Archive for category Crunch

Building a Boost Transform

A Boost Transform is a hook for a single low level character to get involved in modules scaled for a higher level party. Here’s a quick guide to building one for a specific character.

Boost Transforms can be conceptualized in other forms than as an enchantment which turns a character into another creature. This framework can just as easily be used to create Boost Artifacts or Boost Boons (granted by an NPC). Technically, the Boost can be treated like a Curse of Transformation. (9th ed rulebook p90)

The goal of a Boost Transform is to provide about enough power to let a player face the enemy NPCs on fair terms. It shouldn’t make him the toughest character there. But it should give him a unique trick, a way of supporting his allies, or a cool moment.

A Boost Transform can be measured in terms of how many effective levels it adds. Calculate the level difference between the party and the low level player they’re bringing. If a level 8 character is tagging along with a party whose average level is 28, you can build the Boost Transform with a budget of about 15-20 levels.

Add a certain amount of defense based on the Boost Transform’s level. For each level, add a point of body, physical armor, arcane armor, dexterity armor, body points, or a mix.

For fighters, the simplest route is to add a strength bonus. A quick rule of thumb is to add 2 point of strength for every 3 levels. (roughly equivalent to granting 2 profs at 15 build) If the other fighters on the module can drop a monster in 4 swings, then a boosted fighter should be able to kill it in 5 or 6. A level can also be spent on a parry/slay, 1-3 physical weapon attacks (ie “physical strike flamebolt (20)”), or the ability to swing 10s as a critical attack.

For scholars, the basic idea is to make sure that they can throw a lot of spells without expending all their resources for the weekend. One method is to allow spellcasters to treat the adventure as if it’s a full day of spells. After it’s over, their spell pyramid will return to what it was before they began the module. Another method is to add a pool of of 20 healing or elemental damage per level which they can cast in increments of 5 or 10 at a time, similar to the element’s fury cantrip. You can grant a few times-ever spell-like abilities such as Dragon’s Breath or Cure Mortal Wounds, or allow the caster to regain a certain number of spell slots by meditating after each encounter during the adventure.

Templars Boost Transforms combine the building techniques for fighters and scholars.

Boost Transforms for Rogues are built similar to fighters, but substitute assassinate/dodge and waylay, for fighter skills and grant twice as much backstab damage as you would strength.

A Boost Transform’s stats are clustered around a theme. This often reflects a role in combat such as melee, ranged attacks, healing, buffing, debuffing, or ambush. They usually also incorporate a setting flavor such as golems, fae, necromancy, celestial magic, earth magic, tyrran forces, lycanthrope, or one of the elements.



Boost Transforms

One of the goals which NERO characters pursue is Character Transformations. These enchantments essentially allow your character to change into some flavor of powerful creature, but only under certain circumstances. Transforms can be expensive, generally they are something pursued by high level characters and teams. Most Transforms add substantial power to an already powerful character.

Our game makes it difficult to design an appropriate challenge for a group of people with widely different levels of power, so we segregate our players into bands based on level — even though this does not necessarily reflect the real social groups they’d like to hang out with.  It’s very frustrating to be told that you haven’t been playing long enough to join your friends on the adventure into the mummy’s lair.  This is another possible use for Transforms – allowing low level players to participate in more of the game.

A Boost Transform is designed to allow a lower level player to go on a higher level module. Because they’re designed for newer players, these types of transforms  are not complicated; they don’t add wacky powers or complex abilities.

These don’t necessarily have to be enchantments cast on a specific character. The transform can be conferred by an item or other artifact that players may pass around. It might also be bestowed as a Curse of Transformation by an NPC.

Boost Transforms can be treated as a team resource. Perhaps the team has a spare golem back at the manor, or an enchanted mantle they can throw on a newcomer. It allows them to bring an extra person on a module, as long as that person is under a certain level.  The team will be on the lookout for low level players to bring along so they can use their resource. This is an opportunity to give a new player a taste of the high level game and get plugged into the weekend’s plotlines.

Boost Transforms could also be granted to a specific player through their character concept or history. This makes that player an attractive choice to bring on a module.

Boost Transforms may also be linked with a plotline. For example, whenever characters visit the forest of Fae, they are greeted by a Trickster Riff who wishes to tag along and assist somebody. Consider giving Boost Transforms a power or ability which is necessary to complete one of that plotline’s challenges. This insures that a newer player gets the opportunity to be in the spotlight as the hero of the adventure.

Boost Transforms may only be used when an event director says it’s okay. Often, they simply do not work or are “recharging”. If an NPC is acting as a module hook, check with the NPC in advance if it’s alright to bring along an extra body with a Boost Transform.

Sample Boost Transforms

Here’s a few examples of Boost Transforms. If you have ideas for how they could be improved, or other ideas for Boost Transforms, hit up the comments!

Clockwork Harness

(Designed to support a 20th level team. Can be placed on a character of 10th level or lower once per day, for the duration of a module)
Description: A clockwork harness is a device worn under the clothing. It pushes and pulls in a way which reinforces certain muscular movements. Clockwork harnesses are most useful for melee-oriented characters.
  •  +10 Physical Armor
  • +6 strength
  • 1 Parry/Slay       or    (Steam Jets) 100 point pool of elemental flame. (May throw in bursts of 10)

Mirror of Destiny

(Designed to support a 20th level team. Can be given to a character of 10th level or lower once per day, for the duration of a module)
Description: A novice character may gaze into a Mirror of Destiny and see a glimpse of a future version of himself. The character will be temporarily inspired by this hint of his real potential.

  • +10 Dex Armor
  • The character is granted an extra usage of each times-per-day skill     or    the character’s number of weapon proficiencies and backstabs are multiplied by 1.5 (rounded down).

Trickster Riff

(Designed to support a 30th level team. Can be placed on a character of 15th level or lower once per day, for the duration of a module) 
Description: A Trickster Riff is a tiny fae spirit that lives inside of a gemstone. Once per day, they can bond with somebody of level 15 or under. They whisper advice into that person’s ear at just the right time to make that person more effective.
  • +15 Dex Armor
  •  2 Assassinate/Dodges    or    (Quickling’s Trick) 150 point pool of elemental lightning. (May throw in bursts of 10)
  • Magic Inspiration x 2

Apprentice’s Mantle

(Designed to support a 35th level team. Can be placed on a character of 15th level or lower once per day, for the duration of a module) 
Description: An Apprentice’s Mantle can be worn by a character of level 15 or under. It confers powers meant to support allies and debuff enemies.
  • +15 Arcane Armor
  • 150 points pool of elemental healing (may touch cast in bursts of 10)
  • Magic Curse x3
  • Magic Dispel Magic x3
  • Magic Purify Blood x3
  • Magic Remove Physical Affliction x3
  • Magic Shield Magic x3


Scaling Advice (continued)

Scaling for Spells

By mid level, column size is not a good factor for scaling. If a caster with a 4 column fights a caster with a 12 column, it’s still anybody’s game – the first caster to land two consecutive spells before the opponent can cast a protective will win.

Keep celestial casters in mind when building monsters. Their class is most effective when the monsters have lower amounts of body and are vulnerable to a certain element. If your monsters seem to be getting constantly spelled down by take-outs, it is better to grant specific defenses such as return vs mystic force or return vs imprison than general purpose return magics or <effect> shields.

Use return magic instead of resist magic wherever possible. Because casters can actually run out of things they can do, it’s very frustrating to have your limited resources consumed by spell resistance. Returns, like lesser parries (described under Scaling for Melee) increase the individual monster’s difficulty without severely draining the player’s resources.

NPCs should only throw take-out spells when fighting mid or higher level groups. Death and Imprison spells should be very limited in use, generally only used by elite monsters or in “high danger” situations.

Reduced Damage: Monsters which take half damage from melee attacks are best targeted by spell casters.




The rate at which opponents respawn impacts the difficulty of the encounter.

  • Player Triggered Respawn: (easiest) the opponents respawn when the players decide to “move forward”. This is the easiest way to encounter opponents, as the party has as much time as it needs to organize and prepare for the next encounter.
  • Interval Respawn: (easy to medium) the opponents respawn as a group at certain intervals. Usually there is a bit of downtime between each wave, allowing players time to refit armor and resolve status effects. Monsters will be able to make effective use of teamwork, healing, and coordinated attacks, potentially increasing the difficulty of the encounter.
  • Popcorn Respawn: (medium to hard) opponents respawn instantly after they’ve died. Each NPC is usually given a time limit or finite number of lives. These types of encounters result in constant pressure on the party, making it challenging to heal the wounded or refit armor. Due to the staggered respawning, monsters will tend to be in smaller groups when they engage the players.



Carrier Attacks

see also:Status Effects

Carrier attacks will only work if they pierce the target’s armor. As such, monsters with carrier attacks do not need to deal as high melee damage as other monsters.

Monsters can be equipped with carrier attacks at three different levels of intensity:

  • Unlimited Use – A creature with unlimited use of a carrier attack may choose to call it on every weapon swing.
  • Critical Use – A creature with critical use of a carrier attack may call it against one opponent per battle, in the manner of a critical attack
  • Single Use – A creature with a single use carrier attack may choose to call the effect on one swing only.

Resolution: Because it takes spell power to resolve wounds from a monster with a carrier attack, this ability can drain player resources very quickly. As such, they should be used sparingly. After an encounter involving carrier attacks, players will need to resolve status effects, refit armor, and recast protectives. As such, carrier attacks are easier to resolve if the monsters attack in waves, (rather than a continuous trickle).

Weak Carrier Attacks: Weak carrier attacks can be resolved by a 4th level or lower spell, or will go away on their own. This includes disease, pin, fear, and bind.

Strong Carrier Attacks: Greater carrier attacks include take-out effects and effects which are resolved by 5th or higher level spells. This includes wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep.



Non-Spell Packet Attacks

Other than takedowns, there are plenty of things that NPCs can do with Packets. These might be minor effects like fear, pin, and disarm, or they could simply be elemental damage. The strength of packet delivered attacks is the fact that they cannot be stopped, and almost every point of damage will be delivered to a player (except for misses).

While these things are perfectly fine for use in controlled situations, modules with a large amount of resets for lesser NPCs with packet attacks can quickly go south, even if the rest of the module was scaled appropriately.

As a rule of thumb, lesser NPCs should be given the same amount of packet attacks as the average player level. The level of a packet attack is either the level of the spell effect or the damage divided by 10 (10 elemental <element> is level 1, etc). The lower the level of the PCs, the better it is to lean on effects rather than pure damage.

If you plan on having the NPCs continue to reset until a boss is killed, consider giving them a pool of packet attacks that they can access for the entire module, as well as a limit on how many they can throw per respawn. That way, bad NPCs won’t suicide themselves after they throw their packets, so they can respawn and do it again.

Example: A group of low level adventurers (APL 10) stumble into a spider cave. They decide to engage the queen that’s sleeping on a pile of treasure, and when they do, hundreds of spiders decend from the ceiling. Lesser spiders will continue to respawn until the queen is dead.

Since the APL is 10, each spider has a pool of 10 levels of packet attack they can access, but they are only allowed to throw a single packet per spawn. They can choose to use Physical Entangle your leg (level 2), Physical Entangle your body (level 5), or 10 physical acid (level 1). Once they’ve depleted their pool of attacks, they’re stuck meleeing the group, possibly with a lesser carrier attack.



Scaling For a Low Level Group

For purposes of this document, low level is defined as anything below level 10. A low level party may have access to a very limited number of life spells, and cannot use cantrips.

In low level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 8 damage or lower. Templars will usually swing between 3s and 5s. Characters will have a maximum of 25 body points, though most will have 10 or less.

Carrier attacks: A low level group has difficulty resolving carrier attacks. If carrier attacks are used, stick to lesser effects, and single use or critical use attacks.



Scaling For a Mid Level Group

For purposes of this document, mid level is defined as levels 11-25. A mid level party may have access to multiple life spells, and can spend resources to get more power via cantrips or formal magic.

In mid level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 15 damage or lower. Templars will usually swing between 4s and 7s. Characters will have a maximum of 50 body points, though most will have 20-30.

Carrier attacks: A mid level group can handle a few creatures having unlimited use of lesser carrier attacks (such as pin, bind, fear & disease). Greater carrier attacks such as wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep may be deployed in single-use or as a critical attack.

Scaling for a High Level Group

For purposes of this document, high level is defined as levels 25+. A high level party has access to many ways to resolve status any status effect including death. Fighters will often swing 15s or 20s. A well positioned rouge will be capable of unleashing hundreds of points of damage in a few backstabs.

In high level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 15-20 damage. Templars will usually swing between 5s and 10s. Characters could have 60 or 80 body, but most will have less than 30.

Carrier attacks: A high level group can handle unlimited use of lesser carrier attacks. Dangerous carrier attacks such as wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep may be used more commonly.





Scaling for Mixed Level Groups

Mixed level groups are the hardest to scale for, especially if there is a large level disparity. The goal is to make sure every player has something to do in the fight.

Dynamic Challenges

In a dynamic battle, there are multiple tasks or objectives. These are often simultaneous. Players performance towards these objectives affects the completion of other tasks. Here are some examples of dynamic challenges:

  • high and low level monsters are respawning from opposite sides of the encounter area
    a puzzle must be solved while monsters attack. (some characters must focus on the puzzle while others focus on the battle)
  • the boss is only vulnerable while somebody is playing the drum of sundering, brandishing a light spell, or doing some other activity
  • the players must use one or more items which are delimited to only be used by characters in a certain level range
  • a group of players is outside, dealing with monsters trying to get into the building, while another group faces the challenges inside the building


There are also a few abilities which lend themselves for groups of mixed level:

Damage Cap: Damage caps are a good tool for mixed level groups as they put fighters and templars of disparate levels on the same footing. If a monster has cap 5 and 25 body, you can be sure it will take 5 swings to kill it whether the players are swinging 5s or 20s.

Threshold / Immune to <damage type>: Monsters with a damage threshold, or monsters which are silver/magic to hit are best targeted by characters who can beat that threshold or immunity. These abilies are best used to create monsters which must be targeted by spell casters or higher level fighters. Whenever abilities like these are used, you must also include creatures who can be affected by the remaining characters. Avoid situations where certain characters have nothing to do in a given fight. For example, never stat every single monster on a module to be magic-to-hit.



Scaling for Large Groups

Large groups have a wide variety of resources at their disposal. The advice for scaling for mixed level groups also applies. Dynamic encounters may be slightly be more complex, but be sure to explain the encounter’s objectives to everybody in advance.

When creating encounters for large groups, use a variety of different monster types. The majority of the monsters should be melee types, but also be sure to include ranged and rogue opponents. Large groups may have to contend with occasional boss-type monsters as well.

Boss Fights

A boss fight is a dramatic encounter, often the climax of an adventure or battle. As such, they should be memorable and exciting. This is the time to bust out the best props, costume, lighting, music or sound effects you have available.

Generally, it is better to use a group of bosses than an single tough opponent. This maximizes the number of players who can feel heroic for defeating a boss.

Bosses are generally are what players save their really powerful skills for, so boss types should have multiple resistances to take-out effects. They should have take-out or escape effects of their own which they use to avoid being surrounded or overwhelmed. Bosses are most effective when fighting in concert with a complimentary class such as a healer (for melee bosses) or a fighter (for packet slinging bosses).

Boss fights are great opportunities for dynamic encounters. Perhaps the boss can only be slain under certain conditions, or must be defeated multiple times. Perhaps he splits into several aspects which must be defeated in different places or by different groups.

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The ability to track one’s foes is a common fantasy trope, and a very useful skill for an adventurer. This type of challenge is useful when the PCs must pursue an NPC, forge their way back to civilization after beign lost in the wilderness, locate a hideout, lair, or den, or blaze a new trail through dangerous territory. In reality, tracking through the woods can be very difficult. It takes training, patience, and time. To simulate this, we will create a trail through the woods which perceptive players will be able to navigate.

Note: Tracking challenges should never be used in player versus player conflicts. When following another player, you will have to track them fairly, without assistance from staff members.

Creating a Trail

Drag a heavy log through the woods, leaving a wake of disturbed leaves and crunched twigs. To adjust the level of difficulty, vary the size of the log or the speed that you’re dragging it.

Alternatively, you can leave tough-to-spot objects as trail blazes. Easy ones include bits of fabric tied to branches at eye level or markings on a tree. More difficult blazes might be on the ground, such as colored stones or dropped spell packets. The difficulty can also be varied by spacing out the clues, forcing players to move slowly through the woods as they look for the next blaze.

Some challenges might require players to find a certain number of blazes. For example, to keep on his trail, the party must find at least 10 of the 20 spell book pages dropped by the necromancer as he escaped.

Just like in real life, it’s extremely difficult to track someone after sunset!

Assisting a Tracker

Once a tracker has spotted the beginnings of a trail, she can point it out to her party so they can help too. People shouldn’t have to ignore clues that they can actually see! It’s much easier for large groups to spot a trail though – so increase the difficulty if the tracker has a whole party of helpers.

If you are running a tracking challenge in which only certain players should be able to follow the trail, use a subtle blaze and only let those players know what it is. For example, some races have an excellent sense of smell. They can find trails that others can’t. You can clue them in that a yellow leaf thumbtacked to a tree represents a scent trail, but forbid them from telling anyone what the marker looks like. (This isn’t a foolproof method however – other players might be able to figure out what blaze their companion is looking for.)

At Trail’s End

If the destination at the end of the trail is highly visible (such as a cabin or group of NPCs), it won’t be hard for players to find it through luck alone. Instead, have them searching for something smaller which represents their success.

For example, when tracking a person, you may not be looking for the person himself, but a clue about their destination. You might find a road sign which points to the Silverlake Road. When the tracker locates this sign, it indicates she discovered where her quarry was headed. She can then return to the marshal and say “I’m pursuing him down Silverlake Road.” This triggers the module where the tracker and her party close the distance and catch the escaping criminal.

Or when looking for a monster’s lair, you might find certain marks on the ground or trees which indicate you’re close to the heart of its territory.

If the tracking challenge had a time limit, the party may discover their quarry is already too far away, or that the monster has already returned to its lair.

Finding a Safe Route

Tracking Challenges can also be used to simulate forging a trail through dangerous territory. This is a variant of the tracking module, where players are actually looking for the lack of blazes. You mark “dangerous territory” by putting “anti-blazes” in the woods to represent the territory of hostile wildlife. This could be shredded clothing, bloody rags, or bones.

Players must chart a route through the dangerous territory by tying cloth blazes to branches. None of these blazes may be within line-of-sight of an anti-blaze. At the end of the adventure the tracker will have to walk an NPC through the trail who will verify that it is safe.

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Module: Choose Your Own Dungeon Crawl

This is a module format for running dungeons which are too large to be explored in one delve.  This is a basic, skeletal writeup which should be easy to flesh out and adapt for your game. If you don’t like reading module writeups, stop here!

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Module: Rope Trick

This is a LARP module written around a basic challenge – players must hold onto a rope while moving the woods collecting glowsticks.

This scenario could be used as a challenge when visiting any hostile plane. In this example, we’ll be talking about a trip to Dreaming, but you can adapt it to any plane.

The final encounter of the module is up to you – you’ll fill it in with something relevant to your plotline.

For some reason, the PCs are visiting Dream. Perhaps they need to speak with someone in the dreaming, or get information from someone who cannot wake up and forever wanders dream country.

If you don’t like  reading module writeups, stop here!

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Physical Challenge: Jumping Stones

Here’s an old module gimmick with some new twists.

Jumping Stones – there are certain parts of the floor that players can step on, and certain parts that they shouldn’t. Mark off the edge of the “safe” stones using rope or chalk. To create reusable props, you can cut cardboard, doormat, or lenolium tiles into shape and then place them wherever you’d like. Most stones should be about as large as a shield, but make stones of various size. Some might fit two or three characters, others that can only fit one foot as you skip to another stone.

Players often face opponents while navigating the jumping stones. The creatures which prefer this kind of environment are not effected by the floor, such as bats, noncorporeal undead, or creatures who are immune to the damage type. If the monsters can step anywhere on the floor, be careful of giving them ranged attacks or two handed weapons. Players ability to defend themselves from ranged attacks decreases as their mobility decreases.

Treasure can be hidden in an out-of-reach spot which requires you to step off the stones.

The penalty for falling off a stone or missing a stone should be enough to discourage players from taking a step through it. Here are some ideas for jumping stone rooms:

  • Lavastone – The floor is directly above a lava flow and is steaming hot. If you touch it, you take elemental flame damage equal to the party’s average level. The monsters are immune to fire.
  • Iceflow – The floor is covered in water from the plane of ice. If you touch it, you’ll be instantly stuck as if by a paste of stickiness. A release spell or any flame damage will unfreeze the character.
  • Blightmarsh – The floor is a wet marsh, corrupted by necromancy. If you touch the floor, that limb will be withered. If your torso touches the floor, your blood is tainted. In one corner of the room there is some boonblossom growing (use some plants as a prop). If you can make it to the boonblossom and spend 10 seconds smelling its fragrant air, you will be cured of all necromantic effects. On the other side of the room is a chest that can only be opened if you have no necromantic effects on you. Monsters make liberal use of necromancy. If the players don’t want to use up their spells, they will have to move back and forth across the room to cure their effects.
  • Rapids – the floor represents a rushing river. (For something this dramatic, use sound effects!) The players are fighting their way upstream. If a player falls into the river, he takes damage equal to the party’s average level and must go back to the large stone the players started on.
  • Long Distance Stones – the stones are far apart, but can accomodate several players per stone. The group has two planks they can use to create temporary bridges. There might be a rope hanging from the ceiling they can use to swing across a hard spot.
  • Searching Stones – Some stones have treasure hidden under them. When standing atop a stone, you can spend one minute searching the floor. At the end of this time, you’re allowed to step off the stone briefly to grab any treasure under it. During this challenge, monsters are constantly attacking. Players will have to divide up their party between searching and defending in order to find a key item.
  • Spell Stones – in certain rooms, players might be able to create temporary stones by casting a spell of the opposite element into the floor. The spell packet itself becomes a spot you can step on safely, but only once. For example, a spellcaster can create a safe spot in an iceflow room by throwing a flamebolt at the ground. The spell packet will support one person stepping on it before the area is frozen again. Players might need to use this technique to access something on the far side of the room.
  • Turtle Stone – a hula hoop, “pop circle” or other ring can be slowly dragged across the floor using string. It will stop moving once someone stands on it. Players might have to skip across it in order to access certain parts of the room. They may be able to hit it with a spell to stop it from moving.
  • Color Stones – the room has many jumping stones in it, represented by blue, red, or green paper plates. Players have six colored gems to divide between their party. They may only safely step on the plate if they are holding the gem of that color. Certain regions of the room will only be accessable by certain colors. Players can trade gems during the adventure.
  • Toss the Stones – the room has no jumping stones in it. On one side, the players have a quarry of stones which they can toss onto the floor to create a path across the floor. Players must carry the stones with both hands and can’t toss them more than a foot or two past the previous stone. Once a stone is placed, it is stuck to that spot and cannot be removed.