Monday, February 20, 2012

d12 Science Fantasy Elements

Roll a repeating d4 to see how many major science fantasy sits are in the campaign world. Roll a repeating d4 for the number of elements are at each sight. Roll that many d12s on the table below.

1. Space Aliens – Otherworldly travelers that rely on technology rather than magic. Here on accident?

2. Crashed Spacecraft – How long ago did it crash? What do the commons think it is?

3. Mutating Radiation – How did it get there? What has it done to the terrain and wildlife around it?

4. Cyborg – Where did they get those biotic arms? What happens if it malfunctions?

5. Laser/Phaser Gun – Big damage at the risk of friendly fire and exploding in your face
6. Otherwordly Gates – Think stargate. Enough said.

7. Cthulhuoid Monster – Bonus points for not ripping off Lovecraft.

8. Time Travelers – What time did they come from? Why did they come here? Accident? What was their original purpose?

9. Ancient Technology – Who made it? Who’s using it now?

10. Clockwork Beast – Clever players will scavenge these for parts. Let them – that’s the treasure they carry.

11. Cyber Mage – Who says magic and technology can’t be synthesized?

12. Miscellaneous  Shrapnel – Random sci-fi bits and scattered about. Not just scrap metal, but a Holo-message or pile of dead aliens?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Agrivaina Session 2

[As told by Samson Jones (Zzarchov at Unofficial Games)]

So once more I followed by divine calling, once more wandering these strange surface worlds. This time I came to a place where people put cream or cheese on darn near everything. Where I not naturally a perfect specimen of human perfection I would be worried about gaining weight.

At the local watering holes I met two trustworthy looking gentlemen,+Taurus Hell's Heart , who must be good with kid's due to this attire, and +Philip the Bloody who seems to be a wealthy aristocrat. Since they weren't poor and were therefore trustworthy we also met up with another priest they know who went by the title of Father Jack, a vicar they knew from someplace called Cornwall. Jack also brought with him a charming lass whom he had recently had dashing adventures with in this strange land. I would have been quite ecstatic about the crack team I would get to lead this time but someone seems to have fed a stray halfing and it followed us around as well. It seems to have some sort of parasitic relationship with a goat, I came to understand that is a common malady affecting the local goat populace. The more I am forced to endure the world above the more I am happy God clamps down on the non-humans back home.

Some of the folk knew that a feud between nobles were brewing, one lord having death wish against another lord, a better thought was broached. In a nearby desert there is an encampment of an Egyptian pharaoh, sending his best men to loot and explore a set of sand enveloped ruins. After confirming they were pagans who could not easily be converted and therefore monster, we set to work planning a dashing adventure of killing vile monsters and returning priceless treasures to the beacon light of civilization.

The ruins themselves were near a cliff face, that my maps shows just past "boring walking" and "overpriced supplies for ungrateful adopted children". We saw elements of an aqueduct leading into a mound of sand, breached only by the top of a tower and an archway. As I stared down overlooking the scene, the cool wind rustling through my long golden locks, the team, through my superior management skills, spotted the Pharaoh's men leaving the arch, just as I knew would happen. Litter bearers carrying piles of treasure, a warrior in dark copper plate, a fellow we dubbed senor man-thong, several drummers and a trumpet player.

Using a brainstorming session, we delivered a list of action items:
Father Jack would cast silence on the trumpet
I would bless +Taurus Hell's Heart and he would open fire on the armoured warrior with +Philip the Bloody 's weapon, something he calls a "phaser". It was some sort of weird Cornish weapon I guess. The halfling would be sicked at the warriors on his goat back while Philip cast sleep upon the litter bearers. The rest of us, my sons and our men-at-arms would unleash sling stones and arrow fire upon those we could reach.

The warrior survived a direct hit with the phaser, but the rest of the plan went fairly well. It did take a half dozen stones to down senior man-thong however, and despite the silence the trumpet player was able to press his trumpet to the ground and cause some form of rumbling to appear. This would prove a problem later.

A few scrolls of sleep later, and the mound of sand was growing larger. Our female companion cleverly picked up the trumpet and began blowing it at other parts of the sand, causing the mound to move. This allowed us to pick up the litter of treasure, throw on the warriors body and high tail it out of there with the trumpet. 

While us sentient beings were able to just keep running as the mound of sand erupted behind us, unfortunately the simple halfling and his goat looked back. This proved to be a problem later, I wonder what he saw.

We made a quiet fireless camp in the woods and counted and split the treasure. Philip decided that the poor warrior had somehow been cursed with unholy magics to grant him strength, through magic tattoo's on his hands. Obviously a man of great charity he deftlydegloved the fellow, allowing his soul some peace in death. I must admit I don't understand the full nature of how that all works, but it isn't my place to know things I don't know. Unable to sleep, I decided to keep watch all night in case that rumbling horror came looking for us, or the pharaoh sent people to find out what happened to his men.+Taurus Hell's Heart being the kind soul he is, stayed up with me. Never letting me out of his unblinking gaze in rapt silence. Thankfully we were awake, for strange fibers began oozing out of the Halfling's sleeping body. 

Heroically I leaped into action and bravely assaulted the sleeping and heavily injured halfling's body with my Morning Star. I was too courageous to yield when his struggling ceased and so bravely kept hitting him until an ungodly swarm of maggots began emanating from his ground corpse.

Philip was awoken and began vapourizing the halfling's body with his Cornish weapon. Taurus set a small fire with oil over the writing remains to be sure, while I bludgeoned the goat to death and threw it on the fire as well.

Returning to a friendly inn for some rest and relaxation, a rather odd event occurred. I was just recounting a hypothetical about how if a certain lord with a contract on his head might have been the one to steal from the pharaoh he would have a pile of easily stolen treasure sitting around his home, and being a foppish sort he would be easy to rob for any real men. Purely a thought exercise.

Unfortunately there seemed to be a table full of drunk vikings sitting next to me, and once Father Jack began loudly describing the interior of said nobles house after his visit the vikings left. Thinking nothing of it we went to meet a local noble who may have some work for us that the others knew.

We did have some trouble getting in, a new halfling was following us (damn vermin) and must have been owned by a sailor previously. He was rude and vulgar, riding his goat into the lord's house, insulting the lord (though I know he only speaks as a parlour trick and does not know the meaning of the words, it was quite embarrassing). The lord however was quite amused by our explanation for the poor critter and wanted to keep him and give him a good home. He was a kindly one, but the creature was rabid already and tried to attack me.

We thankfully were leaving anyways, the lord wanted us to kill a local noble and retrieve his head and wife, such skullduggery! Worse it was the same one I was mentioning near the vikings, who I also realized would probably keep his head and wife. We then bravely rushed out to intercept the vikings as the ransacked the poor lord's home. The viking's had killed the guards, as well as three nuns and were torturing the fourth and final. With a scroll of sleep from Philip we were able to save the nun, and discovered her lord was out of town on his honey moon.

We raced to warn him about further plots on his life, stopping only to look a mound of dead purple skinned monsters, with helmets that were round bowls made of some material clear ike glass but strong like metal. They wore skin tight white suits that seam to reduce the intensity of fire. One of the helmets is currently available at Samson and Son's Dungeon Salvage, as well as a pair of gloves that reduce the intensity of fire. But we were on a mission of life and death, and could not spare a moment longer than the 30 or 45 minutes we spent looting and desecrating the bodies.

Arriving in a southern town I labelled as "Elephant Loving Town" we were able to gain entrance as performers, Philip creating a breathtaking and perfect illusion of an elephant. We then rushed to the wedding of Lord [Burndy]  to warn him of the assassination attempt we 100% had no part in but totally saved him from and should be rewarded for.

The age of heroes is not yet over, some men and women of pure hearts yet exist. Men of character and pure morals like +Taurus Hell's Heart , +Philip the Bloody , Father Jack, What's-her-name and Me...+Samson Jones! a renowned humble servant, the humblest servant if I may add, of the divine march of civilization.

d20 Wilderness Situations

Next on the random tables is wilderness encounters. I don't use only monster in my encounter charts, but ruins, caves, and tower as well. It use this chart, roll 1 repeating d4 on every major road the PCs cross and roll that many d20s on the table below. There is a 2 in 6 of players running into some each weak of travel (did they actually spot the ruins on the hills or were they too tired to pass them by).

1. Tavern in the Middle of Nowhere – Great place to hear rumors and do a little carousing, but the tavern keep always has some sort of scheme up his sleeve and/or caters towards inhuman folk.

2. Madman – Some sort of naked, crazed hermit or drunken disposed noble.

3. Strange Ruin – Usually of Roman, Egyptian, or Babylonian construction.

4. Wizard’s Mance – A teetering tower, underground grotto, floating castle, walking house, or just a plain old hut.

5. Knight Errant – Off a tourney, questing for relics, preparing for war, maybe even exiled by his ex-lord.

6. Religious Pilgrims – pious monks, dangerous cultists, drunken nature worshipers, naive lawful types. Usually led by a spell-casting cleric.

7. Rural Village – Indigenous raiders, cursed peasants, religious zealots, disguised fey.

8.  Ancient Statue – Celtic god, Greek hero, magical beast, usually possessing some sort of magical power.

9. Magical Pool – Predicting the future, granting wishes, teleportation, transformation, or healing.

10. Fey – Remember, they’ve always got a tricky plan or two up their sleeves to cause mayhem and chaos.

11. Castle – A lone castle in the middle of the wilderness. 

12. Magical Valley - Of talking animals, addictive fruits, vines that come to life after nightfall.

13. Legendary Beast – Unique beasts of wonder and legend, giant snakes with the legs of a wolf and forked tongue of a devil or massive scarab beetle with dripper purple pincers and poison that kills by dehydration.

14. Normal Animals – Wolves, bears, boars, wild game.

15. Cave – May house wild animals, buried treasure, portal to the Overworld, hell, or another planet.

16. Brigands – Bandits, raiders, berserkers, impersonators, just ready to strip the PCs of more than their earthly goods.

17. Lonesome Institution - Invisible school of sorcery, isolated monastery, or headquarters of some demonic cult.

18. Merchant Caravan – Greedy merchants with armed guards, but the booty is usually worth an adventure’s while.

19. Lost Travelers –  Damsel is distress, kidnaped children

20. Blatant Anachronism – Cavemen, metal diving suit, crashed spaceship, time travelers.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Random Village Situations

Your players and wandering around and find a small village in the wilderness. You have no idea what's there, so what do you do? Roll a repeating d4 and roll that many d20s on the table below:

1. Slavers РHiding out in or taking villagers. Selling them for dark rituals? A baron preparing for war? Want to take PCs as cr̬me of the crop slaves?

2. Missing Peasant – Lost in the forest? Turned into a goat? Ran off to join heretic religion? Best wine maker kidnapped by another group of adventures?

3. Tax Day – 20% Tax on the PCs? Villages can’t pay? Treasure waiting to be ambushed?

4. Obscure, Incoherent Laws – Illegal to wear the color red on Thursday? All grown men required to carry a sword?

5. Problematic Laws of Customs – All visitors must be married off to local concubines? Naming any part of the body considered is a terrible insult?

6. PCs Framed for Crime They May or May Not Have Committed – Murder? Adultery? Goat napping?

7. Wandering Duelist – And will travel about the land called craven of anyone who declines his challenge?

8. Small-Time Tournament – Rigged for local baron’s son? Best knight in the last shows up because he was born in the village? Obscure radish-based games?

9. Recant Position – Tries to make PCs fill it. Local priest? Mule Boy?

10. Cursed Livestock – Shrunken swine? Ever-sweating cows? Prone to spontaneous combustion?

11. Passage of Rite Ceremony – And the PCs are somehow involved. They might even have to design some sort of heroic challenge.

12. Inhuman Ruler – Demonic or otherwise.

13. Traveling Poet or Adoring Fan And the PCs are their next target.

14. Terrorist – Drunk pyromaniac? Salted fields? Poisoned well?

15. Exotic Farming – Poisonous fruits? Humans growing on trees? Domesticated legendary beasts?

16. Recent Arrivals – Cultic missionaries? Band of fey? Actors looking for a replacement?

17. Completing Merchants – And it just got ugly. Offer to pay PCs to spy or sabotage opponent(s)?

18. Extreme Weather – Drought? Blizzard? Magical firestorms?

19. Unusual Guild or Organization – Pipe Cleaners Guild? Prophet’s Guild? Up and Coming Heroes Association? The Blackguard Nannys?

20. Something’s Just Not Right – And no one can manage to put their finger on it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Minor Ruins in Agrivaina

I've found that when I have a campaign to steadily work on, my posting here slows. But honestly, I haven't had a ton to say that wouldn't empty my bag of tricks. Instead, I'm going to share a few random tables with you all over the next few days.

The first is a ruin generator. Basically, you roll an exploding d4s to see how many buildings are left relatively intact, then roll that many d20s on the table below. From there, it's up the DM to decide on a theme, usually Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian,  or whatever else you're familiar with an start bull shitting (later tables will help with that).

1. Tower –Sprawling from the ground or connected to a wall, previously inhabited by soldiers or magic-users.

2. Citadel – Ruined by siege of decay, but many still house historical artifacts and vaults filled with priceless treasure.

3. Bathhouse – Complete with running water and aqueduct for Roman-esque ruins, otherwise built around a hotspring.

4. Temple – Build in honor of some Greco-Roman, Babylonian, or Egyptian deity or hero.

5. Theater – Don’t forget the primitive steam powered turbines to open and close the curtain before the back wall.

6. Coliseum – Remember, Roman coliseums could be flooded for naval events and had underground areas for gladiators to train and rest.

7. Market – Outdoor market semi-percent market stalls or a vault and barrel enclosed area.

8. Wall – A big thick, stone or palisade with one or more gated or open entrance.

9. Triumph or Commemoration – Usually in the form of an arch or statue.

10. Manner – Big house of a big personality. Should be unique in some way.

11. Earthen Ramp – sometimes equipped with a trench of more.

12. Houses – A few, a bunch, typically one or two room stone, brick, or wooden hut.

13. Brothel – Many ancient brothels had pictures of the woman’s specialties depicted in mosaic tiles above her downway.

14. Stone Road – Typically leading out of the city to some other point of interest

15. Underground Sewer – Not strictly historical, but can lead to some fun dungeon-esque adventures.

16. Stables – The don’t just have to be for horses, either.

17. Farms – Overgrown farms and ruined farmhouses dot the landscape. 50% chance of permanent inhabitants.

18. Dungeon Entrance – Roll again to find out where.

19. Incomplete Construction – Half finished when abandoned.

20. Still In Use – Roll again to see what sort of building is still functions amidst the ruined site.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Creating Interesting Spells (Part 2)

[Continuing from Part 1]

I'd now like to talk about utility and non-combat spells.

As you have probably gathered, I favor spells that have both combat and non-combat uses. There are some excellent examples of these sorts of spells in the various D&D editions.

Light, for example, is a wonderful spell. For me, it has three main uses: lighting up dark place (non-combat); blinding opponents (combat); luring out or scaring off monster (both); etc. What makes the spell veracity is that the light emanates from a source, in this case a touched object, rather than just emanating in general.

Another good one is Growth. You can use it to get some extra damage (combat); lift heavy things (non-combat); grow monsters so large they can't follow you into the tunnel (combat); etc. This spell is well made because what the spell does is much more important than how it works mechanically. It's that the spell makes the character grow, thereby gaining a mechanical benefit rather than gaining some mechanical benefit and attaching image of growth as an afterthought.

On the other hand, Detect Magic doesn't do it for me. While I like the idea of the spell and it has uses, it doesn't really do anything. The question arises HOW does it detect magic? Does is cause magic items to give off light? If so, can that light be used as a torch? Or does it give off the scent of wine? Can that scent be smelt by character other than the magic-user, allowing the spell to disguise a harmful potion?

As you have probably already gotten by now, I don't like spells that are just an effect, what separates a good spell from a bad spell is how that spell creates the effect, thus opening it up to new, creative uses.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Creating Interesting Spells (Part 1)

There are a lot of boring spells out there.

- Just about every damage spell leaves me wanting more (magic missile).

- Too many spells that don't scale will by level (sleep).

- There are so many spells with only an affect and no real cause (cause light wounds).

Now, this isn't so much a problem, but I've found these sort of spells to be incredibly lame lately. Why? Because they lack either creative use and/or don't create interesting play.

Take Sleep. Sleep is way too useful at early levels and way too useless later on. It can't scale, makes it a no brainer choice to either prep it for the day or leave it at home. The only time there's much of a choice concerning it is during those intermediate levels where the dangerous threats may or may not fall into the less than 4HD range. Other than that, it's only a matter of when to use it and when not to use it.

Magic Missile is another one. What is a magic missile? Is it just a source of damage? Can I use it to ring a gong from a distance? Of course, the DM can make a ruling, but explaining how that damage is caused inspires much more creativity and interesting play than the whole "I fire magic missile at the orc."

There are better ways to make combat spells. Take one recently unearthed from Agrivaina last week:

Rhyme Or Death  – Forces the subject of the spell to speak solely in rhymes. Failure to complete a couplet with a recognizable meter when speaking aloud results in the subject taking 1d6 points of damage. Lasts until the subject successfully completes 1d4 rhymes.

While I may be gloating. That's an interesting spell. It can inspire, while not creative use necessarily, but interesting play. It adds another element, rhyming, to the game table. Not only that, it's both useful in combat and out. It can keep leader-types from giving effective orders or forcing them to suffer damage, for instance. Similarly, it can make anyone look like a complete fool, reciting bad poetry or cause them to run around screaming in pain - probably both.

Here's another, also from Agrivaina:

Animate Figurine – Animates 1 miniature figurine per level of the magic-user. The figurines have 1 hp and will serve the magic-user without question. When working together, armed figurines may cause damage with a die type equal to the number of figurines at work (1, 1 point; 2, 1d2; 3; 1d3; 4, 1d4; 5, 1d6; 6, 1d8; etc.) The magic lasts at most 1 turn.

While I only really talk about damage dealt in the description, being animate figurines, it's easy to jump to other tasks other than combat, depending on the shape of the figurines, such as picking a lock or scouting out a lit room/hallways. Yes, there are still some rulings for the DM, such as if the figurines can communicate back, but I tend to design spells like that on purpose, allow individual referee the fun of interpretation.

[Next time, I'll talk more about non-combat spells]

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Virtues of the Psudo-Historical

Agrivaina is fundamentally a historical setting. Yes...I take a bunch of different time periods, shove them together, and shake, but it's still historically based.

What I found really liberating is having something to fall back on as the base line. I don't need to flush out towns much because I basically know how a medieval village or city basic works (and even those work very differently form one another). Instead, I can put my create brain where it counts: how is the village DIFFERENT than a historical one.

I can also come up with interesting treasure pretty much on the fly. While my notes might say 250 gp, I'm going to te;; the party they found 27 silver denarii with the head of Trajen on one side and an Owl (symbol of god, Minerva) on the other worth 250 gp to the right buyer. It doesn't really matter than this coin didn't exist*, but that it COULD have been printed. See: liberation. So instead of thinking up interesting treasure beforehand, I can be busy creating more interesting magical items and adventure locations instead.

*It's a fusion of Trajan and a some later Roman coin that got passed around in class Friday. Can't remember which emperor it was under. I'm pretty sure he was dead, though.

I'm sure I could go on for a few pages like this, but you probably get the idea:

I'm using history as the background of the setting not because history is boring (and it isn't), but because it allows me to put my creative energies where I want to put them instead of spreading them thinly over everything else.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Agrivaina, Session 1

Micheal: Father Jack, cleric
Sarah: Rhubarb the Ravenous, fighting-woman
Eeri: Radimir, Carcosian fighting-man
Will: Abaddor, magic-user

Father Jack the Drunk, Rhubarb the Ravenous, Radimir the Antichirst, and Abaddor the Mutator sailed to Agrivaina in search of adventure and riches. After scouring the Flying Anvil Tavern, the group ahead off to see the foppish Lord Burndi in order to retrieve his heart's desire, a lovely Irish red head with the mouth of a sailor (who is Lord Michoil's hearts desires) from the depths of Lorae Forest.

Drunk in the tavern, the conquerors of the Lorae highwaymen boasted stories of enchanted mirrors and the womannapping sorcerers who escaped death by turning himself into a fish; of sparely haired midgets sporting stakes and hammer pulling bags filled with potion ingredient behind them; of the Denarii and Thesian Bull relic won in their parade that may have once been kept at the ruins of Valak'Tul. Perhaps these treasure are what the archaeologically minded Pharaoh has been excavating for.

Rumor has it that Lord Burndi and new Irish bride travel to the Bishop of Caliae in order to finalize preparations for the wedding festivities.