Secret D&D Design Thread (off-limits to participating players!)

This is the thread to design the campaign we talked about here, and participation is welcome from everyone! (Except for our players, of course. They’re not even supposed to be reading.) Essentially, those of us who are interested aim to design a D&D campaign that focuses on problem-solving, exploration, rampant thievery, and lots of deadly deadly traps. Combat is certainly a factor, but it’s long and takes lots of paperwork, so it probably won’t be emphasized.

New players may join in, but right now it looks like we’re going to begin with three players:

Paladud, a Rogue who has an eye towards becoming an Assassin

Sturmhauke, an as-yet undecided Psionic class.

brownie55 the still-deciding, who will probably opt for a Fighter, Bard, or Rogue.

Nothing is set in stone, and so we welcome any and all ideas, contributions, criticisms, or suggestions.

I have a few ideas to start with, but I’m not married to anything.

As for actual gameplay: I’d like to be able to log everything and post sessions here after the fact, for everyone’s amusement. This takes VoIP out of the running, so I’m thinking of using a combined whiteboard and chat client called Gametable that will let us keep things moving at a fair clip, even while typing.

As for player levels: brownie55 and Paladud are both beginners, so we don’t want to overwhelm them at first… I was hoping to get everyone up around levels 10-12 pretty quickly, but it might be best to start at level 2-3 and consider jacking up everyone’s levels once all of the players start to feel comfortable with the system.

The setting is a little trickier, but before we discuss it I’d like to throw around a few ideas about gameplay: one key point is that the players need to be capable of quick, easy resurrection: a lot of our players are beginners, and I think it’s a lot more fun to watch a character grow and develop as you succeed… as such, we need to find a way of mitigating player deaths, while still making them something to be avoided. I have a good idea of how to do this, which we’ll come to in a minute.

Now, speaking of player deaths: when it comes to trap-filled dungeons, greed produces a body count second only to bad luck and stupid decisions. As such, I’d like to encourage it as much as possible. :smiley: To this end, I think it might be nifty to make the characters into treasure hunters: perhaps they join a guild at the beginning of the game, and take successively more difficult (and rewarding!) missions to find treasure, explore dungeons, rob banks, and anything else we can think of. The guild obviously pays a nominal wage for each mission completed… but I’m thinking that the bosses are corrupt, greedy sorts who horde most of the cash for themselves. Since basic wages are so miserable, most guild operatives resort to stealing, “liberating”, purloining, snatching, squeezing, and otherwise outright grabbing everything of value that they come across. Our heroes, however, having found themselves in the unenviable position of apprentices in the Security division, will often have to weigh the potential value of an acquisition with the probability that taking said object will trigger some kind of deadly countermeasure.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Guild also runs a very profitable Company Store. The store sells all sorts of great adventuring gear: rope, lamps, lockpicks, weapons, armor, potions, scrolls, disposable henchmen, special gear that we think up, and, most importantly, a Resurrection Service: whenever an operative dies, he or she will be instantly resurrected and returned to the Guild (NWN style), but they will be required to pay a hefty Service Fee for the pleasure. Guild accountants will, of course, be happy to take an IOU… so I forecast that as the game goes on, the amount of money they owe to their employers will become a humorous way for the party to gauge their success.

I have a bunch of ideas for specific dungeons, but I’d love to hear what everyone else is thinking first. :slight_smile:

Y’know, in recent days, I’ve been thinking of something along these lines in recents weeks—possibly inspired by things like Mary Gentle’s Grunts, or Guns of the South…how about your adventurers come across (or are hired to raid) a Temple/Repository of OOPARTS?

But not just any Out of Place Artifacts…D&D uses the D20 system, right? And there are a LOT of weapons and artifacts defined under that system? Even from other times, or universes?

Say, the repository is maintained by a cult that retreives artifacts that fall through rifts in time, or are left behind by/stolen from/taken off the bodies of interdimentional travelers. They venerate these items, preserve them, and even try to study them to determine their use…and not always very well.

The fun of it would be describing the artifacts in great, yet essentially unhelpful detail. Say, upon a pedastal in a catacomb, your adventurers find an odd tool of some kind…it has a curved wooden protrusion—about the right size for a man’s hand to grip, though it seems at too odd an angle to hold the tool at any useful angle—attached to a quadrangular silver metal piece—not quite a fingerlength tall and long, maybe a knuckle thick—with the smaller hollow bit housing a pipe-bowl like metal piece—only instead of one “hollow,” this one has several small ones, on both ends—apparently held inside the “frame” by a hinge at one end. Two thin metal hooks protrude from the frame, at opposite sides, and facing different directions—the hook closest to the handle is encased by a sort of metal half-ring.

On the pedestal next to the thing, there’s a thick (about thumb-wide) metal pipe, about hand-length, with one end ending in a narrower, threaded protrusion, about a knuckle-length long, and threaded. It looks like it can be inserted into a hole in one corner of the metal frame. It has some letters inscribed on it, but you can’t read the language.

Curiously, although the handle has started to rot, and there are streaks of green copper corrosion leaching out of openings in the pipe-bowl in the middle of the frame, most of the metal of the tool and the pipe next to it haven’t rusted in the damp catacomb (the wax seal on the alcove door claimed that it hadn’t been broken in over a decade).

There, now…that doesn’t sound too much like I just described a Colt Python, does it? :smiley:

If the players don’t think so, see how long of screwing around with the thing it’ll take before someone ends up missing a thumb or a kneecap.

All sorts of things you could have in such a place—like one of Spider-Man’s web shooters, or a live mortar shell loaded with BZ, or a lightsaber, or the Predator’s gauntlet. The choice is yours!

Ooh, I like that! I’m not sure if I could run a full-length OOPART dungeon and keep it interesting, but I’d love to pepper the world in general with OOPARTs. The players would quickly notice and develop their own terminology, and since the game is going to be about salvage and treasure-hunting, I’d love to see how paranoid we can make everyone; egg-shaped, solid jade scupltures look a whole lot like hand grenades, for instance… :slight_smile:

As the players get more experienced and get promotions at the Guild, I think they’re going to get access to special merchants who cater exclusively to experienced treasure hunters, and sell them extremely unusual homebrewed items. One thing I’d like the party to be capable of buying is a Silicon Golem: it’s extremely slow, making it of limited use in combat (perhaps one attack every three turns). However, it’s extremely hard to damage, and more importantly, it’s quite cheap for the party. As they find out, however, there’s something wrong with the golem: it won’t accept commands that have definite elements (“drag statues off of pressure plates” is fine; “drag THAT statue off of the plate” isn’t). Furthermore, it has enough memory to store up to five commands at once… and it won’t forget current commands until they’ve been overwritten by new ones. As such, it’ll eventually be working with five general directives… I’m imagining the chaos that would arise from it being given a directive that makes sense in Room A, yet leads to catastrophic problems in Room B.

As a variation on Ranchoth’s idea, might I suggest a foray into a Museum of Mismagic? It wouldn’t be called that, of course, but that’s the concept I started with. Essentially what I’m talking about is a display constructed for the magical equivalent of a history of errors engineering course: “Here are some of the spectacular ways you can go wrong if you don’t study hard.” It’s full of things that appear to be normal, useful magic items, but actually contain critical flaws (but not curses). The target of the expedition could be an item in the study or laboratory of a ruined mage-tower…but the path there happens to lead through a room full of temptingly magical objects that weren’t mentioned in the assignment.

My favorite example (inspired by “Zork: Grand Inquisitor”) is a magic sword that was intended to warn of imminent attack in the classical fashion: By shining like a blue flame. Unfortunately, the journeyman who finished it was prone to spoonerisms when fatigued, and it had been a long day. As a result, the sword expels a large glob of sticky goop all over its wielder when he’s in danger, immobilizing him, or at least ruining his initiative. It blows glue, you see.

Clever players should be able to devise ways to make some of the items useful, just not for the original design intent.

How about Geographic setting?

Put it in a vast, Amazonian-type river environment. Rain Forest & Swampland in the South, vast Marshes/fens/forests upriver.

The main city? A second Venice, with canals.
All the towns & villages along the great River, & its tributaries.
No horses, just boats–sailed, rowed & poled.

Heh! Reminds me of the Useless Magic Items thread. (Or the 101 Spells Not Worth Memorizing.)

Bwahaha. I think they’re going to run across a spellbook full of random and dangerous spells more than once during their adventure. :smiley:

I like the museum idea, too: that is definitely going to come in around the mid levels. As for bookkeeping, it looks like I’ll run two game sessions, each with four players:

Sir Dirx - a monk, with intentions to take the Shadowdancer prestige class.
brownie55 - a rogue
Little Plastic Wizard - a wizard
Revenant Threshold - a ranger
Paladud - a rogue
sturmhauke - probably a wrestler. (a dwarf barbarian, monk, or something else with high STR and CON).
dotchan - not sure yet
Algher - not sure yet

I’m going to start them all at level 3, so that the newbies can get into the swing of things… I’m thinking of making the very first mission something pretty standard: a famous inventor (gnomish, obviously) has taken a teaching job at the university, and he’s hired the Guild to clean out his old laboratory. I’m thinking lots of spring-loaded trapdoors, electrical puzzles, trick floors, some experimental traps and dangerous gadgets, a few mutant experiments-gone-wrong, and the like. Perhaps the boss could be several goblin janitors who’ve been driven insane by working in the laboratory?

If I might suggest some background reading:

(I actually recommend reading the whole thing, but you might find that strip particularly inspiring.)

It occured to me tonight that, this being an old university laboratory, some of the traps or puzzles your party might encounter might be based (even pretty directly) from real-world behavioral and intelligence testing experiments. Say, the lab’s previous tenant was trying to scientifically observe and gauge the responses or capabilities of the D&D world’s myriad life forms (like seeing how much energy, in horsepower, a troll could produce. Or if Gelatinous Cubes can be domesticated through positive reinforcement).

The players might end up like rats in a maze—literally. Perhaps the maze was built very large, for testing the intelligence of monsters (like dire rats), or they get hit by some kind of shrinking spell that reduces them to convenient tabletop size.

Or maybe someone is trapped somewhere, and comes across a mirror at what would be an exit; it shows a reflection of the player looking into it, but with a blotch of paint on his/her forehead. The only way to get past the mirror is to touch one’s forehead, then inspect your fingers for paint—showing whatever is controlling the mirror that you know what a reflection is.

Or, if you’re feeling sadistic, you might try some of the grislier animal experiments that have been performed as a peril to be avoided (or just use them for laughs, like having someone be temporarily blinded by having makeup sprayed in their eyes by a mascara golem, or something), or even a psychological experiment or two (the Milgrim Experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment look promising, especially the former), adapted into the right situation.

Just because.