Saturday, February 27, 2021

Alternate Adjudication of Disease

AD&D is a wealth of information - the DMG, while cumbersome to reference, an amazing resource with an answer (not always the best answer, but a functional, thought-out answer) to almost anything that a referee might encounter and desire to rule in a standard campaign. Among these rules are rules for diseases and parasites - a subject, in B/X, which is fairly sparse: the only reference to disease being in the "Rats," "Lycanthropes," and "Mummy" monster profiles.

In the spirit of the relative simplicity of B/X over (under?) AD&D, I present the following alternate to adjudication of disease: 

Adjudicating Disease

Disease exposure can occur in one of two ways - by direct attack from an infection source (plague-rat bite, mummy attack, fetid arrow, etc.) or randomly in a poor environment (swamps, sewers, dirty urban environments, etc.). For direct exposure, the condition to check for disease is self-explanatory: for environmental exposure, disease should be added to the random encounter table for wilderness or urban exploration for the environment affected.

Plague Victims of Rome; Alphonse Legros

Disease Profiles

Each disease has a disease profile, included in which are two essential points:

  1. Symptoms
  2. Severity Thresholds

The symptoms of a disease include in-game effects of the disease (penalties to statistics, impacts to mechanics, etc.) as well as flavor, depth to the taste of the game (fever, nausea, etc.). The severity thresholds of a disease is a number corresponding to the severity and recovery times of the disease. The lower these thresholds, the more virulent and more dangerous the disease is.

The duration of the disease - or, how long the infection persists active - is, unless otherwise specified, a number of hours, days, or weeks (as specified by the affecting symptom) equal to half the raw value on the ones die of the percentile roll.

A sample disease common in the middle ages might be profiled as follows:

Devils' Laughter  
Threshold Symptoms
A mild fever, periodic bouts of giggling.
-2 Wisdom, -1 Constitution; Duration: days.

Fever, constant laughter, periodic bouts of hilarity.
-4 Wisdom, -2 Constitution; Duration: days.

High fever, uncontrollable laughter, seizures.
-8 Wisdom, -4 Constitution; Duration: weeks.
If the Duration multiple is odd, coma and death follow.

Infection Procedure

Upon exposure to disease, 1d% is rolled and the result is modified as follows:

  • The character's age is added to the roll.
    For character races whose life span does not parallel a Human's, add the relative percentage that race is into its natural life span instead: so, a 60 year old Dwarf, which (per AD&D) lives about 4 times as long as a Human, would add ~15.
  • The character's Save vs Death threshold is added to the roll. Thus, if our Dwarf from before was of 6th level, they would add a further 6.

The resulting value then is compared to the disease's severity threshold to determine the effect of the disease on the character: based on the disease's defined symptoms, no further roll is needed.

It is at the referee's discretion as to whether the player or the referee makes this roll, though preference is given by the author to the player.

If the referee makes like rolls at your table - by all means, continue your paradigm: consistency being important - however, this being in place of a save where a player will be accustomed to rolling saves, it would lend both muscle-consistency to the mechanism and put accountability for the consequences on the player.

Doctor, 1651; Wenceslaus Hollar, Hans Holbein the Younger, Abraham Van Diepenbeeck

Exceptional Constitution (Optional)

Optionally, a referee may subtract from the roll 5 times the Hit Point modifier granted to the character by their Constitution - such that a character of +2 HP per level would reduce the result by 10, where a character of -1 HP per level would increase the result by 5. 

Note that, because this is a nested expression - that is, it is not a straight up, "add this to the roll," but instead, "calculate this and then add it to the roll" - it will be slightly slower at the table. It may be calculated in advance and recorded - as a character's Constitution doesn't change very often - however be aware of the impact it will have.

Medical Treatment (Optional)

Characters may undergo medical treatment to reduce the impact or speed recovery from diseases. If a character - upon having come down with a disease - receives 1d10 to roll.

  • If the medical aid is being administered by a professional - a physician, an apothecary, etc. - the 1d10 result replaces the tens die of the original roll, if favorable thereto.
  • If the medical aid is being administered by an amateur - a relative with chicken soup, a low-level Cleric improvising in the wilderness - the 1d10 result replaces the ones die of the original roll, if favorable thereto.

Alternatively, if a cure is simply known - such as a Penicillin for strep throat - a referee is encouraged to simply reduce the disease's impact to its lowest threshold.

Vulnerable and Resistant Populations (Optional)

Optionally, for populations vulnerable (such as infants with fever) or resistant (such as with the indigenous people of the Congo basin and Malaria) to a particular disease, the referee is encouraged to not designate the "tens" and "ones" die in advance when rolling the percentile for severity. Instead consider the dice after they fall:

  • For vulnerable populations, treat the higher die as the "tens" die.
  • For resistant populations, treat the lower die as the "tens" die.

As such, say a character comes down with Devils' Laughter rolls 2d10, which come up 7 and 3. Perhaps, in the context of your world:

  • Dwarves, known to be dour and humorless, may resist Devils' Laughter - as such, the player would count the roll as a 37 before modifiiers.
  • Halflings, conversely, known to be quick to smile and quicker to make a friend - may be vulnerable, counting the roll as 73 before modifiers.

A good time to be a Dwarf!

The above houserule makes the assumption that the young and the leveled will be more hardy - so a higher level character will be less likely to succumb to the ravages of disease, as will a younger character - but not by a margin which will make disease an afterthought. Depending on your campaign's threshold for disease interference - which, admittedly, in most games I've played, is near zero - you can adjust the severity thresholds of diseases to reflect that degree.

A set of ten diseases in this format is provided at the end of the article, after exploration and explanations, for anyone interested.

How does this Compare to AD&D?

A Softer Voice; Herbert Cole
The procedure for disease in AD&D follows several steps:

  1. Roll chance of contracting the disease (d%) 
  2. If a disease is encountered:
    1. Roll for what it affects (d%)
    2. Roll for whether it is acute or chronic (1d8)
    3. Roll for its severity (1d8)
  3. Roll for specific effects (such as Charisma loss on a skin disease, or duration before death in the event of a terminal illness) in accordance with type.

While possible to clump several elements together at a time, it is impossible to perform these steps totally in parallel - as such, even an enterprising referee is forced to make at minimum two subsequent rolls in conjunction with the disease. Moreover, no specific diseases are specified: instead, categories are presented and different common symptoms to similar infections - so, comparing cold and flu, they would both constitute a nasal-respiratory type bug - are listed. As such, the AD&D system back-loads the complexity: it determines the disease, duration, and effects at the time of encounter, rather than in advance - while comprehensive, and while capable of producing a very wide range of diseases - it seems a better disease generator and not an in-play style procedure. 

For that reason, the AD&D disease process is a good source of reference when considering diseases for your table - and from those insights were sample diseases, below, created following this alternative rule.

Don't mind increased impact to play time? AD&D.

Don't mind increased impact to prep time? Alternate.

Why a Percentile and not a Raw Save?

Some time on MeWe last year, I had seen a meme making the rounds where a percentile system was used that was meant to mirror a COVID infection, based on what we knew about the disease at that time. Credit where credit is due - this meme is the origin of the "add your age to the roll" mechanism. While the presented rule above is distinct from the MeWe houserule - specifically in its intentional use of a single roll rather than sequential rolls building on one another's results - this brought a simple and quick method of incorporating several factors at once.

  • Limiting the number of dice to two - the two involved in a percentile roll - sharply limits the time required to consult a table and read the result. 
  • Incorporating age directly both allows age to matter - as it does in the world of real medicine - and prevents it from being obtrusive. With the AD&D system, age does play a factor as a static bonus to the chance of contraction based on age category - but that requires you to look up the age categories on a separate table: something you don't have to do with basic addition. 
  • Incorporating the Save vs Death (optionally Constitution) adds character durability and ties disease recovery to level, but does so at a fairly granular level: such that disease doesn't become an afterthought and can still hurt a powerful character.
By having a scale of 1-100 as the rolled range, it allows a simple integration of several factors to subtly influence the result while still maintaining a fast, straightforward roll & reference.

Mr. Grewgious Has Suspicions; Luke Fildes

On the Creation of Disease Profiles

The numbers for the sample disease above may seem high - only seeing symptoms on a roll of 60 or higher? Preposterous! However, when assigning these profiles, keep in mind that most characters will be adding between 35 and 55 to the roll. Thus, taking into account the 65 minimum threshold, consider a 21 year old "Normal Man" from B/X with a Save vs. Death of 14. This normal man would, at a base, add 35 to the result of the d% roll. As such, the 60 minimum threshold would require the dice to come up 25 or higher for the character to suffer symptoms: with fatal potential occurring in 15% of cases! Thus, as a rule of thumb, a referee should consider the percentile chance that a character should suffer symptoms of varying levels and then add 35 to 40 to the result: as this number will reflect the experience of level-0 commoners, who - in fantasy epidemiological studies - would make up the sample.

Additionally, consider the complexity of the table. The purpose of the lookup capability is to make game-play more smooth - not to complicate it. So, while it is possible to have profiles that are verisimilitudinous to a disease's typical pathology, e.g. Malaria:

Threshold Symptoms
65 Headache and chills; weariness and aching.
-2 Strength, -1 Constitution. Duration in days.
80 Cyclical fever, with nausea and fatigue during the cycles.
-4 Strength and Constitution for a day, every third day. Duration in weeks.
105 High fever; seizures.
-8 Strength and -4 Constitution and Dexterity. Duration in days. Following this period, apply 65-Threshold symptoms, likewise. Duration in weeks.
115 Respiratory distress.
-8 Strength and Constitution, movement halved. Duration in weeks. If the ones die is even, Constitution is permanently reduced by half that value.
120 Coma.
Character is totally unconscious. If the tens die is even, duration in days; odd, duration in weeks. If the character does not starve during the period, apply 105-Threshold symptoms thereafter.
125 Death.
If the tens die is even, duration in hours; otherwise, duration in days. During the duration, the victim rapidly proceeds through each of the preceding symptom lists before dying at the specified duration.

...consider whether it's worth the crunch. Typically, it won't be too bad, as the crunch is front-loaded in the creation and research; but it will be up to you how many pages you want to spend for that table.

Frostbitten Sun; Gustave Dore
Lastly, when making a profile, don't worry that a high level character - or a Dwarf or Halfling, with their amazing saves - may seem immune to diseases. Remember that the goal of the game is to delve dungeons, get money, and build your own dominion: not to die in a ditch from dysentery. It's OK for a disease to be a hindrance, or a mechanism to coerce a player to play an alt - unless it's a core element of your game to suffer as a medieval peasant would, the author suggests disease works to flavor the world and to provide an obstacle to overcome or a resource to manage: not to hinder the progress of the emerging narrative nor to maliciously cut short the legacy of a character that is otherwise succeeding.

Of note, the AD&D tables provide for morbidity of as low as "~" and as high as 4-in-8. You can achieve this with punishing thresholds... you know, if you'd rather parties to succumb to Diphtheria instead of Dragons.

Some Profiles for Fantasy Diseases

Included are a few handy profiles; for folks who dig the cut of this jib.

Poisoned Blood (Duration in Days)
  • 65: -2 Str, -1 Con. Clamminess.
  • 95: -4 Str, -2 Con. Fever.
  • 125: -8 Str, -4 Con. Death occurs on an odd duration.

(Duration in Weeks)
  • 75: -1 Dex. Tingling in the fingers.
  • 95: -3 Dex, -1 Con. Tingling.
  • 115: -5 Dex, -3 Con. Burning sensation; compulsive shaking.
  • 135: -8 Dex, -5 Con. Death on odd duration.

Face Mites (Duration by Weeks)
  • 50: -1 on Reaction rolls. Itching.
  • 75: -4 Cha. Itching and redness.
  • 100: As 75. Cha reduced permanently by value equal to the ones die.

Green Lung (Duration by Severity)
  • 60: -1 Con, -10' move speed. Duration in days. Cough.
  • 75: -2 Con, -20' move speed. Duration in days. Cough, deep green phlegm.
  • 90: -4 Con, -30' move speed. Duration in weeks. As above, plus chest pressure.
  • 105: -8 Con, -40' move speed. Duration in weeks. Death occurs on odd duration.
Special: If the tens die is even, half of the Constitution damage from the disease becomes permanent - but the character gains resistance to respiratory illness.

Blinding Fever (Duration in Weeks)
  • 45: -2 Con, double chance to be surprised. Blurred vision and fever.
  • 90: -4 Con, blindness.
  • 135: -4 Con for the duration. Permanent blindness.
For blinding results, on an odd duration, blindness is in both eyes; even, one eye.

Plague Doctor Costume; Unknown Artist

Delve on, readers - in sickness or in health!

Public domain images retrieved from The National Gallery of Art,, and The Public Domain Review. Attributions in alt text.

The Cold Malaise (Duration in Days)
  • 35: -1 Wis. Vision blurs on occasion.
  • 70: -3 Wis. Mild vertigo.
  • 105: -6 Wis. Chills and clamminess.
  • 145: -12 Wis. Constantly cold. 
Special: If Wisdom drops to 0, it is permanently reduced by a value equal to the ones die result.

Hearing (Duration in Weeks)
  • 70: Double chance to be surprised. -1 penalty to Hear Noise.
  • 85: Double chance to be surprised. -3 penalty to Hear Noise.
  • 100: Deafness, -2 Wis.
  • 115: Deafness, -2 Wis. On an odd duration, the deafness is permanent; on even, the Wisdom damage is.

Cerebrum Weevil
(Duration: Special)
  • 50: 15% spell failure rate. Confusion.
  • 60: -2 Int, 30% spell failure rate.
  • 80: -4 Int, 30% spell failure rate.
  • 110: -6 Int, 45% spell failure rate.
  • 150: -8 Int, 45% spell failure rate.
Special: An infestation of Cerebrum Weevils is a chronic disorder. Attacks last a duration in days, but then a follow up duration in weeks after, the disease re-occurs.

This continues until magically healed or miraculously treated.

Demon's Wasting (Duration: Until Cured)
  • 75: -2 Str & Dex, -1 Con.
  • 110: -2 Str, Dex, & Con;
    +2 Int & Wis.
  • 145: -4 Str & Dex, -2 Con;
    +3 Int & Wis.
Special: Demon's Wasting can only be cured by magic. The disease is chronic: every month after infection, a new roll is made.

The effects of the disease are cumulative: death occurs if Strength or Constitution reach 0 - the body turning to ash.

Tendon Melt (Duration by Severity)
  • 25: -10' movement. Joint pain. Duration in days.
  • 50: -30' movement. Difficulty standing up from sitting. Looseness of the joints. Duration in weeks.
  • 100: Paralysis from the waist. On an odd duration, paralysis is permanent; on even, duration is instead in days.
  • 150: Total paralysis. On an odd duration, the paralysis is permanent; on even, duration in days, followed by 100-level symptoms; duration in weeks.
  • 200: Death. Odd duration value in days; even duration value in hours.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

08.02 - Progress Point: The Watchtower Compound

Scale: 10 ft.
PDF version forthcoming!

Tropical House Gecko; Unknown Artist

Wandering Monsters

During the day, no wandering monster checks should be made within the Watchtower Compound.

At night, on the other hand, there is a 2-in-6 chance of an encounter every hour, rolled on the same table as presented in the previous progress point.

The Watchtower

Level 1

1W1 - Foyer

The double door on the south wall is stuck due to a pile of broken barrels and furniture piled against it. Doors leading north are not locked; the door to the north-west is slightly ajar. The floor creaks as the party walks.

1W2 - Infirmary

Tables are strewn about - several cabinets with broken vials line the walls. The ceiling has hangers on it - stained brown - that look to have originally been used for mosquito netting.

Nothing of value remains.

1W3 - Smoking Lounge

Moldy divans and arm chairs line this space: several on their sides, several upright. Along the west wall are several storm-shuddered windows - two of which are closed, one of which unlatched and hanging partially open.

In the standing furniture, seat cushions disguise spines made of bone. If a character sits in one of these chairs, they must Save vs Poison or be infected with a withering disease which will kill them in 1d4 hours. A character wearing armor should get some form of advantage to this save proportional to the armor worn - as the bone may crush or fail to puncture the protective material. How this is arbitrated is at the discretion of the GM.

1W4 - Surgery

This room has a number of surgical implements strewn about the floor. There is a mild staining to the floor with a rectangular patch in the center of the room that appears clean.

A character entering into this space will feel a sudden, inexplicable chill. If the character entering the room has a light, there is a 5-in-6 chance the light will go out. Lamps can be re-lit; torches appear to be spent.

Instruments Required for Resections; J. Fouche

1W5-9 - Children's Ward

This space, an extension of the infirmary and hospital, was utilized commonly for young patients as a byproduct of its open, well-lit hallway to the north: which seemed to encourage them at the time. Each of the rooms is much the same - a cot, a stool, and an end-table: all aged and gathering cobwebs.

1W5) This room contains a doll sitting on the bunk; a window to the outside is shut and barred. The doll is surrounded by a network of strings and pulleys attached to four buckets suspended in the upper corners of the room. If the lines are tripped, the buckets will tip over, dumping a stale yellow powder. Any character exposed to the powder must Save vs Poison or be knocked unconscious until the following midnight. A character so unconscious cannot be wakened by most means - slapping or splashing, for example, do not help.

The doll, during the day, is a normal doll; at night, its eyes will move - staring at a random secret or hidden thing. If it is taken out of the Watchtower Compound, the magic will fade in 1d4 days. If it is taken into the under-dungeon, it will burst into flames.

1W6) The end table in this room is on its side; the stool is missing.

1W7) Three Coffer Corpses (FF 19) - one half the size of the others - occupy this room. The smallest one has embedded in its rib cage a silver spike, festooned with elaborate detailing. The spike is worth 100 gold pieces.

1W8) Beneath the cot in this room is a locked chest containing 700 silver pieces and three clear diamonds worth 200 gold pieces each. Under the chest is a concealed compartment in which 3 pit vipers are hidden (1 HP, AC 7, THAC0 20: on successful bite, 1 damage and Save vs Poison or die).

1W9) There is only a cot for furniture in this room - and it is oddly clean. Hanging from the ceiling are hundreds of threads, each with silver pieces, a hole punched in the center, through them. 400 silver pieces total. While the silver remains undisturbed - that is, allowed to hang and not cut down as treasure - any character that sleeps in the bed will heal at twice the normal rate, but will be plagued with horrible visions in their dreams.

1W10-14 - North Ward

The North Ward once housed recovering but stable medical patients. Each room contains, unless otherwise specified, a cot - broken or otherwise in disuse - an end table, and a stool.

1W10) Three stools surround the cot in this room - no end table is present and all that remains of the cot is its frame.

1W11) The slowly rotting floor creaks in the warm wet of the ambient air.

1W12) A window on the north-west corner has been boarded shut. The cot is on its side on the west wall.

1W13) Opening the door, the furnishings in this room are perched on the south wall, as though gravity is perpendicular for them. Party members stick to the floor, as normal. Unless forcibly held open, the door will shut behind the party, as they enter - upon re-opening, it will lead instead to a random other room in the Watchtower, determined by rolling 1d3-10: 1d3 for the "tens" and 1d10 for the "ones". A roll of 1 to 34 will result in the door opening into that numbered room on the first level of the Watchtower: a roll of 35 or above instead will open as follows:

  1. Room 2W13
  2. Room 2W9
  3. Room 2W22
  1. Room 2W4
  2. Room 3W1
  3. Room 4W1
For results 39 and 40, the door will open to the stairwells leading to these spaces - and will dissipate as smoke when closed behind someone walking through it. For all other locations, it is as a one-way teleport to the new location.

1W14) There is no end table nor stool in this room and the cot has no legs. At the head of the cot is a skull made of quartz: eyes and teeth, mother-of-pearl. The skull is worth 70 gold pieces, but the cot is trapped. If the skull is disturbed, the cot falls away and the floor around it collapses, requiring any characters within 5 feet to Save vs Paralysis or fall into a damp, spongy pit. They will take 1d4 points of damage from the fall, but they will also disturb a colony of mushrooms at the bottom. These mushrooms release spores - immediately exposing any characters in the pit and exposing any characters in the room one round later. An exposed character must Save vs Poison or suffer from lung damage - a further 1d4 damage and bouts of coughing: doubling the chance of attracting a wandering monster until the damage has healed.

Death Pangs of the Artist; Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen

 1W15-20 - South Ward

The South Ward was used to house more ill patients, in that it was better exposed to the sunlight: hoping that fresh, warm air would help them in recovery. Each room has a cot, stool, and end table - each in disrepair or disuse - unless otherwise specified.

1W15) During the day, this room is empty - a former storage closet, now occupied by only broken crates. During the night, a spiral stairwell down emerges. The stairwell is a trick - it does not lead anywhere and anyone who goes into it beyond the first loop will find, upon retreating, upwards, that they are climbing infinitely and the stairwell cannot be exited by normal means. Fortunately, however, the end-point of this magic has been sealed - so no harm will come to the party: when morning comes, anyone trapped in this manner will awaken in a randomly determined bedroom somewhere on the compound - as though the stairwell had been the end of a strange dream. The mechanism for determining which building and which room is at the discretion of the GM.

1W16) Fungus hangs from the ceiling in this room - which is more moist in feel than the others - and the floor has a sticky purple glaze to it. If a character makes any sound in this room, the fungus will shudder, releasing a proportional amount of spores: in small doses, it has audio-visual effects: blurring sounds and sights and imposing a -1 penalty on attack rolls, chances to detect or disarm elements, etc. - large doses knock a character unconscious 1-4 hours. Save vs Poison, Elves are immune. The room has an end table, but no other furniture.

1W17) More of the fungus from 1W16. The room has a cot and stool, but no end table.

1W18) Two Thoul (B 43) occupy this space.

1W19) A figurine of a dancer is standing on the end table. It is worth 10 gold pieces.

1W20) There is no cot in this room - only an end table and stool in opposing corners, south-east and south-west. The floorboards are zebra-ed: that is, alternating in color tone between boards. In the center, there is a board that runs north-to-south, perpendicular to the others. Characters walking from the entrance to the south wall in this room have a chance to trigger a trap: when triggered, the lighter boards curve upwards around the perpendicular board, forming a rib cage and trapping anyone in its vicinity unless they Save vs Paralysis. Characters in the will be trapped: their weight triggering the mechanism - if more than 4 are trapped together, all involved suffer 1d4 damage as the constricting space crushes them together.

1W21 - Hall

Three rows of long tables with bench seating, oriented north to south, occupy this space. Beneath the easternmost table, a section of Grasping Roots has broken through the floorboards and is in the process of entangling the table's legs. There is still some silver cutlery strewn about the table tops: in total, 70 gold pieces worth.

1W22 - Small Vault

The door to this room is locked. Inside, the walls and ceiling are lined with rope. There is no furniture.

1W23 - Outlook

A single chair sits in the center of this room. A window to the north and a window to the west are both open.

1W24 - West Barrack

This space appears to had bedding in it for up to six individuals at a time. The floorboards, however, are decaying and moist - in the northern side of the room specifically, the wall and ceiling show definitive sag as the swamp has crept into the foundation. In the southern 10 feet of the room, this is simply unnerving to walk on - in the northern 10 feet of the room, a character moving at combat speed must test to see if they slip.

In the north-west corner, a Shifting Muck encounter is lurking - able to move along the floorboards, but unable to transition out the threshold of the door.

1W25 - North West Armory

The door to this room is locked. Weapon racks line the walls, empty, and several barrels with fetid liquid are housed in the north west corner.

1W26 - North West Defense

This curving hallway has multiple firing slits cut into the wall, allowing an archer to shoot out, but making it very difficult to shoot in. The floorboards in the south-west portion have rotted through, leaving ankle-deep water and muck (difficult terrain) in that quarter of the space. The ceiling sags in this place - as though the rafters have likewise begun to rot.

Concealed in the murk are a set of Grasping Roots. In the corner, by the roots, is a mostly-decayed victim thereof: an unrecognizable adventurer, face down. The adventurer wears chainmail, carries a short sword and ruined torch, and has 700 silver pieces in a purse on its person.

1W27 -Reception

This space was the reception hall for the chapel built in to the compound, itself. There are unused braziers - now with some degree of topsoil accruing in them - in the corners of the room - and a statue, the head and one arm of which have been broken off, stands in the space between the two southern wall doors. On the floor is a carpet - red, once, but now dingy and mold-eaten - leading from both southern doors into the east door. The east door is stuck. Five Infected Rats gnaw on the edges of the carpet.

Drawing of Rats; Charles Livingston Bull

1W28 - Reflection

A relatively narrow hallway with no windows, but pictures of saints on the north and south walls. Inside, a group of 10 Manes (MM 17) are hovering around the open door in the west wall - noticeably distraught by the iconography.

1W29 - Hall of Fellowship

In this space are sizeable windows, shuttered, and half of the party of Manes from 1W28. There is a threadbare carpet in the room, as well as what appears to have once been furniture, smashed and thrown against the walls. The double door to the south is barred from this side.

1W30 - Chapel

The central temple area, this room has an altar and pulpit on the concave southern side - with seating (surprisingly well preserved) in the center of the room. The walls have hangings on them - renditions of saints and religious iconography - but the faces, specifically, in each of the images has faded to blank.

On the altar are a set of candles, silver, worth 50 gold pieces.

1W31 - Courtyard

The courtyard is largely scrub grass - but taller dog weed grows in the north-west and south-west corners. Concealed in the north-west grass are two Coffer Corpses (FF 19) who are lying down. On the wall next to them is painted crudely on the wall, "THE WAY IS BOUND TO THE MOON," letters somewhat flaking.

During the day, the area marked with a circle is an eerily perfect ring of sandy soil where grass does not grow. During the evening, the soil in the ring dissipates into a stairwell leading downward into the Under-Dungeon, room 1E1.

Of the doors to the south, the one to the west is ajar; the one to the east, unlocked. The double door to the west is locked. The door to the north is stuck.

1W32 - Reflection Chamber

In the north-west corner are piled gardening tools and implements. Along the south wall are crates - they are full of dirt: though it is uncertain as to what was in them before.

On the walls are large mirrors - two on the north and south walls, respectively, and three on the west wall. In the center of the room is a two-person loveseat, wrought-iron.

1W33 - West Watch

Along the west wall are arrow slits, allowing one to shoot out, but that would make it difficult to shoot in. Along the east wall are weapon racks - empty. Six Zombies (B 44) mill aimlessly about. The door to this room is barred from the outside.

1W34 - Shed

The door to this outbuilding is locked and swollen - requiring a strength check to open, as though stuck. The northern half of the floor has given way, rotted through. The southern half contains several crates - broken. There is a peg-board on the wall, as well as some tool handles. Only one rusted hand-drill remains hanging.

Six Infected Rats occupy the crates.

Level 2

2W1 - South Foyer
A decrepit hand rail guards against a sheer fall to 1W1. Along the south wall, east of the railing, are barrels. They have some vinegar solution in them - an unidentifiable organic mass having been preserved, but long since gone to mush. Along the north wall is a series of closets; some open, some closed. Inside is mostly dust and cobwebs - coupled with the occasional moth-eaten overcoat.

2W2  - Southeast Den
A carpet, molded and slowly blackening, runs from the south-west to north-east side.

The door to W3 is locked.
The doors to W4 are stuck.
2W3  - Long Closet
This room is lined with cleaning supplies. As the party enters, natural light sources flicker, but do not go out. If the party enters at night, any light sources passing the threshold into this space will turn white - casting a "ghost light" around them: broken or decrepit furnishings will have a sheer visual overlay of how they appeared when maintained, when the compound was occupied. Likewise, containers that are missing their contents will appear - in the ghost light - to have those contents in spectral form.

The visions are just that - visions: shades of the past - and the party cannot interact with them directly.

2W4  - Southeast Watch Station
This portico - a walking space above room 1W2: Infirmary - is open to the elements above, but has palisade walls with some arrow slits along its perimeter. The shaded section, including the doors, is open to the external walk, but covered with a sloping roof. The roof line slopes - but the ceiling under it does not.

This section is trapped. If both doors to W2 are open at the same time, iron bars extend downward from the eaves of the gables at an angle, having been hidden in the roof, wedging themselves into the floorboards. Likewise, bars close off W2. Upon closing, 2d8 Pit Vipers (B42) are dumped out of a trapdoor and will attack anyone inside in panic.

Potential tells for the trap may include holes in the lintel for the door frames, noticing that there is no apparent way up - detecting secret doors may find the trapdoors that will loose the Pit Vipers - into the space that is necessarily created by a slanting roof without a slanting ceiling, or stab marks along the perimeter of the roof line.

2W5  - Parishioner's Atrium
This atrium is open to the elements: the western overhang windows having been blown onto the floor inside. Characters standing on the overhang feel a chill: if the party props up or re-hangs the windows so as to look through them, the sandy circle in 1W31 will appear to glow. A ruined divan graces the north wall; scrap-wood which might have been a chair and end table, the south. A circular carpet - moist, decayed, and mold-blackened - lies on the floor. The door to 2W6 is locked - but will open on its own at night if the window is re-hung.

2W6  - Governor's Quarters
In this room is an old, king-sized four-post bed with canopy. The canopy has long since decayed. Along the north wall is a sitting area; the south, a writing desk. Any supplies remaining in the desk have been waterlogged - useless.

During the daylight, the bed appears to be a standard wooden bed, decaying with age and dereliction; at night, it appears to be made of iron, a mirror in the canopy ceiling lined with mean-looking barbs. In both cases, it is trapped.

A character which enters the bed may (during the day) or will (at night) trigger a collapse. Save versus Paralysis or take 1d6 damage (daylight) or 2d4 damage, plus Save vs Poison or contract a necrosis as a result, preventing natural healing of the damage (night).

2W7  - Prime Advisor's Quarters
Several bookcases line the walls: largely empty - what does remain being consumed by time and mold. A cot with no mattress can be seen in one corner, an end table with chemical burns and antique alchemical equipment in another. Three Coffer Corpses (FF 19) wait in the room: staring at the bookshelves or equipment as though missing something. The alchemical equipment, if recovered, is worth 100 gold pieces.

2W8  - Treasury Closet
A door frame, but no door, opens into a thin closet. Against the east wall, a drape has fallen over a chest; the north and south walls are slick and heavily molded. The chest is locked, containing 700 silver pieces, 500 gold pieces, and two garnets worth 50 gold pieces each: but if a character enters the room, there is a chance they will step through the rotting floorboards, disturbing a colony of fungus. When this occurs, a cloud of spores is released - all characters in the space must Save (any characters within ten feet of the door must also, but may re-roll if they fail) vs Death or choke.

Vintage Trunk Drawing; Carl B. Williams

2W9  - Northeast Watch Station
The doors to this space are stuck. The perimeter is open to the outside behind a wooden palisade with arrow slits. The shaded space is covered by a gable roof; there is no ceiling - a character beneath it can see the rafters.

On the wall is a short bow that seems somehow untarnished by its exposure to the elements. A character retrieving it will note there are silver finishings on it which, if wiped or polished, reveal a symbology of Law. Hirelings of neutral or Lawful disposition, if witnessing the event, are inspired and will be at +1 to Morale for the duration of the expedition to the Watchtower Compound. It is otherwise as a normal short bow - but the inlays increase its value to 40 gold pieces.

2W10 - North Foyer
In the center of the space is a stairwell leading down to the circuitous hall of 1W. To the southwest, what appears to be a cabinet is built into the wall - five feet deep by ten feet wide, running from floor almost to ceiling - but there are no doors.

2W11 - Statuary
Torn paper litters the floor of this room. To the south is a stone statue - a sitting humanoid, pudgy in appearance: pudgy in a way that it doesn't quite mesh with how weight would normally be distributed on a human of similar stature. The head is missing - two windows are shuttered on the north wall.

2W12 - West Common
To the south, a cabinet - five feet wide by ten feet long, reaching almost to the ceiling - but with no discernible doors is built into the wall. Atop the "cabinet" - if a character looks - can be found a cobwebbed scroll, level 2, which will summon 1d4 Skeletons to fight for the spell-caster, lasting one turn per spell caster level before crumbling to dust. A stairwell leads up to 3W.

2W13 - Northwest Watch Station
The perimeter of the square facings of this space is lined by a wooden palisade; the south-west corner has collapsed and the floor tapers down towards the marsh. The slits in the palisade are oddly lit - and if a character looks through them, they will see the exterior as it will be 2d4 hours in the future. Upon re-entering the compound, the time difference will have passed: no resources will be expended - for example, no torches go out - however the time will have passed, potentially moving the characters into the evening from the daylight. Any hirelings, etc, outside the area will expend resources as normal waiting (assuming they choose to wait).

2W14 - Belching Idol
The floor of this room is covered with dark pumice gravel. Against the west wall is a carving of a head - also pumice, long and angular - with two citrines as eyes. The gemstones are worth 35 gold pieces each: however if either one is removed without preventive magic, the mouth of the statue opens, making a single deep ululation: any character who hears it must Save vs. Spells or be cursed: rolling all further Saves at disadvantage - that is, rolling twice and taking the lower result - until such time as 3 consecutive such disadvantaged saves have saved and the curse is broken.

2W15 - The Shifting Room
This room contains a crushed cot. Velvet curtains - aged - are hanging on the north and south walls. If the door closes behind the party as they enter, upon attempting to leave, they will find themselves into 1W28, as though traveling westward from 1W29 instead of stepping back into the hallway from which they came.

2W16 - North Rot
Bunk beds occupy the north west corner. There are no mattresses. A small table is in the north east corner. In the south west corner, the floor is rotted and may collapse - as a trap - dumping any character affected out of the building and onto the grounds: inflicting 1d6 falling damage. If this dump occurs, the same section in 2W17 falls through - effectively disarming the sister effect.

2W17 - South Rot
In the north west corner, the floor is rotted and may collapse - as a trap - dumping any character affected out of the building and onto the grounds: inflicting 1d6 falling damage. If this dump occurs, the same section in 2W16 falls through - effectively disarming the sister effect.

2W18 - Thoul Bunk
A bunk bed has been broken into two - such that two separate bunks are propped against the north and south walls, respectively. Lingering in the room are two listless Thoul (B43): no pupils in their eyes.

2W19 - Accounting Room
An empty barrel sits in the north east corner. Against the window on the west wall is a writing desk. Spread across the top of the desk are 100 silver pieces. Inside the desk are mold-eaten, illegible papers.

2W20 - Unused Treasury
Several open, empty chests lie against the west wall. An empty crate is in the north east corner. The ceiling is loose - there is a chance, when the door opens, that a rafter will break loose and swing down, impaling the opener. THAC0 15, 2d8 damage.

2W21 - The Infernal Garden
In the center of the room is an indentation, square, full of soil. Along the walls are, spaced equidistant, seven thin electrum figurines. The figurines portray unnatural creatures - devils - and are worth 10 gold pieces each. Inside the soil square, Grasping Roots are hidden just beneath the dirt.

2W22 - Southwest Watch Station
The door to this space is stuck. It is open to the air - though the perimeter is lined with a wooden palisade with slits for arrows. The shaded area is covered by an angled roof.

Level 3

3W1 - Inner Tower
The stairs up to this space are covered in webs. Along walls and across the floors appear to be crates and barrels - containing soil, ash, and rust: the contents having been looted or rotted long since. Hidden in the space are three Black Widow spiders (B43).

La Mort; Odilon Redon

Level 4

4W1 - Upper Tower - Special Empty
This covered space has several openings facing cardinal directions, allowing a character to see for X hexes around if looking out of the windows, a result of the elevation. The floorboards are dry and the air has a saline, coastal quality. The space is otherwise surprisingly empty.

If a character looks inward during the day, they will see semi-corporeal creatures in the courtyard, acting out day to day activities. One draped in black will, in short order, walk out from a door to 1W1, over to the salt ring, and then look up at the party. At that point, the illusion stops and the looker must Save vs Spells or be shunted forward in time to the following midnight.

If a character looks inward during the night, a breeze will start - originating from the Under-Dungeon Stair - pick up strength, and spray the party with salty air. Light bearers within 15 feet of the south wall must Save vs Paralysis or have their lights extinguished: at which point, the wind stops.

Public domain artwork downloaded from, the National Gallery of Art, and and adapted or cropped for thematic use. Attributions in alt text.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Legend Stuffing

Actual Play Name: Stuff of Legends
Where I Listened: The Jovenshire
on YouTube
Where It's Available: YouTube alone,
to my knowledge

System: 5e
(and puppeteering)
Clothing Only (but not enough, apparently)

Thoughts and Review

Stuff of Legends, a new launch in the ecosystem of actual play productions, is a mixed media experience: a four-player table and their game master, Joshua Ovenshire - active in addition to YouTube on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Twitch - with the added experience that their in-character interactions are acted out by a cast of Henson-esque puppets: a novel concept for a novel play-cast.

Full Disclosure

General Disclosures

The actual play subject of this review is novel: as of this writing, there are a whopping two episodes that have been produced and released. As such - this review is based on an extremely limited data set. Where normally, I like to watch through a dozen episodes or more - as many as I need to in order to get a feel both for the game, as played, and for the table, as playing - this is not possible for Stuff of Legends, being as new as it is.

That in mind - as the show is doubtless going to evolve as its run continues - the content of this review may become dated, or need to change: something that I may be slow to do.

Regarding Controversy

On the surrounding controversy regarding this stream on its launch - an element acknowledged by a disclaimer at the start of episode 2 - this review takes no stance on the subject, will not link to nor comment on it, and will make no further reference to it, outside this box and the joke in the rating.

The intent for this review is to focus on and highlight the elements of the stream that contribute to its value as a learning tool and its quality as a media production.

Plus - the Kuo Toa character is way more offensive.

What I Like

First and foremost - it becomes evident upon immediate first watch that this is a professional production. The set for the game is clean, well-lit, and well produced. The actors involved appear to have been dressed and made up for the role. Puppets and puppeteers do not appear to have been thrown together as an afterthought - they have been given the full treatment to be a focal point of the show. It gives the impression of a television broadcast - designed, I would presume, to compete with the like of Geek & Sundry. I want to give kudos, right away, to the production team and the attention given to the quality of the stream: something that is increasingly common on YouTube, but may not be attainable by an amateur shop by comparison.

Secondly - the idea of integrating animation or miniatures with actual play is not a novel concept: nor has that inclusion never been used before as a differentiator between different play-products. In that sense, Stuff of Legends is not unique - but their incorporation of legally-distinct-from-Muppets is something I have not seen before in an actual play and is something that I quite enjoyed. In addition to the novelty - which, novelty should not be taken as a primary virtue, as by its nature, novelty wears off - the puppet cast lends towards a cartoon-ish, fun-house experience: something that appears to be part of the intention, part of the brand, that Ovenshire is creating.

What I'm Ambivalent About

Something that stood out to me that, initially, I had listed as a positive in my mind, but then - on deeper consideration - might turn out to be a double-edged sword: the player pool contains people who have never played the game in any incarnation before. On the one hand, I thought, "This is great! This is an invitation to illustrate the introduction of new blood into the tabletop RPG hobby." At my own table, I've had phenomenal success with normies - people new to the game come into it with an intrinsically out-of-the-box mindset: because they have no preconceptions about how the game should work, they have no hangups regarding buttons on their character sheet and have a habit of, by default, attempting to think in character rather than as character, if that elucidates the point.

But then I asked myself... if you had never played the game before... why would you opt into an inaugural experience... in a high-production YouTube channel.

The darker side of the prospect of having a never-played-D&D player on a highly produced and marketed actual play casts a shadow on the "play" aspect of the title. The cast of players are all entertainers and actors. It is entirely possible that they truly and honestly enjoy the game - but the suspicion I have is that the cast was assembled based on their chemistry: such that their interactions with one another and their jibs within the context of the game would make a good viewer-consumer product rather than to drive an actual play experience. The show does have routine 5e tips and insets - to show the audience which rule is being referenced in play - which is great for someone getting into 5e in the sense that it can help someone who hasn't played before figure out what's going on, mechanically, in the game.

I may be wrong. It may turn itself into a legitimate introduction. But... I play B/X - so, as a learning tool, it would still live in "ambivalence" land for me.

What I Don't Like

I've said it before... I hate character voices... but that's less of a concern when you've hired people to do them who do them professionally. In this case, the character voices aren't really distracting - but what is distracting - the humor at many points seems to be designed to offset. Much like 2000's Meet the Parents, Stuff of Legends in many consecutive lines leans in on awkward and embarrassing situations that can fall flat for a viewer that doesn't jive with the tone. Similarly, there is an abundance of meme humor - "natural one" or murder-hobo humor - stuff that your parents would put on Facebook after it had been circulating along other media circles for years. If you enjoy that stuff - absolutely, go for it: but social media is full of the stuff - and would probably be a more convenient source for it.

Additionally, like I mentioned above - I can't shake the feeling, watching the "game," that it's scripted. When dice are rolled, they are not actually visible to the viewer - so there is no verification that the result announced is the face showing on the dice. While - again, from experience - real dice are usually haunted: tending to enjoy a good story and will routinely betray you at an inopportune moment or explode in an equally inappropriate context - there is a level of coincidence to the order and effect, the nature of the way things pan out and showcase elements of the characters and present opportunities for le hilarious color commentary... it creates a nagging suspicion that you're not watching a game. Likewise contributing to the suspicion of a script is the direction the show takes in the second episode - which runs like a single-main rail line, including the implied resurrection of an NPC for no reason, into a theater show: again, catering to the wheelhouse of its players.

As a point of fact, it's not OSR, doesn't try to be, and doesn't intend to be. If it's not OSR, why are you writing about it? Good question.

In Conclusion

I'm probably not going to watch this show - though admittedly in largest part because I'm not interested in 5e. I watched the first episode to begin with because I was made curious by certain external factors - as well as the novelty of the idea and teaser trailer - and I wanted to post about it from the perspective of an outsider and weigh its good and bad aspects; I watched the second episode to try to confirm my position.

Will this show develop a following? The production values, the built-in audience from the system it uses, ... it's a perfect storm to grab attention and to drive likes and subscribes. The key will be whether they are able to build onto their idiom - if the show grows into something that a fan might become invested in, it may stick; on the other hand, if it follows a path that leans on its novelty as a crutch, viewership will naturally decline as the novelty wears off, necessitating a new novelty - which, I would presume, would take the form of a new show, new product.

So - should you watch it? If you enjoy the meme humor, this show might be for you - but if you're into fantasy adventure gaming? Maybe not.

Red Tree Hollow

Click HERE for a PDF version of this adventure! ...