Saturday, March 12, 2016

Five Room Dungeon: Runaway Spider

Hey, friend!
I am going to attempt today to do a more fully-fledged, fleshed out Five Room Dungeon experience today.
Today's story is about an NPC Druid/Conservationist animal lover type who is doing his best to help restore dwindling populations of a commercially important Giant Spider variety (go ahead and come up with a cool name if you like, but I'll refer to it as the "Eastern Variety", just for naming purposes. Unfortunately, one of the important breeding spiders got lost in a little bumbling accident when its three-dimensional pin wasn't secured exactly right.
A Wizard friend of this Druid has tracked the Spider by using a Detect (Tag) spell to a location well known for its swampy terrain, and more importantly, a wild Western Variety spider burrow. The party's mission for this Five Room Dungeon is to trek the dangerous swamp area, and bring back the prized breeding stock unscathed.

Background Information

First off, this dungeon directly references the following books:
  • Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers
  • Dungeon Fantasy 2: Dungeons
  • Dungeon Fantasy 5: Allies
  • Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures
Mostly, I'll be pulling monsters from those books among other things. I also recommend at least Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers and Dungeon Fantasy 4: Scholars if you love having detailed stats for NPCs. I don't think it's necessary, but they are good books anyway, and you would probably have book 1 if you like Dungeon Fantasy, so why not?
The following monsters from GURPS supplements feel especially useful for this adventure where combat takes place mostly outdoors against naturally occurring enemy types:
  • Crushroom (DF2:22) CER 69
  • Dire Wolf (DF2:22) CER 27
  • Foul Bat (DF2:23) CER 36
  • Giant Rat (DF2:24) CER 18
  • Giant Spider (DF5:25) OR 12 + PR 4 = 16 CER, I think?
From my own blog, especially appropriate enemies might be:
And finally, from the GURPS Wikidot page, the following seem to be in line:
That gives us a nice mix of power levels for random encounters, with a lot of weak enemies, a good amount of medium enemies, and some high-tier enemies. If you prefer a more exotic setting, go ahead and change the list up.

Along with this list of monsters for a forested, swampy environment, we have these two important NPCs - feel free to substitute your own if you have a suitable contact or so that fills the niche.
  • Naturalist Janus
    • A Druid and a Scholar, she is an Elf who loves researching animals, and is trying to work to restore the dwindling numbers of Eastern Giant Spiders.
    • She is afraid of making people feel stupid by using overly technical terms, so she overcompensates the other way, using "baby language" (which unintentionally causes people to feel stupid anyway).
    • Annoyed by people who hate spiders, arthropods, or other "creepy crawlies" for "no good reason".
    • Not very capable in a fight.
  • Chemist Heidegger
    • A poisons expert and a colleague of Janus, he is a Dwarf that acts in a medical and tranquilizing capacity at the same facility.
    • Talks in a very rough, almost scary voice, which is contrasted by his immediately charming and friendly demeanor.
    • Has a crazy venom and toxin tolerance, often plays with extremely venomous animals, often jokes about being bit while talking to guests, which makes him come off as even more frightening.
    • Has a hobby of cultivating rare plants, and his office and home has many exotic herbs and fruits, with fruits and roots in various stages of dissection and examination.

I didn't give any stats, but just assume both of these characters are effective at scholarly pursuits, and not that good at fighting in the event that it comes up. Feel free to substitute similar NPCs if your campaign already has an interesting scholarly Naturalist and/or poisons expert.

Finally, this adventure is tuned for a party of 4 characters with a CER of 160. This generally means a good mix of powerhouse and utility characters at around 250 points, but there are numerous exceptions to this rule of thumb, and I encourage you to scale both in terms of taste as well as to your players. Choosing 125-point templates or a party of 4 Scholars might make this incredibly challenging, and a group of 4 Barbarians might just rip through all the fights without breaking a sweat.

The Entrance

Recall that the purpose of The Entrance is to set the mood and overcome the challenge of actually finding the Dungeon.
One of the first Google
Image search results for
"Elf Scientist."
The adventure begins when the players somehow catch whiff that there is problem and they should talk to Janus, the Naturalist.
  • They hear a rumor in the rumor mill
  • They ask a Scientist contact for a job
  • They have an amazing reputation of doing tough jobs and doing them well.
However the players do this, they will somehow come into contact with Janus, a smart confident Elf woman with a thing for spiders. She will explain about the Eastern Variety of spider:
  • They are especially docile around humans
  • They produce high quality silk fabrics that in turn makes the spider silk armor industry viable
  • They are unfortunately endangered
She has recently been working in a two-prong effort of restoring the spiders' habitat and helping with a breeding program. Unfortunately, one of the program's prized breeders has gotten lost. Now, Jethro [a name I just made up], a Gnomish conservationist Wizard that is in charge of tagging and numbering animals has tracked the subject down with a Tracking spell to near this village [Calculate the number of days travel based on how much you like Wilderness Survival and fighting in nature; three feels like a good number to me.]
The location: a swampy woodland that is known to be the home of a Western species of a similar spider. The two spiders do not fight, so the subject's life is not in jeopardy as far as you know, but it is a crazy wild world out there, so who knows how much longer you can remain this lucky?
  • Janus will tell you that the easiest way to tell the lone Eastern subject from the Western natives is the sound it makes. She will tell you that the western ones make a sound like this *bark* and the eastern one will sound like *meow*. If the players say she is just making dog and cat sounds, she will be offended and say cats and dogs are gross.
  • If the players ask, Janus will probably not have much to offer in terms of monetary gain, but she might be able to swing a deal for some spider silk garments.
  • The players will receive well-annotated directions to the correct location with no reason to be suspicious.
  • If they dig around the rumor mill, the following hints and foreshadowing might come to light:
    • In the event of information gathering that results in Success:
      • Swamps have a good chance of inducing illness, and the players should be prepared.
      • There seems to be a lot of animals out and about this time of season. Seems like more bugs than normal, and with the giant bugs, comes the giant frogs. [Bonus points to you if you can make this point subtle, so your players can have an "ah-ha" moment later.]
      • Spiders seem scary, but they are more afraid of us than them.
      • Animals are easier to approach with food.
    • In the event of information gathering that results in Critical Failure:
    • Spider Nip, a dull poison that
      relaxes and stuns spiders with
      little to no permanent consequence.
      • Just burn the whole nest; the run-away will leave when it is smoked out.
      • Spiders can take quite a few solid hits without getting hurt too bad, rough 'em up if you need to.
Along with information about the nest and location, she refers you to a chemical specialist, Heidegger who can help with non-lethal means of capturing the Spider.

The Puzzle or Role Playing Challenge

 The player has two good options at this point, they can prepare, set out and travel to the destination, or they can meet with Heidegger about creating a non-lethal poison for subduing the subject. He will tell you he needs some Spider Nip buds to create a tonic that can help stun the Spider.
If you decide to take this detour, searching for the plant requires a one day walk out of the way and a Scrounging roll with a -2 modifier to find. Naturalist can be used as a support skill, with a success resulting in a Scrounging roll with no modifier. Each search takes four hours. A Critical Failure finds a plant that looks similar enough to deceive the player; they will bring it back and have wasted so much time that Janus and Heidegger will both agree that there is no more time to make the draught, at which point they recommend going on without it.
We now go back to the dungeon "entrance" again.

Entrance - Revisited

We are going to talk about roughing the wild and fighting all those cool monsters we sorted out earlier now. For ideas on making traveling interesting, I recommend looking at Dungeon Fantasy 16. However, if you do not have Dungeon Fantasy 16, Dungeon Fantasy 2 (which is likely to be one of the books you are bound to have if you have any Dungeon Fantasy books) also has some advice for outdoor adventures. Every day, roll 3d6 secretly, or out in the open if you like - the players won't know what it means!
  • A roll of 9-12 means a medium-sized fight today. For 160 CER, this means something around 80 to 120 CER. Some examples include:
    • 5 Giant Rats
    • 4 Dire Wolves
    • 3 Giant Flies and 2 Violent Roaches
  • A roll of less than 9 means a small fight (or whatever interesting thing you'd like to do instead). Some examples include, some of the above fights, or:
    • 2 Foul Bats
    • 1 Dire Boar
    • 3 Killer Frogs
  • A roll of 13 or more means a more challenging fight (160-200 CER), or perhaps a natural disaster from p. 30 of Dungeon Fantasy 16. Some example fights include:
    • 7 Dire Wolves
    • 20 Giant Ticks
    • 3 Crushrooms
I give some example combinations that catch my fancy from the list, but definitely think about what would be fun for your group; don't feel like you can't go off the rails if you feel your players are itching for a fight and you keep getting "lucky" rolls.

If the idea of getting sick from the muggy swampy air gets you excited, try looking at the advice on p.34 of Dungeon Fantasy 16, or p.4 of Dungeon Fantasy 2 under Sewer Rot. In any case, after a suitably long travel [three days, or so, or adjust to taste] you have completed the entrance, and are back in the puzzle zone!

The Puzzle or Role Playing Challenge

Here is the puzzle: you must solve a needle in a haystack problem. How do you separate one meowing spider from hundreds of barking spiders? First off, let's establish a personality for these spiders.
These spiders are in their natural habitat, and are a little smaller than you. They have no immediate reason to attack you unless you attack. Given a free choice between fight or flight, they will most often choose flight. If backed into a corner, they might attack though. If the party treats them with due reverence, they can pass this challenge mostly unharmed. Any sudden panics from Arachnophobia or tripping on webs might spook the spiders though. If the players are doing something that's really asking for it, let the spiders descend en masse. I don't care!
Let the players randomly fall into some web traps and have confused spiders wander up to the traps and look at the disappointing non-food items in the trap. They might be able to leverage their experience with the traps in the boss encounter.
What are some strategies the players can leverage to solve this problem?
  • The players might gently mark spiders they have seen already so they don't analyze them multiple times
  • The players might attempt to herd all investigated Western Spiders into one area.
  • The players might kill all spiders they investigate that turn out to be incorrect.
If you are like me, and don't use maps except for combat, I might handle this as searching with every search attempt taking ten minutes. Every time one of the above strategies is applied five times, give them a cumulative +1 to all future Search rolls. When they finally get a Critical Success they find themselves in a deep part of the nest with the meowing Eastern Specimen of the giant spider. For foreshadowing on the last part, any other players that succeeded that time found a dead [native] spider with missing legs.
Give your players a bonus Character Point if they can think of a cool solution to this problem [I can't] that isn't short circuiting it by using "Speaks to Animals". If possible, somehow present to the players it might be an interesting idea to bring them food in the form of giant flies outside the nest.

The Trick or Setback

Yay, we found our objective. But wait, there is something eerie about this section of the spider nest, well, besides spiders if you don't like them. The mouth of the cave was shimmering with life, but here, there is very little. In fact, if your players are particularly perceptive, they might notice there has been nothing but dead bodies for a while while meandering in this direction. Everything is still except... except for the pond that is inside the den... which seems to be shimmering with life. A whip-like tongue darts from the surface as two eyes pop out and a spider is ripped from the wall behind you!
Bonjour, mon ami.
Suddenly you hear croaking all around, and anyone with Danger Sense will realize that this isn't a safe place to be; anyone with Common Sense will realize they need to get out of here; anyone with Animal Empathy will realize that the little buddy is more than a little scared.

Climax, Big Battle, or Conflict

As you start running for the exit, frogs start bubbling out from the pond. The area is close to a swamp, so of course there are a lot of bugs, and they are all gigantic here, so in turn, this attracts giant frogs!
For a boss to a 160 CER team, 320 CER would be appropriate.
For the party use the Giant Killer Frog as the leader, call it a King Bullfrog or something cooler (if you can).
Along with the King Bullfrog, include the following in the encounter for the remaining 247 CER:
  • 5 Giant Frogs (175 CER)
  • 4 Killer Frogs (76 CER)
This is a lot of enemies, but the Killer Frogs might be weak enough to use fodder rules to wipe out quickly (one hit means death, no defenses allowed) so that can speed things up.
The leader will be bent on eating the Spider you were charged with rescuing, and his subjects will dog-pile anyone trying to protect the lone Spider. Some ideas to make the fight more interesting:
  • Include some stalactites and/or stalagmites as interference obstacles.
  • The Giant Killer Frog has a huge tongue for catching the Spider. Even if it catches the Spider by weaving around the players, allow the players the chance to save Her by letting them hack at the tongue as if it were an appendage.
  • No one will try to attack the Spider but the King Bullfrog; someone with Strategy or Tactics gets a free secret roll every turn that they can use to realize this plan of attack.
  • If the players were especially respectful of the native spiders, they might try binding the frogs, but probably not successfully, although a lucky shot or cumulative binds from several spiders focusing on one target can lead to a surprise victory even without fudging dice!

Rewards, Revelation, or Plot Twist

At this point, we hope the players have rescued the Spider, if not, then things might pan out differently.
  • If the King Bullfrog swallowed the Spider somehow, surgery rolls might successfully extract the maimed, but still living spider.
  • If the Spider was killed, there is obviously no reward; that is the sad end of that.
  • If the player brings the spider back safely to Janus and speaks about the frog attacks, she might reveal that they are an invasive species, which might lead to a new miniature adventure on fixing up the local biome.
  • Otherwise, another adventure might be escorting Janus, Heidegger, and the Spider back to the breeding facility (Remember, they came from afar).
In terms of possible rewards:
  • 1 Character Point for thinking of a really cool way to find the spider among all the others
  • 1 Character Point for defeating the boss without the Spider being hurt at all
  • The choice of buying Janus as a contact if you didn't kill animals unnecessarily
  • The choice of buying Heidegger as a contact if you successfully brought him the ingredients for his tranquilizer.
  • A possibility to buy Spider Silk armor at a discount. Each party member might be able to buy a single garment for half of the Cost Factor Spider Silk normally incurs. (See p. 27 of Dungeon Fantasy 1)

Closing and Other Thoughts

I feel a little more pleased about this iteration. It was laborious, but I feel like having a few more concrete details makes it a little more immediately useful, while also attempting to leave it abstract enough for anyone to wedge it into any Dungeon Fantasy-like campaign.
I like jumping spiders, I feel a little happy every time I see one. I think Garden Spiders are a bit scary looking, but I once had one in my apartment in Maryland; it would come out to drink water I'd spill from the sink. I don't like to kill spiders that I find in my house because:

1) I hate the mess it makes, and
2) They say that if you see spiders, it's because they found enough bugs to enjoy living there. I'd rather see the spiders then whatever they are eating.
This "Five Room Dungeon" is a bit more traditional. At least 4 parts of it occur inside a dungeon, and the entrance piece did mostly pertain to solving the mystery of getting inside. However, I still don't have a dungeon of five literal compartments; in fact, "rooms" 1 and 2 kinda wrapped around each other, metaphorically speaking. That is probably fine too, however.
Any opinions on trying to use concrete numbers this time versus abstract numbers less time? Is there anything that makes this too vague to be useful? I'd like to know what you think. I think I want to investigate if some of +Collaborative Gamer's tools might help make the process easier as well. Gotta look at it a little bit more in-depth sometime.

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