May 29, 2011

Die Bag of Fate - Part III

The mechanics for the Find Traps skill has always bothered me.  I understand the need for the GM to roll that d20.  They shouldn't be able to tell the difference between no trap, or failing to find it.  Still, I really dislike rolling for a PC action, especially if they end up dead because of it.

I've been thinking lately that a smaller version of the Die Bag of Fate might be a good way to resolve Find/Remove Traps rolls.  This way the player can still determine the fate of their character, but only I will know the result.  For example...

Vinny the Squid decides to check a locked chest for traps.  He has a F/R Traps of 25%.  Rather than pre-trapping the chests on my dungeon map, I decide there is a 50/50 chance for any given chest to be trapped.

I load a bag with 8d-whatevers;  2 red, 2 green, 2 purple, and 2 blue.  I tell Vinny's player to pull one of the dice without looking and then roll it.  The players don't get to know how the bag works, they just have to trust me, but they all get to watch the roll.

The color of the die determines success or failure.

Red = Success
Green = Fail
Purple = Fail
Blue = Fail

The number rolled on the die determines the type of trap. 

1 = Poison needle in the lock (hand that was pricked swells to twice normal size and Save vs. Poison or 2d6 damage) 
2 = No Trap
3 = Acid mist sprays out when chest is opened  (1d4 damage and Dex check or sprayed in the face, -1d4 to Cha)
4 = No Trap
5= Chest Explodes! ... a little, chest is still in one piece (contents of chest ruined, Cha check to see if Vinny wets his pants)
6 = No Trap
7 = The lid is spring loaded, once it is fully opened it will snap closed with great force and sharp teeth-like blades shoot up from the upper and lower edges (Dex check, if failed roll d6 to see how many fingers are lost, 5 = hand, 6 = arm past elbow)
8 = No Trap
9 = Biological weapon released upon the contents of chest (Anyone who handles the items Save vs. Death or contracts The Rot)
10 = No Trap
11 = Spring mechanism fires a small blade covered with blue powder (1-2 damage, powder causes uncontrollable shaking and spasms, movement is halved, save vs. poison or movement is 0 and must be carried away)
12 = No Trap
13 = Chest Explodes! ... a lot! (As per fireball spell, 6d6 damage to all in area Save for half)
14 = No Trap
15 = Rusty spring fails to fire a small blade covered with blue powder (because it's nice to catch a lucky break sometimes)
16 = No Trap
17 = Gravity emitter  (everything in the room flies toward the chest, damage as per falling)
18 = No Trap
19 = Chest makes many clicking sounds that echo through the room growing loader, then nothing (Once the clicking stops, if any weight greater than 50 pounds comes within 5' of the chest then a 10' radius column of stone ceiling falls directly onto the chest.  Save vs. Rod/Staff/Wand or die, miss by one point means they live but both legs are trapped and only 1d6 hp remaining)
20 = No Trap

I'll want to change the color of success fairly often so that the players don't catch on to how it works, but that's easy.  Just roll any die; odd moves success up a color, even moves success down a color.  I can use that same roll to switch the "No Trap"s between odds and evens.

Granted I'd have to rework the contents of the bag whenever his skills improve, but that's infrequent and not too much hassle.  I can use dice of different sizes too, if I want to make certain types of traps more rare than others.

Skill Percentage_____Total Dice______Successful Dice
------ 5% ---------------------- 20 --------------------- 1
----- 10% ---------------------- 10 --------------------- 1
----- 15% ---------------------- 20 --------------------- 3
----- 20% ----------------------- 5 --------------------- 1
----- 25% ----------------------- 8 --------------------- 2
----- 30% ---------------------- 10 --------------------- 3
----- 35% ---------------------- 20 --------------------- 7
----- 40% ----------------------- 5 --------------------- 2
----- 45% ---------------------- 20 --------------------- 9
----- 50% ----------------------- 8 --------------------- 4
----- 55% ---------------------- 20 -------------------- 11
----- 60% ----------------------- 5 --------------------- 3
----- 65% ---------------------- 20 -------------------- 13
----- 70% ---------------------- 10 --------------------- 7
----- 75% ----------------------- 8 --------------------- 6
----- 80% ----------------------- 5 --------------------- 4
----- 85% ---------------------- 20 -------------------- 17
----- 90% ---------------------- 10 --------------------- 9
----- 95% ---------------------- 20 -------------------- 19

May 27, 2011

Up in the Air

The more I look at using Labyrinth Lord for the surface of Ezzin, the more houserules I want to add .  It really shines as a system for dungeons, but there is probably a better fit for the wilderness and cities above.  I had chosen Labyrinth Lord arbitrarily in order to avoid an extensive search, but alas, it has begun.  Searching extensively is now what I do.

For a while I was leaning more toward OSRIC, then the d20 System, and later still Mutant Future (minus the future bits), but there were still hundreds of free games I hadn't even looked at yet.  Currently, Bandits & Basilisks is tempting me to come up with my own set of bare minimum rules.  Then later I can hang various houserules on that framework.  As the characters travel within the dreams of the gods (different game systems) my players and I are bound to find some rules that we enjoy and want to add permanently.

So here I am, contemplating adding a new free RPG to the metric asston that already exist.  I'm something of a perfectionist, so I have no idea how long this might take me.  Someone please talk me down from this ledge, it's scary. 

I'm open to suggestions of other game-systems.  Something with interesting wilderness or flying creature rules maybe?  Or any suggestion really, after three eight hour days of sifting through free RPG's I'm not even sure what I'm looking for anymore.

May 25, 2011

Infravision, Ultravision, and other forms of sight on the planet Ezzin

During my time running games, I always found that some of the most used but least discussed rules involved vision.  I was constantly describing to the players what their characters saw.  Yet the rules on infravision and ultravision were either vague or outright obtuse.  So, I've made some vision guidelines of my own.

I want to keep this more or less scientifically accurate (or at least plausible).  I've seen a great many explanations of infravision and ultravision on the internet, many of these descriptions are just plain wrong.  RPG's taught me a lot of things as I grew up, and may be responsible for my infatuation with science and curiosity about how things really work.  Knowing that I might one day run games for school aged kids, I do not want to misinform them (as I sometimes was) about the nature of light and vision.

Granted, most of the science here is a gross simplification, and some bits are just plain fabrication...  but I think I've got the bones of it, and the basic concepts are nailed down pretty tight.  If you notice things that could be improved upon, please let me know.  I'd be happy to make this more accurate if I can.

Normal Vision

The humans of Ezzin default to this form of sight.  The light visible to humans represents only a thin sliver of the full spectrum of light. 

Human eyes perceive light because of light sensitive receptors called cones and rods.  Rods detect the brightness, while cones detect color.  There is only one type of rod, and these are very sensitive even in dim light.  Some creatures (like dogs) have eyes with no cones, only rods, so they see only black and white.  Humans have three different types of cones, one detects blue, another green, and the third detects red.  All the colors that humans experience are from combinations of those three colors.  This rainbow of color goes in the order of lowest frequency to highest as Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

Most creatures need time to adjust their eyes after a sudden flash or dimming of light.  In certain situations a wisdom check may be used to determine if a character was blinking or looking away during a flash of light.  If flash blind or suddenly thrust into the dark of night, it can take 3 rounds before any details can be seen.  They can still run or attack during this time, but risk knocking over furniture or hitting allies.  Incidentally, this is why pirates sometimes wore an eyepatch over one good eye.  Then if they had to run quickly into the darkness below decks they could simply switch the patch to their other eye.  This allowed them to work below decks without having to wait for their eyes to adjust.  Handy if you're in a battle and need to find the gunpowder really fast.

I'll probably never use this chart during a game, but it might be useful as a point of reference.  It is based upon a table I found in the AD&D Wilderness Survival Guide, with some changes of my own.  If anyone knows of a better chart, please let me know.

Quibish's Visibility Chart
Unobstructed outdoor range of normal human vision in feet.
At these distances a character can identify the basic form of a man-sized creature.

                 Daylight ..... Twilight ..... Full Moon ..... Moonlight ..... Darkest Night

Clear             1600           1200              600                  300                 100
Overcast       1200             800               400                 100                   80
Light Fog        800             500               250                   70                   60
Rain/Snow      400             300               150                   50                   30
Heavy Fog      100              80                 40                    30                   20
Blizzard            50               50                 30                    10                   10
Sandstorm        40              40                 20                    10                   10

Low-Light Vision (Eyeshine)

Many animals have better night vision than humans do.  Some of this is because they have more rods in their eyes than humans.  A larger sized eye or pupil would also aid night vision.  Most often though this enhanced vision is due to an interesting adaptation of the eye possessed by many creatures (which humans lack entirely) called the tapetum lucidum.

The tapetum lucidum (Latin: "bright tapestry") is a reflective layer of tissue in the back of the eye.  Light passes over the rods and cones then reflects off of the tapetum lucidum and passes over the rods and cones a second time, thus increasing the apparent brightness seen by the individual.  Many animals have this adaptation such as, fish, sharks, owls, spiders, crocodiles, dogs, cats, cows, goats, rodents, marsupials, bats, and many other nocturnal and sea creatures.

Only the most knowledgeable sage would know the tapetum lucidum's proper name and function, most people know it simply as "Eyeshine" because of the occasionally visible effect of the light reflecting out these creatures pupils.  Eyeshine is possessed by a few sentient species on Ezzin, including the elves.  Elves can see twice as far as the distances listed on the chart above.  Elves can somehow adjust their eyes after only 1 round, instead of the usual 3 rounds that humans need after a sudden flash or extinguished light source.

It should be noted that eyeshine does not produce light, only reflects it, so it is of no use at all in dark caves and dungeons where light cannot penetrate.  Also, eyeshine gives almost no advantage when standing near a light source such as a torch or campfire because,  just like humans, the range of sight is limited by the radius of illumination provided by the artificial light.  The GM may allow characters with eyeshine to see a foot or two farther into the gloom though, allowing these PC's to react before others in the party in certain situations.  Creatures outside the circle of torchlight will sometimes be revealed by their eyeshine, those within the circle would see only a pair of shining eyes reflecting the torchlight.

Eyeshine can be of any color.  Usually creatures of the same species will all have the same color of eyeshine if all other factors are the same, but different colors of source lighting or angles of reflection can make the eyeshine appear as a different color.


Infravision allows heat to be seen.  Heat gives off light at a frequency so far below the color red that the cones in the human eye cannot detect it.  This frequency of light is called infrared.  Some creatures on Ezzin (such as the goblinoid races) have cones and rods in their eyes that are able to detect infrared.  Infravision is useful for detecting the warm bodies of prey, especially within caves and dungeons devoid of normal sources of light.  The range of this form of vision is limited because the creature constantly sees its own body heat, like a human peering through a glowing mist or fog.  A sudden burst of heat can blind infravision just as a flash of light can blind normal vision, requiring 3 rounds for the eyes to adjust.

Creatures like goblins who only possess infravision rarely venture out during the day.  Emerging from cool caves to suddenly look out at objects heated by hours of sunlight can be painfully bright, making it difficult to see detail in any object more than a few feet away.  Even once their eyes adjust, the sun is much brighter in infravision than when seen with normal vision.  Infravision is usually given a flat range of 60', 90', or 120', this is the range at which man-sized and man-temperatured objects can be seen.  Objects that are smaller and cooler will need to be closer before they are noticed.  Some very hot objects (red dragons, fireballs, lava) can be seen far beyond this range, even if only seen as big blobs of heat in the distance.

Certain magics can allow humans to see infrared.  These spells typically alter the three types of cones so that they respond to infrared rather than the normally visible frequencies of light.  Humans so effected would see the same rainbow of colors, but changes in color would represent different temperatures.  Normal vision would be lost for the duration of the spell.  Such vision might appear similar to this:

COLD [black - blue - purple - red - orange - yellow - white] HOT

Theoretically, magic users could alter their spells to reverse or mix up the order of the colors between cold and hot, but most in Ezzin use this version of the spell. 

More powerful magics can provide a very different form of infravision.  Rather than alter the three existing types of cones in the eye, these spells grow a fourth type of cone sensitive to infrared, essentially producing a new primary color that can mix with the original three.  This new color was dubbed "Ulfire" by the mage who first used such magic. Mixing ulfire with the other primary colors adds a new rainbow to be perceived by the individual.  The first use of this spell is extremely disorienting, as the individuals' mind struggles to interpret these new signals in tandem with the signals from normal vision.  Powerful headaches, nausea, and vertigo are common until repeated use allows the mind to adjust to interpreting these new signals.  Once mastered, individuals will be able to see every detail and color that they would with normal vision and be able to see variations of heat as well.  These individuals would be able to see anything visible with either type of vision, but this combination does not extend the range of infravision or limit the range of normal vision.

Some things to keep in mind while using infravison:
  • Objects hot enough that humans can see them glow visibly will be blindingly bright in infravision. 
  • Glass and water are opaque to infrared because they absorb heat so thoroughly.  Infravision does not work underwater, nothing can be seen except the surface temperature of the water.  In fact, even a mist, fog, or heavy rain could obscure heat beyond 10 feet away.
  • Smoke and dust are nearly transparent to infravision.  Infravision can be a great help when searching for people or exits while inside a burning building filled with smoke.
  • The profile of a cold creature would stand out easily if it were in front of a warm stone wall.
  • Undead are always slightly cooler than ambient temperature, constantly sucking in heat from their surroundings even in arctic conditions.  Ghosts and spirits normally invisible to humans can be seen as dark patches of cold by those with infravision.
  • Cold-blooded creatures are nearly invisible to infravision because they are usually the same temperature as their surroundings.  Even rapid movement would only give away it's basic size and position.  No details would be seen until a few rounds of continuous movement began to warm the creature.
  • Warm bodies leave warm footprints, unless walking over water, snow, or ice.  These footprints fade quickly and disappear within 2 or 3 rounds.
  • Mirrors reflect light well, including infrared.  However, even a thin layer of glass over the mirror will considerably dim the infrared light reflected, so a disk of polished metal may work better.  Also, a mirror carried around in a pack is bound to absorb some body heat over time, making the mirror itself appear to glow a bit... interfering with the reflection.
  • Visible light is invisible to the goblinoid races, just as infrared and ultraviolet are invisible to human eyes.  Because of this, goblins have no words or concept of color, but they have many words for various temperatures. 
    • Hide in Shadows is not used by creatures who see only with infravision.  The concept is simply foreign to them.  Even a creature who understands the nature of light and shadow would find it very difficult, because shadows cannot be seen with infravision.  However, such creatures would still make use of cover.
    • Hiding from creatures with infravision can be very difficult.  Shadows and colored camouflage will be of no help.  Covering yourself with cold mud or slime might disguise you until it is warmed by your body heat.  Ten feet of thick fog could hide your heat.  Going underwater would work very well... until you had to breathe.  Hiding behind large rocks or trees blocks heat effectively, although eventually a fire or warm body would warm the air nearby producing a telltale glow, unless dissipated by wind.  It may even be possible to hide in what would normally be plain sight by standing near a large source of heat such as a chimney, forge, or a large creature.  It's possible that the air itself might even hide a person if it were very close to 98.6°.  A spell like Invisibility to Infravision, or a magic item such as an "Evercold Blanket" could prove useful.


    Above the color violet are shorter, more energetic wavelengths of light that are invisible to the human eye.  This sliver of the light spectrum between violet and x-ray is called "Ultraviolet" or "UV".  Ultravision allows creatures to see ultraviolet light.  UV is found in sunlight (6.8% of sunlight is UV, 54.3% infrared, 38.9% visible to humans), electric arcs (lightning), and specialized black lights.

    Creatures on Ezzin who only see in ultravision are basically screwed.  The atmosphere of an Earth-like planet blocks most of the UV from its sun, electric arcs aren't common enough to be a viable light source, and black lights aren't readily available.  Fire does NOT produce UV light.  Creatures who only see UV would (I think) quickly be wiped out through natural selection.  Therefore, most creatures on Ezzin with Ultravision also have an additional form of vision AND produce their own bio-luminescent UV light source.

    Let's take a closer look at the Dwarves, shall we?

    The Dwarves of Ezzin have evolved antennae which can glow like black lights.  This output of light is controlled consciously and has two basic settings when in use.  The first is totally invisible to human eyes, the second can be seen by humans as a faint blue/white glow in the tips of their antennae, almost equal to the brightness of a firefly, enough to see from a distance on a dark night but far less bright than a candle.  To the Dwarves both of these settings give off UV light which allows them to see a 60' radius.  This expenditure of energy is not negligible and may account for the Dwarves renowned appetite, and fondness for alcohol.  Dwarves cannot maintain this glow for more than a few hours at a time, and must snack and drink throughout the day if they wish to produce the glow for extended periods without becoming fatigued.

    Dwarven eyes have four types of cones.  Three types see visible light just as humans do, these are sensitive to red, green, and blue.  The fourth type is sensitive to a band of UV light, the Dwarves call this color "Jale".  Thus, the dwarves see four primary colors which can all mix together, as opposed to the three seen by humans.  Dwarves see many more colors in a rainbow than humans can.  Because of this dwarves have little respect for human artistry, they see imperfections and color clashes where humans do not, likewise dwarven color schemes can seem ugly to human eyes.

    There are rumors that the Dwarves have developed a secret language based upon the flashing of their antennae.  It is said that they can communicate silently over great distances by interpreting the number and length of their flashes.  Much is suspected, but little is known for certain... the Dwarves do not speak of such things with outsiders.

    One odd side effect of this UV light production is fluorescence.  Some chemicals in minerals, plants, or animals will absorb some the higher energy UV light produced by the Dwarves' antennae, and reflect or emit lower energy light that is visible to the human eye.  Thus, sometimes when dwarves use their antennae, humans will see certain minerals, plants, or animals near the Dwarves begin to glow.  The dwarves can also see these effects.  Dwarven "magic" is based mostly upon superstition regarding such fluorescent effects (which may explain why you don't see many effective dwarven magic-users).  Fluorescent minerals are highly valued in dwarf society, treated as gemstones (gemstones often fluoresce).  These minerals might be used as construction materials, ground up to be used in inks, and for many other purposes.  The "magical" properties of these minerals are usually based upon the colors that they fluoresce.  Minerals than glow Blue/White under the antennae glow are usually considered protective or lucky, but keep in mind that dwarves often see colors a bit differently than other species.

    If you thought Dwarves were sensitive about their beards, you won't believe the care and attention they give to their antennae.  If severed, Dwarf antennae will grow back after 2d4 weeks.  Healing spells will only close such wounds and stop bleeding, regeneration magic however can drastically reduce that time.


    Darkvision looks essentially the same as normal vision, except that it displays only shades of black and white, and just so happens to work in total darkness.  Many games use darkvision to replace infravision and ultravision because it is easier to imagine and has far fewer idiosyncrasies.  Most sane GM's are wise to embrace it.

    I, however, am not especially wise nor sane.  I like all the interesting quirks provided by strange types of vision.  I think it's fun to watch the players think outside the box and try to trick their opponents, and infravision/ultravision provide more opportunities for that sort of thing.  I still plan to use darkvision for a few underground species though, because variety is nice, and the same tricks shouldn't work against everything.

    Aura Perception

    This ability belongs in this list least of all, those who possess it are called "Seer".  Aura perception is more of a psychic ability than a form of vision, but the minds of those who can perceive it often overlay such information within the signals from the eyes.  Yet, even if blinded, those with the gift will still be able to "see" the magic of the Dreaming Gods around them.  Some seers can also "see" or feel magic that is behind them, out of their line of sight, but they are at a loss to describe how.

    Some magical effects can be seen by anyone, light spells or fire magic especially.  A seer sees... differently, the underlying forces are exposed.  A seer can see spells as they are being cast, rather than just the effect at the end.  Even the portals of the Dreaming Gods can be seen, though they sometimes appear without warning.

    To see magic is a terrible thing.

    Magic-users wear their prepared spells like a swirling fog.  When cast, magic does not flow like water or gust like wind.  Magic slithers and darts, it is very much alive.  At times it even seems aware, staring back at those who watch it.  It often looks much like a snake, slithering toward its target, and then striking like lightning at the completion of the casting.

    Some seers can recognize the types of magic from the colors that they perceive, but such skill takes much practice.  Even then, some peculiar spells might be seen in false or conflicting colors.  Some of the most renowned seers claim that there are eight colors of magic, one for each school.  The seven colors of the rainbow, plus an eighth color that some call Octarine

    It should be noted that the rune magic of the Azhuloughmahni cannot be seen by any seer, or revealed by any known magic.  It is separate, different than the magic of the Dreaming Gods.  It can only be revealed by looking for the runes themselves, which must be drawn or carved upon the enchanted object or person.

    Invisibility, Darkness, and other Magical Effects

    There are many sorts of low level specific invisibility.  Invisibility to Undead, Invisibility to Infravision, Invisibility to Ultravision, just to name a few.  The generalized spell "Invisibility" causes any frequency of light to pass directly through a subject, rendering them invisible to all forms of vision (though very sensitive seers might see the aura of the magic).

    The spell "Darkness" does just the opposite.  No frequency of light can penetrate a darkness spell, so no form of vision can see inside.

    Some powerful magics were created in ages past by a magic-user known as Three-Eyed Gheairgo.  It is said that with one eye, he saw as goblins do, with the second he saw as the dwarves, and the third eye that he grew for himself could see the Dreaming Gods themselves.  Some say that it was Gheairgo who named the colors Ulfire, Jale, and Octarine.  He had many apprentices, and he researched and attempted to cast spells upon them so that they could also see all of these things.  None survived.  Some wept tears of blood and lived long enough to say things like "It's so beautiful" or "My Gods, it's full of stars", but none lived longer than a few minutes after the casting.  Three-Eyed Gheairgo went into seclusion after the death of his fifth apprentice, ROY G. BIV.  There are many tales of his demise, but who can say which is the truth?


    Well, this took longer than I intended.  Perhaps I should have split this into a few different posts, but it's finished now so it might as well stand together.  I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I was highly influenced by webpages about the merits and use of infravision, especially the one at General Starlight.  Others who seem to despise infravision also helped in a way.  Nothing pushes me to try harder than people telling me that something cannot be done, such as rants like this.

    I would be remiss not to mention that I borrowed "Ulfire" and "Jale" from  "A Voyage to Arcturus" by David Lindsay.  "Just as blue is delicate and mysterious, yellow clear and unsubtle, and red sanguine and passionate, so he felt ulfire to be wild and painful [and] jale [to be] dreamlike, feverish, and voluptuous."

    I borrowed the color "Octarine" from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.  A color which only wizards can see.  It is described as being approximately a sort of fluorescent yellowish-greenish-purple', which may be based on the splashes of afterimage one sees after staring into a bright light.

    I thank you,  my readers.  I hope you had fun.  I appreciate your time, and welcome any comments.

    May 18, 2011

    4 Days Left: DungeonMorph Dice

    My readers probably already know about DungeonMorph Dice

    What you might not know is that the 2nd bonus goal of $17,000 has been reached today.  So, now there will be 3 different sets of 5 dice.   That's 15 different 6-siders!  Thank you Joe Wetzel.  The project is wrapping up on the 22nd.  So now is the time if you want to contribute a little more to get that new set.  Dice will be on sale for a while after that, but backing the project before the 22nd gets you first dibs.  There are also some cool pledge items that might not be available later.

    Here is a quote from their update page describing the 15 dice.

    • Set one will have a die with a few temple/worship area designs, a great halls die, a barracks die, a dining areas die, and a "specials" die. Each die would have 3-4 designs that fit the theme (but would still be somewhat generic--for example just drop the altar icon from a temple design and it can be a performance hall), 1-2 designs that would be more generic and 1 side that would be mostly corridors. This helps you be relatively sure you'll have some rooms for guards sleeping and a dining area, etc by picking the appropriate dice.
    • Set two would be caverns. These wouldn't be broken down in a similar way, but each die would have a basic caverns design, a design with some submerged areas/pools, a design with multiple levels/ledges, etc.
    • Set three will be more dungeons. This set would have a crypt die, a mage's study/labs/library die, a cellblock, an area with traps/ambushes, and maybe another barracks or another "specials" die. Again, 3-4 designs would fit the die's theme, but 1-2 would be fairly generic and 1 side would be mostly corridors.

    Telecanter's Tumbler - The Map

    I mentioned previously that saw tumbling dungeons over at Telecanter's blog.  My initial thoughts went something like this...

    A tumbling dungeon!  How novel, how fun.  I'm going to build one! 

    um...  How do I map it?

    Putting a three dimensional object on graph paper is ... possible... but what I really need is a 3-D model that I can keep at the gaming table.  Something small enough that I can hide it behind the DM screen.  Even then, I worry that someone might see it.  Part of the fun will be watching the players try to map this thing, so I don't want a model sitting around for someone to catch a glimpse of and say "Ah HA!  I understand it now.".

    If only there were a way for me to camouflage the model.  Ideally, I'd want to make it so inconspicuous that my players could stare right at it, watch me turn it to match the tumbling of the dungeon, and never think there was anything strange about it at all.

    Oh!, here we go...

    Problem solved!

    I'll just reverse engineer a tumbling dungeon from this handy model of one that is disguised as my trusty d6.

    Done!  Now I've got the layout in my head, all fifteen rooms, fourteen passages, eight tiny tubes to allow water and sand to flow between rooms, an entrance, and a different exit.

    Huh, that wasn't so bad.  Now all I have left to do is populate and decorate the rooms and... oh, wait.

    I have to describe all this on my blog using only pictures and text so that other people can understand it well enough to use in their own campaigns.  Hmmm, let me think....

    Alright, grab a d6 and set it in front of you so that it matches my picture up there, 6 is on top, 4 facing toward you.  Imagine a room at the middle of each of the six sides of the die.  Your d6 has conveniently numbered them for you.  Now imagine a 7th room in the very center of the die, each wall, floor, and ceiling there has a passage leading to one of the first six rooms.  Good so far?

    Now imagine eight more rooms, at each of the sharp corners on the d6.  The four corners closest to room6 are named 6A, 6B, 6C, and 6D.  Room6 has a passage in each wall leading to each of it's lettered rooms, and a passage in the floor going to room7.  The four corners closest to room1 are named 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D.  Room1 has a passage in each wall going to each of it's lettered rooms, and a passage in the ceiling going to room7.  The similarly lettered rooms line up above and below each other.

    Yeah, that's confusing.  How about a poorly drawn picture?

    That compass is pointing North, and shows the direction of the tumble as Dropward and Riseward.

    That picture isn't to scale by any means and the rooms aren't all cubes, but I hope it gives you an idea of the layout.  Now I can talk about individual rooms, and if I say "Passage 6 to 6D" hopefully you know that I'm talking about the hallway on the top left side of the map.  I also have a compass there pointing North, and showing that the direction of the tumble is from East to West like the sun traveling through the sky.

    Let's start tumbling!  Get your d6 ready if you want to play along at home.  Right now room6 is above room7, next tumble room5 will be on top, the tumble after that room1 rises, the next tumble puts room2 on top, the fourth tumble puts room6 at the zenith and now our dungeon matches my drawing again.  So, let's refer to the four different tumble orientations as 6up, 5up, 1up, and 2up.  If I forget to specify, it's pretty safe to assume that I'm thinking in terms of 6up, just like the map.

    Room3 is always North of room 7, room4 is always South.

    I neglected to show the entrance, which I imagine to be a spiral staircase coming from the ceiling of room6.  The exit is another set of spiral stairs set into the floor of room1.  About twenty feet past the rooms, these stairways have a gap, like a straight crack going around all four walls.  The gap is just large enough that you can squeeze your fingers into it, but not your hand.  PRO TIP: You want to be on one side of the gap or the other when the dungeon tumbles, not half and half.  This entire dungeon is inside a giant stone sphere, the gap is the edge of that turning sphere.  Mind the Gap!

    Also, I didn't show the tubes that start from the eight corners of room7.  One tube going to each of the lettered rooms, leading to the middle of the sloped floors in 6A, 6B, 6C, and 6D and the middle of the sloped ceilings in 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D.

    Last thing, I'm also considering adding more passages.  I don't like that most of the rooms have a single entrance/exit, but that does makes it easier to keep track of all the water and sand moving through the dungeon.  Maybe I'll put curved passages in a ring around room7 connecting rooms 2 and 5 to rooms 3 and 4, or maybe I'll add some secret passages connection rooms 6, 5, 2, and 1.  The point is, I'm probably going to be making changes to that map. 

    .... and if anyone is still reading this, I salute you.  We have the bones of the dungeon now.  Next time I'll start talking about individual rooms and it'll be less of a chore to read, I promise.

    Oh, and Telecanter did advise me to keep the layout simple, so don't blame him for this monstrosity.  He tried his best.

    May 17, 2011

    Gaming with Music, on Ezzin

    I'm writing this in response to a question I saw over at Jeff's Gameblog.

    My Dreaming Gods campaign is still in the brainstorming stage.  I'm planning to experiment with a lot things in the land of Ezzin, but making more use of music is one that I am particularly excited about.  You see, I want music to influence magic in strange ways, but I'm still tinkering with the magic system too.  Maybe groups of singing monsters can produce magical effects?  I also want to tie music to the alignment system and the various beliefs about Dreaming Gods themselves, like this...

    Law - Sing soothing music and lullabies to the Dreaming Gods, because life is easier when They slumber peacefully. These people believe that their world will cease to exist if the Dreaming Gods wake up.

    Neutral - Some might make music to mimic the sounds of nature.  Others might be attempting to raise the awareness of the Dreaming Gods so that They become lucid dreamers.  Some zealots might even demand silence at all times, perhaps even attacking anyone who speaks above a whisper.  Still others might not care one way or another, or refuse to believe in the Dreaming Gods at all.

    Chaos - Sing loud, and/or badly.  Metal music goes here, as do most of the Dwarves of Ezzin.  These people attempt to awaken the Dreaming Gods with high volume, a lot of percussion, disjointed rhythms, dissonant chords, and the sounds of war.  They believe that Ezzin will become a paradise once the Dreaming Gods wake up.

    Along this train of thought, some of the "magical artifacts" brought from the dreamlands will be things like boomboxes and ipods, which some people will interpret as having religious significance.  So, you might have a cult dedicated to Dio the Metal Lord or some such.

    I was also thinking of having a troupe of NPC Dwarven bards called "Zed Leppzin".  They have learned songs from one of these artifacts, and play them on magically enhanced instruments/tools of destruction.  Their renown is legendary.  They are on a neverending tour of the lands, leaving a string of shattered and liquor-less Dwarven cities in their wake.  I giggle uncontrollably at the thought of the party of PC's defending a city full of drunken, partying Dwarves besieged by an army of orcs while the notes of the Immigrant Song ring throughout the city.

    However, I still have concerns about music lyrics being too distracting during games. So I am considering equating racial languages to real-world languages...

    Common = English
    Elvish = Portuguese
    Dwarvish = German

    Then I could use music sung in those languages to represent folk music of different races.  This might work if everyone at the table is a dummy like me who only knows how to speak English.  Then I could get away with having an elvish singer named Seu Jorge join the party, just so that I have an excuse to play some David Bowie songs sung in Portuguese (this one too).

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not entirely convinced that using so much music at the gaming table is wise.  However, I feel that the potential for awesome is too great to ignore.  I'll be posting on this topic again, once I have something substantial nailed down.

    What do you think?

    May 16, 2011

    Underappreciated Monsters - Number the First Part II

    Giant Ants of Ezzin - Formicium garganteum (and related species)
    No. Enc.: 1 or 1d4 every 3 rounds (5d20 hive population + 1 huge queen)
    Alignment: Neutral
    Movement: 210' (70')
    Armor Class: 3
    Hit Dice: 1
    Attacks: 1
    Damage: 1d6
    Save: F2
    Morale: 6 (12 if frenzied, or in hive)
    Hoard Class: VI (in each debris/refuse chamber)

    Giant ants are typically 6' long and 3' tall.  They attack with their snapping mandibles, if they cause maximum damage and had an attack roll of 20 then their target's hand, foot, or limb is severed.  They have a thick armored exoskeleton, but a hit to their thin neck or waist can kill them quickly.  Each one weighs about 100 pounds, can carry 500 pounds and run full speed, or up to 1000 at half.  They cannot climb sheer surfaces or crawl along ceilings like normal ants, but can use their strong grip to climb trees or cracked and pitted walls at half speed.

    They are scavengers, omnivores, and will carry back to the hive anything that doesn't put up much of a fight.  They are not usually aggressive toward man-sized humanoids unless the hive is starving.  Giant ants are active year round in the tropics but, in cooler regions, survive the winter in a state of dormant torpor.  They are not usually found in caves or dungeons since they cannot tunnel through stone.  Encounters in the wilderness may be a single worker scout looking for food, or a food gathering column of workers traveling back and forth between the hive and a food source.  Giant ants will usually retreat when attacked or threatened, but if one is killed the others nearby will go into an attack frenzy.  They will never retreat if inside their hive or protecting the queen.  The huge queens can live for up to 10 years, and workers live from 1 to 3 years.  The smaller males survive only a few weeks.  Giant ant larvae take 6 months to develop into adults.

    The Hive
    The hive consists of many tunnels and chambers, at the center is the immense birthing chamber and the huge queen.  The hive will have two larvae per adult worker during the warm seasons, but none survive during a cold winter.  Larvae are constantly being moved by workers between the many feeding/nursery chambers.  Larvae are brought to chambers close to the surface during the day for warmth, and then taken to deeper chambers at night to avoid the chill.  Other chambers are full of debris and refuse cleaned from the tunnels, nurseries, and birthing chambers.  These debris pits might contain items or treasure from past victims.  As a rough guideline for designing hives, let say one birthing chamber for the queen, plus one nursery and one rubbish chamber per 10 workers.

    Other Species
    Just as there are many different species of ants, so too there are many species of giant ants. Above are the rough statistics for Formicium garganteum, other species of giant ant are usually similar but may have additional traits and quirks. The particular traits of the species encountered can be determined by random roll, or by choosing any number of the following. 

    1. As above.  No extra traits.

    2.  Jumping.  This species' four back legs have been specialized for jumping.  Can jump 20' across, or 10' straight up.

    3.  Soldiers.  +1d20 to hive population due to increased security.  Double the percentage for any treasure roll.  1 of every 5 workers appearing is instead a 8' long soldier with a huge head: HD3, Move 150' (50'),  Damage 1d10, Morale 8 (12), XP 300

    4.  Fungus Farmers. +2d20 to hive population due to food production.  Many extra hive chambers are fungal gardens, workers bring rotting plant material into the hive and harvest the fungus after spreading the spores.  -4 to morale unless protecting the hive or queen.

    5.  Livestock Farmers.  +2d20 to hive population due to food production.  Could be any creatures that the ants can reasonably pick up and carry without much fuss.  Herds usually graze outside the hive while the giant ants herd and protect them, but some species keep their herds trapped inside the hive and feed them things that would otherwise go into the debris pits.

    6.   Symbiotic Relationship.  +1d20 to hive population.  The giant ants have some friends who share their hive.  Maybe these friends help protect the hive, or share food with the ants, or produce heat that is good for the ant larvae.  These friends could be anything, animal, plant, or mineral.

    7.  Acid Spitters.  + 1d20 to hive population.  This species can spit a stream of formic acid up to 20' once per day.  No damage, but it can blind or stun an enemy for 1 or 2 rounds.  Stinging in the eyes, sinus, and throat persist until washed away. 

    8.  Stingers.  + 1d20 to hive population.  This species of giant ants all have stingers on the tip of their gaster.  These ants can sting and bite fallen foes in the same round.  Stinger damage is 1d4 + [something awful] if save vs. poison is failed.

    9. Electric Ants.  Hive population is halved due to special diet.  This species can discharge an electric shock once per day that can flow through metal armor and weapons.  Shock causes 1d4 damage and save vs. petrify/paralyze or fall to the ground and twitch for one round.  These ants horde and sometimes eat gold, silver, and iron which may be why their exoskeletons are so conductive.  These shiny exoskeletons are highly prized by alchemists.  Electric ants can smell silver and gold coins and will try to take them, attacking if necessary.  Horde Type: I (in each debris/refuse chamber) and VII (in each nursery) 

    10.  Roll twice more.

    As always, you can choose to just make stuff up too.

    May 15, 2011

    Underappreciated Monsters - Number the First

     Some monsters get more love than others.  This was especially true during my years as a teenage DM.  I had old favorites that would always turn up during games, while others were never used.  When I say that these monsters are underappreciated I am referring to my own games, I don't presume to know what happens at other gaming tables.  Some of these beasties deserve a second look.  I'd like to share some thoughts, and look for ways to make these neglected critters more fun and interesting.  Thus, I thought I'd start this sporadic series of posts.  These aren't your classic villains, they aren't the favorites... they're the other guys, the ones nobody bets on.  Let's take a closer look.


     One of the first adventures I ever put together featured country bumpkins being terrorized by a colony of giant ants.  Lumberjacks and farmers had been killed, and the towns people wanted the adventurers to take care of the problem before the ants found the village.  The reaction from my players... *disappointed sigh* "Ants?" O_o

     The players were unimpressed.  They wanted something more fantastical to fight.  I was young, a new DM, and totally unsure of myself running an adventure.  I think I might have changed the ants to goblins to make my players happy.  There was a fundamental truth that I knew instinctively, but I couldn't seem to get my friends to agree.  Giant ants are frick'n scary!    

      1. Ants are strong and fast
    An ant can easily lift 10 times it's own body weight.  If an ant were the size of a man, it could lift 1000 pounds and would be as fast as a racehorse. Using the surface tension from the moist pads on their feet, they can move almost as fast along walls and ceilings as they do on the floor.

      2. Ants can defend themselves
    Every species has mandibles, these can account for a sixth of the total length of the ant.  These powerful scissors can remove the limbs of enemies.  Some ants also have venomous stingers, others can even spit formic acid up to 10 times their length. 

      3. Ants are alert
    Ants have large compound eyes good for detecting movement, but see details poorly.  They also have three ocelli (simple eyes) that detect a wide range of light including ultraviolet.   A pair of antennae detect the direction and intensity of chemicals (scent), air currents, and vibrations (hearing).  Ants identify each other through scent, any ant entering the colony mound without the scent of that particular colony will be attacked as an intruder.  Some ants can also detect and prepare for rain an hour or more in advance, no one knows how... but it's true.

      4. Ants can communicate
    The "Hive-Mind" might be a fallacy, but colonies are definitely highly organized.  Once scouts find food they leave pheromone (scent) trails as they travel back to the hive, workers follow this path to get the food.  An alarm pheromone (emitted at death) sends nearby ants into an attack frenzy and attracts others from farther away.  Antennae are sometimes used to transmit and receive signals through touch.  Sounds produced with their mandibles may be used to intimidate colony members or other species.

      5. Ants can farm
    Some ants tend fungal gardens within their colonies, bringing in plant material to help it grow.  Ants are also the only creatures besides humans that are known to protect, herd, and feed from domesticated livestock (usually aphids or mealybugs).

      6. Ants build stuff
    Good luck trying to represent this on graph paper...

    See?  Giant ants are scary!  ...and this is all assuming that giant ants are just like regular old real-life ants that happen to be 6 feet long.  In a fantasy setting they could also be magically altered to breath fire, have a true hive mind, AND be able to laugh maniacally!  Muaahhahahahaaaa!

    Oh!, and I didn't even mention the "zombie" ants, which are also pure fact by the way.  Sometimes ants get infected with spores or parasites which alter their behavior in strange ways before killing/consuming them.  Like this, and this, and this.

    Good night, sweet dreams everyone.

    May 14, 2011

    Die Bag of Fate - Part II

    Now that I've found the USB cable for my digital camera, I thought I'd revisit my plans for the Die Bag of Fate.  I don't feel that I explained it very well the first time around, hopefully more details and a picture will clear things up.  Let's start with a little background.  Ages ago I had this idea about an evil artifact that stole luck from a large area around it.  I made a dungeon and decreed that any d20 rolled inside would be at -5, for PC's and monsters.

    It sucked.

    Combat took too long because I had to keep reminding everyone to subtract 5, and because there were so many more misses on both sides.  There was also some grumbling, some players thought that a blanket -5 hurt the party more than the monsters.  I agree, the blanket -5 works out a little better for the bigger critters with better AC and attack rolls, but you know... life isn't fair sometimes.  Mainly though, I think the issue was just that people disliked subtracting from their rolls in general.  The party only spent one session in that dungeon and decided never to return.  It always bothered me because I felt that there must be some way for me to run an unlucky dungeon in a way that was still fun for the players.  The solution came too late, I've moved and don't play with that group anymore.  Next time I try to run an unlucky dungeon, I'll be using the Die Bag of Fate.

    It'll work like this.  I'll drop plenty of hints and rumors about how unlucky the dungeon is, so that the PC's aren't totally blindsided about what they are getting themselves into.  Once they are in the dungeon they will quickly see that anytime they (or a monster) would normally roll a d20, they are now passed a die bag and told to pull out one item and roll it (add your usual bonuses).  Here's the key...

    I will not explain to the players the details of how it works, and ask them not to look in the bag.

    Some players will find this maddening I'm sure (the number crunchers and min/max players especially), but I'm hoping the mystery and novelty of it will be enough that the party doesn't retreat at the sight of a staircase.  Leaving the details unexplained means that the PC's can't gauge exactly how unlucky the place is, which I think is fitting.  I do want them to understand that there is method to my madness, and I'm not just pulling results out of the air.  If it seems to be causing more gnashing of teeth than it's worth I'll probably divulge one or all of the following tips. 

    • Choose dice if you want to be extra careful, stones give a higher chance for both crits and fumbles.
    • Success and failure is based (mostly) upon the color chosen.
    • When rolling dice, higher is always better.
    • Dice have a chance to "change color" depending on the roll and bonuses, stones never do.
    I'll try to be sensitive to the players concerns.  If I am the only one at the table who knows how this bag works then it is easy for the players to think that they are playing a rigged game.  Rather than pull anything from the bag myself, I'll have one of the players pull dice for the monsters.  I don't want anyone wondering if I can recognize certain stones by feel.  Besides, I already know the ratio of stones to dice and how many dX there are per color.

    I'll also want to make sure that none of the players are putting their fingers on the scales either.  After a while someone might realize that a certain stone gives a good result.  If I suspect that someone is feeling around for a particular stone I might impose a five second rule, if your hand is in the bag for more than five seconds you automatically fail.

    -------------------------------Behind the DM Screen-------------------------------

    Pictured below is an example of my Die Bag of Fate.  I like these ratios pretty well for the first level of the "unlucky dungeon", but maybe I'll add a few more red and purple stones.  Dig it.

    If a stone is drawn, the result is based entirely upon the color.

    Gold/Brown - Ideal Success (critical hit)
    Purple ------- Success (roll damage as normal)
    Blue/Green -- Minimal Success (good for a touch attack or Glancing Blow for 1 damage)
    Red --------- Failure (miss)
    Black/Silver - Epic Fail (fumble)

    If a die is drawn, roll it.  Add any applicable bonuses to the roll (magic weapon, Dex bonus for missile, ect.).  If the total is equal or more than the the number of sides on the die, then the result moves up (at most) one color step.

    For example you attack a monster,
    You draw a red d20 and roll a 20 = Failure changes to Minimal Success. 1 damage
    You draw a purple d4 and roll a 1 = Success, roll for damage as normal
    You draw a purple d4 and roll a 1, and your short sword is magical +3 = Ideal Success! critical hit chart.
    You draw a silver stone, and have a +infinity to-hit bonus = Epic Fail! fumble chart.
    and so on... you get the idea.

    Now look back up at the purple dice, see the spotty tan/purple d20?  That one gives a special result.  It counts as a success for whoever draws it (no chance for critical), when it is rolled I consult my 1-20 wandering monster table and see which beasty suddenly enters the room.

    See the green stone with black dots?  That one is special too.  It gives a Minimal Success, at a price.  You do 1 damage to the opponent, but you get cut for 1 damage in the process.  You open the lock, but break your lockpick.  That sort of thing.

    As the party goes deeper into the dungeon, I might add or pull objects from the bag.  Adding red or removing purple would reflect an increase in unluckiness.  I might add a clear piece of quartz once I decide that an Invisible Stalker is um... stalking the party, whoever pulls the quartz is attacked by the Stalker.  I could add a penny, whoever draws it calls heads or tails to see if they succeed or fail.  Add a second penny, blackened with a magic marker it is always a fumble.  Add a third coin, foreign but roughly the same size and shape, anyone who draws that stumbles upon a hidden treasure/cache of coins (remove from bag after found).  

    Do I really want to mess with my players minds?  Add something that feels noticeably different to the touch.  The leg from an old G.I Joe maybe (floor trap?), He-Man's head (helpful ghostly disembodied head appears?), a much folded piece of paper with private instructions/information for whoever takes it.  Is any player curious enough to pull the strange items, or do they play it safe and grab for dice instead?

    May 13, 2011

    American Jukebox

    I've recently discovered that the Library of Congress has set loose a National Jukebox upon the interwebosphere.  It is full of historical recordings, mostly 78 rpm discs from the Victor Talking Machine Co. converted to the digital.  These are all now streaming online and freely available.  Huzzah!

    Perhaps I am more enthused than most, I love the hiss and clicks of these turntable recordings.  It makes them feel more real somehow even though the sound quality is worse.  I can hear them singing out from past, not polished and smooth but unedited and gritty.  Listening is like stepping back in time for a moment.

    "Pictured here is an acoustic recording session conducted in the era before microphones were utilized for recording. Music and speech was funneled through recording horns, which in turn vibrated an attached diaphragm and stylus, thus etching the sound waves onto a rotating wax disc.  At launch, the Jukebox includes more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. Jukebox content will be increased regularly, with additional Victor recordings and acoustically recorded titles made by other Sony-owned U.S. labels, including Columbia, OKeh, and others." - About the National Jukebox

    I've only just begun to scratch the surface.  There are spoken word recordings such as speeches from President Taft, and many, many songs recorded during the first 20 years of the twentieth century. 

    I mention all this on my gameblog because I imagine these recordings might be useful for any GM whose game is set during that time period (Call of Cthulhu anyone?).  Also, the instrumentals might be a source of inspiration for any setting.

    My favorite find so far is "La muerte del bardo".  I doubt it would take much effort to work a song named "Death of the Bard" into an adventure.  I don't usually like to play music during the game itself.  However, I do like to have a premade tape or burned CD at the ready.  Then (when the need arises) I can tell the players that a minstrel in the tavern, or bard traveling with the party begins to sing a song(s).  I hit the play button and get up to use the restroom or get a snack.  It's a musical intermission for those who need it, and an auto-pilot DM for those who want to stay at the table and have some in character discussions.

    P.S. Oh! My mention of Cthulhu reminded me of other songs.  Anyone who respects the mythos might enjoy "Do you hear the pipes, Cthulhu?" which is set to the tune of ABBA's "Fernando".  Double OH!  There are also the the songs from the parody musical "Shoggoth on the Roof".  You can find many of those excellent songs on YouTube if you're interested, but I've never found a decent recording of the play itself.  Supposedly the play is cursed, unable to be produced.  There are some things that man was not meant to adapt to musical theatre.

    May 11, 2011

    Telecanter's Tumbler - Puns of the Mad Mage

     There is quite a trove of treasures over at Telecanter's lovely blog.  I was especially moved by his thoughts on a tumbling dungeon.  Now the notion is spinning round my skull.  As I pondered, I discovered the perfect twist.


    You see, I quickly decided that my tumbling dungeon was built long ago by the mad mage/alchemist Telecanter (who I hope does not mind that I steal his idea AND his name).
    Self-portrait of the mad mage, drawn posthumously

    The dungeon will consist of 15 rooms, 3 parallel levels/planes of 5 rooms each.  Dungeon details to be posted later.

    Legends about Telecanter will provide some clues about the location of a strange dungeon he built, and hint about a powerful magical item called Telecanter's Tumbler.  The descriptions and functions of the Tumbler will vary wildly... a belt, ring, or codpiece that grants the wearer acrobatic skills... a magical drinking glass with a pointed or round bottom... the only surviving piece of Telecanter's Lock... or whatever.  Telecanter's Tumbler is actually the name of the dungeon itself, Telecanter personally started most of the false rumors in order to draw vict... er... visitors.

    The dungeon turns 90° once per hour.  It takes a little over a minute for the wall to become the floor.  Throughout the rooms of the dungeon, phrases are carved deeply into the stone walls/sides.  These carvings are original features, not new work.  The original puns here, my "improvements" below.

    esrevni setirw teop drawkcab A -  (A backward poet writes inverse.)

    She was only a brewer, but he loved her still.

    No matter how you roll the parchment, it’ll still be stationery.

    Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

    A priest might loose his faith, but never turns away from the prophets.

    “You stay here, I’ll go on a head.” - Hat

    I wondered why the rock kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

    The soldier who survives being peppered with arrows becomes a seasoned veteran.

    When cannibals ate the priest, they got a taste of religion.

    You can spend a lifetime studying pagan cults, but you have to join in order to truly enjoy the sects!

    The farmer is a poet, the chicken his poultry.

    Anytime someone within the dungeon groans, the sound echoes and reverberates.  The volume quickly increases until soon the entire dungeon groans deafeningly... which triggers a sudden 90° turn in addition to the usual hourly turnings.  Telecanter was worried that he might die of old age before his Tumbler turned enough times, so he designed this magical loophole and added the puns hoping to speed things along.  This is also why he teleported in zombies whenever he happened to run across them, but these have rotted away over time into non-groaning skeletons.

    I'm looking for at least four more groan worthy puns if anyone has a suggestion.  Bonus XP if they make players leave the table in horror or cause a student of English Literature to loose their lunch.

    May 10, 2011

    For the Greater Good

    "For the greater good"

    It is a terrible turn of phrase, and an NPC who utters it in my games is usually some misguided zealot.  Yet, this is why I steal ideas.

    I didn't mean to steal them ... not at first.  For the longest time I did not even realize I was doing it.  I would be running a game when inspiration suddenly struck, and I would add some new detail or NPC.  For a while (in my teenage years) I was impressing my players and myself with my cleverness.  Then days, months, or years later I would reread a book or article and realize that my favorite creations were never really mine.  It was humbling, especially over time as the realizations piled up on top of each other.  I try to keep better track of these things now and give credit where it is due, but of all my skills I am best at forgetting.  I apologize in advance for presenting ideas in my blog that are not my own.  I sometimes wonder now if I've ever had a thought that didn't begin in someone else's head. 

    My games are like roads built from stolen bricks.  The stones are worn and familiar, but I hope the twists and turns might lead my players and I to new sights and vistas.  If you see a brick in my blog that belongs to you please let me know.  I'd like to give you credit and my thanks. 

    Enough of that, lets plunder from Patrick Rothfuss.

    The University is pretty cool, and I'm likely to dig it up roots and all to plant in my game somewhere. In charge of the University are nine masters (one for each of the "sciences"), one master is appointed Chancellor and ranks slightly above the other eight.  I like that each area of study seems equally respected by the students, who think of magics as just branches of science.  At the same time, commoners are often quite suspicious of anyone dabbling in "the dark arts" which might include basic chemistry or advanced mathematics depending on local superstitions.  The nine titles and sciences are...

    Master Archivist  ------ History
    Master Artificer  ------ Sygaldry
    Master Sympathist  --- Sympathy
    Master Rhetorician --- Philosophy and Logic
    Master Namer --------- Naming
    Master Alchemist ----- Chemistry/Alchemy
    Master Physicker  ----- Medicine
    Master Arithmetician  - Mathematics
    Master Linguist--------- Languages

    I love the magic system that he presents, but I'm not sure it would play well in a game.  There are four main types of magic, Alchemy, Sympathy, Sygaldry, and Naming.  You can learn to master any one of them without having to learn one whit of the other three.

    Alchemy is all about potions, powders, and salves.  It is clear in the book that there is some distinction between chemistry and true alchemy, but I don't mind if those edges blur together a bit in my game.  I'm not opposed to joining Alchemy with Medicine in fact.  It seems fitting for all that chemistry, herbalism, and physiology to be taught together.

    Sympathy is quite interesting for it's mixture of the laws of thermodynamics with magical links created by a force of will/belief called the Alar.  I love it for it's complexity and detail, but it seems unwieldy at best for a game.  It's use is described in the books with a lot of detail, but I can't seem to wrap my head around how the PC's would use it during a game... yet.  I don't want to, but I'm likely to toss this out and fall back to the more familiar Vancian magic where spells are memorized and lost as they are used.

    Sygaldry is the use of runes to create any magical item such as twice-tough glass, magic lanterns, and cold boxes.  Runes are like a magical alphabet, a long string of them carved or written onto an object is like a sentence magically commanding the object to do this or that.  If it is possible to scratch out one of the runes, then the sentence might become gibberish making the object perfectly mundane or completely changing the magical properties.  The grammar is quite wild, and scratching out runes at random may have deadly or explosive results.

    Naming is at once the most powerful and most frustrating form of magic.  To find and speak the true name of a thing is to have total magical mastery over it.  These true names are not known consciously by the caster.  A Name is something divined subconsciously in each instance of the casting and then quickly forgotten.  Discovering a true name only allows it to be used at that moment, soon it slips away like a dream.  If someone speaks the true name of stone to cause a wall to melt away, neither the caster nor bystanders will be able to recall the sound.  The name slips in one ear and out the other, at best the mind will interpret the sound as "stone" as if spoken in their native language.  Being able to look at something and see it's true name is a subtle art.  It does seem to get easier to find a particular name after each successful finding.  So, if you've spoken the true name of fire 10 times, then you might have a reasonable chance of finding the true name of fire the next time you look, but your chance to see the true name of stone, or wind, or the bandit attacking you, or whatever, is as difficult as ever.  What really trips me up is where to draw the distinction between names.   One name for each individual creature, sure.  It is the inanimates that are tricky.  Is there a name for metal, or each metal?  What about alloys?  Does a sword respond to the name of Iron, or Steel, or Sword, or does it have an individual name?  What if it is a sword +1?  What if it is Excalibur? hmmm

    Oh!  Something else worth stealing.  Superstitious mumbo jumbo that varies from region to region, most of it useless nonsense.  I've basically always made use of superstitious townfolk in my games, but I've never really bothered to have specific legends or stories for each country or region.

    In his setting the Fae are creatures of myth and legend, the commoners in Vintas tell stories but most other lands laugh at "fairy tales".  The Fae turn out to be real... but they tell strange tales and have their own superstitions and legends.  Wheels within wheels.

    May 9, 2011

    Author of Note - Patrick Rothfuss

    "There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man."
    —  Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind)

    I apologize if my infrequent posting frustrates or angers any of my gentle readers.  I realize of course that my blog here has had an inauspicious start, falling far short of the post-a-day I had intended.  All of the blame falls squarely upon my shoulders.  My idle laziness knows no bounds.

    Still, I am half-tempted to point some blame to Patrick Rothfuss.  Opening one of his books can send me into an out of body experience for hours at a time while my imagination frolics among his stories, characters, and style.  I have recently purchased his second book "The Wise Man's Fear" and setting it down becomes more difficult every time I turn a page.

    I read a lot of fantasy books. No, more than that. I own a few hundred, I've absorbed the contents of library shelves from Illinois to California. I've been known to go to a Borders or Barnes and Noble on my day off and read until they close. So when I say things like "Patrick Rothfuss has written the best books to hit shelves in the past ten years." it may not be a fact since such things are subjective, but it is an educated guess that certainly feels true in my heart.  His first book "The Name of the Wind" sits proudly on my bookshelf between The Silmarillion and The Once and Future King.

    This is not just a great fantasy story, it is simply a great story.  A story of loss and love, music and magic; but mostly this is a story about stories. I think that Rothfuss is attempting to show how events give rise to rumors and speculation which can eventually become legends and myths that have only a small kernel of truth at their core. How the difference between heroes and villains depends mainly upon your point of view. It is a tall order, delivered well.

    In short, read these books.

    May 2, 2011

    Going mental over Wisdom(+ poker)


    Those six stats have been burned into my gaming brain (in that order) for years now.  I totally respect the simple elegance of this method of character design.  Three stats for physical attributes balanced with three for mental attributes.

    Yet... as much as I like and respect the basic six I've always felt that something was slightly off.  Like this system stopped just short of perfect, and some minor tweak would make everything fall into place.  I like the three physical stats... simple, elegant, perfect.  The mental stats never quite sat right with me though, and if I'm perfectly honest... Wisdom was always the red-headed stepchild that I had a problem with.

    Wisdom was always described to me as representing common-sense, street-smarts, and willpower... but aren't those aspects provided by the player?  Still, I agree that "absent minded professor" type characters should be possible.  So, I left the big six alone while I watched and waited for that perfect solution to present itself.

    Well, after swishing the problem around in my subconscious for twenty-some years the answer was finally revealed to me during a rum induced moment of clarity.

    Wisdom = Awareness 

    Of course!  It's so simple.

    I grokked, and saw that it was good.

    So, from now on I'll explain the three mental stats to my players as such...

    Intelligence (Int):  Problem-solving, memory, reasoning.  This score shows how quickly the character can grasp new concepts.  If two characters are given the exact same education and life experiences the one with the higher Int will have absorbed and retained more of the information. High Int might give bonus skills or languages at character creation.  It is up to the DM to determine what is common knowledge (automatically known) and hidden knowledge (unknowable) for the character.  For everything else, roll for Int to see if the character remembers reading/hearing something about the subject.  Intelligence ability checks might be made for appraising, heraldry, deciphering codes, solving puzzles/riddles, using unfamiliar machines/devices, and having the character remember facts or details that the player has forgotten.

    Wisdom (Wis):  Perception, intuition, prescience.  This score shows how aware the character is of the world around them.  It reflects the accuracy and speed of that characters' senses.  I'll use wisdom ability checks as detection rolls for tracking, traps, secret doors, lies, ambush, weather, direction, spirits, invisible creatures, and (possibly) auras.  It is also useful for interpreting the body language of people and animals.

    Charisma (Cha):  Charm, composure, leadership.  Force of personality.  This score shows both how persuasive a character is, and (inversely) how likely they are to be persuaded by others.  This score also reflects how well the character can control and use their emotions and body language.  Social interactions can either be resolved through role-playing, or through Charisma rolls (whichever is more fun).  Charisma ability checks might be made for haggling (Cha vs. Cha), telling convincing lies (Cha vs. Wis), acting/performing, resisting fear, enduring torture, and to withstand enchantment/charm effects.

    I can already hear disgruntled players crying out "Where is the common-sense, the street-smarts, the measure of will?".   You provide those things to your character.  As it has always been, you make those decisions and the character suffers the consequences and reaps the rewards.

    The "absent minded professor" characters are still possible.  Low Wisdom still means that the character has his head in the clouds and is unobservant of the world around him.  I'm half tempted to rename Wisdom to Awareness, but I'm happy enough with simply tweaking the definition a bit.

    Some might say that I've folded willpower into Charisma, because of the enchant/charm thing.  I think I have stopped just short of that though.  Charisma is a measure of the characters force of personality and how well they can shrug off outside influences, either persuasive or magical.  The characters willingness to go on in the face of insurmountable odds, to continue down darkened corridors even though they are 1hp away from death... that is willpower, and that is a decision for the player to make.

    As a real world example of how the three mental stats play out, imagine yourself playing a hand of poker.

    Once the cards are dealt, you'll use your Int to count cards.  Consciously or not you'll look at your hand, any cards that are face up on the table, discarded, or traded to the dealer, and get some idea about the probability of your hand winning the pot.  Texas Hold'em, before the flop you're dealt a pair of 8's and have 2 opponents...  you have a 50% chance to win the hand.

    Your Cha is used to keep your "poker face" on.  You decide to bluff, does a twitch reveal your nervousness? On the next hand, do your eyes go wide when you are dealt 4 aces?  You decide to act a little bit and pretend to be nervous while you bet on your 4 aces, does your opponent believe your performance and think you are bluffing or see through the ruse and realize that you are trying to trick him (your Cha vs. opponent Wis)?

    Your Wis is used to read your opponent, looking for tells.  It might help you see a bluff, or marked cards.  Your Wis vs. opponents Dex might show you that he is dealing off the bottom of the deck or slipping an ace up his sleeve.

    OK, so that was a real world example.  However, if characters in my game start playing poker in a tavern, I'd never make so many rolls.  I'd do something like this instead....

    1. Determine the ante, i.e. the amount of cash each poker player throws in before the cards get dealt (don't subtract this from the character sheet yet, it is factored into the roll)
    2. Every poker player rolls a d20.  Poker player(s) with the highest Int, Wis, and Cha each get +2
    3. Highest total is the winner.  Ties are ties, split the pot... both had a pair of aces or royal flush (one hearts the other spades)
    4. Each poker player subtracts their total from the highest total, then multiply the ante = amount lost
    5. All these losses totaled together = the pot going to the winner

    So, if your total is one less than the winner that means you folded just after the cards were dealt.  You only loose the ante amount.

    Worst case scenario, you roll a 1, winner rolls a 20 and has the highest Int, Wis, and Cha at the table (total = 26).  You got taken on a ride and lost 25 times the ante.  Which is kind of a lot for a single hand, but hey... it happens.