Should we be making quest logs?

Some things in video games are only possible there and would become a slog if we had to do them with pen and paper. We should sometimes have a think about features in video games that could be easily ported to tabletop, and see how they impact our games. The one I was thinking of recently was the quest log.

A few reasons why they’ve super useful in video games: If I don’t play the game for a month, I usually forget my objective. They can offer a story recap of previous bits I’ve done, and who for. They let me keep track of multiple goals at once if the story is complicated and weaving around multiple threads.

Well, those perks all seem great on a tabletop game too. In one of the games I play, we typically play every other week. Sometimes we have to miss a week because of reallife obligations, and that’s A WHOLE MONTH between sessions. A reminder and clarification of what we’re supposed to be doing wouldn’t go unwanted. In Lost Mines and more so in Rhyme there are tonnes of side quests. Did anyone take a note on who was looking for the hideout of the Redbrands, you remember, that quest from six months ago?

Players’ should be keeping their own notes. It’s incredibly rewarding as a DM when your players connect two dots – something they won’t do without notes. Not to mention, it’s super useful for players to be a second reference for information. I play with a DM who gives inspiration for offering NPC names before he has time to flick around the book to find them – something which speeds up the game a bunch. However, I think there’s a lot to be said for the DM keeping a list and saying “just so you know, you’ve started on the Blacksmith’s Son questline”.

Part two of this idea is that maybe DMs should break immersion just a little bit more and list what the reward is on this sheet of paper. Not just the gold reward the blacksmith has promised, but a hint at the magic item they might find along the way. If the players ever get stuck on their main quest – maybe they feel they’ll need some silvered weapons before they can take on the werewolf – a sidequest might offer it to them.

Some sidequests would of course be competing. Do you go after the Blacksmith’s Son now, or Root Out The Goblins first, risking the trail going cold? Blacksmith’s Son hints at those silvered weapons, but Root Out The Goblins cryptically suggests there might be a whole box of potions of invisibility available, which would be cool as heck.

“Enhanced Interrogation”

As a player or as a referee, I can do without torture happening in my games.

My line goes as far as “lets tie him to a chair, and wave a dagger around to intimidate them”. Anything more than that and it gets kind of icky for me. The immersion is broken and the situation snaps into clear focus: I’m sitting with a group of adults whilst one of them describes ordinarily unmentionable ways of compelling someone to hand over some information, and they push it and push it in the hopes of getting advantage on their roll.

I’m happy to say that this almost never happens. It’s happened a couple of times, and when it has most people have understood and found another route. On one time though, the DM said, “well, you need to find another way of getting him to tell you the information then.” It didn’t feel like there was another way – the bandit was steadfast and cared for nothing but the end of Chult. We didn’t get the information – I expect we weren’t supposed to capture the bandit, but a dice roll got out of the DM’s control.

On a few occaisions we’ve chosen “the scene fades to black as you begin your interrogation” method. This is largely fine! (Your mileage may vary.) Nothing is described, other than the character’s intent, and then an intimidation roll is made. This is fine.

However, you still have to journey with adventurers who were willing to do that. (This awkwardness only extends to the character – I’ve never played with genuninely sadistic people, I assume.) In world, I’m not sure how that would sit well with everyone. Rarely are there consequences.

So, as a general houserule for games I run in the future, I have this:

Torture will never yield beneficial results, even in “fade to black” scenes, or off-screen scenes by NPCs. You will only ever hear lies. The lies will be uninteresting. There’s no point in trying. My promise in return is that there will always be another way to find the information you’re after. If it’s not obvious what that way is, talking to another NPC will point you in the right direction.

There are other tools and you should start each campaign by checking in with your group for them. The “fade to black” option is similar to ‘lines and viels’ that is commonly used. It’s not just about super grim stuff like this: double check if your group are okay with fighting spiders, as you don’t want to be kickstarting anyone’s phobias.

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..?