Natural Conflict

Our camping trip was a great success. Now it is just a matter of shaking off the vacation laziness which never fails to hold me in its grip.

There were moments during our trip that were truly terrifying. A storm blew in with hurricane force winds of an F1 tornado. It was a wicked son-of-a-gun, and instead of going to the camper, I chose to sit it out in my tent and just relax while listening to the rain. It has been years since I have weathered through a really good storm in a tent. Back when I was a kid, and those cool little dome tents were first introduced to the market. Everybody said that they were to flimsy, but while camping in a large campground, after a forceful storm which beat and battered the tent, in the morning, my tent was the only one which still stood. All of the other tents were destroyed, their inflexible metal poles bent and collapsed.

This is just one of the many problems that can sneak up on you while you give yourself to the mercy of nature. The winds battered our tent around for an hour, the rain was so relentless that it flooded the tent, a stream flowing right through it soaking all of our gear. Thankfully no big trees fell, blocking the road out, else we’d probably still be there.

The point is that you can use more then just monsters to heckle your players. Natural storms can either work in your favor, or against it. When you’re using roads, bad storms turn these things into flooded and muddy creaks, trees fall blocking the passage and it can take weeks before whoever maintains the roads can get around to clearing up the damage.

Water can really ruin your day, it causes you to stop all movement because if you don’t dry your supplies, then they’ll mildew. Water can also ruin your food supplies, most adventurers rely on hard-tack, a nasty biscuit that can handle getting a little wet, but if your entire supply gets wet then it instantly starts to rot, and there wasn’t any plastic to protect these things. Dried meats were also used, and again, if they got wet then the rotting process would begin. This process can be stopped by finding a nice sunny area and drying everything out. It takes most of the day, all of your gear must be systematically unpacked and laid out. All cloth probably has to be hung up, and consider how much cloth was utilized by these people! Everything was made of some form of fabric, canvas repels water only so long before it becomes saturated, leather is the same way. We spray leather and canvas with a special chemical that helps it repel more and preserve leathers and skins from rotting, but what do our characters do?

Another thing to consider is blood. A beat up party will be bleeding, and blood attracts the critters. The predators of the area will be able to smell this blood and begin haunting your camp. Cougars, bears, lynx, these things plague campers to this day. A DM has to ask himself, what do these animals know of people? If it is a populated area, then they may avoid them, but most adventurers chose to go where people are scarce, and it is possible that the wild animals which rule this place have never seen a person and have no fear of them.

Animals are unpredictable. A bear, for instance, can ignore the people completely, choosing to just eat as much food as it can until the person retaliates, or it gets too uncomfortable. I’ve heard of an angry camper tired of being heckled by bears bust one right in the gut through his tent, and the bear ran away not knowing what the heck happened. Injuring a bear is a risk, if you make it angry then you could be in trouble. Attacking a bear can either bring its full wrath on you, or cause it to run away. Morale checks are definitely a blessing when dealing with wild animals. Any time an animal is hit, you should make a morale check. A successful check indicates that the animal chooses to defend itself. Big cats typically have more sense then bears do, if a predator is weaker then the humans attacking it, then continue checking for morale every round until it either dies or runs away, but for thick skinned and stubborn predators, such as bears or elephants, once they choose to attack they will never back down.

Now, I thought about putting a random table of events here, but I’m not sure if that is a good idea. A big storm effects more then just the adventurers themselves, it effects the entire region, this would make it more of an encounter situation then a random one. Random storms are typically your usual affairs, seasonal events that don’t really effect supplies or travel.

Truly spectacular storms should be written and prepped to serve a purpose, even if that purpose is a true encounter, where the enemy is the storm, and failure to properly defend yourself will cost you your life.

I love true stories about Man vs. Nature, and D&D is the perfect medium to explore these terrible scenarios in the safety of your own home. Sure it is easy to just use a random encounter table, but why not really test the players? It does require a bit more from the DM as there aren’t any hard-rules to govern these events, but common sense and a good understanding of cause and effect are always better tools then anything in the DMG or PHB.

With that said, I give you a table. You can insert this in your own random encounters table, or just make a check once per night on top of your normal weather generation. I think that I will only make this check during travel, and only once per night. I’ll roll a d% and if I get 00, I’ll check the table below. Of course this isn’t play-tested, if you try this out and find a different method works better, or if it feels too clunky or what have you, then speak up! This is an interactive forum.

1d12 roll/effect

1/ Cataclysm
2/ Travel impossible for 1d12 days
3/ disease/parasite
4/ d% of supplies destroyed
5/ 1d20 items are lost
6-12/ nothing happens


Much of this requires a human brain to figure out what it means. The purpose of this table and list of results is for it to be random. The exact results are up to the DM.


This is a natural occurrence of epic proportions which are dictated by the area which the party is camping in. It could be a forest fire which rages out of control, flash flooding, a sandstorm of such power and fury that it kills the locals who’ve never seen something like it before. An earthquake, killer winds, snows which bury entire forests, rivers. The key is to make it a natural disaster that effects the entire region. The cataclysm is an enemy which can’t be attacked or countered except by some spells which can effect such things. It is up to the players to survive by their wits, and skills alone. This can, and probably will, take an entire session to deal with, and effect whatever plans that you had. Thankfully, the odds of this ever happening are slim.

Travel impossible

A road can be washed out, trees fallen, if the party is using wagons, perhaps a wheel shatters or the horse dies. A bad storm can be the cause, as can a broken leg or some other emergency which is totally up to the DM. The party can become lost, sickened, forced to hide from some monster which can easily kill them, whatever. This can either be role-played to minimize damage, or just deduct the days and the supplies from the party.

Disease or Parasite

Sickness can happen at any time. A cleric can usually repair this, but what happens if it happens to the cleric himself? Handle this however you want. Everyone has to roll a CON check with a –10 penalty or get infected. The disease effects are also up to you, perhaps it just weakens them to the point were movement is impossible, and only healthy people can defend the party? The penalty of the disease is to halt progress for a week or two, deplete supplies, or even force the party to return to civilization, possibly infecting a large population if they aren’t careful. The DM can either take this as a total campaign failure, or as a setback, whatever he wishes.

d% of supplies destroyed

This is a serious blow when it happens. Water can be spilled or accidentally poisoned. Lamp oil leaking all over a bag and ruining stuff. Food spoiling, canvas tearing or burning, oats infested with bugs, go after the stuff which is normally consumed and brought along to make their lives easier. It is up to the party if they wish to continue or solve problems caused by the supply loss. Food will have to be hunted daily, depending on the environment, water loss can be fatal if a clean source can’t be found. Again, a cleric can fix much of this stuff, but not all of it.

1d20 Items Lost

Gather up all of the Character sheets and remove items as you see fit. Don’t tell them what items are gone, they’ll discover it for themselves at the end of the day or if they reach for it and it isn’t there.

Hiking is dangerous work, a hole in a bag is a fairly common occurrence and contents can spill out for hours before it is detected. Objects are misplaced, forgotten, or otherwise left behind. Stuff like lanterns, daggers, and other small objects are sometimes accidentally forgotten. Potions can lose their cork and spill out inside the bag for some fun results. How you decide to deduct the items is up to you, a favorite sword or spellbook probably will be kept meticulously, thus they’ll never loose it, but everything else is up for grabs. A warrior is good at keeping his sword properly maintained, but a thief or a wizard isn’t. Rust can make an item brittle, a roll of a 20 will break the item and leave the character with nothing to defend himself with. A normal book or map can become damaged and destroyed by natural causes. Anything is fair game. (NOTE: don’t erase the items off of the character sheets, the players shouldn’t know what happened, just write a note to yourself on the side for the effected items.)

ART BY: Robh Ruppel

Two New Non-Weapon Proficiencies

Group: General
Cost: 1 non-weapon proficiency slot
Ability/Modifier: INT/-2

Characters with this proficiency can use it to find a small amount of materials which are in a wilderness area. Branches suitable for carving an item, kindling to start fires, herbs, natural foods native to the area (berries, mushrooms, clams), spell components, etc.
The character must spend 2-8 (2d4) hours searching, and the material must theoretically be available in the area being searched. The DM doesn’t confirm if the desired material is actually available until the character has searched for it. A successful proficiency check in an area where the DM feels that the item should be available will result in finding a small quantity of the item. A character can always search a different area again with an equal chance of finding the material. The exact quantity of the material found is in the domain of the Dungeon Master.

The survival non-weapon proficiency increases ones ability to gather by removing the negative modifier from the ability check completely, and granting a +1 as long as the area being searched is the type of terrain which the survivalist is proficient in.

Food Preservation
Group: General
Cost: 2 non-weapon proficiency slots
Ability/Modifier: WIS/0

Characters with this proficiency possess knowledge of preserving foodstuff. This includes drying and salting meats properly to avoid spoilage. Preserving breads and grains in a way which eliminates harmful mildews and other poisonous contaminants. This proficiency does not allow the user to manufacture poisons, nor detect poisoned food, it simply allows the proficient character to know the proper methods of preserving food longer and safer then a non-proficient character. A successful check applied to freshly killed game, or freshly gathered fruits will keep the food fresh. Failure indicates that the food will spoil or rot in 1d3+2 days.


This months Blog Carnival, housed at Mad Brew Labs, is about Steampunk, something that I never really got into. I consider Steampunk more of a direction in visual arts then I do for RPGs. My table does not use figurines unless there is no other option, and to date, there have always been other options. At first I thought of opting out, but over my vacation I got to thinking how Steampunk-like devices are in my game. On the surface, there aren’t any. I hardly ever use steam-powered devices, but I do use strange apparatuses and bizarre devices. It is my opinion that the characters will have no idea how these things work, be it steam-powered, crank driven, battery operated, or what have you. Therefore it really doesn’t matter how I think that an object or device works.

The facts of the discussion is that there are devices and apparatuses which were created by the ancients that we have no idea how they worked or what function that they served. Most archeologists are hung up on this idea that our ancestors were superstitious hicks obsessed with gods, and if something turns up which could possibly say otherwise then it is covered up and hidden away, or discounted as a hoax.
Not all scientists are like this, and I really don’t want to get into my theories on the subject because I doubt that anybody cares, and this isn’t that kind of forum. I know in my games, we typically play in totally made up worlds which are, in many ways, less advanced then our own. I, however, do like to throw some mystery into my games, and one of the ways that I go about doing it is by throwing in a device which doesn’t belong.

There are some hard rules about devices, the most important one being that a PC can’t invent them. Just because the player knows the principals behind the engine, he isn’t allowed to effect the world like that, only the Dungeon Master can. However, DMs must be aware that if they put the wrong kind of technology out there, then the players can use it against you.

In my own version of World of Greyhawk, I am seriously considering placing a Gunpowder mine within the realm, just so that the Pirates can have cannon and some areas have access to simple arms. The price will be the regulator, the cost of gunpowder is astronomical and used only by royalty, and stolen by pirates, because lets face it, pirates forced to used great big crossbows are sad pirates L. And we don’t want any sad pirates roaming the seas, we want them to be big and mean and scary! With big loud cannons, and cutlasses and smoking pistols, and bombs shaped like bowling balls! They don’t really care about the cost, because they steal it! Heck, by this point they may even control it, forcing slaves to produce it for them. I am willing to live with the consequences of my actions, and I do know how to do it, which might make an interesting post later on down the road once I’ve finished fine-tuning it.

Technology is a bizarre thing! And that is what I consider Steampunk to be. Bizarre technology. Probably the finest example of Steampunk is “10,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, this story was written years before the invention of a Submarine. It’s impact upon Sci-Fi is lost to most people who don’t know this. This story was written back in the day when our Oceans and Seas were just as mysterious to us as Outerspace is today. Only in the last century have we been able to explore these watery depths, and the great thing is that the exploration is still only in its infancy.

I see nothing wrong with inventing fabulous devices to take the characters to places where they normally wouldn’t be able to go. An ancient submarine is the perfect example. A flying boat, castles in the clouds, all are wonderful ideas that if used sparingly, really bring a world to life!

As you know, there is a large movement whose goal it is to make goblins scary and relevant. And one of the best ways to do this, is to allow them to do what they truly capable of. What I’m talking about here is Goblin-Powered-Siege-Engines. Goblins possess devious and dangerous minds. Their traps and devices are both brilliant and deadly! Inventing new goblin powered devices isn’t as tough as what you think, all you need to know is what the thing does, and to make sure that it is just as dangerous to others as it is to the users. To a goblin, this is a fair trade-off. Inventing a large mobile cannon which sprays Greek Fire is a marvelous idea! Who cares if they blow up most of the time, just think of all of the damage that you can dish out with the thing!

Greek Fire Cannon: Causes 3d10 in damage, unless saving-throw vs. Breath Weapon is successful, however each additional round causes 1d10 in damage from heat. All combustibles must make save vs. fire or burst into flames. Attack is automatic, however an attack roll is still checked every round, if a 1 or a 20 is rolled, the device blows up instantly killing all of the operators. The Greek fire cannon requires 3 to 5 operators to make it function properly. 1 operator raises and lowers the cannon with a crank, 1 operator swivels the cannon left and right with a crank, one operator directs the aim and the flow of the greek fire, and two operators are required to move the device via a pedaling system, to hold the fire, the greek cannon can be operated by one goblin, but the jet of flame will slowly move off of the target in 1d4 rounds. Any attack done against the cannon is considered to strike the cannon itself unless the attacker makes a called shot at a specific point, such as a tube (-10 to attack) or to a goblin operator (-4 to attack) If the lead operator (the goblin directing the flow) is slain, there is a 50% chance of the goblin’s body to open the valves all the way open, which will cause the device to blow up in a spectacular explosion which may cause structural damage if in a stone hallway or cave system.

We also have some devices that have other uses, such as intelligence. Imagine finding an odd black spool tied to the collar of a dog which ran close to your camp one night. What if this device was placed into a strange wooden and copper box with strange runes that said EDISON? What if by placing the spool in the device, and turning a crank and placing a needle upon the spool that you could hear a disembodied voice issue from the horn on the side? What then? What does the voice say? Did you accidentally intercept a message intended for your King’s ears only? Who is to say, but this device could fuel ones imagination for a lot of games.

It isn’t always important to know how a device works, it could be magic . . . or at least seem like magic. What would a 10th level fighter think of a lightbulb? It would be up to us DMs to properly describe what the fighter is seeing. We wouldn’t just blurt out that the hall is lit by lightbulbs, but by some bizarre magic trapped in a delicate flask of clear glass, and tied together by strange ropes covered in cloth.

Science may or may not exist in your world. Wizards can do some pretty odd experiments, who is to say what kind of forces that they are actually tapping into, be it natural or occult. I think that when we define too much of this, then we are ruining much of the fun associated with odd devices.

Of course we also have to be careful not to get to carried away. I remember one of my players who wanted to invent a crank operated, wooden-stake pitching tommy-gun. Now that just sounds cool, but I wasn’t willing to allow this kind of thing into my world . . . not invented by a PC anyway. It just didn’t fit the genre that I wanted to play. Cool yes! But sensible? No.

Repost: Thiefing Skills Theory

(A NOTE FROM THE WRITER: I'm back from my vacation, we had a great time living like hillbillies out in the Lake of the Ozarks. I'm in the process of catching up on my reading, and new posts will resume soon. Thanks to you all for being such good sports about all of the reruns!)

The darkness itself seemed to stir as the man, all but a shadow, scaled the tower and leaped to the rooftop beside it. Pausing, he listened intently to see if anybody had noticed the small noise of his landing. Standing, quiet as a ghost, he felt confident that he was safe and moved on, keeping to the shadows.

While the warrior’s business is chopping up baddies with giant broadswords, and the clerics wield the very power of the gods, and the wizards cast arcane spells of almost infinite might! The thief has a different skill. One that is quieter, but just as powerful as his adventuring peers. Like all of the other classes, a thief can become a specialist, focusing on building specific skills while not exploring others. However, unlike his brothers, he does need support from the DM, while magic is clearly listed and identified in the players handbook, the thief’s skills are open to interpretation. This has led to confusion and improper running of characters, the thief can do more then just unlock doors, and this essay will seek to clarify each thieving skill. Players can use this to get a better grasp on what their characters are capable of, while DM’s can better run the class clearly and know exactly what kind of challenges are suited for the class so that it isn’t ignored.

Pick Pockets

Garrot’s eyes couldn’t help but notice the shiny, gold key hanging from the nobleman’s belt, just begging to be relieved of its blissful owner. With a subtle bump and an apology, it was now in more wanting hands.

The pick pocket ability is not one to be abused. It requires no tools, but it does require observation and distraction. In order to pick a pocket, the thief must first be aware that there is something to take. More often then not, the thief will want to take a specific item, thus he must discover where this item is kept. The thief can do this by simply watching the target, or tricking the target through role-playing.

The ability score that you have written down on your character sheet is a base score. This is the roll that you must make to pick a cloth pocket with no cover and take a small, light object. That is the ideal pocket, however you will very rarely find the ideal pocket, thus it is up to the DM to determine the level of difficulty, and apply a modifier to your roll. Thief Skill modifiers are NOT known to the player, but a thief should be able to judge if the object is easy, normal, or difficult. A single key hanging off of a jailers belt will be easy (+10% modifier) while a heavy set of keys will be more difficult (-5%) A purse of coin located in a secured breast pocket will be much more difficult (-10%) Removing a sword is virtually impossible, but a very skilled thief can accomplish the task (-50%)

The target may need to be distracted, especially if it isn’t hanging loose. The skill roll is ONLY for the actual grab, if the target is suspicious, or isn’t occupied with other things, then he is impossible to rob. This can be done in creative ways, from using an accomplice to keep the target engaged, or waiting until the target is busy and bump into them.

Now, this is where it gets complicated, but trust me. Once you get the hang of it, then it will become second nature. Picking pockets is detectable, to determine if the pull was detected or not requires a bit of math. The standard for detection is based upon characters that are of a higher level then you. For each level, or hit die of the victim, we multiply the hit die by three, thus a 6th level cleric can feel when he is being pick pocketed 18% of the time. THIS number is then subtracted from the 100% which would make it so that any thief who tries to pick this cleric’s pocket would be detected on the roll of 82 or higher. Now the thief could had gotten what they wanted! And successfully made their roll, but even if it was a success and the roll is above an 82, the cleric still felt it, but the object in question is now in the hands of the thief.

If the thief is of a higher level then his intended target, then it becomes a bit easier to pick the pocket, and we subtract the level difference from the clerics ability to detect it. Say an 11th level thief is picking the pocket of our 6th level cleric, the clerics baseline for detecting it is normally 82, but the thief has got 5 levels on him, these are subtracted from the clerics chances (or added, if you prefer, to the thief’s chances of not being noticed) thus if the thief rolls under a 87%, he isn’t detected. Level X three - 100 + level difference if thief is of a higher class then the target= detection number. Read this until you understand it because it will come up again later.

If the thief is pulling the object out of a pocket that is not on the person, he has no chance of being caught unless he rolls a 100%, for instance a fighter who takes off his sword belt before sitting down to eat, and forgets to remove his coin purse first. All the thief has to do is pick it up.

Pick Pocket is a skill that requires very fast hands, and this roll can apply to other things that require nimble hands, such as slight of hand tricks, making small objects appear to vanish, stacking a deck of cards while shuffling, and dealing a player a pad hand. If he wants to make a larger object appear to vanish, he may need a cloth or another item to cover what he is doing.

The DM should refrain from placing needed items into the pockets of NPCs, the pick pocket skill is extremely unpredictable, and is difficult to accomplish at any level. Item's that have been successfully pilfered should make the game a bit easier, such as finding a skeleton key, or a map of the area that your PCs are going to go to, however it shouldn't ever hinge upon the thief's ability to grab undetected.

Picking pockets is a very risky business. If the talent is abused, then the more you do it, the greater your chances are of being caught. This can lead to lengthy jail sentences or worse!!! If you lose your hand, then your career is over, as it would be if you became known for such things. You can’t pick pocket anybody if they know that you are a thief and are suspicious of you.

Open Locks

Garrot tapped the lock with his finger, eyeing the thing as if it were a fascinating book before finally deciding on the proper gauge of pick. These things can’t be rushed! A lock is like a woman, it is to be wined and dined with patience and grace, simply forcing the thing almost always leads to nothing but heartbreak.

Opening locks requires a tool of some kind, the base roll is for opening a standard lock with a professional thieves pick. Different locks require different levels of finesse, an expensive padlock can impose up to -50%, while a simple latch catch can be defeated easily +10%. Sometimes, you just don’t have the right tool, if you broke your lock pick, or they were taken away from you, you have to improvise. A similar tool only imposes -5%, however if you are really in a jam it could hamper your ability by 60%. Thieves cannot pick magically sealed locks or objects.

Picking the lock is time consuming, taking anywhere from a minute to ten minutes (1d10 rounds) The thief can attempt to pick the lock once for every level of experience he has, if he totally fails, then he cannot open it until he gains a level, then he may try again.

Locks are in 4 different categories: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Masterful. Each of them can break a pick, the break percentage can be picked by the DM, or rolled randomly (1d10 for easy locks, 3d10 for hard locks) Easy locks can break a pick if 90% is rolled, Normal locks above an 80%, and hard locks break picks 30% of the time. If a pick is broken, the lock still may have been picked successfully, and can be opened, however a broken pick is worthless. Alternatively, you can have the tool make a saving throw vs. fall, however picks are delicate tools and gain a + penalty per lock picked.

Lock picks are not sold in hardware stores, they are either constructed by the thieves themselves, or constructed by a professional and purchased through a thieves guild. They can be made of stone or wood, but the best are usually made of metal, preferably steel as it is harder. Some sets are very complex, a leather case holding many different gauges of picks would have greater chances of success then a stick that the thief whittled himself with a knife.

Some locks require more then just the picking skill. A complex combination lock would first require the thief to examine it and try to figure it out (roll to open lock, success means that he understands its inner mechanics), once identified he needs to actually listen to the sounds inside of the lock as he is manipulating it with his hands (roll to detect noise) this may require a listening horn to better hear it, and he must make detect noise rolls for each combination the lock has, if the lock has 3 combinations, and he makes 2 of them but misses the third, then the lock does not open. He must be successful with all of the combinations in order.

Just as all Clerics are a part of a church, the thief should be the member of a guild. Many skills require tools that can only be obtained by guild members, this is also where the thieves go to train between levels, if that is realistic. A thief who is not in a guild CANNOT obtain guild tools, and must always use improvised tools with are substandard and unreliable. Good sets of tools are expensive, however they are effective and eventually pay for themselves.

Find & Remove Trap

Garrot crouched to the floor, studying the odd tiles on the floor. He’d seen things like this before, and they always looked easy, but like most traps, looks are deceiving.

Like locks, some traps are simple to figure out how they operate, while others are deviously complex. A thief must first declare what he is checking for traps, and like wishes, this must be properly worded. If a thief says that he is going to check the wall for traps, he will activate the ones in the floor. A thief can’t just walk into a room and declare that he is checking for traps, it doesn’t work that way. He must be specific, he must state that he is checking the door handle for traps, not just say that he checks the door.

The base for the roll is a simple trap that releases poisoned needles or springing blades. Some traps are easier to spot (pit covered with leaves) while others impose serious penalties (elaborate booby traps that are hidden in the dungeon itself) Anybody can detect easy to spot traps, but the penalty for difficult and well hidden traps is always a -50% penalty to the players roll. Finding traps takes 1d10 rounds.

Located traps are simply detected, to understand the trap itself requires an Open Locks check, with the same -50% modifier if the trap is highly complex. At this point, he is not yet touching the trap, he is simply studying it, looking for weaknesses and what not. If the thief fails to understand it, or if he does understand it (or at least thinks that he does), he can choose to attempt a disarm.

Disarms can be done, one of two ways. If a thief doesn’t understand it, or if he judges that the best way to defeat it is to simply set it off, he can throw his dice to see if he can successfully set it off without injuring himself, this could require a tool at the DM’s discretion. The other method is to completely disarm the trap by either breaking it or otherwise finding a method so that it doesn’t go off. Again, the 50% rule still applies for difficult traps, and any roll above a 96% results in the thief setting off the trap and taking the consequences. A thief can attempt to disarm a trap once per hit die, if he still fails to disarm it, then it is to far beyond his skill level and he has to wait until he’s gained a level to try again.

Some traps are impossible to disarm, either because they were designed that way, or because they are required to set off to advance further into the dungeon. Once the thief locates a trap, it is up to the DM to describe what he sees, if he figures it out, then describe how it works. The player must be able to think of a plan to disarm it, simply rolling the dice isn’t good enough.

Thieves cannot detect or disarm magical traps, only mechanical traps.

Many traps have a way for the people who set them to bypass them without setting them off. A thief should be able to detect a bypass method (or what he thinks is a bypass method) during the investigation process, however actually applying and touching the trap requires a Remove Trap roll.

This skill works the other way too. As long as the thief has the proper tools and materials needed, he can build and set a trap with the same methods as he detects and removes them. Using it creatively, he can also spot the integrity of a wall or contraption, for instance he can spot and understand a weakness in the timber supports in a mine, if worse comes to worse he can attack this spot and cause that part to collapse . . . Now this is incredibly dangerous and may effectively seal the adventures inside of the mine with no way to get out, but the thief can still do it.

A note to DMs: when placing traps, pay close attention to logic. If Orks live in the cave, they aren’t going to set some elaborate trap in a part of their home where they go every day, not without a way to disarm it themselves. All traps should also have some kind of hint that they are there, players hate it when they experience death suddenly and without warning. Don’t come right out and say, OH, this area is traped! Maybe the bones of an old victim is laying there, or if something appears too easy and unprotected. It isn’t always what is there that gives hints of a trap, but what isn’t there that matters.

Move Silently

Garrot peeked around the corner and saw the guard just two feet away from him. Quietly pulling out his blackjack, he creped closer and closer to him, closing the gap, minding each step as if his life depended on it; which it did.

Moving silently is required to get close enough to backstab an opponent. It is also used to sneak closer to a target to listen to what they are saying. While hiding, it can be used to change to a different position. Sometimes it is used with other rolls, such as Hiding in Shadows, but it is always rolled separately.

The base for moving silently is walking on stone floor in soft shoes or boots. Moving silently on a carpet is much easier (+50%), and moving through a forest is much harder (-15%). Some tools make this task easier, padded shoes can be purchased from a guild which are expensive, but improves your success rate dramatically. Naturally, wearing hard soled boots worsens you chance, as does anything that you have dangling off of you. All objects that a thief carries should always be secured at all times, blades tied down, no money purses dangling where their contents can jingle while you are walking, no armor clattering around, etc..

A player must always declare that they are walking silently, walking silently cuts your movement rate to 1/3 normal. Of course if everybody is aware of your presence, or they can see you, then you are just wasting your time. DM’s are encouraged to silently apply modifiers in their heads, a thief always thinks that he is moving silently when he’s creeping, even if you fail the roll you will continue this action. This roll is rechecked for ever 10 feet, or yards moved, and perhaps more depending on obstacles. If the character stops moving, and wishes to start again he must roll again to see how quiet he is.

A character who suspects that a thief is there and is listening for the silent character, gains a bonus to detecting them as described with rules for picking pockets.

If another sound is present, this could apply a bonus to the thief's roll, if the sound is repeating, like a squeaky bolt on a waterwheel, the thief can detect noise to discover the pattern and use it to mask his steps, in cases like this the thief does not have to reroll for stopping, he does have to make checks for every 10 feet or yards, also if he has to stop in a way that would cause him to lose the pattern, if this is the case he must listen to it again, or make a wisdom check whichever seems most plausible.

Note to players: Keep your dice rolls on the table so that they can be consulted. The PHB states that it is the DM that rolls this, however I feel that anything that deals with a players ability should be rolled by the player themselves. If a player keeps picking up the dice and hiding his rolls from the DM, I would suggest that the DM starts rolling them again to avoid the temptation of fudging dice rolls and cheating.

Hide In Shadows

Garrot inched closer to the guard, blackjack in hand when he heard the squeal of a rat behind him, damn! Quickly thinking, he slipped behind a nearby barrel, holding his breath as he heard the guards armor tinkling as he looked behind him, then saw the man walk right past him, investigating the noise, but soon he returned to his post. Garrot gave him a few minutes to get comfortable and bored before moving again.

Hiding in shadows is extremely misleading, because you are hardly ever hiding in shadows, this is seeking cover or concealment behind objects. It is hiding, and hiding well! While hiding, you are making no large movements, nothing larger then drawing a small weapon, or uncorking a vial of potion. There might be a shadow there, but that really isn’t important. You are hiding in such a way that even creatures with infravision cannot see you. If the DM deems it necessary, he may silently apply a modifier to your ability roll, but even if you fail the check, you still assume that you are hidden. As long as you don’t perform any large action, you will remain hidden, and don’t need to recheck, but leave your roll on the table. If a creature is actively searching for you, the rules that apply for detecting pick pockets applies to this as well, thus the DM may need to consult your roll. Rules for cover and concealment should also apply to the Hide in Shadows check. Thus, a 5th level thief seeks cover behind a barrel that offers him 90% cover, he gains a bonus of 10%, and if he is being looked for by an 8th level guard, normally he’d have to roll under a 76% to remain undetected, however the finder now has a -10% penalty, thus it rose to 86%. However, cover can change to concealment depending on where the finder is standing, the hider may not be concealed anymore if the soldier gets behind him, however a thief can quickly chose a new hiding spot as long as he wasn’t seen. If a thief is seen prior to hiding, then he can’t hide. He needs a few seconds to be unobserved.

A smart thief will plot a getaway, and have a hiding spot waiting for him. That way, if he gets chased by guards, he can turn the corner and quickly hide in the spot where he planed and possibly lose them if he rolls successfully.

In order to hide, there has to be something to hide behind, a dark shadow offers some protection, but can quickly be discovered with a lantern. There are some tools that help the thief improve his score, a dark suit can increase the chances greatly, as can applying weapon black to all of your weapons. Drawing a short sword or dagger can reflect light that gives your position away, weapon black is a coating that removes the shine from your weapons, and is only available to guild members.

Hear Noise

Garrot crawled closer to the fire, just out of its cowering, and fickle light. The two men were whispering to each other, their voices faintly above the cracks and snapping of the campfire, it took some focus, but the fools told him exactly where they hid the nobleman’s corpse, information that could surely be worth a pretty penny!

Hearing a noise requires absolute silence, it isn’t lip-reading, but it does allow the thief to hear sounds that would escape the ears of those who are less sensitive. Modifiers for this is rare, as it either works or it doesn’t. The base for the roll is listening through a thick wooden door. The voices on the other side of the door would be impossible to make sense of, however it will tell the thief that there appears to be someone, or something on the other side.

A thief must first declare that he is listening to noises, this will take a full minute of his time and if he is wearing a helmet, he must first take it off. If too many people are with him, then this task is probably impossible, as it’s hard for even a small party to be perfectly quiet.

A few items can make this skill a bit easier to perform, for instance the listening cone described previously in the section for picking locks, this must be purchased from a guild, and only members have access to them.

Climb Wall

The princess gasped in shock, but the figure was upon her before she could scream, his hard calloused hand upon her face tasted chalky. “Shhhhhh,” the figure whispered into her ear, sending chills of horror or excitement up her spine, she didn’t know which. “My name is Garrot,” he said, “I’m here to rescue you.”
“How did you get up here?” she asked, her voice as faint as his, “The tower is 40 feet high, and the place is swarming with guards?” The man would only smile as he tied a rope to the bed and checked the knot for firmness.

“Come,” he instructed, “Hold onto me tightly, and whatever you do, don’t look down.”

The thief, and the thief only can climb smooth and very smooth surfaces without climbing gear. The base for the roll is climbing a brick tower with no gear. Thus, if you have gear you can improve your success, and the DM should state any modifiers that will be applied to the roll before you attempt to scale it.

Movement is severely limited, and the thief has no way of defending himself from an attack. He must not be weighed down with tons of gear, only lightly encumbered at best. He must roll a new check every 10 feet climbed, a failed check results in a fall, and he takes damage normally.

He CAN carry a rope with him, and allow other characters to use it to climb with, as long as he finds a secure anchor, and, if the DM wants to have fun, makes a proficiency check against his knot tying abilities. Characters following him have to make a strength or a dex check whichever is better, and must also be no more then lightly encumbered, rechecking the strength or dexterity check every ten feet.

Read Languages

Sitting quietly in the cave, Garrot stared into the runes carved into the walls as if they would fleet away at any second . . . He’d seen this before, but where? HIGH ELF!!! This was high elf. Something about a white creature . . . A dragon or worm that guards . . . Something. It guarded something, but what?

Reading languages first requires that the thief be literate in the first place, and have a good understanding of his own written language. The thief picks up odds and ends of information here and there, and with this information he may be able to identify what language that the script is written in, and be able to read at least some of what it says.

How much a thief can translate depends on how skilled he is, if he has a 20% chance of reading languages, and makes his role, then he understands 20% of the message. A DM can judge that the thief has absolutely no knowledge of the language that he is trying to translate, because he has never encountered anything like it before.

To read languages, the thief must declare that they are attempting the feat, and then throw his dice. He can only do this check once! If he fails, then he has to wait until he has gained a level before he’s allowed to try again.

Even if a thief has translated a language before, such as a map with goblin text written on the top, he still has to make a check when encountering the goblin language again because these words are different as is the handwriting and style of the writer. The only exception to the rule is if the text is written in a language that the Thief is proficient in, thus he wouldn’t need to make a check.

A thief must be at least 4th level before he has enough information to work with, thus he can’t build on this skill until he has 4 HD. A thief cannot use this skill to read magical text, nor ancient text, only languages that are currently in use around the realm.

Alternatively, this also allows the thief a chance to decipher code that is written in a language that he is proficient in. The message must be long enough, or he must collect enough samples of it before he has enough to work with, but a successful check would mean that the thief has broken the code and can now read and write it.

Using this skill can take awhile, depending on the thief’s intelligence, subtract an hour from a max of 20hrs, and that will tell you how long that the thief must study a sample before it all clicks in.

Clearly, all of these class skills require more then just better then average dexterity! Intelligence is also a factor when examining traps and locks, as is wisdom! Climbing walls and ledges takes strength and hours of training. As a fighter constantly hones his craft, or a wizard studying ancient scrolls, thieving also takes patience and practice.

The DM should lay out special scenarios as he lays out spells and scrolls for wizards, and powerful weapons for fighters. If you ignore your thief players and give them nothing special to do, then you are doing them, and your game a great disservice. The game doesn’t necessarily need to be completely focused around them alone, but I’ve played under a few DM’s that all but ignored me, essentially using my character as a walking key. Unlike all of the other characters, role-playing opportunities with the thieving class must be tailored into the game. Give him an opportunity to sneak up on an enemy or two, let him do some scouting here and there, give to him MORE to do then just tossing a short sword at monsters for a hand full of gold, the thief relies on his stealth more then his strength. HAVE FUN WITH IT!

Random Bad Habit Generator

Random Bad Habit Generator (d%)

01-05 = Antisocial behavior
06-10 = Impolite
11-13 = Belching in public
14-15 = Curses
16-18 = Discourtesy
19-20 = Disregard for others’ property
21-25 = Drug use
26-27 = Ear pulling
27-32 = Excessive drinking
33-35 = Fingerpointing
36-40 = Frowning
40-44 = Gossiping
45-50 = Impatience
51-55 = Insensitivity
56-57 = Interrupting
58-60 = Jumping to conclusions
61-62 = Knuckle-cracking
63-64 = Lateness
65-66 = Loudness
67-68 = Messy
69-71 = Nail biting
72-75 = Nose picking
76-77 = Nosiness
78-80 = Preoccupation
81-83 = Profane
84-86 = Selfishness
87-90 = Smoking
91-95= Stubbornness
96-98 = Unkempt appearance
99-00 = Whining

REPOST: Tavern: Gamings Most Tired Cliche

“I find a corner of the tavern, and I drink my ail with my back to the wall and watch the room.”

How many times have you heard this? I know a player who always plays the same character. Sure, he was fun to play with, however I don’t think that he had as much fun as I did. He’d always try and play a ranger, but the only alignment that he could play was Chaotic Neutral, thus, he was lucky to stay a ranger for more then two sessions. Every game with him was the same! YES he was a thinker, he could puzzle with the best of them, but in regards to all of the stuff that doesn’t require a life and death decision, well, he was always the same CN Fighter. He became a total pain in the ass when he tried to get us to pay him to come along with our adventure. We said screw that and tried to just leave him in the Tavern, but of course he followed us.

He doesn’t play no more, nor do I believe that he has the interest to as I’ve invited him back into the group but he just lost the glow.

A discussion over at Noisms’ Monsters & Manuals blog got me thinking. It got pretty heated, but the crux of the discussion was overused ideas. Some players get stuck, and I think that the DM can reinforce this if he isn’t careful, by overusing the same idea. Probably the greatest misuse of the cliché is how you give your players information. Yes folks, I am blasting the Tavern! Not that we shouldn’t ever use taverns and bars, but the idea of using them every time is dryer then troll turd in the desert. Why not mix it up some? I suppose that by doing this, we just might have to change the dynamic of how we guide the players around the world that we’ve created. For the greatest amount of ideas as possible, lets just assume that our city will be a capital, it has the greatest amount of places to find work, and that is really what we are after, WORK!

What is an adventurer? Well, if he was around today then we would call him unemployed. But who wants to play somebody with a real job? NOT I, I say! Unless it’s a cool job, like sailor! But for the most part, adventurers are henchmen. They work for others doing running and such, always hoping to get enough cash to afford a treasure hunt where they’ll strike it rich. Information is their business! Especially in the acquiring of it. One place to collect work and rumor is, of course, the tavern. However this isn’t the only place, and depending on the exact line of work that the adventurers seek, there are different ways of accruing it.

Public Places

The easiest, and the cheapest form of information gathering is of course by going where people go regularly. Of course on the top of this list is Church. Weddings and Funerals are one of the best spots to gain work and intelligence, also during holidays when people gather to celebrate. Carnivals make great places to congregate as well, yes they only come around once or twice a year, but during times like this money flows pretty freely, and tongues loosen. The carnival also attracts a specific kind of information barker, CHILDREN!!! Folks talk pretty freely around kids, if you want information, employing a group of children is cheap and very effective.

The Market is a valuable source of info and work. Everybody has to eat, and these bright streets are the true hub and heart of any city, as is a well. Water is collected daily, all one had to do is hang out in this area and you will see everyone that lives in the area.

News is usually delivered by callers, or barkers, as well as boards placed in places of business that are useful to adventurers: Weapons Shops, Armories, Supply Shops and such.

Places of Entertainment

Folks need a change, Carnivals are entertaining, however we relax and blow off steam more then once a year. Games are an excellent place to find work, especially if you invest in it. The games are usually free to the public, and feature a variety of different sports. One way to make money, is of course to become an athlete yourself! But the wealthy will also go to these games to gamble and cheer, however they will be separated by the poor by buying passes. If you yourself are lower-class, one way to change your status is to purchase season tickets. In these seats you will be able to mingle with the elite, the more money you put into it, the more status that you will buy. A few favors to a lord or official will help you greatly in making a name for yourself. Wealthy merchants will also be in these seats, and normally have little jobs that need to be done.

Plays are an alternative for folks that just don’t have an interest in sports, you will find a better class of citizen congregating at these functions. The bards are more then just entertainment, they are also a warehouse of news from around the region. These are free to the public as well, however, the wealthy will buy tickets to these showings to keep away from the lower-class.

Public Executions were more then just law at work, it was entertainment and did offer a chance to bet and gamble. EVERYONE went to executions, the morbid fascination with death has been a hallmark of the human race since the dawn of our existence. Wherever people meet, there will be business to be done.

Public Services

The rich always tried to pamper themselves, but even relaxation and seeking entertainment doesn’t offer them a break from work, in fact, the wealthy preferred to do business in places like this.

Libraries were not free, one had to pay for membership. Museums also offered culture, they didn’t focus on history or fine art, the most common museums were of the taxidermist stock. Humanoids are probably off limits, and considered to be in bad taste, however everything else is open game. Adventurers can find work supplying these places, Libraries, museums, and other such businesses with their wares. An adventurer may also contract a taxidermist to stuff trophies of his own!

Of course the most preferred place to conduct business, is in the bath house, a very civilized place. It is the polar-opposite of a tavern, and yes it does cost money to go to a nice bath house, however the jobs that an adventurer can obtain while there may pay better the actual cost of the bath. The bath house is where promotions are discussed, politics are fixed, laws are created, and many dark deeds are contracted in private.

Another civil place where one can discuss things in private, as well as obtain the peace required for ruling a corrupt public is a garden. Gardens are kept behind walls and again, one must be a member to enjoy the splendor of them.


Guilds make the world go around, most workers are involved in guilds: Hoopers, Butchers, Smithies, all were active in guilds to determine how much a product should cost and how many products need to be made, as well as policing the industry. Even if one isn’t part of a guild, one can be employed in guild business, however doing small running is required to get one’s foot in the door.

Hunting clubs, beaches, gardens, specific libraries, magical shops which sell components can also require a membership. This can be any guild or secret society that a dm can imagine.


Where people live has been discussed, but where people work will afford an adventurer with opportunities that simply hanging out in Taverns can get you. Can’t afford a sage? Try talking to a sailor, these guys get to see the world, many learn vocabularies which would humble a language scholar. Mines need hunted, even abandoned mines need rescuers to enter then from time to time to fetch people out. Docks and Merchant routes offer the odd job, especially if the goods are worth stealing. By helping merchants protect their routes, one can get their name out there, and a name is really what makes adventuring profitable.

Soldiering is a business. Freelance soldiers had best be good at what they do! How you chose to dish out work to adventurers is up to you. Perhaps the local Man-At-Arms has a list of work which he employs freelancers with on a weekly basis. All of the freelance adventurers gather there in the morning and wait to see if they can gain work. The Man-At-Arms will usually pick people who he knows by name to be dependable. These jobs will usually require traveling some distances, and involve much danger, risks he wouldn’t want to expose his own men to.

A local constable is usually over worked and under manned, bounty-hunting is very profitable, as is aiding the constable in solving mysteries, however don’t expect much support from him or his men. The fact that you are there implies that they are incompetent.

The Underground

Sometimes an adventurer needs info from sources that are unavailable to even the richest noble, crime infested dregs of society! Beggars, whores, thieves, homeless murderers, these men and women haunt the cities underworld. One can find them wandering the streets above and below. Dealing with these people is harder then one would at first assume. If you just pay them for information, then you will normally get nothing but lies, else mobbed on a regular basis. Many of these people at one time desired to take the path that the adventurer is taking, but failed. Most never had a chance! Taverns is where they hang out, spending what little money they could steal to feed their addiction to cheer, these people are surprisingly unfriendly and just as likely to set the adventurers up so that they can rob them, as they are to stab them right there in the bar.

Brothels, jails, sewers, make-shift camps, all of these places you can find these dangerous individuals. Why you would want to is solely for information. Favors are the preferred coin of the realm, they will except money, but money can corrupt them even worse. Handling the lowest criminal elements should be an adventure in itself!


And finally, we get to the holy grail of jobs. Official jobs!!! These are never given out, officials don’t trust just anybody with a sword. Getting this kind of work takes money. Gift-giving, finding ways to enter the right circles through paying your dues and doing lots of grunt work. Official titles are not earned, they are bought! Art objects, magical items, rare gems and jewels these are the quickest route to gaining their favors. The coin of this realm is always the coin of the realm itself, attending feasts is desirable, making a name for yourself on the freelance market, sharing information with the right people. This is how a nobody of common birth can obtain land and secure his future. This is a cut-throat business and only the strong survive, gaining information from taverns alone will get you drunk, and little else. It takes imagination as well as courage to become a successful hero, one can keep their lives and still lose this game, potentially every thing is a challenge!

(EDIT: TheLemming told me about a cool website here that is also interesting.)

REPOST: Rewards vs. Gifts

Treasure serves many purposes, first, it enables a party to continue adventuring. Second, it can make them artificially stronger then what they are naturally entitled to be. And third, it is a reward. I stress this word, a reward, and it should always stay a reward, vs. just giving out gifts.

Introducing treasure is an art-form. There are no set rules about how to do it, but if you don't do it well then you'll run into problems. Now, I'm just going to assume that you know what happens when you give out to much treasure, as well as what happens when you give out too little. This post isn't really about that. It's about rewarding creative and inquisitive PCs.

We also won't be talking about money, art items, or gemstones. Specifically, we'll be talking about magic items. There are surprisingly enough, only a few different kinds of magic that you can dish out.

  1. Limited Magic: These items are always preferred. They have a limited amount of uses, and once they have been exhausted, they are discarded.
  2. Throw-Away: These items are things that players love deeply, but once they find something better, they forget all about them faster then a nice girlfriend.
  3. Campaign Items: These are items that can define a character, and are never upgraded. These things must be given sparingly because their very existence can throw a wrench into the most well planed gaming scenarios.
The DM should always sit down and design his treasure. We will always keep in mind: Rewards, not Gifts. There are two ways that we can go about this.

  • Using the Item: The monster or NPC will actively use the item against the party. Sometimes we DM's don't think, and instead of just increasing the NPCs level or numbers, we'll give them an enchanted sword of some kind, which is crazy! Always remember that magic swag is worth their XP value in gold, thus even a +1 Sword is worth 1,000GP so if you aren't willing to give them that kind of cash, Don't give them a +1 weapon. Everything that an NPC owns can easily find its way into the hands of the Players.
  • Hiding the Item: Magic items are treasured items. Many of them cannot be constructed by player characters, we have to hide these things in areas where we don't think that the players are going to go, but if they do, then they will be rewarded!

Hiding items is where some of the fun actually comes from. Hiding them well is a skill! Designing hidden passages to protected items. Hiding them in every day objects, or AS every day objects is a good trick, but in order to pull it off, you actually need to decorate all of your scenes with window dressing.

  • A cursed sword-1 has a hidden compartment in the handle.
  • Secret compartment in a treasure chest
  • A Hollowed-out book
  • Secret drawer in the heel of a boot
  • Tattoo or Painting is actually a cryptic treasure map
  • Hiding small things in an empty eye socket
A little imagination goes a long way. Magic items shouldn't be on the top of treasure chests, or in places that just scream "PICK ME UP!"

Magic Swords 101

Just a quick word on Enchanted Swords and other weapons/armor. Not all of our weapons need have a back story, especially if the item is something that the character will be upgrading in the future, but we still have to ask ourselves, "What is a magic sword?"

The Norse created magic swords by giving them names, however we aren't talking about Bob, Jim, or even Harker of Blood. The Runes are a magic alphabet, each letter gave the blade power. It was the letters themselves that formed magic names. Of course, this is advanced stuff! We needn't have actual magic words, but the name of the sword will be carved on the blade, this name should give a hint at special powers, and we should keep these powers consistent, thus we wouldn't give a +1 Sword the name of WOLFSLAYER, because it would take a long time to hack apart a werewolf with it, on the other hand, if it was a Sword +1, +4 vs. Lycanthropy, then this would be a good name.

An enchanted sword, even a +1, is sharper and lighter then your average sword, it is something to be coveted, but if you get angery because you created some crazy back story about how the sword was owned by King Luther and nobody seems to care, you are over thinking it. Now if it was an intelligent sword, well then THAT is cause to build a proper back story.

REPOST: Making Monsters Monsterous

The fun thing about video games is trying to find the right weapon to get the job done. What hurts what monster. Sometimes this is easy, and sometimes it is really hard. Now, of course Dungeons & Dragons and Video games are apples and oranges.

One of the problems with D&D is that players get to know the monsters. They know that piercing weapons only do half damage to skeletons, and that using a lightning bolt against a flesh golem isn’t a good idea. This isn’t on purpose, player knowledge just happens! We DM’s shouldn’t get mad about it, or force the player to change the way that they play, because this problem is actually up to US to solve by ticking up the difficulty level.

How do you do this? Well first off, quit telling the players what they are dealing with.


You see a man kneeling over the shape of a woman, his clothes are tattered and stained with blood. You notice that the woman doesn‘t appear to be moving anymore, and the man‘s shoulders indicate that he is weeping.

How close do you need to be to realize that the man isn’t crying over the woman, but eating her? You probably won’t, especially if you aren’t suspecting anything like this is going on. We also don’t know the actual nature of this monster. It could be a zombie, a ghoul, or even a vampire! We’ll be keeping this a secret for as long as we can, and we’ll just let the player assume whatever they want to, and we’ll NEVER use the term zombie, ghoul, or vampire. With a scene above, even a Zombie should be able to gain the first attack, regardless of what the rules say about a zombie always getting to attack last. There will be a delay on the part of the characters as what is REALLY happening sinks in. If the characters recognize the girl, or the man then this could force the characters to react as if a Cause Fear spell had been cast from a low level.

After a character knows what the things minions are, such as undead or goblins or what have you, you can use the things name, but this can also go to your advantage.

The smell of death assaults you as you open the door, revealing a wooden staircase. At the foot of the stairs is a zombie, and he sees you as well. A dry hiss escapes his lips as he begins to shuffle up the steps, pure menace and hate in his eyes.

Now, just because I said that it was a zombie, doesn’t really mean that it is, or tell the characters exactly what it is. It could be a Ju-Ju Zombie, it could be a Revenant, it could be a prisoner suffering under the effects of a Feign Undead spell, they don’t really know, we just described it’s nature, not it’s true type. They will just assume that it is an average zombie, and attack it as such.

Another matter of perspective is the Boss, or Sub-Boss. The boss is in control, if the creatures are of lawful nature, he’ll be the one directing traffic, if the creatures are chaotic, he’ll be the meanest and strongest of the lot. Can the PC’s detect this with their eyes or their 5 senses? Probably not right off the bat. We’ll keep this things true identity a secret as long as possible, trying to save this until the end of the session.


Each monster has a special skill, it is up to us to really study the monsters and think of ways to use these skills effectively. Since we’ll be doing things as a mystery, the first contact a party will have with a monster will be evidence of it’s powers, usually without actually knowing that they are in fact looking at this. After the adventure is over, they’ll be able to look back at the clues and realize what they had missed.

These things should be going on for quite some time before anyone notices. A power of a Black Dragon is to taint the water supply. Dragons don’t like to be bugged, they are also to smart to just fly into town and burn it down, being sneaky, all they have to do to destroy a town is taint the water and force the settlement to abandon their homes because of lack of clean drinking water. Perhaps a group of adventurers will be employed to enter the forest and see if they can find the cause of this disaster?

Usually, it is all in the way you describe the situation. Information shouldn’t be given out. Instead of people being turned to stone, elaborate Statues are appearing outside of town, surely a gift from the gods!! How long will it take before somebody realizes that People are disappearing and the statues are being made in their likeness? There is no consensus to the city or village, in fact, most of the victims would be travelers anyway. Perhaps the rich are collecting these things as art objects? Churches buying them up and proclaiming them to be miracles?

How can a given power be used subtly? How would people interpret the information? Can something good be found in the power before it booms out of control?


The golden rule, is, of course, those that have the gold, make the rules. The upper-class, the knowledgeable scholars know that there isn’t any such thing as monsters. Those that see them will always be ridiculed, a scholar who finds it his business to seek them out will be seen as an idiot and not worth the time of day. Monsters are primitive fears created by fools. We must move forward, not look backwards to some tired religious concepts, which can‘t be true.

Some may believe, but find it their duty to cover such things up, as it would surely cause mass panic. Others would just sit on their high stools and not be bothered to research things of such fantasy, and simply ridicule those who would seek their help.

This isolates the Players. Even if brought the evidence of a massive zombie epidemic, those in charge will insist that it was nothing but an illness such as leprosy, and those that claim otherwise are feeble of mind and superstitious fools. It is THIS belief that strengthens the monsters. The constable will always seek the wrong leads, and refuse to give any credit to clues that don’t fit their version of the facts. They won’t help the Players in any way but to discredit them, or give them a false sense of security by claiming that they have the problem under control.

Magic, of course screws this up some, but it doesn’t have to. Wizards are so rare that they are just old men who are equally as blind as the officials are. If it doesn’t exist in their own personal spell books, then it simply doesn’t exist! Priests are much the same way, only more vicious. Those whom do anything outside of their own powers are heretics and must be destroyed.

If this is impossible, because your current campaign, or your players prefer a magic heavy campaign, then you’ll need to think of some other reason why the village needs the PCs to solve this mystery for them, the above suggestion is just how I run my campaigns. A little bit of elbow grease will help you flush out how to get this done in your own style.


It is always better to have a monster be too strong, then it is to have it be to weak. Especially with a mystery type of campaign. Sometimes the party will know exactly what the monster is, such as the case of a werewolf, and it becomes a matter of whom is the werewolf. For this kind of story, we’ll want the best specimen that we can find! Max hit points, if this still isn’t strong enough, then we’ll need to modify it further.

Many DM’s have this misconception about monsters, that all of them need ecology. The fact is that more then 85% of the monsters in the Monster Manual are drawn from myth and legend of this planet and this plane of existence. Monsters have no place in society except to torment and feed upon us. Trolls don’t need to have babies, Medusa doesn’t tend a garden or sell pumpkins on the side of the road. Why they exist is up to you, but don’t be afraid to pop up a random monster if it will fit your setting. Obviously if you want to go less fantasy and more horror then you’ll not have Elves or Goblins building their own cities. These would be things that only exist when it is convenient for us, the DM, to have them around. If the werewolf or whatever monster that you want to use isn’t strong enough to challenge the party, then create a Greater Werewolf, or a greater form of Lycanthropy that will better fit your idea of what would make it more exciting.

Make the monster harder to hit, give him a higher hit die. A good example of me disagreeing with the Monster Manual is the AD&D Vampire. Those things are not even remotely entertaining as is. My vampires are more like the movie vampires of yore, they don’t always drain levels, usually they drain Constitution or permanent hp, it just depends on if I want the Vampire to be a major part of the story, or if they are just window dressing. A vampire lord and a vampire minion actually do have their own ecology. Is it still playing D&D? Of course it is! When a player knows what to expect from a monster, THAT is a bigger problem then creating monsters which are unique to your world.


There isn’t any easy way to do this, but it isn’t as hard for 2e as it is for any version afterwards, so consider yourself lucky. Why all monsters need to be compatible with PC stats is beyond me. Just look at the example of the Mummy in your MM. They have your typical mummies, as well as having a much powerful BOSS type mummy. Maybe throwing some magic user abilities and increasing intelligence is all you need to do, but we should know WHY this is so, even if that answer is a mystic one, such as the god of Boltivar, the werewolf god delivered upon his children the dark messiah, or a creature that slipped out of a secret gate, it really doesn’t matter, but we the DM needs to know what separates this monster from his lesser kin, and what would happen if he were to aggressively hunt these lesser beings. Would he recruit, strengthen, or kill them?


Since we’ll be focusing on extreme power, they must have a weakness which can be exploited. Our mystery monster will be able to kill any of the PCs if he can get them to separate from the party, and be able to kill them in two attacks or less. Because of this extreme power, he must have a fatal flaw. This should not be something that is obvious, but something that the party must research and have to formulate a trap for the beast in order to exploit it.

This can also be used for any monster which can really push a party to the edge of what they can handle. Even a party of four first level players can handle something as powerful as a ghost as long as you give it a fatal weakness and the players don’t try something stupid like a full frontal assault. This weakness can be attacking a specific structure, such as a tombstone or a specific tree located in the woods. It can be anything, any attacks towards the monster itself will be fruitless, however destroying the book that summoned him into being could utterly destroy him without much work, besides doing the research to find out the creatures weakness.

A weakness could also be a specific attack, or only a specific weapon. The weakness should say something about the creature. The weakness could be known to the creature, or it could be blissfully unaware that the flaw exists to begin with.


Illusionists make excellent badguys. The rakshasa is an excellent villain, they are listed as having tiger-heads on human bodies, but why? Why not let the rakshasa disguise himself until the very end? Since this is a mystery, we’ll also want to create a list of NPCs/suspects. If the monster is a shape shifter, or if it is controlled by a person then it is best if this NPC is somebody whom the players know. They don’t have to be intimate with them, or buddy buddy, however it should be somebody that the players will know instantly when it is time to do the big reveal.

Depending on the monsters intelligence, he will either leave clues accidentally, or leave clues to frame somebody else, but there should be some REAL clues there. Ask yourself if the monster is capable of covering up its own tracks, or if it is just so bestial that it doesn’t care. Maybe somebody lives in the community that just screams MONSTER! A grizzly, grumpy old trapper who lives by himself in the woods and only comes to town for supplies, this would be the perfect patsy. A smart monster will leave false clues behind. Maybe the villain himself is a vampire but he carries himself, and dresses his home to mislead others to believe that he is a werewolf? If the locals could find or kill this monster on their own, then they would. Why can’t they? This is up to you to decide.


This thing, of course, is on a killing rampage. There is a formula that the DM should follow, formulas are there for a reason, these things are tried and true. This formula is the bones of the adventure, the skeleton that holds the whole thing up, and is as follows.

The Players investigate a murder scene that has already been cleaned up.
The Players investigate a fresh murder scene.
The players have a chance to stop a murder.
The players confront the murderer and destroy him.

This is the bare bones of the story, you’ll need to flesh this formula out, and try to hide it under the story so that the players don’t detect that you are in fact USING a formula, at least not on a conscious level. This is our PLOT, but a good mystery needs more then just plot, as the Dungeon Master, it is your chore to make it real. To do this, you can either write the daily activity of the monster, or create a random chart of events that you will check daily.

Random Sabotage Generator (1d12)

1. Poison Food
2. Broken rigging
3. Fire in kitchen
4. Robbed Lockbox
5. Key to arms room stolen
6. Cannon strap breaks, cannon lose on deck
7. Powder keg explodes
8. Diseased rat
9. Fight, mutiny
10. Man over board
11. Lifeboat hull broken
12. Engine breaks down

Now that was a chart that I used for Dopplegangers aboard a ship, but you get the idea.


Some monsters will first send in a harbinger of doom to prepare the area before they attack. They remove threats, prepare a lair, eliminate people whom the master fears, and do all of the all-around dirty work believing that they will some how be rewarded for their deeds, however as history tells us, they never are. Their only reward is typically a quick and painless death.

The Harbinger can give clues, however these clues are disguised as ravings of a lunatic. He will never be very helpful unless you have a bottle or something that you wish to be thrown at your head, but there are two kinds of Harbingers. 1.) The Stranger: A man who has never been to the area but is causing all sorts of trouble. Killing animals, cutting off communications, burning down guard towers and weak points of military areas, eliminating spell casters until he is captured. He has no ties to the area. 2.) The Lunatic: This character is from the area, but for an unknown reason, has gone mad. Normally he can hide this fact while he does his dirty work, which is the same stuff as the stranger, however since he knows the area very well, he can do it without getting caught. He can also purchase property and continue to do his job, blending in. A very dangerous harbinger! His crimes will continue alongside his master, and will confuse the researchers. It can also give them a false sense of security when he is captured or killed.

Highly intelligent monsters will employ a Harbinger, usually through trickery and magic. If a monster can charm or in other ways control the minds of others, then this will indicate that a harbinger can be designed. His life expectancy will depend upon how useful that he is. If he is running around cutting throats while the monster feeds, the monster will release him if he is captured. However if his work is done, and the monster fears that he will reveal too much information, he’ll kill the harbinger in a way that will horrify anyone who discovers the body.

Now typically the Harbinger will start out as a 0th level NPC when the monster finds him. He will, however, be augmented to be more dangerous. We can just assume that it is the powers of darkness and evil, or extra strength due to pure insanity. This special ability should aid the Harbinger, for instance if he is to kill enemies of his master, he’ll have the ability to backstab, as well as possess other thief skills that will help him be more effective. He could also have a special tool or magic item which was given to him by his master to aid him. The item will only work for him and will turn into a cursed item if it falls into the wrong hands.


Sometimes a weak person discovers an item that allows him to control a monster. These attacks can appear to be random, however in reality what is really going on is the abuse of power. The true villain is a weak human who has an indestructible monster at his mercy, and has been driven mad with power. Using this monster to kill anyone for even the slightest or perceived misdeed.

Now, again we have a problem. Once the adventure is over, the wicked person has been exposed and the item is in safe hands, the PC’s might refuse to give up this item. Of course the thing has to be cursed, and it has to be a curse that will offset the power, this has to be considered before the players touch it, as if we don’t then we can bring ourselves a lot of grief. For secret bosses, and powerful magic items that boast steep curses, we’ll also need a depositor; an NPC that can safely handle the item and see to it’s destruction or safe keeping. This could even be the monster itself!


This is an easy method of play. A mystical beast is plaguing the community. This involves discovering the nature of the beast, it’s weakness, and finding it’s lair or hunting it, while being hunted by it yourself. FUN STUFF!

Mystery is a very important element with this kind of thing. We don’t want the dreaded “1st level Goblin” adventure, we want something scary. A monster which breaks the rules. It kills both for food as well as for sport and seems to ignore the rules laid down by nature. This can either be a natural monster, or a mythical beast with no ecology what so ever. A beast that seems to come and go as it pleases. It can cut into the night like a knife, and disappear just as quickly. Hunting this thing will be very dangerous because it is intelligent, and can plan, as well as identify traps, and the strength to destroy all things in its path.

Perhaps this thing is working alone, or it could be another number. Animals which are natural to the area will probably take the blame until somebody can identify this creature. It need not be an animal either; Trolls make great Bigfoot type enemies, their tracks would both mystify and horrify the locals who discover them.


As an example of bringing forth mystical creatures, lets explore one myth that comes from Illini Indian Tribe which reported a monstrous winged creature, its scaly horse-like body feathered and painted green, black, and read, with an evil red-eyed face, a rack of terrible antlers, a long beard, razor sharp claws and teeth, and finally, a tail that was so long that it could wrap its body up within it.

This great terror would sweep out of the sky, grab men and carry them off to some cruel fate. It attacked with such regularity that it had to be stopped, however nothing that the warriors had would cause it any harm nor stop it in any way. Finally, the Chief, Chief Ouatoga, sought refuge and guidance from the spirits. He entered the woods and fasted and prayed to the Great Spirit, imploring the god to grant his people salvation. At last the Great Spirit whispered into Ouatoga’s ear, telling him of the Piasa birds only weakness.

That very day Ouatoga gathered up his greatest warriors and implemented his plan. The party climbed to the top of the highest bluff, soon they heard the piercing scream of the Piasa and saw it’s dark form in the sky above. It swooped down upon Ouatoga, who fell to the ground and gripped a tree root with all his might.

As the bird grabbed Ouatoga, the warriors released a volley of arrows into the bird, aiming for the soft flesh below the Piasa bird’s wings, the weakness described by the Great Spirit. The Piasa screamed and attempted to take to the air when another hail of arrows found their mark. At last the Piasa uttered a final shriek and plummeted over the cliff, into the river below. The triumphant Illini braves and their wounded Chief cheered as the body sank into the churning waters below.

In game terms, the warriors must lose the first imitative. A successful attack must take place on a very strong individual who can hold the bird down, while taking damage from this fierce thing. The hero being attacked must compete with the bird in a feat of strength while his party shoots arrows into it.

This beast isn’t natural to the area, it is the exact opposite, a creature of evil and death. It may have a lair full of bones, and it does eat the victims it catches, but where it comes from we really never will find out, nor does it matter. It is a magical creature and magic is suppose to defy logic, fore THAT is the very nature of magic.


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