On the Phandelvers, Part II: The Town of Phandalin

The first review is here.

Liveblog! First section, PRETTY GOOD.

Now we get to town which is where I predict things will go haywire. OR WILL THEY?

The towns are a reclaimed ruin?! (+1)

Noting at this point that the players being from the extremely cosmopolitanism Neverwinter means they have a very good excuse for knowing a lot of random D&D tropes.

"When the characters explore Phandalin, you don't need to keep track of how much time is spent at each location. Instead, imagine that you're directing an old-style western movie. . . To begin, ask the players where they want to go and what they want to do in town. . . When the players pick a spot, refer to the description."

Checkpoint reached, activate theme park!

Seriously, I'm being derisive, but it's good advice.

Oh, hay, look, an almost useful NPC summary! No personality cues, but it has names and who they are and what quest they give. I mean WotC has heard of a relationship map, right?

You are not expected to fight the NPC's because you have no reason to fight them. But I'm totally stoked that it says that if you do, where to find their expected stats. (NPC's are for killing!!)

Town Descriptions


Am I wrong or is the location organization scheme random? It sure isn't alphabetical and it's not numbered. 

Talkin' bout the inn

It's good that they have some NPC's hanging out at the inn with information, but this is a real missed opportunity. Here is how a miner is described.

"Lanar, a miner." 

I'm glad that we are all for basic tropes and keeping things simple. Maybe I'm spoiled from playing in our wonderful online community for so long. But would it have been that hard to write:

"Lanar, a miner with a handlebar mustache, physical fitness buff"

The option for players to explore if they are those kinds of players, or for the DM to direct them to the inn which acts as a hub to the various quest lines is fantastic. Good design.

Talkin' bout the town

Damn it Forgotten Realms. "The Order of the Gauntlet" Really? And while we are on the subject: Phandalin? Pact of Phandelver? I would be soooo much more excited about this adventure if it took place in the dunfalcon. (Greyhawk, don't you know). I'm going to rename everything with the bestest village name generator table on the internet. The characters are now in Crapleigh, and they hear about the Pact of Crapdelver.

Isn't it better already?

Each location offers a quest or two, which is pretty bog-standard. Several locations also offer the opportunity for different members of the group to join different factions! How nice! Different character temperaments can join different factions.

Is that a Quantum Orge in my scenario or are you just excited to attack me?

Is the Redband Encounter a Quantum Ogre?

Well, the "capstone" of the second section is the clearing out of the Redband bandits. So the hook of "They seek out the party and pick a fight in the street" is to encourage characters to confront the Redband before they venture into the more dangerous wilderness. 

As written, however, I would have to say it is not a Quantum Ogre. It specifically says they seek the players out. The module explictly provides support for avoiding the encounter below. There is certainly the possibility for the players to take action that might prevent them from being found.

Logistically, very few groups playing 5e will want to avoid the encounter. Every location in town makes the Redbrands seem suspicious. But if they did want to avoid the encounter, then there is support in the module for that. One townsperson just wants the leader killed so they can take over. The rules support free knockouts and capture allows the players to interrogate the bandits.
"If [the player's] aren't clear that investigating the Redbrand hideout should be their next move, have one of the NPC's they've already met in town make the suggestion directly and point them towards Tresendar Manor. If the players want to follow other leads in the area, it's ok to move on to part 3 of the adventure and let the ruffians wait. The next time the characters return to Phandalin, make it clear that the Redbrands are causing even more trouble, and that the need to be dealt with."
I'm particularly chuffed by the decision to include the underlined Quantum Ogre advice in the article above.
What's in it for me. . .

If your players cannot make a decision because they lack information, give it to them!


The Redbrand Hideout


Another dungeon with multiple entrances and multiple paths? What is this I'm reading?

Ok. Perception skills suck. They are a shortcut to avoid play. But they are going to be a feature of these games, and in 5e, it's at least somewhat more difficult to raise your search skill due to the bounded accuracy. Let's look at how they handle it.

"A waterproof satchel hangs from a submerged rope attached along the south wall of the cistern, about 2 feet below the surface of the water. It's not visible from above the water, but can be found by a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check or automatically by a character probing the cistern with a pole or jumping in."
How does the Wisdom (Perception) check work?
". . .you need to describe where you are looking for the DM to determine your chance of success. For example, a key is hidden beneath a set of folded clothes in the top drawer of a bureau. If you tell the DM that you pace around the room, looking at the walls and furnature for clues, you have no chance of finding the key, regardless of your Wisdom (Perception) check result. You would have to specify that you were opening the drawers or searching the bureau in order to have any chance of success." -- Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules, page 61
So basically, "I search the room" gives a fairly low chance to discover the satchel (around 50% for characters with an 18 Wisdom) whereas looking in the pool obviates the need for a roll and supersedes character skill. Note also, that it requires an active check to discover. Passive perception won't find it.

Hidden treasure, discoverable by player skill. There's no cost check to using the Wisdom (Perception) skill -- no wandering monsters -- but their could be very trivially. And even if they do use the skill, they have to indicate what they are doing so the DM can "determine your chance of success"!

My biggest complaint is that the DM shouldn't be determining the chance of success. He should be determining the difficulty of finding the object.

I am officially giving the module a pass for the grass-growing, paint-drying, dull as rocks magic items. Some of them are at least named with history, even if they are +1 sword, does +1 to hit and damage.

Oh! My eyeball just twitched! Hoop jumping!

"Clever characters might even persuade the bugbears to help deal with "traitors" or "impostors" elsewhere in the dungeon. If you don't think the players are doing a great job roleplaying the deception, you can have the character who is doing most of the talking make a DC 15 Charisma (Deception) check to convince the bugbears to do what the party wants."

Sigh. Can they please not teach DM's to force players to jump through subjective hoops?

Yay! I got to complain about something. *grumble* *grumble* *stupid module being pretty well written in spite of it being published by the big evil corporation*

Droop is no Meepo. He's a goblin you meet, being abused by big, nasty, bugbears.

Wtf is a Nothic?

What the F&^% is a Nothic. Oh look a picture.

I'm here to party!
Nope, still not helping. Reading the description. Once crazy wizards, unlock player secrets, hunger for flesh, not trustworthy. 

So basically a weird monster that does rotting damage with its gaze. That's actually kind of boring. Again, I'm spoiled. It should have weird alien motivations that convince the party to work with it in spite of it being completely and wholly evil. 

It's sure as heck no Meepo.

Spoilers

The bad spider is a drow. I'm bored already. Maybe I will be surprised when I reach that section.


Things I would have to do to run the town adventure


  • Rewrite the NPC reference
  • Keep a whiteboard for the players to use as a quest journal, a' la video games. 
  • Draw pictures of each NPC
  • Rewrite the locations and the quests/factions/NPC's at each location so I don't have to flip through the book. 
This isn't really the module's fault. It has to be the way it is for new players. If they opened it up and it looked like an accounting ledger (which is what my references tend to resemble) they would put it down and never play it. It's nice and welcoming and easy to read and fairly densely packed with information and adventure hooks. 

Gah, it could be better but it's pretty good.


We did tell them how and they mostly listened. Sigh. I'm sure the Player's Handbook will ruin everything and fighters will get worse and wizards better.

On a Deep Carbon Observatory

I guess this is the week where I read things and tell you about them. AM I DOING A GOOD JOB?

Well, up till now, probably. I think it's probably a terrible idea to read Deep Carbon Observatory and then go back to Phandelver. It's just not fair to Phandelver. It's not like they have anyone on team "Official Publisher" as brilliant as +Patrick Stuart.

What is it?


A module about finding lost treasure.

(It's a nightmare, run, run away)

The beginning. 

You are immediately presented with three terrible situations as you enter town. You can possibly resolve one, while other people drown, commit suicide, or are eaten by cannibals. When you resolve your situation OR when d4 minutes pass, two or three more things begin to happen nearby of a similar nature. This continues six more times, each choice leaving more and more people to die.
A man struggles with a makeshift raft full of children and the old. Focused only on his task, ignoring all else. Callao will lose control of the craft and it will slip away -- Deep Carbon Observatory
Or
An old man drags a drowned body. Curtis Ghyl, naked and starved, curses death as he takes his wife’s corpse out into the wilderness, saying he is ‘going home’. He will die soon.-- Deep Carbon Observatory

There are no lily white heroes here.

Each encounter is evocative and interesting, as well as genuinely a little sad.

The overlooked detail.


However I have higher standards for DIY projects then official published material, and the key fore each of the encounters required a bit of flipping back and forth. There are some logistical issues. Lists are sometimes orphaned with their last entry on the next page. Some text has erratic leading/kerning/spacing. There are some DM facing information that is difficult for the players to access.

These complaints are petty.

All poisons should look like this poison list.
5. Thaumo-Conductor: Barbed bolt with metre-long hair-thing copper wire attached. 1 hp damage on hit, 2d6 to pull out. Wire does not impede movement but grounds all offensive magic within ten metres in your flesh, regardless of who casts it. -- Deep Carbon Observatory
There are terrors and horrors on the journey met. But the true strangeness is gained once the observatory is reached. The characters are thrust into a super-science nightmare. Moths that obliterate space around a space allowing your perception to inhabit it. Salt nymph philosophers. Nightmares and mysteries in the dark. And wealth beyond their dreams if they can survive with their bodies and souls intact. . .

A special note about the art by Scrap Princess. It's wonderful. You look forward to the next illustration, never sure what you're going to see, and you find more in them each time you look.

I have seen it referred to as avant garde. That's irrelevant. I would run it with a bog standard Hackmaster party. Success has more to do with player skill than power and levels. The opportunity for wealth and the problems that come with it are vast.

The nearest I can figure is avant garde is code for everything in this module is interesting and novel.

What was the last module you bought where that was true?

It's 10$ and there's a print version coming soon.

There are three waiting servants here. The first is a network of delicate capillaries filled with diamond dust; the second a network of arteries filled with ruby light; and the third a network of veins glowing umber. They were all taken from the same man. They will do no harm and only serve. -- Deep Carbon Observatory

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On the Chthonic Codex

+Palolo Greco is at it again.

This is the Chthonic Codex, Volume III of III, Mysteries and Mystagogues.

How is it?

Well, there's a desert on fire, filled with ruins. and a series of moist chthonic cavities, protected from the infernal conflagration above.

Protected. Ha!

What is it?

Mysteries & Mystagogues is the Game Master’s guide for Chthonic Codex. It’s not really structured as a typical GM book. M&M is really an improv tool for running a Chthonic Codex game. - Lost Pages

It's a book full of tables for subsystems for OSR games. It's thick with a flavorful setting, but not one that invalidates whatever setting you're currently using. The setting comes across in the tone -- one of a world where everything is deadly and mysterious and capricious, and everyone else is either your master, knows more than you, or is using you for their own ends.

Cudgel the clever has certainly met more than one result on these tables.

Tables full of interesting things:

In addition to the picaresque generation of 'what happens next' there's a section for achievements, that once unlocked, grant the players certain bonuses. It's a neat idea for the players to do certain things and be surprised by a small bonus.

There's a series of tables that describe steps needed to research and unlock the power of new spells. You discover a mystery and need certain paraphernalia to confirm your analysis, then you gather a key and travel to a location to discover the mystery of the spell via some act. Rather:

Mordecus the vain upon finding three misplaced library books notes that the second words of each of the titles spell out "fire" "ball" "spell". Taking this as a sign, he gathers four strands of hair from a zombified toddler. After examining these items, he discovers his three omens. He must acquire a necklace of strung together nick-nacks and travel to the broken wall of unescapeable thoughts where he must spend a few days with a chum and a plum, bum and drink rum, and strum and hum to unlock the knowledge of the spell.
Soon, the Mystagogues arrive! On the wall, one of the many marks, a portrait of a strange man begins to speak. He says the initiate must visit the Hidden Well in the Cave of Sorrowful Joy and use the spell Reveal the Unseen to see the well. Once discovered, the portrait instructs Mordecus that he must shed his blood into the well and the knowledge of the spell will be yours. The portrait then grants you the boon of learning the spell you will need, Reveal the Unseen, due to the quality of your plum, rum, and humming. 

The example above was randomly generated from the table in about 4 minutes. Maybe had to roll about 10d6. THIS WAS AN EFFECTIVE USE OF MY TIME.

Then there's the tables of Mysteric Powers. Or parodies thereof. Small unique abilities that characters or people may possess. Oh, and a giant table of Laws of Reality.

So, that might be totally awesome to discover in play.
A law of reality: Bones if held, mutate insects during winter
Do a few of those at the start of the campaign and just keep an eye out. It sounds like fun, I'll almost certainly do some of these before the start of my next campaign.

There's a complete system for generating dynamic Hypogean contents (caverns and underground caves in the mythic underworld), encounters, and artifacts.

It is a beautiful .pdf, and I cannot wait until the difficulties get worked out and I can get my print copy.

For 6$ it's a heck of a deal.


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On 5e Backgrounds: Ratcatcher

Ratcatcher


You earned a living on the streets catching rats. You got little respect from anyone and there are few that would consider you their peer. You know a bit about the underworld and a bit about tracking and a lot about ways to both kill and eat rats. You'd be surprised how often that knowledge comes in useful to fancy pants adventurer types.
Skill Proficiency: Animal Handling and Nature
Tool Proficiency: Choose one of Poisoner's Kit or Thieves' tools. Pick one Musical Instrument.
Equipment: Common clothes, Crowbar, Hunting Trap, Hooded Lantern, 2 Oil Flasks, 1d6 rat corpses in a sack, Iron Cage, Shovel, 50' Hempen Rope, A Small but Vicious Mastiff

Feature: Murine Nature


You've been chasing and catching rats for too long. You can squeeze though spaces as a small creature, no matter your size, and you have advantage on rolls versus animal venom and disease. You also have an intuitive sense about tunnels and caverns. While underground, you can generally tell which direction is north and determine which directions eventually lead  to passages up and down.

Suggested Characteristics


You do work no one else is willing to do. Not only that, but you can't even talk about the horrors that come up through the sewers. Unlike most hoity-toity adventurers, there's no chest of gold at the end of your day, just a few coppers the guv'ment can scrape up, plus whatever you can sell your rats for at the market. You do it anyway.

d8 Personality

  1. You like being alone, scouting ahead. That way no one can be mean to you.
  2. You don't talk much, because you enjoy making other people uncomfortable. That's the same reason you don't bathe.
  3. You're only comfortable in the tunnels and underground. Being in the sunlight makes you nervous. 
  4. You really like meeting people and talking with them. You have a broad definition of people that includes animals. Especially rats. 
  5. You hate disease and are fastidiously clean. It is extremely important that you eradicate everything that makes people sick!
  6. Underground you can hear the whispers better than you can above ground. Sometimes they tell you very interesting secrets. You're pretty sure other people might be trying to get the secrets from you.
  7. You like rats. And dogs. And cats, pigs, and goats. It's people you don't like. Animals aren't duplicitous. And they are loyal. Unlike people.
  8. You get to know things other people don't, because you see their trash and garbage. You really like that feeling. Maybe someday you'll know an awful lot about a lot of people!

d6 Ideal

  1. Duty: If you don't stop the rats, who will? (Lawful)
  2. Merciful: You can catch and release the rats into their own habitat, doing as little harm as possible (Good)
  3. Nosy: You can find out all kinds of secrets about people in the sewers (Neutral)
  4. Explorer: You find beauty in new and secret places (Chaotic)
  5. Freedom: You take a bad enough job and no one bothers you. (Chaotic)
  6. Power: No one complains if you practice making poisons on rats (Evil)
d6 Bond

  1. You saw something once, down in the sewers, and it told you it was coming back for you. Now you hunt for something to stop it before it can get you.
  2. You had a pet rat once. You're not so much a rat catcher, so much as you're trying to kill all the other rats so they don't get in the way of finding your friend. 
  3. Ratcatching goes well with your drug vices. You're always looking for another chance to get high.
  4. You've got a missus and six kids at home to support. You've always been too busy working to get any kind of better job.
  5. Your mastiff is your best friend. He loves catching rats more than anything in the world, and that's why you were a rat-catcher. 
  6. There are people after you and no one has ever looked twice at a rat-catcher.
d6 Flaw

  1. I'm better than everyone else because I'm willing to do what they aren't. 
  2. I hear and see things that sometimes make it difficult to know what's real and what's not.
  3. I love the smell of the sewer hate when I don't smell like it. I like the reaction I get when other people get a load of me! 
  4. I don't like people very much and crowds freak me out. When they talk to me I get nervous and just do or say whatever I have to to make them leave me alone.
  5. I've seen people act like rats, I've got more respect for them than I do folks. Easier to kill a man than a rat, besides.
  6. I didn't learn my education so good 'cause my head damage! Mama only dropped me two times (Hold up 6 fingers).

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On the Phandelvers

So, did you know the Dungeons and Dragons starter set came out?

What's this? A lost mine in Phandelver? Guess I'll spoil the crap out of this online.

*flip, flip*

There's a green dragon on the cover. Holy crap, there's the lair of the dragon on the cover right in the middle of the module. "The character's aren't likely to slay the dragon". An encounter they can't win!? What kind of D&D is this?

Oh, Look. A description of the DM's role that doesn't say he's a storyteller.

A list of DM Advice I can read without going blind in my right eye from rage! Keep the gaming moving? Let the players contribute? Be consistent and fair? Don't ask for ability checks unless there's a challenge?

It's nice to see that a DC 10 check is an easy check and doesn't scale to player level. The cap on the DC's really reminds me of some of the modular systems in old school gaming.

Somebody put the word Boxed Text in bold and it makes me sad. It's followed by instructions to read or paraphrase the boxed text. Sad. I consider that this possibly gets a pass because it's a module for new players who are 12 and then I realize that is exactly why it doesn't get a pass.

Oh, here's some text telling you that you won't find monster stats in the adventure. You'll need to flip back to the back. Super-helpful to the DM running the adventure! *sigh*.

Background


Am I spoiled? I think I'm spoiled. 

"Five hundred years ago, dwarves and gnomes made an agreement known as the Phandelver's Pact, by which they would share a rich mine in a wondrous cavern known as Wave Echo Cave. Times were good, and the nearby human town of Phandalin prospered as well. But then disaster struck when orcs swept through the North and laid waste to all in their path." -- Lost Mine of Phandlever

"Once, long ago there was a Kingdom of unspeakable wealth that traded in dark wonders, secrets and death. And many of the strange things now on earth were theirs. . .Then, as their kingdom slowly died, they hid their treasure palace in a lake, and set there: sleepless and indestructible guards. Everyone knows where it is, on the Lock, upriver of Carrowmore. No-one who goes there has ever come back." - Deep Carbon Observatory
To be fair: This background in Mines is like four paragraphs long. That is eleventy-two less paragraphs than is traditional for the publisher of D&D.

That is 70 of the 89 words of the Deep Carbon Observatory background.

The Forgotten Realms


Neverwinter Concept Art
Holy crap, Phandalin is like 50 miles from Neverwinter! That town has like 25,000 people. Oh, heck. The players are coming from Neverwinter!

"The adventure begins as the player characters are escorting a wagon full of provision and supplies from Neverwinter to Phandalin." -- Lost Mine of Phandlever
The 50 building town of Phandalin
"Neverwinter was regarded by many, including the erudite travel writer Volo, as the most cosmopolitan and the most civilized city in all of Faerûn, quite a reputation, considering the breadth and variety of the continent." (Forgotten Realms wiki)

No provincial adventurers these! They are leaving New York to go on a grand adventure in Bald Knob, Arkansas, Population 200!

Goblin Arrows

"Any character can drive a wagon, and no particular skill is necessary." -Mines of Phandelver

I am super glad that the actual text doesn't contradict the rules. There's that proficiency in land vehicles and you don't need it for stuff like sitting in a seat and leading oxen. Saying this out loud in front of the module reiterates the early statement about not needing to roll for simple or basic things. Yay.

"As you come around a bend, you spot two dead horses sprawled about 50 feet ahead of you, blocking the path. . . any character who approaches the horses can identify them as belonging to Gundren Rockseeker and Sildar Hallwinter." -- Lost Mine of Phandlever
More giving information the players should have to the players without skill check hoop jumping! I'm six pages into this adventure and haven't blacked out from rage and confusion once!

Also, finding the dead horses of your boss who you're going to meet in the road is a good hook. No explanation. Just surprise bad news.

An adventures first combat


Should be simple, right? There's a nice walk-though for first time Dungeon Masters, explaining step by step how to run combat.

"Keep track of everyone's initiative count in the margins of this book or on a separate piece of paper." -- Lost Mine of Phandlever

Mark up the book is awesome advice! Heck, I'll go ahead and take the time to write in the goblins stats where I need them.

The Goblin Trail


The outcome of the battle isn't assumed. Perhaps the players lose, perhaps they capture and not kill the goblins. After the combat we get this nice bit of text -- the first text in the module that causes my eye to twitch.

"Any inspection of the area reveals that the creatures have been using this place to stage ambushes for some time. A trail hidden behind thickets on the north side of the road leads northwest. A character who succeeds on a DC 10 Wisdom (Survival) check recognizes that about a dozen goblins have come and gone along the trail, as well as signs of two human-sized bodies being hauled away from the ambush site." -- Lost Mine of Phandlever

That. . . really isn't so bad.  Players have to choose to investigate. If they do, they will find the trail. Most will have over a 50% chance to notice that bodies are dragged, and even if they don't, the hidden information is A) specific and B) not necessary to the players. Personally, I'd explicitly say that it's a goblin trail outside the skill check.

Yes the module is super wordy but again, I don't hold that against it. It's an introduction set for people who never played before. If Menzer Basic came out today, I think some of us would burn it in a fire.

Along the trail are some traps. There's a lot of talk about how much healing there is, but. . . If I fall down and take 1d6 damage, are we resting for an hour and losing my 1 healing hit die? Are we drinking a 50 gp healing potion from my 4d4/5d4 x 10 starting gold? I've only got 6-14 hit points. I probably already took a short rest after the combat.

Whoo-hoo! 75 Exploration XP for finding the goblins hideout! Or wait, is that story XP? Are you trying to control my behavior and steal my agency 5e? I'M WATCHING YOU.

Cragmaw Hideout

General features is super-useful and essential. Let's me know logistical details about the complex to adjudicate player actions. Holy smokes! There's a box describing what information you can get from captured goblins. Sweeet.

Hm, this map is a lair with 4 rooms. From the entrance I can go to 3 of the rooms. It is a multi-level map with a bridge over a river for part of it. part of it loops back over another part of it. Is the first cave of the new D&D a Jaquayed map? What strange universe am I living in? Apparently it's the universe where both DM keyed and player facing maps for hangout online games are for sale from the artist.

The cave contains some wolves, a few goblins, including one totally willing to betray his boss, a captured human NPC to rescue, an arrogant bugbear, a few traps and surprises that can make things very difficult for a party, interesting battlefields and a chest with treasure.

Also noting the longest boxed text in the cave is 5 sentences. Upon finishing this first small cave, the players will have enough experience to become second level and pick a focus for their characters.

The End of Part I


It's wordy, filled with overused tropes, and contains few surprises or anything too weird or strange. But you're not killing rats.

For someone that hasn't ever played before, it's a great funnel to the following sections of the adventure. The module assumes people who have never role-played before, and presents them with quite a few options and freedom to learn both the rules and how to take actions to obviate the rules and bend them to their advantage, as well as punishing them in a possibly lethal way for neglecting to do so.

We'll be looking at parts 2-4 in the coming days on the Hack & Slash Blog.

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On Megadungeon Art

Megadungeons aren't just dungeons. They are paths we follow. There are many ways we can go, but the choices we make and the areas we explore make up the substance of our lives.

They are a literal fictional representation of a journey through life. That is part of their appeal.

Lo Kyung-me gets this. She's a young Korean illustrator living in New York City who works with blank ink on silk and paper. Take a look.

A Long Divorce
Sada
Her Tumblr can be found at Sunflower Cat
Here she talks about some of her work

"My first drawing ‘A Long Divorce’ was unplanned  –meaning no thumbnail drawing or mapped structure. Over a period of three months, I drew whatever came to mind that day. In a way, the piece serves as a diary from that time. I was very anxious during that time.  I think it comes out in the drawing."

A Megadungeon is our journey.

On Locks and Keys: Redux

So for the past year or so, we've been playing with the BURP lock system in Numenhalla.

After extensive playtesting, we've found it to be somewhat unsatisfactory.

BURP Lockpicking

In short, a lock has a number of pins. Each pin has an action that will set it, allowing you to go to the next pin. If you guess an adjacent option the pin gets stiff. If you guess an option farther distant, the pin jams.

The actions are, Bump, Undulate, Rake, and Probe.

Pro's:
If you have a Dragon Shadow Double Pin brand lock (BBUU), and the players record the sequence, then the next time they run into a Dragon Shadow Double Pin, then they already know how to get past it.
You can have related locks (Like a Dragon Shadow Triple Pin (BBBUUU)) allowing players to use their previous collected "Lockpick spellbook" to assist with future locks.

Con's:
The process of selecting which pin is completely random and uninfluenced by player skill.

Why? There is always a "Best Option" and when there is more than one choice, there's no information to use to decide which is best, making the choice random. Since all the player choices are random, you could essentially just calculate a percentage chance of success and roll the dice to save time!
You could calculate a percentage chance of success and roll the dice to save time!

I wonder where I've seen that before?

A new solution

What we're looking for is a minigame that involves player choice and considers character skill. Mastermind seems like an excellent option (for example), but it isn't a mini-game. It's really a whole game, and would occur far too frequently in a megadungeon environment with many locked doors.

So here's my new solution!

Yahtzee locks
Locks have a set number of pins. The number of these pins is unknown to the lockpicker.
Players receive a pool of D6's. They may roll these dice once and turn in the dice in to pick a certain number of pins.

For example, if you turn in a single pair, let's say two 4's on the dice, that will set a single pin. If you turn in a set of triples, you set two pins. A full house (a pair, and triples) will set four pins.

If you have a lockpicking skill, at certain thresholds/levels/whatever, you gain the ability to reroll any number of the dice you wish, once, twice, or more. If you have a reroll and your dice come up 1,2,2,3,4,4 you could choose to reroll the two's and three's to go for more fours, or reroll the 3 to get a full house. The 1 would be pulled from your die pool.

Again, the player decides when to turn in dice to set pins and they don't know how many pins the lock has.

Anytime you roll a 1, that dice is removed from your pool for this lock. You start each new lock with a fresh pool of dice. If you fail to set all the pins, you jam the lock and it will no longer open.

Viola! Meaningful player choice, a reason to track locks, and something that takes into account player skill.

Here is the table:
Dice Set Number of Pins set
Doubles 1
Triples 2
Four of a Kind 5
Five of a Kind 8
Small Straight (4 in a row) 5
Large Straight (5 in a row) 8
Full House 4


  • Characters get a number of dice (1d6) equal to 1/2 their level (minimum 1) in their lockpick die pool.
  • Thieves/Experts get a number of dice (1d6) equal to their level + 1 in their lockpick die pool.
  • Characters get a number of bonus dice equal to their AC bonus from Dexterity added to their pool.
  • You need lockpicks to pick a lock
  • Masterwork or excellent lockpicks allow a free reroll.
  • For percentile editions, every 20% you get in your lockpicking you get an additional 2 dice and an additional reroll.
  • For Skills, the middle road: Untrained devices just grants you your dice as listed above. For each level (Skilled/Expert/Master) you gain +2 dice and a free reroll. So a master in devices would have +6 dice and could reroll 3 times. (Note that experts still get their 1 free mulligan per level, which can apply to any single die rolled in this pool)


How many pins does a lock have? Generally a number of pins equal to 1d6 per dungeon level.

Hack & Slash 
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