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View Full Version : Underdark induced paranoid (4e, but other D&D still relevant)



valadil
2010-08-24, 02:21 PM
So I've sent my PCs to the Underdark. I read up on the subject and I'm trying to focus on the feel of the place. I want it to be more than just another dungeon. So far the encounters have been meaner and the sociable NPCs have been jerkier, but other than that it doesn't seem that special.

What I want to focus on is the effect it has on the players. The UD book described how it alters the adventurers moods. Not just because they aren't seeing the sun. Being down there makes you go a little crazy. People hear voices. What I want is to make the players paranoid.

The question is how to do this.

What I want to do is pass out delusional notes telling the PCs what they're experiencing. My first thought was to do kind of a reverse skill challenge. As the players spelunk, they make skill checks. Failed checks result in delusions. This mostly makes sense for perception (ie, success means you spot incoming enemies, failure means you imagine the cleric just insulted your mother).

The problem with that is twofold. I don't just want to run a skill challenge where failure is interesting and success is meaningless. I also don't want to run a skill challenge that consists of 12 perception checks.

I also want this to be an ongoing thing. Like, it should be that the players experience intense paranoia between the second and third encounters, and then things go back to happy. I think it needs to be spread out.

Anyway, my plan is to pass out a few notes to each player between other events. I think this will work, but it's pretty uninspired. I worry that the players will see what's going on and ignore the delusions. Like "hey guys, I got deja vu. Let's get to the next combat." I'm trying to make the effects personal, but I'm not sure it's enough. I'm also not confident about my ability to create enough delusions to last until they're out of the Underdark.

So I'm taking suggestions for how exactly to run this. I'm also taking suggestions for delusions to throw at my players. Here's what I've got so far (some are player specific, to try to draw people in. Most are generic because I don't want to deal with 5 stacks of individualized notes):


About PCs

Kreetok took an extra share of rations this morning.

Why does Tarim carry all the loot? He could slip away with all of it and you'd never see your gold again.

Why are you trusting a svirfneblin to guide you? He flat out told you he'd slurp the marrow from your bones given half a chance.

Marad's prayers sounded different this morning. Is he still praying to Torm or to something else?

Crash gave you the smallest serving of rations at lunch today. And at breakfast. What's up with that?

Crash is only pretending to sleep. He’s been staring at you for your whole watch.

Did Selim take a shorter night watch again? He woke you after what felt like very little sleep.

For PCs

Tarim: If Ogallo replaced a party member to get to you, who would he be?

Tarim: What if Shar is the only deity that will have you?

Selim: Why haven't the War Wizards reformed yet? They were dispersed, but casualties weren't so bad that they couldn't recover. Have they forgotten about you?

Selim: Maybe the Drow won’t kill you. They’ll catch you and then you’ll be a slave again.

Kreetok: What if the church of Kelemvor catches the plague from that corpse you dropped off?

Kreetok: Is it possible to delve so deep that when you die your soul can’t reach Kelemvor? The thought makes you shiver.

Marad: Justifiable homicide is one thing, but a murderbox? Torm will not approve.

Marad: Torm doesn’t love you anymore.

Crash: Tarim would fetch a fair price in Akanul. Doppelgangers are rarely captured, let alone put on sale.

Crash: (need one more. this would be easier had he written a backstory)

About Plot

The assassins in the Raven's Bluff Inn knew about you from rumors from Lyrabar. Why didn't you find out who they spoke to?

What if both Luciens are evil? Maybe this whole thing is a setup to keep you underground.

Could Jesse have made it back to his earth mote yet?

If Oswin gave away a murderbox like it was nothing, what horrible devices does he keep for himself?

How much longer can you ignore Thessa?

Underdark

You hear something in the cave behind you.

You hear something in the cave in front of you.

You just passed the same rock formation for the third time. You're going in circles.

How do you know the map is still oriented correctly?

Shouldn't these caves have run out of breathable air by now?

How far will those guards from Tantras go to track you down? They probably haven’t followed you to the Underdark, but what if the rest of Vesperin suspects you of murder?

It’s been a while since you worked towards your the debts in Lyrabar. You doubt they’ve been forgotten.

You experience déjà vu. The next thing somebody says has started the same conversation at least three times before today.

Master_Rahl22
2010-08-24, 04:54 PM
I think you're on the right track. You might also consider mentioning to the players that you'd like them to be totally immersed for a while and refrain from OOC during the bits you want to be particularly stressful or tense. For me the best moments of my games has been when either by implicit or explicit agreement, we all just stay in character and anything said is our character saying it.

Oh, and have a strange rock formation that they could swear is an illithid eating somebody's brain, enough to convince at least one person who saw it unless they explore further. Then around the corner is an actual illithid eating someone's brain. :smallbiggrin:

One of the Drizzt books (hey, it was one of the earlier ones and I read it before he was cool :smalltongue:) had an earth elemental which of course is scary and paranoia inducing because it could appear from anywhere, being in a giant cave underground and all.

Consider some way of temporarily removing all darkvision, torches, etc. for some panic inducing blindly feeling their way around.

nihilism
2010-08-24, 06:01 PM
i have always liked the idea of turning the players against each other but in my experience it never works if the delusions come from the dm.

perhaps try adding an element of unpredictability (whether true or not) to the group dynamic so that they never feel safe. you could have the villains buy off (or make the players think that they bought off) one player and subtly hint it to the others.

i love the underdark i went caving a few weeks ago. caves are horrible damp and cold. i live in canada where it gets dark at 4 pm in the winter and seasonal effective disorder is common, it could add to the mood if they slowly lost ability points do to crippling depression.

WarKitty
2010-08-24, 06:06 PM
Do you meet in some sort of private place? Changing the playing space can have some interesting effects. Dim the lights, find a soundtrack of water dripping and play it the whole time, etc.

valadil
2010-08-24, 06:47 PM
Do you meet in some sort of private place? Changing the playing space can have some interesting effects. Dim the lights, find a soundtrack of water dripping and play it the whole time, etc.

Hadn't even considered something like that. We play at my place so that's a definite possibility.

Mark Hall
2010-08-24, 09:03 PM
Mechanically, I'd run it somewhat like a disease... a long-track disease, using Dungeoneering (i.e. familiarity with life and things underground) to resist. They start off "fine", and failed checks advance the disease, resulting in mental problems. They can get bonuses by doing things specifically to fight the crazies (like always camping with a fire, getting fresh surface food, or some sort of access to sunlight or its equivalent).

First stage would be some Perception penalties (with missing by the penalty resulting in minor hallucinations or seeing threats where they're not). Have two or three stages of this, which failures resulting in bigger penalties, and more DM lies.

Second stage would be penalties to Insight (having trouble identifying what people mean by things, identifying what is real and what is fake, and misinterpreting statements).

Third stage starts to hurt. Penalties to Will defense, and saves v. fear and psychic powers.

I would also allow the possibility to improve. Every check would have a "ok" and "good" result. Good results improve your condition... you've gotten a handle on the underworld. From "Fine", you could gain a bit of padding against future bad periods, and eventually get to a point where you're immune to "Underdark psychosis."

For DCs, I'd say going with about 20 for "OK" (doable by 1st level trained people without too much issue, by everyone with luck) and 25 for "good".

Thematically, keep people on topic, as mentioned. Turn lights down, so it's a little darker and closer. Turn the temperature down to make it a little uncomfortable, and more like a cave. Ask for precise methods when they're doing things. Occasionally ask seemingly irrelevant questions about what they are doing. Are you using your left or your right hand? Are you still wearing gloves? Which foot do you step off on first? Make sure they specify marching order. If someone in the back says they interact with something in the front, say something like "Ok, so you walk past Elfy McElfpants and... " to show that they're changing things. Keep track of light sources, and occasionally remind them when things get low.

In short, do things to make them paranoid and uncomfortable. Keep them paranoid and uncomfortable.

valadil
2010-08-25, 02:24 PM
Mechanically, I'd run it somewhat like a disease... a long-track disease, using Dungeoneering (i.e. familiarity with life and things underground) to resist. They start off "fine", and failed checks advance the disease, resulting in mental problems. They can get bonuses by doing things specifically to fight the crazies (like always camping with a fire, getting fresh surface food, or some sort of access to sunlight or its equivalent).


That's perfect. Just what I was looking for. I'll just pass out specific insanity notes when they make the relevant checks.

WarKitty
2010-08-25, 03:08 PM
That's perfect. Just what I was looking for. I'll just pass out specific insanity notes when they make the relevant checks.

If you're going to pass out notes, pass out LOTS of notes. Never just tell them the results, ever. So there's not a separate action for succeeding on a check and for failing it.