Archive for the ‘fluff/inspiration’ Category

The Mike Mearls “Gen Con Challenge”

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

On Monday, Wizards of the Coast posted an article by Mike Mearls about building adventures. You can read it HERE.

At the end of the article, he wrote the following: “Now, let’s see if anyone manages to use this article and the material in the Starter Set to hit 20th level by GenCon . . .”

Sounds like a challenge to me!

To put things in perspective, let’s calculate how many Young Green Dragons (by far the highest XP monster in the Starter Set) a party of 4 Adventurers would need to slay between when the article came out and the start of Gen Con to get their party to 20th level and win the Gen Con Challenge!

  • Gen Con begins on August 14th. That gives a party who started the Gen Con Challenge when the article was released 37 days to complete the challenge.
  • We can assume an industrious group had already finished the Starter Set adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver, before this article came out. That should put the PCs at level 5.
  • That means each PC needs about 348,500 more XP to get to level 20.
  • A Young Green Dragon is 3,900 XP.
  • Thus the party needs to kill roughly 89 Young Green Dragons for each PC. With 4 PCs, they need to kill about 356 dragons (357 if you round up the fractions, but let’s not split hairs) to get to level 20.
  • That’s about 9-10 Young Green Dragons a day, assuming they meet up every day!
  • Of course, they could decide to go the other route and kill as many goblins as possible instead. Then they’d be looking at a whopping 27,840 goblins to get to 20th level, or roughly 752 goblins a day!!!

Are you on your way to completing the Mike Mearls Gen Con Challenge? If you do, what boon will your party request from Mike Mearls when you meet him at Gen Con? Perhaps a spell named after your group’s 20th level wizard? Or maybe you’ll request that a full-scale model of your party’s fighter replace the life-sized Regdar that sits in the WotC offices?

Image courtesy of this post on EnWorld:

Image borrowed from this post by Gaming Tonic on EnWorld:

plundering Dragonlance: disarmed, save ends

Friday, October 18th, 2013
This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series dragonlance

Tanis slipped, landing on his hands and knees at the bottom of the pot where he discovered that the stone draconian had decayed into dust, allowing him to retrieve his dagger.

4e doesn’t have a Disarm action, probably because no one managed to figure out how someone could be “disarmed (save ends)” or “disarmed until the end of their next turn”. Taking someone’s weapon either handicaps them for the whole fight (for most weapon users) or has no effect (for most monsters). This kind of swing is not for 4e.

Draconians could actually be a great addition to 4e, for those DMs who want to (temporarily) frustrate their sword-swingers. In Dragons of Autumn Twilight, draconians turn to stone when killed, trapping melee weapons… but after a few seconds (six? twelve? save ends?) they crumble to dust, freeing the weapon.

A handful of draconian minions might make for a fun 4e fight, if you don’t mind frustrating the melee characters while allowing the casters and ranged characters to get off scot-free.

plundering Dragonlance: destroy the treasure

Friday, October 11th, 2013
This entry is part 9 of 11 in the series dragonlance

Raistlin clutched at him. “Help me find the spellbook!” he hissed. “Who cares about that?” Caramon roared, reaching for his brother. “I’ll get you out of here!” Raistlin’s mouth twisted so in fury and frustration that he could not speak. He dropped to his knees and began to search frantically through the pile of treasure. Caramon tried to draw him away, but Raistlin shoved him back with his frail hand.

Inevitably, your PCs are going to defeat an enemy inside an eldritch temple. And inevitably, that temple will start to collapse.

That’s when the PCs spy the treasure. (Or the area that they need to search – perhaps multiple times – to find the treasure.)

The DM should give the PCs all the information they need to make agonizing choices: what their chance of search success is, and the dangers of tarrying for an extra round or two to search.

I did this when my PCs fought Tiamat. They flew into Tiamat’s mouth and fought a pitched battle against one of her aspects on Tiamat’s beating heart. Tiamat offered knowledge to the wizard: a library containing every spell ever, if the wizard would waste actions during the battle to read them. The library was still there when Tiamat died and her body begain to collapse. The wizard resisted the temptation to search for books, but the ranger HAD to have one of Tiamat’s heads as a souvenir.

plundering Dragonlance: don’t steal these names

Friday, September 27th, 2013
This entry is part 7 of 11 in the series dragonlance

“Highbulp!” Bupu glared at him. “Highbulp Phudge I. The great.”

There are no great insights to be drawn from this passage from Dragons of Autumn Twilight, except maybe one about how not to do comic names in fantasy. Don’t have a name be a misspelled version of a comically non-genre word.

I first ran across this advice in the 2e Campaign Sourcebook: “Keep the names consistent with the world. Fearless Phred, may seem cute initially, and generate a few chuckles, but eventually, the joke wears thin and the DM is stuck with an NPC who has a stupid name. Regardless of Fearless Phred’s prowess or power, the PCs will never take him seriously.”

Let’s overlook the obvious point that such a name is dumb, dumb and stupid. The other issue is that D&D is a spoken game. When spoken, Phudge sounds like Fudge. There’s really no reason to spell it differently except to amuse the DM.

Another comic-misspelling offender: R. A. Salvatore, who has a dwarf named Pikel. (Doesn’t he also have another dwarf with a stupid name, like Hiyaa or Kaboom or something? What is it with people and their rank contempt for dwarves?)

Also, how do Weis and Hickman think “Highbulp Phudge I” is pronounced? “Highbulp Phudge The First”? “Highbulp Phudge One?”

bank of tiamat

Monday, September 16th, 2013

I created the Bank of Tiamat for my D&D campaign, and it’s also a part of the Mearls sidebar game. I had two independent thoughts which came together to create the Bank:

  • I’ve long wanted to make Shadowrun- or Oceans Eleven-style heists available in my game. That means offering a well-protected, well-known, and rich target. Security procedures must be elaborate and, importantly, pre-planned by the DM. If the DM is to play fair, he shouldn’t be able to rewrite the existing security in response to the PCs’ plans. Furthermore, since robbery might cause ethical problems for some alignments, the adventure will be more accessible if the organization is morally shady, or worse.
  • It would be nice for the PCs to have somewhere absolutely safe to put their money. What if there were a bank in the game world? By putting their money in the bank, players are saying, “OK, DM, none of your sneaky tricks with pickpockets or thieves robbing the inn. I expect this money to be here next time I check.” And the flip side: if you choose not to use the bank when it’s offered, then the DM can consider your money fair game.

    Maybe there should be a cost to using the bank so that it’s an interesting choice. I don’t want to deal with assessing taxes or bank fees. What if the cost were entirely plot and flavor, like the money might be used to fund evil rituals?

    Put those together and you’ve got the Bank of Tiamat.

    There’s a branch in every major city, and they all have access to your account balance. That’s the major reason banks were invented: not so that your coins could be stored in a vault, but so that you could deposit some money in London and withdraw the same amount in Amsterdam.

    Each branch has access to the highest-level protection in the game: divination spells, traps, guards, passwords. Each bank has a bunch of money on site so if the PCs pull off a heist, it’ll be worth their while. On the other hand, if there’s a bank robbery, a PC with money in the bank won’t lose anything. That’s the beauty of the Bank of Tiamat. Your money’s not locked up in a vault, it’s out in the community: lent at exorbitant interest to a desperate nobleman’s son; putting knives in the hands of evil cultists; hiring mercenaries to overthrow the rightful king.

    I don’t want to deal with interest calculations, so that’s not what the Bank of Tiamat is about. The Bank just provides you portability, financial peace of mind, and maybe some light money laundering. All profits go to Tiamat herself. After all, there’s not a lot of inflation in D&D: a longsword has cost 15 GP for five editions.

  • plundering Dragonlance: superstition and magic

    Friday, September 13th, 2013
    This entry is part 5 of 11 in the series dragonlance

    “She steps on it when she gets close to the door and waves that thing.” The kender giggled. “She probably tripped it once, accidentally, while carrying the rat.”

    This embarrassing gully-dwarves-are-racially-stupid comic relief might actually contain a useful NPC interaction and semi-puzzle.

    Superstitious rituals can develop from unpredictable events. Socks worn while you pitch a no-hitter become your lucky socks. In the D&D world, a lot of superstition is true: those socks might actually be socks +1. But sometimes, maybe it’s still just superstition.

    The peasants tell the PCs that in order to open the gate to the Well of Life, a true-hearted maiden must ride a cart backwards to the gate and then tap on it with an ash rod. Maybe, though, the gate only opens one time in 10, and the rest of the ritual developed through experimentation.

    After the PCs quest for an ash rod and a true-hearted maiden, and then a truer-hearted maiden, and they still can’t get in, maybe the rogue will examine the gate and find that the mechanism includes a gear with 10 teeth, 9 of which are broken.

    plundering Dragonlance: fear is the shepherd

    Friday, September 6th, 2013
    This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series dragonlance

    At one point in Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the heroes encounter a black dragon, and, under the influence of its fear aura, scatter like the comically low-level PCs that they are. Some of them make for a mysterious temple, in which they may face even more sinister threats.

    Except they don’t. It turns out to be a Good temple filled with plot-advancing blessings. But there was an opportunity there to really put the screws to the players.

    A dragon (or another monster, or a magical effect) that causes fear can be used to herd players in a direction that they really don’t want to go. Imagine if the heroes had peeked into the temple, and seen eldritch creepiness and wrongness of all sorts. As they try to leave, the dragon pops up. Characters who fail their saving throws are under movement constraints: their movement must take them farther from the dragon, if there is such a path available. Characters who pass their saving throw might still think it’s a good idea to move away from the dragon.

    Movement away from the dragon inexorably draws the PCs closer to the entrance of the evil temple.

    The really frustrating thing here is that the DM doesn’t move the PCs into the temple; they go themselves. Their options are limited to standing to face the dragon and entering the temple under their own power.

    Here’s another fear-based DM trick inspired by the dragons of Dragons of Autumn Twilight:

    So terrible, so agonized was the scream that Tanis dug his fingernails into his palms to keep from adding his own voice to that horrible wail and revealing himself to the dragon.

    The PCs are hiding in the dark from a monster. (Maybe this is one of these encounters that is a little too tough to face head-on.) The monster has a fear-based attack that imposes penalties on the PCs: maybe attack penalties, maybe movement penalties.

    The monster has another attack, used for locating cowering prey. It can attack the minds of anyone within a certain radius and make them scream in terror. It uses the scream to home in on its victim.

    Here’s an odd note: in the original game module, we find this text: “The dragon wears a ring of darkness which projects up to a radius of 100′.” ON WHAT?

    plundering Dragonlance: the stag sturm can see

    Friday, August 30th, 2013
    This entry is part 3 of 11 in the series dragonlance

    At one point in Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Sturm, wounded and weak, sees a white stag leading him into the forest. No one else can see the stag. This is worthy of imitation in a D&D game.

    For one thing, the divine stag hunt is a great literature trope, and every D&D player should get to be a part of it at some point. Second, a lot can be done with the idea of a path that’s only visible to some people. My blogofholding buddy Rory’s campaign world has a desert that can only be crossed with a madman as your guide. I like the fact that, as with Sturm, only a damaged guide can see the path.

    What about this for a dungeon: an invisible, branching path across a chasm: only characters who are at half hit points or less (bloodied in 4e) can see the path. Other characters must follow in the footsteps of their wounded allies, or risk falling into the chasm.

    Sure, if people are willing to smack themselves with swords, everyone can bloody themselves and pick their way ably along the path. But when they reach the inevitable combat halfway along the bridge, it will be inconvenient to have everyone starting at half hit points. (Maybe the combatants are also invisible except to bloodied PCs?)

    PCs might walk by such a path many times and never know it until they happen to get damaged by a dangerous encounter or hazard. Or they may have heard rumors that the Bloody Path only appears for those close to death, and may purposely seek it.

    A path or guide might appear only to PCs suffering from other effects besides bloodied. Blind is an obvious one. Immobilized or paralyzed could be interesting. Sleepwalking could be fun.

    what dreams may come (until interrupted by baby cries)

    Monday, August 26th, 2013

    We just had a baby! This is Jane. Here she is, looking like she’s a DM about to run her first TPK (in, I suspect, the Temple of the Frog).

    Since this baby seems to be taking up a lot of my time, there may be occasional interruptions in this site’s schedule of blog posting and Mearls adventure updates. I also have a big list of fixes I’d like to make to the Dungeon Robber game. I’d like to get a new release out this week – we’ll see if I can do it.

    OK, enough excuses. Here is some D&D content that’s directly inspired by my being a new parent. More precisely, it’s inspired by the new-parent state of sleep deprivation in which weird images, dreams, and hallucinations are only an eyeblink away.

    Here’s a pair of crazy helmets that popped into my head at 4 in the morning while I was closing my eyes for some sleep:

    And here are the D&D rules that I made up for them as I was drifting off:

    ANIMAL HELMS: The generals of a powerful D&D empire each wear unique animal helms. Each helm is forged in the likeness of two animals, on the left and right side, each of which can be detached. A detached animal becomes a full-sized version which can perform one specific mission. If an animal is killed, a baby animal appears on the side of the helmet. It grows up and is ready to perform its service after a year and a day. While one animal is detached from the helm, the AC protection of the helm-wearer’s armor is reduced by 1 (minumum 0); if both are away, the AC is reduced by 2. If the helm is removed, the summoned animal returns to the helm.

    IBIS HELM: The ibises on either side of this helm can deliver messages. When detached, an ibis flies unerringly towards the person you name, whispers a message of any length, and then flies back to you with their response. The ibis can reach anyone in the world as long as they’re outside. If the target is inside a building, the ibis will circle the building for up to 24 hours before returning. The bird flies above the clouds at 100 miles an hour. It has AC 14 and 1 HP.

    ELEPHANT HELM: As soon as it is detached, an elephant rampages forward at 30 feet per round. Anyone in its 10-foot-wide path must make an easy dexterity check or be trampled for 2d20 damage. Buildings take 1d4 damage. The elephant continues forward, or smashes at obstacles, until it is recalled by the helm-wearer (at which point it rampages back, trampling anything in its path again). It has normal elephant stats by edition. Each elephant can be summoned once per day and heals 5 HP per day.

    WOLF TOWER: Here’s a bonus illustration of – a cool magic shield? a family coat of arms? I dunno.

    plundering Dragonlance: whistling in the dark

    Monday, August 12th, 2013
    This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series dragonlance

    I read a Dragonlance novel when I was a wee lad, and I didn’t think much of it (putting me on the other side of the gender divide, I guess). My memory is that Tanis spent a lot of time standing on battlements brooding about his half-elven nature, the kender was irritating, and Sturm was a big dull dud. Now, I loved knights acting on punctilious points of honor, so Sturm should have been right up my alley, but I couldn’t like him. Maybe it was the moustaches.

    (Dragonlance experts: Did Tanis ever actually stand brooding on battlements? I have a very specific memory of battlements.)

    Raistlin I liked, up to a point — and that point was True Neutral. I was a sanctimonious child and couldn’t really get into an evil antihero.

    Recently I decided to reread Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I’m finding that I like it more now than I did as a kid. There are some things done well, and the writing isn’t as bad as I remember (or I’ve read a lot more bad writing in the meantime). As a novel, it’s decent. As D&D adventure material, though, it’s inspiring. Not surprising, since the first book is, I understand, basically a novelization of an adventure module.

    Even if you’re not using the Dragonlance campaign setting, there are some pretty good DM tricks in Dragons of Autumn Twilight – just remember to file off the serial numbers. Chances are, at least one of your players read these books as kids.

    I’ll probably write a couple of posts about Dragonlance tricks for non-Dragonlance campaigns. Here’s one:

    goblin whistles

    What are those sounds?” Goldmoon asked the knight as he came up to her.

    “Goblin search parties,” Sturm answered. “Those whistles keep them in contact when they’re separated. They’re moving into the woods now.”

    This is cool, and a little spooky. A DM could add some atmospheric dread, I think, by using whistles to indicate that the PCs are being hunted. It could either be used, with frightening effect, as the signature of a pack of some horrifying hunting monsters, or used, as here, to spice up the lowly goblin. It’d be best used repeatedly: you’ll get some tension out of the first escape scene punctuated by whistles, but a session or two later, when the PCs think they’re safe, and they hear that whistle again: that’s your payoff.

    This trick would work best with a DM who could actually whistle. “You hear a whistle” doesn’t have the same effect.