Module Playlist as Campaign

May 7, 2015

I talked yesterday about the inputs the DM and players add to the game experience when running a module. I’m writing an adventure now, as we’re playing it, and my players’ antics are going to affect the module. I also come up with weird ideas and make connections I didn’t see before during gameplay. It’s a richer adventure than it would be if I were writing it alone. Is this what it feels like to be part of a writers’ salon? I should find a forum for gaming authors.

This process is exciting because once the module is printed and sent out, other people are going to experience it differently, but they aren’t going to have much impact on how other groups experience it.

That got me thinking about collaborative video games. People playing on a small server are like players in a single gaming group. Individuals might filter out into other groups part-time, some come and go, and others are reliable anchors. But in, for example, a Minecraft server, there is little going on in one server that affects other servers. There is some spread of culture throughout the community, but I believe most of the impact comes from mods. Some mods are minor, but others affect gameplay so much they become the identity of the server.

If you start a new campaign with a module, how much will that module’s themes, events, NPCs, loot, etc. impact the rest of the campaign? Are there are really great “module playlists” that result in latter modules being experienced in a very different way than expected?

What if you could get the module author to run the adventure for you?

May 5, 2015

I always felt that book readings by the author are totally not worth it. I’ll read a book with margin notes, but what can the author add by reading his own words? What about watching a movie sitting next to the director? I’m probably wrong and missing out on some serene joy.

It feels like games are different, possibly because they’re so interactive. I could see how it could be fun to play a multiplayer game against or cooperating with the people who made it.

And it feels like D&D is absolutely the opposite. Maybe because I’m looking at things from inside the creative process, and I’m just not experienced in those other media and can’t see it.

But if I write an adventure and run it for my gaming group, and we have a great time, a huge part of that is found nowhere in the written text of the adventure. Let’s say there are some broad categories:

1: Things happen that are directly from the module, and go about how the author expected.
2: Things happen from the module but are dramatically different because of the players and the DM running it. Common in mysteries, most noticeably because the players solve it quickly or miss/ignore clues and get stuck.
3: Things are interjected by the DM that weren’t in the module. Running gags, favorite NPCs, the holy relic is now of the PC Cleric’s god instead of the setting-specific one in the module.
4: Things are interjected by the players. A player may become interested in starting a counterfeiting or cattle business, or build a home in town.
5: Random events mean every playthrough is different. Random table results, encounter outcomes, whether secrets are discovered.

Part of why tabletop gaming is so entertaining is its malleability and the ease of development. That’s why it’s really for the best that outcomes 2-5 are super common. The module author’s task is to write a framework for the adventure, giving enough structure so the DM isn’t constantly scrambling to create things during play, and giving enough interesting things that players can interact with to generate plenty of 2-5. D&D is a jam session.

I love this adventure I’m running. I’m writing it up in a way that’s most useful to me at the table, and figuring out what works and what doesn’t will hopefully make it useful for someone else. We’re essentially playtesting and enriching it as we go.

But what do people want from a module?

Do you want something that’s very complete with strongly interconnected ideas? For example, changing the dwarf temple from the deity I wrote it for wouldn’t work well because there’s history, motivation, treasure, puzzles, and loot all affected by that specific deity’s tenets.

Or do you want a very loose framework, a bland dish to which you will apply your favorite sauces?

Because the latter can be generated readily by computers, I think there’s more human-added value to the former. And maybe people enjoy a module with a strong, consistent identity followed by a few palette-cleansing randos and something written by the “home DM”. I’m certainly not making any judgments! I read a B/X game that was generally just random dungeons and it sounded like it was a lot of fun.

I am inside this. I have pierced my heart and what flows will stain my page, to be sent to the printers. I deeply feel that for me to create something worthwhile I have to create what I want – not what some audience wants. Hopefully there is an audience for whatever I make. I have to make it, regardless. And I think what I’m making is going to be the former of the two extreme types I suggested above.

Multiple Paths and Encounter Balance

May 4, 2015

I’m working on a sandbox adventure: lots of things in it, ways to deal with those things, and paths to travel between them. You could spend a lot of time ignoring the main dungeon or you could go straight to it.

How do you make the game interesting for players whether they encounter the Troll Bridge at level 1 or level 5? Another way someone might phrase that is, how do you balance the encounter and the loot? Here’s my take on this.

1: Not everything will be a combat encounter. If the creature is too tough or weak compared to the PCs it may turn into a chase or parley instead.

2a: If there is a fight: If the PCs are underleveled for the encounter, they will have a hard time with it. It might feel like a boss fight. They may turn away from the area, considering it too difficult right now, or may press ahead and use consumable, nonrenewable resources to overcome the encounter. When they eventually deal with it, they’ll get good XP and loot, perhaps beyond their normal expectations, and that will help boost them up to the level they should be in that area.

2b: If the PCs are overleveled for the fight, they’ll blow through the monsters quickly, get bad XP and loot which won’t change their power level much, and move on through to a higher-level area.

What if the higher level party doesn’t experience the area the same way because it’s too easy? But what if the underleveled party experiences a high level area as more harrowing and exciting than it would be at-level? I think the potential for the latter is worth the risk of the former.

Multiple paths.

Let’s say there’s a main dungeon, and to reach it you can go through a big nasty front door leading to Level 3, or go through an unguarded air vent to Level 1, or a very deadly pit leading all the way down to Level 6. Novice PCs will want to head in through the air vent because Level 3 is too tough for them. But once they’re higher level, even if they haven’t cleared out levels 1 and 2, they might just take the shortcut at the front door to save time and wandering monster rolls.

Now let’s say instead of just a different entrance, you have a pre-dungeon that leads into Level 3 and another that leads into Level 6. The PCs may not realize they lead to the main dungeon yet. When you enter the first pre-dungeon you find Level 1 difficulty, ramping up to Level 3 difficulty by the time you reach the main dungeon and pop into it at Level 3. Seamless! Same with the other pre-dungeon, where you enter at Level 2 difficulty and it ramps up to Level 6 difficulty just before it spills into the main dungeon. A faster increase, and more dangerous because player won’t as easily spot the higher level stuff in the pre-dungeon.

I love this method, and have used it in two adventures now.

In one, I had four 3-level pre-dungeons with a portal in the bottom of each, leading to the main dungeon, which started at difficulty Level 4 and didn’t have any direct connection to the surface. The idea was you could go through any of the four and get to the bottom, and then if you wanted to explore the other three, you could go in from the exterior top entrance as usual, or head across the portal room and enter another dungeon’s Level 3 portal room to get to the hardest part of it immediately. Each pre-dungeon was ruled by a high-level villain, and to protect himself from other villains each would fortify his portal room, making the fight very entertaining for the PCs. The players in my game explored two of the pre-dungeons but never took advantage of the portals to skip the upper levels of the second one, and never set foot into pre-dungeons 3 and 4. They just decided eventually to follow the clues back to the overworld where they gathered things they needed to banish and/or control the boss and reached the end of the adventure.

It worked well, but a party at level 7 or 8 entering a new dungeon and working their way down would have been tedious. Much quicker than a Level 3 party doing it, but it still takes time.

My second adventure using this method is the one I’m working on now. In it, there is a super dangerous and obvious entrance, a secret side entrance that’s actually pretty dangerous too, a pair of side entrances leading to a lower level that nobody will likely find except from the inside (meaning you probably have to reach the level and leave by the side exit to find the entrance), and – this is the important part – two pre-dungeon paths that don’t seem connected to the main dungeon.

I decided it might be cool to have the local awful human racist bandit/adventurer band discover the other pre-dungeon that the PCs don’t find, and explore it at roughly the same rate the players explore theirs. This gives me a reason to have these antagonists present themselves in the main dungeon rather than just being a camp in the woods and an entry on the random wilderness encounter lists.

Will the PCs fight them, considering them claimjumpers and unwilling to share loot that might be found in the dungeon? Will the PCs (some non-human in this case) overcome their revusion at the bandits’ attitudes and work together? Will they partition the dungeon somehow and try to avoid each other? And regardless of their political decision, what happens when they encounter each other in the dark, desperate corridors when one party of another may be injured or loaded with loot?

But you all may have an opinion on whether this is just annoying. Does it feel like having the NPCs explore the dungeon too is just taking away adventure opportunities from the players? Nobody wants to feel like someone else is eating his sandwich. But maybe this is a good spur to get them excited to get into the dungeon?

What do you think?

You don’t have time to build up to something great

May 1, 2015

Let’s get down to our roots.

“You’ve got your equipment, worked out your marching order. Your party traveled through the swamps following the ancient crumbling road. You’ve made your way to the ruined moathouse. Its open gates yawn open before you, great planks shattered by some forgotten siege, now covered in moss.”

The next thing that happens needs to be the best thing you can think of. Don’t hold that idea back for use later in the dungeon, or in some other campaign. Trust me, you’ll have other ideas. Maybe better ones. What you can not afford is to have a mostly empty ground floor with some bandits who don’t know about the snake living in the corner.

Let’s say you game every Saturday for a few hours, every single week of the year. You could play through the old school modules in a couple years. Mix in the One Page Dungeon contest winners and you’ve got at least another couple years. By then you probably have a bunch of adventure ideas of your own, maybe a big campaign idea. Assuming no gaps in gaming, and that you’re one of those lifelong gamers, and you don’t play other games, I could hand you enough free resources to run games for a decade. The stuff I write, I’ll probably never get a chance to use all of it. Not to say it’s all good, but I sure like it.

This embarrassment of riches demands discretion. You have only so much life to live, only so many rolls of that d20, so every lame battle with some kobolds in a field means one less fight with a fire-eating Kool-Aid Man who took over a dual-phase wizard’s mansion.

Next game session, use up the best idea you have right away. I think you’ll find it refreshing.

New Campaign – First Time Doing A City Campaign

September 3, 2014

Trying to get a new campaign up and running. I’ve got a gonzo sci-fantasy jungle / desert setting where a baroque and decadent empress rules a decayed land studded with bits of ancient and fabulous magical technology, and her emperor is exiled to a sunless dungeonland of weird fungi and toad-cults under the capitol. This Crescent of Civilization setting is in the works, but its flavor is becoming bitter from having tasted it too much over the past few months. It rocks but I am disillusioned at the moment.

What I want is a more tightly focused game, maybe straight Undermountain or something. I want crazy stuff to happen in town: random encounters with street weirdos or stumbling upon a battle between two funeral processions, a beer-cart robbery turning into a fight with a mimic, a bad harlot subtable roll resulting in being bitten by a poet (which turns you into a poet). I also want crazy stuff in the dungeon: factions that can be played off each other, puzzle rooms hiding excellent treasure, cutting a thankful explorer out of the belly of a giant snake. I really want the city to be dungeon-adjacent both to reduce travel and enhance interconnections between the areas. Phlan would work too. Or a region I had run for a campaign called Dweller in the Pool.

As for rules, I’m seriously considering d20 E6, which is a pretty simple rules hack for 3rd edition: leveling stops at 6th and after that you get a feat every 5000 XP. But of course you have to qualify for the feat, and feats won’t give you access to 4th level spells, and while the “build” premise doesn’t entirely evaporate it’s much easier to stomach. Or I could do 1st edition, which I’m comfortable with. Or 5E – although the art style still leaves me cold and the rules are no better than the homebrew stuff floating around. There’s a point where you’re just done with “all the dwarves are a little different now so spend $150 on new books, we swear we aren’t selling you a shit sandwich this time guys”. When I write a rule set, I have the booklets printed up at Kinkos for $3 each and just hand them out – then again, I’m not running a business here. So maybe I’ll dig up Ruins & Ruffians, do an errata pass, and use that. Or the 0E translation I just did.

I’m happy as long as people are running out of torches, your sword breaks over the orc king’s collarbone and the wizard has to throw you a spare dagger, and the bodyguards rush in only to clog up those bear traps you thoughtfully laid out ahead of time. His secret stash in his lavish boudoir. The sun shines at a hole far above, you climb out on creaking ropes, and spend your treasure on carousing and equipping the next expedition. But that’s what I’m comfortable with – I don’t have a whole lot of politics and intrigue in my campaigns. But if I have rules for that stuff that turns it into a game and not a loosey-goosey talkfest, maybe I’ll be more likely to use it. SO in addition to a boatload of event and encounter tables that define the setting, and dungeon and city maps and keys, and lots of stuff that can turn into plot depending on whatever the players do with it, I need some kind of social rules framework and social events and encounters.

I wants players to consider it worthwhile to set up housekeeping in a fortified dwelling in or near town. Inns have to be unsatisfactory for security reasons and a lack of legit banks means you have to hide any treasure you don’t carry. What other benefits of having a residence? Maybe Fighters get buff because they have a gym to work out in, M-Us and Clerics can study spells and magic items sporadically during their off time or produce potions and scrolls, Thieves fence hot loot and gather adventure hooks and treasure maps. So I need some simple guidelines for what you get with a dwelling. Everyone’s established by Name Level so followers naturally appear hoping to march under the PC’s banner.

I work on the plot between sessions: I look over what happened and consider whether there are any ramifications in the future. I find that this stuff generates threads that naturally result in interesting background and can be pulled together for something that looks an awful lot like I planned a story arc all along.

I also want to use the classes and races to create social structures in the city. If there are Barbarians, they’re from somewhere and when you encounter an NPC Barbarian he might be from your tribe or a rival tribe. Because there are Clerics there will be temples and weird little deities. Because there are Thieves there will be gangs of thugs and burglary rings and extortioners and cutpurses. Dwarves are rumored to be rich in gold and gems – I love that! But I want to shy away from monolithic guilds, for the same reasons I don’t want one deity and one temple.

More thought and work is required.

Initiative: Declared, Phases, Speed and Length

January 3, 2014

Here’s an alternate D&D initiative system.

1: It involves declaring your actions before you do them. And then during the round you can’t change your mind.
2: Action goes in phases: Ranged, Movement, Hand-to-Hand, Items, Spells.
3: Within a phase the order is determined by features of what you’re using.

First, you roll initiative. Whoever loses must declare first, and the winner declares last, giving him the chance to see what’s coming and decide his plan for the round. Roll d6 for each side (usually PCs and Monsters but you could have multiple forces).

The declaration is “I’m moving to X” and also “I’m doing Y”. You can declare some or no movement AND you can declare one or no action phase.

Phase 1 is Ranged combat. This includes fired missiles like sling stones and arrows, and also thrown weapons, but not activated spells or magic items. All ranged combat occurs simultaneously and before any other phases. This means when two parties meet, they can always exchange missile fire before closing to melee (unless surprise was involved). If you declared a shot and for some reason no enemy is available, you still shoot (probably at the place where the enemy used to be before it vanished). This won’t come up often because there’s no time between declaration and Phase 1.

Phase 2 is Movement. All movement happens in order of the slowest to fastest. So a Move 6 character gets to do his entire movement before a Move 9 character can go. This order works unless there’s some effect related to proximity, such as an aura of fire, for which you should move piece-by-piece; for example, the Move 9 will move 3 spaces for every 2 spaces the Move 6 gets. Because melee occurs after all movement is finished, this should come up rarely. For longer-term movement where terrain knowledge, vision, size, and dexterity are factors, use a set of Pursuit rules such as in OD&D.

Phase 3 is Hand-to-Hand. Within this phase, melee weapons can strike if (A) there is an enemy you can reach after Move is finished, AND (B) you had declared HTH previously. If you did not declare HTH, you can’t attack. Similarly, if you held a bow and declared Ranged, you can’t also attack HTH if someone moves up to you. You can strike HTH at any of the targets available – but if you declared a HTH and there’s an enemy to attack, you must do it. Of course you don’t have to strike friends if they’re the only ones available. If there is no enemy and you don’t get to strike HTH you’ve still used up your declared action and cannot act later.

The order of attacks in Phase 3 is determined by weapon length if movement occurred, or by weapon speed (reverse order weapon length) if no movement occurred. If a spearman fighting an axeman wants to keep winning HTH order, the spearman needs to keep advancing or retreating. If he gets stuck in a corner or his allies behind him don’t want to retreat, he’s stuck standing still and fighting the axeman which means the axeman goes before him in HTH order.

All melee weapons are ranked as Short (Dagger, Hand Axe), Medium (Sword, Mace), Long (Spear, Staff). If two Short weapons fight, the result is simultaneous (and may result in a double-kill as with Ranged attacks). If you throw a melee weapon it goes during the Ranged phase instead and weapon length / speed doesn’t matter.

Phase 4 is Items. This includes opening a door, using a key on a door to lock or unlock it, pulling a lever. It also includes activated magic items like rings and wands. The order of resolution here is that smaller items go before larger items – so a magic ring is very fast while slamming a door shut is probably one of the last items to get used.

Phase 5 is Spells. Spells go off in order of lowest-level first, meaning when you cast you need to decide whether to cast a fast weak spell or a strong slow one. Another caster might attack you with his spell before you fire yours. If you’re hit for damage or severely jostled you lose the spell and it doesn’t go off. Since all spells go off last, and you are actually casting throughout the round, you are in danger of being attacked throughout the round by missiles and then by melee and magic items.


Held actions (for example, a melee attack or slamming a door if you see someone coming) can interrupt another phase. But you can’t hold up more than one action and you can’t take other actions in the interim. You could, for example, declare a held missile action. The next time an enemy comes within view you fire automatically – on its movement phase and before it can finish that movement. You could declare a held Spell and on the next round when an enemy Teleports in you would complete the casting and fry him.

Even though you can’t make actions while holding an action, you can still move normally.


Magic can improve your initiative in various ways. It can make you more aware, giving a bonus to the initiative roll and letting you declare second more frequently. It can affect which phase your action occurs in – for example, you might be able to make a second missile shot in the Spell phase. Or it can affect the resolution order within the phase – for example, a Sword of Speed that has length Medium but speed Short.


Yes this is finicky, but it’s also more chewy and offers more opportunities for magic to affect things. Because it’s also less based on die roll, it allows for better planning. It also lets us take advantage of weapon speed and length in a way that isn’t irritating and cumbersome, and more weapon features make the decision of which weapon to use a more interesting one. It makes Movement matter within a combat even if the distances moved are relatively short. Finally it makes the Initiative roll completely good instead of a mixed bag: if you roll d10 and act in order, the people who lost initiative have to wait, but they also have more information to use when their turn comes around.


December 16, 2013

In OD&D there was no Restoration. If a Wight struck and you lost a level, you were stuck adventuring to regain the lost XP. This made Undead terrifying to players, as much as they should be terrifying to the characters. Eventually the rise of a vampire PC named Sir Fang and his Undead hordes influenced the creation of the Cleric class to combat them [Citation Needed].

Quickly the Restoration spell came about, most likely a result of players bitching and moaning about level draining. D&D isn’t a game with lopped-off limbs and plucked eyes, where your adventurer must retire because he took an arrow to the – elbow. While some players consider one character to be “my character” (even from campaign to campaign) and resist attempts to get them to play something else, many players are willing to restart with a fresh PC should the worst happen. But few want to give up on a crippled PC who would otherwise live a long life. I believe this is why there are few rules in D&D that give permanent disabilities.

We have two competing values: Undead need to be scary to players, but players don’t want permanent negative effects.

One way to reconcile these is to give in to players, as D&D has from 1E AD&D onward, in increasingly dramatic ways. Since that capitulation has been thoroughly explored, I’ll ignore it and try the other direction.

You could go for the other extreme, saying that yes, there are things in the world that are insidious, debilitating, horrifying. You may not want to fight this monster, for if you survive you will bear deep scars. I’d suggest telling players this from the start and make it clear that only Wishes can remove level drain (as this is a fairly big house rule) and that by no means will every party get their hands on even one Wish. I haven’t tried this.

Or you could compromise, saying that Restoration exists but there are risks. The level drain is the Morgul Blade of D&D. It is the cold fingertip of some netherworld creature yet grasping at your heart from beyond the grave. Extricating that cold claw has the chance to fail or even get worse. Roll System Shock with -5% per total level drained. This means if you’ve been drained 5 levels, restoring a level has a -25% penalty. Then the next spell is vs. a PC with 4 drains, meaning that SS roll has a -20%, etc.

For 3E use a Fort save (DC 10 + Monster HD + Monster CHA modifier + Total Number of Levels Drained).

Failure means the spell failed. There should be some reason why you can’t just cast Restoration constantly, maybe an expensive material component or a restriction that the spell can only be cast during a full moon. Maybe you get only one chance per month with each character, or only one chance against each lost level.

A critical failure, which is 01-05 on System Shock or 1 on the Fort save, means the creature was able to grasp the unfortunate more fully. This means another energy drain hit as if by the original creature – which may mean two levels lost.

I don’t exactly like that compromise but it’s the best I’ve thought of. Maybe the No Restoration rule would work better. But in that case you can’t use energy-draining Undead like any other monster. Respect how important this will be to your players. Sending a dozen Wraiths against a party is pretty much a “rocks fall, everyone dies”.

It also makes Clerics so much more important, because Turn Undead may be what saves the entire party instead of just invalidating an encounter as it works now. But will the party be too cocky if they have a high-level Cleric?

This will also be a big wake-up call to players who feel like they can bulldoze a dungeon with impunity. Might be a good idea to include a lot of these permanent-injury monsters, such as Vorpal-types (Slicer Beetle, T-Rex I believe), Parasites / Curses / Diseases (various molds and oozes, lycanthropy, mummy rot). Permadeath (except via ultra-rare Wishes of course) would include Swallow and Digest (Purple Worm) and Annihilate (Sphere of Annihilation, Disintegrate).

These should all be rare both to limit their devastation and make their appearance more poignant. There should be opportunities for avoidance if they can identify the threat, and a chance of avoidance for each PC (an attack roll is required or a saving throw is offered). Probably at least one PC will fall victim to the effect before everyone understands the threat level and has the chance to decide to flee or press the attack. It’s possible some valiant hireling will be the one to perish, or some Ranger’s ferret.

But then the DM gets to lure them in. That haunted tomb definitely contains a Holy Avenger, says the temple’s High Priest. That vault is clearly piled high with funeral goods but Shadows flicker at the edges of your torchlight. The ruined castle is home to a Vampire who mostly keeps to himself, feeding on bandits and sheep, but whose lair is said to contain fabulous artwork.

Making certain monsters palpably dangerous asks the question, “Is this fight worth it?”, which is an interesting decision for players.

You Want M-Us to Invent Spells

July 25, 2013

I know every time I play an M-U my head is full of plans for cool spells to research, but there’s always some bummers: gotta have the gold, access to a library, etc.

What if you could invent exactly one spell per level-up for free as part of your miscellaneous research? Trick is, it can’t be something that’s already in the “regular spell list” that you could pick from for your free level-up spell before.

So you can make a spell that fills an area with cleansing bubbles and acts like a Fog Cloud as well, but lasts far less time, and ask the DM what level it would be. DM ponders over the course of the next week between sessions and gives you the answer next time. If the spell is too high of a spell level, you get it as soon as you reach the right M-U level to cast it. Or you can accept the DM’s amended spell that will work for you right now.

We assume an unbiased DM who isn’t out to screw his players or give them the world on a platter, making a Hold Person variant that also does 1d6 cold damage per round into a 9th level spell, or Mass Grease into a 2nd level spell, etc.

If you really don’t want to get creative, instead your researches result in a roll on some M-U chart that gives things like scrolls, potions, something your familiar dragged in, and hunchbacked hirelings.

M-U Spells Disseminate if you Sell Them

July 19, 2013

Here’s what I’ll call the standard way to handle M-U spells: you have a spellbook, and the spells in the spellbook are what you can choose from to memorize. If you want a new spell, you need to find a magic scroll or a whole spellbook or invent a new spell through rigorous research. But the spell is a magical thing, it detects as magical, and you can’t just hire some scrub scribe to transcribe it.

This makes spells less common because there’s an investment in copying them.

And I would say in general that fun is had when the PCs gain new spells slowly, and when enemy M-Us have spells they don’t have yet, and when the enemy M-Us can play some of the same tricks the PCs use.

It’s also kinda fun to be able to sell your spells if you’re in a bind. But if a PC can make this “free money” by selling his spells, why wouldn’t he? If PCs are so free with their spellbooks, why are NPC M-Us so secretive?

I think it’s espionage; if you have a secret, you are more powerful for it, in direct relation to how few other people know the secret. And in terms of magic, the secret itself has physical power separate from social power or the ability to take advantage of opportunities because of extra knowledge.

So, you can also trade spells with other M-Us, but beware: every M-U you give a spell to is a 1 in 6 chance that every other M-U will have access to it. If you sell it 6 times everyone is gonna be running around blasting that stuff. And that’s a bad thing if the spell you sell is one you’d rather not have used against you.

This works better if there is a standard spellbook everyone starts with. I’d recommend maybe 3 good spells and 3 lame spells per spell level up to 6th. Beyond that anything is uncommon. So that every M-U isn’t walking around with a 10k gp spellbook, it would also help if spells had virtually no cost to transmit. What if a spell was more of a set of instructions, a way to exploit your knowledge as an M-U and your spellbooks? Then selling it isn’t a matter of recouping material costs, it’s a matter of how badly the other guy wants it.

So, we now have a situation where your M-U PC looks around and sees a bunch of other M-Us around town with their own agendas and their own mysterious powers. One may be a master of the Webs, and another may exploit the mysteries of the dreaded Ray of Enfeeblement. And of course nobody tells what all their tricks are, and rumors abound.

An M-U who emerges from the dungeon with new spells will be approached by emissaries fro many wizards wanting to trade or buy, but most offers will be insincere: traps, or lowball offers, or just attempts to figure out exactly what the spell is. Some may be just and true, and might remain good friends for some time. Of course, these good friends are also somewhat likely to pass the spell on to others.

The only people who will not add to the dissemination chance are PCs. Trusted henchmen add to it. Your mother adds to it. NPCs gotta pay the bills sometimes.

And if a spell gets disseminated, it gets added to the standard spellbook for PCs and NPCs alike, with an X in 6 chance next to it until the chance is 6 in 6 whereupon it just is always present. Any potential buyer for a spell (after the first one) will have a chance that it’s already in his book. A spell simply can’t be sold more than 6 times because there are no more buyers, and the more times you sell it the more work it is to find a buyer (and the more likely the buyer is undesirable, unfriendly, more likely to assault or cheat the seller).

Note that in my experience, players typically share spells freely anyway, so this gives an interesting choice between keeping a spell secret or benefiting from selling it.

I imagine this working on a small-scale campaign because M-Us travel around in a small area and make a few desperate trades if necessary. In a globetrotter campaign, I assume NPC M-Us are just as mobile, so information disseminates just as quickly on a global scale as it does on a local scale for a local campaign. Yeah, this means if you sell Fireball in Cormyr there’s an instant 1 in 6 chance every Waterdhavian M-U knows it. Magic is magical!

And, of course, my personal “guaranteed spell list” would not include the most useful spells like Fireball and Fly, but would include less-useful ones like Levitate and Magic Missile. Just enough to get by without adventuring – except any M-U worth his salt will DEMAND to adventure to get new spells!

And if the PCs capture an NPC spellbook with Fireball, and share it among themselves, and agree not to share it – imagine their chagrin and suspicion when one of them ends up taking one of the lavish offers from some NPC and M-Us start showing up with Fireball! Who did it?!

Spell creation is a process that takes years of labor for a high-level and high-INT M-U, and may end up being fruitless. Just like mathematicians working on difficult math problems that lack proofs and solutions.

The repercussions include de-magicking the world. When only a few rare M-Us know Continual Light, you won’t expect to see Continual Light along every village street. If you want a spell to have that kind of widespread Ebberon-style impact on the world, include it in the auto-spell list.

PC M-Us should be a little happy about this since they actually start with a lot more spells (albeit not great ones) and they can feel like they have something rare and powerful even at low level if they find a new one. Plus the interesting choice of disseminating it or not.


Finally, this can replace Chance to Learn Spell if you don’t want to keep it. But I like the idea that an M-U can come across a spell and just not grok it. No matter how hard he tries. Makes every M-U different without needing specialist classes.

Your Domain is a Henchman

July 4, 2013

I can’t remember where I read it, but it was on a blog in the past few days. The idea was to have your “name-level” PC get a domain (stronghold, village, whatever) that would “attack” nearby resources to gather them. So it has HD and uses the same sort of systems as in the main game.

I’d like to expand that idea to just have a character sheet for your domain. HD is population (in general units of people, not individuals), AC is its defenses. You could utilize the six ability scores too (CHA affects immigration and trade).

Another way to look at it is like board games that have a central board and each player has a side board where they develop their own stuff. The central board has limited opportunities that the players scramble for and bring to their side boards. I would say the domain is a personal board and the player develops it as a side interest, with the PCs coming together to adventure in the “main board” of the rest of the game setting. Of course, players would be able to affect each other’s domains if they wanted, whether by taking central resources or directly assisting or hindering each other.

Each class should utilize different resources more effectively, should gather some more efficiently, and those two shouldn’t necessarily be the same resources (encouraging trade). They should have different goals too, for example an M-U might need to have a domain to create spells, magic items, dabble in cloning, etc. Clerics might be able to create holy relics, healing potions, holy water, train Paladins, etc. Fighters would have the largest forces of trained warriors, and thus able to protect the largest amount of land and gain the greatest agricultural production (needed to feed those men … ). And all of this should be graphically clear with the layout of the personal domain boards exactly as it happens in the board games that inspired this.

Basically, I’m trying to encourage the D&D endgame, partly by making domains feed benefits into the PC’s adventuring, partly by not requiring retirement to run a domain (such as “taking care of your Thieves’ Guild takes up all your time, no time for adventure”). If a PC enters the domain game late, it’s not a huge problem, since they’re not in direct competition and the benefits of adventuring still outweigh the income from the domain. In fact, I look at the domain’s profits as going into domain development instead of the PC’s purse, and the development allows transactions instead of giving direct benefits.

A specific example would be an M-U who wants to clone up some monsters to assist him. He needs a secure place far from the prying eyes and pitchforks of the locals: a fortified tower or mansion would be ideal. After setting up whatever defenses he feels necessary, he must spend resources to set up the vats and apparatus for monster-mashing. All this requires resources to be gathered from the countryside: weird plants, monster parts, bottled gasses, salts and sulfurs gathered from steaming pits, etc. And of course craftsmen need to make things. So the M-U either needs to gather villagers who can gather these things, or needs to have magical minions do it, or do it himself. However he manages, all those resources don’t go toward the “GP” line on his character sheet. Instead he now has his vats, and can spend in-between-adventures time mixing up the poor things. His future resource gathering will probably go toward a spell research library, an alchemy lab, observatory, more defenses, improved resource gathering, a special forge for working adamantite, crystal gardens, etc. His vats will produce some monsters that he can bring on the adventure or use for defense of his mansion.

If his M-U buddy doesn’t want to do the same kind of domain side-game, that’s fine. He will end up with an excess of money: he won’t be able to spend it on making magic items, he won’t be able to spend money to grow weird crystals, etc. Maybe he can make a deal with his buddy who has a domain, to buy his stuff, and maybe his buddy will sell him stuff at-cost. Or maybe he will decide to make a domain of his own and develop different things, and the two M-Us happily trade their wares.


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