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!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Building a Kingdom from the Ground Up: Magic

Decisions on Magic in a New Campaign Setting

Back in my previous post on Building a Kingdom from the Ground Up, I talked briefly about character creation and how I and the players built out at the same speed. As the players grew, the campaign world grew. A player wanted a halfling, so we built a halfling village. Another wanted a wizard, and so we quickly addressed magic in the setting. I then took a moment to beat on the Forgotten Realms as that is one of my favorite hobbies.

But let's step back for a second and examine the consequences and design decisions of the various levels of magic.


Magic is one of those things that can be defined on a simple scale: None, Low, Medium, High, Extensive. This is the basic Likert scale I use to define fantasy worlds. I'll quickly give a basic breakdown of them below:

  • None: This is a fantasy world with no magic. It might have something like orcs, or goblins, but in general, there is zero magic involved in the campaign setting. Examples would include The Three Muskateers or the Count of Monte Cristo, fantasies in zero magic settings. It could also occur in D&D if you were to use an all fighter or all thief campaign, without magic items. Not necessarily the most common or favorite of anyone.
  • Low: A lot of people point to Middle Earth as an example of a low magic campaign and I tend to agree. A small handful of magical items, a heavy dependence on fighter types, and if wizards are present - they are rare. I generally prefer this setting type, though it is hard work. Magical practitioners will either practice physical magic (i.e. sleight of hand) or be hedge wizard types. Another example would be the Kingdom of the Isles in the Riftwar Saga, while Kelewan would be an example of a medium to high magic campaign setting. In general, average folk will know magic exists and they will either be hostile or neutral towards it. I generally prefer neutral, but have played at tables where it was hostile.
  • Medium: An example of this setting type would be Pre-War of the Lance Dragonlance. The distrust of magic was strong and wide spread, and while magical items and the magical gods do exist - as does an organization of mages in the Tower of High Sorcery - they are on decline. The campaign is not necessarily magically hostile - but Wizards still have to be cautious. Average folk will know wizards and magic exists, they will know it can generally be helpful, but they will have little to no practical knowledge of what magic can do. Most folk will range from nervous to generally enthusiastic about magic.
  • High: Most campaigns in the various incarnations of D&D fall into this category. Magic is pretty much everywhere and magic users can be encountered in every town and region. Although some campaigns might stop short of magic shops in the market, it is a "Just barely" kind of thing. Mystara, Greyhawk, and the Forgotten Realms are all squarely in this setting, with Mystara and Greyhawk handling it well, and Forgotten Realms handling it poorly. In general, people will have a neutral to positive feeling in regards to magic, and a solid foundation for player character wizards. In my mind, this is the default setting for most D&D campaign worlds and is the easiest for DMs to implement.
  • Extensive: The opposite of none. Pretty much magic is in every part of the campaign world from the word go. This could take the form of the Eberron where there are magical trains, to the world of Golem Arcana where even the poorest outcasts are able to assemble powerful magically forged Titans to defend themselves. Such campaigns are often built on the "What ifs..." that we all ask when we first start going through the spell lists... "What if I cast continual light on a bunch of stones and use them as street lamps?" In an Extensive magic world there is a city employee doing just that. In general average folk love magic, and probably practice it themselves. Forgotten Realms crosses into this realm every once in a while.

Thinking About Magic

The purpose in thinking about magic is to think about your long term, without planning out every aspect of your long term. In a high or extensive magic setting, for example, you have to not only deal with planning epic encounters, but also building in defenses against magic wielders as well. Magic is powerful, and it has the potential to completely derail a well thought out campaign. If you are going to go high and extensive you need to think in that dimension. You need to consider what will teleport and fly do to your campaigns. What about polymorph or wish? If you have an extensive magical campaign, what happens when bar fights start having web or summon monster used? 

Planning a magic level is something you should work on with your PCs finding a comfortable fit for what they want out of the world and what you want out of the world. At the end of the day, however, the DM makes the final call. 

Further, because random tables are fun, I threw this together as well - if you don't know what you want to do - or just think rolling dice is fun - then use the following tables:
  1. How will average commoners react to a magical spell in your campaign world? (Roll 1d10)

  2. How common do you want NPC wizards to be? (Roll 1d6)

  3. When you hear "Magic Shop" your reaction is... (Roll 1d6)

  4. How do you want players to react to a +1 Sword? (Roll 1d8)

Now simply take the results of each roll and look at them. Mostly low? You would prefer a low magic setting. Is it a mix? Take the one in the middle. You have one or more extensive results? Consider using that as your magical base. 

As a note, if you use these tables I'd love to hear your results. I am generally biased towards low settings and as a result these tables are too - please feel free to play with them!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Neat! I got reviewed!

Adventure Anthology One: Shepherds of Pineford

I wrote an adventure many years ago called Shepherds of Pineford for the Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game. You can find it here. It's on page 28! Recently I was shocked to see that Jon Bupp had decided to review my adventure and noted that he really enjoyed it - and that it was an easy convert to 5th Edition! Thank you Jon!

The kind words:
The Shepherds of Pineford has two locations, the town of Pineford, and the simple ruins. I may use the town at some other time. Pretty straightforward, but with a few hooks, and a few suggestions on why the party might be there. Perfect for a sandbox game. I was able to to a quick read thru shortly before our session and felt comfortable running it.
You can find the full review, as well as some of his play notes, at his blog.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Quick Detour: World Building with Player's Option

World Building with the Player's Option Series

So based on my last post someone wanted to know how I use the Player's Option series for world building. I had provided a quick example of a new race and how I would ask questions around it. I included the original post below.

However, I also decided to build this out into a full campaign setting. The races are built with Skills & Powers, and the equipment lists will be pulled from Combat & Tactics. Finally, changes to the magic system to make it a bronze age setting will be made with Spells & Magic. Can all of this be done without those books? Sure. But these resources make it fast and easy. I already have the outline done - most of the time is being spent on the creative writing... which is exactly where game time should be spent! Not on balancing rules!

Download the setting here.

My response to the question: In terms of your specific question - they do NOT include a note for world building. It was more of an "a'ha" type moment. I find that Spells & Magic and Combat & Tactics were better at this - but consider races. Let's say you're working on your campaign world, and you decide you want to have an Egyptian style dwarven race that builds great monuments out of sandstone.

Now you can totally wing it - but I'm a numbers type person and really like it when my numbers add up. The point buy system used by PO: Skills & Powers allows that.

So let's build our new dwarf subrace, we'll call them Scarab Dwarves for fun. So we have a general idea that they live in the desert, we know that we want them on the surface building monuments, and that they're good engineers like most dwarves. They start with 45 points. Now, it is COMPLETELY fine to say something like use the hill dwarf or mountain dwarf subtype. But if you want to build your own subtype PO:S&P allows you to do that. Here is how I'd go about it:

Dwarf, Scarab (45 Points)

  • +1 to Dexterity, -1 to Charisma
  • Weapon Bonus (+1 to attack rolls with the Khopesh, Mace-Axe, Sword-Axe) (-15 Points)
  • Heat Resistance (+1 bonus to saving throws vs. heat and fire based attacks as the dwarf's body is less susceptible to extreme temperatures - Pulled from the Elven  ability table) (-5 points)
  • Saving Throw Bonuses (Dwarves gain bonuses to saving throws vs. poison and against magical attacks from rods, wands, and spells based on their Constitution/Health scores.) (-10 Points)
  • Engineering Proficiency (+2 to the NWP Engineering if they have that NWP - Pulled from the Gnomes) (-5 Points)
  • Desert Movement (The dwarf is able to pass without trace as per the spell in a desert environment - pulled from the Gnome ability and changed to desert) (-10 Points)

So now we have a dwarf with no infravision, no traditional combat bonuses against enemies that they haven't encountered... but they are master engineers building monuments in the desert environment they are masters of.

And you can change this easily. You could give them the ability to communicate with insects for ten points.. say remove engineering. And now you have a desert empire of dwarves mounted on scarabs running around. In fact, let's give these dwarves a phobia to darkness and the insect ability. They now need to make a saving throw vs fear to go underground (a fairly big penalty for an adventurer), but they get their insects and insect like mounts.

So now we have a bronze age themed dwarf, that has built a monument creating civilization in a desert somewhere in the world. They are surface dwellers and are known for their close allegiance with giant scarabs that they ride into battle. Now, this inspires a few follow up questions:

* Who else lives here?
* How do they feel about their dwarven neighbors?
* What does the pantheon look like? Do we want the standard Egyptian pantheon or something else?
* What is the big threat that these dwarves are facing?

Off the top of my head, I'd say: we have halflings that travel the coasts and river deltas. They live in reed boats and are nomadic. We'll call them Water Halflings. Maybe they make papyrus scrolls and are know for their scribes. Gnomes live in the deep canyons south of the Dwarven lands. They are reclusive and generally not welcoming to others. They are known as Canyon Gnomes, and are primarily considered mercenaries for the human and dwarven empires. The humans come in two varieties: an empire south of the Dwarves on the other side of the gnomes, and the Sea People who are a vicious and evil group of raider humans much tougher then their civilized brethren (use the Half-Orc racial template).

Monday, August 29, 2016

Building a Kingdom from the Ground Up

And we're off!

One of the favorite things I love about 2nd Edition AD&D is that it IS the system for world building. It doesn't matter if you're looking to create a simple setting to build around an adventure, or you are going for a full multiverse that puts Brandon Sanderson to shame - you can do it in 2nd Edition. Especially with the release of the Player Options series. Let's stop for a second.

A Minor Note: Player's Option, Optional Rules, and Kits

Many people do NOT like the Player's Options series. They'll tell you about their dislike, at length, for long periods of time. And that's totally fair. Most times, if you dig into their dislike, what they hated was that the system - when player's just showed up with everything and the kitchen sink pulled into their character - could do a lot of min/maxing. This is a royal pain to adjust for, and it is very difficult on the DM to adjust a game for that kind of player. Especially in the 2nd Edition days when computer tools were limited and you couldn't just have a tablet on the table that let you manage your game.

However, when you use the optional rules to build your campaign setting - you can do pretty much anything. I feel a lot of people discounted the Player Options series due to the explosion within the player base that was brought out by the material in Skills & Powers - yet, I hope this blog helps people revisit the material.

How big should your setting be? Big enough.

A lot of people make one very big mistake with campaign settings: they try to build everything at once. They will draw/find a map that represents a planet the size of Earth or larger, and try to make sure that they know every NPC and organization on every square inch. They'll want to be able to tell you that on the Island of Froz, the butcher's cousins wifes uncles great niece twice removed was born on the night when the second and fifth moon were both full, and what this means in terms of the full cosmology of religions as well as the ancient space fairing race that monitors all life from their hidden base on the third moon.

Okay - I might be slightly exaggerating. However, if you see yourself in that description above, don't worry! I used to be that person, too! In fact, my first attempt at building a world did JUST that. Except I hand drew AND colored the map on a three by three map of 8.5" by 11" graph paper (so 25.5" by 33"). And one day I might even have enough courage to tell you just how badly it flopped. For now, let's use the short cut version!

After getting a good sized group together, I went into detail about the setting to "help" with character creation. If you can't figure out why this was the only sentence I can really write that is positive about that night, I can't help you - but let's just say no matter how bad of a DM you think you are, I am 100% sure I can beat you!

The following month, I sat down with two friends - and we had an on the fly session. I created a town named Highfall, and the adventure was based around a group of rock gnomes who had a small, but profitable life, pulling jewels out of the water at the base of the falls that gave the town it's name (in my defense I grew up in a town named Milford.. because the Mill was on the river ford, so don't judge). Suddenly, without realizing it, I had a setting - sure it consisted of one town, only a few NPCs, and a cave system (and yes, I'll post this adventure at some point - I have the notes, but will have to recreate the maps). I needed a setting and created one, and it was good enough.

Building out the Options -Work with the Players

So I started off with a quick town, and one player said they wanted to play a Fighter, the other wanted to play a Cleric. So I quickly throw together a local Baron who has a guard organization and the Fighter character comes from here. The Cleric comes from a local monastery that also has a vineyard as the player wanted to know how to make wine. So now the setting is growing. We started with a town, and we added a local keep with a Baron, and a religious presence. We haven't done anything to figure out religion yet, nor anything really complicated with the government, but our setting is growing.

As we added other players, we continued to add and grow the campaign world. We had a player who wanted to play a halfling, so that required building out that option. Now, where the river ended in a lake, a small halfling community was formed. Why a lake? Because the character took the fishing Nonweapon Proficiency. One of the benefits of this approach was that the halfling town was detailed by the player - he built out the NPCs and everything else associated with it, and even came up with what roll they played in the local environment. They traded cheese, wood, and wool north to the Highfalls folk in exchange for gemstones and metalworks. They also built a large barn where the humans and gnomes could store their trade goods for when barges would come. Now where are those barges going?

Think about Magic - But only when you need too!

Of all the early decisions you can make about your setting, the most important is the level of magic. This is a big point of debate in almost any forum for any edition. And I'll be frank on where I stand: I prefer low magic settings. At the same time, I like the setting to be low magic - not the party. As a result, when I had a player express interest in a wizard, I worked with the character on developing a back story where the character was instructed by an isolated recluse.

I quickly decided on a low magic setting as I wanted to avoid the single largest error that the Forgotten Realms setting makes: that it is nearly impossible for any true danger to exist due to the sheer number of apparently omnipotent magical characters that exist. If the players screw up, Elminster or someone else will float down from the sky and solve the problem in a classic dues ex machina. This isn't necessarily bad if you like it - and if you want a high powered/high magic campaign, go for it. FR I feel fits the bill nicely, and so homebrew allows for low power/low magic games which I feel are more fun.

Summing it up:

  • Build a setting when you need a setting, and only what you need at the moment in time you need it.
  • Work with your players, make them a part of the setting and they'll take ownership for making the game work.
  • Think about magic early - but remember to focus on the setting. Your players are unique in your world - they are brave enough to go adventuring!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

For Gold & Glory

An OSR Version of 2nd Edition AD&D
So today I wanted to talk about the OSR version of 2nd Edition AD&D: For Gold and Glory. For those that do not know, the OSR is an open source version of the D&D role playing game. This is intended to allow people to develop games and material for older versions of D&D, using the open game license developed by Wizards of the Coast. There are a number of options out there for the various systems, such as Basic Fantasy, Swords & WizardryLabyrinth Lord, and OSRIC.

For a long time, these were really the only options, and they reflect game rules essentially from the beginning of D&D to the release of 2nd Edition. For a while, it seemed that 2nd Edition was pretty much abandoned until the release of for Gold & Glory.

Why OSR?
Although much of the 2nd Edition material is still available, and Wizards of the Coast in the run up to 5th Edition released the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master Guide, and Monster Manual, there are reasons to support the OSR. First, it's free. If you've purchased the 2nd Edition material, and you want to run a game - but your players aren't convinced - they can get the core rules to build their characters and learn the rules for free. Second, it provides a convenient PDF with bookmarks that you can use to navigate when you're running your game.

Finally, if you want to go into self-publishing, Wizards of the Coast prevents third party publishers from using the trademarks and brand identities of the 2nd Edition game. As a result, you cannot publish an adventure module as "Compatible with 2nd Edition AD&D" due to current trademark law. One work around would be to write: "Compatible with the World's Most Famous RPG from 1989" which was the original publication date. That's a hassle. Although I support Wizard's of the Coast, and am a huge fan of 5th edition, for those that love 2nd Edition and want to find official publications for it - For Gold & Glory is an excellent thing.

How do the Rules Compare
Frankly, very well. For Gold & Glory is as close to a straight up clone as you can find out there. Every clone takes some liberties, and For Gold & Glory they did as well. Certain sections are slightly changed in their organization. Non-weapon Proficiency points have become skill points. Weapon groups, from Player's Option: Combat & Tactics, was also placed into the rules. However, for the most part the rules are exactly the same, and the slight changes are minuscule. This is not clone of the 2.5 era from 1995 onward with the PO options fully integrated into the game.

For quality, I rate a product on three different categories: layout, editing, and artwork. And for Gold & Glory, I give them full points on all three counts. Let's address each point one at a time:

The layout for the book is two column with some tables taking up the whole page. Navigation is quick and easy in such a format. However, I find that the rules themselves are well structured, with standard conventions across classes and races. For example, each game related skill block is put into a bullet list - instead of just left hanging like in the original rules. I appreciate that because it makes it easier to find the rules later on. Paragraphs also have headers in bold, such as "Armor" or "Weapons" that allow you to quickly isolate where those rules are - again, something that was more hidden in the original rules.

I've read through the rules multiple times to compare them to the original rules that they are based on. Despite that, I have found few editing problems. For a free text, that is impressive. There are some conventions that they have employed which are the reverse of similar presentations in the original work - I'm assuming that was partly for legal reasons - however, it also makes the material smoother and easier to absorb. If you are rusty on your rules knowledge, I'd recommend reading through Gold & Glory before going to original material. A very high mark indeed for the publisher.

I like the artwork, but let's ignore the subjective and instead focus on the objective: Most free versions of the various OSR products do not include artwork. The fact that this work has so much art in it, much of it full page and full color is impressive. Artwork is expensive, so it makes sense that an OSR product that commissioned art would need to charge to cover that cost - and that makes sense. The full team (Edit: see comments below!) went out of their way to find appropriate artwork that was free, so that they could create a free resource for players that was also visually appealing. I appreciate the work and effort that went into that.

Final Thoughts
I wanted to post this early on to show my appreciation for one of the louder advocates for my favorite edition. I think they have put something together here which is really great and should be supported for their effort. In the future, as I put the final touches on my campaign settings and resources, I'll be happy to use the For Gold & Glory branding.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Welcome to Maircoan!

Welcome to my blog!

The Kingdom of Maircoan has been the setting of my writing since 1996. As a result, I have a wealth of material built for it and have recently become interested in sharing that material - in the original format for 2nd Edition AD&D and now for 5th Edition!

In addition, I will be using this blog to showcase my non-setting specific writings and ideas! Thank you for joining me here, and I hope you come back often!