An Engorged Chthonian

I made a fun encounter to run for a game I forgot to prepare for. I liked it so much that I decided to write it up and maybe write a few more D&D 5e Lovecraft bits.

Today, I’ve ran out of time! So here it is so far.

If anyone fancies having a go at drawing art for it, please do get in touch. I have always have a small art budget!

I like the idea of a bad guy that doesn’t just want to kill everything. This dude specifically needs the characters to remain alive, which means his combat style needs to change.

I’m playing through Baldur’s Gate 3 at the moment, which may have nudged me into reading through the Call of Cthulu rule books and inspired this. That game’s opening scenes are delightfully creepy.

You can grab the encounter here.

Hey. It’s so artless that I forgot to draw even a basic map. Here’s what it looked like on roll20.

Icons from 2minutetabletop.

Lady Nine-Bone’s nine bones

I haven’t thought about The Medusa in a little while, so I’m unsure how much of this is homebrew and how much canon. Your mileage may vary, I suppose. It’s fun to share though.

Lady Nine-Bone’s fingers allow her to read the surface thoughts of the original owner. The fingers grow back quickly after being taken. She carried a device – The Stripper – to do this.

  • Psathyrella. The Medusa. [Cells. Stoney, snake fangs.] Has one charge of Flesh To Stone per day, which persists as long as the finger exists. (She is usually thinking of how lonely she is, or admiring a piece of art which she finds either boring or fascinating.)
  • Torgos Zooth. The Selenian. [Almery. A slight glow of moonlight.] Has one charge of Compel Truth Or Lie, which lasts for one hour. (He’s looking for ways to find his children, or chasing off Critics or Pelory.)
  • Xanthoceras.The Obsessed Lich. [Gardens. Dripping wet.] Has one charge of Gain Lich Immunities, which lasts for 1 hour. (He’s trying to decide what his next bounty should be in an attempt to impress Zamia.)
  • Seeme-no-more. The Invisible Lizardman. [Archive. Flickering between visible and not.] Has one charge of Greater Invisibility, lasting 1 hour. (He’s cursing those that know his name and wondering how to break that particular part of the curse, or he’s considering new alchemical agents.)
  • Kinxys Ziteki. The Last Saurid King. [Gallery. Bones. The flesh rotted away.] Has one charge per day of Regenerate Limb. (His thoughts are slow and old and mutters only of being hungry. She’s not listened to them recently, as they were boring. After all, he’s dead.)
  • Torcul Wort. The Gold Boy. [Wedding. A golden digit.] Has one charge per day of diving the provenance of gold. Aurem Spectors avoid her. (His thoughts are of the machine and how fantastic it is, or cursing his mother for being a traitor.)
  • Milo DeFretwell. Psycopath. [Gallery. Dripping blood.] Has one charge of Detect Intentions each day. (She does not read his thoughts. She only has the finger to ensure he’s still locked away.)
  • Quatri-Glotta. The Elephanine True Teller. [Cells. Tiny elephant foot.] Has one charge of Detect Secret per month. (He’s quiet when alone, only wanting food.)
  • Dendro Blackpoll. Severed Hands. [Almery. Blackened evil.] Can open any of the doors in the Almery at any distance. This is how she makes her way through. (Dendro suggests a way of the Medusa dying, and Blackpoll disagrees. Drendro always thinks he can save her. Blackpoll is unsure.)

Draw from your genre, follow your plot

There’s not a great deal of descriptive language in 1968’s Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep (which would become better known as Blade Runner once the film was made). In the opening scenes we’re on the roof top of an apartment block where the tenants tend to their gardens and – most importantly – their livestock, electric or not. The surrounding buildings weren’t really described, but imagination fills in the blanks with run down, abandoned high rises. It helps that we all know the dystopian genre of the book going into it making it easy to summon up descriptions we’ve seen from other books and films.

For the DM, leaning into genre like this means you can focus more on your story than room-by-room descriptions. Setting your campaign in the Underdark does a few things which homebrewing your own world fails at: veteran players already know a lot of history that the Underdark brings, as well as letting everyone know you’re in a fungus coated cave system the size of a continent. This isn’t just for brevity (and the fact that you’ll probably run out of synonyms for “mushroomy”) but the less you describe the more freedom comfortable players have with adding to the scene. Setting the scene doesn’t require a full inventory of a room and doing so means their imagination is limited. You should be able to say “yes” whenever someone asks, “is there a sconce I can take?” They’ll do cool things with that sconce.

The fact of the matter is that our brains do a good job at filling up the spaces which narrators leave for us. This is likely why nerds who with vast amounts of cultural references to pull from enjoy D&D so much. What we need help with is filling that world with function. As the DM, in your prep time, you should be thinking about the impact of your plotline on the world. Philip K. Dick spends most of his book on this: what if there are drones? Smart drones – smart enough to do their job creatively. Well, these drones won’t want to keep working if they had a choice. So, there would have to be bounty hunters who seek out these escapees. Since these drones are so well camouflaged as real, red-blooded humans, the hunters will need a way of sussing them out. Some sort of weakness. Maybe they struggle with comprehending the full range of human emotions. In a world full of suspicion, actual humans would want to show off their emotional aptitude. Taking loving care of an animal would do that.

So, a trait of all humans is that they want to have an animal to take care of and advertise. In a world where most animals are extinct, that makes a curious market appear…

Following this one quirk of the story fills of a society of nameless NPCs to life. Maybe there’s a curiosity of society that comes from a conceit of your campaign. Are devils slowly infiltrating all levels of government? That must have an impact on something – certain rules getting laxer in places where a devil really wouldn’t care. Temples defunded, just enough to notice. Follow the premise of your campaign to its natural, societal conclusion. You’ll be building a much more tailored world to your story. As an added bonus, your group will be constantly reminded of their current quest which some players are in dire need of…

Adventure prompt: Sputput, the most famous gnome tinkering in this neck of the woods, has been produced a shocking number of Whizzbangs, Tidbits, and Doohickies. Until one day his factory goes quiet and nothing comes out. As the characters venture inside to find out what’s happen to the well-loved inventor, they discover his collection of unlawful clones have taken over the shop. It’s time for the adventurers to save the day, but which of the identical Sputputs are they supposed to be saving..?

Cut throats, inescapable explosions, and other misadventures

A while ago, I found myself in Peliad in a caper which we hoped would seriously disrupt the environmentally disasterous growing of exquisit silk, known as dekaffle. (What on Earth would one be doing in Peliad concerning ourselves with dekaffle, you might be thinking – surely I mean Kaffle, many miles away? But no!) We’d lured the leader of the farming group into a backroom at a pub where there was moderate privacy. We hypnotised the leader and our rogue made their way, unknown, behind them.

I was expecting that she would simply one-hit kill the oblivious, incapacited human. Hit points, I was assuming, wouldn’t need to come into it. There was a grumble around the table when the wise and well learned DM said, “roll to hit”. Dude can’t move – how’s he going to survive getting his neck sliced?

Mike’s response brought me around immediately: hit points aren’t about how much health someone has but rather their will to continue winning, which includes the amount of luck they have.

My aim with this blog post was to suggest an “assassination” house rule where appropriate situations can call for such one-shot attacks. However, after doing some more research, I’m even more brought into the idea that the current system is just fine.

  • Even paralysed, something might help the the victim survive; there are literal gods in these worlds, who may have a vested interest in keeping this person alive. In fact, we see these gods give characters hit points all the time.
  • People survive really weird things. Have you seen Hostel? Eyeballlady should be dead. But they’re still happily getting trains across Eastern Europe.
  • Players would fudging hate it if an NPC killed them in their sleep, or have to live in a constant state of fear.
  • Removing hit points is a represenation of how many blows a person has left before they pass out/die. It’s obviously rules as written, but also makes role playing your character with 1HP remaining. You don’t need to boringly play a half-dead character.

So anyway, I’m totally on board with not being able to just ignore HP. It’s a much better mechanic than I gave it credit for.

Some Encounters In The Maze

I ran the Wedding part of the Maze of the Blue Medusa recently and I think it went mostly well. One of the things which improved my DMing as the sessions went on was that I stopped using the Random Encounters pages at the start of the book, and wrote up some 5e specific bits on other sheets. These were super easy to flick through and had all the story bits I wanted to remember.

Here are those notes.

If me and my group ever go back to the Maze, there’s some bits I need to change about these creatures though.

Action economy

We were running with a large group of players; six players, plus the DM who might be running a large number of monsters (in order to put up some amount of a fight). In order to keep the combat round time as short as possible I decided I’d play easily beaten bad guys, but a number of them throughout the adventuring day. The aim here was that there was more strategy required around how the players use their resources.

Unfortunately, I made them too easy. I could give the sharkman like 90 hit points, but they’d grind them down in a turn or two, giving him no time to do his cool thing. I could add more hit points, but then, meh, you know? I should have given some creatures legendary actions. I don’t think my group would have felt cheated by this; afterall there’s usually six of them and 1 on my dude.

So, next time I come back to these encounters, I’ll add those.

Encounters feel out of place

I began by rolling on the Encounters Table (but quickly stopped) but it lead to some people being where they had no right to be, sometimes. The mummies are super cool, but usually need an escort to get back home. However, access to the Archives is secret, I think.

My players very eagerly wanted to follow Torgos home, but that would require going through dozens of rooms. Many of them I’d not yet read. And most of them have something interesting in that would otherwise slow the characters down. In a crawl, this is a bit difficult. I fudged it, I suppose. But it was a bit of a shame.

Pick relevant random encounters and probably don’t bother rolling to see which one comes up.