Hags are the Masters of Madness – Idea Pile #1

This is the first in a new series of text posts. For now, I’m calling it the “idea pile”.

The controlling method to getting it here is:

I have an Idea->the idea is notable for some reason->I write out and edit->I post it here with appropriate tags

This particular idea came from while I was browsing reddit and came across this post by u/jpan616, Link to original post, and I just couldn’t stop writing about it. I even got reddit gold for it, so I guess it’s notable.

If you don’t want to get sucked in to reddit (and I don’t blame you for that), then here is the setup: The DM had set up a situation where the PCs needed help from a Hag (Hags are humanoid in shape but usually larger, with mysterious magical powers and a penchant for being awful, nasty, baby-eating monsters. Think Disney witches with warts and everything), who demanded in exchange that they truthfully tell her their greatest fears. Most of the PCs said things like “Spiders,” or “The dark.” But one clever player thought

“of course the DM is asking us to load his gun. I should declare something that he can’t actually use against me.”

And this player declared that his greatest fear was “Madness.” Which is honestly a legit fear that I can see people having. But it is really hard to actually use against a character. A clever bit of metagaming on the part of the player.

The time came for the Hag to request something of the PCs, and it was abhorrent to them. They refused, and they left. So the DM started to use the fears that they declared. The PC who had declared “madness” started to brag about how clever he was.

Here’s the thing. You want to avoid pissing off the DM. You can kill his monsters and the DM will be delighted. You can derail a plot, but a good DM will just use what you gave him to make the story deeper. You can have a total change of character, and the DM will just live with it. You can decide to take over the thieves guild instead of exterminating them. That is all 100% ok and if it pisses off the DM, then you have a sub-par DM.

In this case, the DM had set up a great way for the characters to flesh themselves out in a very real way, and this character basically slimed his way past the set-up, and then bragged about it. This is how you piss off a DM. It ruins a great mechanic, it makes the game world a little more card-board-cutout-ish, , on top of rewarding the player for doing all this. Above all, it challenges the DM. Gauntlet thrown.

The DM accepted the challenge and is ready to mess him up. The DM wanted to show how wrong he was. But he needed some help from the community to get good ideas and polish things up. Here is my response, edited for clarity, focus, formatting, and language.

If you really want to mess with him and the madness thing, and are willing to take an entire session basically focused on him, then get the rest of the group on board with a plan – talk to them outside of the session first, without notifying your victim.

Start by describing things to the group as really weird stuff. Nothing that will force a roll of anything. The rest of the party is just sort of going along with it, but it is absolutely out of character for either you as a DM or his companions. Start small. Tell him, like u/dramlingthedwarf mentioned elsewhere that “this looks suspicious” and “You are surprised that this long-time friend would talk this way” even though there are no weird things about what he’s saying. Half of his perception checks give him wrong (and weird) information.

It’s really important that the other PCs are going along with this.

Eventually: ramp it up (The other PCs will realize in-game what’s happening and start ignoring his “new quirks” – the players should have some whispered convos at the table, but never with your victim). The point of this stage is to make him a little confused and generally to feel uneasy.

  • Mention that the water from that spring turns red and blood-like when he puts it in a vessel – and the other PCs just acknowledge what he’s saying and continue like it’s no big deal.
  • There is a swarm of demon rats (or whatever) that stops doing their rat-thing to just stare at him, and rushes away into other parts of the dungeon whenever he tries to fight/interact with them.
  • other things that you can think of – learn about the Mournland from Eberron for ideas.
  • Have him WASTE RESOURCES – time, potions, money, charges, spells, equipment, whatever – during this phase.

Then, make it REALLY weird (The other PCs during this phase are sort of pitying him, and trying to direct him to a temple, but he CANNOT know this – the player and the character alike have to think they still adventuring like normal). The point of this stage is to make him extremely uneasy and think that there is something big going on that he is not a part of.

Author’s note: normally I hate taking away the agency of a player, but this is temporary and he can still choose to act, so it gets a pass from me as long as the DM is considerate of this and keeps it controlled.

  • Have a defeated foe get up, take off his armor, and go shake his hand – while bleeding from the death-blows – and wander off naked in to the wilderness – Without saying anything to your victim – totally mute. The other players obviously notice, but don’t think it’s strange. (they see him still lying there, dead)
  • Have the rats rush away to another part of the same room, still staring – and then they are also in a corner in the next room. and the next. and the next. (the other PCs don’t see anything.)
  • The other Players should start passing notes. Make them gibberish and include “hag” and “madness” as the only actual words, just in case your victim intercepts one.
  • The players should whisper to each other at the table and then write things on the battle mat – once again gibberish that seems like real notes about the game but just do. not. make. any. sense. – whenever read by your poor tormented PC.
  • He shouldn’t be able to get anything productive done except by accident.

Finally, make everything turn in to the Hag. (The PCs should be quite urgent and impatient with his character during this one). The point of this phase is to get him to fight the other PCs.

Author’s note – Normally I would do everything that I can to prevent PC vs. PC fights. But the whole point of this fight is to make him unsure of himself and to get him healed.

  • When he shakes hands with anyone, describe the hand he holds to not match what he sees – describe the hand of a hag when he finally succeeds on the perception check (make it so he will fail a few first).
  • Eventually every single NPC keeps dropping the phrase “Hags are masters of madness” into every. single. convo. that he is a part of (or hears), and always out of context. i.e.:

victim: “Hey smith do you have XYZ type of magical sword?” smith: “well, hags are the masters of madness, but of course I have that sword!”)

  • Get the other PCs to start doing it as well, and treating it like a joke – even better if your vicitm thinks it’s some kind of inside joke that he doesn’t quite get and starts doing it, too. (“Come on, [victim], the hags are masters of madness and we have to keep moving. Right now.”)
  • The other PCs don’t explain themselves, and the NPCs look at him like he’s crazy (because he IS, capitol-C, C-C-Crazy) when he asks about it.
  • Eventually you call for a perception check from him and the healer (or whomever) in the group looks like the Hag with the PCs equipment hanging off of him as if they are ill-fitted to the form of the Hag.
  • If the previous point doesn’t get him to start fighting, then let him notice an invisible foe (a hallucination) right next to the healer, and have him make a perception check each round – success means that the ‘invisible foe’ is revealed for one turn as the Hag and she is standing over the Hag-looking PC menacingly and doing some spell on them. To your crazy victim, it is a real Hag to all investigation that keeps going invisible, and only responds to any speech from the victim by repeating “hags are the masters of madness”, and cackling- giving him a smack in the torso (roll an attack with +20 to hit) that knocks him prone.
  • Once he actually starts fighting, keep having the Hag go invisible, walk over to the other PCs, “finish the spell” and turn that PC hag-like as well. The idea is to get him to commit to a fight.

Once he starts physically fighting the otherwise non-violent NPCs or the PCs, have the hag-looking PCs actually fight (under control of the proper player) him until he’s unconscious. Outside of his madness, this is the players disabling him so that he can go get his brain checked out by a priest at the local temple.

After getting healed, (make this both available and cheap) he knows that he is crazy. Every major part of the session you make a ‘sanity’ roll for him and that determines whether his perception rolls will work properly – on a failed sanity roll his perception checks give him no useful information when he fails, and wrong information when he succeeds. He never gets a proper rest because of his nightmares – exhaustion rules apply. Continually failed checks makes the wrong perceptions deeper and more disturbing, but he is only ever one success away from proper perception, and it starts at low-level crazy at that point.

To emphasize how much he was wrong with the “well at least the hag doesn’t have anything on me!” bullshit, He keeps this sanity handicap until the issue with the Hag is resolved.

The New Nerd Fort

Ok, I’ve got a new idea.

Since the horror of the bedbugs is over and my new house is actually being properly put together, I can think about how the Nerd Fort can be done in a better way than before. And I realized something that we are, in fact, missing.

The basic idea is that I am doing the podcast so that other people will be 1) entertained by it, and 2) learn something from it (also I want experience, and I want to play, etc, etc.).

The first point is a little bit automatic – if you’ve downloaded it, then you probably know what you’re getting in to and will probably enjoy it. The second point is what I’m focusing on here. I think that is the primary way that give something of value to my listeners.

The controlling idea behind my podcast is that if you listen to the Nerd Fort podcast, you will be able to learn something that will help enlighten your game, or at least give you a perspective on things that you didn’t have before.

To that end, I want to change how we do our episodes: I want each episode to be played at a new character level. i.e.: Episode 1 will be with fresh new characters, right out of the tavern. As the episode comes to an end, we have some sort of cliffhanger that sets up the next episode. At the beginning of the next episode, we are starting at level 2. This series is limited to 21-23 episodes¬† – one for each level, one to account for the ‘episode zero’ and maybe some epic play or other considerations.

This will make it very fast-paced – which tends to make for more exciting play. Both listeners and players will have a greater sense of accomplishment and ‘doing something’ very easily. We will be able to display how the game acts differently at different levels. There are more advantages that I am having trouble articulating.

It is possible that Sterbz will want to have a cohesive adventure for this, and possibly just make a bunch of random or interesting encounters that don’t actually fit together whatsoever. It’s really up to him. Much more work = much better storyline, but that is a lot of work for a campaign designed to only last about 5-6 months.

It may have some negative consequences.

  • Maybe the listeners enjoy having us taking 3-4 episodes to level up.
  • There is the adventure writing aspect that may be frustrating – it’s hard to plan for exactly when the characters will be in the right place for a level up.
  • We often play for about 4 hours at a time. After trimming down some of the boring non-gaming stuff, personal life, and other not-for-the-podcast stuff, I usually get about 2 or 3 episodes out of a single session, so we will have to have our characters leveled up and ready to go long before we even start recording – more load on the players and GM alike.
  • Most adventures expect you to take multiple sessions at around the same level throughout the entire module – this means that published adventures are going to need to have some heavy modification, and homebrew ones will be even harder to write than before.