Problems Identified

There has been some great feedback to my adventure notes 9 and 10. Very noteworthy being from Joshua at Tales of the Rambling Bumblers, which I encourage everyone to check out, as he really takes the “Sandbox Concept” and spells it out to crystal clarity.

His post serves as a cautionary tale about what to avoid in a sandbox campaign. It seems Ripper X was a little too wedded to the sandbox concept and could probably have been a bit more liberal with his random encounters (as in, fudge the die rolls so they actually happen, or adjust the rules so you’re rolling more frequently) without infringing too much on the spirit of the game. Moreover, it’s important to note that sandbox games are defined by their lack of a linear plot — but not necessarily their lack of story. Time spent exploring should be time well spent; the PCs should learn something important about the area, uncover a villain or stumble across a previously unknown map feature.

This is just a snippet of Joshua’s suggestions, he also offers detailed advice which can help any game.

I have played a sandbox-type game before, my goal was to take a high-level party into unexplored map, explore it, and clear an area out for construction of my castle. IT WAS FUN!!! The challenges were up to par with my level. I know that this isn’t something that a lot of players are into, building a fortress isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but I found it both entertaining and engaging.

I will be trying the sandbox-style again, and I think that I have uncovered where I made my mistakes.

First, my goal was to dire. A race for a piece of artifact, and your competition is already on the island. I had already slowed stuff down pretty heavily with my Dopplegangers aboard the ship mystery, which went well. I was able to capture the feel and spirit of ship-life, but, I felt that it was time to speed up the pace, and I over-did it.

Also, map making is a skill that not every player has. I know that in our old group we had an anally-obsessive map-maker who drew complex maps as we went along, he knew how to get the details out of the DM which he needed to build a usable and accurate map of the area. This is very rare! I don’t have anyone like that currently playing.

Not a big deal, I am always trying a variety of different styles to see what the players like to do, they don’t like making maps, or maybe they just aren’t skilled enough players. Mapping terrain is easy, the problem is rivers and lakes, these I should place on the map before hand.

D&D also requires a slow and leisurely pace in order for me to be happy. I sacrificed minor accomplishments and achievements for fast pacing, and the game suffered for it. Capturing the setting is important, and it is normally the first thing that gets scrapped when a DM is in a rush.

Handling Searches by Diceroll

SEARCHING FOR THINGS can be a pain for both players and game masters alike. As a DM, I really try to leave as much up to the player’s imagination as possible. In the perfect world, I suppose that I would fully dress a room, but to be honest, I just don’t care enough to dress it in anything more then generalities. Not to mention that I play my games during the Victorian era, and those folks loved cluttering every corner of their rooms up with stuff. I simply couldn’t do it! Thus I just describe a room briefly, let the party know what they can safely assume a room is used for, describe the largest pieces of furniture, and maybe one or two things that catch their eyes at a glance. It is up to them to really drag what is in the room out of me.

The worst possible thing that could happen though is that they start searching the place, which gives them a slim chance of finding something, if anything is there. What exactly does this mean? That is what I intend to figure out today.


The biggest factor in searching for stuff like concealed doors, stashes of money, or clues, is the time that is involved in performing this action. Time affects two major aspects of the game. The first is Magic. Most spells are time sensitive, we have to know exactly how much time that the characters are going to spend looking for something, we must not ever forget to subtract this time from either spells or other time sensitive issues that can come up in a game.

The second thing that we should consider is the DM’s dream of “The Living World”. Are the characters snooping around where they don’t belong? Usually, they are! And for instances like this, we need to know the base chance of the person returning to catch the players red-handed. Alternatively, somebody else might spy this action going on as well and interrupt them, be it a guest, servant, or wandering monster.


I am sure that there are grumpy ol Dungeon Masters out there who would say that this whole system is weak. I can’t deny that! A player CAN open drawers and tap on walls, I’m not saying that this system isn’t lazy, however, it IS practical. Players love to pull this one, and they should be able to, after all, it is in the Players Handbook. We should keep to the rules, but, I feel that these rules can be expanded upon.

That said; let’s keep it as simple as possible. Something that we can remember without the need for any new “house rules” written down on paper. We’ll simply turn the search into an action, chopping it up into three different forms of search.

  • Brief Search
  • Regular Search
  • Thorough Search

Depending on how much time and energy a group wants to put forth an effort, determines different factors. This IS an action, and the party will continue doing this action until they are caught or interrupted. If they are caught or interrupted it will change their base chance of finding what they are looking for. It also changes how big of a mess that they are making, and increasing their chances of being discovered, even after the fact.


For every minute searching, the party will gain a 1% chance of finding whatever is hidden in the room. If the party knows exactly what they are looking for, or state specifically what they are searching for, then they get a 2% chance per minute of finding it if it is in the room.

For every two minutes spent searching, there may be a 1% chance of being discovered, depending on if they belong there or not.


To conduct a brief search, first all players involved must state this intention. Brief searches can take between 1 to 10 minutes. For each person in the party who is actively searching, the party gets a bonus of +1 (example: 4 people search a room for 10 minutes, they have a 14% chance of finding something which may be hidden.)

Brief searches are fast and simply looking at objects which are in plain view. They don’t open drawers or ruffle through personal property; they are merely examining the room for surface clues and items which are left out.


A Standard Search can take between 11 to 20 minutes, plus additional 1% bonus per member actively searching. This kind of search is more invasive. It details moving objects around, looking in drawers and chests, looking under beds, tapping walls, and looking through property.

Standard searches can locate objects which are not in plain view, but not hidden very well either. This includes concealed doors, but excludes secret doors.

The owner of the room may realize that someone has gone through his/her stuff, unless the party is taking special care to keep their activities clean; i.e. shutting cabinets and drawers and leaving the place the way that they found it. If they don’t state this, a wisdom check on the part of the victim will result in them being aware that their stuff has been tampered with. If a 1 is rolled, they probably know exactly who it was that did it. If any items are taken as a result of the search, then the victim will always know that they have been robbed and will take appropriate action. They may not know WHO stole from them, but they will know that they were robbed.


The Thorough Search can take anywhere from a half hour to an hour. While it gives better results, the chances of getting away with it are much slimmer. Unlike brief and standard searching, your chances of being interrupted are equal to your finding something.

Thorough searching is making a mess; it involves dumping the contents of drawers to look for false bottoms, upsetting furniture to see if they have any hidden compartments, ruffling up books to see if they are hiding anything within the pages. This is noisy and messy work, but it brings about very good results. Secret items and horded items can be located this way, as can secret doors and passageways.

Those that perform thorough searches don’t care if they are caught or not, only a thief who is employing his Move Silently skill can do this quietly, and only then if he is alone or with a party of others who successfully use this skill.

I am not so sure that I’d actually give out a 60 percent chance to locate objects for trashing a room, I would be really tempted to have anybody's best chances of finding anything in a search be 45%.

I would also be pressed to give negative results to the chances for intelligent targets. A wizard with an intelligence of 17 isn’t going to hide an object where anybody who trashes a room can stumble upon it; in fact, the only thing that you will ever be able to find of his when conducting a search is probably just the stuff that he WANTS you to find.

This system isn’t perfect, but it is better then simply rolling a 1 or a 2 on a d6. If you wish to expand it, there is a lot of room left to be worked on, however I like to keep things as simple as possible, and I’m not above making stuff up on the fly.

Adventure Notes #9 & 10

We finished up the old school module The Isle of Dread. It initially gave me a ton of prep to do, as this is a 1st edition game, and I had to update it to 2e. I'll go ahead and share a couple of the monsters later on, so watch this space.

My overall feelings about modules are that they are a pain, and this one was no different, however, it didn't completely derail my adventure. The module was written brilliantly, it was very neutral and just had encounters peppered here and there, it left the story completely up to the Dungeon Master, which is the way that it should be.

I really wanted the players to fight the book, with little to no input from myself. I added my villains into the random encounter lists, decided what I was going to have them do while on the island, and just let the party explore! It didn't work out so hot.

On paper, a complete wilderness adventure sounds great! Wandering around blind, not knowing where in the hell you are going, or really what you are looking for. In actual play, this was SLOW!!!! So slow that I was getting bored, and it was all the same thing. I thought that it would be fun, but plotting a coarse and deciding of where to go that day is frickin boring! I don't know if it was my fault, or if I did something wrong, or what. I thought about it! I really did. How can I spice this up? But with such a large map to explore, I really couldn't prep anything or describe a scene more clearer then what I was. I really didn't want to spend too much time talking about a day where nothing happens. I did give the place a lot of sounds and smells, but the players weren't all that interested, and I kept failing my random encounter checks.

I actually expected the party to get lost, I thought that this would be a 4 or 5 part adventure, however Shannon just used logic while looking at the blank map that I gave him, and pinpointed exactly where, aesthetically the main dungeon should be on the map, and just went there, and they made it during the first session. They actually got half way through the main dungeon before we decided to call it a day!

While inside, the badguys were 3 days ahead of them, and I was able to enjoy my "Great Race". Inside the temple there is a big god face, reminiscent of "Wizard of Oz" which I decided would be fun if the Villains used it to heckle the party. It worked wonderfully! They were trying to kill this rock face, while all of these zombies are attacking them, and my villain is just thinking that that is hilarious!

I had already drawn my villain route on the map, but there is just so many ways around this monster that it really did turn into a race. I messed with the map some, but for the most part, left it alone. The Players beat me fair and square! Which is what I wanted.

The party can now rip my 6 fingered hand party a new one. They were able to kill my wizard completely on accident. Since they were ahead, they were able to find better cover and turn the tables on them and winning. I sensed that their time was drawing to a close, so I was able to get the two gunfighters a chance to square off. A Sunset dual in a flooded cave, both gunfighters so powerful that they can kill with one attack. The winner of the Initiative would get first shot, and the villain was a bit more accurate then the hero, Sam White.

Sam got the drop on him and pumped the German wannabe full of lead. He made his system shock role, and was able to find cover and barely survive the encounter, however he didn't survive the game. Ultimately his friends fed him to their new master, a monster which almost killed the heroes!

Sam White, played by Shannon, almost dies in every game he plays. Only a couple of games did he need to be saved by divine intervention. I am really terrible, I love the character so much which is a problem. I have vowed to give him no more chances now, so don't you be yelling at me for cheating! But this Sam White is the perfect cowboy hero. I did have to protect him at lower levels, I didn't want him to have some stupid death because of a failed saving-throw. His death should be heroic, and that, I discovered, IS my job. I needed to give the party more opportunities to die a hero, instead of just stupid.

Shannon cheated death twice this game. The first when he proved that he was the fastest gun in the dungeon, and that no European was ever going to be a better gunslinger. And the second time was when fighting the written badasses, the Kupra, brain charming slug monsters with a mean streak the size of Texas. He was horribly beat up, and the monster knew that he was now the weak link, Sam could see this thing swimming right for him, and he has 2 hp to his name, if the monster so much as sneezes on him, he's a dead man! It is all up to the dice, he's got two attacks, and hitting these things isn't easy. He pumped off two shots, and did just enough damage to drop that disgusting cuthulu wanna-be.

The dungeon part was very exciting! But I really need to figure out some way to manage wilderness adventures. I've played them and had a great time! But this thing didn't even have a road.

I did find an excellent article here, that I really like! The dude over at 7-sided Die has translated a bookkeeping free way of managing supplies based on Savage Worlds. This would simplify things.

I don't know how to best handle something like that. There was just to much to do, and I kept it as fast as I could, but sometimes I was just stuck rolling hundreds of dice while the players forgot about the game for 10 minutes, and all because I DID roll a random encounter.

At the end, I didn't even want to go back outside of the dungeon. THAT was probably my own fault. I had spent the day before, brainstorming with my wife about a new world that I want to create, and regrettably, my head was still there. THIS ADVENTURE IS SUPPOSE TO BE MY BABY!!!!

After they took out the undead pirate monster-boss I just started adding up experience points and told them that they were able to leave the island, and the next adventure will take place right outside of the doors of were they need to be. I do want to wrap this game up, I've given myself a quota of 4 more adventure sessions and I do plan on keeping that deadline, however the fact still remains that this IS my baby, and I want to give it justice.

I recant, and I want to have one giant battle and a heroic escape from the Isle of Dread. Next adventure is going to be totally different. The need to win, because this next phase of the adventure they are going to lose, and lose and lose big!

We'll go from totally open gaming, to more of a total railroad job. The mysterious master of the realm, The Red Death, is not going to be playing around any more. The party is just a heartbeat away from gaining a weapon that can kill Gods, his attention will be totally on them, and he is going to hurt them, and hurt them bad! It is now time for the 2nd act, and nobody survives the 2nd act unscathed. Even if the players survive, they're characters will never be the same. SOUNDS LIKE FUN!

Fear Check!

Sometimes, while playing, you have absolutely no idea of how your character will react. I remember playing one of my favorite characters, a French noble/swashbuckler who had only had dealings with human enemies. The guy was 11th level and had never so much as seen even a 1st level goblin. Nor did he have a concept of magic of any kind, priest or wizard spells. Thus, when an odd gateway appeared, his interests were peaked, and he decided to explore it. It was a gate into a different realm which was full of magic and monsters fit for an 11th level adventure!

It was a gaggle of troll bandits blocking the road, that served as his first magical/monster encounter, and I must say that it absolutely destroyed him. I got to thinking about how he would react, and decided that he would no doubt use the tactics that he would normally use, sending fully armed cavalrymen to run them down with a pike-hedge to soften them up, and join in the fray to take them out. Well, it didn’t work, his horsemen never made it through and were slaughtered during the first attack. At this point, I had a decision to make: to attack, retreat, or surrender. The problem was, I had absolutely no idea what he would chose to do, and how he would process the information that has just been shown to him. I decided, on my own, that a fear check was definitely called for.


Fear checks can be a huge pain in the rear, they take away “free-will” from a character. If they fail a fear check, then the character will act in some way that hurts the character’s chances of success in overcoming a goal, and can harm the character for the rest of his/her career unless he focuses energy to correct it on a personal level.

Nobody wants to do a fear check, I know that I didn’t when I made one in the example above, and it cost me dearly. I failed the saving throw and went mad. I didn’t retreat, I didn’t just stand there to terrified to move. Something in my head snapped and I went crazy! Marching into battle as if my troops had succeeded, refusing to admit that I had been defeated so easily.

A player may not want to do a fear check, but they do know when to do one. It is up to a Dungeon Master to determine if a fear check is necessary and when it isn’t. For a player, when he has no idea of what to do next, or is in a situation that changes everything about how a character views the world around him, it is time to roll a check.

If you have ever played a game in the Ravenloft setting, then you know how a fear check can abuse a player. That is just to much, but one has to understand that a player can avoid them completely if they ROLE-PLAY. How is a character going to act if he/she sees something that he has never seen before?

A good example is a beholder. Now, we all know these things, and we know how hard they are to beat, but our characters may not. Beholders are 100% nasty! Everything about them is repulsive. Even if we have encountered one before, it still will make us question if we can take it or not. If the player gets scared, then he will roleplay the game, however if he is just as dispassionate about attacking this monster as he would be about purchasing a tent, then a DM should make him make a fear check.

The lesson of a fear check should be that YOU DON’T WANT TO MAKE ONE! Instead, if you believe that a character is afraid, he may still attack, we are playing heroes, however it will be different. A character won’t attack something that he doesn’t understand as quickly or effectively as something that he knows that he can defeat.


Probably the best book for an advanced method of making fear checks is Ravenloft: Domains of Dread by Willam W. Conners and Steve Miller, which TSR put out in 1997. This method is complicated, but very thorough.

An easier method is making a Saving Throw vs. Paralyzation, Poison, or Death Magic. This one is probably the easiest and fairest method, it also doesn’t require any new tables, which cuts down on crap that a DM needs to have at the table. Simple is always better!

Bonuses or penalties from high/low Wisdom can also influence a fear check, as can a new idea influenced by Domains of Dread, which suggests that a warrior can inspire those around him. If a warrior makes his fear check, then he has a bonus point for each level, which he can give to any player or NPC to help them make their fear or Moral checks as well. The logic behind this is that those around him are inspired by his bravery and will be less likely to crumble under pressure.

Not as simple, but it is an interesting theory that wouldn’t be to hard to put into practice.


A failed fear check means that a characters actions are beyond his control. We can either do this as described by the spell Cause Fear, or we can figure out a more abstract method of determining the results of the failure.

Basically, what will happen is that a character will lose their cool. He will either fight or flight. A failed fear check will also haunt the character later on if these same conditions are met.

Fear is different from campaign to campaign, a DM can create a table to reflect this. Here is a sample Table:

1. Character runs away, dropping all items carried so that he can run faster.
2-6. Character will run away, removing himself from the perceived danger, or until he is exhausted.
7-8. Character will fight blindly, as if under the influence of a Berserker Rage spell.
9-10. Character will be unable to move or act for 1 turn, or until he is attacked, at which time he will make a new fear check to regain senses.
11. Character will develop a phobia, he will suffer negative penalties to all rolls while in the creatures presents and will not be able to shake what he has seen and will be obsessed by it. Each time he runs into this monster, or believes that he has found evidence that one is around, he must make a fear check with the negative penalty to the roll.
12. Player must check System Shock, failure results in instant death, success indicates that a character is driven insane, or further into insanity as defined by the Dungeon Master.


That opened a new can of worms, but lets face it! The mind can only handle so much. This can be used as a tool to get roleplayer to have more fun. One has to really look at the character and know it, to determine a proper madness. This should be inconvenient, and should be appropriate to the setting that you are playing.

Madness can either be a good thing, or a bad thing. One can easily say that Batman is a good example of a hero gone mad. He still has control of his actions, however he is just as crazy as the criminals that he hunts. Van Helsing is another example of madness. He became so consumed that he became a professional hunter, and an expert on all things inexplicable. Thus, a mad character’s adventuring career isn’t over, however it can be shifted. If one isn’t careful it can distract away from a given story and change all of the goals which a player has chosen for his character.

Madness can be subtle or all consuming, depending on the character. A player who fails a fear check against a water monster can have an overwhelming phobia of water itself. He would refuse to feel safe in its presence, and be totally irrational about it.

Further fear checks in regards to existing phobias can be avoided by ROLE-PLAYING the phobia. If the player remembers that he’s got it, and acts accordingly, then you don’t need to further harass him with fear checks.

Besides aversions, madness can effect how a character sees the world around him. He can see things that aren’t there, believe things that aren’t true, etc. To simulate this, just pass a note to the player during play to let him know if he sees something differently, or notices something that the rest of the party isn’t looking for. Sometimes this evidence is true, and sometimes it isn’t! The player will never know.

Another form of madness is the split personality, perhaps he will turn into somebody that he isn’t. Developing a different character with a different outlook on life and different skills? Madness is unique to everybody, and is a defense for the mind. Keep this in mind.


A fear check is an easy thing to fix with magic, as long as it doesn’t lead to insanity. If a character is just afraid, a Remove Fear spell is all that is needed, however, depending on the game and how a DM handles magic, this could be a touch spell, at which time an initiative between the caster and the target must be determined. An afraid target will also be uncooperative with the caster, thus an attack must be made, and a saving throw vs. spell must be failed else the spell will be lost.

Madness, on the other hand, cannot be solved so easily. Phobia’s and other effects of horror that last long after the save was failed can only be corrected by a forget spell, if caught in time, or by committing ones self to the care of a mental health professional, which may or may not work depending on your desires as a Dungeon Master. The madness shouldn’t be something that is overly debilitative, or that dooms the character, unless, for whatever reason, the DM wants it to. It should redefine a character and alter, or give purpose to the person playing them.


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