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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Defensive Gear 2009

This is a summary of all the armor-related articles from 2009. It's part of my project to provide index articles to the blog, making it easier to find useful stuff. Labels are useful, but sometimes a summary is better.
So there you have it, 16 assorted pieces of armor. Since this list is relatively short, and there's some cross-over anyhow, I'll go ahead and list the various clothing items here as well:
That's 11 magical pieces of garb, enough to stock a small closet.

It's kind of fun to go back through the archives and reread some of the old posts I haven't thought about in a while. As with the bestiaries part one and two and the weapons summary, there's some good and bad in this list. I hope you find something useful here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Short Takes

A few short item descriptions today. Each of these has been floating around in the back of my head for a while, but none have come together for a longer write up, so I'll throw them out so you can use them as is or expand them as desired.

The Hacking Sword - A heavy, two-handed weapon, the Hacking Sword has a crude, unfinished look about it. The hilt and pommel are made from dull gray iron that still bears the hammer marks of its forging. The Sword's blade is made from dozens of dagger-like shards of black iron, melded together in a jagged, saw-toothed mass with crude hammer-strokes. When wielded the Hacking Sword emits a faint electric hum. In addition to a Superb damage enhancement, the many dagger-shards that make up the weapon's blade separate into dozens of individual blades held together by magical energies, creating a whip-like blade of force studded with razor-sharp spines. The weapon can strike any target within 15 feet of the wielder.

Stone Grip Gauntlets - This heavy pair of gauntlets is made from dozens of shards of gleaming obsidian, held together with a web of silvery energies. They provide a Good defensive bonus to the wearer and a Legendary strength bonus to hand strength. In addition the wearer is able to dig through solid stone as if it were soft earth, shifting a cubic yard of material per hour of labor.

Scarab Cloak - This long shimmering cloak is made from the living bodies of thousands of scarab beetles, held in place with a skein of black silk threads fastened to a silver collar decorated with a pattern of inscribed insects. In addition to its rather horrific appearance, the Cloak allows the wearer to send forth individual beetles as spies and observers. They can also command the entire mass of scarabs to swarm an individual target, inflicting Average damage each round and effectively blinding the targets. The beetle swarm is only affected by area of effect damage, and destroyed beetles regenerate overnight.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Armor of the Tritons

This shirt of scale armor is a work of art. Perfectly cut and polished scales of conch and turtle shell glisten in the light, highlighted by mother-of-pearl and coral trim. The scales, each a slightly different shade of blue or green, are fastened to a sharkskin backing with gleaming golden seaweed. A matching helmet made from a single large shell reinforced with plates of turtle shell completes the set. The armor is surprisingly lightweight and seems to cling to the wearer's body like a second skin. The armor radiates Superb alteration, and enchantment magic, and a Great test of divination magic will reveal its properties:
  • The Armor of the Tritons is Superb quality scale armor. When worn it is no heavier than a light jacket, and it magically alters itself to fit any roughly human-sized being.
  • The wearer gains the ability to breath water (fresh or salt) at will. They are comfortable in any natural body of water, from warm tropical oceans to arctic seas.
  • The Armor grants Superb swimming ability, allowing the wearer to swim as fast as a shark on the hunt.
  • The wearer gains the ability to speak with any intelligent water-dwelling creature.
  • Thrice per day the wearer can command up to six unintelligent sea creatures to do his or her bidding. These creatures will carry out a single task within their ability, though they will not risk their own lives. A Superb resistance check will allow the creature to avoid this enchantment.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hound Touch

This magical amulet appears to be a simple tube-shaped whistle made from polished brass with silver fittings. There are three leaping hunting hounds engraved along the whistle's length, and a threaded plunger fitted to the end of the device allows the user to alter the note played, with three tiny notches indicating its settings. A silver ring fitted to one end is attached to a thin brass chain about 30 inches long, making it easy to wear this item around one's neck.

Hound Touch is magical in nature, radiation Good charm and enchantment magic. A Good test of divination magic will reveal the item's powers. The whistle can be played up to six times per day, the effect achieved by playing it is determined by which setting the device's plunger is set to.
  • Enrage - The wearer causes up to six canines within 90 feet to become enraged, attacking the nearest target by whatever means available. Affected beasts will act as a pack, choosing single target to attack, selecting a new target if the first falls. The wearer will never be targeted by the enraged canines. This effect lasts ten rounds and can be resisted with a Great test of Will.
  • Flee - When this note is played, any canine within 60 feet will flee from the player at maximum possible speed. When the effect expires there is a 50% chance the beasts will immediately return to whatever they were doing before they were forced to flee, a 25% chance they will continue to move away from the player, and a 25% chance they will return with hostile intent. This effect lasts ten rounds and can be resisted with a Great test of Will.
  • Track - When this note is played, a single canine within 30 feet can be commanded to track a single target.  The user must have some item bearing the scent of the creature to be tracked. The hound will follow the scent using its normal senses so long as Hound Touch's user continues to play at least once per ten rounds.
To attune Hound Touch, it must be worn by the owner for a full week. At the end of this period all three main powers of the device become available. After wearing the item for one month the wearer will attract a canine familiar. This beast will be utterly loyal to the device's owner, obeying his or her every command. The exact nature of the beast should be determined by the locale and the nature of the campaign in progress. The beast will not suffer the effects of age, though it may be harmed by other means. Should the familiar be slain Hound Touch will immediately lose its attunement to its current owner. The device can be attuned again, but the time required for a new familiar to arrive is doubled with each familiar death.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

One Page Dungeon Contest 2010

Just a public service announcement. The deadline for this year's contest is coming up fast! I've been thinking about an entry, but nothing has come together yet. Time to start panicking!

Here's the link with all the details!

Shield of Spinning Discs

This heavy round shield is made from a brilliantly polished silvery metal, etched with a repeating pattern of three discs arranged in a triangular pattern. The shield's large, flat boss is made from gleaming copper, which is, in turn, set with three discs of silvery metal that match the shield's primary material. The shield radiates Great combat and alteration magic, and a Great test of divination will reveal its enchantments.

When wielded in battle the three silver discs in the center of the shield begin glowing, detach themselves from the shield boss, and whirl around the bearer's head in a dizzying pattern of reflected light. The person so protected gains the following benefits:
  • All attackers suffer a three rank penalty when targeting the protected individual, their aim distracted by the shifting pattern of polished metal.
  • The spinning discs reflect up to three ranks of damage from any magical attack. Reflected energies are directed back at the caster. Any remaining damage affects the target as usual.
  • The shield bearer can command the discs to strike at one or more targets within 30'. Anyone struck by a disc suffers Fair physical damage, and is blinded for six rounds. Each disc must score a normal melee attack (as the shield bearer) and the victim can make a Good test of resistance to avoid the blindness effect. The shield bearer loses the discs' defensive characteristics while they are attacking. The discs can be commanded to attack up to six times per day.
Discs can be targeted by attacks or spells. Each has Fair toughness and requires Great accuracy to hit. Any disabled disc returns to the shield and becomes inactive for one day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Crown of Flames

This artifact is a slender band of gold encrusted with glittering points of light reflected from deep red rubies and gleaming yellow topaz. The Crown has a flowing, almost natural form, and there are no tool marks or maker's seals in evidence. Three flames dance across the many low points that adorn the crown, giving the item an eerie reddish cast.

The Crown radiates Superb elemental magic, and is clearly an artifact of the elemental plane of fire. It radiates heat strongly enough to cause a one rank of burn damage to anyone that touches it. Only one brave enough to don the Crown will unlock its powers. Anyone placing the Crown upon their head is instantly attuned to the device and granted complete knowledge of its powers and abilities. Once the Crown is attuned to a living being it remains attuned until the owner is slain. Anyone attempting to attune the Crown while its current owner is alive suffers one rank of burn damage per round of contact.
  • Flame Immunity - The Crown grants complete immunity to fire-based damage, including the Crown itself. This immunity extends to any possessions worn or carried.
  • Dancing Flames - Once donned the three flames dancing across the Crown's points brighten and rise above the wearer's head, becoming intense, foot-high flames. These fires provide illumination equivalent to a good lantern and bathe the wearer in comfortable warmth. The bearer can, at will, command these flames to shoot forth and strike any target within 15 feet, each inflicting a Fair damage burn when they strike home.
  • Aura of Fire - The wearer can, at will, engulf themselves in an aura of living flame. This aura does Good fire damage to anyone within 5 feet, igniting flammable materials in a single round of contact. All melee attacks carried out by the wearer gain two ranks of fire damage in addition to their usual effects.
  • Elemental Awe - The wearer can communicate with elemental beings of all sorts. Unintelligent fire-based elementals will instantly follow the wearer's commands, while intelligent fire-based beings will resent the wearer for possessing such a potent artifact of fire. Other elemental beings will react normally, though intelligent beings will tend to be resentful.
Edit: Stupid broken scheduler. This was supposed to be scheduled for the 26th...

    Ice Slayers

    These elemental creatures of crystal and ice inhabit chill wastelands and icy caverns. They are roughly humanoid, ten or more feet tall, with slender crystalline bodies that shimmer with faint internal light. Veins of bluish-green liquid flow and pulse beneath the surface of their icy flesh, and three to seven bright purple sparks of light dot their heads, serving as the creature's eyes. When they move Ice Slayers emit a faint squeaking sound, like snow underfoot on a clear and cold night.

    Ice Slayers are generally hostile, though they can be compelled to service with appropriate spells (a Superb test of compulsion magic). They normally spend vast amounts of time gathered in clusters, joined in a semi-aware communal state, appearing as nothing more than spires and spikes of ice. When roused they are fierce foes, employing deadly tactics and capable of both mundane physical assault and icy magical attacks.

    Ice Slayers have the following characteristics:
    • Great toughness - their icy flesh is exceedingly difficult to damage. Slashing and crushing weapons are reduced in effectiveness by two ranks, Piercing weapons are able to exploit narrow crevices and cracks in their form and do normal damage.
    • Elemental resistance - Ice Slayers have Superb resistance to all forms of elemental damage, save fire, which they are vulnerable to (Mediocre resistance). Water- or cold-based attacks actually heal one rank of damage per attack.
    • Watery Regeneration - When in contact with water (liquid or frozen) Slayers regenerated one rank of damage every three rounds.
    • Ice Weapons - Slayers can form razor-sharp weapons made from magical ice in a single round. These weapons inflict Good damage, and chill the target, slowing it for 1d2 rounds with each successful attack. Typical weapons include swords, axes and spears.
    • Icy Rain - Ice Slayers can surround themselves with a storm of bitterly cold, freezing rain, which coats any surface with an icy glaze in a single round. Movement rates for normal creatures within the affected area are halved, and there is a 10% chance per round that a combatant will loose their grip on their weapon or their footing. Icy Rain can be summoned three times per day and lasts ten rounds per summoning.
    • Ice Lance - All Ice Slayers can summon a magical lance of ice which they can launch at any target within 120'. This lance travels in a straight line toward the target, striking anyone in its path for Great cold damage. Those struck must make a Good resistance check or be frozen to the ground for 1d4 rounds.

    Saturday, February 20, 2010

    Killing Things 2009 - Weapons

    This is a summary list of all the weapons articles from 2009. Much like part one and part two of the bestiary, my goal here is to make it easier to find stuff from last year's articles. Here's the list in chronological order:
    So there you have it, the 28 weapons of 2009. Much like the bestiary, there's some bad mixed in with the good. Overall I'm pretty pleased with this set of articles. Hopefully you can find something useful here. Next up on the index list, armor.

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Flask of Eternal Wind

    The Flask is a large jug-like container made from opaque blue glass. A swirling pattern of gray shapes shift and move along its sides, much like clouds across the sky. A silver metal handle is attached to the neck of the Flask, and a matching silver stopper, set with a single blue sapphire on one side, blocks its mouth. If examined closely, five slim notches are arranged around the Flask's narrow neck. The item radiates Superb elemental magic, and a Great test of divination magic will reveal the item's enchantments.

    The Flask is activated by removing its stopper. The exact power invoked is determined by the alignment of the sapphire decorating its stopper and the notches in its neck. Each notch invokes a unique power:
    • Breeze of the Tropics - When opened the Flask emits a steady breeze of tropical air bearing the scents of a warm beach, sun, sand, and ocean. This breeze continues so long as the Flask is open, and provides sufficient warmth to heat a freezing cold 20 x 20 foot chamber to a comfortable temperature. This power lasts until the flask is capped.
    • Mountain Winds - A cool wind, crisp and refreshing pours from the Flask, scented with pine and snow. This breeze is sufficient to cool a desert-hot 20 x 20 foot chamber to a cool temperature. This power lasts until the flask is capped.
    • Scourge of the Desert - When opened at this setting the Flask emits a howling tongue of sand-laden wind, three feet long. This manifestation can be used as a crude weapon, inflicting Good damage in combat, or as a tool. The force of the wind and the grinding particles of sand are powerful enough to wear through an inch of soft stone or wood each round. Harder substances take twice as long. This power lasts fifteen rounds before the wind dies.
    • Icy Mist - When this power is invoked a cloud of dense, chill mist pours forth from the Flask, covering a 20 x 20 foot area each round. The Flask's owner can position the flask so this mist pours in a specific direction. Within the mist, vision is restricted to a few feet, and surfaces become coated with a slick layer of black ice after three rounds. Any creature traversing such an area has a Good chance of slipping and falling or becoming disoriented. This power lasts up to six rounds, with the mist produced persisting for one hour. Exposure to direct sunlight halves the duration of the mist.
    • Maelstrom of Woe - Opening the Flask at this setting causes a 30 foot radius maelstrom of swirling wind to form within one round. This maelstrom moves away from the Flask's owner at 30 feet per round, sweeping away loose objects, grounding weak fliers, and picking up any sand or soil it crosses, creating a confusing vortex of blinding dust. Anyone within the maelstrom is blinded and takes Average damage as they are battered by flying objects. The maelstrom dies away after fifteen rounds.
    Each power of the Flask can be invoked at will, but each usage disables further uses of the Flask for four hours.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    Toadstool Ray

    These creatures inhabit dense forests and swamps, using their gas-filled bodies to float through the air in search of prey. They begin life as a large, flat grayish mushroom, about two feet across. Gradually their stem withers to a narrow tail and their body slowly shifts and spreads, taking on a manta-like shape. The hollow chambers within their body fill with a putrescent vapor that's lighter than air, and eventually they rise from the ground in slow flight, shifting direction with flaps of their primitive wings. Their stem becomes a flexible tail, tipped with a sharp spine, while their flesh exudes a sticky tar-like substance, which serves to seal any vapor leaks and as a weapon. Typical specimens have a three or four foot wingspan and a two to three foot long tail.

    The creatures have primitive senses, capable of sensing changes in air pressure. They attack by dropping on prey from above, lashing at it with their tails and enveloping it with their sticky bodies. Any damage inflicted is quickly sealed with the sticky tar that coats the creature's body, but not before a cloud of foul vapors escapes, choking and possibly blinding the target.

    Once prey is secured the Ray feeds on the corpse, then deposits spores on the remains, restarting the life cycle.

    Toadstool Rays have the following characteristics:
    • Mediocre toughness - Rays are somewhat fragile and easily damaged. They heal superficial damage at a Good rate however.
    • Average flight - Rays can fly slowly, but are more inclined to lurk and drift on air currents.
    • Good tail attack - The sharp spine on the Ray's tail inflicts average damage.
    • Envelop - There is a Good chance a Ray can envelop smaller targets, effectively trapping them with their bulk. Multiple Rays will cooperate using this tactic, and are capable of smothering even large targets. An enveloped target has a Fair chance each round of being pinned or suffocated by the Ray's body.
    • Gas cloud - Any blow suffered by the Ray has a good chance of causing a five foot radius cloud of noxious gas to spray forth. Anyone in the area of effect must make a Good resistance check or be blinded and disoriented for 1d3 rounds.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Random Items

    I ran across this list while reviewing some old campaign materials. These magic items were pulled from a random treasure table for a group of Yuan-ti the party was likely to run into. The setting is a mix of temperate to tropical climates, the adventure mostly outdoors.
    • Amulet of Preservation - All items carried by the wearer are protected from normal wear and tear. Rain, damp, heat, etc. will not cause damage to equipment. Items also gain a one rank bonus to resistance checks versus regular damage.
    • Tiger Claw Necklace - The wearer of this primitive charm can leap up to 30 forward or to the side, or 20 feet back as a free action. This power can be used three times per day.
    • Jade Bracelet - When worn this token grants a three rank bonus to any resistance check versus poison. Each time the item affects a test there is a 5% chance it shatters, its magic spent.
    • Helm of Bolts - This steel helm is set with a single amethyst in the brow. When the wearer is engaged in combat the helm will randomly shoot forth a bolt of lightning, striking up to four opponents for Good damage. There is a 5% chance per round of a bolt shooting forth, and no more than 3 bolts per day will be generated.
    • Skeletal Hand - A partially mummified skeletal hand. When held aloft it causes 1d6 rounds of fear to anyone within 30 feet save the wielder. Requires a Good test of willpower to resist.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    Beast Constructs

    I used these creatures in a campaign a few years back. I removed some of the campaign-specific material from this write-up. Hopefully they still make some sense.

    These bizarre creatures are constructed from the dessicated and mummified remains of dead beasts, sewn together and enchanted with necromantic energies; each beast an amalgam of various parts and components from multiple natural creatures. The magical arts involved in creating these hideous creatures are long lost, having died out along with the ancient death-worshiping race that first perfected them. Some rare examples of these beasts live on, guarding the forgotten tombs and temples of this long-lost race.

    Beast Constructs are mindless creatures, each a pieced-together horror made up of two or more mundane creatures stitched together with silvery threads of necromantic power. Constructs are generally 'programmed' with a specific task or mission, then left to their own devices. All constructs have the following characteristics:
    • Superb toughness - all constructs gain tremendous physical toughness and vitality from the necromantic processes that create them.
    • Magic resistance - constructs are immune to mind-affecting spells or enchantments.
    • Life detection - the necromantic energies that animate these creatures allows them to accurately sense any living creature within 100 yards.
    • Regeneration - constructs recover from damage at a Fair rate, generally healing all damage within one day.

    Some typical constructs include:
    • Hound Serpents - Hound-headed lizard creatures with long slender legs webbed with bat-like wings. Hound Serpents are capable of leaping, gliding flight, and fight with Good bite and claw attacks. Their enchanted fangs paralyze foes who fail to resist their spell.
    • Lion Shells - Tortoise-shelled creatures with the heads of lions, these slow-moving beasts are incredibly tough and emit a terrible roaring noise in addition to a Superb bite attack. Those that succumb to the roaring noise (Good resistance check for anyone within 30 feet) are deafened and confused by the terrible sound.
    • Alligator Hound - These creatures have hyena bodies with one or two alligator heads and a thick reptilian tail. They move with Good speed and attack with Great biting attacks (one per head) and a powerful tail lash (Good damage). Thrice per day the creatures can vomit forth a jet of water 30 feet long and three feet wide. Anyone struck by this powerful stream is knocked prone (Good test of reflexes to avoid).
    • Vulture Serpent - These huge serpents have vestigial wings and an over-sized vulture's head. They attack with a powerful constrictive attack (Good damage each round), and a nasty bite, which transfers one rank of vitality from victim to beast each time it succeeds.

    Command Rods

    These relics are made from bone and brass. Each consists of a short bone handle fitted with a disc of brass inscribed with a representation of one or more Beast Constructs. These rods grant control over the depicted creature(s), and a Good test of divination magic will reveal the command words required to activate their magics. Each Command Rod will also inflict Legendary damage upon any Beast Construct, but using a Rod in this fashion destroys it.

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Terrain is the Monster

    A while back Neitherworld Stories posted up an article entitled Monsters as Terrain. As I commented then I've been thinking about the opposite situation, terrain as the monster. What follows isn't directly related to the Neitherworld article, which is a very interesting read. This post has been primarily influenced by my recent Moria game, so I'm mostly talking about a dungeon crawl environment, but the ideas should apply elsewhere as well. Of course the most obvious form of terrain monster is the trap, but I'm going to talk more about natural features than constructed obstacles.

    In game terms monster usually means an opponent that must be overcome by guile, negotiation, or force. Terrain can fill this role admirably, though negotiating with it may be difficult. Monsters also serve to regulate access to other areas, and often guard treasure, again, things terrain can handle. Terrain's biggest weakness, when considered as a monster, is that it doesn't really move, so initial placement is more important than with a typical monster. Similarly, pursuit situations are unlikely to result from a terrain encounter, though using monstrous terrain to affect the outcome of a pursuit is certainly an option. Here are a few guidelines when placing terrain as monsters:

    Define the Threat - As GM you should have a clear understanding of what danger the terrain represents. A monster that represents no threat at all is not really a monster. Some of the typical threats posed by terrain include:
    • Blockade - the terrain presents a real obstacle to travel. Part of the typical dungeon game is exploration and blocking terrain reduces opportunity for discovery unless overcome. Blocking terrain can also provide a tactical advantage for other monsters with a mode of travel unaffected by the terrain. Flying creatures often have an advantage when dealing with this sort of terrain.
    • Division - the party is split by the actions of terrain, be it a swift flowing river, a deep chasm with a limited crossing, or maze-like passages presenting multiple confusing choices.
    • Damage - falling damage is a favorite attack form for terrain-based monsters. Drowning (rivers and lakes) or burning  (lava) are two other popular options.

    Sketch the Solutions - I'm not proposing you come up with one true way to defeat the terrain, but think about reasonable approaches to resolving the encounter. You should reward your players for creative thinking in this regard so don't get too hidebound by whatever solutions you come up with. As part of this process it's also worth considering the long term ramifications of whatever solution the players use to defeat the terrain, they may well affect the local balance of power, particularly if the terrain presented a formidable obstacle.

    Make it Worthwhile - Defeating the terrain monster should offer some reward to your players, otherwise they may see it as a grand waste of time. Treasure is one possibility, perhaps a less fortunate adventurer didn't quite make it across that chasm or pool. Access to a new area is another potential reward. Crossing that river of lava might open an entire area of the dungeon to exploration. Alternate routes are a third reward. Perhaps the underground river provides a means to bypass a particularly dangerous foe.


    Terrain as the monster does have a few weaknesses.
    • Static - Terrain generally doesn't move, so the decision to engage the encounter is totally up to the players. It's difficult as GM to 'play' the monster so leveraging a terrain encounter requires active interest by the players. Hints or clues that lead through monstrous terrain are a good way to encourage player interest.
    • Magic - At higher levels of play, terrain can easily become trivial, especially if the party has access to magical flight or other transportation spells. Using monstrous terrain as a lair for a creature unaffected by the conditions is one potential solution to this problem.
    • Eternal - Terrain usually lasts forever, so consider carefully before you place it. Defeating a terrain encounter once is interesting. Doing it every time the party goes by, less so.


    Here are a few of the terrain encounters I used in my Moria game, along with the solutions implemented by the players:

    The Spiral Descent - This is a large conical chamber with a single narrow ledge winding from top to bottom. One entrance is located near the narrow top, with two other exits near the bottom, which is littered with large, jagged boulders. The threat here is falling damage, and as the party discovered, a pack of annoying little Jermalaine occupying a network of tiny crevices and caves in the cavern walls. After demonstrating they could kill the Jermalaine if they could see them, the party began throwing food into the creature's den before beginning their descent, which negated the creature threat. This allowed them to easily defeat the falling threat using the relatively safe ledge (safe assuming they weren't trying to defeat Jermalaine traps along the way). The reward here (at least as far as the characters know), was access to the deeper caverns.

    The Mud Pit - Several springs feed down sloping passages into this chamber, which is filled with thick viscous mud up to ten feet deep. The threat here is division and damage, with drowning in mud a real possibility for armored characters. Careful testing revealed a shallower path through the pit, and eventually one of the characters noticed someone had scratched directions in the ceiling of the cavern. With this information the room is fairly easy to navigate, and the party now has a hint that someone passes this way often enough to create the path through the room.

    The Maelstrom - An underground river feeds a waterfall that splashes down into a lake-like chamber, then pours down a second passage into a broad swirling pool of water. A vast whirlpool sucks anything swept into the pool down and out of sight. The primary threat here is division and drowning (luckily no one fell into the pool). Unfortunately for the party, the stream bed provides the primary access route into the depths. The party overcame this obstacle by affixing a rope to one side of the swift running stream, allowing the them to traverse it with minimal risk. They got the idea (and a reward for defeating the Maelstrom) because someone had left behind a similar arrangement using a length of magical Elven Rope.

    So there you have it, some thoughts on using terrain as the foe. Hopefully I've inspired you to give the rocks another chance. If this article was interesting, you may want to take a look at something I wrote last year entitled Approaching the Vertical, which also talks about elevation changes and terrain as features of the dungeon. Until next time, keep your ten foot poles handy and bring some extra spikes and rope!

    Sunday, February 14, 2010


    I think so. I was digging through a box of old game stuff, and came across my original dice crayons in a little ziploc bag with this product label attached. The little red, yellow, and black flecks in the image are tiny bits of wax. Something tells me the crayons are probably not very useful now. :)

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    Review: ThinkGeek Bag of Holding

    I decided to pick up one of these bags after my recent trip to run my Moria game, which involved, among other things, packing up my laptop and assorted game stuff and taking it to Virginia. I've been complaining to myself about my current lame computer bag (the freebie that came with the laptop, a real piece of junk), so I took a look around. Part of the problem is that my current laptop, a Sager 9262, is a beast. Nevertheless, I poked around and found this bag, which looked like just what the doctor ordered. Reviews were scarce, but at $50 I was willing to risk being disappointed. I ordered one last week, and it arrived today, despite Mother Nature's best efforts to stop delivery.

    The bag arrived via UPS ground, well packaged and in perfect shape. Par for the course these days, but still worth mentioning. My initial impression is generally positive. The bag is made of fairly rugged gray canvas, with a black nylon shoulder strap, briefcase style handle, and trim. Nice neutral colors. The Bag of Holding logo is prominently displayed on the outside cover flap. There are lots of compartments, six total (I think). Starting from the back (dimensions are available via ThinkGeek):

    A slim outer compartment closed with a magnetic snap suitable for holding a thin ream of documents. Nicely placed for a map or other quick access, but the closure is just a single snap, so I wouldn't trust it with anything valuable.

    A padded laptop compartment. My monster laptop fits snugly, so I'm fairly certain this bag will hold most any laptop made. The padding is pretty thin, and doesn't cover the sides of the case, which is a bit disappointing. I may retrofit an additional strip of padding along the bottom of the case to supplement the poor protection offered there. The laptop compartment is closed with a zipper.

    A cavernous compartment with an interior pocket. This is a huge amount of space, easily consuming the 3.5 D&D boxed set along with my laptop's huge power brick and standard-sized mouse with room to spare. This compartment is also zippered.

    Another full width, slightly shorter compartment, also zippered. I managed to fit a full set of 1st edition books (Dungeon Master's Guide, Player's Handbook, Monster Manuals I and II, and Fiend Folio) in this compartment.

    An accessories compartment closed with a magnetic snap fastened flap. And by accessories compartment I mean 'good-sized women's purse.' There's easily room for a dice bag and miscellaneous junk, plus organizer pouches for cell phone, iPod, writing tools and other essentials.

    Finally, there's a zippered outer pocket on the main flap (which covers all but the first document compartment and laptop slot. This pocket would be ideal for cell phone, documents, mints, cigarettes, or anything you need quick access to. Since it's zippered it's a bit more secure than the first compartment.

    So how much does it hold? A LOT. I did a quick test and fit the following items:
    • Huge laptop
    • Laptop power brick (which is actually bigger than a brick)
    • Standard Mouse
    • 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, Player's Handbook, Monster Manuals I and II, and Fiend Folio
    • Three pads of paper (lined, graph, blank)
    • 3.5 edition D&D boxed set
    • Hefty dice bag
    • Flashlight
    • Sketch pad
    • A dozen pens and pencils
    • Cell phone
    I had space left over. What I discovered was I could put more stuff into the bag than I was willing to carry.
    Check out PBE Games on DriveThruRPG

    So far so good, but there are a few negatives I should mention too:
    • The two inch wide strap is unpadded, making for an uncomfortable fit with a heavy bag. Something I'll probably address.
    • The zippers seem a bit cheap, having a tendency to catch instead of sliding smoothly. We'll see if usage smooths them out.
    • The laptop compartment padding is very thin. I would have liked a bit more protection there.
    • Magnetic snaps on a computer bag? There were probably better choices available.
    • The organizers in the accessories compartment are all kind of stubby. There's no easy way to fit my mini-maglite in one.
    • It's not waterproof, something that I'll remedy with ScotchGuard.
    Overall: I think this bag is a pretty good value based on initial impressions. It has a few flaws, and I haven't really field tested it yet, but I'm pretty happy with my purchase. The fact that I can put more stuff into it than I'm actually willing to carry is a testament to its capacity. Tentative thumbs up pending field testing.

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Jar of Wisps

    This magic item is a rounded jar of opalescent, milky glass, surrounded by an ornate lattice of shiny, silvery metal. A heavy stopper, made from the same metal and set with a polished chunk of golden amber, is threaded into the jar's narrow neck, creating an air-tight seal. Under the proper conditions the jar seems to glow with an inner, golden-tinged light. The item radiates Great elemental, protection, and summoning magic, and a Great test of divination magic will reveal the item's powers.

    The Jar is a magical portal to the elemental plane of electricity and light. Each evening, when exposed to the rays of the setting sun, the Jar opens a gateway and calls forth a mindless elemental placing the creature in under the control of the Jar's owner. Each summoned elemental is stored within the Jar, which can hold up to three such creatures, until the lid is removed, releasing the creatures to do the owner's bidding. Once released from the Jar the elementals remain under the owner's control for eight hours, before returning to their own plane of existence. The elementals appear as small globes of pure yellow light, and have the following characteristics:
    • Great flight ability. The elementals are swift and agile fliers, able to stop and turn instantly.
    • Shocking Bolt - The elementals can inflict a jolting energy attack upon anyone within ten feet, inflicting average damage.
    • Illumination - The creatures can brighten or dim their form, creating a light as dim as a match or as bright as a good lantern.
    • Hypnotic Dance - The elementals can move in a hypnotic pattern which is capable of beguiling anyone looking at it (Good test of will to avoid being ensnared). Those affected mindlessly follow the elemental, enchanted by the desire to capture and hold the glimmering lights.
    The elementals are weak combatants, Having only Mediocre defenses and Poor toughness. They are immune to mundane weapons, but susceptible to magical attack. If destroyed their mundane manifestation bursts into a globe of electrical energy which inflicts Good damage on anyone within ten feet.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Using TiddlyWiki - Part 2

    In the last article in this series, we talked about obtaining and setting up TiddlyWiki for basic use. In this article I'm going to focus on using it effectively. I'm not going to go into vast detail here, first because TiddlyWiki isn't that complicated (though there are quite a few plugins available that add features), and second because I believe in the KISS principle. Let's start with the basics, creating content.

    Adding Content

    Adding content to TiddlyWiki is as simple as hitting the new tiddler link on the right sidebar and typing text. You'll probably want to read a bit about markup and tagging before you really dive in, but you don't have to. The only requirement for a tiddler is that it have a name. See how hard that was?

    Basic Markup

    The last article already talked about how to edit a tiddler. TiddlyWiki markup is a way to add headers, lists, text formatting, links and images to your tiddler. Here are some of the most commonly used markup elements:

    Basic Text - Just type. Any text without markup is treated as plain text. The edit box automatically word wraps. Use the enter key to denote the end of a paragraph.

    Headers - Headers are denoted by one or more ! characters at the beginning of a line, followed by the header text. More ! are less important headers. A typical header:

    ! Section 1
    !! Section 1.1 
    !! Section 1.2
    !!! Section 1.2.1

    Lists - List entries begin with one or more * characters for bullet lists or one or more # characters for numbered lists. Multiple markers increase the indent level. Each list entry should start at the beginning of a line. Example:

    * Bullet
    ** Nested bullet
    ** Another nested bullet
    # Numbered
    ## Nested numbered
    # Numbered again

    Text formatting - Most inline text formatting is done with two marks on either side of the text receiving the formatting.
    • Bold - double single-quotes around the text.
    • Italic - double forward slashes around the text.
    • Bold Italic - double single-quotes around double forward slashes around the text.
    • Underline - double under-bar characters around the text.
    Links - There are two types of links:
    • Internal link - Either the WikiWord name of the tiddler or the tiddler surrounded by double square brackets creates a link to the tiddler.
    • External link - An URL will automatically be translated to a link. If you want to use text and link to a URL, you can do it with double square brackets

      [[Some Text|http://rpgdump.blogspot.com]]
      creates a link called Some Text pointing to my blog.
    Images - The basic image links are [img[Image Name]] or [img[Some Text|Image Name]] where:
    • Some Text - the optional tooltip for the image when the mouse is over it.
    • Image Name - the path to the file.
    A bit more on images: If you place any images in the same folder as your TiddlyWiki, you can simply refer to them by name (no path required). You can also use a URL if the image is hosted elsewhere.

    If you want to delve further into markup (and there's more available), check out the TiddlyWiki wiki, specifically the markup page.


    Tags are labels you can apply to tiddlers as a means of organizing your information. With a little care they can provide very quick reference to both individual and groups of related tiddlers. Tags themselves are also tiddlers, so you can describe what the tag means in its own tiddler.

    To tag a tiddler, simply place a label in the tag edit box at the bottom of the edit window. Tags can be single words or multiple words surrounded by double square brackets. My personal convention is to use all lower case letters for tags to avoid name clashes with content tiddlers.

    The tags you use should fit the information you're trying to mark up. Using my recent Moria game as an example I have the following tags laid out:
    • Creatures - One tag per general creature type, for example: goblin, orc, troll. These tags get applied to the stat blocks and descriptive text for the creature, along with any  encounters that include them or locations inhabited by them.
    • Locations - One tag per broad location. For outdoor stuff, I use regions, towns or encounter locations. For dungeons, I use level names. This allows me to quickly find the relevant information for any specific locale.
    • Stats - A singular tag used to mark any stat block. It's a handy way to find any specific stat block on the fly.
    • Encounter - One tag per broad location. These match up to the location tags mentioned earlier, but are applied only to encounters. In Moria for example I have eregion encounter, hollin encounter, and moria encounter defined.
    • Other - I have a bunch of other tags, like item to mark important or unique items, rules to mark house rules or special mechanics, and magic to mark any unique magic effects or powers I might need for reference.
    Check out PBE Games on DriveThruRPG


    What? Yeah it's kind of a silly word. Transclusion is including one document inside another without cut/paste. It's a great feature supported by most wikis including TiddlyWiki. Here's how to do it:
    <<tiddler [[Some Tiddler]]>> 
    That's it. What this does is automatically put the contents of Some Tiddler inline in the new document. Any updates done to the transcluded tiddler are automatically updated anywhere it appears.

    One of the best uses of this is to include stat blocks in an encounter tiddler. Simply transclude each stat block and they'll automatically be appended to the encounter text.


    That pretty much covers the basics of how to use TiddlyWiki. There are a few best practices guidelines to keep in mind if you decide to use this tool.

    Consistent Naming - Wikis are picky about exact names and upper and lower case. Be consistent with your naming and it'll help avoid extra work. Here are the conventions I use:
    • Tiddlers - Capitalized as titles, always surrounded in double square brackets when referenced. This is the most readable way I've found to name tiddlers.
    • Prefixes - I prefix all encounter tiddlers with Encounter: and all stat blocks with Stats:. It allows me to quickly spot these crucial elements.
    • Tags - All lower case, single word if possible, but clarity of grouping is more important than using a single word.

    Save often and do backups - I have never experienced any problems with a TiddlyWiki, and I've used them for some pretty large projects. Prudence always wins though, and could save you a load of work if something goes wrong.

    One thing, one tiddler - Keep this in mind when preparing content. Transclusion makes it easy to concatenate multiple tiddlers into a summary. It's more difficult to divide a huge mess of text into individual pieces. I generally use the following types of tiddlers:
    • Overviews - a top level summary of a major location or group.
    • Locales - individual locations within a region. In dungeons these are room by room. In towns they're business by business or location by location. Outdoors I stick with natural geographic areas.
    • Stat blocks - detailed information on specific creatures, spells or items, one thing per tiddler.
    • Encounters - locale plus opponents (often including transcluded information). Basically everything needed to run the encounter.
    Link always - If you're referring to something in your text that you've already defined, link to the other tiddler. I generally do this with the first instance of a linkable word in a tiddler (i.e. the first mention of Goblins in an encounter gets a link to the Goblins summary tiddler). If you haven't defined the target tiddler yet it will show up in the Missing list on the sidebar. The real power of TiddlyWiki is being able to access related information quickly and easily.

    OK, by now you're either sold or you're running screaming from the room. Hopefully the former. I hope this pair of articles has provided some insight into using TiddlyWiki for your own campaign notes. I'm happy to answer any questions that I may have left unanswered.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Using TiddlyWiki - Part 1

    I've mentioned before that I use TiddlyWiki to store my campaign notes and write this blog. I thought it might be useful to write an article covering the basics of how to use it, along with some of the features I make use of in my campaign notes.

    First a brief introduction. If you're not familiar with TiddlyWiki, it's essentially an implementation of a full-featured wiki in a single file. That means you can carry it around on a USB stick or email it with ease. The file contains not only the content you create, but all the tools required to edit and update that content. The exceptions to the one file structure are images and external files, which are treated as external links (more on that in a bit).

    Obtaining TiddlyWiki

    Getting a copy of the empty file is easy. Simply visit the download page here or here and save locally. Once you have the file downloaded you can move it around using the standard tools provided by your operating system (i.e. drag and drop or copy commands). The basic unit of information in TiddlyWiki is a tiddler, which corresponds to an article in standard wiki-speak. Each tiddler is referenced by a name either written as a WikiWord, or, if you like spaces in your titles, [[Surrounded by Double Square Brackets]]. My personal preference is to use spaces and double square brackets, but either method works.

    If you're going to make use of TiddlyWiki, it's probably worth bookmarking the TiddlyWiki wiki site. There's a ton of useful information there. Here's the link: http://tiddlywiki.org/wiki/Main_Page


    Now that you have TiddlyWiki in hand, let's do something with it.
    • Create a new folder somewhere in your documents tree, and copy the TiddlyWiki file there. A separate folder isn't necessary, but it'll help keep linked images organized (remember they're not part of the base file).
    • Open the TiddlyWiki file with your web browser. This is probably as simple as double-clicking it, but you may have to use the File/Open menu in your browser. You should see something like the image here.
    The important features:
    • Across the top is the backstage bar, tools to deal with plugins and imports. We'll ignore that for now.
    • Below the backstage bar is the title area, defined by two editable tiddlers that allow you to set the name of your wiki.
    • On the left is the MainMenu, an editable sidebar which you can modify to suit your needs.
    • In the center is the main content area. Tiddlers you create/open show up here. Each tiddler has the following features arranged around it:
      • Top right - the tiddler interaction links. These allow you to edit, close or check references on the current tiddler.
      • Right side - the tags box will show any tags that apply to this tiddler. More on tags later.
      • Top left - the tiddler title.
    • On the right is the sidebar, providing access to basic editing and navigation features.
    Check out PBE Games on DriveThruRPG

    Customize It

    Let's do a bit of customization to make this TiddlyWiki ours. Once you're familiar with how things work you can set up a default TiddlyWiki with most of this stuff already done to save time. The default TiddlyWiki configuration automatically opens a tiddler called GettingStarted, and it's a good place to begin. You'll see several links in this tiddler. Note that they're in italics, indicating the content they link to isn't yet defined. These happen to be special shadow tiddlers, meaning the system has a default tiddler it uses if they're not yet defined. Let's change a few things.

    Click on SiteTitle to open the empty tiddler, then hit edit, which leaves you with the default tiddler edit window open. It has a main edit box, with a smaller edit box for tags at the bottom (see image). Replace the text with whatever you like. I'm going to use Demo Tiddler. Hit the done button in the tiddler interaction links. Congratulations, you've just edited your first tiddler.

    Repeat this process for the SiteSubTitle. I'll use [[RPG dumping ground|http://rpgdump.blogspot.com/]] which is a fancy way of applying a name to a link (more on that later).

    Click on the MainMenu link and edit. I'm going to set this up to provide a link to itself, to my content, and label the sections with a couple headers. Here's what I'm going to type (includes some basic markup for headers):

    !! Content
    [[The Village]]
    [[The Dungeon]]
    !! Tools
    Once you're happy with your edits, hit done in the tiddler interaction links. Note how the left menu has updated. You can click on any of these links to open the associated tiddlers (note that most of them are empty, ready for you to add content).

    Click on the DefaultTiddlers link and edit. This tiddler contains a list of tiddlers that are automatically opened when you first open the TiddlyWiki file. The default content is GettingStarted, but I'm going to change this to read:

    Last step: Fill in your user name in the box at the bottom of the GettingStarted tiddler. It doesn't really matter if you're the only person writing in this wiki, but it does let you track changes if multiple people use it.

    OK, we've done some work, let's insure we save it. Click on the save changes item in the right-hand sidebar or save in the backstage bar at the top of the page. Note that your browser will likely complain bitterly about saving a file locally. I trust the TiddlyWiki site to provide a clean source file, but if you obtain one from elsewhere be careful. To save, check the remember this choice option and hit OK in the warning dialog. TiddlyWiki saved. The final result should look something like this image. The next time you open your TiddlyWiki file, it will look the same, except the empty Introduction tiddler will be open instead of GettingStarted.

    The Sidebar

    Before I close let me run down the sidebar options quickly. That will let me focus on content next time. Most of these are pretty straightforward, but can be confusing if you're not used to wikis. From the top:
    • Search - This is a simple search box that will find any text you type and automatically open the tiddlers that contain it. Note that searching on something like ''the'' in a big TiddlyWiki can take some time.
    • Close All - Closes all currently open tiddlers. Basically cleanup the display. Tiddlers stay open until you close them so it's possible to have quite a few open.
    • Permaview - Updates your browser URL window with a link to the currently active tiddler.
    • New Tiddler - Opens a fresh tiddler in edit mode, ready for input. You can also create new tiddlers by clicking on any link that names a non-existent tiddler.
    • New Journal - Journals are special tiddlers labeled with the current date and time. Useful if you're writing a diary or session log.
    • Save Changes - Saves the entire TiddlyWiki.
    • Options - Provides access to additional configuration options, including auto-save, backups, and search controls. There's also a link here to AdvancedOptions, which allows you to tweak even more stuff.

    Tabbed Window

    This section of the sidebar changes dynamically as you add tiddlers to your TiddlyWiki. Here's what the tabs contain:
    • Timeline - A tiddler listing organized by last edit time, newest first. Handy for finding what you just changed.
    • All - An alphabetic listing of every tiddler.
    • Tags - An alphabetic listing of every tag.
    • More - Several tiddler lists that might need attention:
      • Missing - Tiddlers that are linked to, but don't exist.
      • Orphans - Tiddlers that exist but aren't linked to.
      • Shadowed - Tiddlers that have default system values, generally built-in to TiddlyWiki.

    OK, that should do it for today. At this point you should have a ready to use TiddlyWiki configured for your own project. In the next article I'll write about:
    • Basic markup - How to do headers, formatted text, lists and links.
    • Tags - How to organize tiddlers with the built in tag system.
    • Transclusion - A handy way to include one tiddler within another.
    • Organization - Some thoughts on organizing your notes.
    Stay tuned.

    Here's a link to part two.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    Demon Tail Spaulders

    This set of shoulder armor is made from a series of lames, each fashioned from the same dull brassy metal enameled with a chaotic webbing of deep red lines that shift and slither as the wearer moves. On the uppermost lame on each shoulder these lines swirl together around a horn-like protrusion that juts up and away from the wearer's neck. The Spaulders radiate Great protective and combat magic, and a Great test of divination magic will reveal their powers and abilities. Despite their name, the Spaulders do not radiate evil.

    When worn the Spaulders have the following characteristics:
    • Great bonus to physical defense, when worn with additional pieces of armor the swirling red lines extend to cover all pieces in a shimmering network of red energies, enhancing the protection gained from all worn armor.
    • Each time the wearer is struck by a physical blow, the Spaulders absorb one rank of damage inflicted. After absorbing six ranks of damage the Spaulders sprout their Demon Tails (below).
    • Demon Tails - The spikes on either spaulder come to life, growing into whip-like tentacles with a ten foot reach. Each Tail is tipped with a razor-sharp spine capable of piercing armor with ease. Each Tail carries out a Good accuracy melee attack on a random target within ten feet of the wearer, inflicting Good damage with each blow. The Tails remain active for one round per rank of damage absorbed by the armor, with additional damage absorption extending their life span. Note that the Tails do not distinguish friend from foe. If multiple targets are in range determine the chosen target randomly. The Tails continue to strike blows even if the Spaulders' wearer is knocked unconscious or slain.

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    The Necromancer's Hands

    This ghoulish item is a pair of gloves sewn together from strips and patches of human and demi-human skin, a nightmarish blend of smooth unblemished flesh and coarse green hide, each piece sewn into place with rough black thread. The gloves cover the entire hand and wrist of anyone willing to try them on, adjusting to fit any hand, child to ogre sized. The gloves radiate Superb potency necromantic magic, and a faint aura of evil clings to their patchwork flesh.

    Anyone brave enough to wear these vile gloves gains the following powers and abilities:
    • Any necromantic magic performed by the wearer gains two ranks of potency.
    • The wearer can control unintelligent undead, and communicate with intelligent varieties. Up to a dozen unintelligent creatures can be given simple orders, while intelligent undead will be favorably disposed toward the wearer unless there is reason for them to be hostile.
    • Necrotic Touch - the wearer can, at will, drain one rank of vitality from any target (melee touch attack required) and convert it to restorative energy, healing an Average wound. Drained vitality is recovered at the rate of one rank per hour, and anyone fully drained dies, then rises from the dead as a zombie under the control of the wielder. Zombies created in this way last until destroyed.
    • Raise Undead - thrice per day the wearer can raise any recent corpse as a skeleton or zombie under their control. Undead created in this way last until destroyed.
    Undead created by Necrotic Touch or Raise Undead do not count against the dozen undead that can normally be controlled. Each use of Necrotic Touch or Raise Undead has a 1% cumulative chance of activating the curse of the Necromancer's Hands. The first time the curse is activated, the gloves permanently fuse to the wearer's hands. Each additional use of the triggering powers has a 1% cumulative chance of causing one of the following:
    1. The gloves expand to cover more of the wearer's body. Each time this effect occurs the area covered expands by a palm-sized area.
    2. The wearer gains the ability to control one additional unintelligent undead.
    3. The wearer gains a one rank reaction bonus to all interactions with intelligent undead.
    4. The wearer gains a dependency on Necrotic Touch, requiring one use of the ability each day or lose one rank of vitality.
    Curse effects are cumulative. Each time a curse effect is triggered the chance of another happening is reset to 1%. Once the curse is active the gloves can only be removed with a Legendary test of dispel magic or by the death of the wearer. If the wearer is slain they revert to their normal appearance and the gloves are easily removed.

    edit: minor formatting and editing

    What Monster Are You?

    D&D Home Page - What Monster Are You? - D&D Compendium

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    Return to Moria: Player Maps

    It's Saturday, and I usually don't write a regular post on the weekends, but I thought I'd throw up links to the player maps from the first session. These were done on easel-board sized paper, then photographed, so the quality isn't the best.

    First Map
    This map depicts the exterior entrance (top), the cavern complex (left) and the goblin fort (right). Most of this area was explored Friday night.

    Second Map
    This map depicts the goblin fort (top) and the passages beyond the "Big Evil" in the pool. This area is only partially explored. Most of this was explored Sunday morning.

    Third Map
    This map depicts the area beyond the north gate leading from the goblin fort (right).  The big area in the center is the huge arena the party crossed several times during Saturday's play. Left is the switchback that lead to a miles long passage, while the bottom of the map represents the orc fort and ant colony.

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    The Spire of Frozen Dreams

    In the bitterly cold Northlands, atop a range of ice-covered mountains a slender needle-like tower rises from the shoulder of a frozen peak. The Spire of Dreams is an unnaturally tall and slender tower made from some unknown silvery metal, rising over 200 feet above the rocky outcropping that serves as its foundation. A narrow, rail-less metal stair winds around the tower's 15 foot wide shaft, eventually leading up into the bulbous chamber that sprouts from its top like a marshmallow stuck on a giant's skewer. Though it appears to be fully enclosed from the outside, some illusion magic fills the interior of the room with an endless vista of star-filled night skies.

    Legend says the Spire is a magical place, capable of revealing the path to one's true desire to anyone who dares spend a full night alone in its chill upper reaches. Few dare the bitter wastelands that surround the Spire, fewer still brave the thousand steps that lead to its icy heart.

    The Spire is the relic of a long abandoned deity worshiped by a forgotten race of men. It served as a coming of age ritual, a rite of passage that determined the individual's future role in society. The Spire is an artifact imbued with Legendary divination magic. Any individual that spends a night alone in the tower is granted a vision of the path to their heart's desire. The vision is a two-edged sword however, because it is accompanied by a compulsion to seek out the vision granted. This compulsion is extremely subtle in effect, but potent in implementation, requiring a Legendary test of divination to detect and a similar test of dispelling to remove.

    Each individual may experience the effects of the Spire but once, receiving a vision permanently changes the affected person so the tower will never again work for them.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    The Seal of Paquin

    The name Paquin is a dark stain on history. Few mages have achieved such heights or fallen so low as Paquin did. Once advisor to Kings and Emperors, Paquin ended his life a hunted fugitive and was eventually tried and convicted on charges of consorting with demons and witchcraft. After his death, a few brave souls ventured into his sealed tower, searching for treasure or magical lore. Among the items recovered was Paquin's Seal.

    At first glance this item appears to be nothing more than an ornate personal seal. It is made from a six inch long piece of ivory with a hollow handle, designed, perhaps, to hold a block of wax. The polished platinum face of the seal depicts a complex sigil surrounded by an array of incredibly tiny symbols and runes. The item radiates Superb alteration and protection magic, and a Great test of divination magic is required to determine the item's command words. Furthermore, to properly make use of the Seal special formulations of wax must be used. The formulas required are inscribed in magical runes upon the face of the seal itself, though they are so tiny that some form of perception enhancing magic is required to read them. There are three unique wax recipes inscribed upon the Seal, each requires three to five mundane and two to three special ingredients to make (obtaining ingredients can be an adventure in and of itself, powdered dragon tooth anyone?) Translating the runes and properly interpreting the process and ingredient list described is a Superb test of magical lore and/or linguistic skill. Once all the ingredients are obtained, the process of creating the waxes is a Superb test of alchemy skill.

    Once the proper waxes have been created or obtained, the Seal can be put to use by placing a small quantity of wax on the object being sealed and touching it with the Seal while speaking the command word and designating a key word that allows the seal to be broken without consequence. The wax instantly melts to form a perfect impression of the sigil embossed on the Seal (though there is no sign of the symbols and runes circling the main sigil). The resulting wax seal has one of the following properties, depending on which wax was used in the process:
    • Seal of Fire - A bright red wax that is most suited to sealing letters or similar documents. This seal can be safely broken only by speaking the key word. Breaking the seal without speaking the appropriate key causes the seal to transform into a pool of animate liquid fire that instantly consumes the object it was sealing and slithers onto whomever broke the seal, inflicting Good damage each round. The fire has Fair toughness and is unaffected by mundane weapons, but can be extinguished by normal means (i.e. water). Should the fire slay its victim it will slither toward the nearest flammable object or living creature and continue to wreak havoc until it is put out. Sample ingredients: the eye of a hellhound, the heart stone of a fire elemental, the skull of a murderer drowned in lava.
    • Seal of Iron - This oily gray wax causes whatever surface (generally a door or gate) to gleam with a metallic gray sheen. Any door or gate sealed in this way is enhanced to resist opening. The door itself gains a Superb structure bonus, while any locking mechanism or traps it contains are automatically engaged. Attempts to disarm or open these mechanical devices suffers a Superb penalty. The seal itself cannot be broken by mundane means, but should the door be forced open it disintegrates into gray powder. This seal lasts until the door is forced open, or until an appropriate key word is spoken. Sample ingredients: the heart of a gorgon, the finger bone of a giant, an earth dragon's eye.
    • Seal of Affliction - This greenish wax creates a seal that seems to quiver and pulse when exposed to the light. If it is broken without speaking the proper key word, it shatters into a million tiny fragments that swirl forth in a foul-smelling cloud. These shards instantly bond to the flesh of anyone within 10' of the broken seal. Anyone so touched suffers Paquin's Affliction (see below) unless a Superb resistance check versus magic is successful. Ingredients: a harpy's tongue, a leper's hand, the eye of a cockatrice.
    Paquin's Affliction

    Those afflicted with this magical curse must make a Great resistance check versus magic each day or suffer one of the following consequences. Removal of this potent malediction is an Epic test of dispel magic. Individual afflictions can be cured with an appropriate application of Good healing magic. The consequences:
    1. Blindness - The victim suffers magical blindness.
    2. Deafness - Magical deafness.
    3. Vitality Drain - Lose one rank of vitality.
    4. Confusion - The victim is mentally confused.
    5. Decaying Flesh - The victim is afflicted with a flesh destroying disease, suffering an Average wound each day.
    6. Babble - The victim loses the ability to speak, any attempt at speech becomes gibberish.

    I've written about some of Paquin's other magical creations elsewhere, including Paquin's Deceiving Circle and Paquin's Spellbook. He's not a nice guy.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    Return to Moria: First Session Recap

    The tldr for the lazy: Very successful first session with lots of encounters.

    I'm writing this after spending a long day driving back from the game followed by a cold night in front of the fireplace. I got home about 7 PM Monday to discover my furnace had died while I was gone. Please bear with me if this article sounds a bit frazzled. Since you've been patient enough to read my ramblings about this campaign I thought it only fair to share the fruits of the preparation.

    Friday Afternoon & Evening

    After a quick bit of organizational work (we dealt with most of that before the session in email) the entire 18 man party plus two mules set off for Moria, loaded with gear, food and grain. Their intent was to first verify the map, left to Darren, Digs and Dahryl by their somewhat deranged uncle, was actually accurate, then find a secure campsite relatively close to the entry, then start their delve, leaving part of the group on watch at the base camp. The trip was relatively easy, the only sour note the sight of three or four riders shadowing the party along their route. After discovering a promising cave leading into the mountainside the party established a base camp and headed in.

    The group spent the better part of a day exploring a series of natural caverns centered around a huge, watery, maelstrom in a central chamber. They ran into a pack of diminutive humanoids that set traps for them along a cliff-side trail, discovered a massive millstone door that they haven't figured out how to get past, traveled through a fungus-filled cavern, discovered a pair of skeletons beneath a pair of obsidian spires, and rescued a deranged old man who was apparently the survivor of a previous expedition. After backtracking and leaving the old man at the camp, the party finally found a (relatively) safe route to the Dwarf-made wall mentioned by the 3 D's uncle.

    Further scouting by the party's thieves revealed a fortified wall occupied by goblins beyond a broad stepped passage over 200 feet long. The party, a bit itchy for action, decided to harass the wall guards to see what the reaction was. With a bit of shuffling around in the dark the party managed to get the jump on the guards, killing most of them, but not before one sounded the alarm. The party started to fall back, only to be blitzed by a pack of swift running wargs. Realizing the beasts would easily run them down, the party used their elevated position on the wall to their advantage, and made pretty short work of them. The fight delayed them long enough for the warg's handler, a bestial goblin with glove-mounted blades on his hands, to attack. They eventually killed him too, and beat a hasty retreat from the additional forces approaching across a fairly open cavern beyond the wall.

    After an uneasy night at camp the party returned, intent on assaulting the remainder of the goblins. They discovered they were up against a moat protected fortification with an elevated balcony providing cover fire over most of the approach. The party started an assault, but realized they were not prepared to face a determined adversary in a fortified position and fell back. This ended Friday night's gaming.

    From the GM perspective, the entry area was a bit too complex. There were quite a few physical obstacles and I think the players got a little frustrated. I had anticipated the goblins would have been defeated by the end of Friday night's play, but it was late when the party got there. The players decided not to force a major encounter when everyone was tired, which was, in retrospect, a very good choice. I also rolled exactly zero encounters for the party camped outside.

    Saturday Morning

    The party's first attempt at the fort was side-tracked by a group of orcs, who were waiting to ambush the party near the entrance to the fort area. After a bit of indecisiveness, the party attacked in force and wiped the orcs out in short order (all hail hold person!)

    Using some clever tactics, spider climbing a fighter and cleric supported by thieves onto the balcony to take out the archers while the main force went for the main gate, they got through the defenses and pretty much wiped out the goblin force. Their leader, a tougher goblin wearing a fine shirt of Dwarven mail, challenged the party's ranger to a one on one duel, quickly knocking him unconscious. The party's paladin was going to take the next shot at him, but the others were less patient and attacked en masse. Seeing he was going to die no matter what, the goblin leader turned and jumped off the parapet, plunging over 500 feet to the cavern floor far below. The party secured the gates leading further into Moria, and searched the fort, uncovering the goblin hoard. After some debate they decided to use the fort as a base of operations and move the camp inside, uncomfortably aware that at least one goblin had escaped the fight. The party also left their mules in the care of the crazy old man they rescued from the caverns above. Apparently he was able to communicate with them somehow.

    The rest of the morning was spent securing the fort and exploring beyond the two gates leading further into the depths. The south gate led to a cavern with a huge bubbling pool in the center. A pair of frog-like humanoids retreated into this pool after being surprised by the group, and the paladin spotted something very large and EVIL in the depths. That, combined with the trio of exceedingly lifelike 'statues' near the pool's edge convinced the party they should go the other way, at least for now.

    The other gate led to a stable or stall area, where the party found the remains of three dead creatures, an over-sized wild boar (long dead), an orc skeleton, and a tiny elven figure with lime-green spots all over its skin. Beyond was a huge arena-like area with bleachers around the periphery. Several passages led away from this area and the party followed several, discovering a complex of residences and workshops taken over by a giant ant colony (which almost lead to a huge fight), a fortress held by more orcs, and a switchback descent guarded by iron drawbridges that led to a miles long passage leading further into the depths.

    GM notes: Hero points saved at least three character lives during last night's and this morning's battles. We use a deadly critical hits chart, and the players all used hero points to avoid getting hit by one. The goblin fight was a tough one, but the players did a great job of coming up with a plan and actually implementing it.

    Saturday PM

    The party spent some time arguing their next steps. Some wanted to explore further, others wanted to clear out the ant colony, while another group wanted to hit the orc-held fort. Eventually the third group prevailed, leading to a major battle. The fort consisted of a pair of walls surrounding an inner bailey, the inner higher than the outer. A stone bridge led from the top of the outer wall to a barred gate that gave access to the inner bailey. There was also a heavy timber in place that connected the two walls.

    The party managed to stealth some members to good firing positions outside the wall, then began the assault. Surprisingly most of the orcs retreated, releasing wargs to attack the party as they tried to penetrate the gates. With the party's primary combatants tied up with the wargs, the thieves and clerics were free to engage in the prime activity of the night, falling off high spots. No fewer than five characters plunged off the walls at various times, and the party's many clerics (six total) were kept busy keeping people alive. Even the poor halfling thief managed to fall off the same wall no fewer than three times.

    Eventually the party defeated the defenders, but not before they discovered the wargs were actually some sort of demi-human/wolf shape-shifters. They also encountered a gaunt and pallid human who had the ability to form weapons from his hands and fold himself into the shadows and move without being seen. At least one of the orcs disappeared beyond the interior gates, and the party, pretty banged up and almost out of spells, decided to retreat. On the way back they ran into a lone Dwarf with an obsidian staff who pretty much ignored them and disappeared into the darkness. Back at camp the night's rest was disturbed by a weird black blob-creature that disappeared in a cloud of rainbow light when slain (?).

    From the GM point of view the afternoon dragged a bit. The party got a bit tied up figuring out where to go and what to do, wasting about an hour before deciding to hit the orc fort. One of the hazards of such long sessions is we tend to not take breaks when we should and people get tired and grumpy. The fight at the fort was both hilarious and overly long. We all had a cold streak on dice and spent a couple rounds missing each other. Everyone falling off the beam between the walls was really funny, especially when the cleric actually saved someone by breaking their fall with their own body. The folding man really threw the party for a loop too. At the end of the fort fight everyone was done for the night, so we took the rest of the night off to socialize.

    Sunday AM

    Sunday sessions are generally short, as everyone generally heads for home around noon. The party bypassed the 'pool of evil' and explored the tunnels beyond, discovering a huge lake-filled cavern with yet another fortress within, a collapsed cavern full of rubble, and a nest of carrion crawlers, which they easily defeated. When they explored the nest they discovered a paralyzed but still-living Dwarf among the victims and rescued him.

    Backtracking they eventually found a natural granite shelf leading out and down into the gigantic cavern beneath the original goblin fort. They wanted to recover the nice mail shirt the goblin leader took with him so they followed this down to a hilltop covered in ruins. A pack of undead Dwarves jumped them among the ruins, leading to the final big battle of the game. With so many clerics and two paladins the party managed to kill many of the undead with those turned revealing several paths down into the cavern below. A search of the ruins turned up a very nice stash of coins and several magic items, leftovers from a previous expedition slain by the undead.

    With time running out the group retreated all the way back out of the depths and headed back to town to cash in their loot. When they returned to their original base camp they discovered the old man and their mules had vanished (hey, what do you expect if you leave your stuff in the hands of a madman?) The trip back to Hollin was uneventful, and everyone returned alive.

    GM notes: Everyone lived. Not one party death. Clearly I need to step up the deadly factor a bit. Combats with 12-18 characters are SLOW, even with a relatively quick system like 1st edition. I think the players are likely to reduce the active characters in use next time we play.

    Final Thoughts

    Reading back over this, it doesn't seem like we did much, but that might be deceiving. Some of the encounters were huge. The goblin fort, for example, was protected by over 60 goblins and wargs. The fight there ended up being three or four separate encounters. This group is big on tactical challenges, and I accommodate them, so even simple encounters tend to be pretty deep when it comes to the actual battle.

    My only disappointment with the game was that I didn't get to expand on the story elements touched on in the game. It's kind of a mixed blessing in that I have plenty of material ready for next time, but I think the story people in the group felt the lack. Hopefully I can address that next time.

    I view the game as a real success. It was initially proposed as a one shot game, and by the end of the weekend everyone was talking about 'next time'. One player suggested everyone chip in some cash to defray my travel costs so they could play more often (they're all in the greater Washington DC area, I'm in Indiana). With that kind of enthusiasm, I can't wait to play again.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    The 2009 Bestiary - Part Two

    Part One can be found here. The bestiary is a wrap up on all the creature articles from last year. Each article is referenced with a direct link and brief description for easy browsing. Tags are good, but sometimes a quick list is a good thing. Here are the rest:

    • If you're decorating a wizard's tower, Living Drapes might be just the thing.
    • Storm Swallows are constructed creatures with a shocking punch.
    • The lowly Muck Worm is an underestimated dungeon pest.
    • My own take on Mud Men, minor elementals with a thirst for the life energies of living creatures.
    • Insidious Plants introduces a variety of flora that aren't really creatures in the usual sense.
    • The parasitic Mind Eaters are a threat to sanity and intelligence.
    • Sun Gliders are a pretty basic desert predator. Hey not everyone can be a super-monster.
    • If you need a predatory plant for a swamp, Strangler Moss might be just the thing.
    • And if you need a creature for the river that feeds the swamp, there are Giant Hellgrammites.
    • Parachute Spiders are a lurking jungle predator.
    • The Saguaronid is a plant-based desert dwelling carnivore.
    • The Screwfish is a threat to unwary ocean swimmers.
    • Need a guardian for a sandy tomb or beach front temple? Sand Constructs might be a good fit.
    • Revenant Spiders are deadly necromantic hunters.
    • The Door Haunts are extra-dimensional creatures suitable for a weird horror setting.
    • Why populate the forest when the entire forest is a living Shadow Wood?
    • When is a ghoul not an undead? When it's a Jungle Ghoul.
    • The Drone Swarm is a step up from the average cloud of summer mosquitoes.
    • The floating Sea Star is a potential threat to any passing ship.
    • Shade Flock http://rpgdump.blogspot.com/2009/10/shade-flock.html is a manifestation of the plane of shadow.
    • The lowly Mageworm is a magical pest with a big appetite.
    • The Desert Wight is a potent undead foe.
    • The Eye of the Demon is an artifact manifested by the Watcher with a Thousand Eyes.
    If my count is right, and I managed to actually catch every creature post from the last year, these two articles cover 41 different creatures. There are a few stinkers in there (every bestiary needs its Flumph!) but on the whole I'm fairly pleased with most of these. I hope you find something useful for your own gaming here. If you do, please drop me a comment, I love to hear about anyone making use of these humble offerings. Good gaming!