Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Evil Eye: Actual Play 1

Thus begins RamaD&Dan. After a lot of dilly-dallying and second-guessing, I picked an old Ravenloft adventure because it was written by the same dude that wrote a couple Al-Qadim things I liked a lot. My concern was that it was light on combat and slightly rail-roady, but my other option, Feast of Goblyns, looked a bit bigger and I only have four sessions this year to run this game in. In retrospect, that felt more D&D as it has a couple dungeons strewn about but also feels very old school Ravenloft with domain hopping, and Evil Eye felt like I could reskin it as a separate things, kings like how Curse of Strahd is Barovia, not Ravenloft. Feast of Goblyns, Bleak House, and Walking Dead are consistently rated (along with Evil Eye and the original Ravenloft module) as some of the best of Ravenloft, so I hope to try my hand at all of these eventually. Minor spoilers for how I'm running this follow.

The Evil Eye is firmly a 2nd Edition and Ravenloft module, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In the grand scheme of Ravenloft, it seems to be in the golden era of Ravenloft adventures, focusing on investigation with a horror trope that other Ravenloft adventures hadn't covered before. Totally obvious, as my player's guessed it already, but there's time to make them second-guess it and grow to fear things plus there's some good questions in this adventure about who is really the villain.

So, I spent the past month and a half prepping this bad-boy, and some of it seems useful so far. First-off, there's the expected cut-and-paste work of getting the likely enemies into 5e form for about the right level. This involves converting the major NPCs, but thankfully Volo's guide plus the basic 5e Monster Manuel made it fairly obvious, though I gave out some legendary and lair powers for encountering the main adversaries.

Next, I wanted to make eyes important. A simple eye-color chart (with minimal human eye-color research) lets me assign everyone an eye color. With the modifications in Curse of Strahd, I plan on describing all the important/souled NPCs as having an eye-color, and less important husks as having dull, grey eyes. One draw from the Tarokka deck will do it, but I also have 2+ descriptors for eyes for each alignment, so for NPCs I'm only drawing a suit because the colors are a red herring, the descriptors might reveal a character's allignment if the player's are canny.

I also find Ravenloft adventures a little difficult, since they're the weekend-in-Hell trope. So I used the high-deck to assign an ideal, bond, or flaw that I expect to come up to each character. Each player had two options to choose from and I asked them to replace one of their background traits with one based on the card they got. Also, because I'm using the high deck to track inspiration (like others might use poker chips or some other physical item), if they draw their card it'll be advantage plus 1d6. As an aside, I allowed players to swap a language granted from their background for a tool proficiency.

Finally, I added in 2 major NPCs who can potentially replace the main ally faction in this adventure. I just wanted a little less railroad. What I want to add in is some more combat options, and I think I've got some solid ideas on that.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Random tables

I've been terrible at blogging this year. Oh well.

I'm currently in the final stages of prepping to run a 5e conversion of the 2nd edition Ravenloft module The Evil Eye (a conceptual sequel to last year's Curse of Strahd). To do this, I've been adding in some random tables that I feel are missing in the original. In part because I feel like I need to flesh it out a little more to avoid a possible sense of railroading (there's only one way to escape Invidia) and in part because I find the random tables to be really helpful in my Al-Qadim Church 2nd Edition game I'm running.

Here's the secret: I tend to use random tables for inspiration. I also tend to stick with the random rolls, the trick is how to fit it into the story (i.e. improvisation) and when to know when to re-roll. Random encounters (and I call them random encounters, not wandering monsters) can be used to move the story along (i.e. tell the players to stop dilly-dallying), they can be used to instill a sense of danger into the game (i.e. dilly-dallying in a dungeon can be dangerous, traveling in the wilderness can be dangerous), and they can be used to hand additional clues into the players' hands (i.e. they randomly encounter a corpse with helpful information). From a GM's perspective, they can also be used to slow down the pace of a game and/or liven things up with a bit of roleplaying or combat as well.

Examples of some great random encounters:
The horse. Early on, the PCs randomly encountered a horse. I wasn't super sure what to do with this, but obviously, when the players wondered if it belonged to a missing hero, it surely became that horse. The random encounter fleshed out some of the story that was otherwise going to be missing.
Elf tribe. I don't really recall what I did with these, but I randomly rolled an entire group of over 100 elves. I hope I did something like using them to foreshadow the gnoll horde because otherwise large group of elves in the middle of the jungle made no sense.
Banderlogs. After rolling baboons a number of times, I noticed the Monstrous Manual had another entry on the same page. These baboon-like creatures were intelligent, numerous enough to be negotiated with, and able to provide some totally unplanned clues as the party flubbed their comprehend languages spell and did it all with gestures and pictograms.
Mystery. Not wanting to spoil a potentially ongoing plot, I had rolled a particular creature twice on the party's journey recently, and given the ecology section of the monster's description, it clearly ought to have been a mother and daughter combo. With an impromptu fleshing out of their backstory using some obvious recent events (a tribe of jungle giants had been slain), these things being in the area suddenly made sense to me.
The turtle. In one of the early adventures, the party was traveling upriver to the site of some ruins to plunder. I totally role a giant snapping turtle which the low-level party had absolutely no business dealing with. I made it easy to avoid, but it served as a neat reminder that in the game I'm running, they would encounter things well beyond their capacity to deal with. Later on, when I rolled another horrible river encounter, the sea hag was looking for the turtle and only extorted the party for a bit of loot then let them go.

So, what does this look like in The Evil Eye? Well, it's the land of Invidia in Ravenloft, so I'm using the Tarokka deck for randomization when possible.

First off, I've got a random attribute table: eye color. Given that the evil eye plays a role in its titular adventure, I'm going to try to use eye color for some subtle narrative effects. So it's important that people pick an eye color that I want them to, meaning I'm going to deal out a card and let them choose.

Eye color and descriptions
Suit Color
Glyphs ❧ Green
Stars ✭ Blue
Swords ⚔ Brown
Coins ◎ Amber