Category Archives: Old School Renaissance

Unstable Potions – d20 strange and unexpected effects for your D&D potions

Magic is tricky business, and you cannot always trust your magic items to turn out, as you would expect. Small variations in ingredients and the intonation of magic words or perhaps exposure to magical auras and weird mysteries, and suddenly your potion of healing, growth, giant strength, flying or invisibility does work quite the way, you had hoped. Prepare yourself for unstable potions!

Here is a table of 20 effects, you can add to potions in your D&D game, in order to surprise and challenge your players. The rule descriptions are kept somewhat D&D agnostic and though based on the D&D 5th rules, they can easily be converted to your favorite version of D&D be it 3rd edition, AD&D or Labyrinth Lord. The table was originally designed for the Danish RPG The Hinterlands (Hinterlandet), and is here translated into English and adapted for D&D.

1d20                   Title        Effect

  1. Viscous – the thick liquid flows slowly like syrup, and it takes two rounds to drink the potion.
  2. Elusive – the liquid turns into vapor once it is exposed to the air, and the imbiber must drink it fast. The character must perform a Dexterity Check DC 10. If it fails a part of the potion evaporated, and the character only gains half the effect or half the duration.
  3. Explosive – the liquid begins to boil and surge, and must be drunk immediately. The character must perform a Dexterity Check DC 5. If it fails, the potion explodes in a shower of shards between the imbibers hands for 1d6 damage, and the potion is lost.
  4. Disgusting Taste – the liquid tastes awful, and the imbiber finds it difficult to consume. The character must perform a Constitution Check DC 7 or vomit the potion out losing its effect.
  5. Congealing – the potion constantly crystallizes and must be shaked vigorously into order to return it to its liquid state. The character must shake it for one round, before it can be imbibed, and the player must simulate shaking the potion flask.
  6. Slow working – it takes 1d4 rounds before the potion’s magical effect occurs.
  7. Smelly – The imbiber becomes foul smelling while under the influence of the potion. While the potion lasts, the imbiber releases a cloud of foul stench every time the character performs a physical activity (i.e. making an attack, jumping, running etc.). The stench results in disadvantage (or a -4 penalty) on social activities.
  8. Hunger – the imbiber becomes ravenous, once the effect of the potion runs out. Until a meal is consumed (costs a ration), the imbiber suffers disadvantage (0r a -4 penalty) to strenuous activities (including attacking).
  9. Sleep inducing – the potion makes the imbiber drowsy, and once the effect runs out, the drinker risks falling asleep spontaneously for the next three hours. Once pr. hour the character must succeed a Constitution Saving Throw 10 (or Saving Throw vs Poison) or suddenly fall asleep (does not happen, during fights or other vigorous activities).
  10. Exhausting – the potion’s magic drains the imbiber. Once the effect runs out, the character begins yawning heavily and feels drowsy. For the next hour the character will doze off, if he or she is not moving about constantly or being kept awake by others.
  11. Cooling – the potion drains bodyheat from the drinker, who becomes cold to touch and briefly leaves rime on glass and other objects touched, while the potion lasts. Once the potion has ended, the drinker shivers with cold and has disadvantage (or a -4 penalty) on physical activities and activities requiring concentration, until wrapped in blankets, sat in front of a bonfire or some other warming effect.
  12. Chatty – the potion loosens the imbibers tongue, and the imbiber is constantly small talking, while under the potion’s effect. The player must constantly chat or small talk, and if the player is quiet for one minute, the potion’s effect immediately ends.
  13. Roaring – the imbiber is unable to whisper and finds it difficult not to yell instead of talking, while influenced by the potion. The player must speak loudly, when speaking, and if the player does not speak loudly, the potion’s effect immediately ends.
  14. Whispering – the potion limits the voice of the character, who can only whisper. If the player does not whisper, when speaking, the potion’s effect immediately ends.
  15. Balance – the potion’s effect only works as long as the character is focused and in balance. The player must balance a d20 on the back of their hand, and if the die falls off, the potion’s effect ends immediately.
  16. Taunt – While under the influence of the potion, the character struggles with not coming up with taunts and insults. Every time a conversation is initiated, or the character is contradicted, the character must succeed a Charisma Check DC 6 or immediately throw a taunt.
  17. Restless – The imbiber cannot rest or sit still, while under the influence of the potion. The player must be moving around, and if the player is not in motion, the potion’s effect ends.
  18. Blood infusion – the powerful magic in the potion infuses into the blood of the drinker, whose blood now functions as a scaled down version of the potion. If other creatures drink the fresh blood (for 1d4 damage) of the imbiber, they gain the effects of the potion (but the duration is at most 10 minutes). This last while the potion lasts or until the character is killed.
  19. Echo – 24 hours later, the potion reactivates itself and the imbiber once more gains the effect of the potion.
  20. Secondary effect – 1d6 rounds after the potion ends, the strange magics of the potion activates the effect of a new, beneficiary magical potion, as if the imbiber had drunk another potion.

Some of the effects of the potions was also used in the module Grave of the Heartless, and several effects are based on the idea, that some of the effects should be more than a modifier, they should be things, the player role plays.

I have uploaded the list as PWYW pdf on RPGDriveThru:

I hope you have fun tweaking potions at your table.

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Another review: Tomb of the Dragon’s Heart

Not long ago I uploaded the adventure Tomb of the Dragon’s Heart written using the Labyrinth Lord system. Recently the adventure was reviewed by Bryce Lynch from Ten Foot Pole blog.

Bryce writes:

 This FEELS like an adventure in a place greater than yourselves, and its communicated pretty well.

To this is added hooks. Not just one sentence “caravan guard” hooks, but a paragraph or two for each. There’s enough detail to communicate motivation adequately and get the DM’s imagination running so they can fill in the rest. Then there’s the rumor table, telling you actually useful things about the situation in the dungeon, and other factions that may be present, all communicated in a style that represents a little vignette, in only two sentences. And then there’s the wandering table.

Addtionally:

The initial text, up to the keys, is a good “read once” type that you should not have to refer to again and is a quick read with bullet points and call out. The “appendix” information after the keys is most monster stats and the like, leaving the encounters proper a feel of a separate section that you can reference … which is exactly what I’m looking for in a supplement.

Multiple entrances, a chance to make a pact with the dragons heart, or abuse it for power … there’s an interactivity here that most adventures lack.

I am glad and honored by the positive review. It does inspire to write more and translate more into English, but it also raises the bar. This is a minimum to strive for, and ideally I will improve on my writing creating even better modules. I hope you find it interesting and perhaps after reading Bryce’s full review, you might want to head to DrivethruRPG?


Design Principles for a Hinterlands Dungeon

photo (87)There are many guides and posts on building an exciting encounter or creating a three-act structure or five room dungeon of combats, but when we began designing adventures for OSR-clone Hinterlandet (The Hinterlands) different principles were being used.

  • Many ways and none is the right one
  • There are bosses, but no boss fights
  • Balance is not the issue, avoiding combat is
  • There will be death

These are some of the key-elements, and now that I have begun translating the adventures into English from their Danish originals, and adapting them for D&D 5th edition, it might be the right time to have a look at the principles behind the adventures.

Many ways and none is the right one

The dungeon must have more than one way to go. It cannot be linear, and ideally it has multiple entrances, and it allows the players to choose directly or indirectly between the entrances. A great part of the fun is to see the players choose, and when running a living campaign with multiple groups running through the same dungeon, the different choices are interesting. Many dungeons emphasize the multiple paths by giving the characters the option of breaking down walls, falling through floors to other areas or scaling the walls to gain quick access to other parts, i.e. in Tower of the Star Watcher the PCs can scale most walls and enter different areas in almost any order.

There are bosses, but no boss fights

It follows that when the PCs can choose multiple paths, there will rarely be a boss monster exactly at the end of the dungeon, and it helps bring the world to live, when the players know, that monsters in the dungeon do not behave according to computer game logic. I.e. in One Night amongst the Necromancers the ‘boss’ is moving around in errands, and stealthy PCs can easily find their way to him without working their way through all the rooms. In other adventures, such as Grave of the Alchemist, one of the worst monsters resides just inside of the dungeon and to gain access, it must be defeated in some manner.

Balance is not the issue, avoiding combat is

The encounters in Hinterlandet are not really balanced, and this feature is carried over into their D&D 5th edition adaptions. However, many encounters include creatures that can be avoided or snuck by, or they begin with parlay – some monsters are hungry and can be bribed, some are sleeping or distracted, others are mistaking the PCs for other residents or guests, and yet others are suspicious but not hostile. Rarely does a monster attack, when the PCs enter. Instead the players are invited to interact with the monster, and this results in many great moments.

There will be death

Even though it may sound easy to avoid the nasty encounters and the tough fights, it is not so. Character death is common, and one cause is traps and magical dangers. Each dungeon usually contains one trap or phenomenon, that will kill or remove a PC from the game. Often there is some warning sign, and usually the PCs can simply choose to stay clear of it, but it will challenge their curiosity, and it will tempt their greed. For instance, in Palace of Sweet Dreams drinking too much of the ghost wine will trap a character in the realm of the dead, and merely visiting the ruins of the palace might result in a character forever lost in its madness.

These are some of the main governing principles for the adventures of Hinterlandet / The Hinterlands. The adventures have all been part of the OSR Living Campaign at Danish roleplaying conventions and have been run for multiple groups. Some characters survive, some don’t, but we always end up with great stories of adventurers’ daring do.


One Does Not Simply Play Dead Gods

Lately I have been playing Monte Cook’s Dead Gods super module to Planescape, that he wrote back in 1997. It is a module filled with intestering ideas and concepts using the Planescape setting to its fullest – and also in a sense revealing how Monte got the ideas for Numenera.

one-does-not-simply-walk-into-mordor_1394963912One Does Not Simply Play Dead Gods. Its black pages are guarded by more than just orcs. There are narratives there that does not sleep. The great story line is ever watchful. It is a barren campaign, riddled with vague ideas, nonsensical plotlines and superfluous ideas. The very pages you read is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand sessions could you do this. It is folly.

Boromir on playing Dead Gods.

But why not play Dead Gods? Well, this quote from the module will reveal why:

Whether the PCs follow Renik or Kair-aama, they eventually see their mark meet with something in the dark shadows of an alley near High Point. If the cutters keep watch for several evenings, they observe a number of secret meetings and finally see the true “face” of their enemies.

[read aloud text with description of “true face of the enemy”]

If the PCs dare to follow one of the visages after it leaves the alley […] (p.40)

1. The text assumes the players will choose to observe a number of secret meetings – without giving the slightest hint as to why.

2. The text does not bother with describing who’s participating at these meetings, the above text is the full description about the meerings.

3. The text does not explain what is happening at these meetings. Again the quote contains more or less everything mentioned about the meetings.

4. The text does not allow for any other action. What happens if the PCs follow any of the participants? Not an option. What happens if the PCs interferes with the meetings? Not an option. What happens if the PCs investigates the participants at the meetings? Not possible.

If the players want to do anything beyond “keep watch for several evenings”, then the scenario leaves no clue as to what happens or how to play it out.

5. The whole next sequence hinges on the fact, that the players choose to observe for several evenings, until they see the monster, and then their choice is to neither keep observing or interfering with the meeting, but to solely track the monster – which they have never seen before, and they don’t know what the monsters are up to beyond appearently killing people and taking their place.

6. Once the players have decided to follow the monster, which is the only option (well, technically they can choose otherwise, and the module has at the end of section a brief note on what to then, which is mainly just to skip ahead and then continue the events, as nothing had happened – oh, wait, nothing did happen), then the NPCs and the secret meetings are simply forgotten by the module, as it no longer cares about it. This is not for the players to care about any longer. This happens multiple times in the module – once the characters have seen or witnessed something, the characters are ushered on not letting the players investigate them (and neither leaving any info to the GM, should the players decide to look closer).

There are descriptions of places and NPCs and plots and ideas, that one can steal, but you cannot play Dead Gods without forcing the actions of the players, and if playing the module as written you leaving the players in the dark most of the time having them play several chapters without knowing who, what or why they’re are exploring and fighting them – and it is not fun, just frustrating. No wonder why 90’s modules have such a bad rep.

 


One Does Not Simply Walk Under Illefarn

one-does-not-simply-walk-into-mordor_1394963912After several evenings of storming the dungeons of The Temple of Elemental Evil we decided to put the module to a rest since not too much happened, as the dungeons were deadly and it kept being supplied by new monsters, forcing the players to deal with areas they had already explored. Instead we decided to play N5 Under Illefarn (1987), which consists of three small introductory adventures and then a huge dwarven mine divided by three factions.

One does not simply walk into the mines of Illefarn. Its dark corridors are patrolled by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. The dreadful necromancer and the dwarven prince are ever watchful. It is a barren dungeon, riddled with old traps, new traps, and empty rooms. The water rushing from the mines is a poisonous sludge. Not with ten thousand sessions could you map this. It is folly.

Boromir on exploring the dwarven mines of lost Illefarn.


One Does Not Simply Walk into Temple of Elemental Evil

one-does-not-simply-walk-into-mordor_1394963912This blog has been quiet for all too long. I shall attempt to raise it from its slumber, as have not been quiet regarding roleplaying. Revently I have explored Temple of Elemental Evil with my homebrewed OSR Hinterlandet (The Hinterlands).

One does not simply walk into The Temple of Elemental Evil. Its black corridors are haunted by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. Zuggtmoy er ever watchful. It is a multi-level dungeon, riddled with fire, air and earth. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand party members could you explore this. It is folly.

Boromir on playing Temple of Elemental Evil.