Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for Zak

   No not that Zak, ME Zak. As in my name is Zak or more properly Zachary but in then end everyone calls me Zak. Why am I telling you this? Well for one if I make something worth releasing or selling I would want my actual name on it. Another reason would be that hiding behind a fake name on the internet happens too often so here I am. No hiding for me, when I say something I mean it and would say it to you in person.
   When it comes down to it anyone I would not want knowing my name could easily find out who I am anyway with a little work. After all I don't really try to hide who I am that much to begin with.
   So why do I go by Akhier the Dragon Hearted? Well for one Dragons rock. That is all the real reason behind the second part of the name. The "Akhier" part was just a name I used on some online game after I lost the password to my first account. Before that I always went by zak2to2. All I did to come up with the name was remove the first letter of Zak and add something to the end that sounded foreign. Of course because my name is only three letters long adding the heir after remove the z doubles the length. I ended up keeping the name because no one else on the internet seems to be called Akhier or at least not around where I hang out. There are quite a few Zaks out there on the internet but I am the Akhier in this corner of the web.
   This doesn't mean I will suddenly be going by Zak. For one there is already a Zak in the blogs I follow and he has a much more interesting time with my name then me so he can keep it for now. In the end though everyone on the internet knows me as Akhier so why try to change it?

Zak T

Friday, April 29, 2011

Front end, Back end, No end

   No matter where I go in the world of roleplaying games there is always the debate of how to do the backstory. Do you front load it all, make it up as you go along, or what? I can respect a person who can make a giant backstory for every character they make but if it takes up game time its unnecessary and in the way. Along with that in more classic forms of D&D you character life span is, well, quite small and you chance to die is enormous until you reach higher levels and even then your always just a step away from deaths doorstep. Five pages of backstory don't mean squat if you die to the first trap, dead is dead.
   On the other hand no backstory is not the answer. Without some form of a grounding in the world your character might as well have popped into existence out of nowhere. If you only want to play in a hack and slash game this may be alright but even then what about when you go to town? Without a backstory you don't have any friends, you don't have any connections, you don't even have a family!
   My answer to how much is good enough is in two parts. First a paragraph describing the character, where they grew up, what their job was, and why they decided to start adventuring. Nothing much, just enough to have an idea of what they did before in their life and why they decided to go adventuring.
   The other thing I require is a list of close family member such as the parents and any brothers or sisters. The list will have for each person their relation followed by name and finally occupations. As an example:
Father Dave JohnsonFarmer
MotherMarry JohnsonFarmer
Older Sister Jessica SmithSchool Teacher
Younger Brother James JohnsonGuard
In this case I would probably also make them note who the older sister was married to. I also will not allow more then half the family to be dead without an amazing reason why.
   With just those two things all kinds of ideas of what your character may be like can spring up. Both parents are farmers so you probably know how to handle farm animals and what the weather is like from your area. If you lived by a lake or some other big water feature you probably know how to fish and maybe swim. Your sister is a school teacher and because the parents are farmers that probably means one of those small schools for the local farm children, you may even have had her for a teacher depending on the age difference. If your a fighter type then the Younger brother being a guard probably means he looks up to you but if your a thief then he may actually dislike or even hate you and chose to be a guard to try to catch you. It is amazing what you can extrapolate form just a paragraph of info and a list of names.

Y is for Yes

   As in say yes to your players wild schemes. Put a cost on it but let the players do it. A player can come up with the most outragous of ideas from time to time but properly done these can be the highlights of you game. So what if they want to swing from a chandelier, jump off it, then land in a roll coming up behind the enemy and doing a surprise attack. Its fun and exciting and if they fail and fall on their face it can get a good laugh. Most of all though is that being able to do these kind of things is something tabletop roleplaying games have over computer games. You don't have to make it easy but at least you can let them try.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for where the treasure is

   Whats that? Me? Cheating...   Never its clearly an X marking the spot where the treasure is. Whether its just a symbol on the map or an actual giant X on the ground it is a stereotypical marking for where treasure is hidden. Now how can we subvert this so it can be slipped in past the players ever watchful eyes?

   First idea I had was make the room be in the shape of an "X" or maybe have it be where two hallways meet. If using a room this may be seen through quite easily as you are putting a giant X on the map, literally. With the hallways if your careful and make it so its the only place where 4 hallways meet like that you may have it slip by without the players noticing right away. Both of these are interesting ways to include treasure without just giving it away.

   Next I tried to think of a more metaphysical. The first thing I came up was a magic treasure chest that opens if you think of the letter "X". This of course is an interesting idea, a treasure chest that only opens if you think of the correct thing. Besides just using X you could have a riddle written on it and have it open when they think of the answer or any kind of thing like that.
   I followed that idea up with the thought of what if there was a magic door that went to different areas depending on the first letter of the last word spoken aloud. This would mean having to have a number of different rooms but on the bright side you can really mess with the players till they figure it out. Also you don't need 26 rooms you can have a couple letters go to the same place. Of course because of the theme obviously to go to the treasure room you need to say a word starting with "X" which oddly enough the word X does not.

   You could also include a game of tic-tac-toe. The secret would be instead of having to win all that needs to happen is have the X's win. Give the players a choice of X's or O's and if they choose O's they may end up quite frustrated with the fact they are winning yet not getting anywhere.
   For my final thoughts is on a treasure map using "X"s to mark instead of treasure but danger. This could throw the players for a loop. This is the biggest subversion of the theme I could thing up as it takes the expectation of treasure and instead gives danger.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for World

   World-building can be quite fun to do and while I myself am not an expert I have made a world or so myself. I have an unnamed world that I plan to make the home for any D&D campeign I might run. I made it by sorta following the World Builder's Guidebook from TSR and by Richard Baker. The book is a nice place to start and lays out steps to making a world that can be followed however you want to so if you don't feel like going top-down you can make it going from bottom-up or like I did come at it and burn both ends of the candle at the same time. This is what I have so far for my world:
The top is a diagram of the fault lines and the bottom shows mountains and ocean depth.
A close up of the small island,
and finally an even more close up showing a section of the small island.

   I am also in nominal charge of fixing up the world map for the 3.5 campaign I am in. The DM asked if any of us wanted to do it and I volunteered. I took the basic outline for what the land forms looked like and fixed it up so it looks clean and what not. First though this is what it looked like when I scanned it in:
   The numbers represent how many city/towns he wanted marked and the 3 circles are how he wanted the places to look. The name in the bottom left is the name of the place one of the characters parents are in charge of or something so I had to name a place that.
   This above is what I ended up with and will be printing out for the DM. The various names except for the ones that are in English are just different languages with the main human country being Latin, the dwarves being dwarven from Dwarf Fortress, and the rest I am not sure though seeing as I used Google translator for them it would be easy to find out which. Here is the place with what the names are in English:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Version

   Versions of a game like D&D can be hard to pin down. There is the large number of box sets and beginner setups as well as that fun Advanced thing. I am going to ignore all that and break it down into groups based on the how I see it. This will be highly unscientific and biased. I will say what I think and how I compare it in relation to how "D&D" I feel that it is.

   First up is OD&D with its 3 books with or without the few extra addons. This is the original way to play and the quintessential core of true D&D. Even if you don't want to play with the rules a good look through can benefit a DM.
   Next up is all the stuff between AD&D and OD&D. Not quite beyond its start but moving towards the AD&D way this is around where a number of people got their start. Lots of boxes reign in this area. It is true to itself with differences here and there and a lot of oddness, overall D&D as far as I can see. I don't know enough to truly differentiate between all the different setups in this category.

   Now we get into AD&D. While moving away from the original spirit the apple doesn't fall far from the tree on this one. After the basics a number of people went for this because the "Advanced" in the title made them feel it was more of an adults game. There are more precise rules and a number of confusions from the original is cleared up as well as some shifts in the rules. While it feels close to D&D it has a bit that while still D&D are clues to the future changes. The last few books for it started the down hill motion.
   Second Edition AD&D is rules heavy. By some it is considered the fulcrum point between old school and new school and while I feel this is somewhat true it is a beast all to itself. Odd rules and an obsessiveness with realism made a strange creature out of it. It moves away from what it should not and while D&D doesn't feel quite right.

   A new wind blows and 3rd edition arrives with its OGL. Closer then second edition AD&D yet still not close while it lasted a good number of businesses sprung up to make products for it. This was a good time for the brand of D&D. Then came 3.5 and the world shuddered. While the corrections that it made to some of the rules where good it hurt the 3rd party businesses and lowered the trust in the brand. This was a point when a number of break off games based on the system that was opened up by the OGL sprung up. The editions with 3 in them overall suffered from an overlarge number of bad splat books and over doing of the feat mechanic. While as mentioned they are both closer to D&D then second edition AD&D it is still farther from my ideal then regular AD&D.

   Finally is 4th Edition D&D. I have played a few games of it and was in a short lived campaign for it. As a game it can be fun. Its just not D&D. If they had named it something else then it would have been quite fun but calling it D&D ruined it for me. I don't plan to be playing it anymore. It just doesn't feel right to me. I know people who enjoy the game and that is fine but for me as long as it is called D&D I just can not stomach it. I have been trying for so long to play actual D&D that it would be like being at a restaurant and ordering steak but instead getting some fish. The fish might be good but I wanted a steak.

   Overall I can say I would play any of the editions of D&D barring 4th and even that I would play if they had the decency to not call it D&D. That may just be my extreme desire to game coming through but it is an amazing thing. The fact that through all of the change that D&D has gone through I would play them all if given the chance is an amazing feat as I am a generally picky gamer. I will say though that while I would like to DM the older the better because the newer the edition (except maybe 4th, never looked into it) the more you need to put into setup of stats as compared to dungeon design.

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Unspeakable Horrors

   Has it ever struck you as weird that the best know Horror not only has a agreed upon pronunciation for his name but also seems to care in some form about humanity? Nothing against Cthulhu but for an Unspeakable Horror he seems a little to easy to speak of. Also when I think of things beyond the ken of man I don't imagine it chowing down on humans like its a delicacy. Why? Because that would be a point of connection between it and us. It becomes not a horror but a predator, yes quite a scary one but still only a hunter. I think the concept needs a makeover and a quick reversion back to its roots.

   First up is the name. Cthulhu is nice and all but its a name and for something unspeakable that is a little weird. So what should we call our creation of horror? Nothing, it should not be named by such as us. A true Horror should be so beyond our knowledge that trying to fit it into our knowledge should be beyond us. Thus mechanically this would be some form of XP, stat, or level drain. When someone tries to refer to it by a name or form and say they can no longer remember such a thing and tell them what they lost. Either they learn or they die from the drain. Enforce this with not only in-character communication but also out of character communication. As long as they are at the table they are drain-able. This will definitely put the fear in them.

   Next up is form. With a defined shape comes familiarity. Giving something a shape is a way to gain power over it. There are two ways to get around this. First is to never define it the same way twice. If the players look at it and you said it was a mass of purple tentacles the next time they look at have it be an orange blob of pulsating pseudo-flesh. This will take the most work because you will have to be constantly be re-explaining what they see and your choices are limited because you can't just say it looks like something. To say it looks like something is to much familiarity.
   The second way is both harder and easier. It is easier because of consistency, just never say what they see. Tell them what it does and where but never how. You could do this by leaving spaces where a description would be such as "The --------- attacks Derick with its ------- and hits". If done right it can work quite well as it will freak the players out. Also when they ask things like is it invisible never give a straight answer. Its form should be in flux as a true horror should never be fully there in that dimension.

   Finally is how it interacts with the prime material plane. Or as players look at it, how they fight it. They should not be able to ever beat it. Even if you let the gods be killed a true Unspeakable Horror should never be killed. It should not even technically be fighting them. To fight is to take notice and something so much greater then the players should not even be able to notice them let alone actively do something to them. Players will meet one as it is passing through or just happening to be intersecting whatever plane of existence the player happens to be on. When the players try to attack it they have a 50% chance of missing no matter what, even if they have all kinds of super gear and artifacts to help them. When they hit damage is cut in half and done to whatever part they attacked. If they manage to "kill" part of the horror then roll a d20 and on any result other then a 20 make something bad happen. Whether its just a the part heals fully or it does the hydra head thing make it bad for the players. The pieces that the players can see are just a miniscule part of the Horror and overall like having bacteria attacking your toenail. If any of the parts are next to a player roll d% and deal damage equal to that % of their maximum health rounded down. Unless being called in someway to stay in that area most horrors may leave the current area if on a d% you roll equal to or under the number of rounds it has been there.

   To round this off I will say that in normal play players should never have to face a true Unspeakable Horror unless it is their own fault. Even creatures of the lower planes do not deal with them and gods will not speak of them even. Only the truly incurably insane can even conceive of calling such to themselves and even then they will not be able to truly know the scope of which they are dabbling in. If all you want is something for a cult to worship just use some weird demon or devil. These are only for the end of all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for Tainted Lands

   Generally combined with stuff like undead the concept has not really gotten a good work out lately. There are a number of generic Tainted lands out there, for instance anywhere that evil dwells. The cave down the way is tainted by evil because of the goblins living there, slightly boring but the most easy for the players to fix seeing as they only have to kill off all the local goblins. Another common one is a place where the dead rise on their own. This is generally harder to fix seeing as unless there is some kind of object personifying the evil its just the land itself is cursed so badly you get zombies and skeletons unless you burn the dead. Those are both boring and over used though so lets see what else I can think of.

   With some thinking I realized something better then undead. In the past things where thought to come from other stuff in a way that we now know is false but would be perfect for my purposes. An example of this would be that the Barnacle Goose was originally thought to develop from the Goose Barnacle. Quite an interesting theory to make up for the fact that they did not know about migration. Warping it to my purpose is as easy as changing the bugbear a little and whats this, someone already did the heavy lifting for me! Now I just make it so that instead of having to come from the special bugbear seed and needing to be carved and instead have it so that in tainted land there is a chance that a pumpkin will if left untended grow into one of these and you have a new type of tainted land. A place where pumpkins rise up and kill if left alone and all that needs to happen is one single plant with regular pumpkins out in the wild that seeds the area around it.
   A good scenario is a witch in the forest that is causing problems for the town with a small group of bugbears. The Players can go and defeat the witch in her house and with her dying breath the witch can tell them they have only unleashed a worse fate upon the village. Players leave and the pumpkin patch that the witch had is left untended so suddenly within a year or two the town is swarmed with bugbears.

   Another form of Tainted Land that I like has been done up a bit but that should not stop you. What I mean is the spell tainted land. Whether it was the site of a wizard war or the result of a magical experiment the land is now in constant flux as magical energies not meant for our ken flow through the land warping all that is and will be. A good example is Eberron with its Mournland. I particularly like the living spells from it as it really drives home the oddness of it. Also like the Mournland if you have a place like it don't give how they where actually formed. The moment you do the players will already have the rest of your campaign world cratered with them. If there is one thing I know about players its that if you give them the power to blow up the world one of them will have the need to try it out.

   A good place for a limited tainted area that could be cleared by the players would be an old battle field where a massive loss of life occurred. Depending on how you do it this could either be some kind of undead area or you could go the more off the tracks root and yes I do mean "root". A land so saturated in blood that the very plants have been warped by its presences. This would be a good place to put all the different types of meat eating plants. Tainted Treants and druids would probably be there as well basking in the dark energies.
   Don't go putting this type of Tainted land just anywhere. There should only be about one to three in your campaign world at any one time and if you want a really big one then a single area will do you well. The place they should grow is not just any battle field but a field where the dead and dying are so deep that the combatants could not help but walk on them. I am talking serious carnage here. If it is a large area you basically need it to be the battle site where a cross-planar war occurred to get a sufficient death toll.

   To finish this topic off I will say that when using any kind of Tainted land you need to have control. Can you think of any good setting where there was more then one or so such places? No neither can I and its because if you have to many its no longer a good idea. Keep the numbers of them down to maybe two or three at best if they are small areas. One is good enough for a large place. Also as a general rule having whatever occurred to make it so unknown is a good idea and the farther in the past that it happened the more weight the place has. So one big place that occurred a time ago and no one knows how it happened exactly will allow you to get the most miles out of a Tainted land.

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Star Wars

   I decided on Star Wars because I have a slight rant against the newer trilogy. I have nothing against the movie quality and believe that on their own they are quite good. My problem is with the fact that they occur at the wrong time in the Star Wars history.

   My favorite stories in the Star Wars universe are the books during and after the original trilogy up until just before the Yuuzhan Vong show up. I like the that occur during that period of time more then anything and the newer trilogy totally throws a lot of it to the wayside by accident really. The New Republic is always having trouble with deep set prejudice and clashes with the remnants of the Empire. That kind of stuff doesn't just happen in the amount of time that occurs between the supposed start of the Empire and the original movies.

   How many years are there between episode 3 and 4 you ask? Well episode 3 occurs at 19BBY and episode 4 occurs at 0BBY so that would mean 19 years. That would mean that the supposed "Evil Empire" was nothing. How did this blip on the radar manage to develop so many secret super weapons and create such a hateful environment as seen in the books? Better yet how did the Empire manage to wipe out almost every Jedi barring a few in such a short amount of time! That is not even enough time to build all the neat ships from the original trilogy let alone all the massive numbers of wayward fleets from the books. Entire races are enslaved and people are made to accept this without a word and yet by the time scale there should be people who still lived when everything was peaceful.

   Also even if Palpatine did manage to get the senate how in the world did he manage to crush everyone so well that a rebellion needed to be made from rag-tag team of people? The rebellion should have been able to go to an unnumbered-able amount of worlds and hang up a recruitment sign and have half the world sign up by noon. The Empires biggest thing is that its anti non-humans. That is it is against most of the people that it controls. It would be impossible for that even just on earth let alone a whole galaxy. Even with all those clones running around its only an army.

    That is how I feel the new movies are wrong. They should have been farther in the past. If someone took over the world for 19 years and then was overthrown that would not be an Empire that would be a foot note in history. In a universe like Star Wars 19 years is a drop in the bucket especially when you consider that most races besides humans seem to live longer then us by default. The Old Republic lasted over 20 Million years. To finish this, the movies where good but they are not a part of my Star Wars timeline.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Rust Monster

   Starting as a toy that got stated up by Gary this monster is the bane of heavily armored PCs everywhere. Relatively harmless if not for its unique ability to rust any metal that comes into contact with it. Iconic and completely known to anyone who has been playing D&D for a time so of course this is ripe for using player knowledge against the PCs.

   First up all you need to do is have the threat of one to affect the party. Rumors of a strange monster insect thing that rusts all that touches it will be enough to get the fighters sweating in their metal tin cans. An illusion of one in a maze can delay a party for quite a while if fighter heavy as they try to find another way through the maze. Doing this you don't even have to have a Rust Monster there so if your a nice DM you don't have to take away your players shiny new plate armor. Of course if you have a reoccurring villain who does this enough that they catch on, then when they finally get to his main lair having a real one will throw the party for a loop as well.

   Another way to use them is having them be down a non-essential corridor with treasure at the end. You may find that the players will avoid it even if they know about the treasure. Of course beware, the easy answer to this is have one of the non-metal wearing party members lay down a trail of metal away from there to guide the Rust Monster away. This should work because they are only animals. A trail of food works just as well with guard dogs that are not chained.

   In actual combat the Rust Monster should care only about the metal that is being carried if attacking of its own will. Once hit by the party it will go after them but before that its only a hungry animal. This does not mean you only have to attack the fighter though. If it is coming from behind the party it would attack who ever is closest with metal and if the Magic User in the back has a dagger, the last I heard daggers where metal.

   To finish this up I will remind you all that part of how big an impact something has is partly also about how unique the experience is. If every other encounter is against a Rust Monster then all that will do is have the party looking for non-metal gear. A once off encounter when they least expect it can really put the fear in them. Not to say you should only have one Rust Monster in your world but that it should not be a common encounter. Their diet means that they have to live somewhere that has a lot of exposed metal for them to eat. An old abandoned iron mine is more likely to have them then a regular cave.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Quill Pen

   A pen that is made from the quill of a bird is the type that was used before any of the modern pen types where invented. This means that in a D&D setting these are the type that is most likely to be used. The best feathers for these pens is the primary flight feathers of a goose or swan but what if we look into some of the more fantastic answer that would be available to someone in a D&D setting?

   Firsts up what about a Cockatrices feather? What kind of effect might this have if used as a pen? Maybe it allows you to transcribe faster, or possibly all it does is change the inks color to that of stone. I am sure whatever the affect you can think of the outcome would be amusing to spring on the party.

   What about an Angels feather, does a quill made of one make it so the user can never write a lie? That would be quite a useful thing for law enforcement. Does a cleric of Good alignment using one become able to write binding contracts with a magic to back it up? What if the feather was not acquired from the angel willingly, does that reverse the affects? A good number of ideas are waiting for this one.

   This was just two feathered creatures of some magic significances that I could think of off the top of my head. Even if a quill does nothing magical the parties Magic User may just want to strip a few feathers off that creature they just beat for style. A colorful collection of quill pens to show off all the feathered foes you beat would be an interesting conversation starter to say the least. All you have to do is show them that it is possible and even if they don't go for it a little flavor text for the kings scribe can never hurt.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for Platinum

   The highest value coin in the game. Platinum is amazing and yet not as entrancing as it should be. I personally like the silver standard that I see being used by a number of other people. In that platinum is not needed, oh lets slow down and take a look at that. It say not needed! Thats getting ahead of ourselves, why would platinum be needed in the first place, not that is a good starting point.

   The common people of a setting will never see a platinum baring having an adventurer with one come into town. Of all the places the players might go almost no one will be able to make change for even one of them. This is like when America had the 1,000 dollar bill. The only people who actually used it where banks exchanging money between themselves. Now that would be a fine use for platinum, a coin used as a way to trade around money between things like kingdoms but that is not what it is used for.

   A use for platinum may be as a non-existent coin. Something to mark in the accounting books various amounts like total earnings over a period of time. After all even if your goods are not all that much over a year the amount earned can be quite big. You don't have all that money anymore but at some point you had each bit of it and you need to keep track of such things to run a medium to big business and even a small one needs to do it for tax reason. But once again that is not what platinum is used for in game. After all you find it as treasure.

   What good is a platinum coin? As a metal its not really used in the time period that D&D is representing. The first European reference to it at all is in 1557 and is first widely recognized as a metal in 1750 when someone presented a detailed account about it. This means that during the Middle Ages of Europe the metal itself is actually unknown. Also while it is very rare its actual uses during the time are, well its shiny and rare. So rare in fact that having coins of it is absurd.

   In the end what I see platinum being used for is as a crutch. As written a gold coin weighs so much and is worth so little comparatively that to have a treasure trove truly worth it you need more then even an old school party with all the hirelings and such to bring it back if it was in gold. A platinum piece allows a treasure to have a high worth without being impossible to retrieve without multiple trips back to a place that is already explored. The later the edition the higher a level you are expected to get to so the more treasure you will find until it becomes quite unruly to use gold let alone silver or copper.

   What does this do in the end? It makes it so that gold is to common and copper is worthless. Silver is useful but only for lycanthropes. Common people don't go around with a pocket full of gold coins, its generally going to be silver coins that they carry. This is true even in the later editions of D&D because in 3.5 a days worth of good meals is only 5 silver and if you only want common food it is 3sp and with poor meals  it weighs in at a single silver. That means that a peasant won't even spend a gold for food in a week and yet the heroes are going around with purses bulging with gold. The amount of money a player gets between level one and two is enough to set them up for quite a long time of non-adventuring.

   Platinum is fun and all but to finish I must say I would rather not use it at all. If I was to have a coin above gold it would be one of the special metals like Mithral where at the least it would be good for something as well as being rare. The best answer though is to use a silver standard instead of gold. A move to that would make gold actually be something once again instead of just money.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My character actually died twice on Sunday

   On Sunday my dwarven cleric who was captured by goblins died twice. Actually died and not just got into negatives or almost but the DM cheated, no straight out with a minus much higher then negative 10 hp. The first time was my party of 4 2nd level characters opening a door and finding two ogres. We attacked them but when we found that they where hitting for over 20 damage a hit it was to late to retreat as they had reach so to get out of there we either face an attack of opportunity or use two five foot steps and have the orges just move closer next turn. I actually went from full health to dead between actions. It was almost a TPK if it had not been for a DMPC that was level 15 saving us and raising us after the mage was able to run away.
   Next we found or rather I found a gelatinous cube after running into it. After failing a fortitude save and getting paralyzed for 12 some turn the rest of the party tried to fight it. Of course this resulted in a second turn TPK where the cube was able to encapsulate the whole party and paralize us all. This was retconned out and we had to fight an otyugh instead which was much easier and we actually won with little damage.
   The final room had a werewolf which because of the DR only the mage was able to damage it and only because we had found a wand of magic missile. One of us got bit and failed the save but the DMPC will cure that right up. The reason we where there is actually the DMPC. If you read my past posts this may sound weird but let me explain.
   The DMPC is the old kings spymaster who was jailed by the new evil wizard king guy. Not feeling like being jailed the 15th level whatever decided to leave. A nearby town was going to be attacked by golbinoids and orcs so not wanting to solo a hoard  left a clue in the wizards book who kicked my partys collective butts and because we where knocked out the church had to tell us of a merchant vessel washed up on shore somewhere to keep the story moving. That was not a mechants vessel and of course being full of evil stuff my group was captured and thrown in a jail cell while the evil creatures went off to sack the town. DMPC proceeded to heal us up and give us super potions of extra cheese that completely restored all the spells we had used that day and told us to retrieve her spellbook she hid on the exact opposite side of the compound. We did so and now the DMPC gets to port us to the town with the book she could have more easily got herself so we can defend the place form a hoard she could probably solo herself.
   At least we leveled, again so now I have the feat Fiery Burst and because of the sun domain I have a second level fire spell. With this every turn I can now do a 5' burst attack that deals damage equal to the level of highest level fire spell I have memorized. I figure this will be good in the coming adventure as a 5' burst of 2d6 damage should work quite well against a hoard of goblins.

O is for Outdoors

   "The outdoors is a mythical place where it is said that not only does fresh air exist but natural light as well. Do not let these words fool you though for it is horrible place. The light burns the skin and can blind the eyes and the air while fresh contains scents so wild as to drive you insane. The best way to deal with it is to not go there at all. For those of you who disregard my warnings you will find the inhabitants to be quite strange and possibly hostile. The citizens of the sun's realm will generally have a brownish tone to the skin but don't be fooled. Its not a color from something healthy like dirt. The color is from them staying to long in the sun, what that, Oh the sun. Yes that right some of you might not know. The sun is another feature of the upper realms. For half the day it is up in the sky without roof. A giant ball of fire held there by who knows what forces. Anyway the brown color of the people up there come from the fact that being under the sun will actually cook the outer skin some. Truly a horrible thing and yet the inhabitants seem not to notice! Another danger of the sun's realm is also from the sky though closer then the sun itself. They have and odd phenomenon called "weather". This weather is the change in conditions from the norm. Down here the temperature may change a little every once in a while but up there the temperature may change so much in a year that it goes from freezing to burning! Even worse is the storms. A storm is when water falls from the sky. Called rain this is actually the way most of the upper realms get their water believe it or not. Even stranger is that when it gets freezing then a white substance called "snow" will fall. Though it looks it not this is actually frozen water and quite dangerous if you are not dressed warm enough. Overall its best just to leave the sun's realm to itself and stay where we are. Safer that way."

An excerpt from an adventuring thief's journal of an overheard conversation where an unidentified monster is teaching its children about the Outdoors.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for Nomads

   Nomads are the people who for whatever reason do not put down roots and settle in one place. They don't have cities and in general will have lives based around some kind of herd animal. Another generalization is that in games they tend to be the low-tech culture. Need some people just above savages? Throw some nomads in. Now I don't like that so lets see some ways that nomads can be included where they are different from the normal view.

   A nomad culture that is ahead of everyone could be the elves. Why would this be you ask? Well the elves have this in touch with nature thing going on and no matter what you do if you have a group of intelligent beings live in one area to long it will affect the land around them. To better describe this I will go into how I plan to make elves in my world I am making.
   In the beginning after the Gods created all creatures the elves became powerful. Their culture was steeped in magic and natures way but instead of following this they sought out more power and with the dwarves they developed great feats of technology. Then The Disaster Came. Their lands where destroyed and only elves that where away survived. Following this despite keeping much of their technology they no longer stay in one place for long, fearing a time when once again they stop listening to natures way. Careful to never leave a trace behind they have bent most of their magic and technology into highly portable forms which will last for long after the creator is long dead and being elves this is indeed a long time.
   The elves of my world will be the leaders in technology and magic but because of their fear caused by the loss of their homelands will never settle down. In this they are nomads by choice unlike some cultures that may be forced to be so. The elves will in be one of the most stable cultures so their mastery of technology though constantly being refined could be eclipsed by humans because they have very little innovation.

   You can always go for the cursed culture. A group of nomads who constantly move not because they want to but because they where cursed so that they can't not. Maybe in the past they offended a god of chaos and where cursed so that if they ever settle for more then a couple seasons in one place the land would warp and creatures would mutate. Monsters would spawn or be drawn from miles around and the settlement would be in constant danger. Of course with the curse there should be some limit such as there has to be say 10 or more of them in settled so you don't have nations paying a single person to live in their enemy's home city.
   That is not the only curse you could do though it could be used to explain where monster came from in the past. It also does not have to start out as a curse either. Maybe their god blessed them but when they wanted to settle the blessing backfired. Having it so that any of your buildings are able to be taken down within moments would be an amazing thing for nomads but if it applied to all buildings and not just their tents then you could end up with their houses falling down like a house of cards. There would be no way for them to make a city if anytime an earthquake happened or whatever all the buildings fell over.
   This could not only be an interesting way to have nomads but would also be a possible adventure hook. If you let your players change the world then being able to uncurse a whole nation of people would be a feather in their caps. Freeing a town of an evil curse is considered quite the heroic thing to do at mid levels so this would be the high level version of it.

   A race of carnivores could be a possible nomad culture. They can only eat meat and they prefer a certain type so they raise giant herds of the animals and travel around to make sure they have enough food. The reason humans settled down in the real world was the discovery of farming so they no longer had to keep moving around. If we where restricted to meat that step could not have happened.
   The race could be as advanced or savage as you want and in fact don't even have to be fully nomadic. If you want then they could have cities in a few places for things like trading with the bulk of their people tending the herds. Even if fully nomadic it doesn't stop them from having all kinds of stuff. Even in real life it would be possible to have metal working and such for the softer metals. Once you add in magic then any kind of limits go out the door really. You could have them with forges in the back of wagons and not end up burning the wagon if they just put a ward against fire.
   Even if you limit things like being able to work metal all they would need is one permanent city. Just have the city in the middle of their territory and have it be where all of their technology gets made. It could also be where say, the ruler lives or whatever else you want to have in place for easy access by the players.

   The people could have magical reasons for staying nomads. Depending on how your worlds magic works it might be that they are traveling between magical hot spots that change through the seasons. A highly magical society could have all the comforts of a settled one with a little bit of effort. A bag of holding is easy enough to carry so why not make something similar only the entrance is a door and it leads into a room. A bottle of air and your good. Just add some levitating carts to provide a smooth ride and your good.
   Maybe the reason they don't settle down is that all of their stuff uses so much magical energy unless they follow the moving hot spot around it would fail. Having to constantly move where your front door lets out seems a small price to pay to live in luxury.
   In Advanced Labyrinth Lord a first level Magic User can cast unseen servant which lasts quite a while and a 3rd level Magic User can cast continual light which if they spend enough time at it means a city never need worry about lights again. In a culture where everything is done by magic there should be enough low level Magic Users running around that no one would need to ever physically clean anything or use fire for light ever again.

   To finish with this topic I will say that I am not against nomads just being nomads. I just would like there to be a better reason then "we needed some savages" or whatever. Give them a reason to be there and a reason that in a world full of magic they still do what they do. Even if the players never find out why a culture does what it does knowing it as the DM will let you make the world that much better. If the worlds backbone is strong it means you can let the players do as they want in it and avoid unseemly plot holes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

M is for Murder

   You know that thing your players do to stuff but its alright because the stuff was evil? Yah that, quite an interesting thing when you think about it. In a dungeon its fine and really tends to be more of a self defense type of thing seeing as the monsters where trying to kill you. What happens though if you do it in the city?

    If they kill someone in town this should mean something. Even if it was an evil person who was trying to destroy the town or something, in general your still supposed to bring them to justice. I talked about this some with bad guys because a good villain should follow the laws in his home if he can help it. The constable won't care if he was terrorizing your town if you don't have proof it was him. Laws help the general populace keep order but with a hero they can restrict you from doing your job. Think of all those comic book villains who keep killing people but the heroes have to keep arresting them instead of a more permanent solution.

   In D&D the players in general wont stand for this even if they are lawful good. Part the fun in the game is the killing of stuff and looting whats left over. They won't think of arresting a monster or villain unless specifically told to by whoever wanted it done. This works alright any where but in a town. It is a good idea if you want to be hard on them for killing the enemy when in town make sure to warn them of this because even though it seems like common sense, well I have found that "common" sense tends not to be.

   My final thoughts on this is that if you want players to not kill villains give them an easy way to do so. This means making sure they can knock opponents unconscious during combat. It could be the by the book way or simply letting them have the option to knock a person out instead of killing when the players beat them. In the end if they don't know how to, you end up with them killing the person and skipping town instead of dealing with it and all that does is make them cross a town off the list of places to go to.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Lighting

   Whether your in a dungeon or it just happens to be nighttime light is an important thing to have. That is it is important if you have anyone that actually needs it. Humans do, that's for sure but if you don't have anyone that needs it to see what good is it?

   First there is the fact that most of the see in the dark type ability's don't let you see certain things. Darkvision only shows black and white so its fine if you want to read but one puzzle dealing with colors and your stumped without a light source. Infra-vision is fine if you only want to see living  creatures that put off heat in a way that distinguishes it from the background but a number of nasty things don't and if you want to read anything your out of luck. So even if you don't "need" light a group should always have some kind of light source. I know that if I had a group that tried to go without any I would have all kinds of "fun" with them.

   Next on the list of reasons you need a light source is that you can use it for things other then light. A torch is a club that also deals fire damage. Oil is fun to throw on monsters and burn them along with the fact that an oil slick will slow any pursuers when you run. Even the old trick with putting a continual light spell on something is quite useful because you can drop it down holes and such to see how deep they are and if anything important is at the bottom. Just make sure you attached it to a rope or something if you want it back. Along with all this there are a number of monsters you will want a fire source when you fight them. After all it would be quite annoying to finally kill the troll and not have any fire available, at that point even just a lit torch would be nice.

   Finally it is better safe then sorry. What happens if the party gets polymorphed into humans? What about if you find an important NPC you need to protect who can not see in the dark? All this and more can happen and as I said above if you played under me would happen. Think your infra-vision is all that you need? Well then I think that my traps should be nigh impossible to find but are marked with writing in common telling you exactly where they are and how to avoid them. Better yet lets have some undead attack you. Going all darkvison? Guess you can't see the color of that fungus on the wall that might only be scenery. I am not saying that I would be a jerk about it, but if you really decide to not bring even a single light source and I find out I will have some fun with you. If between the whole party you can't afford some flint and steel along with a couple torches then that is just pitiful.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Flesh Golem != Frankenstein Monster

   A flesh golem is like the Frankenstein monster. A flesh golem is based on the monster. In the end though it is not the monster. There are two distinct reasons for this.

   The first reason is that the Frankenstein monster is not taking commands. It has free will and enough intelligences to use said free will. A golem in D&D terms is a construct. It even lacks an intelligences score so is incapable of  the thought needed for self awareness. If a flesh golem goes on a rampage it is either because it was told to do so or its programming got messed up. It kills a little girl and does not care. The Frankenstein monster sure cared and emoted about it. The monster can even speak if you go by the actually story and not the lame movie. That's right, the monster can speak and in fact was eloquent, educated, and well-mannered. Now all people think of the monster is that he grunts,  a serious loss of ability compared to being able to fluently speak french.

  The second reason is that a flesh golem is not alive. It is a shell for magical energy to move like a puppet. The Frankenstein monster is alive, not a construct, and definitely not undead. Sure he was made up of a number of different peoples part's but that changes nothing. If it did that would mean someone who had a heart transplant is in fact a flesh golem. After all by definition not having a heart would mean death and the transplant heart was definitely dead so putting the two together and making a living being would be about the same. Even if you argue the percentage of the original person still there what happens if the same person also had to get a number of other transplants? Is there a point when you become a flesh golem or something, maybe it's at 51% no longer being original that it happens. "Opps sorry miss, that kidney transplant pushed you over the limit, your a golem now." and then the audience laughs.

   The Frankenstein monster is a thousand times better then a flesh golem. Seriously, who would make flesh golem anyway? Silly necromancer wannabee, your undead minion is in another castle but here have a free golem.

K is for Kalentar

   Kalentar is a dwarven city I made up a while ago and never finished. I do not remember where I got the name from but it sounds cool enough for me and I do not know of any other D&D related stuff with that as the name and Google agrees with me. Here is a scan of how far I got:
   Finished there would be a second and third level to it. The big open area you see would still be there because it was the training grounds for the city militia and a testing grounds for whatever new weapons the dwarven forges might make. The two side roads go to the mines with the one marked "New Mine" going to the dungeon I posted earlier. I was planning on making this the started area/home-base for an adventure. I have the area around the city somewhat planned though not the world. A human city is nearby on a river and a wizards tower is also nearby. Here is the map of the area:
   The black circle is the Tower and the other black area is the nearby town. I do not have Kalentar marked yet but it is dug into the brown mountain to the east of the town in between the lower two prongs. The kobold village in new mine has a back way out that comes out on the other side of the middle prong. The town on the river does not have name that I know of and is really more of a trading port created to ferry the superior dwarven goods out and import whatever the dwarves currently want for their goods. The town is on the other side of the river from the dwarves because the mountain contains a bunch of evil as well as dwarves so for safety they had to. The towns mayor and all around richest human in the area controls the big boats that are used to ferry stuff from one side of the river to the other.
   What I had planned was for the players to clear the new mine and depending on whether they find the escape tunnel have to keep clearing it till they did or end up killing off most of the local kobold tribe. Once they had enough money for a house I was going to give them the option of either a slightly expensive house in Kalentar or land on the area across the river from the town and let them get a house built there seeing as it was now safer then before. Players being players I expect that they would go the cheap route and have them get in conflict with the mayor because by making that side safe they allowed people to build warehouses on the one side and make it so his ferry's no longer held a monopoly over the local economy. The wizard tower is also an option for housing but they would have to clear it first though it would be the safest place once cleared. At higher levels this would allow me to bring back the missing wizard wanting his house back. There where a few other plots kicking around and an option for diplomacy with the kobolds but nothing on paper at the moment. I think this will end up stuck somewhere in a world I currently have being built right now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


    I have an awesome book called "Castle" by David Macaulay. The book Castle takes you through the creation of a fictional castle and town that is based on how a real one would be made. It has amazing pictures to show the various stages of creation including all of the tools that would have been used to do so.  There is also the town that is attached to the castle which while less detailed has enough to help create a fictional town of your own. If you want to make a realistic medieval castle this is an excellent resource to use and I would advise anyone with an interest in castles to pick it up.

And because it does such a better job at describing it here is the Preface:
   "Lord Kevin's castle, although imaginary, is based in concept, structural process, and physical appearance on several castles built to aid in the conquest of Wales between 1277 and 1305. Their planning and construction epitomized over two centuries of military engineering accomplishments throughout Europe and the Holy Land.
   The town of Aberwyvern, also imaginary, is based in concept and physical appearance on towns in conjunction with castles in Wales during the same twenty-eight-year period. This combination of castle and town in a military program displays both superior strategical skill and the farsightedness required for truly successful conquest."

I gladly give this book a solid score of  9.5 out of 10
It is a good read and full of useful information.

J is for Jaded

   Being jaded is one of the most horrible things to be. If you hear your players saying "Oh its just another dragon"  or "Bandits? Its always bandits" they are getting bored with the usual fair. Even the most fantastic of settings can become common place and the most vile of places the usual.

   One problem is when you get to higher levels. Unless they have a in world goal beyond getting stronger it gets boring. The higher you go the farther between levels and the more you need to grind to get there. Now you could start a new campaign with fresh characters but some people like a little more completion for their characters. The best way to achieve this is with them starting with some end goals. Do they want to retire after they get some land and a nice castle? That is a good goal and in older editions is already included in the game. Maybe they want to aim higher and become king. Whatever it is that they want to do let them aim for it and when the players agree that they have achieved it wrap it up and let the characters retire. If you play in a consistent world then it works even better because their new characters will hear about the old characters or may even have them as their benefactors.

   Another problem could be they have just been playing to much of the same stuff. Some people may be fine with D&D all the time every time but not every one is. This can be fixed with some one off modules in a different setting. This could just mean taking out your copy of tomb of horrors and letting them go at it. Another way would be a different system altogether. Maybe if they are tired of fantasy pull out you Traveller book's and letting them go in the galaxy. Basically just getting them out of their rut with something different from the usual.

   Finally it may be that the problem is something on your end. If you are always throwing bandits at them then their comment of "Bandits? Its always bandits" is justified. Maybe you have just been using the same random encounter tables so long that they could read it off line by line. This is easy enough to fix, just change your random encounter tables. The problem may be that at a certain level there are only a small number of viable choices in the books you have. With this just dig around online some. There are so many free resources out there that not matter the setting it is almost guaranteed that you will be able to find something.

   To finish up I will say that sometimes if the group is bored with what you are doing the best answer is to throw the ball back into their court. Have someone else take a turn at DMing. If someone comments that they could make a more exciting adventure let them. Even if they don't take you up on your offer you lost nothing. If they did take you up on it though then they get to see it from the other side of the screen and nothing makes someone appreciate what you do as much as making them take a walk in your shoes. Plus you may end up creating a new DM and good DMs are always in short supply in my experience.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for Illusionist

    The Illusionist can be quite an interesting class to play. The general problem people have with it is that in a straight forward combat sort of way it is lacking. That is not the point of the class though. An Illusionist is a class that with a good imagination can do amazing things because they get all the neat spells for fooling your enemy's and they get some good ones before other types of Magic Users. I will go over a few spells the class can learn and some uses for them. I will be using Advanced Labyrinth Lord.

   First up is Auditory Illusion which for an Illusionist a 1st level spell. It is an example of one of the spells Illusionists get before Magic Users as its a 2nd level spell for them. What the spell does mechanically is produce sound equal to 4 human sized beings +4 for every level above minimum required level that is centered somewhere within 60' plus 10' a level and lasts for 2 rounds a level. This is quite the useful spell for sneaking around and distracting guards or monsters.
   Most people will realize the base uses for this spell but there are so many things to do with it besides that. If you get caught away from the party and are confronted by a monster you can claim that your friends are coming and make it sound like they are. You could scare the enemy's horses by having it make the sound of a wolf or some other predator common to the area. With a good imagination this spell can be of great use for many a distraction.

   I saw Wall of Vapor and was happy. It is the only first level wall spell and I have an unhealthy fascination with wall spells. Mechanically it creates within 30' of the caster a opaque fog-like vapor covering 20' cube per a caster level that limits vision of all beings caught in it to 2'. Like most fog spells a strong wind can dissipate it before the end of the duration but as underground you generally don't face strong winds it will probably stick around barring enemy spell casters.
   I find it so cool that it is a first level wall spell. It might not be as powerful as the higher level wall spells but it is quite useful to drop behind the party as they escape to stop enemy ranged units. A magic missile always hits but only if the spell caster can see you. When running away you can use it before a fork in the passages to obscure which way you run down. If you are somewhere you know using it to hide things like sudden drops and uneven terrain so that it trips up your pursuers is also an option.  Really though stopping the ranged back up that your enemy's bring will be one of the better uses because it will force them to come into melee range of your fighter.

   Finally the 3rd level spell Illusory Script is of some interesting use. With a permanent duration and at a range of 20' + 20' per a level the caster gets to write whatever he wants on any suitable writing material that is readable to only people who are designated at the casting of the spell. The script appears to be some form of foreign or magical writing and other Illusionist's will recognize it as illusory scrip and any unauthorized person trying to read it must save versus spell or suffer effects identical to the spell confusion for 3d6 rounds.
   Because of the duration there are a number of quirky uses. An interesting use would be to use it on pieces of paper that you glue around the eye holes of your party's helmets so if stolen whoever try's to use it against you may end up incapacitated. If in a town and you have a guard questioning you for whatever, show them you "authorization" for what you are doing. Either it appears to be foreign script and nothing happens or they get confused so you can get away. On your magic scrolls you can put some illusory script labeling what's on it. You can read it but if someone else try's to use your scrolls they are in trouble. Trapping some of the pages of your spell book would also be a good idea. Basically anything you could write on becomes trappable.
   When your group acquires permanent lodging such as a house when you are resting up there any day you don't do anything just throw some of these around to protect from thieves. By putting them on the outside of the window on where the window locks any thief trying to get in there has a chance of being confused and because they are not in a place you look at you don't have to go around dispelling them and recasting every time a new character joins the party. Putting it on and around keyholes would also have these benefits though you would have to be more careful as its around where anyone could see. If the house is your personal home though go wild. Remember to trap not only the lock but the hinges as well so they don't just bypass it to easy. This is a particularly useful spell is that unlike the Magic User equivalent of explosive runes the spell is not destructive so you can trap fragile items you don't want to have destroyed.

   Finishing up I should mention that the Illusionist also gets Phantasmal Force in normal and greater version along with a number of cool spells like invisibility. Overall I would play this class if you want some interesting roleplaying experiences. While capable of combat Illusionists excel in trickery and misdirection. Imagination can make this a very powerful class.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My DM cheats for me

   Its all there in the title. Today was the first real session of my D&D 3.5 game and we would have TPKed twice. First we where clearing out a crypt of undead, specifically the church of PELOR's crypt...   Yah okay, whatever just remember to stay to the side and avoid the plot hole. Anyway moving on first we face some skeletal rats which would have been easy if the thief type hadn't decide he needed to go into the room first and promptly got 9 attacks before anyone did anything. Luckily he was some incarnium thing and had some ability that whenever something hits him it takes 2d6 fire damage so the rest of us where able to sweep up the skelerats. I popped a lesser vigor on the dude and we went to the next room. Zombie rats, but luckily we decided to do some spot checks so no one went and rushed in. They where big buckets of hitpoints and I had to use the rest of my healing here but we finally managed to beat them despite most of us not having any slashing weapons for some reason. We promptly retreated, rested, got healed up, and bought some weapons. In we go again only to face 3 ghouls which where actually pretty easy because of my +6 fortitude save though I had to use all my 0lv spells and a lesser vigor. The next room had the final boss and some nasty skeletons. This was a complete wash. We ended up with only our psionic warrior being conscious and only half of the time at that because of my vigor spell. We would have died here if the DM had not been ignoring the fact that a third of the attacks the skeletons where doing where hitting. The warrior managed to kill all the skeletons and the enemy caster paralyzed him and just walked out. We got to level 2 for this. Not a satisfying level gain at all.
   After the big fight we rested and healed up and where told that no we don't get any treasure but the happen to "know" where a shipwreck had washed up on the coast. We of course being players went to there at the speed of plot. We managed to notice the wire with bells and step over it. After a little searching we open a door and find 10 orcs sitting around a table. four of them where spear throwers. The fight was really not that much of a problem seeing as I rolled max hitpoints for level 2 and the other tank rolled quite well too so. This used up 2 of my 3 lessor vigor's, a cure light wounds, and 3 of my 4 zero level heals. We went into the next room that contained 24ish goblins. We did quite well for the shape we where in. It really helped that the gobo javelins only did 1d4 and the psionic warrior had a power that gave him DR 2/- so a lot of the attacks against him did nothing. Our Sorc was doing well with the orcs javelins taking down a number of enemy's and me and my crossbow did good though I quickly had to use my last lesser vigor when our rogueish character basically one again charged into the middle of the room to fight someone. This moved me out into the line of fire and only have 17 AC I quickly fell to a barrage of javelins despite my new shiny 24 hitpoints. The rogueish character kept falling unconscious then waking up on his turn because of the fast heal. In the end though we where all knocked out at negative hitpoints, and should have been killed. Of course what really happened is that we are going to start next week being goblin prisoners. I still have a zero level heal left so who knows.
   Once I hit 3rd level I will be getting the fiery blast feat and using my sun domains 2nd level spell which I will never actually use always be able to toss mini fireballs. Also because I will not have to actually hit things at that point bye bye large shield, hello tower shield. I can live with a burst 5' range 30' attack that deals 1d6/(level of highest fire spell memorized) fire damage every round. Maybe then the DM won't have to cheat for me.

I is NOT for Initiative

   I have already chosen another thing for "I" but I want to talk about initiative so I will. There are a number of ways to do it such as a simple 1d6 team for OD&D or as complex as 3.5's everyone rolls 1d20 and gets their dexterity bonus to it. When I started learning about D&D I loved the very complex way that 3.5 did it because I felt it was more "realistic".

   I have been thinking about it and recently have changed my mind. The 1d6 for the whole team seems better now. I would do a single thing different from the generic way of 1d6 highest goes first. I would rule lowest goes first because then its first to last instead of a countdown. Honestly though it is because so many things are roll high that messing with it every once in a while is fun.

   My reasons for this is twofold. First doing it this way makes for quite a bit less work on my shoulders. Secondly it brings the players together. They rise or fall together. With one roll they all have their fate resting on a single person rolling a single die. It is simple, straight forward, and brutally direct. They have to decide who rolls it and then they would all gather around that one person.

   A simple 1d6 roll to a team also lets people get to the combat faster. Nothing against elegant and complex systems but this is the step that is generally most boring in combat and too complex a system means that any fight with more then a few combatants will find this step being dragged out to much. I don't know about you but the exciting part about a fight is The Fight. If the Superbowl can decide who goes first with a coin toss then 1d6 is just fine by me.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for Horses

   Ever have the campaign where you "have" horses? You ride every where on them and once you get there they seem to disappear till needed again. After all horses are not much good in a regular dungeon and once you get somewhere they tend to just be in the way. Its not like a horse is cheap to acquire or anything so a nice DM will feel its rude to just kill it or something while your away. What should you do with your horses?

    If your a DM and don't just want to out of hand kill the horses while the players are away without a reason but feel they should do something about it I do have a suggestion. Have them hire a teamster or some similar type of hireling to watch the horses and whatever animals you bring but need to leave outside the dungeon. There should still be a chance of something happening but with a trained person looking after the animals it should be greatly reduced. Now not only do you have a reason to leave the horses alone but you also have a built in money sink. Sure its not that much money but its cheaper then new horses every trip between town and dungeon so the players will be okay with it because it makes perfect sense. It also means you don't end up leaving your poor horses tied up in the wild if the whole party dies or something.

   For you Evil DMs out there who want to justify your horse slaughter while the players backs are turned I have some help for you as well. Random wilderness encounters, its that simple. Why should they only happen when the players are around? What bear could resist the chance to chow down on some free food tied to a tree. If the players are in the dungeon long enough roll for a random encounter involving the horses. Not only does this justify your horse killing spree but also gives you interesting results. After all you can describe whats left, its also possible that not all the horses die and having one horse left provides some free flavor. If the horses left alive are hurt then the players will have to do something about it. If the random encounter is something like bandits, even better. Don't have them kill the horses, have the bandits steal them. A player who sees his horse dead and goes "oh well" might respond differently to a stolen horse. Stealing something from a player makes them want to get it back so they might end up tracking the bandits halfway across the world just for revenge. Also you can roll the combat while the players are in the dungeon and make the players nervous about all the dice you are rolling with nothing seeming to happen.

   To finish up don't just kill/ignore the horses. No matter what you want to happen to them there is a better way then DM fiat. Whether you want to kill them or forget them have a reason for what you do. Also don't just let the players leave the horses where ever they want with no care to it. If they leave the horse tied up out in the open in the middle of a dangerous area they should come back and find the horses dead.

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Guards

   Guards in some form are in all the cities. They do a good job of keeping low level characters following the law but after a point unless the guard is full of high level NPCs it stops working so well. This can cause a problem when the high level party decides they don't care about the town laws anymore. I had until recently could never really figure out any good ways to make it matter to the players. I have found a few good answers at Bat in the Attic that Rob Conley has come up with over his many years of gaming. Now I don't want to just parrot what was said there so I am going to state the ideas then dissect it some and then see what I could do to improve it or do it differently.

   First answer comes from when he ran a campaign where everyone was a part of the guards. The players had a crossbow made that did a whole lot of damage but it had a strength requirement and took a lot of rounds to reload. Of course after that the guards had that weapon.
   To dissect it some you need to take into account how long combat actually tends to be because otherwise it just looks to overpowered. After all it did something like 6d4 damage. This would be too much damage if not for the fact it takes 6 rounds to reload. By the time you manage to reload it most fights will be most likely over and you will probably have been able to do more damage just attacking especially with higher level adventurers. What it does is make players rethink breaking the law in town.
   I would gladly include this into a game I run because it does what it was meant to without being overpowered. What I might change is include a little more restriction on it. As is you fire it first round and drop it. Now this is alright because later you still have to reload it and it is not exactly cheap but at higher levels there may be some chance of abuse. I would add some flavor that it needed straps to hold it up and aim properly so it takes a turn to take off. This would only delay the guard a little bit but reduce the use for a player in the dungeon enough.

   Next from the same campaign the players came up with the idea of a pair of sticks that when you break one the match breaks as well. This allowed the guards on patrol to call for help. It allowed guards to call for increasingly bigger forces all the way up stopping a bunch players from doing something and escaping the city before anyone even knows what happened.
   This is quite a useful idea though not as much for a party of players. Unless the players split the party about all you would use it for is if you have a character scouting ahead. For the guards though it is an amazing helper. Get in trouble on patrol? Snap the stick and you don't have to send a runner for help and you get the help in half the time!
   This has almost no possibility of player abuse and I love the idea. What I would change is have it so when you break the rod in different sections the matching piece breaks in the same place so that the guards can call for bigger forces quicker by breaking it in a specific place. Have the rods have some colored bands on it to segregate the different areas to break at.

   The final thing that I take from Rob is to include the player into the setting. He writes a few times how he includes the player into his world and this is the one thing that with players that want to play that stops players from bashing on your cities. By making the world important to them you let them get absorbed into the game. The high level party won't knock over the city not because its over run with even higher level NPCs but because they like that one shopkeeper they chat with every time they get back from the dungeon. They don't raze the city because their family lives there. They don't fire off fireballs at random because their contact that has given them some nice leads might get killed. When the players care about the world they play like they actually live there.
   This is about the only way to make it so when the guards come that the party won't just start slaughtering. Making overpowered guards just makes the players dislike your towns. If the players respect your guards though you need to respect them. Don't force them into situations that makes them break the law then get mad at them for not coming quietly.
   The include the players into the game world will only work if you really build the world well. It will work best in a setting that you plan to keep playing in just like Rob has been using Majestic Wilderlands. After all if you don't make what the players do matter then nothing you do will let them have fun.

   To wrap up on guards. Don't make them idiots, Give them proper equipment, and let them communicate with themselves quickly. If you don't want magic sticks then maybe consider including some flying humanoids in the guard to alert others quicker. If giant crossbows don't do it for you just make sure they can be affective in some way. Good guard need not be high level.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Found a low level dungeon I had made

   While looking through some of my random junk I found some maps I had drawn at some point along with my copy of World Builder's Guidebook. Later I will be using the world I made for one of my letters but before that I decide to put up my dungeon I found. First I scanned in my originals which for completeness here they are:
Now here is my new improved version that I did because despite being a mine it did not look like a mine, not that it does now but its looks like the start of a mine now.

While technically the new mine for a dwarf city I was making called Kalentar it can be anywhere you would put a mine. The flavor I have for it is that when digging a new mine the dwarves hit a tunnel and where set upon by a number of kobolds so they retreated back and would like you to go clear them if you can. They mention before they send you in that the locked room is empty. There are exactly 20 kobolds in the place. The numbers are encounters and here are what they are:
1. 1d4 kobolds are present with bows and quiver with 10 arrows each along with a dagger. They will fight till there is one left and once only one is left it will try to run away and alert others.
2. The secret doors to the room are just regular doors behind some wall hangings so if they search at all they should find them. The room contains a couple chests in it. One is unlocked and contains a potion of cure light wounds with 1d8 coppers. the other chest has a simple lock and contains 1d8+2 silver and a 10% chance of another potion of cure light wounds. There is also a barrel of beer that is mostly empty. the room appears to have been used as a break/hide from the overseer room.
3. The door has a simple lock on it and the room itself contains nothing much of note.
4. The walls are secret doors that while not good enough to pass close examination are good enough that the party could walk past them without noticing.There is a kobold behind both of the doors but if they hear the party trying to enter the locked room one of them will go to alert the rest. If one of the kobolds from the first encounter escaped and made it past here they will not. The kobolds will let the party goes past them then sneak up behind them to attack as the fight the kobolds in the next room.
5. There are three kobolds hanging out here. If a kobold is able to get warning to them, two of them will be hiding in the corners so that they can not be seen. If the kobold that warns them is from the first encounter then it will have passed its bow and arrows off to one of the kobolds here before going on.
6. Just a kobold hiding behind some walls. Lets the party pass and attacks them from behind when they get to number 7. If the party found the hidden doors at 4 they have a better chance to find this one and get a check just by passing near it.
7. A kobold hiding in the corner. If a kobold was able to get through and warn the rest it will also be here waiting.
8. Both 8's are platforms with a kobold on top. The kobold both have bows and a quiver with 10 arrows and a dagger. there are also 20 arrows on the platform but if they need them they have to take a turn to get them. If the kobolds are warned then there will also be a kobold with a sword on the ground. In encounter 1 if there was less then 4 kobolds then there will be the missing ones here as well split evenly between the two platforms and if an odd number they are at the platform closer to encounter 7 and they are armed with a bow and quiver with 10 arrows each along with a dagger.
9. This is the sleeping area for the kobolds. If not warned then there are four kobolds here along with how ever many less then 4 in the first encounter. Each kobold here has a 60% chance of being asleep. Any here will only have a dagger on them. There is on the wall next to the door swords for each and bow and quiver with 10 arrows for each of the kobolds from the first encounter. If warned there are two kobolds with swords ready to attack any non-kobold that enters.
10. The commander and sub-commander live here and will be in this room and their treasure is in the chest here. They are well armed with a sword, shield, and the commander has better armor. If warned they will be ready. There is a chest with a simple lock containing treasure appropriate for the commander and sub-commander as well as the shaman type from encounter 11.
11. This is the room of a shaman type. The kobold will have some kind of magical ability and if warned will go join the commander and sub-commander. His treasure is in the chest in the commanders room.

   Please comment on it because its basically the first dungeon I have ever made. I think it would be a low level dungeon but I do not know how low. As for what I plan to do with it is if they don't find the secret door that leads off the map is that reinforcements will come.

F is for Fumbles

   If you use fumbles to roll a natural 1 is to fumble yet what does this mean for the system as presented? Anything thing with multiple attacks a round is more likely to fumble! That fighter you finally leveled to the point that he can attack twice a round? Compared to a peasant he is almost twice as likely to fumble an attack! It just gets worse from there on. A character that can make multiple attacks in a round should be skilled enough to fumble LESS then before not more. That is the whole idea behind levels, the higher you are the better. Of course it is the same for a critical hit but that at the least follows the level scheme.

   Every roll of the d20 has a 5% chance to land on a specific number. While this is a stable chance with each roll being just as likely the fact that every roll you make has that chance of coming up as a 1 it adds up and with two attacks a round your chance of a fumble for that round is 9.75%. My personal feelings are just to get rid of crits and fumbles but they can be fun for both flavor and mechanic standpoints. I have put some thought into how I could have them and have "Fun" outcomes for fumbles yet not penalize a fighter for being good. What I came up with was copying the critical confirmation from 3rd edition but in reverse. For a fumble you need to get a natural 1 and roll a second check and fail to hit the target again just like to confirm a critical you need to roll another attack and hit. This would make it so that a fighter who can handle his sword will be less likely to fumble against a weaker opponent. A good way to spin it is as a fumble recovery check representing a experienced combatants ability to recover from a mistake, after all even if a 10 level fighter does go off balance he should be able to recover from it when fighting against a less skilled combatant.

   With the fumble recovery check it also allows you to implement "Better" fumble results and not feel to guilty about it. You would feel bad if the high-level fighter takes a swing at some kobold and manages to disembowel himself with just a single roll of the dice. With the check you can include such things though still in moderation because the fighter gets a chance to save himself and if it takes a 1 to miss a creature and they roll it twice in a row, well the Dice have spoken.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Encounters

   An Encounter is something that happens when you go adventuring. Killed some goblins? its an encounter. Tripped a trap? Well it is an encounter as well, in fact most distinct things you will do that needs your action to complete is one, whether you feel someone bump into you in the market and find you money pouch oddly lighter then before or you see a monster and run from it, as long as you could have reacted and changed the outcome in a significant way.

   In the later D&D editions when you mention an encounter most of the players reach for their dice because it has been for the most part reduced to fighting monsters or facing a trap.  Even when it comes to role-playing a lot of it is reduced to roll-playing. Of course this is just how the game wants to be played, not the only way it can be played.

   So you meet some humans in leather armor alone in the woods what do you do? You could reach for your dice to roll your initiative, or you could actually try to parlay. What people seem to forget is facing everything dice in hand is not always the best way to go. If you had assumed the humans where bandits and just attacked you will have missed out on that they where actually guards for a merchant caravan that was attacked not to far away. that is in need of help. Or maybe they where a party of fellow adventurers that where way above you level.

   Attacking everything you meet no matter what it seems to be is a reaction caused by the quest for balance that games seem to have been on recently. 3rd edition D&D and forward have been trying to make every fight equal to the party. You walk into the forest at 1st level and you would meet a couple bandits or maybe some giant rats. Then of course you all level up so all of the sudden your fighting a couple wolves or a wild cat...

   That is not how the world works nor is it how older editions work. If you don't know how to run from or go around monsters you will die. That is still an encounter though because you will have still done something of significances. Now this has all been nice but what is an encounter for?

   Encounters are for a number of things actually. One is it breaks up a session into quantifiable parts. This lets you have a stopping point at the end of the night that is not an awkward cliffhanger. Middle of a fight would be a bad point to stop after all but after it would be a fine point to stop. An encounter can also work like chapters in a book. If a book was just a continual jumble of words all strung together it would be hard to find where you are. The mind remembers stuff better when its all in neat little packages so it can recall parts instead of the whole and encounters let you prepackage the mess for you mind. Encounters can also be easily swapped around to a point. Its the whole idea behind the random encounter tables for the wilderness. Your in the woods so maybe you meet some bandits but maybe you meet some cougars. Modularity allows DMs to rolls with the punches and keep going when the players go in the exact opposite way you want them to, because they will.

   Finally don't let "encounters" take over the game. They are only artificial deliminators between one scene and another. If you let encounters worry you to much it can suck the fun out of the game. Just run the game and they will automatically appear. If the players are searching in a dungeon and making noise, if you haven't popped a monster on them recently do a random encounter. If they are in the wilderness tramping around in the middle of nowhere plop down a bear to spice it up some. When the players start to get bored, have stuff happen. As you DM more you will start to find the rhythm that suits your campaign.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Alignment and how I think about it

   A tricky subject in D&D. What does being evil mean? Or better yet what does being good mean, after all the players are generally that one. All kinds of trouble comes from these two so lets go even farther back. Originally there where only 3 alignments; Lawfull, Neutral, and Chaotic. These three actually make sense without all the moral confusion. At the least it is if you understand that Lawfull means order and not something to do with actual laws so lets start with defining that one.

   To be Lawful is to live for order. Any civilization not ruled by strength of the ruler alone is at least partly lawful or the civilization would quickly fall. Order is not all good though. Complete order would be an empty universe where nothing happens. In moderation though its what lets peace happen, of course on the flip-side of that is it is what lets large scale wars happen as well. Without order people would not be able to get along but they would also be unable to organize themselves enough to support large armies. To bundle this all Lawful is what lets a true civilization work in all its functions, whether peace or war.
   In a single person Lawfulness is harder to define. Only beings from the plane of Order would be fully Lawful. Paladins are the extreme end of Lawful and yet they are not fully so because for a mortal creature it would be impossible. Some quality can be extracted to define order in a single person though. First of all a stable set of habits and traits. A person that wakes up and goes to sleep at basically the same time everyday would an example of this. Secondly a want for civilization as they understand it. This means that the person wants the world around them to be stable. Those two things are the important things, various other such requirements could be argued for but if you don't have these they are not lawful. This might seem very restrictive on who can be lawful but if you look closely at the two its good enough.
   An important fact to know though is that while a civilization may be Lawful but this does not mean that everyone or even a majority of the people in it are lawful. It means that there are more lawful people then chaotic people. Most of the people will be Neutral because they will fail one of my requirements, generally the second one. A majority of the people will have an ordered life but want a better lot in life even if they are resigned to the life they have. A peasant farmer who has a set schedule everyday depending on the season that likes his life but would prefer less taxes or a nicer local lord would be an example of the majority of people in a civilization.  A smaller number of people will not have that much of a stable life but like their lot in life. A painter who's income is by the piece and doesn't have any set schedule but likes his country because it allows him to live like he does would be such a person. An example of someone that is lawful would be the sheriff who gets up everyday and goes on his round, he is quite content with his civilization as is and lives a stable life.

   Now I have already said a bit on being Neutral in the last bit but there is more to it then just not being Lawful. Being Neutral is the hardest to define for both a civilization and a person. The best way to describe it is the state of compromise. Maybe life is to chaotic for the person despite their want for order or maybe all of the order around them is stifling to the persons freedom but they compromise on it. Yes everything is constantly falling apart but, eh what can "I" do about it? Oh sure I don't have any freedom of the soul here but actually trying to change it is to much work. Basically if a person seems like they are chaotic but lives with order or a person "should" be lawful but is fine with the chaos around them they will fit in Neutral. The biggest problem is that the 3 alignments are not distinct set of points but a giant sliding bar with two sides and neutral being the gray area between the two. After all where does white stops being mostly white and becomes gray yet not somewhat black? Technically the color black is only 0,0,0 and white is only 255,255,255 but no one human is fully lawful or fully chaotic so the description needs to be extend to the in-between and when you do that it can get hard to define when it stops being one and yet is not the other.

   Chaotic is easy on a personal level. If you don't have a personal schedule and want the rules of civilization to not apply to you then Chaos is your thing. Like lawful has few people who actually are it, chaotic is the same way in a civilization. Ironically a true civilization that has more chaotic people then lawful will actually tend to be neutral because a chaotic civilization will not last long enough to to support a "true" civilization. The best example of this would be the Old Republic in Star Wars. It last for millennium as a lawful civilization. Then lasted for quite a while as neutral when it had a corrupt government. Finally in the end when it finally falls to chaos and Palpatine has taken over it quickly falls and the Empire takes it spot and while the Empire would be evil it is also quite Lawful. On the fact it only last a short time, well I will talk about that in a later post about how I think Star Wars should really go but that is not important here. What is important is that this finishes up with the original 3 alignments so moving on.

   Good is relative and so is Evil. Even some things that we consider universal are not so in other cultures. Murder is evil but there are religions that say its fine as long as you don't worship your god. The Mayan civilizations religion was one where they had to remove the still beating hearts from people as a sacrifices. Now this would be considered evil but to them that was just something you did because otherwise would be to chance gods wrath. No matter how much America tries to remove religion from government its basic laws are based on the christian religion. Now of course in D&D good and evil is based on a moral system similar to medieval Christianity mixed up with modern values because of its origin from the Wargame, Chainmail.
   The biggest problem I have with good and evil is what do you do if you detect evil on a peasant and they are? At that point just being evil means nothing! So what if they are, they did nothing to deserve it. Good people can do bad things and Bad people can do good. I have gone over that already in a past post "B is for Bad Guys". At least with order and chaos you get a feel for what the person is like. After all what is the difference between a person that doesn't steal because they don't want to get caught and a person who doesn't steal because they think it is wrong? Good and Evil only matter in the big movers and shakers. If the king is evil now THAT means something! the cobbler? Not so much.

   To wrap this all up what I plan to do is one of two things. First I will probably just not use Good and Evil for alignments but that doesn't work for all people and really all the people that I might get to play in my game around here are used to Good and Evil. So the Second option is to only give the two to important characters. This would mean that peasant working his field will only be neutral not neutral good/evil or true neutral. Some exceptions would be a NPC that actively does something considered evil like a thief. With this you won't get the Paladin jumping out of his skin in any big city with all the randomly evil people around and when he actually detects evil, it will actually mean something. It may only be the pickpocket in the crowd but it would mean something.