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.

    WHAT I STOLE FROM THE GOBLIN-DEMON'S ASS, D6 CHART
    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.
    6. FIRE. MORE FIRE THE FURTHER AWAY YOU PULL YOUR HAND. IT WILL BURN EVERYTHING.

    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.

  • best of the joesky tax

    April 29th, 2015 by paul

    The Joesky Tax was a cool OSR idea: for every blog rant, you are invited to create some D&D game content. But how well does it work? When someone is coming down from an impassioned rant, how good are they at taking a left turn into creativity?

    A few months ago I googled "joesky tax" and looked at the top 50 results. I made a note of my favorites, and I actually managed to use a few in games. Here are the first dozen of the 25 or so entries I saved for future use. Blogs tend to disappear over time, so I figured I'd preserve these against disappearance. Already some of these original posts are gone.

    Save Vs Poison, apologizing for "uncharitable thoughts:"

    This is an old-school-deadly cursed ring, but it unfolds its creepiness slowly so a smart player has plenty of time to look for a cure. Here's the horrifying endgame:

    A small, irregularly shaped ring made of what appears to be purplish chitin. It does not radiate magic. If worn, the character feels a brief stinging sensation, after which he can detect magic at will. In addition, he gains infravision as a dwarf, and if he already possesses infravision, the range is doubled.
    If removed, the ring will crumble to dust. If left on, it crumbles after 1d3 days, although the wearer will find that his powers remain.

    After 3d4 days, the wearer can comprehend languages.
    After another 2d4 days, the character has ESP, which functions up to three times per day. At this point, strange dreams of bizarre planes and distant planets begin to trouble him.
    After another 1d4 days, the character gains 1d4 points of Intelligence. One axis of his alignment changes randomly, at the DM's discretion. The character becomes ill-tempered and has frequent headaches.
    Finally, after a final 1d3 days, the character dies as a purple, centipede-like creature emerges from his head in the dead of night and slips away. After 2d6 days of gorging itself on the latent psychic energies of nearby creatures, it curls up into a ring-like shape and enters a torpor.

    pipemaze.com, ranting about printers:

    Thirty things that can happen in the dark. The original post is gone. Here are the two that made note of for my own use, and one that I won't use but that amuses me nonetheless:

    2. A light too dim to have been seen by torchlight is visible in the distance.
    8. Your most-certainly-unmagical weapon begins to glow.
    27. Something eats a retainer's eyes, and departs.

    James Mishler, apologizing for answering one of those game surveys, came up with 10 dungeon features. My two favorites:

    6. The yawning carved mouth, complete with eyes and nose and ears, that leads into the corridor is normally quite unremarkable, but when an elf or half-elf passes beneath it, the large nose twitches and sneezes, exploding a gross amount of snot that acts as per a web spell centered under the nose of the face. The thunderous sneeze also has a 3 in 6 chance of attracting wandering monsters.
    10. The holder of this small magical box can, with a successful bare-handed melee attack, attempt to take out the heart of a human, demi-human, or humanoid victim. The victim must make a save versus Magic; if the save fails, the holder rips out their heart, though they do not die. The heart is then placed in the box, and the one whose heart has been stolen is under the effect of a charm person spell. The holder of the heart can tell where the victim is and what they are thinking whenever the heart is held, and with concentration can mentally communicate with the victim at any distance. The holder of the heart can kill the victim any time by simply crushing the heart or otherwise destroying the heart. While he is missing his heart, the victim gains a +4 bonus to save against all mind-effecting spells cast by anyone other than the holder of the heart. The heart can later be placed back in the victim with no physical harm done. These boxes are usually found in groups of 1d6; there is a 1 in 6 chance per box that it already holds a heart.

    This blog is private now.

    Game Over is a) responding angrily to someone else and b) musing on the fundamental nature of RPGs.

    I usually find both of these exercise tiresome but, even without the Joesky tax, this is a pretty convincing post (D&D is not player vs DM, it's player vs. system with DM as matchmaker).

    The North Star is a rapier forged from meteoric iron by a Celestial wizard. Besides just hitting things, it acts as a compass (put it on the ground, it'll always spin to point north), an aid to divination (while you're carrying it, you don't need to speak or move your hands to cast Divination/Heavens/other future-seeing magic), and it also unsettles fairies, demons, and anything else that has trouble with cold iron.

    In D&D terms, it can Turn fairies and demons (possibly of Type lower than the bearer's level) as if they were undead; in Warhammer FRP, it causes fear in daemons, dryads and suchlike, even if they'd ordinarily be immune.

    I used the North Star sword in a D&D space game. It's especially well suited because the PCS CAN FLY TO THE NORTH STAR and now have a pretty compelling DM hint to do so. What's there? It must have world significance, because navigating by the North Star is a common and symbolic act, and such acts have power in D&D. Sea captains are essentially worshipping whatever entity lives at the North Star.

    The players didn't make it to the North Star, which was a relief, because I couldn't figure out what was there.

    Legacy of the Bieth, apologizing for nothing in particular: an encounter table.

    1 Herd Animal
    2 Wolfpack
    3 Frost Giant
    4 Sabertooth Tiger
    5 Mammoth
    6 Remorhaz (Polar Wurm)
    7 Berserkers/Nomads
    8 Arctic Owlbear
    9 Frost Walkers
    10 Neanderthals
    11 Forest Spirits
    12 Nehwon Behemoth
    13 Invisible Manta Fliers
    14 Ice Gnomes
    15 Snow Trolls
    16 The Snake Demon from the LotFP Cover
    17 Frost Elves
    18 White Sybil
    19 Yeti Cultists
    20 Lost Caravan

    Again, I used this in my space game, as the random encounter table for the solar system's frozen planet. The highly capitalist players ended up convincing the (3) frost giants, in exchange for the totally novel gift of fire, to farm (6) remorhaz to supply exotic meat.

    Connor Uber on g+:

    JOESKY TAX FOR MY EARLIER POST OF FRUSTRATION

    The Segmented Worm
    HD: variable. divisible by 3 is usually good.
    AC: Up to 3HD=as leather+shield, Up to 6HD=Chain+Shield, over 6HD=Plate+Shield
    Attacks/Damage: 2 Mouths, 1d8 per 3 HD (but see below)

    Ok, so when you have this monster set up, roll it's HD and arrange them as rolled in a line. the actual dice, yes. This represents the Segmented Worm. Smaller HP on the HD are thinner parts of the Worm. You should describe this. When the worm takes HP damage, ask where the character is aiming for. This thing is big by the way, not purplewormfuckitseatingmehuge though. So, when it takes enough damage on one part, remove that HD, that part is severed and dead. The worm always has a mouth at both ends, even if the end is severed.
    Fun part: if a non-end piece is killed, the worm splits into 2 (or more) worms. Move the parts of the worm (remember i said dice line!) away from each other and track the 2 seperate worms, increasing if the PCs keep splitting it. A single lone segment only has one attack and rolls around like a pinball.

    IF YOUR PLAYERS ARE BEING UNIMAGINATIVE OR LAZY DOUCHES THEN ROLL RANDOMLY FOR WHAT ONES THEY HIT.

    Dyson muses about the abuses of the OSR.

    Blood Charm

    When activated, the wearer immediately takes 10 points of damage (which can be cured or healed normally). Any time thereafter (while the charm is still activated), the wearer can regain those hit points from the charm with a thought. If the charm is deactivated with the hit points still in it, they are lost.

    I like this, but how do the players know its power? why don't they just say, it bit me, and throw it away? I decided to have it switch from red/white to show whether it's charged, and have it engraved with the message, "pay the price, then ask for the reward". Then I forgot to give it as treasure.

    Gregor of Red Moose Games just says he's overdue on his joesky tax.

    He has illustrations and full 3e-style stat blocks, which you should look up if you want to use the monsters. I'm copying the descriptions, which are pretty cool:

    The Etherfish
    The Etherfish look like flying, translucent folds of gelatinous flesh, pulsating with alien colours. From the mass protrude a number of tentacles. The Etherfish haunt a parallel dimension and occasionally break through where the barrier is thin. They always move to kill, with unknown motivations.

    Hollow men
    Hollow men resemble normal humans, with porcelain skin, except they're empty inside. Hollow men can sniff out gold and other treasures and will attempt to attack, subdue and the rob anyone carrying such valuables. Once they lay their hands on the treasure, they will proceed to eat it. A defeated Hollow man will often shatter like a cross between a pinata and a piggy bank.

    Crystal spider
    These spiders are the size of large dogs. Their bodies look like large crystals and the bodies of their falling victims are covered in crystalline formations, in which their young incubate.

    I populated my solar system's Venus equivalent with all these creatures, plus giant sentient trees, plus sea monsters with mile-long necks. My players found the planet eerie and disturbing and will not return, not for all the gold in the hollow men.

    Middenmurk says he doesn't like censorship.

    Reinhardt, a Pure White Fox as old as the hills who sleeps constantly in a sack, can usually be relied upon to know the way (1-3 on d6).

    This is such a great treasure! It has a fun non-combat utility and it has personality that transcends its function.

    Chris of Vaults of Nagoh is paying the tax for answering a Zak questionnaire.

    Spell: Deliquescent Transition (Wiz2)
    Caster's body, clothing and held items melt into a varicoloured fleshy ooze. In this form the caster may squeeze through any non-air/watertight space at 1/2 normal speed. Yes, they can climb walls and ventilation pipes. 1 Round to dissolve flesh, 1 round to travel, 1 to reform. While in ooze form caster is AC 9[10], no Dex bonus.
    Additional complication: encountered dungeon oozes think the caster has a purty mouth.

    (yeah, like a potion of gaseous form, only less so.)

    D&D With Porn Stars, complaining about slut shaming:

    Zak overproduces here: he produces a "dull and ordinary" village with 9 quirks and a frozen dungeon with 9 keyed encounters. In other words, enough material for at least a session.

    Here's one of my favorite town details:

    The village elders, who secretly consult a yellow-eyed child of 6 before making any decisions. They believe the child to be a young lamia (it crawled up the cliff toward an elder one day). Their decisions are unremarkable

    I think it's a great detail that the mystical kid is kind of a mediocre administrator. But the thing I'll actually use is the major dungeon enemy in the ice dungeon:

    Mad Moroschka [a gorgon], who roams the halls, fearing to look into the faces of her reflections, believing them to be her sisters. She pleads with the reflections of her own feet, begging to be set free, all the while tormented by the tamarins. Her (usually lowered) gaze turns living tissue to ice.

    I seriously feel like a fool that I never thought of a medusa that turns people into other stuff than stone. It's a great way to revitalize a tired monster.

    1d30 is bugged by wordpress.

    The Diamond Sniffer of Dumathoin
    Appearance: Hollow silver nose designed to be worn over your own nose. It's bulbous and its nostrils flare imperiously.

    Function: When pressed to your face it grabs onto your nose and settles over it. You can breathe normally. You now smell various gems and metals the same way you would have normally smelled pleasant or obnoxious odors. You can tell the difference between metals, even ones coated or alloyed, to within 1% of metal content if you get a good noseful.

    (more rules on 1d30's site)

    I gave this as a treasure in a game: there was a lot of prospecting that day.

    The XP Experience, apologizing for previous posts maybe?

    You have a Knife or Dagger, a Melee Weapon of your choice, and a Backpack. If you have any faith in any God or Godling, you may have an appropriate Holy Idol. You also start with 1d10+CHA sp in cash.

    Roll 1d30 on this table until you get the same result twice or the table instructs you to do otherwise.

    1. Shield or Helmet (+1 AC) or a Cloak
    2. Leather Armor (+2 AC) or a Cloak
    3. Studded Leather/Ring Mail Armor (AC +3), Leather Armor, or a Cloak and roll 1d20+10 for all further rolls on this table
    4. Scale Mail (AC +4), Leather Armor or a Cloak and roll 1d20+10 for all further rolls on this table
    5. Chain Mail (AC +5), Leather Armor, or a Cloak and roll 1d20+10 for all further rolls on this table
    6. Banded Mail/Splint Mail (AC +6), Leather Armor, or a Cloak and roll 1d20+10 for all further rolls on this table
    7. Plate Mail (AC +7), Leather Armor, or a Cloak and roll 1d20+10 for all further rolls on this table
    8. Light Crossbow w/ 2d6 Bolts
    9. Roll under CHA on 1d20. If you fail, take any one thing and continue rolling; if you succeed, choose a number of things off this list equal to the difference by which you succeeded on the roll then stop.
    10. Mirror or 10' Pole
    11. 100gp or or Thieves' Tools
    12. 2d8 Torches and 3d8 Tindertwigs
    13. Rope (50 feet)
    14. Grappling Hook
    15. Bedroll
    16. 1d4 hand fulls of Caltrops or 10' Chain
    17. Melee Weapon +1 of your choice, it may be throwable
    18. Short Bow w/2d12 Arrows or Sling w/ 2d12 Bullets
    19. Lantern with 2d4 Flasks of Oil, and Flint and Steel
    20. 2d8 days Rations
    21. Hammer and 2d6 Door Spikes
    22. Wineskin (full of Wine or Water)
    23. Crowbar or Sledge Hammer
    24. 1 Small Black Cylinder of the Unknown or 1d3 hand fulls of Dust of Petrification
    25. Je'zail or Isib'hamu (flint or wheel lock rifle or pistol) w/ enough Powder and Shot to fire 2d6 rounds
    26. 1d3 pinches of Powdered Ogre Tusk (+1d4 STR for 1d6 rds, then make CON save or suffer 1d6 HP)
    27. 1d4 Healing Poultices (heal 1d6, or allow a poison or disease save, requires 1d6 turns to take effect)
    28. Golden Signet Ring of unknown value with little secret compartment
    29. 1d8 Thunderstones or 1d6 Heatstones
    30. Piece of Jewelry worth 1d6x50 gp

    That's about half of the Joesky-tax ideas that I harvested for my own use. I'll follow up soon with the other half. Overall grade: pretty high-quality items, spells, and monsters here. If these ideas were actually generated as apologies for ranting, then the rants are amply paid for and the Joesky tax is doing its job.

    underdark hex crawl chart

    April 21st, 2015 by paul

    I devised a 5e random hex crawl chart that tracks weather, monsters, survival checks, and all sorts of stuff, all on a d12 table. I already shared my hills encounter chart; here's one that I used in my recent Underdark campaign, in case you want to try a cave crawl (spelunk?).

    As a reminder, you can make your own chart for any terrain; for each entry, keep the part in bold and write a new location-appropriate encounter.

    1: Plot advancing creature: In my game, this slot is filled by an evil cherub messenger of a sinister angel.
    2: Intelligent creature: A drow party traveling with recently-captured slaves, in a spiked, spider-drawn cart, towards the nearest drow trading city. The drow will attack and enslave weak groups, or bargain with strong groups.
    3: Unintelligent creature: A wandering behir. This monster is among the toughest on this particular random chart, and in my game, it nearly wiped out the PCs. The nearly-dead sorcerer, in a hail mary pass, managed to Polymorph the behir into a chicken. In 5e, Polymorph is a Concentration spell that ends when the creature dies. That meant that the PCs had a limited time dispose of a weaponized chicken, which they did to good effect, taking out a bunch of drow and trolls along the way.
    4: Ambush creature: Green slime often surprises the victim, as do umber hulks. What about the two together? An agonized umber hulk, slowly being dissolved by green slime, lurks around a corner, trying to scrape off the slime but just moving it around its body. If it hears PCs approaching, it will attack with a suicidal fervor fueled by rage and pain. In combat, its attacks might infect the PCs.
    5: Beneficial creature: Scouts for an army of deep gnomes, methodically mapping the tunnels. They'll lead friendly PCs to High Commander Vilkrieg, commander of the Loose Gemstones Free Army, who's looking for a path that will let him surprise-attack the local drow settlement.
    6: Weather: Torches flicker blue. Those with Detect Magic sense eldritch weirdness. The long straight tunnels of the underdark give way to dungeon-style branching corridors and wooden doors, some in the process of budding, as if the dungeon were growing like a plant. The party has discovered a pocket of the chaotic, half-mindless gas that, coral-like, leaves behind the strange dungeons of the Mythic Underworld.
    7. Lair: Drow checkpoint: The tunnel is guarded by one elite and two regular warriors; another elite warrior, two regular warriors, and a wizard are relaxing in a fortified suite of rooms built into the side of the tunnel. There are two portcullises that can be dropped across the tunnel. The drow try to trap intruders between the portcullises and use Darkness and missile attacks to confound them.
    8. Survival Check or Hazard: Sinkhole. Dex save or fall through a weak floor into an east-west purple worm tube. Following the tube eastward will lead through a forgotten dwarven tomb; westward will lead to the purple worm.
    9. Path Choice: The tunnel branches. From around the curve of the left side, you hear an echoing argument about directions in Elvish. The noise is from a kenku in a cage; bones litter the floor. If it sees the PCs, the kenku will declare, in elvish, "It's a trap!" Intelligent giant spiders descend and attack the PCs, declaring, "Our Kenku is developing a sense of humor. He must be punished."
    10. Beneficial location: Old dwarf palace lit by 2d10 sunstones (worth 1d6x100 GP each). The stones glow. Any stone worth 600 GP glows brightly enough to act as sunlight for all purposes, frying vampires, granting disadvantage to drow, and damaging drow equipment.
    11. Ruin: A vast chasm, dotted with lights below. The chasm is a mile deep. At the bottom, terrified goblins tend bonfires amid the ruins of an ancient city. When the fires go out, they're preyed upon by an underdark monster who uses illusion to disguise as one of the goblins - but the illusion only fools darkvision, not natural light.
    12. Tracks: Green slime footprints lead to encounter 4 (and let you potentially surprise the umber hulk).

    dragons are pirates

    April 9th, 2015 by paul

    In D&D, when you want to evoke a mythic treasure hoard, you speak of dragon treasure. Apart from royal treasuries, those are probably the world's biggest accumulations of wealth.

    In the real world, for the same effect, you speak of pirate treasure.

    Awesome D&D pirates should probably have as much treasure as dragons, right? Considering that most D&D campaigns are basically Beowulf on land and the Spanish Main at sea? In fact, OD&D and AD&D did have special, rich treasure types for pirates, along with treasure map rules. Awesome! (Was 3e the first edition to drop the ball? Were pirates even mentioned in the core 3e books?)

    How do pirates get so rich? They attack rich merchant ships and steal their stuff all day. That'll do the trick.

    dpA harder question: how do dragons get so rich? Smaug moved into a dwarven royal treasury. But surely some dragons accumulate treasure and add it to their hoard the hard way.

    I think we have to think of dragons as land pirates. They spend a lot of time looking for humanoid merchants, and then they steal their stuff. This sort of changes default dragon behavior. Dragons aren't untamed isolationists in the wilds: they're robber barons in the borderlands. They're deeply concerned with the human economy: they track trade routes and estimate the riches of towns. They probably all employ spies. They don't relish a hard fight anymore than pirates do. They probably avoid bands of adventurers in the wilderness, just as pirates avoid military vessels, unless the adventurers are guarding a caravan.

    With their long lifespans, the older evil dragons might think of themselves as stewards or gardeners of civilization. They don't want civilization wiped out. They want it to prosper and circulate wealth, just shy of the point where it's strong enough to fight off dragons. In fact, dragons are probably a force that keeps D&D stagnant at its late medieval tech level. Are you developing anti-aircraft, or a tenth-level spell? Expect a dragon attack. Are you planning to ride with your hordes through the civilized lands, making mountains of skulls and ushering in a dark age? Expect a dragon attack, this time in defense of civilization.

    One more question: How the heck do dragons accumulate piles of coins? For a dragon with huge claws, a coin on the ground is just as inaccessible as if it had been dropped from a pirate ship into the ocean. Dragons do have opposable claws, though, so they can presumably pick up sacks, treasure chests, and even wagons, and carry them off to their lairs.

    Hey, I have an idea for surviving a dragon raid with your life: Hold up a bag of gold and say this: "Our caravan has 10 bags of coins. Let us live and you can have all ten. Or attack us, in which case I'll dump these coins on the ground. You can slaughter us all and still get 9 bags of treasure, but good luck picking up these 500 loose gold coins from the underbrush."