Friday, November 13, 2020

Three Trap Types to Minimize Boredom

I have been thinking a lot about traps. 


My games tend to be fairly crawly. Dungeon crawls, blob crawls, forest crawls. Always crawling. 

Traps are an iconic part of the crawling mode of play but it's easy for them to be boring or frustrating. 

The key to making traps fun is to have a clear idea of what you are trying to add to the game play by placing a trap. There are three distinct reasons I use traps: as obstacles, as set-ups and as resource taxes.

It's also worth mentioning that I never use traps that punish players for insufficient caution. Game time is scarce and I don't want to waste it tapping the walls and examining floor tiles. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Golems and Robots


Cybermen = Necrons = Warforged

Of the canonical D&D races, Warforged are one of my favorites

Made Men

Constructed life interests me.Where is the line between machine and person? What must it be like to know that you were made for a specific purpose (or made for no reason at all)? Does your creator own you? Can you rebel?

Frankenstein, Pygmalion, Blade Runner, the Iron Giant. Perhaps even Milton's Lucifer?

This is a cluster of themes and questions, that I find myself invoking a lot in my games, both when choosing characters as a player and when building worlds, societies and NPCs when I'm DMing.

For me, it all originates here: 

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. - Genesis 2:7

Our Successors

Will we be overtaken by our creations? Will they resent us for making them to labor? Will they enslave us in return? Will we become to them, what cattle are to us?

Second Variety, At the Mountains of Madness, Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, the Matrix and the anxieties of Nick Bostrom. 

Relics of the Deep Past

What if the past is better left buried? Will the uncovered armies of lost ages resume their wars, unconscious and uncaring towards present people?

The Mummy, The Pastel City, Prometheus.

Friday, September 4, 2020


I'm on vacation & posting from my phone so apologies if the formatting is even rougher than my (admittedly sloppy) usual.

I designed this as an ambush encounter for the White Apes of Thurstle Island's City of the Ancients. But it should be transferrable to any system and most settings.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Thurstle Island: Gnarls of the Forest

Magazine Illustration from 1906

AUGUST/ SEPTEMBER 2020: Looking to add another player or two to my online game. Let me know if you are interested.

This post fills in additional details about Thurstle Island's Old Forest.

The Old Forest's Druids call themselves the Gnarls. They have lived in the forest long past recorded memory and serve the Allwaker, landvættir of the island. 

  • The Gnarls never sleep. They are always awake. Likewise for their animals.
  • Many of them have learned to transform themselves into animals or are skilled wargs.
  • They are the religious leaders of the island's vikings and they preside over rituals in the woods on certain prescribed nights. 
  • They are experts in camouflage and ambush. Often, the first sign that they are nearby will be a javelin protruding from your chest.

  • The are closely allied with the forest's trees. They can sense any harm to the trees and will rush to intervene. Some have learned the language of the trees.
  • The druids practice human sacrifice to feed the Allwaker and their treants. They will try to capture intruders rather than kill them. 
  • The smugglers also kidnap strangers in Cove Town and hand them over as payment for passage and concealment in the forest. 
    • The druids sometimes summon fog to cover the landing of smuggler ships.
  • The Gnarls are locked in a covert war with cultists based in Thurstle Island's northwest corner. 
    • The war is going badly and the cultists are gaining strength.
  • They have been transplanting trees into the City of the Ancients for decades. If you see a grove in the City, it's a Druid strong-point.
My original forest map has encounters for most paths that will be triggered the first time the party moves through. After that, I want traveling through the forest without pacifying the druids to be scary and painful but I don't want to be bogged down on lots of tedious fights. Thus:

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Thurstle Island: Barrow of the Twisted Wyrm

The dragon of Thurstle Island is buried in its most traditional dungeon, a prison-tomb filled with traps, puzzles, undead and demons.

How It Works

Pale blue post-it
  • The barrow has three levels and this post details the first one, the upper tomb.
  • Lore about this dungeon is seeded all over the island, on stelae, in rumors etc. 
  • The central chamber is a magical maze. Living creatures cannot pass through the walls but objects and undead can. The party will likely attract the cursed husks of former tomb-raiders here.
  • Each of the wings contains a blend of traps, puzzles and monsters protecting artifacts of Ulric's battle with the wyrm. In a few places the horrors below are peeking through.
  • A locked stairway leads to the lower levels. 
  • The second level of the dungeon is crawling with demons and the lowest level holds the remains of the wyrm itself. 
  • Each level down is a very large increase in difficulty for adventurers. My intent is that the players will explore the first level, leave to gather strength & information, and then return. 
  • The wyrm is intended as one possible Final Boss for Thurstle Island.
    • The cultists in the island's NW worship the wyrm.
    • The warrior-monks of the abbey believe they can harness the demon's power for their own ends. They're probably wrong, but even if they are right it will turn out awful.
    • The druids from the Old Forest know that something evil is hidden in the barrow but have lost most of the details over the centuries.
Album Cover

Friday, August 7, 2020

Thurstle Island: The Willing Few, Smuggler Faction Focus

The Tree Fort

Yet another post-it map. 

To keep intruders from stumbling onto their cave-cliff hideaway, Thurstle Island's smugglers have fortified the trail through the Old Forest that leads to their base with traps and an arboreal watch post. Tricky to attack or defend, depending on how the player's allegiances develop. 

  • Guards: 3d4 smugglers will be present at any given time. Stats as bandits or pirates.
  • Battlements: Guards with javelins and bows guard the path from hoardings built in the tree. They have excellent cover and field of view. Rope ladders can be lowered to access the fort.
  • Ready Room: The happening hangout spot and a convenient place to retreat if the action on the battlements gets too hot. Games and snacks. If you root around, roll on the "Search the Body" table. 
  • Stores: A few quiver's of arrows, 2d6 harpoons, flask of lockjaw poison. 
  • Living quarters: Another option for retreat, higher up in the tree. Not visible from the ground and only accessible from a rickety stair and a narrow bridge. Easily defended. 
  • Crow's Nest: Very high up, above the surrounding canopy. Gives a good view of the Cliff Path, the Sword Meadow and the Fog Cliff, as well as the entrance to the cave hideout (map) and the trail up to the Fort. Contains a few signaling flags and a spyglass.
  • Harming the Tree: Setting a fire or starting to saw will quickly draw a horde of angry druids. The players should know that this is suicide.
More about the gang, its members and modes below.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Thurstle Island: Surface Encounters in the Ancient City

Stats as bugbear.

Despite their fearsome reputation, the White Apes of the Ancient City are reclusive and intellectual. 

Unknown to Thurstle Island's vikings, the apes are a failed experiment of the City's builders
  • They were supposed to be a military force. Although strong and agile they proved too independent and insufficiently warlike. They just want to be left alone to debate philosophy and take long naps.
  • Their pelts are incredibly warm. Vikings highly prize fur-suits made from their hides. 
    • If you have a lot of gold, you can buy one in the camp
    • The apes do not like to see people wearing their skins.
  • After being hunted by the Vikings for years, the apes have become reluctant experts in trap-building and ambushes. The ruins are covered in their cleverly constructed snares, pits and deadfalls. They are amply supplied with glass weapons