The Power of Love

Something to consider when planning a campaign is exactly how powerful is love? This can mean a number of different things depending on the game and setting and style. But any game in which there is love will eventually find it tested and measured in some way. The strength of love can be a big part of conveying your theme. So let's take a look at the ways that you can express how weak or powerful love is in your particular game.

What people will do for love: This is a simple but important question. What will someone do, or endure, for love? Will they risk their life? Their wealth? Their immortal soul, if they have one? Is this a game where someone will sneak across miles of war torn battlefield to be back with their family? Is this a game where there's "Another one in every port" and yet you lie awake at night thinking about the one that got away?  Does your setting value love as a reason, as a driving force? Or is it seen as foolishness to choose love over responsibility or ones own gain. If you tell a member of the police, the space rangers, or the city guard "Please, it's for love" how do they react? Will you be met with a harsh stonewall and a grim rebuff? Or do they offer a personal escort, because they'd do "Anything for love"

The Authority of love: I love respected? Is it revered? Is it a well known fact that true love is the greatest force in the world? Think of the authority that love holds in a story like The Princess Bride. The difference between a healer turning someone away and bestowing a literal miracle is the fact that true love was in danger.  Can you justify refusing a marriage to a wealthy noble because you cannot love them? There are many who style themselves as champions of love, those who will do anything under the authority of promoting love and happiness and see it as a divine duty.  And in some games love itself may actually be a true sentient force that can make demands.

The mechanical power of love: In the vast array of RPG's it's hardly unthinkable that love can provide a very real quantifiable power. A super hero who gains strength, speed and stamina in accordance with how loved they are. A priest of Love itself given divine magic by the bonds that people form. A changeling that feeds primarily on love has everything in the world to gain by promoting it.  Growing strong on real love and drunk on romantic dreams. And these are all just mechanics that can already be found in games. It would be easy to create extra bonuses or rules for benefiting the idea of love in your campaign. For more on this check out the article: Mechanical power of love!

Mechanical effects of love


If you want to really sell and promote love in your game you can help re-enforce that idea through some customized mechanics. Many players identify much more strongly with quantifiable values rather than abstract emotional ideas. Some games already include mechanics for love and motivation, while others have systems easily adapted. Here I provide a small selection of love based rules for  several of my favourite role-playing games. Most of these mechanics will benefit from having the players pick a specific number of people/places/things that they love, usually from 1 to 3 at the beginning of the game, but it can vary from campaign to campaign.

Pathfinder/ 3.5: Both of these systems have a hero point/action point variant option already in place. The easiest adaptation is simply to allow the players to gain an extra point they can use only when acting in the name of a strong love. Alternatively you could allow the players to receive a +4 on an attack, save or skill check as long as it relates to protecting and furthering their love.

World of Darkness: Love can be used as an excellent addition to the Vice and Virtue system. Consider allowing the regaining of a willpower when protecting or impressing someone's loved one. This mechanic is exciting because it's not just when they're in danger, it can also be for trying to impress them or improve your relationship. This means it functions as a virtue, but also a vice. Even lying to make yourself seem better to the person you fancy might qualify for a willpower point, provided of course that lie can blow up in your face later.

DND 5th edition: his is a pretty easy one to guess. Fifth edition really only has one major bonus to apply, and that's our friend Advantage. Consider allowing a player each to get advantage on any one roll as long as it relates to something their character loves and values. This system is extra easy to implement since a 5th edition sheet already has a spot for bonds and allies and allegiances, making it a snap to define who is or isn't an acceptable loved one.

Savage worlds: Another easy system with a great built in rewards system. Give each player one extra special Love Bennie that they can use only in situations relating to their character's love. Simple, easy, and encourages the players to have their characters feel strong about someone or something.

Mutants and Masterminds: Another great system with a built in hero point system. Simply reward an extra hero point when someone's loved ones are in danger and watch the heroic expressions of love unfold.

Whatever Wednesdays: Nested monsters

So, I'm starting a new thing this month, it's called "Whatever Wednesdays" Where I cut away from the month's theme so I can bring up any old topic that Is on my mind.

This time I want to talk about what I like to call "Nested monsters". I can't take credit for this idea, I've seen it in a very few 3.0 and 3.5 monsters, but more recently I've seen it used very well by one of my closest friends and sometimes DM's. Yes, even I get to be a player sometimes.

The idea is simple. Take a monster and put another monster inside of it. When the first monster is killed, a second one emerges. A magma elemental is shattered and out comes an earth and a fire elemental. A zombie is felled only to have its chest explode in bats. The skeleton suspended inside a gelatinous cube is actually an animated skeleton. You get the idea.

When creating this type of encounter the first thing to think about is what makes it different from fighting a pair of enemies. Firstly, it's different because it's not expected. the first few times this happens it might be a complete surprise. The party thinks they've won and then suddenly a monster explodes onto the scene, attacking them just when they thought they could relax. The other main benefit is that it allows the players to focus on one foe at a time, but still deal with the same number of creatures. This makes the overall encounter easier than facing two foes at once. You can also use this to fake out your party. A wolf explodes into a hellwasp swarm and suddenly staying grouped together and using melee weapons becomes a far less viable tactic.

Naturally an encounter like this needs to have some adjustment to the CR, but it's a very easy one to make. Having one creature inside another raises the cr of the encounter by 1 if both creatures have the same CR. so a cr 4 monster that explodes into a CR 4 monster when slain is a CR 5 encounter. From there all the regular adjustments apply. If there are two such nested monsters of that power the total CR would by 7. We can also then create a mixed nested monster. a CR 4 monster might instead explode into 2 cr 2 monsters, or a CR 3 and a CR 1, and so forth. And it goes without saying to always base things off the strongest monster, regardless of if that's the monster inside or outside.

This same formula can also be used for multi stage boss fights. An ogre beaten down and then overcome with a sudden surge of ferocious power, selling its soul on the spot and becoming a half demon might heal entirely and gain new powers, essentially becoming a whole new enemy, and as such this same formula would be appropriate.  Big sweeping multi stage fights are a hallmark of great videogames, and exist in many forms through movies and literature and I think it's only fair Pathfinder get a shot at it too.

Try this system out and see where it takes you, hopefully it can lead to some great encounters.



There are few forces as powerful as love. There is no world, no place or time or story that is devoid of love in one form or another. Without love there is no action, no movement, no desires, no goals, only stagnation. With that in mind this month's theme is Love. All month long we'll be looking at how love fits in your campaign, why it matters, what forms it can take, and what it can do, and we'll look at some great ways to utilize it.

So if we're going to talk about love, let's talk about all the different forms of love, and some related ideas that can serve similar roles to love.


Romantic love: This is one of the most common types of love that people associate with the word. Romantic love is a beautiful and powerful force. It is a devotion to another person that exceeds even ones own personal needs. Romantic love is something different from sexual attraction, even if the two are often related they can both exist without the other. Romantic love can be entirely chaste or celibate, it can be directed at once or more people and may or may not be reciprocated. It's also possible to feel a romantic love towards something inanimate or of a lesser intelligence, but these types of feelings are almost always unhealthy in some way for the person feeling them.


Platonic love: The most common form of love in most roleplaying games. Platonic love is the powerful love you feel for friends and companions. The desire to spend time with the people who make you the happiest. Longing to hear your friend play their music, wishing your brave leader were here to help guide you,  already knowing what your smarmy criminal friend is going to say, but wanting to hear them say it anyways.  Platonic love is a powerful form of friendship, the formation of a strong bond with someone else that you'd risk your life for.


Love of something: This kind of love is to take incredible exhalant enjoyment in something. This is an often underappreciated form of love and yet it can be every bit as powerful. The child who grows up watching horror movies works hard and saves money and then winds up making those movies when they grow up. It can be something as simple as a security blanket that you'd run into a burning building for. It can be complex as a certain feeling evoked by a set of circumstances that are nearly impossible to explain. This love is one of the keys to making a really real feeling character.  Love of something can also include dedication to an ideal. A hero who puts justice and goodness above them self has a deep love of those ideals.

Familial love: This type of love is one of duty and obligation. It's a love that one must feel. In most cases one must love their family. They are the people who raised you, who take care of you, who you have known longer than anyone else. More than the other's it's also a love of forgiveness. Familial love includes the idea that no matter what you say or do, it can still be repaired and healed and forgiven. These powerful traits however can also be dangerous. Sometimes family doesn't deserve to be loved. Sometimes they use that obligation as a weapon to trap and harm you. The idea of always forgiving can easily be turned into the idea that you need to be forgiven for something. Familiar love is something that is forced and foisted onto someone involuntarily. The idea that you have no choice but to love your family, any family, no matter what is powerful, but that power can be for good or ill.

Obsession: Obsession isn't true love, but rather a twisted mirror of love. It's a need, a driving consuming overwhelming focus on something. Obsession is dangerous because it cannot self sustain. It is fire that always needs to burn something to survive. Obsession is like addiction. The high is always followed by the need for a greater high. You think you love someone so you watch them, and watch them, and watch them. Soon watching isn't enough, you need something of theirs. A discarded piece of trash, a dropped key, a towel they left behind. You have it and it makes you happy, you feel fulfilled, but then it fades. It's not enough to hold that towel, you need to dry yourself with it. You need to keep that trash forever and build a monument to it. You need to feel that key sliding perfectly into a lock. You use the towel over and over again, afraid to wash it for fear of loosing that high, but it eventually becomes too appalling to use. That stolen piece of garbage rots or decays away and you need something else to replace it. You change the lock on your house to match that key, but soon you lose the giddy thrill you feel every time you lock or unlock it. Then you're looking through their trash, you're following them to the gym to get a new towel, you're using the key to open their lock. It never ends, it never fades away, the obsession just keeps burning. This is an incredibly powerful narrative tool for players and storytellers alike.


Lust: Lust is not love but is often confused or associated with it. Lust is a powerful desire for something. The most common use of lust is a sexual desire or a desire for sexual satisfaction but one can lust for anything. Lust is similar to obsession though much more manageable. One can lust for something, achieve it, and then turn their attention elsewhere. Lust can be dangerous if it's too powerful, if it causes someone to ignore their own or someone else's needs. The key different between lust and love is that love is putting someone or something else first, lust is putting the need for something ahead of anything else.

Ready Made Religeons

In previous articles we've covered why you might want religion and gods in your game, and some different models you can have for them in your setting, now let's get down to some examples. In this article I'll present a selection of premade religious ideologies and pantheons that you could use for your own games. Each of these also serves as a framework for a campaign on it's own.


Lords of the earth:

The world has been carved up by the gods, powerful spiritual beings that rule over their domains by granting powers to their followers. A god of the sands and scorching heat sends their missionaries into the mountains to spread their faith and influence. Soon the solid stone of the mountains begins eroding, dissolving, breaking down into sand. And without those mountains the desert winds will blow even farther. Elsewhere a sea god sends great crashing waves upon the beach day and night. But each wave scoops away a little more of the soil, a little more of the land bound world. Faithful forest followers plant trees and saplings and till the earth, growing the reach of their own god as far and wide as they can. These gods may have names and histories, or they may be something far more ancient and primal, but their influence is real and palpable as they struggle to tear another few yards of dominion from each other.

The last lonely god:

There was a time when divine beings were many, their power and knowledge was wide spread and they influenced many aspects of reality, some working together, others playfully rivaling and countermanding each other. And then a terrible fate befell them. Something came for them, hunting them down and destroying them. Was it a god of murder? Of hunger? Of death? War? Or perhaps it was something altogether worse than a god, something more wicked still. But one survived, a single tiny frightened little god. A god of whispers, or gentle wind, or illusion. It's too late for the other gods, but the mortal world can still be saved, can still be warned, but what is a silent little god to do? Only the most subtle manipulations will allow them to remain undetected. A shift, a face, a detail hidden in an illusion. A tiny weak voice when everything else is quiet, a gentle breeze where none should be. Is this enough to warn the mortal world? And even if it is, what can they possibly do against such a foe?


The sun kindler:

There is a god who keeps the sun burning. A terrible and powerful god that holds all of life in its hands. The god has named itself ruler of all the world for all eternity. But the kindle for the sun, the wood that keeps the blaze alight is the power of mortals. The greater the power of the mortal the longer they burn, and the weaker a mortal offered, the more that must die. But isn't it convenient that for the world to live requires the death of the only ones powerful enough to threaten this one god? Isn't it strange that all history of the time before the sun kindler was lost, and in a great fire no less? The other beings known as gods have long ago fled, been imprisoned, or silenced in other ways. Of course there are those who preach a secret "truth" that this god lies, that the sun will always be the sun. There are those who would stand against this god. But why does it seem that these creatures are all blood drinkers and dark elves who fear and hate the sun.


As below, so above:

The gods grant their abilities only who possess qualities for which they are known. The gods of duality and symmetry bestow their blessings only onto those born as twins. The God of Malice and hatred bestows power only to those mad with deepest hatred. The gods see only their own traits in humanity, and believe, or require, that only those like unto them should obtain their own power. This creates a world where priests are like unto their very gods becoming more and more like deific avatars than their own selves.


When gods sin:

Perhaps the gods are not perfect by virtue of being gods. Perhaps they are gods by virtue of being perfect. The gods up above gain power through the bestowal of their weakness and frailty onto others. A god of healing bestows their fear and disgust onto their followers to make themselves brave and dauntless. An ocean god gains great speed beneath the water, while one of their followers instead sinks even in the saltiest brine no matter how they struggle. The gods in their great realm are peaceful and wise because their greed and envy and wrath and pettiness are shunted onto the very people whom pray to them. But to ease this burden the gods grant a mote of their own power to their followers. Of course power as great as the gods comes with vices and sins just as great, and the world is made more sullied and dangerous even as the godly realm becomes more perfect and peaceful.

Types of religeon

When adding gods to your setting it's often helpful to look at how these religions are organized and how wide spread they are. To that end we're going to look at a few different organisations of religion that you could use for your setting.

Monotheistic: Your setting has a single god. This concept seems simple but it allows for a staggering variety of options. Your one god may be all power and all knowing, carefully orchestrating all events to a perfect and precise end. Or your god may have but a single ability that allows them to affect the world. Perhaps your god only has the ability to decide where a soul goes once it leaves the body. In a high fantasy game you could have a god that can only interact with the world by granting spells and being magically contacted. Likewise a god that can only control random events,  the path of a burning flame, the subtle flow of still water, or dreams could all make for fascinating religions. Imagine how different a faithful could be if they could only hear the word of god in the blowing breeze, what places would they worship, what would their temples look like?  A monotheistic setting may or may not have a massive organized religion, but if it does, see the "One religion" section below for some ideas for how it might look.

One religion: A singular religion encompasses most or at least a huge portion of the world. Select a single specific pantheon and apply it as the gods of your entire world. This setting benefits from the ability to greatly explore a single religion. Because there's one faith it's easy to give it a lot of depth and detail and to explore it fully. Of course the downside is that it limits your options. If your pantheon doesn't have a god of frost then you might have trouble making use of your cool ice priest concept. A monotheistic religion is much more likely to have great power and influence, which can make them either fantastic backers for the party or can have them serve as fine villains. Of course our real world has many large powerful influential religions, to give all that power to a single group would make quite a powerhouse indeed. Monotheistic religions are generally very neat and organized with categories and classifications for their gods, faiths and practices. At least that's how they /appear/. In truth a huge religion is likely to have many splinter groups, many "blasphemers" who believe in a slightly different religious canon. Not to mention separatists who want to further fragment their religion. Adding to all of this are isolated preachers and priests who have little connection to the church itself, but use its power and influence to spread their own beliefs.

Several large religions:  Most world's aren't likely to have just one religion. Normally people grow and develop separately with their own cultures, languages, customs and religions. Some parts of the world may have different pantheons or worldviews and depending on the setting even entirely different and equally real gods. The advantage of this is that you can always squeeze in another religion or god if you need to. You can also create conflicts between various religions, as is so very common in fantasy and reality. The downside is that you may have less chance to fully flesh out all the faith's of your world. The more there is to cover the less attention you can give it naturally.

Tribal and local gods: This breaks the gods down even farther. A particular village may have a local spirit of the fields or wheat. A small clan of goblins may worship a fire god that one of them thought they saw once. Even a single roadside shrine may have a "god" dedicated to it, however small and weak it may be. This makes the status of godhood  more attainable, more real, more visceral. A hunting god might actually hunt you through the woods and could, wit planning and skill, even be overcome. This method allows you to use godly foes and encounters even at low levels, and to sprinkle in the supernatural or divine anywhere. The downside is of course that if your gods are smaller and weaker, more akin to spirits, then eventually the notion of a god begins to hold less weight in that setting unless great care is taken.

Hopefully this has provided a few examples of types of religions you can use in your setting. Stay tuned for more on the subject of gods and divinity.

Gods in games

Many games and campaigns have at some point an important place for gods and religion. Whether it's the power a cleric draws from, the motivation of an ancient crusade, the new age of technogods, or the god king emperor of Mankind, there's always a place for gods. November's theme is gods and religion and we're going to kick things off by discussing why these things are vital to almost any game you want to run and how we can take those needs into consideration.  


Mechanical necessity: Some games or systems have gods as nearly a necessity. They have class features, perks or other qualities that draw directly from a divine source.  While other systems may be able to get by without a god, it would certainly dramatically alter the tone of such a game.

Character development: Religion is often a major factor in people making life changes. There are many stories of redemption, sobriety, and spiritual healing that are linked to finding or embracing religion. And likewise there are many tales of heroes falling, and the weak minded being corrupted and turned by dark gods and evil powers tempting and seducing them.

Cosmological:  While not every campaign setting necessarily needs a deep and intricate and well documented cosmology, but when one is required gods are oft involved. Gods can hold a cosmology together, serving to explain where things came from, who rules them, and who designed such a very nicely constructed multiverse.

Narrative: Gods are powerful beings who come with a mythology, a grandeur, and often insight beyond anything a mortal can access. This is why they are often great quest givers, plot hooks, and motivational factors. Gods can also be rallying points even when they themselves aren't involved. A dying god rallies a whole country behind the cause of salvation. A newborn god may be putting all the other religions on edge.

Opposition: Gods and religions make for amazing villains. An overzealous church on a crusade is enough of a foe to fuel an entire campaign alone. A god makes for a fantastic final villain for a game as much as a priest of a knight makes for a fine foe at any point. Not to mention the countless sea of stories driven by evil cult's. An enemy driven by religious zeal or backed by a wealthy and powerful organisation is already halfway to being great before even fleshing them out.

World building: Designing a world means creating places and people that feel alive and believable, and people for better or worse tend to seek out religion. People look for a higher meaning to things in their life and believing in a god provides that meaning. Likewise religion has played a huge role in world history and society today. When you create a world and characters in it, faith and divinity can serve as an inexhaustible well of inspiration and ideas.


Hopefully this has shown a few good uses for gods and religion in your setting, stay tuned all month long for more specific details on how to work with these elements

Haunted mansion adventure

                So we've looked at why you might want to add some fear to your campaign, and we've looked at a few options for doing so,  but I've always found examples to be more beneficial than just lessons. So I want to tell the story of a little fear centric game that I ran for my players.

                The basic idea was simple, run a Halloween 1 shot that would give my players a good nervous time. And I went about it in grand fashion. I'd run a nice self contained haunted house adventure for them. The goal was to escape the mansion and find the key to the gate around the mansion grounds. I knew I wanted to give them a fright so I put a lot of thought into how to do that.

                Step 1 was to take away the sense of familiarity. My players are quite savvy when it comes to the games I normally run and I wanted to take that comfort away. I considered running something I rarely use, a call of cthulu or a savage worlds perhaps, but I didn't want too much focus on the rules. So I created my own simple system instead. A few different skills that also worked as defenses, and instead of a health stat there was more of a wellness stat, it covered not only physical, but also mental health. I wanted a game where you could be scared to death or madness.

                Next I made some very basic "classes" each one with different skills and each with a unique ability. A jock, a skeptic, a nerd, and a comedic releif, The Jock could resist physical injury but was weak to fear. The Skeptic could handle fear better by denying some supernatural events. The comedic relief could make a pithy quip to restore some wellness to players, and the nerd had abilities to help progress through certain areas easier but was vulnerable to both fear and physical danger.  And then came the crowning glory. At the start of the game, each player received an envelope that foretold how they would die.

                The cards read as follows: Exanguination, Buried alive, Burned to death, Drowned. My players asked what that meant. Would they take double damage? Die instantly? How severe were these methods of dying? But they got no answer. Each player now had one thing to fear especially. And that meant every time their threat came up they were spiked to high alert. I mention a broken window, or a kitchen knife, and exanguination player tensed. Bathrooms were a drowning waiting to happen according to drowning player. And it also meant that no one could or would handle every problem. The jock wouldn't try to "tank" their weakness, for fear of dying from it outright or being horribly maimed. Likewise the other players couldn't just rely on who was healthier or most likely to succeed on every problem because their weaknesses added a dangerous variable. Even more than that, it gave them something real and specific to fear and made them constantly searching for how their weakness might get them.

                 To heighten the constant dread, I made each player their very own hand written card with their weakness. Something they could hold and touch and feel constantly in their hands, physical and real. The goal was to make them constantly on the lookout and on edge for their weakness and it worked wonders. Everyone was fidgeting, nervous, and tense the whole game, focused on their wellness damage and constantly alert for any sign of their fatal weakness.

                By the end of the game, everyone had a blast, and my players still talk about this game from almost 10 years ago even now. Every year they beg me to run it, or something like it again, and I very well just might. Hopefully you'll be inspired to run your own terrifying game for your players by taking a few ideas I've talked about here, or heck, just lift the whole concept if you like. As long as everyone has fun you can't go wrong.

How to scare your players

So last week we talked about why you might want to add a dash of terror to your games, so now let's talk about some ways to do just that. Making your game scary is very difficult as I've talked about in the past,  but here are a few good ways to get started.

Challenge: This method I've covered already a little bit. Make the players feel outmatched and threatened. I don't just mean the sort of general feeling of being weaker than someone, like standing near an important or powerful npc or person. I mean have something far deadlier than the players trying to kill them. An ancient vampire prince against their new turned whelp. A retired boxer in the presence of an ancient writhing horror from beyond the shadow of the world. A low level hero being chased by a raging T-rex. This is a situation where it's actually a good idea to try to use metagame knowledge against the players. That player who memorized the monster manuals is going to be way more scared of a monster 8 cr higher than them. A world of Darkness veteran is not going to handle the presence of something called a "True fey" nearly as well as a first timer. Of course, it should be said, don't get your players into a situation like this without at least two good ways to get them out alive!

The disturbing: Frightening and spooky imagery and symbolism are abundant in horror based media, and for good reason; they work. The little things, the things the players can't explain, can't really get a grip on, the things for which there is no answer are often the most haunting. When the ranger on watch realizes the night has gone utterly silent, there's nothing they can do but wait. When the hunter preparing to face the vampire prince  finds even fresh milk curdles in his coffee, it can only be taken as a grim omen. There are no limits to the number of creepy and haunting events. One of my favourite books, Heroes of horror, has a huge abundance of them, but almost any good horror media has plenty to work from. The important thing is that these small bits of mood setting don't become quantifiable, identifiable, and overpowering. If the Hunter spends an entire day trying to figure out why his coffee curdles, you've sidetracked the big battle. Likewise the ranger who goes out looking for animals should be promptly redirected back to their watch (possibly after a long enough search that something slipped past)

The unknown: People, and especially players, fear what they do not understand. Nothing is more sinister than being acutely informed of how little you know. This can be anything from a pitch black room, to knowing something invisible is watching, to having just enough information to know something changed. A protagonist walks across the room in the dim light only to stub their toe on their end table. They know without a doubt that it has been moved, but no one should have been inside. A cough in an empty room. A single subspace radio signal stating only "do not proceed.".  Being injected or slipped something before the culprit escapes. There are any number of ways to create a sharp sense of dread and terror just by creating a simple X factor for the players to worry about. Their imagination will always be better at scaring them than you could ever be.

The unexpected: Sometimes all it takes is a shock to put some fear in a players heart. An enemy, neither exceptionally challenging, nor disturbing, nor unknown can still become quite a terror when found under one's bed. Something sudden, something unexpected that deviates from the plan is a spectacular way to instill some unease in a player.

Hopefully this article has led to some fun and thrilling times for your group. Stay tuned for more articles all month long.



Fear at the Table

It's October, and that means it's time for a very special theme month. This month's theme is: Fear. The sheer terror and trauma that can accompany a truly gripping life or death adventure. Fear is a simple concept that all of us have felt and experienced, butsomehow when we move it into a roleplaying game it seems to get very complicated.

Let's start with the uses of fear at the table. From there we can explore all sorts of other themes, but we want to start with the basics. Let's look at the reasons to inflict fear at the table, both on players and their characters.


Excitement: The easiest reason to give your players a fright is for simple enjoyment and fun. People like being scared to some degree and under the right situations. In most roleplaying games there's a strong focus on victory, on success, on planning to be accomplished. But when you take that focus away, when you make them wonder if they can win, if they can even survive, then you've really changed the game. A terrifying monster, a deadly trap, a sudden betrayal, these sorts of things snatch away the comfort that many games are built. Instead players are thrown intoan excited rush to find a way to get back in control.

Advancing the plot: Fear is the simplest of all motivations, and as a storyteller it is your job to motivate players. When your party needs a reason to go on to the next quest, that reason often falls to fear. The only way to defeat the necromancer, the only cure for the spreading plague, the only jump gate out of a collapsing star system, these are quests for survival, driven by fear. This use of fear is very easy because you only have to scare either the players or their characters in order for it to succeed.  To some degree a great number of adventures are built on this premise.

Tactical effects: Of course a number of games also use fear as a status effect or condition, which I'll talk about in another article. Though obviously different systems will have different rules it's fairly universal that fear effects are meant to debuff and drive away opponents. They also serve as a flavourful way to inflict certain statuses. An attack that pushes everyone back, like a giant wingbeat, feels very different from an effect that scares you into fleeing the same distance.

Tone: Sometimes fear exists just to set the proper tone for a game. A murder mystery is hard to do when everyone is laughing and making jokes. A bit of nervousness, anxiety, and tension can help create the ideal atmosphere for your game. This is perhaps the hardest to pull off but also the most rewarding use of fear at the table and I'll be covering more of it soon. Sometimes the difference between a casual beer and pretzels game, and a gripping thrilling campaign is a sharp sense of danger, importance and weight.


So now that we know some of the best reasons to include fear it's time to actually get into the real guts of the issue. Keep your eyes peeled for more spine tingling articles coming soon!

Change of System

Continuing on with this month's theme of change, today we'll be talking about changing systems. I've known a great many gaming groups and one of the first things that gets asked upon meeting is "What do you play". And then the battle lines are usually drawn, and the edition wars begin, and everyone hoists the banners of their favourite systems. Sometimes though I'm lucky enough to see players speak frankly and honestly about the games they play and why they play them. This can often lead to a lot of excitement and curiosity. There are a lot of gaming systems out there and I always find it energizing to tell or show someone something new. That all being said; a different system is by definition, different and there's a lot to consider about a new system. So let's take a look at how a group can deal with a change in system.


A new setting: Many games have vastly different campaign settings from each other, often by necessity. Even if the rules were the same, going from a fantasy setting to a modern one can be very jarring for some players. Let alone moving from something like a world of darkness game into say a Starfinder game. Even smaller changes to a setting like going from Greyhawk to Eberron can be very hard to get used to. For a game master, the most important thing is to be gentle with your players. It can be very easy to read or write a lot of setting information only to forget that these things aren't common knowledge. It's also important to consider player dedication. Only the most devout playerswill put as much attention into learning about your setting as you. Think like an exam writer, every question and test should be based on things that you have personally had the players deal with and address. For players new to a setting, think about some of the important basic aspects of the setting and how they apply to your character. If your character is a "Asteroid miner" think about what sort of life they lead. Most importantly, ask questions of your storyteller. If you think the job is basically low class dangerous grunt work akin to a coal miner, double check the case. It may be more like an ice road trucker, doing just a little bit of extremely dangerous work and getting paid enough to need only a few such jobs a year.  Remember, when it comes to an entire world different from our own, it's going to be impossible to explain, think of, or remember everything in one night. Take your time, allow for mistakes and do over's, and be patient with each other as you explore a new world together.


New rules: This is going to be one of the major things to get used to when switching systems. When people talk about a new system, most often they're talking about the rules and all their differences. The most important thing to realize is that no system will be your old system. Everything else you play will be different, which can mean better, or worse, but usually it means both. Different systems will be designed for different things. A call of Cthulu game is not likely to have the best rules for computer hacking for example. Likewise a gritty world of darkness game might not have as much detail in say the intricacies of sword combat. If you judge a game based on how well it does something that it's not trying to do, you're gonna have a bad time. Instead look at what the system is designed to do really well, where it puts the most attention and focus. Go into a new system with an open mind. It can be easy to find 1 or 2 weird rules and pick them apart and hold them up as sign of a flawed system, but nobody has ever made or played a perfect game. It's also really important to highlight what you like and why. Even if I'm running a pathfinder game, I might still grab the house and army management rules from the song of ice and fire rpg. I'd use those rules because, imagine that, the system is really good at house management and war. Even a bad system has a few good things to offer, and a great system might be full of ideas you can incorporate into other games. Just like getting used to a new setting, the most important thing is to be patient and to give your best effort to learning the new setting and understanding that mistakes will happen. And that applies to players and GM's alike. Sometimes a rule is misunderstood, sometimes the errata contains something vital, and some rules are just not for every group. My recommendation is to see if you can find videos of someone explaining the rules, including examples and the like. Five minutes of example can make more sense than five hours of just reading. Maybe a rule you thought was stupid actually had a really good reason that only makes sense when you view the game as a whole. Or it could just be bad rule, every game has them, and learning which rules to ignore is as much a part of a tabletop game as learning which rules to follow.


Newstyles: This kind of ties into the previous two things, but many games have dramatically different approaches. Imagine playing a world of darkness game like a DND adventure, kicking in the door, killing with impunity, stealing the loot and moving to the next enemy. You would get killed or arrested very quickly because it's a modern mostly realistic setting. Similarly, a call of Cthulu game where you try to negotiate with or politically outmaneuver cultists is likely to end with you kneeling at the altar of a great old one or being force-fed a sacrificial knife. A game tends to have a sort of unspoken way it's generally meant to be played. How severe the consequences of your actions are, how dangerous the world is, how powerful your character is, and more can vary a lot. It can take time to feel out how a game should be played, what the atmosphere should be like, and what sorts of things are acceptable and not. Luckily everyone at the table is there to help each other out and come together to find the real fun of a game. Make sure to be open minded about a new game style. If you're used to hack and slash adventure and your group wants to put on some sombre roleplaying, give it your best try even though it's different. You never know, you might actually really enjoy it.


If you keep these things in mind when changing rules systems, you're sure to have a more fun, open, and educational experience. Seeing a new game with eyes wide open and an accepting attitude can improve not just your new campaign, but all the games to follow as you pick up bits and pieces of great gaming philosophy.

Change in players

It's September and Duck and Roll is back! This time of year is full of change both in the weather and in people's lives. To celebrate that, this month's theme is Change. All month long we'll be talking about changes in scenery, adventures, stories, and more!

To start things off we're going to talk about change at the gaming table, and some of the many forms it can come in. A tabletop game, and a gaming group as a whole is a living thing that grows, shrinks and evolves with very little provocation. I have no doubt that every person to roll a set of dice has encountered some pretty big changes in their group or groups. Let's take a look at some ways that the players of your game may change and how to make the best of a situation.


Loss of a player: People move away, people lose interest or get busy, and sometimes they have to quit for other reasons. When a group looses a player it can be a very sad occasion and it can leave an empty void not only at the table, but in the story and the dynamic of the group. Sometimes a DM or storyteller can fill the gap by bringing on an npc to serve a similar purpose. For example:  If the player who served as the group's link to the mafia can no longer make it, a new member of the organized crime family reaches out to join the party. If the party finds itself lacking a melee powerhouse, a mercenary companion or loyal ally may take up arms to help the heroes. (or antiheroes if that's your thing). Sometimes the role a player occupied can be replaced with an item, a plot device, or a change of situation. An adventuring party suddenly lacking a magical healer might find that a magic wand or crate of potions does almost as well. A superhero team short of their fire breather might come to realize that throwing cars is about the same damage (if somewhat messier). Some plot elements may have to get reworked fairly considerably depending on the importance of the player's character. Some common ways of adapting are to have the party take up their old friend's mantle, identity, or destiny, or to have an outside source hold the team responsible for the deeds of their former associate. There's also a lot that the other players can do to try and pick up the slack. If your lost player used to track initiative, try volunteering to fill their shoes. If your wizard can't play for a few months, maybe the Rogue or bard can grab some scrolls. It's easy to be dismayed or disappointed in a friend, and to fall to a defeatist attitude. "I guess we aren't doing any ghost stuff without our sin eater." But stepping up, having your mage learn a few dots of death magic for example, shows a maturity and initiative that is sure to get noticed. As much as I love my weekly sessions and my gaming group, as much as I've made it my life's ambition, I understand that at the end of the day other people have responsibilities to uphold. It's important not to take someone bowing out of a game personally. A lot of the time it's cleaner and easier to have someone choose not to play with your group rather than being distracted, not giving it their all, or not having fun at the table.


Addition of a player: Tabletop games are big, and they get bigger every year, more and more people are getting into it, and that means those players are going to wind up at the same table as you. A "New" player might be a 30 year gaming veteran, or they might have never held a character sheet before. When someone joins your group, regardless of if you're a player, storyteller, DM, Ect, it's your job to make them feel welcome and help them to get accustomed to things. Different groups have different rules and customs and it's important to be patient and open minded. If your spectacular roll was suddenly nullified because "Floor dice don't count" you might be pretty upset too if you'd always had them count before. Try to be sympathetic to this newfound stranger at your table. And if YOU are the new one at the table, do your best to pick up on how your new friends do things. Don't be afraid to offer a different point of view, but understand that no two groups are the same. From a story perspective it can be challenging to integrate a new player, especially if your plot involves a specific number of people, and it can likewise be difficult to catch someone up on the details they've missed. One of the easiest solutions to this problem is so simply explain to the player only a bit more than their character knows, and introduce their character as an outsider only meant to offer temporary aid. Soon one encounter turns into two or three, connections form, and consequences fall on both parties. In the long run of a game a player can start even halfway in and still feel like a fully fledged party member by the end.


 Change of role: As my groups Forever GM, I deeply understand the desire to change up roles sometimes. Everyone should get a chance to play, and some people are better off running games than being on the party. When a new player picks up or takes off the storyteller hat it can be a tumultuous time. Table rules could change, new campaigns may be formed, old plots might be rewritten, and styles may clash. When someone steps up and offers to run a game, the most important thing to remember is that everyone is on the same side. You all want to have fun, and nobody shows up to the table with the intent to ruin other people's enjoyment. That being said, some people do things very differently, and not everyone is cut out to sit behind the screen. And not all great storyteller's make great players either. The easiest way to help a transition like this along is to come together as a group, to listen to each other, and be willing to try out different styles. If the new GM isn't working out, see if you can all clearly come to the conclusion as to why, and find a solution that works for everyone. It's easy to fall into the same roles as always, the same GM running for the same players, but only by trying new things and new compositions can you really find out what works best for everyone.


Change of identity:  Sometimes people change, and those changes aren't always easy for the person involved or for the people around them. Some people are more comfortable when their character has elements of them self in them, and when a part of someone's identity changes they may want that change to be reflected in their character. Of all the changes that can occur at the table, these sorts of changes are the easiest to know what to do, even if some people have a lot more trouble dealing with them. All that required here is communication. If a player wants to go by a different name or pronoun, all they should need to do is communicate that desire. If a player is no longer comfortable with a certain type of content, they should only need to mention it and that aspect can be downplayed to a comfortable level or taken out entirely. When a player undergoing a major life change wants that change to be reflected in their character there are two main ways to handle it. The first is to have the character also undergo a similar change, which depending on the game or setting might be a very quick change, or it may be a very long one. This experience, if done right can even be very theraputic for a player and can help enrich the setting and the character's arc. The other option is to retroactively change things so the character always had the qualities being changed to. This option is much faster and easier to implement and requires a lot less attention. Fortunately it's not hard to figure out which to use, just ask the player what they'd prefer and proceed from there.


Hopefully this has helped some people deal with big changes at the gaming table among their players. It can always be a trying time when the things we're used to change, but hopefully this can help keep you centered and give you some guidance for getting back on track.

Interface Zero review

Hey all! So I know I’ve been pretty quiet lately, moving and a few side projects have kept me on my toes, but what free time I have had has been spent withInterface Zero

It’s a Dystopian Cyberpunk game, very similar in tone to Shadowrun, but it’s for Pathfinder!

I’ve known a lot of people who want to get into Shadowrun but can’t really take the time or focus to learn a whole new system, this is your answer. It immediately grabbed my attention and did not let go. And now I have a minute, I wanna share it with you all. But more than just praising something I really like, I want to also hold it up as an example of game design done really well. To that end I’m going to do a few articles talking about different aspects of the book and what they do right and and wrong, what you can learn from them. So I’m going to start by talking about where your readers are going to start looking. 

Everyone who I know will, upon getting a new pathfinder book, immediately zero in on the foundations of character building, the Races and the Classes. If you are creating a new setting, or detailing a large sprawling adventure, or exploring a major topic, it’s always a good idea to include something eye catching and exciting. Does Interface Zero do this? You bet it does! Let’s take a look at the races:

The Races: 
Human 2.0

I read that and I was already hooked on the line, I was excited and more importantly, I wanted to know more. Once I did actually read about each of the races I was very pleasantly surprised. Each of these races is really well balanced and incredibly well thought out. In a lot of pathfinder games, Human tends to be the most popular choice, since they’re so easy to relate to. And of course they’re one of the most mechanically powerful in a normal Pathfinder game. But Interface Zero has made every race not only exciting and relatable, but also has balanced them very well against each other mechanically. My personal favourite is the Human 2.0, which is a genetically engineered “perfect” human. And what I love is that even with a concept like that they found a way to balance it against a regular human in a way that fits their world and keeps the game fair. 

Each race has a different sort of vibe or feeling, and allows a player to explore a different side of the world. A vat grown simulacra has a very different view of the world than someone whose wealthy family paid to have them be born a Human 2.0 and they both have a different outlook from someone who is as much machine as human. This is how you introduce races properly, not just for aesthetic and statistical variety, but for giving your players different lenses through which they can view your world. Okay, Races check out. But what about classes? Let’s see:

The Classes: 

Alright, this definitely checks out. A whole assortment of immediately evocative ideas and exciting character concepts are available. If your race is the lens you view the world with, then your class is how you affect the world around you. Thematically and statistically your class is possibly even more important than race, and these classes are rock solid. Even the names and roles that we see tell volumes about the world. This list of classes contains hints of government operations, an abundance of violence and harm, criminal activity,  mystery, a thriving entertainment industry, and tells us a lot about the technology available, just from the names of the classes. This is how you tightly pack details of your world into every little nook and cranny.

Just looking at the race and class options alone can already stir up a ton of fantastic thoughts and possibilities. What came to mind right away for me: A simulacra that was genetically engineered to be the perfect cyber-noir detective, now trying to track the case of their own creation. An android medic that feels like a walking talking WebMD, diagnosing cancer and terrible maladies over minor symptoms. A hybrid catgirl/catboi idol taking over the charts with their phenomenal jpop. And a Cyborg Gearhead who interfaces with their sweet motorcycle directly and converses with it like a close friend.

And much like the races a lot of attention has gone into balancing out the classes. Hacker’s may be a stand in for wizards but the balance is so much better because of the nature of their hacking and the way the class is designed. A cybermonk is able to eschew many of the weaknesses and flaws of the traditional monk class, and even the Idol is given abilities that allow it to shine, and the game’s reduced reliance on direct combat is perfectly highlighted by the class. 

If your book or homebrew contains major categories like this, pay a lot of attention to how they’re presented, make them easy to find and easy to understand. If you can tell half as much to your reader as Interface Zero than you’ve started off strong.  Keep a cybereye on this game and it's developers. 

Myths and you

June is Myth month, and that means all month long we'll be looking at myths, legends, and the lore that you can add into your very own campaign. Before we dive too deep into the topic, I want to take this article just to explore a bit about what a myth can be, and why it matters.


So to start off, what is a myth? In the context of this article and your setting a myth is a legend or part of the setting that may have happened at some point in the past and is still remembered today. Almost anything can become a myth or legend, and thus a part of your world if it's important enough. Most of the finest and enjoyable works of fiction contain fascinating pieces of lore. Brann the builder crafted the wall in the frozen north of westeros using magic and giants, a wall so important it became known as THE wall. The Millennium Falcon and her pilot Han Solo made the Kessel run in just 12 Parsecs. John Wick. Just John wick, the movie, the character, the franchise is all essentially one giant mythos about how cool that character is. A rich mythos and legend makes for a rich world. Just look at the influence of stories and legends on our own world.

Epic sagas about those people long passed, and those still around, add weight and importance to a scene, a place, a character or an interaction.  No warrior, no matter how gleaming their armor and stylish their weapon, will convey the same message as "Dragonslayer Ornstein".  One is a man, the other is a legend. Of course with enough time and world building you can convey great deals of information about a character at a glance. After all, not one word needs to be spoken when a lightsabre burns to life, for you to know that a Jedi has decided to do battle.

Legendary figures can also help give your players something great to aspire to. If the greatest Hunter in history brought down a mage, a werewolf and a vampire in one night, then your players have an immediate idea of where the bar is. And some night, far into the campaign, after the players kill a vampire and their dominated lycanthrope, only to be betrayed by their mage friend and have to put them down, they'll realize they made it, they've become legends.

The lore and history of the world can also though help you to drive home the theme of a campaign. If your world is dark and sombre then a few legends of heroes who fell, who failed,  or who won at too great a cost, can really drive home that feeling. Likewise if your game is an epic swashbuckling adventure then tales of great heroes and their phenomenal drunken exploits might serve better.

Legends and myths can play a great myriad of roles for you campaign, and in the coming weeks you'll learn all about those bountiful opportunities.

Instant Myths

All this month we're exploring the theme of Myths. Myths and legends are wonderful and a great way to enrich your setting, but sometimes you don't have enough time to finely craft a tale. Well here's a quick and easy shorthand you can use to generate myths and legends on the fly. All you do is roll on the chart of Random myths, and then if needed roll on the secondary chart indicated or fill in the blanks yourself.


Random Myths:

1    Killed a powerful monster (roll on powerful monsters chart)

2     Has a legendary mount or pet (roll on powerful monsters chart)

3     Prevented a terrible crime (roll on terrible crimes chart)

4     Committed a terrible crime (roll on terrible crimes chart)

5     Saved someone important (roll on important people chart)

6     Murdered someone important (roll on important people chart)

7     Fled or failed a great deed (roll on great deeds chart)

8     Performed a great deed (roll on great deeds chart)

9     Brokered peace with a neighboring faction

10   Roll twice


Powerful Monsters

1   Dire wolf

2    Kraken

3  Great shuddering ooze

4    Manticore

5  Griffon

6    Chimera

7    Talking snake

8    Magical horse, Unicorn, pegasus, hippogriff ect.

9    Ancient Machine

10 Dragon


Terrible crimes:

1     Roll again but the event occurs at a sacred ceremony, wedding, funeral ect.

2     The death of a diplomat or holy person.

3     Wrongful imprisonment of a hero or many innocents

4     Corruption or taint of the land itself

5     Destruction of a holy relic or work of art

6     Theft of a priceless item

7     Gruesome torture

8     Murder of an innocent

9     Betrayal of a loved one

10     Massacre or genocide



Great deeds:

1     Heroic sacrifice of one's self

2     The redemption of someone evil.

3     An act of fantastic charity or generosity

4     A great act of mercy against a sworn foe

5     Formation of a just country or kingdom

6     Creation of a beautiful work of art

7     Discovery of a forgotten sacred site

8     Retrieval of a long lost relic

9      The defeat of an evil warrior in fair combat

10     Defeat of a wicked mage


Important people

1     Religeous figure, Priest, Rabbi, ect

2     General, Admiral, other important military figure

3     Wealthy merchant/head of a big corperation

4     Scholar/inventor/scientist

5     Famous actor

6     Popular musciain

7     Witness in an important trial

8     The last remaining member of a venerable or respect group or species

9     Major/Duke/Barron

10     Ruler/Prime minister/head of state

Leafy Lore

A lot of the time, when I get excited about a topic, I tend to put the apparatus before the Kwalish if you catch my meaning. I've gotten a few messages asking me for some really good examples of how to incorporate plants into a setting and I'm happy to oblige. I'm going to lay out two examples, one is taken from one of my all time favourite settings, and the other is something I created for a custom setting I ran, hopefully they'll help give you some inspiration.


When magic came to the world, it fell from the stars as a seed. A single magnificent seed that burrowed deep into the earth. Over time that seed grew, and grew, and grew. It fed on the natural energy of the world and became rich with magic, the first magic. And after a thousand years that tree bore a single fruit. The person who consumed that fruit was the first spellcaster, and from her descended all other mages. Eventually, this first mage became one with the tree of magic, turning herself into a great living being of magic and wood, but for all her power she was not able to stop her apprentices from sealing her in a great orb of stone that became the moon.

That is a very simplified take on some complex lore, but it establishes several important connections . The idea of all magic coming from a single seed, can show the tremendous power of growth from small beginnings (particularly fitting in rpg's). The idea that magic comes from beyond our world, and that it draws on the power of our planet introduces some fascinating questions about the world of your setting and what lies beyond. The concept of fruit being the medium by which magic became something humans could use can draw exciting religious comparisons. The idea of wood absorbing and suppressing or conducting magic can also have a ton of applications and mechanics. Lastly, the idea of powerful sealing magic forming the moon creates a constant reminder every night about the origin of magic and the moral lessons of the legend (depending on how you spin the story). A simple one paragraph origin for magic helps to create a bushel of blossoming options for players and GM's alike to play off of.



The war between the vampiric blood god and the immortal Lich lord was a fierce and terrible battle. The Vampires were stronger and faster by far, but the lich lord had countless hordes of zombies and skeletons, shambling at his command. But then the Lich lord discovered the Vampires secret weakness to wooden stakes. The cunning necromancer took a battalion of his skeleton warriors and destroyed them, grinding them into necromantic bone meal and using the dust and marrow to feed and nurture those trees. When they grew tall and powerful with shards of bone woven into their bark the Necromancer retook control of the plants, using them as an army of walking undead trees. With countless branches and thorns and minions the Lich the lord was finally able to overcome the so called blood god, impaling him andhis minions and growing great trees around them. To this day the bone wood forest remains, each might tree still feeding off of the necromantic power deep within.

By tying necromancy with trees and life we create a very different dichotomy than we see in most games. The idea of controlling trees and plants with necromancy could spring into an entire academy of "Green" necromancers whose powers are still very much in line with nature. And we have the added bonus of having a spectacularly interesting location. The forest of bone could be a haunting and terrifying place, or a beautiful and majestic monument to the defeat of the blood god, or anything in between. And a setting like that can certainly place a new spin on Treants and other living plant creatures.

Hopefully these examples have been helpful in incorporating plants into your own game.

Campaign Model: Growing strong

Campaign Model: Growing strong

This campaign model tells the tale of a single powerful work of magic going awry. As such it's suitable for fantasy games. One could also replace the magic potentially with toxic or biological mutation or even a freak of evolution. The tone can easily be adjusted from light and adventurous to bitch black tragedy or horror. As it stands, the adventure is designed with elements of mystery, horror, and fantasy. It's a slow build to a massive confrontation.

The story is as follows:

It all started with a simple tree. A beloved tree, with deep strong roots covered in moss and fungus. A tree that stood for decades, the favoured tree of a humble nature lover.  And then there was a moment, a moment of beauty and a single instance of magic. Perhaps it was a blessing from above, perhaps the humble nature lover had earned the power through training or sacrifice or the admiration of a fairy. But regardless of how, they were blessed with the power to bring a plant to life, to sentience and sapience with a touch. But when the moment came to lay hand upon the tree, there was a mistake. Instead the magic flowed into the fungus, deep into the earth, spreading across a massive network of fungi so expansive that it covers much of the world itself. (And of course if it suits your game you can replace this origin with a network of fungal roots reaching a spilled pool of toxic waste.)

Now a single massive organism lives, and breathes and feeds and grows beneath the surface of the world. It hears words whispered in the royal gardens, it feels the indiscretions hidden in the cornfield, it drinks the blood of the battlefields and it comprehends all of it, constantly feeding an intellect as vast as the organism itself. It knows the knowledge of the open world, and through this it learns.

As it waits and listens, drinking in the knowledge of the world, it is discovered by a small coven who form a cult around it. They meet in tunnels webbed with roots and fungi and perform their strange rites in honour of the mushroom god they have discovered. Depending on the mood you want to go with these could be entirely mundane beings believing themselves mystical connected to this world sized life form, or they could have true magical power. Likewise, the tone can decide what exactly the cult is doing. A darker game could find the cultists abducting humans and using them as fertilizer to feed the their god, whereas a lighter game may have them pressuring others to join, stealing garden supplies and mulch, or consuming dangerous psychoactive in an effort to commune with the plant. But regardless of their motives and abilities, they do manage to catch the entities attention, and through their supplication it comes to believe that is indeed a god.

When the players inevitably foil the cult, this being takes notice of them, deciding to enact the godly vengeance that is promised by its cultists. It's first attempt should be minor but mystifying. It could be a great sinkhole opening up beneath one of the players, exposing a deep root filled tunnel, or it could be several small savage mushroom creatures attacking from a small hole in the earth. Even something subtler still, like the player's garden dying and rotting and filling with fungus in short order., and then finding the ground beneath the garden has opened up into small tunnels. Enough to tell the players that something is definitely going on, and to lead them to a network of tunnels similar to where the cult was, but smaller.

From here the players may want to wanted into the tunnels alone or they might group up to explore. Depending on how things worked out with the cultists they may seek out surviving members or victims. The important thing here is to put on more pressure. if they visit cultists they get waylaid on the way, by living fungi, felled trees, or more stronger mushroom minions. You may also choose to have the cultist or their victims also attacked, their fate also left to help enforce the tone of the game. If the players advance into the tunnels confront them with choking roots, or toxic spores, or animate mushrooms, nothing too strong for them, but enough to tell them they're on the right track. Another major boon of this model is that if the players try to leave or flee, the organism is everywhere.

If the players back off, give them a brief reprieve, let them catch their breath, plan their next move, and then as they implement that plan, put the pressure back on, no stronger than last time, but just a reminder that they can't escape this. If they press on into the tunnels heading deeper, then it's time to get psychological. The being communicates with them, and it wants the players to surrender to it. This can be anything from demanding they become it's champions, to submitting to fungal infection, to earnestly asking them to lay down and die amidst its roots. The important thing is that these are not the idle growling demands of a monster. They are the sweet cajoling words of a god, of a being so mighty that it already knows the party will die and fail, so they should save themselves the trouble. Sine few parties ever back down when asked to they'll likely press on. At this point wet stomp the gas and throw a big threat at them. Good options are a vast cavern with a massive fungal creature, a hidden clearing on the surface with fugally infected animals, optimally in varying states of decay, or just massive tentacle like roots. When the party wins the battle, they'll quickly realize the war is just beginning. This is a good chance for ominous messages from around the world. If players have friends across the world, have it drop one of their names and what they're doing. If there's a war the players have investment in, have the creature give ominous news from the front, or just tell them what their family back home is up to. This is a power play, this is the god revealing at least in part how expansive and powerful it is.

At this point the players should be allowed a little reprieve, a chance to draw back and consider their options. They can consider a lot of approaches here, Magical, Chemical, Alchemical, Psychological, the important thing is that as long as they settle on a somewhat reasonable goal, have it seem like it should work. If it seems like they really need a bone, you could even have them discover there's a powerful heart at the center of the mass, grown around where the spell was laid. Regardless of the approach as a general rule it should take 1 adventure to prepare and a second to implement. If they want to blow the heck out of it with explosives, that's 1 adventure to get the goods, and 1 to place and detonate. If the approach is magical it should be 1 adventure to find the info and another to bring it to bare. You get the idea.

It's also important to remember, the players by this point should be aware the creature can see and hear them in an outdoor environment. So if they decide anyways to prepare their plan outside near all the plants and moss and fungi, then take note. Have the plant react accordingly, it's not a stupid entity that will allow it to be destroyed. If it knows where the players are going and what they plan to do ahead of time, it should take steps to prevent it. whether that means taking over the chemical plant, infecting the sage who knows it's weakness, or anything else.  Depending on campaign length, that could mean just making an encounter a bit harder, throwing in a few enemies or an extra obsticle, or it could mean completely foiling that option and forcing them to go on another adventure. That last option should also only be used if the players actually have more than one idea about how to stop the entity.

Finally all the preparations are set, the players have what they need and have finally begun moving to place it or enact it. At this point the entity offers a truce, a partnership, after all it is a being with more knowledge and power than any other , surely it could turn the tide of any conflict. Of course this being would never actually be the tool of mere mortals, but if it can buy enough time it can heighten it's defenses and defeat the players. Hopefully the players will see through this ruse, and together defeat the massive being, ending it's existence and saving themselves and perhaps the world.



Plants in your game

So last week I talked a bit about how to make plants important and relevant in your story, but now let's look at what you can actually DO with them. This is, how to use Plants in your campaign.

Plants in narrative: As I eluded to last week, there are a ton of ways to use plants from a narrative perspective. They can of course be symbolic, using the plant as a narrative shorthand, as a representation of a concept or ideal. A certain event or place or character becomes linked with that plant, andit allows you to say so much with few words. Of course a plant can also be much more directly relevant to the plot. A small town's survival may hinge on recovering a rare herb, a sprig of mistletoe may be the only weakness of a corrupted god, or perhaps a gigantic network of mushrooms is threatening all of the world.

Plants and their mechanics. All it takes is adding a few basic spell effects to rare wild plants and you can create some fascinating foliage. Imagine wild Goodberry bushes, or lotus blossoms that when brewed into a tea make one invisible. Of course there are plenty of other ways to get creative with plants. Magic vines that serve as enchanted rope, mundane herbs that provide bonuses to skill checks when used properly, and of course there's good old fashioned cover and concealment. There are a limitless number of ways you can use plants and tie them to mechanical benefits to help make them stand out to your players.

Plants as obstacles. Of course as helpful as plants can be, they can also make fantastic foils. From classic plant based monsters, to overgrown brambles too thick to pass, right to massive treetop fortresses that must be besieged or scaled. Plants can also serve as opposition in less conventional ways, such as a thieves guild trading in opiates or other naturally derived narcotics. And one of my personal favourites, is to convert mechanical traps into organic ones. A scythe trap becomes a snapping man eating flytrap and a dart trap becomes a blossom that ejects deadly thistles without needing to modify the rules much at all.

And all of these above options are very simple to implement, taking very little extra work. All you need is to give the new plant a name, a tidbit of lore about it, and what it does. Just make sure you keep a record of your plants because they become more potent and make your world more immersive with repeated usage.


Important Plants

May has arrived, and since "April Showers bring May flowers" we're going to be celibrating Plant Month! All month long we'll be talking about plants, herbs, trees, fruits and veggies and of course plant monsters. So if you're vine with that then let's get right down to the root of it and talk about plants in the campaign setting, and in particular, how to make them important.

Do you know where to find Nirnroot? There's a good chance that you do. You might know it grows on the banks of rivers in Cyrodil and Skyrim. You may even know to listen for the gentle humming noise it makes. And you might beware that someone asking for it is probably up to no good since it's used in strong poisons and for invisibility. What can you tell me about Calatheas flowers? Exactly, you probably wouldn't recognized one if you saw it, and those are real! All it takes is a little bit of investment to turn something boring and mundane into something that adds depth and breadth to your entire world.

So how do we make plants interesting? No problem, there's three simple ways. First, as in the example above, is to make the plant tied to practical knowledge. If the players know that Liander berries made into a salve will heal 1 hp with a heal check, you can bet they'll remember that. Likewise when the players are toe to toe with a troll and they spot a bush of Firenettles, they'll have quite an easier time if they remember the burning venom those plants bristle with. 

Second, you can create symbolic or historical significance. If the world was grown as the fruit of a great apple tree, then it's easy to understand a religion of growth and creation using apples as gifts to the poor. They would cut and peel the apples for the young and elderly and recite the story of the creation of the world as they did so. Then sometimes when they return they'd have the children tell the story while they peel. And then upon a the third visit they let the child carefully peel the fruit, with guidance, when they talk. And finally the priests need only hand an apple to a youngdisciple and let them spread the word as they share their fruit. And when the players travel to the next city over and see the royal army chopping wood, there will be something eerie, something surreal, about watching a soldier cut down an apple tree to burn for a night's warmth.

Third, you can create personal investment. The above example is good, but if the player was once a street urchin being fed apple slices, it's even better.  A sailor marooned on an island with only thistles and prickly pears to consume may find themselves quite shaken when a creature of living thorns attacks. Or they may hunt down their old crew and slay them before stuffing their mouths with briars as their calling card. When you make something personal, you make it memorable, you give its importance to the player and allow them to grow it.

The best thing is that these benefits are not only cumulative, but they are exponentially stronger when stacked. Take an assassin, who grew up as an urchin living off of the apples of the priests. When they find out that the ruler is in the service of a wicked flame god, who would use the world as kindling, the path is clear. They take the seeds of a thousand apples  and brew a single dose of Cyanide meant for the king's lips. The perfect blaend of practicality, worldbuilding, and personal tale.

Of course, this is just the seed of an idea. Keep an eye out for future articles which will help grow this concept and provide a bounty of fruitful plant based opportunities.