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on npc names

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 13:47

Some DMs have a gift for coming up with the perfect name on the spot. Others flip through Xanathar’s Guide or another name list. Then there’s me: given a minute to think, I can come up with a plausible fantasy name, but in the heat of the moment I might just blurt out a clunker like “Huckabear“.

I’m working on a phone app for DMs called 5e Inspiration. It’s a tool for populating your game world with people, locations, maps, monsters, and treasure. Learn more!

5e Inspiration has a random NPC generator with a massive name list built into it. I’ve been collecting fantasy names for as long as I’ve been playing D&D, and I’ve brainstormed a lot more for the app. Right now my name list has something more than 6000 NPC names – more than twice the number of names in Xanathar’s Guide.

I’ve vetted all the names in the Inspiration app, which means I’ve said each one aloud to make sure it doesn’t rhyme with something dirty, and I’ve googled it to make sure it’s not a well known trademark or something. (The gold standard for googling a fantasy name: you come up with less than 50,000 hits, and on the first google page is a link to someone’s World of Warcraft character. Then you know you’ve got a keeper.)

How many half-orc names are there?

It’s easy for me to tell you that my name list has 6000+ entries: however, it’s quite difficult to count how many names are in any given category. For instance, how many possible half-orc names are there?

Because Inspiration is an app, I can do more than just create a d100 name chart for each race/gender category. Sure, I categorize names by race and gender, as the Xanathar’s Guide list does – though more than half of my names are nongendered – and also by class. But there are also lots of crossovers and references: on the ranger name list are entries like “roll on the elf name list”.

Inspiration also includes lots of non-NPC names. The app can be used to generate dungeons, treasure, encounters on the land and sea, neighborhoods, and overland maps, so there are big name lists for magic items, ships, taverns, villages, rare books, various categories of monsters, etc. These lists link with the NPC name lists too.

The base half-orc name list might have only 2 entries: one “roll on the orc name list”, and one “roll on the human name list”. Drilling down one level to the orc list, we might have 200 entries, of which ten are like “roll on the evil magic item name list”, to get sonorous names like “Ur Kagal” or “Katak”. The evil magic item name list, in turn, might have a few rolls on the pirate ship name list, for entries like “Winter Wolf”, “Howler,” or “roll on the naval ship name list”. So it’s hard to count exactly how many orc names there are. Do I just count the core human and orc names? The 200 evil magic item names, each a twentieth as likely to come up as a core orc name? The 200 pirate ship names, each a hundredth as likely to come up?

That’s not to mention the possibility of rolling an orc with a barbarian-style name, with all the different name formations that involves: X Y-slayer, X daughter of Y, X Ybane, X Yborn, etc.

That’s all to say that if you use the app to generate 10 random NPCs per weekly game session for 10 years, you might see a random NPC reappear once, but probably not twice.

In a further post I’ll talk about how I generate D&D-style fantasy names. Until then, here’s my orc name list:

Orc Names Roll d20 to select a line. If the line contains 10 names, roll d10 to select the name.

1: Roll on the Evil Magic Item Names table. (Examples: Ur Kagal, Katak) 2: Roll on the Scar Names table. (Examples: One-Ear, Crooknose) 3: Roll on the Fiend Names table. (Examples: Morzaz, Gall) 4: Roll on the Barbarian Names table. (Examples: Turz Son of Jarthak, Axa Wolfbane) 5: Zolgath, Ogranoch, Tethgoraz, Aramag, Suroth, Burok, Vorgath, Zugor, Garnek, Trollinde 6: Krail, Huzper, Gharol, Oodaga, Gnargol, Gnarg, Irongrim, Gromm, Kurgaroz, Screamjaw 7: Redtooth, Redfist, Redaxe, Blacktooth, Blackclaw, Blacktusk, Yellowtooth, Skulleater, Skulltooth, Borba 8: Blackscab, Bloodspider, Bloodnose, Bloodaxe, Bloodjaw, Bone Eater, Bonebreaker, Bilga, Skullsmasher, Duluk 9: Grimstalker, Brakka, Grimclaw, Firetooth, Firefist, Deathbreaker, Deathspider, Deathscream, Brokenose, Brak 10: Onetusk, One Eye, Scab Eater, Scabclaw, Blackblood, Blackrot, Scar, Scab, Skull, Boneripper 11: Grizzle, Gristle, Bloodeye, Spidereye, Braz, Slime, Mardak, Zardox, Urgoz, Blardo 12: Trollbreath, Offal, Guts, Gulnak, Guzzle, Gurg, Hench, Gristle, Brax, Aldox 13: Murg, Durshan, Argran, Rokat, Clarg, Berk, Lug, Spider, Thurk, Drin 14: Morak, Thar, Kuru, Klarg, Harthag, Grince, Stanch, Attig, Vargosh, Vargo 15: Anrath, Voran, Gorn, Katak, Keth, Resk, Rask, Gostak, Garn, Vosh 16: Thar, Resh, Varg, Yurk, Scrag, Glash, Kelud, Vorn, Velathger, Scrim 17: Gorag, Adrak, Graxx, Dath, Wolfbones, Slar, Gullet, Drorith, Torgameth, Brezremith, Thorgrim 18: Nokvot, Thern, Chargrin, Chack, Ogzuk, Ogmar, Murzalak, Ogluck, Garmog, Ezzil 19: Trollhide, Gozlag, Ugramok, Gergidol, Bazlag, Kegrokam, Suras, Duraas, Orcrimir, Ozzir 20: Gnash, Gulg, Kagar, Snaglak, Urgan, Knuguk, Durz, Gruk, Zurk, Bor

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

inspiration: 22 magic item variants

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 14:18

As part of the Inspiration app, I’ve varied treasure by writing up alternate versions of the 350+ SRD magic items. I’ve come up with something like 2000 variants.

I’m working on a phone app for DMs called 5e Inspiration. It’s a tool for populating your game world with people, locations, maps, monsters, and treasure. Learn more!

My magic item variants can be divided into 3 types:

  • re-skinned items. The easiest way to mix up magical treasure is to take an existing item and change its form. I’ve talked about this approach here. A potion becomes smelling salts, a necklace’s powers are given to a shield. It’s easy; you can pack flavorful details into its description; it returns a sense of mystery to those players who have memorized the magic items section of the DMG; and it has a light mechanical footprint – it’s unlikely to introduce game-breaking bugs. Re-skins are best when they have logic behind them, but they work pretty well even when the logic is tenuous. A magic-mirror version of a crystal ball is pretty obvious, but you could just as easily reskin a crystal ball as a mug (truth can be found at the bottom of a glass) or a sword (sword of omens, grant me sight beyond sight!) or a pile of herbs (tea leaf divination) or nearly anything else you can kinda-sorta connect to the item’s powers.
  • curses or inconvenient items. The cursed items in the 5e DMG are all interesting, providing tough tradeoffs between power and inconvenience. For instance, the Shield of Missile Attraction makes you a pin cushion for friendly and enemy archery, but it gives you resistance against missile damage. Tough call! I’ve added more items in this vein. I’ve also added items which aren’t cursed, just a little more inconvenient than usual – a spell scroll on a stone tablet, for instance. When a player finds a cursed item, I want them to grumble about it, but strongly consider keeping it.
  • unique items. I’ve added many variant items which have an extra, thematic trait or daily spell. These items often have a unique name. I’ve done this especially often for underwhelming or generic items, which could use the help – but also for some legendary items, just to make them extra memorable.
  • Here are some examples of my magic item variants, for the amulet of proof against detection and location, broom of flying, and holy avenger.

    amulet of proof against detection and location variants (roll 1d6)

    1: a heart-shaped locket scribed with the phrase “thinking of you.” It contains a portrait of the last person to try to magically detect or locate its wearer
    2: a necklace with a pendant that looks like an open eye. When found, the necklace’s power is inactive. If the Thieves Cant slang for “night” is spoken, the eye closes and the power activates. The Thieves Cant word for “day” deactivates the necklace and opens the eye.
    3: a necklace of 10 glass beads: one bead shatters each time it blocks a scrying or divination attempt. The necklace is nonmagical after all the beads are broken
    4: an ostentatious signet ring which once belonged to a princess who disappeared a generation ago
    5: a black hooded cloak
    6: [miscjewelry] bearing the sign of the god of trickery. This item can also be used as a holy symbol by devotees of that god

    In the above examples, I include an item with an extra story power (the locket which identifies the culprit behind divination attempts), and a re-skinned item (the cloak). I didn’t include a cursed version because the Amulet is only useful in a limited number of stories anyway; no need to make it any less attractive. However, since the Amulet is essentially a narrative item, I did include a variant with extra story hooks (the signet ring).

    A note on the holy symbol: My app replaces the tag [miscjewelry] above with a random type of jewelry, so you could potentially find an earring or bracelet of proof against detection.

    broom of flying variants: roll d8

    1: hobby horse with a unicorn head
    2: umbrella: its power operates when it is opened
    3: articulated brass hang glider
    4: winged crown
    5: flying horse statue which is activated by turning a brass key. The key may be hidden nearby or in the possession of a nearby monster
    6: variant: flying wild boar statue, as above
    7: flying shield that the owner surfs on
    8: flying throne

    I like the broom of flying’s power just as it is – I didn’t include any cursed or extra-powerful versions for this item, just reskins. It’s great seeing an armor-clad fighter astride a broom, but even better than that is seeing the entire party flying cross country via a motley collection of different flight methods – the wizard with a fly spell, a guy with boots of levitation who’s being towed by a griffon rider, and other party members on a broom, a hang glider, winged boots, and maybe Baba Yaga’s mortar. Flying is a cool mid-level power and there’s room for a lot of ways to get it.

    holy avenger variants (roll d8)

    1. named Gentle Correction. Once per day, as part of a hit with this weapon, the wielder may cast Command, DC 17, on the target
    2. named Angelis. This sword has a white hilt with an angel-wing crossguard. 1/week, the wielder can cast Conjure Celestial
    3. named Vow of Poverty. The blade resembles stained glass, and depicts knights giving money to the poor. When the wielder draws this weapon, all the coins they are carrying disappear, distributed among the poor of the world
    4. its name Blazing Justice is written in glowing gold on the blade. on a Smite, it does 3d6 extra fire damage and bursts into Continual Flame until sheathed
    5. named Crusader. This sword is sentient (Int Wis and Cha 16), telepathic with its owner, and hates demons. If the sword helps slay a demon of CR 10+, the sword learns how to cast level 1 Cure Wounds 3/day on its owner.
    6. black-bladed sword named Blackbane that exudes an evil aura. Attunable only by blackguard paladins, it does +1d10 necrotic damage on every hit, +3d10 slashing damage to celestials, and doesn’t do extra damage to fiends and undead
    7. named Cloudwalker; decorated with angelic symbols. An attuned wielder can cast Fly, self only, 3/day
    8. named Honor Bright and covered with binding runes and holy symbols: 1/day, if someone touches the weapon and makes a promise, that promise becomes a Geas

    With the holy avenger, I leaned hard into unique variants with extra powers. The holy sword is an integral part of the paladin’s story; a paladin doesn’t want an off-the-rack holy avenger, but a unique sword that was destined for the paladin’s hand. Since it’s a late-game, legendary item, I’m not too worried about slathering on some extra powers.

    A few of these variants, like Crusader, are inspired by historical D&D modules. Others are original. Vow of Poverty is drawn from my home game; as a DM, I’ve had a lot of fun with its associated “curse” (or convenience? depends on the paladin).

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    How big does a random generator have to be?

    Mon, 10/21/2019 - 16:31

    As I’ve mentioned, I’m working on a D&D app that’s a content generator of all kinds: it spits out encounters, NPCs, treasure, and cool locations.

    One makes a random generator by coming up with a bunch of lists, each as large as possible, and crashing them into each other. The bigger each list is, the more depth and reusability your generator has.

    How do you know when you can stop adding to a random table? That’s important to me because I don’t just want to make a random generator that looks cool the first time you use it; I want it to provide useful stuff one, two, ten years from now.

    the birthday paradox

    Maybe you’ve heard this classic math puzzle: in a room of 25 people, what are the odds of at least 2 of them sharing a birthday?

    Unintuitively, even though the odds of any 2 people sharing a birthday is only 1/365, the odds of any shared birthday among 25 people is more than 50%. In a room of 60 people, you’re almost guaranteed (99%) to find at least one shared birthday. That’s weird, right? It’s true because we’re looking for ANY shared birthday. The odds of anyone in the room sharing YOUR birthday are still fairly small.

    Here’s the full explanation.

    You can use this same math to determine how many rolls on a chart you expect before you get a duplicate. A room with 25 people looking for shared birthdays is analogous to rolling 25 times on a chart with 365 entries. On a d20 chart, you can expect to roll a duplicate after only 6 rolls. On a d100 chart, you need only 13 rolls before you’re more likely than not to roll a duplicate. It’s amazing how quickly those duplicates start arriving!

    Of course, a chart isn’t totally useless just because you rolled one duplicate. But at some point the diminishing returns may start seriously reducing the value of the chart.

    Brute-forcing the birthday paradox calculations further, we find the following:
    -If you roll 25 times on a d100 chart, you’re likely to have seen about 22 unique table entries. 3 of your rolls (12%) will have resulted in you seeing a result you’ve already seen.
    -If you roll 50 times on a d100 table, you’re likely to have rolled around 40 unique entries. 10 of your rolls (20%) will have generated recycled results.
    -After 75 rolls, you will have seen 50 of the table results. 25 of your rolls (33%) will be duplicates.
    -After 100 rolls, you will have seen 65 different results and 35 duplicates.

    Thus, in total, after 100 rolls on a d100 table, you will have seen something new 65% of the time, and had the experience of seeing recycled material 35% of the time. To adopt the language of rottentomatoes.com, your experience has been 65% fresh.

    These percentages hold true for any number of items on a table, just so the proportions of entries to rolls is the same; so after your first 50 rolls on a d100 table, or your first 500 rolls on a d1000 table, you can expect your experience to be 80% fresh.

    We have a judgement call to make here, but to me, unless all the entries are highly reusable, a “65% fresh” table feels stale; therefore, if I plan to use a table 100 times over its lifetime, I probably need way more than 100 entries. Let’s choose “80% fresh” as an arbitrary cutoff. At 80% fresh, you see something new on 4 out of every 5 uses of a table. To hit this target, you need to follow this rule of thumb: if you plan to use a random table N times, you need more than (N times 2) table entries.

    This seems like a useful thing to know as a D&D designer, and it gets us most of the way towards knowing how big a dice chart or random generator needs to be to do its job. There’s still one more piece of the equation.

    reusable vs one-use

    When creating a generator, I try to distinguish between reusable and one-use list items.

    Reusable items can come up many times and they don’t make a nuisance of themselves. They’re not obtrusive. They also tend to be rather vague and nonspecific. For example, as part of 5e Inspiration, I’m writing a list of random desert locations. “Dunes of golden sand” is a reusable item: over the course of a long desert journey, you’d expect it to come up frequently. “Sandstorm” is a reusable item too. Although it should come up with less frequency than sand dunes, you don’t begrudge multiple sandstorms over the course of a few desert adventures.

    One-use items are specific enough that they feel unique. They tend to be more interesting than reusable items. Unfortunately, they don’t wear well. One-use items are the mechanism by which a random generator ages: once you have seen a few of them twice, you’re hitting diminishing returns for the whole random generator. One-use examples from my desert encounters list:

  • a sinkhole filled with salt; inside is a salt-caked sailing ship filled with dessicated sailor corpses
  • strange, rusty, ancient towers filled with still-operational chugging machinery that doesn’t appear to do anything. With a DC 14 Intelligence check, you can figure out how to activate the towers, which might be water pumps, oil pumps, or arcane devices that cause all damage spells cast within a mile to do maximum damage
  • rainbow sand dunes: if a beast is encountered here, it may also be rainbow colored
  • As a player or DM, I’d roll my eyes if I saw any of these twice.

    A generator with no one-use items is evergreen, but rather dull. A generator with all one-use items, according to the birthday paradox math we did above, needs to be big enough that most of its entries will never be rolled.

    Based on your mix of one-use items in your generator, and how many times you want it to be used, you can determine how much work you need to put into coming up with new entries.

    Most of the random tables I write are a mix of fairly generic, multi-use results and rare, interesting, one-use results. To figure out how that impacts a table’s “freshness” calculation, ignore the number of die rolls that are likely to return a generic, multi-use result. For instance: If you’re rolling 100 times on a d100 chart, but half of the chart’s results are generic and reusable, treat it as if you are rolling only 50 times on the table. Thus, for 100 rolls, your half-generic d100 table is 80% fresh.

    the freshness calculator

    Here’s a “freshness” calculator you can use to figure out how big your random table needs to be to meet your desired level of interestingness. This calculator uses brute force, simulating results 1000 or so times.

    what about multi-table random results?

    Not all random generators are a single die-roll chart. Many are in the format “roll once on table A, once on table B, etc”. For instance, a tavern name generator could be a single d100 chart where you get a complete name like “The Golden Goose” if you roll a 36, but it’s more likely to be 2 d20 charts, where you roll the “The Golden” on table 1 and “Goose” on table 2. How do you evaluate the freshness of these grouped tables?

    I think that for multiple tables, you evaluate each of the tables separately, and then you use the worst result. People are really good at spotting patterns. Once the party has been to The Golden Goose, The Red Goose, and The Unnamed Goose taverns, you just can’t have any more goose tavern names. It doesn’t matter that you never rolled a duplicate on table 1. The repetition on table 2 makes the whole game world feel more creaky and procedural.

    how do 5e tables fare?

    Now, let’s use this procedure to evaluate a few of the random tables that come in the 5e Dungeon Masters Guide.

    5e has been around since 2014. Assuming you’ve run a weekly game for the past 5 years, how “fresh” are the following tables?

    The official 5e magic item properties tables. There are 4 tables, ranging from d8 to d20, with 60 properties total. The instructions are to “roll on as many as you like.” Let’s assume you’ve rolled on only one table per magic item, and only for major magic items: say, one die roll every two sessions. By now, you’ve rolled about 120 times, and there’s only 60 entries, so you’ve hit a lot of dupes (43% fresh). Chances are you’ve given up on these charts already. I bet you rolled for magic item properties 10 or 15 times, hit a few duplicates, used the charts as inspiration lists a few more times, and then stoped altogether. That’s roughly what I’ve done, anyway.

    How many random magic item characteristics would you need to provide, say, an “80% fresh” experience for 125 rolls over the course of 5 years? Plugging in numbers into the freshness calculator, it seems that 300 characteristics would just about do it. That’s a far cry from the 60 that are provided.

    The NPC traits charts. There’s a d20 chart for NPC appearance. How many of the items are reusable and how many are one-shot? I’d say it’s maybe 50/50, with “flamboyant clothes” and “bald” being reusable, and “nervous eye twitch” and “missing fingers” being unique. If I ran into 2 NPCs who were missing fingers, I’d suspect they were the same doppelgänger.

    If you’ve used this chart to make just 1 NPC per week for the last 5 years, you have 12 folks running around your campaign world with missing fingers. Clearly this table is not big enough. To provide specific and fresh results for 250 NPCS over 5 years, you probably want a d500 table at least.

    the DMG vs the Inspiration app

    OK, it’s not completely fair to judge the DMG charts this way. They’re clearly meant to provide inspiration – to teach you how to customize your magic items and NPCs. After rolling on the charts for a few sessions, you’re supposed to be able to do your own homework before each session – spread your creative wings and fly!

    Well, that’s bully for the DMG. I, on the other hand, am not here to help anyone learn to fly. I’m here to do your homework for you! The Inspiration app currently has about 500 NPC characteristics, many of them evergreen, and about 2000 magic item variants. It should be able to provide you dungeon mastering freshness for the next 10 years at least.

    Next week, let’s look at some magic item variants from the app.

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    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    here are some Inspiration cloud giants

    Mon, 09/30/2019 - 15:46

    This week I’ve been working on boring-but-necessary pieces of the Inspiration app to get it ready for playtesting, such as a way to share a dungeon’s random number seed so several people can test/play the same dungeon.

    But for this week’s post, I want to give you a gameable slice of the app, translated into random tables that you can roll on with real dice.

    Below are the Inspiration encounter tables for the cloud giant. It’s a high level monster, so it’s not as exhaustively detailed as a more commonly-encountered critter like a kobold or a hobgoblin, but on the other hand, I like cloud giants, so it’s not sparse either.

    table { border: solid 0px black; border-collapse: collapse; } td { padding: 3px; } tr:nth-child(even) {background: #ebcec3} tr:nth-child(odd) {background: #f0eeee}"

    table 1: signs of nearby cloud giants in the hills/mountains: roll d20

    1-3: huge footprints 4-6: rhythmic thumping or crashing; the distant footsteps of a giant or giants 7: a trained griffon circling overhead 8: a trained wyvern circling overhead 9: gardens with huge crops: carriage-sized pumpkins, wheat stalks higher than a human, etc 10: a ground mist that makes the terrain look like the surface of a cloud 11: a distant voice or voices lifted in echoing song 12: giant beanstalk, ladder, trellis, or stairway that leads up to a giant cloudy realm 13: DC 14 Nature check: in a cloudy sky, a single cloud is traveling against the prevailing wind 14: huge, weathered steps carved into the side of a steep slope; the steps are five feet tall each. The steps lead to huge shrine containing a black obelisk, which is a symbol of Memnon, an evil giantish god 15-20: no signs

    table 2: behavior of a single cloud giant in the hills/mountains: roll d20

    1-4: Hunting or patrolling near its lair. It can detect trespassers within 100 feet with its Keen Smell, identifying their species but not pinpointing their location. If it sees or smells trespassers, it will order them to surrender or die 5-6: sleeping in its lair; its Keen Smell trait may wake it up 7-8: in its lair, bored, eager to talk to strangers 9: hunting with a trained griffon: the griffon flies overhead and attacks travelers, and the cloud giant follows the sounds of battle 10: in its lair, reading a lost book of poetry by a famous author. The book is valuable and weighs 50 pounds. The giant is so intent on its reading that it has disadvantage on perception checks and its Keen Smell trait is inactive 11: shirtless; exercising by uprooting and tossing trees and rocks. It occasionally stops to flex and admire itself in a clear pond 12: giving secret orders to a hill giant to lead its tribe against a nearby settlement. If trespasser are hiding within 100 feet, it may stop and sniff the air, alerted by its Keen Smell 13: writing love poetry, reciting each line aloud; it’s stuck and can’t think of a rhyme. “Your lustrous eyes make my soul take flight… your hair… is a fright? is alright? is white?” It will kill intruders unless they supply a good rhyme 14: in its lair, watching a human juggler in a giant bird cage 15: ordering a stone giant to make a fine statue in its honor; busy giving exact details as to the statue’s appearance 16: in its lair, ordering captive dwarves to make jewelry. If you’re within 100 feet: it may stop and sniff the air, alerted by its Keen Smell that trespassers may be nearby 17: training a wyvern as a guard animal 18: moaning in despair because another cloud giant doesn’t love it; it will reward anyone who can write a poetic and passionate letter 19: it tries to capture trespassers and hold them for ransom, sending its pet wyvern to deliver ransom notes. Its Keen Smell lets it detect trespassers but not pinpoint their location: if it can’t find trespassers, it talks to its pet wyvern about how it can’t stand eavesdroppers but is always happy to offer gifts and hospitality to visitors. It has no intention on following through on these promises 20: in ambush on a cliff over a roadway: a trade caravan is approaching

    table 3: behavior of 2 cloud giants in the hills/mountains: roll d20

    1-3: tracking you by smell; attack on sight, meaning to capture and question you 4: watching two hill giants fight for their amusement 5: each with a griffon circling overhead; hunting an orc tribe that has been raiding their lands 6: each with a peryton on its wrist like a hawk; hunting for sport. One of the giants is carrying a wriggling sack containing captured humans or halflings 7: attempting to tame a savage, captured roc 8: giving detailed orders to a fire giant smith for suits of armor suitable for their nobility and magnificence 9: ordering a frost giant to lead its tribe against a human settlement or kingdom 10: taunting human knight prisoners: offering escape to whoever will betray their comrades 11: gambling: a rich pot of gold sits between them [note: this encounter always comes with a treasure hoard] 12: gathered around a scrying pool which they use to watch events unfold, betting on the outcome of human politics and wars 13: looking for prisoners that they can pit against their pet remorhaz, betting on the outcome 14: muttering in low voices, planning the secret assassination of a storm giant 15-20: roll on table 4

    table 4: behavior of 3 or more cloud giants in the hills/mountains: roll d10

    1: a noble and courtiers in their magnificent lair [note: this encounter always comes with a double-sized treasure hoard] 2: a war party on its way to attack a rival cloud giant force 3: a war party on its way to attack an ancient dragon 4: combining their magic to create a solid cloud: it has the stats of an airship 5: conspiring against the storm giants: discussing whether to enter open rebellion or to continue secretly fomenting dissent 6: nobles come together in luxurious surroundings for a dance: the intrusion of smallfolk at the dance would be embarrassing to the hosts 7: in open defiance against the storm giants, they’re planning to conquer human land: they’re launching messenger griffons to tell their allies that the time for war has come 8: wrestling and performing other contests of strength 9: swooping down to attack on their cloud 10: an outdoor cloud giant wedding, officiated by a cloud giant priest of Annam. The wedding is attended by a dozen frost, fire, and stone giant vassals.
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    dungeon exploration in the Inspiration app

    Mon, 09/23/2019 - 15:28

    My “Inspiration 5e” app has two modes: “inspiration mode” and “exploration mode”. I’m working on a phone app for DMs called 5e Inspiration. It’s a tool for populating your game world with people, locations, maps, monsters, and treasure. Learn more!

    inspiration mode

    Inspiration Mode is the default mode. It’s for when you’re browsing for ideas to fill out a pre-existing or partially complete adventure. A random encounter in the jungle? A 17th-level treasure hoard? A ranger NPC? Whatever you want. If you like one of the suggestions, you can swipe right to save it for later. If you want to generate a new suggestion, swipe left. Inspiration mode is like Tinder for DMs.

    Inspiration mode doesn’t presume anything about your adventure. It just presents ideas to you as fast as possible. It doesn’t ration out the interesting stuff: every location has an inhabitant, every monster has treasure. You loaded up the app because you wanted something, not because you wanted nothing.

    exploration mode

    Exploration mode is for when you want the app to design a whole dungeon crawl or hex crawl for you. Maybe your PCs ventured into an area you haven’t prepared; maybe you’re playing solo and want to be surprised; maybe you’re running a zero-preparation, all-improv game; or maybe you just don’t feel like doing cartography today.

    In Exploration mode, you’ll get a map to explore: a dungeon, an area of wilderness, a city neighborhood, or the like. The map is hand-drawn, procedurally stitched together, and populated with interesting locations and encounters, with every monster, trap, and treasure hoard marked. If you like a map, you can save it; that can be a piece of your campaign world now. This is full Tolkien worldbuilding mode.

    Unlike Inspiration mode, Exploration mode provides content at a measured pace. There is the occasional empty dungeon room or deserted hex. While many weapons and armor have cool powers and variations, sometimes the party will just find a plain +1 sword. Treasure is doled out at around the by-the-book rate so that party treasure will match the 5e treasure assumptions.

    In other words, Exploration Mode creates something close to a by-the-book D&D campaign (with the addition of hundreds of new monsters, thousands of magic item variants, and tens of thousands of unique encounter details).

    exploration in the dungeon

    Let me talk in greater detail about what “exploration mode” looks like for the dungeon. This will be completely testable in the first beta build. (“Exploration mode” civilization and wilderness hex-crawl maps will be in a later beta release.)

    In Exploration mode, you can generate a complete, procedurally-generated, multi-level dungeon.

    Each dungeon level comes with an explorable map drawn in the style of my Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map poster (but on a phone screen instead of a 3-foot-tall poster.) The map is created with a modified version of the Dungeon Generator rules, though I’ve tweaked them to provide consistency: I avoid overlapping rooms, make dungeons’ sizes consistent and configurable, guarantee stairs down to the next level, etc.

    I’ve also modified the official random-dungeon rules to make an Exploration Mode dungeon as much like a human-designed dungeon as possible.

    Each dungeon level has a level boss, and the whole level has a consistent theme appropriate to that boss. For instance, a “death knight tomb” will likely contain sarcophagi and other tomb trappings, and will feature many (but not exclusively) undead encounters. The climactic encounter with the death knight will be a difficult one for your level.

    Each dungeon level will feature random encounters, tricks, traps, secret doors, puzzling room descriptions, and everything else you’d expect from an underground death trap.

    If you like a certain dungeon, you can save your party’s location and return to it week after week. You might fight skeletons on level 1 one week, and a few sessions later be fighting trolls on level 6, all within the same dungeon.

    Inspiration AND exploration

    Ok, so Inspiration mode is Tinder for DMs – swipe left for new ideas – and exploration mode is Tolkien for DMs – instant keyed maps of any part of your world. Can you have both together?

    Well, apart from the fact that you as DM can, and SHOULD, overrule anything and everything that the app suggests, the software allows you to combine both approaches. You can “swipe left” in exploration mode to reroll any encounter or treasure. Get to the end of the Death Knight dungeon and decide you don’t feel like running a Death Knight? Swipe left to reroll the contents of the room! Now it’s a blue dragon lair or whatever. Or, if you have a specific idea in mind – say you really want to run a demilich – you can tap the Search tab, look up Demilich, and run that instead. Nothing suggested by the app is immutable: you know your game world best, and what you say goes.

    Now all of this is how the app works today. As I implement more of my ideas, and as a result of beta testing, lots of the app’s features will change. Speaking of which: Why not sign up for the beta test! Within a few weeks, I’m aiming to have stable iOS and Android versions ready for you to test. Sign up for the beta test!

    Read more about the Inspiration app

    5e Inspiration: a DM app

    Mon, 09/16/2019 - 14:42

    Over the past year or so, I’ve been working on a phone app. It’s a DM tool: it’s meant to be a sort of Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map for your entire campaign world. I’m tentatively calling it “5e Inspiration.”

    0% preparation, 100% inspiration

    5e Inspiration is a tool for populating your game world with people, locations, monsters, and treasure. It can be used to supplement, aid, or even replace your game prep.

    I’ve been using it to suggest random encounters, random NPCs, and random treasure to fill out my high-level, story-based, plane-hopping D&D campaign.

    On the other hand, my buddy Rory has been using Inspiration for the past 6 months to randomly generate entire dungeons and wilderness treks in a procedurally generated West Marches campaign. Rory can both DM and play a PC because he has no foreknowledge about what the party is going to find when they leave town or descend into a dungeon.

    5e Inspiration can also be a sort of an “in emergency, break glass” option for when you just don’t know what to do next. Maybe your players just wandered off the edge of the map. Or they just came back to town and are staring at you, waiting for the next adventure hook. Maybe it’s time to reveal the campaign villain and you lost the scrap of paper with his name on it, and the only name you can think of at the moment is “Smerdley.”

    5e Inspiration also enables true solo D&D. With the app as DM and you as player and referee, you can play a complete game of D&D on your own. You can spelunk dungeons, wade through swamps in search of lost idols, pick up rumors in town, and race across city rooftops pursued by angry guards. The app provides the dungeons, swamps, rumors, and rooftops.

    5e Inspiration also includes a dice roller and a built-in SRD reference, so you can DM with only your phone.

    what this app is not

    5e Inspiration is NOT an index of dozens of random generators. As a DM, I don’t want to browse or navigate through menus to find the table I want. You know what’s not fun for players? Watching the DM play with their phone.

    In my vision, EVERYTHING YOU NEED IS ON THE SCREEN WHEN YOU LOAD UP THE APP: map, terrain, monsters or NPCs with their own agendas, and treasure, all suitable to your party’s level and location. If you don’t like the suggestions, reroll for new ones.

    This app is NOT a D&D Beyond competitor. D&D Beyond is a complete D&D rules reference, aimed at both players and DMs, with an ever-expanding library of official content.

    While my app includes a searchable SRD reference, its main function is to suggest D&D scenes that you can drop into your game session. It’s purely a DM tool. And it’ll have an ever-expanding library of unofficial content.

    The app is NOT a strict recreation of the 5e random NPC, random encounter, and random treasure rules. That would be a useful app, but it would be a weekend project, not my obsession for a year.

    Those 5e tables were a starting place. I’ve expanded and varied each of those, through obsessive brainstorming and editing every day for months, until the original rules are perhaps a tenth of the content in the app. I’ve created something that’s probably too big to be printed as a DND book.

    For example:

  • the 18 pages of character name tables in Xanathar’s Guide are nice, but my name list is about 4x longer. Besides NPC names by race and class, you can also use the app’s name generator to come up with villain names, noble names, magic item names, ship names, books of forgotten lore, etc.
  • I’ve taken each Monster Manual SRD monster and added lots of details that can help you run an unplanned encounter: clues that they’re nearby, what they’re doing now, who’s with them, and tables of monster-specific details like alternate vampire weaknesses, bandit gang names, and the like. It’s sort of like having an extra page to each Monster Manual entry: something like the information in this mockup I made for hags. For every monster. 10 signs of nearby hill giants! 15 variant mages! 60 kobold behaviors! 10 fomorian deformities!
  • What’s more, I’ve added more than a hundred new monsters.
  • While I was at it, I wrote lots of new traps and wilderness hazards to complicate your journeys.
  • I’ve taken each of the 350+ SRD magic items in the DMG, and I’ve given each of them variants; I’ve created an average of 6 variants per magic item. Some items, like the generic +1 magic weapon, have more than 50 new variants. Each time your players find a treasure hoard, they’re likely to find something they’ve never seen before.

  • I have insanely detailed random encounter tables that can produce an astronomically huge number of distinct encounters, because repetitive encounters are boring. A party could probably spend their adventuring career in a single niche terrain, like tundra or desert, and never find an encounter that felt “samey”.

    join me!

    Over the years since I started this blog in 2008, I’ve posted hundreds or thousands of dnd things: new magic items, spells, monsters, house rules, rules analysis. If you like any of that content, this app is the mother lode. There’s probably more in the app than I’ve posted in 10 years on this blog.

    I’m unreasonably excited about this project.

    And it’s going to be free.

    It’s the DM tool I need, and I hope you find it useful too.

    Over the next while, I’ll post samples of the content in the app, along with my design notes.

    If you’re interested, you can sign up for the beta test. Sign up here!

    Here is more to read about the Inspiration app:

  • Dungeon exploration in the Inspiration app
  • Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs