Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for Zombie Preparedness

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “Z” the number “26” and the support of readers like you.

Thank you.

The A to Z challenge has claimed many blogs over the last 30 days. Many started out this challenge, and some have fallen. Today we see the predictable results of the month:


I hope that you’ve been practicing your preparedness drills. It’s a weekly occurrence in my household. Usually I pretend to be a zombie who has invaded the house. My corgis Lucy and Alice start out a few feet away from me barking and doing a good job of alerting Virginia that a zombie has breached the perimeter. Unfortunately then Lucy decides to take matters into her own paws and attacks. Sadly this does not go so well for my 11” tall dog. As we all know a zombie is vulnerable to either massive damage or head shots. Lucy is then either killed or infected, and at this point Alice comes to the rescue, her three braincells overstimulated by seeing her sister become a zombie snack. Alice proves to be nutrient poor, and becomes a very friendly zombie. Virginia is then hunted down and slaughtered. She’s usually found with her feet up, watching the predictable events unfold, and clicking on her laptop.

Judging by the survival rate of Zombie Preparedness drills in my household, I’m considering a few preventative measures. First is the Zombie Proof House.  With one foot thick concrete walls and a second floor entrance with a DRAWBRIDGE it’s way more secure than almost any other single family dwelling out there! With some solar panels, water processing equipment, and a greenhouse, you'd be completely set, for a while anyway.

Alternately you could take to the water with the SS Tom Sawyer - Zombie Destroyer riverboat.  Of course obtaining either of these isn’t going to be easy after the fact, so we’d all better get on it. Especially since there is only one house, and the boat hasn't been built yet!

After an encounter or two with zombies, if your players survive, they become a lot less scary an encounter... that is until they run into variant zombies!

Surprise Zombies! Roll on this chart once per zombie encounter after the 2nd in the campaign.

1. Fast Zombies! Double movement, +2 initiative
2. Cunning Zombies! When more than one zombie attacks the same target all gain a +1 to attack
3. Projectile Vomiting Zombies! All zombies gain a breath weapon attack, single target, 10’ range, 1d4+2 damage, save for half
4. Infested Zombies! When killed zombies will release an insect swarm
5. Leaping Zombies! Jump attack, 1d8 damage, save vs paralysis or knocked prone
6. They Just Wont Die Zombies! When killed 1d3 body parts will remain animated and begin attacking anyone alive*
7. Exploding Zombies! Whenever the zombie takes any damage roll a die. On an even result the zombie explodes, causing 1d6 damage to anyone within 10 feet.
8. Sapient Zombies! For whatever reason these guys remember their former lives. They still kinda want to eat your brain though. Intelligence 9, neutral alignment
9. Magic Zombies! They glow faintly with magic power. melee attacks do an extra 2 damage, ranged magical attack does 1d4+1 points of damage and slows the target.
10. Jiang Shi Zombies! These zombies absorb half the damage they cause as temporary hit points - no cap!
11. Pregnant Zombies! When killed a hideous demonic being bursts forth from the zombie’s chest and attacks**
12. Roll Twice, ignoring duplicate results

*Zombie body part - AC8, hp 1, move 15 (5), 1d3 damage, XP 5
**Use kobold stats - 1d6 damage with claw attack

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for Ygg

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “Y” the number “25” and the support of readers like you.

Thank you.

I’ll be honest, I did not recognize Ygg as one of Odin’s 200+ names. I thought it was a Norse word, but I had to look it up. As for the All Father himself he has never made an appearance in any of my games, yet he is a very interesting archtype. The one-eyed god is associated with wisdom, war, battle and death, and also magic, poetry, prophecy, victory, and the hunt. He sacrificed his eye at the spring of Mimir to gain the Wisdom of the Ages, and hung himself from the World Tree Yggdrasil for 9 days and nights while pierced by his own spear to gain power in the 9 worlds (aka Magic!)

Aside from some books on mythology from my childhood, my primary exposure to Ygg comes from two sources. The first being the Disney cartoon series Gargoyles, and the second Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. It’s been a while since I last watched Gargoyles, but from what I recall both do a fair job of portraying some of the complexity of Odin’s character. Gaiman of course does a better job, but that’s to be expected.

I actually think that the Norse pantheon does a better job with the gods than the Roman or Egyptian ones. The Norse gods are all fairly complex individuals, making them a little more interesting as characters.

The Eye of Odin

This magical talisman is an artifact of minor power. When claimed, the owner will know it’s powers and dangers. Once claimed, the owner must continue to wear the talisman for its powers to be used. During the first 9 days and nights the Eye will attune itself to its new owner. During this time the owner may relinquish the Eye with no ill effects. On the 10th morning the Eye will be attuned. Upon attunement the wearer will gain enough XP to automatically bring them to the midpoint of the next level. In addition from that point on all XP will be gained with a 10% bonus. This bonus will stack with any bonus based upon high ability scores.

The wearer of the Eye will be immune from attacks that damage Wisdom or drain levels.

Every day the talisman is worn the wearer will take 1d6 points of damage that will manifest as a stab wound in the side. This damage may be healed normally.

After the Eye is attuned the loss of it will cause the former bearer to lose 2 levels. In addition, until the character earns enough XP to bring them to their former level, they will suffer a 15% penalty to all XP earned.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for X Marks the Spot!

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “X” the number “24” and the support of readers like you.

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If there is anything else that will get an adventurer’s heart racing like a big pile of treasure, it’s a map that leads them to a big pile of treasure! I’ve had games where my players will find out someone else has a treasure map, and will spend an entire session just tracking it down, or figuring out how to steal it!

Now, as Professor Jones points out, X rarely marks the spot.
You know, except when it does.

In spite of the power they have, I’ve found that maps, and specifically treasure maps, are rarely used. Maybe it’s because it requires too much prep? I’m not sure. It could also be that DM’s don’t want to send players off the map, or the rails, as it were. Yet a treasure map can be a wonderful vessel for not only getting your players on the rails, but practically leading them on by the nose. Pick up an awesome new module? Tired of having your player hanging out and want to see something new? Simply promise them riches beyond imagining.

Of course not every treasure map actually leads to treasure. Some might be traps. Others may have been correct at one point but the treasure already collected. Others still may be completely false. The previous owner might be completely ignorant of the truth, no matter what they believe.

I heartily recommend making prop maps. For one thing, it’s fun, and generally doesn’t take a long time. For another, they don’t need to be - nay, shouldn’t be works of art! These are treasure maps made by ne’erdowells, not cartographers! While many online tutorials suggest using white paper stained by tea or coffee, I recommend brown paper. I also recommend ruining the map. Check out the one i did. How much of it is now illegible? How many times has it been folded and unfolded? Wrinkled, wadded up, longingly even lovingly caressed? Is the ink smeared, the page ripped? Burned? Stained with blood, beer, or even bile?Has it been sealed with wax? All of these are easy to do, and don’t require anything that you don’t already have in your house. I’d recommend paint rather than any actual bodily fluid however... But I promise you, hand that to your players, and they’ll be loading the horses and hitting the road!

Treasure Map/Magical Scroll Generator - Roll once on each chart

Medium - 1d12
  1. Vellum
  2. Parchment
  3. Papyrus
  4. Paper
  5. Bamboo or Wood
  6. Clay
  7. Bone
  8. Wax
  9. Cloth
  10. Metal
  11. Stone
  12. Special - See below

Special Medium - 1d10
  1. Grain of Rice
  2. Living being
  3. Ice
  4. Corpse
  5. Undead creature
  6. Glass
  7. Memory Liquid Metal
  8. Scale Model
  9. Snow Globe
  10. Inside a Locket

Condition - 1d8
  1. Pristine
  2. Worn and faded
  3. Intentionally damaged
  4. Reused (Painted/written over)
  5. Broken into multiple parts - some missing
  6. Corroded/burned/stained
  7. Roll 1d4+1 twice, ignore doubles
  8. Broken into multiple parts - all included

Inscription Technique 1d6
  1. Ink/Tatoo
  2. Paint
  3. Carved/Inscribed
  4. Burned/Melted
  5. Woven/Embroidered
  6. Embedded

Accuracy 1d4
  1. Nearly completely accurate!
  2. Mostly accurate
  3. There is some truth to it
  4. If it’s right, it’s by accident

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for Walking Cactus

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “W” the number “23” and the support of readers like you.

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The sun’s light beat down upon the blasted landscape. A tall white tent stood alone in a field of odd flat cacti. Within the tent the adventurers did their best to keep cool.

“Do you think we’ll find him this time?” Rathgar asked quietly, mostly to break the silence.

Nimble paused fanning himself and his brow wrinkled. “I hope so. Sita has been missing for a long time.”

Allianora placed her hand on Nimble’s shoulder. “We’ll find her.”

“But the Magus first” Feris pointed out. “He must have a way of finding her.”

As the sun set, the adventurers exited the tent, Feris last, a braided rope with a large tassel in his hand that stretched back into the tent. Giving it a swift tug, and then releasing it, it snapped back into the tent. The whole structure vibrated for a moment before it collapsed down into a small square bundle of cloth with the braided rope wrapped around it. As Feris stooped down to pick it up, he noticed a nearby cactus seemed to be bowing its extremities in towards its central trunk.

All around them the cacti did the same, and slowly lifted themselves from the ground.

Diania Cactiformis aka Walking Cactus

Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 4+
Move: 30' (10')
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d10+2
No. Appearing: 3d12
Save As: F5
Morale: 10
Treasure Type: Nil
Intelligence: 0
Alignment: Neutral
XP Value:
Monster Type: Lowlife

The Walking Cactus is an ambulatory desert creature distantly related to other giant bugs and worms. Its green coloration is the result of algae that grows upon its shell. During the heat of the day when the walking cactus rests immobile it buries its sensitive proboscis under the sand to protect it. During the night it roams the desert looking for sustenance. It is an omnivorous creature, and will eat anything from desert vegetation, carrion, to any creature that it can hunt.

Most of these beasts are between 8-12 (4-6HD) feet in length, standing about 3-4 feet from the ground, though the largest recorded specimen was over 20 feet long! It is able to lift its front portion an additional 3-4 feet. It attacks with its forelimbs, striking with them as spiky clubs.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Virginia's Play Style

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “V” the number “22” and the support of readers like you.

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People are different from one another. This may seem like a fairly simple and obvious observation, and it is, but it’s important to remember when gaming with them, and even more so when you live with them!

I’m going to use World of Warcraft to illustrate the differences in play styles between Virginia and myself. Now, I have not actually played WoW, but I’ve played other games like it, and I know myself. Part of the reason I haven't played it is because we've only got one computer that would really be able to run it. When Diablo III is finally released, that'll change, but until then...

Virginia started playing about 9 months ago, just before the Cataclysm. In that time she has started a number of different characters of various races and classes, but her primary is a Night Elf Hunter that is currently hovering at just under level 70. The fact that her primary hasn’t hit the level cap of 85 says something about her playing style. She is taking her time with her character, exploring the world, and completing quest chains. She is also working on a number of different achievements that are not directly related to leveling up, including reading all of the in-game books, loving one of each of the critters, and slaying one of each of the pests, and exploring every corner of the game world as she goes along.

When playing a WoW-like game, my strategy would be almost the complete opposite of what Virginia is doing. I’d have my primary character level-capped by this point, and would have started 2 or 3 other characters that would be well into their 30s-50s. My primary character I would play for a little bit every time I played, as I worked toward completing whatever achievement I had set as my next goal.

Virginia is also soloing the entire game. No quests that require multiple players, no raids, no PVP. Given how little time we have to enjoy video games I wouldn’t be very different in this aspect, but if there was a dungeon or raid that I wanted to tackle, I’d be more willing to try to find someone to quest with, at least for that instance. Going along with that, Virginia has avoided joining any guilds, though she frequently gets offers. The issue with guilds is that they require a certain investment of game time, and that isn’t always doable, especially as we’re both working on our Masters degrees!

Another aspect of the game are the professions. While Virginia has spent a lot of time working on her secondary professions (first aid, fishing, cooking) her primary skills (skinning and leather working) are languishing a bit. This is due to a couple of factors, including that she’s leveled past what her leather working skill can handle. This means that the leather she’s collecting her skill isn’t good enough to work with, necessitating buying leather to work with. In addition to that, there is all the other stuff she needs to buy like dyes, thread, etc. This serves as a hindrance to her using and advancing that skill. I’ve occasionally researched the next couple of recipes so that she knows what to buy. That way she doesn’t have to keep running around trying to collect everything. I do this just because I get frustrated at her lack of advancement in leather working!

In the end, our characters will both get to the same places, and we’ll both have fun doing it, we just take different routes getting there! I find this most noticeable when I watch her play, and I have to remind myself that she isn’t doing it wrong, she’s playing the way she wants to play. She's having fun, and that's what really counts.

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Underdark

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “U” the number “21” and the support of readers like you.

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"Where are we?" Nimble grumbled.

"Lost" Feris answered. "Same as the last time you asked..."

"Guys!" Allianora snapped. "We need to get Rathgar out of here. Any ideas?"

"What about that lamp that Spider Priest sold us a while back?" Feris asked.

"We'll have to use a diamond to light the thing down here!" Nimble complained.

"If you'd have remembered where the stairs out of here were, we wouldn't need to!" Feris said accusingly. "So light the thing, and lets get the hell out of here!

Light of the World

The Light in the Dark

When lit in a dungeon this lamp will direct it's bearer to the most direct passage to the surface by casting light in the direction they need to go. The lamp does not avoid any danger, be it traps, monsters, or anything else, so care must be taken.

in order to light the lamp, a stone must be placed where the wick would usually be. Depending on the distance to the surface, a different value stone must be used. No matter what stone is used, the light will continue to shine for 1d4+1 turns, making it's use a potentially expensive prospect.

Dungeon Stone
Level Cost
1 50gp
2 100gp
3 250gp
4 600gp
5 1,500gp
6 4,500gp
7 10,000gp
8 25,000gp
9 50,000gp
10+ 100,000gp

The Underdark is the 4th edition name given to the vast mythic underworld that has been a part of Dungeons and Dragons from it's very beginning. One of the most important things for surface dwellers when venturing into the Underdark is getting back out again. Teleportation magics aren't always reliable, and paths can twist, bend back, cross over, and run under in ways that will give a map maker a constant migraine. This item can help, but at a cost.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sample Dungeon Rooms 15-17

Room 15 - The dry husk of a bandits body lays face down in the middle of the room. A single piercing wound can be found between his shoulder blades. Clicking noises can be heard from the body. If poked, prodded, or otherwise disturbed several normal beetles will crawl out of the body, revealing the clicking noise. Aside from the body the room contains 19 casks of wine that has since turned to vinegar.

Room 16 - The wall of water dominates the northeastern corner of the room. In the northwest corner is what was once a doorway. The smashed remains of the wooden door, and good chunks of the stone door frame litter the ground in that corner. Light brought into this slick room may attract the notice of the stirges in room 22. Every turn the adventurers spend in this room roll a d6. On a 3+ the stirges have noticed them.

Room 17 - This room perceptibly dims any light source brought into it. In the center of the room is a 3’ wide pedestal, upon which sits a cut sapphire as big as a fist. The sapphire will sparkle incredibly as light sources are brought closer to it. This is a trap. The pedestal and the gem are illusions covering a 20’ deep pit trap.

I’ve decided how to resolve the problem with room 17 & 18. You’re going to have to wait till next week for it though.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for Thoul

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “T” the number “20” and the support of readers like you.

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Of all the creatures, monsters, vermin, and beasts from the Rules Cyclopedia there was only one that I ever dismissed out of hand. There are a good number that I never got around to using, but only this one was blacklisted. I was perfectly happy to have fairies of various sorts, elk-people, owlbears, hippogryphs, and the whole assortment of oozes, slimes, and molds in my game, but the Thoul...

I bet a fair number of you don’t even know what a Thoul is. Allow me to explain. A Thoul is the magical combination of a Troll, a Ghoul, and a Hobgoblin. Except when very close, they look exactly like hobgoblins. They have the paralysis attack of a ghoul, a slightly reduced regenerative ability of the troll (1hp/round), and the aforementioned looks of the hobgoblin. Oh, and they can be spellcasters too.

Even today I look at the Thoul and my first reaction is “Why would anyone even think of this?!?” and my second reaction is “this is just a way to screw with players” by showing them some hobgoblins, and then BAM, you’re paralyzed.

Now, I get the concept of variant monsters. I’ve made a few myself, but when I do so, I don’t just stick two (or three) different monsters together. I’m much more likely to take a monster and tweak it, rather than just slap something on top of it.

If it looks like a duck, quacks like an iguana, and kicks like a mule, you can bet a wizard did it.

So rather than the result of some awful wizard-forced mating that requires gallons of mindbleach, lets re-imagine the Thoul.

Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 3** (M)
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 2 claws or 1 weapon
Damage: 1d3/ 1d3 or by weapon
No. Appearing: 1d6 (1d10)
Save As: F3
Morale: 10
Treasure Type: C
Intelligence: 6
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 65

Monster Type: Monster (Very Rare).
A hoq-goblin is a magical variant of a hobgoblin. Except when very close, hoq-goblins look exactly like hobgoblins. Their primary distinguishing feature is a grayish pallor, and an extra joint in their overlong fingers. They are sometimes found as the bodyguards of a hobgoblin king or Chaotic ruler, if they aren’t on the throne themselves.

The touch of a hoq-goblin will paralyze (in the same way as that of a ghoul). If it is injured, a hoq-goblin
will regenerate 1 hit point per round as long as it is alive. They are cunning creatures, and will fain death when gravely injured until they can regenerate.

There can be hog-goblin spellcasters. (S4/W4)
Terrain: Barren Lands, Cavern.

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Shadows

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “S” the number “19” and the support of readers like you.

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A shadow is an interesting thing. It exists, but doesn’t really. There, but not. Traditionally in RPGs Shadows are monsters (Not Undead!) or things for thieves to hide in, but I’ve been watching a lot of Babylon 5 recently (I’m into season 4). If anyone is unfamiliar with Shadows from B5, they are an ancient alien race, one of the “first ones” to inhabit the galaxy. They were fanatically devoted to the idea that in order for life to survive it must have conflict.

As an ancient race they used an advanced biotechnology in their ships. The ships, which used captured sentients as CPUs, were incredibly powerful, yet until the end they were content to remain hidden, and use other races as pawns in their game with the ultra-lawful Vorlons. The few times that Shadows are shown in person, rather than their ships, there isn’t usually combat. They’re able to become invisible at-will, so will usually work though an intermediary rather than show themselves. The few times they are involved in combat, it tends to end fairly quickly. They don’t do very well against energy weapons at short range, but then who does?

What the Shadows can do in an RPG is to serve as a powerful villain! They’re incredibly smart, with access to great power which they’re perfectly willing to share, but at a cost. They introduce themselves by asking “What do you want?” A fairly innocuous question, but when the adventurer responds “the bugbears on level 3 dead” and then they go back to level 3 to find them all dead? Plus all the treasure is still there, untouched! What price would the PCs be willing to pay? Could they convince the local lord to go to war with a neighbor? They’ll help things along by killing a few cattle and a villager or two. Maybe they can lead the attack?

Of course you don’t need to use a new monster to accomplish this. Any of a number of powerful and sneaky beings exist already in the game that can serve; vampires, Medusa, lycanthropes, evil cultists, devils, and of course Mind Flayers!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Rest

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “R” the number “18” and the support of readers like you.

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Adventurers and bloggers both need it.

See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Quest Giver

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “Q” the number “17” and the support of readers like you.

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In just about any computer or video game RPG there are NPCs that tell you what to do. In some games, you can say “No” but for the most part you follow the story and take the quests as given. World of Warcraft addresses this in one of the most obvious ways of any game I’ve ever seen by sticking a giant golden exclamation mark over their heads.

Dungeons and Dragons and even Traveller tend to be at least slightly more subtle...

Ok, just ignore that mysterious guy in the dark corner.

Like I was saying, Dungeons and Dragons and even Traveller tend to be at least slightly more subtle than WoW with it’s floating punctuation marks. Maybe not a whole lot, I’ll grant you, but a little. The real difference is how with a good DM quests often pop-up during play, unplanned, even un-thought of until something happens at the table that triggers the DM’s (or the players) imagination. In computer games, that can’t happen (at least not yet).

So what does a quest giver look like in D&D? Just about anything really! From the village priest, to the local lord, to a visitation from a god, or the gravelly voice of a carved stone face. Really, it can come from anywhere.

Now I'd like a little audience participation. Tell me the most unusual Quest Giver you've used or encountered!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for Portals

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “P” the number “16” and the support of readers like you.

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A portal, simply defined, is a doorway, gate, or entrance. A passage that goes from one place to another. It can be as simple as the door from a hut into the village proper, or as fantastic as a fog that bridges the gap between this world and one ruled by dark forces. Whatever its form, the basic premise always remains the same - giving the user access to somewhere else.

Dungeons and Dragons, and all other roleplaying games, are themselves portals to a worlds of shared imagination, worlds where those who share it, create it!

Within the game, portals can serve a variety of purposes as well as shapes. Any dungeon doorway can be closed, stuck, locked, trapped, hidden, secret, bared, or even false. It may open into the next room, or to a room on another side of the planet. It may even open to somewhere not of this world. If it’s a magical portal, what does it look like?

Magical Portal Appearance
Roll once on each chart

Visual Texture
1. Clear
2. Mist/Smoke
3. Prism Distortion
4. Fluid - Opaque
5. Fluid - Translucent/Distorted
6. Pure Light
7. Drain-like swirl
8. Opaque

1. Clear/Reflective
2. White
3. Blue
4. Green
5. Yellow
6. Orange
7. Red
8. Purple
9. Black
10. Brown
11. Roll 1d8+1 Twice
12. Shifting/Rainbow

Some Examples:

This one is clear and clear

Fluid - Opaque and Blue and White

Prism and Blue

Pure light and White

Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for Orphan

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “O” the number “15” and the support of readers like you.

Thank you.

I’ve been all over with this letter. The obvious choice is OSR, but I bet it’ll take more than one hand to count those posts today. Otyugh will also probably be a popular choice, as will orc and owlbear.

What I’ve settled on for today’s letter is Orphan. So many players choose for their characters to be orphans, usually in an attempt to keep the DM from using their character’s family against them. This misguided act can frustrate a Dungeon Master, especially as they try to inject some role playing into their games.

In the future, whenever a player describes their character as an orphan, roll a 1d30 on the following Orphan Background Chart.

1. You’re actually a runaway because your family didn’t approve of the “adventurer lifestyle”
2. You’re actually a runaway, and your family is looking for you!
3. You’re actually a runaway, and creditors are looking for you! +50% starting gold
4. Your parents died when you were very young. You don’t remember them, and you were adopted into a wonderful loving family.
5. Your parents died when you were very young. You don’t remember them, and you were adopted into a horrid family.
6. Your parents died when you were very young. You don’t remember them, and you grew up in an orphanage.
7. Your parents died when you were very young. You don’t remember them, and you grew up on the streets/in the wild
8. Your parents died when you were very young. You don’t remember them, and you grew up at a temple
9. Your parents died when you were a child. Your kind aunt/uncle raised you and your 1d4-1 siblings. +2d6 starting gold
10. Your parents died when you were a child. Your cruel aunt/uncle raised you and your 1d4-1 siblings. -10% starting gold
11. Your parents died when you were a child. The temple took you and your 1d4-1 siblings in.
12. Your parents died when you were a child. You grew up in an orphanage with your 1d4-1 siblings.
13. Your parents died when you were a child. You grew up on the streets/in the wild taking care of your 1d3-1 siblings. -10% starting gold per sibling
14. Your parents died while you were a teen. They left you the farm/store. It’s not doing so well now. You have 1d4 siblings, one of which is able to take care of the farm/store. -2d4 starting gold.
15. Your parents died while you were a teen. They left you the farm/store. It’s doing fine, but you hate it. One of your 1d4 siblings is able to take care of it. +2d6 starting gold
16. Your parents died while you were a teen. They were jerks and poor to boot. You and your 1d3 siblings have been scrapping by. -1d6 starting gold per sibling
17. Your parents died while you were a teen. They were jerks but pretty well off. You and your 1d4 siblings have been living off of what was left to you, but it’s running out.
18. Your parents were killed when you were very young. You survived by being hidden during the attack, and you were rescued by a neighbor and raised as their own.
19. Your parents were killed when you were very young, and you were taken by their killer and raised as his own. You just discovered this, and have run away, taking a minor magic item (DM’s choice) with you.
20. Your parents were killed when you were a child. You and your 1d2 siblings were enslaved by the killer. Now you’ve all escaped!
21. Your parents were killed when you were a child. You and your 1d3 siblings were enslaved by the killer. You’ve just killed him, freeing yourself and your siblings.
22. Your parents were killed when you were a teen. The killer was caught right away by the local law, and justice was swift. You still have to take care of your 1d4 siblings.
23. Your immediate family was killed when you were a teen. They caught the killer a year later. You were there when he was hanged.
24. Your parents were killed when you were a teen during a raid on your settlement. You and 1d3-1 siblings survived.
25. Your immediate family was killed when you were a teen during a raid on your settlement. You were visiting your uncle/aunt.
26. Your parents were killed when you were a teen by someone untouchable. You were left in charge of +1d4*50 starting gold
27. You were captured and enslaved as a child. You have no idea what happened to your family. Your owner recently converted, and freed you.
28. You and your family were captured and enslaved when you were a teen. You’ve recently escaped, but you don’t know what happened to the rest of your family.
29. The fire wiped out your entire family. Only you survived, having been trapped down in the root cellar during the fire (you were being punished). -2 to Charisma due to burn scars, 4d12*10 starting gold.
30. Ok, fine. Your character’s entire family, the rest of the village, and everyone who has ever met you was wiped out by pirates/orcs/space aliens/whatever. You saw it all, and it was very traumatic/life altering/etc. Congratulations, you’re all alone in the world.

The death of your parents is presumed to be either an accident or due to natural causes unless otherwise noted.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sample Dungeon Rooms 12-14

Room 12 - This room contains the heavily defaced remains of a shrine. Careful examination will reveal it to be that of a sun goddess, though none of the representations are familiar.

Room 13 - This room contains the heavily defaced remains of a shrine. Careful examination will reveal it to be that of a moon god, though none of the representations are familiar.

Room 14 - A water curtain separates this area from area 16. It is constantly flowing from the ceiling to the floor. It appears to be very thin, and a bit of mist floats off of it. The noise of the room makes it difficult to speak without yelling. The falling water makes it very difficult to see anything through it. Metal that passes through the water will begin to rust/corrode away immediately. Enchanted metal items are immune to this effect. The water has no other effect, and tastes slightly metallic.

Why is there no wall between 14 and 16?!? Why is there no wall between 17 & 18?!? Or 16 and 22??!?!! Is it just the image I have or are these not separate rooms?!? ARG?!?!

Also I rolled a shocking number of empty rooms interspersed with special rooms. In fact there is not a single monster from room 4 until room 18! Sorry if this has been on the dull side. The adventurers will just have to deal with the lack of things to kill. I also need to put together a pair of wandering monster charts. One side for the entrance area (rooms 1-23) and another for the area behind the secret door (rooms 24-39).

Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for Necropolis

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “N” the number “14” and the support of readers like you.

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It’s a stirring word. A city of the dead. The place where shadows and spirits dwell. In ancient times on our world, a necropolis would be next to or near a city of the living. Today our dead are amongst us, and should the dead rise, we’re all in for a world of pain. Back in the old days the dead were contained within their own city!

Is a Necropolis even a valid feature in Dungeons and Dragons? In a world where necromancers are a dime a dozen how likely is it that the dead would be buried as opposed to cremated? I know I’d rather be toasty than a mindless puppet to some magic user with delusions of grandeur!

Lets presume for a moment that burial or internment in tombs is, for whatever reason, the cultural norm, in spite of ALL of the reasons why it shouldn’t be. Besides, if it wasn’t, there would be a whole lot fewer places for adventurers to plunder!

So besides giving our players someplace to poke around in with their characters, what would one expect from a necropolis? In this case we will define a necropolis as a separate resting place for a large number of dead bodies. The village graveyard doesn’t count, it has to be a significant city sized location, distinct from any area where living being inhabit.

An active Necropolis would likely be patrolled regularly by specially trained guards, along with novice paladins and clerics in lawful areas. It will likely be similar to living on a Hellmouth (a missed opportunity for an “H” post, perhaps to be revisited!) with frequent spontaneous creation of lesser undead and the natural attraction of more dangerous unwelcome elements (Necromancers, intelligent undead, etc.). Actually, this could make for an interesting side campaign. Adventures could range from dealing with zombies, families that are being attacked by grandma, thieves trying to get grandma’s jewelry, necromancers who want to control grandma, ghouls that want to eat grandma (and mom, dad, the kids, cousins...), dealing with a VIP internment and the circus that goes with it. Thinking more on it, it sounds like it might actually work better with BESM or a similar system.

The real interesting things happen when you start dealing with a necropolis what isn’t active! For whatever reason people stopped coming to visit the graves of their loved ones and new bodies aren’t interred anymore. Maybe the city was wiped out by a plague or war, or abandoned when something happened in the necropolis, or maybe people wisely started cremating their dead, but then unwisely stopped keeping an eye on the Necropolis. Whatever the reason this city of the dead is now ruled by the dead, and more frighteningly, the undead! It maybe that the boarders of the Necropolis are warded well enough that at this point they can’t really get out... until they can, or at least start to.

There is also no reason to presume that the necropolis is even on the surface! A dungeon necropolis is a perfectly valid locale, and in fact may be more fitting, as it will never see the light of day!

Hmmm.. Looks like I’ll be adding a Necropolis to my Megadungeon.

Friday, April 15, 2011

M is for Megadungeon Maps

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “M” the number “13” and the support of readers like you.

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Lucky entry 13 brings us a number of wonderful things. First, it’s the half way point in the challenge. Second it ties the A to Z challenge in with this months RPG Blog Carnival about dungeon cartography as hosted appropriately enough by the mapmaker extraordinaire Dyson Logos.

I’m actually a little behind on posting some of my newer maps from my megadungeon, so I thought I would take this opportunity to play a little catch-up.

This map connects with the map 2Z  along the corridor marked G. I think I’m going to need to do a zoomed out view of this level just for my own sanity. That giant chasm is going to cause problems if I’m not careful.

This is the start of the 3rd level, and is at this point connected to map 2A.

If I had the time and the technical ability I’d drop my maps into GIMP, or even better into Google Sketchup, so that I could keep track of the whole thing. I bet doing a walk-through in Sketchup would be a very insightful experience. Sadly I have nowhere near the time to learn sketchup well enough to do it right now.

I’m also going to share some work in progress maps with you. I’ve been struggling with doing some real multi-level rooms. I know what I want it to look like, but when drawing it out it never comes out quite right. I’ve actually considered using multiple layers of tracing paper or different colored pens. Experimentation Shall Continue! Suggestions are welcome!

These are random doodles that haven’t gone anywhere yet, but have not been abandoned either!

Pictures cropped and adjusted for better viewing.

I also would be remiss if I didn’t point out this awesome Pac-Man Megadungeon!  It’s currently at 1420 levels, and just by sheer volume beats everything the OSR has done. The monster selection still leaves a lot to be desired though.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Loot

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “L” the number “12” and the support of readers like you.

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We’ve all heard the saying ““It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end” or one similar to it.

Ask almost any adventurer, and they’ll tell you that saying is complete bunk! At least the honest ones will. Those self-deluded paladins and other altruistic types may claim otherwise, but the truth is if it weren’t for the loot (and the XP that comes with it) no one would bother digging around in dungeons and old ruins.

Sure, the journey, the experience, the adventure... But what it’s really all about is the Loot! The treasure! The swag! The booty! It may be piles of gold and silver, it may be a magical, it may even be a dusty old tome, but whatever it is, the loot is the entire reason for the adventure!

6 Treasure Rumors (with modifiers)
  1. A payment caravan for an ancient army was lost somewhere near the old bandit caves. It was never found! (+20% chance of copper and silver coins)
  2. The old dwarven mines are all tapped out, but when the orcs came, the dwarves didn’t have the chance to get everything away. (+15% chance of gold coins)
  3. A great jewelsmith was captured by a necromancer some years ago. It’s said that she has him create ever more splendid baubles for her to enjoy. (+15% chance of gems and jewelery)
  4. One morning last year a pirate ship was found beached near the village. The crew was dead, a great cage on deck was destroyed, and the hold was empty. According to papers on board a great treasure and an unknown beast had been recovered. Since then livestock regularly goes missing. (+25% chance of Special Treasure guarded by something the players have never seen before!)
  5. The diabolist used likenesses to summon his infernal allies and slaves. While he was killed, the various artworks were never discovered! (Specific monster summoning spell scrolls are works of art)
  6. A cult of Orcus used gold bricks to build their hidden shrine. Guess what? It’s never been found! (+25% chance of gold coins found in 10gp bricks)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K is for Khorne

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “K” the number “11” and the support of readers like you.

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As I mentioned in my “G” post, my 40K army of choice is that of the World Eaters Legion of the Chaos Space Marines, a cult of bloodthirsty super-warriors who worship the Chaos God Khorne who sits upon his Throne of Skulls while his devotees call out “Blood for the Blood God!”

The first member of my army was a Khorne Sorcerer. Now, those of you familiar with 40K lore know that Khorne hates magic/psionics, and his followers are barred from practicing those arts. Nevertheless, this guy was Khornes first recruit. I found him in a case, primed back and missing a backpack. I also bought the vampire cloak, put them together and painted him up in the colors of the legion I was considering, not knowing my faux pas.

He quickly became a Chaos Lieutenant in my force. It turns out my guys are willing to overlook his propensity for robes due to his tendency to cleave anyone in twain who dares to mention it!

Me losing the RTT to a well painted Demon Hunters force.

Once I decided to follow the dark path of the chaos gods, my Lieutenant was joined by several squads of Berzerkers, a Khorne Lord, a Jugernaught, and an old style Dreadnought.

At the time (3rd edition) there was an option for cultists as a troop choice, and I had started to put together a unit of 50 that would be driven before the rest of my army as a giant ablative shield. Unfortunately shortly after I got started on that project they changed the codex on me. This was my first introduction to GW's tendency to mess with things.

When the cultists were abandoned, I switched to working on some armor Rhino transports, Predator tanks, and a pair of Landraiders. I even built a Brass Scorpion out of 2 defiler kits!

Eventually I decided that while an entirely Cult force was fun, I wanted to add a little diversity to it. The easiest way to do that, and to still keep it a very Khorne themed force was to add some demons. While the Khorne bloodletters at the time were pretty cool models, they were all metal, and very expensive, so I opted to use beastmen Gors as proxy figures. The other demon option for Khorne are the fleshhounds (aka Khorne-dogs) but I hated the miniature for them. As a proxy I picked up a bunch of the original Hounds of Orion from the Wood Elves army.

I opted to play the World Eaters for a couple of reasons, the miniatures being only one of them. A large part of the choice came from the playing style. It’s a no nonsense, in your face, I’m gonna rip your arm off and beat you to death with it sort of army. I thought about going with orcs, but they were due for a re-sculpt and another friend was already playing them.

That choice has made for a lot of fun games. A lot of games lost too, but fun ones none-the-less. The fastest was in a 750 point tournament where my entire force was wiped out by an exemplary Eldar player before I got to take my second turn. While I definitely prefer winning (who doesn’t?) I’ve generally found my opponents to be good sports either way. There have been a few grumblers and ungracious winners, but in general I’ve been lucky in the people I’ve played against. I’ve been far less lucky with my dice. While I’m in no way a great player, or even a good one, I’ve lost a fair number of games due more to bad dice than to bad strategy. In the end it doesn’t matter, as Khorne cares not from whence the blood flows, only that it does!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for Jinn

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “J” the number “10” and the support of readers like you.

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The Jinn/Genie/Djinn/Efreet/Madrid are natives of the elemental planes, or at least they are prior to the current edition. In the Rules Cyclopedia, out of all the different version of the creatures both greater and lesser only the Greater Efreets are able to grant the wishes that Jinn are traditionally known for, and the Jinn in a bottle doesn’t even do that! It gives the owner control of the lesser Jinn for 101 days. While this is a mighty boon, it lacks the power of Aladdin's Lamp!

Sure, there’s the ring of wishes, but what’s more fun, twisting a ring, or interacting with a primordial/elemental spirit that’s less than thrilled at being tied to a bottle and made to serve a mere mortal?!?

Ok, so this guy doesn't actually look all that put out.

Of course not all are going to be ticked off at having been trapped in a bottle. Maybe they relish the solitude, or perhaps they fall in love with whoever rubs the bottle or lamp?

And don’t think that a spirit trapped in an unlikely receptacle is merely for fantasy games. It can certainly have it’s place in the right sort of sci-fi game too!

R2 gets all the girls!

Go ahead, give that bottle or lamp a rub! The results might surprise you!

Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for Immolation

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “I” the number “9” and the support of readers like you.

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There are few things that are more satisfying than watching your enemies burn! Whether the fire comes from a flask of oil, a fireball, or even a river of lava, the level of satisfaction only varies by how spectacular the immolation is, or by its sheer volume.

Burning taverns is also a time honored tradition of adventurers. So much so that by 7th level it's a rare party that hasn't burned at least half a town to the ground! Such actions will often be taken in the name of saving the town from total annihilation, but really, other steps could have been taken. No other acts would have been as cool though.

As a DM you can use this tendency to your advantage. To engage your players, give them opportunities to set things on fire. Have them find a cache of Greek Fire just before a big encounter, for example, or have a battle take place with an open and roaring fire pit or bonfire. Give them enemies that are susceptible to fires such as insect swarms, spiders in webs, and trolls to battle against.

Once you've stoked their natural tendency to burn things, do remember your responsibility as a DM to turn the tables on them. There is no reason the monsters can't push the adventurers into the same bonfire, or use a burning flask of oil against them. Having a burning zombie try to grapple a party member? Your players will know you're enjoying the game. Having a bunch of zombies coated in tar and set alight as they march on the party? That's the sign of true love from a DM.

Fun With Fire - New Rule
Whenever someone attacks with a flaming object, such as a torch, the attacker may choose to forgo the usual damage roll and instead roll 1d4 on the chart below.
  1. The object is extinguished - 1d2 damage
  2. The target jumps back - 1d2 damage
  3. The target is lightly burned 1d4
  4. Something the target carries or is wearing catches fire. 1d4 ongoing until extinguished.
  5. The target is on fire and panicked - as #4 plus must make a morale check
  6. Hotter than you thought - as #5, but the damage is 1d6
  7. Way hotter then you thought - as #6, but the damage is 2d4 and the morale check is at -2.

If attacking with a flame smaller than a torch, -1 to the roll.
If the target is wet, -2 to the roll
If attacking with a magical flame, +1 to the roll
If the target is already on fire, +1 to the roll
If the target is highly flammable (i.e. soaked in oil) +1 to the roll
If the flame is as big as the target (i.e. fire pit) +2 to the roll

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sample Dungeon Rooms 9-11

Room 9 - This room has been furnished as a lounge by the bandits. The walls are decorated with a variety of tapestries that are beginning to molder. An odd assortment of mismatched tables and chairs are clustered around the room. Several decks of cards, a checkers set, and other games are on the various tables. None of them are complete. Behind the tapestry on the west side of the south wall is a 3’ diameter hole that leads to room 23.

Room 10 – This corridor is lined with prison cells. All of the cells are barred, and none seem to have doors.

Room 11 – Aside from a table and two chairs there is only one item of note: an 8 inch long skeleton key on a large ring hanging on the wall. Anyone grasping the ring (without holding the key) will instantly be teleported into the closest unoccupied cell. In order to open the cell the key must be held and tapped against the bars of the cell. A door will magically appear and open, only to disappear when the door is closed.

As the April A to Z Challenge has started, I’ll be posting the Sample Dungeon updates (as they’re written) on the remaining Sundays in lieu of the Sunday Inspirational Image posts.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for High Level Campaigns

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “H” the number “8” and the support of readers like you.

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There comes a point in the life of a successful adventurer when they will begin to want more than another dungeon delve or wilderness trek. As they approach name level (9 traditionally), thoughts of castles, armies, and political power begin to fill their heads. This leads to a vastly different play style than low level play.

Way back when I actually got to play Rules Cyclopedia D&D I only had 2 characters make it to name level. The first was a fighter, whose name I don’t remember. He eventually built a castle, and ruled a fair amount of land, fighting in one war before being retired around level 11 or 12. The second was the Archmage who eventually got up into the low 20’s. I played him a lot, and by the time he was retired he had built himself a magical flying ship very similar in look to the one from Flight of the Navagator (I had recently gotten the Champions of Mystera boxed set). It didn’t have an AI or bound spirit or anything like that, and it was a little bigger, with lots of nifty little tricks. It also cost him just about every gold piece he had, several magical items, and took about 3 levels to complete. He also had a number of other magic items, and a very thick spell book. His last adventure was fighting astral aliens who were trying to take over the world. He was in the middle of a quest to find an artifact held by a god that would let him defeat the oncoming armada.

If I’d have been able to continue to play him, and he’d have survived, he definitely would have worked toward the ultimate end game of Rules Cyclopedia Dungeons and Dragons, namely becoming one of the Immortals.

It’s a little different with the current edition of Dungeons and Dragons, or at least so it seems. The focus remains on combat (rules-wise) no matter the level, but the venue and the monsters become more and more exotic as the characters reach higher level. In heroic tier (low level) the players are on a terrestrial world, with maybe some side trips to the near Feywild or Shadowfell. Paragon Tier takes the players firmly into both of those realms and then out into the Astral Realms. By Epic Tier characters are traipsing around the cosmos all the way down into the Abyss and battling demon lords and greater dragons!

There is something about being a preteen that makes high level adventures easier I think. By the time I got into my late teens I became very focused on low to mid level play, usually capping off around name level. I just became much less interested in what I perceived to be power gaming. I think it was the shift in focus that seemed so sharp that it was jarring for me. It might also be the fact that aside from when I was 12 I never ran or was in a game that ran long enough to reach those higher levels of play. I simply never exercised those imagination muscles.

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Games Workshop

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “G” the number “7” and the support of readers like you.

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The Evil Empire of table top miniature wargames, creator of Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, as well as a sundry of other related miniature games, and holder of the license for the Lord of the Rings miniature games. Anyone who has played any of these games for any length of time (aka long enough to have enjoyed an edition change) has a love/hate relationship with GW. It’s really hard to deny the quality of their models, even when complaining about their rules sets is like shooting fish in a barrel – with a tactical thermonuclear device.*

My first exposure to GW came through a game called HeroQuest. This board game came with an array of monsters – goblins, orcs, skeletons, zombies and more – that found frequent use in my D&D games.

Chaos Warriors, Orcs, and Skeletons. Oh my!

It was also my introduction to painting miniatures. Back in the day (early 90’s) I was using my dad’s model railroad testors paints.


I was later reintroduced to GW via Battlefleet Gothic. It was cheaper than either WHFB or WH40K, and the specialist game of the year. Plus who doesn’t love ramming spaceships?!?

A small portion of my Imperial Battlefleet

I eventually collected an obscene amount of points for my Imperial Fleet (5,000+), then collected Chaos (4,000+), then Space Marines (2,000), Orcs (3,000), and Tau (1,500). The Orcs and the Tau are the only fleets that aren’t almost completely painted.

My chaos fleet on my cousin's board

I then bought someones Bretonian army for Fantast Battles, and started working on a World Eaters army for 40K. I’ve actually yet to work on the bretonians, sad to say…

My force from a RTT. I came in 4th!

I’ve also collected a variety of random GW minis

Elves In Space!
Mordheim Necromancer

More recently I’ve been collecting the Lord of the Rings minis, which have brought me full circle with my HeroQuest minis, as I’ve used them as D&D minis! Especially the orcs!

Clearly these are Bandits rather than orcs!

*OK, that last bit was an exaggeration. Many of GW’s rules sets are fantastic; the problem is that it’s not their core games that have the great rules!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for Flotsam and Jetsam

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “F” the number “6” and the support of readers like you.

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Flotsam and jetsam are the random finds of the sea. Either things that were tossed overboard (for whatever reason) or floated away when the ship sinks, they can make for some interesting encounters. Below you will find a chart best suited for encounters on the open water. Many items don’t exactly qualify as flotsam or jetsam, but I included them anyway.

Open Water Flotsam and Jetsam
  1. Pale golden skinned mechanical human, black scorch marks cover its chest and head
  2. Large empty cask
  3. Lifesaver with faded writing
  4. Coconut with a bloody handprint
  5. Message in a bottle – See sub-chart A
  6. White leather ball with a face painted on it
  7. Wooden board with the word “Minnow” painted on it
  8. Rowboat with a child and a tiger
  9. Rowboat with the body of a warrior complete with 1d3 masterwork weapons/armor and 2d12*100gp worth of jewelry
  10. Empty Raft
  11. Small iceberg – See sub-chart B
  12. Floating nest with a single large egg
  13. Box 2’x1’x1’ – There are windows on 3 sides, and a door. The lid swings open to reveal furniture bolted to the floor designed to fit a 6” tall humanoid.
  14. Rubber duck/toy boat
  15. Piece of silvery metal 6’ square (very light, floats, very strong)
  16. Ships figurehead – See sub-chart C
  17. Large chunk of a ships railing and deck, tied with a rope to a harpoon that is stuck in a large tentacle.
  18. Body of a Grey in a space suit
  19. Crude totem pole
  20. Sealed bottle with a genie inside (looks like Barbara Eden) who’s only power is to be able to enter and exit the bottle in a puff of pink smoke as long as it is unsealed. She hasn’t been out of the bottle in over 500 years!

Not these two!

Sub-Chart A
  1. Love letter
  2. Treasure map of a Desert Island
  3. Detailed fleet information from of unknown nation
  4. Poems
  5. Seeds and growing instructions
  6. Last Will and Testament of someone named Robinson
  7. Three nonconsecutive pages from a holy book
  8. Empty

Sub-Chart B
  1. Grandma
  2. Polar Bear
  3. Penguins 2d6
  4. Frozen mastodon
  5. Escape pod from JJ’s 1701
  6. Silvery cylinder containing a green slime/yellow mold/etc.
  7. Flying Saucer encased in ice
  8. Nothing special

Sub-Chart C
  1. Mermaid
  2. Warrior
  3. Priest
  4. Eagle
  5. Lantern bearer
  6. Dragon
  7. King
  8. Wolf

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Elevators

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “E” the number “5” and the support of readers like you.

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The door was stuck, or perhaps barred from the inside. Nimble finished examining it and nodded the all clear to Rathgar. Wedging the pry bar between the door and the frame, he started applying pressure. Slowly, the door began to bend before finally popping open, some of the wood splintering. Beyond the doorway was a shaft that ran down far below the reach of the torchlight. Each of the adventurers in turn took a look down into the darkness. Nimble was the first to really look up, and noticed a large dull silvery disk pressed into the ceiling. As everyone was looking into the darkness, Rathgar lit a spare torch. When Nimble was done, Rathgar passed him the torch, and he tossed it down the shaft. It finally came to a rest deep down, probably over 300 yards.

“I think I saw another doorway on the opposite side of the shaft.” Nimble reported. “Maybe 50 feet down.”

Everyone silently considered for a moment. “Well, if you want to scout it, we’ll wait here and pull you out.” Rathgar offered.

“You know, I think I do.” Nimble quickly dropped his pack, keeping it well away from the edge. With quick deft movements he tied a silken rope around his waist and began his climb. Rathgar fed the rope out as Nimble clung to the wall, working his way around and down the shaft with unsurprising dexterity. It didn’t take long for him to disappear into the darkness, his presence indicated only be the continued movement of the rope, and the hints of something moving in the dark.

“Ok, I’m on the platform.” Nimble said up the shaft as quietly as he could. “Slide down a lantern.”

Rathgar took the lantern that Allianora was carrying, and slipped the rope through the top ring. “Here it comes.” He warned. The lantern dropped the length of the rope with remarkable speed, but Nimble looped the rope and caught it easily. The doorway was similar to the one his companions were on, except that the door was closed, and hanging on the wall was a small lever.

“Hey!” Nimble called up. “Is there a switch behind the door?”
Everyone standing on the upper doorway looked at each other. “Did you look behind the door?” Rathgar asked Feris and Allianora. They both shook their heads no. Shuffling around, they closed the door, and looked at the wall behind it, seeing a small switch.

“There’s one up here too.” Rathgar replied to Nimble’s question.

“I’m going to flip it” Nimble warned. Reaching out, he pulled the switch down. There was a clicking sound, and the switch snapped back to its original position. A humming noise could be heard from above, and the grey disk dropped from the ceiling, four chains attached at equidistant points on the edge of the circle. It fell with enough speed to cause a good breeze before coming to a stop at the level of Nimble’s doorway. Rathgar dropped the rope so that it didn’t catch on the disk.

On the center of the disk was a small orb standing on a chest height pillar. Nimble stepped gingerly onto the disk. Under the orb was a series of symbols. Not knowing what any of them meant, he pressed one at random, and the disk started moving down.

“Nimble?!?” Rathgar called down

“I’m ok, just trying to figure out how to work this thing.” The disk came to a rest at another platform on the same wall as the one Rathgar was standing on. Nimble pressed another symbol, one that was one away from the original one, and the disk jerked upward, passing the lower doorway that he had just left. It came to a stop before Rathgar. “I think we’ve found our way down.” Nimble announced.

Elevators make for interesting ways to allow characters to move through a dungeon, especially given how many issues they can have! Will it work, or get stuck during use? Will a chain break, or is someone else controlling it? What if someone - or something else wants to use it while the adventurers are on it? Plus there's the whole question of how deep down the adventurers are willing to try to go!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Derring-Do

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “D” the number “4” and the support of readers like you.

Thank you.

In old school Dungeons and Dragons caution was often the most successful strategy. Get in, get the gold, and get out with as little danger as possible. Especially at low level it was the best way to increase the odds of survival. Yet it isn’t the moments of creeping slowly down a dungeon corridor, carefully mapping every step that players remember. The real memories are made when the characters engage in feats of Derring-Do!

They don’t generally happen by accident though, or at least not without a little preparation on the DM’s part. In order for the players to engage in such memorable play they need to be given the toys to play with.

Let’s work from an example: The Orc and the Pie. In this situation you have a 10x10 room with 1 door, 1 table, 1 chair, 1 orc, and 1 pie. The orc is talking to himself about the pie, and how much he is going to enjoy eating it, just as soon as it’s cool enough to do so without burning his mouth. Enter 1 adventurer. Typically the adventurer will kick in the door, and kill the orc, taking the pie for himself. But it can be so much more interesting!! What if the orc kicks over the table, sending the pie flying? The adventurer catches it in one hand, and now must decide whether to run or fight. Or what if the orc grabs the pie and holds it hostage? What if instead of kicking down the door, the character knocks, and opens a negotiation with the orc for the pie?

What each of these options shows are the characters, both PC and NPC, interacting not only with each other (pointy end going into the bad guy) but also with the scenery, the props that the DM provides. Errol Flynn couldn’t have swung across the room if there wasn’t a handy rope or chandelier. Jackie Chan doesn’t do anything that doesn’t require at least 3 different things to interact with during a fight, and it’s usually more. Your players need those props too.

The most boring thing to find in any dungeon is an empty 10x10 room. No room should ever be completely empty (unless there is a very good reason for it). There may be no monster, no treasure, no trap, and nothing “special” but that doesn’t mean there aren’t barrels of stagnant water, sacks of moldering something, stairs, scaffolding, a big red button, or a giant brass gong.

In situations/rooms where there are monsters, treasure, traps, or something special, there should be plenty of these things for everyone to play with! Fire pits, alters to crawl under or jump over, large potted plants, hanging chains, iron maidens, anything and everything that may be put to some crazy use by the players (or the monsters)!

This is something I’m doing my best to remember as I work on my megadungeon. When I forget about it I tend to get stuck. Getting unstuck doesn’t always take a feat of Derring-Do on my part, but allowing the possibility for my players will usually do it!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Virginia Is Awesome!

In case you didn't know it, Today is a Day of Celebration! It is the birthday of my loving partner Virginia, and she is indeed awesome!

How is she awesome?  Well as you can see, she is both beautiful and silly. A great combination!

If that isn't enough of a reason, she is also the one that puts up with my crazy hobbies, my silly games, and this even sillier blog. What's more is that sometimes she even gets in on it!

On top of all of that she is a voracious reader, a lover of hamsters & corgis, and a wonderfully creative person.

I am lucky to be able to share my life with her, and sometimes that needs to be shouted out to the world! So in case you missed it the first time:

Virginia is Awesome!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

C is for Chaotic Neutral

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “C” the number “3” and the support of readers like you.

Thank you.

Chaotic Neutral can be described as being the alignment of ultimate personal freedom. The chaotic neutral character is the one that follows her whims, but doesn’t care about anyone else’s. They give no thought for society or anyone but themselves. They aren’t malicious, just selfish.

Aside from Psionics, the Chaotic Neutral alignment is the only other thing in my game that I ever outright banned. Any new players that came to my table with a CN character received one chance to come back with a character of a different alignment. I’d accept an evil character at the table before a chaotic neutral one.

The problem stems most likely from the group of people I was playing with. They were mostly high school and college age guys, and when given the option of playing a CN character, any and all chances of having a decent gaming session went out the window. The CN characters would engage in the most sophomoric and asshole-ish actions and any group coherency fell apart with cries of “I can do that, it’s his alignment!” It generally made people upset, me included, so relatively early on I threw down the Ban Hammer.

So what is it about the Chaotic Neutral alignment that seems to attract assholes? Or is it just that the Chaotic Neutral alignment is composed entirely of unlikeable assholes? A quick search of the characters generally assigned to CN in demotivational posters you end up with characters like Jack Sparrow, Ash, Jayne, and Steve Zissou. Now, the thing about all of these guys is that, yes, they’re selfish, and they can only be trusted so far, but not one of them will just stick a knife in a companion’s back because they just felt like it. Chaotic Neutral is about freedom, not insanity, but that distinction was lost on my players at that time.

Even now I find myself cringing at the words Chaotic Neutral. I think that I might… MIGHT be willing to let someone play a CN character now, but they would have to work at convincing me.

Yes, I'm posting this on Sunday. No, it's not because I want to get the drop on everyone else, but because tomorrow will be a Very Special Blog Post. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Bards

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “B” the number “2” and the support of readers like you.

Thank you.

The bard never much appealed to me as a class in D&D. It just never seemed to fit in anywhere, usually being a hodgepodge of abilities from the other classes. They possess limited fighting ability, limited roguish ability, and some odd magical power all wrapped up with music and storytelling.

I’m just going to put this out there – lutes, ocarinas, bagpipes, drums, etc. do not belong in a dungeon. For that matter, neither does the Bard!

This Bard is great for games though!

I totally understand the drive to have a debonair dabbler in magic, a swashbuckling type that’s just a little more fantastic than your average rogue, but the bard makes a poor template to base it on. A better strategy would be to make a magic dabbler that could be interpreted as a bard.

I would love to put such a class together for you, but most of the work has already been done. In the 2nd edition setting Birthright true wizards were rare as they needed the blood of a god in their veins in order to tap into true magic. Anyone who lacked that bloodline (most people) that was interested in studying the arcane arts became a magician. The magician character class had access to a broader variety of weapons than a wizard and a limited number and power of spells available to them (spells of Divination and Illusion of all levels, all other schools 1st and 2nd level spells only), as well as access to Rogues, Wizards, and General non-weapon proficiency groups.

Now, this magician character can be looked at in a variety of lights, depending on how the player chooses to run him. With a high enough charisma he could certainly act as a performer when not crawling around in dungeons. Alternately the character could be a hedge wizard who acts as the village wise man. The character could also be played as a noble dilettante who has toyed with both rapier and wand. It could even be used (with a slight tweaking of the spell & weapon list) to present a variation on the innately magical types (elves, dwarves, etc).

Hmmm... Ok, fine. I'll reinvent the wheel for the Rules Cyclopedia. Look for a new character class next month. Damn you A to Z Challenge, like I don't have enough to do already...

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Adventurers

Welcome to the Tower of the Archmage’s April A to Z Challenge!

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “A” the number “1” and the support of readers like you.

Thank you.

Adventurers are an odd lot. They are beings that willfully put themselves into extreme danger in the hopes of becoming ever richer, ever more powerful. Sometimes it’s worldly power, and other times it is something far stranger, but in the end, it’s about power.

The problem most of them face is that they can’t do it alone. Venturing into some of the most dangerous places in the world (or beyond it) takes some serious backup, especially in the beginning. This is why you find the odd groups that form adventuring parties. It is rare to see elves, dwarves, dragonborn, rakaska, humans, and goblins all hanging out together in any instance beyond that of an adventuring party.

Being exposed to all of these different cultures makes adventurers some of the most cosmopolitan beings on the prime material planes. After having faced vampires and werewolves together, it isn't that big a stretch to fight with werewolves against vampires!

Of course that doesn't always prepare them for more civilized intrigues. By the time they're ready to get involved in such dealings, they're usually about ready to be building their own castles, temples, and towers at which they'll be the center of courtly life. And thus we find ourselves back to power. It does not stop here however.

For those truly motivated individuals the search for power will send them far away from their homes, and off to distant worlds and even to different planes of existence. Some even become immortals, what some call gods!

Whatever their destiny, they all start at level 1.