Tuesday, December 30, 2014

6 Roguish Magical Treasures

Magical treasures for more roguish types of play:
  1. Tabard of Shifting - Goes over armor and shows enemies the heraldic symbols of whoever they least want to fight- be they family, ally, or powerful enemies.  Enemies that understand such symbols will lose the first round of initiative and have -1 to hit thereafter. The tabard can shift even within combats.
  2. Quill of Stealing - Quill that allows you to forge, by stealing the real signature off of one document and placing it on another.  Only holds one signature at a time.
  3. Coins of Return - 7 gold coins with different ancient emperors depicted, each known for despicable acts.  Pay someone with all of these at once and the coins return to you at midnight.
  4. Fidelis Fibulae - Give one of these beautiful cloak pins to a trusted hireling.  As their loyalty diminishes, so does their hair- falling out little by little (the bald will grow hair).
  5. My Last Mistake - A colorful porcelain knot the size of a coin.  Break it and the last hour can be done over.
  6. The Golden Bones - Crude, carved from bone, as long as these dice are rolled anyone within earshot will gather round and watch the results.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

6 Magical Book Treasures

I wanted to give you these for Christmas, but books were harder for me to come up with cool items for play. They seem to be more dry reference materials than items players would be carrying around everywhere. Anyway, here is what I came up with:
  1. Book of Holding - This very heavy tome appears to be a collection of works by various hands from various times but resting a mundane book on top of it will cause that  book to be added to its pages.  It never changes size and appears to have infinite room for more new works..  Titled Praecepta ad Filium by Simplicius Porphyrogenitus.
  2. Book of Many Compartments -  It has 600 pages and 100 hidden cut outs.  You must remember the pages that small items may be hidden on, otherwise it appears a normal work of natural history.  Titled Memorabilia by Diodorus the Elder
  3. Dandolo's Fechtbuch - Studying a section will grant a benefit to any combats the next day, but you can choose only one section to study: Offense: +1, Defense: +1, Caution: reduced fumbles, Boldness: extended critical range.
  4. Book of Translating - Appears to be a dry record of commercial deals and political agreements made by different pairs of speakers.  But if two people touch the book while talking it will record that conversation in the book.  Conversations appear to be in whatever language the reader understands best.  Titled Accords of the Caravan Princes by Harun al-Hafiz.
  5. Book of Rehearsing - Appears to be small philosphical dialogues in which a person entreats another in different ways to different results.  Say the name of a person and then say something to them.  These will appear in the book along with that persons probable responses (a way to rehearse important npc interactions). Titled The Dialectics by Proclus of Tatos.
  6. Book of Snakes - Contains hundreds of swatches of reptile skin.  Poorly labelled but experience will show it contains rattlesnake, spitting cobra, python, flying snakes and even a basilisk.  Once a day, touching a swatch will cause the book to turn into that reptile and the toucher will be able to communicate with that snake.
I also really wanted to make two other ideas work but they take a lot of effort on your part as DM to fit them in your world.  first, the Friendly Book which is a sentient book that offers up answers, recipes, songs, and bits of lore, especially for new and younger players. (Kind of a bard as book I'm now realizing ;).

The other idea was to have a set of volumes that improve effectiveness as you find more of them.  I think one way to do this is have 4 books for making a poison or potion that break down like this 1) finding and harvesting ingredients 2) preparing ingredients 3) cooking and processing ingredients together 4) storing and applying. 

Players might sell any of them for gold, but if you set it up right they might have better and better chances of successfully completing the poison/potion.  Could be a mini-game or just abstract bonuses.  I was thinking a Chinese lich could have written 10,000 of these and the series is titled After Drinking a Golden Potion.

Friday, December 19, 2014

6 Solo Magical Treasures

These are aimed at the poor fool in the underworld alone:
  1. Choker of Isolde - Constricts slightly when someone is searching for you, eases again when they stop.
  2. Twine of Seeking - 30 feet of rough twine, hold one end, whisper a word, and it will slowly snake out and retrieve that thing- be it key, phylactery, or purse.
  3. Shadow Window - A rough piece of amber-tinted glass the size of a book.  Press it against a door and a shadow play of anything moving on the other side of the door will appear.
  4. White Mites - Pour out this sack of thousands of rice-sized, white mites and they will flee into the cracks of any lose stones nearby- trap, trigger, or secret door.
  5. Careful Boots - Click the heals and they leave no tracks, click them again and they leave tracks headed the way you came.
  6. Holy Chimes - Tiny, pewter, pilgrim badges dangling from string, they make no noise unless the undead are near.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

6 More Magical Treasures

I guess I've got these on my mind, so have a few more magical treasures:

  1. Belt of Swallowing - The wearer of this thick belt can eat anything - poison, acid, broken glass- and be unharmed.  They can also suck up creatures of less than 1HD on a successful hit.  This hurts, though, and they take 1hp dmg each time. 
  2. Silk of Reciprocating - If a person whispers a name into this length of silk and then binds themselves with it, that person named will be bound similarly- gagged, blindfolded, hands or feet tied magically together.
  3. Silver Razor - Shaving a person with this silver razor will cause them to love you until their hair grows back.
  4. Whale Breakers - Two pieces of whale tooth scrimshawed with scenes of Inuit bear hunts.  If they are held firmly in both hands for at least an hour (no shield, no rope use, no opening doors) they begin feeling colder and heavier and will allow the holder to strike foes with the force of two flails, breaking bones on critical hits.
  5.  White Fronds - Anything wrapped in these fuzzy grey, foot-wide fronds emits no smell.
  6. Telecanter's Bookmark - A strip of very worn human skin with a tattoo on it:  Find this name's enduring fame. If a proper name is spoken and the strip of skin is placed in a book, it will move through the book stopping at the first place that name is mentioned.  If the book is opened, and closed it will continue.  If that book is placed on a shelf of books, it will move from book to book finding references in a whole library.

Friday, December 12, 2014

6 Consumable Magic Treasures

I mentioned I didn't have enough cool consumable magic treasures so I've been trying to come up with some more.  These magic items are used up through use:
  1. Flowing Battle Ribbon - Grows 1 inch for each round of combat you are in but not hit, when you are finally hit it blocks that many points of damage and falls to tatters.
  2. Wax Wings of Flight - Small wings made completely of wax attached to a white silk harness.  There is a wick.  Lighting the wick will allow the wearer to fly beautifully, but cause the wings to melt irreparably in the time it takes for one combat or 1/2 mile of travel.
  3. Smouldering Robe - Continuously smouldering as if about to catch fire, this robe protects its wearer from any fire or heat for one combat or one turn before being consumed. 
  4. Bottle of Fog - Stoppered glass bottle filled with swirling grey mists.  Pulling the stopper will cause fog to slowly stream out for a day, filling a huge space.  Breaking the bottle will cause a 10' cube to fill instantly.
  5. Candle of Past Shadows - When lit, no normal shadows are made, instead a shadow play is cast of the last living things in this area.  Letting the candle burn down will cause older and older scenes to be shown.  Has 1d10 uses.
  6. Porcelain Gong - "Let this gong be sound when enemies surround" Striking will break the gong and cause the striker and all allies to fight one battle with great focus, committing no fumbles and much more likely to make critical hits (critical range is increased to 17-20).

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

30 Magic Treasures Revised

I planned to do a quick follow up to my last post with a list of 30 consumable magic treasures, but I only came up with about 15 that I considered high enough quality.  So instead I'll give a few revisions for that last list.

First of all, I realized that the burdensome blade is, in fact, only detrimental- a cursed item.  So I revised it to be:

Burdensome Blade – Each day the blade draws no blood it becomes heavier to bear but more likely to land a blow.

That means a player getting that will have to make a choice of having the sword around, managing its blood needs or just tossing it.  It did make me think about why I didn't want anything cursed.  I suppose at the most basic, I'm trying to think of things that would be fun to find and that players would want to seek out and feel happy to find.

I don't really see the place for bags of devouring and such that just make the players hesitate to experiment with items.  If I were to use cursed items I think I would try to make sure they were a bit amusing.  As an example, my Torc of Trammel (which almost made the list) was fun for a player to roleplay the time it came up in my campaign.

Treasures for All
Some other observations.  I really like the idea of the Parchment Sash but didn't include it because I'm trying to make these treasures usable by almost any character.  Although the shields and swords are pretty fighter-centric now that I think of it.  I guess that is the difficulty of class restrictions and magical rewards.  I suppose I could have things like the Burdensome Blade be so magical that they morph into the favored weapon type of the holder.  Staff, dagger, or sword, if it is gaining weight everyday, you'll still need to make a choice.

3 Substitutions
I removed Godith's Gauge because it seems to vague, and the two I mentioned as being great to put in a dungeon - Branwalather's bridge and Clement's Docent - for that very reason, because they feel more like dungeon tricks or features than a personal item a character would want to carry around.

I added these instead:

Marvelous Folding Coracle – Saying the magical word will cause this small packet of willow bark to unfold into a circular vessel large enough for one person.

Ranulph’s Veil – A cage locked over the character's head with a muzzle built in. Wearing it makes them invisible and undetectable but mute and they must have someone unlock them to get the veil off.

Wolf Pelt – When a player drapes this over their shoulders they become a wolf.

I think the first and last are pretty evidently going to be useful at times and give players tools to use.  The middle one, like Anan's Veil, also on the list is just a ring of invisibility with big restrictions.

I'm going to try and make the chart with these revisions a pdf in the future.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

30 Magic Treasures

I've gone through my whole blog and created a list of the best treasures I've invented.  If anything seemed too powerful I left it out for a separate artifact chart.  If anything could be used up, I left that for a separate consumable chart.  These are all meant to be interesting for players to try and figure out and to provide more choices and options in their on-going adventures. While many of the items are mixed blessings (thus the choices required) I tried to leave out anything that would be considered a purely cursed item.  Five rings, four shields, three swords, and a bunch of miscellaneous magic.  I hope you find this useful.

30 Magic Treasures
  1. Amethyst Band – Prevents poisoning but contracts in doing so, amputating a finger.
  2. Anan’s Veil – A chunk of cloudy-grey crystal that obscures the presence of the holder but also obscures the world to the holder in a swirling grey mist. You are invisible but blind.
  3. Beautiful Cap – The wearer of this colorful cap will catch the eye of all creatures in viewing distance, pique their curiosity, and draw their gaze. Creatures that fail a save will follow along, watching the wearer.
  4. Bone Stylus – Write the name of your antagonist in your flesh and he will leave you be. Works similar to sanctuary against the named individual. Causes one hit point of damage for every letter inscribed in the bearer's flesh. Lasts until the damage is healed.
  5. Branwalather's Bridge – Actually a pair of heavy, lignum vitae chests. Carried, even one of these is heavy enough to slow and tire two strong men. Opened they appear mundane. If a person is shut up inside one, they exit the other.
  6. Bulwark – This large shield gains +1 to AC and 50 lbs each round of combat.
  7. Burdensome Blade – Each day the blade draws no blood it becomes heavier to bear.
  8. Clement’s Docent – This pair of crude, high, wooden clogs is sometimes known as the Beneficent Path. Uncomfortable and clattering loudly, they are remarkable in that they will lead the wearer's feet, gently pulling with each step. The path they take is the last journey made while worn.
  9. Friendsward – Useless in battle unless next to a fast friend, in which case it will block every blow that tries to harm them.
  10. Godith’s Gauge – Floating this ornately carved spoon on liquid will cause it to spin and point toward that which poses the greatest threat to its owner.
  11. Hat of Climbing – These hats, found in male and female forms, are long and ungainly, consisting of at least two yards of fabric. When the proper magic phrase is uttered they slowly stiffen to the strength and rigidity of steel. They can be climbed, used as a lever, pole, or even vault and will remain rigid until the magic phrase is uttered again.
  12. Iron Hammer – A hammer that will give you a bonus to hit equal to the penalty you take to your armor class. Want to hit your foe, let him hit you.
  13. Ivory Aegis – This shield is so slight it's actually a detriment in combat (-1 to AC) but will help guard the bearer against any charming magics (+4 to save).
  14. Knot Book Corliss Loop This book explains how to make a knot that will let a weight slowly and evenly down a vertical rope. Allows a person to descend without climbing or being lowered, and thus remain alert and ready. Good for invalids. (1d4 sessions to learn -1 for exceptional Int).
  15. Knot Book Hour HitchThis book explains how to make a knot that will cause this to release in one hour, also a half hour variant. (1d4 sessions to learn -1 for exceptional Int).
  16. Knot Book Songbird – This book explains how to make a knot that will release at a particular whistle note. (1d4 sessions to learn -1 for exceptional Int).
  17. Lover’s Charm – Two pieces: crude ceramic heart the size of an apple and a barbed, silver arrow as long as a thumb. As long as the arrow is stuck in living flesh, the heart will give off enough heat to make it uncomfortable to hold.
  18. Needle – This rapier never misses its mark but only leaves the tiniest mark (always hits, 1 hp dmg).
  19. Obsidian Blade – By cutting yourself with this razor-sharp rock you can heal someone as many points as you decide to bleed out. You will recover your hit points normally. You can bleed yourself as often as your health allows.
  20. Ranulph’s Runcible – A spoon ornately carved from a single piece of maple. When used to spoon liquid from a container, it will turn black if the liquid would be harmful to the imbiber. This black color will fade away in a day.
  21. Ring of Extrication – Taken off, it transports you to the place you put it on, but the ring stays behind.
  22. Ring of Redolence – Emits a constant air of fragrance. Each ring's scent will be unique to it, mint or lavender, for instance. The atmosphere around the wearer will be safe from noxious fumes such as the reek of ghasts or the stink of wizard clouds. But the fragrance will carry far, especially in enclosed spaces, and none who wear it come unannounced.
  23. Rings of the Joined – These bands only work in multiples. All wearers can share aspects of themselves among themselves. If, for example, 8 give up 1 foot of height, a ninth will become 8 feet taller.
  24. The Silent Horn – Blowing into it makes no noise. But every person told its magic phrase will hear it sound, deep and clear. Its signal has been used to win battles and in the assassination of seven sultans.
  25. Sister Sacks – Two grimy sacks woven of hair, one red, one black. Just large enough to hold a loaf of bread, put something in one and it appears in the other.
  26. St Colvin’s Key – St Colvin was a humble miner trapped in a cave in. He dug a hole in the ground in the shape of a cross. This cross slowly filled with water as from a spring and on lying in it Colvin was transported to safety. A hole of a specific shape dug with this spade will fill with water. A second hole dug in the same shape will fill with water and form a gate to the first.
  27. St's Buckler – Crude and wooden, this small shield offers no bonus to AC but a foe's critical hits are reflected back on them.
  28. Testudunculum – This bronze shield will block three successful missile hits on anyone in 20' every round.
  29. Thrall’s Torc – In combat you are much harder to hurt (+3 to AC), but the torc constricts each round you're engaged in violent activity. Half your constitution is the number of rounds you can fight before passing out completely.
  30. Wealward – A ring. One malady will but darken it, any more rebound on all in sight.

Friday, November 28, 2014

7 Treasures

These treasures are aimed at parties of people moving through dangerous places.
  1. Golden Thread - A tiny ball of fine, golden thread.  If someone takes a piece and ties it around your finger, you will see a ghostly thread leading toward that person, wherever they may be.  Enough thread in the ball for d20 pieces
  2. Lover's Charm - This is two pieces: crude ceramic heart the size of an apple and a barbed, silver arrow as long as a thumb.  If the arrow is jabbed into living flesh, the heart will give off enough heat that it is uncomfortable to hold.
  3. King's Bread - Flat bread that is broken and eaten by parties for luck.  Lasts as long as everyone in the party is alive, or one day, whichever ends first.  All who ate receive bonuses to any luck rolls or saving throws.
  4. Sister Sacks - Two grimy burlap sacks just large enough to hold a loaf of bread.  Put something in one and it appears in the other.
  5. Five Simple Straws - A rag with five pieces of straw of five different sizes and a note that says: "Walk in the order of the straws you drew and no spiritual harm will come to you." (protects against magic that would take over a person on a failed save: siren songs, possession, etc.)
  6. Widow's Pebbles - A bag of seven tiny pebbles that glimmer will quartz and fool's gold.  Anyone who places a pebble in the toe of their boot can hear, distinctly, the footsteps of anyone else that has done the same.  These clicking footsteps are heard by no one else.
  7. Spider Twine - This silky soft cord is only long enough to wrap around the waists of five people shuffling along front- to-back.  But if this is done, all will be as quiet as the quietest among them.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Great Firework Barge Auction

This happened quite a while back but I finally have a chance to record it and I wanted to share this as an example of a type of city event.

First, some backstory.  I made a bunch of fireworks (here and here) and I have a tradition of giving players a freebie on their actual birthday.  One of my players chose some fireworks for his gift.  Then, his character Gino managed to successfully use those to survive a cave full of stirges.  So, the first city he came to he wanted to buy more fireworks.  Thinking this might be an opportunity for some sort of eventual hijinks, I had an npc tell him "why buy individual fireworks when they're auctioning off whole barges?"  So, Gino got a merchant's license and then a few weeks later (in real life) showed up for the auction. 

I did have a quick bit at the end of a previous session where fireworks from each barge were sampled and it was determined how much water damage they had.  It turned out there were three barges: one with 10% water damage, one with 50%, and one undamaged.

The Interested parties
Gino knew how much money he had and what he wanted but what to do with the other players?  I had them take on the roles of the other interested parties.   So first, I had each of them roll up their npc on my Hireling trait chart.  They're familiar with this chart and so are pretty comfortable using it and find interpreting the traits that come up amusing.

We also rolled on the Court Fad of the Day chart (from Vaults of Nagoh, but I can't find it there now) which turned out to be people carrying poles around, the longer the more fashionable.  So I had players roll how long their poles were.  It was ridiculous and we were all laughing, the characters lugging around their 13ft fashion statements.

The Goals
One of the things that makes D&D unique is that it's one of the few types of collaborative play I know of.  Because of this it's always important to me when trying to devise mini-games that they not pit player versus player.  Seriously, every night we hang out that we don't play D&D we play a game that's PVP, so there is no lack of that in our lives.

So, if the other players were going to be Gino's competition, how did they provide that campetition without just trying to outbid him.  And because the amount of money these npcs have is determined by me (or random roll, but still I'd be setting the parameters) how could any kind of bidding auction be fair for Gino's player?  My solution was the multiple barges of varying quality and giving the npcs differing, but not mutually exclusive goals.  Basically, players could work together to get portions of a barge if they wanted and still succeed.  The four goals were:
  • You're under great pressure to win one of these barges with your own money but you don't want to.  Make it look like you tried to buy one but fail.  10,000 sp
  • You need some fireworks for an upcoming festival but you're low on funds.  Get some fireworks.  1000 sp
  • It would be amusing to have some fireworks.  But buying the damaged barges would be beneath your station.  Aquire some fireworks from the non-damaged barges.  10,000 sp
  • You think you can sell the water damaged fireworks to an alchemist.  Acquire one of the barges with damaged fireworks.  3,000 sp
I had the hardest time throughout all of this trying to put a monetary value on these fireworks and thus on these whole barges and on how much money each bidder would be bringing to bear.  But after pulling out a bunch of hair I settled on the values above.

I didn't really know what Gino would do.  So I wanted it possible for him, at the very least, to acquire a portion of fireworks or maybe the most damaged barge.  In other words, this all started from him wanting fireworks.  I didn't want this elaborate mini-game to end up making that impossible.

To facilitate deal-making between the interested parties I gave players ~15 minutes before the auction started to talk to each other in-character.

I also offered 100xp to any player that made their goal.  I know this is bizarre for D&D, to give a character xp for something some random npc did.  In this case, I just wanted something toget them interested and engaged and it worked.

The Auction
I can't remember all the details now.  I started out with very small bids and later, at the suggestion of players made the bid jumps higher to speed things up.  From my notes, it looks like the barges went for 3,500 sp, 2,025 sp,  and 5,700 sp (I'm sorry, I don't remember which barges were which).  I do remember the player with goal one unintentionally won the bid on the first barge and then was a spoiler, bidding wildly in the subsequent 2 exchanges.  I think she won the second barge and only lost the last one after bidding it up.  (yes that looks right, if she'd spent 5025 of her 10,000, that last barge would have been just out of her reach).

I think Gino ended up cutting a deal with the player with goal 3 who had a lot of cash and the easiest goal to make.  Neither of the remaining two players made their goals either.

The Aftermath
The players wanted to find out who was forcing the woman to buy a barge she didn't want and punish them somehow.  I had no idea who it was and felt weird about the whole thing because their characters should have no idea that this woman that just bought two barges didn't want them.  That is something in the back of my brain now though, maybe it will come together with other threads in the future.

Now Gino has hundreds of fireworks, what's going to become of them?  Well, he has a group of lepers building a barge for an upcoming religious regatta, and he just hired someone to fit it with a bunch of tubes, so stay tuned.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Bustling City

These aren't "encounters" so much as the groups of people characters moving through a city might encounter.  They may be just passing examples of the bustling, populous nature of the city.  If players want to interact with them, or somehow get swept up in the thing these groups are doing, more might come of it.

I'll probably have players roll on this (and then help them interpret the results) every time them move from one place to another in the city.

Roll 3d10 and fill in one of the three possible "sentences" with the results:

I've mashed social class and wealth together because, as an American, I'm less aware of class distinctions that aren't tied to cash.  You could make two columns if you want.

Entry #6 for Types of People is trying to get away from thinking that the default will be men.  In my world they will be a mix of genders.  So this result will signify that it is only men, only women, or maybe something different like a group of Hijra.

The second "sentence" is based on the idea that the Types of People categories are not  mutually exclusive.  In other words you might have a group of old soldiers or a group of foreign bureaucrats.

Let's try some for the first "sentence":

6, 2, 10
We could say it is a group of male peasants celebrating a sporting victory, carrying the best players on their shoulders.

Ooh, this is odd.  A group of wealthier children are protesting something.  Maybe pelting their tutor with vegetables?


A group is pouring from a church after someone noticed a child went missing.

Seems to work okay.  Any of those might turn into an adventure; the players find out about some sport they can try in a minigame, or at least bet on-- they might meet this put-upon tutor and befriend him/her-- the missing child might be an abduction by something dire.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

More Thoughts on Hexless Random Wilderness Generation

First, sorry if the last post was a bit scattered (I did spend several hours composing it).  Second, a close read of Chris Kutalik's pointcrawling posts is in order because much of my thoughts on connections and such, he'd already covered 2 years ago.  Third, check out these links Talysman shared in the comments of our discussion:

A method of terrain generation from Central Casting Dungeons product.
And his own Last Minute Hex Crawl Tables

Fourth, while this wouldn't be of help to the sightless, check out this post as a method of generating pointcrawls using routes.

Fifth, I think the biggest issue for a blind person with generating a pointcrawl is not going to be the generation but keeping track of what they generate, which is basically what a map is, an efficient way to store positional data in 2-d.  The method that might work is to treat points like the locations in a choose-your-own-adventure book.  Number all of them, and number the exits from each location with the number of the location that route is leading to.  Then you could store these numbered points anyway that was convenient to you, text file list, database.

Sixth, some fresh thoughts:

All that jazz about biomes is probably not very important in randomly generating terrain for a pointcrawl.  Minecraft is an infinite flat plain, so gradients of temperature and moisture matter more.  In fantasy worlds even slightly like our own, terrain will be relatively similar unless the distance between the points is huge.   What I mean is, temperature is mostly tied to latitude, so the farther north you go the colder it will be.  But that takes miles and miles of travel to really manifest itself. 

It seems like most terrain generated will be like that you just left, maybe the only variation is in the surface features.  Is there a lake here?  Is there a forest?

So, elevation might matter much more as the variation you would see in local features.  Is there a hill here?  A canyon, a pass through these mountains?

Another thought, the problem with randomly generated anything is that information about the generated place is very local, it's difficult to make more big picture patterns or connections until you've already finished generating a big area, look at it and then do so.  What I mean is, if there's a pass through the mountains, is it the only pass?  If it is it might be very important and have different encounters.  Is this bit of forest a small grove or just a point hidden in a vast swath of forest?  Most random generating systems are not going to help with that.

With that in mind, the best bet for blind players or DMs, would probably be to take something like Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms and convert it into a point crawl and record the points in the numbered location method I mentioned above.  That way all the "big picture" knowledge could be captured for the points.  Then point 54 can let you know that it is a small grove far from civilization but near trade route heavily used in summer.

Of course, that requires someone to make a whole world which is the creative work a random system is trying to replace.  But maybe someone could use a random system as a work aid, generate a ton of points, look over them and apply logical, big-feature information to the points, and then share them with folks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thoughts on Hexless Random Wilderness Generation

The Hill Cantons blog has a very interesting question about how to randomly generate wilderness for a hexless pointcrawl.  I think an unspoken requirement is that the terrain makes some kind of sense as well.  Here are some thoughts on the problem.

Pseudo-Realistic Terrain
First, how do you randomly generate terrain and not have deserts next to swamps?  If you think of terrain as fitting into hot-cold and wet-dry continuums, with a chart like this:

You can generate terrain that will always be one step away from the temperature and moisture of the terrain you were in.  Imagine a position on the graph which represents the features of the area you are in.  Like this:
The black square is pretty temperate, roll a 1 and things get colder and dryer
If you roll a d10, 1-8 will show you what heat and moisture the new area will have.  Rolling a 9 or 10 could mean you stay in the same box, or if you wanted to 10 could mean you hop two boxes to indicate a larger shift.  But this might just be introducing a difficult visual record keeping in lieu of a hex map.  Maybe we could just track it abstractly by using the letter/number code and this little chart:

Roll to check the next chunk:
  1. colder / wetter
  2. colder / dryer
  3. hotter / wetter
  4. hotter / dryer
This won't tell you what kind of features are on the new terrain, though.  Two possible solutions come quickly to mind.  First, you could define certain biomes for certain combinations of temperature/moisture the way Minecraft does:
This graph has the axes opposite of mine
So, for example, J1 (and clusters of letters/numbers near it) would correspond to tundra and whatever features you pre-define tundra to have.

The second possible way to handle this is to generate features on the fly with some component charts.  For example:

Natural Features
Roll for each:
  • Elevation
  • Vegetation
  • Rocks
  • Water
  1. Lack
  2. Great lack
  3. Abundance
  4. Great Abundance
This requires some interpretation but would result in a greater variety.  A location with a lack of water but abundance of vegetation could mean cactus or maybe tumbleweed.  A great lack of rocks could be interpreted to mean sand dunes or mud flats, depending on moisture.

If we aren't keeping track of strict units like hexes, we could more loosely determine the size of the piece of land we are in, like this:

Size of this chunk of terrain:
  1. tiny
  2. small
  3. big
  4. huge
Or just use d10 or d100 as a scale, depending on your preference.

Keeping Track of Points
But, none of this gets at how you would keep track of points in a pointcrawl without using something like hexpaper.  I think the answer is in the connections.  This topic made me think of my long time project of trying to randomly generate catacombs with hexes.  You can see some examples if you scroll through my hexes label.  Doing generating based on connections is easy with hexes because you can roll 1 d6 to tell you how many exits a hex has and 1d6 for each to find the position of that exit.  That still requires hex paper for easy record keeping, though.

Some of these combinations of exits have shapes like a "T" or a "K."  And that might be a possible approach to keeping track of things.  For example: You come to a large forest with several roadways, they take the shape of a "K" and you have entered at the bottom straight leg of the "K."  So, just using the letters of the alphabet or the shapes of numbers to evoke connections to new areas might be a way to generate and record connections.

Another idea that comes to mind, is to record the connections in relation to a clock face.  Kind of the way fighter pilots talk about incoming bogies.  So, for example, You come to a grassy plain with roadways continuing into the distance in the direction of 2 and 10.  A d12 would tell you a direction and maybe a d4 or d6 could tell you how many connections.

Distance between Points
Without a regular grid of some sort another issue will be determining which points are farther away than others.  Are simple sizes above could help here.  If the terrain you're in is huge it could add a certain amount of travel to get to any point.  And if you determine the size of the terrain you're moving into it would tell you how much longer until you reached the point of interest.

Encounters and locations I leave for someone else, but hopefully the ideas here will be interesting to folks.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Lich Paraphernalia

Found on and around powerful users of magic, especially those long dead:
  1. Parchment Sash - Spells cast near it are captured in writing and can be copied.
  2. Blood Pearl - If a dead mage's body is rendered-- through a laborious, time consuming process-- one of the spells still uncast upon their death will seed into a red, misshapen pearl.  Consumption of it will grant knowledge of that spell and allow copying or casting.
  3. Flesh Forks - Tuning forks of different sizes, each with a bladed end.  They resonate when spells are cast in their presence (fork size corresponding to spell level).  If the blade is stabbed into a wizard's neck, the vibrations will transfer understanding and allow casting that spell once.
  4. Jade Worm - Placed deep in the ear, it whispers a list of the spells present in the minds of any magic users nearby.
  5. Milky Orbs - Varying in diameter and fragility, they shatter when a particular spell is cast within a particular radius.
  6. Slow Lime - Painted on a surface, this greyish paste stays damp for months.  Any spells cast near the lime will leave tracks and patinas in colors that can be read like a story by a wizard of sufficient level.

Friday, October 17, 2014

4 XP Monsters

Trying to think of monsters that treat xp as an attack vector for players.  Wights are the traditional monster for this but I was interested in giving players a warning-- like losing small bits of xp over time to freak them out, rather than screwing them over quickly to just make them afraid of wights in future encounters.

Wight Flies - Tiny, moisture seeking-- they suck away memories as they drink from eyes, wounds, or open mouths (1xp per round per fly, DM's prerogative on how many hundreds appear at any location).  They leave fragile, ivory-like structures in corpses.  If eaten, these will grant the memories of past victims (100 xp per handful).

Grey Mold - Fine, sickly grey, it can grow anywhere-- on men, dragons, liches-- and is difficult to get rid of.  Anything in its presence is filled with a hollow sense of despair (lose 10xp per round x your level).  If you are hit by something infected by it you will likely be infected too (make a save).

Pot Boy - A thin, sickly looking boy clutching a small crockery.  The pot is covered in a filthy bit of rag.  If you see it (fail a save) you will no longer gain experience until something is done.  Telling someone about it will spread the problem to them (if they make a save they don't see it).  Legend tells of whole cities in the dull thrall of a single pot boy-- learning nothing, forgetting, merely existing.

The Gentle Double - A doppelganger that asks permission.  If you say yes and allow it to take your form, you receive a portion of the memories and experiences of it's current form (500xp x your level).  It then precedes you in cities and rural areas spreading good will and promises of aid.  Also called a Vard√łger.  Scholars are divided on whether it is a truly good creature-- pressuring you to do good with its promises, or a chaotic one-- making promises that it never expects to be kept.


The last is not attacking xp, but using it as a reward to give players an interesting choice.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Imagining a City

As you learn to DM there seems to be several stages you go through.  First, you master the enclosed space of a dungeon.  Then you have to figure out how to handle a bigger "wilderness" area, whether it's underground or a true wilderness.  And, at some point, you need to figure out how to deal with the "City."

If you've followed my blog you've seen my long process of learning those first two.  Recently I've been struggling with the City. 

I was born in a suburb 45 minutes north of LA.  So when I think of a city I think mostly of freeways and off ramps.  It's hard for me to envision even a pseudo-medieval city.

My first city when I started gaming a again was Nidus, the Shifting City.  The premise was that this chaotic place had stalls and shops that moved every week if not every day.  There was no map.  There was no ruler.  It was me trying to have the conveniences of a city for my players without having to deal with the difficulties of mapping and then peopling a place with tens of thousands of inhabitants.  And it worked pretty well.  Players had their own reason to go there - buying and selling stuff- and I had a very big "encounter" table that they rolled on each time they ventured into the city.  The encounters weren't dangers or adventure hooks, just interesting stuff you saw.  And yet, there was nothing to keep players from making them into dangers or adventures.

I can't make every city a chaotic, bazaar, though.  So, when faced with my players visiting a city recently, I was stumped at how to proceed.

The Problem with Cities
One problem with cities is that the assumption seems to be that players will get entangled in various plots and intrigues.  But unless players are really high level this is very unlikely to me.  It's as if I were to drive into LA and all of a sudden the mayor is asking me favors. 

Another problem is that cities are busy places with lots of factions and lots of plots and events going on.  But how do you get players involved without railroading them.

A third problem is that, more than any dungeon, cities are about sights, sounds, and bustling scenes.  And conveying that kind of sensory stuff through description is always difficult especially if you are trying to do it off the cuff.

So I guess, if you were to boil it down the two big ways I needed, and still need, help with DMing a city are 1) how to make it about more than a place for players to shop (without making the players seem unrealistically like rockstars with all the attention on them) and 2) how to make it feel like a busy, bustling, populated place.

To do this, I think I can take some cues from what I've already learned about sandboxes, some cues from how video games handle cities, and add in some things that are unique about cities.

So, like sandboxes I think there should be locations that players know about and can visit or not.  You can prepare subsytems ahead of time and these locales will always be available to be looped into some plot or happening going on in the city.  Here are some ideas of some I want to make for my current city:
  • Great Library
  • Mysterious Oracle
  • Guild Work Board - jobs they can take or leave, I can have mini-dungeons attached to these.
  • Arena - Maybe not the typical arena, which is very swords and sorcery, but some place where players know they can go to compete.  The possibility of competing as a group would be even better.

This idea comes from Jeff Rients' awesome, crazy, parade.  If I can come up with more events, these can be like temporary locations-- things going on in the city that everyone is talking about and that players of any level can get involved but don't have to.  If they don't get involved they can still affect the whole city going on in the background kind of like a sandbox "happening."
  • Auction - I did this already and it was fun and a great way to introduce powerful faction members.
  • Trial- there is about to be a big, show trial in which several blag dogs are tried for witchcraft.
  • Parade - I have an impending parade of religious barges on the river that runs through the city called the Regatta Gloriosa.
  • Wedding
The Bustling City
This is probably obvious to you, but a city only exists through it's encounters.  The size of it, the tone of it, the flavor of life in that place will mostly be conveyed by things players encounter on the streets.  I should have known this from my great experience with the Nidus encounters.  But for some reason I thought I was only using those because I didn't have Nidus fleshed out in a way that a normal DM would flesh out a city.  So, these encounters are not encounters in the traditional rpg sense that they are dangers that will spark a combat.  And they are not encounters in the traditional (if infrequent) video game sense that they are waiting to give you an adventure hook.  These are just groups and clumps of people- buskers, locals, pilgrims, delivery wagons-- that will be the city to you players.  I need to make one for my current city.

As I get time I hope to flesh out these locations and events in separate blog posts.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Not your Elves

Make the elves in your campaign uglier and more interesting.

All elves . . .
  1. are clones of the same individual.  They look alike, sound alike, desire the same things . . .
  2. are made when a shadow is cast from a small, black, necromantic sun.
  3. are made when a lascivious, old wizard summoning a sexual servant loses "interest" before the spell is complete.
  4. are the children of nobles raised completely in the shade of fruit trees.
  5. are children that have grown up in magical slumber, thus they are child-like and wonder at the world.
  6. can't feel wind.
  7. eat only living creatures.
  8. are halflings who have lost their soul, which makes them grow tall and beautiful.
  9. sweat rose water under moonlight
  10. can't tie knots.
  11. remember important events by what they were touching at the time.
  12. are the result of two succubi mistakenly impregnating each other.
  13. have thumbs on the wrong side of their hands, and are clumsy.
  14. get paler as they age, until they are near transparent.
  15. faint at the sight of raw meat.
  16. curdle milk when they laugh.
  17. laugh about things that haven't happened yet.
  18. call every human by the first human name they learn.
  19. only sing when they're dying.
  20. have such a lust to watch people sleeping they will give up their own sleep to do it.
  21. can only see human children. adults are like ghosts and strange poltergeists to them.
  22. believe they own anything they've touched, and thus won't let you touch anything of theirs.
  23. are made, slowly, when people eat the meat of magic beasts.
  24. grow a second set of bones like we grow teeth, spitting up the old as yellowish paste.
  25. grow from the children of ascended saints.
  26. only remember a week at a time.
  27. forget everything that happens on a day that it rains.
  28. sing detailed songs about their sins.
  29. faint if they see their own reflection.
  30. shrink as they age.  Pixies and fairies are just old elves.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Not your Dwarves

The dwarf in D&D has become thoroughly cartoonified.  In an act of resistance here are some ideas for dwarves in your campaigns.

Dwarves . . .
  1. have no teeth and so must carry mouths full of rocks to grind up their food.  It's hard to understand the words coming from their drooling mouths.
  2. are made by cutting children in half.  Thus there are two types: Big Head and Long Shank.
  3. shrink and wither as they accumulate wealth.  Gnomes are just very wealthy dwarves.
  4. grow and become senile as they age.  Giants are ancient dwarves.
  5. fall in love with beautiful objects and will follow the owner of one, relentlessly, watching from the shadows, for that owner's whole life.
  6. eat gold and gems, the beautiful objects on display in a Dwarven Hall are a feast about to begin.
  7. are made when a powerful Titan is shattered into its seven aspects.  Thus all dwarves are of one of seven types: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.
  8. go through seven phases as they age. See 7.
  9. are made when children are killed in sight of a paladin.
  10. are the sin shadow of righteous men, becoming more twisted as the the other becomes more good.
  11. are the offspring of a human and a demon.  The name dwarves call themselves is Tiefling.
  12. are the stunted offspring of any user of magic of 5th lvl or higher foolish enough to try and reproduce with their tainted seed.
  13. live short lives and all look alike, tunneling in their ant-like warrens.  Dragons are the queens or dwarf hives.
  14. are created each time a saint is carved, the stone chipped away assembling in the dark.
  15. are made when an ape is taught to pray.
  16. have golden bones.
  17. grow hair in the sun.
  18. are drunk when they're sober.
  19. shit copper nuggets.
  20. are made when people sing unfinished songs.
  21. are the true chosen of God.  Men are the weak seed of giants.
  22. were made in finite number and do not breed- each one killed is one less left.
  23. can only see two feet ahead with their small eyes and are always lost.
  24. are all blind.
  25. hear gold humming in the rocks and can dig right to it.
  26. only use castaway tools and clothes.
  27. sleep through spring.
  28. have roots for hair and, if buried, will grow into Elves.
  29. are made when master smiths work in pain.  Thus dwarves are each obsessed with making one object over and over and over.
  30. don't exist in the world, you fool.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Update with 2 Colts

My old blogging computer has finally died.  It had a good run, was a free hand-me-down I got from a friend when I came home from Poland years ago.  A Pentium 4, I've run Ubuntu on it ever since.  But, alas, all my gaming files are on it.  I am working towards getting the data accessible and reorganized, but that computer was a Linux box and the one I'm currently typing on is Windows which makes it more complicated.  What that means is a few posts I was working on are going to take some time to get up.

Boring, I know, have some pictures of double-action Colts:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Public Domain Weapon Images 3

Small guns!  I'm pretty much psuedo-medieval adventure gaming all the time.  I feel like I could play D&D for a lifetime and not exhaust the possibilities, and yet, I still am really interested in other genres.  Gritty westerns is something I get interested in cyclically, re-watching Deadwood, or Unforgiven, or Tombstone.  Anyway, the other day I thought pictures of guns might be cool to write all the stats on and give to players in a Boot Hill type game.  Then I got really excited and went to Internet Archive to see what I could dig up.  It was a let down, because I couldn't find a lot.  I found more pictures of Webleys than anything else.  It's weird because you know old guns is something people are fanatical about, but I guess the right books haven't been scanned yet.  Anyway, here are a few small guns to start off with:

Colt's three derringers from oldest to newest , (oldest up top):
The first was available starting 1870.  I think they all used .41 rimfire rounds.

A Remington Vest-Pocket pistol. Available Starting 1865:
And a Sharp's Triumph (that's what the book from 1894 calls it, anyway) or what I think I've heard as a Sharp's pepper box.  First available 1859:

That last one is the only one that isn't single-shot.

 More revolvers to come in the future. These pictures are all in the public domain. You can do anything you want with them. I'll add them to the zip file of all the weapon images eventually.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Public Domain Weapon Images 2

Here are some more public domain weapon images.  Clubs and small blades today.

A couple Fijian clubs:

Friendly Islands club:

Mandinka dagger:

Turkish khandjar:


Gurkha kukri:


West African:



Monday, July 14, 2014

Sandbox Wonders 15

These might look familiar.  Go here to see me come up with the ideas.

106. Valley of Graves - It's easy to miss that the low, woody shrubs here hide thousands of graves.  Each has a flat stone marked with simple runes, indicating how the dead were noteworthy.  Eat leaves from above a grave to attain similar attributes for a week.  (treat searching the graves as a library).
107. Carved Towers -There are twelve of these huge, natural boulders carved into simple temples.  The temples vary but have windows, benches, and a fountain.  Each month of the year the fountain flows and a warm lights appear in a different temple. Drinking from the waters will cause hostiles to always target you last, for as long as the water flows in that temple.
108. The Great Graven Tusk - A huge tusk emerges from the muck of a swamp.  It's scrimshawed with an ancient story.  At a particular hour of day the sun falls on a part of the story that causes flowers to blossom all around the tusk.  Wear the flowers in your hair and enemy blows will always do the least harm possible.
109. The Black Tears - At random times this volcano rains down perfectly smooth, tear-shaped bits of obsidian the size of a human head.  This makes travel here treacherous, but the tears are highly sought as scrying devices.
110. Carved Grove - This remote section of forest has crude figures carved in the trunks of the trees.  Visiting the grove will cause your own crude likeness to appear the next day.  Then, strangers will treat you as long-lost friends until someone else visits the grove and their likeness is carved.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

NPC Portraits 4

I thought these first dudes would work well in a Boot Hill adventure:

I especially like this last one, would fit well as a character in a fantasy world I think.

These are all in the public domain you can do whatever you want with them.  I'll eventually add them to the npc portraits zip file on my art page.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Tools not Rules

I get it, it's interesting to see what the new standard guidelines for D&D will be, especially because 4e was such an outlier.  But as far as I'm concerned a different set of standardized guidelines for play is not what I need.  And I'm not talking here about having perfectly good older standardized guidelines for D&D.

Are you really concerned that you track ammunition like the DM across town?  Or that your players are leveling at the same pace as everyone else at the game store?  I doubt it. 

I'm guessing the kind of things coming out in the new rule books are the things you are probably very familiar with: classes, xp charts, spell lists.  I think of these as the "What" of D&D: "What armor can a wizard wear?  What can I do to get my hit points back?  What do I need to hit?"  They often lead to binary questions: "Can I climb up the wall and onto the ceiling?"  "Can I use a sword in each hand?"  They are about what is allowed.  They seem to be defensive to prevent player creativity from "taking advantage."

I'm much more interested in the "How" of D&D, doing things new or puzzling to me.  And I think WotC could still make money selling tools that help with these "Hows."  I think a good example is the monster manual.  Instead of worrying so much that goblins are the same from campaign to campaign, give me some tools to make my own creatures.  But maybe a better example of what I mean by "Tool" is to recount a bit of my session fom Friday night.

Friday Night in Ulminster
My players are in a city.  One of them happens to be able to see the future.  How the heck do you handle that?  Well I made a chart.  I let her roll on it each session and we (mostly I) interpret the results.  This time someone beloved would be destroyed by sacrifice.  Interesting, because she has a great grandfather in the city.  How did I know that?  Well, I had her roll on this table earlier.  So, I said" "You see your great grandfather on a table surrounded by people and they are ceremoniously putting something serpentine down his throat, killing him."  So she decided to visit great granpappy.  And now I wonder what he's up to, or what he might have to say to her?  How do I determine that off the top of my head?  We go back to the dramarama table, I have her roll the other three columns, but this time I let her pick the entry rolled or those above or below it (a great technique I learned from ZakS).  We find out he is in love but wants her to kill the women.  Interesting.  Why?  Well, if we tie it back to her vision it would be neat and help me out, so I decided she was involved with a cult that my player saw in the vision.  But how do I "play" great granpappy?  What is his personality?  Oh, I've got a table I made for that.  I roll and find out he is missing teeth and has a great abundance of  . . . talkativeness.  Haha, and thus began a goofy monologue, by me, relaying his love for this woman and how she has to die anyway.

Later in the evening the players were at a bear-baiting.  How do you do something like that?  Cock fights, dog fights?  Well I suppose you could run them like regular combat with initiative and everything, but I came up with a simple method of my own.  Another player just got rich betting on the bear.  And he intends to use that money at an auction of several barges worth or fireworks.  An auction, how do you do that?  Umm, I think I'm going to come up with interested parties, write their goals and money on index cards and let my other players roleplay them in the auction.  But I'm not sure yet.

So that's four tools right there, that I feel I needed to get me through that session and one I need to devise for next time. 

I suppose other DMs might consider improvving these details an expectation of being a DM.  Or maybe other DMs figure you are supposed to prep all that detail on your own ahead of time.  But my guess is that there are a lot of folks out there like me that could use tools to help them run D&D.  And I don't see many people selling that (Vornheim is one I know of, giving you a tool for dealing with  players searching a library, for example).

I suppose the things in the rulebooks might be tools for folks that are having trouble with different things than me.  So, an explanation of skill checks, for example, helps a newer DM know what to do when a player wants to run across a wet log over a stream, or something.  But for those mechanical questions we have stats and dice and you can use the two to figure it out.  It isn't like there's some optimal solution game designers are trying to suss out like the Higgs boson.

I think I realize now that most of the tools I mention are about generating things on the fly.  But not all, auctions, searching libraries, foretelling the future are more prickly problems and not just crutches for DMs with poor improv skills.  Anyway, I wish our hobby and the industry attached to it would spend less time worried about standard rules and more time coming up with cool new tools that help me run my game.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Public Domain Wilderness Map Symbols

If nothing else, these might serve as models for your hand-drawn maps:
Here is a page from the book I got some of these from:

It seems you have to go back to the 1600s to get this kind of representational topography we like in our fantasy maps.

As you can see, I'm going for the old, hand-drawn look but you might find these two books interesting for more modern campaigns:
German Military Symbols (1943)
Soviet Topographic Map Symbols (1958)