Silverwood Forest

I have always found encounters tables to be fascinating, I think that it is because it is a very brief picture of what is on the map, listing the kinds of creatures that you can find. I am also one of those people that probably have a rather warped sense of what is beautiful. I have a deep love for the morbid and what others would assume to be terrifying. I find abandoned and rotting buildings incredible mysteries, cemeteries as relaxing gardens, I simply love tombstones, especially the big elaborate ones that folks used to make, the older the better! My wife and I are terrible, we go to a spook house on Halloween and we stand around and admire the costumes and decor.

Basically, I am a horror geek, probably a bigger horror geek then I am into D&D! With that said, I discovered a neat table which I think is simply fascinating, an enchanted forest!

SILVERWOOD FOREST

01-30: Sylvan Elves
31-35: Gnomes
36-38: Tallfellow, Halflings
39-40: Men, Light Patrol
41-42: Men, Woodsmen
43-50: Treants
51-55: Unicorns
56-00: Use Standard Faerie Encounter table


Now this is something which would totally be beyond me to figure out on my own. I can do ugly, but I seriously need to work on creating fantasy images of beauty. I mean, I can describe a dark tower and a zombie infestation, but as far as titillating encounters that are truly pleasant, well I suck at it, but I want to change that. I think a well rounded DM should be just as good with images of beauty and of goodness as they are with evil and darkness, the light should be a presence and from my experience, the light is commonly left out.

REPOST: Villian Creation

Greetings Lord Elric!" Boomed the King of Liberia, dark bags haunting his exhausted eyes, "Your kingdom has need of your services once again."

"I am always at your beckon call, your Majesty." bowed the great hero, "How may I serve you?"

"An evil wizard has moved into that cave just outside of town . . ."

"You mean the one where the Ogre Bandit's were, and the goblin horde, followed by the undead minions of that other evil wizard?" the great hero sighed.

"That is the one, you know it well." The king uttered, "This time his name is Memnotch, and he's cast a curse on our kingdom."

"Another curse . . ." sighed Elric, "Yeah, I'll tell the boys and we'll head on out there."


When badguys go stale! I'd just like to sit down with the lot of you and discuss what makes a good villain, and perhaps give you some mind-candy to saver for a bit. I noticed a great quote of Chatty's where he complained that his badguys were more like dudes running around in rubber costumes. I think that we've all been there! Take the video game Fire Emblem for example, it's one of my all-time favorites! The mechanics are great, it's the closest thing to gaming with miniatures that I have found . . . but the badguys aren't really all that bad. The only thing that sets them apart from your own side is that they laugh at their own jokes and have bad grammar. Yeah, they are hell-bent on taking over the world . . . but so are you.

Open up the Monstrous Manual, and you'll find hundreds of stats and special attacks and defenses, but these alone don't make interesting encounters. It is up to the DM to take the information presented in this book, and use it to flesh out a decent badguy . . . this is no easy task! It begs the question, "What IS a villain?" Through this post, I hope to answer these questions, and ask more, but while we do a biopsy of what makes a villain, I hope that on the other side of the coin, we will also learn what makes a great hero, and that is really what RPGs are all about.

What is a villain?

A villain is an NPC that essentially motivates your heroes to do something besides hang around the tavern all day getting drunk. His job is to kidnap the princess, murder his fellow NPCs, steal loot, attack villages, burn homes and engage in other such criminal behavior. But a better question that leads to a better villain, is WHY? Why attack the village? Why burn the homes to the ground? What is the villain hoping to achieve? In the above example about the evil wizard moving into that damned cave that should had been sealed up years ago. Why is he cursing the city? Is it just so that the characters can go beat him up, steal his loot and acquire experience points? Well, if so then this isn't good enough.

A villain NEEDS to be memorable. He needs to be the backbone of the campaign, in a sense, if your PC's aren't going after this guy using their own resources and money, then you could improve him. They need to hate him, even when they aren't sitting around the table. You want your players to draw pictures of him and throw darts at it, complain about him constantly to each other on the phone. He needs to be a constant thorn in their side. In a word, he needs to win! He needs to humiliate the PC's, to use them as he sees fit. You do this, and when the payoff comes, when the PC's get him and finally defeat him, they'll be jumping out of their chairs, high-fiving and screaming in triumph. They'll get that sense that they DID something. In a word, create a villain that PC's love to hate, and the rewards speak for themselves. They'll think that you are the best DM of all time!

But how do you do this?

First off, it isn't about min-maxing the villain's stats. You don't even need to have an epic monster to create a thrilling villain that your players will love to hate. You don't WANT him to be invincible, this'll only frustrate and discourage your players. He needs to be vile, not a god.

Fear

Fear is how you motivate your PCs. Scare the crap out of them! Surprisingly enough, fear is hard to achieve through a role-playing game, and I really don't want to get into creating settings, but there are ways of using your villain to insight fear into your players, even with all of the lights on, and the TV blaring in the next room.

Invulnerability

Again, I'm not talking about him being invincible, that just leads to boredom. There are lots of monsters that can only be stopped by certain methods or items. During the first encounter, make the PC's run away with their tales between their legs. They CAN'T stop him yet, they can only thwart his plans if they play their cards right. You would be surprised at how angry players feel when they lose an encounter, when they have to flee. The next free moment they get, it will be talking between themselves about how to deal with this thing, which of course leads to excellent role-playing. But in the back of your mind, you need to know where the villain is vulnerable at, just don't come right out and say it, make the players research it, and discover it on their own.

Plan ahead! Pit 5th LV characters against a high level monster, no they can't defeat him now . . . and even folks who've read the MM will know this, and it will scare them. Maybe the villain has a use for them, PC's are generally more successful at hard tasks then anybody that the Villain could hire, this is up to you, but it also leads back to motivations, where is the profit in killing PC's when they pose no threat to you? Especially when you can use them as messengers of your power, and free heralds of destruction!

Intelligence

One of the biggest sins and disservices that a DM can do to a monster, is ignoring it's intelligence. If a Lich is a super-genius, then why is he staying up in a tower waiting for PCs to come along and kill him? How do you role-play something that is smarter then you? It's not that hard, once you know. A genius monster is going to be smart enough to have a plan for everything that the hero can through at it. It is going to be able to anticipate their every move, and set devious traps to slow them down. Listen to your PC's as they talk and plan their attacks and plans, just assume that the Genius is already aware of this and it fits right into his evil plans. A genius can anticipate exactly what the PC's are doing at any given time, this forces the players to up their own game. If they come up with some incredible plan that really pushes the game along, then make it work! Reward them for their ingenuity, but at the same time, punish them for being overly predictable. If they try to use the same tactic twice, make sure that it fails.

Playing up on INT, can turn even little gremlins that are tiny in size, into awesome advisories who's devious traps will scare the crap out of gamers.

Phobias

Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?

This can be a bit touchy, and a word of warning to the Evil DM's out there, use your own judgment with using phobias, because if you play them too hard, it could cause you to lose a friend. Play up on them, but don't over do it, know how hard to push and make sure that you push no harder then you really have to.

With that warning out of the way, people DO have odd phobia's. Some folks hate spiders, others the mere sight of a snake is enough to get them up on their chairs screaming. I'm not saying to dump out a box of snakes onto the table, but play up on the natural fears of your players, especially with illusionists. Illusionists make great villains! Everybody knows a Necromancer and what they can do, but Illusionists can carve terrors that are individual and unique for each player at your table. As an example of this, I'll bring up Stephen King's book IT, when the kids were all grown up and wrapping things up during their first meeting, IT attacked them while they were opening up their fortune cookies by giving each of them a unique terror to chew on. So drop them into pits of snakes, and describe the snake pit with agonizing clarity and detail, but like I said, don't over do it. If your friend is especially vulnerable to a given phobia, be mature about it and just back off and leave it alone.

Insanity

The thing that makes Batman such a great hero, is his villains. They are dark, scary, and utterly insane! Insanity scares people, and rightfully so! It's unpredictable. DM's typically claim that a character is insane, but they don't play it that way. Insane characters live by their own rules, and in their own private worlds. They aren't stupid, and there is always logic behind everything that they do, it's just not obvious to normal people. Sadistic and homicidal impulses are evidence of insanity, not the disease itself. This can be a handy tool for the pc's to finally take this guy down. Discover his method of thinking, the logic that he is using, and turn it against him. The Joker is one of the most popular villains of all time! The man isn't stupid, he is cunning and a time bomb that will go off. He isn't as crazy as he pretends to be, but at the same time he is driven to commit crimes that are easily predictable, because he WANTS Batman to show up. The Joker is a great character because he isn't one dimensional, just because he's insane, doesn't mean that he's not greedy, ruthless, intelligent, or arrogant, because he is all those things as well.

Political villainy, and the need for power

An evil wizard living in a cave outside of town is just waiting for heroes to come along and kill him, now what if you take this wizard and put him inside of the city itself? All collateral damage caused by taking this powerful being out, will be laid upon the heads of the players themselves. Why not just seal up the cave outside of town? This problem is easily remedied, but if, for example, the sewers are infested with wererats, one can't just cause the sewers to collapse as it would cause the city to be destroyed as well, not to even mention the fact that you can't seal off the sewer system, it gives the rats access to everything that they desire.

But lets make the villain even more powerful! Now that we've moved the wizard out of the country, and into the city, why not give him an even more powerful profession, like a trusted adviser to the king. Not all attacks against the PC's need be physical. A villain can use his power to turn entire kingdoms against the heroes by framing them for crimes that they didn't commit, spreading lies about them, doing this can cause their homes and forts to be seized, there assets frozen, their loved ones jailed. This takes the attack on a personal level that simply taking hitpoints away from a PC can never do, nor do the PC's have the luxury of simply ignoring the villains behavior. A good villain will NEVER enter a fight that he knows that he can't win, not to mention that a villain of this kind of power is not immediately obvious, he's not wearing a sign that points him out as the bad guy. He's hiding, he already has the ear of the king, the people love him, he's a trusted member of society, he's a master of doing this. If the PC's, upon the discovery simply go out and kill him, then their actions would have serious repercussions! They are forced to work with him, until he does screw up in some way that isn't at first obvious, but does lead to him being caught red-handed with the smoking gun, and no way of being able to talk his way out of the situation . . . and even then, it may lead to him being banished, where he can spend every waking moment devising a plot to have his revenge on those that caused his defeat in the first place.

The key is power, and properly identifying what power is. Give the villain the spoils of his victories, he needn't be a stat-stacked crusher that inflicts 12d20 points of damage per hit. Not when he can spread fear through his political power.

Paranoia

With a politically powerful villain, his attacks against the PC's should induce in them a sense of paranoia. Crush them, turn all of the NPC's against them. They are use to being the hunters, reverse it. Hang wanted posters, with rewards so high that they'll be targeted by everyone. Give them the sense that they are just prey, now it is THEM who are forced to live and operate in that dumb little cave outside of town. If they are discovered in town, the police will chase them down and arrest them, mobs will rise and lynch them. Isolate them, this is the stuff that fear is made of! Not even a cool Coke and a handful of cheetohs will destroy the mood then!
It needn't even be a political enemy, actually USE them dopplegangers! Make them question the motivations of everyone that they encounter . . . maybe, even of each other! Use paranoia to build suspense, it's a tool that the villain will use to psychologically defeat the heroes without outright killing them.

Spook Show

Not all villains dog your heroes around every turn, you'll need to feed them something that keeps the PC's feeling like they are accomplishing something. You also need to incorporate minor villains, but even these shouldn't be weirdos in rubber suits. As much as I hate to do it, some villains do require a special setting that will enhance the scenario. STEAL!!! Who out there doesn't enjoy the thrill of sitting down and watching spook shows? Treat your players to a night in a haunted mansion where they must solve the mystery of the place . . . which could point back into the direction of your main villain, but it doesn't have to. A big part of any story is putting your red-haring into the fray. Just give the PC's something fun to do for the night. A beloved NPC has been stricken with lycanthropy and isn't aware of the crimes that they are committing . . . or maybe they are but are ashamed and too afraid to just come out and say it. Force the Players to help the werewolf none violently. A city terrified of vampires, and a band of bandits who exploit this fear. Short little paranormal stories are always fun and are easy to invent with a little creative juice applied. Have them hunt witches, and uncover secret cults worshiping sinister fiends. Little murder mysteries, stereotypical horror stories, sometimes it pays to go overboard! Sometimes, the settings themselves can be good villains, use them to produce the right amount of fear, sometimes it's fun when everybody knows what's coming, but their alignment forces them to go against their better judgment anyway.

Hatred

Okay, now we've talked about fear, and how a villain will use this to motivate your heroes. Lets now talk about another element that is needed to make a memorable badguy, HATE!

Hate is a strong word, and again, like fear, hatred isn't easy to produce in a Role-playing game. You can't just come out and describe somebody to your characters as, "You hate this guy." . . . well, I guess that you could, but it is much more satisfying to actually earn your hatred the old fashion way. By making your PC's fear your badguy, this will lend some hatred for him, but there are other ways to really bring this emotion about.

Again, great care must be applied here. You want the players to hate the villain, not you personally. The downside of creating hatred is that it can be taken personally, but with mature gamers hatred's upside is that it helps the player's suspend their disbelief, and we all know that this contributes to the element of an unforgettable game.

Loved Ones

I do believe that Chatty calls this a symptom of an evil DM . . . thus a Bad DM. I will agree, to a fault that if it is over used, then yeah, you're a crappy DM. However, with that said, you want to create hatred as a hero motivation, then kill a loved one. Of course in order to do this, you as a DM have to create excellent NPC's, which from reading this board, I can tell that as a rule, you're all pretty good DM's. I always let my players create the best NPC's, you don't want to get caught doing this. You don't create a wife for one of your heroes, just so that you can kidnap and kill her. You don't want your PC's to fear creating bonds with NPC's because its a weakness, you want to encourage them to do this. Information is a great source for creating a popular NPC, somebody that the character goes to to get ideas, tools, or supplies. A brave soldier who the party shared a couple of adventures with, or a constable that they trust to arrest minor villains. When killing an NPC that the PC's like, always make sure that it is a big deal. Give them a glorious death! It might not have to be an NPC either, if your players aren't taking your Villain seriously, don't hesitated to kill one of them. Once a hero is dead, use this as well. Somebody thinks that your Zombie Lord is a wimp, kill them and bring them back as a monster later on down the road. You NEED to show, first hand, how dangerous your lead villain is. You need to express his cruelty and that he's a force not to be taken lightly. This goes back to fear, but you also want to instill hatred. Force the PC's to witness his cruelty first hand, give the choice to them if they try and help a NPC, or chase after your monster who did this. Maybe he doesn't outright kill a character, he tortures them and leaves them mangled but alive in a way that not even magic can heal, making the PC's themselves put the NPC out of their misery.

No matter what you do, make sure that the end result is that the Players want vengeance. Real vengeance, not the kind where they expect some kind of reward for hunting this guy down, but that vengeance itself is the reward.

Thou shall covet and steal

When you are playing a game, do you really care if the villain is stealing from the king, or that bandits are robbing rich merchants? No, I don't think that anybody does, yet this scenario is played and replayed more often then reruns of Gilligan's Island. The key here is to create real hatred towards a villain, and he's not going to be able to do this unless he makes his goals personal to the PCs.

The PC's have AWESOME stuff! +2 Swords, Gems of True Seeing, surely your villain is keeping up on the swag owned by your players, and chances are that he is also of the opinion that he can find much better uses for this fabulous stuff then they can. TAKE IT!!! Steal it! And most of all, use it against them. Why not just steal stuff, but replace them with cursed items. A good villain has all the time that he needs! He can easily create a cursed sword that looks just like their enchanted one, don't tell the PC "Oh, you're sword is now cursed." there's no fun in that. Let the player discover it for themselves. Why not put poison in their potions of extra-healing? Why not replace a pouch with a bag of devouring? If the party's got too much money, then take it! Heck, you can even give them stuff for them to enjoy for a bit, just to take it away and be used against them.

Magical items are great motivators, not just for Player Characters, but for Villains as well. In the current game that I'm running, I've created an Artifact that must be put together, and it's a race against the villains, with theft going on left and right! Indiana Jones has some of the best villains! After risking their skins in some haunted temple, acquiring this amazing object of value to them, imagine their dismay when they find the villain waiting for them on the outside, and he's got them completely surrounded. They are already weakened by the struggle inside, now they find out that they've got no choice but to hand this thing over to the badguy who you find out used you, but he's also got the nerve to laugh at you while he's doing it!

Make it real

You know your players, and can use your villain to do things that they personally can't stand. Say you have an environmentalist at your table, have your villain burn down entire forests just to cause a distraction away from him while he accomplishes his real goals. Have him abuse animals, enslave children to work his mine, beat and rape women. Attack their sensibilities! But also role-play. Give them thoughts and opinions that make people mad, the villain can be racist, sexist, arrogant, close-minded, a liar, selfish, greedy, and just possessing an over-all bad attitude. Don't be afraid to let your villains talk in this manner, PC's as a general rule, aren't really looking at you when your saying it, but imagining that it is coming out of the character that they are seeing in their heads.

You can also give them annoying habits, picking their teeth, tapping obsessively or making some other annoying sound when you're roleplaying them to show that they aren't really giving the PC's all of their attentions. Mock the PC's, point out all of their short-comings, BE THE BAD GUY! And do go out of your way to insure that the PC's do get to do some roleplaying with them at some point, just so that they can get to know the villain on a personal level as well.

Betrayal

If you want to know what real villainy is, watch a wrestling show. Pro-wrestlers are experts of the psychology of it all. A slighted NPC will have no qualms about hiding his real feelings in regards to the PC's until the moment that it is time to act. PC's like to steal stuff off of dead enemies, make this come back to haunt them, but not all betrayal is so involved. Think deviously, and hide your villains well. Not all badguys are obviously vile, some are very good at hiding their true selves and are quite impressionable! The Princess who implements her saviors as the ones who kidnapped her to begin with, the PC's believing that a tribe that they have found losing a war, are actually the initiators of it.

The key to successful betrayal is that it is a huge plot twist, something that the players took for granted that it was set in stone, was in fact a lie, and they find themselves trapped in the middle or on the wrong side completely. They were tricked into doing something awful, or perhaps they take pity on the wrong guy. Even minor villains can be made more important this way, and it is remarkably easy to pull off successfully. PC's don't talk with NPC's as much as they should, you can easily put a villain into a situation and hide them right out in the open, keeping them quiet and acting all interested in what is happening, when all they are really doing is simply waiting for the PC's to find something that they'll snatch and leave the PC's cursing because they were there the entire time and played them for a fool.

Your main villain also shouldn't be obvious, a genius character is never going to implement himself. Good main villains can be mentors, or even family members. It will throw the players for a loop when they uncover the identity of their tormentors, and beg the question of "Why?" thus creating great roleplaying possibilities as the heroes may at first be reluctant to do anything about them, and try to forgive them . . . but of course we can't let an ending as simple as that to happen, now can we?!

Conclusion

There you have it. The ingredients to cook up a nasty villain! Fear and hatred, that's all it takes. Mix and match the above suggestions and give those stats listed in the MM some class and character. Give them personality and style that is immediately recognizable to the players, and make them cringe when they encounter them and/or their minions. A word, a phrase, an M.O.! This will give flesh to your cardboard cut-out NPC's, and motivate your players into being the Heroes that they strive to be.

Guide To Scrolls

We’ve talked about potions, and now it is time for what most probably is the DM’s least favorite treasure to dish out. No, I’m not talking about flaming swords or Rings of Spell-Turning, no, I’m talking about the dreaded Scrolls! These things are a huge pain in the bottom. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I roll these things up then I pray and plead, and probably whine to the gods of the dice to just let it be a protection scroll, but it never fails. POOF! It comes up a wizard spell or some crap.

There is no easy way to do this. Scrolls are, by their own nature, an evil necessity. It is also kept brief to allow us better control over what spells that our wizards have access too.

Today we’ll be doing a whole bio of these time consuming things, both random and character created, so lets have some fun shall we!

SCROLLS, THE LOW-DOWN

According to the Player’s Handbook:

Scrolls: Scrolls are a convenience and luxury for spellcasters. By reading the incantation written on the pages, the priest or wizard can instantly cast that spell. He does not need to memorize it, have the material components handy, or do any of the things normal spellcasting requires. Experienced and powerful wizards normally spend their evenings preparing such scrolls for their own adventuring use.
Some scrolls are usable by all characters, granting special but temporary protections from various dangers—evil creatures, werewolves, powerful beings from other planes, etc. Other scrolls bear hideous or humorous curses, brought into effect at the mere reading of their titles. Unfortunately, the only way to know what a scroll contains is to silently scan its contents. For scrolls containing wizard spells, this requires the use of a read magic spell. Other scrolls can be read by all. This scan does not cast the spell written on the scroll, but it tells the character what is written there (and exposes him to the effects of curses). Once the scroll is read, it can be used at any time in the future by that character.


Again, nice and straight forward.

SCROLL RESEARCH

Scroll research is one of the most important benefits of the spell casters class. It is probably through scrolls found during an adventure which allows the wizard to find a new spell to add to his spell book, and it is also how the DM can introduce brand new priest spells into the campaign world.

Of course I am assuming that you know how magic works, but for a brief and sloppy rehash, Priests can pray for ANY spell within their spheres of influence, and Wizards can only memorize spells that they have written into their spell books.

With that said, once a Priest is aware of a spells existence, then he can pray to his god to grant it to him, requiring that he has access to that sphere, of course. This is more important to a wizard, however, because if he finds a new spell written on a scroll, he must make a decision: Should he cast the spell, or add it to his spell book?

The wizard must still research the spell, but it is at half the cost and takes half the time as normal, and he still has to roll to see if he can learn the spell. If he succeeds in learning it, then he can add it to his spell book, but either way the spell disappears from the scroll, its magic was spent because the mage had to analyze the effect. Unfortunately, this kind of research can not be completed just anywhere, and never during adventures. You have to have carefully controlled environments to master the effects and record your success and failures accurately.

SCROLL CAPACITIES

Scrolls can be no longer then 25 pages long, of course this is a misleading sentence, by pages I mean an equivalent because the scroll is just one piece of paper that is rolled up. Each spell requires an amount of space equal to the spells level, plus an additional 1d6-1 pages.

A scroll may not be completely filled, as it is sometimes preferred by some wizards to hide protective devices and traps which will trigger against those who may steal the scroll from them . . . now who would go and do a nasty thing like that?

CREATING YOUR OWN SCROLLS

Experienced players know what a time saver that this is, and any wizard of 9th level, or priest of 7th level can create them. A character cannot create a scroll to a spell that he doesn’t know, it must be in his spellbook, or previously granted to him by his god in the case of a cleric. Protection scrolls are a bit different then spell scrolls; in order to properly do it, the protective spell has to fall within the purview of the characters art, or current spell list. As long as the wizard knows the spell, he can start fabricating it, all he needs is a few tools of the trade, and you guessed it! They are expensive little buggers.

The Quill: A normal, run of the mill common pen will not do! We are talking about serious magical forces here, and manipulating them demands only the best. Quills can sometimes come from an animal that can cast the spell, such as the tail feathers of a cockatrice is used for transcribing the flesh to stone spell, tips of bone, wisps of hair, the nature of magic is mystery, and the more mysterious one makes it the better. A wizard who hand picks his own quill improves his chances of success by 5%.

The Paper: Again, the scroll must be capable of excepting the magic. Paper is a commodity in most D&D settings, it is worth more then gold! True paper works the best (+5%), hand woven parchment is also preferred, especially among adventuring mages (0% but it holds up a bit better under stress then paper). In a pinch, one can use Papyrus, however the papyrus plant itself tends to taint wizard spells (-5%) OPTIONAL RULE: Spells that effect plants or are earth based gain a 5% bonus when scribed on papyrus

The Ink:The last, and most important ingredient to writing scrolls is the Ink itself! This is where the DM can get creative, as things can be brewed into the ink. Few wizards trust store bought inks, unless the ink is from a reputable source and specifically designed for magical inscriptions. Many wizards demand to have specially made ink for each scroll, and the inks must compliment the spell, for it is in the ink itself that is hidden the components needed to charge the words once they are spoken.

Once all of the ingredients have been acquired, finally the spell caster can begin scribing the spell. The wizard must have their spell books at hand to guide their work, while priests must work on a specially constructed alter, the actual process takes 1 full day per spell level, this includes short naps and bites of food. If at anytime the spell caster gets interrupted while transcribing the scroll, it was all for naught, the entire project is ruined.

After the work has all been completed, the DM secretly checks for success. The base chance is 80%. This number is either increased or decreased by the numbers above for the materials used. The level of the spell is also taken into account, -1% per level is subtracted from the base, however the spell caster gains a +1% per his level. This number is checked with a percentile dice.

Example: Memnock, the 12th level mage(+12%) is making a scroll of 5th level (-5%). He’s using parchment (+0%) and the feather of a griffon which he plucked from the beast himself(+5%)! Giving Memnock a 92% chance of success.

Failure indicates that the spell will fail once it is cast, but the player won’t be aware of this. The scroll will also be cursed in some way, if remove curse is cast on it, the entire scroll will turn to dust. A single scroll can contain 1 to 6 spells, the number determined randomly by the DM. The player can never be certain of the amount of space required, even for the same spell on two different scrolls.

A failed attempt takes up all of the scroll, now naturally a scroll could have spells that worked correctly before the failed attempt, in cases like this, they are normal and only the failed spell will curse the user once it is read.

If you’re reading a scroll that you yourself have prepared then you don’t need to cast read magic to cast it.

SCROLLS AS TREASURE

To figure out the XP value of the scroll, add up all of the spell levels and multiply them by 100. Easy as pie! Of course the hard part is picking out which ones to give to the players.

The scroll itself is usually found in a cylinder or tube of some kind, made of anything that your devious mind can conceive: from Ivory to leather. To make them more of a mystery you can have magic runes or some other kind of writing that the wizard must cast a read magic or comprehend language to open it. If we are feeling particularly mean we can also trap the scroll with symbols, explosive runes, and curses.

Each scroll is written differently, so a wizard can find a hundred scrolls with the same spell and still not be able to identify it without first using read magic each and every time. Once that particular scroll has been deciphered, the mage or cleric can cast the spell at any time that he or she wishes.

It is worth noting that even a scroll map will appear to be unreadable until a the proper spell is used to decipher it (usually comprehend languages). Also, a cursed scroll doesn’t radiate any evil or betray its existence until the spell is read.

The only scroll which can be read by any character without the use of a read magic spell are protection spells, these are immediately apparent and should be identified immediately. Wizards can only use wizards spells, Priests can only use Cleric spells, Thieves, can of course, use both.

SPELL LEVELS

One of those bizarre things that many folks don’t know is that the level of the wizard who wrote the scroll is used to determine what level the spell is cast at, NOT the character casting the spell. Actually, if you think about it, this makes perfect sense! A mage created the scroll for himself, and he can set the casting level as he wishes, this changes the spells characteristics (range, duration, area of effect, etc.), typically, the casting level is set at least 1 level higher then that required to cast the spell, but never below 6th level of experience.

In other words, a 6th level wizard spell is written at 13th level of ability, and a 7th level spell is set to 15th level. This will allow DM’s to make scrolls more powerful by increasing the level at which they are written, but of course this will also effect the chances of the spell failing. Hee hee hee

MAGICAL SPELL FAILURE

A spell which is inscribed at a higher level then the caster has a chance of just fizzling out. There is a 5% chance of this happening per level difference. Thus, a 1st level character attempting to cast a wish inscribed at an 18th level of experience (18-1 = 17; 17 x 5% = 85%) has an 85% chance of failing.

Once a failure has been indicated, we roll again, just to see what happens. There is always a chance that the spell may not just fizzle out, but actually screw up! reversing the spell, or in some other way becoming harmful for the person casting it. Table 112 in the DMG dictates the results.

Caster Level Difference: Reverse or Harmful Effect indicated
1-3: 5%
4-6: 15%
7-9: 25%
10-12: 35%
13-15: 50%
16+: 70%


USING SCROLLS

When a scroll is copied into a spellbook, or read to release its magic, the writing completely and permanently disappears from the scroll, the paper itself wilts and/or is destroyed, a scroll of 4 spells becomes a scroll of 3 spells. No matter what a player tries, a spell on a scroll is only usable once. Of course, there are rumors out there that very powerful mages from ancient times have been able to create scrolls that can be read once per week, now THAT is some powerful magic there, and this could just be a rumor.

CASTING SCROLL EFFECTS

Reading a scroll effects your initiative, thus, one must state that they are going to read a scroll prior to his initiative. Protection scrolls always have the reading times listed in their explanation, thus if you come up with new protective scrolls, don’t forget this in your own descriptions.

A scroll requires only sufficient light to read by, and that the caster can speak normally and freely. Infravision may or may not be powerful enough to read a scroll by, I know in my games standard Infravision of 60’ isn’t capable of reading a scroll in the dark, but 120’ Infravision is.

If the caster is hit by an attack or stops reading for any reason, the spell will fizzle and be ruined, however no adverse effects will ever happen if these events.

PROTECTION SCROLL 101

Protection scrolls can be used together, their effects are cumulative, however the duration will always stay the same. It is also worth saying that these things can never be used as an offensive weapon, if the scroll is intended to ward a specific creature away, and the warded character corners the specific creature, giving him no where safe to flee, then the protective ward is considered to be broken and disappears. I think that every body tries that trick at least once, and it should always fail.

RANDOM SPELL LEVELS

A DM should always set the spell levels himself, however this isn’t always practical. Thankfully Table 90 in the DMG makes things pretty easy to determine randomly, but you’ll still need to pick and choose the appropriate spells by hand picking them from the PHB.

They say that you can randomly chose spells too, however, regardless of how much of a pain in the butt it is to hand pick them, we can better control our games if we insist upon it. Remember, a wizard can always chose to add this into his spellbook, even if he has to save it for months to do it, and if our wizard becomes to strong for our games, well, it is our fault for giving him the ammo to do it.

CURSED SCROLLS

We should be as mean as possible when constructing our curses. Naturally, a 1st level mage can really be destroyed by too mean of a spell, as he probably doesn’t have the funds required to have the curse removed, so these should be as annoying to the victim as possible without actually making it dangerous. Curses shouldn’t ever be pretty, maybe for low level wizards their eyes always glow giving reducing their CHARISMA score until they can afford to have it fixed. Maybe they become natural rain water starts to burn them, or anytime they touch gold it turns it into wood? For high level play, were a fellow character has access to remove curse, these can be dangerous as you can make them.

Of course, devising curses is an art. We have to be careful that we don’t accidentally give them another attack, or a special power such as making metal items that they touch instantly rust, or something along those lines. Players are crafty little buggers, they don’t need help in the gaining new powers department.

Guide to Potions

Today I want to talk about Potions. The ultimate gamble! Lets see what the Players Handbook says about these things?

Potions and Oils: Magical potions and oils are easily found but hard to identify. They come is small bottles, jugs, pots, or vials and clearly radiate magic if a detection spell is used. However, the effect of any potion is unknown until some brave soul tries a small sample. The results can be quite varied. The imbiber may discover he can float or fly, resist great heat or cold, heal grievous wounds, or fearlessly face the greatest dangers. He may also find himself hopelessly smitten by the first creature he sees or struck dead by a powerful poison. It is a risk that must be taken to learn the nature of the potion.


Well, that is better put then anything that I could write! But lets look further into these things, because often times, we don’t run them correctly. I know that the natural impulse is to just identify them from the get go, but this seriously rips off the mystique which should go with finding these wondrous beverages and oils!

CREATING MAGICAL POTIONS

Creating these things is very similar to CREATING MAGICAL ITEMS. A Wizard must be at least 9th level, and a Priest must be 7th level to brew and create his/her own potions. Just because a player knows a spell, doesn’t mean that he instantly knows how to create a potion that does the same thing. He still has to research the potion to find out everything that is involved, and spend some time in his lab to actually brew the stuff up.

The cost should be either the equivalent of the XP listed in the DMG (up to 1000gp), or if you want to make it more available, as low as 200gp. The exact nature of the ingredients is up to you. A wizard spends this money in his lab, and a priest must construct an alter or a shrine. All of the ingredients are burned up during the process.

The exact process is: First we take the price it cost to make, and divide that number by 100. This will give us the number of days that it takes to brew the potion up, infuse it, distill it, decant it, and finally extract the potion. For instance, a potion costing the full 1,000gp would take 10 days of uninterrupted work, breaking only to sleep and eat some here and there.

After the work is done, it is the DM’s turn. He secretly rolls percentile dice to see if the potion worked or not. To determine the percentage chance of success, we start with a base chance of success of 70%. For every 100gp worth of ingredients, we subtract 1%. For every two levels of the spellcaster (round fractions down), 1% is added to the base. Thus, Ruport the 14th level mage has been working on a potion that cost him 1,000gp to produce. Our base is 70%, we subtract 10% (1,000 ¸ 100 = 10) giving us 60%, but we add 7% because he’s 14th level, giving Ruport a 67% chance of successfully brewing the potion. Of course, if the wizard fails, the we DMs get to decide what happened, either the thing has become a Potion of Delusion or outright poison! And the funny thing is that the person who brew it up won’t know if it is good or bad until it’s too late, WA HA HA HA HA!!!!

THE CRUNCHY PARTS OF POTIONS

Opening and drinking a potion has to be announced prior to rolling initiative, as it modifies it by +1. The potion itself doesn’t take effect until an additional initiative modifier delay of 1d4+1 has passed, THEN the full magical effects become evident.

Oils are a bit different. They are poured over the body or smeared on what you want to effect, but they too have a speed factor delay of 1d4+1 to the initiative.

OPTIONAL CORE RULE

The exact formula can be reverse engineered if the wizard/priest has a sample of the potion that he wants to make, otherwise all spell research rules apply.

IDENTIFYING POTIONS

This is risky business which never fails to provide hours and hours of good entertainment to everybody who isn’t trying to identify the potion. With just a little taste, not enough to deplete the effect, or last for long, the player must put just a touch on his tongue, from there as successful wisdom check (done secretly by the DM) will either identify the concoction, or mis-identify it. He may not know exactly what it is, but he will have a good hint of what it does.

For example: You feel a bit lighter (Potion of Flying), You feel kind of refreshed (Elixir of Health), Is it cold in here, or is it just you? (Potion of Resistance to Heat)

It should also be noted that not all potions are uniform. A Healing Potion created by a grand gray elf wizard will taste, look, and probably smell much different then the same potion created by a hoodoo lady deep in the swamp. Have fun with it!

DURATION

Most potions have times listed, but a few don’t. What do you do? Well, the core rules say that if the duration isn’t listed, then it is assumed that the potion will last for 1d4+4 complete turns.

COMBINING POTIONS

Speaking of having fun with it, one of the things that makes 2e so much good fun is what happens when two potions are actually intermingled with each other. Of course this includes drinking a potion while the other one is still in effect.

  • A potion of delusion always mixes well with anything.
  • A potion of treasure finding always yields a lethal poison.

Any other combination and, if we remember, we DMs will roll a 1d100 and check the results, or we can just pre-set the result if we’ve got a plot hook in mind.

01 Explosion. If two or more potions are swallowed together, internal damage is 6d10 hit points. Anyone within a 5-foot radius takes 1d10 points of damage. If the potions are mixed externally (in a beaker, say), all withn a 10-foot radius suffers 4d6 points of damage, no saving throw.

02-03 Lethal poison results. Imbiber is dead. If externally mixed, a poison gas cloud of 10-foot diameter results. All withink the cloud must roll successful saving throws vs. poison or die.

04-08 Mild poison causes nausea and the loss of 1 point each of Strength and Dexterity, no saving throw. One potion is cancelled and the other is at half strength and duration. (Determine randomly which potion is cancelled).

09-15 Potions can’t be mixed. Both potions are totally destroyed—one cancels the other.

16-25 Potions can’t be mixed. One potion is cancelled, but the other remains normal (random selection).

26-35 Potions can’t be mixed. Both potions function at half normal efficacy.

36-90 Potions can be mixed and work normally, unless their effects are contradictory and cancel each other out.

91-99 Compatible result. One potion (randomly selected) has 150% its normal efficacy. The DM can rule that only the duration of the augmented potion is extended.

00 Discovery. The mixing of the potions creates a special effect—only one of the potions will function, but its effects upon the imbiber are permanent. (Note that some harmful side effects could result from this at the DM’s discretion.)


NEW POTIONS

Well, maybe new potions. With so many products out there, and the inferior method of which they are cataloged whose to know for sure?

ELIXIUM OF NEUTRITIUM: This potion, once drunk will allow the user to live with neither food or drink for 1d4 weeks. If food is eaten before the effect is worn off it is rejected and the character spends 1d2 rounds throwing up. This includes other potions. 500XP

OIL OF DISMISSIVENESS: This oil causes whatever it coats to become ignored. The item isn’t invisible, it simply isn’t looked at and if somebody attempts to look at it they get distracted by something else and forget to try to look at it again. The oil can either coat up to the following items or weapons; 4 size L , 8 size M, 12 size S. If armor is coated, the person themselves is instantly dismissed. Persons under the effects of the oil of dismissiveness are always allowed to surprise an enemy, however once an attack is made, that person is noticed until he stands still for one round, or if there is another target for the enemy to attack nearby, he will chose that target instead. Worth: 200XP

POTION OF THE BLACKEST DEATH: This potion is easily misidentified as Potion of Undead Control 50% of the time, those who drink it transform into an undead creature, willingly taken, the drinker must make a saving throw vs. polymorph. Success means that they still turn into the undead, and possess all of its powers but their personality remains their own, failure indicates that the drinker becomes that undead in mind as well, and controlled by the DM until the potion wears off.

0th level Characters become Zombies
1st level: Ghoul
2nd level: Shadow
3rd level: Wight
4th level: Ghast
5th level: Wraith
6th level: Mummy
7th level: Spectre
8th level: Vampire
9th level or higher: Ghost


The new undead monster attacks exactly as dictated by the Monster Manual, with all of the bonuses and negatives that go with it until the potion has expired. Characters instantly destroyed by turning attempts receive a saving throw vs. death or be slain instantly, success means that the potion expires and the person is polymorphed back to normal instantly. Polymorphing back to normal, even upon the end of the duration, requires a successful System Shock check, failure indicates death and the character remains undead.

Low level undead characters receive a saving throw to ignore any orders from higher level undead who can normally control them, failure means that they are effectively charmed by the master until the master is slain or the potion expires. Worth 200XP

Memorial Day 2009


We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

-Moina Michael

I'd just like to take some time away from gaming today, to observe the bravery and sacrifice which our armed forces on this Memorial Day.

In the last 100 years, we've fought and bleed in many wars, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, & Iraqi Freedom.

I ask you not to judge, only to remember the young men and woman who endured hell, who have died in battle and captivity for this country, and to remember so that they will never be forgotten.



THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER
by Roger Robicheau

You need not ever know my name
This unknown soldier seeks no fame

I'm here to bring out thought from you
May your heart see more than your view

America, we marched with pride
We gave our life, for you we died

How well we knew the time might come
When life could sound that final drum

Please think of us as life moves on
We tried so hard till that last dawn

Do let our spirit fill the land
Pass treasured freedom, hand to hand

God blessed this country with such love
Hold in your heart, abundance of

And when you stand before my grave
Think not of one, but each who gave

Handling Invisibility Fairly


There are times during games where nobody knows what to do, or how you are suppose to handle it. One of those times is when one or more persons, NPCs, or monsters is invisible. What a nightmare! I mean, the DMG lists a characters chances of hitting an invisible target as –4. –4? Where do they get this number from? If you are attacking an invisible force with a bow and arrow, do you still only have to worry about a –4 penalty? And, if so, what exactly is the bonus for being invisible?

Well, this area really does need some enlightenment. What is invisible in the game? What are the rules which govern it? The answer to all of these questions and more is one of those things which requires a Dungeon Master to determine. Thankfully, however, there are rules which form the guidelines to help us get this done.

INVISIBILITY

Being invisible is more difficult then it sounds. Light passes through you, and you can’t see yourself either. Most tasks are easily preformed, getting on a horse, drawing your weapon, picking up money; however tasks which require fine-motor skills are much harder when you can’t see your fingers. Tasks such as picking a lock, shooting an arrow, catching an object which was tossed to you. These tasks are much more difficult, and may not even be possible! It is up to the DM to decide if a task simply can’t be done, or s/he can impose a –3 penalty to a characters chances of performing a non-weapon proficiency, else a –15% to all percentage based skills.

Of course if there is more then one person invisible, then you run into some severe problems, you have no idea where the other people in the party are and you’re just as likely to strike them if you draw your weapon to attack something. In cases like this, the only person who will know exactly who you are attacking is the DM, somebody may be in the way, unless some plan is made before hand, becoming invisible and rushing into battle is a fools mission!

DETECTING INVISIBLE

Invisible is invisible to both normal vision & infravision, however there are some tricks available to those who are being heckled by invisible foes. Mud and powders which stick to the invisible being will remain visible. While an invisible person who is swimming doesn’t leave a hole in the water, viewers may notice the water moving differently as it flows around the invisible force. Invisible people also leave visible foot prints! Notice that all of this depends on how giving a DM is at the moment. An invisible creature in the perfect conditions will be completely invisible, opponents will only be able to attack him when he attacks them. The –4 to hit requires that the person who is trying to hit the invisible being knows exactly where the creature is, if this isn’t known, even a true 20 will miss the target.

Another consideration is light. If the invisible creature requires light to see and moves into a dark area, he’ll need to bring a lightsource with him if he wants to see. If the lantern or torch which the creature is using was on him when the spell was cast, then the vessel (the lantern or torch) will be invisible, however the light will not be. Foes can use this light to pinpoint the location of the invisible person . . . or at least the vessel.

Using a Detect Magic spell does not work, the caster is aware that magic is in the air, however he cannot use the spell to pinpoint the invisible creatures location. Only Detect Invisibility is effective, and that is it.

HOWEVER! Once the DM feels that there is a chance of the character or NPC to notice a sound, smell, or something else from the DM’s deviously brilliant brain that may give away a creatures location, he is allowed to either give the player a Saving Throw vs. Spell or roll one secretly. Making this Saving Throw DOES grant you a –4 to hit, and this is where that modifier comes from. It is totally up to the DM to choose all penalties and to decide if maybe the penalties can be ignored entirely! Of course bribery will get you nowhere, but it never hurts to try.

When dealing with non-intelligent creatures or stupid races/individuals, being alert to the presence of an invisible creature may not be enough to provoke an attack, wild animals and such will be higher on guard! But they aren’t necessarily going to leap and attack something which their eyes tell them isn’t there. Anybody who has ever dealt with a ghost (NASTY creatures) or even heard of a ghost, may instantly flee in fear that the invisible person IS a ghost, which considering how nasty ghosts are, really isn’t all that bad of an idea once you think about it.

Good vs. Good


I have heard really good Dungeon Masters make some pretty weird statements. Chief among them being that they never run monsters with good alignments . . . why not? I suppose that this hearkens back to our media influence of if it bleeds, it leads, it is also kind of small minded, the lazy route is always to use underhanded bad guys for everything. Heroes fight evil, this is true! But sometimes it is beneficial to the game if you pit hero vs. hero.

There are quite a few reasons why we would want to pit good aligned characters up against other good aligned NPCs. When we do this, we get an opportunity to really explore honorable combat scenarios. Also, fighting doesn’t become as strong of a priority as it is when dealing with odious malcontents. While we don’t feel bad about killing brutal hobgoblins, slaying a centaur should be a last resort. Good characters are also more inclined to allow a withdraw, a surrender, or actually obey terms of defeat which can come in handy when you are using low level characters that are limited in hp. The good NPC won’t be out simply for blood, they are held back by a moral code which may be different then that of the players, but it will be a moral code regardless.

I like using the forces of good to challenge and entertain the players, simply put, the forces of good operates on a completely different level then evil, one that forces everybody at the table to just sit down and think, and to ponder their own motivations. So, to celebrate good vs. good, I’ve put forth a few ideas that you can use to try this strategy out at your own tables. Of course it may be helpful to see how the forces of good operate before we get to involved in scenarios, right?

GOOD vs. GOOD

In the past I’ve talked about Law vs. Neutral vs. Chaos, and what each means, but for this article, I think that it would be wise to quickly state my feelings on the subject very briefly. Lawful simply signifies that a character can follow orders and fight as a unit with other lawful alignments, while Chaos identifies that person as a lone wolf who is unable to fight as a unit. Neutral forms the purest nature of the alignment that it is coupled with. A Neutral good character would be a clearer picture of good then even the paladin who is Lawful, if a Paladin is ordered to do something terrible, as long as it is an act of good and thwarts the powers of either evil or chaos, then the paladin will do it . . . he may never sleep again, but he’ll do it all the same, but the NG character would refuse, stating that it would not be right to commit the act.

The point is, that there is strife within all of the alignments. Granted, the wars between Good and Evil or Law and Chaos are more pronounced, but wars also are fought between each faction. A good example of this is the ongoing hostility between Elves and Dwarves. Elves are Chaotic Good by nature, while the dwarves are Lawful Good. These two races simply do not understand each other, and though peace has typically been established, it is a very uneasy peace that can strike up again at the drop of a hat, granted it wouldn’t cause an all out war which would rage for centuries, chances are they both already did that and their families still wear the scars to prove it, but their fundamentals are so completely different that it makes any long term commitments possible. The Dwarves make pacts and those pacts are set in stone, while the Elves will also make pacts but they will only be enforced for as long as it suits them. This introduces strife to the relationships between them. Once in a while a greater cause forces them to cooperate with each other, but as soon as the threat has been squelched, it is back to normal.

GOOD & CONFLICT

While two characters can both have the same alignment, they may have completely different ideas about what that alignment means. What is good to one man is different then what is good to another. Two Lawful Good countries that sit next to each other can still have troubles with their neighbor simply because of policy issues. Perhaps one country is run by a Government, and the other by Religion. Religious intolerance is not an evil act! If the Government of country A did not agree with the Theocracy of country B about whose god was tougher, this will eventually lead to war. Both sides would fight righteously, and both for the side of Lawful Good.

D&D is also about the mixing of different cultures, even on our own planet there are bizarre social taboos which are different for each racial group and country. Some taboos are placed right into the core rules themselves: Grey Elves don’t typically use any economy system what so ever. They have never heard of having to pay for food, this is a basic right to them. If you are hungry, then eat! Say a Grey Elf takes a loaf of bread from a human vender, he unwittingly became a thief. Adding more to this, perhaps Aarakocra folk consider it hostile to look each other in the eye? Centaurs are typically the least restricted, parading around the village with their junk hanging out making children giggle and good citizens faint in horror! The true limit to these social fouls are honestly endless, they can be amusing or serious as you wish them to be.

GOOD & VIOLENCE

We often take our own social baggage with us when we sit down to play. In our world it is acceptable to bad-mouth your government, women have freedoms and rights which other places refuse to grant them, but take a pocket knife into an airport and become an instant terrorist. We have our own bizarre culture which makes sense to us, but look absolutely crazy on the outside. We want to distance ourselves as far away from our own cultures as possible, of course I’m preaching to the choir, yes? This kind of stuff is what separates gamers from Role-Players, because we Role-Players find this stuff FUN!

Of course one of the biggest bags of luggage we lug around with us during our games, is our attitude towards violence. The gaming world is a kill or be killed world. Naturally some cities and villages may be exempt from this kind of lifestyle, however this is typically not the norm! Folks who live out in the country will typically shoot first and ask questions later. In particularly scary places, small little hamlets deep in the woods, the chances of getting someone to open their door after dark is practically nil. While the people can be good alignment, they know not to trust anybody, even if they are being eaten by monsters.

GOOD & XP

A character that slays a being that shares the characters alignment is not a good thing, and a Dungeon Master is perfectly within his rights to either refuse to give XP for the fight, or even deduct experience points. A paladin has to be careful when locked in combat with other good creatures, because if he slays them, he has violated his ethos even if his Government or whoever he pays his tithing to orders him to, this is a challenge which the paladin must face from time to time and he must also do it with grace. Rangers would loose their status as well, and a Priest’s deity may not be pleased with the cleric’s actions and refuse him spells until he has made amends for his error.

Good vs. Good is not as easy as Good vs. Evil, it forces players to really think about their actions before they commit to them. This would also apply to Evil or Neutral characters, a Chaotic Evil character may face consequences for going on a monster hunt, granted there are always exceptions to the rules, by their very nature, Chaotically evil beings are more prone to viciousness without remorse then their Chaotic Good counterparts. The lack or docking of XP is forced role-playing and symbolizes a characters guilt getting the best of them. Players who role-play properly should be allowed more freedom, if they impose a penalty on themselves, such as taking a –1 to all attacks for the next week, or embarking on a quest to make amends, they may avoid being docked XP. It is harder to play good characters then it is evil ones, tis the nature of the beast.

SCENERIOS

Of course these are just a few suggestions, things to kick start your mind so that you can come up with your own adventure hooks. Something to prove that it IS possible.

Scenario #1: Ghosts have been reported haunting the holy mountain, in fact, the ghosts are simply a fleeing tribe of Aarakocra who have taken refuge in this sacred place, and feeding on fruit trees intended for the gods and forbidden to eat. The church plans to send an army to destroy them, the players are allowed to climb the mountain themselves and try and persuade the Aarakocra to move on before the army arrives to kill anybody who is violating the holy law . . . including the PCs.

Scenario #2: An elven artifact has been stolen, a small, crack-team of elves under a blood oath are charged with recovering the object at any cost. Someone has told them that the artifact is in the PCs home village, the elves will burn and kill until the artifact is returned, believing that it is there when in fact, the village was set up by the real thief. The PCs must some how convince the elven party that the artifact is not there and aid them in acquiring it. If at any time the elves discover the artifact in the hands of the PC’s, they will destroy the village as punishment for theft and for lying.

Scenario #3: An evil race has kidnapped the princess of Centaurs, forcing them to do their will else they will slay the girl. The King is terrified enough to believe that the evil race will hold to their end of the deal. It starts out small, centaur bandits robbing all merchants, but soon the evil monsters are demanding the Centaurs crush an entire village. They say that if the Centaurs take the village and give it to them, then they will turn over the girl, this probably isn’t true, however the Centaur King believes it, the kings generals are simply following orders but are unhappy at this prospect, yet will comply all the same unless given a better option.

Scenario #4: Two good (Red & Blue for simplicity) armies are at war, the Blue side has, completely unknown to them, killed the Red king and captured the Prince. The prince is quiet, his men protecting his identity, he is unaware that his father was killed in a completely different battle. This small war is grinding to a halt, the Blue King looking to admit defeat however the Red countries acting ruler is Lawful Evil and wants all of the land for himself, unfortunately he can’t produce the king, nor is he willing to pay for the release of the prisoners because this would free the Prince at worse, and also give the Blue King the information that technically he has just won the war. The Red Leader instead is forcing everyone to join the army, and demanding that all money be put into furthering the war machine. How you wish to involve the PCs is completely up to you. Perhaps they are under the Red Country and forced to stop whatever it is that they are doing to fight, also all of their money will become the property of “the King”. Or perhaps the party belongs to the Blue country? Hired as spies to see why the King is refusing to accept the blue’s offer of Defeat. Managing the prison camp, escorting the herald to Reds castle with a formal letter of defeat. The possibilities are suitable for any level of play depending on what you think that your players would like to do.

RPG Blog Carnival: The Future of Gaming


The following is utter crap, and the opinions of a mad man. You have been warned.

The RoleplayingPro has the blog carnival, and the topic is The Future of Gaming. As a total outsider, and the marketing sense of anybody else who never went to collage, I still have an idea of where I would like the company of Wizards of the Coast to go. Currently I do not buy any of their products, as none of them are marketed towards me as an individual. I will do my best not to knock 4e or its users, because quite honestly a good portion of my readers don’t even play 2nd Edition, most play older editions or more modern editions of the game. While I do respect their feelings and attitudes, I do have my opinions which no doubt will leak out of this post like a crack in the dike which is the internet.

As I see it, Wizards of the Coast is absolutely insane and sailing their ship directly into oblivion. Their latest marketing tactic of pulling all PDFs off of the market because of piracy has temporarily crippled them. As an outsider, I believe that they have crippled themselves.

I will leave the future of 4e and 3e to people who know what they are talking about, but I think that Wizards of the Coast was first injured by the old TSR, and forced to walk with a limp from the get go. As this happened, I was upset, I trusted TSR and wasn’t aware of their business morals (or more appropriately, the lack of said business morals), nor the messy devorce between the company and its creator, the late Gary Gygax. All I knew at the time was that some card game had bought them, and anybody who has played D&D for a long period of time can tell you straight out that D&D is not a game, it is a hobby. All of this stuff is more work then just picking out who is banker and dividing up pieces and money. That said, I was deeply disturbed by the invention of some card game which was not D&D, but now, looking back, the marketing plan of TSR enjoyed being a fat and happy cow on a lone horizon and, sadly, started competing with itself.

There is a big difference between OD&D, D&D, and AD&D 1-2e, and the later products which came out, starting with 3rd edition. As a user of 2nd edition, I use only the core rules, and ignore all of the modules and game worlds, preferring the previous editions works. I can take a module written for OD&D and play it under 2nd editions core rules, but if I look at 3e or above I honestly have no idea what half of that stuff means. This is more then just a fracture of the bone, this is a completely new animal. Then you have all of the d20 stuff, and all of the 3.5 stuff and it just gives an old fart like me a headache. It is too different. Too rules heavy. Not to say that it is wrong! God no, it is just too different to me and I am just assuming that I’m not the only one.

The point isn’t which edition is best, the point is that each time TSR (and later Wizards of the Coast) created a new edition, it caused a fracture. Now, they had no way of knowing, or even imagining that in the future that everybody would have an instant publishing device in their homes (better known as the personal computer). I think that the release of D&D and later, AD&D, were embraced more then the other editions because it actually saved work, and compiled the works from many different scattered sources. It expanded on things which a DM had to do, and the DM honestly had no points of reference to work off of, thus being a Dungeon Master prior to the release of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was seriously hardcore geek work! 1e cut down on lots and lots of paperwork and guesswork. The true fracture happened when 2e was released. This marked a big change, the game itself became less powerful, and the modules became little terrorists which would highjack all of the DMs plans and introduced the world to hardcore railroad jobs.

This fracture was just as loud and just as frightening as any fracture in the company. Folks got mad, insults were thrown, people got hurt but it was a local war which took place in specialty shops in every city. Suddenly your magazines started talking about Nonweapon Proficiencies, Weapon Specialization, and crazy talk about Priest Spheres. If you weren’t finished playing your old D&D games, TOUGH!!!! This is the future, and this is the way. We are going to take the information from the AD&D core books and make you buy 15 to get the same information, but more long winded and with pretty pictures.

THAT is a fracture, but eventually this fracture seemed to heal . . . but not really. Sure, tons of people bought into 2e (myself included) not because it was a better game, but because it was available. Yes, there were odd games such as Trolls & Warlords or what have you, but nobody wanted to play them because you never knew if they were any good or not. I remember buying a copy of Call of Cuthulu and to this day I’ve never played it simply because everybody wanted to play D&D. We all knew those rules. It is a name brand, and that name brand is important. Dungeons & Dragons is the holy grail of tabletop Role Playing. But for some reason, TSR nor Wizard of the Coast have been happy with this fact, and always threw wrenches in their own marketing plans.

It has been several years since the original fracture, the loudest and most bloodiest fracture taking place with 4e because NOW, it isn’t just little local wars scattered across the country, but one giant war which involves all of the players in the world. The sad thing is that this is Wizards marketing plan. Make fun of their former products, separate from them and alienate the players of them. This to me is just stupid!

If you look at the numbers, and at the numbers alone, it will look like Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition is a successful product, but think about all of the money which is leaking out.

There is a demand, if Wizards wants to believe that folks upgrade like good consumers they are on crack! We don’t, nor have we ever simply upgraded. By fracture marketing you are only marketing towards a completely different group of customers. The equivalent of Mars candies discontinuing plain M&Ms because they invented ones with peanuts in them. People are going to play the older editions of the game, and in todays market, WIZARDS can’t get away with lying about it anymore.

Earlier this year WIZARDS tactically errored by pulling all out of print PDFs off of the market. This was the only source of income that they were making from these products. Now people are forced to either pirate them or buy them from garage sale markets like Ebay and out-of-print bookstores.

This was stupid, but perhaps they have a plan. I hope they have a plan. If it were up to me, which it isn’t, but if it were, then I’d break them all up into their formor editions, and create pay-per-view sites. Sell the PDF’s at home, this way you can keep all of the money and also see what products folks are wanting. If the numbers justify it, then REPRINT THE PRODUCT.

I have some fat for you folks to chew on here, just to show exactly how much money Wizards is loosing out on. Last month I purchased an out-of-print copy of the original World of Greyhawk box set. Now this box set didn’t come with a box, the map had a couple of holes in it where some DM marked cities with pins, but the two books that came with it were pristine. I found this on ebay, and a bidding war started over this thing that isn’t fit for collectors but for players who want to use the game to play it. Thank god my wonderful wife who I love very very much was spoiling me by monitoring this thing all day until she won it for me. I had originally halted my bidding at $25, but finally paid almost $60 when all was said and done with.

Sixty bucks, and how much of that goes to Wizards of the Coast? NOT A DIME!!!! The bidding war was mean, and furious. There is a demand for products like this and the people who want them are willing to pay for them. This exposes something to me! The future, or at least the future if Wizards stops acting like a corporation that doesn’t know what it is doing. A corporation which makes money instead of spending it on lawsuits which end up hurting the hobby and them more then helping anybody.

REINVENT THE BOXSET

Looking at the DVD marked, and just judging about how many times I have purchased Star Wars films, we can learn something from this. Especially by looking at LucasArts marketing department. This company is a marketing genius! They know exactly who buys their products, and keeps creating products which we want and wish for. I mean, they are marketing toys for a movie that came out in the 70’s and they are doing it successfully! That says something about it. Lucas Arts can be a trademark nazi, but they let the little stuff go, and encourage the fans to create. Granted, currently WIZARDS is allowing us a lot of leeway, if they wanted to they could shut all of us old farts down because they have enough money to claim to own all rights to words like DUNGEON and DRAGON and we cheap bums don’t have the resources to formally tell them that their buggers in a court of law. THAT IS GOOD!!! They are finally recognizing the power of written words and that sites like this one and many others are still helpful to their bottom lines.

But . . . lets take this one step further. I just spent 60 bucks on a box set, and I’m betting you that if WIZARDS puts out a box set, mark it for 60 bucks, they can include things which may make me spend even more money on it. Take the World of Greyhawk Box Set, throw in reprints of the original 2 books, maybe errata them, it doesn’t need much, but keep them “as is.” The map in the old box set was vinyl, hand-drawn, and a true work of art. Truth be known, I paid 60 bucks for the map itself, the two books were perks, but the map to me is worth more then just 60 bucks. Reprint it on vinyl. Hell, if a map is popular enough, such as Forgotten Realms or what have you, PRINT IT ON VINYL! If it is a piece of history, then folks will pay for it!

Special Features are good to. Throw in another book, a new one, written about the behind the scenes history of what went into the box. This box is a classic! Folks are interested in it. Even folks that already have a copy will want a copy! Hardcore folks would buy one to play with, and one for the shelf. Drops some toys in there, limited edition dice, whatever you can think of, and you can set the price as high as you’d like. If you make it special enough, and make the buyer happy you can’t go wrong!

RELEASE THE CORE HANDBOOKS

Again, the only place to purchase these things are used bookstores and ebay. Some books are easier to find then others, and you can print them in both soft and hard-bound editions. Soft-bound is fine! Print-on-demand. PDF’s are fine, but next to a hardcopy and folks will take the hardcopy hands down. Older gamers are having a hard time right now, our books are so old that they are falling apart. This is a perfectly expectable marketing tool! Look at the light bulb. We can send man to the moon, and travel to the other side of the world in a day, but we can’t invent a light bulb that don’t burn out? Give me a break! Books wear out, especially books which are used as much as players handbooks are, help us replace them and you’ll get the money instead of some guy from Minnesota who found a good copy in his attic.

USE TSR’S ARCHIVES

The very idea that Wizards of the Coast purchased all of the rights and products of TSR and chose to just sit on them makes no sense what so ever. Who does that???? I bet you that if Coke finally forced Pepsi out of the market and purchased them, Coke would then start selling Pepsi products without a care in the world. USE THE ARCHIVES!!!!!

The internet killed the Magazine star. That is FACT! Dungeon Magazine, as well as Dragon are now irrelevant, the audience is more splintered then ever, quit fighting it and just except it as reality. Pulp Fiction has made a big come back. The surviving stories are being reprinted and sold to a knew audience who enjoys collecting them. Pulp Art is another big selling point. These magazines are so brittle and worn that most don’t exist anymore, the originals are treasures, the authors who in their own times were considered hacks are now getting the respect that they deserve.

If WIZARD played their cards correctly, they could make a killing on the book market. Going through their magazine archives and reprinting the best stuff, the stuff that is system neutral, and you can resell it either as a legitimate book series, a seasonal or annual magazine, or both!

USER CREATED MATERIALS

Unfortunately, I don’t think that the bigwigs up at HASBRO or whoever now owns the property even have an inkling of what kind of potential goldmine that they are sitting on, nor what to do with all of that information. I’m afraid that until they do, then it is up to US, the tabletop hobbyists to make the products that we wish to see. There are some excellent resources out there now, from blogs to hand-made modules which are printed to order, PDFs both free and original, tools which aid our creativity. In some ways, gaming has never been better! Groups around the world are still getting together to share their time throwing dice and having a great time, new folks who are interested in the hobby are showing up in groves, Dungeon Masters are at a premium, and entire networks have been created to make finding the information out there that much easier. It’s a good time!

WIZARDS OF THE COAST

It is the attitude of the folks above that is an important factor, even to guys like me who hasn’t purchased a product from them in over ten years. If they decide that it is time to pull the plug on the entire thing, shutting websites down for plagiarisms, going after fan sites, and in other ways choosing to eat their young, then the good time will be temporary, but, if instead, they begin nurturing the scene their own future, or at least the future of the franchise we call D&D will shine on for as long as our sun continues to burn.

I would like to see products out there that makes our jobs simpler. I know a CD of royalty-free Clip Art would be fantastic. While personal publishing is cheap and easy, creating art is not! TSR had the rights to millions of pictures (at least I am under the impression that they have), I would sleep a lot better at nights if I could buy a copy of clipart free and legal to use. I am not sure who owns these pictures, if it is the artists themselves or WIZARDS OF THE COAST, nor do I have any idea how one could go about gaining permission to use images.

There is a lot to say about computers at the gametable as well. An idea that I resisted for a long time, but now that I have been using it for homemade maps and such, I can see a spot for the old books to be written onto CD and made searchable. I know that TSR did this with 2e, but this program has never been re-released, nor updated in any way to support current operating systems. I use to own a copy of the program but like many treasures we once had, the CD ROM has disappeared.

I am still pretty resistant about virtual gaming tables, but that is just because I don’t believe that the technology is quite there yet. A map which can be updated instantly for all characters to see would be great, but I still don’t know if this is more of a distraction or not yet.

Is there a future for Table top gaming? YES!!! Parents are teaching their kids how to play, the actual playability for computer based games is severely limited, once Wizards realizes that they don’t need to compete with programs like Worlds of Warcraft, and just focus on what one can and can’t do with tabletop gaming the better. Dungeons and Dragons is unique, and it’s own creature. I would like to see it going back to its basics, becoming more sketchy, leaving the actual game-play up to individual hobbyists themselves. Returning to its roots and celebrating its own birth is reason enough to exist. D&D has a place in history, I am just glad that I am here to take part in it.

Hiring Hirelings

Hiring hirelings tends to be methodical and boring. Here is a quick chart that you can use to determine a hirelings reaction to employment by a PC who is offering them work. To use this chart, roll 1d10. If the PC shares the characters alignment exactly he is awarded a +1 bonus, but if there alignments are opposed subtract –2 from the roll.

  1. The applicant flatly refuses the offer.
  2. The applicant asks for a 1d10 x 10% increase in the offered salary (or asks for a comparable perk). If the PC declines, the applicant turns down the job. If he agrees, roll again.
  3. The hireling asks for a 1d10 x 10% increase in the offered salary (or a comparable perk). If the PC refuses, the hireling accepts the job anyway.
  4. The asks for 1d2 weeks to consider the offer. If the job remains open after that time, roll again.
  5. The asks for 1d2 weeks to consider the offer. If the job remains open after that time, roll again.
  6. The applicant accepts the offer.
  7. The applicant accepts the offer.
  8. The applicant accepts the offer.
  9. The applicant accepts the offer.
  10. The applicant accepts the offer.

Correcting Mistakes During Play

Sometimes, regardless of our best intentions, things just go wrong. We can handle our encounters in a meaningful way, but somehow, for whatever reason, we still fail. Today we are going to talk about the most common mistakes . . . well, perhaps mistakes is the wrong word, because this indicates that we have failed in some way, which we haven’t! So instead of calling them mistakes, we’ll stick with the word Problem.

THE ENCOUNTER IS TOO DIFFICULT

Now sometimes this isn’t our fault. If the players suddenly decide to attack something that they know they can’t handle, chances are they are expecting you to bail them out. If that’s the case, and it was the players decision to force a fight against unbeatable odds, then just go with it. Characters die! That is what makes the game so much fun, however if somebody didn’t show up that day, or if maybe, just maybe, you over estimated the parties abilities then we can fix things during play.

Sometimes we have to cheat. Perhaps secretly lowering monster hit points, or letting the players do more damage then what they really should be entitled too, however there are things that we can do without cheating.

I usually have an NPC who is of a level or two higher then the players, he is kind of a mentor to the party, or they already know him in some way. Maybe he is a ranger or a priest but it is somebody who suddenly appears to even the score, maybe even spooking the bad guys into retreating, but most of the time by just adding an additional character to help stick stuff helps greatly.

Another method that I have used is to allow my villains to become over-competent. They ignore severe strategic threats, and fall for a trick which turns the tides of the battle in the players favor.

Both of these methods are preferred over screwing with dice rolls, after all, if we are going to ignore the gods of the dice then what is the point of rolling them in the first place? Be creative! Maybe a band of monkeys starts pitching coconuts at the badguys, sick of all of their crap and finally rebelling. Maybe gnomes who are in hiding suddenly appear in mass numbers, standing on the side of the players but do nothing, causing the villain to rethink his actions. We can do other things and use these opportunities to advance the story in some direction which maybe we never saw it going before!

TOO MUCH TREASURE

A good Dungeon Master hides stuff all over the place, of course we aren’t expecting the players to find all of it! We also have some in random encounters, and there are times when this stuff really adds up and we discover that we’ve given out way to much!

We could always say, “Opps, my bad. I’ve got to take some of your treasure.” But that always seems to go over like a turd in a punch bowl, so we’ve got to think of more colorful ways of doing it.

Robbery is always a possibility, the goal here isn’t to kill the PC’s, it is to take the money and run. Some species of monster are better at this then others, of course we can quickly increase a rivals reputation, or introduce him by having him waiting outside of the dungeon for the PCs to come out so that he can take large items. Of course we need to make sure that the rival has the backup required to take the treasure without much resistance from the players, it should be as hopeless as possible.

Another solution is having them uncover a counterfeiting ring, as it turns out, these coins are just made of iron and painted to look like gold, but the paint chips off. That will relieve them of much of their coin right there! At least all of the crap that they found in the dungeon.

We can also use logic. How did the monsters get this stuff? Chances are that it is all stolen, and once the rightful owners find out that the treasure has been recovered they, particularly elves, believe that it is rightfully theirs. An entire elven brigade is awfully hard to reason with!

Kings and Lords can also demand a cut, walking around with too much treasure is dangerous. Thankfully, for advanced games, we enforce encumbrance rules which not only limits how much a character can haul out of that place, but apply the proper restrictions for being too weighed down.

THE ENCOUNTER WAS TOO EASY

Coming up with encounters is one of the hardest jobs that we have. There is no rules or magic formulas that tell us what goes were, we just have to learn what works best. Easy random encounters are no big deal, by their own nature they are more often then not, something which is more of an inconvenience then a real threat. The problem arises, however, when our planned encounters are too easy. Player characters can deal with a lot more then we really give them credit for! We send a kracken to destroy their ship because we don’t want them to have it anymore, and the buggers kill our kracken! We put a hill giant in front of the door because we don’t think that they are strong enough to explore beyond it anymore, and they beat up the poor thing and take his loot. Players are unpredictable and a great annoyance, that would make the game much more entertaining for us if they didn’t play in the first place.

Sometimes we just have to let the encounter go, but other times (particularly for big scenes) we can quickly modify it. Badguys should always have a back up plan! So should the DM. It is a wise DM who has little tricks up his sleeves, things which he can throw at the players at a moments notice. The easiest solution is rolling up a random encounter while they are wasting the encounter monsters. The random encounter shows up and drastically changes the overall battle!

We also have the setting itself which we can use. Perhaps changing the playing field, making it more dangerous to everyone. Changing the monsters tactics, or allowing reinforcements to arrive with different weapons, maybe some grenade like weapons? It is much harder to scale a combat up, it really is. I make it sound easy but it isn’t, all of this stuff needs proper planning and if we didn’t write it in there then we’ve got to look it up at the table. Try to design encounters as hard as possible, we can always scale them down. Who is to say that reinforcements have to arrive, they won’t if they aren’t required! It is better that an encounter relies on more then one element.

We also have to know the actual goal of the monsters. Would the monsters find more profit from capturing the party alive and holding them for ransom? If they eat people, do they like them fresh or rotten? What do the badguys get from killing the characters? This might not always be their goal!

If an encounter doesn’t work one way, see if you can figure out an alternative method. Just when the party thinks they’ve got the monsters beat, they realize that it was all just a trap and they find themselves caged with a totally new group goal, ESCAPE! An instant puzzle. It is cool to play dirty, the players will get nothing out of the game if there not challenged and if there are never any unexpected twists in the story. They’ll think that you are an evil genius and you’ll know that you just saved your butt because now you have more time to rethink everything.

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