play this fighting game i wrote

July 27th, 2015 by paul

I wrote a silly but totally playable fighting game. Play it!

Backstory: Last Sunday my wife and kid were out of town. I woke up from a dream where I had been playing a D&D-themed fighting game. I thought, I have nothing to do today. Can I code up that dream game in one day? By the end of the day I had a complete game with 13 opponents, but I had run out of time for art. Everyone was stick figures. Over the course of the next week I drew some sketchy opponents and balanced gameplay - plus I obviously spent tons of time on that awesome intro.

Longer backstory: in 2002 or 2003, on another lazy Sunday, I wrote a stupid flash game which I called Quest for the Crown. It was a one-joke game: the joke was that the intro and credits were very long and the gameplay was short (you just walked past some rocks and picked up the crown). Hilarious! However, due to a totally unintended bug, the game had a little depth.

If you finished the game and sat through the credits, you got the option to play again. The bug: on the second play through, I accidentally added a second keystroke listener without removing the first one, so when you pressed a directional arrow, you moved two squares instead of one. You can still get to the crown easily, but you have to bounce off a wall.

On the third play through, you move three squares when you press an arrow key, and so on. It becomes harder to get to the crown. But because of the random location of rock obstacles, you can bounce an increasingly convoluted path to the crown. Sometimes you have to jam two keys at once. Chance and accident made a game out of what I had meant as a non game.

There's a message for you: if you make something with rules, gameplay will emerge! Maybe not the gameplay you intended, but maybe something better.

all trolls are scrags

July 17th, 2015 by paul

In folktales, trolls traditionally live under bridges. Why is that? It makes the most sense if trolls are amphibious creatures who paddle around in the water between their feasts on merchants, PCs, and billy goats.

Making all trolls amphibious makes sense of their hairless, rubbery, froggy skin and their weakness to fire. It also lets them catch some of that "Zombie Survival Guide" horror: you can't escape from them by land or sea. In fact, trolls are much scarier on the high seas: they're nearly invulnerable to fire under the sea and on dangerously flammable ship decks.

Get rid of the scrag, the D&D aquatic troll variant. Instead, give all trolls a swim speed and water breathing. Put troll dens near rivers, lakes, and bogs, where they can retreat, Grendel-like, when they need to regenerate for a bit.

Exceptional leaders for every monster!

July 8th, 2015 by paul

There's plenty of evidence in OD&D that all humanoids - not just PC races - can advance in level. Every humanoid race has extra-HD leaders. I'd kind of like to extrapolate those rules and apply them to all monsters.

the OD&D rules

Let's start by looking at the human baseline. In OD&D, bandits, berserkers, brigands, dervishes, nomads, buccaneers, pirates - basically all humans - use the same rules: for every 30 there is a bonus 4th level Fighting Man; for every 50 a 5/6 level FM; for every 100 a, 8-9 FM; if 200 + there are chances for wizards and clerics. That's a lot of characters with levels.

Humanoids use much the same rules but their leaders are frequently statted as the next strongest humanoid type: 40-400 1-1 HD goblins have 5-30 leaders with the stats of 1+1 HD hobgoblins; 20-200 hobgoblins have 3-5 leaders as 4+1 HD ogres; gnolls have troll-like 6+3 HD leaders; and orcs have complicated rules giving chances per 100 orcs of having actual monster leaders: ogres, trolls, balrogs, dragons, or level 7-11 fighting men and wizards.

How about demi-humans? For every 40 dwarves/gnomes there's a level 1-6 fighter. For every 50 elves there's a 2-4 F/2-5 MU, and for every 100 there's a F 4/ MU 8. Pretty wimpy compared to humans, but that's to be expected in a level-limits world.

That's all the monsters that come in groups of more than 100. They all have powerful leaders, usually many HD higher. We can assume that all intelligent races introduced in later books/editions should be treated the same way. And furthermore - and I find this idea exciting - probably every species has exceptional individuals, but since the number typically appearing is so low it's not worth it to detail them. But if you ever did get 100 15-HD Purple Worms together, maybe 1 in 30 would be 20 HD, 1 in 50 would be 25 HD, and 1 in 100 would be a purple worm 30/Magic User 11.

boiling it down

The OD&D rules feel right power-wise, but I don't want all sorts of lookups. I want a memorable rule that I can apply on the fly to 20-person bandit camps, 1000-person church heirarchies, armies of 10,000 - any vaguely meritocratic force.

After working at this for a while, and rejecting all sorts of things - every 30 of these gives you this, every 50 of those gives you that - I found that there is no universal best fit, and I realized that I didn't really want to be dealing with 5 different power levels in a bandit camp anyway. I basically want two things: a bunch of lieutenants and a leader.

The monsters with powerful leaders (humans, orcs) have about +8 HD per 100. Let's extrapolate from there:

In every double-digit group of creatures, the leader has +4 HD. Add +4 HD per extra digit.

That sounds pretty good, and it's reasonably scalable. In a barbarian horde of 100,000 (the size of Genghis Khan's and Tamerlane's hordes, and probably the largest reasonable in a dark ages world) the leader would have +20 levels.

As for officers, I don't want to deal with Tamerlane's 10k corporals, 1k sergeants, etc. Let's just do the leader's important bodyguard/lieutenants. According to OD&D rules, a group of 100 humans has 5 sub-leaders around 5 HD; hobgoblins and orcs might have half as many. Extrapolating:

Every leader has 1d6 lieutenants who are 4 HD weaker.

In practice, this rule means that only groups of 100+ have lieutenants with bonus HD; groups of 10-99 just have the leader. Good. Every 10 orcs doesn't need a giant chain of command.

There are much higher-level guys acting as OD&D leaders - dragons leading 100 orcs, for instance. Anyone can go slumming. But I propose that, in D&D, you need officers and leaders of around this minumum level to keep a non-civilized tribe or mercenary army running. (Civilized armies and countries can be ruled by level-1 leaders, which is both civilization's weakness and its strength.)

A fun repercussion: around level 5, PCs should be able to keep 10+ hirelings in line. At level 9, they should be able to command 100+ troops - which they can! That's around name level, when 1e fighters automatically get armies numbered in the hundreds.

Now let's apply this to all D&D encounters. Throw a fireball into a room of 30 orcs, and one of them might survive. If you run into 10 hill giants, one of them has stats more like a cloud giant. Watch out for the shambling minotaur in the zombie horde. And if you're pursued by nine 4-HD wraiths, chances are that one of them (the Witch-King) is a 8 HD badass.

Hot swapping

OD&D freely uses different races as leaders. Orcs, for instance, have ogre lieutenants and human leaders. Make an army more interesting by swapping any lieutenant/leader with a monster or human of around the requisite HD. Thus a hundred elves might count 4-HD centaurs among their lieutenants and be ruled by an 8-HD ent.

How to level up monsters

So far I've mostly been talking about OD&D. Leveling up monsters in earlier editions is easy - add 4 HP/level and have them use the appropriate attack matrix - and 4e is easy with Monster Manual on a Business Card. But these days I mostly play 5e, which uses monster creation rules I haven't internalized yet. Here's how to make leaders and lieutenants in 5e. We'll be using Challenge Rating instead of Hit Dice.

From consulting the "Monster Statistics by Challenge Rating" chart in the 5e DMG, and adjusting it based on actual monster stats in the Monster Manual, it's clear that, up to about CR 20, AC and attack bonus go up a little under 2 every 4 CRs, HP goes up 60, and damage goes up 40. Feel free to use those stock numbers. I'm going to tweak them all a little to my taste.

AC, attack bonus, skills, saving throws, and checks: I'm going to bump this up to +2 every four levels: exceptional monsters who made it to high level probably have extra-good starting stats too. Besides, I want the difference to be noticeable.

HP: Most horde monsters are going to be Small or Medium and thus use below-average Hit Die sizes. Let's reduce the standard HP bump to 40 every 4 levels for typical horde leaders; double this for large monsters.

Damage: I love that big +40 damage swing per four levels. PCs will feel the weight of that. The DM can decide how to assign that damage, but an extra attack per 4 levels is a good place to start.

So here's how to add 4 CR levels to a 5e monster:

+40 HP (or +80 HP if Large or larger), +40 damage, +2 everything else (AC and all d20 rolls)

OK, let's put all the rules together into a bite-sized rulelet:

Monster Leaders up to CR 20
In every double-digit group of creatures, the leader has +4 HD. Add +4 HD per extra digit. Every leader has 1d6 lieutenants who are 4 HD weaker.
Adding 4 levels in 5e: +40 HP, +40 damage (+80 for Large), +2 everything else (AC and all d20 rolls)

some magic rivers

June 25th, 2015 by paul

Whenever the PCs come across an uncharted river, roll d20 on this chart (or d100 for a more mundane setting).

1: Holy. This river flows from a sacred spring and actually runs with holy water. It might be a magical forest brook or it might be a major trade river, with fervently religious cities on its bank, hordes of pilgrims rafting down its water, and holy-water bottlers and distributors driving ritualist clerics out of business.

2: Deep. Whatever its width, this river is so deep that it's navigable by sea-going warships. In fact, its depth is unplumbed. It's rumored to go all the way down to the Plane of Water. Every once in a while, bizarre sea monsters surface, snatch a ship, and disappear.

3: Magical border. One side of the river is reasonably civilized, with the occasional village and farmhouse along its bank. The other is monster-haunted wilderness, from which blood-curdling howls can be heard at night. How is it that such a long, meandering, un-patrolled border can hold back the forces of evil? It's because these monsters can't cross running water (they're vampires, witches, or other such creatures) or because the other side of the river is the borderland of another plane (faerie or Ravenloft for instance).

4: Fertile. The farmland around this river is incredibly economically important. Like the Nile, it can support an unusually dense population and produce enough excess food to sustain the rest of the kingdom. Possession of such a river is worth warring for.

5: Not water. Blood, wine, mist, lava, mercury, acid, liquid sunlight, potion of delusion, stars, sighs, dreams - whatever it is, you can build a bridge over it and you might be able to sail on it (although you might need a magical boat).

6: Roll d6 twice more on this chart.

7+: Just a river.

Edit: Check out the comments for some more good ones!

using monster trophies to create magic items

June 17th, 2015 by paul

Brandes at Harbinger of Doom has some good thoughts about 5e magic item creation. He points out its problems: creating a cool item is not a good time investment (it takes 5+ years of downtime to make a very rare item and 50+ years to make a legendary one), and, once you've created it, you sell it at a loss.

Harbinger's solution is to add optional item creation ingredients, some of which speed up and some of which cheapen the process. This strategy has a bunch of benefits.

  • It potentially matches item creation to the time scale of a D&D campaign.
  • It cheapens item creation to the point where you might make a profit from it, while limiting such profit by the supply of rare ingredients.
  • It introduces new types of loot for the DM to give out.
  • It lets you subdivide magic items, so that, if you wish, you can have frequent rewards without overloading the players with treasure.

    A DM can dream up all sorts of magical ingredients: rare herbs, star metal from a fallen meteor, that sort of thing. But right now I'm primarily interested in trophies - that is, harvestable pieces of monsters. Trophies come with a whole list of extra benefits.

  • They let players make decisions up front. Normally treasure is a sight-unseen reward bestowed on players after the fact. But a pair of highly enchantable gorgon horns, for instance, is a treasure that you can see approaching with a gorgon under it - treasure on the hoof, as it were.
  • They give characters an in-game reason to kill monsters, supporting the meta-game reason (earning XP).
  • They validate an intuition many players have about the game world ("Surely I should be able to sell this wyvern poison!")
  • They potentially add player-directed objectives to the game world map. ("There's a place called Valley of the Chimera? I could use some chimera horns for my Ring of the Ram!")

    When collecting monster trophies, you have to steer clear of some pitfalls. It won't be fun if:

  • it seems morally repellent. Collecting trophies from innocent intelligent creatures should be treated as an evil act.
  • it seems too much like ingredient farming in an MMO. Make sure that you don't introduce any grindy MMO stuff like low drop rates or stacks of required items. You should only have to kill one wyvern to get your wyvern ingredient.
  • it introduces too much bookkeeping. Players have no objection to keeping track of treasure, but to make things simple, you shouldn't have to render a dragon into like 10 things. Each type of monster should only have one trophy.

    OK, on board? Good! Brandes is writing up a more detailed set of magic item ingredient rules, but in the meantime, here are my simple trophy rules, which you can bolt right on the existing 5e item creation rules.

    First, I'll summarize the official DMG rules (pp 128-129):

    It costs 100 GP to make a common item, 500 for uncommon, 5k for rare, 50k for very rare, and 500k for legendary. It takes 1 day per 25 GP of cost. You must be 3rd level to make any magic item, and 6th, 11th, and 17th for Rare, Very Rare, and Legendary respectively.

    What can you make with a trophy?

    Let's make the new rules tidy enough to fit on a Post-It note:

    An item's cost and creation time can be reduced by 1/5 with a trophy from a thematically linked and level-appropriate monster (treat the item's minimum creator level as the monster's minimum CR). You can use multiple trophies if they're from different species. You can't lower creation cost below 100 GP.

    For instance, a trophy suitable for a "very rare" item - monster CR 11 to 16 - will take the place of 10k GP of cost and 400 days of labor.

    This means that a trophy is worth 1/3 of a level-appropriate treasure - so it's a pretty big reward. But it isn't just a generic cash coupon. It can only be used in thematically appropriate recipes. A hellhound's fangs, for instance, might only be useful for making items with fire powers. Furthermore, more appropriate is better. Here's another rule for the Post-It: The single most fitting trophy for a certain magic item counts double, and the CR restriction is waived. For instance, a troll heart would pay for 2/5, not 1/5, of a Ring of Regeneration, even though trolls are CR 6 and very rare items normally require CR 11 trophies.

    Do the characters know these recipes? I'm thinking of trophies as "player empowerment" treasure. If the players kill a monster and ask whether any parts are valuable, the DM should freely tell them which piece is used in item recipes, and then flip through the DMG and tell them one or two item recipes in which it could be used. (There may be more which the players can discover through experimentation or research.)

    Where do you get a trophy?

    If the players want to make a specific magic item, and they ask about searching for ingredients, the DM should flip through the Monster Manual and tell them one or two monsters thematically related the item. The DM should also provide a world location or two (not necessarily nearby) where these monsters can be found. Tracking down a monster doesn't always have to be huge production. It might be a single incident during the course of a larger journey, a sort of player-selected random encounter.

    Not every monster is magical enough to warrant taxidermy. Let's go through the 5e monster types.

    Inferior types:
    Aberration: Not a good candidate for trophies. Your magic items would have too many mouths. Only a few oddball items like the Tentacle Rod require aberration trophies.
    Beast: Beasts aren't suffused with magic. You can't get any magic trophies from killing a beast, even a big one like an elephant or a weird one like a winged snake.
    Construct: Constructs might use trophies in their creation, but they don't leave any when they die.
    Fiend: Fiendish trophies are good only for a handful of evil items.
    Humanoid: Like beasts, you can't get trophies from humanoids.
    Ooze: Oozes are practically garbage. Not much value can be extracted from them.
    Plant: Not much to be gained by messing with twig blights and the like either.
    Undead: Undead are sort of like constructs - they've had two lives already and are pretty much used up. There are a few exceptions for powerful undead: lich phylacteries, demilich gems, and mummy lord wrappings can be useful for some high-level items.

    Superior types:
    Celestial: Pegasus wings (brooms of flying) and unicorn horns (periapt of proof against poison) are highly sought after by evil wizards who must be thwarted by PCs.
    Dragon: A dragon's trophy is its scaly hide, which can be turned into a suit of armor.
    Elemental: Every elemental, except summoned ones, leaves behind an elemental mote. These are good for dozens of magic items, including the various elemental-command items and anything that shoots fire, pours water, grants flight, or is carved from stone.
    Fey: There are only 7 fey creatures in the MM, of which the most common PC targets are hags. Their evil eyes are used in items related to sight and disguise.
    Giant: Giant hearts are used in lots of magic recipes, including ogre gauntlets, giant belts, frostbrand and flametongue swords, and, from troll hearts, various healing items. Harvesting pieces of good or neutral giants is evil.
    Monstrosity: This is the main trophy-bearing monster type. There are no less than 50 monstrosities in the Monster Manual - hey, it's practically in the name of the book - and each bears a different trophy. Peryton shadows, purple worm stingers, umber hulk eyes, displacer beast hides, rust monster tentacles, and all the rest fetch good prices from the wizards in the city.

    Speaking of prices: how about buying and selling trophies? When ready-to-loot dungeons aren't available, I imagine that monster hunting is the next most lucrative career for adventurer types. You might have a 1 in 6 chance of finding a buyer for each trophy in each big city. Here's another rule: If you do sell a trophy, you typically get half its item-creation value (50 GP for a CR 3+ monster, 500 for 6+, 5k for 11+, and 50k for 17+). On the other side of the bargain, if you're trying to buy an item to speed up your magic item creation, you might be able to get it at half price - if it's available. In a major city, the DM should flip the Monster Manual open to three random pages. If any of the monsters on those pages have trophies, they're available.

    This mini-economy solves the 5e rules problem that prices an item at less than its creation cost. The monster trophy market means that people rarely pay full price to create a magic item.

    OK, that's all the rules I've got. Let's see how we'd make a random legendary item. I just flipped open the DMG and found the Rod of Resurrection. OK, what creatures of 17+ CR could make generous donations to its creation? Obviously, a phoenix feather is the most appropriate trophy. The Phoenix isn't statted up in the 5e MM, although the DMG suggests it as a monster you could easily make by modifying a roc or giant eagle. Because it's such a fitting monster, I'll make the phoenix feather worth 40% of the item creation cost - 200,000 GP - and waive the normal 17 CR requirement for a legendary item. Other good ingredients for this item are suggested by the item's illustration in the 5e DMG, which shows a gemmed rod with a skull on one side and a winged head on the other: a demilich is CR 18 and a solar is CR 21. Either a demilich gem or a solar's last breath can be used to reduce the item's cost by a further 100,000 GP. (Killing an angel for its last breath is quite evil.)

    So far everything I've said has been focused on monster parts. A lot of it is just as applicable to other magical ingredients. Herbs, rare metals, and relics might have levels too, based on the dangers of their area, and provide exactly the same magical benefits. Their locations should be reasonably transparent to the players, at least in terms of general area, and finding the items needn't always be a game-session-devouring quest. Making magic items can be flavorful and fun without needlessly derailing the campaign.

  • catastrophic psionics

    June 10th, 2015 by paul

    Yesterday Mike Mearls publicly mused about psionics on Twitter (which I assume means that some psionics-friendly publications are coming up).

    He started with a question: "Agree/Disagree: The flavor around psionics needs to be altered to allow it to blend more smoothly into a traditional fantasy setting."

    Psionics has always been peripheral in my games because I haven't figured out how it is different from magic in an interesting game-world way, so my inclination was, "Disagree: Psionics does not need to be MORE blandly medieval-fantasy."

    Mearls went on to say, "I think a psionicist should be exotic and weird, and drawing on/tied to something unsettling on a cosmic scale."

    Sure, I thought, psionics is tied to mind flayers and stuff. It's kind of Lovecraftian. But, story-wise, how will it differ from the 5e warlock's star pact, which name-checks eldritch horror without necessarily telling a story about it?

    Mearls: "One final note - Dark Sun is, IMO, a pretty good example of what happens to a D&D setting when psionic energy reaches its peak."

    And this is when I *got* psionics.

    The existence of psionics is a sign that something is catastrophically wrong. Waking up with psionic power is sort of like being a little deep-sea fish who suddenly sees light: it probably means that one of those creepy predatory anglerfish is swimming up behind you.

    Maybe we can take this analogy literally. A world's budding psions, along with increased mind flayer and beholder sightings, are signs that some eldritch horror is drifting towards us through some unfathomable gulf. Maybe the eldritch horror will pass us, or maybe it will swallow our multiverse in one gulp.

    I think this idea has emotional resonance because, just as zombie stories tap into our real-world anxieties about overpopulation, Catastrophic Psionics mythically transforms our environmental anxieties. People born with psionic power may use it for good, or they may use it for evil, but either way, they're tapping into a power that's consuming the world. It's possible that psionic powers are merely a symptom, and using them does no harm; it's also possible that using these powers accelerates the cataclysm.

    What do psionic monsters want? Let's take a look at Dark Sun, which Mearls identifies as the psionics endgame. For some unexplained reason, Athas has no gods. Maybe a world's gods are like a beacon that attracts - whatever is coming. Maybe it eats gods.

    generate npcs in two dice throws

    June 4th, 2015 by paul

    Here's a DM trick I picked up a few years ago from Tavis Allison of themuleabides: Generate NPC age/gender by rolling d6. Odd numbers are male, even female; higher numbers are older. In more cumbersome chart form, that's

    1 male youth
    2 female youth
    3 male, prime of life
    4 female, prime of life
    5 elder male
    6 elder female

    Define "youth" and "elder" according to the context: in a town, "youth" might mean a 7 year old; in a guard patrol it might mean an 18 year old; in an elven camp it might mean an 80 year old.

    I like this die roll because it automatically creates predictably weighted demographics while shaking you out of NPC ruts. I should probably 5e it up by changing the roll to a d7 and reserving 7 for non gender binaries.

    You know what? I also have trouble coming up with spur-of-the-moment NPC race. Let's see if I can't come up with a second die roll for that.

    roll 1d10:
    1-6 human
    7 dwarf
    8 halfling
    9 elf
    0 other (choose from the uncommon races)

    I like the demographics here: humans make up more than 50% of the population and most of the rest is made up of the 5e "common races" (also the OD&D/basic races): elves, dwarves, and halflings. Each of these is about as common as all of the uncommon civilized races together: gnomes, half-elves and -orcs, 4e tieflings and dragonborn, underdark drow and duergar, plus weird exotic and monstrous stuff like goliath, minotaur, kobold, changeling, gold dragon etc. I won't make a chart for the uncommon races because it would be impossible to remember. I'll have to trust my spontaneity here.

    There's a problem here: NPC generation is common, and no one is going to keep a printout of this chart handy throughout every game. I can't make the race roll as elegantly memorable as the age/gender roll, but perhaps some mnemonics will help.

    Let's look at the chart again.

    Roll d10.
    7 dwarf. Easy mnemonic here. Seven dwarves.
    8 halfling. 8 is an important number for halflings because the phrase they most commonly hear is "You ate all the..." An 8 also looks like two fat, half-sized guys standing on each other's shoulders.
    9 elf. I guess a 9 looks like a backwards e for elf. Best I can do.
    0 other. O for other.

    And then everything else is human.

    I'm going to give it a try! I'll add the random-race d10 roll to the random-age-and-gender d6 roll I make for each new NPC. I'll just repeat to myself: Seven dwarves, the halfling ate, 9lf, O for other.

    Then if you still have bandwidth for a third NPC die roll: remember to make a reaction roll for every NPC (roll 2d6: low hostile, high friendly, modified by PCs' charisma).

    OK, let's try making a random shopkeeper: A (roll d6: 2) young female (roll d10: 0) uhh, dragonborn. OK, that's kind of a crazy NPC. Let's say that her egg was picked up as a curio by a human caravan and sold to the previous shopkeeper, who was surprised when it hatched into a potential apprentice. Reaction roll (roll 2d6: 5) She doesn't particularly like the PCs - maybe she doesn't like curio hunters - but doesn't try to cheat them.

    OK, now let's do the leader of a hostile army. A 5 and a 2. An old man. Nothing super interesting there. Reaction roll (roll 2d6: 11) is a surprise: He likes the PCs a lot: maybe he's heard about some particular exploit which he admires. He'd love to convince the PCs to switch sides, and if he can't, he'll give them all the respect and caution due to a worthy foe.

    OK, two NPC rolls, two reasonably inspiring prompts. Good enough for me.

    best of the joesky tax part two

    May 27th, 2015 by paul

    Do you feel like spending the rest of your day reading good D&D blogs?

    Here is the second half of my Best of the Joesky Tax roundup. (The Joesky Tax invited people to pay for blog rants by writing playable game content.) I've picked out my favorite bits: visit the blogs for lots more.

    Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque defending DIY:

    Random Automaton Generator

    d12 	Form 		AC 	HD 	Locomotion (1d3 modes)
    1 	Arachnid 	15 (4) 	1d4 	Aquatic
    2 	Bird-like 	15 (4) 	1d4 	Burrowing
    3 	Dinosaur-like 	15 (4) 	1d6 	Far-leaping
    4 	Humanoid 	16 (3) 	1d6 	Fast-climbing
    5 	Humanoid 	16 (3) 	1d6 	Flight
    6 	Humanoid 	16 (3) 	1d6 	Gliding
    7 	Humanoid 	16 (3) 	1d8 	Legs, bipedal
    8 	Humanoid 	17 (2) 	1d8 	Legs, multiple
    9 	Insecte-like 	17 (2) 	1d10 	Levitation
    10 	Lizard-like 	17 (2) 	1d10 	Slithering
    11 	Mammalian 	17 (2) 	1d12 	Tank treads
    12 	Serpentine 	18 (1) 	1d12 	Wheels
    d12 Mv	#Atks Attacks 			Defense
    1   60' 1     Big metal fist (1d6) 	Chromatic field (Prismatic Sphere)
    2   60' 1     Chainsword (1d8) 		Cloaking device (Invisibility)
    3   60' 1     Death ray (Finger/Death) 	Electric field (1d6 damage if stuck)
    4   90' 1     Electric stun (Hold Pers.)Energy absorb (immune elemental dmg)
    5   90' 1     Electro-blade (1d12) 	Force field (+1 Armor Class)
    6   90' 2     Laser blast (1d10) 	Force field (+2 Armor Class)
    7   90' 2     Metal teeth (1d6) 	Force field (+3 Armor Class)
    8  120' 2     Metal whip (1d4+entangle) Heat-sensing vision
    9  120' 2     Poisonous gas 		Nanobots (regenerate 2 HP/round)
    10 120' 3     Rending claws (1d6) 	Repulsor beam (Clenched Fist)
    11 180' 3     Venomous injection 	Smoke screen (Fog Cloud)
    12 180' 4     Vibro-axe (1d8) 	        Tractor beam (Telekinesis)

    (This post appears to be gone now, but lots of other good stuff on the site.) I think I used this to generate the defenders of an abandoned space station. I don't think the players faced more than one or two robots, so I didn't get the most out of this; a chart like this really pays for itself over the course of a longish space-dungeon crawl. Maybe the players will go back someday.

    Planet Algol, celebrating the international day of human spaceflight (not really a rant in my opinion)

    d6 Space Madness Table
    1 - Wants to go swimming in space; will strip and attempt to exit through the airlock.
    2 - Has a spiritual experience and goes completely new-age wild; starts wearing crystals and doing energy healing.
    3 - Thinks they can hear God speaking to them through the crackle of background radiation.
    4 - Sees a hyperspace gremlin through a porthole; believes it is sabotaging the vessel.
    5 - Belives that one of their companions has been replaced by a shapechanging alien and must be stopped.
    6 - Believes that a companion has sabotaged or will sabotage their spaceship.

    I put a space-madness cloud on my space D&D game map, but the players wisely steered clear of it.

    Richard thinks that "pseudo medieval" is a bad description for D&D

    For my JOESKY tax I'll propose another month-long project: the Lady Gaga Bestiary. Entry 1: the Red Devil

    Encountered alone, or more frequently in groups of 6-8, this creature will most frequently be found writhing in otherworldly agony. Its apparent helplessness is an act, however: it can jump cut (as a blink dog) up to 50 feet, in order to close to attack. It is activated by the rhythmic drumming of a cadre of priestesses: disrupting the drumming will confuse or immobilize it. Its main attack is a slow finger drag over the victim: this slices points of attributes off them randomly (d6), which can only be restored by a remove curse or wish. The Red Devil can choose instead to slice armour off the victim: a successful attack worsens AC by 1d6, to max AC10.
    Hit Dice: 5
    Armor Class: 7
    Move: 5' per round, or jump cut up to 50'
    Damage: special: 1d4 to an attribute
    Special: Requires ritual drumming in order to act.

    I find this monster charming because it's sort of respectful of Lady Gaga. And its ability is scary and the finger drag is something the DM can do at the table to good effect.

    rjbs defending THACO:

    The high priests of Boccob are granted knowledge of secrets and portents, but often at great price. Some of these powers (initially for 4E) are granted to the highest orders while they undertake holy quests: [...]

    Subtle Stars. Every night, the PC can consult the stars and learn two facts and one lie. Failure to consult the stars once a day leads to a -2 cumulative penalty to Will defense.

    Curiosity. Every time the priest asks a question that goes unanswered (even in soliloquy), he must roll a d20. If it is more than his Wisdom + 2, he gets the answer and loses a point of Wisdom.

    How awesome is Subtle Stars? Two truths and one lie!

    metal vs skin, exhorting us to do the thing.

    1. 1d20 Gold, covered with poo. Ew. Roll CON to keep from vomiting.
    2. An elf finger with a magic ring that gives you absolute knowledge of the next magical item you touch, then the ring turns into a normal worm.
    3. A worm that eats magic. Left alone with any magic item or spell area, it will eat 1 level of spells per day. It will not eat in front of you. It will starve to death if not fed magic or eaten to live in intestines in 1d3 days. It can live in intestines indefinitely, but removing it kills a living creature.
    4. A tiny spellbook. The highest and lowest level spells have been digested, but there is a middle-level spell you can learn. Roll CON to keep from vomiting, though.
    5. A Goblin-beetle. Makes clacking noises when demons or goblins are within 100 feet. Will fly at their faces and try to go down their mouths/noses.

    Was this inspired by that one episode of Celebrity PAX?

    Adventures in Gaming for answering a survey:

    D10 Specials
    1. This round room appears to be at the bottom of a long, deep well that opens to the world above. In fact, if the lever on the wall is pulled, the floor of the room shoots up through the well above as though it were a cork in a bottle, flying half as far into the air above the ground as it is deep beneath the ground, then dropping itself and the adventurers back to the ground...
    2. A large chunk of trans-polar un-meltable ice stands atop a pedestal; the ice is sovereign even against dragon fire. If the ice is touched, the character must make a saving throw or be instantly transformed into a statue of solid ice. While the ice chunk cannot melt, the frozen character easily does so...
    3. The snake's venom is not a normal poison, it is a transmogrifier. If the victim fails his saving throw against polymorph, he slowly and painfully transforms into a snake of the same type as the attacker in 1d6 turns, during which he can only hiss and writhe in pain.
    4. This book appears to be blank. If, however, a drop of blood is placed on it, blood-red writing appears in the native language of the one whose blood was used. The writing reveals the being's life story, though only for 1d6 turns before it fades. Each turn of reading the reader may make a saving throw versus Magic; if successful, he has gleaned a secret from the thus-revealed history.
    5. This horned demon's skull has 1d20 teeth remaining; if a tooth is pulled and immediately thrown on the ground, a quasit bursts forth with a terrible foul stench. The quasit served the one who threw the tooth for 1d6x1d10 turns (10-minute turns), then the summoner must make a saving throw versus magic; if successful, the quasit returns to the Abyss. If the save fails, the quasit attacks the summoner and seeks to slay him and take his soul to the Abyss.
    6. This small, chipped statue of a gnome will, when held by the hat and the nose is tweaked, teleport without error the holder, the statue, and all the holder carries and wears, to any destination the holder has ever been to... however, every time the owner uses it he must roll a d6. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the number of times he has used the gnome, he is instead teleported somewhere he has never been, though still on the same planet.
    7. This small silver hand mirror contains a reflection of a random humanoid creature of random gender. If gazed upon, the one gazing into the mirror must make a saving throw versus Magic or have their face transformed into that of the creature in the mirror; their own former visage replaces that which the mirror once held. The mirror never works on the same being twice in a row.
    8. This strange device looks like a crossbow stock made out of a glassy green jade; there is however no crossbar, and rather than a lever the handle has a button. A small hole is at the further end of the device, below where the bolt would loose from. If held with two hands, aimed, and the button is pushed, a globule of green slime (a 1 HD slime) shoots out of the hole with the same range as a light crossbow. The device hold s1d6 globules of green slime when found, and can hold up to 10; it can be "recharged" by touching the tip of the device to a green slime; if the slime fails a saving throw against Magic, it is sucked up by the device adding 1 charge per HD to it.
    9. This room contains a bright pillar of flame, like a cross between a roaring fire and the Aurora Borealis. If the flame is merely touched it deals 2d6 points of damage with no saving throw. If it is entered bodily and wholly, the one who enters it must make a saving throw against Magic. If he fails, he is disintegrated. If he succeeds, he exits the flame unharmed and gains thereby 1 point to his Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma (determine randomly). If he ever enters the flames a second time, he is disintegrated, no saving throw.
    10. This round room is dominated by a large statue of a great ape. At the center of the ceiling is a large opening; it goes up and up as far as the eye can see, even far beyond the ground above, and there is seemingly no end to the tunnel nor exits, other than the one into the room with the ape statue. The ape statue has, as its eyes, two great diamonds, each apparently worth a king's ransom. However, the diamonds, if removed, turn out to be glass. If the statue is ever touched, 1d6 apes of random sort drop (unharmed) from the endless tunnel above and attack the infidel defilers with berserk fury (+2 to hit, no morale checks). If a second person touches the statue, 2d6 drop; a third, another 3d6 drop, and so forth...

    For most of these lists of 10 or 20 things, I just quote my favorite two or three. In this case, I am forced to present them all, because they are all my favorite. But #10 is my favorite favorite.

    simpler 5e mob attacks

    May 20th, 2015 by paul

    When your PC is attacked by 20 rats, it's a bummer for the DM to make all those attack rolls. The obvious hack is to make one attack roll for the whole group of rats. That gives you pretty spiky results though: the only options are "All the rats hit" or "All the rats miss."

    The 5e DMG has a fix for this: a rule for making monster group (mob) attacks without rolling millions of attack rolls, and without a single all-or-nothing attack roll. You consult a chart which tells you how many attacks hit. For instance, if the monsters hit on a 13, 1/3 of the attackers hit.

    I love this idea, and I suggested that it is complete enough to form a whole mass combat system, but after using it in play, I've found some problems I'd like to address.

    1) There's no d20 rolls at all. Mob combat is different from any other D&D task resolution.
    2) It's completely smooth. An AC 18 fighter being shot at by 20 hobgoblins is hit by a steady and predictable 5 arrows per round.
    3) It requires a chart - not a big one but not one that's easy to keep in your memory. Like the attack matrix charts in 1e, it's a page you have to bookmark.
    4) Because there are no die rolls, it doesn't work naturally with advantage/disadvantage and crits are impossible.

    Here's a possible-to-memorize approach, with slightly better math, which allows for misses, variable success, advantage/disadvantage, and crits.

    Whenever a group of identical creatures make attack rolls (or any roll really - you could profitably use this for group saving throws too), make a single roll as normal. Divide the creatures into three roughly equal groups. One group rolls this number, one group rolls this with a +5 bonus, and one group rolls this with -5 penalty.

    Implications of this system: Advantage/disadvantage doesn't require any special rules. Just make a single roll with adv/disadv and apply the group modifiers to the result. Auto-miss and crits work as you'd expect too. Because each group uses the same natural die roll, a natural 1 means everyone misses and 20 means everyone crits. That's fun: the 20 hobgoblins do 40d8+20 (200) damage!

    The math: What's a better model of making 20 attack rolls: this system or the DMG system? Both are pretty good, actually, but mine exactly matches in most situations (whenever you need to roll a 6 to 16 to hit) while the DMG system is better at modeling corner cases (you need to roll a natural 20 to hit or you only miss on a 1). To me that's not a big deal, because with bounded accuracy, even a bunch of town guards (+3) only need a 16 to hit an adult red dragon (AC 19).

    Here's a chart that compares the average results.

    Chance to hit per attack

    d20 roll needed Rolling all attacks DMG mob system blogofholding mob system
    2 95% 100% 88.33%
    3 90% 100% 85%
    4 85% 100% 81.67%
    5 80% 100% 78.33%
    6 75% 50% 75%
    7 70% 50% 70%
    8 65% 50% 65%
    9 60% 50% 60%
    10 55% 50% 55%
    11 50% 50% 50%
    12 45% 50% 45%
    13 40% 30% 40%
    14 35% 30% 35%
    15 30% 25% 30%
    16 25% 25% 25%
    17 20% 20% 21.67%
    18 15% 20% 18.33%
    19 10% 10% 15%
    20 5% 5% 11.67%

    So that's the system: three groups with +5, +0 and -5 modifiers! Go forth and drown your PCs with armies!

    dungeon crawl, hex crawl… journey?

    May 5th, 2015 by paul

    It's interesting how evocative the word "journey" is. In fantasy literature, overland adventure is mostly framed in terms of journeys - from the Fellowship's journey to Mordor and Bilbo's unexpected journey back to the journey to the west.

    Given that, it's funny how few journeys my D&D group has been on. Wilderness adventure is often framed in terms of sandbox hex crawl. Long-distance travel is often not that difficult: a few encounter checks maybe, or some light teleportation, or sea travel (which is exciting in its own right, but rarely gets the word "journey" applied to it. "Voyage," yes.)

    What would it mean to frame a D&D campaign as a journey instead of a dungeon crawl or hex crawl?

  • You're travelling mostly through unknown (Lewis and Clark) or hostile (Xenophon's Anabasis/The Warriors) territory.
  • It's nigh impossible. The completion of a journey is never routine. In fact, completing it is enough to make you a legendary hero. The journey should force you to enter some high-level areas (Mordor).
  • It takes a long time - months through a year. D&D travel rates range from 5 to 30 miles per day, but you'd expect some downtime in a long journey. Lewis and Clark took a year and a half to travel 3700 miles - less than 10 miles per day. A journey of 1000 miles might easily take 3-4 months. Keep in mind that every journey is going to hit some delays: the PCs might spend days waiting for a storm to subside, weeks recovering from wounds, or months imprisoned by a goblin king. They're likely to get lost, lose their horses and supplies, or be teleported far out of their way by an angry wizard.
  • It's dangerous most of the time. It's peppered with safe spots to rest (Rivendell, for instance) but most of the time it provides threats that could overwhelm the adventurers. Keep in mind that the PCs are likely to level up a few times over the course of the journey, so it's likely that the danger level of the inhabitants should ramp up over the path of the journey.
  • It's a travelogue. Consider Sterling Lanier's Hiero's Journey (one of the books on Gygax's Appendix N), which ranges over lots of mutated biomes, from tundra to giant woodland to lake to urban jungle to sentient mushroom forest. Don't just put the PCs through 2000 miles of desert. Let them cross desert, jungle, frozen wastes, crystal forests, and other exotic locations as colorful as the Technicolor terrain of The Wizard of Oz. You're a DM; you've made up a cool world, and now's your chance to show it all off.

    Designing a journey-based campaign requires a little bit of a different approach to worldbuilding than a sandbox game. For one thing, you need an impressive stretch of hostile terrain: maybe a 500 or 1000 mile stretch of wilderness between the heroes and the destination. The area must be so dangerous that no one else (or few others) have made the trip and returned. And the terrain must be varied, and stocked with varied monsters, to provide novelty for the players. Because sea travel is often easier and faster than land travel, there should be no easy sea route to circumvent the journey - but there should be choices: the players might skip the desert entirely if they travel through the jungle. Not every world map can support such a journey. Keep it in mind when you're mapping.

    By the way, this musing on the word "journey" was sparked by Journey to Justinia", an amazing maze/RPG lite game created by a dad for his five-year-old son. It's a big D&D-like poster maze. I have a soft spot for those.