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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Unique Monsters, Part 2

Yesterday I made a quick post about Unique Monsters™ in which I listed a handful of creatures you won't find in a manual of monsters or book of beasts. But I also described a method of creating Unique Monsters™ of your own using a simple method. Combine the physical forms of two different monsters, and add the special ability of a third monster.

So today, instead of just giving you another list of Unique Monsters™, I'm going to give you three lists that you can use to make your own beasts!

Body Form

1. Dragon (any color)
2. Troll
3. Medusa
4. Spider
5. Wolf
6. Hawk
7. Bear
8. Demon/Angel

Body Type

1. Made of stone
2. Covered in spines
3. Made of acidic slime
4. Skeletal
5. Incorporeal
6. Mechanical
7. All limbs separate from and hovering near torso
8. Roll twice and combine

Special Ability

1. Aura of electricity and lightning attack
2. Command of plants
3. Can grow to enormous size
4. Deadly shriek
5. Psychic blast
6. Hypnotism and mental command
7. Drains life with a touch
8. Can animate shadows

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Unique Monsters

Do elementals exhaust you? Are you tired of trolls? Does the idea of dealing with dragons drain you? Then you need to add some Unique Monsters™ to your roster!

A Unique Monster™ is one that brings not only a fresh sight to your table, but also fresh abilities. But if the idea of coming up with these kind of monsters from scratch is intimidating or fatiguing, I suggest creating a quick patchwork of existing beasties. Take the form of one monster, mash it up with the form of another monster, and add the ability of a third monster. Voila! Something new and fresh for your table.

And speaking of tables...

Unique Monster

1. Half-elf, half-orc mage-knight mercenary
2. Blind albino black dragon
3. Blue half-dragon storm giant lich
4. Ooze dragon
5. Glass half-dragon succubus
6. Vampire beholder
7. Golden bear
8. Ash elemental

You may recall a similar table from back in February, this one is related to that one. Literally related, in fact, in the case of the glass dragon and the glass half-dragon succubus.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reskinning Mechanics

One of my favorite activities of late has been taking existing game mechanics and reskinning them into something else. I was particularly inspired when I read this article a few months ago. It goes into some very cool examples of how simple reskins can have a profound effect on the feel of the game.

With that in mind, I began with some pretty minor reskins myself. I had an upcoming paranormal action game coming up, and hadn't decided what system to use. My players were familiar with D&D, but not much else. So, with my new fervor to try reskinning, I set to work.

The player with the cheerleader-turned-slayer wanted to focus on modern mixed martial arts, so I started with something easy. I reskinned the 1st-level maneuvers available to a swordsage from Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords. Suddenly, that Buffy analogue could choose her moves from such categories as: dance karate, zen fu, sumo judo, ninjutsu, cage fighting, and bare-knuckle boxing.

Another player was interested in playing a MacGyver-esque, jack-of-all-trades troubleshooter. I immediately thought of the factotum class from Dungeonscape and set to work reskinning. The most intriguing challenge was changing the Wizard/Sorcerer spell list (which the factotum gets access to early on). I ended up with spells like "Blueprint App: Reveals hidden doors within 60 ft." and "Flashbang: Knocks unconscious, blinds, and/or stuns weak creatures." The most drastic change was to magic missile, which became traps! The mechanic stayed the same, but instead of lobbing a bolt of energy (or summoning the motes or firing the elf bow), the player would describe in detail a number of traps that they had set up earlier, like a scene out of Home Alone.

There's also another benefit to reskinning mechanics: you can use it as a GM! Low-level spellcasters are pretty worthless as enemy combatants; they have few hit points and fewer spells, and they're usually the first targets of the PCs. So, for my current game, I decided to avoid that problem entirely in at least one instance by reskinning a fighter as a mage. The practical upshot is that my enemy mage is more durable, can make more than one attack (if she gets the chance), and can have a different flavor than other spellcasters.

The downside is that since some equipment becomes spells (chain shirt becomes lesser warding, longsword becomes spirit slash, etc.), the treasure is on the low side, but I can compensate easily by adding additional loot that can be taken by the PCs. Furthermore, I can transform a simple longbow into a "sparkwand." It has the same damage, type, range, etc. as a longbow, and since I don't track normal ammunition, it can have unlimited charges. Now I have a unique magic item to hand out to my PCs, and I don't have to worry about it being any more unbalancing than a regular longbow.

So, next time you're trying to wedge a unique or complicated character into a rules-heavy system, whether it's a PC or an NPC, don't reinvent the wheel or dig through 39 rules supplements. Just find something that already fits the bill and reskin it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hideouts and Lairs

Across the spectrum of fiction, anytime there is a villain, criminal, or fugitive from authority, there must be a lair or hideout to shelter them. In RPGs, these locations are at least as important as the figures themselves because many times the PCs will spend much more time investigating and exploring the lair or hideout than they do in the final encounter with the antagonist.

When designing a hideout or lair, it's important to think about a few key aspects and make some basic decisions.


How can the PCs get to the lair? Once they find it, how do they get in?

1. Remote – The lair is far, far off the beaten trail and is thus difficult to find.
2. Hidden in plain sight – The lair is right in the center of action, but is so innocuous that it goes unnoticed.
3. Disguised – The lair is nearby, but it purports to be something else entirely.
4. Secret entrance – The entrance to the lair is actively camouflaged and in an unexpected environment.


How big is the hideout? How many rooms might it have?

1. Cavernous – The hideout has more than half a dozen rooms and corridors, each with a specialized purpose.
2. Cozy – The hideout has several multipurpose rooms along a central corridor.
3. Compact – The hideout has at most two rooms; probably one room functions as an entryway or guard chamber while the other room is where all of the rest of the activity goes on.
4. Cramped – The hideout is a single, small room. The exterior or the door itself are likely the focus of the hideout's defenses, and the single room is crowded when in use.


Aside from the difficulty of accessing the lair, how else is it defended from nosy intruders?

1. Minions – The villain's subordinates provide the bulk of the defense, patrolling the lair and perhaps the outside region as well.
2. Traps – The lair is filled with cunning traps, puzzles, and obstacles to intruders.
3. Natural – The lair is located somewhere with a naturally occurring defense, either in the form of a dangerous locale or dangerous neighbors.
4. Personal – The villain provides the bulk of the lair's defenses herself, either by use of her abilities to add defenses or by virtue of her ability to deal with any intruders personally.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Dragons are the end-all be-all of the fantasy genre, for good or ill, and lots of players dream of facing up to a dragon, even if they never reach the high levels or tiers of power. And even players with high-powered PCs might relish a good encounter with a dragon now and then.

Today, I'm going to present a few short dragon ideas for various stages of PC power. In the future, I plan to go into detail for each dragon (probably using the d20 system).


Senswhillik the Vast

Senswhillik is an enormous, dark blue dragon that lives in a desert canyon. She spends much of her time sleeping in the sun, like a titanic housecat, but when she is roused she is as deadly as a storm.

Brinilak Dorduna

Brinilak is quite small for a green dragon, though young as he is his draconic intellect and reasoning skills are still at least equal to that of an average adult human. He is teaching himself to master the powers of nature, and he soon expects to be able to leave his cave and plunder the nearby towns.

Ordax Gardith aka "Devourer of the Sixth Sea"

Ordax is a monstrous red dragon who lives in a cliffside cave overlooking a barren valley. The valley was once a large inland sea, but the legend is that Ordax drank the whole sea up in order to plunder the many merchant ships at his leisure.

Harkog Deathless

Harkog is a large, but skeletally thin, blue dragon. She has mastered many magical arts, and is rumored to have developed a serum to grant eternal life. Her lair is hidden in a labyrinthian series of craggy canyons, and she only rarely ventures forth for food and arcane resources.

The Wandering Plague

The Wandering Plague is a sinuous black dragon priest of the goddess of disease. He has no permanent lair, preferring to travel the lands and take temporary residence in fetid swamps and urban sewers. He believes that the spread of disease empowers his deity and that he will be granted great power of his own for being the emissary of her power.

Ixallikan of the Lightning Peaks

Ixallkian is a small, but incredibly cunning, white dragon who lairs among the deadly Lightning Peaks. Many years ago she mastered the zen arts, making her far deadlier than other dragons of her size. So great is her ability that they say she dodges the very lightning itself, making her lair at the top of the peaks among the deadliest storms.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rural Quests

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of villages and the oddities you could drop into those villages. But what if you want a normal village with normal people and normal problems? Maybe you're trying to make your world feel alive, maybe your PCs are level 0 and are off on their first quest (no matter how trivial it may seem), or maybe you're just using this as an opportunity to introduce people and places so that you can hold them hostage or destroy them later.

No matter your purpose, these tables are for you! The first two tables will randomly generate a plausible village name, and the third will give you a seemingly innocuous quest, which you can leave as is or fill with danger and excitement.

Village (part 1)

1. Stone-
2. Wood-
3. Wheat-
4. Gold-
5. Silver-
6. River-
7. Hill-
8. Black-
9. Iron-
10. Kings-
11. Queens-
12. East-

Village (part 2)

1. -hold
2. -bury
3. -ton
4. -field
5. -way
6. -burrough
7. -shire
8. -water
9. -ham
10. -ford
11. -port
12. -vale

Peasant Quest

1. Rescue 2d6 stranded sheep
2. Tend to an injured horse
3. Help bring in the harvest before the cold ruins it all
4. Find the chicken thief
5. Build a barn by nightfall
6. Fill the box with firewood
7. Calm the rampaging bull
8. Find 1d4 missing cows

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Using Injuries and Wounds

Durability is handled very differently across the vast array of RPGs. Some use hit points or health, some use stamina or chi, and other simply layer on drawbacks or consequences. If your system of choice is one that represents durability with health or hit points, might I suggest occasionally adding an injury or wound instead?

Dungeon World has this type of mechanic, where players can choose for their characters to sustain an injury rather than lose health points. I'm a fan of that concept, and thought I'd share some of my own ideas here for implementing that in the d20 system.

Injures and Wounds

  • Fractured arm makes it difficult to hold items or cast spells (-2 attack, worth 10 hp)
  • Fractured leg makes walking or running difficult (base speed -10 ft., worth 10 hp)
  • Fractured ribs make it hard to do anything (-2 Str and Dex penalty, worth 10 hp)
  • Mild head trauma impedes focus (-1 attacks, skills, saves, and ability checks, worth 15 hp)
  • Broken arm cannot hold weapons or shields or cast spells (arm cannot be used in actions, worth 30 hp)
  • Broken leg cannot support weight (base speed = 5 ft., worth 30 hp)
  • Broken ribs impede nearly all actions (-6 Str and Dex penalty, worth 30 hp)
  • Severe head trauma halves capability (take either a move or a standard action each round, worth 50 hp)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NPC Vault: Half-Orcs

Half-orcs run the gamut from D&D's "the poor man's orc" to Tolkien's Übermensch uruk-hai. Personally, I use half-orcs frequently in my games because they fall nicely between the "civilized" and "savage" races, and that makes them excellent tipping points one way or the other.

So today, I'm adding a half-dozen half-orcs to the NPC vault.


1. Crimson is a male half-orc. He is a mercenary warrior-priest and obsessively cleans his armor and weaponry. Crimson offers to heal his foes if they convert to the worship of his god.
2. Serrate is a female half-orc. She is the leader of a small village and hoards food. Serrate wants to turn her village into a trading town.
3. Axiom is a male half-orc. He is an inventor and hates his orcish parentage. Axiom is struggling to invent the perfect automaton.
4. Scythe is a female half-orc. She is an assassin and has a dry sense of humor. Scythe is trying to gather blackmail information on her former employers.
5. Mace is a male half-orc. He is a merchant who hides his orcish features and talks with an affected high-class accent. Mace is looking to make contact with the thieves' guild and fence their goods.
6. Indigo is a female half-orc. She is hedgewizard's apprentice and curses frequently and fluently in orcish. Indigo is plotting to take vengeance against the Arcane College for rejecting her.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Random Encounters: Horror in the Old Manor

Generally when you run a horror game, you want to be very prepared. Horror is a tough genre to GM in most systems because players tend to be immune to fear. If you're running a game like Dread or a well-executed Cthulhu mythos game, then you've (hopefully) already mastered inflicting fear upon your players.

But what if you're just running a one-shot game with a haunted manor? Or if your PCs decide to leap off of the beaten path and investigate the abandoned keep a few miles outside of town before you even know what's there? In that case, I'd suggest rolling a few times on the three tables below.

In fact, I hope that these tables can inspire even the most seasoned GM to create a new and delightfully frightful encounter for her players.


1. Something is thumping from inside the cabinets along the wall.
2. A dark shape darts around the corner just as you enter the room.
3. A cracked mirror shows something standing right behind you.
4. Hot, thick saliva drips onto your shoulder from above.
5. Sounds of movement are coming down the hall toward you: *thud, scrrrt, thud, scrrrt.*
6. The smell of singed flesh is growing stronger with each step you take.

Environment feature

1. A muffled radio warbles out the time and date, but it's neither accurate nor consistent.
2. The window curtains rustle, though the window is definitely closed and intact.
3. Cobwebs are thick everywhere, except against one miraculously clean wall.
4. Blood seeps up from between the wooden floorboards.
5. Dried, curling wallpaper reveals the words, "the cellar."
6. Dishes cover every flat surface, and each dish contains a single stinking, decaying apple.


1. A scream from below echoes through the building.
2. All lights in the area flicker and are extinguished.
3. A blast of hot, moist air blasts through the room, accompanied by a low rumble.
4. The antique furniture begins to smolder and burn.
5. The floor gives way beneath your feet.
6. The nearest door creaks open slowly, and the smell of lavender drifts in from the next room.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Bandits and leaders

You may recall that last month I posted a handful of bandit-related six-word sparks. Bandits, along with goblins and dragons, are one of the staple bad guys of the fantasy genre. It's easy to justify them as bad guys, since they're murdering and stealing from travelers, and it's easy to drop them into a game, since they go wherever there are victims.

It's also easy to fall into existing clichés of disorganized human brigands and their gluttonous leader or of Robin Hood and his merry men. Next time you want to bandits for your game, check out these tables.


1. A mix of half-orcs, humans, and dwarves, all armed with powerful crossbows and sharp axes
2. A rabble of wild goblins armed with spears, knives, and slings
3. A squad of stealthy catfolk who employ sophisticated traps and hit-and-run tactics
4. A troupe of tricky humans who pretend to be travelers and then stab the PCs in the back
5. A clan of desperate dwarves who charge a steep toll to pass
6. A tribe of vicious orcs who team up with wargs to and use pack tactics

Bandit Leader

1. A one-eyed orc wielding a staff with a vendetta against halflings
2. A heavily armored half-giant who's looking for rubies and only rubies
3. A sharp-eyed wild elf wielding an enchanted bow and looking to start her own fiefdom
4. A sociopathic gnome illusionist who was exiled by his peers
5. A regretful lizardfolk warrior trying to collect enough money to ransom her husband
6. A merciless human weaponsmaster actively recruiting a mercenary army

Thursday, April 16, 2015

One-Line Rewards: Miscellaneous

Today's collection of tweet-length magical items is a pretty random assortment. Usually, I try to unite a handful with a theme, but sometimes you really just want a random magical item. In that case, this is the table for you.

One-Line Rewards

1. Armadillo Armor: A suit of flexible grey armor. The wearer can hunch into an impenetrable shell.
2. Meteor Morningstar: A scarlet morningstar with a bronze head. The head can be launched and explodes like a fireball.
3. Cap of Comfort: A green cloth cap. The wearer is always able to remain calm, no matter the situation.
4. Scroll of Illumination: A short scroll with gold writing. It can be pressed against a surface, where it sticks and glows like a torch.
5. Tablet of Ska'Ket: A palm-sized sandstone tablet. The holder can summon forth the rushing power of the river.
6. Morten's Char: A thin charcoal pencil. The user can write a physical property on an object to give it that property.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Six-Word Sparks VIII: Magical Mysteries

A six-word spark is a phrase that cuts to the core of an adventure idea, defining it by its most important elements. Limiting it to six words is intended to prevent the spark from developing into a full story before the players get involved (and it also keeps the GM from putting too much work into something that may never see the light of day).

I've previously posted a set of six-word sparks for mysteries, but, in a fantasy setting, the realm of mystery opens up even further when magic is involved. Not only does magic complicate normal crimes and mysteries, but it creates the possibility of a whole new set of mysteries, like today's six-word sparks.

Six-Word Sparks

1. Metallic plague turns steel to dust.
2. Black stag seen, local nightmares intensify.
3. Bulls begin transforming into unhappy minotaurs.
4. Illness sweeps land, victims become elves.
5. Strange disease changing man into tree.
6. The village vanishes, replaced by trees.
7. Town statue vanishes and locusts return.
8. Each night, the forest moves closer.
9. Sage's library disappears overnight; nixies suspected.
10. Magic seed sprouts overnight, leads up.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Goblin Varieties

Goblins are very common in fantasy settings. They're simple little humanoid monsters with just enough intelligence and civilization to form organized groups and build cities, but not enough to be peaceful and productive. In game terms, they tend to be push-overs individually and generally only pesky in groups.

My players, at least, have grown very used to seeing goblins at low levels. They might not have their stats memorized, but they know generally what to expect in terms of damage and how many hits a goblin can take. That's why I'm working on creating variations on standard monsters, like goblins.

My goal is to create simple varieties that I can either sprinkle in among the standard versions or lay out en masse as a distinct subrace.

Dirt Goblins

Standard variety. (image)
A dirt goblin’s skin color ranges from yellow through any shade of orange to a deep red.

Grass Goblins

HP: 3 | AC 15 (+1 size, +1 Dex, +2 leather, +1 light shield) | Touch 12 | Flat-Footed 14
Speed: 30 ft.
Attack: Longspear +2 melee reach (1d6) or Javelin +3 ranged (1d4)
Special: Low-light vision, ambush (deal +1d4 damage to flat-footed opponents)
Saves: Fort +1, Ref +1, Will +1
Abilities: Str 11, Dex 13, Con 9, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 6
Skills: Hide +9, Listen +4, Move Silently +5, Spot +4
Feats: Alertness

A grass goblin's skin color is generally a shade of green with mottled patches of yellow. Its head is topped with long, spiky green hair.

Cave Goblins

HP: 4 | AC 16 (+1 size, +1 Dex, +1 natural, +2 leather, +1 light shield) | Touch 12 | Flat-Footed 15
Speed: 20 ft.
Attack: Greatclub +3 melee (1d8+1) or Sling +3 ranged (1d3+1)
Special: Darkvision 60 ft., frenzy (+2 Str, +2 Con, -2 AC for 1 round)
Saves: Fort +2, Ref +1, Will -1
Abilities: Str 13, Dex 13, Con 10, Int 10, Wis 9, Cha 6
Skills: Hide +5, Listen +6, Move Silently +5, Spot +2
Feats: Alertness

A cave goblin's skin is thick and hairless, usually in shades of grey and brown.

Swamp Goblins

HP: 6 | AC 14 (+1 size, +2 leather, +1 light shield) | Touch 11 | Flat-Footed 14
Speed: 30 ft.
Attack: Kukri +2 melee (1d4 18-20/x2) or Net +2 ranged touch attack (entangle)
Special: Low-light vision, excretion (+2 Escape Artist, +2 Swim, +2 AC for 1 round)
Saves: Fort +4, Ref +0, Will +0
Abilities: Str 10, Dex 11, Con 15, Int 9, Wis 10, Cha 6
Skills: Escape Artist +2, Hide +5, Listen +2, Move Silently +5, Spot +2, Swim +2
Feats: Alertness

A swamp goblin's skin is moist and slimy, and beneath the slime it is usually a bluish-green or indigo.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Wild Elemental Creatures

I'm getting ready to start a campaign in which the natural elements of the world will play a serious role, so ways in which I can tie the elements into the world have been on my mind. Today, I've been thinking about how to incorporate the elements in creature encounters without defaulting to the standard elemental monsters from published materials.

The first table of creatures has a specific aesthetic, but you could just as easily pull from the bestiary or tome of monsters that you use and roll on just the Elemental Aura table.


1. A majestic lion with white fur and a silver mane
2. A ratlike humanoid with a long tail
3. A sleek, red fox with three tails
4. A human warrior with the head of a wolf
5. A graceful crane with glowing eyes
6. A bear-sized badger wearing clothes

Elemental Aura

1. A whirling vortex of wind surrounds the creature
2. Smoke puffs from its mouth and fire wreathes its head
3. Nearby water freezes and the air takes a dangerous chill
4. The earth trembles beneath its feet, as though ready to rise up
5. Plants sprout up wherever it stands, grasping at feet and legs
6. Iron and steel bend away as the creature approaches
7. The sky darkens and thunder rumbles
8. Roll twice and combine (ignore this result for the two new rolls)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Modern Minions

You may recall that I pulled out the Modern Henchman from the mook box about a month ago. That's a great minion for the sort of default supervillain, criminal mastermind, or evil busisnesswoman, but it can certainly become repetitive. And besides repetition, there are plenty of modern villains for whom Uzi-toting suits would make no sense. Furthermore, giving your present-day baddie a more distinct group of underlings makes her stand out more to your players.

In that light, I present a table of various types of modern minions (including a few suggested pieces of gear).

Modern henchmen

1. Teenage street gangsters (wad of $5 bills, cheap revolver, smart phone)
2. Ex-black ops mercenaries (M4 rifle with thermal scope, black Kevlar vest, radio earpiece)
3. Corporate flunkies (TASER, walkie-talkie, security ID badge)
4. Professional bodyguards (handgun, radio earpiece, sunglasses)
5. Foreign hackers (encrypted laptop, fake ID, unencrypted USB loaded with a virus)
6. Semi-professional MMA fighters (brass knuckles, leather jacket, matchbook from local bar)
7. Redneck "good ol' boys" (shotgun, bottle of moonshine, keys to a pick-up truck)
8. Escaped convicts (knife, cheap cell phone, stolen wallet)
9. Rent-a-cop security guards (pepper spray, baton, walkie-talkie)
10. Misguided angry mob (shovels, ropes, brooms)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Random Encounters: Modern Jungle

Today's random encounter tables take us deep into the jungle. Myth and superstition have no place in the modern world, but that doesn't mean that danger can't lurk in the shadows.


1. Armed revolutionaries
2. Panther on the hunt
3. Zoologic expedition
4. Gigantic constrictor snake
5. A massive swarm of hungry mosquitos
6. A lone nature documentary filmmaker

Environment feature

1. A raging river crashes through a rocky ravine
2. The entrance to an unexplored temple
3. Long, low-hanging vines fill the area
4. A muddy sinkhole
5. Poachers' traps are hidden everywhere
6. The trees are so thick the whole area is drenched in shadow


1. Crashing sounds announce the arrival of a massive logging truck
2. Government soldiers arrive in banged-up jeeps
3. Thunder shakes the trees as a hurricane blows in
4. Poison dart frogs start leaping past in huge numbers
5. The keening sound of an injured animal echoes from nearby
6. An American black ops team arrives in a sleek black helicopter

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Legendary Dwarf Treasures

Dwarves, masters of stone and steel, are smiths of high renown and doughty warriors. In their ancient past, they were even greater smiths and warriors, using precious materials no longer available and wielding mighty tools that are far beyond the skill of today's greatest crafters.

Legendary Dwarf Treasures

1. Onyx Crest: This black emblem is carved with only a single dwarf rune: power. The holder of the crest must first prove her worth, and once she has done so, the crest grants her strength, endurance, and mental fortitude to match the pinnacle of dwarvenkind.
2. Dwarfgold Sword: This heavy two-edged blade is made of dwarfgold. Its yellow metal is tinged with blue and glows softly at all times. It will neither bend nor break, and its edges are eversharp. There are precious few of these weapons, and all are blessed by ancient dwarf warrior-priests to cleave through bone and steel with a single stroke.
3. Dwarven Pearls: This wide, silver necklace is strung with seven starglint diamonds, often called "dwarven pearls" by outsiders. These diamonds are among the most precious of all dwarf jewels. They are valued for their inherent magical property: the ability to rebound magical spells. The wearer has sevenfold protection against magic cast by anyone but herself.
4. Harod's Plate: This black and white metal chestplate is too wide for all but the burliest frame. Any who can wear the heavy armor is encased in a shell of nigh-impenetrable protection. This armor is a masterpiece of dwarven smithcraft; it is forged of adamant and mithral, woven together by ancient fire, dwarf sinew, and the lost art of metalsong.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Villages and Oddities

Filling out fantasy maps can be difficult work. In my experience, describing all of the various villages and hamlets in detail is not only a waste of time (what are the odds your players will visit even half of them?), but also counterintuitive. Better, I think, to create a list of interesting places and drop them along your PCs' path as they travel. Sort of like a random encounter table, but for settlements.

To use this kind of mapping/travel method, you'll need (probably) at least three things: the name of the community, the name of the tavern, and something interesting to keep your PCs from just moving on without hesitation. If you recall, I've previously tackled some tavern names, but today I'm going to present tables on village names and on oddities; oddities are those unique features that will (hopefully) draw in your players.


1. Hillhold
2. Strawton
3. Riverway
4. Woodbury
5. Bellhome
6. Stonewood


1. A traveling merchant selling one-use wands
2. A magical talking scale that settles trade disputes
3. A tree that bears "ironfruit" (nuggets of refined iron ore)
4. A seamstress who can sew enchantments into wool cloth
5. A bronze pole 10' high, 1' in diameter that emits a subtle hum as the PCs walk by
6. A talking dog
7. An ogre helping build a barn
8. Constant, never-ceasing rainfall

Monday, April 6, 2015

Even More Adventure Sites

I am still enjoying creating adventure sites, small areas ripe for conflict and containing something of value to the PCs. These are generally pretty straightforward locations where the PCs can storm in, kill some obvious bad guys, and make off with the treasure.

If your players are going off the beaten path, shunning your intricately prepared situations and dynamic NPCs in favor of action and black-and-white morality, these adventure sites are for you.

Tombs and Crypts

Hall of the Deepfather (high fantasy)

Location: An old stone pillar indicates the entrance is 2 miles west of the old dwarf road
Areas: The entrance, the hall of tales, the entombment
NPCs: Glower (stone guardian)
Obstacles: Glower lets no one pass the entrance without a tributary poem to the Deepfather, the hall of tales is filled with enchanted tapestries that draw onlookers into a series of dangerous magical reenactments of the Deepfather's dangerous adventures (each with its own obstacles)
Rewards: The Deepfather's Wisdom (an enchanted hammer) lies atop his stone form in the entombment, behind the tale-telling tapestries in the hall of tales are small caches of gems and coins
Hook: A pair travelers standing in the middle of the road are discussing whether or not they have time to visit the Hall of the Deepfather and try to claim its glorious treasure.

The Vault (science fiction)

Location: Orbiting a small, unobtrusive moon in an uninhabited system
Areas: The cryostasis prison chamber, the cryogenerator, the internal monitor station
NPCs: Alteph (ancient guard), Alkrek (ancient criminal)
Obstacles: The Vault's external airlock has complex security (though it is very, very old), the cryogenerator room is venting energy and is deadly cold, Alkrek is an ingenious trickster and a murderer who has escaped his stasis pod since the cryogenerator started malfunctioning
Rewards: Only Alkrek knows where his ancient stash of loot is, the portable power core in the cryogenerator room is intact and valuable
Hook: The Vault has a begun venting energy, giving it a very visible signature on any ship's nav system.

The McIntosh Mausoleum (urban fantasy)

Location: In the new part of the city's largest cemetery
Areas: The outer mausoleum, the burial chamber, the cave
NPCs: The Shadow (magical deal-maker)
Obstacles: Ghouls (the corpses of deceased McIntosh clan members) lurk in the outer mausoleum, a ward against iron and steel separates the outer mausoleum from the burial chamber, the Ravenous One dwells in the dark of the cave (accessed through the burial chamber)
Rewards: The Shadow can basically grant any wish (for a sinister price), the McIntosh ghouls are adorned with jewelry
Hook: A message appears from the Shadow claiming he can solve all of the PCs' woes.

The Sunken Barrow (low fantasy)

Location: In the center of the Willow Marshes
Areas: The stairs, the flooded corridor, the king's tomb, the treasure room
NPCs: Maladwin of Hillhold (wealthy merchant)
Obstacles: The stone stairs are crumbling and may collapse beneath the weight of explorers, the flooded corridor slowly descends into water and is slick, the king's tomb is home to a school of large carnivorous fish
Rewards: The treasure room holds a rotted wooden chest of silver pieces, an unrusted (and still sharp) steel sword is buried with the king himself
Hook: Maladwin of Hillhold is scouring the nearby settlements looking for someone to enter the barrow and recover the treasure she believes it holds, for a cut.

DynaCorp Subbasement* (post-apocalypse)

Location: The ruins of the DynaCorp building are visible for miles.
Areas: The access shaft, the cubefarm, the break room
NPCs: Sze Xian (trapped scavenger)
Obstacles: The access shaft is dangerously prone to collapse, the cubefarm is home to dozens of irradiated zombies
Rewards: Sze Xian (unarmed) is holed up in the break room along with a valuable data disk, several of the zombies carry valuables, a rifle and ammunition lying at the top of the access shaft
Hook: There were reports of screaming from the DynaCorp ruins last night.

*This one is kind of a cheat, but I figured with so many dead ex-DynaCorp employees, it might as well be a tomb in its own right.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

One-Line Rewards: Knives

As you probably well know by now, one-line rewards are magic items described in around 140 characters. They're easy to digest, easy to create, and easy to modify for specific systems and settings. Today's treasures are knives of varying sorts.

One-Line Rewards

1. Barrow Knife: A bone-handled knife. Its blade glows with sepulchral light when undead are near.
2. Dragon Eye Knife: A silver knife with a blue gem on its pommel. The blue gem allows the wielder to hypnotize creatures.
3. Dwarven Rune Knife: A wide, grey-bladed knife. The blade is enchanted so that it can cut stone as easily as cloth.
4. Goblin Gutter Knife: A straight, slim knife with a white blade. Anyone it wounds is stricken with a deadly disease: filthfire.
5. Sun Shard: A knife with a conical blade and no crosshilt. It can burn with sunfire, but the knife dissolves 24 hours later.
6. Astaroth’s Last Gasp: A pale knife with a jagged blade. It links the life-force of its wielder to that of its latest target.

Friday, April 3, 2015

NPC Vault: Dwarves

When your players insist on talking to those dwarves drinking in the corner, what do you do? You don't know anything about them; you just made them up as you were describing the tavern. You could try to patch them together using a handful of random tables, or you could just start making things up on the fly. Those methods work for some GMs, but not for everyone.

Enter the NPC vault. A list of NPCs organized by race that includes enough cohesive and coherent detail to at least get started.

Today's additions to the NPC vault are dwarves. Whether you find them drinking in the tavern, standing guard duty outside a vast underground city, wandering the lightless tunnels deep in goblin territory, or hammering away on an anvil, these dwarves won't let you down.


1. Ardomas Deepstone is a male dwarf. He is a brewer who specializes in mushroom beer, and he is a glutton for his own drink. Ardomas is trying to gather enough money to buy his sister from giant slavers.
2. Kortryna Breakhammer is a female dwarf. She is an explorer and never backs down from a fight. Kortryna is hoping to find the lost smithy of her grandmother.
3. Tatirana Brighthelm is a female dwarf. She is a master chef and loathes the darkness. Tatirana wants to travel in elf lands and collect the rarest of herbs and spices.
4. Vrilis Durinson is a male dwarf with celestial lineage. He is a scholar and cannot tolerate those less intelligent than he is. Vrilis is searching ancient dwarf laws in the hope that his celestial ancestry will grant him some special political station.
5. Linras Longshield is a male dwarf. He is a doughty warrior and follows orders almost too well. Linras wants to earn the highest military merit in dwarf culture.
6. Ingra Goldenbristles is a female dwarf. She is a princess and politician who feigns naïveté to disguise her brilliance. Ingra is desperately trying to foster peace among all dwarf clans.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Six-Word Sparks VII: Battle and War

Huge set-piece battles are very much ingrained into the fantasy genre, at least of the Tolkien school. The 300-style battles in which the protagonists are desperately outnumbered are also a serious part of the fantasy genre. Running a war campaign, or even running a single large battle, can be challenging in a rules-heavy system, but when it works, it really works.

If you've watched the Lord of the Rings movies or 300 recently and want to start thinking of ways to incorporate a big battle into your next adventure, check out these six-word sparks.

Six-Word Sparks

1. Awakened mouse warrior seeks worthy allies.
2. Archer recruits, plans troll-lands hunt.
3. Princess calls mercenaries; giants gathering above.
4. Elves foretell renewing of Goblin Wars.
5. Gnome-Kobold skirmishes threaten international peace.
6. Kingdom's borders assaulted by organized animals.
7. Snake people invade and capture city.
8. Dwarf warlord commanding elementals declares war.
9. Earthquake destroys town, orc army approaches.
10. Halfling merchant guild assembles mercenary army.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

NPC: Barkley, an April Fool

A year ago, I entered Haste's April's Fool contest. I was a winner in two categories. I've already posted my personal favorite, Craig the Battle Droid, but I thought that today would be an appropriate time to share the other.

Barkley, Forest Humorist

Quote: “It’s time to make like a tree and stand perfectly still.

Ooh, ooh, no wait.  'It's time to make like a tree and bark.'

Ha ha ha, hoo boy, that was a good one!”

Appearance: Barkley is a lithe figure about six feet tall.  His skin is dark and grainy, like varnished wood.  His hair is a spiky mess of thick brown follicles, and each one branches into two or three wavy green curls at the end.  Barkley wears a toga-like robe of moss and leaves, and he carries a long, gnarled club.  His appearance helps him blend in with the trees, though since he can teleport by stepping into and out of any tree he doesn’t need the camouflage.

Roleplaying: Barkley treats everything lightly, no matter how severe the situation.  He chats idly and makes constant forest-based puns and jokes (most of which are horrid).  He can occasionally be very serious about the forest, but even then he can hardly string together a couple of sentences before his foolish nature breaks through again.

Personality: Barkley is a light-hearted Fae creature who rarely sees mortal troubles as serious.  He is generally friendly, but not necessarily likeable.  He tends towards annoying thanks to his continuous stream of jokes.  On the rare occasions that Barkley is serious, he is completely focused and quite cunning.  If he makes any friends who can tolerate his presence, he’s very loyal and occasionally helpful.

Motivation: Barkley is theoretically a guardian of the forests of the world.  But he’s been doing that for a long time and has grown tired of it.  His responsibility is temporarily lifted while he seeks out a replacement, but he spends most of his time just cracking jokes and playing tricks on mortals.  Deep down he seeks approval from mortals since the Fae refuse to give it to him.

Background: Barkley was once a powerful member of a Fae court.  Thanks to his foolishness, however, he was banned from the Fae courts and given the responsibility of watching over the forests.  He recently convinced a Fae noble to allow him to find a replacement, claiming that he has grown weary.  In reality, he just plans to stay away from his responsibility as long as possible and have fun in the mortal realm.