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Updated: 3 days 5 hours ago

On the Crypt Contents

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 12:00
I'm not exactly angry about this, but more like I don't understand it.

There's a crypt. Inside there are lots of coffins and places where they put dead people, and valuables. Characters soon realize that robbing graves while they are down here doesn't hurt the dead any. So you either create specific treasure or a sort of randomized set of options.

We are all together on this point so far, yeah? But then you look at the actual contents and it's dull shit! Like, the precious moments of my life are slipping away, and I'm rolling on some crappy table full of uninteresting crap with my friends out of. . . what? Obligation to find a rotten string?

Well, it's complicated.

First, it's effectively a slot machine. Players pull the lever, possibly roll the hazard/encounter die, and then get the contents. It clearly is less exciting if it only returns danger or treasure. You want the uncertainty and excitement.

You also want the possibility of empty. The problem is, you want them in the right ratio.

Pulling a LeverI like to think of my players as rational actors. They are going to try to get money with the least amount of risk possible. Therefore, anything that doesn't present as profitable will likely be ignored.

I resolve this by having the first coffin they examine have a "Good" result. (No Quantum Ogre here—I don't care how they examine the first coffin, or even if they do)

I often think chances for something interesting to happen are far far too low. There's a problem of scale where people assume that certain things will be referenced more than they are. Random encounters are a good example. A ~15% chance of an encounter per roll that's made 3 times an hour, means you'll have 2, maybe 3 wandering encounters usually? And yet many (many many) products contain a table with 12 boring monster entries. 6 would make a lot more sense, more likely to give an idea of an ecosystem, and you could design more interesting encounters than (8-12 Bugbears, EL3).

So for crypts, how many will their be? 8? 12? In a session, perhaps, there could be more. If the players are actively engaged in this endeavor, then it should have value. If nearly every roll results in "nothing" then it becomes kind of a tedious task.

When designing a slot machine, you want the good to be good, the bad to be terrifying, and a neutral result to be a relief. Based on these results, the expected number of crypts or coffins you might find, I like to have a 1/3 chance of each option occuring. There's an additional cost if opening these crypts causes noise or a roll of the hazard die. If done quietly, robbing graves and crypts, One hazard die per 3 graves looted is rolled.

Contents of Crypts, Graves, Catacomb burial niches, and other corpse storageThe original Numenhalla Contents of Crypt/Coffin table reads:

Roll Result Roll 1 in 6 chance of treasure 1) Empty 1) 2d6x10 coins 2) dust 2) Jewelry 1-2 pieces 3) corpse 3) 1d4x100 coins + 1-4 gems 4) corpse 4) Magic Item 5) Ash Wraith 6) Mummy

Coins are 1-2 copper, 3-4 silver, 5 gold, 6 platinum.

This is simple and effective. However, it's also right near that random table quality we are talking about. Writing this down and adding it to your module isn't helping.  we are looking for more evocative and flavorful text.

Not just text worth paying for, but a real opportunity to delve into the unknown of another human's mind. So yeah, it's worth it.

Numenhalla Crypt tableThe first crypt looted or investigating is filled with dust and a set of six pearl dice worth 100 gold each, they sell for 800 gold coins as a set. There's also a small cross set with tiny diamonds worth 900 gold coins.

Thereafter oll 2d6 when looting tombs. The first D6 determines the contents, the second D6 determines if there are valuables present (1 in 6). Conditions last until removed by the hazard die. Coins are 1-2 copper, 3-4 silver, 5 gold, 6 platinum.

1) Monster!
2) Empty
3) Dust
4) Corpse
5) Corpse
6) Oddity

Monster Table
1) Stuffed full of ash, swirls into room, 10-40 Ash Wraiths attack.
2) The corpse lurches free, flailing about. 1 zombie attacks.
3) The coffin contains a black ooze. Initially it stays motionless, lashing out to attack people at the most opportune moment.
4) While examining the crypt, spikes and shatters from the shadowplane burn through the area. These do 2d8 damage, with a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw for half (save versus breath weapon for half)
5) Ghouls have caught the scent of unearthed grave dust, 3d12 descend on the party.
6) Yellow mold bursts out of the crypt in a cloud 40 feet in diameter. It does 2d10 poison damage and grants the poison condition, unless a  DC 15 Constitution saving throw is made. The character takes another 1d10 damage at the start of each of their turns. They may attempt a save at the end of every round. (save versus poison or die).
7) Winds and sand blow out of the crypt as a mummy lashes out at the party
8) When even gently disturbed, a swarm of crawling claws pushes open the crypt and attacks.
9) Inside this crypt lies a Helmed Horror that animates and attacks. 3d4 other Helmed Horrors arise and break through nearby shallow crypts within 20' of the party to attack.
10) The crypt ejects bones like a fountain that turn into 6d6 skeletons.
11) A heavily armored knight lies here, until red fire burns from his eyes. 1 Death Knight attacks.*
12) A Nezumi assassin lies in wait here, and will attack with his poisoned daggers, DC 15 Constitution save or fall to 0 hit points and start making death saves (save versus poison or die).*
* Options 11 and 12 can only occur once. After they both occur, roll a 1d10 on this table.

Oddity Table1) Energy swirls around the room as the corpse inside is exposed. Rapidly, the corpse draws in energy becoming more and more lifelike, until the tempest passes and the nude dark haired beauty awakes.
2) 3 colored beams emanate from the enclosure, striking 3 random characters. The blue beam raises the experience of the character to the midpoint of the next level, the red beam permanently increases strength by 2, the black beam causes the character to appear as a photographic negative, causing death and necromantic spells to be cast as if the caster were 2 levels higher, and granting a +4 bonus on saves versus death.
3) Though the crypt is empty, mist rises from the floor, restricting visibility to a maximum of 50'.
4) The corpse of a giant lizard lies well preserved in this crypt.
5) There is a cracking sound, and suddenly several areas nearby are flooded with a slick substance. All terrain is difficult. You may treat it as non-difficult terrain, but must succeed at a DC 20 Dexterity saving throw (save versus paralyzation) or fall prone.
6) A pool of spiritstuff lies within the crypt. A wizard can perform an augary or clairvoyance here on a successful arcana roll. Death spells are enhanced near the pool.
7) As soon as the lid comes off, hundreds of ravens and other dark birds begin pouring out of the crypt. Several thousand eventually fly off.
8) The lid was keeping pressure on a pipe, and when disturbed, the crypt spews out a black cloud to 30 feet obscuring vision.
9) Inside the crypt is a stone passage that seems to lead to another area of the dungeon, through a 5' wide tunnel.
10) A strange vine lies in this crypt, growing through various skulls along its length. It is very resilient, but otherwise normal.
11) This 'Crypt' is actually the basic workings of a flesh vat. If the 15 stone monstrosity is extracted and it's repaired with 1,000 gold coins of augatic parts, you can be the proud owner of a medium sized flesh-vat.
12) Melted candles and wax are lining the bottom of this crypt

Treasure Table1) Leather straps that held this corpse inside this coffin glow with ancient runes. Binding these around yourself grants protection equivalent to leather +1, provides a +1 bonus to saves and prevents the user from having their soul removed from their body.
2) 2434 coins are precisely stacked in the form of a human merchant.
3) In the crypt is a dagger-shaped recess. If a dagger is sacrificed, a secret chamber snaps open, inside of which sit 4 magical daggers. The daggers return to their owner at the end of the combat round. Each does their normal damage, plus 2d4+3 elemental damage for a total of 3d4+3 damage. The elements are Pathos, Ice,  Mirrors, and Shadow.
4) A leather strap with a hemispherical diamond set in the center, focuses the mind. It grants a +1 bonus to intelligence and access to either 2 sorcery points, 4 ki points, or a free second level slot.
5) Inside a small faded box, with a pattern of roses on the cover, lies a few dusty documents. These when presented to any official, military or government officer, or anyone inquiring into your business, will say whatever is necessary to pacify the official and convince him that you meet all his expectations.
6) An ancient amulet, with a bare space with a setting for a gem. It provides a +1 bonus to saving throws versus elements. If a gem is set into the amulet, it increases the bonus to saves by 1 per 5,000 gold pieces of the gem, up to a maximum of +4 to saving throws versus elemental damage
7) Two keys lie within the crypt, a 1"brass barrel key with a horse shaped bow (73), A 3" bronze barrel key, with a cross shaped hole in a flat bow.
8) A ceramic flask is engraved with the name Gilgithas. Gilgithas is a chain demon who's essence is trapped in the flask. If freed he will perform one service. 
9) A set of 12 marbles made from gemstone, 100 gold each, 1500 for the set.
10) A large wooden plank, which encumbers 3 stone has delicate etching of a boar hunt in the woods. It is worth 1,200 gold.
11) Various silver trinkets, badly tarnished and set with semi-precious gems, all told worth about 300 gold coins.
12) A goblet that turns holy water into a liquid that cures disease and illness.
13) A 3" diameter jeweled loop that turns anything passed through it invisible until the next sunrise.
14) A vine necklace that exudes alteration magic. When donned, it comes to life and threads itself though the nasal cavity and sinuses of the wearer, looping around outside the back of the head. While worn, the wearer can breath water. Removing it takes a full round and leaves you stunned for the next round.
15) A crystal bracelet summons a suit of frozen armor that surrounds the bearer, granting them an armor class as chain, but without restricting their movement. Any fire damage will be nullified but cause the armor to dissipate for 1 minute.
16) A vial contains a pungent liquid. As an action, you can take a quaff and vomit a bolt of bile and acid in a 30' line that does 4d8 damage with a dexterity save equal to your constitution modifier, plus your proficiency bonus plus 8 for half (Save vs. Breath weapon). There are six doses in the bottle.
17) Inside this is a geomancers staff made of fragrant hickory. It has the head of a ram which is inlaid with 5 onyx. This acts as a +3 Quarterstaff with 10 charges, and it gains 1d6+4 charges at dawn. If you expend the last charge, roll a d20, with a roll of 1 indicating the staff is destroyed. Spells. You can use an action to expend 1 or more of the staffs charges to cast one of the following spells from it, using your spell save DC. Aura of Vitality (1 charge), Erupting Earth (2 charges), Banishing Smite (3 charges), Antimagic Field (8 Charges)
18) A greatbow made of yew wood, known as the Thorliusson Bow. The grip is wrapped in dull brown leather. The bowstring is actually a fine chain made of normal electrum. Accompanying the bow is a quiver of oiled brown leather with sheep fur trim. It contains 23 barbed +3 arrows with shafts of cypress wood painted yellow-orange and fletching of two mustard yellow feathers and one dark brown feather. It is a +2 bow, and any non-magical arrow fired through the bow can be used to cast entangle centered on the target once a day. The targets are ensnared with electrum chains.
19) A ray pistol sits discussed in this crypt. It shoots bolts of flame energy that do 1d8+1 points of damage. It has a 1d12 ammunition die.
20) This body is wearing two electrum gauntlets set with a rare white jade. They can be removed from the crumbling body without difficulty.

Replaced used entries with one of the following
A set of earrings with black agate, worth 150 gold coins.
A copper headband set with a malachite worth 80 gold coins.
An electrum mask of a tiger, vibrantly painted, worth 600 gold coins
A silver cloak pin, set with three tiny rubies worth 400 gold coins
A small leather sack containing 100-400 coins.
Six small tiger agates worth 30 gold coins each (180 total).
A diamond worth 1,000 gold coins.

A Professional Nod to Gus L, who does crypts right.

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On the Righteous

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 12:00
We are beset by a plague of the righteous.

That feeling is a glorious one, too often set aside by the unrelenting hostility and blunt reality of the real world. When are you within your body, when you are hungry, tired from hard labor, in struggle and pain, we no longer have the clarity of being righteous.

But when those things are set aside, deferred in the same way evolution is deferred by actions we take to dictate our convenience, oh how righteous we can become. There's even science in it. Even the worst of us believes he's above average. Nearly everyone who thinks that is wrong.

The reason this is important is because we are at or near an apogee. Things are, by every quantifiable metric, the best the have ever been. To note: Parents are half as likely to lose a child as they were in 1990. In thirty years, global poverty has dropped from 40 to 10%. [source] The world is so at peace, open warfare has almost been eliminated [source], Historically, violence has been all but eliminated [source][source], Nearly every human worldwide (6.5 billion) has access to drinkable water [source], in 1820, only 12% of all humans could read. Now over 83% can [source] World production has increased over 100 times in the last 200 years. [source] Access to electricity, food, I mean, it's nearly impossible for you to understand just how blinking wonderful ever little last damn thing is.

Your WarlordsBut there's a war on, and don't doubt that it's a war. Those waging it simply desire power and control. It isn't even about money—they have more than they need. This isn't imaginary. We are involved in a culture war. It's a war because harm is being done. There is a public space (the internet) and people are being driven away from it and livelihoods are being destroyed. We're beyond physical warfare, for now, we're engaged in a war of culture between various factions, who wish to co-op you for your own ends.

You see, the insanity that the culture war is thriving on, doesn't exist. Not to dismiss their concerns. But the realities of these situations is well educated, well meaning people, are gaining more and more power and resources to make things better and better for all people everywhere all the time. In all cases. Do you not believe me?

Behold, the infamous C-16! The Canadian "transgender law" of great dispute. No matter what you think, no one can read the discourse over the bill and claim for one second that the people discussing it aren't well-educated, well-meaning, and passionately interested in creating the best society possible.

So if you're caught up in this culture war, because you've voluntarily entered yourself into someone's system of control or perhaps have become a victim to it, driven out of spaces, harrassed, and just not involved because it's too difficult to bear the constant conflict, then, well, you are a sign that the culture war is winning and we are losing.

I was guilty of being a righteous man. It is a trait of youth, and now that I am older, I fear myself then. I think a smarter man than I am would also fear the righteous. They are so pure and certain in a world with no certainty. By it's nature, someone has to suffer from that.

One of the prime conflict of adulthood is assimilating into society. It's always been difficult to do so, perhaps more today without rites of passage and the changing world. Much easier to claim corruption of what came before and in your own certainty to attack the old world with fire. Those who would create this new better pure world (over our insanely good one) never imagine that the gun they wish to aim at others would ever be aimed at themselves.

I'm just a man, who like you, longs to not suffer indignity and maintain my pride. But that is not the way the world works. You cannot exist, they must have you within their control. Shared articles, advertisements, data mining, facebook and cambridge analytical. All lies to get you within a system of control.

And now that we're almost to the point of sounding like a paranoid rant. . . this is relevant to Dungeons and Dragons because-
Fire down belowThis is the nature of man. In a world of Dungeons & Dragons, you have, by definition, tremendous inequality. There are archmages with incalculable power, god-cults, hoards driven forth by demi-gods. One group of people is focused on their basic needs. Another, with power, immortality, and wealth—they can become the most righteous of all.

Secondly, it reminds us that the environments that we explore, ultimately are the workings of the nature of men. In a literal sense, it is a man who creates the adventure, so it is his depths you are exploring. In a more figurative sense, the real encounters in Dungeons and Dragons are those of thinking peoples. Peoples who not only have been co-opted into someones system of control, but also individuals who are human.
You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

Many people have difficulty imagining that other people are truly different than them.A large portion of the world finds the idea of wiping with paper and sitting on toilets to be a disgusting practice. Ancient romans had no concept of hetero- or homo-sexuality, rather they viewed sexual preference (and sexual power dynamics) related to who was the penetrator or penetratee.

Yes, functionally we are all human. But the ways in which we approach and think about life are radically different. Those ancient peoples would seem alien. But to their thinking, their beliefs and logic are irrefutable.

When the players interact with someone, they are not a caricature. As different as they were, there were a million romans smarter then you. You know your well held beliefs? There are people with 50 more IQ points than you that hold the opposite beliefs for extremely logical reasons you may struggle to understand. Why is this not so for all people?

It is.

Your environments should be shaped by minds like these.
Your characters should have minds that make them people, not caricatures.
Your monsters should have interactions with characters that make them monstrous.
The worst monsters should be people. It isn't Tiamat that's the danger in Dragon Queen, it's her cult.

The game is a form of catharsis, one made all the more meaningful by real choices, choices that feel real when people are represented as people. The mechanical nature of this is simple. They should have concerns outside of whatever purpose they serve in the game, monsters and humans alike.

Oh, but why this topic? I've long passed a time of righteousness. I'm going to enter the culture war just as far as designing adventures that are easy to use and creativing evocative dungeons enters it. I'm not going to worry about how others or society might describe me. I know my truth, and how I'm viewed by other people—my own conscious will guide me, as difficult and treacherous a road that is. . .

Any day you're drawing dungeons is a good day. Relax, live your best life and enjoy. And I hope to see you free.

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On the Upper Crypts

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 16:39
And here reside the upper crypts.
As always, 600.dpi png versions are available for my Patreons for use with VTT. Megadungeon #3 is coming.
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On the Lower Crypts

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 12:52
Work progresses on Megadungeon #3. Here are the lower crypts.
Upper crypts will be posted tomorrow!
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On Streaming, Art, and Joy

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 12:00
Since working on Dungeons is my full time job, I'm in that desperate sole-proprietor work a bunch of hours every day, joy in doing what I love sort of excitement.

As a way to reach more people, as well as allowing people to support me at no cost to themselves, I've become a Twich.tv affiliate! I stream four days a week, and do all of my art during those hours. If you like my dungeon maps, you can come hang out with me and other creatives you're familiar with in my community while I draw and paint!

What's more, if you have amazon prime, you can subscribe to the channel to support me financially at no cost to you! (Well, no cost other than time and attention, which I'm already thankful for). All Amazon Prime users get one free subscription to twitch prime monthly!

My schedule is below:
Tuesday: 11am-4pm Art and layout
Wednesday: 11am-7pm Dungeon Drawing
Friday: 11am-4pm Art & Painting Miniatures
Saturday: 3pm-? Variety stream, either painting or grindtastic video games like Disgaea 2, Hearthstone* Warframe, or Grim Dawn

Getting to spend time with friends and laughing and making beautiful maps and drawings? It's a great time with great people! I'm just getting started, so I'll be looking forward to see you all!

Watch me (AgonarchArtist) on: https://www.twitch.tv/agonarchartist

(*My highest rank so far is rank 58 legend.)

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On the Use of Secret Doors

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 12:00
How do you use a secret door?

Secret doors are an opportunity for wonder, amazement, and frustration. They are the diamond of puzzles: optional, intriguing, and rewarding. But they come with unspoken rules and can be misused.

The original rules for secret doors have remained almost unchanged over forty years. Secret doors and passages are not visible. Searching a 10'x10' section of wall takes a full turn. Men, Dwarves, and Hobbits discover secret doors on a roll of 1 or 2 on a six-sided die, and Elves discover them on a roll of 1-4. Elves may automatically discover secret doors they pass with a roll of 1 or 2.

After that, they are just treated as normal doors. Which as we all know are immincal to player characters and only open on a roll of 1 or 2.

While this is certainly an acceptable option, this text is located in Men and Magic, Volume 1:

"Caller: Okay, what does the room look like—we're examining the walls, ceiling, floor, and contents of the room itself.Referee: (After checking to see if dwarves and/or elves are in the party:) The room is a truncated pyramid. The east wall is the truncated part, directly opposite the door you entered. It is 10' long with another door in it. The walls connecting it to the west wall, the place you entered, are each about 35' long. The west wall, which is where you entered is 30' long with a door in the middle of the wall. The elf has noted that there seems to be a hollow spot near the east end of the southeast wall. The floor and ceiling seem to have nothing unusual. The room contains the bodies of the gnolls, a pile of refuse in the north corner of the west wall, and two trunks along the wall opposite the one which sounds hollow. Caller: The elf will check out the hollow sound, one of us will sort through the refuse, each trunk will be opened by one of us, and the remaining two (naming exactly who this is) will each guard a door, listening to get an advance warning if anything approaches.Referee: Another check on the hollow sound reveals a secret door which opens onto a flight of stairs down to the south. The refuse is nothing but sticks, bones, offal and old clothes. One chest is empty; the other had a poison needle on the lock. (Here a check to see if the character opening it makes his saving throw for poison.) The chest with the poison needle is full of copper pieces — appears to be about 2,000 of them."The Referee has taken the mechanical effect and turned it into a real-world situation. The elf doesn't discover a secret door, but rather a 'hollow spot' that could be anything.

This is the real magic of secret doors, which is why I always design a mechanism to open a secret door within the environment. For players, this creates interest no matter how the secret door is interacted with, instead of frustration.

  1. First, the players don't discover the secret door or the trigger. They go on their way, unencumbered by any knowledge as the treasure and other rooms stay safely hidden away for future delvers. Party Experience: If you don't know you missed something you can't be upset about it. 
  2. Second, the players discover the secret door, but not the trigger. They can discern the presence of a passage, but can't access it! This creates a puzzle of how to open the door. Of course like all doors it's possible to attempt to force it down, or even take the time and make the noise to bash it apart. But those both have consequences.* 
  3. Players discover the trigger and not the door, and are amazed and surprised when a secret passage opens!
Taking the extra time to come up with some triggering mechanisms for secret doors is the only additional work this requires from the Referee. I've already written an article on some basic types of secret doors here: On the Thursday Trick: 10 Basic Secret Doors for when your module or adventure has a ton of secret doors. 
There are rules for using these correctly also. Everything behind a secret door must be optional. Everything behind a secret door must be optional. If you've got something that's necessary for play to proceed, you shouldn't place it behind a secret door or a puzzle. I've told you three times now so you know it's true. If you commit this enormity, it's on you.
* Players always want to escalate! The attempt to open the door with the die roll is exactly that. Everyone working together to try and force open the door. That's the assumption. Either it's successful, or the group has failed in their efforts to open the door. Retrying is pointless. Attempting to do this takes a full turn which assumes retrying is happening. What occurs for the entire 10 minutes they are trying to open the door? They are trying to open it! Failing the roll is a failure.
"BUT!" comes the hue and cry from the players, "What if we are HUMANS and we use our WILL TO AVOID ACCEPTING REALITY". Well, fine. I'm running a game. You guys are heroes. You can bash down the door. Not kick it open, but literally bash it to pieces so it can't close on you and you can have free access to the passage. Why not? It takes longer than a turn, requires some tools that can damage wood or stone (depending) and has some side effects. Usually I have every monster in rooms within 100 or so feet show up in addition to three rolls on the wandering monster table. Sometimes they do make that choice, and it leads to exciting gameplay. After all, the monsters aren't necessarily all friendly with each other. And the question of dealing with 3+ encounters simultaneously in exchange for not taking the time to figure out how the door actually opens is a completely reasonable exchange. 
There are of course, caveats. It is important that you don't engage in "pixel bitching". If the secret door is opened by a button on the vertical part of a stair, and the players say "We search the area" you tell them they find a button on a vertical part of the stair. I would encourage you to recall that they do not have perfect knowledge like you do. Perhaps that button turns the stairs into a deadly slide. Providing multiple things that look like triggers, some of which are trapped, also leads to good gameplay. 
Very frequently just taking the turn to look around the room provides the trigger to a secret door. But that doesn't mean it's always obvious. One of the most challenging secret doors I've run is a secret door in a room with a iron chandelier on an iron chain. The room is otherwise empty. The way to open the door is simply to pull the iron chain six times. Behind the door are three keys (two trapped with yellow mold and one real golden key). The keys are optional that give players access to extra treasure.
This kind of challenge for the secret door is the exception. Like encounters, some secret doors are easy (It's a swiveling wall!) with a low challenge, and some are hard. This balance is key.
When running secret doors remember choice paralysis. In your mind it is easy to keep different areas of the dungeon separate. But if a player is approaching an encounter in character, this button could trigger anything in the dungeon! In order to reduce this option paralysis and keep things fun for the actual people at the table,  I try to provide some guidance as to scope. Much like in a video game, if a switch/trigger doesn't do anything obvious I give some insight into what it might be affecting. I try to be rather explicit about the scope of puzzles. In the example above, for example, I always let the players know that the iron chandelier is related to the nearby door to avoid confusion or uncertainty that the real trigger might be somewhere else or that the chandelier isn't related to the secret door and is doing something unknown somewhere else in the dungeon. 
People don't show up to play a game to be confused and made to feel stupid. 
If you aren't using secret doors, you should be. Have fun with them in your game and be sure to let me know how it goes!
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On Blog Compendium IV

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 18:56
I'm very proud and excited to show you this collection of wizards and magic. This is the fourth compendium, the others being focused on backgrounds, treasure, and classes. While this one has secrets about wizards.

I even talk about how to access  real magic in Dungeons and Dragons! It's Jack Chick's nightmare come true!

3.99 pdf at rpgnow
7.99 print at lulu

There aren't any immediate plans to move print copies over to rpg.now; But if you want to e-mail me a lulu receipt, I'll comp you a .pdf copy.

This is the fourth collected works of the Hack & Slash blog. Containing wizards and fungi!
  • 90+ Pages of content!
  • d100 Table of Wizard dicks by Chris Tamm!
  • Hotlinked .pdf!
  • Types of magical and non-magical currency!
  • Public domain illustrations!
  • Pages of magical side effects from spells!
  • Investigations into the magical properties of dragon corpses!
  • Information on crossbreeding your monsters with insects!
  • Details of the panoply of wizard accoutrements. 
  • And how your campaign can let you access real magic!

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On the Wizards Panoply: Servants, Pacts, and Sanctums

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 18:05
A few years ago +Benjamin Baugh created a post about the accoutrements of wizards on Google+. It's a great idea and I wanted to examine the suggestions in greater depth.

The objects presented are talismansfocifamiliarscabalsraiments, servantspacts, and sanctums, in order of difficulty of acquirement.

Humans themselves are relatively poor conduits of magical or elemental energy.

The basic conceit of this system is that humans are incapable of safely wielding any magic beyond the first level of power. 

  • Attempts to cast magic of a level higher than 1st require a roll on a retribution table. 
  • This limit can be increased by the acquisition of accoutrements. They may be acquired in any order.
  • Each accoutrement acquired increases the level of spells the caster can cast by one. 
  • No type of accoutrement can be applied more than once, even if you own more than one. Each one only counts towards spell levels you can cast once. 
  • These are generally acquired and lost during play. 
  • If lost or destroyed, that type of thing can't be used again until you have gained a level or a year and a day have passed. 

Creatures from other planes can greatly increase your power. There are two primary methods to bind extra-planar entities. You can either bargain for a pact or capture a weaker creature. The way spell levels are used in the two forms varies.
PactMake a magical agreement with some otherworldly power, demon lords, demigods, ancient alien entities like mountains made of meat and mouths.  Pacts grant you power in exchange for service.  When you patron makes a demand, you must act to accomplish it or you lose its magical support and will never again be able to form a pact.  Each spell invested in the Pact gives you the power to demand a direct intervention from your patron once per month.  Bargain for Service: Each spell level granted to such a creature shows your devotion. As long as you adhere to the general ethos of the creature in your service, the creature can grant you static boons. This could be an inspiration use, a small permanent bonus, access to a special spell like ability, or other power within the purview of the patron. 
Solar: Assuming you can capture their attention (which is the primary difficulty in acquiring a Solar as a  patron) and you are pure of heart, a solar may accept your devotion. Examples of boons a solar might provide include: granting the caster the ability to detect any time a lie is spoken, the ability to detect evil at will, the ability for your spells to do radiant damage instead of fire damage, The ability to use Shield of Faith once a day, or the ability to restore 8d8 + 4 hit points to any creature once a day. The direct intervention is generally either asking the solar to restore someone to life, or the solar appearing and taking a shot at an opponent with a Slaying Longbow (if a target is hit, they must save or die). 
Dragons: It is not difficult for a magus to form a mutually advantageous relationship with a dragon. The danger is that the dragon may turn on you. Examples of boons dragons might provide include secret dragon magic, acting as defender of a building or property within its domain, a magical bonus to your charisma, the ability to utter a Suggestion three times a day, or the equivalent of a Legend Lore spell, once per week. Dragons grant their owner rods, which are designed to call them. 85% of the time(5 out of 6) when held, the dragon will teleport to the bearer when the bearer calls for aid, once weekly. They will assist with one battle or task before leaving. 
Kraken: Wizards who travel amongst the waves will frequently serve a monster of the deep. The disadvantage being that the influence of such creatures doesn't extend far on the land. Boons provided include the ability to control the weather while on the surface of the water, the ability to extend an obscuring cloud out to 60' in every direction once a day, In the water, the actual creature itself will come to the aid of the wizard weekly, but on land the aid is restricted to a Call Lightning as an 11th level caster (with a sixth level spell slot).
Pit Fiend/Devil: Wizards find that devils are only too eager to grant them service. The devil is able to grant a wide range of boons, access to spells, arcane tomes, problems solved. They are eager to extend their services, and they only ask for such small things in return like your soul, or the corruption of your friends. It's a small price to pay. When requesting boons from a devil, the character may bargain his soul as if it were equal to half his level in spell slots. This has no effect, except that if the caster dies, the soul becomes the possession of the devil and he cannot be raised. 

ServantForm an agreement of service with a creature -  demons, angels, elementals, dragons, fairy, and similar naturally magical creatures.  The creature must agree to serve you as a retainer - or be intimidated, threatened, bribed, or similar - and after, you can use its magical nature to reinforce your own.  Each spell level invested in the servant gives you one service you can request of it each day which it must obey.  A servant may agree to perform actions on your behalf, but only with investment can you ensure they obey in good faith.   
These creatures will act as a hireling with the investment of a spell level. They will follow the caster around, and during combat, the caster may use his action, move, or bonus action to cause the creature to take an action, move, or bonus action. 
Hell Hound: These beasts are excellent servants. Having one of these increases your bond to the infernal planes and the fire elemental plains. This grants you +2 damage on any spell that does fire or necrotic damage. 
Shadow: Famously Venger, son of Tiamat had a shadow servant. This creature is an excellent spy. It increases the power of ice, cold, and shadow spells, all acting as if they were cast a level higher then the slot used to cast it. 
Fairy: This category includes nymphs, slyphs, and other delicate fragile forest creatures. Because the very nature of these creatures is that they already have a bond with another being, the only way to secure their aid is to capture and imprison them. Only by imposing your will upon them can you make use of their power. Unlike normal servant relationships, they do not travel with you, and instead of investing levels in such a creature, they provide an additional spell slot of a level equal to their hit dice. Note that abusing and torturing such a creature is an inexorably evil act. 
Quasit: Such a creature loves spell energy and will willingly serve any master who provides it. Though they provide no special bonuses, invisible, flying, intelligent creatures who can shapeshift make excellent servants.
Mounts: Although few wizards choose too, this also allows them to secure the service of magical beasts, such as an Owlbear, Winter Wolf, Phase Spider, Giant Scorpion or Griffon.

SanctumFortify a place of power, and stock it to your requirements.  This can be done earlier, but you get this gratis when you level enough to found your stronghold.  So long as your sanctum remains secure, you can draw on its power even at a distance. Spell levels invested in a sanctum grants you the ability to cast a chosen spell of level equal to the investments at will when you reside in your sanctum, or to put such spells on a conditional release so they 'go off' when conditions are met.  
This requirement is frequently described by your system of choice. If your system has no rules, then simply requires the expenditure of 100,000 gold pieces to create a sanctum will function. Any spell levels invested may be used to create permanent enchantments that do not require material components. For example, a Wizard could enchant a room with a Identify spell, obviating the material requirement of a pearl. This would allow them to identify items within their sanctum. Spells of up to 6th level can be enchanted in this way. 

Part I is here
Part II is here
Part III is here
If you like this, let me know. Or check out the other stuff I write.
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On the Wizards Panoply: Cabal & Rainment

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 14:00
A few years ago +Benjamin Baugh created a post about the accoutrements of wizards on Google+. It's a great idea and I wanted to examine the suggestions in greater depth.

The objects presented are talismansfocifamiliarscabalsraiments, servantspacts, and sanctums, in order of difficulty of acquirement.

Humans themselves are relatively poor conduits of magical or elemental energy.

The basic conceit of this system is that humans are incapable of safely wielding any magic beyond the first level of power. 
  • Attempts to cast magic of a level higher than 1st require a roll on a retribution table. 
  • This limit can be increased by the acquisition of accoutrements. They may be acquired in any order.
  • Each accoutrement acquired increases the level of spells the caster can cast by one. 
  • No type of accoutrement can be applied more than once, even if you own more than one. Each one only counts towards spell levels you can cast once. 
  • These are generally acquired and lost during play. 
  • If lost or destroyed, that type of thing can't be used again until you have gained a level or a year and a day have passed. 
CabalJoin an occult society, mystery religion, circle of conspirators, or cult and sign magical bonding oaths and compacts.  The force of the cabal's collective power backs your actions, but you will sometimes be called upon to act in the interests of the cabal.  Investing in the Cabal improves your status and position in the fraternity, allowing you to call upon it for aid (the loan of magic items, borrowed retainers, support in battle).  Such requests are honored with a 1 in 6 chance, plus 1 for each spell level invested in the cabal.  

Though wizards bristle at the need for anyone else, the cabals serve multiple purposes. The ritual frequently attracts 'cultists', those who follow the wizard in the hopes of accessing true or real power. They are normal humans, and beyond what power the wizards allow them to access from the cabal, they have no magical ability or potential.

Minimal membership in a cabal is fairly painless, costing nothing more than yearly dues. Investing more in the cabal attracts followers and power.Though cabals are joined in general principle, there are many schisms and fractures within them. They may provide both allies and foes.


Order of the Falling Star: The order of the falling star serves the visitors, who visit the world from the astral plane, to collect followers to join them on their journey throughout the planar spectrum. The travelers hope to save as many people as possible before something they call the 'scourge'. Initiates live an ascetic life and are rather humorless.

Guild of Naturalists: This society of wizards is devoted to the discovery and cataloging of natural specimens. Members join for various reasons, crossbreeding research, prestige, a love of the outdoors, access to monster information or resources. Prestige within the society is gained and lost based on new research and facts, and there are longstanding rivalries between members. This guild is open to any classes.

Pax Draconis: This society attempts to reach a true source of magic, draconic power. They are usually in service to the nearest old (or older) usually chomatic dragon nearby, granting their devoted service in exchange for whatever power they can manage to siphon. The dragons often find these arrangements palatable until they are not. Once initiated the mage is brought before the dragon who both asks a service and grants a gift.

Students of the Pearl Tower: This is an academic group of researchers who seek out and collect magical power. In exchange for new magics, students may access the vast library available in the enchanted pearl tower.
RaimentYour garments and costume, the working clothing or finery which declares your profession and power not just to mortal observers, but to the Unseen Realms as well.  This is quite expensive, but protects from all natural extremes of heat and cold, and keeps you comfortable even in thunderstorms.  Each spell level invested in Raiment improves your AC by 1.   

This garment must cost at least 100 gold, though some of the most powerful and famous garment can be priceless.
ExamplesRobe of Eyes: This option costs little to create, but requires the collection of 100 eyes from beholders, basilisks, and gibbering mouthers. Mouthers are relatively easily controlled and harvested, but they won't grow new eyeballs without being fed people. Anyone who wears the robe of eyes can no longer be surprised, and can see in the dark, as well as into the ethereal and astral planes.

Robe of the Archmagi: This is a robe costing at least 100,000 gold pieces. Once the base material has been enchanted, the wizard may invest spell slots for various effects. Common ones include a +4 bonus to armor class from the investment of a single spell level. Granting the user 5% magic resistance per spell level investment. A bonus of +1 to saves per 2 spell levels sacrificed (capped at +4 for a 8th or 9th level spell, being the highest level investment), Or granting an opponent a -1 to saves per 2 spell levels sacrificed. They are specifically tailored to the creating wizard. Anyone trying on the robe who is not the wizard takes 11d4+7 damage and loses a similar amount of experience times 1,000.

Part I is here
Part II is here

If you like this, let me know. Or check out the other stuff I write.
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On the Wizards Panoply: Focus & Familiar

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 18:25
A few years ago +Benjamin Baugh created a post about the accoutrements of wizards on Google+. It's a great idea and I wanted to examine the suggestions in greater depth.

The objects presented are talismansfocifamiliarscabalsraiments, servantspacts, and sanctums, in order of difficulty of acquirement.

Humans themselves are relatively poor conduits of magical or elemental energy.

The basic conceit of this system is that humans are incapable of safely wielding any magic beyond the first level of power. 
  • Attempts to cast magic of a level higher than 1st require a roll on a retribution table. 
  • This limit can be increased by the acquisition of accoutrements. They may be acquired in any order.
  • Each accoutrement acquired increases the level of spells the caster can cast by one. 
  • No type of accoutrement can be applied more than once, even if you own more than one. Each one only counts towards spell levels you can cast once. 
  • These are generally acquired and lost during play. 
  • If lost or destroyed, that type of thing can't be used again until you have gained a level or a year and a day have passed. 
FocusA large obvious magical tool used to focus and direct spells, such as a staff, rod, or occult weapon.  Each spell level invested in a Focus penalized a target's saving throws made against your magic by 1.

All wizards must carry a focus, even if it is devoid of enchantment or power. Those without a focus grant their opponents a +4 bonus on all saves or they have a -4 penalty to hit the target. Without the focus they cannot effectively direct their magical energies.

In addition, foci can act as spell batteries. For every 1,000 gold spent (in the form of precious gem dust), a focus can be enchanted with temporary power, or charge. Each charge is equivalent to a single spell level. A wizard can cast a third-level spell without it being lost for three charges. Most foci limit the types of spells these charges can be spent on, depending on the individual foci.

You can also discharge your magical energy through the focus. For every spell level of the spell you discharge, you can do 1d6 points of damage to a single target within 30. This damage is considered force damage, like a magic missile, and is blocked by the same magics that block magic missile (broach of shielding, etc.).

In addition, attempting to wield magic without a focus creates an astral disturbance, detectable for dozens of miles. Considering the possible danger of people wielding magic beyond their ability, there are certainly people who look for such things.

Oakenhart Wand: This is a gnarled branch, nearly 18 inches in length. It feels of livewood and is encircled by vines. A small quartz crystal is nestled in the tip. This focus connects wizards of weather and nature to the earth. Spells can be discharged through the wand to heal 1d6 points to a target per level of the spell discharged. The spell also allows the caster to transmute any of her spells of a greater level into one of the following: Pass Without Trace, Massmorph, and Plant Growth.

Crystal Ball: This is a translucent crystal sphere. It exudes energy that makes hair stand on end. Usually within a setting, this allows the user to bypass the line of sight requirements for targets—any target that the crystal ball scrys on can be the target of the spell. The wizard may expand a first level spell slot and the focus will levitate and orbit the user until the next exposure to dawn's light.

Rod of Dragon Control: This is a cold iron cylinder, with the head of a dragon on one end. The user may expend five charges or spell levels to summon a small red dragon hatchling, as Summon Monster III. The wearer can utter Commands, as the Cleric spell that affect only dragons. Dragons have a -4 to their saving throw versus this effect. Reaction adjustments for all dragons is at +2, and any dragons must save versus rods, staves, and wands before they can attack the holder of the rod.
FamiliarForm a magical bond with a small intelligent magical creature.  Familiars can't fight, but can scout, distract, and provide other useful aid.  Each spell level invested in a familiar allows the creature to aid you in performing some task, adding a 1 point bonus to your roll.  

The familiar is your constant companion. By the very nature of the magical bond between the caster and the animal, the animal is protected. When on your person it has access to a small, nest like, interdimensional space, rendering the familiar immune to damaging fireballs, exposure to the vacuum of space, drowning while the party spent 8 turns under the influence of a water breathing spell, and other fridge logic moments.

Familiars are usually small, normal animals. A robin, a small snake, a black cat, a toad, owls if you're creepy etc. Sometimes wizards desire more powerful aids. For every spell level sacrificed to the familiar, the wizard may have a more powerful familiar, with hit dice equal to half the level of the spell level sacrificed. Classic more powerful familiars include pseudodragons, imps, quasits, hell hounds, and shadows. For the cost of an additional spell slot, the wizard can see through the eyes of the creature.

In any case, because of your bond with the familiar you are effectively one creature. During combat, you and your familiar share actions. If your familiar dies, you lose 1d4 hit points permanently.

Part I is here

If you like this, let me know. Or check out the other stuff I write.
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On the Wizard

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 18:14
No Wizard is happy.

Imagine a doctor. Years of study. Chooses to become a proctologist. There's a reason. Yes, money, job security, comfort. Still, to devote so much time to assholes, looking at asses of mostly older men and women, thinking about what the health of a colon really means, nobody that has the opportunity to become a doctor would choose something like that if it didn't resonate with them at least a little.

So it is with wizards.

Whatever they are into, is not a topic of interest to most people. It's off-putting and strange. They didn't get to be so knowledgeable about such topics by wiling away their hours in idle pursuits. The study, social inexperience, and strange experiments and activities push them further apart from their fellow man. They wonder how much to care about the opinion of a person that can't even read.

You're a wizard
Magic never has the answer. Solitude, isolation, and the plain fact that magic is terrible for utility, why risk your very life toiling with such forces for such a meager payout? Magic leaves you destitute. Those with money or no future will seek tutelage from other powerful wizards, in exchange for either cash or servitude. Your habits of study and isolation leave you unclean—your spirit, hygiene, food even, are just annoying things that take you away from what matters.

And it does matter, when you finally bind the axial niffit from the dolorous realm to the resonant exoskeleton of the clockwork narix, allowing you to maneuver it under your control. You share your idea, only to be told the utility of such a thing is useless.

How do they not see the potential?

You have your awakenings, as all mortal creatures do. But revulsion and disgust on the face of the young man or woman you fancy, is it your stench? Unkempt hair? It doesn't matter. People speak in euphemisms. You are a 'magic-user'. You let go of the idea that you would spend hours, hours, every week engaged in such banal activities, just so other people found you palatable. What a waste! You have more important things to do.

The study of magic, is, at its core, based on a series of poor decisions. The energy for it comes from other creatures and other realms, filled with powers beyond the reach of men. Those willing to traffic in such knowledge often did not have better options. Unsuccessful sociopaths, power hungry criminals, those who would just as soon see you fail. These are your peers and sources of magical knowledge. Each as unseemly and untrustworthy as the next.

You start to realize what magic means. That people are really just harmonic wave reflections, made transparent by sacrifice of loric natodes. It is your will that you enforce upon the universe. Are people that do not even real? More and more you discover the limits, the forms and behavior that make up your so called "peers". They are revealed and controlled just as easily as a simple narix. Well, perhaps not a simple one, but. . .

If you're lucky, you have money, and can secure yourself a homestead and an apprentice far enough away from civilization for you not to be noticed. If not, you could find yourself a group of ner-do-wells and trade your services in hope of finding enough money. Allying with a group who's best plan was to sell everything they own; to roam around try to steal lost "treasure" from deadly monsters while hiding it from the government? You soon realize it wasn't the best plan. Like you, these people were poorly-suited for fitting in among civilized people. Except they didn't have intelligence to carry them. Assuming their poor judgement and ignorance doesn't get you killed, you put up with their abuse, because what does it matter what gnats say?

Finally, what's your success? Ultimate power and riches? Hardly. Now that magic's secrets are unfolding, you see the endless cost, and it becomes about tricks and techniques and resources to bear the weight of that cost. You see what you want, but just out of reach. Only another year or two of research. . . . If you're successful, you've created an isolated environment that allows you to actually do that research, and then just hope a bunch of armed and heavily armored thugs doesn't break into your home and murder you.

Finally, when magic gives you real power, when you've twisted and folded your very being that the cost for what you want is finally enough to bear. You look around and realize you are alone. Your path leaves you few friends and many enemies. You yourself have become old. You no longer recognize the land, the songs they sing are strange, and it feels as if you walk among a cardboard stage. Any who see you whisper and those that meet you recoil in fear.

You spend an age using your power to grant you all your lost desires. You form a demi-plane and within your dreams come true. Even you are intelligent enough to realize the base urges and simplistic ego structures that make up such a fantasy are empty and devoid of value. You live there for years after all the joy has fled.

Finally, assuming you avoid running to the unknown or other self-destructive behavior, you realize all that's left is your engagement with the mysteries of magic. All worldly concerns cease to be yours, your environment idiosyncratic, your only company, those few of your peers who have survived, but can't really be trusted. Your intermittent communications with them the only telluric enterprise that remains.

Eventually, you die while at work, as your body gives into the ravages of a life unbalanced.

This is the life of a wizard.
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On the So-Called Wilderness

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 13:00
The seminal work on this topic is done by
Victor Raymond in Fight On #2 & #3It's Citizen Kane all over again.

It says it right on the cover of Dungeons and Dragons Volume 3 of Three Booklets: "The underworld and wilderness adventures."

"The Wilderness:
The so-called Wilderness"

Those are the first five words Gygax wrote on the subject. Victor Raymond makes it clear that the phrase "The Wilderness" doesn't mean the actual wild, but all non-dungeon content—dangerous wilds and other civilizations and civilized areas—that the players might encounter.

But what about the wild? The planes of fairy and the unknown? The mythical wood? The archetypical wilderness that threatens civilization? The line beyond which the cartographer writes, "Here, there be dragons."

Nearly every adventure published for Dungeons & Dragons follows these hidden and archetypal guidelines in design, here we are just going to uncover them and make them explicit. Strap in.

AwarenessPeople are breathing all the time, yet aren't really aware of it. There's this fundamental underlying structure to role-playing games, an archetypical truth, that we all know about yet remain unaware about.

Dungeons and Dragons is literally about taming the unknown. There's this central idea of a human narrative, where a person goes out into the unknown and retrieves knowledge and then returns. It's pretty central to the idea of us as a species, showing up again and again in psychology and fiction.

The basic structure of any role-playing game, is that players have a character. That character exists in a literal limbo, until the Dungeon Master utters a setting. Once within that setting (right after play starts) areas are delineated as adventure locations. I am speaking in categorical terms. An adventure location may be a scene, a conversation with a non-player character, or a cave entrance.

You are, sitting at the table, in possession a character, and several adventure options. You have an idea of your current (safe) location, which you leave to engage with the adventure option.

The adventure is fundamentally about exploring these unknown spaces. What's in the cave? What does this person think? You uncover the unknown. Literally. The majority of Dungeons and Dragons play is exploring dungeons, which are represented as darkness or blankness and then are filled in as we explore. What's more, you are given a score for this activity; (or alternately the activity allows you to acquire a score). When you return successful, this score allows you to become a better explorer of the unknown.

This is a fundamental human instinct.  We go absolutely bonkers for frontiers. How exciting is the boundary between what is known and unknown! And here's a whole game where the entire structure of play is focused on rolling back the frontier!

If you're wondering, that is why 95% of role-players are playing Dungeons and Dragons or some derivative thereof.

Hell, Gygax figured it out, wrote down his excellent system of handling this from his seat of understanding, and then it was immediately misconstrued and lost, ignored by almost all, leaving us to discuss endlessly what's going on with hexes, and coming up with iterations like pointcrawls.

Archetypal Assumptions
A lot of this work proceeds from the excellent guidelines and overview provided by Victor Raymond. I encourage you to read his articles in Fight On #2 and #3 on this topic. For now, let's have an overview of his key points.

First, the wilderness doesn't refer to the mythical wild, but rather all uncivilized AND civilized areas that are unknown to the players.

Second, barring travel through the wilderness, a topic well covered in AD&D, other styles of wilderness adventure mentioned by Gygax include "Exploratory Adventures" and "Clearing the countryside of monsters"

Third, 20 miles is given as the amount of territory a stronghold can keep clear of monstrous influence.

Fourth, don't treat the wilderness as generic. Think of it as a collection of places and conditions. No terrain is "Forest" or "Hills" It's old rotted oaks, with a matting of decaying leaves, or mostly bare hills, with steep sides covered in grass and moss.

This is the core of his analysis that we are going to build off of.

The first thing to note is that the idea of wilderness is adjacent to chaos. The original game had three alignments, because the original game was about the conflict between law, and the rise of civilization, versus chaos, the wilderness and the unknown. The players are almost universally lawful, because their very actions involve imposing order upon the world (by discovering new territory and killing monsters).

That is the Terminus Est. Dungeons are pockets of chaos that exist within civilized lands (usually close enough to be within the 20 mile range of safety). The Wilderness is the chaos beyond.

The third Original Dungeons and Dragons book outlines the entirety of adventure. You can adventure in the Underworld or the Wilderness.*

ApotheosisSo, what use is this?

Concretely, D&D is a game, organized as a collection of procedures.

Designing a wilderness: This is covered in the article by Victor, but needs little description. You can generate a wilderness yourself, or use phenomenal online tools, or use pre-existing maps. This topic is extensively covered.

Travel to a destination: This is also very explicitly covered. This is where the wilderness rules for getting lost apply, wilderness encounter tables are used, and where hexmaps at a scale of 25-60 miles are useful.

An Aside:This journey should often be structured as a resource management exercisein food, lives, and loss.Having unique systems for unique terrain greatly enhances this mode of play.(That link leads to the marvelous wilderness mini-games by Telecanter)

Exploratory Adventures: This is the process of discovering the lay of the land. This procedure is outlined in Volume 3.

"When players venture into this area they should have a blank hexagon map, and as they move over each hex the referee will inform them as to what kind of terrain is in that hex. This form of exploring will eventually enable players to know the lay of the land in their immediate area. . .  Scale: Assume the greatest distance across a hex is about 5 miles. Turn: Each move will constitute one day. Each day is considered a turn. At the end of each day, the referee will check to see if a monster has been encountered. "

This assumes, of course, that the Dungeon Master is using a map with already labeled castles/strongholds. If that's not the case, the essential CDD #4 Old School Encounters Reference places fortresses at about a 1 in 20 chance per hex.

Essentially this exploration allows the players to both identify the terrain of the hex and informs them as to an outstanding features of the hex—is there a castle? a lair? a tribe of humanoids? It seems like the type of adventure for 7th-8th level players to engage in.

Clearing a hex: This process is clarified on page 24 of ODD.
"Clearing the countryside of monsters is the first requirement. The player/character moves a force to the hex, the referee rolls a die to determine if there is a monster encountered, and if there is one the player/character's force must remove it. If no monster is encountered the hex is already cleared. Territory up to 20 miles distant from a stronghold must be kept clear of monsters once cleared—the inhibition of the stronghold being considered as sufficient to maintain the monster-free status."

What does this mean logistically? You have to clear the site of your castle, and out to four hexes in every direction (at 5 miles a hex). That's 95 hexes, for an average of 16 encounters. Here are the 8 encounter options presented for a forest hex:
1. Men (30-300)
2. Flyer (Ex. Rocs 1-20)
3. Giant (Ex. Orcs (30-300)
4. Lycs (2-20 werewolves)
5. Lycs. (2-20)
6. Men (30-300)
7. Anmls. (Ex. 10-100 pixes)
8. Dragon

So, you can see that clearing 20 miles may present a bit of a challenge.

This provides a core of wilderness play. It covers design, travel, discovery, and taming. A process for pushing back the frontier. acquiring territory, and moving into conflict with other fortresses and lords.

As complete as this is, there is still something missing.

AvidityWhat we have is not enough. We need more. What of the mythical unknown?

One of the stipulations that Victor notes in his search for when the wilderness encounter table is used is that even though those 20 miles may be cleared, the wilderness always encroaches. So from 0-5 miles you roll city encounters. From 6-10 miles you might have level 1 dungeon encounters on the list. From 11-15 miles you might have level 2 dungeon encounters on the list, and from 16-20 miles you might have level 3 encounters.

The other thing he notes is that dungeons, often, lie within civilized lands.

So what we are left with is the idea that "exploring" and "clearing" the hexes just addresses the proud nails. What's left is suitably wild, though perhaps not of particular interest to name level characters.

So in addition to having unexplored dungeons in civilized lands, and somewhat more controlled groups of monsters (maybe a gnoll raiding party numbering 20, versus the 220 gnolls the lords killed), you can also have pockets of mythical wilderness!

This is where pointcrawls and zones (to avoid the genericness of area) come into play. The general idea is, much like the dungeon is an area of high resistance, so is the mythical wilderness.

In each hex are four possible kinds of areas. Bastions of civilization, rolling terrain covered with wandering monsters—the local ecology—not power groups that are rolled for and cleared when clearing or exploring, point crawls which are mythical wilderness-style areas that are treated as areas of ineradicable wildness and magic. And finally zones, (usually at the many points of a pointcrawl) which are simply small maps (like dungeons and ruins) that are uncovered and cleared (though the possibility of restocking always exists). Zones are usually dungeons, but treating ruins, abandoned keeps, and small clearings, caves, and lairs as alternate zone types provides a lot of variety on the players end. Reference the video games Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 (or any of it's many spiritual descendents) for exceptional and creative use of zone wilderness design.

Hexes fail when applied to finer terrain. This is the key insight behind the development of pointcrawls as a middle point between Zone style play and hexploration. It is simple. The 6 mile-hex is our minimum structure. Our atom. You can't subdivide it into further atoms without serious issues. So instead, we deal with the hex as having an interior structure made up of structures, people, and sites. ("Citadels & Castles”, “Ruins & Relics”, “Idyllic Islands” and “Lurid Lairs”.) Once located within the hex, each represents a point, with the distance between covered by wandering monster checks, weather, and a specific one-line description of the terrain. Voilà! It's game structures all the way down.

But how to maintain that sense of discovery? Where is the wonder and awe in exploring the wilderness. This idea must feed back into design.

We must assume that even though the hex is cleared, that this has only eliminated major threats. Smaller, hidden threats, can still be present. Secondly, in addition to many landmarks being visible on the hypothetical pointcrawl, many should not be, and should only be locatable by actually visiting the location. The fact that the landmarks visible are not sequential (they have more to do with their location and visibility in the hex) means the path through the pointcrawl to them, as well as other features remain hidden to be discovered by the players during exploration. Finally, there can be both obvious and unobvious paths, much like secret doors, requiring either foreknowledge or wilderness expertise to locate.

Further, this is what differentiates wilderness exploration from dungeon exploration. When you begin wilderness exploration, many landmarks are already visible, as opposed to all being obscured by the dungeon.

The above outlines the core of the adventure within wilderness exploration.
The following amazing resources are some of what I use in play and design.

CDD#4 Old School Encounters Reference
Telecanter's Wilderness Travel Mini-games and challenges
Telecanter's list of Geographic Wonders

*It's important to note here, that by no means did Gygax exclude the idea of chaos being iminical to civilization. He also postulated exploring cities as adventure, because there are types of chaos that can lie beneath a veneer of civilization. As noted in the possible city and castle encounters, he included the unknown city interior as wilderness. 

Also, I'm able to spend time working on these topics thanks to your support. If you liked this article and want to see me continue to produce content, please support me on Patreon! Thanks for keeping me from starving to death!
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On Deathless Gods III

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 17:36
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Deathless Gods II

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 15:56
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Delving Dragons

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 16:44
It's the lack of imagination that is shocking.

I read a response to my offhand statement about Dragons being memorable horrors in megadungeons and the immediate assumption were that dragons were these immense creatures that would somehow be trapped.

Dragons are the ultimate result on the table. Each one should be a memorable occasion with something unique or bizarre.  Again, megadungeons are just stage backdrop for the drama that comes from the first few encounter rolls. The result determines your scenes for the evening.

A Megadungeon is a threatening realm of the unknown beyond the threshold, where we risk encounters with chaos. Dragons are the purest representation of the threat of that chaos, requiring them to be unknown wildcards. Which is why dragons are so important!

Let's look and see.

Here is Madamagor, a vicious animal-brained monster that stalks prey like a serpent with acid breath.
Or perhaps you prefer Quexgor Salmagar, who will go to great efforts to befriend a party before waiting for an opportune moment to betray them, killing as many as possible for their rich treasures. The thing that's interesting being the way these encounters (which are always inimical) strike at fears of not only the characters but the players. An unstoppable monster who feeds on you. Chaos that seeks to seduce you before stabbing you in the back. After a Quexgor betrayal, as the characters stare fixedly at the spreading red stains of blood as their life leaks away; the players will have a real sense of what an encounter with draconic chaos is like.
Anyway. It's fun. A good time. 
Dragons, more than just another regular encounter.
For those of you who don't know, of course there's a ton of content in Megadungeon #1 and #2 that you can use in any game you are currently running, whether that's Numenhalla, another megadungeon, or even a more traditional campaign. Please buy my beautiful work because I like food and having a place to sleep at night. Patreon is another way to provide support! 
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Megadungeon #2

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 12:54
Announcing the release of Megadungeon #2!!

Print and PDF and combo available!

In this issue, explore the labyrinth of Tethys while hunted by a horrible beast.

Also explore the chains of sorrow and the dark iron horror. New rumors, treasure maps, and quests. Fascinating dragons and NPC's, Numenhalla specific monsters like the Anthropophagi, Ranadin, and Prismatic Octohedrons. A new faction, the Hengeomoth.

Articles by John Bell on Wandering Monsters and Chris H on FLAILSNAILS memories. Prolifically illustrated by Kent Miller, Sean McCoy, and Todd McGowan. Cover art by the brilliant and talented Sam Mameli!

Kill two birds with one stone! Grab the latest in brillant gaming supplements and help me continue to produce great content like this.

Buy it now!

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Deathless Gods

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 16:44
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Overloaded Abundance

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:15
There is too much.

My daughter wanted music on the way home. Her in her carseat, "MUSIC!" she shouts. Can you imagine still having yet to hear Bowie or Radiohead? Knowing what I know, her excitement seems reasonable. I have music, burned on these tiny silver rings, hours and hours. Flipping through them, I saw "New Music" and thought about how nice I was to myself.

Upon insertion, the verberating tones of "On Call" ring out, I realize the new music I made to listen to is 10 years old. That's not new. What's new? Just how much music have people made in the last decade?

Let me tell you how much.

So much.

This is the world. Even if you are into a hobby, there's so much of so many of everything! This is the future writ large. Worlds unknown. Not metaphysically either. Take, for example, this gentleman, who spent his hours slaying the Dragon of Chaos, by determining through experimentation what the results of 100 Alkamos runs are. The fact that you may not even understand what an Alkamos run is, proves the point. New games and releases used to happen on Tuesday, with 20 or so titles. Now there are 100 new steam releases every day. There are 15,000 Dungeons and Dragons related releases on RPG.now. That database isn't getting smaller.

I mean, this is great. It's the universe endlessly reflecting and iterating on itself. But it can be a little overwhelming.

That's where the robot helpers come in.

I don't store things discreetly anymore.  How does a drive with music on it, or a DVD collection even work in this new world? Now, if I want to listen to music, I go to the music page and I type in the music I like.

Then it knows me, and what people like me like. And it gives me what I want. We are going to have to trust the computer, and that's terrifying*. But it's a lot of work keeping up with what's new. The people I follow on whatever platform, I follow because they are interested in what I am, and they use their time to present their explorations into the unknown. Yet now, the past has become so much larger with so much content because we do more and more each year. Every exponentially larger production of "content" slips into the past, year, after, year, after year. . .

What I'm saying is follow me on twitter (@Hackslashmaster). No. Wait. That's not what I'm saying at all. What I'm saying is that this is awesome?

Yes. This is awesome. And really, that's what this space and time is about. I am a complete person, but that's not really relevant to my hobbies. An issue I've been wrestling with these last few years is how to interact on social media. I am certain I am not the only one.

But the thing is, a knife is a knife and a fork is a fork. I tune into Star Wars for space opera. I like things. Especially when they are flawed. This blog, G+, twitter, facebook, they are about fractions of me. But the parts that are contentious and complicated, those that think deep and politically, those that seek change and desire—there is too much.

So maybe that doesn't go there.

I've been in freefall. I thought it started recently after crises. The insight from the crisis was that I'd always been falling. Terrifying as that is, after all the screaming and nashing of teeth, it's pretty fun. You might as well enjoy the terrifying descent. Those in the past only spent their time with so few ideas, in small communities or from people who wrote books. Now we have a chaotic flood of more everything than anyone, individually, can hope to process.

I'm enjoying the journey. I hope you are too.

Megadungeon #2 is finished and in pre-press! 
If you liked this article, you should feel completely free of any guilt if you're not supporting me on Patreon! Or, if you're not into that, I really suggest you check out Megadungeon and some of my other publications!

*I mean, clearly we had better be on the guy who's setting up and running the damn computer no?
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Dungeons & Dragons Problem

Sat, 12/30/2017 - 21:51
Recently Gus wrote this rather comprehensive article about the history of gold for experience and utilizing it in modern play. He discusses murder-hoboism in this context and ends with this statement.
Murderhobos aren't a problem unless there's a prescribed end point to you campaign and a set of scenes that the GM is willing to force to get there.  Which is sort of a signal drum for the OSR ascetic to rally around and decry. For good reason, yet it leads to a certain myopic view that doesn't fit the needs of a lot of players.

The problem is that logistically, Dungeons & Dragons is a social tribal ritual. There's nothing insightful about this statement. It is simply factual. It involves a group of people, led by a member of that group, who follow a strict set of rules to have a shared experience.

I speak as plainly as I can. This requires a group of people, and a facilitator.

The "Group of People" while somewhat of a challenge, is a surmounted problem due to the influx of new wave Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts. Critical role, HarmonQuest, and increased televised exposure have translated into more people buying and playing Dungeons & Dragons then at any point in history.

Secondarily This requires* a facilitator. The facilitator, and I mean this in the most clinical sense, must act as Shaman for the group. This is not mysticism. Factually, the way humans structure their societies include the ideas of wise men, artists, priests, and entrepreneurs who's purpose is to direct and lead group experiences. The most ancient of titles is aidraz. Ealdormann who are, fundamentally, the people in front.

The Dungeon Master is the people in front.

This ipso facto is the problem.

Trivially, it requires someone who can manage group power dynamics and someone who is emotionally mature enough to take on the responsibility of facilitating the exercise as a neutral arbiter, without perverting it by their own unexplored or unmanaged psyche.

Again, concretely, this translates into things such as: failing to kill characters due to fear of—or inability to manage negative feelings about—confrontation. Failure to provide real stakes trivializes the importance of the shared experience. If failure doesn't matter then it is not a very engaging vision.

However, people do not like to fail!

I know this is a sequence of obvious statements, but it's rarely addressed in this manner. Here is the problem.

Almost universally, people running a game have little relevant training in acting as a shaman. They aren't versed in social power structures, conflict resolution, negotiation techniques, clinical theory, psychology, et. al. This makes nearly everyone who has a game subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

It may be difficult or impossible for them to articulate what is actually occuring during play.

An example, from the 5th Edition Group on Facebook
tldr; dm is stole my social security money because I missed a session due to mental problems and is now punishing my player character because of itI do not want to leave his game because it's my first ever DnD character. He has threatened multiple times to have other players play my character who are known to be reckless and have been through countless characters due to their reckless and stupid choices. He also stated that I will be getting 3d10 upon awaking from my next sleep in game. He stated as well that no matter what happens to my character now, he will go to his versin of hell in his world. My character is lawful good. I do not understate my case. Examples abound**!

Granted, the readers of this blog, and indeed most gamers will skew higher in IQ, which as an objective determiner, helps with the process of acting as Shaman. Generally, you would want your spiritual guide to have at least a reasonably high assessment of general functioning.

Yes, you probably can articulate what occurs and what is relevant in play. Your ability to do so is not relevant.

So many people are playing D&D now. Six million people have watched Critical Role. I haven't watched Critical Role. But somewhere six million other people did.

Is there an non-arrogant way to say this? You got a lot of dumb monkeys throwing shit at each other. The first time this happened in the early 80's, most of the experiences, weirdness, and offensiveness about these failures that drove people away, (which the OSR communally have extensively documented). The second time, this didn't happen.

Because following a linear path and killing monsters in battles you are supposed to win with extensive objective rules for in game actions is wayyyy easier then leading a group of people to a  powerful shared vision quest. Which, again, is just the literal statement of fact. There's a quest, and everyone imagines a shared vision.

This isn't a slam. The linear paths do provide superficially similar experiences to the vision quests, at the cost of being heavily scripted and naturally neutering player agency. And they are simple to use. You start at the top and work your way down to the bottom. We all learned that in school! Thanks Uncle Sam! In addition, neither the players nor the Dungeon Master has to seriously consider the risks of failure. Nobody likes to lose.

The independent games movement (indy games) and the Old School Renaissance have been approaching the core issues like two halves of a turning fork, with most of the hard work being done by a few singular innovators (e.g. Vincent Baker for fronts, ChicagoWiz and Sham for the one-page Dungeon Template), who are then widely copied and iterated upon.

The work, of course, being producing usable tools that assist the facilitators in running a meaningful vision quest. Concretely, tools that insure agency, allow access to the collective unconscious***, and provide enough structure to create emergent gameplay.

It is this emergent, unplanned chaos that makes the vision a quest. The unknown self-developing reality that we auger, provides a dragon of chaos, again, literally just the darkness and the unknown, to threaten our success. More directly; the adventure we recount had an actual threat from the unknown that one overcomes. That unknown is unknown and meaningful, because it is emergent, making it truly unexpected and chaotic. A literal real threat from the void.

Fifth edition makes a surprising and brave attempt. Granting the Dungeon Master an official mantle of power. Dungeon masters are in charge. Coated thick with warnings and explanations of value, along with examples, and plenty of guidance, with a stern warning about not being dicks. Don't do it! Being a dick is bad! Then it takes an extra step and spends thousands of words talking about what that concretely means  in terms of play. In addition to an official twitter to interact with the entire world of players in a conversation about how to engage with the game.

That power people have invested in the Authority has been granted back to us, TSR is dead, Long live TSR. Many squander it, but we become better and better at creating a world and tools where that becomes a much less attractive situation.

Hi! This is literally my job now. The end of the year came with surprise unemployment, along with the rest of the trials of the past few years, cancer, divorce, custody fights, the death of my father, and let's not forget surprise unemployment! I'm not complaining though: if you liked this article, you should feel completely free of any guilt if you're not supporting me on Patreon! Or, if you're not into that, I really suggest you check out Megadungeon and some of my other publications!

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*  Of course we are all aware of "DMless" systems like mythic, and play against automated or programmed opponents (Arkham Horror, etc.), but less clinical and more colloquial, they lack tactical infinity, which really places them into a different category. tl; dr, Dungeons & Dragons cannot exist without the Dungeon Master

** Just trivially taking apart this post; "He also stated that I will be getting 3d10 upon awakening from my next sleep in game". Ignoring the fact that this is nonsensical, what was the actual social situation at the moment that the DM communicated that. Is that what he said? Under what context are the conversations occurring?  I'm certain that all statements aren't represented accurately. Digging down into meaning could require thousands of words.

*** If you're wondering how you know if an adventure is tapping into the collective unconscious, it's almost always when you feel something is really cool, alien, and interesting. Patrick Stewart and Arnold K. are virtual machines that act as conduits to our collective psyche and nightmares. A large focus on the "Weird" in the OSR is that it's a very direct way to tap into things that resonate with the unconscious of the audience. Specific hooks redirect to vague outlines of memories in childhood, movies seen once on VHS, dimly remembered, a cloud of knowledge just out of our vision, primal and modern fears.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs