In a recent Runehammer blog post, Diverse Challenges, he presented a method to plot out challenges during a session by dropping dice into your journal. Once the dice land, you would know the types of challenges, and then you’d draw a map around them. You can read the full post to see how it works, but essentially it was up to you to make sense of what the dice decide. When I read it, I knew I’d have to try.
After a few attempts to get my dice to behave and stay on the page, this is what I ended up with. I stewed on the results for a few minutes and surprisingly it was the pair of 4’s that came to me first. I thought some kind of dual control panel that you had to activate in unison (two players making a pair of successful INT checks on the same round) would be cool. Building backward and with the keyword “Acid” the rest flowed into place.
I imagined players would be chasing someone down into an underground base or sewer. As they drop into the sewers, their first challenge would be finding the secret entrance with a WIS check. This would bring them into the main operation and they’d face the guards amid some pools of acid or other environmental challenges. After the battle, they’d need to navigate through the maze of pipes using their sense of navigation and WIS. Rather than having a full scene, the direction they went would just add complications to the end encounter.
Then just before the final conflict, they’d cross a large pool of acid with some DEX and then be in the enemy’s lair. With those final INT checks, they’d foil the villain’s plan of draining the acid into the wild and destroying the nearby area.
All of that from a couple of dice. It wasn’t long before I posted a game listing and waited with excitement to play this fresh setup.
It didn’t take long to find a few players and we decided to run this with The Waste is Not Kind, a post-apocalyptic supplement by Epic Sloth Games. With that in mind, I started spinning more grungy elements into the session. Less “dungeon” and more underground compound/ancient sewer.
My method for online games like these often starts with building battle maps and play spaces. This helps me formulate what I might include in each scene and how I might stitch them together as we move from room to room. Plus, the visuals prime my brain for the final stage of writing out the mechanical details. Using 2-Minute Tabletop assets and a few maps, I kitbashed together a handful of scenes. Once I was satisfied with the amount of toxic lime green, I started on the details.
Entrance – Target 10 (WIS)
Dropping in from the surface, the players dive in after The Chemist, a villain we established they’ve had multiple encounters with before, only to find he’s vanished. Sickly and toxic liquid pool on the floor. A locked door looms in the corner by some pipes. My intention here is to start introducing the themes of the session like acid and pipes, but also to put them on their heels a little. If they go straight for the door, they’ll be exposed to a hidden spray of acid. If they look around, they may be able to find the secret entrance that bypasses the trap. Either way will lead them into the next scene but may change where they enter from.
- Timer: D4 -> Poison Gas (BASIC + HARD rolls equal to the damage taken)
- Threat: Trapped Door -> Acid Spray (CON Save or WPN + Broken Gear)
- Treat: 2x Rolls on Item Table
Operation Floor – Target 12 (STR)
Here’s the first and main combat for the session. The players may be chasing The Chemist, but they follow him right into his cronies. I’m betting the players will make quick work of the mooky guards, but I added in a Flamethrower Brute who will get in close with gouts of flames. Since this is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the catwalks probably haven’t seen this level of activity and their structural integrity is in question. Hopefully, the players can position themselves well enough to not fall into the Acid Pool below.
Once they decide to move on, they’ll have a choice to make. I added four potential tunnels to choose from. They all lead to the next scene since all of these pipes connect somehow, but it may complicate things down the line. Three out of the four doors will add complications further on and one will keep things the same.
- Timer: D4 -> Catwalk Breaks (Environmental Disruption / Target +1)
- Threat: 5 Guards & Flamethrower Brute
- Treat: Catwalk & Acid Pool (STR to Throw In)
Acid Pool – Target 12 (Dex)
Jumping across some rocks shouldn’t be scary, but throwing in caustic acid and a brute with a rifle complicates things. I kept the Target down so the jumps wouldn’t be too difficult to make, but once players are out on the rocks, they’ll be sitting ducks and I’m very curious how they’ll tackle the situation. The Secret Bridge is honestly something I may introduce or swap out depending on how things are going. It stands out as a clear opportunity to tune the challenge and we’ll see how it goes.
- Timer: D4 -> Frag Grenade into Acid (Double ULT, NEAR + Auto BASIC for D4 Rounds)
- Threat: Rifle Brute & Acid (Fall in Acid = Auto BASIC/TURN)
- Treat: Secret Bridge (HARD WIS)
Chemist Lair – Target 14 (INT)
Finally! They have The Chemist trapped and he won’t get away this time. Unfortunately, his grand scheme of releasing toxic waste into the surrounding area is underway. In 4 Rounds the place will become inhospitable to all life unless the players can reach the control panels and activate them in unison. It shouldn’t be too much of a challenge if it wasn’t for The Chemist tossing out poisonous gas, the gun brute taking shots, and the pit trap covered and ready to throw anyone down into the Roach Hulk’s Den below.
- Timer: 4 ROUNDS -> Poison Released
- Threat: Chemist, Gun Brute, 4 Guards, & Pit Trap
- Treat: Pit Trap & Loot Drops
Roach Hulk Den – Target 15 (STR, CON, DEX)
The Roach Hulk fills me with dread every time I’ve come across it as a player and I couldn’t help but take it for a spin. Plus, I’ve really been wanting to throw a pit trap into a session lately and everything just aligned. The Roach Hulk is truly a formidable foe and anyone left down is very likely to lose a character. I’m very curious how players will react if their attention is pulled in two directions. Save their friend or stop The Chemist. Sure, they could wait until after the countdown has stopped, but will it be too late?
- Timer: None
- Threat: Roach Hulk ♥♥♥ | +6 All Rolls | 1 Action/Heart
- Treat: Roll on Gun Table
Oh, man! What a fun game. It’s always so nice when you have a group of players that just find that synergy right off and things come together. This was a shining example of how RPGs can bring people together. It’s just such a fun part of the hobby. But how did the game go compared to the prep?
Well, as you can see from my notes, I only had to shift a few things around or add in some unexpected elements. That’s to be expected with a game like this. But it felt good to have prepped the way I did. I felt confident with my timers (although ICRPG moves quickly and I rolled multiple 4 ROUND timers which are an eternity!) and my threats. I had a good handle on environmental disruptions and how the spaces played into one another. That usually doesn’t happen when I rush or try to cut corners.
Due to the 4 ROUND Timer and not having a preset trigger for the door trap, neither the poisonous gas nor acid spray went off. 4 Rounds right off the bat gave them plenty of time and I probably could have gone with just a flat two to start with. D4 is so often my default, but when timers come up high, it can often deflate the tension, which is something I want to work on.
Operation Floor Notes
Due to the previous timer being high, I adjusted a little to turn the next D4 into a D4-1 (aka exclude 4 as an option). That worked out better because it kept things moving. I also moved the Poisonous Gas Timer down into this room with the same mechanics. Classic case of moving something the players missed back into their path.
The Pipe Maze challenge also got bypassed a bit when they found some random loot I tried to make up on the spot to fit the environment. They discerned which was the right tunnel based on the clues, so it was less of a skills check and more of player intuition and I’m not sad about that. Goes to show that no plan ever survives contact with the players.
Acid Pool Notes
This room was probably the favorite of the night. I know it was for me. The players bravely addressed the Brute before he could get a shot off and gave them a chance to get across the Acid Pools. Unfortunately, those DEX checks were hard to come by and they ended up taking quite a bit of damage from the acid. Changing the frequency of damage from ROUNDS to TURNS is such a powerful tool to spring on players. The tension just went up as they watched each other’s health drain. They knew they had to find ways to help each other out.
This was compounded by the timer. I originally intended for the brute to throw out a grenade when the timer went up but he was stunned. Rolling with the punches, I transitioned that into the start of the Countdown Timer for the next room. Based on the actions, the grenade would then become a death rattle for the brute as he died, which was a fun twist. But now there was no time to waste. They had to jump into the next scene without recovering.
Chemist Lair Notes
The climactic scene! I knew they wanted to rush in and take out The Chemist, but he got a chance to throw out a gas cloud as a deterrent. But with some clever thinking and playing to the map, one character was able to get behind enemy lines without getting noticed. They then used some clever loot and excellent rolls to light The Chemist on fire and take him out of the fight which really changed the dynamic of the scene.
The big trap also was adjusted because of how things played out. It never felt like the right moment for The Chemist to spring it and so it became his “death rattle”. As he died, he’d crash through the planks and open up the pit. Only one player was at risk of falling in, which he ended up doing. This turned the pit into more of a final complication rather than a trap.
Roach Hulk Den Notes
Since this became the final complication before the end of the session, I wanted the Roach Hulk to put that final twist of pressure on the players before finishing them off. He snatched the player in his pinchers and it was only a matter of time before he’d be cut in half. But two natural 20s made it easier and then overcame the HARD STR roll before the player’s turn. This lets him use his action to get away to safety. I could have said that he still needed that STR check, but this was a moment where I needed to interpret the dice. What were the dice trying to say at this moment and that trumps any rule or mechanic I’ve already set in place? So the dice said he got a chance and he took it. I can’t believe it!
But yeah! What a fun session! I always find it fascinating to think about how things turn out when you get to the table and then how things change, don’t you?