Saturday, April 7, 2018

Bonus: Bullet Journal Myconid Page

Stop and Smell the Rad-Roses! adding a sense of wonder to your wasteland

A radioactive myconid from my sketchbook
It’s easy to lose a sense of wonder in the irradiated grind of a post-apocalyptic RPG. Wonder is what we feel seeing the Grand Canyon or a cool mushroom: it’s a deep reminder that the world is more beautiful and strange than we can fully grasp. It balances the bullet-counting ruin-crawls and keeps the players hungry for more.
Science often inspires wonder. Science-based world building adds weirdness and awe without breaking immersion.  Websites that highlight new discoveries or cutting-edge technologies can send your mind off in wild directions that will amaze and intrigue your players, keeping them curious about what is below the next bunker.
Another sketchy myconid. Watch the bumbershoot!
An article on using slime molds to discover Roman roads (link below) got me thinking about myconids, who I had always dismissed as kind of silly.  What if myconids moved through space and time in a unique way? I like the thought of players pursuing a myconid scout only to see it vanish through a fungal threshold outlined on a solid wall.  What if I never said “myconid scout”, describing instead a misshapen figure in a conical hat that randomly showed up, helped or hurt them, and then disappeared before they could interact?
Then they would have a mystery on their hands, and mysteries are hooks. Hooks keep players hungry and they'll keep coming back to the table.
Disappearing mushroom folk raise the question: where do they go?  In other articles, I learned that mushrooms have the same pigment-melanin-that adds color to human skin.  Some scientists surmise that mushrooms us their melanin to convert radiation into growth energy. Do myconids thrive in radioactive necropoli, feeding on radiation and the dead? Can they grow largsime at will like Duergar?  Do they clean up hot zones or do they just multiply and scheme? Are the glowing remains of urban centers, the hottest of hot zones, ground zero for a new myconid supremacy? Some quick web research has transformed myconids from hippy root-huggers to an inscrutable emergent species slowly but inevitably filing the human niche.  Following a Myconid back to its home base will be a terrible, memorable adventure.

Role-playing games run on bloodlust and wonder; if your players don’t stop to smell the rad-roses, they’re missing out on half the fun.  How do you infuse your wasteland with wonder and keep your players coming back for more?  Comment below!

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Saturday, March 31, 2018

It's a TRAP!

Trap Generators:

Here are some random generators to help you danger up your ruins.  Perhaps a group or trap smith favors one trigger, trap or damage type: you know you’re in Brass Skull territory when everything is a rockfall.  Maybe the ruins were originally full of laser tripwires to keep thieves out of the gene labs.  How will you use these generators in your wasteland?

Trigger Type
Pressure plate
Laser tripwire (alarm, triggers mechanical trap or activates robots)
Tension trigger (on doors, containers)
Proximity trigger (mines)
Motion activated (turrets, snares) *
Touch (Dex to avoid. Tin can chimes, bone chimes, electrical current)
Weight/gravity (pit, bear trap)
Spotter (box trap, cage, rock fall)
Energy (shooting, flame, electricity ignites gas cannister, ambient gas, oil)
Prop (deadfall, rock fall, pillars)
Treacherous interface (doorknob, terminal, AR, a live wire in a toilet)

Trap Type
Explosive (device, container, gas, EMP)
Relocator (breakable floor, trapdoor, transporter, piston)
Projectiles (arrows, darts, bullets, lasers)
Deadfall (rocks, stone block, log, shipping container, car)
Snare (holds and harms if passed through.   Steaked bear trap, whip snare, taser floor)
Hobble (hampers movement: drag snare, leg-wounding trap, punji steaks, caltrops.  Easily combined with poison.)
Immobilize (holds fast without ongoing harm.  Cage, cell, stasis effect)
Swinging ram (disrupts movement; displaces characters. log, engine block, dead cow)
Pit. Roll again and combine results.
Gas (poison, explosive, soporific)
Creature release (swarm, hungry, territorial, poisonous, disease-bearing)

Damage Type
Electrical (lighting)
Radiant (frickin’ lasers)
Ballistic (frickin’ bullets)

* In post-apoc games, some security measures can be controlled by computer terminals or Augmented Reality. You can treat those controls like ICRPG’s chunks: hacking the controls with effort neutralizes the threat.  Hackable traps should be least Tech Level 3. Use this to spotlight characters who have invested in pre-catastrophe knowledge or skills.

In Fallout 4, trap components such as spotlights and turrets can be traced to their controls via red wires.  Providing this kind of visual cue to your players can enliven play and deepen their setting immersion.

Trap Examples:


Weight/gravity, hobble, thunder.

  • Shallow foot-sized pit lined with downward-pointing spikes.  1d10 damage; Dex save or Lame.  Pressure plate at bottom of hole wired to concussion grenades that destroy or block off part of the path from rest of the party.


Laser tripwire, snare, electrical

  • Laser tripwire activates taser plates above and below characters.  Con save vs. paralysis

Tripwire, relocator, cold.

  • Tripwire floods the room with freezing water, water lifts PC’s to another level or triggers floor drain that pulls them downward.
  • Alternative: Room is a flash-freezing facility; tripwire is a trigger mechanism for the room.  Not originally a trap, but a food or scientific sample preservation asset. Characters take cold damage and save vs. sleep.

Thoughts on traps in play:

Most traps are the security measures of the ruin’s past or current occupants. These measures have an in-world logic: they provide safety for people and their possessions. But what value do traps add to the play experience? Here are some ideas:

1) Change or direct the space in an encounter. This can: disrupt the characters’ movement, physically contain them, or herd or transport them to another part of the space.
  • Transport characters to another location (pit, collapsing floor, transporter)
  • Change terrain (collapsing pillars, walls, and doors; cave-ins, rising water, avalanches)
  • Lure and immobilize (Humane mouse trap; bear trap for bears)
  • Lure and destroy (Deadly mousetrap; bear trap for humans)
  • Drive or herd and catch (Driving ponies into a corral)
  • Drive or herd and destroy (chasing a mammoth off a cliff)
2) Spotlighting character’s abilities: Puzzles, feats of strength, thief skills; magical, psionic or tech solutions to traps that:
  • Keep intruders out
  • Keep something in
  • Concealment, disabling, circumventing
3) Depleting resources and controlling rest to intensify a climactic encounter. **
  • Cause wounds, disease, poison
  • Kill
  • Demoralize or deplete resources (punji steaks wound soldiers, necessitating a change of mission, medical transport and evac, renew morale)
4) Setting a tone
  • Alarm: a silent alert or loud claxon draws enemies
  • Creating a sense of danger and trepidation
  • Giving setting context: old tech, new uses for old tech, primitive new tech

Any of the above can also harass, deplete or affect the morale of the characters and players.

Hazards that are concealed, have triggers and can be countered are functionally traps. Steam geysers, lava jets, and crumbling walls full of spider swarms or explosive have a different narrative feel from deadfalls and tripwires.  Like man-made traps, they can be spotted, avoided, and even disarmed, perhaps by unexpected use of skills or magic by the PCs.

Trap links:

Here’s an interesting article on traps for 5e:

Here is an infographic of Viet Kong tunnels and traps. There are plenty of ideas here for ruins and cavern complexes:
Infographic of Viet Kong tunnels and traps.

Here's a link to Runehammer's video on rest, where I got the idea for using traps to control rest.  Runehammer is great, and if you support his patreon, you get a podcast, previews and access to a great RPG thinker. Take a look!:
Runehammer's Rest mechanics video. Yee haw!

Make sure to +1 if you found this post useful and share if you think others will as well.  Thanks!

Friday, March 23, 2018


In the last installment, I described the blasted rice paddies of the living tower/vertical farm where they can find a cache of pre-tech seeds and end a two-hundred-year famine. If the PC’s approach the tower (which is the most obvious way to get to the seeds), here’s what they encounter:

Tower Interior, Ground Floor
Target: 12
The charnel buzz of hundreds of flies greets the party.  A rotting mountain of produce crates hovers eighteen inches above the floor on a massive circular grav-elevator.  Occasionally a hopper drone will come through the large hole in the center of the ceiling to place a crate of fresh produce on the pile.  Beneath the platform, the characters see a six-bladed aperture large enough to allow the elevator to pass through the floor.  The aperture is slightly open, enough to make out shapes in the distribution center below. Remote viewing reveals inert robots and dusty sealed crates marked with a graphic of a sprouting seedling.  Eight unlit tunnels lead into darkness.  Flatbed trams piled with crates sit in three of the tunnels. The gaps in the aperture are too small for a character to squeeze through.
A large cancer tech lurks on the ground floor (treat as a large black pudding).  Fighting this creature attracts the attention of a security drone (treat as a flying snake).  The drone is not interested in the fight; it is programmed only to discouraged and record unauthorized entry into the building. (Or maybe it shoots lasers at everyone if that’s more fun: +3 to hit, 1d6+1 damage.)
A network of thick transparent tubes runs throughout the tower walls.  These house the catfish essential to the tower’s aquaponic system.  The system was damaged when the wall was ripped open, but the robots repaired it; a few pipes snake across the gap in the tower wall, giving the impression of fish floating in mid-air.  The pipes have 20 hit points. If they are breached, they drain in one day. All robots will immediately disengage and begin to repair the pipes if they are damaged.
To move the crate-piled platform requires a prosthetic link, a farm-specific datapad, or another way to interface with the tower’s IoT network.  Without opening the aperture, it can only raise or lower a few feet (1-1.5 meters). Opening the aperture requires a command from the office, located at the top of the tower.
(At this point, the players might decide to return to their patron with a scouting report, take produce for seed, or otherwise not engage with the problem of accessing the underground distribution center. There is no harm in suggesting to them that a great treasure worth a great reward awaits them there, or that their patron won’t be satisfied with anything other than the seed stock beneath the aperture. You can also tell them that if they restore the farm and make it accessible to their patron or another faction, they will be considered trustees and will gain some fame and privilege. Restoring local food security is a big deal.)

Farm Creatures
Three types of robots at work the farm. 
·         The basketball-sized tending bots flit from plant to plant, collecting samples, scanning and pruning. Their four spindly arms work with lightning efficiency. They monitor and prune the crops. Without ID cards, the PC’s are vulnerable to the bots’ ministrations.  The bots will attempt to prune them or spray them with fertilizer or pesticide.  Mechanically, they are flying snakes.

·         The slower-moving Hopper bots are harvesting crops.  They look like floating open-topped crates.  The robots’ four nano-tentacles are capable of heavy work and fine manipulation.   Mechanically, they are mules with a speed of 1.
These bots have each hold 1d6 units of fresh produce.  A character can consume up to three rations of produce in one turn, and the bot will not attempt to stop them.  However, to reach the food the PC must make an easy Dex check or be accidentally clobbered by the bot as it works (1d4+2). Each ration restores one d3 hit points.

·         Spider bots protect the tower from pests and unwanted guests.  They are also responsible for pruning the structure of the tower and keeping it healthy.  Spider bots will attack the characters on sight unless they have ID cards.  Mechanically they are giant spiders.

All robots are immune to poison and the conditions Charm, Exhaustions, Frightened, Paralyzed and Poisoned.
·         At the fifth platform, the characters begin to encounter giant bees.  The bees will not be aggressive to the characters unless attacked.  If the bees are attacked, they will focus on the sources of damage.  The bees will not join combat between robots and the characters. When a character reaches the 7th platform, the bees will attack characters and robots. Treat the bees as giant wasps. A bee that stings a character will no longer be able to fight and will die in one round.

Tower Interior, Second floor
Target: 12
20-meter tall cultivation racks radiate like spokes from the central opening in the floor.  The central opening is 12 meters wide.  A series of grav-elevator platforms makes a de facto spiral staircase; the platforms are spaced between .5 meters and 2.5 meters apart. Characters may notice that the platforms are all sections of a ring that fits perfectly into floor opening.  Stepping onto the first platform reveals that the grav technology is deteriorating.  The platform bobs under the weight of the character as if they are stepping into a boat. The first time two or more characters step on a new platform, roll a d4. In this many rounds, the platform will sag, drop half a meter, or otherwise create unstable footing. The characters will have to make a check to keep their balance, possibly falling prone or sliding off the platform leaving them holding on for dear life. Climbing back onto the platform requires a Str check.
Moving between platforms requires a check; let the players suggest a reasonable skill or solution.  If they intelligently employ mechanical means (rope, timber, sections of bamboo), the check is easy. A character with an id card or prosthetic link can control the platform with a successful check and ten points worth of effort. Once the effort has been applied, the character can raise or lower the elevator at will.  It moves at 5 spaces (20 meters) per round.
The players can also attempt to use the hopper robots as platforms. Jumping or otherwise traversing to a robot is a hard check. These slow-moving harvesters will not resist characters, but they will continue to do their job, which means moving at one space (two meters) per round.  They also will be using their tentacles to continue harvesting so characters riding them will have to make Dex checks to avoid being clobbered (1d4+2 (4) damage.)
 Two of the elevators are stopped at catwalk levels; paths of smaller platforms like stepping stones have extended from the elevator to the catwalk.  These materialize when the elevators stop at a catwalk and disappear when they move.  The catwalks that encircle the tower appear every three meters. 
Let circumstances and player ingenuity determine the difficulty of the target for each jump. This is a spatial problem and a combat problem; reward them for ingenuity and courage.

Office floor
 Target: 14
The circular administrative office for the farm takes up one floor at the top of the tower.  Goat bleating and hoof beats can be heard on the top of the roof. A wall of cancerous flesh is smashed against the windows all around the office.  Veins, pustules, clouded-over dead eyes, and palpating orifices push against the glass.
The last elevator section is adjacent to the door, which is smashed.  Pushing through the opening is a giant, mutated mouth.  Rows of crooked, rotten teeth and swollen, quivering lips form a horrific doorway to the room.  A layer of putrid saliva covers the platform, dripping steadily. A giant bee wriggles out of the mouth and flies away.
Inside the tower are the controls for the aperture on the first floor.  The data pad and elevators can provide this information to the PC’s.  Require a check to discover this only for degrees of success.  No passage= no adventure, so make be generous.
Peering into the mouth, the characters can see a glowing screen at the opposite end of the room, shining dimly through a layer of skin.  This is the terminal that will open the aperture.  The inside of the office is covered in wet, veiny flesh.  Wicked bone spurs the size of elephant tusks jut menacingly into the space, and slowly retract.  A giant bee is impaled on a spur near the terminal. To reach the terminal, the characters must traverse the slimy surface, avoiding the bone spurs and any bees that enter the room.
This is difficult terrain.  If the characters move one space, they are safe.  If they move two or more spaces, they must make a Dex check. Failure means they step on a nerve or blood vessel, and a bone spur shoots out of the nearest surface. On a failed check, characters must make a Dex save or take 1d10 damage from a spearing bone spur.  On a crit, they are impaled and have the Restrained condition.  To remove them from the spike requires a Str check.  On a failed check, the PC is removed from the spike but takes 1d6 damage.   On a Critical failure, the PC is stuck on a barb, remains Restrained, and takes 1d10 damage.  Each attempt at removal counts as movement and requires a Dex check.
Each round the PC’s are in the office, roll a d6.  On a 6, a giant bee crawls in with them.  The bee must make Dex checks as well, and an impaled bee will hamper movement.
The interior of the room is also highly acidic.  Once the players enter, roll a d4.  In that many rounds, they will begin to take one point of acid damage on each round they are in the room. Any non-magical or TL 3 or below gear they carry will begin to deteriorate each round, taking -1 penalty to damage rolls for weapons and -1 AC for armor each round they are in the room.
(This room is NASTY.  I’d appreciate any feedback as to whether it feels too difficult or punitive.)
Once the PC’s arrive at the glowing terminal, they must remove the flesh from it to make it work.  This will provoke the walls to send out spurs against anyone near the source of pain. To access the aperture control is an easy check that takes two hearts of effort.  Let the PC’s be creative about what abilities they think will get them the information, short of the absurd.
Observant Pc’s will notice a small aperture in the ceiling, barely visible through the layer of skin.  This is the opening to the roof and can be accessed by taking the elevator disk in the center of the office floor up.  On the roof, three spider goats have created a massive web, fouling the wind farm turbines that help power the farm.  Use giant spider stats to represent the spider goats.  Trapped in the web are giant insects, birds, and a few robots.  There is also a two-person light flying vehicle, which may be salvageable.  (In Other Dust, flying vehicles above a certain altitude brings certain death, but if that doesn’t fit your world, free helicopter!)  In the cabin of the vehicle is a transparent umbrella which can act as a shield and doesn’t count against the character’s encumbrance.
When the PC’s open the aperture the whole tower shudders and shakes.  The weakened supports on the torn side start to sag, sending crops and robots siding across the floor and down the central shaft.  In the center of the office, beneath a layer of flesh, is the central section of the elevator.  It can accommodate up to six individuals and has a speed of 20 feet. The characters can ride this safely down the tower, through the open aperture.   They can also take any of the other elevator sections down.
The creature that fills the office space is the cancerous overgrowth of the farm’s three overseers.  It is up to the GM whether their minds are gone, insane, or sentient.  The office creature can be killed if it takes 120 points of damage.  It is immune to the conditions blinded, charmed, deafened, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, and prone. It is resistant to acid and poison.  The room has tremorsense and is considered an aberration.

Getting Down
The PC’s may be in bad shape after opening the floor aperture, so hitting them super hard on the way down would be a nasty thing to do. The new damage to the tower puts the robots into repair and salvage mode; they are all focused on damage control.  The sudden, violent moment has momentarily scared off the living visitors to the tower, and the cancer techs will probably have been dealt with before they ascended to the office.

Once the PC’s reach the ground floor, they can explore the distribution center below.

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