Friday, June 12, 2009

Red + Blue = Death

Blame it on the Sleestak.

Perhaps the only positive result of Hollywood deciding that the world craved a re-imagination of "Land of the Lost" as a comedy starring Will Ferrell was that marketing synergy deemed it necessary to release the entire original series on DVD. That release has allowed me to be able to relive the Saturday mornings of my youth whenever the desire strikes me. I’ll make no apologies for being a fan of the 1974 Sid & Marty Krofft version. For me, the show scratches the itch that Doctor Who does for others, possibly for similar reasons: no budget, cheesy special-effects, acting of a questionable caliber, and sometimes surprisingly good writing. But "Land of the Lost" isn’t what we’re talking about today. Instead, we’re going to cover the game trope of combining diverse elements to produce unforeseen effects.

Fans of "Land of the Lost" will remember that the series featured “light crystals” – gemstone of alternate hues that, when combined, produced an array of various effects. LotL was not the first to introduce this concept, as anyone who was ever given a chemistry set as a birthday present can attest. It’s an idea that has sturdy legs though, and it has become a gaming trope. If I remember correctly, one of the later Ultima titles required players to mix various reagents to manufacture spells, and players of Resident Evil can tell you that, while green + green is good, green + red is even better. Completing the LotL/gaming Ouroboros is Un’Goro Crater in World of Warcraft, which is a homage to "Land of the Lost" and features power crystal combination to produce in-game effects.

This concept appeals to me because I’m a fan of encouraging players to monkey around in the dungeon. While I primarily rely on random tables to produce the results of such environmental interaction, the idea of using combinations of materials to achieve the same results fits snuggly in the old school gaming mentality. There’s no skill checks involved, no following explicit directions, and no necessary rhyme or reason to why things happen. The only way to find out what happens next is to cross your fingers and go for it. If the results are bad, at least the survivors have learned something.

What follows is a generic chart for referees wanting to spice up their games by introducing this trope. Although the inspiration for it was the light crystals, colored gemstones aren’t the only option. It could easily be used to produce the effects of mixing powders of different colors in an alchemist’s workshop, combining potions of various hues discovered in a wizard’s laboratory, or even what happens when levers of alternate colors are thrown in conjunction. The results of such combinations are broadly defined with suggestions as to the actual game effects provided afterwards. All you need to impliment it is to throw in a few multicolored geegaws and let the party start combining them willie-nilly.

Color

Blue

Green

Yellow

Red

Blue

Mental Effect

Protective Effect

Damage Effect

Fatal Effect

Green

Protective Effect

Physical Effect

No Effect

No Effect

Yellow

Damage Effect

No Effect

No Effect

No Effect

Red

Fatal Effect

No Effect

No Effect

Damage Effect


Effect Possibilities

Damage Effect: Explosion, electrocution, conflagration, or poisoning. A quick rule of thumb is that this combination does (1d6)d6 damage with a save for half damage allowed.

Fatal Effect: Death ray, turned to stone, dissolve into puddle of goo, deadly poison created. Save or die.

Mental Effect: Beneficial effects include gaining a point of Intelligence or Wisdom, gaining temporary ESP, telepathy, or telekinesis (duration of 2d6 turns), learning a new language, or learning a new spell. Detrimental mental effects might result in the loss of a point of Intelligence or Wisdom, become feebleminded, go insane, uncontrollable thought projection (attracts wandering monsters or makes surprise impossible), or become possessed.

No Effect: Nada, zilch, *sad trombone*

Physical Effects: Beneficial effects could be gaining a point of Strength, Dexterity or Constitution, gaining a level, temporary increased STR, DEX, or hit points, hasted, spider climb ability, invisibility, flight capability, or increased size. Detrimental effects might be losing a point of STR, DEX or CON, level loss, polymorphed into a harmless animal, lycanthropy, slowed, or paralysis.

Protective Effect: Temporary bonus to AC and/or saving throws, immunity to poison, protection from evil, magic, or other effect as protection scrolls, immune to charm, surrounded by force field, protected from normal weapons, or blessed.

10 comments:

James Maliszewski said...

I've been contemplating introducing something similar into my Dwimmermount campaign, so you're not alone in being a fan of this stuff.

Chris said...

Between this table and Sham's multi-coloured Death Rays it seems that my players are soon to learn that "the pretty-coloured thing brings death".

Fear the pretty colours! :)

VacuumJockey said...

For some reason I can't see the rightmost column of the table - not in Explorer and not in Firefox. Help please?

ckutalik said...

The Sleestaks have been a popular dungeon denizen for me ever since the party wandered into a half-sketched out area of my sandbox and I was forced to pull an encounter out of my wahzoo.

I even threw in a buncha glowing gems, but truth be told haven't exactly figured out what their purpose is exactly.

BTW there was a thread on DF where a few couple people threw out their stats for those creepy, scaly shufflers http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=36480&hilit=+sleestaks.

Amityville Mike said...

I've been contemplating introducing something similar into my Dwimmermount campaign, so you're not alone in being a fan of this stuff.

It' such a simple idea and invites such a degree of player prolem-solving and interaction with the game world that it's hard not to want to use. I look forward to the Dwimmermount report where the players encounter your take on the idea.

Amityville Mike said...

Fear the pretty colours! :)

The dungeon should be a Crayola crayon array of evil and doom. This, I believe deep in my heart.

Amityville Mike said...

For some reason I can't see the rightmost column of the table - not in Explorer and not in Firefox. Help please?

Fixed, obviously. Tables are always hit or miss on Blogger and I never know if my guess on size is going to be result in the table being cut off. I was involved with other things this morning and didn't get a chance to see what the result was after the post went live until later. Sorry about the delay.

Amityville Mike said...

BTW there was a thread on DF where a few couple people threw out their stats for those creepy, scaly shufflers.

Thanks for the link. I've seen stats for the Sleestak in various forms over the years but I've never actually gone as far as using them in a game.

As much as I believe the dungeon can be a weird and wahoo place, I have a personal mental block about introducing anything from popular culture in the wholecloth. Veiled allusions and subtle nods, I can do. Having Sleestak running around just can't get past my referee inhabitions though.

VacuumJockey said...

Thanks, this is cool. I'm prepping a low-magic campaign, so this will come in handy.

(I think I'll put reagent-like white mana in there too, minable from the teeth and claws of high-level monsters).

Maybe drop a few formulae in there:

"Mix 2 parts of blue Mana with 3 parts of white Mana, 3 parts of water, and add 1 part green Mana. Heat and refine for exactly 11 hours. The resulting paste will, when applied liberally to skin and clothes, protect you from heat and fire."

Thanks again.

Andreas Davour said...

It must be something in the air. James, Mike and me. Colour bases mysteries are on their way into my dungeon as well!

I've been fascinated by how somethings can change by the colour of the light, and how some things might be invisible or turn visible when lit by different coloured light. Coloured crystals is an interesting way to achieve that.