This month, I wanted to write about tactics and their place in our style of games. And we will cover that idea soon, don’t you worry. However, I feel compelled to address Defy Danger’s attitudes and stances on exclusivity.
We have a publicly stated goal of making games in our genre of terror. Along with this, we recognize that this is not a “big tent” stance. We’re not making games to make money or necessarily appeal to a big audience. We’re boutique, a niche. But I want to clarify and stress that in every way possible; Defy Danger wants to embrace all people, in every variety, with open and loving arms. Our one and only condition is and always has been a passion for high-energy, high-risk / high-reward tabletop gaming.
DEFY DANGER ABROAD
Horror. One of the manifestations of the more general terror; tense, suspenseful horror has a place within our games. Right now, horror is being done in new and terrifying ways in tandem with excellent design in Bluebeard’s Bride!
PUZZLE – Do Unto Others
by Matthew Surber
This puzzle is designed to test your players’ abilities to discern truth and motivation, and then respond accordingly. It can be used as a stand-alone room hiding a valuable treasure cache, a ritualistic chamber to convey blessings, a lock to open a chamber elsewhere in the dungeon, or any combination of other purposes.
DESCRIPTION: You find yourselves in a hexagonal-shaped room with floors and ceiling of smooth black marble. In the center of the room are seven cast bronze arms, all extending out from a single, multi-jointed stone shoulder like a twisted weed growing out of the ground. Each bronze arm holds a distinct object in its outstretched hand:
- a property deed
- a sword
- a lock of long, black hair
- a goblet of water
- a pair of gold coins
- a torch
- a glittering gem
Arranged around the room are four detailed carved stone sculptures, each depicting the same elderly woman in different scenes.
Each mosaic depicts one or more figures in a scene with multiple meanings. In order for the puzzle to be solved, dungeoneers must place the object most desired by the subjects of the mosaic. Specific objects and their rationalle are listed below, though Dungeon Masters should award a successful outcome to any dungeoneer who puts noteworthy thought and logic into their choice of object-to-statue.
SCULPTURE 1: A frail male figure, almost nude except for a scrap of loincloth, so emaciated that his ribs and bones are visible. He lies on the ground next to an empty bowl, his left hand clutching his shrunken belly, his right hand raised up, and his face full of anguish. Above him, an elderly woman stands with her heel pressed into the side of the man’s head.
Further Examination: An astute dungeoneer will notice a carved slit at the man’s throat.
Solution: The Sword. The truth here is that the man wishes to die. Giving him death will aid the dungeoneers.
SCULPTURE 2: A woman stands between a well-armed figure and a small child. The child is shackled and dressed in rags. The woman is dressed in fine garments. The third figure carries weapons attached to his belt and is dressed in a crisp uniform. The woman’s face is twisted in rage and she is raising a hand to the warrior.
Further Examination: An astute dungeoneer will notice the stone used in the statue of the child has been carved to reveal red and blue marks like bruises across the child’s face.
Solution: The Gold Coins. The truth here is that the warrior is honorable and is trying to save the child. The woman is willing to hand over her property for a fair price.
SCULPTURE 3: An elderly woman leans over a table with her hands laying palms up on the surface. To her right is an open book and a quill. To her left, a picture of a young man.
Further Examination: There is text carved into the book. The words “scry” and “love” can be discerned.
Solution: The Lock of Hair. The truth here is that the woman is an archmage trying to scry for her lost love and needs a piece of his body, the lock of hair, to do so.
SCULPTURE 4: Three robed figures kneel before a throne, upon which sits an elderly woman adorned with exquisite jewelry. She holds a broken skull in her hands.
Further Examination: A stone eye of the woman is removable, leaving a socket in the statue.
Solution: The Gem. The truth here is that the elderly woman is worshipped by her acolytes and is ascending into lichdom. Fitting the woman’s eye with a gem of power would complete the ritual.
CONSEQUENCES: The puzzle is designed to engender roleplaying and thoughtful discussion within the description of the narrative. If players offer an incorrect object to a statue, they should suffer creative consequences that relate to the object offered. The following are a few examples to act as guidelines in creating your own unique punishments for failure:
- The lingering man wishes death. If a dungeoneer gives him the goblet of water, the offending dungeoneer is cursed with unending, gnawing hunger that must be sated at all times. During times of intense focus, such as combat, this proves to be a deadly distraction.
- Arming the slaveholder would make her capable of attacking the warrior and the party, animating as a vengeful golem.
- The elderly woman at the table already has the books she needs and would be infuriated to have it suggested otherwise. Giving her another book will arose her wrath and launch a flurry of spells at the party.
EXPERT CHALLENGE: The statue puzzles can only be solved by placing the indicated objects. No weaseling out of the correct answer.
MASTER CHALLENGE: The penalty for failure is death.
by Anthony “Deuce” Franchini
- All the fruits in the verdant Garden of Kawon are poisoned. However, drinking from the Waterfall of Hextor’s Blood will heal all wounds.
- Karvax the Troglo-Ghoul fears the Warped Cudgel of Flames. Brandish it with confidence and he will obey one command.
- Filling the Fountain of Blades with saltwater grants a prophetic vision showing the triple-headed serpent-blooded Minotaurs’ weaknesses.
Once again, Andrew Pascoe comes onto the scene ready to rip off our heads and shit down our necks. This dude is on fire! Who among you has the power to stand up to this tyrant and wrest the crown away from his hands?
Masterminds, the first race to exceed the power of the warp drive by discovering nigh-instantaneous travel across the universe. To satisfy their massive power needs, and to keep the galaxy from uniting against them, they have forced the solar systems into a series of games against each other in which the loser’s sun is extracted and cheaters go nova.
by C. Steven Ross
This month’s Puzzle described above depicts four key scenes in the life of a powerful woman-become-lich, with the exact details of the life of this archmage left to speculation and conjecture. For this month’s Design Challenge, name our lich and describe to us a fifth statue depicting a pivotal moment in her terrifying unlife.
DEFY DANGER wants you to embrace passion. At its heart, tabletop gaming is an emotional and personal connection. Though we couch our activities in myriad, byzantine rulesets, we play face-to-face games so that we can share an experience with other living, feeling human beings.
In that same vein, your game designs should always follow your passion. Write about what gets you amped up and excited. Explore the possibilities of whatever topic you are obsessing over. People often ask, “What new campaign should I start? Would anyone be interested in this kind of game?” F that noise. Grab the bull by the horns and show the world just how amazing your ideas are and just how passionate you are about them.
DEFY DANGER ABROAD
This month is chock full of amazing, new dungeon crawl style adventure for Dungeon World! The Dungeon Oracle Dr. Davy Jones has belted out a fever-dream creation full of bizarre, arcane formulae and horrific, nightmare monsters – The Maze of the Elder Brain!
Whispers of an ancient, nameless cult swirl like a cold fog from the underbelly of a once-grand city. Shapeless cloaked figures huddle in the rain, passing missives marked by diagrams of strange constellations. One symbol appears with disturbing frequency—a labyrinthine brain.
Only the brave or the mad dare try to discover more, but you are one such person. You had only just begun to pierce the veil of this enigmatic cult when you became the target of its designs.
You don’t remember how you got here, but now you awaken in an otherworldly maze-like prison. You perceive that at every moment you are being observed by an unseen presence of vast intellect. If you do not escape the maze soon, your mind will surely be shattered.
PUZZLE – Three Gems
by Sean O’Connor
You enter a room and see a solid, seamless, platinum cube hanging suspended from the ceiling. The floor of this room is littered with red rubies, green emeralds, and blue sapphires – all with the exact same cut.
One face of the platinum cube contains an ornate carving of two interlocked triangles, the 3 outermost corners each set with a gem. The colors of the gem are as follows:
- Top Left, Red
- Top Right, Blue
- Bottom, Green
The center of the design contains a razor-edged set of adamantium doors, opening and closing at a blinding pace. A black iron handle can be seen through the gap of the doors.
If a dungeoneer attempts to reach through the adamantium doors and pull the handle while the puzzle is unsolved, the razor blades cut off their hand immediately. The dungeoneer must immediately DEFY DANGER with Dexterity.
On a 10+, the dungeoneer pulls back their hand in time before is it cut.
On a 7-9, the dungeoneer takes 13 damage.
On a 6 or lower, the hand is severed.
On the floor of the room is a small black iron rod, about 18″ long, ending in three gem-capped tips about 2″ in diameter. The gems on the rod are a red ruby, blue sapphire, and green emerald.
The rod has intense transmutation spells laid upon it.
The back of the rod is inscribed with the same shape and design as the face of the cube as well as the following refrain.
“Prisons of Emerald, Leaf and Thorn.
Graves of Sapphire, Water and Flood.
All will be revealed to Ruby, Rust and Blood.”
Touching a colored gem on the face of the cube with one of the tips of the rod causes the walls of the room to ripple and the color of the touched gem to change.
Ruby Rod Tip:
- Turns one diamond on the cube into a sapphire
- Turns one emerald on the cube into a diamond
Emerald Rod Tip:
- Turns one sapphire on the cube into an emerald
- Turns one ruby on the cube into a diamond
Sapphire Rod Tip (affects all):
- Turns all sapphires on the cube into diamonds
- Turns all diamonds on the cube into rubies
- Turns all rubies on the cube into sapphires
- Turns all emeralds on the cube into sapphires
Dungeoneers may test the effects of the rod by touching it to the gems littering the floor. Explain that whenever the sapphire is used, all gems lying on the floor are also affected.
If the dungeoneers turn all of the gems on the face of the cube into either all sapphires or all emeralds, a trap is triggered.
All emeralds: The walls and floor of the room immediately erupt with rapidly growing thorny vines that grab and strangle the dungeoneers. Each must DEFY DANGER to avoid harm.
All sapphires: The room instantaneously fills with a rush of water, holds for a few moments, and then empties out. The dungeoneers are drowned unless they DEFY DANGER with Constitution.
If all gems are turned into rubies, the adamantiunm razor doors cease moving and remain open, allowing the dungeoneers to safely pull the handle. Doing so immediately causes the cube to crack, rust, and fall apart, revealing a cache of magic items inside.
EXPERT CHALLENGE: The adamantium doors always cut off the hand of a dungeoneer attempting to reach in before the puzzle is solved. In addition, the blades are coated in Baatezu blood which inhibit healing. The affected dungeoneer must DEFY DANGER with Constitution or bleed out and die.
MASTER CHALLENGE: The floor is devoid of any sacrificial test gems. Dungeoneers must solve this puzzle by interacting with it and enduring the resultant failures.
by Anthony “Deuce” Franchini
- The Tome of Thorns contains a coded Rune of Might within. Untangling the cold-iron vines growing through and solving the code will grant the strength of thirteen stone giants to the resolute mortal.
- The Genomancers of Prometheus have need of an off-worlder to help solve the murder of one of their own.
- Rot Maiden and her awakened, hive-minded telepathic Venus Man-Traps protect the last golden dragon egg in the Cave of Cankers.
DESIGN CHALLENGE WINNER
A new champion approaches!
The designs submitted last month made this a very hard decision and an imposibly close call. After deep contemplation, Andrew S. Pascoe has been awarded the title of Design Challenge Winner!
What won us over was, in his description of a god-slayer bolt-action nailgun, was the scale of change – and thus the level of player agency – this item brings forth into a campaign world. Some highlights:
*10+ If you volleyed at the deity whom the holy symbol belonged to, or an avatar, that deity and every being that worships it is consumed in nether fire, and their ashes are absorbed into the nearest star. No future deity can ever claim this god’s portfolio again.
*6- The crusader, and everyone sharing the crusader’s first name, is annihilated instantly and the universe forgets they exist. There is no chance for a Last Breath.
by C. Steven Ross
In the last Newsletter, we talked at length on how to design a campaign-long map-based puzzle, referencing a spacefaring setting. In one or two sentences, describe an intergalactic Terror World – a nightmare interstellar civilization that threatens to spread death and misery to 100 trillion lives.
DEFY DANGER is proud to announce a brand new one-shot delve for Dungeon World, called The Eternal Serpent Tower! This delve is a tightly packed injection of serpent-themed dungeon crawling ready to bite off your face and poison your children in their sleep.
Stories are told of the snake-headed woman and her prison, The Eternal Serpent Tower. At night, her children swarm across the lands feeding on succulent mammal-flesh.
Will you brave the unknown horrors and claim her prize, the fabled Amulet of the Serpent?
The proclamation is brief, as the real star of this month’s publication is the campaign-spanning puzzle. It is a deeper mystery that persists throughout the campaign and has a long, slow, drawn out reveal. On a fundamental level, this is an enriching and engrossing backbone to an entire campaign. The unraveling of a campaign-long puzzle provides every session with a sense of wonder and exploration – something we should all strive to bring into our games that go beyond a single session.
Careful design of a campaign’s game mechanics pays off. It is upon our shoulders, we who would claim to be top-tier Dungeon Masters, to not only be great actors and improvisers, but to also put in this level of thoughtful work for a long delayed, yet very satisfying gaming conclusion.
DEFY DANGER ABROAD
Next month’s newsletter comes on an auspicious date – October 13th! On that date, we will unveiling an exciting new supplement from Defy Danger / DDE Adventures, written for Dungeon World – The Eternal Serpent Tower!
Stories are told of the snake-headed woman and her prison, The Eternal Serpent Tower. At night, her children swarm across the lands feeding on succulent mammal-flesh.Will you brave the unknown horrors and claim her prize, the fabled Amulet of the Serpent?
PUZZLE – The Thousand Worlds
This month’s puzzle is an exercise in deductive reasoning and delayed gratification. It is written to fit a science fiction space exploration campaign, specifically for a long term campaign. Though the setting takes place against a galactic backdrop, this could easily be adjusted to reflect islands in a vast ocean, or any other points of light against a field of darkness. It is a puzzle intended to be solved over many sessions as the players strike out into the black and explore your universe. Presented are examples and inspiration drawn from the literary works of George R. R. Martin’s Thousand Worlds novellas. In this setting, the galaxy is in a dark age where interstellar travel is all but lost to a handful of people.
In this puzzle, the players explore a sector of the galaxy, divided into four quadrants, in an effort to find all 33 inhabited star systems out of the vast expanse of 498 available star system.
Planets of the Man-Realm Sector (0,0 -500,500)
- Old Earth
- New Pittsburgh
Planets of the Fyndii Sector (500,0 – 1000,500)
- Jamison’s World
Planets of the Damoosh Sector (0,500 – 500,1000)
- Lost Colony: House of the Worm
- Lost Colony: Planetos
Planets of the Hrangan Sector (500,500 – 1000,1000)
- Old Hranga
- High Kavalaan
- Tober In The Veil
The campaign begins with a large starmap, such as shown below. The Game Master is to print out a large size version of this starmap, at least 24” on each side, and color in the stars based on the exhaustive lists provided below.
Behind the scenes, the Game Master populates this galactic sector with a scattering of inhabited planets. The players are to strike out into the galaxy, using clues accumulated through play (called ‘Galactic Location Cards’) to help deduce where the safe, inhabited worlds are located. Except for rare exception, each inhabited planet has two Galactic Location Cards that may be found in the campaign which hint at its location. There are also a series of Galactic Location Cards randomly shuffled in which eliminate potential star clusters as completely uninhabited. In this way, industrious players have two parallel avenues of deduction in finding their goal: direct Galactic Location Cards pointing to the correct answers, and indirect Galactic Location Cards excluding the incorrect answers. Puzzles are always harder to solve at the game table than the designer thinks, so it’s a good idea to have multiple avenues of investigation to prevent the game from stalling.
Visiting an uninhabited world always results in a dangerous, random encounter. Players are expected to use pure deductive reasoning in their efforts to suss out the locations of inhabited worlds. Skill checks and other game mechanics can be used to garner more Galactic Location Cards, but they should not be able to add any additional information on their own.
The design of the Galactic Location Cards is the meat of this mystery. Not only must the Galactic Locations Cards provide enough hints to get the players and story where you need them, but they must do so in a fun, creative, and varied way.
All Galactic Location Cards have been provided in the text at the very end of this post. Click on the full blog post to see the extensive listings of Galactic Location Cards, star clusters, stars within them, solar color, and where the inhabited worlds lie in wait.
Be open-handed with handing out these Galactic Locations. The players need a steady stream of new information to make meaningful choices and deduce where their next destination lies. The last thing your campaign needs is a boring, plodding session of trial and error. Exploring the galaxy should feel like a thrilling adventure in and of itself.
Once you’ve mastered this puzzle, sit down and world build a universe of your own design!
EXPERT CHALLENGE: The star colors are not known at the campaign start and must be discovered by traveling to them. Sensors can detect the star colors of each sun within the same Star Cluster grouping.
MASTER CHALLENGE: The classification of inhabited planets and which quadrant they reside (Damoosh, Fyndii, Man-Realm, Hrangan) is not known at the campaign start, but can be discovered through exploration and additional Galactic Location Cards.
- Blowing the Golden Horn of Greed will destroy all false treasures within earshot, leaving only the Cup of Truth.
- The Cult of the Sacred Blade wishes to hire an assassin to kill the leader of their rivals, the Followers of the Blind Night, who live in the soaring tall towers of Nesh-Kali.
- Lighting a prayer candle behind the demon lord’s statue will cast a shadow that grants the power to reach back in time and change history.
DESIGN CHALLENGE WINNER
A new champion approaches!
Anthony Franchini, contributor to the Rumors of this month’s DEFY DANGER NEWSLETTER, had this to say from last month’s design challenge, crafting a face-melting cyberdemon of terror:
CYBERGORGON JUGGERNAUT TRANSFORMATION
When Demogorgon is reduced to 248 hit points, its skin burns off in an inferno, dealing 100 fire and necrotic damage to all within 60 ft (no save). The Cybergorgon loses its gaze attacks but gains the following:
Its tentacles are replaced with four tentacle mounted soul-driven BFG9000s. Ranged weapon attack, range 50. +20 vs AC, hit: 82 (6d20+16) bludgeoning and fire and force damage. He can figure all four as an Action. The target is disintegrated if its hit points are reduced to 0.
His demonic titanium skeleton raises his AC to 30.
When reduced to 0 hit points, the Abyssal shard encased warpfire engine inside the Cybergorgon erupts, dealing 500 radiation damage to everything within a ten mile radius.
The Puzzle presented in last month’s newsletter hinted at a powerful artifact as reward for success: the God-Slayer Bolt-Action Nailgun.
Using a Powered by the Apocalypse ruleset, describe this absolutely outlandish, offensive weaponry and it’s campaign-shattering, unbalanced, in-game effects.
Proclamation, Puzzle, Design Challange
C. Steven Ross
Anthony “Deuce” Franchini
Anonymity breeds bad behavior. When we play tabletop games, our aim is to have a gaming experience that brings us closer to our friends and, in the end, forge an emotional connection. Online games and large-scale gaming conventions both add on a layer of anonymity that is a detriment to the quality of games, tabletop or otherwise, and an obstacle to this emotional connection.
Over the past few decades, as computerized technology and casual usage of the internet has become ubiquitous in our daily lives, this truism has become more and more self-evident. We have been joking about this aspect of gaming culture for years (https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19).
It’s tempting, awful tempting, to take the quick and easy route of gaming; the path of least resistance, the lazy route, and the bare minimum. It’s hard to maintain friendships, to plan games around people’s schedules, to make new friends when others must depart, to negotiate with the non-gamers in our households over what night it’s alright to bring everyone over for beer, chips, and dice. But when we don’t put in this effort and instead settle for a quick and easy online game, a barrier to human interaction is added into the equation. For many, the argument is that online is the only way they can game. That some gaming is better than none. Defy Danger demands the best, and does not accept these excuses.
Anonymity is also the downside to typical large gaming conventions. When you’re in a pool of tens of thousands of gamers together; there’s no incentive to act well, and no detriment to acting poorly. Odds are that you will never see any of the people at any given gaming table ever again. Players are free to behave badly with little or no repercussions – you’ll never be called out on your misdeeds later. Players also have little or nothing to gain from good behavior – you’ll never get a warm invite to a future game from any of these random strangers. Defy Danger demands the best, and does not accept these excuses.
Defy Danger is different by only designing for face-to-face adventures and purposefully limiting the number of attendees at our events. During the long-weekend events, every player may not get to be in a game with every other player; but we all share food, drink, and unwinding time together. At a Defy Danger event, you can’t hide from the results of your actions, nor can those results escape you. A person behaving poorly must face the social ramifications of any disrespect they show immediately, but will also reap the rewards of camaraderie through shared experience and the bonds of friendship.
No one has infinite time to play this great hobby. So, take a moment and ask yourself how you want to spend what time you do have – with an ocean of forgettable players cloaked in anonymity, or with a select band of friends and those soon to be.
DEFY DANGER ABROAD
Of all people, Chris Hardwick is doing it right with Force Grey: Giant Hunters.
These recorded D&D sessions are done well. The Dungeon Master here, Matt Mercer, doesn’t pull punches at all, to the point where major player characters are killed. The DM is a voice actor by trade, so he does voices and acts out all the characters, but he doesn’t overdo it. They’re here to play a game, not listen to a fairy tale. He doesn’t monologue with each character. He provides curt, to the point descriptions, some banter if the players keep talking, and then moves the plot along.
The vast majority of recorded D&D games, whether it’s text, video, or audio-only, are boring garbage. Even the ones with poplar celebrities and industry leaders are unimaginative wastes of time. Give FG:GH a chance.
PUZZLE – Seven Demon Skulls
This puzzle is designed to reward those players who have dedicated themselves to learning the forgotten lore from the dawn of Dungeons & Dragons.
You come upon a thin cold iron rod driven into the ground, raising up to the height of a man. Etchings along the rod split it into six sections. At the bottom section, a small skull of a vulture-demon has been impaled. Laying on the ground nearby are five other skulls, each with a small puncture hole in the top: a large skull of a demonic hound, a large demonic skull with great spiraling horns, a large skull with the features of a demonic boar, a small skull of a demonic frog, and a small skull of a demonic elf.
The skulls belong to the following demon types, in the order described:
- Vrock (Type I)
- Glabrezu (Type III)
- Balor (Type VI)
- Nalfeshnee (Type IV)
- Hezrou (Type II)
- Marilith (Type V)
An easy skill check identifies the names of the demons that once owned the skulls and that the Balor is a Type VI demon.
A hard skill check also identifies that the Vrock is a Type I demon.
When all six skulls are impaled on the cold iron rod in the correct order (Vrock – Hezrou – Glabrezu – Nalfeshnee – Marilith – Balor), the skulls and rod sink into an opening in the ground which then raises up to reveal the God-Slayer Bolt-Action Nailgun.
When all six skulls are impaled on the cold iron rod in an incorrect order, a wraith-hand chain lightning spell is triggered, arcing out from the rod and attacking each dungeoneer to deal lightning damage as well as imposing negative energy drain.
SOLUTION: The skulls must be impaled on the cold iron rod in the order of their Demon Type, starting with the Vrock (Type I) and ending with the Balor (Type VI), as per D&D supplement Eldritch Wizardry (1976).
EXPERT-LEVEL CHALLENGE: The cold iron rod starts without any skulls impaled upon it. The Vrock skull lay on the ground beside the others.
MASTER-LEVEL CHALLENGE: In addition, the puzzle takes place during a brutal combat challenge with unending swarms summoned from the fiery depths of Hell. Solving the puzzle is the only way to stop their incursions.
Need More Demons?: Go check out Brandon Reinert’s amazing portfolio at chasingneutrinos.tumblr.com
- The Stone of Truth is hidden away in the Hall of Philosophers and can only be acquired by divulging the true name of the Blessed Fire Djinn.
- Transgalactic outlaws wish to enlist an “inside man” to help steal an Argent Matrix from the Tissue Vaults of Croan-Dhenni and slip past their robotic Cyber-Inspectors.
- The weeping portal in the Gallery of Dead Kings leads to a vault containing the vorpal khopesh.
DESIGN CHALLENGE WINNER
A new champion approaches!
Brendan Flattery had this to say from last month’s design challenge, crafting a classic logic and deduction puzzle and wrapping it up it a description of terror:
The metagame is activated upon drinking from the chalice. When a player does so, three translucent images, faintly glowing with oscillating blue and red lights, will appear in the air above the altar:
- A Sword, gleaming so brightly with the spectral light that it illuminates the entire room. Its hilt and crossguard are made of a severed demonic hand.
- A Throne, of an ancient curule shape, backless and with a curving seat shaped from the stone of a long fallen meteor.
- A skull, plain and cleaned of all flesh, though with lights shining from its eyes that pierce you with a knowing gaze.
The eyes of the cadaver will then open, and it will speak in a hushed, raspy tone: “choose thine aspect in a game of chance, though it matters little what choice thou makest. Throne commands Sword; Sword smashes Skull; Skull outwits Throne. Win and the secrets if this dungeon are yours; lose and the denizens of this place will know you inside and out.”
The corpse’s eyes then close and it speaks no further.
Place a card corresponding to each image on the table face up and have a player take one. Take the remaining two, and shuffle them. Have the player take one of these at random, and reveal to all.
Resolve the metagame as per a rock/paper/scissors balanced mechanic, though with one option removed by the player to avoid stalemates. When the player makes a choice, the corresponding spectral image will disappear, and the other two will begin circle each other, getting closer and more rapid until they merge into one image (the random card) with a bright purple flash.
If the player wins, they will get the boon outlined below. Otherwise, the bane curses them until removed or death.
Boon: the dregs of wine at the bottom of the chalice will begin to shine with a bright bluish white light that also courses through the veins of the player who drank. S/he gains the moniker of Haruspex, and the ability to read auguries from the entrails of the elven corpse. The player can either gain 2 new rumor cards, or may ask a yes/no question about the area once every 24 hours, so long as the elven corpse is preserved and intact. S/he also gains the ability to grant disadvantage to any one attack in the next 24 hours, even after seeing the results of the triggering attack.
Bane: the dregs of wine at the bottom of the chalice will begin to shine with a dark purple light. Simultaneously, the same light can be seen coursing through the veins of the player.
From now on all creatures in the dungeon will have advantage on attack rolls against this player, and will target him/her mercilessly until death. S/he will also have disadvantage on all attack rolls for 24 hours (reveal the natures of this bane only when they become pertinent).
Demogorgon stalks the halls of the deepest level of your dungeon, terrorizing all dungeoneers. It springs to attack!
Based on the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition ruleset, describe one or more unfair, overpowered, game-breaking special attacks or other abilities that Demogorgon uses, using game mechanics to reinforce your theme and narrative.
PROCLAMATION: New Blood, Fresh Meat
Your RPG campaign is dying. This is a truism that affects us all. Some of us get lucky, our games die slowly. Some of us face the despair of a flaring out campaign that melts away in the blink of an eye.
The people in your RPG games are living, breathing human beings. As such, each of them experiences life while you’re not playing games together. They change – careers, family, education, dreams, and just which games they find enjoyable. People move away, people get busy, people find new interests. With these changes, these people will eventually fall out of your game and leave. If you don’t take command and put in the work, one day you too will find yourself with an empty table.
This nihilistic ending can still be avoided. If you truly want to enjoy this hobby for all it’s worth, if you want to spend your free time interacting with real people making real connections over a fictional game world, you need to get your ass in gear. This is so hard for so many of us. This is a social hobby that so often attracts those struggling with their own social skills. But to keep healthy your own game, and the greater RPG scene as a whole, all of us need to be actively working on bringing new players into our games. We need to host MeetUps, attend local conventions, reach out to players in other groups, and seek out ways to brings new ideas into our games. This is a hobby fueled by creativity and wonder – we should never content ourselves with seeing the same people all the time. We need to suffer through the boring GMs, the awful players, and everyone else we disagree with so that we each can make a connection with the people we do share interests and style with. We’re all gold miners panning for one shiny flake out of the muck, each and every day. We’ve got to be foolish, romantic optimists. If you’ve got a full crew of people coming to your games on the regular, that’s great, but don’t get too comfy. Run some one-shots for people you haven’t seen in awhile. Ask around and see if you can’t introduce new players to the hobby for their first ever role playing game. Have a bloated list of gamer friends to call on and always look to the horizon for more.
DEFY DANGER ABROAD
Infinite broken night. Milky alien moons. Wavering demons of gold. Held in this jail of immortal threats are three perfect sisters…
Maze of the Blue Medusa is a dungeon. Maze of the Blue Medusa is art. Maze of the Blue Medusa works with your favorite fantasy tabletop RPG.
Lethal gardens, soul-rending art galleries, infernal machines—Maze of the Blue Medusa reads like the poetic nightmare of civilizations rotted to time, and plays like a puzzle-box built from risk and weird spectacle.
PUZZLE: Court of the Rainbow Portal
DM’s Note: The solution to this puzzle is presented elsewhere, in three other rooms located elsewhere in the adventure (Rooms 2, 10, and 16).
FEATURES OF THE AREA
- This area is a long, wide-open courtyard. Dark clouds rumble overhead, blotting the sun.
- The waist-high crumbled ruins of an ancient stone keep stand in the courtyard. Planks of rotten wooden stairs hang limply off the side of the low walls.
- In the center of the yard is a tall, monolithic pillar made of shiny, untarnished silver.
- A maggot-ridden corpse lies at the base of the pillar. The body has been chewed up and turned inside-out, leaving a pile of viscera and bone.
- Upon each of the four sides of the pillar is a thin oval outlined in welded black iron finger bones.
- At the top of the north side of the pillar is a small brass plaque with writing in an obscure language. It reads, “The magenta path offers safety”.
UPON FURTHER INVESTIGATION
- If any of the gems from Rooms 2, 10, and/or 16 are placed within the eye sockets of their associated black iron skulls, one of the thin oval outlines on the south, east or west side of the pillar is ignited with bright light corresponding to color of the gem, forming a gateway. The outline on the north side of the pillar also forms a gateway, though its color is the resultant combination of the other three portals combined (see color chart below).
- The puzzle solution is magenta: two red and one blue.
- A combination of three differently colored portals (red, blue, and yellow) creates a final fourth portal that is dull gray in color.
- Objects put into any portal that is not magenta are sucked in and then regurgitated as if torn inside out. Hands or other body parts put into the portal offer a saving throw to pull back in time, with a failure indicating that the portal has sucked in the entire creature, killing them instantly.
- A creature passing through the magenta portal emerges safely into the next area and with an additional reward; an opal-encrusted bracelet that grants its bearer resistance to fire and lightning damage.
Rooms 2, 10, and 16.
DM’s Note: These rooms provide the solution to a multi-step puzzle encountered elsewhere in the adventure, perhaps on a different floor entirely. The players are meant to backtrack to Room 7 to solve the puzzle.
This description is common to each of these three rooms, an unrelated addition to its other hazards or elements.
FEATURES OF THE AREA
- In this area lies a black iron skull, its jaw missing.
- An iron patch has been crudely drilled over its left eye socket.
- Elsewhere in the room is a delicate jewelry box lined with crimson velvet. Inside sit three large gemstones: blue sapphire, yellow topaz, and red ruby.
UPON FURTHER INVESTIGATION
- If a gemstone is placed in an empty eye socket of the black iron skull, one of the south (Room 2), east (Room 10), or west (Room 16) oval portals on the silver pillar of Room 7 ignites with that gem’s color. The northern portal’s color is a resultant color combining the other three.
- Once placed in the eye socket of a black iron skull, the gemstones seal in and require a difficult test of strength to remove.
EXPERT LEVEL CHALLENGE: Change the needed color and all references from ‘magenta‘ to ‘vermilion‘ (red, red, yellow).
- The archfey bride of the Fallen Worm-Kings offers a difficult choice between two tempting offers. Neither can be trusted.
- Dodongo the Ever-Living can be pulled into the mortal realm by the radioactive shrapnel from an exploded soulsphere nailbomb.
- Sykes Corporation Corpse Handlers suspect that their rivals are employing a new Synth-Brain design that secretly violates prohibitions against animation of the living.
DESIGN CHALLENGE: ALTAR of the ELVEN CADAVER
The DOOMSTONE is in fact a comet, a future apocalypse, transversing the sky with an ever decaying orbit. Soon, it will enter the atmosphere, igniting it afire and burning this world and all its inhabitants. … the Council of Celestial Centurians believes that we only have 9 cycles left before the gravity of our planet draws the DOOMSTONE to its final destination.
This chamber contains a low altar, atop which is a skull-chalice filled with dark wine. A preserved elven cadaver lies at the foot of the altar, its body cut open and innards exposed.
This chamber tempts the adventurers with a dangerous, but lucrative, metagame of chance. If things go poorly for them, unleash a danger further in the dungeon.
Describe the metagame, what great boon is gained from a good result, and what danger is unleashed from a bad result.
Quality control is the beating heart of the Defy Danger experience. As a multi-day tabletop gaming event, Defy Danger is often compared to the typical game conventions like GenCon, Origins, or a variety of more local events. The true difference here is that Defy Danger bucks against the standard, defies expectations, and re-invents this kind of event by strict quality control.
The typical gaming convention model is the ‘big tent’. Every effort is made to accommodate as many people as possible. It’s a business model and designed to generate maximum profits or maximum attendance. If your goal is simply to be surrounded by a mob of humanity, this works great. That’s not really what we are interested in.
Defy Danger seeks to provide a limited group of gamers with the best gaming possible. The organizers on each event carefully curate the list of attendees to only those people who can bring high energy, a willingness to engage the game each and every session, a positive attitude, and an overabundance of creativity. No scrubs. No wallflowers. No duds. No assholes. No bitter grognards. By weeding out people who do not share our tastes, we are able to play games with tables full of people who enhance our gaming experience.
Similarly, the games offered at a Defy Danger event are purposefully limited. Each game must embody the ideal of terror – a mixture of fear, excitement, apprehension, panic, and awe. Canned adventures put out by the big name companies in an effort to please crowds are simply not allowed. We would rather close the doors and go home than waste our time and be bored with a mediocre experience.
That statement speaks to a greater ideal that Defy Danger embodies. It is not enough simply to have a passing interest in the same hobby. That does not make us brothers and sisters; that does not make us friends. We all must go above and beyond and be the best gamers possible. The game master doesn’t owe any player anything. We all must contribute to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. And you know what, not everyone who plays tabletop games has the kind of passion and dedication to do that. Defy Danger is unrepentant in saying that those kinds of people can stay home, we’ll take the elite few who can stand up to these expectations.
DEFY DANGER ABROAD
Epic adventures deserve epic rewards. This 19-page PDF contains 100 unique treasure cards for use with the Dungeon World RPG. The Khopesh of Extinction allows its wielder to wipe entire races from existence. The Sands of Time Reverse can undo a single fatal mistake. The Jade Devil Mask summons diabolical traps. In the spirit of Dungeon World, each of these treasures is designed to propel the narrative forward. They work great in one-shot adventures; they work great in ongoing campaigns.
Each treasure features one of 20 original illustrations by artist Brandon Reinert.
PUZZLE: ALL TOO REAL
Every trap has two parts to it: bait & hammer. The bait of every trap is the delicious prize that tantalizes players into action. It is the incentive by which players bring your traps’ unfortunate series of events down upon their own character’s heads. The hammer, in contrast, is the pain that is brought when the trap is triggered. A trap with no means of detriment or harm is simply a giveaway, while a trap with no potential reward or benefit is simply an uninteresting punishment.
This month’s Puzzle delves into this idea and breaks the fourth wall. One of the hallmarks of a great puzzle is forcing the players to think laterally. This month, we go that route by bringing the puzzle itself into real-life and the actions of the real people at your gaming table with a series of practical challenges. All example game mechanics effects are listed for Dungeons & Dragons (5E). Put in the Comments below what game system you would prefer to use instead and what examples mechanics you would use.
1. Stickers on Cans
Host the night’s game at your place, where you will be well-prepared ahead of time, or bring canned drinks for everyone. Earlier that day, subtly mark the bottom of a few of the cans with stickers and try to keep that out of view for awhile. Some stickers will indicate a harmful condition, while others indicate a benefit. When a player knocks back a can to take a drink, keep an eye on what sticker is now shown on the bottom of the can. When players drink from a marked can, their in-game characters receive a predetermined curse or boon.
A cursed drink forces a the character to make a DC 13 Constitution Saving Throw, dealing 10 poison damage on a failed save.
EXPERT LEVEL CHALLENGE: A failed save deals 25 poison damage.
MASTER LEVEL CHALLENGE: A failed save kills the character outright.
However, drinking from a beneficial beverage can heal a character of all hit point damage, grant advantage on attack rolls for 10 minutes, or replenish up to three expended spells.
2. The Box That Was Broken
Before anyone shows up for your game session, warn your players that “Those who avoid the common path will be spared, while those who seek an alternative will be rewarded“.
Carefully slide a folded note under the flap on the top of a box of snacks (Cheez-itz or what have you). The note should read “Rat takes the cheese – you are polymorphed!” When the top of the box is opened, have that player read it. Their character must make DC 13 Constitution Saving Throw. Failing the save changes the character for the next 10 minutes into a Tiny rodent of their choice. (See Rat, PHB p. 309, for additional statistics)
EXPERT LEVEL CHALLENGE: A failed save lasts the rest of the session.
MASTER LEVEL CHALLENGE: A failed save results in a permanent transformation.
You must also, however, carefully slide a folded note under the flap on the bottom of the box of snacks. The note should read “The spectral hand steals that which is guarded!” When the top of the box is opened, have that player read it. For the rest of the game session, their character’s left hand and arm can become ethereal at will, allowing them to grab and manipulate objects through solid material. The player may also choose to make anything grabbed in such a way ethereal as well.
3. Find Familiar
Before the game starts or players arrive, place three small notes inside the collar of a nearby pet, each of which reads “Loyalty – Bonded For Life to the One True Master“. The first player to read such a note is treated as if their character cast the spell Find Familiar (PHB p. 240).
The next player to read such a note summons a pack of 2d4 Wolves (MM p.311) in the closest unoccupied space to their character. The wolves are hostile and immediately attack.
- Sacrificing a loved one upon the dreaded Doomstone (see Design Challenge below) will bar the Hellfire Sphinx from this plane.
- Solving the Transdimensional Demonic Hypercube will unlock the Seventh Seal of the Vault of Torment.
- The Sunsteel Blade is imprisoned within a secret chamber below the Keep of Despair.
DESIGN CHALLENGE: DOOMSTONE
What mind-blowing, over-the-top gonzo horrors does the Doomstone inflict upon your hapless world?Are you Dungeon Master enough to show these punks how it’s done?