Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Snake-Shaped Island!

I ran a little DMing workshop for my fifth graders earlier this month and the result was interesting. First, I asked the kids what exactly they enjoyed in roleplaying. These were the replies I got (translated from Hebrew):

  • Slay

  • Add people to the party

  • Get stronger

  • Meet new characters

  • Cooperate

  • Achieve goals

  • Play different characters

  • Visit new places

  • Treasure! (this one was shouted in unison)

  • Solve puzzles

These we distilled into the following categories:

  • Fighting

  • Communication

  • Riddles

  • Rewards

  • Places

At this point I challenged the kids to create a location that will cover all these bases. In essence, I asked them to design a campaign in under 90 minutes. 

This is what they came up with:

Source: Inkarnate

The Snake-Shaped Island!


  1. Frozen wastes with volcanoes that spew pixie dust that erases memory.

  2. A desert so hot that trees hide underground during the day and then spring out in the evening. Sometimes horses are created from the heat and assault travelers.

  3. A withered field that causes transformations (1 - snakes, 2- a maze*, 3- owl, 4 - strong priest, 5 - dragonborn, 6- a giant maw, 7 - an angry pixie, 8 - candy seller, 9 - giant spider, 10 - an elf) * One of the PCs actually turns into a dungeon the others can raid

  4. Sharp cliffs covered in flowers 

  5. A safe and normal country where the clouds rain flowers… with teeth (we seem to have some disagreement as to what exactly constitutes “safe and normal”...)

  6. In the center of the island there’s a region that changes into one of the above at random intervals. It’s controlled by the Dragon of the Seasons (see below).

Random Features:

  1. It rains knives. (ouch!)

  2. A fog that causes inanimate objects to come to life. They aren’t always hostile.

  3. A golden cave where whoever touches the gold is transformed into a golden statue, whoever touches the statue also turns into gold. (brutal!)

  4. Acid puddles that look refreshing.

  5. A field with illusions of fire. If you touch one of the flames it follows you around and talks and talks and talks… (what a nudnik!).

  6. Pits that open and close abruptly.

  7. Illusion of dancing princesses. (Oddly enough, these are harmless).

  8. A statue of a cockroach that if you touch it, you become a cockroach for one hour. (actually has some benefits…)


  • A tribe of elves that breed giant spiders. The elves can trade, provide hospitality, give information about the island or be enemies. They live in the sharp cliffs (4). Some of the elves are:

    • Dando: leader of the tribe, the most agile elf.

    • Zon: a wizard, the smartest elf.

    • Zargoster: a druid, the most cunning elf, son of Hermes (apparently, we’re doing Greek mythology. Good to know!)

    • Roked: his feet are always dancing, he’s very tired. He really needs help!

  • A kingdom of red dragonborn who lived in protected cities in the frozen wastes (1). They are amazing hosts because they know how hard life is. Some of the dragonborn are:

    • Adron: a village elder, a magician who likes to hunt with traps.

    • “The Global Madman”: retarded and insane, always hangs out outside in the pixie dust.

    • Golden: a young barbarian looking for someone to go on an adventure with him.

  • Dragon of the Seasons: He can change his color because he’s made from all parts of the island. He’s very evil and very smart and has five huge diamonds. He lives in the center of the island but his lair is hidden.

  • Bandits who include ogres, orcs, and an evil titan. They are led by Daddy, a white dragonborn, who can freeze or boil you with the power of thought. The bandits roam the island and attack everyone.

  • Titans who look scary but are really very sensitive and cowardly. The chief has a big treasure but he’s easily distracted and forgot that he has it.

  • Jerry, the beverage seller, a halfling who sells refreshing drinks. He roams the island and isn’t afraid of anything. (I suspect Jerry is much more than a mere beverage seller…)

  • Two sphinxes, a brother and a sister. They are really very nice and don’t know any difficult riddles.


  • The bandits took a trident from some mermaids. Since the mermaids can’t go on land, they need the PCs to return the trident to them. They will pay with pearls and a magic sword.

  • The spider elves are preparing for war and will buy any weapon offered to them.

  • The dragonborn Kingdom needs someone to catch and cure the Global Madman.

  • The Global Madman: Help him make everyone as crazy as he is.

  • There are hints everywhere of an ancient city that has disappeared underground. (It’s unclear if this city actually exists…)

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Puzzle of the Five Virtues

One of the most popular 90 minute adventures I ran this year is based on an episode from the 10th season of Stargate. It’s fun, fast and can work in almost any setting. Because of this, I’ll present it in the most generic terms possible, leaving it up to you to decide if the puzzles the PCs face are technological, divine, or magical.

The Hook

The PCs are hunting for a holy grail of some sort. They can be Arthurian knights looking for the literal holy grail, Jedi knights searching for a holocron in the tomb of an ancient force user, or archeologists searching for the lost treasure of a Mayan god in a hidden temple in Peru. 

In any case, begin the adventure by giving the PCs the following handout:

“Only those of virtue true may win the prize concealed beyond the reach of the flawed and tainted. The holy grail shall belong to he who speaks the guardian's name. The true man will look with prudence, wisdom, kindness, charity, and faith. Be the truest of hearts and ye shall find the answer.”

The Setting

While it’s possible to place the quest in a totally isolated area such as a desert shrine or a toxic planet abandoned millenia ago (add killer ants for that special “go away” feel), I enjoy running it the most when there is a community nearby. While this runs the risk of prolonging the adventure as PCs become involved with the locals, this offers some advantages:

  • This is a very deadly adventure. New characters can be recruited from the settlement, either in the form of ambitious locals or newcomers looking for the same prize.

  • If the PCs lack some vital items or abilities, these may be procured in the settlement. This is especially important for the Test of Kindness (see below).

  • An opportunity to roleplay. Again, this may make the game a little longer but also make it more memorable. In the end of the day, no man is an island and we can only assume the same is true for elves, orces, killer ants, and forsaken Jedi.  

So unless it’s vital for you to complete it in exactly 90 minutes, I recommend placing some nice little town or community near the testing grounds, possibly risen to service the seekers. If you want it to be extra helpful, make it a scholarly or monastic community dedicated to the mystery of the holy grail. If you want to make it more memorable, make it totally alien, such as a community of stone giants who believe all newcomers are just dreams or insectile aliens who can barely understand what these crazy primates want from them.

The Quests

After the PCs have had time to study the scroll, scout the area and chat with the locals, it’s time to start the real adventure. It includes five tests: two outside the location, let us call it “temple” and three inside. Each test represents one of the virtues as the ancient builders understood them:

The Test of Prudence

Adventurers from various historical periods, maybe even different worlds, are held in place by an invisible force. Some look concerned, some look terrified, but most look like they were just taking their evening constitutional when time froze all around them. Anyone who tries to touch a frozen person becomes frozen as well. 

The test is an invisible labyrinth made of time-stopping walls. Anyone who touches a wall becomes frozen in time forever. PCs can pass through this labyrinth either by throwing small objects in front of them to reveal the invisible walls, or by casting a detection spell of some kind/ using temporal measuring technology. 

Be advised that if you allow the release of frozen PCs, the players may decide to release some hapless NPCs as well. These may just run away screaming, become allies, or attack the PCs, either driven insane by their long temporal stasis or just looking to get rid of the competition. Make sure to have some nice NPCs handy if you decide to go that route.

The Test of Charity

The PCs find a gorgeous chest in a clearing before the entrance to the temple. The chest is surrounded by ancient skeletons and some interesting items that have survived the ravages of time. If they open the chest or pick up any of the items, they instantly become trapped by an impenetrable force field. The chest itself is empty. Moving the chest won’t move the force field.

To solve this test, the PCs must place inside the chest items of greater value than the ones they’ve taken from the area. If they’ve taken nothing, putting literally anything inside the chest and closing it should do the trick. 

Note that the bubble is invisible. The only way to discover it’s gone is by prodding it.

The Test of Kindness

The PCs enter the temple and face a crossroad. To the left they hear dripping water. To the right they hear a crying baby. If they turn left, they find a large underground lake fading into darkness. While looking normal (but smelling awful) the lake is actually a huge reservoir of deadly acid that leads nowhere. Sailing it is not recommended. 

If they turn right, they find a baby in a crib inside a cage. To solve this test, the PCs must really help the abandoned baby. Simply breaking it out of the cage is not enough. 

The baby is starved and dirty, but otherwise unharmed. The PCs can either take it to the settlement, teleport it to a safe spot, or do some other action that will insure the baby will have a loving home. Leaving it outside in the woods definitely won’t work.

Since this is a short adventure, assume that just about any couple would love, just love, to adopt this baby. You don’t want to turn your adventure into a bad rom-com. Or maybe you do. Just don’t expect this to be over in 90 minutes then.

The Test of Wisdom

After the PCs take care of the baby, they will find the wall behind the crib gone, revealing a chamber with two riddles inscribed on opposing walls. Under each riddle there’s a small alcove. On the third wall there’s a text without an alcove underneath: “the words of the wise are heard in peace.”

In order to solve this test, the PCs must place inside the alcoves items that answer their respective riddles. I like using these two:

I have cities without people, forests without trees, rivers without water.

Answer: map.

I'm the eye in the blue face. I feed the world. If I go blind, the world will go blind as well.

Answer: sun, can be solved by a flashlight, some kind of light spell, or even a drawing of the sun.

The Test of Faith

As soon as the correct item is placed in each alcove, the wall with the hint slides open to reveal a corridor engulfed in terrible flames that cannot be quenched. After the flames there’s an abyss peppered with the bones and broken items of those who tried to cross it but slipped and fell to their deaths. 

Both the flames and the abyss are perfectly safe. The flames retreat if someone walks into them. The abyss is actually crossed by an invisible bridge. If you’re running a fantasy game, both radiate magic but its type cannot be detected. 

The only way to reach the final stage is to use the bridge. If the PCs cross the abyss some other way: flying, using ropes, teleportation, jumping like Wonder Woman, etc… they just find a hard wall on the other side. Only faith opens the way to the holy grail.

Optional: Guardian

If you only have a few minutes left, then this is it. The PCs enter a magnificent chamber with the holy grail waiting for them on a pedestal. Hooray! Time to go back to town, have a pint and pretend like PTSD is not a thing.

However, if you still have some time left to burn, then there’s a dragon/ giant robot/ bone colossus/ fallen angel/ ancient ghost guarding the holy grail. The PCs can deal with it in the old fashioned way -- by beating it to death -- or by saying the name of the guardian, in which case it will take a step back and let them snatch the prize. Hooray! Time to go back to town, have a pint and make sure no one sees you cry.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Dune, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James Bond walk into a mansion.

I haven't posted anything in a long, long while. Here are a few updates:

My sci-fi-ish novel Noblesse Oblige has been published by WordFire Press and is available on Amazon and all the other places too. It's got a really terrific audiobook with a really cool narrator so you don't have to read while you're driving. Please. Think of the children.

If you like my kind of silly humor with occasional bouts of horrific violence, give it a shot. It's got a ferret.

Tales from an Israeli Storyteller is still out there, doing this and that in the background. I've posted about it in the past so no need for needless words.

My long suffering game RATS! is still suffering, but hopefully not for long. We found it the best PDF doctor (very little) money could buy. Hopefully, by May it will be ready for public consumption. (This is a joke. Please don't eat this book.)


Other Creative News
I'm writing a light litRPG novel inspired by the Dungeon! board game and posting the chapters on Royal Road. If you want to follow the (not even remotely) epic adventures of how Hilda Finds a Home, it's totally free, and our poor little dwarf would enjoy the company (even if she'll never admit it... proud little thing).

I ran some very nice 90 minute adventures last year. I have them written down on napkins and the backs of greeting cards. If I find a cure for the lazies, I'll post them here in the coming months. Honestly, this isn't high priority right now, however.

Lastly, I've recently finished writing my second novel, A Difference of Heights (working title). It's a modern fantasy story about a group of Israeli kids who go on a hike, meet one of the giant nephilim looking for her missing children, discover a great and terrible secret, face fireflies with awesome powers, blue werewolves... You know, your typical Israeli summer. I've sent it to my loyal beta readers and hope to start revisions soon. At almost 150k words, it may take a while.

That's it. Next time we meet, the dwarf will have a home, the giant will have her children, and the rats will have everything you have!


Friday, November 30, 2018

Kids Create Worlds #2

I had another world-building session with a different, older group this week (mostly sixth graders). The previous world was fun, but this one. Wow. It's some hardcore psychedelic sci-fi stuff if I say so myself! Naturally, the little devils had me sign a contract that 50% of the XP and treasure generated by running this setting will go to them, so keep this in mind if you ever use this in any of your space games!

A note on the names: The kids didn't name anything so I've taken the liberty to give temporary names to all races and locations until such time as the young game designers come up with more proper names. If the names sound silly, that's on me.

The System
The planet Reim is located in a binary star system inside the deep core of a distant galaxy. The only way to reach it is through a wormhole that may or may not be bi-directional. Navigation is difficult due to the presence of both a star and a black hole that cause celestial objects to move erratically, and an asteroid field that includes giant space monsters (like any good asteroid field should). An ancient spaceship of unknown origins is hidden inside one of the asteroids. It's possible that the builders of the vessel have also created all life in the system.
Reim's moon is a gas dwarf that can help newcomers refuel after the arduous journey. It has another moon that's mostly covered in lava. There is nothing of interest on it.

The World
The planet of Reim has an elliptical atmosphere that makes some regions of the planet uninhabitable due to high pressure or near total lack of air. The atmosphere shifts on occasion, forcing entire nations to have air shelters in the same way people on earth have bomb shelters. The planet is mostly dry, but has occasional geyser outbursts than can drown (and cook) entire regions.

The Natives
All creatures on the planet can crossbreed regardless of genetic compatibility. Because of this, the planet has an incredible diversity of sapient species.
Nehashim are the dominant species of the planet. They are a race of winged snakes separated into two hostile superpowers. While both nations appear from the outside to be progressive democracies, both are in fact secretly ruled by sinister aliens (see below). Nahashim randomly evolve into various fantastic shapes as they grow older. (Sort of like Pokemon...)
Pilim are low density animals that are miles tall but squeeze to the size of mice when scared. This helps them survive rapid atmospheric shifts and the occasional boiling geyser.
Atalefim are blind flying mammals that can control gravity, which they use for locomotion, combat and orientation. They also have an aquatic and an underground variety, who appear very different but are in fact closely related.
The Uberton is a hivemind of microorganisms that can steal some (or all) of the brain power of sentient creatures to increase the memory and processing of a biological super computer. It it is the most intelligent being on the planet, but its objectives are unknown and unknowable.

The Western Nehashim nation is secretly ruled by an alien brain implanted in the body of a small cat-like animal possessed of unspeakable telepathic powers. The Eastern nation is ruled by a giant underground monster that can influence people by injecting them with various chemicals through a network of mono-molecular tentacles spread all over the state.
The Atalefim have two states that speak different languages. Both consist of a single word that means everything. Because of this, no universal translator can help foreigners to communicate in either language, nor can one nation learn the language of the other.
There are also three hostile religions which are really just fronts for powerful crime organizations that deal in weapons and drugs that are sold to the faithful in fake religious ceremonies. One of these organizations has strong ties to the government of the Western nation.
There are also several small countries that compete over who will breed the most perfect citizens by use of cosmosium (see below). They are nominal democracies controlled by ruthless scientific and/ or business groups.

The Rewards
  • Reim contains a unique chemical known as cosmosium that allows ordinarily incompatible creatures to crossbreed. It is an artificial and alien creation, but it is unknown who has created it and why. Since it's naturally occurring on Reim, many creatures consume it by instinct, not knowing its amazing properties. 
  • Deep under the surface of the planet there is an ancient workshop that allows anyone to create new forms of life by feeding data into an alien super computer. It's possible that this workshop is the source of all sapient life on the planet.
  • The asteroid field is rich in minerals. However, this isn't rare. What is rare is that one of the asteroids is alleged to hide an ancient ship of the same race that has brought the cosmosium and crafted the workshop of life.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The giant giant adventure

I wasn't in the mood to run any games today, so instead I decided to exploit the brains of ten kids in order to create a campaign. I quite like what this reluctant committee came up with.

None of the kids drew anything, so here is some generic art...

The PCs are people trapped inside a huge giant (the "giant giant" in their words). His massive organs conceal entire kingdoms of magic and technology, where most structures are sentient and many are also sapient. Even new buildings, once completed, soon become animated and eventually gain sapience. While the kids didn't specify the size of the giant, I took the impression it's around 700 kilometers high, quite fat, and incredibly flatulent/ seismic.
The campaign can go in two directions: the PCs can either battle various threats to the world's health, or they can try to find an exit from the giant's body and flee this odd prison. Below are some nice encounters and side quests the PCs can have along the way:

  • Evil exterminators who wish destroy everyone who isn't part of their cult in order to prevent the spread of disease in the giant's system
  • Massive tapeworms roaming the giant's body
  • Crazy snipers who kill everyone they see for no reason at all
  • A place with magical milkshakes, including secret shakes that can turn you into a a god. Several people already had such shakes, which is why there is a religious war inspired by preference for different flavors. Each flavor now has its fanatics who roam the area and attack anyone with the wrong taste in milkshakes
  • A secret elevator that can take you anywhere but always eats one of the passengers
  • Destructive bodily functions (the kids were very graphic about them, but I will spare you the details...) that can lay waste to entire communities with tremors, floods, and poison gas
  • A forest that only good people can pass through, but the guardian of the forest is a crazy killer
  • A huge pool of sapient milk that can be used to create magical milkshakes, the pool is aware and hates impure and dirty things
  • Roaming perverts and "teenagers of loose morals"

The kids have suggested many side quests for this campaign. Most were just kill this, kill that, kill, kill, kill... Below are some of the nicer ones. The last two were presented to me as boss fights that need to be won in order to complete the campaign:

  • Locate the holy diary of a man who discovered how to leave the giant but was eaten by the elevator
  • Have a lesbian marriage so that the gods give you more power
  • Help a very nice witch, who curses anyone who helps her to work until they die
  • Destroy a kraken that's turning into a cancerous tumor inside the giant's body
  • Defeat the evil king of worms and sickness who wants to murder the world

I asked the kids what characters they would like to play in such a campaign. These are the replies I got:

  • Werewolves and werehedgehogs
  • Cockroaches from the sewers realm
  • Giant butterflies that drink blood
  • Living milkshakes from the milk pool
  • Mimics that look like food but actually eat people
  • Wizards and shamans from the forest realm
  • Smurfs. Just smurfs.
  • Living floor tiles
So, here is the campaign. Looking forward to give it a test run! 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

White Plume Mountain!

So, I felt like running a nostalgic game with my childhood friends (some of whom have children of their own by now...).

Here is how it went:

The Cast:

  • A druid with a knack for troubleshooting
  • A paladin who likes to sing... but really shouldn't
  • A cleric who makes Ned Flanders look mean
  • A monk bounty hunter with a personal grudge against Sir Bluto

Big toys for big boys...
White Plume report #1

  • Met a gnome witch in a hut near Gnometown and paid her a handsome sum to curse Sir Bluto the PedoKnight with impotence, penile bleeding and nightmares.
  • Befriended the Sphinx and promised to get her shampoo and cosmetics next time they meet, and find her a nicer dungeon to riddle after they are done with this one.
  • Passed the heat metal room by casting dispel magic. Boring but effective. Paladin learned an important lesson about metal underwear.
  • Used a pile of dead ghouls to fill in the pits in the frictionless room then skidded over to victory. The word "corpse" was uttered so many times in this conversation it was decided to say "resources" instead.
  • Solved the inverse ziggurat by dropping a miniaturized magic tower on it, ant-man style. Two manticores survived only to be hacked to death seconds later.
  • The oni guarding blackrazor saw this display of maniacal power and decided to parlay instead of fighting. In return for granting his safe passage and dispelling the spell compelling him to serve Karaptis, he told the PCs where he hid the sword.
  • The PCs decided the sword was too evil to return to the city. The cleric shifted to a random plane to throw away the evil sword. The plane happened to be third layer of hell. He got a thorough beating for his trouble, but did succeed in getting rid of the sword... by giving it to a random devil... victory?
  • Feeling they've had enough, the PCs decided to take a break and return to get the other items on the following day.
It's a very civil sort of sphinx...

White Plume report #2

  • Had morning tea and cake with the sphinx. Breakfast threatened to consume the whole day until a gentle but stern rebuke from the monk reminded the party they had a mission and that this mission wasn't throwing the best tea party ever. Finally free of the curse of the singing paladin, the gnomes thanked him profusely. 
  • poked all the way through the corridor until discovering green slime by poking it with a 10-foot pole, which subsequently became a 7-foot pole that smells funny. Passed over by freezing the water.
  • saw a dead elf in the globes room, decided to give it a pass because they were sent to retrieve magic weapons, not dead elves. Cleric quoted an obscure Tolkien quote to honor the dead elf.
  • ran into a group of math golems. Answered their riddle before the golem had time to finish speaking. In appreciation of the party's academic skills, one golem came along in the role of a clay bulldozer. Druid tried to make small talk with the walking statue. Failed.
  • monk saw a metal thingy in the corridor, asked golem to smash it.
  • reached the cavern of boiling mud and hanging chains. The paladin crossed first to form a rope bridge for his comrades. He nearly fell into the boiling mud, but fortune spared him.
  • vampire tried to charm the paladin as soon as the latter reached the far end of the cavern, only to discover that the paladin is immune to charming. Disappointed, the vampire simply pushed the paladin into the boiling mud. This time the paladin was less fortunate.
  • paladin was cooked to single digit hp but saved his life by using his shield as a surfing board and consuming every healing thing in his possession. With the help of his good friends and the moral support of his less good friends, he defeated the vampire and retrieved the magic talking hammer Whelm. Speaking with a thick German accent, the hammer stated that it's time to commence the final solution of the greenskin problem.
  • cleric prepared to throw the hammer into another plane just as he did with the evil talking sword Blackrazor, because apparently this is what clerics do now. Party stopped him. It was explained to him that not every item he finds needs to be thrown into a different dimension. Cleric found the concept puzzling and decided to consult the commentaries.
  • druid excused himself and made a quick foray into the vampire's lair to answer a call of nature. He noticed the vampire reformed inside a coffin so he did unto the vampire as the lord god commandeth before doing the original thing he planned to do in the lair.
  • armed with a magic talking hammer and a pale hot chick they found in the vampire's lair (and who is totally not a vampire), the party headed back to gnome town for some well deserved R&R.
  • Now rich on gold and gems, the PCs started creating jobs and opportunities for the local community. They hired another witch to curse Sir Bulto the Knight Pedophile some more, and payed young men to guard the tavern where the PCs sleep, and others to build a makeshift prison. Monk explained that this proves that trickle down economy works.
Okay, maybe not THAT giant...
White Plume Report #3

  • The next morning the party returned to the dungeon and went north until they reached the kelpie pool.
  • The paladin gave the kelpies the most terrifying speech ever after they failed to charm him. Following this, the kelpies reduced their hostilities to whining and nagging and so the room was traversed without casualties.
  • As the party started down the corridor, Bucket the evil fighter spotted the monk, starting a long exchange of PG-13 insults. Enraged, the monk set the corridor on fire, charged, slipped on the oil (just as the corridor began to revolve) and caught on fire. The invisible werewolf wizard joined the fray by throwing a fireball and setting the rest of the party on fire. The paladin charged, slipped on the oil and caught on fire as well.
  • The cleric sighed and used stone shape to arrest the revolving corridor. The druid sighed and summoned a pack of wolves to ravage the evil fighter. The wizard turned into a werewolf and attempted to command the wolves to stop eating her boyfriend. Sadly, the druid pointed out that the wolves aren't really wolves, but wolf-shaped spirits. Confused, the wolves/ wolf-shaped spirited decided to just go on eating the fighter. 
  • The cleric used remove curse to de-wolf the wizard on account of remove curse having no saving throw. Naked, embarrassed and with her hp in the single digits, she surrendered. Her boyfriend is nothing more than wolf burps at this point. Paladin starts lecturing her about the RICO act and how it applies to her situation.
  • Drained and cooked, the PCs decided to rest in the wizard and fighter's room. A soldier sent by Bulto arrives to discuss the knight's terms of surrender. Having suffered increasingly horrifying curses for a whole week, the evil knight desires to forsake all earthly wealth, convert to the one true faith, and live out the rest of his days as a humble monk. The party accepts. Monk refuses a duel with the knight on the grounds of duels being stupid.
  • The party proceeded to the final encounter with the huge, giant, ludicrously big, very huge crab. The druid sent in the bears. The crab sliced them to ribbons. The druid then sent in the wolves. They were cooked alive as the crab made a small tear in the force bubble. Horrified, the party retreated and used stone shape to bypass the seals as the bubble started to collapse (the cleric made many more holes in it, you see...) 
  • The doors bend under the pressure, but hold as millions of tons of boiling water shoot the crab and the last sentient item outside the mountain. The party leaves the dungeon, giving cakes to any surviving monsters they meet on the way. The cleric takes the magic talking trident Wave to Mount Celestia and hands it to a random angel because he's fucking insane like that.  
  • Armed with Whelm, two penitent prisoners, and one friendly sphinx (the kelpies decided to stay in their pool and the soldiers just went home to mommy), the party started on the journey home, discussing how RICO legislation applies to dungeon monsters and considering viable investment venues for their newfound wealth.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Spirit Journey Adventure

This metaphysical spirit quest to save a young princess from a misguided spirit is very loosely inspired by the peoples of the Pacific Ocean. However, it can easily be adapted to almost any setting that includes small islands and big spirits. I have run it many times with players aged 9-12, most of which have actually managed to complete it in 90 minutes. I think that of all the mini-games I ran last year, this one was the most popular.

The king of a small island has found a way to ensure survival and prosperity of his beleaguered kingdom. Through supreme diplomatic efforts, he’s arranged for his daughter to marry the king of a much larger and stronger island that will protect his subject from their predatory neighbors. The preparations for a lavish wedding flotilla are underway and the whole island is rejoicing. However, there is a small problem: just one day shy of the wedding, the girl went to sleep and didn’t wake up. The king’s physicians found nothing wrong with her body and so the best shamans of the land were summoned to save her spirit.

Enter the PCs.

Preliminary Investigation
The following information can be learned from the physical world:

  • Examination of the Princess will reveal that she is in perfect health.
  • Journeying into her dreams will reveal a terrified little child cowering in the corner from a shadowy figure with a sword. The figure is mostly concealed in darkness, but when lightning strikes, an observant shaman will notice that it has a yellow beard and is dressed in a blue coat.
  • Speaking with the elders will reveal that the only person with yellow beard they have ever seen was an outlander who was killed forty years ago when his party landed on the shore.
  • Going to the monument for the slain foreigners will reveal a considerable thinning of the veil in that location, as if a spirit forced its way between the worlds time and again.
  • Questioning anyone of the princess’ relative will reveal that she’s gone to bed quite morose and angry. They assume that the cause for her bad mood is the fact that she is engaged to a man older than her father and with a dozen children her age or older. This may cause the PCs to think that she’s done something to herself. However, this isn’t the case: The Princess a dutiful islander and wouldn’t dare to put her own dreams and ambitions ahead of those of her people. Furthermore, she told her friends that she was very excited about marrying a great king from another island. The man may not be young, but his courage and wisdom are the stuff of legends.
  • Speaking to her friends will be more helpful. They will reveal she’d been seeing a terrible man with a yellow beard lately both in dreams and in reality. However, since no one else has seen the man, her fears were dismissed as a childish fancy.

The Antagonist
The princess is possessed by the ghost of a sailor from a doomed expedition. He was killed on the beach almost forty years ago after a member of his crew foolishly attacked the islanders who came to greet the newcomers. His restless spirit wondered the land for decades, causing children to cry at night and adults to wake up covered in cold sweat. Finally, the king consulted a wise shaman who told him that a proper burial would appease the spirit. During the ceremony, the princess had placed a wreath on the monument erected to appease the restless dead. This act of genuine kindness created a one sided connection between the living girl and the dead sailor. For years, the spirit has protected the child from minor mishaps. However, when it learned that she was to be wed to another man and leave the island, he flew into a rage and trapped her in a tower of smoke and doubt.

The Protagonists
The power of a shaman stems from his mana. Mana can be gained in three ways: violence, love and contact with lava.
Violence: killing a foe restores 1-3 mana, based on how hard the fight was.
Love: gestures of love restore 1-3 mana, based on how passionate they are.
Volcano: touch the lava. It hurts. Each wound restores 1 mana.

All shamans can cast the following spells. The number that follows each spell is its mana cost:
True Sight (3): understand the true form and function of a single object or person.
Attack Spirit (2): use a physical attack with one extra die to hurt a spirit.
Spirit Journey (3): enter a person’s dream or journey to the spirit world.
Control Weather (7): cause any natural phenomenon to occur within 1d6 rounds. This can be anything ranging from a light breeze to a moderate tsunami.
Conjure Animal (3): summon a single power animal to help you. In addition to providing physical help, the animal can also bestow one of its aspects on the shaman. For example: the eagle can grant great eyesight, the boar can grant superb sense of smell, the turtle can grant patience and wisdom and so forth. You may only have one power animal at a time.
Speak with Dead (3): Ask three yes-or-no questions of a corpse that still has a mouth and a larynx.
Speak with Spirits (2): Ask three yes-or-no questions of any animal, nature or elemental spirit. It is compelled to answer truthfully.
Cure Wounds (5): restore 1d6+1 wounds to a single injured creature.

The System
Each shaman starts with ten mana and ten traits to be shared between body, mind, spirit, and one skill of their choice (1 min, 6 max). All tests are 1d6+trait+special skill-wound traits vs. DC of GM’s choice (usually 3-12). Each time a character is injured, he replaces one trait of their choice with a wound trait. A character with ten or more wound traits dies.
Attacks are opposed tests. A successful attack inflicts a number of wounds equal to the sum of the attacker’s roll after the defenders roll was distracted from it. To this number, the attack may add a weapon rating and the defender may subtract his armor rating. Shamans are usually armed with clubs (+2 dmg) or spears (-1 atk/ +3 dmg) and protected with wicker shields (+2 def).

Spirit Quest
In order to reach the spirit world where the princess is held by the sailor, the players must go on a journey through four intermediary worlds. Each world contains a gate to the next world that can only be unlocked by completing a quest. Since it can be very frustrating to get stuck facing the same riddle for ages, each world has a built in clue system GMs can use to help stuck players.

The World of Man
This is the physical plane. To leave it, a soul must leave its flesh behind and transcend into the spiritual. Any shaman can easily do this by casting Spirit Journey.

The World of Self Deception
This world looks exactly like ours, expect that all the works of Man are absent from it. People behave like mindless beasts. Animals can talk and think. Trees are the wisest of all beings. They are so wise, in fact, that the only words in their language a mortal can comprehend are “yes” and “no”. There are doors everywhere that lead to random spots on the island or nowhere at all. Water hurts like fire while flames are cool and refreshing. The Princess can be glimpsed often, but she is but an illusion. To solve this world, a shaman must jump into the crater of an active volcano.
Flavor: A boar and a gazelle are taking their morning constitutional on the beach. There is a door leading into a random spot in the jungle on the side of the boar. The boar is melodramatic and posh, feigning extreme outrage at the very mention of going through the door. The gazelle is a cynic who makes light of the situation. Both are urbane and sophisticated to the point of parody. If they are attacked, they call the whale who walks to the beach. The whale arrives in 1d6 rounds, brandishing a massive club and fully intent on murdering the PCs. There is nothing funny about that.
Reward: The first person to jump into the crater finds a key-shaped knife in their pocket as they emerge into the next world.
Clues: A tree can suggest the PCs to do something dangerous as surely it would be healthy for them in this world. A PC can notice that the illusionary princess smells of fire and brimstone.

The World of Fiery Wrath
This world appears like ours except that everything is on fire. The unbearable heat inflicts one wound on each PC who isn’t protected from the heat in some way. Dressed in fire and hate, a spirit that looks like the princess instantly attacks the party, intent to burn them to a crisp. She is insane with fury and pyromania and cannot be reasoned with. The only way to leave this world is to kill her and tear open her belly to reveal the gate to the next world. She can be defeated in a fight or instantly destroyed by cold or water effects (for example, calling a large wave or torrential rain to drench her).

Reward: A beautiful white pearl.
Clues: The PCs won’t have time to get bored since they don’t solve this world quickly, they will all die terribly in fire and hate.
Note: cutting open dead people might be a bit too dark for younger players. I suggest that instead of killing the Princess, the attacks of the players will cause her to become younger and younger until she disappears and a gate to the next world appears in her location instead.

Fire Princess
Body 3 Mind 1 Spirit 3 Fighting 3
Special: breath fire for 1d6+1 damage once per 1d6+1 rounds

The World of Endless Haggling
This is an underground market where translucent spirits buy and sell everything one can imagine. There are water people who sell gorgeous seashells and pearls, men of fire who sell fierce weapons, women of colorful feathers who sell gorgeous dresses and delightful perfumes and so forth. Toward the end of the cavern, there is a heart-shaped door. A massive key hangs from a rope high above the market. It’s owner is a giant who’d gladly sell it for just three pearls. The PCs can either trade and run small errands until the can afford the key, or try to steal it. The giant is way too powerful for them to defeat with violence. However, he can be easily distracted by funny or exciting stories.
Flavor: Sea spirits are selling the souls of the drowned as slaves. They’d gladly exchange the soul of any player for one or more pearls (depending on how well the players haggle). Alternatively, they will agree to trade drowned slaves for items from the World of Man. These in turn can be traded for pearls vis-a-vis other spirits. A mother cat has an important appointment, but can’t go because there is no one to watch her kittens. If the PCs agree to watch after the mischievous bunch, they will be reward three balls of yarn that can be traded for at least one pearl.
Reward: A sheet of paper with strange signs on it. This is the death certificate of the sailor, a fact that can only be deduced by using True Sight. If the optional sorrow world is used, the PCs are given a small hammer instead.
Clues: Mention that the giant appears to constantly be distracted by every little thing that happens in the market. Have minor spirits and talking animals offer the PCs to perform small errands in return for paltry compensation.

The World of Perpetual Sorrow (Optional)
This world is nothing but a long and narrow tunnel without start or end. Sounds of bitter complains and self pity come from the walls. If the PCs try to speak with them, the walls respond by belittling and insulting the PCs. The spirits of this world can teach the PCs nothing. Speaking with them is purely a negative experience. To leave the room, the players must break one of the walls and just step into the next world.
Flavor: None. This place is as boring as it is depressing.
Reward: A sheet of paper with strange signs on it. This is the death certificate of the sailor, a fact that can only be deduced by using True Sight.
Note: If you’re running this adventure as a 90 minute challenge, only use this world if the PCs have solved all other world in less than an hour. While simple, it has the potential to consume a lot of time.

The Spirit Sanctum
A world of swirling mists, odd echoes and feeble light that serves to befuddle rather than illuminate. One thing is clear, however: a scruffy looking sailor with a cracked skull is holding the princess hostage. He can be reasoned or he can be killed. The result will be the same.
The sailor is miserable and belligerent, but not malicious. If the PCs patiently explain to him that he’s died decades ago and that now he’s tormenting the only person who showed him an iota of kindness, he will let the girl be and dissolve into the mists.
Flavor: This world is a massive ship sailing the sea. It’s crew consists of only one man: the spirit. The Princess is trying to let him know that she wants to go home, but he cannot understand her. No matter what she says or does, the spirit only hears what he wants to hear: words of admiration and encouragement. If any of the PCs cast True Sight on the spirit, it will realize how deeply mistaken it was and let the girl go, albeit with a deep sense of sorrow, loss and shame.
Reward: A rope that can be used to climb back to the World of Man without wasting mana. Also riches bestowed by the king, the adoration of the islanders, a place in the legends of the future and so forth and so forth…

I ran the adventure in an ancient hawaii setting, using the following names:
King: Ali’i Mainulani Naloiaehuokalani (Mani)
Princess: Luli’u Loloku Kamaka’eha (Lili)
Shaman: Kahuna
Sailor: Guy Neville, killed along with Captain Cook