Thursday, July 29, 2021

Giving a Dungeon Soul: Dark Souls Dungeon Guide

Based on the type of game I've outlined previously, and the basic structure of a Soulsbourne game, our direction becomes apparent. A themed mini-dungeon.We'll call it a region, I guess. String enough of those together and you have a proper Souls adventure. But how do you build one of those basic units? What's in a good mini dungeon-delving adventure? How to capture the feel of exploring the shadows of Anor Londo, or summiting the monumental Castle Lothric and looking over the parapet to all the regions you have conquered so far? Hmm. We'll get there, but here are the basic ingredients (I argue) we should use to make our cake.

When designing a region, tell the story of the boss. DS does this with the location itself, enemy encounters, items found there, and an NPC tied to each boss. We can do basically the same. Through that lens, the players will learn about the setting and also feel rewarded when they learn something that will help them in the final encounter. 

Consider Aldritch, the Devourer of Gods in Dark Souls 3. He ate his own children and became so powerful that he was made a Lord of Cinder. He is tied, in part to the Cathedral of the Deep. Here are scenes that give us information there: chained giants wallowing in a pool of filth from eating sacrifices (fight), bloated priests of the deep keeping watch over their patron's now empty coffin (fight), a teddy bear which reveals where he's run off to now (item), and Anri of Astora (npc). Anri, with her partner Horace, once children of the horrific maneater reveal the disturbing tale and seek to slay the slug-like monstrosity.

2-3 encounters + Boss
I want a game that I can sit down and play in about 2 hours if necessary. In my experience encounters will take quite a lot longer than you expect. It's also few enough that I can create them quite quickly. Note that I do not mean fights, here. Maybe "scenes" is more appropriate per the discussion above. The players will inevitably turn a random box in a corner into a scene all on their own, but this is a good number to plan on ahead of time.

Now, some of these ought to be intended fights. This is a souls game. What do the monsters say about the setting or the boss? What mechanic should they foreshadow so the pl*yers have fair warning? I recommend putting a brand new enemy in isolation if it is particularly dangerous so the players get some practice, then scaling up from there. Try to avoid placing them randomly. 

Why are there priests in the cathedral of the deep? What are they doing there? Why do they guard an empty coffin?

3+ bits of lore or clues about the boss
Aftermath of a battle, the flavor text of the boss, a warning left by a previous adventurer for those who come after. Include some information about who the boss is/was. Why are they here? What twisted them and took their humanity? Who were they before? What do they want? How do they tie to the setting at large? What faction is related to them? What fate do they want to avoid? Give clues and plenty of them. The boss is the main character of the region and all the flavor will come from them and their story. The story of the boss is the story of this location. What does the teddy bear say about the foul Aldritch?

1 rescuable NPC
The rescuable NPC is a key component of the unifying hub for these otherwise disparate game sessions. Imagine a Firelink Shrine that populates with NPCs you were there to rescue and a few that were befriended and helped by the other hapless souls wondering the Veil'd World. It gives a sense of unity to the players beyond we all happen to be dead

It also can be a way to offer advancement to the PCs and put sources of knowledge around that they can interact with. Due to the fairly sparse lore, having a friendly face around to ask questions of is valuable and it will be fun talking to NPCs others found and getting their story.

Give the NPC:
  • 1 area of knowledge due to a tragic past with that thing: They know about the boss in this region, the next region over, the larger setting component, a certain faction's history or current state
  • 1 useful ability the PCs may be interested in: blacksmith, can teach sorceries of some kind, makes potions, will run off and find things for you, will come along as a hireling
  • 1 thing they need before they will meet up with the PCs at the base: They are locked in a cage and need a key, they lost their armor, they won't leave without their loved one's wedding band, you must prove your worth to them, you must prove your humanity to them, they need to lay a husk to rest

1+ interesting item unavailable in shops
PCs do not gain abilities in Through the Veil without finding items, spells, weapons that grant them. Managing inventory, preparing for the challenges ahead with limited item slots is going to be part of the fun, so we need to give PCs hard choices about what to bring along. That means cool stuff. Maybe several is a better number than 1+. As with everything, this is an opportunity to tell a bit of the story.

Items which contain a spell are valuable and the easiest to create. Roll a spell and put it on something semi-interesting. Books (spellbooks) are fair game, but looking up something old and interesting is better.

Also, a souls game required interesting weapons. Or flavorful themed magic items. Seriously, I'm giving you all my best GM secrets rn. And by GM secrets I mean links to other great blogs. I'll post some cool swords I'm working on soon as well.

1+ bit of findable lore
Put those lore sentences in the world, otherwise why did we write them? The uncovering of secrets is its own reward and a type of loot very underrepresented in most dungeons. This is in addition to the lore about the boss and this specific location. What can you learn about the world as a whole? Is there a bit of information here that will help in another region? 

This could also take the form of a key or item which will help in another area. Link this area with the outside world. In general, the fewer clues you have, the more obvious they should be.

1+ extra passage or additional optional encounter
Something out of the way, potentially unrelated to the main theme of the dungeon. This ties the broader world together and is a good place for overlap between factions or to insert that one interesting encounter you didn't have a place for.

0+ other NPC (provide information about region, offer a quest, offer aid, become rival, merchant of sorts)
Someone to talk to is crucial, even in a combat-oriented game. Even well-designed and interesting combat becomes a slog if enough of it is strung together. Rather than a rescuable NPC who requires something from the PC and has some useful skills for the PCs, this can be more open-ended and be included on the fly to adjust pacing.

0+ cryptic message left by those who came before
One of the best parts of Soulsgames and a free opportunity to troll.

0+ openable persistent shortcut
This is particularly important in longer dungeons and in this TTRPG format. Repetition is much more acceptable in video games than TTRPGs. To address this, put a loop back to the beginning just before the boss, or nearby. Also, as players respawn after failure, change the encounters slightly. Swap out an enemy, change numbers, locations etc. The place is alive after all and we want to avoid a slog at high cost.

Mapping the Region:
I hate making my own maps. Here are options I recommend:
  • Take a map from Trilemma Adventures and re-skin as needed
  • Have ole' Don Jon do it for you. You only need 10 rooms tops, some of them empty.
  • yep two recommendations I guess. You just need a smallish map with some crossing and random connections.
  • Place major encounters/scenes including the boss. Preferably make the environment where fights may occur dynamic.
  • To fill the rest of the minor spaces, make two lists. Locations (a shrine, sewer passage, ritual chamber, balcony, grand stair case) and the minor encounters (wandering enemies, npcs, scenes which tell a tale). As the PCs enter the next room, pick something off the location list and a minor encounter and boom, there's the room. This randomness will make the area fresh if parts need to be repeated, eases prep, and keeps you surprised.
more rooms than you need. 3 or 4 are good boss rooms.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Learnable Enemies for Through the Veil

The suffering inherent in death is enough pressure to purify a soul like diamond or to crush a man. Even those souls of such caliber to pass through the Veil and retain some of their humanity cannot bear the weight of it forever. Their hearts twist and souls diminish. Their body is left. Acting out pain and violence.

This fate is not merely for the Undead which populate the Veil'd World, but all beings who walk in these shadows. Everything is consumed in the end when the flames goes out. 

Mindless, semi-predictable enemies are a cornerstone of the Souls experience. They reward careful attention and reading the telegraphing wind-ups of enemies is a skill a player can develop. This is why I have learnable enemies as a design goal. We'll use husks. You can tell a husk by empty eyes, slack jaws, and murderous intent. Constructs and other barely soul'd entities will behave similarly.

In our system, we can differentiate attacks by the number of stamina dice used and defensive moves are already nicely divided into Dodge, Block, and Parry. These are plenty. We will just choose the number of stam the husk likes to use to attack and its preferred defensive maneuver. 

Something like this:

Lurkers near the shore of souls, trapped or perhaps drawn to the rushing current of souls passing through into the Veil'd World. Some of them may have had hope that they could make it back across on the ferryman's barge. You can see how that worked out for them.
2 (9hp)/2 stam/2 focus/0 humanity
Attack: 1 stam claws/unarmed
Defense: Dodge
Armor: -
Stalks travelers in the shadows hoping to hide amongst them and be taken to wherever they are going. It must be better than here.

Combat, then is simple for a GM, but can still be dangerous and interesting for a player. Consider an encounter with a few of these Stowaways. 

"You notice a humanoid shadow stalking you from just beyond your torchlight."


"Uh, I pause, draw my sword, and approach."

"Two hands lunge forward from the dark toward your throat! 1d6 damage to you."

I block! 3 plus my armor of 1, 4.

"the hands grasp at your shield. No damage."

"I stab! 1d6, 4 damage."

"As the emaciated husk leaps backward you finally get a good look at them, rags cover a mummified body and empty eyes. Dodge roll of 3. You deal 4 damage."

So after the first round, you have performed both of this husk's typical actions. But the player doesn't know that necessarily. Does the husk attack with 1 dice all the time? Does it have another attack? Does it change strategy after its initial ambush attempt? Does it change behavior when there are more of them? All good questions yet unanswered. After an encounter or two, they will know what to look for and be ready. 

More complex husks are possible. Not much needs to be added to make it much harder to figure out just what a husk will do.

Robed Supplicant
Pilgrims once walked a path between the Standing Stones, providing maintenance at the holy sites and collecting alms from the sympathetic. I'm sure some of them are still wondering about.
1 (5hp)/1 stam/2 focus/0 humanity
Spell: prayer beads with light, hymnal with bless (+1 to rolls ongoing).
Attack1 stam claws if out of spells
Armor: -
Walks the path, collecting alms. Will enrage if refused.

So now a monster which will spend a few turns casting spells before switching behavior. Let's push the concept a bit to something more dangerous.

Black Riders
Those Stones are important. There's something about them. Can't remember why. They are guarded though. Black riders want something to do with them. Maybe they could tell you.
2 (9hp)/4 stam/1 focus/0 humanity
Charge: curved glaive (3 stam) while mounted, rides at distance until stam returns.
Attack: glaive (2 stam) if dismounted
Defense: Parry with all current stam
Armor: 2 black robes and chain
Landing hooves are the only warning. Will keep all others away from the Stones.

The enemy's behavior for two phases (mounted, ground) summed up in a few lines. Also, quite dangerous as I bet a few cautious PCs will be tempted to attack without risking much stamina initially to test the waters, only to be parried into oblivion. Fun!!

Before we get to bosses, there is one more category. Those with a shred of humanity left. For those, no standard actions or patterns are necessary. They operate the same as a typical monster you may run in your game. Chose actions that with the narrative of the monster in your game. 

Tutor Duenweg
The tutor has always been here, as far as I can tell. Something about this place wants to teach and for you to know. To know that you don't have what it takes. Look at all the students there, they've learned their lesson.
stats as PCs/3 humanity
The tutor lectures all day. His class is open to anyone. He teaches through example and will mirror the equipment and stats of a single PC and challenge them to a 1:1 duel. Then he will kick their ass.

A few example monsters for our undead knights to battle. Since the best monsters are tied closely to the locale they are in, most of the monsters will be written along with a location. This post is to propose a simple notation and some design info for them.

Souls-like Classes: Through the Veil

Mistakes were made.

In starting this blog, or rather posting regularly, I've come to notice what should be an obvious distinction between writing content for others to use and prepping for a game. When I prep a game I give zero attention to honoring other's work or giving credit or anything. It's all about pulling pieces together to get the game I'm trying to create with as little work and as much speed as possible. That was my approach initially for this Souls hack. Explicitly, from the start, I decided to steal a bunch of classes so I wouldn't have to write them, just like I would when I was running a game for a few friends. 

The trouble is that when publishing content to the blog there is the implication that it is somehow yours even when some credit is shared. I want to honor the creators who have inspired me in writing this hack and honor their content as well.

Also, this game has become something I'm really excited about and I want to end up with something I can be proud of in the end. So I'm redoing the classes with a new approach.

Each class is directly inspired by content at MadQueensCourt or NothicsEye or is something written by swell folks at Phlox's discord server. I modified work from the discord server slightly to fit the needs of the game, but not substantially. A link to the inspiring work or blog of the writer is provided below each class. 

This will be way better.

//Fighting Types//

1. Questing Knight, Knight by Vayra
"To your valour, my sword, and our sworn duties! Long may the sun shine! (laughs)"
Starting Equipment: Your plate armor marks you distinctly as a knight of your noble house. At your side are a longsword, shield, and a keepsake of your lady, precious to you above your worldly possessions. And a squire who appears to have died along with you.
Benefit: When you issue a challenge, anyone with honor is compelled to accept it or lose standing in the eyes of those with a shred of humanity left.
Drawback: You have a grave promise to keep. Failure to act toward accomplishing it when you have a good opportunity results in an immediate loss of 1 humanity. Should you fail completely, you become a husk.

Grave Promises:

  1. Fulfill the prophecy by returning through the veil to attend your own funeral
  2. Return your lady's keepsake
  3. Avenge the King's early death
  4. Deliver your squire safely home to become a knight of the order
  5. Prepare your Squire to take your stead as a Questing Knight
  6. Throw your lady's cursed keepsake into the Eternal Forge to break the curse
  7. Return with the Cup of Sorrows
  8. Return with the true betrothed of your lady
  9. Avenge the death of your lady
  10. Return through the Veil with your lady

2. Immortal of the Sun, Elf by Vayra
Immortal, till you took your final breath and passed through the veil. The noble soul'd patron brought light to your steps in life, but here is only darkness. The lexicanum of your order does not prepare adherents for life after death, for supposedly death never comes. 
Starting Equipment: With you in death are your craftwood bow, delicate basket-guard rapiershield, and silvered chain mail. Each bears the golden sun of your order, perhaps friendship and charity can be found in the dark?
Perk: In life, you never aged from the day you took your vow. In death, restore 1 humanity when you make a new friend.
Drawback: When betrayed by an ally, save v humanity or become inconsolably sad or enraged.

3. Knight of the Blueby Random_Interupt
"Once he knew the origin of every scratch and scar on its surface: every dent or scrape told a story of honour won or a battle fought. But now the damage just represented a life of violence, there were no stories anymore. There was no honour, just struggle and hardship." - Direct quote from Ex Profundis
Starting Equipment: Blued steel plate armourspathaoath ring (+2 reaction roles among the honorable), and a well-used great maul.
Benefit: You can see violent intent in others, hanging over them like a halo of red light. The order will owe you quite a bounty if you ever get home.
Drawback: You are oathbound to defend others from violence, by any means at your disposal. If you ever kill in cold blood 1d4+1 of your fellow knights will come for your head.

4. Warden, mashup of Phlox's Barbarian and AXEORCIST by Vayra by Lexi
Something is wrong. The dead walk more often than the elders can abide, the spirits are restless, sickness proliferates through the crops. Maybe there's an answer beyond the Veil.
Starting Equipment: A great axe or great sword that can wound incorporeal undead, and a bucket.  Two symbols of home. The first gives you +2hp, the second +1 to block or dodge.
Benefit: Your axe blows dispel magic and banish possessions. When you kill something, it cannot be raised as undead.
Drawback: If you leave the presence of a husk without killing it, reduce your humanity by 1 or take 1d6 damage.

5. Nemean Warrior, Lion Knight by Locheil
What is a hero, once dead? Who writes the legend beyond the Veil? Well, if there is none to Witness, and none to Record, then let this Lion Roar.  
Starting Equipment: Golden Lion's Helm (1 armor). Hardened red leather Linothorax (1 armor), Trident, and a net. Also a child's rattle in the shape of a pig.
Benefit:  Your legend depicts all manner of foul foes that have been cut down by your blade. Pick one. +1 damage to that enemy type.
Drawback:  Your legend depicts all manner of foul foes that have bested you at one time or another. Pick one. +1 damage from that enemy type.

\\Tricky Types//

1. Silver Mask, Silver Arrow by Locheil
From time immemorial, someone has stood here in silent vigil in the face of the Maw, the gaping putrescent wound in reality which leaks the monstrous dead. After countless of your order have fallen, some have opted to take a more active approach.
Starting Equipment: Silver mask with a blank stare (as helm), white robes with silver embroidery (+2 reaction rolls with those seeking forbidden knowledge), longbow with silver thread, and a fungus with neurotropic properties. 
Benefit: from your training as a defender of the mortal realm you've come by d3 bits of lore about the Veil'd World. 
Drawback: Those seeking escape from the Veil'd World recognize you as an obstacle to their escape.

2. Duskwind Seafarer, Pirate by Vayra
Beyond the mists near the Edge, through the Silence, and past the Screams. Somehow you found your way to shore, but not to the one you left.
Starting Equipment: A cutlass, a flintlock pistol, a jug of rum, stylish stripes and a red sash, and a compass
Perk: hold your breath for a long time, never lose your way as long as you have a compass. 
Drawback: The sea of souls does not easily accept the loss of her beloved sailors. Water is actively hostile against you unless you are returning to the sea.

3. Mother's Kiss, Spider Knight by Morgan
The Mother is hungry. The Mother is tired of her mortal fare. The Mother stabs and stabs. The Mother sent me here.
Starting Equipment: 8 short blades, 50 feet of rope, a sack of eggs, black studded leather armor, a red helmet that covers the entire head, except for 8 eyeholes, and an aulos.
Benefit: Scurry up walls with ease, spit poison, inflict nightmares by touching sleeping people
Drawback: You are in servitude to Mother Spearlegs. She appears in your sleep every night, demanding earthly objects from you. She loves gold, silver, and objects of sentimentality to others. If you have them on your person next time you meet her, she will take them off your person. If you don't have these items, you lose 1d6 fingers/toes. Once out of fingers/toes, you lose your brain.

4. Dragonblood Inheritor, by ArkosDawn
The true Drake herself. Devourer of All Time. The Cleansing Coil. She is the source of the cycle, the killer and ingester of civilization that wipes the slate clean for a new age. Here, beyond the Veil, the true nature of reality is manifest. The Corpse of Father Time lies still in near death, but why hasn't the serpent finished the job?
Starting Equipment: A Dragon-Scar (a body part mutated by the draconic power, damage as a one handed sword), a ruined ceremonial outfit worn by heretics before their execution, and wrist shackles. A dragon-head stone containing the spell Heroic Leap.
Perk: You can transform into a small (horse-sized) dragon, giving you flight, a breath weapon, and a fearful aura. Each transformation costs 1hp and lasts as long as you can hold your breath.
Drawback: You are being hunted by treasure hunters, dragon slayers, and at least one religious institution that views your survival as a sin.

5. Veteran of the VeilVeteran by Vayra (didn't change much, it's very cool)
You aren't sure how long you've been here, but longer than most. You aren't even sure that you're dead, but as long as you've been searching there's never been a way back across the veil.
Starting Equipment: Long leather duster, a flintlock rifle with 10 silver balls in paper cartridges, a crowbar, a chipped wide-bladed sword with the inscription Sunt hic etiam sua praecuna laudi.
Benefit: in your time here you've picked up 1d3 bits of lore. 
Drawback: Your antics have garnered attention. A blackbird follows you everywhere. If you kill one, two more return to replace it at midnight. There is a bird-in-6 chance that it gives away your position at a terrible moment.

6. Powder Smith, Sapper by ShiftyHomonculus
BANG. Smoke. Sulphur. Screams. Clouds. Dirt. Gasp. Powder was always good for moving material. It seems it's good for moving souls too.
Starting Equipment: Two shovels (one battered but well-maintained, one shiny spare), small caged songbird, 3' coil of fuse cord (burns 2"/rd), horn of black powder, smokey goggles.
Perk: When digging, earthworking, or conducting similar grunt work, you count as two people. You Save with advantage against cave-ins, explosions, and machine malfunctions.
Drawback: You attack with disadvantage unless you have at least one wall or ceiling within arm's reach. Ordinary soldiers regard you the way civilians regard soldiers - with deep suspicion and a touch of fear.

//Magic Types\\

1. Cryomancer of Ganedd, by Random_Interupt
Inheritors of those who turned from the Way of Fire and followed the Stilled Prophet. They made their home in the everdark land of Ganedd, and there plumbed the secrets of their cold, emberless hearts.
Starting Equipment: White fur robe, drakebone snow goggles, crystal teardrop pendant containing the spell Elemental Blast: Cold.
Benefit: You take no damage from the cold, ever. You can extinguish small flames instantly and larger ones more slowly by blowing on them.
Drawback: You take 50% more damage from fire than other people. You were raised in a religion that most outside your homeland consider heretical.

2The Fiend-Hunter, by RandomWizard and drinks from Phlox's Barbarian
You've hunted the things of the dark for an age; catacombs, deep forests, frozen ancient ruins. Still, in the dark places they lurk. Perhaps a more permanent solution can be found here, beyond the Veil.
Starting Equipment: Silvered bastard sword, tattered cloak, thick leather gloves, two drinks nobody here has heard of, one delicious to any taste and one intoxicating to any constitution, and an empty lantern which holds the essence of the last monster you've slain.
Benefit: Whenever you kill a monster with HD higher than any monster you have previously slain, you acquire one power of that monster (fire breath, flight, great strength, etc.).
Drawback: Whenever you acquire a new monster's power, you must Save or suffer a madness (see spellcasting).

3. Hooded Acolyte (white), Orthodox Graduate by Locheil
Pursuit of the deeper nature of reality brings one to the soaring peaks of human knowledge. A pursuit with the noblest reputation. Funny its reputation never seems tarnished by those students who leap from those lofty spires. 
Starting Equipment: A robe of the purest white (+2 reaction rolls to seeking knowledge), a marble haft trident, pen and ink, hymnal, prayer beads
Benefit: You somehow brought with you 3 spell containing books from the college library. Roll thrice on a spell table of your choice. Here's one.
Drawback: Mishaps with dark magic cause you to save or lose humanity as well as gain a madness.

4. Hooded Acolyte (black)Necromancer by Locheil
Pursuit of the deeper nature of reality brings one to the depths of human depravity. There in the mire and despair, there is the spark of divinity.
Starting Equipment: Ominous black robe, skull mask containing the spell Animate Dead, military issue flintlock pistol and 13 bullets, shovel, a bottle of spirits.
Benefit: You may seize control of a husk by expending focus dice equal to the husk's hit dice.
Drawback: Hymns, angelic beings, and sacrificial love require you to save v humanity or gain a madness and flee.

5. Smoldering Sect
Fire is the tool that sparks civilization. Each cycle begins anew with a flame. The legends are relearned and told again. In the end, the fires fade. Flame turns to ash and grows cold, awaiting the new spark. When the cycle is interrupted, the fire doesn't go out. Why didn't it go out?
Starting Equipment: Charred chain mail covers a burned body. You were sent beyond the Veil with the unique weapon of your order, the Flaming Flail. 10 rolled cigarettes, a heavy leather belt, and a small iron cage containing the spell Burning Hands.
Benefit: You create a spark by snapping your fingers. You can judge your approximate distance from a bonfire.
Drawback: Birds and hounds hate you, unintelligent creatures sense you are here to end the Cycle.

Giving a Dungeon Soul: Dark Souls Dungeon Guide

Based on the type of game I've outlined previously , and the basic structure of a Soulsbourne game, our direction becomes apparent. A th...