Each Friday for the nex few weeks, I'll be taking an element from Fantasy Flight Games' Arkham Horror and applying it to D&D 4E. One of the ways in which games evolve and grow is by seeing what other games in other platforms have done well, and taking ideas from that. Thus, I'd like to examine what Arkham Horror has done well, and see if that can't be used to add new depth, immersion, or excitement into the D&D game.
Arkham Horror is a cooperative board game based on the Cthulhu Mythos in which 1920's era investogators gather weapons and clues, and travel to unimaginable alien vistas to defeat the mind-numbing horrors from beyond before the world is torn asunder. I highly recommend it if you've never given it a try. It's a great way to break up your gaming schedule a bit; and since it's entirely cooperative, it allows your group's usual Dungeon Master a chance to rub elbows with the rest of the table.
One of the hallmark's of this game is it's excessive deadliness. Since you're not playing against the other people at the table, the game's challenge comes from it's sheer difficulty. Many times, you will have a series of misfotunes happen to an investigator in succession. Often, they will be progressively worse; for example, your investigator can easily have to make an impossible skill check, become cursed, fight a hideous monster for absolutley no benefit other than to not die, become corrupted, gain a greivous injury, inexplicably lose the majority of their sanity, develop a major psychosis (madness), become lost in time and space, and then, finally, devoured. All in the span of 1 turn. For this reason, Arkham Horror is a "must buy" item for any FourthCore Dungeon Masters. If you like what you see in these Arkham Friday posts, be sure to check out Sersa V's excellent blog, Save Versus Death. The brutality of his world will make your players weep.
This first Arkham post is a random encounter table. Bear with me, as this is not your usual means of banality in rolling for a random monsters. This is a random encounter list of things that happens whilst your player characters explore the unrelenting horrors of The Abyss. A lot of hot air is given out when trying to advise Dungeon Masters on how to handle and describe Epic tier encounters. "Turn it to 11" and other cliches abound from the experts, but hard and fast rules are few and far between. There is precious little mechanical support to get across the feel of a higher tier adventure. You can increase all the math to match the level of the party, and you can call "gold coins" by "astral diamonds"; but it's still the same feeling to everything. I suggest, when your PC's visit a truly horrific location (as is their wont in the higher Tiers), have each of them roll a d20 and consult the chart below for the effects. You can have them do this once upon arrival, or everytime they venture through the wilds of this alien landscape, or as much as between every encounter. That depends on exactly how FourthCore you really are. Don't let some of the seemingly harsh penalties here dissuade you. If you're rolling in Epic tier, the PC's should be able to easily shrug off anything, including arbitrary character death at the expense of a single botched die roll. I'd also implement the rule that if an effect forces your character to lose a Healing Surge and you are at 0 Healing Surges, the character simply dies. Other have slightly saucier dispositions.
THE ABYSS – Random Event Table (d20)
1 The faces of those you have failed erupt from the earth around you, accusing, pleading, hating. Make a History check, DC Hard by Level. If you succeed, gain a +1 power bonus to attack rolls until your next Extended Rest. If you fail, you grant combat advantage to all attackers and take a -2 penalty to all defenses until you reach 3 Milestones.
2 A horrible scene captures your gaze. Creatures that mortals would call angels and devils cavort together, their bodies and laughter mingling in an unholy fusion. If you join their dance, you gain vulnerable 5 all per Tier, but gain a +1 bonus to all defenses until you take an Extended Rest.
3 You discover a large chamber filled with hideous creatures, in numbers too vast to count. Your only hope is to pass undetected. Make a Stealth check, Moderate DC by Level. On a failure, you are killed and your body consumed by the foul beings.
4 Alone in the darkness with only your thoughts, you make what peace with yourself you can. Each player can describe one comforting thought their PC has despite the oppressive horror of these lands to recover 1 Healing Surge.
5 Countless voices chitter and gibber in the caves, driving you to the brink of insanity and causing your knowledge to become jumbled. Roll a d20 for each Encounter and Daily power that you have. On roll of 9 or lower, you cannot use that power until you reach your next 3 Milestones.
6 You find your mind’s eye looking into the center of the universe. The gibbering, infinite creatures there blast your mind to jelly. You are attacked: + 5 + Level vs. Will; Limited psychic damage per Level and you start your next combat encounter stunned (save ends); Miss: Half damage.
7 It is the little things that comfort you in your darkest hour. You think fondly of the mundane joys of your life. Each player can recount a small trinket or curio that has sentimental value to their PC to regain 1 Healing Surge.
8 You are faced with an enormous mountain with a strange symbol carved into it, as if by the claw of a gigantic creature. The world swims around you. You are attacked: + 3 + Level vs. Will; Limited psychic damage per Level and you start the next combat encounter dazed (save ends).
9 Shadowy creatures capture you and torture you for days. Lose 2d4 Healing Surges, and make a Thievery check, High DC by Level. On a success, you escape with a magic item of your choice equal to your Level or lower.
10 Make a Bluff check, Moderate DC by Level, to avoid a monstrous mob. If you fail, you lose 3d6 Healing Surges as you wander the abyssal wastes.
11 Something impossibly huge and ominous lurches across the horizon. Its gaze, with eyes the size of planets, falls upon you. You are attacked: + 3 + Level vs. Will; Normal High psychic damage per Level.
12 A powerful demon-prince offers you a deal. Either all other PCs lose 1d4 Healing Surges, or you lose all of your Healing Surges.
13 Starving, you consider eating some of the glowing mushrooms. If you decide to do so, make an Endurance check, Moderate DC by Level. If you fail, you lose 2d4 Healing Surges. If you succeed, gain 1 Healing Surge.
14 Tentacles pull your body in an infinite number of directions... or is that your mind they are shattering, instead? You are attacked: + 3 + Level vs. Will and Fortitude; Normal High psychic damage per Level per defense hit.
15 The air becomes viscous and toxic. Make an Athletics check, Moderate DC by Level, to push your way free. You lose 1 Healing Surge for each failure until you succeed on the check.
16 This place seduces you into madness with hints of escape. You take Normal Moderate psychic damage per Level, but gain a +2 power bonus to all skill checks until your next Extended Rest.
17 The phosphorescent fungus make this cavern an appealing place to rest a moment... but the toxic spores they emit prove dangerous! You are attacked: + 3 + Level vs. Fortitude; Limited poison damage per Level and you start the next combat encounter slowed and taking ongoing 5 poison damage per Tier (save ends).
18 This place is alive with malevolent intent. It likes it when you inflict pain upon yourself. You may chose to take Limited High damage per Level to gain an Action Point. If you do not take this damage, you lose all Action Points and cannot gain action Points in any way until you reach 3 Milestones. This damage cannot be resisted or negated in any way.
19 You can feel bleak despair taking over your mind. Make an Inisght check, Moderate DC per Level. On a failure, you leap blindly into the yawning darkness and are lost forever.
20 You climb a long stone stair towards your destination. Make an Athletics or Endurance check (your choice), DC Moderate per Level. On a failure, you become exhausted and cannot use Daily or Encounter Attack powers until you reach 3 Milestones.