Friday, June 23, 2017

"Helpful" Magical Items

The path to hell is paved in good intentions...

Magical items, in general, are helpful by definition. They actively support you in a number of ways and most players want some kind of magical item. The obvious exception are cursed items, which are intended to hurt you. The following are not cursed - they just want to help more!

The Long Arm of the Law
Generally, a +1 weapon, this is a heavy crossbow or longbow that is intended to help keep the user safe from being labeled a criminal. The magic of the weapon comes into effect when in any jurisdiction that has bans on murder.  In order to keep the wielder on the right side of the law, the weapon will not allow itself to be used to murder any sentient creature. When in such a jurisdiction, if fired at a goblin, orc, human, elf or any other sentient creature, the long arm of the law will transmute the arrow or bolt into a burst of flower pedals (50%), butterflies (25%) or a white dove that will fly away (25%). This change is permanent.

XP: 1,500

The Savers Pouch
Often made of silk and stitched with gold or silver thread, this small belt pouch is very rare. When worn, the magic of the pouch comes into effect, and 15% (gold stitching) or 10% (silver stitching) of the full value of all treasure that the character is carrying or near (that is their share) will disappear. Additionally, any coins, gems, or other monetary instruments put into the bag will also disappear. The money is completely safe from being stolen, or lost. In the event that the bag is stolen, it will return to the person who first put money into it within 2d4 days.

Withdrawing money, on the other hand, is not possible. Only when the player character reaches "venerable age" (see Player's Handbook) will the pouch suddenly burst with coins, gems, and other valuable items. In general, the player will see a compound interest of 1d4% (calculated yearly).

1% of bags include a command word, which is "Trust" followed by a person's name. The character can use this command word to target another individual as the person able to open and use the pouches contents. The character can also include conditions such as "Complete Wizard School" or "Adventure for 5 years."

There is a 5% chance that such an item is cursed, and is known as a Hedge Pouch. These pouches can have money pulled out from whenever, and by anyone who knows the command word: Distribute. Anytime the command word is said, there is a percentage gain or loss of 1d10%. Roll 1d10 and a 1d6. Even numbers are positive, odd numbers are negative. If negative, the bag will not distribute money and will instead permanently destroy  that percentage of the wealth in the bag. If the bag gets to zero, roll 1d10, and that is the percentage of the starting value of the bag that is now owed to the bag. Failure to pay will result in the bag destroying items of value before the character can touch them until the debt is paid. Then the pouch will disappear.

XP: 5,000 (Gold), 3,000 (Silver), -- (Hedge)

The Helm of Happiness
This helmet is generally made out of steel or bronze and is often carved with an eagle, kingfisher, or other large hunting bird. Two large wings of bronze and gold extend from the side offering ear protection. The helmet has powerful abjuration charms woven into it, and grants a bonus of 1 to the wearers AC. However, when the character encounters something threatening that could - potentially - make them unhappy, the true power of the helmet comes into effect. The wings flip forward covering the eyes of the wearer, and the head and neck of the bird animate and lift off the helmet. The bird begins to sing happy and cheerful tunes, modulating it's volume to exceed the volume of any growling, shouting, roaring or other unpleasant and unhappy sounds. This stays in effect until all threats are gone.

XP: 500

Monday, June 19, 2017

Demons, Devils and Demonology

First: It's been a while since my last update. My apologies as I've been swamped at work and with real life stuff. But it's good to be back!

Demons, Devils & Demonology

I understand that demons and 2nd Edition have a history. This post is not about that history but is instead about ignoring all of that history and introducing a concept I think could provide useful story tools for DMs moving forward. Demons and devils were included in 1st Edition and not 2nd due to that history, but this post is not about the demons and devils in 1st Edition. These rules are going to go in a different direction.

These rulers were inspired by the book "Scales of Justice" by Daniel Hood. the fourth book in the Fanuilh series.

Librum Daemonum

Mara peaked through the dirty glass into the basement. There, the Circle of the Broken Blade had gathered around a circle drawn in chalk. Chained in the center was a sacrifice, a small goat from the fields behind her. She frowned as she studied the circle. Reaching into her bag she pulled out an oil cloth wrapped book. In the light from the window the words 'Librum Daemonum' were clearly imprinted in the red leather of the cover. She opened it and started flipping through pages, her eyes darting from diagrams back to the chalk circle inside. She found it nodded to herself. Packing up she backed away slowly from the building and went around to find her friends, the Circle was looking for information - more than likely about Mara and her friends.
The Book of Demons is a rare tome that seems to turn up where mischief is desired. Trade in the books is generally considered illegal, and when found the books are burned. Only certain wizards and clerics are allowed to openly own them, as they are responsible for tracking and killing those that summon demons and the demons themselves. Despite this prohibition, copies can still be found in private collections even if they are not used. Simply owning them is a thrill. Yet, in the back of the dustiest shops in unexpected nooks it is possible to find someone who, with the right incentive might be able to provide a copy of the book. 

The books themselves are surprisingly uniform. They are always bound in red stained leather, with the words Librum Daemonum in white. Touching the letters shows that it is bone embedded into the leather itself. The book is usually between an inch to an inch and a half thick, with crackling parchment pages. They almost always look aged.

The inside of the book is written in black ink and is composed of diagrams, formula, and descriptions of the demon and devils that can be summoned and what it is that they do. The language is an ancient form of denomic, and the user of the book must either be proficient in the language ("Languages, Ancient"), or spend 3d4 weeks studying the manuscript, where after it will be added as a bonus non-weapon proficiency. This proficiency can be improved per normal,

When someone is seeking one of these books for a specific purpose - especially if that purpose is dark - then when they find a copy and open it for the first time, it will often fall open to the specific summoning circle they need as a form of temptation.

Summoning a Demon

Hald, a balding gnomish warrior slammed the door with his shoulder. Despite his small size, he was exceptionally strong - and the gauntlets of ogre's strength didn't hurt. As the door crashed open, the Circle turned in shock their chant falling away in surprise. The leader, caught up in the summoning, continued his chant unaware of the sudden commotion. Mara was only a few steps behind and with a flick of her wrist, she launched a knife at the cultist near the front. Hald was already pushing forward wielding his heavy battle axe in two hands as he closed towards the circle. They pressed hard, as they only had a minute or two before the demon arrived.

The book describes how to summon multiple different types of demons for multiple different purposes. Anyone can use the book to create a summoning circle. Each book is divided into 10 overarching spheres of influence:

  1. Foresight: Portents, Omens and Divination | Internal
  2. Promises: Power, Deals, and Contracts | Internal
  3. Deception: Secrecy, Deceit, and Trickery | Internal
  4. Knowledge: Information, facts, and history | Internal
  5. Bloodlust: Hunting, killing, and battle | External
  6. Vengeance: Revenge, hatred, and envy | External
  7. Assassination: Destruction, death, and power | External
  8. Confusion: Obstruction, plots, and manipulation | External
  9. Pestilence: Disease, famine, and vermin | External
  10. Hedonism: Desire, debauchery, and lust | Internal

If a sphere of influence is External or Internal indicates where the demon or devil will be summoned outside of the summoning circle (External, with the caster standing inside) or inside the circle (Internal, with the caster standing outside of the circle). When summoning, the caster has to create the circle. Creating and summoning is like casting a spell, though the level of the spell is determined by the rank of the creature that you are attempting to summon.

The ranks are as follows:

  1. Tempters: (HD: 1 - 3)
  2. Masters: (HD: 4 - 7)
  3. Minor Lord: (HD: 8 - 11)
  4. Lord: (HD:: 12 - 14)
  5. Duke: (HD: 15 - 17)
  6. Dark Champion: (HD: 18 - 19)
  7. Prince of the Sphere: (HD: 20)
Determining what kind of demon responds to the call is handled by percentages. There is a 60% chance a demon will show up for an external sphere, and a devil for an internal sphere. If a demon, there is a 60% chance it is a fighter type character (treat as a PC fighter where level is the HD), and 20% chance it is a wizard, 10% chance it is a thief, and 10% chance it is a cleric. If a devil, there is a 60% chance it is a cleric, 20% chance it is a thief, and a 10% chance it is a fighter or wizard. HD are rolled randomly. They are always humanoid type creatures. 

Each summoning circle is generally the same:

Summon Demon or Devil (Conjuration/Summoning)Range: 20'
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: 20' radius
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 to 20 Turns
Saving Throw: None
The summon demon spell found in the Librum will take between 1 and 7 turns to cast depending on the HD of the creature being summoned. This does not include the time to set up the summoning circle, which requires materials ranging from common for low ranking demons to exceedingly rare for Princes. While a goat or chicken might do for a tempter, an angel or high priest will be needed for a Prince. Stopping the summoning of a Prince might be an adventure in and of itself. 

Controlling the Summoning

When summoned, a demon is not under any special power or control of the caster. The summoning circle will either protect the caster by presenting a barrier. An encounter check is made immediately. Demons start off as threatening. If the summoner has less hit dice then the demon, it changes to hostile. If the summoner has more, it changes to indifferent. Devils start off as indifferent, if higher in HD, they are threatening. If lower they are friendly. Princes are always hostile.

When starting the encounter roll 2d10 and subtract the reaction adjustment of the summoner based on their charisma score. Devils are always lawful, demons are always chaotic. If the player's alignment matches the summoned creature, then they get a +1 bonus to their reaction adjustment. If the summoner is not matched, it is a -1 bonus. Other bonuses and penalties can be found on Table 50 in the DMG for encounters.

The demon does not have to stay in the summoning circle and can simply leave and return to where it came from. This happens automatically if flight is the encounter result. Spells that bind demons can be applied in this situation, though this automatically sets all future summons to hostile.

When the demon arrives it will be prepared to help the summoner answer their question and will stick around long enough for one attempt. They will either be ready for battle with appropriate gear, will have the right spells memorized, or will have access to the right non-weapon proficiencies.

By their nature, demons and devils in general are unhelpful. If the question is to uncover where Baltur the Money Lender hides his account ledger the responding creature might give an exact location ("The third stair in the west wing of the manor has a hidden compartment") or might be more mysterious ("Where feet tread upwards towards the setting sun, the count of Hydra will reveal a light within the darkness.").  The level of help from the creature is dependent on their reaction. Friendly creatures will be more helpful.

Friday, October 28, 2016


Just a quick update. I had been working on a new post while being very busy at work. I'd have some kind of large process start that would tie up my computer, type up a bit, save it, and go back to whatever it was I was working on at the time.

Last night, I put the finishing touches on the post, and Blogger crashed or froze up. Everything was lost. Only two paragraphs were saved somehow - no clue.

Anyway, the lesson I've learned from this is that hosted/cloud solutions are NOT ready for prime time and average use. Always keep everything on your local computer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Starting an Adventure: Religion!

Gods & Faith for your Players

When I first started designing my adventure, I didn't really think about gods. The player came to me and said that he wanted to play a priest and that he chose the Agriculture mythoi. I responded that the priest would come from a small monastery, and they have apple orchards and blackberry bushes. Interestingly, one of his weapon choices was the bill-guisarme, which made sense with the type of agriculture the priests practiced. Growing up out in a very rural part of New England, the garage at my house had a lot of old style agriculture tools including a billhook and an actual scythe - so I loved having that be a focus.

Beyond just wanting the polearm, the player and I conferred about what this religion would look like using just the PHB. First, we decided that the god was a minor god, focused primarily on the agriculture of trees: fruit and nut trees being the most obvious, but I also had the neat idea that the priests made a fuel out of pine resin and their pine pitch candles were a special trade item:
Candle, Pine Pitch (1sp): A pine pitch candles are mixtures of pine pitch, wax, and charcoal. Each candle is a dark black color, and is shaped as a small three inch rod. These rods are then dipped into regular wax until they create a votive candle. They can then be put into small stone or glass containers and lit. Unlike wick candles, pine pitch candles take longer to light - the priests also make special matches consisting of a long bronze arm with a pitch soaked twine match (2sp, can be used ten times) - but burn brighter and longer then regular candles. They will burn for 20 minutes per inch, and shed light in a 15' radius. 
Now just using the PHB, I decided to throw together the religion for the character by going through each step. At the time, I did not have the Complete Priest Handbook, but the PHB chapter on priests is detailed enough to allow the DM some amazing discretion when it comes to designing a faith. This post will walk you through those steps and how I approached them.


In addition to requiring a wisdom of 9, a specific religion might have other requirements for the player as well. I decided that a minor agricultural god would expect a certain level of health and intelligence and made the requirements be a Strength of 12 and an Intelligence of 10. Why? I assumed farmers would have to be fairly strong, and intelligence was the relevant ability score for the agriculture NWP. The priests work their own orchards, and using heavy tools for hours on end would be exhausting work.

I generally expected that the members of this church would be of a neutral good alignment. Generally supportive, but separated from the core of civilization.

Weapons & Armor

The god we developed was a minor agricultural deity, primarily worshiped in the northern areas. A big emphasis was on harvesting and maintaining trees. We decided that the weapon selection, however, would be pretty basic and focused primarily on weapons converted from agricultural use or that farmers might have available: club, flail, hand/throwing axe, bill-guisarme, fauchard, quarterstaff, and sickle. We felt that this made sense as the weapons were basically all modifications of tools that they would normally use or were very simple and commonly available like the club and quarterstaff.

We didn't touch armor selection, and left the priests of this deity with full access to all armor available. I did make a note that the priesthood is generally not in favor of out of control fire, so throwing burning oil on a goblin in the woods would be seen as a bad thing.


I felt that being a priest of an agricultural god meant - especially a minor one - meant that the priest would not necessarily have access to all spells and spheres. This was essentially the same approach used by the specialist wizard. I banned necromancy, combat, and astral out of hand - far beyond the scope of this god. I also got rid of creation, since it creates something from nothing while the whole point of this God is to grow and nurture. You don't just create food, you grow it and earn it. I felt that the sphere's description didn't match what I saw the religion being about.

For major access, plant, weather, sun and healing were right at the top. I felt that all three made sense and provided the "key focus" of what the god was, and what it was hoping to do in the world. You'll also see that I choose to ban four spheres and make four schools major access. My thought was that for each major access you had to ban an "opposed" sphere. Although there are no real oppositions, I felt that was a good way to show specialization.

Everything else defaulted to minor access.


Granted powers, such as turning undead are where the priest class could truly shine. For my agricultural priest, I decided that they could turn undead, but they also able to turn vermin such as rodents and insects, and had immunity to any plant based poison. The turning abilities I felt could both be used once per encounter - so you can turn undead in one round, and then turn a beetle in the next round. I told the player that vermin were only those rodents and insects that attempted to destroy trees or eat crops, and thus something like bees or dragonflies wouldn't count, but that insect swarms (See Monster Manual, pg 206 would count). Rats would count, while weasels wouldn't count. The purpose of the power was to protect agriculture.

The poison ability was something I thought would make sense. A deity focused on plant life would probably have a strong understanding of plant poisons and provide protection to their followers. How embarrassing would it be if you start a fight with the god of disease, and his followers poison yours using the very plants you represent? Note, this also gave me another deity - a chaotic evil disease god that the cleric's character was sworn to fight against.


In defining the ethos, the player and I had a full discussion. We defined seven primary beliefs of the religion that we felt made sense from the perspective we had developed above:

  1. Support and encourage farmers. 
  2. Defend against urbanization.
  3. Teach the best methods for tending orchards and using the resources of the trees.
  4. Encourage the growth of orchards where possible.
  5. Defend against disease and fire, and the spread of disease carrying vermin.
  6. Encourage peace, protect the innocent, and face challenges with bravery.
  7. Develop the knowledge of agriculture, and discourage the use of wild forests.
The player felt that the religion would strongly encourage the development of orchards and tree farms for pretty much everything. Examples we developed:
  • Special ships are built only using timber grown by this priesthood. 
  • Wooden weapons such as long bows and quarterstaffs made by this priesthood are easier to enchant. 
  • Fruit and nuts raised by this priesthood are healthier and last longer


Since the religion is primarily built around monasteries, all the members are Brothers or Sisters, and leaders are Abbots or Abbess. Men and women would work side by side, so defining their buildings as a convent or monastery would be meaningless, and we defaulted to monastery to emphasize that it was isolated and often remote.


Religion is one of those things that a lot of world designers sweat on. Yet, it isn't that hard. As you can see from the above, just using the Player's Handbook it is possible to design an entire priesthood quickly and easily. Everything you need to start building your world is right there - and you don't even need the priest's handbook to do it!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Clerics and Healing

To Healbot or Not to Healbot

How many times have you sat down at a table and seen the following:
Player 1: "I'll play a fighter!"
Player 2: "I'll play a wizard!"
Player 3: "I'll play a thief!"
Player 4 (arriving late): "Crap. I guess I'm healing."

DM: "Welcome to our table! So all the major roles are filled out, the party needs a priest."

Or some variation there of? I've seen it often enough to start thinking about it - and recent iterations of the game have also attempted to address this concern. When your cleric feels that all they can do is heal, it isn't necessarily the most fun for the player. You take a support role while other players get to be front and center on the action. I understand where - for some - that is neither enjoyable or fun. What's the point of all those spells that Clerics get access to if all they are doing is casting cure [x] wounds?

As a result, I started thinking about alternatives to Clerical healing. Over the years I've come up with a number of solutions to the problem, and thought I'd share them.

Potions and Poultices

The first and most obvious is just to increase the number of healing potions the party has access too. Most of the time I've seen this issue addressed, this is usually the recommendation - and it's perfectly valid. There is nothing wrong with handing out healing potions. The goal is to keep the number of potions limited to be roughly equivalent to what the cleric would have provided in healing spells. Potions have another advantage in that they are at risk as well - just like a cleric. A character that falls down a pit trap might lose the potions they're carrying.

Poultices are a "low magic" potion, and are available in the Player's Option Spells & Magic book. They have a perfectly good rundown on the items, though I personally change it:

Healing Poultice (20gp): Good for a number of wounds, this thick poultice has a sharp and aromatic scent, similar to lemons and mint. It usually comes in a small ceramic pot, and when applied to a wounded person it helps reduce swelling, clean wounds, and ease pain. When used, the healing poultice restores 1 point of damage per application. If the character immediately rests for eight hours after application, under proper care such as a character or NPC with the healing proficiency, the character restores an additional hit point. Such pots have four uses.
Using the ones in the book are fine - though I find that they are made with the idea that the characters will have access to a healer and I would never do a good job of tracking what wounds were caused by what.


The idea of the adventuring surgeon is fairly well established. Dr. Watson is a great example of an adventurer who is also a medical doctor. However, it isn't a role that is often taken by players. When considering healing options, however, a character with surgical training could be an excellent choice. Within my games I had surgery as a non-weapon proficiency:

Surgery (Wizard, Priest) 
# of Slots: 1 | Relevant Ability: Intelligence | Check Modifier: -2 
Surgery is a skill set often maligned by "true" healers. However, although their focus is on removing infected teeth, setting bones, and occasionally more complicated affairs - they provide valuable medical services to communities, and are often found in small villages and farming regions tending to the myriad injuries seen in such settings. A surgeon with a well stocked surgical kit is able to restore 1 hp per injury received by a character. Each injury requires it's own skill check. A surgeon without tools cannot attempt to heal any injuries. Adhoc tools (i.e. using a dagger instead of a scalpel) impose an additional -2 penalty. Working within a well stocked surgical shop removes the penalty. Surgical kits cost 30gp for the initial tools. Although many of the tools are reusable such as scalpels and forceps, after restoring 2d6 hit points, the surgeon has to pay 5gp to restock necessary supplies such as thread, splints, and bandages. 
A surgeon who combines their skill with the alchemist, healing or herbalist non-weapon proficiency is able to restore 1d4 hit points per surgical attempt. They only check against the surgery skill, but restocking their surgical kit requires that they test the other skill (i.e. an alchemy check to make sure that the sulfur powder is effective). Having more then one does not increase the number of healing dice, but does allow for a +1 for each additional skill for a maximum of plus two. Thus, the surgeon has the alchemist skill, and gets to heal for 1d4 points. They later add healing, and get a +1, and then later add herbalism for an additional +1. 
For example, Mally is a Gnomish illusionist, alchemist, and surgeon. She and her adventuring party have been beset by goblins, and her friend - the halfling fighter Arwin - has taken a nasty blow. She throws a quick color spray and as the goblins reel from the magical surge of vibrant colors, she and Arwin beat a hasty retreat. Safe, she pulls out her surgical kit as Arwin struggles out of his boiled leather breastplate, and checks the wound on his shoulder. The goblin blade bit deep and she knows that those disgusting creatures do NOT clean their swords. She pulls a yellow powder out of her surgical bag and sprinkles it on the wound. Arwin gasps in pain but knows not to yell. He instead just glares at the ceiling. Mally winces and apologizes and fishes a well bitten leather strap out of her bag. She gives it to Arwin who clamps down on it. As the sulfur works, Mally seals the wound up and stiches it together. She applies a healing salve and then bandages it up tightly. For these actions, Arwin is healed for 1d4+1 points of damage. 

This is a skill set which can also be used by fighters and thieves as well. Dr. Watson, for example, could be seen as a fighter with a high intelligence allowing him to have bonus NWP slots that can be used for healing, herbalism, or alchemy. 


In Dragon Magazine issue 221, there was an article called "The Little Wish" which converted cantrips into a non-weapon proficiency. I thought this was an amazing idea and include it in all my games when I DM. In addition, I converted Orisons into the same kind of non-weapon proficiency, and allow them to restore some hit points per prayer.

Orison (Priest) 
# of Slots: 1 | Relevant Ability: Wisdom | Check Modifier: -2 
Orisons are the collection of minor prayers, rites and rituals that make up the core tenants of the faith in a particular god. A character with this proficiency knows enough about the rudiments of their faith that they can take on the role of a priest and officiate over certain ceremonies, knowing how to properly beseech their god or goddess. When the character attempts to pray, they must outline what it is they are praying for first. Following this description, they then make their skill check. The Religion non-weapon proficiency provides an additional +1 bonus to that skill check. Other adjustments might be made by the DM as they see fit. For example, a God of Agriculture might grant a healing request if the characters are attempting to defend farmers, and thus forgive slight errors (i.e. the players get a +2 bonus). Characters who have not followed the tenants of their faith would have penalties.  
If the check is successful, the effect comes to pass. such as healing 1 point of damage, or more - some healing gods might restore 1d4 hit points at the DMs discretion. Gods of war might bless weapons to cause an extra 1 or 2 points of damage. The final form of help is up to the DM. Players should not attempt more prayers then they have a wisdom bonus. Each additional prayer above that imposes an additional penalty of 1. Thus if the character's wisdom bonus is 2, and they pray four times, the fourth prayer is at a -2 penalty. Any prayed for result lasts for one round per wisdom bonus of the player, or per level if they are a cleric or paladin - whichever is higher. Failure could have serious consequences, including insulting the Gods at DM's discretion, requiring penance before prayer can be attempted again.

One major advantage of this approach is that it also makes more sense from a NPC perspective. Suddenly, you don't have class level NPC clerics everywhere, but instead you just have lay priests with high wisdom scores who are really good at praying. They are able to manage the church successfully without being the rare breed of warrior-priest who goes forth to vanquish evil.


Finally, I've allowed arcane casters to have access to the Cure [X] Wounds spells in the form of Mend [X] Wounds. Each mending spell restores a d6 instead of a d8, but is otherwise the same. The spells are reversible and allow the wizard to inflict damage. No other aspect of the spell changes.

I find that that these spells are great as they make the necromancer a more viable specialist - by providing reinforcement to the "white necromancy" aspect. Books such as the Deeds of Paksenarion by Elizabeth Moon and the Bardic Voices series by Mercedes Lackey include arcane healing. As a note the Deeds of Paksenarion is heavily based off of the game - so the inclusion is an interesting addition based on how well the book covers traditional D&D tropes. Some of the concepts from the first book include: 

  • Paks laying on hands after the events of Dwarfwatch
  • The fact that recruits with the Duke's Company train on four weapons, matching the four weapon proficiencies of first level fighters
  • The concept of magical arms and armor being easier to use, both lightweight and stronger compared to mundane weapons
Back on track with the goal of this thread - the main point being that clerics shouldn't be the only source of healing. By providing spells to wizards as well, you spread out the healing burden.


When all you are allowed to do is heal the others, many players feel like they are taking a back seat. Not all, but some. Giving options for a party to spread that burden around allows that burden to be shared - and lets the priest use some  of their other spells and abilities. Hopefully you find these rules helpful! Thoughts and feedback are always welcome - leave your comments below!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Catching up after Moving!

Moving: Why it seems so much easier in RPGs!

One thing I will say about RPGs: they make moving and packing look easy. Sure you can ransack that ancient castle with 100 rooms - let's just say you make off with 10,000gp and all the loot. In reality, a two bedroom apartment takes 16 hours and the weather gods decide that - despite the fall month - you will also have to deal with a temperature of 106F. Isn't that great? Obviously my sacrifices and prayers were in vain.

Le sigh!

But let's talk for a minute about encumbrance. As that's what I've been spending the past few weeks thinking about!

Encumbrance and Transportation

This is very much an optional set of rules, and one that is often not focused on in the game - which is a shame, because this is the kind of rule that would address those concerns of fighters and thieves that magic users are overpowered. Even if you are playing a high magic game with tons of magical options to transport things, you do hit a cap - and nothing helps clear out a dungeon like the follower table for the fighter. But that will be addressed later.

For now, let's focus on encumbrance itself. I would say that out of every ten readers, only one will have used encumbrance (Please feel free to comment below if you are that one person - I'd love to know your experience with the rules). Encumbrance adds an additional layer of complexity to the rules that many players and DMs do not like. They don't want to record gold coin weights, nor do they want to stop being able to seed the dungeon with useful items.

And that's fair. There is nothing wrong with saying "we're going to hand wave our way around this." This is a game after all, and though I couldn't hand wave myself through my wife's closet (seriously: four hours in and of itself), I can understand the desire to do so.

So why do I do it?

Because it is fun to go back to old adventures with new rules becoming the focus of the fun! When I include these rules, the goal is to make the characters think about their equipment and about their environment. If you find a room with two full treasure chests, how are you going to get them out? Say you have a fighter (Str: 15) and a thief (Str: 12). Between the two of them they can carry 100 lbs unencumbered. But the fighter has chain mail and the thief has leather armor: 55 lbs of their weight is taken just in their armor. This is unencumbered of course, If they are carrying weapons and some gear we might get from encumbered to lightly encumbered. 

So the large chest weighs 100 lbs (maxed out capacity based on Table 50 in the PHB, page 105). So let's just say that our characters are sharing the load and we'll assume the chest is evenly packed. That means each character is lifting 50 lbs. So for our fighter, we'll say that puts him at moderate encumbrance, and our thief is now at heavy encumbrance. Both are humans, and now the fighter has a movement rate of 6, but the thief has a movement rate of 4. When moving did you ever hear someone say: "You're going to fast!"

Well due to the shared load, the fighter is now at the same speed as the thief - four. If the fighter tries to go faster, then the thief is going to fall down, or lose his hold, etc etc. Now you're party is moving this chest through a dungeon at a movement rate of 4. How many random encounters will they have? Did they clear the dungeon first? Are they sure? How long will it take to get it outside? Is outside even safe? There is another chest too - so now you have to repeat this!

Now you've added an additional layer onto the dungeon for the PCs. Not only do they have to concern themselves with the monsters, but they also have to think strategically. This leads to four major areas for additional role playing opportunities:

1. Making Camp

The first is the base camp. Many adventures start in an inn, jump to the dungeon, and end with the players partying it up back in town. Again, there is nothing wrong with this style of play. However, encumbrance means you have to have a place to leave your gear and it needs to be secured. Making camp then, requires actually working through the outside of the dungeon area. The players need to think about:

  • Concealment - is it hard to see where they want to make camp?
  • Accessibility - can it be easily accessed when carrying a heavy load?
  • Safety - can it be easily defended if necessary?
As a DM you can either have the players talk through this: "I look for a small cave, more a crack in the rock which we can conceal with freshly cut branches." Or you can have the players use non-weapon proficiency, such as survival or camping:

Camping (General/Fighter)
 # of Slots: 1 | Relevant Ability: Intelligence | Check Modifier:
You know the basics of setting up a camp in the wilderness, such as creating a safe fire pit, and the best location for a refuse pit. Most people know that you can pitch a tent and set up a fire, but when they make camp randomly, they might end up sick if they put their refuse pit to close to the spring or they might start a forest fire if they didn't properly set up a place for cooking. You can avoid those mishaps easily. Without an ability check and with proper equipment such as tents, a shovel, flint and steel, and tinder, you can set up a camp for 4 people for each hour you spend working.  
With an ability check, you are able to set up shelters if you have none, for the same time frame. Each hour requires an ability check, and you gain a bonus of +2 to your ability role if you have the survival skill. You are able to scour the local site for what you need. This assumes ideal conditions, and problems such as inclement weather could impose penalties.
When taken by a fighter as a fighter skill, the fighter can make additional skill checks to conceal the camp, or set up a camp as a siege camp. When concealing a camp, the character imposes a penalty equal to difference between their target, and what they rolled. For example, Arwin the Halfling Fighter is attempting to conceal a camp in the mountains. His intelligence is an 11. He has chosen a good site, and had all the necessary gear to get the camp set up. He begins the process of concealment and rolls a 9. The orcs that have been tracking them end up having to take an additional -2 penalty to their tracking score or they lose the party and move on.
If you use additional skill points on this skill, you are mastering camping skills in specific terrains, such as mountains or temperate forests. You gain that additional skill point bonus when in that specific terrain, and that terrain only. You can use more then one additional skill point for one terrain type, for example, a fighter with three skill points spent on camping would have general, and then could either declare a +2 bonus for camping in mountains, or a +1 bonus for camping in mountains and a +1 bonus for camping in temperate forests. Non-fighters can spend a skill point to gain the fighter abilities above.
The DM might allow you to also purchase specially designed camouflage supplies. These would add an additional bonus to the concealment check. Of course, if you have animals in your camp concealing it could be difficult. You might need to hire guards. Especially when you start carting out treasure.

2. Carting Equipment Around

So the party wants to make their way into the mountains. They know of a good camping site near the ancient tomb of Xylocan the Terrible, but they want to be absolutely sure they are ready for what they encounter. They want to bring tents, supplies for a few days, and some spare weapons. They also know that the last time they went exploring, that they had found some items that were to large to carry out easily, so they want to bring block and tackle and some hand carts.. wait! Hand carts? What?

First, making an expedition out into the wilderness requires bringing along everything you are going to need - or making it as you go. Hunting and fishing, for example, can maintain food supplies, as does foraging. However, having ready made food is easier as you do not have to spend all your time just focused on survival. The same is true for weapons - you're better off with prepared weapons versus making your own. So you decide you need:
  • Tents
  • Bedrolls
  • Rope (lots and lots of rope)
  • Poles
  • Lanterns/Torches (and oil for lanterns)
  • Block and tackle
  • Grappling hooks
  • Extra ammo and weapons
  • Food and water (jugs or barrels are probably the best approach)
How do you get all of this up into the mountains? A wagon makes the most sense, pulled by a mule or ox. I've always ruled that a horse, mule, ox, or other pack animal with a cart harness is able to pull 150% of their stated weight on the encumbrance table. They can pull more then moderate encumbrance if the character passes an animal handling check with a -2 penalty for each level above moderate (or for each movement penalty point if using the optional encumbrance rules). However, wagons don't fit into most dungeons easily (there are obviously exceptions!).

So what about inside a dungeon? Well, the characters can use a block and tackle to load up a small cart. There are three types: Hand Carts, Miners Carts, and Wheel Carts. When using a cart to transport, the weight is considered to be 50% of the total weight if pulled, and 80% of the total weight if pushed.

Hand Cart (10 gp): A handcart is essentially a chest on wheels. It can carry up to 100 lbs, and is 3' long by 2' wide by 2' deep. A cart might come with an optional closure on the top which can be locked and secured (+2 gp), or it could just be open. If open, ignore depth - though putting a tall statue in the cart could cause it to tip over. 
Miner's Cart (30gp): A miner's cart is larger then a hand cart, being 5' long, by 3' wide, and 4' in depth. Miners carts can carry 200 lbs. Miners carts sit on two axles and four wheels. They are often pulled by mules or pushed by the miners and are well constructed for that purpose. As they are designed for use underground, most make sure to include a place to hang a lantern, torch or candle from the front. Fancier carts will include a small mirror of highly polished silver to help improve the visibility of a miner's candle (+10 gp, miner's candles burn even in poor air quality, and brightly - they cast light out in a 10' radius and last for 20 minutes per inch. The polished silver mirror extends the light out to a 20' cone, which is 10' wide at the end. Miner's candles cost 5cp each).  
Wheel Cart (5gp): A wheel cart is usually nothing more then a single axle with a small base that is 2' wide and 0.5' long. A single rope is included that can be tied around objects laid on the platform, allowing them to be pulled along. Wheel carts are most frequently used by foresters who down a tree and put one end on the cart, and the other end of the tree is harnessed to a mule or pony to be carried back to their mill. Wheel carts cannot carry a large number of items, but can only carry one item that is secured via the rope. 
With these options the players are able to cart more equipment, and now have an additional reason to set up a camp. Remember, if they're using mules or ponies to pull their gear they will also need feed for them as well!

3. Making Shields and Armor Actually Worthwhile

Additionally, I have made shields and armor more worthwhile. I allow fighters to gain a bonus of -1 to their AC in any kind of armor (i.e. leather armor goes from -2 to -3) by using a weapon proficiency. Further, for all classes shields are better:

Buckler/Target: Improves AC by 2 against one attack, or 3 if used against a missile attack.
Small: Improves AC by 2 against two frontal melee attacks. or 4 against missile attacks.
Medium: Improves AC by 3 against all melee frontal and flank attacks, or 6 against missile attacks.
Body: Improves AC by 4 against melee frontal and flank attacks, or 8 against missile attacks.

Halflings and gnomes cannot use body shields, however they, and other Small sized creatures, treat their shield as one size larger. For example, Arwin the Halfling Fighter has come back to town. During his latest foray into a dungeon, he was attacked from behind and had to drop his short bow and fight with his short sword. He got hurt badly, and has decided he needs a shield. He goes to the shop, and finds a human armorer who has created a small round shield with a bronze leaf pattern. He loves it and purchases it. In his next encounter, he will have an AC bonus of 3 against all frontal and flank attacks: 2 for the shield, and 1 for using a weapon proficiency.

This allows weight to be saved on armor, and also is slightly more in line with history - where shields were key to a soldier's defense. 

4. Hirelings as more then Torch Bearers

Porters, carters, and camp guards all become necessary if encumbrance is going to be a serious concern. The players will need to balance, however, the cost of a team against the potential reward. And this also means that they have to think long term: should we quickly scout a place out and determine what we'll need ahead of time? If we have to leave and come back, what could happen? 

Perhaps the main treasure of the adventure isn't even monetary. An ancient evil has overtaken a temple far in the mountains. The church wishes the PCs to go into the temple and recover important relics: statues of their goddess. These statues are made of marble and are fragile, each double the size of a regular human. In exchange, the PCs will be well rewarded - but not with gold, but access to restoration and healing spells. To recover those statues the PCs will need to clear the dungeon, evaluate the safety of the route, and then bring in a team to get each statue safely out of the dungeon and into wagons or onto wheel carts, and then back to the temple. All of those people will need to be paid, and all that equipment secured or rented. A team of teamsters going all that way will be a handsome sum. Add in laborers and you have a large team of people heading into the mountains. What will that attract? Is the route truly safe? The PCs will have a very difficult time... and that's what makes it so much fun!

And also note: you aren't going to double up here. Guards aren't going to do the job of porters and porters make terrible guards. Maybe if the guards are getting some of the action they'll help load - after all, the more treasure that comes out, the larger their share - but do the players want to share?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Starting an Adventure: Populating your Campaign World

Starting an Adventure

The basic idea for this adventure came to me very quickly: a small gem stone operation has been interrupted when a rock slide opened up a cave system, and a bunch of giant rats came out to attack the miners. The miners were gnomes because gnomes loved gems according to the Player's Handbook. My logic was infallible.

You can read more about getting started on this campaign here.

While I sketched out the map, the two players I had started out with their character development. One wanted to be a fighter, the other a cleric. So I quickly added both a monastery to my notes and a fort where a local Baron ruled. Both characters decided to be humans so right now I only have the rock gnome miners, and a bunch of humans running around. But this was a wealthy town (gem stones and metals) and so I wanted to figure out what it looked like. Being the good DM that I am, I immediately turned to the Monster Manual and decided to roll everything out. This is how it was described the area according to my notes:

Village of Highfall and the North March Barony

The Village of Highfall is a quiet village surrounded by farmland, and under the shadow of the Frost Wall Mountains. Four large peaks, former volcanoes, tower above the sky and watch the activity in the valley below. Before the arrival of the barony, local tribes worshiped these mountains, associating them with the seat of their gods. The village is close to Forest Watch Keep, the seat of the North March Barony. 
From the Keep, Baron Eberhart and his soldiers, guard the land from the constant incursion of barbarian raiders, goblin tribes and the never ending supply of bandits from the Staghaunt Woods. The Baron is a kind, but hard, man and is well liked by his men. He is considered fair and just, and has done much for the local population.  
At the edge of the Staghaunt Woods, a small monastery was established. The order of priests raises blackberries and apples that they turn into wine and hard cider, which they sell to fund their order. Less well known is their library, a small collection of holy works that they continue to expand upon. 

After writing out the above, I used the Monster Manual to actually determine what the Barony looked like. The results are below:

North March Barony & Village of Highfall

  • Baron Waren Eberhart (6th Level Human Fighter, Lawful Good)
  • 10 Gentry (17 Guards, 46 Servants)
  • 3 Knights
  • 44 Soldiers (Including 1 2nd Level Lieutentant, and 12 1st level Sergeants/Corporals)
  • 22 Mercenaries
  • 16 Farmers
  • 81 Peasants
  • 9 Craftsmen
  • 7 Priests
  • 9 Rock Gnome Miners

So now we have a very general idea of what is out here in the woods. Later I would add a wizard tower and two wizards and three apprentices so that another character could play a wizard. The wizards had six servants, and eight guards at their tower. The head of the tower is 5th level, and is often consulted by Baron Eberhart on things magical. Additionally we expanded our map to a lake at the end of the valley and this is where the small village of Dawnfields was added - being primarily a halfling village under the protection of the Barony. This also marks the full range of the Barony.

Village of Dawnfields

  • Master Warden Collyn Longwood (3rd Level Halfling Fighter, Lawful Good)
  • 6 Wardens of Dawnfields (2nd Level Halfling Fighters, Lawful Good)
  • Master Priest Reya Merryberry (3rd Level Halfling Priest, Lawful Good)
  • 91 Halflings
  • 8 Human Craftsmen
  • 10 Human Sailors

At this point we know what our happy Barony looks like - but what makes it unhappy? Barbarians, bandits, and goblins! Because random encounters are so important, I decided to put together a random encounter table, and decided that it made sense to roll on that table every five miles that the players traveled - which we estimated to be about two hours of game time. To save time I decided to re-purpose the monster summoning table from the Monster Manual. I made it focused on what it was I was trying to accomplish for the feel - plus keep it balanced for the number of adventurers I had. Roll 1d12:

  1. Wolf
  2. Bat, huge
  3. Orc (1d2)
  4. Barbarian (2d4)
  5. Goblins (1d4)
  6. Bandits (1d4)
  7. Rat, giant (3d4)
  8. Kobold (3d4)
  9. Wolf
  10. Bandits (1d4)
  11. Bat, huge
  12. Rat, giant (3d4)

So now we have our overall environment: towns, the land, encounters, and more. At this point I felt ready to begin the adventure. But first - here is the updated map!

I recreated the map in Hexographer, something I will review at a later date - but have no financial interest in or relationship with beyond me using it to make maps. This is fairly basic, and each hex represents 5 miles.

So the adventure begins! My starting characters were a Human Fighter and a Human Cleric. The fighter was a former soldier of the baron who had finished his service and was looking forward to adventure. The cleric was a trainee at the monastery ready to go out into the world. They now had a place to explore and people to interact with.

Next post I'll actually put up the adventure!