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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

5e Modifying the Poisoned Condition

 Poison is one of the big nerfs to 5th edition. The poisoned condition RAW reads "A poisoned creature has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks." Poison in earlier editions was much truer to what poison should actually do to it's victims. If we take a D&D-like fantasy world, we are going to assume that most serious toxins delivered by what we might call "monsters" or giant sized animals are designed to immobilize or kill their opponents. While the 5e rule gets points for ease of use, it suffers as somewhat lackluster in describing the myriad types of toxins against which an adventuring character may be subjected. Smaller sized animals like tiny or even small spiders and biting insects are likely to cause minimal concern for most adventurers. Likely not even disadvantage on all attack rolls and ability checks. Snakes and some certain species of other venomous critters as one may find in our world, could indeed cause the poisoned condition, but very possibly death. 5e has simply removed that possibility from the game. But even real world statistics tell us that of the 5.4 million snakebites world wide about 2 million are envenomed and of those approximately 110,000 die from envenomation. Granted, we are dealing with adventurers and not common folk, but that is also expressed in higher ability scores, proficiency bonuses and better saving throw values. 

Now let us consider large, giant or huge spiders and snakes. naturally their venom will be in larger quantities and designed to knock down or kill and jellify larger prey. Prey like adventurers. It just doesn't stand to reason that a single poison condition encompasses the effects of such venomous bites. So, I propose a more useful, "realistic" and somewhat more granular approach to poison in my 5e games. Something like the following is a start:

But, even this doesn't make me entirely happy. I prefer a more nuanced and flavorful approach to poison. Which brings us back to the further adventures of SaltMarsh. 

As I said last time, the PCs were headed to Urnella's shack to find further information about the haunting in the old mansion. However, things had proceeded so quickly, I needed to make sure that the smuggler's contact on the town council was made aware of the adventurer's intentions of investigating the smuggler's hideout. So I had the guard at the Town Hall, whom the players had spoke to previously alert the mayor that they were looking for him. When the mayor arrived, the guard informed him, and the Mayor was duly concerned that there were adventurers poking about and especially with rumors of ghosts and hauntings. So Mayor White send Olly Canto, the town crier to hunt the adventurers down and ask them to come back and meet with the Mayor. Meanwhile the Mayor sends the guard for the fellow members of the council, as they would be livid had they not been included. Sonceray and Beck show up just before the character's arrive. 

The conversation was rather innocuous, and the players' didn't learn much new--but this move allowed me to plant a few tidbits of foreshadowing. Beck's dismissal of the account entirely, almost discouragement of even looking into it, and his quick exit once it was decided the adventurer's would go ahead with their investigations. The conversation with Urnella afterwards was quite entertaining. Urnella, being the mad old bat she is, no matter that she's harmless, wove all sorts of horror stories and conspiracies about the town. They were sure she was quite mad by the end of it, but they noted several things she mentioned which will become hopefully clear later on as the plot unfolds. And with this they were on their way to the ruined manor just after noon.

The party's entrance into the manor was quiet, if somewhat ominous from the descriptions of the place. I focused on how quiet it was, with only the hollow moaning of the sea breeze through the cracks and holes of the place to be heard. They assiduously checked for traps and were a bit confused the place was so safe to enter--though if they had sought out Pol the Poacher, they might have understood why. At any rate they entered, searched about a bit in the manor, when the Dwarvish Wizard played his character's traits of often mindlessly playing his pan-pipes when he wasn't smoking his tobacco pipe. Since no one was ready it caused everyone to jump as he did so, and I also decided it doubled the chance for wandering monsters. And the two giant rats appeared through a crack in the wall and ceiling in the west hall surprising the young thief Oliver. 

This is where the above discussion on poison becomes salient. I love the way that Sinister Secret handles the poisonous critters in the module. I quote here for the rats "Giant rats: these creatures will surprise 4 chances in 6. They are disease carriers: any character bitten by a giant rat has a 5% chance of being infected by disease. If an infected character then fails a saving throw vs. Poison and does not receive a cure disease spell by the third turn after being bitten, the wound will swell and fill with pus; the character will lapse into delirium and will need constant attention by another member of the party. After 1-4 days the character will die if cure disease has still not been given."


I LOVE that description of how the disease works. And though the rats posed little threat to the characters as a battle, if that disease hits--it's nasty. And that's exactly what happened. The Druid became infected from a leg bite and the whole adventure shifted into a different mode. They actually took care of the rats with little problem. But my description of their nasty yellow green teeth didn't go unheeded. And of course the saving throw tipped them off a bit. 

At first I just played it up as a really sore bite, but within ten minutes (1 turn) I noted it was throbbing and tender to the touch; 1 round later as they were exploring the library I told her that her leg was hard to walk on, and when she pulled back her ripped leathers she saw the wound had become swollen and dark. By then she was panicking, but the Cleric, Calix (who isn't really a Cleric, but a thief trying to give up her thieving ways and become worthy to be ordained as a priestess of Zodal; though she had taken magic initiate to grant her access to two Clerical orisons, and sell the fact that she was a Cleric) did not have access to lesser restoration. The party thus retreated to Saltmarsh and the Temple to seek lesser restoration. They managed to get the Druid healed and the next day headed back to the manor. 

So it is that today's topic is salient. Should 5e poison rules be fixed? I have chosen to use the poison/disease effects exactly as written in Saltmarsh, instead of the option above. Indeed I have struggled with how to make 5e more "old school" in difficulty, and the poison rules are one. I will expand on this idea in my next entry. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh Begins

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

The original 1e Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh begins a little differently from most published adventures. Primarily, this difference lies in the delivery of the adventure hook. The Dungeon Master is advised to not present the hook right from the start. Rather, allow time for the adventurers to explore the town, spend their money and slowly unearth the clues that the house might be an object of interest worth pursuing. 

Honestly, I'm a bit befuddled by this, but I ran with it--sort of. Read on to see how it has gone so far.

The other thing the module suggests is for the DM to flesh out the town of Saltmarsh. The suggestion is to use real world 14th century coastal fishing villages with populations around 2,000 as an analogue. Don't you love 1e?! I do. So after a little research I chose Ipswich, UK as a model. Though it is thought Ipswich numbered around 4,000 souls in the 1500's I shrunk it a bit and began my work. I'll scan and post my maps and notes in a later episode, but suffice it to say that I got carried away. Naming all the adult inhabitants, complete with family stats, professions and places of residence I ended up with lots of material. And as it was in note form, not very usable. But I felt more or less prepared when the game started.

I had planned on having the group meet onboard a merchant ship returning from Greyhawk, carrying a few passengers to offset the return costs. The party consisted in a Rhenee Druid and Thief, a human quasi-cleric of Zodal and a Hill Dwarven Wizard from the Iron Hills. Their traveling companions were Lady Felicia, Sea Princess of the Holds, returning from the eastern realms, Master Willy and Lady Tilly Waters, retired potters from Saltmarsh itself, returning from visiting relatives in Greyhawk, and Samuel Alcock a cartographer from Greyhawk, hired by a sea captain in Saltmarsh. 

The idea was to give the players access to Saltmarsh lore and history via the Waters' before they landed which worked fairly well. As they landed they headed to the Whale Bone, a small, but packed and rowdy fishing tavern. They had some fun there and learned a little more about Saltmarsh. I threw in the poacher, however, and that may have been a little premature. Through him and some taunting sailors they learned a bit about the ghosts of Saltmarsh. That was enough of a hint that, though they lost the poacher in the crowd, they started sniffing around for leads about ghosts.

The way I played it, was that most of the citizens didn't know much, but when pressed might mention something odd they've been hearing recently about the old house on the coast road. They poked around a bit more and uncovered that it was long ago inhabited by an alchemist and has been left abandoned since. They also were pointed towards Olaf Fingaurd the poacher and Ulna Gillam the town beachcomber who lives in a shack on the beach just below the house. These tow it is said have been telling tales recently about the house and might be able to tell the party more. Ulna has heard some strange sounds and seen some strange lights, but if pressed she talks more about the sea ghosts. Strange ghost ships she has seen once or twice at night on the waters out to sea. Ulna is more than a little touched in the head however, and drinks copiously. She also talks about voices in the sand, fish that grant wishes, seaweed that grant magical powers, and a giant sea dragon turtle that actually runs Saltmarsh. Olaf, however, is much more certain. He stayed in the house and was run out by horrible sounds, nightmarish lights and ghosts that chased him into the streets and down the road. Problem is noone believes him. Noone except Ulna that is, and that hasn't won him any friends in town. 

The last part of that paragraph hasn't played out yet. The party has gotten directions to Ulna's shack and is headed that way, which is where we pick up next session. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

5e Greyhawk Campaign

As I may have mentioned previously, I've been on a gaming hiatus. My job has been more demanding than usual this past year, so I've taken a break for about six months. Although to be honest, there have been fitful, start-and-stop efforts since our last adventure back in December. However, summer approaches and new skies dawn ... 

So, as you likely know, my current game is a 5e game, and my current players 5e players. I've been thinking, though, during this period of gaming quietude about ways to work in some of my preferences. After lots of searching I've found that Greyhawk Grognard has some excellent 5e Greyhawk resources. And several other sites, such as Greyhawk Online have useful information and ideas as well. And given that old school modules port fairly well into 5e, I've decided to run my summer 5e campaign in Greyhawk. 

The player options I'll take from Greyhawk Grognard, which are quite excellent, by the way. And I love this little post at Greyhawk Online to set some of the tone for players new to the Flanaess. I am not entirely sure, but since Ghost of Saltmarsh was recently released by Wizards, I'll head back to my roots and run the original U series as an opening salvo. 

U1 Sinister Secrets of Saltmarsh (Characters will likely be level 2-3 by the end)

U2 Danger at Dunwater (level 4 by the end)

U3 The Final Enemy (finish at level 5-6)

These three adventures cluster fairly tightly around the coasts of The Viscounty of Salinmoor in southern Keoland, which is where the campaign will start. What I'd like to do from there is have the party travel west and north by sea to Greyhawk. From there, they'll sail across the NyrDyv to Radigast City or possibly Alhaster. Likely the hook to get them there will be the poem from Keraptis to the owner of Whelm. Whelm's owner will be in Salinmoor when he receives the poem, and as the characters bring the U series to a conclusion. After hearing of the characters' success, the owner will commission the players to retrieve the artifact from White Plume Mountain. After they return it however, to the owner who now awaits them in his home of Radigast, he will reveal to the party that  his research has uncovered that the hammer actually belongs to the lost Dankil MightyHammer Clan of Dwarves. He then further commissions the party to take the hammer across the central Flanaess to a Dwarven sage in Schwartzenbruin, Perrenland. As motivation for the players, he reveals that this sage has secret information about the location of hidden caverns containing untold wealth in the Southern Yatils. Which will lead them to ... yes, you guessed it, the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. 

S2 White Plume Mountain (finish at level 7-8)

S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (finish at level 8-9)

From there the characters will hear of pleas that are going out from His High Radiance, Owen I, Grand Duke of Geoff at Gorna of strange creatures invading the western reaches of his lands. Thus the characters will be drawn into S3 Expedition to Barrier Peaks. At the end of which they will be around level 10-12.

S3 Expedition to Barrier Peaks

But, with an unexpected twist toward the end of S3, the characters will be shunted away to Dungeonland and the Land Beyond the Magic Mirror! Here they will make it to levels 12 or so and be unceremoniously dumped from the realms of Greyspace back to the southeastern realms of the Flanaess in Sundii. Specifically in the dangerous swampwater border town of Calgen. In fact, they land smack dab in the center of the summoning circle of the infamous Otiluke. Otiluke was in the process of summoning "a being or beings from GreySpace that are capable of "penetrating the Lair of the Lost Lich". Whatever Otiluke was imagining might come through his somewhat unwise conjurational gateway, he was not expecting a party of adventurers. But being as here they are, and despite their doubtless protests he puts a special geas upon them to fulfill the adventure of what Otiluke calls the Lair of the Lost Lich (which is secretly S1, Tomb of Horrors). Thus, south they go into The Vast Swamp to follow Otiluke's somewhat dubious directions towards their their greatest challenge yet, or their doom.

EX1 Dungeonland

EX2 Beyond the Magic Mirror

S1 Tomb of Horrors

After this, who knows? If we even make it this far. This is sort of a bucket list thing for me, to run the entire gamut of the "Special" series modules back to back. Not to mention to run both EX1 & 2, an opportunity which rarely comes up. Granted, it's in 5e, but truthfully my players are have little experience outside of 5e, and certainly haven't any familiarity with the modules above. We did run Tomb of Annihilation, but that adventure is enough unlike the original Tomb of Horrors that I'm not worried there. The biggest challenge is that old school adventures were notoriously large for the level ranges for which they are designed. So, though I detest it, I will likely use something like milestone advancement. And, about half way through the proposed campaign arc, given the fact that a number of magic items will have been gained, I'll have to beef up some the encounters. At least if past experience is any guide. 

Of course you know what they say about the best laid plans ... I'm a little worried about White Plume Mountain, as I'm not sure what my players will do when and if they get their hands on the three artifacts. That could be problematic. Things could go off the rails. But if so, that's fine--I'll improvise.

Oh and in case your wondering, no, my players do not read my blog. I'm not even sure they know I have one :-)