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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Music in play

Using music during play: this is a topic that comes up pretty regularly on rpg.net and other RPG discussion areas. I happen to be a fan of using music as background during game sessions, though I steer away from anything intrusive. Luckily I listen to quite a bit of ambient music, which is a great fit for unobtrusive session background sound. I'm also lucky enough to have a good friend and gaming buddy who is a musician heavily involved in creating ambient music. Here's some suggested listening:

  • Thoughts of the Long Now - This is a free compilation of drone-style tracks. It's about 2.5 hours of music, some pieces more applicable than others. I'll pimp Emdot_Ambient's piece Realizations of Absolutism Vol. I as my favorite (and I'm not just saying that because he's one of my best friends).
  • Ambient 1: Music for Airports - One of Brian Eno's early ambient works, this album is a defining piece in the ambient genre. The liner notes sum up the intent of ambient music and hint at why it might be useful in a gaming environment.
  • Thursday Afternoon - Another work by Eno, this piece was originally a soundtrack to a video.
  • Numena/Geometry - A collection of works by Robert Rich. A bit more structured than the pieces by Eno, still quite useful.
  • Quiet Music - Steve Roach is very much a minimalist. Quiet Music fits right in Eno's concept of ambient works.
  • Dark Wood - Classic cello in a very melancholy arrangement. Some of Darling's other works are more intrusive, but this album is quite fitting as game background.
  • Stone Tower - This is a fairly dark work, a bit noisier than some of the other pieces mentioned. It works quite well in tense settings, lending a bit of a horrific feel to the scene.
Two words on using this style of music during play: volume level is important! The goal is to have the music present but not intruding. Volume should be low enough that conversation easily drowns out the music. If possible place your speakers at some distance from the gaming table so it's really in the background rather than front and center.

I hope this inspires you to give music a try at your sessions.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Brother's Revenge: Infection!

This is part five of a series of encounters and events featuring the Bandits of Lope as the primary antagonists. The previous articles in this series are:
In this article, Renis makes his first overt moves against the party and their friends.

Pestilence Upon You!

Renis will use his newly acquired Diseased Sending ability to infect friends and associates of the party with the Plague of Yullic. In his mind the party was responsible for the loss of his brother, so he will seek to inflict similar loss upon the party. Diseased Sending can be used at a great distance, so this method of attack is very low risk for Renis. He will target the following groups for infection:
  • Any miner or prospector groups the party has encountered.
  • Farmers or other local party associates that live outside town.
  • The caravan guards Bero, Galim and Tesudo mentioned in Early Indications.
  • Small groups of travelers on the road north of town.
Renis will place himself so he can watch the attacks in progress. He will also inscribe the mark of Yullic in a prominent location near the attack site (usually chalked upon a large stone or boulder). The sendings are easily thwarted, but the repercussions will not be immediately apparent. Each attack should result in one or more victims being infected with the Plague of Yullic. Over the course of a month or more victims will become Fungal Zombies, then transform into Fungal Brains. Over the course of two weeks Renis will carry out a dozen such attacks.

From the party's point of view the attacks might seem unrelated to the bandits. They may view it as some disease affecting the local wildlife. Eventually the effects of the Plague will become evident and more overt attacks occur.

Farmer's Daughters

Late in the evening one or more party members will encounter a pair of shaken and dirty farm girls looking for the town watch. If the party gets involved the girls will tell the following story:

The two girls, Tara and Fiera, were heading home along the main road south of town. They were approached by several armed men who harassed them. One tore Tara's dress and when she kicked him in return he shoved her to the ground. Fiera grabbed her sister and the two slipped away from the three men and ran towards town. The men followed a short distance, then turned into the woods and headed north towards the Dale, a rocky vale with a spring-fed stream that is often used as a campsite or for trysts. The girls are clearly shaken by the event, claiming they often walk home after dark and have never been attacked before. Tara will mention the men smelled funny.

If the party decides to check out the Dale they will come across the three caravan guards, Bero, Galim and Tesudo, camped near the spring. They will claim they were camping out to save money since their ill fortune of their previous employer. They believe they have been in camp all evening and have no recollection of assaulting the girls.

The trio are in the early stages of becoming Fungal Zombies. Their assault on the girls was the trio's first loss of control. If the party attacks, or forces them to return to town the stress of the situation has a Good chance of causing them to revert to Zombie behavior. If the opportunity presents itself, all three show signs of infection (gray streaks under the skin, lumps and bumps on their torso).

Wild Dogs

While outside town on some errand, one or more members of the party are attacked by a small group of wild dogs infected with the Plague of Yullic. The dogs present little threat beyond the chance of infection. If their bodies are examined the the signs of infection should be obvious.

The Lost Child

The party crosses paths with a young girl, no more than five or six, staggering towards town. She is filthy, thin and obviously afraid. If the party helps her (she is healthy but extremely hungry and suffering from exposure), she will tell them her tale.

The girl's name is Sandra Kalia. She lives with her parents and two brothers on the family farm several miles to the north. A few weeks ago while her father and brothers were in the fields she saw several men watering their horses at the stream that runs behind the farm. She watched the men bury something in the muddy embankment on the far side of the stream.

The event slipped her mind, but she mentioned it to her father several days later. He ignored the girl's tale, but her two brothers investigated a few evenings later. They stayed out all night, and eventually Sandra's father went to retrieve them. All three men came back together, but the girl will mention that they smelled funny, and then break down into tears.

After she calms down she'll tell her listeners that her father and brothers became sick, first staying in bed, then hiding in the cellar, claiming the light hurt their eyes. Her mother also became sick, and Sandra was left to fend for herself. She'll mention that her father looked funny the last time she saw him, puffy and bluish.

Sandra got scared when her brothers killed a cow and started eating it raw. She hid in the barn for several days. When she went back into the house she couldn't find her brothers or her parents. She will mention being terrified by a big black thing in the root cellar.

The men Sandra saw were Renis and several of his followers. He planted a Seed of Decay near the stream behind the Kalia farm, which sprouted into a Fungal Brain. The Brain has infected the entire Kalia family.

Next Up

The next article in this series will cover the encounter at the Kalia farm. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cabra's Keyring

When the legendary Cabra lost three fingers of his right hand in an unfortunate encounter with the carnivorous lizards beneath the royal jail, everyone thought he was finished as a thief. He quickly proved everyone wrong by stealing the Snowcap jewels while they were on display during the royal feast of Belpine. Cabra's Keyring had a great deal to do with his continued success.

The Keyring is three inches in diameter, a simple steel ring welded and polished into an unbroken loop. A small cup-shaped flower formed from mithril and gold adorns the ring. Identifying the magical properties of the item will reveal it has Great evocation and alteration magic. When discovered a number of keys and other objects will be attached to the ring. The bearer can use these objects by pulling them free and speaking the Keyring's command word. Each item has a specific effect or purpose, which immediately becomes available to the user. Items are destroyed when used, or at the end of one hour, whichever occurs first.
  • Silver skeleton key - This magical key will instantly open one mundane lock of Legendary quality or less.
  • Gold skeleton key - This magical key will instantly open one magical lock or seal of Superb quality or less.
  • Emerald key - This magical key will transform any doorway into a magical portal, allowing the user and their companions to step through to a previously memorized location.
  • Obsidian key - When pulled free this item cloaks the user in shadow, granting a Great bonus to stealth and hide skill tests.
  • Ruby flame - This item becomes a glowing red mote of light that floats above the user's head, providing Good illumination of his or her immediate surroundings (20' radius) for one hour. This light is invisible to those outside the area of effect.
  • Sapphire starburst - This item becomes a glowing blue mote of light that floats above the user's head for one hour. It outlines any traps within a 20' radius with a dim blue flame.
  • Onyx spider - This item grants Superb climbing ability upon the user for one hour, allowing them to climb any surface (even ceilings) with ease.
  • Copper coin - When pulled free this object becomes a purse of random coin worth about 20 gold coins. Purse and coins disappear at the end of one hour.
  • Jade serpent - This item grants the user Superb protection from poison for one hour.
  • Steel dagger - When pulled free this item becomes a Superb quality dagger that lasts for one hour.
If all items are removed from the Keyring it becomes inert and unusable for one year. Items can be replenished by placing a gem of Good value in the flower-like receptacle on the Keyring, then dripping one's own blood over the gem. This ritual must be carried out on the night of a new moon at midnight. The gem is consumed during the ritual, and a new random item will form on the Keyring within three days. If desired the nature of the gem sacrificed can influence the item produced.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Demon Vial

This squat, pentagonal vial is made of heavy, dark glass protected by a mesh of fine silver wire. A silver cap covers a heavy leaden stopper that fills the vial's narrow mouth. Anyone with magical knowledge will recognize the symbols carved on the stopper as Great protective and sealing magic. If the vial is occupied, a small shape can be seen writhing and leaping within. Identifying the item's magical properties of the item will reveal:
  • Great protective and sealing magic
  • Superb obscurement magic
  • The vial radiates evil if it is occupied

The vial is a trap designed to contain the material form of a demon. The vial prevents any demon contained within from interacting with the outside world, but this protection is not perfect. Anyone that carries the vial for more than a day or two will become attuned to the item and susceptible to the contained demon's suggestions.

Suggestions will take the form of whispered voices and dreams, urging the bearer to open the vial. At first suggestions will be easily resisted (Mediocre difficulty), but over time they will grow in strength and range. Each week the power of the suggestions grows by one rank. The bearer must resist the growing strength of the suggestions or open the vial, releasing its occupant. The bearer may open the vial in a dream, only to awaken and discover they have done the deed in the waking world as well. Once the occupant is freed it will take its revenge upon the vial's owner, then pursue its own goals.

If the vial is empty it can be used to trap a demon, either as a permanent form of imprisonment, or as a temporary trap so preparations can be made to properly banish the contained spirit. Comprehending the vial's enchantment is a Superb test of demonology magic, requiring at least a week's study. Invoking the power of the vial is a Great test of demonology magic. The demon can resist the compulsion of the vial (Great strength compulsion). If the invoker knows the demon's true name the compulsion becomes more difficult to resist (Epic difficulty). If a specific demon is not named, the nearest demon will be compelled by the vial's magic.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Brother's Revenge: Horrid Minions

This is part four of a series of encounters and events involving the NPC group The Bandits of Lope. The previous parts are Early Indications, First Blood, and Danger Approaches. By now the party is probably aware that something is afoot. This article describes the creatures used by the vengeful Renis in his quest for revenge. As outlined in the previous article, Renis' deity Yullic has granted him access to the spells Diseased Sending and Seed of Decay. These spells will eventually give rise to Fungal Zombies and Fungal Brains, two noxious creatures from Yullic's domain of disease and decay.

Fungal Brains

These frightening creatures appear when a priest of Yullic uses the Seed of Decay spell, or when a Fungal Zombie survives long enough to form a cocoon and transform into one. Brains are stationary creatures, preferring warm, moist environments. Their bloated, globular bodies look very much like a gigantic, blackened and decaying brain half buried in the earth, thus their name. A typical Brain is four or five feet in diameter.

Fungal Brains might appear helpless, but they're anything but. Each emits a cloud of spores in a 60' radius that cause drowsiness and mild hallucinations to all who enter the area of effect. It also has a set six of 20' long tentacles growing from the underside of its body and out through the earth in all directions. The Brain can use these tentacles for attack. A successful hit will cause Poor damage and infect the target with the Plague of Yullic (Fair potency) unless they resist the effect.

Fungal Brains are driven by two guiding forces, the need for flesh to feed on, and the desire to infect new victims with the Plague of Yullic. Any victim who falls unconscious within reach of the tentacles will be infected with the Plague. If the infection fails to take root, they will be consumed by the Brain.

Fungal Brains have the following characteristics:
  • Average defense, Great toughness.
  • Good tentacle attack, tentacles may each attack independent targets, 20' range. Successful hit will infect the target with Fair potency Plague of Yullic unless resisted.
  • Good spore cloud attack, 60' radius, causing sleep and hallucinations unless resisted.
  • Superb resistance to cold.
  • Great resistance to lightning.
  • Awful resistance to fire.

Fungal Zombies

Fungal Zombies are not undead creatures, rather they are the end result when living beings are infected with the Plague of Yullic. Any large, warm-blooded creature can become a Fungal Zombie. Smaller creatures can be infected with the Plague, but do not survive long enough to turn.

The victim's original mind is destroyed by the Plague, their nervous system taken over by the infecting fungus. They will lose most of their hair or fur, their skin will be streaked with grayish blue discolorations, and large bulging pouches of spores will cover their torso. Any wounds suffered will remain unhealed.

Fungal Zombies use physical attacks against their targets, adopting the native attacks of the original creature. Human Zombies will attack with two clawing, punching attacks and a bite for example. A Fungal Zombie will be stronger than their original form, increasing base damage caused by one rank. Successful melee attacks by Fungal Zombies have a Fair chance of infecting the target with the Plague of Yullic. The pouches that form on a Zombie's torso emit spores in a 10' radius that cause foes to sneeze and choke while within its area of effect. Opponents thus affected suffer a Good penalty on all skill tests. If a Fungal Zombie is slain and the remains are left unburned, there is a Fair chance a Fungal Brain will form from the creature's skull.

Fungal Zombies created by a Fungal Brain are initially subservient creatures. They will scour the area within a few miles of their controller searching for additional prey and dragging it into range of the Brain's tentacles. Controlled Zombies will share the Brain's food supply, though the Brain consumes the lions share.

After two weeks controlled Zombies mature and break the Brain's control. Freed Zombies, and those created by Diseased Sending are free-willed creatures that will first seek a good source food. After two or three weeks of feeding they will seek out a warm moist location and cocoon itself in a sticky black shroud. While in this form the Zombie is completely helpless and vulnerable. The cocoon lasts for one week, after which it decays away and a new Fungal Brain is born.

Fungal Zombies have the following characteristics:
  • Average defense, Fair toughness
  • Good natural attack
  • Choking spore cloud 10' radius
  • Superb resistance to cold
  • Great resistance to lightning
  • Awful resistance to fire

A Note on Yullic

Yullic is a dark and dangerous god. In most places he would be considered evil, being the source of disease and decay. Priests and followers of Yullic are often outcasts or afflicted with chronic, incurable illnesses. Though followers of Yullic carry diseases, his blessing keeps them alive both to revel in their illness and to spread it to others. Priests of Yullic have great healing powers allowing them to sustain even the most diseased follower. Followers believe that spreading disease and decay increases Yullic's power in the real world. Their hidden shrines and temples are filthy places where the stench of decay competes with the buzzing of disease carrying insects and the chittering of rats.

In civilized lands the worship of Yullic is likely outlawed, and the mark of Yullic (an open hand with ring finger bent) is considered a serious threat.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Brother's Revenge: Danger Approaches

This is part three of a series of encounters and events involving the NPC group The Bandits of Lope. The previous parts are Early Indications and First Blood. All the encounters and events outlined in this and subsequent posts in the series assume that Juro has been killed or captured through the party's actions.

Inquisitive Neighbors

Within a day or two of Juro's death or capture, Renis and Timon will have either heard of his demise or started looking for him. There are several ways the leaders might hear the news:
  • Any survivors of the First Blood encounter will have reported back to camp and informed Renis or Timon of the fight.
  • If the party reports the fight to local authorities the story will spread through the militia and from there to the rest of the town. If the party is prone to covering their tracks, a reward for the capture or disposal of the bandits might be in order.
  • If the party sells off any recovered gear (weapons, horses, armor), the merchant involved will gossip about the transaction.
  • Travelers along the route where the ambush took place might notice signs of a fight (broken arrows, blood stains, trampled undergrowth, a dead horse).
If the party covers their tracks well, it will take longer for the bandits to uncover the perpetrators. Timon and Renis will use the following methods to discover the parties responsible for Juro's demise:
  • They will investigate Juro's ambush site and try to discover what happened.
  • They will attempt to track the survivors if they can discover a trail.
  • Several lesser known bandits will be sent to town to make rounds at the taverns, listening to rumors and gossip. They'll have sufficient funds to buy a few rounds of drinks to assist in this task.
If the bandits are completely frustrated in their attempts to discover the responsible parties, the events below will still occur but they'll be random instead of targeted at the party. Renis will hold the entire locale responsible for this brother's downfall.

The Disappearance

A week after the bandits have discovered all they can about Juro's demise, someone will disappear from the area near town, taken as a sacrifice by Renis's men (if the idea of human sacrifice does not fit your campaign, feel free to substitute a suitable victim). Somewhere near the site of the kidnapping the sign of Yullic (an open hand with ring finger bent), will be chalked on a stone or wall.

If the bandits have discovered the party's involvement in Juro's death the victim should have some tie to the group (a friendly NPC or a member of their family). It is expected that the sacrifice will be carried out, so select an appropriate target.

The bandits will take two days to get their victim back to the bandit camp, using all their woodcraft to obscure their trail. The next day Renis will sacrifice the victim to Yullic, god of disease and decay, seeking his aid in exacting revenge upon those that destroyed his brother. Yullic will grant his aid, granting Renis access to new abilities:
  • Choking Spores (Fair difficulty) - The caster hurls a magical puffball of spores at the target. This breaks on impact, creating a dense cloud of poisonous, choking spores. Those within the 10' radius area of effect must resist (Fair) or be blinded and choking for 1-4 rounds.
  • Diseased Sending (Fair difficulty) - The caster infects several mundane warm-blooded creatures with Fungal Infection, then sends them forth to hunt down a known target. The creatures will be magically guided to find the target, though they are restricted to their natural travel rate. Once they reach the target, they attack ferociously. Any successful attack by the creatures will infect the target with the Plague of Yullic. If the creature selected is normally a disease carrier, rats for example, the infection gains a bonus to potency (see below for the effects of the Plague of Yullic).
  • Seed of Decay (Good difficulty) - The caster ritually plants the skull of a Fungal Zombie in a dark, moist location. In three days the planted skull will sprout, forming a Fungal Brain (see below for details of Brains and Zombies).

Renis will lose no time in applying his newly granted powers. His first attack will be aimed at the party's friends and allies. Renis will use Diseased Sending to infect known associates of the party. He will focus his attacks on victims whose absence will not be noticed, giving the sending time to take root, going so far as to infect farm animals or wild beasts near the player's base of operations rather than obvious targets. Subsequent articles in the series will outline the players' first encounter will the infections of Yullic.

Plague of Yullic

The initial symptoms of this disease occur a day or two after infection. Faint discoloration around the site of infection, watery eyes and nasal congestion, and overall itchiness mark the first stage of infection. These symptoms could easily be mistaken for a common cold. After a few days the insidious fungus will begin to make itself felt. In stressful situations victim must resist the effect of the infection or fall under its control for several hours. During this period the victim will behave like a Fungal Zombie. Resisting this effect will become more and more difficult each day the infection continues (one rank per day). As time passes signs of infection will become more obvious. Gray patches will appear on the victim's skin, they lose their appetite and curious soft bulges will appear on their torso. After 10 days the victim will completely lose control, becoming a full-fledged Fungal Zombie.
Victims can only be cured by magical means. After the initial phase of infection the difficulty of curing the disease goes up by one rank.

Fungal Zombies and Fungal Brains

Details of these creatures will be provided in the next article in the series. Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Random Thoughts - First Game of 2009

Gotta love scheduled posts. As this gets published I'm running my first game of 2009. These days my gaming is pretty sparse, due to life and distance constraints. When my regular group gets together we make a weekend long event out of it.

This weekend I'm running a Kung Fu fantasy game using the Fate RPG 2.0 rules. My regulars are pretty old school gamers and most of our campaigns use an extensively house-ruled version of AD&D 2nd edition. I'm hoping this game flies. I have some strong buy-in from my players, but the proof is in the play. I'm a bit nervous about running a brand new system, but I really dig the style of play Fate offers.

If you're interested in Fate, check out Spirit of the Century RPG, the pulp RPG by Evil Hat Productions.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Necklace of Feathers

This necklace of woven silver wire and colorful semi-precious beads is strung with feathers of various colors and sizes arranged in no discernible pattern. A simple clasp allows the necklace to be worn around the neck. Attempts to divine the enchantment contained within the item will reveal Good alteration and evocation magic.

The wearer of the necklace can pluck the feathers it bears, each feather providing a magical benefit to the wearer. When a feather is plucked from the necklace it disappears and the power for the feather is bestowed upon the wearer. There are currently six feathers on the necklace, and no more than eight may appear at once. If all feathers are plucked, the necklace is destroyed. A new random feather appears each full moon. Current feathers are 2 raven, 1 humming bird, 1 snow goose, 1 stirge, 1 cormorant. Each feather's effect is Good strength and lasts for one hour.

  • Raven Feather - Allows flight
  • Duck Feather - Allows walking over water, quicksand or mud as if it were solid ground
  • Hummingbird Wing - Allows double normal movement and actions
  • Owl Feather - Allows perfect vision, even in total darkness
  • Snow Goose Feather - Good protection from cold
  • Hawk Feather - Good bonus to both attack skills and damage
  • Stirge Feather - Attacks by the wearer restore their own health by the damage done
  • Cormorant Feather - Allows water breathing

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Eye of Setal

Ancient legend tells the story of Setal, the father of dragons, who, when faced with certain death at the hands of the arch-lich Thyme, traded his magical eye for his life. The trade doomed the lich to destruction as the fundamentally good nature of the Eye slowly destroyed the magic that maintained his physical form. Stories say the Eye was a powerful scrying tool, a potent magical focus, and a means to control dragons.

The Eye of Setal is a large irregular globe that at first glance appears to be nothing more than an oddly shaped and colored stone about the size of two fists. When examined closely the Eye begins to glow with an inner light, revealing its inner structure. The outer portion of the Eye is opaque golden rock crystal. Suspended within this crystal is a spherical orb of brilliant red forming the iris. A vertical slit-like streak of pure black forms the pupil of this crystalline eye.

Attempts to discover the magical nature of the eye will reveal the following:
  • Epic divination magic
  • Epic alteration magic
  • Superb evocation magic
  • Great protective magic
  • The eye radiates good

All powers of the Eye require that it be held in hand. The passive powers of the Eye are activated by anyone holding the item. Unlocking each lesser power of the Eye requires a Good test of divination magic, while each greater power of the Eye requires a Great test of divination magic.

Passive powers:
  • Communicate with any dragon at will.
  • Good resistance to any dragon breath attack.
  • When held by a being with an evil nature, the Eye will drain the most powerful enchantment or magical item in the wielder's possession, reducing the enchantment one rank in power each day (A Good enchanted sword would become a Fair sword after one day's exposure for example).
Lesser powers:
  • Take the appearance of a dragon, once per day.
  • Superb vision equivalent to that of a dragon, penetrating illusion and obscurement, once per day.
  • Superb divination to locate a specific object or person, once per day.

Greater powers:
  • Superb charm of any dragon once per week.
  • Superb damage fire breath, once per day.
  • Superb clairvoyance with unlimited range, once per day.
  • Superb evocation ability to magnify magical effects, once per week.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Brother's Revenge: First Blood

This article is the second in a series involving The Bandits of Lope. This is the second article in the series, describing the first real encounter with the bandits and possible repercussions.

On the Road

This encounter should take place on a road or well traveled trail in the wilds within the bandits' range of operations. The bandit leader Juro has set up a well planned ambush, selecting a site that provides positional advantage for his men and at least two good escape routes. Juro will have used his Fair illusion / concealment magic skill to further cloak his group. The ambushers consist of (see the original Bandits of Lope article for further description) Juro, the leader of the ambush and eight of the bandit rank and file.

Once the party enters the ambush area the trap is sprung. The spokesman of the bandits will block the path ahead while others will come out of hiding with missile weapons at the ready. Juro will be stationed near the spokesman, ready to direct the action or up the ante. The bandits are not interested in a fight. They'd rather use their superior tactical position to extract some gold or other valuables from the party, then cut them loose and disappear into the woods with Juro using his magical abilities to cover the trail. The bandits have mounts hidden nearby to insure their escape.

The bandits are not particularly fearsome foes for a competent group. If the ambush turns violent, Juro will order his men into battle without hesitation. The bandits will make good use of missile weapons, focusing their fire on the most dangerous-appearing target. The spokesman and Juro will close to melee with the nearest party member.

Should the conflict go badly for the bandits they will break into several groups and run. Juro will use his magical abilities to cover his group's trail as best he can. Fallen or badly wounded bandits will be left for dead by their companions.


If the party offers to pay Juro and his men for safe passage the bandits will exact a stiff toll in coin and / or goods. Any women with the party might be considered for kidnapping, and any goods carried will be searched for valuables. The bandits will take weapons (particularly ranged weapons), foodstuffs and small valuables they find. The goods taken should provide incentive for the party to pursue the bandits, but shouldn't be crippling losses.

If conflict breaks out and the party loses the fight, they'll be beaten, tied up and left for dead. Most of their gear will have been taken, along with any mounts they might have had.

Should the party win the fight they'll earn the long term hostility of the bandits. If Juro survives he'll seek out information about the party and their ties to the local community. Anyone associated with the party will be targeted for harassment or direct attack. Juro is a vengeful sort and he will have to prove himself to retain his position in the bandit hierarchy. Eventually Juro will seek another confrontation with the party.

If Juro is captured he'll likely face a severe penalty (maiming, long prison term, or execution). The bandits will certainly attempt a rescue, planned by Renis and aided by Timon. It's very likely this attempt will fail as the bandits don't have sufficient forces to overcome the local militia.

If Juro is slain or executed Renis will focus his hatred on the party as the agents of his brother's death. Subsequent posts in this series will assume Juro has been slain and Renis has set his revenge in motion.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Scarab of Flame

This superbly crafted gold scarab is set with rubies that sparkle and glow with a reddish light even in total darkness. The gems alone are worth several thousand gold coins. When discovered it will be contained in a custom built bronze box with an intricate latch.

Identifying the magical properties of the item will reveal:
  • Superb fire magic, but no means of activation is revealed
  • Good alteration magic
  • Good protection magic
  • Good divination magic
  • Good cursed nature

If stored in its case the scarab remains inert. If removed from the case the scarab will remain inert so long as it divines anyone is paying attention to it. Once unwatched it will creep forth and make its way to the hand of the nearest person (generally whoever claimed it as theirs). Once in position it will sink its fangs and claws into the target, causing an agonizing wound (Good damage) that can only be healed by mundane means. The scarab can only be removed by Superb dispel magic, by the death of the bearer, or by severing the target's hand. After the wound has fully healed (6 days) the scarab will reveal its powers to the bearer.
  • The bearer gains Good resistance vs. fire attacks.
  • Twice per day the bearer can carry out a Good fire attack against anyone in front of them within 10 feet.
  • Once per day the bearer can summon a rolling, bouncing sphere of fire that they can control by force of will. This sphere causes Good fire damage to anyone it touches and moves at 30 feet per round
  • Once per week the bearer can cast cause bolts of fire to rain from the heavens, causing Great fire damage to anyone within a targeted 30 foot radius circle.
  • At moonrise on nights of a full moon, any fire within 30’ of the bearer is drawn to them, immolating them and causing damage depending on the source. This damage cannot be resisted or avoided. A typical mundane fire will cause Average damage.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Brother's Revenge: Early Indications

In The Bandits of Lope I described a group of NPCs that will figure prominently in a series of related encounters. This article is the first in the series, describing several rumors and stories the party might hear concerning their exploits.

Rumors and Events

A group of prospectors, back in town to resupply and exchange their gold and silver for hard cash, report being approached by a half-dozen men who levied a tax upon them for guarding their claim. The prospectors did not request protection, but it was clear to them that they had no choice in the matter. If pressed they will describe the leader of the group as a soft-spoken middle-aged man with graying hair (Timon). If the party contacts the militia they'll discover no such tax was authorized by the local ruler. Asking around will reveal that this is not the first group to be taxed in this way.

A caravan arrives in town and has part of its goods confiscated. The merchant is jailed for trafficking in stolen goods. The party can find a few caravan guards, Bero, Galim and Tesudo, who will claim the goods in question were purchased from a group of travelers along the road to the north. If prompted with drink or a few coins the guards will share their opinion that the travelers were probably not travelers at all, since they were mounted but didn't appear to be carrying supplies for a long trip. They will describe the group's leader as a dark haired, younger man (Juro).

There is a shortage of horse feed in town. Prices have risen quite a bit, and anyone with a mount will be paying double costs to have their horse stabled and fed. When questioned the stable master will mention Gio, a local farmer, purchased a large supply of feed about a week ago. If the party questions Gio he'll mention selling the feed to a group of prospectors who were passing through his fields and didn't have a wagon available to haul that much grain. There are signs of a temporary camp in one of the farmer's fields that includes the prints of a dozen men and horses.

A stabbing occurred at a local brothel, apparently brought on by too much ale and an argument over a woman. Several locals got into a fight with a group of strangers who had just arrived in town. One of the locals ended up getting stabbed and the strangers departed, riding out the south gate before the militia could arrive. A half-hearted pursuit ended when the riders turned off the main road and muddled their trail in the river. The stabbed man recovered with some help from the local priest. The locals involved can identify one of the strangers as Teshin, a man who over-wintered in town working as a laborer on the docks. He left town traveling north a month or more ago.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Random Thoughts - TiddlyWiki

Saturdays I get to take a break from items and encounters and just write something RPG related. Today I'm going to write about TiddlyWiki. Many people are familiar with the wiki concept, if you're not, take a look at the definition on Wikipedia. TiddlyWiki is a single HTML document that implements a wiki. Wiki articles are called Tiddlers, and each Tiddler can be linked, tagged or edited just like in a regular wiki.

I've been using TiddlyWiki to write up my campaign notes for an upcoming game. It's proven to be an incredibly easy to use tool for organizing the labyrinth-like structure my notes usually take. With a bit of forethought and some self-discipline on tagging Tiddlers I now have a fully hyper-linked document containing all my campaign notes, maps and character sheets. I'm also using it as a staging ground for this blog and as a personal "To Do" list.

I'd urge anyone who is interested in writing or information organization to give TiddlyWiki a look. It's dead-easy to use, all you need is a web browser and a copy of the free TiddlyWiki starter file. Figuring out the basics takes about ten minutes of playing around. This software is well worth a look, enjoy!

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Bandits of Lope

This bandit gang featured prominently in a series of adventures I ran as part of an AD&D campaign a few years back. I'll be using them in subsequent posts.

Main Characters

The main NPCs in this series are bandits operating outside the law. The bandits are lead by three men, Timon, Juro and Renis. They command a well organized group of ruffians who prey upon any convenient target within a few days ride of their base of operations. The victims fall into one of three general categories:
  • Travelers - The bandits recognize most of the locals and will be more inclined to rob those passing through instead. An adventuring party could fit the bill quite well. Hard currency, horses, weapons, armor and valuables will be their goal. Since travelers are usually just passing through, the bandits will take as much as they can carry. Occasionally the bandits will pack up their valuables and offer them for sale to a passing trader, exchanging items with little practical value for currency, weapons or armor. This may leave the trader with stolen goods that are identifiable, a potentially sticky situation when they reach town.
  • Frontiersmen - The bandits offer the local prospectors and trappers protection in exchange for a share of their takings. The leaders of the group are wise enough to realize that robbing the frontiersmen blind will drive them away so they set a reasonable price for their protection. They've even been known to defend the prospectors that pay their protection from claim jumpers or other threats.
  • Locals - The bandits usually leave the local farmers alone. Some of the rank and file are locals and have family in the community. Men from the gang will often buy food from outlying farms.
Timon - The eldest of the bandit leaders, and the most reasonable. Timon is an army deserter, a former sergeant. Falsely accused of theft by an officer, he fled service to avoid facing a penalty he didn't deserve. He is a disciplined man with a good grasp of tactics and leadership. He knows he cannot return to his homeland, and is trying to accumulate sufficient wealth to cross the border and make a new start in one of the neighboring kingdoms. Timon suggested the tactic of collecting protection money from the local prospectors and trappers rather than robbing them blind. He is uncomfortable with the bandit role, but resigned to his fate.

Timon is middle aged, with close-cropped graying hair and a sturdy build. He is missing the pinkie of his left hand. He is soft-spoken, but his steady gaze reveals inner confidence. Timon has a Good sword, bow and heavy mail and has accumulated a Good stash of coin and valuable trinkets, which he carries with him or leaves with his woman Karla. Skills: Great swordsman, Good bowman, Fair group tactics, negotiation, Average woodcraft.

Renis - A hot-tempered, passionate man, Renis has led a troubled life. As a youth his drunken temper earned him repeated visits to the stocks. Eventually he was forced to flee when he nearly killed a prostitute in a fit of drunken rage. Life on the road was hard, and eventually Renis ended up in the city of Lyme just as the plague struck. He contracted the disease, and only the expensive intervention by a priest of Yullic (god of disease and decay) saved his life. His rescue from certain death proved a turning point for Renis and he became a devout follower of the disease god. An unfortunate choice since worship of Yullic is outlawed in most civilized realms.

Renis, with the fiery faith of a new convert, seeks to legitimize his god no matter the cost. He views banditry as a means to an end, a source of wealth to build shrines and garner support for Yullic. He is a fiery orator and will go to great lengths to achieve his goals. He is less involved in the day to day operations of the gang's activities, spending his time indoctrinating the troops with his message or worshiping at his private shrine. Renis does have access to healing magic which assures him a position of power with the bandits.

Renis is in his 30s and has black hair and dark eyes. His pale complexion is pockmarked with pits and scars left by the plague. He is constantly in motion and given to fits of anger. Renis has a sword and light mail of Average quality, and a Fair stash of coin which he stores in a hollow beneath his personal altar to Yullic. Skills: Great healing / disease magic, Good diplomacy, Fair swordsman, intimidation.

Juro - The younger brother of Renis, Juro was crushed when his brother fled without a word of goodbye. Once the clamor for his brother's blood died down, he set off in pursuit. If life on the road was hard for Renis it was terrible for Juro. With a week he had been robbed, beaten,and left for dead. Only the kindness of strangers saved him. A passing merchant train found him near death in a roadside ditch and one of the guards threw him into a cart. A week later Juro was in the employ of the merchant as a drover and laborer. A few years on the road taught Juro the survival skills he needed as he sought for his brother, and he developed some small skill in magic and a broad streak of self-preservation. He is loyal to his brother, but the rest of the band means little to him.

Juro is in his 20s and has black hair and dark eyes like his brother. His impulsive nature has been tempered by hard experience, though he remains overconfident. Life on the road has made him callous and hard. Juro leads most of the attacks on travelers along the road, delighting in the violence and action they often entail. Juro has a Good sword, bow and leather armor, and a Fair stash of coin and a trinkets, which he generally carries and wears or keeps buried under his bedroll. Skills: Good swordsman, bowman, intimidation, Fair illusion / concealment magic, stealth, hide.

Rank and File - For the most part the rank and file bandits are either military deserters, frontiersmen seeking an easier path to wealth, or outlaws and adventurous youngsters from the local town. There are about 25 men in the band, with one or two members joining or leaving each month. A core of 12 military deserters loyal to Timon maintain a solid foundation of power in the organization. Five or six men have gravitated to Renis and often join him in worshiping Yullic. The remainder are a motley collection most loyal to Juro. Most of the rank and file have Average swords, bows and leather armor and carry a handful of silver Skills: Average swordsman, woodcraft or military tactics

Camp Followers - A dozen non-combatants, wives, lovers, children and prisoners, can be found in the camp. They tend to most of the drudge work in the camp, and do some gathering from the surrounding woods to supplement the camp diet. Prisoners are kept under guard and most are manacled or hobbled. Most of the camp followers have a Mediocre knife and no wealth beyond what their protector of the moment gives them. Skills: Mediocre brawling Average survival


This group was originally based in the region near Lope, a small agricultural town in the thinly populated borderlands between two rival kingdoms. A major road passed through the town, connecting two cities, one in each kingdom. A river provided access to a third kingdom, making the town something of a trade hub. The recent discovery of gold in the nearby mountains provided a draw for miners and prospectors, creating a pool of local wealth ripe for the plucking. The town was pretty safe but the road and wilder surroundings were not.

The primary setting requirement for this series are:
  • An area with weak law enforcement and poor protection from outlaws and thieves
  • A well known road and a reason for travelers to use it
  • A wealth draw for frontiersmen such as prospectors, trappers or other opportunists.
  • Uncontrolled wilderness to hide a base of operations

The bandits base of operations is located in an isolated valley a day's ride from the main road and two days from the nearest town. Dozens of trails wind through the surrounding woods, creating a maze that few can thread. The base itself is situated around a small cave system that provides shelter from the weather and has a good spring. The cave system has three separate exits and could easily house thirty men and horses. The camp spills into the woods surrounding the largest of the cave entrances. Several crude huts provide shelter for the lowest ranked members of the band. Prisoners are forced to the deepest, dankest cleft of the cave and kept under guard at all times. Camp supplies are kept in the upper caves, which are drier than the lower caves. Horses are stabled in a large cavern near the main entrance or picketed outdoors.

There are two or three men on outer watch day and night. Another two men rove the camp, keeping an eye on supplies and prisoners. The level of alertness varies depending on who is watching. Timon is fond of surprise checks on watchers and has killed a sleeping sentry more than once, so discipline is fairly good, if resented.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Indomitable Banner

There have been many battles throughout history where the victors should not have won: the field of Perion, the last defense of the 9th Cohort, the fall of Jaburas, and many more. Each of these victories had a common element, the Indomitable Banner flew above the victor's army.

The flag's origins are lost in history. It has been used, lost, forgotten, and discovered many times. It is a silk panel approximately six feet wide and four feet high. A gold-fringed cord binds the flag to a twelve foot black-dyed oak pole. The flag's design is a crimson field marked by three broad gold stripes at top, center, and bottom, the central stripe being one and a half times the width of the top and bottom bands. Five mystic symbols are inscribed in the central stripe, running from the pole side to the center of the flag, each slightly smaller than the previous. The symbols are: Duty, Courage, Fortitude, Honor, Blood. Attempts to identify the magical properties of the item will reveal Epic enhancement and Superb protection magic.

To make use of the Banner's magical effect it must be raised as the primary standard over an army and carried in the vanguard or raised over the primary entrance of a fortification. Once in place it has the following passive effects:
  • All friendly troops within 50 yards of the Banner receive Fair protection from physical harm.
  • Friendly troops that can see the Banner receive a Fair bonus to physical attack skills.
  • The commander of the friendly forces gains the ability to make himself heard by any friendly combatant within sight of the Banner.

The following powers of the Banner can also be invoked by speaking the appropriate word of command. All friendly troops within sight of the Banner are affected. Each power may be invoked once per week. Invoking a power removes the effect of any previous invocation.
  • Duty - Discipline and care become the watchword. All orders and tasks are carried out with diligence and care. Sentries and patrols are alert, gear is well tended, and camp discipline is perfect. A camp prepared while Duty is in effect provides a Fair defensive bonus and a Good bonus versus natural disease or pestilence. This power lasts for one day.
  • Courage - Face fear and conquer. An army under the influence of Courage suffers no desertion and all friendly troops receive a Good bonus to morale. This power lasts for one day.
  • Fortitude - Hardship can be overcome by will. Fortitude allows affected troops to march for a full day and night without food or water. At the end of the march troops are as fresh as if they had received a good meal and a full night's sleep. This benefit affects both men and beasts. Fortitude lasts one day.
  • Honor - Troops fighting under the effect of Honor respect the rules of war, give quarter when it is asked, accept surrender, and avoid harming civilians. They will not turn aside from their duty to loot or pillage. Honor lasts for one day.
  • Blood - Troops fighting under the effect of Blood give no quarter, fighting with unquenchable ferocity and will. They gain a Good bonus to physical attack skills. Troops under this effect will continue to fight so long as there are targets present, slaying foes, civilians, and the defenseless. Blood lasts for one day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tattoo Potions

These three clear vials of liquid each contain a colored, thick, viscous liquid, one red, one green, and one black. When a vial is opened the liquid immediately slithers forth and attaches itself to whoever opened the vial immediately bonding with skin into an intricate tattoo. Before opening the vials radiate Fair alteration magic and Good enhancement magic. Once applied the tattoo radiates Good enhancement magic. The tattoos are permanent short of Superb dispel magic. The tattoos have the following effects:


The tattoo will take the shape of a sinuous, wingless dragon with a long coiled tail. The tattoo will be roughly hand-sized. It provides the following benefits and penalties:
  • Good protection versus fire damage
  • Once per day the bearer can breathe fire in a cone 5’x20’x10’ for Great damage
  • A Fair penalty versus cold damage


The tattoo takes the form form a twining vine of poison ivy. The tattoo is roughly three feet long. It provides the following benefits and penalties:
  • Good protection versus poison
  • Once per day the bearer can touch a foe with a Great poisonous touch
  • A Fair penalty versus fire damage


This tattoo takes the form of a series of massive thunderclouds. It provides the following benefits and penalties:
  • Good protection versus electrical attacks
  • Once per day the bearer can emit a Great shocking aura in a 10’ R
  • Fair penalty versus earth-based damage

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blue Rock Springs

Tucked away in a narrow gorge, Blue Rock Springs is a bath house and spiritual retreat. The place takes its name from the tiny veins of blue turquoise that appear in the overhanging cliffs and the many hot springs scattered throughout the gorge, some bubbling up into pools, some tucked away in caves, and some trickling down the cliff faces themselves. The springs are reputed to have both spiritual and physical healing properties, their remedies are sought by anyone who can afford the modest fees charged for admission. Blue Rock Gorge is three days from the nearest settlement, across somewhat unsettled territory. This obstacle makes the springs a treat for the wealthy who can afford transport and guards for the journey.


The inn and baths are managed by an order of scholars and healers, the Disciples of Li Shou. Li Shou was a scholar of medicine and the healing arts. He followed rumors and stories about the springs to their source over 60 years ago. When he arrived the springs were untended, receiving only occasional visitors. Li Shou was a pragmatist and realized the springs could benefit both his wallet and his studies. He and his apprentice built a small pavilion and began to study the springs and advise people as to which would provide the greatest cure for their ailments. Two men grew to a dozen, and the pavilion became an inn. 30 years ago a local lord, having benefited greatly from his visit to the springs, granted Li Shou's followers charter as a formally recognized religious organization and full rights to the gorge and the surrounding lands.

Physical Layout

Blue Rock Gorge lies in a line of low hills. There are several Disciple-owned farms situated around the gorge proper, providing food to the inn and wool to trade. The gorge itself is about 200 yards long, running south-west to north-east. It has a single entrance on the south-west end, protected by a high bamboo fence. A simple, almost primitive inn sits near the entrance, providing very basic accommodations for visitors and housing for servants, while a separate building houses the Disciples. A small stable is tucked under the nearest wall of the gorge, providing shelter for visitor's horses. Beyond the inn a broad, open pavilion next to a stream-fed pond provides a tranquil setting for meditation or quiet discussion. A number of simple screens are scattered across the pavilion providing the illusion of privacy.

Beyond the pavilion and pond a well-tended path winds into the depths of the gorge. It leads to a bathhouse flanked by a simple fence that divides the gorge in two. The bath house containing three separate bathing areas, changing rooms, and a supply of simple robes and wooden clogs. The rear doors of the bath house lead into a small garden where attendants guide visitors through a network of paths to the hot springs beyond.

Visiting the Springs

Visitors to the springs are greeted at the gate by one of the Disciples, who will assist them with lodging and stabling of their mounts. Once settled visitors will be directed to the pavilion where a diagnostician will inquire as to the purpose of their visit. After careful questioning and possibly a physical examination of any malady the diagnostician will recommend a course of treatment, which usually includes several specific meals (often accompanied by a herbal concoction) and visits to one or more of the springs on a designated schedule. Usually full treatment will require an overnight stay.

A visit to the springs themselves begins at the bathhouse, where attendants direct visitors to appropriate changing rooms and baths. All visitors are asked to bathe before entering the springs, then an attendant leads them to the appropriate spring. Each spring is watched over by one of the Disciples to insure visitor safety. After treatment, visitors are lead back to the bathhouse where they receive massage or other therapy as directed by their diagnostician. Visitors can then return to their rooms or the common pavilion to rest and recover from their treatment.

The Springs

Black Cave - This natural cavern is pitch black, kept so by the bamboo enclosure that protects it from the weather. The steaming spring is said to have a calming effect on those with troubled spirits, and provide guiding inspiration for resolving problems. No lights are permitted within this cave and the attendant often circles the spring, touching each visitor to insure they are all right.

Heaven's Shower - The icy waters of this spring pour over a broad ledge, creating an invigorating if chilling shower. Heaven's Shower is used to invigorate the body, removing chronic weakness or malady. It is often used as a final cleansing purge after another course of treatment.

Hand of Earth - This hot mud bath is housed within an open pavilion. The viscous mud is a sovereign remedy for all wounds, cuts and bruises. A visit to the Hand of Earth is always followed by a trip to Heaven's Shower.

Green Waters - This mossy grotto surrounded by a bamboo grove is used to treat stress and mental instability. Treatment involves long soaks in the warm waters alternate with purging herbal teas prepared in a tiny open pavilion nearby.

Vital Spring - This small grotto is covered by a screened pavilion. It's bubbling warm waters are prescribed as a treatment for potency and fertility problems.

The Staff

Blue Rock Springs is run by a small but efficient staff. There are about a dozen Disciples and a half-dozen servants in and around the gorge, with another dozen hirelings managing the fields and farms that support it.

Tao So - The patient head of the Disciples oversees all aspects of the springs and the surrounding farms, yet still finds time to speak with most visitors. Tao So is old but fit, and runs the inn with an eye towards providing simple, calm comfort. These days he often leaves the details of running the farms and baths to his assistant Lee Ting. He has Good medical knowledge and herbalism skill.

Lee Ting - The quick-witted diagnostician is Tao So's right hand man. He has assumed much of the responsibility for the farms and grounds around the baths, allowing Tao So to focus his attentions on his studies and the inn itself. Lee Ting has Great medical knowledge and Good herbalism skill.

Mei Lin - The matronly innkeeper deals with the details of running the inn and kitchen and keeping the servants in line. She is a cheerful soul, with a round face an laughing eyes. Mei Lin prepares many of the herbal remedies and specialized meals required by visitors. It is rumored her relationship with Tao So extends beyond the professional. She as Great herbalism and good Cooking skills.

Yax Mo - The blind masseuse spends his days tending the bodies of visitors. He is a slender middle-aged man with shaggy brown hair and a wicked scar across the left side of his face. A scarf covers the ruined sockets of his eyes. Yax Mo served as a soldier in the local army. He was captured by enemies and suffered horrible torture in their hands. He was rescued and ended up working at the springs after attempts to heal him failed. He has Great massage skills and, despite his blindness, Good skill with staff.

Yang Si - The isolated location and occasional importance of visitors requires a small nod to security. Yang Si and his men maintain order within the gorge and patrol the borders of Disciple lands. Yang Si has a military background, though he does not speak of it. He is a friend of Yax Mo, and the two men often share their meals. Yang Si has three men in his employ. Yang Si has Great skill with sword, his men are Fair spearmen.

Plots Hooks

  • The springs are a meeting place for all sorts of people, their services are open to all who can pay. They make an idea place for a quiet meeting.
  • People talk to their caregivers, perhaps too much. The Disciples have strict rules concerning confidentiality, but rules are made to be broken.
  • While not rich the inn is lightly guarded, making it a tempting target. Travelers on their way to or from the inn also make tempting targets for thieves or bandits.
  • Old Yax Mo must know something of importance to have been tortured so.
  • Wounded adventurers need medical help too.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Old School Dungeon Traps

A list of simple tricks and traps for an old school dungeon. I dug this list out of some really old notebooks I have sitting on my shelves. It probably dates from the late 70s, so very old school.
  1. Pits: hidden, visible, or spiked filled with alligators, fire, acid, lava or water
  2. Doors with swinging blades, crossbow traps, trip wires, ear seekers, poison needles, magical seals, exploding locks, contact poison, intelligent locks, dropping portcullises, acid jets
  3. Rooms or corridors that fill with water, sand, or various gasses (poison, laughing, sleeping)
  4. Stairs or floors that move, slide, or collapse
  5. Projectile traps featuring crossbow bolts, poison darts, magic missiles, spikes, spears, or boulders
  6. Teleportation panels
  7. Life trapping mirrors
  8. Moving panels and walls that seal corridors
  9. Sliding and turning rooms
  10. Trip cords and strangle wires
  11. Poisonous food and drink
  12. Dead end tunnels
  13. Slides to creature dens
  14. Reverse gravity areas
  15. Crushing walls
  16. Magic reversing fields
  17. Blinding lights and impenetrable darkness
  18. Geas rooms
  19. Living furniture and fixtures
  20. Slippery floors and stairs
  21. Hypnotic rooms
  22. Illusionary walls, floors, stairs or corridors
  23. Pivoting walls that lock in place
  24. Intelligent doors or chests that cast spells, ask riddles or seek bribes
  25. Doors that randomly lead to different locations
  26. Areas of blinding light, complete darkness, fog, terrible smells, or strange noises
  27. Collapsing ceilings
  28. Fake doors
  29. Magical traps spraying webs, grease, poison or glue
  30. Alarm traps drawing foes
  31. Hidden or secret doors well above ground level
  32. Magic negation areas
  33. Triggered constructs
  34. Tiny tunnels and passages with tiny inhabitants

Friday, January 9, 2009


This heavy obsidian-headed mace is carved in the shape of a three-faced human skull. The eyes of the skull are set with faceted rubies that seem to glow with an inner fire. The butt of the steel haft bears a cabochon cut ruby and the haft itself is carved with a diamond crisscross pattern, providing a solid grip. The upper portions of the haft are enameled with straight black lines running from the top of the diamond engravings to the mace head itself. The top of the haft protrudes a short distance beyond the end of the mace head and is capped with a broad steel disc.

Identifying the magical properties of the item will reveal:
  • Good damage and accuracy enhancement
  • Superb destructive magic vs. undead
  • Great sound enchantment
  • Epic cursed nature
  • Blastbone radiates good

The mace has the following powers and abilities:
  • Triple normal damage when used against undead
  • Good damage and accuracy bonus in when used against non-undead
  • Once per day the skull heads can be commanded to scream. This piercing scream affects all undead within 60'. It destroys lesser undead instantly and causes greater undead Great harm.
  • If undead are encountered Blastbone's owner must resist a Superb compulsion or immediately engage them in melee. Once engaged he or she will continue to fight so long as undead are present.
  • If the owner of Blastbone is slain by undead, he or she immediately rises as an undead revenant, targeting the undead that killed them. Once this task is accomplished they collapse to dust and are irrevocably slain.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dark Wood

Found only at the heart of the most ancient trees, dark wood is a potent magical substance. It is one of the few wood-based materials that is durable and potent enough to use in the construction of magical items. As such it is prized by artificers. Dark wood forms only in the mightiest of trees, primarily oak, hemlock, redwood, cypress, and beech, in center of the wildest and most pristine forests. It forms knots and swirls within the normal grain of its host, normally near the center of the trunk.

Much as a pearl forms in an oyster, dark wood forms in the heart of forest giants. Trees occasionally take up a particle of magical matter, mithril, orquelum, or lagra. The tree protects itself from this particle by forming a casing of dense wood around the irritant. This effectively traps the particle, which slowly transmutes the surrounding wood into dark wood. Over time the tree continues to layer wood over the magical energies within, forming more dark wood. A fist-sized knot of the precious substance could take three or four decades to form.

Finding dark wood is straightforward but time consuming. Appropriate trees can be identified using Good divination magic. The difficultly is in finding potential host trees. Dark wood only forms in undisturbed forest and the very act of seeking it out may disrupt its formation.

There are two ways to harvest dark wood. The destructive method is to simply cutting down the tree, removing any dark wood found. Using this method requires Great woodcraft and will disrupt any dark wood formation in the area for many years. Obviously it will also kill the host tree. The second method is to use nature magic and coax the tree into giving up its unwanted guest. This method is time consuming, requiring repeated visits to the tree as it slowly shifts the mass to the surface of its trunk. A month of daily visits, each involving a Good use of nature magic would normally be required to obtain a mass of dark wood in this way.

Once harvested it appears to be a dark, extremely fine-grained knot or root-like tangle of dense wood. Depending on the species of the original tree the wood may be brown, reddish, or almost black. Dark wood is faintly luminescent, giving off a faint purple glow.

Dark wood lends itself to several kinds of enchantment. It has a great affinity for nature and growth, and is prized as a material for magical bows. It is less suitable for other types of forms of weaponry. It's resilience allows it to be shaped into potent defensive magics.

Working with dark wood requires great skill. To properly discern the best use of a piece requires Great divination magic. Preparing it for use requires Superb wood crafting skill. Actually incorporating it into a magical item requires Superb enchanting skill.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ancestral Items

Ancestral items are a concept I introduced into one of my campaigns. They provide a means of introducing magical items tailored to a specific character in a consistent way. They can also provide story hooks based on the history of the item and its former owners. In the original campaign mithril was a an extremely rare and valuable substance, providing a needed limit on the availability of ancestral items. Feel free to substitute another material suitable to your own game.

Mithril has many unique properties of interest to the mage. One such property is the ability to capture the essence of a bloodline in a magical construct, forever tying it to a specific person and their descendants.

At its initial forging an ancestral item is unremarkable except for its unique tie to a specific person, though additional magical properties can be imbued into it when created. Over time the item absorbs the spiritual energies of its owner, binding them into its own enchantment. The absorption process is not harmful, though it does strengthen the bond between the pair. The owner may feel uncomfortable without the item nearby, and a sentient item may use its powers to return to its rightful place.

As the item absorbs energy from its owner it gains powers and abilities suited to the owner's nature. The type and number of powers gained is subject to GM discretion. As a guideline, add one minor power or enhance an existing power every five or six game sessions. Powers gained should reflect both the nature of the item and the nature of the bearer.

Ancestral items can be dangerous to their owners, as items with long history and great power can control a weak-willed bearer. In these cases the bearer may find themselves mimicking the behavior of a long-dead ancestor or carrying out deeds they would ordinarily find distasteful.

Ancestral items radiate a magical aura, but behave as normal items in the hands of one not of the proper bloodline. They may even feel off balance, distasteful, or slippery in the wrong hands. Attempts to discern an ancestral item's nature by magical means will reveal its bloodline, Great enchantment magic, plus any mundane enchantment initially placed on the item.


Very few possess the knowledge required to create an ancestral item, as it involves magical effort, skilled crafting, and proper materials. The process of creating an ancestral item takes weeks and costs thousands of coin in time and materials. The mithril required to create even a small ancestral item would cost 2000 or more coins if it could be found at all. The following outline summarizes the skills and steps required to make a basic ancestral item.

Gather materials - The divination at this stage determines the exact items required to correctly link the item to the appropriate bloodline. A failed divination might reveal incorrect items or materials. All materials should reflect the nature of the owner. Extra materials and items might be prudent.
  • Great test of divining magic to determine appropriate materials
  • Raw materials - Materials suitable for the basic item construction, at least Great quality
  • Special ingredients - At least 3 unique Superb quality ingredients
  • Mithril - Sufficient quantity to infuse the entire item
Create the item - The proper structure of the item is determined at this stage. Failure of the enchantment test might result in an incorrect pattern. Failure to create the basic item destroys the raw materials. Failure to place the special ingredients destroys them, though the basic item is unaffected.
  • Great test of enchantment magic to design the pattern or template
  • Good test of crafting to create the basic item using the raw materials
  • Great test of crafting to place the special ingredients in the basic item

Imbue the item - Prepare the mithril for use and imbue it into the item. The purification process can be repeated if it fails, the imbue test destroys the item if it fails.
  • Superb test of enchantment magic to purify the mithril
  • Superb test of crafting to imbue the item with mithril

Association with the bloodline - Tie the item to the owner. Failing either test in this stage requires the entire stage be repeated.
  • A blood sacrifice from the owner
  • Great test of enchantment magic to link the item
  • Great test of willpower by the owner to accept the enchantment


Ancestral items are, for the most part, indestructible. Their parts can be separated with a Superb test of crafting. Destroying the parts and their intrinsic magic is nearly impossible, requiring an Epic test of enchantment magic. If the parts of an ancestral item are scattered, any one part can be used to lead to the others with a Good test of divination magic.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tranto Ferry

Tranto Ferry is a small village suitable for a human occupied region. The ideal location is in an out of the way, lightly settled agricultural area with a large river.

The village is a tiny collection of rough stone houses with thatch roofs, the ferry itself, the run down Two Fish Tavern, and a small trading post. A single dirt road leads through town to the ferry, and most of the buildings in town line this street. The village is named after the original family that built the ferry, and Tranto is still a common family name in the area. The area surrounding village has a scattering of family farms, trappers, and fishermen.

The Ferry

Gio Tranto runs the ferry, a simple flat bottomed barge that crosses the river as needed. It is the easiest way across, saving half a day's march to the nearest ford. The ferry is guided across the river by a combination of poling and a heavy rope strung across the river and fed through two guides along the upstream side of barge, fore and aft. If the payload is large or heavy, Gio will get Farvin from the Two Fish Tavern to help him make the crossing. The ferry is large enough to hold a wagon and team, or four horses and their riders. The ferry is usually docked on the village side of the river. A heavy chain and crude lock secure the barge when unattended.

Gio Tranto, the ancient and surly ferryman, is close-mouthed and gruff. He seldom says much to those using the ferry beyond "three copper," the standard price for man or beast to use the ferry. If plied with coin or drink he can be convinced to talk about passengers who've made the crossing in the last couple of days. Much beyond that and his memory is rather hazy. When not on the boat, he can be found fishing from the ferry, sleeping in his one room hovel next to the dock, or in the Two Fish Tavern.

Two Fish Tavern

The tavern is a bit more substantial than the rest of the village. It is a two story stone structure with a slate roof that's seen better days. The lower floor consists of the tavern itself, the fair sized kitchen, and the owner's quarters. The upper floor has a common sleeping room and two smaller rooms with two beds each. There is a small barn with stalls for several horses and fenced yard behind the tavern.

Ale, mead, and cheap wine are all available from the bar. Food is available most of the day, typically porridge at breakfast, bread, cheese and fruit at lunch, and some sort of stew or soup featuring fish at dinner. The fare is plain but generally hearty and filling.

There are usually a few locals in the tavern throughout the day. The ferryman Gio Tranto spends a considerable time nursing ales at the corner table. In the morning one or two local fishermen are generally here for breakfast. At midday the Lino Tranto from the trading post takes his lunch at the tavern along with any locals who are doing business in the village. In the evening local farmers and fishermen tip a few ales and watch any travelers who have stopped for the night.

Navi and Cala Alari own and run the tavern. Navi tends the bar and deals with any lodgers while Cala runs the kitchen. Navi is a solid, graying man with a friendly manner, though he clearly favors the locals over strangers when it comes to service. Cala is a weary looking middle-aged woman with faded brown hair and dark eyes. She is courteous enough, but usually leaves the guests to her husband. Navi is more than willing to talk about any local news or travelers passing through, especially if someone buys him an ale or two.

Ana Alari, daughter of Navi and Cala works in the tavern serving food and drink. She looks very much like her mother, though she hasn't developed the weary look quite yet. Both her parents are fairly protective of her, and the guest that's too free with his hands around Ana is likely to find himself sleeping under the stars.

Farvin Trano is the tavern's stable hand and sometimes bouncer. He's an large sloppy-looking fellow with short brown hair and a perpetual half-smile. Farvin is a bit dim, but he manages horses and oxen well enough. He's very strong and tends to get over-excited when there's trouble in the tavern. Farvin sleeps in the common room. The odds of getting anything useful out of Farvin are slim.

Trading Post

The post serves as a general supply for the local farmers and fishermen, a place for trappers to trade their furs for goods, and a feed and provisioning stop for travelers. It is a single story stone structure with a wooden roof. The proprietor lives in rooms connected to the back of the store.

The post sells a variety of basic goods including textiles, tools, pots and pans, kitchen goods, spices, and miscellaneous junk accumulated through trade. Depending on the season there may be bales of furs, smoked fish, or farm produce available.

Lino Tranto owns the trading post. He is a harried looking man, constantly moving about the store and talking when customers are present. Despite the general poorness of the region he manages to make a decent living, primarily from the fur trade. He knows most of the locals and keeps tabs on anyone passing through. Travelers looking for local information would do well to start with Lino. He also knows local fishermen and trappers familiar with the locale who might be willing to serve as guides.

Other Residents

Dona Tranto is the village midwife. She is stout middle-aged woman with black hair and a brusque, business-like manner. She walks with a pronounced limp and often uses a cane. She is the closest thing to medical care available in the village. She has little contact with travelers unless her particular skills are called for.

Orlo Gianton is a local fisherman and trapper. He and his family (wife Conia and young son Orlo) live a few miles upriver from the town. Orlo is an energetic young man with a friendly manner and an easy laugh. Orlo is willing to hire himself out as a guide or camp supporter. He is very knowledgeable about the locale.

Rafael Tranto is a rather unsuccessful trapper who lives several miles south of the village. His sneering manner and acne-scarred complexion make a bad first impression. Rafael is not above a bit of thievery if the opportunity presents itself.


  • Anyone using the ferry will be remembered by the locals for at least a few days unless they're coerced to forget.
  • Travelers who appear weak or disorganized may be targeted by Rafael Tranto, perhaps with a friend or two.
  • The trading post ships goods to and from more prosperous areas.
  • The fishermen and trappers have a good knowledge of the local geography and might serve as guides.
  • The ferry cannot make the river crossing if the river is flooded, causing delays.
  • The locals are fairly defenseless, making it an ideal target for violence.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Celestial Bells

This set of three bells was commissioned by Tingal, high priest of the now disbanded Order of Vesh. Charged with the care and protection of the vast walled graveyard outside the city of Igon, Tingal sought to insure the safety of his fellow priests and their chapter house.

The Celestial Bells are about 18 inches tall and nine inches wide at the lip. Each has two decorative belts of interlocking rectangles arranged in a basket weave design above and below the body of the bell. Each rectangle in the upper belt inscribed with the name of one of the 12 princes of Igon. Each rectangle in the lower belt is inscribed with one of the seven holy words of Vesh. The crown of each bell is shaped like a drooping "T" with a disc of onyx embedded in the juncture of the "T". The bell clappers are bronze with a red silk cord tied to a small loop at the bottom.

The bells hang from a heavy plank of perfect mahogany inlaid with silver in a basket weave pattern matching the decorative belts on the bells. The ends of the plank are clearly designed to be set into a frame or bracket. Each bell is attached to the plank by two broad bands of red silk.

Attempts to identify the magical properties of the bells will reveal:
  • Great magical protection
  • Good combat enhancement
  • Great damage magic
  • The bells radiate good

The bells have been enchanted with several protective magics. The bells must be hung in a place of prominence in a permanent building to be effective. Each invoked power of the bells can be used once per day.
  • They provide Good protection from undead throughout the structure. Any undead creature must overcome this protection to enter the building.
  • When the first bell is rung all occupants of the structure gain a Good combat blessing versus undead that lasts one hour.
  • When the second bell is rung, any undead within the building suffers a Good attack.
    v When the third bell is rung a single undead within the building and within sight of the bells can be targeted with a Great attack. If the target fails to resist or avoid the attack they are destroyed.
  • When all bells are rung together all undead within 100' of the building are subject to a Superb attack that induces panic if not resisted or avoided.

Friday, January 2, 2009


This steel three-quarters helm is sized to fit a normal human. It is ornately worked into the likeness of a rearing scorpion, tail coiled above the rear of the helm. The scorpion's legs form a border along either side of the face while the claws protrude above the brow. A pair of rubies and six small diamonds represent the scorpion's eyes. The base helm is dull gray in color, while the scorpion's form is enameled in black and red. Despite the rather overwrought decoration, the helm is fairly lightweight.

Attempts to identify the magical properties of the item will reveal:

  • Superb physical protection
  • Superb protection against poison
  • Good poison magic
  • Good vision enhancement
  • Epic cursed nature
  • Ironhead radiates neither good nor evil

When donned the helm will instantly come to life. The eyes will glow with inner fire, while the scorpion's claws, legs and tail all animate. The wearer can take exactly one action before Ironhead strikes. Any action other than pulling the helm from their head will allow it to complete its attack, impaling the wearer with claws, legs and tail. The tail lashes down the character's back, burying itself in their neck and spine. The legs lash forward, digging in to cheek, temple and brow. The creature's main claws impale the wearer's forehead. The strike does an Epic damage and incapacitates the wearer. The magical nature of the damage inflicted makes it difficult to heal (Great healing required). Once Ironhead has attached itself it can only be removed by cutting off the wearer's head, a wish or similar Epic magic.

The helm imbues the wearer with the following:

  • Terrible modifier to appearance and charisma. Most people will avoid the wearer if possible. The helm's gemstone eyes might be tempting to a thief, but the fact that they seem to shift and watch anyone that speaks with the wearer will deter all but the boldest.
  • Superb protection from physical harm. Attacks seem to slide off the wearer without any effort on his or her part.
  • Superb protection from poison. Most poisons simply have no effect on Ironhead's wearer. Very deadly poisons might make him or her ill for a short time.
  • Good vision enhancement. The wearer can see in low light conditions as if it were day, and see faint outlines and shapes even in total darkness.
  • Once per week Ironhead can spew forth a jet of Great contact poison, striking one target in front of the wearer. This poison is both damaging and painful. The wearer can control this effect, but it great anger may cause it to fire unintentionally.

Over the long term the helm's terrible appearance is likely to weigh heavily upon the wearer. They may be driven to great lengths to find a means to remove the helm. The somewhat uncontrollable nature of the poison spray may also cause problems for the wearer.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Shoe of Many Mounts

The Shoe of Many Mounts appears to be a normal-sized horseshoe of polished steel. Any blacksmith, farrier, or experienced horseman can easily determine that the shoe is not made for use, as it has no nail holes. The shoe is lighter than expected as well. There are four runic symbols carved into the top (hoof) side of the Shoe: Swiftness, Strength, Conflict, and Power. On the bottom of the shoe stylized images of the rising and setting sun are carved into each arm of the Shoe, and a sheaf of grain is carved into the toe. Each carving is enameled in gold with a green background. The exact language and form of the runes should be appropriate to the campaign.

Heating or altering the Shoe in any way will destroy the magic it contains. Attempts to identify the magical properties of the item will reveal Great creation and transformation magic. The Shoe radiates neither good nor evil.

To activate the magic of the Shoe, place it on bare soil with the toe facing the rising sun. Spill a handful of grain on the ground nearby and speak one of the runes. The Shoe will transform into a mount depending on the rune spoken:

  • Swiftness - A silver riding horse with saddle and tack
  • Strength - A brown mule with a pack saddle
  • Conflict - A red heavy warhorse in chain barding
  • Power - A black draft horse with full harness

The mounts summoned are of Great quality, and requires no food or drink. They will serve the summoner tirelessly until sunset, when they revert to the Shoe of Many Mounts.

Summoned mounts are subject to harm by normal means. If a mount is slain it reverts to the Shoe, and no mount may be summoned for one week.