Adventures with variable encounters based on party behaviors. Night’s Dark Lanterns 6

One thing I like to do while I am designing a scenario for an RPG is to come up with some basic encounters and how they are likely to change if the players either rush or dawdle. (Or manage to be exceptionally stealthy. Which has happened a few times.) 

This falls into a couple of categories. Some times half the party decides to stand around outside an encounter area while the sneaky character goes in to make sure that nothing exists that could possibly harm or otherwise interact with them.It turns out that my PC who is good at disarming traps and sneaking is a different character than the one who is good at finding traps. There are some reasonably predictable results. 

Some times the party will announce their presence to all of the opposition, then retreat and take a short rest to refocus their powers. Some times they wil do the same with a long rest. All of these scenarios yield different results. I actually like to let them retreat and rest unmolested most of the time. The opposition is going to prepare their home for guests in the meanwhile. 

Some times the party will decide to be tenacious and runs in where angels fear to tread. This is much less common, but it happens. I usually have a less well organized and prepared opposition ready for that scenario.

Let’s take a look at a recent adventure I ran. 

My party is a group of Dark Lanterns agents in Breland. They have a contact who is the unofficial ambassador for the monster nation of Droaam, which is not recognized by Breland and the king sort of has it in for the Monsters, blaming them for the death of many members of his family. Their contact tells them that a renegade political leader in Droaam has been organizing raids across the border and has established a base in the Jungles near the border on the Brelish side. And the Daughters of Sora Kell, while not wanting to put up with this behavior also don’t want to send military units into Breland right now. So, if it wouldn’t be entirely too much trouble, could you go disrupt this plotr against both nations?

The party does so, letting the Party ranger (le sigh… urban investigation campaign, well marked ahead of time, and 50% of the party is wilderness explorer classes…) get some time to shine because she is in her favored terrain for once. 

They find the leader of the bad guys out in the jungle with a raiding party of goblins and ogres. It turns out to be a weretiger Ashbound druid, which means she has a big old hate on against arcane anything, and sort of wants the war to heat back up to just sort of screw both societies. Well, the party focuses on the biggest looking threats for a while, and the druid decides to retreat and regroup. She shouts commands in Giant, which none of the party speaks 9i thought someone did, but I make sure to use an array of languages to reward knowledge but not always hand it out 

The druid tells her allies to retreat to the home of a third party, a dupe/stooge/ally of hers, a Gauth who is as irrational as a beholder though not nearly as smart. He lives in the ruins of an ancient dragon artifact, slowly draining it of power to feed himself. And shegives him arcane treasures she finds on her raids for him to destroy. She leaves in a different direction, using Tree Stride to make it harder to track her. I give the players the choice between following the fleeing decoy ogres (easy) or the fleeing were tiger druid (hard) and they pick the decoy straight to the Gauth. 

This was the first point on the track for the encounters. If they had followed the druid through the forest and kept her running, they would have arrived only minutes behind her at the strong hold. The encounters there would have been some ogres and more goblins with the out of breath druid as support at that point.

The Gauth was set up as a negotiation. If they had flattered and tricked him, they could have gained a lot of information about the artifact and the druid. They could have eventually turned him into an untrusted asset for the Dark Lanterns and a less thna reliable ally in the best scenario. I also had a scenario where they talked to him as a distraction and ambushed him with overwhelming force by surprise. And one where they were hostile, and he ran away into the access tunnels that the Dragons built for their elven servants, and attempted to consume all of the energy of the artifact, causing him to grown and making the artifact unstable.
The party was heading in diplomacy direction when one of the players decided “no more talking” and started shooting at him. Option 3 it was. A massive arcane explosion and very little gathered information later, the party is fleeing for their lives from the flying remains of the artifact’s structure,

At this point if they had rushed to find the lair of the druid, she would have had time to organize her minions, set a few traps, and gather the staff of insects that she had hidden away in her stash. But the Gauth fight had been pretty hard so instead we had a long rest.

At this point the druid has set a bunch of passive traps, and used a ritual she knew to bind some elementals to her service. They were stuck in a circle, but ready to be unleashed. She also pulled all of her minions back into the further reaches of the caves so they were more concentrated. She had also sent a messenger for the person who was pulling her strings to come and help and he had arrived.

The party arrives and kills the door guard silently. They explore the nearly empty fron traches of the cave system and discover the room of meat piles, the vat of fungal zombie creation, and the spoils from a couple of hundred isolated farms they had raided over the last six months. (breland is big and sparsely populated) And then the goblins and the Druid make their appearance. With a swarm of gnats that blind the party without creating darkness that can be seen through. They have a hard fight, but kill the druid and most of the goblins. If they had followed the goblins they would have found the Oni ring leader in a chatty mood, and some ogres who were going to be super demoralized when their boss and the scary magic ogre both left them for dead. Oh note, this fungal undead creating druid? The party decapitated her instead of subduing her and shoved the corpse in a bag of holding… this will matter later.

Instead they retreated again and took a short rest. The oni got bored and helped th ogres create a few deadfall traps and told them to release the elementals if the humans came back. Then he left a taunting note and left. The party came back and found a few more fungus zombies, a “garden” of warforged corpses the druid had been using for biological warfare experiments (trying to develop a fungal disease that would eat warforged. She wasn’t there yet, but there were promising results) This room, which only half the party was willing to enter, is where the released earth elementals also found them… through the ceiling, collapsing the hallway that seperated the two halves of the group…

It took a bit to reclear the pathway and find the room full of traps with a note but no more ogres… There was one more room with some interesting evidence of the Druid’s experiments and a very smooth back wall, like someone had used rock to mud, buried a bunch of coins in it, and then turned it back into rock… which the party decided not to interact with. They already had 400 lbs of copper coins after all…
They left the caverns and took another long rest before examining the contents of the bag of holding. Nine hours after this fungus undead creating and spore cultivating druid’s corpse had been put in there. To get resurrected as a fungal lich type creature that spat out a couple of creatures with the stats of a spawn of kysuss and attempted to pull a party member into the bag of holding before ripping it open from the inside and being dumped along with a bunch of goopy copper into the Astral plane.

(I had three scenarios planned for her, one the party captures her and gets to drag her back to The Citadel for interrogation, one they kill her and dispose of the body in fire. And one that they kill her and don’t dispose of the body… leading to a new undead opponent…)

There were also some much harder versions of the fights where they had to face the ogres, the elementals, and the druid all at the same time if they gave her a second long rest to prepare during…That was a scenario where I expected the party to flee after a few rounds when it became clear they couldn’t win.

I had About 8 stat blocks and some basic notes on how the creatures would be arranged with no, a little, or a lot of prep time

In the end, the party got the most important results, got some intel they had lacked about some of the conspiracies they have been brushing up against, passed up on some information that could have benefited them more, didn’t learn anything about the Oni, and skipped all but the biggest reward cash wise (the staff was very valuable, but they decided to trade it for a bag of holding and a small amount of extra cash. The money in the wall was about 5000 gp)

I love it when they find all of the stuff in the adventure, especially the information, but I always make sure that what they need to move on is contained in bits and pieces that don’t rely on them deciding to ask questions first and shoot later, though the stuff that explains what is going on is always gated behind social interactions.

Next time we will look at a similar structure as applied to something bigger than a single adventure. We have mostly wrapped up a chapter of the campaign that had been structured with the same sorts of break points. If they had been super ont he ball and pursued some clues that had not given immediate results, they could have avoided a while set of consequences. And if they had decided to just ignore some clues that had not paid off immediately, we would be heading into a scenario where there was an established colony of mind flayers underneath Wroat with an Elder Brain in command. They walked the middle path, letting some leads fester a bit too long, but being proactive enough to make the results annoying not catastrophic.

Nights Dark Lanterns5.3

Today my party avoided learning plot relevant information. There was a chatty bad guy who’s going to offer them a devil’s bargain and provide them with a look into some of what was going on in the background, but instead of speaking or listening they cast silence on him.
Also, one of these days I will get to see what they can do with all their resources walking into a hard fight. Today was not that day. ( to be fair I had three tiers of this boss fight prepared, depending on how clever and effective their approach to all the previous material was Plus what resources they had expected beforehand in order to revamp their position, and I ended up running the middle tier, which was hard, but they managed to succeed at their primary goals, and escape with everybody still alive. Well, the Karnathi skeleton that wanted them all dead but who was being forced to help died, but who’s counting a little Undead Menace. At the end the princess survived, the bad guy escaped, I reminded them of one resource they had, they remembered a resource I forgot they had, and now the trick will just be to return home.

Board Game Review: Quadropolis

I have recently been on a bit of a binge of City Building games, from the somewhat disappointing Machi Koro to the more fully realized Dice City, to the ultra light Flip City. And here is the newest one in my collection, one of my international tabletop day purchases: Quadropolis.

A days of wonder game, Quadropolis is beautiful with mostly incredibly nice components. The game is mostly composed of tiles, all of which are nice and thick and make a satisfying thump on the table. One of the game boards is of similar material, but the player boards are disappointingly thin for a game with otherwise excellent pieces. The game also uses a bag shaking shuffle, which is great, but the bag isn’t really big enough so you still need to pre-shuffle the tiles before each of the 4 to 5 rounds.

Those are the negatives.

Now  on to the game. I’ll start with the “classic” style. There is an expert mode that changes the rules and the distribution of the tiles.

Adjacency is orthogonal. This took me a while to find in the rules.

This is a two to 4 player game, where each player takes the role of the mayor of one of four cities. The main board is 5 by 5 and it starts off covered in the round’s selection of tiles. Each type of tile provides resources (energy and people) and is scored in different ways depending on the type of building. In order to score a tile, it must be activated by having specific resources attached to it. You are allowed to move resources around until the end of the game. Each player selects and builds one piece at a time by placing one of their numbered architects alongside the board along either side or the top and the bottom, and counting in that number of spaces. They take that tile and put the Building Manager pawn on the newly empty square. The manager’s role is to limit selections available to the players. You then play that tile on your board in a row or column corresponding to the architect’s number you used (or for towers, on top of a previously played tower, with a number of pieces 1 smaller than your architect number)

You can not place an architect on top of another architect, nor can you play them so they point at the current building manager’s space. That means as each player puts out tiles there are shifting spaces you can’t use.

Once each player has used all 4 of their architects, the round ends, all of the unused tiles are returned to the (excellent) box insert and the next round’s tiles are placed on the board.

In the 2-3 player game, there are tiles on the board that are unavailable, but they stay on the board to fill out all of the spaces. (all of a given round’s tiles get placed on the board in their round.)
At the end of the game, the players make sure all of their resources are assigned to the right tiles in their city, and then score their tiles. If a tile doesn’t have the resources on it that are needed to activate it, it is removed before the scoring phase. Towers are scored based on their height, parks are scored based on how many towers are adjacent to them. Stores are scored based on how many customers are played on them. Factories are scored based on their adjacency to stores and harbors. Harbors are scored based on how many you have in a row. Civil Services are scored based on how many of the zones of your city they exist in. Some buildings, instead of providing resources, provide victory points at the end of the game. Any resources you aren’t using count against your final score.

I played a 2 player game against myself with two different strategies (one was residential and commercial, the other was industrial. In the end, my scores, for very different city strategies were only a point apart.

This one was fun even playing alone, though on the box it claims to not support solo play.

I suspect a robot would be easy to design for a true solo game.

Oh gods, the insert! The insert is beautiful, all of the pieces fit in a specific place, and are organized so that you can deploy them quickly during each round.

The expert game has shared architect tiles, and more of them, additional tile types,  and a different layout for the player boards. Oh and an extra round of play and more complicated scoring.

Scions, a 200 Word RPG


Servants of the Eternals at Everything’s end, players attempt to ward off the dissolution of Chaos and serve their Eternal and themselves.



Frozen King












Shadow Queen






Tattered City







______Name_______ is a Scion of ________________ who masters ___3___, ___2___. ____2___, and cannot ___-1____ I want ____________________________

Pick an Eternal, 2 tags from your Eternal, one from another, and an inability from any Eternal. Name an item, unique and puissant. Succeed in conflict at a cost of three dice.




Provide a pool of 30 dice.

Each player creates a place with needs. You too.

Gives an Eternal’s secret task to each Scion.



When a scion might fail, they roll 2 from the pool and one tag. 4+ succeeds. GM Sets Difficulties. Players may loan 1 die, but are at -1 next roll.

When in conflict with Chaos, the GM announces a cost of failure between 1 and 3 dice removed from the pool.
In pvp, cost is 2 dice.

Scion death is reversed by Eternals.

Play ends with an empty pool and player vignettes. Uncompleted Eternal tasks = chaos reigns.

The Communities of NaEssad :The Spiral’s End.

The long spiraling path from the base of Vostin’s Fang to the bottom is dotted with and inns and waystations, many of which are little more than flat hollows that a caravan can pull in to or small fortified buildings that trade goods and coin for a safe rest protected from opportunistic raiders and unexpected plumes of poison gas.

One of the best known inns is Spiral’s End, more a small village than a mere inn. A generation ago, a band of adventurers who made their fortune in the Fang decided to retire. They hollowed out an enclave near the end of the Spiral Road, set up an inn, and began lives as semi-retired adventurers. Their construction, unbeknownst to them, intersected a Korred nest. The short and furry little creatures decided to adopt the adventurers instead of trying to drive them off. The heroes were bemused by a clan of what were usually thought of as a nusance or a dungeon monster. The clan first everyone else second behavior of the Korred transferred to their adopeted clan, and they have been known to be fierce in protection of their strange brightsighted family. The generation f children that grew up with Korred nannys are very well protected, both by retired adventurers, and by a whole swarm of hive living tricksters.

Spiral’s End incorporated as an independent city both with the Dwarven Line and the city Sanctuary after having short words with various authorities after a few adventurers tried to treat their adoptive clan like monsters.

Today the Spiral’s End is a friendly place where Dwarves, merchants, and Korred mix in relatively frictionless peace. Only one of the original band remains, a Dwarven matriarch who watches her human allies’ children and grand children and the whole tribe of rat-like peoplewith a mixed air of fondness and a fierce protectiveness.

Gear of Na Essad: Gas Mask

One of the omnipresent dangers of living on a great stone pillar above a sea of lava is toxic gasses. The inhabitants of Vostin’s Fang tend to build structures that can keep out clouds of poisonous gas, and the great dwarven transit shafts are a quick and safe way to get to almost any major settlement without having to encounter fouled air. But the transit shafts are expensive and people do leave their homes. And so they have developed a number of tools to help them breathe the air in the cavern. Most of the time, the air is safe, but occasionally a huge bubble of gasses will escape the sea of flame and spread out along the sides of the Fang. In these situations, many of the people who travel on the outside of the Fang carry protective devices, ranging from wet cloths to place across their mouths and noses to fitted leather masks with expensive charcoal filters, to enchanted masks that allow you to breathe at no danger.

A wet cloth grants a +1 bonus on saving throws against airborn poison if it is worn before exposure. If the cloth dries out, it no longer grants that bonus.

A charcoal filter mask grants advantage on saving throws against inhaled poison and grants resistance to inhaled poison damage. The filters are extremely expensive, being made of burnt plant matter, and they are good for 20+1d8 rounds of exposure.

How a magical mask works depends on the specific magic that powers it.

None of these options protect against caustic gasses (like a green dragon’s breath) or heat (like a giant plume of superheated steam when a chunk of ice calves off of the Great Glacier into the Sea of Flame.)

Every hour spent wearing a filter mask increases your fatigue level by one.

Evolution The Board Game Review

Evolution is by Northstar Games.

I like games where one piece of the game fills multiple roles. In Evoluton, your generic creatures are modified by trait cards. Those trait cards are things like Horned, or Long necked, or carnivore. You can add a trait to a species, or you can use those cards as currency. They also are used to generate the pool of food available to all of the creatures in the game. This means you get a bunch of meaningful choices right off the bat.

The game itself is for 2-6 players. Each player has one or more species that they are controlling. Each turn you can buy a new generic species that starts at a body and population rank of 1. You can spend cards to increase the size of any of your species bodies or their populations. You can add new traits to a species, up to three traits per species, things that change how they feed and how they are fed upon.

The play space is a watering hole that has plants added to it each turn, based on the value of the cards that each player trashes during their turn.

Each species must eat food equal to their population rating or they their population will shrink to match the amount of food they eat. There are abilities that let you take extra food from the watering hole, that let you eat other animals instead of plants (including the ability to sort of be an omnivore, by scavenging food after a carnivore species has eaten.) , that let you eat food that doesn’t come from the watering hole or other animals, and that let you work with other species you control to optimize food collection.
There are abilities that increase how well you eat, that change how your population grows, that make it harder for carnivores to prey on you, and that allow carnivores to counter other species defenses.
Scoring is based on a combination of your total population of all of your species and the number of food tokens you have consumed over the game. You can never consume more food than your population, so for scoring, the things that matter are how many species you have with what size population and how much they eat. All of the other uses of cards (adding traits, adding body size) detract from your score, though body size makes you harder to prey on (which decreases your population and can cause you to go extinct) and the traits can do all sorts of things to you.
One of the people I was playing with expressed frustration that species could develop defensive abilities in the absence of carnivores, which isn’t totally unreasonable, though behavioral and physical adaptations that protect you from predators often originate for other purposes and happen to help vs. predation.
My big complaint was that it was not possible to build a non-scavenger based omnivore. A lot of fairly successful creatures are not obligate predators and the ability to use multiple food sources is a strong survival trait. Bears and humans are not particularly restricted to eating meat that other carnivores eat.
The pieces are mostly thematic. The food tokens are on one side plants and on the other side the legs of various animals. The species tracking tiles are super generic and plane, but I think that works pretty well for them. We didn’t work with the naming chart, but from staring at it, I think it would have benefitted us to have had more options for each trait.
The watering hole is probably the one thing that the game misses on. The art is gorgeous and hit the teme well, but you place food tokens on it and they disappear, having very little contrast with the watering hole art. The other issue is that you are moving a lot of tokens from a pile on the table to a piece of cardboard. If the watering hole had been embedded in a larger board, possibly with a few other organizational spaces, sliding food from the bank to the watering hole would have been easier (and I like it when games give a physical object that helps you place the components of the game in useful places. Play mats are my friend.

Those are some minor quibbles and or possible places to go to for the (hopefully) inevitable expansion. I enjoyed the game a lot, and while I’m probably not going to skip lunches to buy it, it is going on my list of games to buy sooner rather than later.
I’d give it an 8/10 with problems that can be solved by add on card decks. (the card deck also acts as the game timer… I love that that one piece does so many different jobs. Love love love.)

Obviously I suggest going to your FLGS and getting this one (or absent a friendly or local game store try this )

Don’t Turn Your Back Review

A lot of ragged people disappear each year. Some of them move on, some die quietly and unremarked, and some of them, the ones who just can’ sleep, slip over the line between our world and the Sleepless City. The sleepless often lose themselves in their habits and patterns, becoming part of the background, becoming prey for the nightmares. Some though, some have a spark that keeps them active and aware, that grants them power for their exhaustion and their madness. These people can stand up to the nightmares, as they edge ever closer and closer to becoming a nightmare. These people play the influence game in the Sleepless City, carving out a home for themselves, or seeking a way home.

In Don’t Turn Your Back, you play one of the sleepless as you build a power base among the nightmares to fuel your ascension or escape.
Each player has a color coded deck of starting cards representing the nightmares they have influence over. Those cards are played one at a time on spaces on a board representing the Sleepless City’s districts. Some cards can’t be played in certain districts, which is marked With a letter code and a graphic that is only completed when you play the cards in a legal district. This game is full of multiple codings for key information. Which is good, because the coloring is very thematic, and occasionally the color coding is not incredibly clear. (In my first game, players mixed up the two green characters, in a well lit area, though the greens are not very similar. In my second game, which was 3 players, one of the players who is, I think, Red-Green colorblind requested we leave out the olive character because it was too close to the purple/blue one for them.)
There are a few little problems like that. I found the colors and art in the main book made it a little difficult to use as a learning tool, but Fred Hicks being Fred Hicks, there are multiple routes to learning the game, including an excellent 10 minute how to play video ( and the book works fine as a reference for me after I learned to play the game, (There is also some splendid setting fiction in the rules…)
Game play is fun. Where you play your cards changes the effects of the cards. I think the player decks are a little small, but I have that complaint about a lot of games that use cards as a resource/randomizer.

A few points of particular interest:

The 13th district is an area that changes every round as a new law is put into effect. You have to decide each round if you want to compete there or not.

The Bizarre Bazaar is where you trade your influence for special effects, ranging from extra card draw to attacks and defenses against attack.

The Highschool is a card sink that doesn’t get cleared between rounds. Clever play here can net you lots of points for several rounds in a row.

The City Slumbering district is where you trade the pain of your current minions for the influence to get new ones.

And the Wax Kingdom plays 2 roles, the ever important “getting rid of useless cards from my deck” and determining how one scores a deck at the end of the game.

Some design musings:
I’m considering splitting the law deck into more mundane laws and more out there laws so I can shuffle them seperately and then play with the more mundane ones on top and the weirder ones as you get lower. We had a very standard scoring law in the last round of the game after a bunch of more interesting ones, making the 13th district sort of boring in the last bit.

The Law cards could have effects on the rest of the board if you wanted to expand on the game. Letting Officer Tock impact the rest of the City in unusual ways has potential.

While there were a few Attack and Defense cards for the Bazaar, I think more of them, and more varied cards would be a good idea. More character interaction and backstabbery would fit the setting well.

The one major thing I wanted for this game was to have the player acquisition decks be different. If each player has influence over a different subset of the city an different feels that tie into the player’s backstory, I think that would do more for immersive theme than all of the art together. Even just making the Favor (starting) decks different, and having the acquisition decks be the same could have a big impact on the feeling of the game. (I’ve played deck builders where the starting resources for each faction are different, giving each faction a very different feel even though the cards they buy are from the same pool)

I’d love to see all of the acquisition cards come from a community pile, maybe with more different cards. I get that the current game mechanism wants unique cards, but a token or marker or something could adequately identify ownership for most areas (except the wax king)

Given the need for the acquisition cards to be identified as owned by specific players, I could also see expansion decks, with a deck building rule set (You have x points to spend on influence values, and must have y number of cards in your deck.)

My first play was a little rough because 2 of the players really weren’t grokking the area control aspect of the game and they really didn’t want to have any thing explained. Learn from play doesn’t wrk when you don’t have a strong grounding in the basics of play. The second game was a lot more fun, though I was the only one familiar with the setting.

I think Atlas Games should license this system and do an Al Amarja game…

#RPGaDay2015 Day 22

Perfect Gaming Environment: Around a table with a home cooked meal and a bunch of friends. The rest depends on the specific game.

#RPGaDAY2015 Day 21

Favorite RPG setting:
Eberron. It is probably the most flexible of fantasy settings.I love it especially for Pulpy 3 musketeers style games.