minutes.
  50. Body farm of criminals cut from the gallows. Used for a variety of magical components and other research. Extremely cold.
  51. Butcher for the school cafeteria. Turns out the students aren’t eating quite what they thought they were.
  52. Open to the Haunted Forest, crumbling and overgrown. Roll a weird forest encounter.
  53. Dusty alchemy laboratory houses a homunculus that will serve the PCs if brought to life with enough magic energy.
  54. Disgraced sham professor hides and plots revenge against the headmaster.
  55. Fountain of Forgiveness. Drinking the water will cause the drinker to forget any offenses against them from the previous 24 hours.
  56. Gravity pulls in the direction of a random wall or ceiling.
  57. Schools of fish regularly swim through this room. Sometimes sharks.
  58. A lion and unicorn literally fighting over a crown. Can't remember why.
  59. Everything in this room carved from fluorescent geodes.
  60. Ghosts competing over whose funeral was most elaborate.
  61. Reverse Midas touch. Everything in the room is made of gold, but when touched will revert to its normal material.
  62. Full moon simulator. Werecreatures change upon entry.
  63. Stage. Ghosts ask you to reenact important scenes from your life.
  64. Room only exists during a full moon.
  65. Room entirely different every time PCs return.
  66. Upperclassmen rocking out to Slayer and arguing over what is the most metal spell they know. Won’t let you leave until you “show them something metal!”
  67. Ghost who went to school with one of the PCs’ ancestors. Knows a secret that would embarrass the PC, and wants something in return for keeping it secret.
  68. Greenhouse full of sentient, carnivorous plants. They communicate only by emitting mood-affecting volatile compounds.
  69. Grisly remains of a serial killer’s victims.
  70. A ghost with a fortune buried in the Haunted Forest outside the school. Will give the location away for what it wants. It wants to feel the warmth of human skin one last time.
  71. Aborted attempt at creating a homunculus servant lies strapped to an operating table. Will beg for death.
  72. Book on a pedestal contains the consciousness of a great wizard. It will contain the answers to questions written in it the next time PCs return.
  73. One PC leaves this room with a twin he or she didn’t have going in. Everyone now has false memories of the twin. The twin knows nearly everything about the PC except any relative’s name. If this is discovered, the twin is revealed to be a shapeshifting goblin.
  74. Artifacts from classical antiquity.
  75. Brain in a jar. It communicates by lighting a bulb attached by electrodes. It knows everything about the school up to d100+10 years ago.
  76. Something at once a serpent, chicken, and lizard that trails venom and kills with a stare. It guards the philosopher’s stone but cannot abide a cock’s crow, its own reflection, or the smell of a weasel.
  77. Forget everything that happens in this room upon leaving unless you first sleep in it.
  78. Great big one-eyed snake battling a snapping clam. Absolutely no metaphors for the struggles of adolescence here.
  79. 2d6 Rotting, repulsive, utterly hostile groundhogs. Killing them and leaving the room will force you to relive the fight. PCs can only leave when they allow the groundhogs to kill them.
  80. A mist-shrouded swamp with mangroves supporting the high ceiling. A boat will take PCs to a small island. Here, a witch will teach them voodoo in exchange for swapping an eye with one of the PCs.
  81. Site of a recent wizard duel.
  82. 15’ cube room full of 9 5’ stone cubes that begin in random positions. Every 30 seconds, they shift 5 feet in a random cardinal direction.
  83. Simple-looking door into the mind of the current headmaster, represented as endless corridors with endless rooms off of them.
  84. Gate to hell. Only a random faculty member knows the password.
  85. Tunnel leading to the dragon’s hoard at the bottom of the Goblin Bank.
  86. Room has a laugh track like a sitcom. Laughter comes from demon children trapped in the mirror who will escape if it is broken. Sometimes they may be glimpsed. They can’t wait to eat your fingers.
  87. Internally-lit skulls haunt the room and get in everyone’s business.
  88. Shadows become unpinned from their bodies in this room. The longer PCs are in the room, the less the shadows remember belonging to anyone and the more murderous they become. They know inversions of every spell their bodies knew. It takes a week to regrow a shadow, during which time PCs can’t refresh spells.
  89. King of the newts, imprisoned when he came to protest wizards’ treatment of his people.
  90. An observatory recording which stars and planets influence the appearance of which demons.
  91. The furniture is made of living snakes and sometimes moves of its own volition.
  92. Noises in this room are amplified ten times in volume.
  93. Insects wage war in this room, and both sides will attempt to win PCs’ support. If captured, they will be tried for war crimes.
  94. The exit to this room is at the top of a giant vertical snakes and ladders board. The snakes prevent any cheating. The winner gains 1,000 points for their house, let’s say.
  95. All surface thoughts can be read by everyone else in this room.
  96. The wine cellar of a long-dead faculty member. The wine is marked with spell names in dead languages. Drinking an entire bottle functions as casting from a scroll, but gets you wicked hammered.
  97. A black, featureless monolith. Silently it calls. Patiently it waits.
  98. Cats lie sleeping on every surface, and failure to sneak past will wake them. Their yowling will draw the attention of everyone in the wing. They can be negotiated with and will hide you and lie for you if you sign a contract, in mouse blood, owing them a favor.
  99. A maze, much bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside. At its center lies a void snail shell. Smashing it creates an instantaneous miniature black hole.
  100. Tomb of a powerful wizard. D20 items from The Wizard’s Inheritance. Make them powerful. Anyone who takes an item will wake up back in the tomb whenever s/he sleeps, unrested.