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Updated: 1 month 2 weeks ago

On time running out

Thu, 03/25/2021 - 13:47

I've been live streaming for 19 hours. I will continue to do so for another 10!!

My Kickstarter just crossed 12.8k!!! Don't miss out.

You will be sad. You will say, "Why don't I have the special Kickstarter edition with extra monster gooey gonzo goodness." You can not buy it. It will make you sad when other people are happy with what you cannot have.


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On Talkin' Crit

Thu, 03/18/2021 - 19:05

 Do you want to see me talking 'crit about my job? I'm an incorrigible gossip. Which of my hot takes will get me canceled?


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On Bestial Ecosystems Created by Monstrous Inhabitation!

Tue, 03/09/2021 - 20:18

 Hello friends!

My new Kickstarter for Bestial Ecosystems Created by Monstrous Inhabitation is now live!

Well, from the depths of the diaspora of G+, comes monster ecologies. I've written a book for players and downtime activates. I've written a book for Referees and agency building encounters. To go along with On Downtime & Demesnes and Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas, comes Bestial Ecosystems Created by Monstrous Inhabitation!

It's got tons of ideas for monsters, advice for building ecologies, and ways to integrate that experience in play! What's more is that Kickstarter stretch goals will be exclusive to Kickstarter backers. So if you want this, now is the time to get it!

Go get in for a dollar and check out the PDF, and participate with other Kickstarter backers as you decide which biomes to explore and which monsters to add as Kickstarter exclusives.
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On Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas

Sat, 03/06/2021 - 01:07

Hi all!

My new book, Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas is out in PDF on DTRPG. It will be on Kindle and in Print on Amazon by early next week, and on DTRPG in softcover and hardcover by mid-march.

It turned out—well—people seem to really like it. There's a huge preview on DTRPG, and the video below is a pretty thorough walkthrough of how useful and beautiful it is. If you are wondering why I don't post as much lately, I personally drew well over 100 illustrations for this book. Here are some samples.

It's already got several 5 star reviews. Here's a video review of a preview copy:

You are already a great Dungeon Master. You run a game really well.

What's the difference between a room and a chamber? What's the difference between a mausoleum, a sepulcher, and a crypt? Would disarming traps be more exciting if you understood how those complex mechanisms worked? What does a magic trap look like? What does a solar room look like and what's usually inside?

What's in it?

Over 100 Illustrations of Lavish environments Guidelines for escalating threats while respecting player agency Hundreds of ideas for tricks and traps.

No longer will your players complain about traps or unfair encounters. Now when they meet their doom, they will blame themselves for their own foolishness! Be as cruel and devious as you want with these guidelines on how to do so fairly!

Looking for something to spice up an encounter? Pick one of hundreds of options of traps, rooms, walls, tricks or more! Fill rooms with ease, design encounters in ways that give your players the freedom to put their own characters in hot water!

What's it for?

Referees who run games and understand their role in facilitating the groups adventure. This book provides guidance on how to create encounters that respect players and allow you to make encounters as exciting and dangerous as you want, without fear of being unfair. Imagine a group excited to discover a trap. Fill in your gaps of knowledge raising your confidence and making you a master ready to lead players on an adventure.

These objective procedures give referees tools that fire a desire in players to dive into your creative world, discover its detailed history, and make their mark on it. Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas gives you the tools to eliminate doubt and provides a library of ideas that will take you decades to exhaust. It will be a vade mecum, at hand for every environment and dungeon you create. Design a dangerous dungeon, concoct an ingenious trap, develop a diabolical arena, all with confidence and without concern. Give yourself the power, all with simple and clear guidelines!

This is a book used in every game you run. Your next campaign, the one after that, the one after that. . . Not one wasted word. Every page is crammed with content and creativity. No filler. Tools that describe devilish traps and devious decoys. Explore your own Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas today!

Buy it now, Today!

Hack & Slash 

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On Artifices & Deceptions: Triggers, Timed

Sat, 01/30/2021 - 14:30

Timed Triggers

This trigger just regularly springs the trap. Note that the trap may be set to use a timed trigger after the initial trigger is sprung.

Timed triggers are great obvious traps. This can be gouts of flame or swinging blades. They are buzzsaws, vines, and swinging logs. It is spinning pillars, anti-gravity platforms travelling up and down, and sections of floor that disappear or collapse after you step on them. They are rarely a danger themselves, but can make other situations more interesting. 

They are best used in situations where other objectives need to be met, rescuing hostages, defeating a bad guy, stealing an item, made all the more complicated by the regular changes in environment. 

Traditional use

S2 White Plume Mountain by Gary Gygax

7. The door opens onto a stone platform in a large natural cave. The ceiling averages 50´ above the level of the platform while the floor of the cave 50´ below is a deep pool of boiling mud. Points A and B mark the locations of geysers. Geyser A spouts once every five minutes. Geyser B spouts once every three minutes. Opposite the entrance platform is another stone platform, approximately 90´ away. Between them a series of wooden disks is suspended from the ceiling by massive steel changes. The disks are about four feet in diameter, and three feet apart. Each disk is attached to it’s chain by a giant staple fixed in its center. The disks swing freely and will tilt when weight is placed upon them. The disks and chains, as well as the walls of the cavern , are covered with a wet, slippery algal scum that lives on the water and nutrients spewed up from the geysers. This coating gives off a feeble phosphorescent glow.

When the geysers erupt, they reach nearly to the roof of the cavern, and creatures holding onto the disks or chains may be washed off to fall into the mud below (an almost instant death). Characters with 18 Strength, or better, have a 65% chance of holding onto a disk that is adjacent to an erupting geyser. For each point of strength less than 18, there is a 10% lesser chance of hanging onto the disks (i.e. 16 strength equals 45% chance.) However, for each disk the characters is located farther from the geyser, there is a cumulative chance 5% greater of holding on i.e. one farther away (from the adjacent disk) equals +5%, two away equals +10%, et. Damage varies as the distance from the geyser. Adjacent disk: 5-50 points; one away: 4-40, and so on: 3-30, 2-20, 1-10, 1-6 and 1-4 for anyone in the cavern. Characters who make their saving throw versus breath weapon will take only one-half damage.

Timed trigger design

Early timed triggers can be as simple as a swinging blade, something obviously and trivially avoided, at least until you get hit with a Fear effect or henchmen fail their morale rolls and run into it while fleeing.

Moderate timed triggers are an effective way to challenge mid-level parties with beginning challenges. Take an encounter for characters of 1st-3rd level and add gouts of fire that criss-cross the battlefield and it becomes an appropriate challenge for higher level characters. Another type of timed trigger is one where a normal activity is given a hard time limit, you must defeat the monster/pick the lock/disarm the trap before the room crushes you, the ceiling falls, the guards arrive, or your get cut apart my laser beams. 

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On Artifices & Deceptions: Triggers, Light

Sat, 01/30/2021 - 04:30
Light Detection: This trigger only functions in always lit or never lit areas. It works by using materials that react to the interruption or exposure to light. The source of light can be natural (sunlight/moonlight), magical (light, continual light), or man made (incandescent, torchlight, lasers). The trigger can be set to go off after the first interruption or detection of light, or it can be set to be triggered after a certain number of counted interruptions or time exposed to light.  This simplistic description of light detection neglects the various ways it can be used.

This is an effective trick or puzzle when the sensor responds only to a certain color of light.

The default stance of the trick, is of course that once torch, lantern, or sun-rod light is shone on the trigger, the trap is set, but it is also a useful stance for constructing a puzzle.

Often the sensor will be visible as a colored opaque crystal sphere. This should be breakable of course but doing so should ruin the mechanism.

The trigger most certainly does not have to be binary. It can require a certain degree or configuration of light, or perhaps be part of a multi-part puzzle where the light that triggers the light detector also gives a clue to the next step in the process while allowing the puzzle to succeed (like opening a door or portal where something must be thrown).
Traditional Use
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax2. STRANGLE VINES: . . .These creepers are attracted to the strongest light source, i.e. Continual Light, bright ship’s light, light, lantern, magic sword glow, torch light.. . . If the ship’s lights are on the viewers will see various forms of large and small fish, and have a one in six chance of getting a glimpse of the “frog-thing”. . . Glints of gems will be seen from the lake bed! If they use lights in the observatory they absolutely will not only see that creature, but it will begin smashing at the plastiglass observation windows to get at the tender morsels within. The chance to break through is 5% per round. Attempts will cease as soon as the light is extinguished or the party is out of the monster’s sight.
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth by Gary Gygax1. SMALL CAVE WITH MANY TUNNELSThis low-domed chamber has its ceiling literally dripping with stalactites. . . A tribe of 18 troglodytes lairs in the five small tunnels which radiate from this cave. . . Unless the party is exceptionally quiet and shows no light, the trodlodytes will be lurking in ambush for them, and they will surprise the party on a 1-4 (d6) or a 1-2 if a ranger is leading the party.
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil by Gary Gygax339. HALL OF ELEMENTAL MAGICThis huge echoing hall is constructed of polished black stones, which give back odd reflections of your light. The most striking features here are the symbols set into the chamber floor. To the north is a triangle of dull ecru stone, outlined with some sort of gray metal; a throbbing radiance seems to spread in dun-colored pulses that wash over the area. To the east is a great 10’ square of translucent stone, blue at the edges and shading to a deep green at the center, bordered by a strip of pale green; the whole gives out undulating sheets of blue-green light. To the south is a circle of translucent crystal ringed by a silvery band; the whole sends forth slowly rising clouds of pale light, that spread and disappear. To the west is a long diamond shape with four points radiating from the sides of the lozenge. The whole is fashioned of translucent stone mottled red and amber, outlined in red gold. It sends up sudden tongues of brightness, planes of pale fiery light that vanish as quickly as they appear. All of these radiations gleam from the walls and floor of the hall. Any object in the center of the four symbols shows the four different illuminations, and the ghastly purple of their mix.. . . Any creature who steps into the area of an elemental symbol and stands there for 3 segments is transported to the corresponding Elemental Node: the Air Cavern (circle), the Earth Burrows (triangle), the Fire Pits (lozenge), or Water Maze (square). The only way to escape therefrom is to win through to another “gate” area or to possess the complete Orb of Golden Death, inset with all four proper gems.
Light detection design Early use can be situations in which characters must maneuver without light to avoid an enemy. Simple puzzles can differ based on the time of day or season. Mirrors to reflect light into certain spots (with multiple solutions so that players might discover one and not another). Later, more difficult puzzles can be avoiding light being used as a tripwire, or environments that change based on available light (such as a room that is different at night than during the day).

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On Unique Speech

Wed, 01/20/2021 - 21:30
That's right, keep raising the bar, guys. Anyway, voices, right?

In the article linked above, Arnold tosses off a paragraph about how things that normally don't talk to players talk.

Well, that's super important. Everything or nearly so should talk in a fantasy game. I'm sure I can't recall the last time I played where someone couldn't speak to animals or plants or rocks or something. In a 4e game I played, someone figured out speak with dead along with the ability to speak with animals/insects allowed you to have access to effectively infinite sensors as long as you had enough access to mice or insect corpses.

The point is, if players can talk to stones, well, they are going to want to do it. The question is, how do you portray such creatures in game. This has an interesting intersectional tangent to my own beliefs, which is that pretty much all creatures have the same experience of life, even if they lack certain higher order functions. So, I'm asking a real question here, When the dogs can speak, what will they say?

Luckily, I'm preeety sure I can answer that question.

"Throw the ball? What are we doing now? Are we going somewhere? Did you say you were going to throw the ball? Is it time to eat? You're the best. I can get the ball for you. Or the stick. What's that over there? Here's the ball."

I mean, anyone who owns pets communicates with them all the time. Let's look at how to portray these things in game.

Speak With Animals
Dogs, Pets
Happy, hedonistic, insecure. Seeking approval from pack leaders. Poor at making judgements or decisions. Can perform basic but insightful analysis of interactions. Unsure of answers. Can't count higher than two. Sees in black and white. Concerned with primarily relating scent information: Will talk about garbage, what people ate, what animals were nearby, in preference to what people are doing or saying.

Dogs, War
As pets, but more rigid and disciplined. Can count to three. (One, Two, Three, Many). Speaks laconically and loudly, like a drill instructor. Calls all soldiers sir, doesn't take civilians seriously.

Selfish. Give no f%&*$. Narcissistic. Want to know why they should tell you anything. Acts superior, often bluffing. Haughty. Very self centered, when relating stories, every one is how about what happened affected them and their day. Secretly and urgently desires praise and attention.

Skittish. Nervous. Somewhat compulsive. When they've learned something, they can only relate it by rote, from the beginning each time. Everything is large or large and dangerous. Focused on the immediate world in front of them.

Focused on their needs. Totally convinced that they are part of the coolest organized crime group in the world and everyone should be terrified of them.

Speak with Plants
Totally unmotivated. Unconcerned with things. Not stupid, just lazy. Big plan of growing here, gonna keep it up. Speaks normally, but talks like a depressed person. ("That doesn't matter. I didn't pay attention, no one cares about that.")

Observant. Talks like sleezeball in a bar. Offers to grow on intimate places. Fond of damp, wet, organic matter.

Communal. They are all part of a drug-free commune, and are just not concerned with your petty concerns, man. Complains about being walked all over, but thinks that their marxist unity will elevate them.

Trees, Coniferous
Stoic. Slightly arrogant. Terrified of fire. Talks a lot about the sky and clouds. Completely uninterested in creatures on the ground.

Trees, Deciduous
Varies based on the season. Bright and happy in spring, full of excitement and promise. Talks about the future a lot. Becomes very slow and relaxed in summer, taking a long time to say anything. In the fall, becomes morose and vexing. Threatens and plays tricks on people. Whines and moans when not doing that. During winter, wails and moans constantly, is acutely depressed and apocalyptic.

Baby Shoots
They speak with the enthusiasm of a powerpuff girl.

Speak with stones
When new, these rocks are violent, and their voice is inconsistent and constantly changing, and they speak of change and revolution and tearing down the old order in fire and suffering. Older igneous rocks speak in a deep gravelly voice, that comes across as restrained power. They are jaded and have little insight into the world around them. Granite, especially cut granite, longs for the past, and believes things were better back then, and comes across as depressed and slightly lonely like old men.

Constantly contradicts self. Personality suddenly changes frequently. Disagrees with self. Confused. Clipped speech.

Slightly paranoid. Insightful but worried. Talks about instability and unpredictability. Cautions against depending on anything that it says. Believes the world is hostile. Somewhat pleased with itself and it's own traits and beauty, but then immediately falls back into paranoia.

Lots of different opinions, but all in the same voice from people who have identical experiences as them. Complains constantly about how nobody does any hard work and how they get taken advantage of by other people.

Narcissistic. Haughty. Spoiled. Throws tantrums.

Infantile wonder and amazement. "Whaaaaaaat?"

This article isn't meant to be a reference, but rather a starting point for thinking about the nature of things that normally don't speak. It's straightforward because the fact that the cat talks is the interesting thing. If, for whatever reason, that's expected, then it's no longer interesting. Players won't have thought about these characterizations; when they hear them, it will make sense. "Of course grass is a communal creature!" they will think. But if they are expecting it, then feel free to play against type to break expectations, once the thing talking is no longer the interesting thing.

Also, seriously, speak with rocks? Whoever invented that one was a jerk. Everything is made out of rocks. It's as difficult to manage as Psychometry is in game!
This post was originally published on 6/9/15, and is linked on Links to Wisdom.Hack & Slash 
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On Abstraction and Saving Throws

Tue, 01/19/2021 - 20:30
Modern systems seem to assume a baseline representation - i.e. I rolled twice, so each roll represents a swing of my sword or I can possibly move up to 10' a second, so in six seconds I move 60'.

At first blush this seems to make a lot of sense, but if you look at it too closely the abstraction inherent in hit points and saves breaks suspension of disbelief. i.e. Hit points suddenly becomes literal wounds dealt by specific sword blows. There are 3 saves reflex, will, and fortitude, and they literally and in a direct and visceral way represent 'getting out of the way' 'resisting with your mind' and 'enduring with your body'.

But wait - you made that reflex save and you're still standing up? You failed that fortitude save and didn't fall to your knees? When the saves represent literal specific things then it breaks suspension of disbelief. The 'three categories' of saves also seem very trite and videogamey.

But what of old school saves you say? Abstraction, and this indeed is why they are cool.

A Dungeons and Dragons old school game is not like a aerial-view action RPG that we are simulating with dice—good gods, it takes hours to fight a single combat that way. Instead it is much more like the surface of an atom. We have a general idea of what's going on down there, and we get bursts of specific information (say location OR velocity) and we use our imagination to draw the rest in our minds.

Take old school saves for instance. Paralyzation/Poison/Death magic, Rod/Staff/Wand, Petrification/Polymorph, Breath Weapon, and Spells.

But what do these mean? What do they represent?

Why that's the coolest thing about them! Nothing specific at all! All we know is success or failure—the actual means of that is up to you. (and your classes general ability to handle that specific kind of threat is built into the numbers)

Let's say your wizard makes a save versus spells—he inscribed arcane counter-spelling runes in the air before him to disperse the magical energies. 
Let's say your paladin makes her save versus breath weapon—she holds her shield up and her gods divine grace splits the fire of the dragon in either direction.
Let's say your thief makes his save versus rods/staff/wand—he holds forth his reflective amulet and the beam hits it and bounces away.

The point is, that the game doesn't tell you how you make your save—that's part of the discovery of what's happening and the fun. Logistically it's a lot more fun to come up with answers for why things happen then trying to plot out a specific sequence of events that is occurring every six seconds. Also, you've got a lot more room for awesome and rule of cool in your descriptions.

So how to decide which save to use for a trap? Paralyzation/poison/death magic has to do with 2 things—toughness and divine grace.
Rod/Staff/Wand has to do with rays, artificial magic generation, and device based effects.
Petrification/Polymorph has with emotional and physical resilience. Self-control is a big factor here.
Breath Weapon has to do with area effects, luck, and grace.
Spells is a catch all category and the general domain of magic.

Clerics have the best saves versus paralyzation/poison/death magic.
Mages have the best overall starting saves and the worst high level ones
Fighters start off with the worst saves (by far) but eventually have the best saves.
Thieves start off slightly better than fighters, but end up slightly worse at 20th level.

This post was originally published on 12/29/10, and is linked on Links to Wisdom.Hack & Slash 
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On the Blue Mage

Mon, 01/18/2021 - 20:00
A Blue Mage is a Spellcaster that gains abilities by experiencing monster attacks. This allows them to use attacks exclusive to monsters or enemies. The downside is that they must be subject to the attacks first. This is a Labyrinth Lord Class.

Experience  Level Energy Hit Dice (1d6) 0 1  1 1 1,500 2  3 2 3,000 3  4 3 5,000 4  6 4 10,000 5  7  5 20,000 6  10 6 40,000 7  12  7 90,000 8 14  8 180,000 9  16  9 280,000 10  17  +2 hp only 400,000 11  18  +4 hp only 540,000 12  19  +6 hp only 660,000 13  20  +8 hp only 780,000 14  21  +10 hp only 900,000 15  22  +11 hp only 1,100,000 16  23  +12 hp only 1,300,000 17  24  +13 hp only 1,500,000 18  25 +14 hp only 1,700,000 19  26  +15 hp only 1,900,000 20 27  +16 hp only

Level Breath Attacks Poison or Death Ray Petrification or Paralyzation Rods, Staves, and Wands Spells 1 16 14 13 15 15 2-3 14 12 10 15 14 4 10 8 7 13 13 5-6 8 7 6 13 12  7-8 8 6 5 11 11  9-12 6 5 4 11 10  13-16 6 4 3 9 9  17-19 4 4 2 9 8  20 2 3 2 7 7 
They fight as a Fighter. They may not use any armor and may only use daggers, light hammers, clubs, and slings. If for any reason they receive training or proficiency in any other weapon, they fight as a Thief.

Blue Energy: Blue Mages have Energy. Their constitution modifier affects their energy pool. A first level Blue Mage with a Constitution of 16 has 3 points in their energy pool.

Blue Missile: Blue Mages can conjure and fire a bolt of force. This bolt is as a long bow arrow and they may fire it as a fighter of their level proficient with a long bow. It costs 1 energy to use and does 2-9 damage. This does not count against the limit of their spells and abilities

Blue Magic:

  • Blue Mages may learn special monster attacks and abilities once they have been the target of them. 
  • Once targeted by an ability they may choose to learn the monster ability. 
  • Learning an ability takes 1 turn after combat.
  • They then may use the monster ability by expending 1 energy point
  • Blue Mages may also learn spells, by being the target of a spell. This takes 1 turn after being the target of the spell.
  • They can then use the spells by expending a number of energy points equal to the spell level
  • Blue Mages may not know more spells and abilities total greater than their level + their Constitution modifier.
  • The ability or spell is learned, even if the Blue Mage dies from the attack.
  • If the Blue Mage is protected by spell resistance or a globe of invulnerability, they will not learn the ability. They must be affected, personally, by the ability
  • They may learn an ability regardless of the success or failure of their saving throw versus the attack.
  • They must be a target of a spell or ability to learn it, seeing it is not enough.
  • Energy points are refreshed after a nights rest.
Azure Consumption: The Blue Mage can attempt to learn passive or defensive abilities from creatures by eating them. They must save versus poison after consuming a corpse to learn the ability. Otherwise they are sick and vomit up the corpse which is ruined. A whole corpse must be consumed and this takes 1 turn.
Each of these passive abilities counts against the total number of abilities the Blue Mage can learn. Each passive ability 1 point of energy to maintain, reducing the available energy to cast blue magic. These abilities are always 'on' and cannot be turned off to regain access to the reserved energy points.

Examples of Blue Magic:
Surviving a Basilisks gaze, will grant the ability to petrify. Touching an opponent can force a save versus petrify to avoid being turned to stone
Surviving a Bat's Confusion swarm effect, will grant the ability to confuse opponents. Select a target to be the subject of a phantasmal bat swarm. While under the effect of this swarm, an opponent makes all to hit and saving throw rolls with a penalty of -2 and no spell casting is possible.
Surviving a Bear Hug. The caster grows claws and can attack as a bear, with 1-3 damage with each melee attack, and an additional 2-16 damage if both attacks hit.
Giant Killer Bee poison. The caster grows a stinger (on their hand, forehead, wherever) and can make an attack with it. On a successful attack the opponent must save versus poison or die. If they survive, they take 1 damage a round from the stinger. The stinger being ripped out is painful, and the caster takes 2d6 points of damage.
Surviving a Red Dragon's Breath. After surviving a breath from a dragon, the Blue Mage may spend 1/3 of their total Energy Points points to breath flame. This is a cone 90' long, and 30' wide at the terminus. Creatures within this cone take damage equal to the current hit point total of the Blue Mage, but may save vs. Breath Weapon for half damage

Examples of Azure Consumption:
Eating a Fire Beetle, will grant the ability of biolumisence. The caster can cause a part of their body to glow, casting light out to a distance of 10'
Eating a Displacer Beast, will grant the ability of displacement, subtracting 2 from all opponent's to hit rolls and giving a bonus of +2 to all saving throws

After battle, the DM should delineate the complete abilities available for the Blue Mage to learn, and allow them to decide if they want to learn them or not. It takes 1 turn to learn an ability. If a Blue Mage knows the maximum number of abilities they can learn, they have the option to trade out new abilities for old ones. The ability is a magical effect which means, for example, the caster doesn't actually have to fly around opponents to confuse them.

Conversions should be made so that the Blue Mage can have useful abilities of the opponents in the spirit of the original ability e.g. Dragons breath takes 1/3 of the energy points because Dragons can use it 3/day, The stinger of the killer bee doesn't kill the caster, but does hurt him.

1st Edition: Abilities learned are permanent, and may not be traded out.
S&W: Blue mages have a saving throw of 15 (as a magic user) and have a +6 versus any monster effects or attacks

A 3.5 version is here.
A Pathfinder version is here.
This post was originally published on 2/26/13, and is available in digital & print in Hack & Slash Blog Collection IIIHack & Slash 
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On Artifices & Deceptions: Triggers, Proximity

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 13:30

This trigger is an extremely sensitive device that detects vibrations, most often transmitted through the air. They are generally sensitive and only used in out of the way places. Note that because they detect vibrations in the air, they are also extremely sensitive to sound. Non-thieves have a difficult time detecting these traps. There is little that you can do to notice this trigger, but the area around a proximity trap has no breeze, is very quiet, and often has either a thick layer of dust on the floor or no dust at all. Disarming it is a difficult and time consuming process - increase the length of time required to disarm a proximity trigger by 10 times. On the positive side, these triggers usually only trigger alarms or summon guardians of some sort.
Mechanical proximity triggers are interesting triggers because they often are not directly detectable. The only clues you will have to proximity detectors is that the area is sealed, and appears undisturbed. Even sensitive ones can avoid being triggered by someone who is quiet and walking softly, so approaching and disabling them is possible. The difficulty comes in finding them.

I would generally rule that finding a proximity trigger without triggering it takes twice as long as just searching a square normally. Also, that it can only be done by one person at a time, slowing down the process even more.

Since these are triggered by vibration, be aware of talking loudly or other action the party might take to set it off.

Another way to handle these triggers is to just set them off. Throw a thunderstone down the hallway and cover your ears.

The biggest clues you have in order to detect a trigger of this type are the signs that the area has not been disturbed or visited in a long time. Examples above, such as dust, are useful; other signs of proximity triggers in use include:
  • Cobwebs
  • Sagging shelves and furniture or curtains
  • Hard stone or metal hallway floors or acoustical ceilings to increase the noise made
  • The section of the dungeon is a sealed or is clearly a vault. 
For higher level characters, they may be facing powerful Wizards, Engineers, and Alchemists who may be able to make proximity sensors that only are triggered when player characters enter a certain (short) range. This method is used in the mid to high level modules below. This escalation can occur once they receive new tools for addressing problem solving (henchmen, constructs, Wizard Eye, Legend Lore, etc.)

    Traditional use

    C2: Ghost Tower of Inverness by Allen Hammack

    6. BUGBEAR ROOM. . .

    This 90'x90' room has a 20' high ceiling; there is a 10' wide passage in the center of the west wall. In the room are 16 bugbears without weapons, standing perfectly still; however, they do not appear to be statues. In the center of the north wall is a 10' long, 5' wide, 5' tall stone sarcophagus engraved with lettering.

    The bugbears are in a type of temporal stasis; 4 will animate. . . and attack any intruders within the room each time one of the doorways is passed through. (For example, if a party member steps into the room and then out again, 8 bugbears will be animated.) The doorway, and not the floor, is the trigger: flying and levitation spells will still animate the monsters, characters using dimension door and teleport spells will not activate the bugbears, regardless of whether the room is entered or passed thereby.

    T1-4: Temple of Elemental Evil by Gary Gygax


    If the bronze doors in area 145 (Dungeon Level One) are sundered, the stairs therein descend south to this room. However, entry is blocked by another set of like doors, set in the north wall of this area.

    Illumination in this large octagonal room seems to come from everywhere — ceiling, walls, floor — a milky radiance which gives a dim and eerie glow to the whole scene. The floor of this place is 15' below the level of the normal dungeon floor, with short broad stairways leading to it. The ceiling vaults to a height of 40 feet. The walls and floor of the room are of polished gray stone with whorls of glittering mica; the floor is partially obscured by swirling, eddying, softly glowing mist. In the center of the area is a great pierced square of bronze, ten feet on a side. A dome is pierced in the northern ceiling, a circular shaft some 20 feet wide opening directly over a pit of the same diameter and five feet depth. Immediately to the south of the pit is a block of alabaster two feet wide, four feet high, and eight feet long. Atop it are two knives and a bowl of finest crystal. Ranking the pit are two crystal braziers, suspended from tripods by chains of silver. Each emits a faint sickly-sweet perfumed smoke. The doors to the north are bronze, sealed with iron, chained, barred, and bear a warning inscription in runes of some sort.

    The altar stone and crystal service pieces are protected by a special glyph of warding suitable to the place. They cannot be safely touched unless the symbol of the Air Temple is worn and the glyph name, whah-duh, is spoken. Failure in either requirement causes a whirlwind to suddenly form and spin from the pit to the altar, inflicting 12 points of damage to each creature within ten feet of its path (save vs. spells to take half damage). This also triggers an alarm; the whole area gives off an evil-sounding chiming and tinkling, and the guardian is summoned. 

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    On Early Tropes, Treacherous Prisoners

    Tue, 01/12/2021 - 13:00
    Did somebody who appears non-threatening show up? Do they make overtures of being helpful?

    Clearly they are a were-wolf/cultist/vampire/doppleganger/evil thief and must be slain on sight.

    This trope is overused way past the point of burnout.

    The original use of this trope dates back to Greyhawk.

    "Back in the Greyhawk dungeons, Erac's Cousin and the fighter Ayelerarch came upon a beautiful face that cried golden tears. The face told the adventurers the tale of his imprisonment and the heroic deeds required to release him. The adventurers agreed to recover The Urn of Moon Dust from a group of werebears. Erac’s Cousin and Ayelerach successfully recovered the urn, and to complete the quest, they sprinkled the moon dust on the weeping visage. The face was actually the demon prince of deception, Fraz-Urb'luu, who had been imprisoned by the mad arch-mage Zagyg centuries earlier. The completion of the quest resulted in his release. When he came to his proper form the adventurers attacked the fiend to try to undo their foolishness. The enraged demon fought back fiercely. In desperation Erac's Cousin used a gate spell from a scroll he had and managed to gate in the god Zeus, but to their shock and horror, the god chose to ignore their plea for help. The demon then whisked himself and the adventurers back to his own plane where strange forces there drained the magic from all the items Ayelerach and Erac's Cousin were carrying, including Erac's Cousin's prized Vorpal Blades. Fraz-Urb'luu quickly subdued the stranded adventurers and they suffered unspeakable tortures at his hands before they eventually managed to escape. Erac's Cousin blamed the gods for the suffering he had endured at the demon’s hands, and for the loss of his prized items. He bitterly turned his back on the good powers he had paid homage to in the past, and instead chose for himself a path of evil. The unnamed wizard called upon the archfiend of Hell, Asmodeus, and a pact was made. The one-time powerful force for good, was now one of Hell’s greatest champions. To aid in his endeavors, and as part of their pact, Erac's Cousin was given an imp as a familiar. He does not trust the imp though, and he fears Asmodeus may have deceived him somehow." -Scott, Sep 28, 2007 at 12:15pm, Doomsday Message Board
    But this is far, far and away from the only time this trope is used:

    "XIII: The room has its own lighting and shows an area filled with cushions of satin and silk. There are no other apparent exits from the room and players can see a winged woman asleep on one of the cushions in a far corner.
    ON CLOSER INSPECTION: If the room is paced out, it is forty feet east and west by sixty feet north and south. The female has a belted dagger and no other article of clothing.
    NOTES FOR THE REFEREE: The being is an Erinyes devil (HP: 48; #AT: 1; D: 1-4 with venom dagger; AC: 2; SA: Save versus poison dagger) and will sleep unless she is purposely wakened or a loud noise is made in the room. When wakened gently, she will seem kind and ask one of the players to release her from her bondage. All characters will notice a silver chain on her ankle (hidden by a pillow until then). The chain can be easily cut and she will promise anything to get it off. When released, she will try to kill the whole group and will follow them everywhere in this attempt.
    " —The Mansion of Mad Professor Ludlow, Dragon #42
    "Priest: The western portion houses the jovial priest who is taking advantage of his stopover at the KEEP to discuss theology with learned folk and to convert others. Everyone speaks well of him, although the two acolytes with him are avoided, as they never speak - the priest says they must follow vows of silence until they attain priestly standing. His well-appointed chambers are comfortably furnished and guests are always welcomed with a cozy fire and plenty of ale or wine. The priest is a very fine companion and an excellent listener. He does not press his religious beliefs upon any unwilling person. He is outspoken in his hatred of evil, and if approached by a party of adventurers seeking the Caves of Chaos, he will certainly accompany them. . . (Note: All are chaotic and evil, being in the KEEP to spy and defeat those seeking to gain experience by challenging the monsters in the Caves of Chaos. Once in the caves the priest will use a cause light wounds (does 2-7 points of damage to the creature touched, a normal “to hit” roll must be made to touch the victim) or a light spell as needed to hinder and harm adventurers. Betrayal will always occur during a crucial encounter with monsters.)"—B2: Keep on the BorderlandsAnd
    "The prisoners, thirteen in number, are ragged and beaten looking. Eleven of these are common folk, both male and female . . .  while one of the remaining two is a 4th level fighter (hp 20) who will join the party if equipment can be provided for him. The remaining slave is actually a doppelganger . . . who, when accidentally captured by the orcs, decided to pose as a slave while preying on any creature he could find. At times when he is unobserved, he will attempt to slip free of his bonds and hunt for prey."—A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity
    And even:

    "Roadside Hospitality When the caravan reaches its stopping point for the night, two buxom twin sisters are there ahead of them, setting up camp and tending to their horses. Arietta and Zelina Innevar take a liking to some of the travelers—possibly, but not necessarily a few of the characters—and spend the evening asking about their past, where they're headed, and whether they have family and so on. The sisters are actually two doppelgangers. They can either attack someone that night or in the caravan for a few days while they study the travelers and choose their victims. When the time comes to strike, they wait until after dark, then try to lure their target away from other people by calling for assistance in a familiar voice. Fortunately for the characters and their fellow travelers, if one is defeated, the other flees in a flurry of curses and vengeful threats." - Horde of the Dragon Queen, Episode 4
    So, it's not a surprise, really.  There are more examples from the original Temple of Elemental Evil, to just about any product published anywhere. You know what would be a surprise? Completely innocent innocents. Or innocent monsters who are openly monsters but don't want to fight the party. Or anything but another doppelganger/evil thief/succubus.
    This post was originally published on 5/07/15. If you like this content and want to support new content, follow me on Patreon
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    On 10 feet and a Morale Check away from a Capitol Massacre

    Mon, 01/11/2021 - 13:00

    Trigger warning: Child abuse, brutal murder, gunshot death, death threats, video of violent and racist language

    I don't hate anyone. Except maybe my mother, but she pushed me down the stairs when I was just a few years old, and I'm not even sure I hate her. 

    I try, very hard, to not believe anything. I've attached a little chart, with an arrow pointing to where I am. The whole chart is here

    This means a lot of things. Schitzotypal people may not experience the emotion of loneliness. They have trouble with emotional regulation. Also, and most importantly for this—They can have no concern for social norms and ingroup behavior. 

    This is why a conservative said that "[Courtney] is one of the bad guys" and liberals say "You have a history of supporting "blue lives matter"" or that "[Courtney] is an MRA." I had never even met the guy who accused me of being a "blue lives matter" person, but they were being fed quotes and information by someone else. Some guy this week said to me he doesn't support people who hate him. How did they get the idea that hate was in my heart?

    When one is observational and non-judgmental in their writing, frequently people see what they wish to see reflected. People cannot help but have their own biases that influence the things they consume.  It requires constant effort and supervision to have the discipline to avoid falling prey to groupthink, propaganda, and manipulation. No one is immune. This week, a video was shown that reinforced my belief, and it wasn't until someone checked my comment that the due diligence was done to discover it was propaganda, a falsehood presented that spoke to my wishes and not the truth. People who think they are immune or too smart are the most vulnerable. The ego seeks to protect itself. Someone who doesn't conform is always a threat to that. 

    People know very little. I can speak effectively on just a few topics. Dungeons & Dragons. Mental health, hospital administration, and government oversight of hospitals, I posses some training and education in painting, ink drawing, technical and creative writing and movies. Recreationally I can speak somewhat authoritatively about game and tabletop design. That's it. Of course opinions are possessed, but that's what they are.

    This is not supposed to happen—I'm supposed to keep my mouth shut and keep from alienating people.

    Murder on the Capitol Steps
    But I've spent the last year watching cops beat people to death, and then watching people beat cops to death this week. This is a link to ideologically possessed American citizens beating a Iraqi war-veteran Capitol police officer to death (Caution: Video of brutal murder), while people in militarized camouflage enter into a building. Here's a different perspective of the same murder. Here's a video of completely overwhelmed officers telling people they can't come in while people file past them. Here's a video of a black police officer taunting people away from the senate room. And here's the video where that same door, locked only seconds after he passed was broken through. (Caution: Fatal Gun Violence)

    The door broke open, and a female veteran was shot, one time by a secret service agent, after which the morale broke. If it had not; even if there were a dozen men with pistols, they would have been over-run. That gunshot likely stopped the murder of many more of our political leaders that day.

    We are at the start of a journey. There were "only" five deaths at the Capitol on 1/6/21. Since then, one officer has committed suicide, (you can watch the spread of suicide grow from ~13 out of every 100,000 in 2011 to over 20 out of every 100,000 in 2020 here, a 150% increase in suicide rates.) . Tent cities are springing up around our nation and food banks are running out of food and hospitals are overflowing. This is not a sign that this is going to end. After all, it didn't magically end when they imprisoned Hitler after he tried the beer hall putsch. He just wrote Mien Kampf in prison and then committed the fucking holocaust

    Whether he is impeached or not, put in prison or not, Trump is going to start a news network. 

    Government, so my reading of western historians and philosophers have told me, is about balancing personal liberty with the needs of the state. You see, those are the two sides of the coin, Conservative and Liberal. There are endless nuances of course, but claiming one is terrible or the enemy or is evil has nothing to do with the actual management of human beings. 

    To Wit: Nurses and aides have helped many people with dementia walk to the bathroom and held them up and cleaned them while they purged their bladder and bowels, measuring the output as they are helped back to bed. Health workers spend time with women in groups helping them process their abuse and rape and post-partum depression. A group of therapists do a therapeutic restraint on a child who's acting out so he can get a hug or some physical contact, because between the fetal alcohol syndrome and delayed development, he has no way to process watching his father choke his mother to death on a boat sitting on the Kuskokwim. I can never unhave these memories.

    None of those things above have anything to do the needs of the state. The state can do anything they want in response to those situations. In the United States, the metric of federal funding is primarily what costs the least. Seven million a year for a treatment center is cheaper than the social cost of police, fire, and ambulance services for not addressing the social issues. In some rich first world countries the metric is social good. In Nazi Germany, these people were simply gassed and killed. The people choose or abstain.

    We don't know anything. Why, even though we don't know anything, do we not believe the propaganda about the election being "stolen"? Well, because I've spent time working with government employees. The people who are asked to provide evidence, set up a website where all of their verifiable data can be found. Then on camera they admitted that there is fraud in every election, and itemized every item that was fraudulent, and "unknown". Then they specified the agencies that were looking into that fraud. They filmed the entire voting count process, and everyone who's watched the whole sixteen+ hour video is confident of its security. Conversely, the people claiming election fraud filed 62?! lawsuits, 61 of which they lost. 

    Anyone who has spent any time with lawyers and the court system, knows that even before trial, people are required to submit evidence. This isn't one single court. 61 out of 62 times in dozens of different states these cases were dismissed, thrown out, or otherwise removed. Is it possible that this is some sort of nationwide conspiracy of primarily conservative judges who have been baffled by some deep state shenanigans? It's possible for frogs to fall out of the fucking sky, but it ain't very likely, you know? In your experience are judges and lawyers the type to screw around with the law they have devoted their lives to?

    There was months to present and collect evidence, and none was ever presented. So likely not, yeah? It seems equally unlikely that anti-fascist actors were engaged in a false flag operation with trump tattoos, long beards, to disrupt an election they won. It's farcical on the face of it. 

    What is clear, is that modern fascism isn't ordered marches, posters, and 'youth camps', it's anti-vaxx stories on facebook, shared and reshared in mom groups many of whom haven't learned critical thinking skills, or have them impaired due to fear of something happening to their children. It's propaganda networks that have let fascist and racist ideology grow, to the point where slavers flags, people wearing shirts that celebrate Auschwitz and a shirt that says six million dead humans wasn't enough stained the sanctity of our capitol. 

    It took 157 years, but the confederacy finally had their flag flown in the seat of democratic power. It makes me physically ill that the 620,000 civil war dead are disgraced with that blasphemy. 

    Conservatives aren't the enemy. Liberals aren't the enemy. Extremists, fascists, and racists are. Posting this  makes me a target for a future fascist takeover. Because I've associated with conservatives I'm already a target for a future Communist takeover. It would be best if I didn't say anything. What are we going to do with these propaganda networks and this frustration and hate and misery? I don't have the solution, But I know that staying silent isn't it. 

    First they came for the democrats, and. . . well, even though I'm a registered independent and have run as a green party candidate for local office, I'm going to speak up.

    You should too. 

    Human rights activist Peter Tatchell states that going against people who have different views and challenging them is the best way to move forward. He told Index: “Free speech does not mean giving bigots a free pass. It includes the right and moral imperative to challenge, oppose and protest bigoted views. Bad ideas are most effectively defeated by good ideas – backed up by ethics, reason – rather than by bans and censorship.” - LGBTQ and Human Rights activist Peter Tatchell

    Hi. If you'd like to discuss this, you can visit me on Discord, Twitch, or Patreon. There, we can talk about how my clinical paranoia intersects with the actual non-imaginary groups of harassers who threaten me on the regular because I live in their head, rent-free. This is not a normal post! I mostly post great art and D&D content. I'm also a patriot that loves my country, even though it is horribly flawed. As Anne Frank said, we are a bundle of contradictions. There is hope. If someone doesn't like me because of what I wrote here, I don't want to be liked by them.

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    On the 10 (ish) Best Versions Of Dungeons and Dragons

    Fri, 01/08/2021 - 13:00
    You would think that would be a totally insane topic for a blog post. And yet somehow, the problem is chopping it down to 10!

    10.) Adventurer, Conqueror, King: Taking the greatest gaming system of all time (B/X) and reconfiguring it to make sure the math makes sense all the way up to the domain level?

    9.) Basic Fantasy: It isn't just the B/X inspired simple gameplay, or the modified sections such as race and class, it's the ridiculously supported online download section.

    9.) Ambition & Avarice: This is the third wave OSR, the new wave. Taking modern design and layout sensibilities to a new product based on an old idea, comes a game that is really a fresh look.

    8.) Castles & Crusades: D20 D&D simplified? It's greatest strength is that any d20 material requires no conversion. Fast, and the SEIGE system is pretty ingenious.

    7.) Labyrinth Lord: The Gold standard in free retro-clones. One minor advantage over B/X is that all the text is in one book. Of course all the XP tables are redone. Labyrinth Lord compatibility is code for "This is compatible with D&D!"
    7:) Lamentations of the Flame Princess: A beautiful treatise on the nature of Dungeons & Dragons. A smooth, intuitive ruleset. No hiccups, no bumps. Great for lower power, real world, weird campaigns. Metal artwork. The edition everyone loves to hate.

    6.) Dungeon Crawl Classics: The edition of the game Goodman wants to play! Weird dice and weirder random tables makes, much like the game it ties with, for a game focused on "A good time at the table!" rather than rules that conceptually make sense or focus on verisimilitude.
    6.) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: "Random chance plays a huge part in everybody's life." -Gary Gygax

    5.) Original Dungeons & Dragons: Well, if this doesn't inspire you to do your own imagining. . .

    4.) Pathfinder: This is the present of gaming. Pathfinder players are possibly the largest group of publicly playing players of any edition, ever. How's that OGL working out for you now, WotC?

    3.) BECMI: The version they won't put into print, because no one will ever need another version of D&D again!

    2.) Hackmaster 4e: The first original retroclone does Dungeons & Dragons better than nearly any version ever released. Really! It is the greatest!

    1.) Basic/Expert: There is no version that is both a better introduction to role-playing, an effective tool for use while playing, and something that supports your imagination.

    This post was originally published on 8/30/13. If it were written today, Old School Essentials and Mork Borg would probably be on the list. There are still a lot of people playing Pathfinder, but fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons has taken it over! Support me on Patreon and help 2021 be a better year for having each other in our lives! This post is thick with affiliate links. Hack & Slash FollowTwitchNewsletterSupportDonate to end Cancer (5 Star Rating)
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    On Classic Classes: Dandy

    Thu, 01/07/2021 - 13:00


    The Dandy is an adventurer who has no need for money. They are used to moving among high society and receive a +1 to all social rolls among high class people, kings, nobles, and other well off types. They receive a similar penalty to charisma checks among low-lifes, thugs, and criminals. 
    If the Dandy is wearing clothing and jewelry of value greater than 10 times their level in gold pieces, they may apply their Charisma bonus to their Armor Class as if it was a Dexterity bonus to Armor Class (i.e. 13+ is a 1 point bonus, 16+ is a 2 point bonus, etc.). This is in addition to their Dexterity bonus to Armor Class. 
    If a Dandy is present and involved in both for looting and sale of an item, they can gain a 10% bonus to the amount of gold received. This also increases appropriate experience gained for selling the item. They have the ability to appraise treasure and identify magic items on a 1-4 on a 1d6. At level five, this becomes 1-5 on a 1d6, and a Dandy of name level can automatically appraise and identify items. 
    As long as the Dandy is in his home area, he receives an income of 10 gp per month per level from investments. (e.g. a third level Dandy receives 30 gp/month in income). Every time a Dandy gains a level, they also receive 100 gp per level in items or gifts. This could be a single gift from a noble, a variety of small gifts and trinkets, or even a small magic item. The Dandy can make known what they would like by dropping hints, but the final decision is the Dungeon Masters. 
    The dandy receives a 90% reduction in cost associated with hiring henchmen (retainers). This does not apply to their ongoing cost, such as shares of treasure and such. Their level is treated as one higher for henchmen (retainer) level that will follow the Dandy i.e. they will not abandon the Dandy until they are one level higher than the Dandy. This plus their high charisma is the strength of the class, they can attract powerful and loyal followers. 
    At third level, the dandy gains the ability to Open Locks and Pick Pockets as a thief two levels lower than the Dandy. This ability increases as the Dandy gains levels. 
    They fight as a thief and save as a Dwarf/Halfling. The prime requisite for the Dandy is Charisma and if the Dandy has a Charisma of higher than 13, they gain bonus experience. 
    They can wear no armor and use no shields, but can use any light weapon and firearms (if available) .  
    LevelTitleExp. PointsHit Dice1234561Beau01d6——————2Toff1,0002d6——————3Man about Town2,0003d6——————4Boulevardier4,0004d6——————5First Class8,0005d6——————6Mel16,0006d6——————7Dude32,0007d6——————8Rake70,0008d6——————9Dandy150,0009d6——————1010th level Dandy300,0009d6+1——————1111th level Dandy450,0009dX+2——————1212th level Dandy600,0009dX+3——————1313th level Dandy750,0009dX+4——————1414th level Dandy900,0009dX+5——————

    Support me on Patreon and help 2021 be a better year for having each other in our lives!

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    On Reader Mail, The Mystery of % in lair

    Tue, 01/05/2021 - 13:00
    Brian writes:
    "I'm having trouble (maybe) wrapping my mind around AD&D (1e) Wandering Monsters and the percentage chance of finding a monster in it's 'Lair'. Are the Wandering Monsters only supposed to be monsters that have lairs within the dungeon? Is the '% in Lair' the chance that when a monster is encountered it is encountered in its lair, or is it the chance that after finding a monster's lair that the monster will be present (as opposed to wandering the dungeon or doing whatever else monsters do)?
    It seems like there should be some correlation between the two, but I have so far been unable to find this correlation either explicitly stated or refuted."
    Yeah, it's confusing.
    Original procedures of play are what dictated the usefulness of this statistic. When you have a random encounter in the wilderness, is the creature wandering or did you discover the creature at its lair? It doesn't take any valuables with it out and about; at home you'll find greater riches with a consummate increase in danger!
    It is never a chance that a lair is found empty. It is possible to find an empty lair, it is never found using % in lair. First you roll to discover that you have an encounter, and since you always encounter a monster, you won't encounter an empty lair, randomly, per the procedure.
    That's the short version. The work is shown below:
    The text of the 1st edition Monster Manual states:
    "% IN LAIR indicates the chance of encountering the monster in question where it domiciles and stores its treasure (if any). If a monster encountered is not in its lair it will not have any treasure unless it carries 'individual' treasure or some form of magic. Whether or not an encounter is occurring in the monster's lair might be totally unknown to the person or persons involved until after the outcome of the encounter is resolved."
    This indicates that the encounter happens before the lair determination. This leaves us with a lot of questions. Does this affect the number of monsters? Is this related to just wilderness travel or also dungeon exploration?
    Arneson goes into more detail in the Judge's Guild product, the First Fantasy Campaign.
    The text indicates to me he might have been a little compulsive. He determined the contents of all the hexes ahead of time. Each hex had an average of two encounters, achieved by rolling a d6 and ignoring results of six. This indicates the numberof encounters in the hex. Then the types of encounters those are were indicated by random rolls on the wilderness tables.  If a monster came up more than once, it was a larger group. This indicated the type of encounters in the hex.
    The % in lair was used as above. When an encounter is indicated, you roll to determine if you encounter the monsters wandering or in their lair. However, only part of the total group of monsters would be inside the lair at any given time, indicated by rolling 1d6x10%, and subtracting from 100. There's another system in place to determine where those other monsters are in relation to the lair.
    The interesting thing about this is that the % in lair roll determines the players location within the hex, which seems somewhat strange. This resolves itself nicely when the whole thing is taken as a procedure to describe an activity abstractly for the purposes of a game.
    The relevant text from the FFC is quoted below:
    "Outdoors in Blackmoor Travel from one perilous adventure to another in a neighboring Castle can result in a great deal of frustration of the players, or al least confusion, as the road is always populated by evil creatures. After all it is supposed to be some sort of civilization and it must have some form of communications, if for no other reason than to move all the treasure around from Castle to Castle. With a little work, the Outdoor adventures can be enjoyable, and the format of an overall campaign, can lead to the pacification of area over time.
    To reflect the above. the Judge should grid off the map into Sectors, also called Hexes or Squares. Each of these hexes will contain some adventures which may range from a Monster holed up in a small cave to an abandoned Castle full of Orcs. A chart is provided for laying out the basics of the area and can be modified to suit the individual taste of the Judge and his eagerness to lay out all the needed work. Each square should contain in average of say, two encounters (assuming 10 miles by 10 miles), determined by rolling 1 six-sided dice (upon a roll of six would mean that there are no adventures in the square). This will determine how many encounters live in the area.
    For each encounter, consult the Encounter Matrix for the type of creature that lives at each spot. Whenever there is an encounter in the area, in the future, il will be restricted to one of those already present (see advanced method for other results). If there are four encounters you roll a four-sided die to determine which of the four has been found, all other details having already been worked out. The normal chances of the creature being in it's lair are worked out as they normally are. So if Encounter six has a 30% chance of being found in it's lair, then that percentage is used and the number of Creatures encountered will then be any number up to the total number present in the hex. Again to avoid confusion, you may wish to take the maximum number of creatures that is(sic) listed on the Monster Matrix to representative of the population in the hex for each encounter, given a plus or minus 10% to keep the players on their toes.
    For each time that the creatures are found in their lairs, there will be a chance that a portion of them are out in the countryside. To determine this number, assume that 40% of the population is always in the camp and that up to 60% (10 - 60%) are always outside of the camp. Roll a die again and see how many miles (1 - 6 miles) they are away from the camp. On a roll of six. the creatures outside of camp are in two equal sized groups and you would roll again to determine how many miles away they are.
    Note: Whenever sixes appear again, divide that proportion of the creatures in half again and roll for their positions. In this way, In original group of creatures starting at, say, 50 strong could first divide into two groups of 25, then 12, then 6, etc.. . .
    " -First Fantasy Campaign
    Note that this means a lot of important things. First, if you encounter a monster not in the lair, the ability of a character to track allows you to locate the lair, which in many other cases would be unfindable. This is particularly true of single powerful creatures like medusa and other large predators that are small in number discovered entirely outside of their lair. After all, 10% of 3 manticores is 0 manticores.  The method above allows one over time to clear out the dangers in a hex. Unsurprisingly he immediately begins describing a process to simulate population growth and monster migration to the hex after the above section.
    But wait, there's more!
    "TREASURE TYPE refers to the table which shows the parameters for various types of valuables which the monster in question might possess. If individual treasure is indicated, each individual monster of that type will carry, or possibly carry, the treasure shown. Otherwise, treasures are only found in the lairs of monsters, as explained above." - Monster Manual 1st edition
    So in addition to only possibly finding the monster in the lair, there's only a possibility of treasure actually being in the lair. This is of course in conflict with Moldvay who redefines the procedure, removing the % in lair entirely and suggesting that treasure be given out proportionally to the monsters encountered, though this might be expected based on the basic rules focus on dungeon crawling.
    Expert Dungeons & Dragons also has wilderness encounters, though no mention is made of how to randomly find lairs. There are several references to lairs and suggestions that the Dungeon Master should design several generic lairs ahead of time if one is encountered, but no random generation of lair encounters. It does note that as many as five times of the normal number of monsters show up in lairs, along with the advice that the Dungeon Master should tailor the encounter to their players. Of course this is in theme with the advice given to Dungeon Masters:
    "'But I rolled it!' A common mistake most DMs make is to rely too much on random die rolls. An entire evening can be spoiled if an unplanned wilderness encounter on the way to the dungeon goes badly for the party. The DM must use good judgment in addition to random tables. Encounters should be scaled to the strength of the party and should be in harmony with the theme of the adventure." - Expert Rulebook, Page X59
    The advice given in B/X (Basic/Expert) concisely communicates the volume of material written in the OSR about how to play, making it a larger part about why it's such a superior version of Dungeons & Dragons.
    Random monsters are just that, random encounters with monsters, whereas wandering monsters are encounters with monsters that live nearby.
    The relevant text is located here:
    "Encounters: A 'monster' can be a kindly wizard or a crazed dwarf, a friendly brass dragon or a malicious manticore. Such are the possibilities of encounters in dungeon, wilderness, or town. Chance meetings are known as encounters with wandering monsters. Finding a creature where it has been placed by the referee is usually referred to as a set encounter.
     Wandering monsters can be totally random or pre-planned. A party wandering in the woods outdoors or on a deserted maze in the dungeon might run into nearly any sort of monster. If the woods were the home of a tribe of centaurs, or the dungeon level one constructed by a band of orcs, certain prescribed encounters would randomly occur, however. At prescribed intervals, your DM will generate a random number to find if any meeting with a wandering monster occurs. . . .
     Set encounters are meetings with monsters placed by your DM. All such encounters will be in, or near, the monster's (or monsters') lair; so, unlike encounters with wandering monsters, these incidents promise a fair chance for gain if the monster or monsters are successfully dealt with. A successful expedition usually is aimed at o particular monster or group of lairs discovered during previous excursions Note: a lair is wherever the monster dwells - even such places as a castle, guard house, temple or other construction.
    " - Player's Handbook, 1st Edition, page 103
    In conclusion, come up with a system that works for you, that puts the needs of the game and gameplay first, using the available resources as tools. In my personal experience, limiting the different types of encounters in an area to a bell curve from 2-6 to 2-8 will do the most to provide a strong character to an area.  
    Thanks for writing in. Questions can be sent to campbell at oook dot cz.
    This article was originally published on 7/13/15. Support me on Patreon and help 2021 be a better year for having each other in our lives!Hack & Slash FollowTwitchNewsletterSupportDonate to end Cancer (5 Star Rating)
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    On Classic Classes: Abjurer

    Mon, 01/04/2021 - 13:00
    The race as class presented in Basic/Expert (Old School Essentials) is not a limitation, but rather a guide on how to model and create classes for players. 
    AbjurerThe abjurer is a special focus of wizards who specialize in defensive magic and wards. Abjurers may add spells from the abjurer spell list through spell research. (p. X51) 
    The prime requisite for Abjurers is Constitution. An abjurer with a Constitution score of 13 or higher gains a bonus to experience. 
    Abjurers fight as magic users and save as a dwarves/halflings. They can wear non-metallic armor and shields.  They can use staves, daggers, and cudgels. They have an inability to use ranged weapons, and receive a -2 to hit with any ranged or thrown weapon.
    Abjurers may create any magic items at 10th level or above, though they are able to create bracers, rings, and other magic items of protection and warding at 6th level. The prime requisite for Abjurers is Constitution. An abjurer with a Constitution score of 13 or higher gains a 

    Level Title Exp. Points Hit Dice 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 Guard 01d4 1 — — — — — 2 Recanter 2,500 2d4 21 — — — — 3 Bulwark 5,0003d4 22 — — — — 4 Restricter 10,0004d4 32 — — — — 5 Shieldweaver20,0005d4 32 1— — — 6 Interdictor 40,0006d4 432 — — — 7 Obstructer 80,000 7d4 4 3 2 1 — — 8 Obviator 120,000 8d4 4 3 2 2 —— 9 Shieldwall 200,000 9d45 3 2 2 1 — 10 Abjurer 280,000 10d4 5 4 3 3 1 — 11 11th Abjurer 360,000 10d4+2 6 4 3 3 1 1 12 12th Abjurer 440,00010d4+47 4 3 3 2 1 13 13th Abjurer 600,000 10d4+6 8 5 4 3 2 2 14 14th Abjurer 800,000 10d4+8 8 5 5 4 3 3

    Abjurer Spell listsFirst Level Abjurer Spells1. Detect Magic2. Floating Disc3. Hold Portal4. Light5. Protection from Evil6. Shield7. Read Languages8. Read Magic9. Alarm10. Verminward11. Aegisward12. Armor
    Second Level Abjurer Spells1. Protection from Poison2. Protection from Plants3. Protections from Birds4. Everwatching Skull5. Magic Missile Reflection6. Protection from non-magical gas7. Stunning Shield8. Cloak of Warding9. Invisiblity10. Mirror Image11. Wizard Lock12. Sanctuary
    Third Level Abjurer Spells1. Protection from Evil 10' Radius2. Nondetection3. Protection from Normal Missiles4. Gust of Wind5. Protection from Undead6. Protection from Fire/Cold7. Dispel Magic8. Glyph of Warding9. Counterspell10. Magic Circle11. Resistance to Elements12. Wall of Ice
    Fourth Level Abjurer Spells1. Minor Globe of Invulnerability2. Remove Curse3. Banishment4. Private Sanctum5. Death Ward6. Stoneskin7. Freedom of Movement8. Minor Spell Turning9. Protection from Elements10. Wall of Fire11. Wall of Force12. Poison Ward, 10' Radius
    Fifth Level Abjurer Spells1. Avoidance2. Dismissal3. Invulnerability to non-magical weapons4. Lower Resistance5. Protection from Elements 15' Radius6. Planar Binding / Dimensional Anchor7. True Form8. Spell Invulnerability9. Spell Shield10. Sphere of Environmental Protection11. Spell Absorption (as Counterspell, but absorb the spell)12. Blade Barrier
    Sixth Level Abjurer Spells1. Antimagic Shell2. Globe of Invulnerability 3. Repulsion4. Spell Turning5. Wizard Seal6. Blade Barrier7. Mind Blank8. Spiritwrack9.  Forbiddance10. Guards & Wards11. Break Enchantment12. Undead Bulwark
    Aegis-ward (Abjuration)Level 1Components: V, S, M (10gp of silver dust)Range: TouchCasting Time: 1 TurnDuration: Till dismissed or broken.Area of Effect: One Creature
    This allows the abjurer to create a magical ward that protects a creature. It takes 10 gold pieces of silver dust in order to create a ward. While under the effect of this ward, the target gets a +1 to saves for every 4 levels of the spellcaster (minimum +1) and protects the wearer for 2 hit points of damage per level of the caster. (An eighth-level casters Aegisward would provide a +2 bonus to saves and absorb 16 hit points of damage) A creature can only be under the effect of one Aegisward at a time. It lasts until dismissed, dispelled, or it absorbs the full amount of damage. 
    Stunning Shield (Abjuration)Level 2Components: V, S, M Range: 0Casting Time: 3 Duration: 1 turn/level or broken.Area of Effect: Self
    The target is covered in a shield that provides a +1 bonus to armor class and saves. If attacked, the target must make a saving throw versus paralyzation or become stunned for 2d4 rounds. After this attack, the shield is discharged.
    Cloak of Warding (Abjuration)Level 3Components: V, S,Range: 0Casting Time: 3 Duration: 1 rnd/level or broken.Area of Effect: Self
    Upon casting this spell, the caster is wreathed in force that absorbs 3d4 points of damage + 1d4 points per caster level. It deflects attacks until depleted or the duration expires.
    Sphere of Environmental Protection (Abjuration)Level 5Components: V, S, MRange: 0Casting Time: 5 Duration: 24 hoursArea of Effect: Self
    An invisible sphere with a 20' radius surrounds the caster. Inside this sphere, the temperature is between 65 and 78 degrees as the caster desires, and no precipitation, dust, or environmental hazards can enter. It provides breathable oxygen as Airy Sphere. This protects the caster from weather between 140 degrees and -40 degrees. It makes the everyone inside immune to harmful gasses and vapors. It does not affect other solid material surfaces, such as magma.

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    On A New Year

    Thu, 12/31/2020 - 13:00

    May you have happiness and love in your life. 

    Comments are turned off here, but if you'd like to comment, feel free to either join us on the discord or on Patreon! Discord is free. This is not a lucrative field, and my patrons have gone a long way to insuring my stability (housing and food insecurity) so I can grow. There are no words to express how amazing it is to have someone believe in you enough to help you change the world. 

    I'm going to be more open about my Schitzophrenia this year. My father always said "Just because you are paranoid, doesn't mean people aren't watching." I find it strange as an adult that I suffer from both clinical paranoia (as a side effect from the schitzotypal PD) and actually have groups of people engaged in organized harassment (Like telling publishers I'm some sort of alt-right men's rights activist, or setting up some rube to engage in sock-puppeted arguments on reddit). I'm going to try and be both more accepting of this as well as more public about the threats and harassment I receive. It is, after all, my own fault for being a public figure. There isn't anyone who's name you know that doesn't have people who decry them and I'm going to try to come to terms with that this year. (If you're curious about the truth, that's why I've posted a biography.)

    A total of 3 million of my countrymen died this year. That's more than ever in the history of the United States. It's 1 out of every 1,000 people. Six times the number of Americans that died from our four year civil war, the most deadly war to Americans in our history. My heart is heavy with this loss. It has been a hard year for many people. That's 3 9/11's every day this year. Suicide, hunger, Covid, it's almost more than a heart can stand.

    Finally, there's a lot of good stuff. I'm going to kickstart the third of my triad after Artifices, Deceptions and Dilemmas releases. It's going to be the ecology book, based off the posts made here, from the G+ days. Then I'll have OD&D, a guide for players and downtime, AD&D a guide for Dungeon Masters, and the un-named ecology book as a de-facto monster manual. How cool is that? (I'm taking suggestions for the names in my discord!) I'm still working on the details, so there may be some more surprises regarding that. 

    The Artifices & Deceptions index is back! Expect it to be filled with more high quality art, ideas, and information.

    I've extended the sale on amazon for On Downtime and Demesnes till after the New Year! Don't miss your chance to grab it in print for 19$ or in kindle format for 9$! After this it goes back to it's regular price of 34.99$. 

    In a Deadly Fashion, my Lamentations book will be coming out next year I hope. My work on it has been done for a long time, and it looks like most of the illustrations are finished. 

    This year my Alchemy book was Kickstarted quite successfully by Frog God Games. This is my first time ever being published by an industry publisher. It's strange, and I'm very interested to see what the final product looks like!

    You may have noticed more regular posting has resumed. I spent a lot of this year fearful of people—many have very negative and hateful things to say. It started this year when I expressed dismay at 345 Covid deaths on March 21st. I was told that I was making a big deal over nothing, and causing panic. I was told I'm going to ruin myself, and that I needed to shut up. Now there are nearly 350,000 corpses from it a short nine months later. Not a single person who lashed out at me or threatened me has changed their mind.  I still have friends in the health industry, who've watched so many people die this year, choking to death while intubated on pure oxygen, who even as they are dying, deny they are dying of Covid. Can you imagine? 

    I wonder why they think a crazy guy who draws dungeon maps for a living is going to have mainstream ideas. Just because I read widely and listen to a lot of people and have strange thoughts—do we want it another way? Yes, I have worked with people who don't pass a purity test and who hold views some people don't like and many people don't understand. I'm so guilty of that. I will be again. I personally have been wrestling with the hatred and bigotry of so many of my brothers and sisters on this planet earth. It makes you want to force people to be better. It doesn't work that way. I've spent too many years working with all kinds of people in mental health, and the fact is we are all struggling. We need compassion. As part of that, I've decided I'm going to keep sharing my thoughts and ideas. Even if it upsets people. People are allowed to be upset. It's not like they have to consume my art.

    And it is art you know. Here are some of the pieces in Artifices, Deceptions & Dilemmas.  I think I'm finally starting to hit my stride, you be the judge.

    Hope to see you in 2021!

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    On Artifices & Deceptions: Triggers, Pit Lids

    Wed, 12/30/2020 - 13:54

    These “mechanical” triggers are very simple—any object that covers a pit that doesn’t look like the a pit is a lid. This also refers to false coverings that open into a trap. Prodding and tapping are very effective at detecting these kinds of traps. Pits, like pressure plates, usually have a percentage chance to not be triggered. Since lids are literal covers for holes, water usually tends to be very effective in detecting these traps.

    There are different types of pits lids: open, breakaway, latch, teeter-totter, and illusion.  

    Breakaway pits are camouflaged, but any testing or prodding will indicate that the floor is not solid, or that the covering has some give to it. Consider the terrain and the material used to cover the breakaway pit. Leaves and sticks outside, a carpet indoors.

    Latch pits have moving parts. There is some support for the latch, and usually some way for the latch to reset. This means a wheel or gear hidden nearby. Also, it is more difficult to hide the seam of a latched pit.

    Teeter-totter pits are easy enough to detect by prodding, but as a side effect from heavy use, may not center correctly. One side may be raised up an inch or more, while the other is low. Or if it is poorly made, the wrong side of the lid could be visible.

    Illusionary pits create a very realistic looking floor, making detection by vision almost impossible. The illusion isn’t solid and doesn’t interact with the environment. Detect magic makes it obvious, but fog rolling along the ground will drop right through. It doesn’t block sound or airflow, all of which can provide clues to the illusion. 

    Traditional use

    B2: Keep on the Borderlands by Gary Gygax

    A. KOBOLD LAIR: There is a 2 in 6 chance that as the group enters the cave-like tunnel, 8 kobolds will come out from hiding in the trees above and attack. . .Each carries d8 silver pieces.

    Note: 30´ inside the entrance is a pit (B). There is a 3 in 6 chance that each person in the front rank will fall in unless they are probing ahead. There is a 1 in 6 chance that individuals in the second rank will also fall in, but only if they are close to the first rank and the character ahead has fallen in. The pit is 10´ deep, and those falling in will take 1-6 points of damage. The pit lid will close, and persons within cannot escape without aid from the outside. The noise will attract creatures from areas 1. and 2. Planks for crossing the pit are stored at #1., beyond.

    Pit lid designEarly pits should be open, and be an exercise in players finding a way to cross. Open pits should be placed in areas where other action will be taking place. These early open pits can be crossed simply by dropping in, walking across, and climbing out the other end, to heights up to 15´. For any medium-sized adventurer climbing out of such a pit is a trivial matter. Once pit depths reach 20´it begins to get more difficult. They may attempt to jump across, use planks or poles, or try to lasso something on the other side. 
    Breakaway lids should be considered in room or hallway descriptions and accounted for when first describing a room or area. It is very important to be clear when identifying breakaway lids in description. In most cases, anyone who asks about the floor or what’s on it should be told, “It looks like it’s covering a pit.” If the pit is particularly well hidden, i.e. if the floor itself is buried in leaves, and there’s no way to tell that they are covering a pit, an appropriate response to someone investigating the floor would be “There is entirely too much debris and scattered leaves to even tell there is a floor underneath them.”
    Latch and teeter-totter pits will frequently not be described or visible, and are the most classic X in 6 style of triggering pit. However, anyone who specifically examining the floor specifically should be able to spot them. As these evolve and you move away from kobold and goblin pits, to latch pits designed by dwarves and thieves, the players should have access to more powerful tools (e.g. eyes of the eagle, detect traps, true seeing) in addition to high level thieves, monks, and rogues. The presence of well hidden latch pits should be telegraphed by the environment being one where a master trap-maker would work. 
    Illusion pits are rare and for good reason. They are silent and can be quite lethal. “Early” illusionary pits could be old magic that’s failing, looking like static occasionally or flickering in and out of visibility. Or they could have obviously wrong things, like water flowing from a fountain onto the floor where it just disappears into the ground, or a hallway covered in debris, everywhere but the illusion. For higher level characters, it is both the quickness and the silence of such a pit that’s dangerous. It’s possible to have an illusion pit cover a deadly substance like acid or a paralytic gelatinous ooze up to 15 feet down, which a character would fall in under one second. That isn’t enough time to even shout out. To the other characters it would appear that the person just vanished. Even someone looking directly at the person falling in would be hard pressed to tell what happened, seeing them quiet literally fall though the floor. The other triggers all take more time to trigger and will alert everyone to their presence. Breakaway lids will fall in, teeter-totter lids will swing, latches will fall open, often with a loud bang, alerting nearby monsters like a dinner bell, but illusion pits rarely will make an audible sound at all. Fortunately they are visible to detect magic, and detect as traps, making them easy prey for players prepared for danger. 
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    On Reader Mail, Cities and Encounter Design

    Tue, 12/29/2020 - 13:00
    Hey Courtney,
    Only just started GMing (well, probably 9 months ago now) and really enjoyed your articles on Adventure and Set Design. They've really broadened my perspective on player agency and allowed me to plan–and most importantly, play–more efficiently and effectively.
    Planning linear encounters seems simple, especially the way you do it. I also find planning the power and time structures fairly simple, because these are things that humans already plan with flowcharts and timetables.
    What I'm finding most clumsy is planning sandboxy space structures. With dungeons and hexcrawls, this is pretty simple; use a map, code the rooms with numbers. But how do you plan towns, or huge cities? Specifically, how do you label/annotate such structures?
    Is there something I'm missing? Please help!
    Hi Kalle. This is surely a sticky wicket. I have been thinking very hard about this problem.
    Unlike dungeons which, as you note, have received a high degree of development, cities have few representations at all, much less highly iterated or developed ones.
    There have been some notable examples though. Early examples include the encounter tables for City-state of the invincible overlord and city encounters in the Judges Guild ready reference pages. (Neither is available for purchase, Rob Conley explains why here.)  Having used these encounter tables, you're equally likely to run into a petty god or a king as opposed to your average peasant. On the other end of the spectrum is nearly 700 page Ptolus campaign setting which, in true 3.5 style leaves little to the imagination. There's were books from judges guild on villages, each containing a page map along with certain basic information about the city. One of the best of the old supplements is Cities by Midkemia press. And TSR made numerous entries into city supplements during second edition, notably Lankhmar (and little else). The adventures involving Lankhmar are of the standard 2nd edition type and can be easily ignored.
    Then there's the dry tournament early Gygax style of T1 and B2, where the settlement is described in exhaustive detail, and actual relevant information is hidden within pages listing the value of bedspreads, curtains, and hidden treasure in niches. Let's not forget the literal hundreds of supplements describing inns, city sections, specific cities, districts and more.
    The KeyIt's about purpose. What's a dungeon there for? Looting! Danger! Adventure! Cities are less simple.
    Cities are literally a word for where citizens gather and build things. Along comes the whole of human nature: drama, politics, power struggles, oppression, opportunity, families, children, light and darkness–The whole of the human condition. Combine that with the character motivations in the game and how in the hell do you notate that?!
    There are different purposes that cities serve. The purpose of a city changing over time is what makes city notation so difficult.
    The first is a base, a place where adventure does not occur. This is not well suited for adventure campaign play. It sets up walls the players don't expect to be there, it breaks verisimilitude and removes a lot of options from play. It is well suited for megadungeon play. The base is represented excellently by a menu style, allowing the players to quickly access whatever they need to get on with the play of the game.
    Another purpose cities serve is discovery. These are cities and villages stumbled upon while traveling or hex-crawling. They provide a safe place to rest with some risk or unknowns involved. Generally  characterized by a single major feature or two, and have one or two issues or quests the players can get involved in.
    A city can be an adventure site. These are the Gygax styled Homlettes, forts on borderlands, and Phandelvers. They are visited multiple times, with resources and adventure sites contained within. They work best in traditional sandboxes. In a larger, more complicated city, point crawls are useful to avoid spending all that time mapping out non-interesting areas. The travel in a larger city is more risky, lending support to that point crawl random encounter style.
    And like all campaigns, each of these can change over time. So you might start with an area being one type of site and it might grow and change into another, necessitating a change or expansion in the way in which you've keyed it.
    Other Factors
    There are other things to keep in mind. There are no cell phones, no maps, no cars, no useful information sources on what's around the next corner. That means for anything beyond a small village or hamlet, travel within the city can be difficult. A city the size of Phandelver doesn't have this problem. You can stand in the center and in a few minutes know what each building or place is. But when you get much larger, travel time, dangers, and information can be unknown.
    Imagine being dropped into Chicago on foot in a random place with no maps, narrower streets and no cars. There's no public police force and no easy way of contacting the guard. How many buildings are locked? Where can you rest? How threatening are your environs? You come off as an outsider, and unless you are in the appropriate section of the city will likely be treated badly by the locals.
    Large cities, really large cities of the Baldur's Gate, Invincible Overlord, or Waterdeep type are not places you can just hop out your door and head to your destination. I've found that the Judge's Guild type encounter tables along with urban skill rolls to determine travel time rather useful in this regard. I wouldn't bother with mapping such large cities, except in the broadest and most general way.
    Small and medium sized cities can be handled much like mini-hexcrawls with broad background maintained, but exploration and contents determined randomly as they explore local and distant neighborhoods. The shared discovery and mapping of uncharted territory can be a fun exercise, as long as players have pre-existing goals. 
    There is still a lot of work to be done in this area. I suggest checking out a few of the works linked above for rough ideas about how to generate and key cities as adventure sites. (I am not affiliated with any of the products, nor receive any revenue from their purchase). I recently completed a work covering many of these topics, which you can get here: On Downtime and Demesnes
    Figure out what the purpose of your city is and then figure out what information you need to minimally generate in order to make the situation fun for your players. 

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    On the Physical Space

    Mon, 12/28/2020 - 13:00
    Module designers, can we talk?

    It's not me, it's you.

    This is 2018 (ed. 2020 now), not 2000. Why am I still seeing modules with flat spaces, square rooms, and two dimensional thinking. Captain Kirk taught  us long ago that future people think in three dimensions when they fly their space cars. Not in two dimensions like those clones from the 1990's!

    Let's have a discussion about vertical spaces and how they can be useful in play. 

    Not just any three dimensional space is good for gaming! Some add nothing, useless complexity for no purpose. Let's not do that! What do we want? Not that!

    Three Dimensional Spaces in Play
    The Cliff:

    The cliff is fun because I have a neat critical hit table for crushing blows, and I calculate damage the way hardasses do, 1d6 cumulative per 10' feet. 20' would be 3d6, 30' 6d6. At 40' I just pick up all the d6's and grin.

    Also, the angle of the cliff; that's what the thief's climb skill is for, to move across that terrain at full speed.

    It's fun if the characters are above, they can survey a situation (sometimes called an encounter!) with a "Monster". That's what we call the things that live in the places our characters invade to rob. So they are usually doing monster things like boiling peasants, paying taxes, and bitching about that snippy biddy down the hall with the fire breathing dogs. I also usually like to have a very small loud annoying thing in the room.

    If they are below, did you know trying to dodge thrown boulders is a fun game? We played it on a hill with my friends as children, and the hospital bills weren't even that bad! It's exciting. Especially if you are the one throwing boulders! If you're reading this, you probably are, and let's be honest. That's awesome. So do it.

    The Vertical Corridor:

    You remember that scene from Don Bluth and Rick Dyer's game, written by Rick Dyer and Drawn by Don Bluth, the Dragon's Lair (TM) Laserdisc video system? Where the platform fell and there were all the corridors—wait this one? Too late! SPIKES!

    I like to roll lots of 'to hits' with my spikes. I make sure as I roll all the dice that I let the player know I feel really bad that—oh! six of them hit. That's just, that's not good Todd. That's not good at all.

    I don't usually have a falling platform, although hanging discs, rope, and other accoutrements really help the space. Also monsters aren't dumb. Well, not all of them anyway. We're not speciest here. They know this is a really good place to fire arrows at adventurers!

    So it's super enjoyable as they begin to try to deal with Todd's unfortunate situation, that I'm forced to let them know that from the darkness—*Clatter* "FOUR of the arrows hit, guys, four. That's so many. I'm sorry. Where are my d8's?"

    Some of the levels overhang each other, because seriously, damnit why would anything in life be easy? Additionally, monsters are just made for this. Harpies, ropers and cave fishers, piercers, and fungus beds galore. It's like a ball pit for saves versus death!

    The Action Playset:

    We can talk about bad dimensional spaces here. Like, the "vertical wall" challenge. This was popular in mid-wave third edition Dungeons and Dragons 'dungeon punk' where the challenges and encounters were becoming more mechanical and build focused. "This fight takes place on a vertical wall/ship in battle/earthquake!"

    That sounds awesome, right? All you have to do is have a normal combat, except anytime anyone has to do anything, they have a 50% chance of failing their balance check and losing their turn.

    So it's like normal boring combat, except half the time you lose your turn. I mean, maybe that sounds fun to you because it's brutal or realistic or something. But if it does, fuck you, you know? I'm here to play D&D man. My father told me one of my early board games designs (from the 4th grade era) that losing 8 turns just because you landed on a space was bullshit and no good game would make someone lose 8 turns.

    I showed him though. I built a Magic: the Gathering deck that gave me infinite turns. Richard Garfield is a millionaire. That, among other reasons, is why my father wasn't a game designer.

    Which is why the concept of an action playset is important. There can't just be an area that has a negative property, unless it's in context to other alternate spaces. This plays out in a couple of different ways depending on the game mode you happen to be engaged in: exploration, role-playing, or combat.

    One thing that's intimidating about Dungeons and Dragons for newcomers is that its structure has always been very fluid by design, to fit the personality of the person running the game. But because that varies from person to person, it's difficult to not only clearly identify the je ne sais quoi of the structure, but to clearly encapsulate that to provide understanding.

    Dungeons & Dragons is played by sharing a conceptual space filled with unknown and highly dangerous or rewarding outcomes. It's important for emergent play, play that arises beyond the simulation of the mechanical, that multiple outcomes are provided simultaneously. When exploring you enter a room, there are items of interest weird object A, basic-looking object B, suspicious detritus object C. When in combat, there's advantage area A, cover-filled area B, and independent mechanical feature area C. When interacting a non-player character has personality trait A+B, and interacts with the party and its retinue.

    This combination is the perfect balance of 7-9 interesting interactions that people can track. You have an advantage because 4 of those are the players. And you wrote things down. Unless you didn't and you're trying to impromptu everything off the top of your head. Why this is a really just shite idea was, no bullshit hashed the f&*k out. At length. Have fun down that rabbit hole. I lived it.

    So the action playset is just that. A tower with two platforms, stairs, and a gem powering a ritual at the top. A floating disk filled with wizards. Areas with alternating magma flows (or lava flows if you're engaged in outdoor exploration). A group of victims perilously under threat of death. Get the things together, put them in the bowl, and stir the shit out of that pot.

    "Are you surrreeee you don't want to dig through the filthy trash?"

    Well, I was, damnit.

    This post was originally published on 8/8/18. It is not available in print. Did you like this? Did you also know that I have a vested interest in continuing to afford shelter? There are a group of awesome people making the world the way they want it to be by supporting me on Patreon to make more Dungeons AND Dragons.
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