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.

  • 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., 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+:


    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.


    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."

    what divination spells are being used on the PCs?

    March 23rd, 2015 by paul

    Let's say the PCs have pissed someone off. Believe it or not, it happens sometimes. What consequences should they expect? Once the PCs get out of Dodge, are they completely safe from Dodge law enforcement? Or are their pursuers given an arbitrary level of omniscience (pursuers catch up to the PCs whenever the DM feels like things are getting slow)?

    Let's figure out some predictable consequences based on the might of the offended cities/countries/organizations. Assign each organization a level, 1-20, using the guidelines below. Here are the 5e divination/law enforcement spells that might be routinely available to each organization.

    Local tier (level 1-4): Towns, baronies, local thieves guilds, low-level casters, monsters with caster minions.
    Locate Object (level 2): Pretty much the only way to find a thief in this tier is cast Locate Object on the stolen item. With a range of 1000 feet, though, it will take a while to catch a thief even in a small town.
    Tier Analysis: If you're a petty outlaw, you're pretty safe, magically speaking. Just hide the stuff more than a mile away from town and it will never be magically found.

    Regional tier (level 5-10): City-states or small countries, duchies, crime syndicates, big merchant houses, noble families, drow houses.
    Clairvoyance (level 3): Its range is a mile, and it's pretty much a room-by-room search, so its uses are limited to surveillance of known suspects.
    Sending (level 3): You can't locate someone with Sending, but you can send them threatening messages or offer them deals. If your pursuers' highest spell level is 3, prepare to be mildly irritated by daily telepathic threats. It's basically all they can do to you.
    Divination (level 4): Ask a question about something to happen within 7 days. It's hard to see the utility of this spell for catching enemies, and the answers are cryptic anyway.
    Locate Creature (level 4): Like Locate Object, it only works within 1000 ft.
    Commune (level 5): At level 5, divination spells start to get more useful. Commune lets you ask three yes/no questions, so you can use it to play a really slow game of 20 questions about the target.
    Contact other plane (level 5): Like Commune, but five questions, and it's way too dangerous to use every day (chances of death or insanity with every casting). Sensible NPCs probably won't use this spell much.
    Dream (level 5): You can't locate an enemy but you can threaten them, do psychic damage, and prevent them from resting. You might be able to kill them at a distance without ever finding them.
    Scrying (level 5): Almost certainly the spell of choice for hunters of PCs. The PC gets a saving throw, with a bonus if the caster doesn't personally know the target, and a penalty if the caster has physical evidence (like fingernail clippings). Organizations should have CSI-like crime squads to track down such evidence. Even if the target makes the save, the spell is repeatable every day. On a success, the caster can see the target's surroundings (for 10 minutes) but doesn't necessarily know the global location.
    Tier Analysis: PCs who upset regional authorities can expect regular angry Sendings and Dreams, and daily scry attempts which will eventually succeed unless the PCs take countermeasures. The PCs should avoid recognizable surroundings like the Eiffel Tower. Scrying gives the DM a new problem: exactly when do the enemies try to tune in? while the PCs are discussing their plans, or while they are mutely trudging through anonymous forest? Here's a DM trick: set a phone alert for, say, an hour into the game session. When it goes off, that's when the enemies try to scry.

    Major tier (level 11-16): Major countries, major religions, major campaign villains, major worldwide organizations.
    Conjure elemental (level 6): This is a level 5 spell, but cast at level 6, it can summon an Invisible Stalker. The Stalker automatically knows the direction and distance to the target. Even without the stalkers' assassination abilities, that's bad news for fugitives. And a new stalker can be summoned every day.
    Teleport (level 7): Finding the fugitive is all well and good, but Teleport or Tree Stride (level 6) let you go out and get them.
    Tier Analysis: Compared to the regional tier, major-tier organizations are slightly better at finding you, and way better at taking you out. Between Invisible Stalker and scry-and-die teleport tactics, you can't escape - except by going to another plane of existence.

    World-spanning tier (level 17-20): Global or planar empires, demon princes, Sauron-level villains.
    Gate (level 9): Costs 5000 GP per casting, but it's worth it. If the caster knows the targets' names, and they're on a different plane, it will summon them (unless they're in the demesne of a deity or similar creature). Combine this spell with Plane Shift (level 7) to guarantee that you're on a different plane of existence from your target.
    Tier Analysis: Gate takes away fugitives' extraplanar bolt holes. Only the gods can hide them from 9th-level casters.

    three zany D&D kickstarters and why I’m backing them

    March 18th, 2015 by paul

    I love D&D kickstarters; right now I'm backing three. One question I try to ask myself is "will I use this in a game?" The answer for all three is "yes, but not necessarily as intended."

    city_originalOK, first, the project with the most obvious D&D utility: Stefan Pokorny's city Dungeon Tiles. How precious! A set of little D&D dollhouses to complement my love of city-based D&D adventure. This has everything I need for urban set-piece battles: adorable Tudor houses, guardhouses with battlements, and, as stretch goals, minis missing from my lineup: commoners, city guards, and ratlings.

    I have a lot of Dwarven Forge stuff, which is weird, because it doesn't actually go very well with my DMing play style. I rarely do high-prep set-pieces: I mostly wing it based on the whims of the PCs. I probably won't construct an intricate diorama of a lovingly-detailed city location, because I don't want to force the PCs to use it. But if a fight does break out in a tavern, city street, or village square, I'd like to be able to plop down a couple of nice-looking houses and give the battle some character.

    And I'd like some ratling minis.

    Dwarven Forge stuff is expensive. For people who would rather drop $25 instead of $250 on D&D, Rob Schwalb's Shadow of the Demon Lord might be a better choice.

    GMXFlyer-200x300Given that I'll probably be playing D&D 5e for the foreseeable future, what does a new RPG offer me? I like a lot of Schwalb's previous design work, including A Song of Ice and Fire RPG and, well, D&D 5e. Shadow of the Demon Lord looks like it will have a lot of stuff to mine for a D&D game. It's got the post-apocalpyse dial turned way up, which I like. And from the descriptions of the spells, the gross-out and body-horror value is pretty high too. That's less appealing to me as a core part of D&D, but there is a place for it.

    I love spells-as-treasure. Maybe the "make a dude's nuts explode" spell is too silly for a core D&D spell, but it might be a plausible find in an evil wizard's spellbook - and maybe some warped PC will actually transcribe it. In my game, one of the players has a half-deciphered book of evil rituals. Hopefully I'll get to see some more Shadow of the Demon Lord spells before the other half is deciphered.

    rocketbookMy final kickstarter is ostensibly non-D&D: it's a "cloud-integrated" paper notebook. What does that mean, besides the fact that the "cloud" buzzword is now officially overused?

    Basically, what it means is that when you take a cellphone photo of a notebook doodle, it will automatically resize it, color-correct it, un-perspective it, and upload/post/email it to a location of your choice.

    Why does this scream D&D to me? Because the notebook page has a dot grid. It's essentially graph paper. I doodle a lot of maps and other D&D sketches during meetings. I wouldn't mind being able to one-click post them, or one-click email them to my D&D group, instead of bringing the notebook home, scanning it, fiddling with it in Photoshop, etc.

    The other goofy, fun feature: if you microwave the notebook, the ink disappears and you can use it again. Future technology!

    some underdark geomorphs

    March 9th, 2015 by paul

    underdarkMy game has found its way into the Underdark. To prepare for the PCs' big battle against the drow - and to create quick locations for future random encounters - I made 12 Underdark geomorphs. Download 'em!

    My geomorph map pieces are slightly non-standard: they're rectangular, 8x10 inches. Square geomorphs allow for more facings for each piece, but the Underdark is different from a regular dungeon in that it has a grain. Tunnels don't spiral off randomly in every direction: they tend to be long straight paths with the occasional branch or turn. My Underdark geomorphs have very few dead ends along their long axis, and relatively few side tunnels along the short axis.

    By the way, the Post-it in the picture is a spider-drawn war chariot.

    5e DMG: page 250 as a complete mass combat system

    February 26th, 2015 by paul

    The 5e DMG has a short section on "handling mobs:" it has a chart for approximating, out of a group of attacking monsters, how many monsters hit.

    It's pretty simple: subtract attacker's hit bonus from the target's AC. Cross-index that number on the chart. If the number is 1-5, all the attackers hit; if it's 6-12, 1/2 of them hit; etc., up to 1 in 20 of the attackers hitting on a 20.

    I ran a big set-piece battle yesterday: 8 mid-level PCs and 10 gnomes against 20+ drow and other assorted creatures, including a drow spider chariot and a sinister angel. With a wizard and a sorcerer PC and two drow wizards, all slinging fireballs, the mob attacks weren't much of a factor. With all those fireballs, what I COULD have used was rules for mob saving throws.

    If I'd thought about it, I'd have realized that the same chart can be used for saving throws. Instead of subtracting attack bonus from AC, subtract saving throw bonus from DC, and use the chart as normal. For instance, a fireball save DC of 15, minus the drow dex save (+2) is 13, which, according to the chart, means that 1/3 of the drow succeed on their saving throw (and probably survive with 1 or 2 HP left).

    In fact, this same chart can be used for ability/skill checks (how many orcs managed to climb the wall? DC minus skill bonus) or any other d20 roll.

    To me, it seems this is all you need to run fairly simple battles with dozens or hundreds of creatures per side. The amount of HP tracking is not excessive: for instance, in this unit of 50 ogres, 24 have 15 damage and the other 25 have 30 damage. (For ease of bookkeeping, assume that melee attacks always target the most-damaged creature.)

    You might also care about the base size of big units. I assumed that a close-packed formation of 10 Medium troops took up the size of one Large creature. I'd say that 25 troops are Huge and 50 are Gargantuan.

    If we do any bigger-scale battles, I might find other rules that I need (after all, the Chain Mail rules are much longer than this blog post) but right now, this is looking pretty good for running big D&D skirmishes.