Somebody Save Me
As you walk down the darkened tunnel your nostrils are assaulted by an inescapable noxious odor that evokes your mind to visions of death and decay. The incessant droning you heard earlier starts and stops, starts and stops, in a maddeningly unpredictable cycle that causes you to grind your teeth and squint your eyes to prevent yourself from yelling out in utter frustration. The further down the tunnel you traverse the more maddening the clarion noise becomes, echoing off the ancient stone walls and reverberating on your eardrums.
The tunnel opens into a small cavern in which the odor of decay and mold is almost overwhelming, not unlike a mildew infested slaughter house in the swelter of a long infernal summer. As the torch light shines across the bedraggled grime coated floor you are struck by a sight so incomprehensibly horrid your mind claws at the threshold of sanity.
Arranged around the room you see skeletons and corpses in varied states of decomposition. They are arranged upright by wooden braces in grotesque poses of hideous twistedness. A mother arranged as if feasting on the innards of her child, a man bend in half his hands pressed into his own body cavity as if he were prepared to remove his own heart, his entrails dangling to the floor. You can almost imagine the rosy hue that was once in place of the pallid gray tinge that now passes for color on the flaccid skin of what are obviously the most recent victims of the monstrous perverse perpetrator who consecrated such inexplicable wickedness.
The entire back wall of the cave is painted in a relief of great twisted cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror. While seated on a gilded throne above these monolithic structures, like some great overseer of all that is terror, sits a torn specimen of what could have once been a man, all muscle and bone stripped of putrid flesh, and it seems as if his lidless painted eyeballs stare directly into the core of your soul making your blood turn to ice and your bowels rumble.
The droning sound reverberates through the room in such a tone that the pressure seems to make your eardrums rupture, as you see descend upon, what would strike you as the freshest of the corpses, fly’s. Fly’s that are as large as a man, 3 of them in total, they land and vomit forth a filthy acidic ichor onto the corpse that you can see hiss and fizzle on the putrid flesh as the fly’s intake the resulting puddle of goo. Their wings beat at a rapid pace causing the maddening droning noise, only stopping when they feed.
Make a saving throw versus HORROR!
This was a description I gave to my players in the current game I am running. I have always liked to use description to try and set the scene, but what I really want to write about methods I use to cover situations within my game that are not necessarily covered directly by the rules.
With the advent of the Wilderness Survival Guide and the Dungeoneer Survival Guide we had the introduction of the idea of non-weapon proficiencies. This idea carried over into other editions, and along with it I began to notice a trend of determining success of an action becoming dependent on rolling a d20 and comparing it to a character statistic.
I hate non weapon proficiencies…..
I dislike the non-weapon proficiency rules because I feel it really limits characters in role playing. Growing up if our character needed to learn a skill they found or paid someone to train them at it. Want to learn how to value gems, pay a jeweler and take four months game time training at it, no need to count non-weapon proficiency slots. When determining success on skill we always rolled a certain number of d6 and compared that to a stat. The number of dice rolled adjusted to difficulty of the task. If someone was trying to identify a basic gems value we would have them roll 3d6 and want the total to be less that their Intelligence for instance. If it were a rare uncut gem, or was hard to determine value for some other reason have them roll 4d6 or even 5d6 with the total having to be under their Intelligence score. While this embraces the concept of the 1d20 stats check, I personally like the flexibility of adjusting the difficulty by adding or removing dice to the roll.
While I will use checks against a statistic for some skill based activities, I prefer not to go that route on things that come about in game that are not tied directly to some kind of learned skill.
In the above scenario I presented my players they were exposed to something so horrid that a normal human mind would not process it well. So while there was no magic involved I wanted the fear to be so profound that there was a chance the characters could not over come it. Now I could have done a check described above against wisdom, however I decided to use the age old mechanic of the saving throw instead. I had each character roll a save versus paralyzation, those who failed were overcome with fear and had a 50/50 chance of either collapsing into a sobbing heap or running the opposite direction as fast as they could.
I have also used a saving throw mechanic for in a number of general situations through out the years. Someone tries to swing on a vine across a ravine? Make a saving throw versus death magic. Someone wants to try and dive toward the edge of a cliff to catch the globe that is about to roll off the edge? Make a saving throw versus breath weapon. I like to think this approach takes into account a characters worldly experience as well as a bit of luck which is a central part of any game.
How do you determine success or failure in your games of actions or circumstances that are not clearly outlined?
The Looking Glass
As Jason has mentioned I have a new module that will be released soon, here I am including a minor magic item that makes an appearance in that module.
Ring of Charming: XP: 200 GP Value: 1500
This plain brass ring allows the wearer to attempt a charm of a victim as the 1st level magic-user spell of the same name. Each time a charm is attempted a charge in used from the ring, once all charges have been used the ring turns to dust and any charmed victims will immediately be freed from the charm. This item cannot be recharged.