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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Traps and Dragon Names

Today I thought I'd share something aimed specifically at Dungeons & Dragons. That is, I'm presenting a couple of d4 tables: one for traps (for your dungeons) and one for names (for your dragons).


1. Pressure plate with a poisoned dart
2. Tripwire that blocks exits and floods the room
3. Trapdoor chute that leads to a monster pit
4. Trapped door that unleashes a barrage of fist-sized rocks

Dragon Names

1. Aggrandor the Immutable
2. Xactillo of the Simmering Plains
3. Klithax Bargardos
4. Hlathanikallas AKA Lord of Iron

Friday, February 27, 2015

Location: Guri's Outpost

I'm working on my map-making skills, but until they improve, I won't be posting them here. That won't stop me from sharing interesting adventure locations or settings, though. Here's one from late 2014 that houses an unlikely alliance: dwarves and lizardfolk.

Guri's Outpost

Guri’s Outpost was a military outpost held by the Army of Cloven Steel a few years ago.  It had been abandoned for months when the lizardfolk occupied it.

Guri Janess is the leader of a small band of lizardfolk and a new member of the Pillars of Scale and Bone (an order of lizardfolk shamans from many tribes).  Guri and his band have occupied this outpost in order to work with their new ally, the Fallen Hammer dwarf clan.  Even though they have only been working together for a few months, the lizardfolk and the dwarves have become steadfast allies.

Guri and his expanded band have raided a local village twice for supplies, and the townsfolk are scared and angry.  The village leader, a druid, is worried about the people, but she is more worried about the subtle corruption of the natural magic in the region.  Wild animals have begun growing hostile, and evil spirits haunt the shadows.

Guri’s plan is not to corrupt the natural magic of the area, that is just a side effect.  Guri’s mission, assigned to him by his fellow members of the Pillars of Scale and Bone, is to work with the Fallen Hammer dwarves to establish one of the pieces of a great ritual.*  The dwarves are cutting a great stone monolith in the outpost, carving it with ancient dwarf runes.  After each large, intricate rune is carved, Guri chants lizardfolk magic into the monolith.

* The effect of this ritual is to create a portal to the Glittering Marshes, an unearthly realm that would be the perfect home for both the lizardfolk and the dwarves.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

NPC: Craig the Battle Droid

Almost a year ago, I entered Haste's April's Fool contest. I was one of the winners, but they never really got around to posting the NPCs. I actually had two entries (both of which won for their category), but here's my favorite of the two.

Craig the Battle Droid

Quote: “Prepare to be eliminated! … Let me know when you’re prepared, okay?”

Appearance: Craig is a towering monstrosity of UltraCarbon™ and steel.  He is ten feet tall and weighs just over two tons, including a full complement of ammunition.  Craig has a vaguely humanoid appearance, but his feet end in rocket-propelled treads, while one arm ends in a rotating rocket cannon and the other ends in a patented Crushalon Pincer® claw.  He has no mouth (just internal speakers), but his hooded eyes glow alternatingly red or green.

Roleplaying: Craig was built as a weapon of war and destruction, but his programming was jumbled with that of a passive butler droid.  As an enemy, Craig never initiates combat, though he does defend himself (apologizing after every attack).  As an ally, Craig is an unreliable combatant since his passive butler programming interferes with his military design.  As a servant, however, Craig is a talented butler, though the occasional burst of flame or hail of bullets is to be expected.

Personality: Craig’s butler programming is definitely the dominant force of his personality.  He is polite and humble, willing to help anyone who isn’t actively an enemy.  He is very knowledgeable about all things butler-related.  When his military design surfaces, however, Craig is unpredictable.  He is armed with the brilliance of a general, the skill of a commando, and the ordnance of a large tank.  Of course, even in fits of violence, Craig’s butler programming rears its head in polite apologies and concern for his enemies.

Motivation: Craig desperately wants to fit in somewhere.  He is not up to par with other similar battle droids, but no one seems to want him as a butler either.  Characters who treat Craig with respect and kindness find him a trusty friend.  Those who scorn or mock Craig soon trigger his violent side.

Background: The company responsible for the Kill-O-Droid line of battle droids built Craig as a prototype.  Unfortunately, a tired programmer inadvertently uploaded the AI for a Butlematic.  Craig promptly failed all of the preliminary tests and the clients refused the new contracts.  As such, Craig is the only battle droid of his kind; though somewhere out there is a Butlematic with the programming of a Wartronic Assault Tank.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Setting Generator

A game's setting is the keystone of any campaign.

We've got to speak to the king as quickly as possible, you say? Does this setting have communication magic? Flying mounts? Wait, does it have smart phones? Without setting knowledge, players will be at a loss, unable to see into the game any further than the ends of their characters' fingertips.

For a lot of GMs, designing a setting can be fun, even a chance to stretch those creative muscles. For others, it's just a box that has to be checked off before play begins. A setting generator, then, can be a boon for any GM. For those who love designing settings, it can provide inspiration; for those who just want somewhere to stage their game, a generator allows them to jump straight into the game.

This particular setting generator is fairly straightforward, providing: a primary government, the level of technology, the environment, the general tone of the action, and a place to begin. Obviously, this leaves much unsaid, but those details can be filled in manually by the GM or naturally by the group as the game unfolds.

Who governs the setting? (d4)

1. A benevolent emperor, blind to the corruption in his government
2. Ruthless princes and princesses vying for power using every method at their disposal
3. An immortal queen whose subjects are beneath her concern
4. A strict chancellor chosen by the people to guide them through political strife

What is the technology level of the setting? (d6)

Age: community type; weapons and tools available; centers of trade
1. Stone age: families and clans; basic hand tools; individual bartering around the fire
2. Bronze age: city-states; metal weapons and tools; markets with local products
3. Powder age: colonies; firearms and refined tools; markets with global products
4. Industrial age: nation-states; complex weapons, tools, and vehicles; markets with mass-produced products
5. Information age: global; automated weapons, tools, and vehicles; global market chains with mass-produced products
6. Space age: interstellar; energy weapons, tools, and vehicles; individual machines that produce custom products

What kind of environment dominates the setting? (d8)

1. A wasteland of burning sandstorms by day and arctic frost by night
2. An endless expanse of water dotted with artificial islands made of unknown material
3. The merciless void of space between the ramshackle starports and outside the thin walls of ancient starships
4. A towering forest of enormous trees (hundreds of feet in diameter) that bathe the ground in eternal darkness
5. A labyrinthian city of fallen towers and shattered streets filled with the detritus of the distant past
6. Craggy, storm-plagued mountains whose valleys and passes are guarded by battle-scarred redoubts
7. The filthy underworld of a crime-ridden metropolis devoid of morality
8. An ocean in the west, mountains in the east, deserts in the south, tundra in the north, and a mix of plains, hills, and forests in the middle

What are the players' characters going to be doing? (d10)

1. Exploring ancient ruins and fighting monsters
2. Bringing "civilization" to strange, faraway places
3. Righting wrongs and protecting the innocent
4. Skulking in the shadows and committing crimes
5. Dealing with truths that "man was not meant to know"
6. Investigating mysteries and dispensing justice
7. Exposing corruption and greed
8. Surviving the harsh and unforgiving world
9. Performing odd jobs of dubious morality
10. Roll twice more and combine

Where does the game begin? (d12)

1. In transit as the transportation begins to crash/die/fail
2. In a meeting place filled with dangerous and desperate individuals
3. In the darkness, the captured prey of a dangerous predator
4. In the presence of the setting's ruler, being granted an official pardon
5. At a council of war with danger fast approaching
6. Arriving home minutes ahead of an impending catastrophe
7. Gathered around with others, drinking and recounting local legends
8. In a high-stakes game of chance against an influential opponent
9. In the midst of a celebration about to be cut short by a shocking revelation
10. At the grave of a friend, looking for answers
11. Moments before the discovery of a powerful new weapon
12. Stepping into an abandoned home that is haunted by its past

Monday, February 23, 2015


Last time I talked about orcs, it was to present them as mindless barbarians to be killed by the PCs. Today, I'm here to present them differently. I've created four varieties of orcs. Each variety calls a different setting into existence, sometimes similar to the generic high-fantasy setting, sometimes vastly different.

Use these as you will. Make them enemies, allies, or even offer them as options to your PCs. Sprinkle one or two into your high-fantasy campaign, use them as a template for the Four High Lords of the Orc People, or just drop all four races into the same setting and see what happens.

Note that I have chosen to use The Window system to represent the statistics of these orc varieties. This is out of simplicity, and I can work up some statistics for D&D 5th, d20, or other systems if there is interest. In The Window, the lower the number, the greater the proficiency (e.g., d6 > d12).

From Pain Comes Strength

Magic is drawn from the spirit world, and magicians must call on spirits to gain access to magic. The spirits require sacrifice in return for channelling mana. They crave mortal feelings and sensations. Of all of these, pain draws upon the strongest spirits. And no creatures know pain better than the orcs.

The most powerful orc magicians call themselves the Riven Souls because they know the torment of being torn from eternity and thrust into the physical world. Rarely, when an orc casts her first spell, calling upon a spirit (whether of pain or some other feeling), she is cursed with the memory of her soul.

She recalls the moment—simultaneously infinite and infinitesimal—of her untainted spirit existing in harmony with the cosmos, but she also remembers being rent from that bliss and forcibly bound to a mortal anchor, a rough-hewn body of flesh and bone. It is this knowledge, this unforgettable pain, that is the curse of the orcs, but also the source of their great affinity with the spirits.

Riven Soul

The Riven Soul has…
… above average Strength (d10)
… average Agility (d12)
… unmatched Endurance (d6)
… impressive Cunning (d8)
… poor Perception (d20)
The Riven Soul is…
… a great spirit caller (d8)
… a wisewoman (d10)
… tormented by memory (d20)
The Riven Soul carries…
… an iron-bound cudgel
… armor made of hide and bone
… a pouch of feathers, animal bones, and seeds
… a necklace of her own childhood teeth

Children of Boar

When the Great Spirits looked down upon the primitive humans of the world, they pitied them. They wished to see them rise up out of mindless squalor. To do so, they imbued various tribes with some of their own essence. Elves are humans touched by graceful Crane, while dwarves are humans in the mold of sturdy Goat, and even halflings claim the blessing of cunning Badger. Orcs, of course, are humans warped by wrathful Boar.

Orcs are, by their nature, short-tempered creatures prone to stubbornness and competitiveness. But Boar is neither cruel nor evil, and so neither are orcs. Orcs are not, as a rule, cunning, but they are resourceful and practical. Faced with the challenge of untying a complex knot in order to pass a test, an orc is more likely to draw out a knife and cut the knot, or break whatever the rope is tied around and pull the knot loose from the inside out.

At the pinnacle of orc society are the Tuskless. These orcs, born without the prominent lower fangs of their kind, are envied and hated by their brothers and sisters. They are stronger, faster, and more adaptable than other orcs, and so they almost invariably become champions and leaders among orcs. Despite their lack of tusks, they often find a deeper connection to Boar than others of their kind, manifested by a connection to living boars, which are drawn to the Tuskless.

Tuskless Orc Chief

The Tuskless Orc Chief has…
… impressive Strength (d8)
… skillful Agility (d10)
… admirable Endurance (d10)
… resourceful Cunning (d10)
… average Perception (d12)
The Tuskless Orc Chief is…
… a leader among her people (d10)
… a brave warrior (d8)
… a master of wild boars (d10)
The Tuskless Orc Chief carries…
… a double-edged steel sword
… steel breastplate engraved with a boar's head
… the totem of her tribe, a tuft of hair said to come from Boar himself
… a necklace of teeth taken from her fallen enemies

A Desperate People

The orcs were the first people of the world. They were spread around all the lands, farming, hunting, trading, and warring. It was only in the last 1,000 years that the elves and dwarves and humans entered their world, killing the orcs by the thousands to build their cities of wood, stone, and brick. The orcs were not primitive, and they were used to war, but the war brought by the foreign races was of a different kind.

The elves, humans, and dwarves respected no treaties with orcs, accepted no parleys, and committed heinous war crimes against the orcs, killing noncombatants without mercy. These invaders treated the orcs as a plague to be eradicated, as though they were mindless vermin. The orcs were unused to such horrors, and so they withdrew, giving way to the invaders to save themselves.

Now, after 1,000 years of unending war, orcs have been nearly wiped out of existence. The survivors are warriors, but of a new breed. They look little different than their ancestors, and they are not especially stronger or faster than of old. But a millennium of war and the threat of total eradication has made the orc people desperate and canny. They have become trappers and saboteurs, masters of camouflage and guerrilla warfare. They're fighting now—not just for lands or resources—but for the very survival of their people.

Orc Guerrilla

The Orc Guerrilla has…
… average Strength (d12)
… incredible Agility (d8)
… average Endurance (d12)
… desperate Cunning (d10)
… well-honed Perception (d8)
The Orc Guerrilla is…
… a master of camouflage (d6)
… a skilled bowman (d10)
… an experienced trapper (d12)
The Orc Guerrilla carries…
… a shortbow of horn and sinew with steel-tipped arrows
… a shadowy cloak and padded armor
… a small shovel, rope, and other sabotage and trapping supplies
… a necklace of panther fangs, blessed by a shaman

The Twisted Flesh

Orcs know no god. The old god of the orcs, their creator, has abandoned them: killed or disinterested, it makes no difference to the orcs. The other gods loathe the orcs, cursing them if the orcs should dare call upon divine aid. The orcs turned to demons for a time, hoping for a patron with power enough to protect them from the wrath of the gods.

But the demon lords manipulated the orcs, twisting them and using them as disposable pawns in their infernal schemes. Eventually, the orcs saw through these plans and broke free of the demon lords' control. But they did not escape alone, with them came an even older servant of the demons: the shadow serpents. The shadow serpents—incarnates of magic—were bound to the orcs to ensure their obedience, but the orcs broke the demon lords' control by striking a deal with the shadow serpents.

Now, free of demonic control, the orcs and shadow serpents survive symbiotically. The orcs provide sustenance in the form of blood, and the shadow serpents give the orcs exotic powers. The serpents warp the orcs' bodies, giving them biologic enhancements like retractable bone swords, venom-spitting arm cannons, and spiked cartilage armor.

Orc Shadowborg

The Orc Shadowborg has…
… incredible Strength (d8)
… poor Agility (d20)
… enhanced Endurance (d10)
… average Cunning (d12)
… above average Perception (d10)
The Orc Shadowborg is…
… a ceaseless warrior of warped flesh (d8)
… a stalker of the shadows (d10)
… capable of sensing demonic auras (d12)
The Orc Shadowborg carries…
… an implanted arm tube that spews fire
… a steel ax carved with demonic sigils
… an implanted pair of folding, membranous wings
… a necklace of shadow serpent fangs that can become venomous bone daggers at a touch

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Six-Word Sparks IV: Monstrous Encounters

Last time, I laid out some six-word sparks for designing adventures around people.  Before that, I focused on mysteries.  And those are all well and good.  Yes, six-word sparks can be used to generate interesting social and investigative scenarios, but they can also be perfect for setting up a more straightforward monster bash.

Six words is enough for one or two types of monsters, an action they're taking, and a target, victim, or location.  That encompasses more than 90% of the high-fantasy adventures I've GMed and played in.  It's nice to get outside of your comfort zone, but sometimes you just want to fight some monsters.

Six-Word Sparks

1. Scorpionfolk below city plan solstice invasion.
2. Cockatrice accidentally hatched at chicken festival.
3. Dead in three graveyards grow restless.
4. Goblins riding flying bats terrorize countryside.
5. Giants seeking slaves descend from clouds.
6. One-eyed ogre mage seeks revenge.
7. Stone dragon arrives, demands refined iron.
8. Fiery snakeman commands savage ogre raiders.
9. Two-headed giant joins manticore pack.
10. Sphinx appears in city, demands mayorship.

Friday, February 20, 2015

High-Tech Weapons

Back in 2012, I played a tabletop game called Mechaton (now called Mobile Frame: Zero).  Mechaton, in short, is a miniatures wargame about mechs, but the mechs are built out of LEGO bricks.  It was the first tabletop wargame I'd ever played, and I was able to merge LEGO into my tabletop gaming.

Aside from the visceral pleasure of building fighting robots with LEGO pieces, the thing I enjoyed most was coming up with descriptions for the various pieces of equipment with which I outfitted my LEGO robots.

It could be the abundance of complex adjectives (I'm an English major), or it could be that I never got into gritty science fiction.  Whatever the cause, phrases like "85mm Anti-Materiel Rifle" and "Broad-Spectrum Frequency Disruptors" really sparked my imagination

I don't usually run sci-fi or modern games, but on the few occasions that I have, working these kind of weapons into the game has given my players the same kind of light in their eyes that I had.

If you're running a sci-fi game, you might find these weapons (a mix of near-future and space opera) interesting for either your players or your NPCs.

High-Tech Weapons

1. Reversible Ion Projector ("Ripper") 2. Collapsible high-carbon-steel sword 3. Pneumatic brass knuckles 4. Laser-channeled plasma pulse rifle 5. Full-auto chain-fed magnum pistols with armor-piercing tracer rounds 6. Compact, heavy-draw crossbow with thermite-tipped bolts 7. Tesla whip 8. Particle-grenade launcher 9. Automatic 12-gage three-barreled shotgun with dragonsbreath slugs 10. High-spectrum contained-projection blade

And if you're running a modern or near-future game, you can still include these kind of weapons without too much discomfort. Just give out one and call it a military prototype. For extra fun, give the project that developed the prototype weapon a cool name.

Secret Military Project Code Name

1. Black Dragon, Mk II 2. Operation FENIX 3. Hyperion project 4. Gupta-Smith device

Thursday, February 19, 2015

One-Line Rewards: Modern Magic

Although we don't usually equate modern RPG settings with magic items, there are plenty of examples.  From magical realism to myth-made-real, magical items can make a good reward in modern setting, especially if they exist as standalone relics in an otherwise nonmagical setting.

You could go the route of Warehouse 13: pick items associated with famous and exemplary individuals and give them magical properties.  Maybe Houdini had a magic wand or gloves, perhaps Jesse James had a revolver blessed by a shaman, or it could be that John Lennon's glasses allowed him to see into the spirit world.  If you go that route, I suggest picking people that died violently, mysteriously, or both, and incorporate that into the item's lore.

Or you could go another route, and pick seemingly normal, everyday objects and enchant them to suit your needs and/or wants.  That's what I've done with the list below.

One-Line Rewards

Armored Tee: A black tshirt with an image of a blue shield. The wearer is protected as though wearing a steel cuirass.

Hoodie of Illusion: An unremarkable grey hooded sweatshirt. The wearer is invisible as long as her hands are both in the front pocket.

Bus Pass to Anywhere: A blank paper ticket. The holder can board the Immaterial Express and travel anywhere in 10 minutes.

Illuminati Rifle: A gold and black ‘50s-era sniper rifle. It never misses, but anyone who fires it is destined to be killed by it.

Intelligent Phone: A clunky flip-phone with a brain logo. This phone is sentient, and communicates to its owner via text.

Swiss Army Sword: A red penknife with a white cross inside a white triangle. When the blade is opened, it becomes a steel broadsword.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Outlaw Names

The clamor of raucous poker games, the pungency of stale sweat, the burning of cheap whiskey, the dull heat of midday, and the flash of gunfire beneath the zenith sun.  Gaming in the American Old West (or some version of it) brings a deep pleasure to many gamers.  It is so heavily ingrained into American consciousness (and into the image of America in other nations) that to pick up a six-shooter and ride into the sunset fulfills some inner cultural nostalgia for many.  It must be how the Greeks felt telling stories of Ajax, Agamemnon, and Achilles.

One of the most striking things about the setting is the power of names.  Billy the Kid, Doc Holiday, Black Bart—these names ring in our ears, embodying the very essence of the West.  If you're looking to capture that same feeling,* to fill your setting with characters whose names ring true from the Badlands to Dodge City, I've got the table for you!

This link will take you to a d20 table for generating the name of a villainous outlaw (or grim anti-hero) and a corresponding gang of nefarious ne'er-do-wells.

Here's a sampling of names in all five of the recommended formulas.

Outlaws and Gangs

  • Dynamite Slim and the Bullseye Buzzard Bunch
  • Bushwack Brown and the Vipers
  • The Broken Tooth Bandits
  • Kate and the Thunder Devils
  • Lightning Jane and her boys

* With the addition of a bit of steampunk flair in places

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Monsters: The Spice of Life

Monsters are the bread-and-butter of the fantasy, supernatural, and horror genres, and if you call them "aliens," they're pretty much the same for science fiction.  Most RPGs come with a tome of terror, manual of monstrosities, or a book of beasts, some reference guide just chock-full of inhuman goodies to throw at your PCs.

But any GM can pull a monster out of the book, slap it on the table, and start a fight.  Next time you open the book and find yourself staring at the entry for "Wimblewurm, Desert" find a way to spice it up.  What would transform your players' encounter with a Desert Wimblewurm from a fun way to pass the time into a memorable encounter they'll be talking about all month?  Use these examples as presented or as inspiration for your own, probably better ideas.


Not all monsters fit into the mold assigned to them by the rules.  And no, I'm not talking about switching your monster's alignment and giving it a pair of scimitars.  The monster can still be evil, or still be chaotic, or whatever, but it has different priorities than its kin.  Because of that, it was exiled by its kind, unwelcome, if not outright hated.

Outcast Monsters
1. Lizardfolk architect
2. Fire giant scholar
3. Gold-hoarding giant eagle
4. Elf-friend warg


Even monsters that fit the mold of their society can be interesting.  Give them something that makes them stand out from their kind, a special power, a trait, or even make a one-of-a-kind creature (my favorite) based on other monsters.

Unique Monsters
1. Blind beholder* clairvoyant
2. Giant halfling
3. Awakened sparrow magician
4. Formorian-nighthag crossbreed
5. Glass dragon
6. Half–giant-centipede, half-human


Even outcasts or unique monsters can become trite or clichéd.  But the best way to avert that (while doing it anyway) is to call it out in-game.  The red dragon with a heart of gold doesn't surprise you?  Of course not, everyone's heard of Gorfanion the Generous.  In addition, turning an average monster into a legendary monster gives you the opportunity to work in backstory, setting details, and plot hooks.

Legendary Monsters
1. Glyph, the goblin assassin-mage
2. Kuk'kir, the black half-dragon minotaur
3. Svernthl, the mindflayer* warpriest and emissary to the mortal kingdoms
4. Japhime, the fallen deva
5. Sorrowful Queen of Bones, the death-touched displacer beast*
6. Glardulanth, the awakened sequoia
7. Onedraw, the orc sniper
8. Cortès, the jackalwere bounty hunter

* Blah, blah, something, something.  These are D&D monsters owned by those wizards that live by the coast.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Company and CEO Names

Names can be a tricky subject. As a game master, world builder, and/or adventure designer, you've probably made your way through a big list of fantasy names already. You've reused, borrowed, and modified names from history, mythology, books, and film.

What's that, you say?  You're running a modern, post-modern, or futuristic game?  And you don't want to just steal names from the real world?  Well, then, have I got a trio of tables for you.

If you're running a modern or futuristic game, your players are much more likely to have dealings with tech and security companies than with any other type of company, at least in my experience.  And your players won't be content to deal with underlings, they'll want to take the actions straight to the top: the CEO.  In that light, here are three tables to help you generate those names on the fly, or to inspire you to create names of your own.

Tech Company Names

1. Dynamic Circuitry Innovations
2. B&W Production (Boards and Wires)
3. Dyson-Calvin Computing
4. ITS (International Technical Solutions)

Security Company Names

1. Secutron Ltd.
2. Uberwatch Security
3. Stack Security Services Inc.
4. Surety Security
5. Vanguard & Co.
6. Castle and Moat Protection Agency

CEO Names

1. Zhang Min
2. Anees Dahm-Rahmani
3. Blythe Bankworth
4. Ruben Rodriguez
5. Maurice Zadeh
6. Carmen Stojkovic
7. Alistair Edgeston
8. Janavi Motirimani

I hope you weren't expecting anything St. Valentine's Day themed today.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Six-Word Sparks III: People

Six-word sparks (as I've said before) embody the heart of an adventure idea without laying out too many details.  Each spark could generate countless adventures, though the base concept is the same.

My preferred six-word spark (currently) focuses on people and/or their relationships.  This way, the adventure can take place in and among other campaign events.

Six-Word Sparks

1. Lonely minstrel seeks to woo Queen.
2. Gnoll chief to wed harpy matriarch.
3. Duke refuses marriage, at the altar!
4. Intelligent badger society feuding with halflings.
5. Royals vanish, dukes compete for kingship.
6. Wounded soldier returns from battle, alone.
7. Barbarian tribe seeks enlightenment from Academy.
8. Flying jester harasses town with puns.
9. Ogre disguised as bear, avoiding adventurers.
10. Iron golem gains sentience, becomes wizard.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Monster Names

Monsters, right?  Who cares if they have names; at best, they're obstacles, and at worst, they're just sacks of experience points.

But what if your monster is something more?  I think we can all appreciate the goblin who defects from his tribe to aid the PCs or the ogre who's so dumb that the PCs trick him into being their flunkey.  In that case, your monster is probably going to need a name other than "Orc 3".

Allow me to share some tips on crafting names for intelligent (but not very intelligent) monsters.

Make it easy to say.

Goblin Names

1. Gerg
2. Gorp
3. Cackle
4. Clamp
5. Ack
6. Arg

No sense in naming your monster something funny or clever if the players are going to immediately shorten it or give the monster a nickname to avoid having to say "Eetz'frahmda Arbaj-gay."

Make it fun to say.

Ogre Names

1. Gorge Boneclub
2. Glut Filthface
3. Sluggo
4. Retch

So you gave your monster an easy name to say, "Blob."  Not a lot of fun, though, is it?  The players will use it, but they'll never call upon "Blob" with relish.  Change it to "Blob Barker" or "Blobert" and they'll smile every time they talk to your monster.

Make it descriptive.

Orc Surname

1. Bloodfist
2. Rocktooth
3. Fireheart
4. Wildwind
5. Dragonrock
6. Fanghill

I touched on this in the ogre names table above.  "Blob" is pretty good, as far as descriptive names, but not as good as "Blob Thornyseat."  Monstrous surnames are also a great way to build a bit of backstory into the monster and/or the setting.  "Blob Thornyseat" got his name from having such a knobbly butt, but "Gurk Icespear" is merely one of the many warriors of the Icespear tribe of ogres in the north.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Campaign Sparks II

Campaign sparks, for those of you that missed my original post, are 100-150 word summaries that set off an entire campaign. Each spark should contain: a conflict, a setting, 2-3 NPCs, the stakes, and a twist.

The real beauty of a campaign spark is that it could take off in so many different directions. The one I shared last time, The Village and the Forest, was actually a little constrained compared to the ideal. There should be action going on in the setting, and the PCs should be a part of it, but they should really be able to set the campaign off in any direction.

Let me give you an example, and then break it down a little bit.

The Royal Mechanized Rangers

Monsters have arisen all over the world, and England is imperiled on its own lands. Gogmagog, ancient giant of legend, is birthing giants and dragons from the northern rocky hills. Only the elite members of the Royal Mechanized Rangers (RMR) and their steam-powered MAGs (Mechanized Armored Giant) can defend Her Majesty's holdings.

Major Whist commands the RMR and secretly collects dragons' teeth and giants' blood. Frode Torson is a Norwegian advisor to the RMR, a specialist on trolls, giants, and dragons, and a spy for Bonaparte. Corineus—the half-human son of Gogmagog—hates his father.

Not only are England and her people in danger, but the RMR is itself facing dissolution by Parliament. The MAGs are expensive and dangerous, and Parliament is in favor of hiring Norwegian mercenaries, the Skjoldkriger. Worse, Gogmagog isn't just attacking at random, his monsters are laying the groundwork to summon Gogmagog's father, the titan Ymir.


So, the PCs are obviously Rangers in the RMR, which places them smack-dab in the middle of everything. I can see several different kinds of games igniting from this spark.

1. Steampunk Pacific Rim: Basically, the PCs pilot their MAGs and beat up a bunch of giants and dragons until they confront Gogmagog and Ymir. This game focuses heavily on the MAG vs monster combat.
2. Military Espionage: The PCs still have to fight the monsters, but they also have to deal with the subtle machinations of Major Whist and Frode Torson. This game balances combat and investigation.
3. Political Thriller: The PCs fight monsters, but mostly they're fighting to keep the RMR intact.  They have to maneuver against both the Skjoldkriger and the Parliament, perhaps garnering the favor of Queen Victoria. This game downplays combat and focuses on social interaction and political maneuvering.
4. Monster Mystery: The PCs spend a lot of time fighting monsters, but they're also tasked with tracking down their origins. They'll probably have to deal with Major Whist and Corineus, and they'll have to travel amongst the rocky hills of the north to track down Gogmagog. This game combines combat, social interaction, and exploration.

And that's not even counting any other NPCs or plot threads that might emerge from developing the existing NPCs!

This is what a good campaign spark should look like.  All the basics, and not just room to grow, but room and potential to grow in almost any way imaginable.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Random Encounters III

So, previously I talked about making sure that random encounters had enough potential to not just be a combat encounter.  The examples I gave all had potential plot elements woven into them, but the players could easily have ignored most of them.

You know what players almost unanimously can't ignore?  Loot!  Treasure, rewards, new toys, weapons, and other accoutrement.  So, here's an easy way to generate a random encounter with extra potential.

Pick a creature at random, and give it a rare or uncommon treasure that the PCs will easily spot.  Now, this is generally going to lead to a combat encounter, but not always.  It depends not only on the nature of the treasure, but also on the nature of the monster.

In the examples below, I thought it would be even more interesting to toss in multiple monsters, giving them a chance either to ally against the PCs or to fight among each other over the treasure.


1. Trolls and krenshars
2. Kobolds and kenku
3. An oni and a green hag
4. Lizardfolk and harpies
5. A frost giant and gnolls
6. A green dragon and yuan-ti
7. A phoenix and a wyvern
8. A stone wyrm and drow
9. Myconids and awakened raptors
10. Wights, nothics, and a psychic gray ooze


1. 2d4 human slaves
2. 1d3 thoroughbred stallions
3. Caged dragon wyrmling
4. Cask of enchanted ale
5. Wooden case with 2d10 magic arrows
6. Enchanted shrunken head necklace
7. Historic tapestry embroidered with gold and gems
8. Shield with a holy insignia
9. Runic cannon
10. Mjolnir, Hammer of Thor

Monday, February 9, 2015

Mook Box II: Orcs

If there's one creature that the fantasy RPG industry has maligned more than any other, it is the orc.

Sure, goblins and kobolds are close runners-up, but those two races are also first on the block to be transformed from "savage sack of XP" to "crafty inventor".  Kobolds even have noble dragon lineage.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile defenders of the orc flock to the banner of its mainstream offspring: the half-orc.  And don't talk to me about Warcraft.  Their orcs may be protagonists, but they don't get off clean; orcs were once a proud and noble race of space warriors, but they were corrupted by horrible demons from beyond reality (or something to that effect).

So, poor orcs, the eternal cannon fodder.

On that note, here are some savage, evil orc barbarians for your PCs to slaughter.

(For another view on orcs, check out this follow-up post.)

Orc barbarian

D20 System

HP: 12 | Ref: +0 | Fort: +3 | Will: -2
AC: 14 (Flatfooted: 14 | Touch: 10)
Speed: 30 ft.
Greataxe +5 atk | 1d12+4 dmg | x3
Javelin +2 atk | 1d6+3 dmg | 30 ft.
Powers: darkvision 60 ft., rage (+1 atk, +2 dmg, -2 AC, +4 HP, 6 rounds)
Skills: listen +1, spot +1
Vulnerabilities: light sensitivity (-1)
Treasure: 1d6 gp
Challenge Rating: 1


Individual Clichés
Dumb as a bag of teeth, and stubborn to boot (2), Blood-rage axe maniac! (4)

Grunt Squad Cliché
Ravening horde of bloodthirsty brutes (6)


Threat Rating: 16
Hits per Round: 1

Chi: 3
Traits: Vicious Berserker (5), Intimidating Thug (4), Wild Tracker (3)

The Window

The orc barbarian has…
… impressive Strength (d8)
… average Agility (d12)
… above average Health (d10)
… very little Knowledge (d20)
… average Perception (d12)
The orc barbarian is…
… a tireless hunter (d12)
… a bloodthirsty warrior (d10)
… a bad liar (d20)
The orc barbarian carries…
… a hefty battleaxe
… leather armor
… a few coins
… a necklace of teeth

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Nobility Names

If you're running a typical high fantasy game, chances are your players are going to be dealing with a duke, duchess, prince, princess, king, queen, empress, or some other high mucky-muck during the course of the game.  Low fantasy, modern espionage, and even sci-fi games might also see a number of noble figures as NPCs.

Of course, you've already got those folks named and fleshed out.  They have rich backgrounds, complex motives, and plot-filled agendas.  And when the players ignore them all and go to the next barony over, who's in charge there?  Agendas and plots you can figure out later, but you've at least got to start with a name, right?

Well, lucky reader, have I got good news for you!  Now you can generate a huge variety of rich nobility names based on European feudal titles and a variety of names (some made up, some borrowed).

This link will take you to a d20 table for generating your own noble title in any of five easy formulas!

Don't believe me?  Why?  I'm not a liar.  Maybe you have trust issues.

Also, here are some examples!

Feudal Nobility Titles

  • Crown Prince Oriole, the Shieldbearer of the Silver City
  • Maria Bragomier, Empress of the Resplendent Mountains
  • Henry the Treacherous of the Frozen Lakes
  • The Bloody Czar of the Crags
  • Dame Leonora de Kardan the Sure-Hearted

Friday, February 6, 2015

One-Line Rewards: Tools of Evil

As I've mentioned before, about once a week I spit out 4 or 5 magic items.  These are—ideally—unique and interesting, without being overly wordy.  I like to post them on Twitter on Wednesdays or Thursdays, so they have to be easily reduced to 140 characters.

Generally, the magic items' powers fall into one of two categories; either they're quite powerful but with a restriction, or they're not especially powerful.  Sometimes, I find myself with items of a third category: quite powerful but with a drawback.  Apparently I was in a dark mood recently, because I ended up with several magical items—several of this third category—with a decidedly fiendish nature.

One-Line Rewards

Devil’s Defense: This heavy iron armor is blackened by fire.  The armor is proof against demons, but the wearer must forsake her god.

Ivory Plate: This bone chestpiece is painted with dried blood. The wearer does not bleed when wounded, but her tears are blood.

Ring of Skulls: This iron ring is wide, heavy, and unadorned. It can summon a skeleton—under the wearer’s command—from dust.

Death’s Bond: This black parchment is covered in ruby-red writing.  The signer is invulnerable for 1 day, but dies at midnight.

Lilith’s Sword: This wide, emerald blade glows with power.  If bathed in angel’s blood at dawn, it can slay any creature until dusk.

Glint: This ancient iron sword is dented and scratched, but still sharp.  The soul of any creature killed by Glint is destroyed.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Random Encounters II

So, after my mid-post about-face on random encounters last time, I've been thinking more about them in general.

I think a good random encounter should be able to spawn at least two different types of encounters, depending on how the players react.  For example, last time there was an encounter involving a red dragon wyrmling collecting a toll.  Now, obviously, the players could fight that dragon.  They could also probably sneak by the dragon, or even trick him.

But, there might be more behind that toll than meets the eye.  The dragon hasn't always collected this toll, or the PCs would've known about it ahead of time.  If the PCs choose to talk to the dragon, they could find themselves on a mission for the dragon to retrieve his lost hoard (for a 10% cut) from the Bone Chewer in order to pass through that canyon unharassed.

If you look at your random encounter table in that light, then it doesn't just generate a single encounter.  It could spawn an adventure or even be the foundation for an entire campaign!

Or, you know, it could just be a random owlbear that your players kill for 1d6 rubies and a potion of tediousness.

Spaceport Encounters

1. Overzealous customs officer bucking for a promotion
2. Happy-go-lucky android looking for adventure
3. Still-smoking plasma pistol and scorch marks on the floor and walls
4. 1d8 unknown aliens huddled in a dark corner, looking suspicious
5. Family of annoying tourists asking questions and taking pictures
6. 1d4+1 bigoted human soldiers (racist/sexist/xenophobic/anti-robot/etc.)
7. Top-notch mechanic (with a secret past) for hire
8. 2d6 yellow-eyed humans with vacant expressions blocking the gate
9. Disembodied voice whispering in your ears, offering to sell incredible secrets
10. Nervous civilian looking for the next flight off-planet, no questions asked

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mook Box I

Merriam-Webster defines a mook as a "foolish, insignificant, or contemptible person."

I define a mook as an enemy that serves as a buffer between the PCs and the antagonist they care about.

Call them minions, henchmen, cannon fodder.  Whatever you call them, any action game needs them.  Since I myself run through them so often, I decided to create a stock box of mooks that I could pull from, no matter what system I was running.

I've only set up four systems to start, but it's not like I'm generally running a dozen different game systems at the same time, anyway.


d20 System

HP: 14 | Ref: +5 | Fort: -1 | Will: +1
AC: 15 (Flatfooted: 12 | Touch: 13)
Speed: 30 ft. (Climb: 15 ft.)
Wakizashi +5 atk | 1d6+1 dmg | 19-20x2
- Deathvine sap poison (injury, 1d10+1 dmg vs. Fort DC 13)
Throwing stars +2/+2 atk | 1d4+1 dmg | 15 ft.
Powers: Smoke pellet (50% conceal for 1 round)
Skills: hide +4, move silently +6, jump +6, balance +4, tumble +6
Treasure: 1d6 pp, 1 dose of deathvine sap poison, and an assassin’s contract


Individual Cliches: Bouncy-trouncy acrobatics (3), LOVES throwing poison shuriken (3)

Grunt Squad: Ineffective team which attacks one by one (2)

Wushu Open

Threat Rating: 20
Hits per Round: 1

As a Nemesis
Chi: 2
Trait: Shadowy Assassin (4), Acrobatic Thief (5), Wire-Fu Warrior (3)

The Window

Ninja has…
… average Strength (d12)
… impressive Agility (d8)
… below average Health (d20)
… average Knowledge (d12)
… above average Perception (d10)
Ninja is…
… very stealthy (d8)
… a deadly assassin (d10)
… unnerving in conversation (d20)
Ninja carries…
… a wakizashi
… many shuriken
… deathvine sap poison
… a contract

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ship Names

Ship names are kind of like tavern names; they can set the mood, reinforce setting history, and be funny.

But with ship names, they have to be even more. In a ship-based campaign (sea ship, starship, airship, lavaship, etc.), players are going to be referring to the ship frequently. The ship is likely to be their home, their biggest investment, and maybe even a weapon. They'll probably be spending resources to repair and improve the ship.

Right now, I'm working on a multi-part table that will allow you to generate unique ship names in a flash. Until that's finished, though, here are 20 ship names to grace your harbors, ports, and stations.

Fantasy Ships

1. Foamskimmer
2. Zephyrous
3. Widow's Bounty
4. Pride of the Fleet
5. Sunset Jewel
6. Deep Breath
7. Old Sea Dog
8. Reefrunner
9. Mighty Pike
10. Ferryman's Price

Science-Fiction Ships

1. Durendal
2. Envision
3. Mathias
4. Nova Slayer
5. Wind of Neptune
6. Ursa Shine
7. Orion's Pride
8. Quantum Crest
9. Stellar Narwhal
10. Bonzai Spring

Monday, February 2, 2015

One-Line Rewards: Greyarkin's Gear

Once a week, I take a few minutes and create a handful of magic items.  My goal with these is to avoid the "+1 sword" problem that some systems have with magic items.  I also want to create items that have the feel of classic magic from mythology and literature.  Those items tend to really only have one power, and that's usually compensated by a condition or a setback.

In order to keep these creations short, and to avoid creating needless paragraphs of backstory, I limit these magic items to a single line in a document.  Granted, I use a small font, but I still stick to the limitation.  It also turns out that a single line in my Google Doc works out to about 140 characters, with some tweaks, so I usually post a few on Twitter on Wednesdays.

Each of these one-line rewards comes with a description and an ability.  Short and sweet.  I also don't include any mechanics.  That way, they can easily be translated into a rules-heavy system (+3 attack, 1d10+2 damage, +1d6 fire, 1/day +2 AC) or a rules-light system (+1 offense on an odd roll, +1 defense on an even roll).

In the midst of these creations, I found myself with a set for an unknown character named Greyarkin.  I don't know what Greyarkin was up to, but it was intense.  Here are some example one-line rewards, all taken from Greyarkin's inventory.

One-Line Rewards
Greyarkin’s Guard: This leather chestplate has a tree etched into it.  While barefoot on grass or dirt, the wearer is safe from necromancy.

Greyarkin’s Girdle: This leather belt has six brass buttons in middle. If plucked from the girdle, the brass buttons turn into trained sparrows.

Greyarkin’s Gloves: This pair of black gloves is made of thin silk.  The wearer earns great strength after sacrificing something dear.

Greyarkin’s Glass: This black and silver spyglass is of a high quality.  The spyglass looks far away, but also into the distant past.

Greyarkin’s Globe: This small, brass sphere is perfectly smooth.  A verbal command transforms the sphere into a 6’ diameter cage.

Greyarkin’s Glaive: This slender spear is tipped with a curved obsidian blade.  Its strike weakens spirits and makes them corporeal, briefly.