Monday, August 18, 2008

Grognard's Challenge #2: The Lightning Field

I received far fewer entries for Grognard's Challenge #2 than I did for #1, owing, I think, to the much greater difficulty of coming up with clever tricks or traps to befuddle players, which is why I extended the deadline and expanded the scope of the contest. Nevertheless, I did receive many excellent entries and I thank everyone who made a submission.

Having examined them carefully, though, there was one that stood out in my mind as a clear favorite and that was Ed Moretti's "The Lightning Field." Not only did his entry include a very nice map -- with hexes! -- but the core concept of his trick/trap is one that speaks to many different aspects of my own gaming philosophy. In essence, it's a giant gamble, because there's a healthy dose of randomness involved. There's a chance a character could easily cross the lightning field without every running afoul of its dangers -- but it's only a chance. In addition, the randomness isn't "pure," since the presence of characters wearing metal armor introduces another degree of variability that is also unpredictable.

The Lightning Field reminded me of tricks/traps I used when I was a younger man. For a long time, I had an obsession with giant chessboards and other similar kinds of puzzles involving plotting a course across deadly terrain that followed certain not easily discernible patterns. I think the Lightning Field is unique too because, while it could be transported to a dungeon environment with ease -- bonus points for flexibility -- it is "native" to the wilderness. I'm of the opinion that old school gaming tends to be overly dungeon-focused to its detriment and I appreciate seeing submissions like this, because they're a good reminder that there's a whole world out there in which to adventure in an old school fashion.

So, without further ado, here's the Lightning Field. Congratulations to Ed. I'll be sending him a copy of The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures shortly as his prize.
Description: The Valley of Storms is as shrouded in mystery as it is shrouded in the veil of perpetual storm that gives it its name, for no one has gone into the valley and returned in living memory.  The knowledge of who or what dwells within is beyond the reach of even legend; all that one can be sure of is that some sinister intelligence guards the valley against the curious and the venturesome.

The entrance to the valley is a narrow ravine, 20 yards wide, with sheer walls and floor of polished, smooth, hard, black stone slick from the constant rain. The ground between these walls is dotted by long metal poles embedded in the black stone floor every three feet for a distance of 100 yards. The purpose of these poles is given much speculation by those who view the valley for the first time. Impalement? Astronomical observatory of some kind? A new spectator does not have long to wait, however, to learn the awful truth of what these poles mean in a land whose atmosphere is a seething boil of constant storm. Each round, a bolt of lightning erupts from the clouds, attracted randomly to one of these metal poles, with lethal results to anyone in the vicinity.

Rules: The pole that the lightning strikes can be determined by obtaining a 1d20 roll representing the X axis and a 1d100 roll representing the Y axis (see Figure 1.0 below). A lightning strike will do 6d8 points of damage to anyone in the hex determined by the roll with the amount of damage decreasing by d8 for each hex a character is standing away from the hex struck (save for half damage).

If the roll determines that lightning will strike within 6 hexes of any character wearing metal armor, there is a 60% chance (-10% per hex distant from the hex rolled) that the lightning will strike that character instead for a full 6d8 points of damage (no save). If more than one character wearing metal armor is in range, roll the percentage for each character. The lightning will strike the character who rolled under the percentage chance with the highest number displayed on the dice. For example, Character 1 in plate mail is 2 hexes away from the hex rolled and thus has a 40% chance of being struck and rolls a 15; character 2 in scale mail is 4 hexes away with a 20% chance of being struck and rolls a 19; and character 3 in chain mail is 1 hex away with a 50% chance and rolls a 70; character 2 will be struck by the lighting. The slick wet stone is slippery so that any character crossing it will be limited to their base movement rate when traversing the field.

I plan on sticking with two week spans for each contest from now on, meaning that Challenge #3 still has another week to go before I announce a winner. Good luck to everyone and many thanks to those who have submitted to the first two challenges.

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