Friday, January 31, 2014

Potion side effects!

As promised (well, maybe not promised, but hinted at) in my last post, here's a random d20 table of potion side effects.

Determine quality:  For potions purchased from apothecaries, hedge wizards, and the like, roll 1d12.  A result of 12 (or greater) indicates a standard potion with only token negative effects at most.  For potions found in treasure hoards, you may want to roll a d20, or apply a bonus to the d12 roll to produce a higher probability of better potions.

Optionally, Poor potions have only half normal duration, and half normal or faulty effect (for example, an invisibility potion might make the imbiber transparent rather than completely invisible.)  Fair potions use one die size smaller when rolling for duration and any randomly determined effects.  Good potions have full effect and duration.

Determine side effects:  Roll 1d20 and consult the table below.  All effects last for the duration of the potion, unless otherwise noted.  Potions that are permanent, such as healing potions, are considered to have standard durations for the purpose of side effects.  Note also that no ability score will be reduced below 3 by any penalties.

*Notes on body change/polymorph: These are at the DM's discretion, ideally tailored to the specific potion.  For example, a potion of water breathing might change parts of the character to fish parts.  A serious handicap might give him gills, making him unable to breathe air.  A moderate handicap might make his hands into fins so that he can't hold weapons.  A minor handicap could change his head to a fish head, making him unable to speak clearly.  A potion of healing might cause the character's feet to become roots (absorbing nourishment from the earth but immobilizing him), cause his flesh to swell, forcing him to remove his armor, or give his skin a "healthy glow" that foils attempts at stealth.

   Quality: 1d12 -->

1-3 Poor 4-8 Fair 9-11 Good
1 Poison 1d6 points of damage per turn for potion's duration. 1d3 points of damage per turn for the potion's duration. 1 point of damage per turn of the potion's duration.
2 Paralysis Paralyzed for half the potion's duration. Paralyzed for 1 turn. Paralyzed for 1d6 rounds.
3 Mute Unable to communicate verbally or cast spells for the potion's duration. Unable to communicate verbally or cast spells for half the potion's duration. Unable to communicate verbally or cast spells for 1 turn.
4 Drowsiness Cannot stay awake longer than a minute at a time for the potion's duration; must be awakened by another character. While awake, Int and Dex halved. Save vs. spells each turn of the potion's duration or fall asleep. While awake, Int and Dex -2. Int and Dex -2.
5 Euphoria Wisdom reduced to 3. Wisdom halved. Wisdom -3.
6 Dizziness, vertigo When not guided by another character, save vs. paralysis each round or fall down. -4 to all attack rolls. May walk at half speed unassisted. Save vs. paralysis or fall down when making any sudden moves (such as in combat.) -2 to attack. Save vs. paralysis when struck in combat or fall down. -2 to attack.
7 Amnesia Forget events of the past 24 hours, including spells memorized. Forget the events of the last hour. Forget the events of the last turn.
8 Weakness Strength reduced to 3. Strength halved. Strength -3
9 Lethargy Movement reduced to lowest line of encumbrance table (whether or not encumbrance rules are used.) Movement halved. Movement reduced by one line on the encumbrance table.
10 Intoxication Int, Wis, Dex, -4. Int, Wis, Dex -2 Int, Wis, Dex -1
11 Body change /polymorph Serious handicap, DM's choice* Moderate handicap, DM's choice* Minor handicap, DM's choice*
12 Cough/sneeze
Unable to cast spells or move quietly. Spells and quiet movement spoiled 1-3 on 1d6. Spells and quiet movement spoiled 1 on 1d6.
13 Hunger Str, Dex, Con reduced to half; alleviated by consuming quadruple rations for one day. Str, Dex, Con reduced to half; alleviated by consuming triple rations for one day. Str, Dex, Con -3; alleviated by consuming double rations for one day.
14 Sensitivity to light Full daylight causes 1 point of damage per turn, -4 to attack. -2 to attack in torchlight or similar. -2 to attack in daylight, -1 in torchlight. -1 to attack in daylight.
15 Sensitivity to pain Suffers +3 damage from physical attacks. Suffers +2 damage from physical attacks. Suffers +1 damage from physical attacks.
16 Sensitivity to heat/cold Suffers +3 damage from heat or cold attacks. 1d4 damage per turn from exposure to environmental heat or cold (e.g. bonfire, cold water, hot or cold weather.) Suffers +2 damage from heat or cold attacks. 1 point of damage per turn from exposure to environmental heat or cold. Suffers +1 damage from heat or cold attacks.
17 Numbness, tremors Dexterity reduced to 3. Dexterity reduced by half. Dexterity -3.
18 Hallucination Experience the equivalent of a phantasmal force spell of something fearful or threatening. Experience the equivalent of a phantasmal force spell, but non-threatening. Hear phantom noises or voices at random.
19 Loss of vision Blinded. Blurred and double vision. Sight distance ¼ normal. -2 to melee attacks. Missiles automatically miss. Blurred vision. Sight distance ½ normal. -2 to missile attacks.
20 Loss of hearing Deafened. Surprised 1-4 on 1d6 if alone. Spell casting fails 1-4 on 1d6. Partly deafened. Surprised 1-3 on 1d6 if alone. Cannot distinguish voices in noisy situations such as combat (i.e. no communication from other characters allowed.) Muffled hearing. Surprised 1-3 on 1d6 if alone. Standard hearing check to heed communications in noisy situations.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

The down side of potions

Back in the early- to mid-2000s, I was heavily addicted to the computer RPG The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind.  Last week, I dug out my old CDs and started the infuriating process of trying to install the game and get it to work properly on a laptop with Windows 7.  But that's not really the point of this post.

One of my favorite parts of the game is the alchemy system, which allows your character to brew potions from a wide variety of ingredients found in the game world.  In brief, each ingredient has up to four alchemical qualities - healing, levitation, restoring magic, fortifying attributes, etc.  When you combine any two ingredients to brew a potion, the effects they have in common are the ones expressed in the potion's effects.  Not all ingredient qualities are desirable, and typically an ingredient has both positive and negative qualities.  Combine two ingredients that both happen to have the damage health quality, for instance, and the resulting potion will cause some harm when used.  It's theoretically possible to produce useful potions that have undesirable side effects, if you use ingredients that match in two or more qualities.  Unfortunately the game did a deplorable job of implementing that aspect, since very few ingredients were assigned the same positive and negative effects, so it's pretty easy to avoid any combination that produced side effects, but I digress.

Now, at last, to my point:  Might it be more interesting to have potions in D&D that have unfortunate side effects?  This would be especially appropriate for cheaper preparations.  Someone on another blog (I can't recall which, so feel free to post links in the comments) suggested that the healing potions given to PCs as a reward for a minor good deed should be some sort of home remedy that causes a drunken stupor for a while. 

I like this idea tremendously.  Firstly, because it offers a way to give characters some resources without greatly cheapening the magic items they acquire through the blood, sweat, and tears of adventuring.  Those are supposed to be fairly rare, made only by fairly high-level magic-users.  It's entirely plausible that the local apothecary or hedge-wizard can whip up healing draughts, though, and this way such things can be available to the party without being the equal of full-blown healing potions.  Secondly, because it offers an interesting choice:  Do you drink the potion in the middle of a dangerous situation to restore your hit points at the expense of some of your combat efficiency, or do you try to tough it out and chug it during a rest break, when being a little tipsy isn't such a hindrance?

Effects other than drunkenness are possible.  Minor hp damage, dulling or loss of one or more senses, loss of voice, weakness, loss of equilibrium, numbness, sluggishness, sleep or drowsiness, vertigo, aphasia, body changes/partial polymorph, hallucinations, euphoria, despondency, weakness to cold, heat, poison, or disease, paralyzation, heightened sensitivity to light or pain, amnesia, and others might be appropriate. 

This looks like something for which a random table would be useful...perhaps side effects in rows, and severity, ranging from pretty bad to non-existant, in columns.  You could roll randomly for potions placed in treasure troves, and for those brewed by a particular alchemist or apothecary.  In the latter case, all the potions of a particular type made by that person will probably use the same recipe, and so have the same side effects.  Potion recipes with less intense or less bothersome side effects might be highly sought-after both by PC magic-users and by NPC potion-brewers.  High quality recipes would naturally cost more to make, both in ingredients and time, and maybe require a higher level magic-user or alchemist as well.

I think I'll go work up that random table now.  If it turns out to be something useful and interesting, I'll post it soon.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary blog hop challenge

I've never done one of these things, but I saw this one and thought it looked interesting enough to give it a try.

Sign up with the link at the bottom of the page, or track it to its lair at d20 Dark Ages.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Keying the corridors

Following on the heels of my ruminations on light and sound in the dungeon, I started thinking about what other things should be perceived or encountered outside of the traditionally keyed dungeon rooms.  Pursuing those thoughts always seems to lead me back to all the things I've learned about player agency and making choices meaningful.

For the most part, when I've run dungeons in the past, I've described the corridors solely in terms of dimensions and directions.  "The tunnel runs north 50 feet, with a side passage to the left halfway along.  Ahead it ends in a T-intersection with another tunnel running east and west." 

The problem here is that the choice of which branch to take is a completely blind one, and thus pretty meaningless to the players.  There's no reason but sheer whim for them to choose one over another.  What they find or the challenges they face afterward are, from their point of view, essentially random, completely disconnected from their choices.  Almost needless to say, my players never showed much enthusiasm for the choice.  Inevitably they just choose a direction at random.  I might just as well have chosen for them, or rolled dice to decide, and it wouldn't have affected their enjoyment, or lack thereof, to any great degree.  It's just a pointless procedural step toward more exciting parts of the adventure.

I don't think that's how it's really supposed to be, though.  In the Moldvay Basic rules, there's a sample dungeon expedition, a narration of a hypothetical play session.  It begins with the party descending through a trap door and down a stair to reach a landing, from which stairs descend east and west.  The DM tells the character looking down the east stairs that there's a rank, musty odor coming from below.  Based on that information, the party decides to take the west stairs instead.  What was the source of that odor?  It's never revealed in this sample session, but it enabled the party to make a non-random decision about which way to go, based on their own notions of risk and reward.

I think this kind of observation and information-gathering should be the norm rather than the exception.  When the dungeon map presents a choice of which way to go, there usually ought to be some clues available to inform the party's choice.  The clues can be either clear, conveying some degree of concrete information to the players, or cryptic, evoking apprehension, fear, hope, excitement, or curiosity, as in the Moldvay example.  In other words, it can wholly or partly answer the question of what lies down that passage, or it can present a mystery which can only be solved by exploring in that direction, or it can do a little of both.  The point is to give players reasons, or at least potential reasons, why they might wish to explore or avoid a particular path.

This isn't to say that you can't have some nondescript corridors and intersections, but the ones with a few details make for much more interesting choices. 

Possible signs a party might find in the passages of a dungeon include:
  • Footprints or other tracks (slime trails, drag marks, etc.)
  • Corpses or bones of creatures or people
  • Smears of blood or slime
  • Marks left by previous explorers, such as chalk, charcoal, or scratches in the walls or floor
  • Dropped items
  • Ordinary non-threatening creatures like rats, insects, or fungi
  • Smells
  • Sounds
  • Lights
  • Winds or breezes
  • Temperature changes 
  • Dust - if disturbed, indicates recent presence of other creatures, if undisturbed indicates long disuse, at least by corporeal creatures...
  • Slopes up or down (possibly very subtle - a chance for the party dwarf to show his non-combat skills)
  • Changes in the composition or structure of walls and floor
  • Changes in width or height of corridors
  • Actual signs or inscriptions, possibly in dead languages or magical script
  • Decor or architectural flourishes, such as columns, bas relief carvings, sconces, alcoves, etc.
  • Prickling skin, chills, feelings of dread, etc., typically associated with places of magic or supernatural power

Obviously this isn't an exhaustive list, but only the things that came to mind while writing this post.  With the exception of things that radiate, like sound, light, and smells, most of these things would need to be keyed in certain locations like traditional "room" encounters.  I haven't tried this in an actual dungeon yet, but it seems more convenient to me to list these corridor and intersection features separately from the standard room key.  Perhaps they could be noted on the map with letters rather than numbers.  In the (probably unlikely) event that you have more than 26 of these locations to note, two-letter codes could be used, e.g. aa, ab, ac, and so on.  

Of course, if you give the players these types of clues, you'll need to (most of the time) give them a proper payoff to reward them for choosing to pay attention to the clues.  It doesn't necessarily need to be the most obvious or expected thing, but it does need to make sense in a satisfying way.  The draft of cold air blowing down one tunnel may turn out to be from a magical bag of wind instead of an exit to the surface.  The smell of rotting flesh may lead to a crypt or to a banquet hall, suddenly abandoned for some reason weeks ago, with a once-sumptuous feast of boar and venison moldering on the table.  The blast of hot, sulfurous air might come from a red dragon's lair, a portal to the elemental plane of fire, a forge, or a natural volcanic vent.  The huge footprints might lead to a den of ogres, or to a goblin lair, where the party finds boots with oversized soles that the goblins use to disguise their presence in the dungeon.

If most of the clues are just there, with no logical connection to anything, players will soon realize that they're of no value whatsoever in deciding where to go in the dungeon.  There's also a good chance they may feel cheated the one time that a clue actually is meaningful and could have saved them hardship or earned them rewards.  Nobody is going to be pleased with the DM who cried "Wolf!"

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Light and sound in the dungeon

Lights and sounds in the dungeon - and I'm talking about the ones present in the environment, not emitted by the adventuring party - have always tended to trip me up when I'm running a dungeon crawl.  Monsters, traps, and other features are either represented on the map itself, or noted in the dungeon key, or both.  Most of them tend to stay where they're placed, so until the party actually enters the room they're in, you don't need to worry too much about what they're doing.  There are exceptions, of course.  If the goblins from area 3 will rush to the aid of those in area 1 if the alarm is sounded, that's usually noted in the area 1 description, where it's most relevant.

Not so with sources of noise.  Sure, it's easy enough to sort out when a character listens at the door of a room.  You just go to the key for that room, take note of what's there, and decide what, if anything, the character can hear.  But what do you do when someone listens down an unkeyed corridor, or when there's something out there making enough noise that the party should be able to hear it without having to declare that they're listening?  I'm talking about stuff like waterfalls, rushing streams, big clanking machines of unknown purpose, a forge in use, gnomes mining, and drunken goblin jamborees.  Players should hear those things long before they enter the exact room where the noise originates, or one adjacent to it, but it's either a lot of tedious looking-up or a lot of extra mental balls to juggle in order to keep them apprised.

The same may be true to a lesser extent with light sources, if there are any in the dungeon and they aren't all hidden away behind closed doors.

Come to think of it, smells and tactile sensations such as heat and cold kind of fall into the same category.  

How to handle this on a dungeon map and key, though?  Map symbols seem like an obvious possibility, but I'm not sure it's the best one.  Symbols might tend to blend in too much to the rest of the map, necessitating long interruptions while the DM scans the map.  They might also be mistaken for physical features of the dungeon. 

My favorite idea is to use map symbols, but mark them on the map with colored highlighter pens.  Maybe a gold circle for lights, green "stink lines" for strong smells, red or blue wavy lines for heat or cold, and a bell shape (color not important) for sounds, with a number written inside it to signify the relative volume of the sound.  (1 for low volume, audible only from short range, like a gentle stream or a quiet conversation.  2 for things roughly the volume of an ordinary conversation between two to four people.  3 for louder noises, like a large gathering or a blacksmith's shop.  4 for really deafening stuff, like a large waterfall or a dragon roaring.  Intensity numbers may be added to the other features too, if desired.)

Having the symbols in color like this would make them stand out, and a DM could estimate at a glance what lights, noises, smells, and other sensations the party could perceive from any position, and quickly flip to the relevant location in the dungeon key for more information.

The drawback is that this would be a difficult system to use for published adventures.  Perhaps grey (as opposed to black) versions of the symbols could be printed on the map, with instructions to the DM to highlight them during pre-game prep.

If anyone has another system for handling this sort of thing, feel free to describe it and/or post a link.