Encounter Culture#6- Illusion

 

This Encounter Culture focuses on illusion, with a deadly, often udnerappreciated, monster that is the absolute pinnacle of deception and comes loaded with everything you need for a truly memorable ordeal.

CR 7- 3,200

Enemies: One Aboleth

The Premise: On paper this encounter is just a battle against an Aboleth, but in reality it is a nightmarish struggle to determine what reality really is. The Aboleth hides behind layers of illusions while dominating as many members of the party as possible.

The Breakdown: What should be a simple looking battle unfolds as a terrible waking nightmare. Start by designing a simple looking dungeon room or natural terrain area that seems to fit with the players location. A kitchen, a prison room, a forest glade, a swamp, whatever you like. This is really the first layer of illusion, created by a Aboleth's Mirage Arcana. The real terrain features large pools of water, completely hidden by the magic until a hapless player falls inside. At this Point the player who fell in is subject to the first dominate person attempt of the Aboleth. If they succeed on their save they may  notice some kind of effect tickling the back of their mind, but they have bigger issues to deal with. The water is full of monsters! Depending on the location of the encounter it may be sharks, hydras, krakens, piranha, or other creatures. This is a quadruple whammy of deception. Some of these creatures were generated by Programmed image, Set to trigger when a creature enters the water. Others are created through persistant image,  and one of them is actually a Projected Image that has been affected by a veil spell to look like a different, non hostile, underwater creature. Meanwhile the real opponent, the actual Aboleth is hidden behind an Illusory wall. The real Aboleth just bombards the weak willed with dominate person and hypnotic pattern until it has no more dominate and only one or no players remain able to act and then it resorts to melee attacks. The real trick here is that because several of the fake enemies are made by one creature and several are made by another only some of them will become transparent on a successful save, and a save is only allowed for those who interact with the creatures. Which means any party member wanting to know the real deal has to get in the water and touch some potential monsters.

Hooks: Depending on the other encounters the Aboleth may be the big boss of a dungeon, or it may have its own separate far reaching goals. If the players never actually discover the creature and its able to dominate party members without being caught it may even choose to let the party go. Commanding the victim to "Act normally" and then keeping telepathic tabs on them until they can use their new puppet to send more helpless victims its way. A clever Aboleth could even set up an alter ego for captured party members, forcing them to act during the night for its goals, and allowing them to remain normal during the day. Just a few powerful pawns are more than enough for an Aboleth to create an empire from.

Variations: If you don't believe in the Aboleth's ability to get the job done on it's own you can up the CR of the encounter to 8 by pairing it with a CR 5 monster, or group of monsters adding up to 5 (2 CR 3's, or a CR 4 and a CR 2 work). This encounter can also easily be changed up by altering the terrain and the situation in which the players run into their foe. Any template that adds new offensive spell like abilities to the Aboleth can also be very effective, such as half fiend adding unholy blight and Poison, as well as darkness for added confusion. This encounter also serves very well mixed with deadly traps above the water that are cloaked in the illusionary battlefield making them extra deadly. Even just adding some pits that drop the players a dangerous distance before hitting the water work nicely.

Tale of the Tape: This encounter is CR 7 as it's really just an Aboleth using all of its abilities  appropriately, and the water is a necessity since that is the creatures natural habitat.  Keep in mind of course if any of the Variations mentioned above change the CR that you reward the players accordingly. If you want to give the players a better chance you can give them a chance to avoid detection by the Aboleth so that it won't have  it's persisted images in place and won't have a dominate person readied when a player falls in right away. You could also tip them off that the area may not be real by making the illusion seem out of place with the surroundings, such as a foggy swamp inside of a stone dungeon.

Encounter culture#5- Enchantment "There must be something in the water"

Continuing on with our look at the spell schools this week Encounter culture is covering Enchantment. The most enticing of all schools of magic.

CR-None

The premise: This encounter couldn't be simpler, the water supply of an entire town, city or village had been contaminated by a potent love potion. It functions as a Philter of Love, but takes hold of everyone who drinks it. But more than just drinking the water carries the effects.

The breakdown: Creating a magic item that achieves this goal is very costly. By breaking down the cost for a single use activated magic item we can discern that the 3,000 gp cost, is based on a CL of 15 and a spell level of 4 multiplied by each other and then the base 50 GP cost. Simply taking the same number but pricing it for an unlimited use item gives us a cost of 120,000 GP. Which means it would take 60 days of crafting to complete. The item may be similar to a decanter of endless water, but with love potion, or it may be an enchanted well or fountain. The creator just needs the craft wondrous item feats, charm monster, and permanency.

Anyone drinking the tainted water will fall in love with the next person they lay their eyes on, permanently and with no save. The effects of this being applied to an entire town are massive, and there are several things for the GM to consider, each of which has its own implications.

What does a second drink do? Technically each time the subject drinks they'd fall in love with the first person they see, and this would not end their love for anyone else, including non magically induced love.

How strong is the love? Does it fill people with the desire to profess their feelings, write songs, and give gifts? Or does it drive people to near madness with desire that must be fulfilled no matter what.

Does the population understand what's happening? The local citizens may realize they're under an effect, or they may simply think that their hearts are running wild. And if they do understand something is going on are they able to recognize the water is causing it?

How strongly does the potion pervade the city? Consider what happens to Soups, baked goods, potions and medacines made using local water.  When boiled, does the water become purified? Does it release  steam that carries the effect? What about clothes washed and steamed with the elixir tainted water?

What mood do you want this encounter to have? Do you want to portray a fun light hearted goofy story featuring comical impossible romances? Do you wish to explore themes of sudden passion, guilt, and confused feelings of love? Do you want to evoke a horrific atmosphere with people terrified of their own emotions and an unseen contagion?

Consider these questions and answer them with eachother in mind. Consider these two very different scenarios as examples:

By deciding that the tone is a mix of comical and dark the DM may decide that the feelings of love are very powerful and very physical, and that the locals have no idea what's causing it, but they know that food and water is tainted. Each time someone eats or drinks they will become deeply attracted to another person they lay eyes on, and be unable to stop themselves from trying to hug and kiss those people (And not more than that, given the mood we want). This causes the population to shut themselves in, barely eating or drinking and not leaving the house for fear of becoming the target of infatuation. We've effectively constructed a low stakes parody of a zombie outbreak scenario. Where people could be dragged off and swarmed with kisses and backrubs, and clean food is scarcely rationed.

Alternatively the GM may decide to play up the feelings of romance. The potion only causes you to fall in love with one person, and it's a far more real love, maybe even as strong as "true" love. The town has no idea it's even happening, as only some water is tainted given the towns multiple wells and it mostly spreads through certain goods. This creates a situation where a long-time rival, or even a hated team mate could suddenly find themselves in love with one of the player characters, or visa versa. This focuses on the romantic and storytelling aspects, and may even touch on the conflict of knowing that a feeling is false, but still feeling it just as strong. Perhaps someone affected by it finds their life is made better by love, and decide not to have it removed. Or perhaps once awakened those feelings don't vanish, even with a break enchantment spell.

There are dozens of directions a DM can go with this idea, andthey may even get several adventurers worth of material out of this single encounter.

Hooks: This encounter is nothing but hooks. It's all hooks. Hooks for days. But fine, if you want one more, just let the players investigate who MADE this crazy item and why. And as an added bonus, players figuring out the source of the love will have to decide what to DO with it.

Encounter culture #4- Evocation

This time encounter culture will take a look at Evocaiton, especially coupled with the idea of mobility and the clever use of mounts. 

CR 10 (9,600 xp)

Enemies: 6 level 5 Evocationists, on horseback.

Basic premise: The concept for this encounter is simple. Six evocaitonists, each wearing masks or obvious magical disguises, specialists in evocation plan to effectively incapacitate or kill the party in order to get a hold of their valuables. Using a combination of deadly offensive magic, horses for mobility, and clever tactics, these spell casters a huge advantage that helps even the playing field against their much stronger foes.

 

The breakdown:

The Mages ride up to the party, preferably a safe distance from any law enforcement, and they open fire with an array of spells. Wizards are of course known for their intelligence and as such have a carefully laid out plan. The first wizard to act has the job of hindering the enemies and protecting the rest of their spellcasting team. If the party has mounts that may mean lobbing a damaging spell at their mounts, if the party has ranged attacks it could mean readying a wind wall for the first time a ranged attack gets loosed, or, it could mean just opening up with a round of sheet lightning to try and daze them.

The next few wizards all have the job of focusing on shutting down the parties casters. For each spellcaster on the party a wizard will ready actions to unleash attack spells when they cast in order to disrupt them. Preferably these spells will be fireballs, lightning bolts, that can damage other party members, or admonishing rays so they can knock the players out and capture or loot them later. Although another excellent choice is the flaming sphere, since the mages won't need their move actions to escape their opponents they can use them to move their spheres around in order to both damage AND hinder the party.

After the casters have been accounted for the remaining mages have the job of dealing as much damage as possible. This means usually throwing out fireballs if the party is clustered, or the afore mentioned flaming spheres on the first round so they can lay the double whammy in the next round. If however the party is still managing to mount an offense then these mages should instead focus on preventing that, by focusing down who or whatever is able to threaten them, by killing mounts, targeting ranged weapon users, or using magic to stun, trip, or disarm enemy melee combatants.

This encounter serves as a great acid test for players, to see if they are able to adapt to unusual combat encounters, and can serve as a great learning experience. If they're nearing or at 10th level they need to be prepared for fights like this, and the mages having the intent to rob, and not kill, gives that safety net in case the players are caught totally unprepared. I would recommend this for a party of level 7-9 playerssince it does make such a good learning tool, and the stronger the players are, the easier it is for them to shrug off the threat these craft casters pose.

 

Building the enemies:

It's not hard to slap together a very functional evocations. Load up on a variety of attack spells, especially the ones mentioned above and let them fly. With the intense spells class feature every offensive spell should be pulling in two extra damage which will quickly add up. Selecting a Bonded item and having it function as a wand can be very helpful as will be explained shortly. Another good option is a raven or monkey familiar that can chuck out alchemist fires and thunderstones at casters or  tanglefoot bags at hapless mounts.

The bonus feat gained at fifth level could be traded away for Creative Destruction, to give the wizards a little more survivability. One could also give them craft wand since wands might be extreemly useful for their plans. A few metamagic feats work very well for this situation, such as Bouncing spell, which is very effective when used on a flaming sphere as it not only gives them another chance to hit, but if the first target dodges it gives them the potential to move their sphere to another target within medium range. The Mages could also take Merciful spell if the GM wants them to knock the party out so they can rob or capture them, without actually killing them. Another fine choice would be still spell, allowing them to cast on horseback without risking losing their spell, though other options exist below. And of course a Toppling magic missile is a great way to ruin the day one a mounted enemy since you can blast both them and their horse for twice the chance of slowing them down.

If the wizards can maintain a safe distance using only their mounts move actions they can cast without any penalties, but if they will need to move any faster than that it's recommended to either equip them with partially charged wands containing the spells they need, or putting two of their feats into the getting the stellar Uncanny concentration. The Mages may be using a Mount spell, or may simply have some lightly armored warhorses, either way works equally well.

My recommendation is to just make 1 wizard and copy them 6 times, and then give each unique personality traits, but if you really want to then feel free to custom tailor 6 unique spellcasters.

 

Tale of the tape:  6 level 5 enemies does make for a CR 10 encounter. Ordinarily I might count the challenge rating as one higher due to the very clever tactics and environmental advantage the mages have, but the reality is that the players will be nearly equal in number and close to double in power, they need the help. If the players have a really tough time of the fight consider awarding them xp for a CR 11 encounter (12,800 xp)

 

Hooks: If the mages are attempting to kill the players then there may be a good reason, perhaps this is no mere robbery, but instead a hit in disguise. And if they DO incapacitate the party there are a host of options for what can happen next. A daring escape from their lair? A naked hike through dangerous hostile territory? Gathering info about the identities of these spellcasters in order to track down their stolen gear? The possibilities are endless.

 

Variations: To really play up the desperado outlaw angle the mages could be spellslingers, armed with rifles and pistols. They could also be replaced by rogues, slayers, or even bards using magic items to emulated the necessary spells. Lastly the scenario could be played out very similarly with alchemists using a variety of bombs and alchemical items at a lower level.

Player Proficency

 

As has been mentioned before, Duck and Roll is in the process of building an RPG called "Skeleton Quest" And during the development of the game I noticed something interesting that a lot of game designers don't talk much about, but that applies equally well to videogames and tabletop RPGs.

Today's topic is "Minimum and maximum enjoyable proficiency." which is basically a look at how bad, or good, can your player be at your game before it's no longer fun.  This is something really important to consider from a design standpoint. We've all had that game where our level of proficiency does not match the game we're in. Sometimes that can be getting absolutely crushed in a game like Darksouls, Hydlide, or just the campaign of that one friend who thinks the DM's job is to kill you. And we've also all had our fair share of mind numbingly easy games, The "Final fantasy mystic quest"s, Lego batman's, or most of the Pokémon franchise (not counting competitive play). And a lot of us have also felt the guilt of utterly crushing and outpacing as new or gentle DM's toughest boss encounters.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this, and in fact trying to avoid it entirely is sometimes very difficult or even counterproductive. What would Darksouls be if it didn't force you to git gud? What would DND 3.5 and Pathfinder be if all the classes were balanced? The truth is every game has some point at which if you aren't at least a certain level of qualified the game will suck, and likewise every game has a point where you're so good it's no longer exciting.

The important thing is to keep this threshold in mind when designing your videogame, campaign, or dungeon. There's nothing wrong with offering a hard or easy experience, but the important factor is to consider carefully what your range is. If you say "I'm running a very high difficulty Shadowrun game, I recommend making sure you're well equipped and know the rules inside and out" then everyone who shows up should have the expectation that they might get geeked. And they might even love it. The same group told "I'm gonna run a shadowrun game. Try to have a sheet ready for when we start" And then faces the same challenge is likely to range from disappointed to furious.

With a tabletop game, most systems have ways to adjust the difficulty, by changing the tactics of the enemy, by using more or fewer monsters or more dangerous weapons, and there's always the option of just fudging things a bit on the fly. But a videogame is a lot harder to adjust, and the bigger and longer the game is the harder it gets. Every extra +1 defense or +5 hp, or potion of healing that you hide away gradually widens the gulf between someone who found every secret, and someone who didn't. And each new move and optimal strategy further separates the great players from the average or mediocre players.

In an upcoming article I'm going to cover a bunch of tips and approaches for dealing with this gap of player proficiency, and how to use it to your advantage. But until then I hope I've got you thinking about the kind of game you're running.

Encounter Culture #3- Divination

Encounter culture #3- Divination "The Stacked deck"

CR- 11- 13 (See Tale of the tape)

The basics: It is inevitable that the party will make enemies, but when one of those enemies call upon a mercenary member of the black powder inquisition the party may be facing a challenge they cannot overcome. Their opponent has been watching and measuring them for some time and has everything they need to bring their enemies down.

Enemies:

Level 12 Inquisitor

Story: The premise is simple. An unscrupulous mercenary Blackpowder Inquisitor has been hired to take down the party. The Inquisitor spends days Casting divination and asking people they've known about them. A thorough round of Detect anxieties, Detect desires, Seek thoughts, and other similar spells help shape a full tactical plan of attack.

Tactics: The inquisitor is equipped with a revolver with six Bane bullets per  player, tailored to their specific races.  The Inquisitor uses their judgement ability, tailored to the opponent they choose to take on first. Along with their and the greater bane ability they have the potential to deal huge damage, and this is bolstered even more when they take the time to cast a pre-emptive named bullet, one for each target, and Locate weakness spell. All told this allows The Inquisitor to attack with an enchantment +4 higher than normal, 6d6 extra damage, and the first shot on each player (assuming the inquisitor is using named bullets on the right targets) will ignore concealment and be an automatic critical threat with an extra +12 damage if it confirms, and will roll the weapons damage dice twice and take the better result.

If they deem it plausible the Inquisitor will challenge a party member to a one on one duel. After gunning them down the inquisitor is likely to open fire on the least defended enemy, unless they can persuade another player to duel them, though that is unlikely.

Hooks: This encounter doesn't need a plot hook in order to start, but it can lead to several exciting plots. Firstly, the party can find out who sent the inquisitor and seek revenge. Second any of the parties contacts or allies who were spoken to by the inquisitor can now be brought back into the scene, either murdered, captured, or simply fearing for their lives, or even seeking to make amends for giving away their allies weaknesses. This encounter can also be foreshadowed by the inquisitors reputation getting around, or even by them meeting or being noticed by the player earlier in the campaign.

 Tale of the Tape: This encounter can vary considerably in difficulty depending on circumstance. The base challenge rating is 11, due to a 12th level NPC enemy. However If a player decides  to accept a 1 on 1 duel the challenge rating is 1 higher. And if the Inquisitor has time to cast all their buffs beforehand the challenge rating also raises by 1

Encounter culture #2 - Conjuration

 

Since the first encounter culture was so well liked here’s another one! This time Duck and Roll takes a look at an encounter focused on the school of Conjuration. 

The basics: A nest of Unfettered Eidolons have captured a summoner and a cleric and are using them to create a brood of other unfettered.

CR 15 encounter-

Foes:

8 CR 10 Unfettered eidolons (Raise the challenge rating either by advancing HD and evolution points, or by adding templates such as half celestial/fiend/dragongiant or advanced templates.)

 

Allies:

Imprisoned Cleric - level 10

Imprisoned summoner - level 10

 

Treasure:  25,000 Gp worth of stolen diamonds, and any magical items the summoner or priest may pass on to the players that the GM wishes them to have.

Story:

After a hard fought battle a summoner, once an adventurer much like the players, succumbed to their wounds and died. In the process their eidolon was freed, became unfettered, and sought a place for itself in the world. No matter how it tried the eidolon could not find a creature like itself, a mate, but one day in its wanderings it found it's old summoner alive and well, resurrected by a priestly companion. And the summoner had a new eidolon much like the old one. It approached this new eidolon discreetly asking it to run away with it, escape and begin a life together but of course it could not. Not so long as the summoner lived. What followed was a short and brutal ambush and the summoner was slain again and the Eidolons could be together. But even as the summoner's priestly friend still lived, still healed their wounds, the eidolons hatched a plan. The priest was forced to revive their summoner companion and then both were captured by the eidolons, imprisoned in a secret cavern. Over and over again the summoner is forced to create an eidolon, slain, and then revived, the priest being forced to perform the miracle and then the eidolons leaving them for a time to steal fresh diamonds.

Hook: The disappearance of either a local summoner, a noted priest, or the theft of numerous diamonds all make great plot hooks. As do sightings of the brood of unfettered eidolons carrying out the misdeeds. This can also work well if modified to include a summoner or priest the players already know.

Tactics:  The pack of powerful eidolons guards the cleric and the summoner alike, keeping the summoner at least 30 ft away from the cleric to prevent them from being able to help each other escape.

Depending on the templates chosen the Eidolons typically have 4 hang back and unleash and ranged or spell like abilities while the other four engage the party up close. 2 of the eidolons, the first 2, will flee if more than half their ranks are slain and they have access to the exit, otherwise they will fight to the death, either way they will never surrender to capture. If either the cleric or summoner becomes too much of a problem an eidolon will move adjacent and attack, and follow with a coup de gras the next round.

Once the battle begins the Summoner will make use of their Summon monster spell like abilities to call in creatures to aid the party, but this can be short lived if the heroes don't come to the summoner's aid since they can be killed quickly by a coup de gras. The Cleric meanwhile will beg the heroes to get their holy symbol from a nearby table, and if they do the cleric can call on channel energy to heal nearby allies

Tale of the tape: On paper this is a CR 16 encounter, given the 8 CR 10 eidolons. However the aid of the summoner and cleric grant enough of an advantage to bring the challenge rating to 15. It's advised to use this encounter as a significant challenge for a group of level 11-14 characters since each individual monster is considerably weaker.

Map: There are a number of configurations you could use for the terrain, a default map is not included because it depends on how you advance the eidolons. If they wind up with flight for example a vertical battlefield set into a cliff is appropriate, whereas giantx2 eidolons need a lot of open space.

Variations: The easiest variation is by changing the templates applied to the unfettered eidolons, though they could also be swapped out for other outsiders of similar CR to simulated different eidolons.

One could also change the encounter to 16 typical unfettered eidolons, or just 4 cr 12 ones, or even just a pair of CR 14 Eidolons representing the original duo, yet to begin their brood.

Done fast: To make this encounter real quick to set up don't bother detailing the summoner and priests abilities. Limit the priest to just "channels energy for 5d6 healing in 30 ft", and the summoner to "Can cast "Summon monster 5" 4 times during the fight. And just slap the incredibly simple "Advanced" template on the eidolons twice.

Encounter Culture #1 Abjuration

Welcome to the first installment of my new recurring series "Encounter Culture" where I'll present an encounter complete with a breakdown and some tips for how to use it and what it adds. And in keeping with Duck and Rolls month long celebration of Schools we'll be looking at an encounter focused on Abjuration. The encounters are designed to be modular allowing you to place them neatly into many adventures.

The Rainbow room-  CR 16 encounter - 76,800 xp.

The basics:

This room poses a deadly challenge to a group of heroes who would ordinarily be more that capable of defeating the lower level foe before them. The encounter contains 12 prismatic wall traps that will activate in a specific pattern over the course of 3 rounds dividing the room into just a few small safe squares. The Iron Golem they players will be fighting is immune to the effects of the spell and thus can move freely laying the hurt on the players who can neither see nor move through the ever increasing barriers. And anyone touching the walls may wind up dragged off into a fight with two weaker golems in a pocket plane.

 

Description to read to players:  The room before you is a large 60 ft by 60 ft perfectly square chamber with 30 ft high walls made of beautiful mirrors causing it to seem to reflect endlessly all over itself. In the very center stands a golem of gleaming iron and steel likewise polished to a near mirror finish.  The floor is carved neatly into 144 perfect 5 ft squares and for the time being the golem appears inactive.

If any player makes a DC 10 perception check you can also add: Prominent runes and symbols criss cross the chamber, worked into the floor, walls, and ceiling.

When any of the following conditions are met the process begins:

  • A.) All character enter the room
  • B.) At least one character has been in the room for 3 rounds
  • C.)The golem inside is attacked

 On the first round the 4 sides of the room are filled with prismatic walls. (The Grey square represents the starting point of the Golem)

(Round1) 


On the second round the room is carved into strips by the second set of walls 

(Round 2)


And on the third round the room is cut up into cubes 

(Round 3)

Tactics:

The Iron golem will attack anyone within the room, or within reach (10 ft) of its entrance. However the golem is not merely placed as a sentry. It's creator is using a magical item built into its helmet to see what it sees and give it commands, and pressure plates in the floor relay the location of anyone touching the ground. As such the golems tactics should reflect a highly intelligent foe with knowledge of the locations of each opponent standing in the room (and their weight). This also means it may use it's reach to attack an opponent from safely behind a prismatic wall, albeit with a 50% miss chance. A smart player may ready their action to attack when attacked in order to counter this approach. If the golem encounters a foe wielding a adamantine weapon it's typical tactic is to disarm the foe (And thus take hold of the weapon) and then use it's free action to drop the weapon in a space containing a prismatic wall, often destroying it.

Anyone destroying any of the prismatic walls are sure to become fast targets of bullrush manuever and deadly slams. 

Prismatic wall trap:

These runes are not disguised very well at all (Perception DC is only 10)

The runes are also very weak and are not protected particularly well. (Disable device DC 20, requires only a full round action). Also unlike most magical traps if the trap is disabled the wall vanishes entirely.

Anyone contacting the prismatic walls is subject to their normal effects, all saving throws are DC 22. However anyone transported to another plane is instead brought to a special pocketplane detailed below. As with the prismatic wall spell the walls cannot be created in the space a creature occupies. Unlike the spell this doesn't prevent the whole wall being formed, just wall sections in squares that are occupied, this leaves holes and gaps in the barriers where the players are.  

The Inverse room: This pocket plane has the same dimensions as it's material plane counterpart room although with no entrances or exits. The prismatic walls exist in both planes simultaneously and the pocket plane is populated by 2 Clay golems who are ordered to kill anyone who enters the room. These clay golems are not being directed by their creator and so their tactics are less advanced. Anyone failing the save against the violet effect of the prismatic walls while in this plane will be sent to the nearest open identical same location on the material plane.

The inverse room has one other extra feature. In the center 4 squares is a large rune (Perception DC 15)

The rune emits a Soothe Construct spell each round if it has line of effect to a construct, this all but guarantees the clay golems will not attack each other.

 

High points: This encounter mixes high magic, colourful design and a sense of terror. A huge iron enemy stalks out of sight, swinging out with its massive fists while the players are separated and isolated from each other and  vulnerable to all kinds of attack. And if one is sent to the other plane a character may have to risk everything and throw them self against a wall, trying to survive the other effects and voluntarily failing against the violet wall to provide backup.

 

 

The tale of the tape:  This is the breakdown of the Challenge Rating

This is a CR 16 encounter made of a Mixed pair which would be a CR 15 and a CR 13, and then we further split the CR 15 into a 14 and a 12.

The CR 13 is the Iron golem.
 

Each prismatic wall trap is CR 7 on its own based on the formula for calculating trap CR and so a group of 12 of them is equal to CR 14 (Each doubling adds 2 to the CR and increasing by 50% adds 1 to CR.)

The CR 12 encounter is represented by the 2 clay golems in the inverse room. The possibility that they won't get to fight is counter balanced by the possibility that one PC may get trapped with them.

The Soothe construct trap doesn't add anything appreciable to the CR of the encounter since the chance of the golems going berserk is very low, and realistically there will be few times that the golems have line of effect to the runes once the walls come up. It's mostly there to show off another abjuration spell and to explain how the golems are able to work together without eventually destroying eachother.

 

If you enjoyed this stay tuned for more “Encounter Culture” featuring all the other schools of magic throughought the rest of the month. And for more quality content visit: http://www.duckandrollgames.com/

Skeleton Quest

Today, is the day. Duck and Roll games is proud to announce the developement of our first RPG videogame has begun. "Skeleton Quest" is coming. Nothing can stop it. More information will be found here as time goes on. The current plan is to release the game by Halloween. 

Entering the Ring

So it seems that Duck and Roll is not alone in celebrating the theme of "Schools" this month. My good friends over at the Giants in the Playground Forums are having their Thirty fifth homebrew competition with the theme of "The Eight Schools of Magic" and I've decided to join in. 

You can follow the contest as it develops right Here

I'd like to use this opportunity to talk a bit about homebrew competitions like this, and about the tabletop gaming community as a whole.  For years and years and years I'd been GMing and homebrewing as a hobby, and I always had communities like the Giants forums, and the wizard forums, and even boards like 4chan's /tg/ to call on for support, advise, and a good laugh. A year ago I decided that I was going to make a go of writing content professionally, and I've come a long way. I saw in myself a little spark of talent, and I was determined to make it. But day after day, week after week I see truly great homebrewers, ones far more talented and passionate than me, saying that they could never go pro. But I want to say to all the homebrewers out there, that you should never give up on your passion, never feel like what your doing isn't being heard and felt. My favourite classes are homebrew, my job is writing content, and the innovation and friendliness and spirit of gaming communities is what keeps me coming back to the table again and again. I guess what I really want to say, is to everyone out there in the roleplaying community: Keep being awesome.

 

 

Social Systems

So it's social month, and I've gotten out the mandatory talk about basic roleplaying principles, now let's talk crunch. Yeah, that sweet sweet salty roleplaying crunch. The archetypical smooth talking rogue has been around since the early days of tabletop rpg's, and just as long as we've been killing monsters we've been finding enemies we'd rather not kill. Maybe they're too strong, too weak, maybe we agree with them or we have a code, but for whatever reason some problems get solved by talking. Since the moment that this first came up there have been two prettybasic schools of thought. One being "We need rules for this" and the other being "We don't need rules for this".

There are some games in which there are no rules at all for roleplaying, and there are some games where there is almost no roleplaying needed in the rules for social interaction, but over time game systems tend to hover somewhere around a middle spot where there are rules, but more often than not they're intentionally left vague. The other school of thought is "Social combat".

Social combat is a pretty simple idea. If we can take the delicate interplay of deadly swords, kung fu, backstabs and assault weapons and resolve it through combat, why not do the same for social interaction? I've seen my share of social combat, and the premise has always interested me. The idea of being able to apply a set of rules and actions and track progress towards social success has a lot of allure. The notion of how something is worded, what approach is taken having mechanical benefit, feels rewarding. Being able to clearly see social options laid out like attacks gives the player an easy way to categorize and consider their approach. Some of the most attractive advantages to social combat are: Being able to see something like how much of a bribe will improve your odds by what amount, knowing which skill to use when, being able to eyeball how hard someone is to persuade, and of course being able to excel as a social character even if you yourself aren't a smooth talker. Every time I play in a game with a social system I see players taking new approaches they wouldn't have used or thought of without being able to see the mechanical impact.

With all of that being said, I don't like social combat. That must seem odd because I just spent a whole paragraph praising it, but the flaws with a social combat system are, in my opinion, simply too big. First of all, most roleplaying games are designed so that everyone has something to contribute to combat, even if someone is less accurate they can offer better positioning, they can flank or add bonuses to their allies, or at least offer the appearance of outnumbering a foe. That's great in combat because it gets the party involved and of course you're going to gang up on the bad guy most of the time. But imagine you're at a party talking to someone. Things are going fine, they mention they need a ride home and then BAM three of their friends come over and everyone starts talking to you at once about why you should drive them all home. You'd be notably disconcerted. Social combat is either going to be a solo affair or quickly turn into a 5 on one conversation. There are some situations where a good GM can get around that, but in general those are the most common options. Now of course it's fine to have some 1 on 1 scenes, it happens a lot and it's not a bad thing. But think how many 1 on 1 combat encounters you run while all the other players do nothing. Hopefully it's not a lot. if you replace a lot of solo conversations with full length encounters it can get messy and drag on. Which leads to my next point. Time.

Table time is valuable time. I've never met a group who felt like they'd be better off if things progressed slower in social situations. Social combat creates this by necessity, it will never be faster to roll dice and check values between each new idea, statement, or sentence. There is just no way a social combat won't stretch things out longer. On top of this, while I think nearly anyone should be allowed and able to play a social character I don't believe a bonus should be a substitute for thought. A character built for social combat poses the risk of a player throwing the dreaded "I intimidate" or "Social roll to make them love me" without giving the GM anything to work with to carry on the narrative.  And lastly while it empowers good "tactical" social thinking to offer different benefits and advantages, it also creates other cases where a social approach becomes less optimal, it causes you to be more likely to succeed with specificapproaches, based on die pool, difficulty, and the like, but this is not guaranteed to be the approach that makes the most sense in that situation.

Pointing out a problem without offering something better is just rude however, so I'll show you what my favourite method for integrating social attributes in a game. I think absolutely there should be a social stat, or several social stats, to give those "Face" characters something to put their points into. But my general approach is. "Tell me what you say. Roll the stat, and here's a bonus for your roleplaying."  They make the roll, I eyeball it compared to the relative difficulty they'd go up against in the default for that system, and then have the npc re-act accordingly. This lets me balance their approach with their stats.  But it also doesn't let them off the hook for explaining what their character says. There have been times where a player will fail a social roll even if their bonus would have been enough, just because what they say is so, utterly absurdly bad that no amount of charisma can fix it. I do make some exceptions. For some players, usually ones with social disorders I'll allow them to be more vague on their exact wording, but they still have to give me an idea of how they're making their case and then give them a little more leniency. I haven't found a system that this doesn't work for and it strikes a balance between keeping the stats important, and focusing on the details of the interaction.

 I know firsthand how hard a lot of game developers work on their rules, social rules included, but for me, I use this quick easy adjustment for just about every RPG I play. But as always, the most important rule at your table is to make sure everyone is having fun. If you like social combat then go for it! And if you think social interaction shouldn't have rules at all then you go for that too. The most important thing is to find the balance that fits your game.  

Roleplaying at the Table

This month is "Social" month and that means it's time to take a look at one of the most basic aspects of a role-playing game. If you boil down any tabletop RPG to its absolute base, remove everything else, you're left with role-playing. The narrative, whether thick or thin, is vital to all role-playing games. You can play without any rules at all and still have fun, but pure numbers on their own, with nothing imaginative to represent are meaningless. But that doesn't mean that every game has to be a deeply intense character driven narrative masterpiece.

It is for each group to decide how much they want to role-play. For some groups all they really want is a reason to go hunt monsters, a brief explanation for their character's abilities, and some baddies they can really get behind stomping. Other groups want to have rich detailed back stories, in depth webs of characters and associations, personal rivalries and alliances, and no clear singular threat at all.

There has often been a lot of debate over just how much detail should be put into role-playing, but I'm of the belief that the "ideal" is going to vary, not just between groups but between campaigns. A World of Darkness game usually needs a different level of detail and role-playing than a Pathfinder game, which is very different from what you might need for a Fifth Edition DnD game. I've ran games all over the spectrum, from totally rules free to very crunchy pure combat encounters, and I've yet to find an amount of role-playing that cannot be fun for my group.

The most important aspect of role-playing in your group however is that everyone should be on the same page. Do as much or little in character speak or depth as you like, but be aware of the rest of the group. There's few things more awkward than one player talking in character, and the other responding out of character. It kills the pacing of the conversation and keeps either from getting the experience they really want.  This doesn't mean every player has to have the exact same level of detail, but at least they should interact in the same way.

Also keep in mind it's completely fine to change up how much or little story is going on, and "zoom out" on the level of detail. I love character interaction as much as the next person, but sometimes you just need to buy items and don't need to chat. And other times a conversation with the local merchant might open up a wealth of vital information about the setting or even about the players characters themselves. It is definitely an art and not a science, it's important to feel out such situations, and if you aren't sure feel free to just ask around the table.

Whenever my party sets into a long travel time, from one area to another, be it walking through deadly forests or driving across town, I like to give them the opportunity to interact with each other or other NPC's on hand. Some of the best scenes we've ever had come from those moment, and sometimes it's enough to have a little summary of how they interact. Role-playing should never be looked at as a mandatory boring aspect of a game, but it also doesn't have to completely consume everything either.

Remember, as with all aspects of tabletop RPG's the most important thing is to have fun, however much role-playing you need to do that, it's the perfect amount.

 

Enviromental Storytelling

The dungeon is a staple of role-playing games. Dungeons and Dragons in particular could be said to be about 50% dungeons. But the quality and content of these great locales can vary in the extreme. In some campaigns; all a dungeon needs is a goal and a string of encounters to dole out gold and XP.  But a dungeon can be far more than that, it’s one of the most interactive parts of your world and every dungeon should tell a story.

Why does this place exist? Who occupies it? Why? How do they defend it? How do they survive? And the topic of this article: What has happened here? These are some questions you should have in mind when creating a dungeon. There is no place that does not have a story. Sometimes a story is so simple that it exists as a single sentence. It’s believed to be Hemmingway who wrote “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn”. An illustration of the power of telling an entire story in a very brief moment. You can easily tell a tale in a single moment or scene. It can be as simple as one Orc that wears the finely crafted but now abused armor of a knight from a neighbouring land. It can be a skeleton still clutching an unopened healing potion, or a section of cave leading into darkness, it’s entryway warded off with salt and silver.

If you want to, you can stretch this out into many tiny details that come together. Perhaps each of the strongest three or four Orcs in the dungeon has a different piece of the same suit of armor. The players find the skeleton by following a trail of blood to an opened chest, an adventurers belongings still inside, including gear that would not fit the skeleton they found. Each room of the dungeon is lined with strange symbols and icons, and human sized cages are kept near the tunnel leading into darkness.

You can even grow these moments larger, leaving clues sprinkled through the world and through many dungeons and encounters if you have the foresight and desire to. The important thing is that these little pieces of story will be there to help build player immersion and catch their interest. Maybe something will really stick in their mind, they may even want to investigate further, leading to whole new adventures! Environmental storytelling is an amazing and impressive way to build your world and add details to everything around you. Videogames have been mastering environmental storytelling for years, and many of the finest RPG’s thrive on it. Look to series like the Elder scrolls, Fallout, and especially Dark Souls for tips on how to pull this off seamlessly and effectively.

Remember: Every monster, every item, every brick and coin and bone is yours to create and decide, you have unlimited tools at your disposal, so use them to craft a truly beautiful story.

Creating a New Rules Set

So you know you want to run a game in a specific setting, and that setting comes with a special form of abilities. Many settings of various genres have their own unique powers. This can be anything from a different kind of magic, like alchemical transmutations or Ninjuitsu, to having a game in a high tech world with exo-suits, to humans being capable of amazing feats of near magical martial prowess.  There are a lot of factors to consider when creating a homebrewed rules system.

Can I do this with what I already have?

Before you create your own homebrew consider this question carefully.  In a Pathfinder game where you want to emulate a manna or chakra system think about if it might be easier to just use Psionics or spell points from 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons. If you want your World of Darkness vampire to be able to call down lightning storms consider just importing a Werewolf or Mage power that does the same thing. Look at the mechanics of your game carefully, consider what you could do by just reflavouring things a little, or a lot, and changing one or two basic mechanics. This also will require you to think about how precisely you want to be able to emulate the source material. Sometimes instead of a new system all you really need is a new coat of paint on an existing system. But for those other times there is a lot to consider.

How does this interact with other mechanics?

If you are adding a new option or feature to a system without removing old ones think about how they work together. Can a wizard dispel a Fullmetal Alchemist style transmutation? Does a Gellar field protect a ship from Protoss psionics? Can a Decker hack into a Gundam and if so what can they control remotely? If you've made your homebrew system correctly most of these questions will have straightforward answers. If you can't explain how 2 systems interact in one or two sentences you should consider simplifying it.

How do I balance this?

The importance of this question varies a lot. In a very mechanics driven game like Pathfinder or GURPS balance is more important than it is in something story driven like World of Darkness or Shadowrun. But in all of these games something unbalanced can become a clear problem. If one party member can bend water, and another is proficient with a sword and a third can bend all elements; is this game going to work? If it isn't can you make it work by tweaking the mechanics? This is especially important when a new system is introduced akin to a magic system, but the mundane characters don't get any new options for dealing or competing with it.

Is it simple enough?

This is pretty pivotal. Even if you make a perfect system that is 100% faithful to the original source material it's no good if you're the only one who can understand it. Ideally this system should be explainable to someone who has never experienced the original material. As a warning, it can be deceptive to compare your system with existing ones. Saying "My homebrew is no more complicated than Mage" does not automatically mean it's simple enough. People put a lot of time and effort into learning some core systems because they know they'll use them again and again. Furthermore players have help understanding from forums and being able to reread the rules and look things up. With your homebrew all someone has is what you give them and the only person who can clarify is you.

Is it working?

None of the other things matter as much as this. Is your homebrew enhancing your game or making it worse? This can include a number of things. Consider if the system is still fun for people not using what you created. Think about if you have to be having fun as the homebrewer seeing your creations come to life. Along with this idea is the question of if your homebrew achieved the desired effect. Does it make your game feel like the source material? Does it help the players think and act like the characters they're trying to emulate? If so you've done a great job.

Is it perfect?

No, it's not. It won't be perfect the first time you play it, and it won't be perfect the last time you play it. Every system has it's quirks and problems and oddities and that's okay. Nobody is perfect and no gaming system is perfect either, the important thing is a willingness to evaluate and change. Let's say you developed an amazing and clever system for  perfectly replicating the classic FPS  Doom as a tabletop game. First of all, wow, super neat idea. But second of all you may find your game suffers a bit when every encounter starts off with four players each saying "I fire my BFG until it goes click.  Make a looting for ammo check and then repeat". Designing a fair and balanced system is hard, but breaking one is easy. It doesn't take long for players to find the most efficient approach and if you give them one option objectively better than the others they are more likely to use it all the time. There's no shame in admitting that you have to adjust things, and make sure you tell players why something is getting changed, they need to understand that a homebrewed piece of content is a work in progress and sometimes it needs tweaking.

Homebrewing anything is an exciting and sometimes daunting endeavour but it's something I heartily recommend to anyone. Even if you fail you're guaranteed to learn a lot about the game you're playing, the people you're playing with, and yourself.

 

 

The Inspired campaign

Alright, so you want to make your campaign using an existing setting, something from a favourite book, show, movie ect. There are several factors to consider carefully.

 

Will my players get it?

This is one of the first mistakes that can be made. No matter how amazing and in depth your Gundam campaign might be it will fall flat if your players don't like or know about Mecha. Even if they happen to like a different Gundam series than you, it could wind up being a very off key experience for them. If the players aren't familiar with the source material are they willing to take a look? Or does your campaign stand enough on it's own two feet that no prior knowledge is needed. Generally the further from traditional a setting is the harder it will be for a player to go in blind and maintain the tone you're going for.

Will it make a good campaign?

This is another really common question to ask yourself. We've all been there, we watch or read something, we get super excited, we want more and we want to play in the world we saw before us. We want to tell stories as good and exciting as what we just witnessed. But not all stories make for good role-playing games. Maybe you love the classic spaghetti westerns. For a Few Dollars More, The Good the Gad and the Ugly, Fistful of Dollars, these are classic tales of a lone badass gunslinger come to enact a form of bloody justice. But does it convert into a party of four to six players? Not easily. Consider that stories are told very differently in role-playing games and think carefully about if the spirit of what you want to emulate can survive the transition.

 

Assuming that the above questions are answered affirmatively there are a few more considerations to make.

What game are we playing?

This topic happens to be one I wrote an article about just last week. But in short it's important to know what game you're playing and why. Along with this you need to consider what rules you're changing, removing, or adding if any. Make sure the roleplaying game rules match the tone you're going for. Which brings us to tone. 

What is the tone of my game and how do I keep it?

This is another topic I've brushed on a couple of times in past articles. The important thing is to know the feelings you're trying to evoke and to consider how important they are. If you're running a game set in a combined Pixar setting, you need to consider what happens when the players want to make dirty jokes and kill things. It's not necessarily a bad thing if the tone your players find is different from the original idea, as long as everyone is having fun and you're on the same page and you can roll with the punches. Some game concepts though are better served with a specific tone, and in that case it's important to get the players invested into the game, the more immersed they are the more they will feel compelled to suit the mood around them.

How close is the original story?

This can be another crucial choice. Let's take for example a Lord of the Rings game where the players play as Frodo, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn on their famous quest to destroy the One Ring. Compare that to a game where the players are a group of Dwarves leading another expedition reclaim Moria. And contrast that to a game where the One Ring is instead entrusted to a coalition of the finest warriors from across middle earth. Each will feel like a very different game, and each will involve very different interactions with the original "Cannon" of the franchise. Some games are best served by being in the same setting but only briefly hearing about or being influenced by the main plot, others are most satisfying when the players get to rub elbows with, or even take control of, the famous characters that make the source material great. There is no right or wrong answer as long as everyone is in agreement.

How long will interest last?

This last question is important for planning how long the campaign will be. If your game is based on a movie that just came out, will players stay interested 3 months from now? If your game is based on a videogame, what happens when all the players have beaten it and moved on to other games? Or is your campaign revolving around a continuing series that will keep providing more and more free excitement building? Making your game too long to hold interest, or not long enough to take advantage of excitement can lead to a less satisfying game overall. So consider carefully how long the fires of passion can stay stoked in the hearts of your players. 

The right game for your campaign

Since this is Fandom month I want to take a chance to talk about game choice. I know I talk a lot about mostly just pathfinder and by extension 3.5 here, but there are a lot of great systems that I'm just as fond of, if not more.

When someone tells me they want to play a role-playing game in a particular setting the first thing I want to know is what game they're playing. Contrary to what a lot of people think there is no one game that can do everything. Well, okay there's GURPS, since that was kind of the point of it, but not everyone likes GURPS.

When you want to capture the feeling of your favourite franchise it's important to consider what that feeling IS. Does Firefly feel like it would easily convert to a Pathfinder game? Would have your players make members of the Justice League in world of darkness? How about a high fantasy game using the Warhammer 40K roleplaying game? Probably not. This is because the inherent tone to the game is different from the feeling you want to capture.

This doesn't mean that you can't make a very unusual combination, but it does mean you'll either be doing a lot of extra work in converting things OR you'll take ideas presented in an existing medium but give them a dramatic change in tone. Here are some examples of settings and games that mesh well:

Let's say you want to play a good old fashioned anime inspired campaign. It doesn't matter whether you're borrowing from classic anime tropes to create a new setting, using an existing one whole cloth, or weaving/mashing several together at once the ideas are basically the same. I always recommend Mutants and Masterminds for such a game, though a lot of other superhero systems can do almost as nicely. Super powered blasts? Check. Flight/air walking? Check. Super speed? Check. Absolutely everyone having unique abilities even though they stem from the same source? Double check. These are games where you can get hit by a truck and walk it off, and they pair well with the anime hero who gets wailed on, blown up, and impaled at least once per episode/issue. They keep the feel of amazing escalating power, sensational moves and abilities, tons of options, and dramatic physics-breaking moments. And yes, you could also play BESM (Big eyes small mouth), which was designed to capture such a game, but I'm still more partial to the freeform classless systems. Now some anime, like your Death Note, Tokyo Ghoul, and a lot of games more focused on narrative with lowered powered magic might be better run with the  World of Darkness storyteller system. And then some anime are best to play in Maid...or not at all.

Conversely though, what if you want to go against the grain?  Picture, the Kingdom of Hyrule. The Hero of Time has vanished, Gannon rules the land with a cruel dark hand. A bomb merchant, a Goron guard, a poor desperate farmer, and a magician possessing just a tiny ounce of magic decide to rise up against their wicked king. Their story is one of desperation, of making deals with dark forces and spirits, of battling not just evil, but other people just as desperate as themselves. It's a story of loosing oneself. This game could be played better by something like the song of ice and fire role-playing game, or world of darkness than by a Pathfinder or Savage worlds game.

Because it's ultimately the rules and the intricacies of the system that will reinforce the theme and the emotion of your game they must match up with the feeling and ideas you want to include. So think carefully about what rules set will go best with the fandom or series you want to play in, and when in doubt ask the others at your gaming table about what they want to play and what the core aspects they want to capture are. Hopefully this has been helpful in setting up some truly great games for the future.

 

Inspiration at the tabletop.

This month is "Fandom month" and that means I'm going to be taking a close look at how your favourite shows, books, movies and games can influence your tabletop roleplaying experience in a whole variety of ways. This article is going to go through the basics.

To start off it's important to recognize that there is no such thing as a work that is wholly it's own creation. The first stories were recounting of real events, and later tales and epics were built upon those, and so on to this day. This is not a bad thing by any means. Without Gilgamesh there would be no Heracles, without Heracles no Superman. Everyone to ever sit down at a gaming table has based at least some of their ideas on other mediums, the only difference is how much, and how overtly.

Subconscious or cursory inspiration: This is the most common form of burrowing from previous stories. It's that moment that we roll up a barbarian and think "Conan". It's when our wizard loves to read and has a long beard and a staff. It's also when the plot is it's most simplistic. A princess captured, a war begun, an item lost, or the like.

Intentional imitation: This is the purposeful idea of "I'm basically ash Ketchum but with summoning". It's the campaign that says "You're on a world spanning quest to collect seven wishing stones so a dragon will grant you a wish". It's when a character or campaign is copied almost whole cloth to give a player or DM a starting point. This can also feature making adjustments to the way an ability looks or feels to better suit a theme. Perhaps your Barbarian's hair gets spiky and golden when they rage, or drawing your magus' black katana blade comes with a whole new outfit. Many people look down on this approach, seeing it as unimaginative or lazy but I disagree. Certainly its faster to not develop your character or campaign as much in the beginning but a good campaign should make it nearly impossible to stay that way. What begins as a direct rip-off loses its original flavoured coating and exposes a new creative entity underneath. A stoic and grim Kratos imitation, who dreams of slaying gods to avenge his slaim family can only stay serious and dire so long. Once the party Gnome keeps making everything taste like butterscotch and the elf can't find his +1 flaming pants the player must think beyond the initial concept. And a campaign to cross the world and throw a ring into an active volcano changes tone dramatically when the evil deific being recaptures the ring and now the party must take the battle to the fortress of a god. Just as no storyline or plan survives contact with the players, no character concept can stay entirely separated from the rest of the party.

The homebrew: This is to go one step beyond. To create custom homebrew around a franchise or mechanic that you love but has no suitably accurate analogy. This is used when you need more than just calling spells per day "Jutsu's per day" and when your Belmont family vampire slayer realises they can't actually HURT a vampire with a whip. Many of the best and most creative homebrew's are developed by people looking to emulate a specific character or setting. And while some people may not have much of a taste for a game like Ponyfinder, There are a lot fewer who would object to a whole plethora of Kaiju's to terrorize their setting. Homebrew campaigns can also be an amazing experience, one with a plethora of existing maps, characters, storylines, locations and lore to draw upon. I've rarely been more excited to work on a campaign then when I can take a franchise or series I love and dig my fingers into it and tweak and change and expand on my favourite aspects. Telling a player "I'm going to set my game in Lordran from Dark Souls." is all it takes to set their mind ablaze with ideas. Creating a new setting from scratch, while deeply rewarding in its own ways, is more of a slow burn. You gradually build up and explore and explain more and more about the world and work with the player on how they will fit in and what they'll do. In an already existing setting the player can do research on their own to learn about the world, about its people and culture and abilities. This can be a double edged sword however. If the DM hasn't done enough research, or even if their players have simply done more, the DM could lose control of the setting for their game. Players correct them on tiny little tidbits of lore, and sometimes an entire plot point may actually not fit with the original rules of a setting. While some DM's find this quite unacceptable, or even terrifying, others relish the chance to see their players so deeply engaged in their campaign.

So how much is too much? Well, as with anything about role-playing games, it's a matter of taste but the best idea is to work things out as a group and decide together what inspirations you'll be drawing from and how strong those influences are. For a lot more information about the ways you can use these concepts join me next week for my follow up article next week!

 

Bestiary 5 inspired items

I've recently picked up and summarily devoured the bestiary 5. Since I've had items on the mind thanks to my work on my next big project I figured I'd do a little write-up of the new items inspired by bestiary 5! 

This article will cover some custom adaptations of various weapons and equipment mentioned in the Bestiary 5 that could be fun for a player or DM to get a hold of.

 

Maul: This massive hammer is significantly heavier than a typical war hammer and is favoured by Gristly Demodands.

Primal chisel:   This amazing and peculiar weapon is the trademark of the Anunnaki . This peculiar device draws power fromspecial device known as a Lantern of civilization (see below) and as such cannot be used unless it's wielder is also carrying such a device in their other hand.

Laser Torch: This small extremely hot beam of energy is a laser weapons and as such follows the rules for lasers below. Furthermore a laser ignores the first ten points of hardness when used against an object.

Chain gun: This massive two handed firearm is a devestating weapon that is capable of unleashing a withering hail of fire. Ammunition for this weapon is specially crafted at the same price as regular bullets but this weapon is belt fed. As such as long as there are bullets left this gun can continue firing without having to stop and reload. Furthermore the wielder of this weapon may, as a standard action, unleash a stream of automatic fire in a 200 ft line, allowing one attack against each creature in this line. Using this function expends 10 bullets per target attacked.  Unlike most firearms this weapon has no misfire chance.

Laser rifle: This two handed ranged weapon comes in a plethora of designs and styles but all funciton identically and use the laser rules presented below.

Laser weapons: Laser weapons fire highly concentrated light which causes them to function differently from solid projectiles. Lasers always target touch ac regardless of their range increment. Lasers deal fire damage rather than normal weapon damage but this damage can be increased by any feats or abilities normally limited to weapon damage. Lastly lasers completely pass through invisible barriers and creatures, though cloud cover provides cover in addition to concealment.

 

Lantern of civilization:

Aura: Strong Divination; CL 20

Slot: None; Price: 140,000 gp, Weight: 5 lbs

Lantern of civilization: This peculiar object nearly hums with power casting a dull light like iron fresh from the forge. So long as it is being carried it's weilder gains a continual true seeing effect. This ability only applies when the lantern is held, not merely when stowed on the owner's person.

Construction requirements:  craft wonderous item, true seeing, Cost: 70,000 gp

 

 

Myrmidon rockets:

This highly advanced and deadly weapon system unleashes devastating rocket fire from extreme range. This device is too large and cumbersome to be moved by anything shortof a massive vehicle or powerful magic. As such it is almost exclusively placed to defend an area from invaders. This weapon come in several varieties but all of them function similarly using the same basic rules.

The weapon system requires someone to aim it by using standard action and selecting a 30 ft burst anywhere within 800 ft of the device. Unless otherwise noted all rockets deal 6d6 fire and 6d6 bludgeoning damage with a DC 18 reflex save for half.  Unless otherwise noted a single rocket launcher can hold up to 5 prebuilt rockets at a time. Once stored rockets are expended more can be loaded in but each takes a full minute to load and the weapon cannot fire while being loaded. Unless otherwise noted a rocket costs 1,600 gp to create. The launcher itself has effectively a hardness of only 5 and 50 hp due to the many vulnerable areas and fragile components creating it and it can also be de-activated with a DC 15 disable device check.

In addition to the standard design there are several upgrades that can be bought for the system independently of each other. All costs are listed below.

Regular:  The basic weapon system as listed above. 8,000 gp

Concealed: When loading  or not firing this weapon it stays beneath the earth surrounded by a tube of either adamantine or magically hardened iron (Hardness 20, 120 HP). This protective silo is concealed requiring a DC 30 perception check to locate and a disable device check of DC 32 to bypass without first destroying the hatch on the top.  +8,000 gp

Direct attack: The person aiming the weapon may select a specific creature to target and roll a ranged touch attack vs the target, the bonus for this roll is always +20 regardless of the aimer's aptitude. If the attack is successful the struck target does not get a reflex save to avoid the missile's damage.  +5,000 gp

Double capacity to 10 rockets before requiring reload: +3,000 gp

Damage increases to 12d6 fire and 12d6 bludgeoning:  +9,000 gp (And 3,500 gp per rocket)

Reflex save increases to DC 36: +4,000 gp

Single use, cannot be reloaded: Final cost halved

Creates one new missile every 12 hours using nothing but scrap: Increase final cost by 50% 

Behind the vault door excerpt: Usefulness of items

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book: Behind the vault door. I hope you enjoy!

 

Magic items can be sorted into any number of categories. The slots they use, the cost of them, the kind of effect. But when I look at magic items. I think one of the most important things to consider is last ability. Is this item going to be useful in 2 levels? In 5? in 10?

There are three categories an item can fall into when considering this. First are Items that simply do not stay useful beyond a few levels. A wand of sleep, or scroll of fireball are great examples, but as are things like thunderstones and even mantle's of spell resistance. These items grant a specific measurable numeric effect, which becomes less relevant as other effects continue to increase steadily.  These items need special attention because if they don't get used soon they never will, and that can lead to a sense of unfulfillment. That's not to say these items are bad, but at level 2 it's probably better to bust out that sleep wand while you still can, don't hold onto it so long that it becomes obsolete, use it while you can.

That last part is important and helps separate it from the next category: Items that maintain usefulness but can be replaced by something better. An amulet of natural armor+1 always provides+1 to ac and it is always helping and contributing, never becoming entirely useless. You'd be better served by a +3 sure, but that +1 is still pulling it's weight. Other items in this category include things like bracers of strength, a +3 sword, or most of people's favourite statimproving numbers. This also includes things like wands of magic missile, which will still deal damage but not as much as you'd like.

The final category is for items that will always be useful and relevant and, more importantly, provide benefits thateither aren't measurably, or aren't meaningfully improvable.  Things like stone salve, which cures petrifaction, or a scroll of teleport, or a wand of cure light wounds. These items do something that will always be useful, no matter what level you are. These are in my opinion, the best and most exciting items, ones that you can award as a GM or receive as a player and KNOW that they're going to come in handy whether you use them now or 5 adventures later.

So when you're shopping for your next adventure, or building treasure for your players. Consider carefully which items are going to be useful when, and plan for situations where those short term items will come in handy right away. Some of this stuff may seem obvious to some, but it's vital to think about what sort of an item you're looking at, and what kind of game you're playing. 

New terrain features

Let’s say you’re a veteran GM, you’ve done lava, airships, rubble, vines and cliffs ad nauseum. Have no fear I’ve got something new for you. Presenting a selection of brand new terrain features.

Rope/Chain: Who hasn’t wanted to buckle swash alongside Zorro, Flynn, and sparrow? These ropes are meant for swinging and launching with. They are anchored in two spots, one usually being the ceiling or other high up location while the other is tantalizingly within reach. When you reach the lower end of the rope you may as a free action take hold and untie (or cut) your end. This moves you a specific distance along a specific path and you may release at any point along that path. If following up this dashing maneuver you count as charging and most likely attacking from higher ground. This works the same for the classic chandelier rope cutting to launch you straight upwards. If the rope would allow travel more than 100 ft assume it takes one turn of swinging per 100 ft to reach the end.

Springboard: From the classic wooden ships plank, to the trampoline, canvas awning, or even an actual springboard this is a classic. The springboard exists to facilitate high flying maneuvers, when entering a space with a springboard you may make an acrobatics check to leap from your current space when you do roll your acrobatics check twice and add the results together to determine the total distance covered.

Bounce pad: Whether a giant rubber sphere, ring ropes at a local wrestling arena, or a wall that reflects kinetic energy a bounce pad forces someone back further and harder than they hit it. Someone moving ten feet before crashing into the bounce pad moves back twenty feet either straight back or diagonally in either direction similar to a bull rush combat maneuver. This movement does provoke attacks of opportunity and uses the subjects movement up as though they were travelling on favorable terrain. If they would move farther than they would normally be able they fall prone at the end of their movement. For example a monk with 60 ft speed travels 20 ft before hitting a bounce pad and is pushed back 40 ft, which uses only another 20 ft of movement. After bouncing the monk could still move another 20 ft. If their speed were only 30 ft however they’d have bounced twenty feet and then fallen prone. Bounce pads function even if they are hit while charging, bull rushed or falling. If a bounce pad pushes a subject into another creatures square they make opposed CMB checks, with the looser falling prone and taking 1d6 damage per 10 ft bounced.

Conveyor belts: This category also includes boats floating down river, carriages that you’re standing on rather than steering, sleds whipping down a mountain, and any other instance where the ground under you is taking you away. This seems like a simple concept but is often hard to integrate since on any given character’s turn the terrain is not actually moving. There are a few ways to handle this. What most commonly happens is that once per initiative the object moves its full speed along with everyone on it. This is simplest to manage but can often times lead to things feeling stilted and disconnected. If you don’t look too closely one could also recommend breaking the movement into small increments that happen between each character’s turn which feels much more natural, althoughrarely does an objects overall speed divide nicely into the number of combatants so some generous rounding is required. I’d also recommend counting anyone on such a conveyance count as mounted and charging against if they travel more than 80 ft. This of course shouldn’t apply to someone mounted on the same conveyance as them.

Favorable terrain: This can come in a lot of different forms, from charging downhill, rolling down the river on a log,  having the wind at your back, or magical areas and spells that grant swiftness. Favorable terrain is the exact opposite of difficult terrain. The second square of favorable terrain does not use a square of movement, nor does every 2 squares thereafter. This a line of 4 squares of the terrain uses only 10 ft of movement.  Charging is allowed over favorable terrain and in fact grants an extra+2 on the attack roll on top of the normal benefits for charging. In some cases this terrain grants its benefit in only one direction, in other cases it’s omnidirectional. Favorable terrain is excellent for maneuvering around the battlefield and getting the drop on the enemy.

Slipstream: This functions like a much more powerful version of favorable terrain. A square of slipstream has a specific direction and anyone entering it moves in that direction. A chain of slipstreams can cause a very quick way to travel across the battlefield. Ranged weapon attacks directed into the slipstream instead target whatever creature is at the end of it with the same bonus it was fired with. Movement caused by the slipstream does not provoke an attack of opportunity. The GM is free to choose whether or not to allow a strength check to move through without being pushed, in which case the DC will generally be 20+2 for every 5 ft of stream. If a slipstream throws a target against a wall or another creature they generally take damage using the same rules as falling the same distance. If a slipstream directs a target into the air they land 1d6 ft in a random direction, unless there is a platform at the top of the slipstream.

Switch squares: This magical terrain feature is always paired with another. Whenever a creature occupies both connected squares they instantly exchange places. This effect is activated only once per round and is treated as a teleportation effect. There is no save allowed generally as stepping onto the square counts as being willing, however the GM may grant a will save to either or both unwilling parties, if one succeeds the effect fails entirely.

Sharing stone: A sharing stone is a highly magical statue that allows an effect to be stored and then invoked at a later date. These stones are usually carved into statues resembling the common races, but their effect is anything but common. When the statue is touched, attacked or subject to an effect, and survives, it remembers that effect and the next person to touch the statue experiences it. A sharing stone struck by a longsword for 28 damage for example remembers it and the next person to touch the stone takes 28 slashing damage. A stone given a gentle kiss on the lips likewise would relay that to the toucher regardless of how they touched the statue. Due to the myriad uses for such statues they are beloved by both hedonists and sadists alike. An effect stored in the statue can even be a spell and it uses the caster level, duration, dc and other qualities of the spell as it was cast with the new target being the toucher and them alone. If the spell allows a save the toucher may make the save as well. Since these statues are often subject to intense attacks they are frequently made of living steel or adamantine (which makes their name somewhat of a misnomer).  It’s generally assumed anyone entering the same square as the statue touches it in some way, though if they are careful they could move through the square without touching it. (Generally this requires an acrobatics check with a DC ranging from 10 to 30). A favorite tactic of devious minds is to place a single fireball trap in a room filled with sharing stones to create a deadly forest of stone ready to unleash wicked flames.

Fountain of doubt: A classic hallmark of fantasy adventures, the magical fountain. Who knows what power it possesses? Not you. A fountain of doubt is highly resistant to any forms of divination or identification. The fountain does not radiate any form of magic and any magical attempt to identify its effects or predict its results fails in the vaguest way possible. It cannot be confirmed nor denied if this was due to some magic of the fountain, or just a more common explanation. Furthermore much like a potion anyone drinking from the fountain is considered willing and thusly is allowed no saving throw to resist its mysterious effects. Some fountains possess effects that are very obvious, such as polymorphing into another kind of creature, and some effects do not even emulate known spells (and can basically do whatever the GM likes). Others are so subtle that one wonders if they truly found a fountain of doubt at all…

Hopefully this has given you all some great ideas for scenic and interesting fights and environments. Try them out and let me know what you think, and tell me about your own interesting terrain ideas.