I was recently asked to design an adventure suitable for a eight children; one that wouldn’t have any violence but would require puzzle-solving and have fun treasure. This is how ‘Journey into Twilight’ was born. The most taxing task part was eliminating violence as that so often drives the player vs opponent encounters. But it was fun to provide a framework around Non-Player Character encounters without getting bogged down with the usual stats, skills and special actions. This was much more about the player options and how the NPCs might interact with them.
I tried to keep the quest simple, but ended up creating 15 pages of notes, table options and maps. There are puzzles to solve, decisions to make and strange creatures to catch. Although there are no turn-based combats in this module, there is plenty of danger. And of course, there are fun items to find and fantastical experiences to remember!
If you are interested in giving it a try, please do let me know how you get on. I hope you have a magical time!
Journey Into Twilight is available to purchase from the DM Guild.
Dealing with Death
This refers to Episode 4, Confined: Part 2 of Agora Core.
a certain event happened to one of the party in this episode… you can hear it in all its glorious, gory and somewhat hilarious details. I should say up front that the player involved took it all really well, which was a relief.
I have to say that I’m a fan of the new Death Saving Throws used in the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. The ‘3 strikes (failed throws of 10 or under on a d20) and you’re out’ approach gives a sense of drama and also provides comrades a chance to revive the fallen player.
But if this doesn’t happen – if the dice gods are not kind and allies are busy elsewhere – what happens when the Player Character (PC) actually dies?
I have played in games where the PCs do die – indeed, in one-shot roleplays high-stakes and player vs player conflict makes it inevitable, but when the game is longer there is a lot of player investment in a character and it’s not a good feeling to lose the character, for the character sheet to be metaphorically and sometimes literally torn up.
On the other hand, what if your character comes back from the dead? What if they are given another life, or the Dungeon Master (DM) tweaks events in the player’s favour? To me that cheapens the drama, like playing a computer game in cheat-mode. The roleplay may not be the same for the players either after such an event if they
feel they are effectively immortal.
So how can a balance be struck between giving the player a fair chance of survival without potentially damaging the authenticity of the roleplay experience?
This is how it was managed when Laura Bailey’s character Vex’ahlia died in Critical Role episode 44. The DM Matt Mercer combines the Revivify spells their cleric used with a group-assisted roll.
It seems fair that in order to avoid death to a PC there has to be a price to pay, either in gold or through effort in order to bring the player back to the land of the living. Such a gift has to be earned for the rules to be bent in the player’s favour. If death cannot be negotiated with, then they players could always try to direct approach and go to the realm of the dead (the underworld sometimes also known as Hades or Hel). A mission could be attempted to bring the person back such as with Orpheus and Eurydice.
Finally, in considering roleplay authenticity and loss, there is a blog entry by Will Wheaton where he describes the events of Aeofel’s death as part of the Acquisitions Incorporated roleplay series. On this event, Will says “I’m happy that I stayed true to Aeofel’s beliefs and played him the way I wrote him.”
Rules for Horse Riding
This refers to Episode 5 Agora Core: Escape.
The conclusion of the episode involves the party trying to escape on horseback. Pevel’s attempt has to be a series highlight.
This leads me onto today’s topic. How do you decide how capable a Player Character (PC) is at riding a particular creature?
In version 3.5 on Dungeons & Dragons, there was a Ride skill, and so the simple way to determine if you could successfully ride a creature was for the player to roll a d20 and add their Ride skill number to the total. If this was equal or higher than the Difficulty Class (DC) total that the Dungeon Master (DM) decided on, then the player would have succeeded. If not, the player failed to complete the task, in this case, ride a horse.
In the 5th edition (5e) of Dungeons & Dragons there is no such thing as a Ride skill and no set way of determining
the skill according to the Player’s Handbook. Instead there are a series of ability-based skills that PCs can be proficient in – proficiency is a bonus number added to particular skills. Here is how I applied the ability-based
skills to this task.
As the horses were no familiar with the players, they had to see compatible they were, in other words, how comfortable the horses were being handled by a PC. I used the skill Animal Handling (a Wisdom-based skill) for this. However, even if a horse is comfortable around a PC, that doesn’t make the character agile enough to be a rider. So the second roll I believe the players should do is an Athletics check (a Dexterity-based skill) to see if they could
successfully get onto the horse and balance whilst the horse moves. Both these challenges can be done against a Difficulty Class determined by the DM. If the PC and creature have a history together I wouldn’t ask for a check to be made as the rider and horse already have this level of understanding and ability.
This was my solution to this challenge. In the finale (episode 5) to Series 1, I just got the players to roll animal handling as we were running short of time. To further save time, there were two levels of Difficulty to the rolI – 15 or above to start riding in 1 round (6 seconds) and 10 or above to start riding in 2 rounds (12 seconds). In the case of Pevel his desperate second attempt was more desperate and needed a swift move, so I got him to make an additional Athletics Check as well to pull it off.
So how do other DMs and groups work out their riding skill? Let me know.
This is the end of the DM Notes for Series 1. I hope you’ve enjoyed the content and found some of them useful. Stay tuned for Series 2 later in the summer.
Reordering and Recycling
This refers to Episode 4, Confined: Part 1 of Agora Core:
In DM Note #2 I mentioned that the players actions and decisions took the plot in an unpredictable direction and set things in motion that meant it would be impossible for them to visit the town of Mid-Nis unless they were disguised or seeing it through the bars of their prison cells. This meant that for me as a Dungeon Master (DM) many plot elements would go unused and also more work was needed to prepare for the next episode.
Fortunately for me, we were missing a few players in Week 3, so I made more of the remaining journey to Mid-Nis and that provided more time for creating and setting up scenes and characters online in Roll20.
The prison cell was a brand new section which would make use of the town guards (already created). The part which was recycled or re-appropriated was the Non-Player Character (NPC) known as Belstogley. Belstogley is a barbarian and is the current fighting champion of the Mid-Nis Festival of the Clans and was meant to be in the ring defending his title against brave Player Characters (PCs) should they dare to fight. However, with that plot highly unlikely, another chapter in Belstogley ‘s life was being written in. It turns out that this hardy fighter also liked his drink and occasionally got himself into trouble.
The interaction between the players and Belstogley made me very glad that I did this. Sure, it wasn’t what was originally intended, but it is the players who dictate where the plot goes and not the DM. Of course, just because he is working with them, doesn’t necessarily mean that the NPC is a suitable party member. Fortunately, Belstogley did manage to provide the party with some useful information about the guardhouse.
Belstogley will make another appearance in Part 2 of Episode 4.
This refers to the third episode of Agora Core:
I spoke briefly in #1 about characters having backstory and how in Agora Core, the players were allowed to create their own. In part 2, the characters experienced visionary dreams which they could partly manipulate if their minds were alert enough. This was the first time that I tried to interact with their backstory. Based on the information they provided, I could work some information in that either shed light on a past experience or about events that will happen soon. A good example of visions in roleplay is in Titans Grave, and also Critical Role.
It is hard to say how much the players digested of this information because they were in the middle of a mission at the time. The cause of the visions themselves is a longer plot arc that is playing out in the background for now but it provides a way to give the players insight.
- Will Orix go after Vian, the boy who he had helped to expel from magic college?
- Will Ikki be visited by his kind and have to face the Trial of Talons?
- Will Hector face an assassination attempt for having stolen a precious medallion?
- Will Long ever find his leader and prevent a disaster from befalling his clan?
- Will Nomo be tempted to visit the site where he was attacked and burned by an orc and where he witnessed a monk burying an artefact?
- Will Pevel overcome the demons of his childhood and be able to face conflict head on?
This is what the visions were for; to ask questions of the player characters and see if they pay heed to the warning of thing to come or want to pursue an answer for themselves.
How far down does the rabbit hole go?
This refers to the second episode of Agora Core:
The journey between the towns of Nis-Ton and Mid-Nis was designed to be 2 episodes at most, adding some intrigue, action and a chance for the Player Characters (PCs) to get to know their characters better along the way. This episode was part 2 of their journey. The intrigue was to create a room in the inn where they were to rest for the night that had a sign on it which said ‘Keep Out’ and a quiet wailing noise…
This side quest could have stopped there. They had no need to snoop, and yet they snooped. Once inside the room the windows were boarded up and there was no visible source of the wailing sound. Orix’s curiosity got the better of him and he stabbed holes into the paintings on the wall. They found a hole…
The hole had spiritual entities living inside it. Having got this far, the prepared sucker-punch was that if they stuck their head inside the hole they would have to pass a wisdom saving throw or be possessed by an animal spirit and behave oddly for a time until the group could seek clericial aid. The players, however, wanted to find the source of the wailing. They wanted to see how far down the hole went…
From now on, the plot was completely off-book, with Long in very real peril having dropped off the pages and into the abyss.
The resultant actions and decisions took the group on a very different path to the one originally planned.
As a DM this was an exciting challenge – how much would their employer, Elstan, suspect and how would he react? What consequences would this have when the group reached the town of Mid-Nis? In such situations the DM is roleplaying as much as the players are. Their employer is a Non-Player Character (NPC) with a motive and resources of his own. I decided that he would have been in the next room to the merchant Lanir and so would have heard the group force entry and attack him. As a response, he would have sent a message ahead to the town guards through means of a messenger bird to request the group’s arrest. They were no longer trusted by their Employer, Elstan, and through his actions they would no longer be able to enjoy Mid-Nis Festival of the Clans and would face a trial, which could result in their execution.
This refers to the first episode of Agora Core:
It is a conundrum, because however original your plot may
seem, you need to contrive a reason for a group to form. How should they begin? Perhaps there is a backstory connecting some
or all of the players. An example of
this approach is in Will Wheton’s Titans Grave where character backstories are
discussed and secret bonds are disclosed to the Games Master.
Another simpler approach is a reason that attracts the
players to one spot, such as a call for adventures and the promise of riches
for successfully completing a mission. I
decided to loosely follow this second approach, bringing the group together at
the docks of the town of Nis-Ton. Their
reasons for being there were their own, but each was looking for an
opportunity; perhaps to earn more money, perhaps for adventuring, perhaps they
hoped to escape the land of DaNis altogether.
In much the same way as Character Creation, I left the
players to choose their reasons for being there. This has both advantages and
disadvantages. The main advantage, as I
see it, is that they are in total control of their characters and can develop
them organically. I can then suggest
paths for them to follow during the roleplay but they can choose where they go
from there. The main disadvantage is
that they are complete strangers and they have no bonds to each other or to a
central plot. The introduction of Long
mid-way through this episode highlights the loose bonds between the characters.
What worked really well at the docks was that the players
grasped the situation quickly and decided that there was an opportunity worth
exploring. They then advanced the plot
with their actions and dice rolling.
The finding of a horse and cart was a single line plot
that developed because Hector did not roll well when perceiving where to look
for a horse and did not ask anyone. So
rather than go straight to the transportation store, they successfully deceived
a resident and took their horse. Then
they had to deal with the transportation store for the cart. In this case, the characters of Nomo and
Hector started out being civil and ran an errand for the store owner; collecting
flowers that grew on the cliffs ledges, but when that didn’t work out they
resorted to tossing him over the side of the cliff. Hector is definitely a bad influence on
Nomo! The interesting part is that they
had already secured a horse and cart but decided that they needed an extra
horse! The poor store owner needn’t have
been so roughly discarded! But this is
what makes roleplays so interesting – you never know how players and plot will
A lovely moment was when Orix decided to pay special
attention to the horse they commandeered and named it Loki. I liked that personal touch, which he also
displayed when creating the Weasel familiar.
Another character-driven bonus was the strange friction between
man-of-the-wilds Long and the dry-witted drow Hector. Long simply didn’t trust Hector. To be fair to Hector, if someone threw a warhammer at me I would not warm to them either!
Still, it is moments such as these that make each party unique, for
which I am very grateful.