Posts Tagged ‘D&D’

Domain Rules

May 6, 2011

I need some domain rules. I’ve been steered toward the AD&D Birthright materials, since it seems like D&D has kind of flaked on domain rules since Rules Cyclopedia.

The rules need to be based on the same stuff I have now, though. I could make up rules where a Curtain Wall has 40 Structural Points and a Large Square Tower can hold 3 Room Spaces, but I’d rather not have a whole extra layer of rules that doesn’t come into play most of the time. That might be where I eventually go, but I’d rather just treat strongholds and villages and peasants and armies the same way I treat stone walls and thatch huts and NPCs. No new rules-layer, no new objects and modifiers and stuff, just larger numbers of the same old toys we’ve been playing with all this time.

The important thing is that we be able to abstract it out easily for when the player wants to have a domain but doesn’t want the nitty-gritty of running it, and let the player descend into those details as much as he wants to.

That said, I need some specific encounter tables. There needs to be tables for Nature, Diplomacy, Economy, and Monsters. I chose these because they seemed like they would overall cover the range of events I want to have happen to a domain. A village is the “character” here, who encounters things, except that the village is stationary and things that it encounters must come to it. Because it stays in the same place all the time, encounters that affect it can include things that a normal adventuring group wouldn’t really notice, such as droughts and such.

When creating these tables I need to make sure to not make the neighborhood go crazy every month (or season, or whatever). Mainly they’re there so that nothing can be taken for granted, things are a little more interesting, and if the PCs want to hole up making magic items for six months something might still happen.

Any or all of these tables could be ignored, for example, there isn’t opportunity for diplomacy if you’re off in the wilderness. Although the local intelligent forest creatures might practice some form of diplomacy …

In order for these to work, I need to have a list of nearby other actors. These might be other domains, or might be monster lairs, or dungeons, or whatever. These should be listed such that you can roll on the list to select one. If there are 7 actors nearby, just roll d8 and reroll 8s, that sort of thing.

We assume at the start that the domain includes an area that is set aside for the lord, and other areas that are for the villagers. We can call the lord’s area the Stronghold. The other areas are the Village.

The taxes raised by the lord come in the form of goods and services (food, animals, leather, repair work) which upkeep the Stronghold and the lord’s retainers. One family of villagers can support one retainer. The monthly upkeep cost for retainers is

6 SP food
12 SP beer or wine
1 SP equipment repair
1 SP firewood
20 SP total (2 GP the way I count it)

I would count a dog as a quarter man, a horse as four men. Remember this is just the extra cost if you want more retainers than your Village can support. If you have fewer retainers, you get the extra 2 GP in extra food and such (not money). You can also count it like this: with 10 Village families, you get 20 GP in goods and services. Decide what you’re going to do with that. A retainer costs 2 GP to support, a dog costs 5 SP, and a horse costs 8 GP.

Taxes also come in the form of money, but this is a smaller amount, only 5 SP per family per month. This money is almost always in copper coins.

Taxes also come in the form of labor, repairing the Stronghold and maintaining the Stronghold lands. The fact that Villagers maintain their own houses, sheds, fences, etc. is of value to the lord because he still owns all that land and everything on it.

There is trade among Village families and between Village families and the Stronghold. A Village family may buy a new plough blade that your Stronghold Blacksmith made in his spare time, the profit from which he spends getting a nice new pair of boots or extra booze or new bed linens. The lord doesn’t gain anything from this trade.

The lord can increase taxes, but this makes people unhappy because it’s harder to feed themselves and any little bit of extra money they might have is skimmed off. I’d just have to roleplay the villagers differently if taxes were lower or higher. Certainly a highly-taxed village will produce lower-morale militia.

Each retainer needs a 10’ square of personal space in your Stronghold. Courtyard area can be used for horses and dogs if you like. Retainers need additional shared spaces, including kitchen, mess hall, toilets, etc. Assume that 4 retainers can share one 10’ square of shared space. Define these any way you like. If you define all your shared space as toilets, your men will cook and eat and gamble there too (miserably, we can assume).

Village families each take up a 20’x20’ square standard house (80’ exterior walls, ground floor plus loft for children and storage). Twenty families can work one square mile of agricultural land, on which they can support themselves and pay their taxes.

A stronghold and the village immediately around it takes up one square mile in the 5-mile local hex. Not all villagers will live in the main village. Their houses and farms can be farther out. Anyway, that leaves 48 one-mile hexes in the 5-mile local hex. This means you can have up to 960 villager families in one local hex.

Of course, you can have non-agricultural families. But that gets us into towns, which is another level up and involves taxation of a complex economic system.

I have costs already for stone and wood construction, which is based on linear wall length and a standard wall thickness. You can double up wall thickness, etc. You also pay for floors and ceilings separately (usually wooden). I think I have separate extra costs for doors and windows. It’s all pretty atomic.

Magic like Plant Growth will affect the local productivity of your Village. This directly increases the tax output. You can take all the excess as tax, explaining to your villagers that it was only because of your magic that they had the excess to begin with, but they’ll still be pretty steamed about it as if you had raised taxes.

Likewise a drought or something will lower their productivity. If their productivity goes down below 75% they will be unhappy since they are hitting hard times, and might blame their lord even though he didn’t do anything to cause it.

Earthquake (Volcano chance for those nearby)
Game Animal Population Boom
Heavy Precipitation
Lightning Storm (forest fire?)

Nearby ally offers a magic item for trade (only if you have any allies)
Nearby enemy raids your outskirts / supply line
Envoy from neighbor (opportunity to gain/lose friendship)
Scout from neighbor
Foreign Merchant (goods for trade, might set up trade agreement)

Mining goes really well
Mining disaster
Good fishing
Villager or Retainer found some buried treasure
Criminal was caught locally (% chance based on retainer strength and numbers, and morale)

Human monsters move into area (bandits, pirates, thieves) (add neighbor)
Adventuring group comes into area (possibly add neighbor)
Local nature monsters cause some trouble (satyrs, dryads, ents)
Underworld monster lairs nearby (add neighbor)
Flying / seagoing monster passes through
Exacerbation of local monster problems (or add new local monster problems) (kobolds, giant rats, etc)
Monster refugees come in from elsewhere (wolves come because of no food in their hills) (add neighbor)

These are just some ideas of what might fit under these tables. I think the 1E D&D Oriental Adventures had some tables like this too. I’ll have to look around.

Undersea Adventure

May 5, 2011

Adventuring underwater is all about the alien environment, the mystery, the danger. Our real-world deep underwater explorers suffer from extreme risks compared to other types, and could be compared somewhat to space travel or deep caving. Our literature source material is thick with the trials of underwater adventure. I think that should translate well to D&D.

That said, you need to figure out how to balance the danger with the danger-mitigating technology of D&D: magic.

Breathing: A 3rd level Water Breathing spell removes the most important danger, breathing. But can it let you breathe even in especially high pressure? I don’t think it should matter, although Water Breathing as written in 1E/2E (I’m not sure about later editions) doesn’t do anything except help breathing.

Game Mechanics: I say you can hold your breath for twice your CON score in 6-second rounds. You use twice as much air when fighting or other strenuous activity. This lets an average person hold his breath for about a minute. I’d give a longer time if the person was calm, had plenty of time to oxygenate and take in a full breath, and did no activity at all.

Pressure: There is a point below which humans will just be crushed. Does this matter to you? What about the depth below which you need pressurized air and can’t breathe using a long tube? The reason a snorkel is of a pretty standard length is because you can’t inhale unpressurized air if you have too much pressure on your lungs. I would assume if you carried air with you and it was also under pressure (air in a bag, diving bell) it would be okay. Likewise if you came to an undersea air pocket like in a cave or ruin it would be breathable.

Game Mechanics: Based on basic info I found, you can’t metabolize air past about 200′ depth. If you’re in a depressurized container, obviously this doesn’t count. I give -1 to all your rolls per 50′ of depth due to pressure (dizziness, hallucinations, blacking out, etc). If you rise faster than 10′ per round you suffer 1 HP per extra 10′ in the round from “the bends.” A Necklace of Adaptation should compensate completely.

Vision: Water inhibits vision because light doesn’t pass through it as easily. But it also blocks light from the sun and moon, so below a certain depth you should assume that it’s effectively “night” all the time. You can offset this with bioluminescent fish and plants, especially to illuminate the lairs of various intelligent sea creatures and cool things you want PCs to see from far away. The muddiness of the water will be an absolute limit to vision, but even in especially clear water there will be some obscurement.

Game Mechanics: Your vision underwater is normally obscured the same as in Monsoon precipitation. Muddy water may make this zero vision, very clear water may be lighter precipitation level equivalent. I don’t care about light obscurement because that’s taken care of in the precipitation vision rules. A Helm of Underwater Action or any X-Ray Vision should compensate completely.

Temperature: It’s pretty cold underwater. Typically deep ocean temperature hovers just over freezing. If the PC is soaked, that means he’s going to die of hypothermia very quickly.

Game Mechanics: I would count this as exposure to Cold or even Arctic weather without any protection. My exposure rules give -1 penalty to rolls due to Fatigue and 1d6 damage per hour exposed in such weather. Waterproofing magic would help, reducing it to just the fatigue penalty, but a Ring of Warmth would remove the danger entirely.

Movement: You can’t fight as well as you can on land, nor swim as fast as you could run. It’s because you’re not native that that environment; undersea creatures have no penalties.

Game Mechanics: You have normal base movement, but can “jog” to double move only on the surface. You can’t “run” to multiply movement at all, and can’t jog underwater. You can’t fire missiles indirectly (like a catapult). If you’re a surface-dweller, you always lose Initiative to sea-dwellers and you always have -4 to hit and Armor Class. A Necklace of Adaptation might circumvent this, but I don’t remember. A Helm of Underwater Action maybe? Certainly a Ring of Free Action would do it.

Now that we have the dangers put down, and the possible ways around them using magic, there is another problem. If there are no special environmental conditions, what’s the point of adventuring underwater? Instead consider limited magical benefits, such as a reduction in the penalty rather than removing it, or a limit on times per day, charges, or a single-use item that had a duration.

Also consider the Zelda adventure pattern: you have access to Area A, but the way to Areas B, C, and D are blocked. You need Item B to get to Area B, etc. So you explore what you can (Area A) until you find the item needed to access one of the other areas. So it goes until you have access to everywhere.

So we can start with the assumption that the PCs will eventually have access to every undersea area, but they must earn those tools. Begin with diving for Water Breathing items. Then they need to gather items to relieve Pressure so they can go deeper. Then they need Cold Resist items to dive even deeper into the coldest reaches. In all cases they will have movement and vision problems, except that some of them will find temporary, limited efficacy, or even permanent mitigating magic for those two. Now we have three different adventure zones which require various types of equipment to explore.

Note that there are ways around the zone restrictions. They could wrap up in furs, build a big diving bell, and hit the bottom right away. But their exploratory ability will be pretty reduced.

Now we worry about what kinds of monsters and treasure there are to find down there. Try to focus on sea-based things: pearls, coral, shells, driftwood, shark skin, shipwreck goods, etc. Typical weapons will be nets, knives, spears, tridents. This way the treasure is clearly from the undersea adventure sites, and players will remember seizing it from the special undersea monsters they never fight elsewhere.

Grapecount Alley: The Dreamworks Dungeoneering School

May 5, 2011

Along the Street of the Winding Walk you walk, gulls wheeling overhead, passing fresh whitewashed planting-boxes and wrought iron benches. The sky is clear and bright, so stunningly bright that everything is in sharp relief, the kind of daylight you see after a heavy rain. To the seaward side you look across the roofs below. From there you hear fishmongers calling and customers milling along the next street, Seamarket Saunter. As you descend the Street of the Winding Walk, fine wooden captains’ houses and merchants’ manors on the inland side, there is also the occasional alley or cul-de-sac. One leads to the Dreamworks Dungeoneering School, its white and green marble facade bristling with banners and its front gallery festooned with trophies.
Much walking and several turns later, you step out of the glare of the sun into dank Grapecount Alley which stretches somewhat parallel to the Street of the Winding Walk here. Backtracking uphill along the Alley you spot the rear entrance of the Dreamworks. It’s a squat grey stone opening, square, with a heavy lintel stone across the top. Rough men loiter outside. The entrance has no door, and from inside there is a dull red lantern-glow.

The Dreamworks Dungeoneering School is part haunted house, part amusement park funhouse, and part dueling academy. The illusionists who work here build elaborate “dungeon experiences” for clients to run through. The action feels real, the clients use real equipment, and they can even practice casting spells (which have illusory effects) if they explain the spell list to the Chief Animator for that room beforehand. The client can go through the motions of the spell without actually casting it.

The school’s clientele includes adventurers learning the ropes of dungeon crawling, thieves and assassins planning infiltration jobs, professional duelists, bored nobles, and wanna-be heroes. It’s not talked about openly, but the school has back rooms which serve as illusory brothels where a client can surreptitiously meet with a Lady in Red without actually breaking religious or marriage vows.

The secrecy surrounding the school isn’t complete, but it’s muddled by misinformation spread by the school’s administrators. This makes it difficult to tell what is real and what is false. Not much is known for sure about the Chief Animators. The available information is that they’re generally retired adventurers, or court or university wizards who fell into disfavor. Some carry the scent of minor scandal or peccadillo. Surely they couldn’t really be as boring as they seem? The school couldn’t simply be an expensive kind of theater?

Magic Item Creation: Nurturing

May 4, 2011

Blogger Zero XP Adventures talked about his ideas concerning magic item creation. He suggested that an item should require a bearer to adventure with it for some time to awaken its power before it could be actually used. I’m still having problems replying to Blogger, so here’s my input.

I like the fact that the weapon (or any magic item) must be carried to attain its power. Almost like the enchantment is just the birth and the PC must raise the magic item like a child, bathing it in the blood of his enemies (or the up-swelling of human development, if you like). You could say that the magic item needs to be in the presence of a certain amount of XP (it doesn’t take a share or anything, you just need to gain that amount) before it’s fully activated. That would reduce the rate of magic item creation and make it so you can relax the magic item creation costs in XP and/or GP. It also prevents someone who has a stash of money from just sitting in a cave and churning out magic items for sale like a vending machine left plugged-in.

Making the bearer gain 1 XP per full GP value of the item seems appropriate. And you can’t nurture more than one fresh magic item at a time. If you do, you have to choose which one bathed in the XP anytime you gain some.

I don’t necessarily see the connection between, say, Boots of Striding and Springing and fighting XP. It would make more sense to require a certain amount of travel on foot for that item to awaken. But I think it’s probably easier to balance an XP gain requirement in general.

What to do about potions and scrolls? Are they low-power enough and boring enough that you can just make them and pay the costs? I think so.

I like the idea of a magic weapon continuing to advance (as in, you make a +1 Sword and nurture it to fruition but then it continues growing after that), but maybe at a slower rate once it hits its basic awakening. Or maybe you need to accomplish some great deed with it to birth a new ability in it which must then be nurtured through more XP bathing. It’s like how Philotomy (Session 4, second to last paragraph) promoted a zero-level NPC to 1st level Fighter because of how well he had distinguished himself in battle. Was the weapon always something special and just wasn’t appreciated fully? Or did it “level up” and grow into its new status as a result of the great deed?

Ability Score Driven D&D

May 3, 2011

This is in response to a Blogger post by Omnipotent Eye. Apparently it’s impossible for me to post on Blogger no matter what I do (WordPress, Anon, Input Name, etc). I just get a generic unhelpful error message that says something like “Blogger can’t be assed today.” I guess they really only want Blogger people to talk with Blogger people.

Omnipotent Eye talked about using Ability Scores as saves. Here’s the response I would have given if Blogger had cooperated.

Invent some shit on the spot. This is the Way.

Rocks fall? Have everyone roll d20 trying to get under DEX.

Wading through a leech-infested swamp? Roll d20 trying to get under CON.

Getting the tough sell from a merchant? Roll d20 under WIS.

Give a bonus for easy things, like the bite of a weak spider, or a penalty for tough things like the breath of a dragon. It’s appropriate to use the existing save bonus/penalty (whether a straight +/- in 1E/2E, or the number above or below 11 in 3E).

You could do the same thing with attack rolls. No reason why that type of success should be any different. I’d go with STR for melee, DEX for missile.

You can simulate the improving saving throws from gaining levels by giving +1 to save per 3 levels or something. That means a reduction on your roll, making it easier to get under your stat.

Likewise you can give bonuses for skills, as with the proficiency system in 2E D&D. If a character is said to have +2 with Carpentry, have him take a -2 on the d20 roll against STR when trying to raise a barn. Or maybe against INT when designing a building. But don’t give level-based bonuses for skill checks: it doesn’t make sense that just because someone is an accomplished swordsman that he has a better chance to design a building.

Although it might be better to just go with the same premise and consider whether the task falls under that class. If you’re a Fighter you’re good at fighting type stuff and maybe also wilderness things, sailing, falconry, horsemanship, equipment maintenance, etc. A Thief is good at picking locks, sneaking, climbing, hiding, bribery, escaping handcuffs, appraising and fencing loot, etc. A Magic-User is good at sage knowledge stuff in general but not necessarily application. Give them the level-based bonus (+1 per 3 levels or whatever you decided) to those tasks.

Then it’s just up to each class to have some special skill. Fighters get multiple attacks, good equipment choices, and high HP. Thieves get backstab, easy level advancement, maybe a luck bonus to saves. Magic-Users get spells.

Consequences: this system makes low level characters have a better chance at success than in 1E/2E D&D (I’m not sure about 3E, I remember something like a 50-50 chance or better at low level). They don’t improve as quickly. The DM has to figure out what a save should be against every single time. It makes ability scores really important. It requires changes to all the magic items, spells, and abilities that reference specific saves. It makes a “save vs. spells” a lot more complicated than 1E/2E people are used to (although it won’t make much difference for 3E people).


April 29, 2011

I think the 1E/2E Paladin and Ranger are failures as classes. You can approximate the Paladin with Fighter/Cleric, and you can approximate the Ranger with Fighter/Sneaky/Wilderness. You’d use the same Wilderness class to approximate a Druid, as Cleric/Magic-User/Wilderness. Note that by breaking them out, you get the ability to multiclass other combinations. You could have a straight Sneaky/Wilderness to make a Bandit character that had less fighting ability than a Ranger type.

I’d suggest the following list of classes:


So? I realize there are more than 7 +/- 2 classes to choose from. Kind of a bummer, it’s just outside the range. Also note that you could multiclass with more than three, though I’d suggest a normal limit of 3 unless the player can come up with some description of what the character’s role is like. Also I intended each to start with a different letter so you can abbreviate more easily. If that doesn’t matter to you, “Intellectual” should probably be called “Scholar” or “Sage” or “Academic.”

This should be good: pick any of them and try to come up with an archetype that fits pretty well. Some examples:

Nautical Craftsman: Boatswain
Social Rogue Magician: 2E D&D Bard
Social Rogue Fighter Wilderness Priest: 1E D&D Bard
Rogue Fighter Priest Intellectual: 1E D&D Monk
Nautical Laborer: Sailor
Wilderness Laborer: Peasant
Social Aristocrat: Courtier
Wilderness Magician Priest: Druid
Social Fighter Rogue: Assassin
Nautical Fighter Rogue: Viking
Intellectual Fighter Rogue: Indiana Jones

Are there any basic classes that I’m missing?

Archetypes and How to Invent Them

April 28, 2011

Early D&D character archetypes were “fighter”, “non-healer spellcaster”, “healer spellcaster”, and “sneaky dude”. Yes I know the Thief wasn’t in at the start, but thereafter we saw new classes that fulfilled the same roles. Later we split up into “battlefield control/modification”, “buff/debuff”, “aggro gatherer/tank”, “healer”, “striker/sniper/glass cannon”, etc. It seems like the 4E archetypal roles pretty well cover things, right? What could you possibly add?


An archetype is a way for a character to interact with some feature of the world. There are other people in the world, so there is opportunity for someone to smack those people, convince them, sneak around them. There are locked doors and containers in the world, so there is an opportunity for someone to be good at disabling locks and traps. There are spells, so someone can be good at casting spells. That’s just about where it seems to stop. What else is there to interact with? When you approach the question like that, it becomes clear what you need to do to add archetypes: add world features.

If there are computers and networks, there is an opportunity for a hacker character. If there are psionics, you can have a psionic character. If you add demons and their infernal contracts, you can have a character who interacts with them. If sailing is really important to the game setting / rules, then a sailor character may be appropriate. If little gizmo inventions are available, then a tinker / artificer could work.

The point is, adding a new class should represent a huge new swath of skills, not just a new blending of the old archetypes with a single cool power at the middle to anchor it. If you want blending, multiclass. If you want a new class, create a new world feature. Here are some world feature ideas:

1: One pantheon has six gods, all of whom are jealous and must be worshipped equally. If the character goes about slaying monsters, he gains favor with Defender of the Six, but doesn’t gain favor with the other five. If his favor with any one god goes too far below the others, he loses the special abilities he gains from that god. If it gets really bad, he may suffer hardships. It doesn’t matter so much how much favor you have with any one, just that they’re all fairly even.
Defender of the Six: Concerned with fighting monsters that threaten communities, especially temples of the Six.
Builder of the Six: Concerned with building and maintaining temples and other services.
Explorer of the Six: Concerned with exploration, opening and maintaining trade routes, and securing natural resources for civilization.
Teacher of the Six: Concerned with raising youths, teaching inexperienced adventurers and militia, and nurturing henchmen acolytes.
Speaker of the Six: Concerned with spreading knowledge and the reputation of the Six.
Keeper of the Six: Concerned with guarding and acquiring magic items that might help the church and also any religious artifacts related to the Six.
Adventuring groups want these Priests of the Six because they have strange and useful powers, and are willing to put up with the various demands their faith puts upon them.

2: Every thing in the world contains some spirit. These are usually pretty weak, and are what you speak with when you use Speak with Plants or Stone Tell. This is why speaking with a Rabbit using Speak With Animals results in some useful information instead of gibberish – you’re talking with its spirit. But there are bigger spirits, such as for a whole river or forest. There are town spirits too, and cave spirits. Spirits may be tainted by the foul vapors of the Mythic Underworld. Your character is able to see these spirits and interact with them, at first only by speaking with the weakest of them but eventually summoning the greater ones or negotiating for boons (such as “can you please open a tunnel from this passage to the next one”). Incidentally, ESP spells affect the spirit of the person, which is why they can’t refuse to think about something, and a ghost is just a spirit that became dislodged from a person. Corporeal undead have trapped, tainted spirits. Adventuring groups want a Spirit-Speaker because it’s a great source of information and can occasionally find extra treasure or an easier path, especially long distances overland through tough terrain or in a dungeon, to deal with Undead, and to appease a dungeon spirit who may otherwise cause them trouble in small malicious ways.

3: The world is built on the ruins of an ancient civilization. Their magic items use strange crystalline bars, glowing blue and faceted, to hold “charges”. An ancient Wand of Lightning for example has a charge bar in its handle, and when you use the wand it consumes these charges. When the bar is empty you can replace it with a new charge bar, if you have one. When you break an ancient artifact it’s a mess of tiny fibers and squirrely little pieces, etched with fine lines, impossible to reproduce or repair. Some people are experts at recovering, identifying, and using these artifacts. Some few high level among them know the secrets of recharging a crystalline charge bar! Adventuring groups want to have these experts along because they would otherwise not know which artifacts are worth taking, which can be salvaged, and how to use them.

I hope this brings archetypes into perspective. You need a new class to be important and different. It is NOT OKAY to make up a new Fighter class that approaches combat in a slightly different way, or a new Magic-User that has a slightly different mix of spells. That takes up page count in the book, and it takes up mental space in the players’ minds, and represents a wasted opportunity.

Erfworld Dwagons

April 27, 2011

The webcomic Erfworld used to be attached to the Order of the Stick, but broke off to their own website at the end of Book 1. I tend to read a webcomic up to the newest update, then leave it for some time to “grow back” before the next harvest. I just read from the end of Book 1 to the present, and suddenly realized some things about their dwagons – I mean, dragons. Everything has a cutesy name.

In the comic, each creature has a unit type. Stabber, pike, heavy, archer, caster, siege, etc. They also have attached modifiers like flying or digging. The interesting thing about dwagons is that their breath effect is not necessarily just an attack that causes damage. They also might have an attack type. Purple dwagons, for example, have a siege breath despite being a Heavy unit. This correlates to D&D Lightning Bolt blasting holes in walls and generally Fireball and Lightning Bolt having some siege effect. The list of dwagon types can be found here.

I see some interesting things that I would consider for D&D. Dwagons have some similar breath types to D&D dragons – Red = Fire, Blue = Lightning, Green = Gas. We diverge with Brown / Black = Smoke, Pink = Bubblegum, Purple = Sonic, and Yellow = Acidic Crap. The pink dwagon’s gum attack seems effective as a very different type of breath effect, sort of like silver dragons who can breathe paralyzing gas (right? Some dragon can. I’m not looking it up). We still have acidic damage from the yellow dwagon instead of the black dragon, and the attack direction is refreshingly downward instead of unidirectional. Sonic damage is underutilized, so I like the purple dwagon for that.

I think I would break out Brown and Black dragons so they have different breath types. I’d also take smoke away from the brown / black dragons and give it as a secondary to red dragons. So it might look something like this:

Red: Fire Breath, Smoke Breath, Blood ignites so you take damage when you hit it
Blue: Lightning Breath and Shocking Headbutt (Arc between horns)
Green: Poison Gas, Venomous Bite, Flesh is poisonous so anything biting it takes a weak poison hit
Yellow: Acidic Crap, Sickening Bile, Flesh is disgusting so animals won’t bite it more than once
Purple: Sonic Breath (damage, stun, and knockdown), Best flyer
Black: Acid Spit, Disease Bite, Water Breathing, Slick so you can’t grapple it, swim
Brown: Flesh-Eating Gas Breath, Digging, Squeeze through narrow openings
White: Frost breath (damage, slow, ice accretion), full traction on ice, swim
Pink: Goop Breath (sticky like a Web spell), … uh, little pony summoning? ;P

I also like the idea of gemstone dragons, and I’d have to figure something out for metallic dragons. There are certain dragons missing, such as a mountain dragon with stone-related powers or a coral dragon that’s oceanic and has a shockwave breath to stun creatures underwater.

I definitely think this is the way to go. Dragons need to be different from each other in ways that go beyond the damage type of what they spit at you.

Alignment – Tradition vs. Change

April 25, 2011

I got the basic idea for this from Haven and Hearth, a free Java-based MMORPG. That stewed in my mind for some time, eventually becoming a philosophical piece that I’m not going to write up here. Instead you get the way I think it applies to D&D.

The typical alignment axis is Lawful to Chaotic, and Good to Evil. Early D&D had just Law-Neutrality-Chaos. The concept was the same as in many scifi fantasy books where the forces of humanity were Lawful and those of the Fairy “otherworld” were Chaotic. See “The Broken Sword” and “Three Hearts and Three Lions” by Poul Anderson and “Lud-In-The-Mist” by Hope Mirlees.

Furthermore, the alignment system has been not a continuum but a series of hard lines, so for example you cannot be 80% Good (though the Dragonlance Adventures hardback had a good solution to slow progression of alignment change by introducing steps in between, those steps weren’t named so you were Good until you became Neutral with no change in actual status in between). I’ll leave that for another post sometime.

What I want to talk about is how we think about Law and Chaos. If Law is Humanity, then it is also Good, as we see it. Likewise those Chaotic creatures see Chaos as Good. Law-Chaos seems to be objectively ethical, while Good-Evil is subjective. Law controls and makes life safe, Chaos frees and makes life unpredictable.

What if we talked about Law as Tradition, and Chaos as Change?

There are times in any civilization where Tradition works better and times when Change works better. Generally a healthy society would go with what works better, right? Let’s say you have a society where people use three-legged cauldrons (example taken from Tales of Neveryon). They’re easy to make, and they automatically balance properly, but they can get knocked over easily. What if someone came up with a four-legged pot design that was as easy to make and balance as a three-legged pot? Here we have a technological Change vs. technological Tradition. It would be better for that society to make four-legged pots. They’re just better. But what if the shift were not beneficial? It’s possible that the society would benefit from staying with what is Traditional instead.

Now think about societies as typically Tradition or Change. Societies that have strong Tradition will have fewer ups and downs, but will remain sturdy. Societies with strong Change will shift around a lot, plenty of ups and downs, may have boom times, but may also have busts.

Now take a D&D society. What if the strongest nearby agents of Change want to do bad shifts? Offensive war is Change. The opposing society might also be Change oriented, but it could be a defensive one, where Tradition is prominent. We now have a motivational reason why Law is different from Chaos. The Human Lawful kingdom has done things its way for so long, and it has worked well. Times have been fine as long as anyone can remember. Now a Chaotic kingdom either hits hard times and attacks, or else hits a boom time and becomes an economic threat, or in its boom time it flexes its muscles and tries to take over its neighbors.

Humans, and especially Dwarves and Halflings, all value safety and security. They are Tradition oriented (Lawful). Elves value new ideas, methods, arguments, etc. so they look upon the staid, static Lawfuls as boring and backward. Elves are Chaotic. Goblins’ motivations may be similar, but maybe they have baser needs such as feeding a burgeoning population, getting rid of a troublesome young male majority, expanding territory, or finding new places to live once they devastate a local ecology (lumberjacking, hunting, pasturage, etc). Dragons are interesting, because you could argue that they are strongly Tradition or Change depending on how you see them. The fact that Dragons are willing to sit still for long hibernations on piles of coins suggests that once they see a good thing they stick with it regardless.

If you agree that D&D is post-apocalyptic, then the safe Human societies will probably be the ones that found something that works and did it over and over to survive. The malleable bandits and monsters in the wasteland / wilderness fly by the seat of their pants. They don’t farm, they don’t mine, they don’t dig for treasure. They just roam around and steal from whoever else does those things.

And now my Joesky Tax.

Random Arrowhead Designs
1. Long, narrow, single point
2. Broad, double hook-back
3. Crescent with two points facing forward
4. Four angled spikes facing generally forward
5. Single point and single barbed hook-back
6. Cone-shaped
7. Long, tightly-spiraling screw
8. Triangular view looking at the point
9. Whistling (roll 1d8 for type)
10. Detaches in wound (roll 1d8 for type)
11. Flaming (+1 HP damage, light & shoot in 1 round if you have nearby flames, but always go last) (roll 1d8 for type)
12. Weak poison (save to negate 1d3 HP damage) (roll 1d8 for arrow type)

Sessions 52 and 53

April 18, 2011

No idea how many sessions we’ve actually had in this campaign. I didn’t keep track. We haven’t had many lost weekends, and no Great Summer Blackout, so I’ll just guess.

I guess with 52 weeks per year, so 52 sessions, that in the first year (Jan ’10 to Jan ’11) we had 45. Then another 3 per month until now, which is Feb, Mar, and halfway through Apr ’11. That brings us to 53, so the last two sessions were 52 and 53. Close enough for horseshoes.

(For some reason I’m now thinking about how the bank will generally let you start with Check No. 1001 or so. I didn’t want to cheat, but I caved and let them start me at 101.)

Session 52: Robbing and Dragon
The player who lost all her goodies to the Deck of Many Things realized she also lost her spellbooks. The PCs had just traded copies of all their spells to the wise woman of a troll village in exchange for some potions and a few of her spells. They returned, asked for copies of her copies, and she said if they killed the dragon who lived in the Fogspire Peaks to the west she would do it. She gave the unfortunate PC 6 spells of her choice to put in her books before she left. The wise woman wanted the dragon dead because he kept her from picking the special flowers from the mountain valley below his home, and she needed the flowers from that patch for her Love Potions.

The PCs scouted the dragon cave, found him not at home, and ran in to loot. They stole a lot of magic items and left the coins, gems, jewelry, art, and nonmagical equipment. There was a lot left! As they fled, force-marching down the mountain, they saw fire and smoke as the angry dragon searched around for the thieves.

One PC returned (!) using Meld Into Stone to creep in safely. She spoke with the dragon, who was sulking on his nest, and he seemed affable and welcoming. He asked his guest to follow him into the next cave for tea, and she did, and tea was had. She spilled a few more beans than she meant to. The dragon mentioned that he had just lost some heirlooms that had “sentimental value” and said if she found any that had washed down the mountain in the recent storms he’d gladly pay full value for them. He claimed the contents of his nest were really only a portion of his vast hoard, which included a library he would share with them.

Session 53: Getting Robbed Back
Here the PCs did an Augury as to the dragon’s intentions, which results were inauspicious. The dwarf of the group was adamant that the dragon was no good, but the two main spellcasters (one of whom had only 6 spells from the troll shaman!) wanted to trade the lesser items from their haul back to the dragon in exchange for spells and money.

The two went back to the cave and met the dragon. He gladly accepted their magic items and thin lies about how they got them, leading them into the deeper parts of the cave to the library. Along the way, he used a jeweled staff from the returned loot to “disable some magical wards” but he was actually trying to use it to charm them. Some of their saves came close, but because they were both elves they avoided all of them. Eventually he came to a place where he had to fly across, and he asked if they could fly. When they replied not, he offered to ferry them across and they agreed. He later lured them into a side passage and breathed, confident that they didn’t have any way back. One died immediately, the other taken to almost no health, and the survivor fled with the charred arm of her fellow.

This survivor navigated the cave river in the back of the dragon’s lair to a side cave with mushrooms and a tribe of vegepygmies, who honored her as “the tallest,” to some consternation by the slightly shorter vegepygmy warriors. They nursed her back to health and she found a way back to the dragon’s nest, but he was brooding there.

The other PCs outside and down the valley, close to the troll village, sent a mental message to the two wizards and found one dead and the other trapped. They then sent a mental message to the dragon, saying his treasure (in particular a valuable magic sword) were in the troll village. They fled north away from the village and dragon cave, back home. The trapped wizard fled when the dragon left his cave and met up with them later. They raised the dead wizard at the Fountain of Life in the Monastery thereof (using her one “get out of jail free card”) and returned to find the troll village a smoking ruin. Not one stone lay upon another stone. They found a troll shepherd later and told him of the devastation, and he said he would find other kin to live with.


Both outcomes were fine with me. They just got snagged by a combination of greed and naivete. In the end I think they came out ahead, but they would have been MUCH better off knowing when to fold ’em. This was not a capricious DM decision, it was just a tough monster and they got pretty lucky the first time. I rolled for whether the dragon spotted them in his aerial search and he didn’t. I rolled a simple percentile check to see how poorly the village of trolls fared and got a “95” which to me meant they were destroyed and maybe one or two fled, with the dragon surviving.

There was much more dungeon to explore, and they didn’t even touch half the hoard. The troll village held some surprises they missed out on by selling them out to the dragon. But in the end they walked away with one of the most powerful magic swords in the game and a few other miscellaneous magic items. I think in the future they’ll be a bit more cautious about trusting people and monsters – but so far there hasn’t been such a sharp distinction. Just because something is non-human doesn’t mean it’s out to get you. Just because something is human (or dwarf, or elf) doesn’t mean it’s a friendly resource.