Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Treasure Items - revised

This is a revision of this table.  I added a column for traditional fantasy magic as suggested by a commenter.  Some of these are quite potent, but you can skip the column altogether if you want.

I also added the bare bones of a value system.  I was thinking of making the items worth a base value of 500 gp (or sp if on a silver economy) and each - or + is a d20 roll.  The results of those rolls are multiplied by 100 to give you gp values to add or subtract.  I'm trying to keep things as simple as possible.  So, that should give a potential value of 8500 if you get lucky.  I would probably put a lower limit of 10 or 20gp even if the item is crude and broken.  They are supposed to be of some value after all.

What do you think?  Are the values too low?  Too swingy?

I wouldn't use this to handle all my magic item needs.  I like making unique ones too much.  But this could be a handy way to quickly get a central treasure to place in a small dungeon.

Update 2/28/14:
I went back and made some revisions, including replacing fur cloak with leather saddle.  I was thinking spurs might be a good possibility as well, but went with saddle to use leather as a material.  I think leather is stiff enough to function as symbolic swords and coffers and such.  I also replaced hair with iron as a material.

I tried to make a couple more magical properties more abstract so as to work better with the other item possibilities.  The coffer holding more than it should is still a little too specific, but I thought it could also be understood as "expands to necessary size" for some of the items like ring, sword, helm, etc.

I want to make a separate clothing item table now with cloaks and hats made of fur and feathers and such.  I don't think I can stretch it to 20 entries maybe 6 would be enough.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Wilderness Travel Challenges Update

Just a very small update.  I collected my terrain related mini-games into a pdf before, but came up with additional challenges for the desert and planar travel since then.  Also, though it isn't a challenge itself, I added the trackless wastes bit to help running ocean exploration and such.  Pdf is here.

The graphics all need to be higher resolution, but I don't have the time or energy to address that right now.  I'll try to work on that incrementally.  I hope one of these will lead to some fun interesting wilderness expeditions for you and your players.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Silhouettes LX

It's been a while since I showed you the origin of any silhouettes, so I thought I'd give you another example.

It started with me searching's text section for "ancient warfare."  I was looking for more examples of warrior types which seem generally useful and hard to find.  I stumbled on a text called "Explanatory notice on the display of ancient warfare representing the attack of the Burmese stronghold by the Siamese during their expedition against Tevoy in the year B.E. 2300 (1787 A.D.)."  And it had this cover:
I don't like working with photos.  Their graininess makes them difficult and this one is damaged and poorly scanned too.  But as I mentioned above, good profiles of warriors are hard to come by.  These are extra interesting because they are Southeast Asian.  The figure on the left struck as a good candidate because much of his detail will be retained in profile, including his face.  Also, I try to go for poses where a person is ready, but not in action, because they can be used for more things that way.  That's why I'm not interested in the figure on the right, also because he looks stiffly posed, even though I dig his hat and dual swords ( sometimes figures like these will be useful for parts.  I might give his sword arm to someone else.).

Next I cropped the figure:
And after many little steps of adjusting the color levels and darkening the outline of overly light areas while I listened to a YouTube video, I ended up with this:
Which became this:
And after opening it in Inkscape and tracing the bitmap, I got this image which is what the final svg looks like:
And here are a few others for your time.  A Japanese warrior:

Another wolf:

A hook:

And a Feather:
I was thinking the last two might be useful as icons.  These images are all in the public domain and you can use them any way you wish.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Monster Tactics cont.

Continuing to come up with a system to help me run monsters.  First a few thoughts I've had since last post:

I thought of "want to touch you" as an additional kind of behavior category.  This would include rust monsters and anything that wants to lay eggs in you.  But I realized, that I have no problems knowing what those things will do when and encounter happens.  The more unique a monster the more I feel comfortable knowing what tactics it will probably use.  This is more about trying to add complexity to the kind of battles that happen very frequently in my games where giant rats just suicide attack a party if their morale doesn't fail.  (I also want to work up a framework to deal with parties of humans, which I've largely avoided up to now.)

That being said, we have to keep in mind that if the majority of the behaviors depend on outnumbering the party to attack, # appearing for monster encounters becomes much more important.  Too few rats, and vermin never attack outright which is effectively reducing the number of wandering monsters in a dungeon.  Too many rats, though, and you basically moot the whole behavior system with the rats attacking as normal.

I think one way to address this is to allow for escalating numbers.  In other words, vermin that shadow the party for, say, a whole turn will accumulate more vermin.  Shadow for another turn more vermin gather, until the party leaves the dungeon or does something about the vermin.  Then all the number based behaviors become a ticking time bomb.

Another possible approach is to use escalating behaviors.  If it seems a bit much that more and more of these monsters appear in a dungeon you could just make them more and more bold.  With a bit of adjustment, the list of animal behaviors from last post becomes almost a list of increasing boldness:
  1. Defensive Attacker
  2. Vermin
  3. Scavenger
  4. Pack hunter
  5. Lone Hunter
  6. Aggressive Attacker
Here, I've added a category for animals like bulls and rhino that won't bother you if you leave them alone, and when they do fight will likely fight to drive you off, not to slaughter everyone in sight.  Aggressive Attacker is just a more descriptive name for grizzlys and orca and such that will attack in an aggressive and straight forward way, taking down one target before moving to the next, combining what I called "mindless" and "high threat" last post.

So, except for the lone hunter step, this gives us a pretty smooth progression from little to more boldness and aggression.  I think my current lean is to go with escalating behaviors.  So, for example, the party encounters a pack of sickly scavenger dogs.  There are too few dogs for them to attack outright so they start shadowing the party hoping for food.  After a certain amount of time of not being fed by the party or by corpses from the party's other encounters (1 turn, 1hr?)  the dogs will have lost their fear enough to start acting like pack hunters, with the highest hp individuals darting in for attacks and dogs attacking from multiple sides.

Sentient Behaviors
One thing I realize is that maybe the "tactics" in the title is not quite right for what I want here.  I want, not only help in know how groups will fight, but what the heck they want if they parley.  With that in mind here are some categories I came up with for groups of humans and other intelligent foes:
  1. Bandits
  2. Slavers
  3. Guerrillas
  4. Warriors
  5. Soldiers
  6. Adventurers
Bandits want money and don't want to risk their skin if they don't have too.  Give them what they want and they will likely just leave you alone.  If they are outnumbered or outpowered, they might try subterfuge, trickery, or predicting where the party might be later and meeting them there.

By Slavers I'm thinking any group that wants prisoners, so they could be cannibals or zealots gathering religious sacrifices, or just slavers.  They will use try to use non-lethal weapons and maybe swarm opponents with grappling attacks or try to disarm foes.  But if they have to kill a few folks to break resistance they will.

Guerrillas are used to fighting an occupying force that outnumbers them.  They will shadow and reconnoiter carefully before committing to doing anything.  They will try to predict where the party will be later and set up an ambush.  They will try to use traps and missile weapons to their advantage.  They may break off the attack even if it is going well, just to be careful as well as trying to demoralize the party.

Warriors come from a society that honors and values individual bravery and feats in combat.  They aren't necessarily hostile, but once they are they will have high morale and be dangerous.  They are skilled warriors, fighting man to man and trying to quickly take out the highest threat targets in the player party.  They are less likely to take prisoners.

Soldiers are trained to fight as a group and will use group tactics like shield wall and fighting retreats.  They will have a leader that, if taken out, will cause them to suffer severe morale penalties.  They
are more likely to parley and accept surrender.

Adventurers are the least clear in my head and might just be a place holder until we think of a better category.  They are essentially like the party a mixed group individuals of varied ethnicities, gender and abilities.  Loose cannons, they may act as bandits or as warriors.

And that's what I have so far.  I'm sort of assuming fairly homogeneous groups for my own sanity's sake.  So, even if it makes sense to have a ragtag bunch of bandits where each of them have different weapons and armor types, I will try to avoid that for simplicity.  Also, I'm hoping that these guidelines will help when I add magic-users and divine-types to the mix.  Magic-users with slavers will try to use their spells too immobilize and knock out the party, guerrillas MUs will use spells to aid in stealth, reconnaissance and misdirection, etc.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Monster Tactics

I don't see my DM role as being an adversary of the players.  I see myself as a facilitator of adventures.  In other words, I have to do just enough to know that adventure is possible and keep spinning the wheels so the game continues.  I don't have to worry about story, or big bad finale monsters, or anything but helping players move around in that shared imagined world.  The problem comes when players face opponents, because then I am the brain of the adversaries.  And this is one of the last places that I feel the game is not giving me enough support when I DM, when monsters attack.

I've largely dealt with this by using random rolls to determine which target, from those closest to it, that a monster will go after.  That and morale has been enough, surprisingly, to have some really fun combats, partially, because I have stuck to mostly creatures of animal intelligence.  But I've wanted something more sophisticated for a while.

Traditionally, I think the solution is supposed to be to look up the monster in the monster manual and you find out about its behavior and ecology there.  But that means you have potentially infinite monster behaviors to memorize as DM.  That's not a good option.  I think traditionally the encounter dice are supposed to give the DM valuable info too, but because it just generates a range of numbers it isn't going to solve that memorization problem: high or low numbers will presumably lead to different corresponding actions by different creatures.

In this post by Alexis of the Tao of D&D looks at creatures by intelligence and one of the factors is how they react during encounters.  That has been bubbling in the back of my head for years now as well as an article from the Dragon that talked about intelligent monsters targeting high threat party members like magic users.

I think I have finally come up with a solution that simplifies the idea while keeping much of the flavor.  I can assign all creatures one of a small number of behaviors.  That will give me some consistent behaviors without requiring too much to remember.  I would put them into these six categories:
  1. Mindless
  2. Vermin
  3. Scavenger
  4. Pack hunters
  5. Lone hunter
  6. High Threat
I still need to flesh out the actual behaviors but here are some ideas:

Mindless creatures, like zombies, would function the way I've been handling monsters, they attack whatever's closest with a bit of randomness for equally close targets.

Vermin would only physically attack if they far outnumber the target or are cornered, but they will shadow the party and try and steal small trinkets and food.

Scavengers would behave similar to vermin with a lower outnumbering ratio needed.  They would also become aggressive over any carcasses the party produces fighting other creatures.

Pack hunters would try to encircle the party and, also dependent on the numbers of each group, might start probing attacks by stronger pack members to see if the whole pack should swarm in.

Lone hunters might shadow the party for a while before darting in quickly in an attempt to carry off the smallest party member.

High threats are like mother bears with cubs or elephant bulls in must, unless you show sign of submission and back away quickly, they will attack ferociously.  (hmm, that seems a little too similar to mindless).

What I like about this is that players could learn these behaviors and gain a sense of expertise about the dangers in the wilderness as their characters become veterans.  And all I have to do is decide which behavior type traditional monsters fall under.  Are stirge vermin or pack hunters?  And that gives the cool possibility of having some stirge that act as vermin, the bluish-black ones, and some as pack hunters, the reddish tinged ones.  Parties will learn to pay attention to that small difference.

Are there any other broad behavior types that are left out?  Maybe lie-in-wait type hunters, but those are more like traps that would then attack mindlessly.

(I know this still doesn't deal with sentient foes, but I have an idea that six additional categories might work for them, including guerrilla tactics and such.)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sandbox Wonders 6

Continuing to try and come up with places a player could encounter in an rpg sandbox that might evoke a sense of wonder.  But first a couple of ideas:

Scale Again
I started this series of posts thinking scale doesn't work for evoking wonder and used the Grand Canyon as an example of something that wouldn't seem very wondrous explained verbally. But the more of these I do the more I realize that I had it wrong-- scale is an important part of pulling wonder off, it was the visual sense that wasn't translating verbally.  And, in fact, all the senses- strange sounds, overwhelming smells - are hard to pull off just through description.

I was talking with a co-worker and she told me that wonder for her, would always be tied to some variation of something she had encountered before, otherwise her reaction would instead be shock.  Her example was if she saw a unicorn she'd be more "WTF!?" than full of wonder.  And I think that's right.  And I think I've been unconsciously aiming for that all along, the whole conceptual wonder I mentioned posts ago is about taking something you are already familiar with, like a waterfall, and then doing something unexpected with it, like making it fall up.

Related to this idea of familiarity is that I realize now I've been trying to keep things from being too weird.  And I think what was going on in the back of my head was if I stick to fundamental, elemental things like earth and water, these results would be more likely to fit in your campaign without messing with your tone, or level of magic too much.  Even a low magic campaign might have room for one shy forest.

In other words, not only would "rubbery pods the size of a house that float in a certain direction based on your emotion" be more likely to trigger your "WTF!?" reaction than wonder, it also presumes a lot more about your campaign world, how weird it is, and how players might travel around in it.  So if some of these entries seem a little mundane, that's one reason.

53. Where the Light Falls - Imagine a shaft of sunlight breaking through the clouds on a cloudy day.  In this place there are many of these sunny rays of light, of various sizes and falling at various angles, even when there are no clouds.  If a living thing walks through the one of these, the light will fallow them until they leave the region.  Follow them even at night.
54. Twilight Vale - This secluded valley is always in the gloaming.  It is a peaceful dusk, with crickets and fireflies.  But the sun never shines here.
55. Root Forest - This grove of trees grows upside down.  Nothing is seen but roots.  Digging in the earth around the trunks reveals leaves and mango-like fruit.  Eating one of these fruit will give you all the benefits of a good nights sleep without having to sleep.
56. Fertile Earth - This patch of land is so fertile that anything planted in the ground here will grow into a tree.  These trees look just like oaks, and are just as slow to grow, but bear fruit that is the young of the planted "seed."  Bury a bird and the tree bears eggs.  Bury a fruit and the tree bear seeds.  Bury the dead and . . .
57. Impenetrable Forest - After walking for half an hour into this stand of trees you will find yourself walking back out.  Always.
58. Down Showers - In this area, in the winter, small downy feathers fall instead of snow.  These blacken and decay eventually.  Gathered fresh into sacks, the down can be used for bedding and clothing that provides excellent warmth while virtually weightless.
59. Salt Forest - Seen from a distance it looks like a snow-covered forest.  Closer inspection reveals trees, shrubs, stumps, everything made entirely from salt.  Rain causes the whole to melt away.  Later, the salt then pushes up from the ground to slowly reform the forest.  This salt is said to be useful for leaving trails in labyrinths that remain undisturbed.
60. Cold Springs - A series of ponds and geysers in a rocky badland that have, not hot, but freezing cold waters.  This water is said to keep it's cold far longer than normal when transported elsewhere.
61. The Great Shells - This forgotten bay holds oysters the size of ox carts.  Pried open, candlesticks, crowns, and other objects can be placed inside to be covered by mother-of-pearl.
62. The Horned Rocks - A rocky mountainside out of which grows sets of horns.  There are various spirals, curvatures, and length.  If a horn is cut, another will begin slowly growing from the same spot.  These horns, when carved properly, can be heard farther than should be possible when sounded.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sandbox Wonders 5

Phew, it is getting hard to come up with new ones, and that's assuming any of the ones I am coming up with evoke a sense of wonder.  I'm not giving up yet, though.  Onward:

43. Auburn Hills - Hills covered with fine, red-brown grass but oddly little wildlife.  Closer inspection reveals the "grass" is human hair.  Can be used to make rope and cloth like silk.  Do not burn.
44. Ember Showers - These blasted lands have barely any plant growth, and the few weeds and scraggly bushes are singed and blackened.  Each day a shower of embers falls here.  Legend says, if you can catch one in holy water the ember will cool and "grow" back into what it was before, and that each of these embers are the pages from some great library.
45. Well of Coals - This tavern-sized crater is filled with smoldering coals.  Removed coals are replaced by more coals that seem to push up from inside the earth.  These coals will never burn out and are tempting for merchants to take, but there is a small chance each day they will begin reproducing and filling the area they are in completely with coals.
46. The Thick Airs - In a small, hidden valley the air is so thick that moving through it is more like moving through water, or snow.  It is so thick that small items, like apples and daggers, can be placed in it and will not fall.  It is said it is so thick it can be scooped into bags and carried away.
47. The Thick Waters - The waters in this small, forgotten pool look normal in every way, but feel more like a thick mud.  A boat will sit on the surface and not sink into it.  They cannot be drunk.  It is said if they are warmed the thick water will thin itself, becoming normal and expanding in volume by 10 or 100 times.
48. The Splintered Ridges - A set of several long straight ridges.  Under the thin layer of soil and grass these hills are made entirely of wood.  And this wood is said to heal itself, prized for shields.
49. Breathing Mountain - The canyons at the base of this mountain are beset by winds every few hours.  These blow down and away and then in a few minutes and toward the mountain again.  The winds are of such force they can blow mules down the canyons and suck small children up and away.
50. Dewdrop Flowers - The petals of these small flowers are made of water droplets.  The slightest brush will release the droplets and cause the flower next to it to release its, sending glistening waves through the fields.  Greatly sought be rulers or arid realms.
51. The Smoking Lands -  Lands much like ours except that the living things are a bit paler, a bit grayer, and where our life has hair they have smoke rising off of them. Women with smoky tresses, wolves that have fur of smoky tendrils.
52. The Great Green - A vast swath of green grass that reaches heights of 12 feet.  Travel through it is risky because so many have gotten lost, or never returned.  Who knows what wonder it hides.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sandbox Wonders 4

33. Ice Flats - These areas look as if a great lake was covered in ice and then the water disappeared.  Sailing ice boats is a quick but dangerous way to cross them.  At night, fires and lights are often seen flickering below the ice, as if whole cities live beneath.
34. Fire Pools - An area of natural pools that smells faintly of stale oil and looks oily.  At night a pale fire flickers across the surface giving an eery glow to the whole area.  Water collected here will also burn in the dark.  Drinking the water is not advised.
35. Green Canyon - A small, winding canyon unrecognizable as such because its ground-level opening is filled with greenery.  Clambering down a trail into the canyon reveals that the greenery is from trees growing in mid-air, their roots bare.  The heartwood of these trees is buoyant.
36. The Weeping Stones - In an otherwise dry badlands, these pinkish, hard rocks trickle moisture.  Mosses and lush grasses grow around their bases.  Oval and each close to the size of a person, the rocks show signs of having been chipped at over the centuries.  A fist-sized chip will trickle a waterskin full in a day.
37. Summer Mountain - This mountain range is seasonal.  It slowly recedes into winter and pushes up in spring.  Tallest at the summer solstice, its behavior shapes the trade and ecology of the entire region.
38. The Speckled Shoals - These rocky shoals are dangerous to ships, but beautiful.  Made up of small rocks the many colors of fall leaves, these have actually fallen from the small trees that crown the shoals and grow leaves of stone.  Cuttings can be taken.
39. The Child of the Sun - Hidden in an underground cavern is a tiny sun.  Just like our sun but the size of an apple, it floats above the cavern floor.  Here warm breezes blow, green mosses spread across the cavern floor and mouse-sized cattle graze in the glow.
40. The Rotten Rocks - Actually two hills of greenish stone crumbling to powder.  The hills can be seen from quite a distance.  The powder decays metal as a rust monster.
41. Amber Beach - This long, sweeping beach hidden in a cove is made entirely of bits of amber smoothed by the sea.  The amber holds fragments of ancient trees, bugs, and some even tiny fairies.  It's said warming those over a fire will release the fairy which might perform a service.
42. Bower Village - Seen from nearby hills this looks like a thriving riverside village.  On closer inspection it's all made of straw, mud, and found objects.  A single male bower bird lives here.  If caught and moved elsewhere he will construct a similar village in approximately 1 month.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Treasure Items

First a public service annoucement: I screwed up with my web host so all my sidebar links will be dead until I get it sorted.  Sorry, I'm an idiot.

Okay, after all that talk of tables here's one I've been working on for a while.  A simple way to generate interesting treasure objects has been my white whale for a long time.  I want to be able to generate many different things you might uncover when ransacking tombs or catacombs.  You can see my attempt at coming up with some kind of item generator here, and a separate attempt at coming up with item qualities here.  In this new table I've simplified and smashed the two together into a layered table.

The idea is that rolling a d20 will result in a treasure that is fitting for western myths and folklore.  But by rolling more dice for the different columns you can get many variations.
A few notes.  "Votive" is something made specifically to be left as an offering at a shrine or altar.  "Funerary" is meant to be something made specifically to be buried with someone or consumed in their funeral somehow.  I would assume all of them have value with someone, even the wooden or wicker, if brought to right person, if only because of their significance or rarity.

You can see one of the difficulties with this kind of table when you note that a common treasure of folklore is a cloak, but cloaks are made of different materials than crowns and chalices.  Belts fall into a similar category.  In my object qualities chart I made two seperate columns depending on whether something is clothing or not.  But I want to simplify the tables I might need at the table.  And besides cloaks and girdles, there isn't really any iconic treasure clothing items I can think of (wait . . . maybe caps, and boots, dang it!).  So, if you tumble the sub-tables on this and end up with cloak, you might have to do some interpretive work.  Maybe the cloak is made up of metal links, or maybe the "material" just indicates a color of the cloth.

You can run into the same problem going the other way.  The cloak has a material "fur" which works for it, but what the heck is a fur mirror, or fur chariot?  Again, you'll have to do some interpretation.  Maybe the easiest would be to imagine fur-trimmed items etc.

Another problem this doesn't adress is how many gp is each item worth.  I hesitate to be explicit about that because it depends on so many variables- your campaign's economy, the relationship the party has with the buyers, etc.  But what I might do for myself is roll another d20 and multiply it by 100 to give a result in 100s of gp, from 100-2000.  And then maybe bump it up or down a bit from there.

After those caveats, I think this might still be a pretty compact way to come up with some interesting treasure items such as:
16, 15, 5, 6
A worn wicker spear that belonged to your family  (maybe it was your grandfather's toy?).
7, 11, 15, 16
A painted brass coffer used to bludgeon to death an heir to the throne.
20, 6, 12, 12
A beautiful, gem-cut piece of glass found on the beach after a tsunami destroyed a city.

Anyway, I'll be trying this for my own game and I hope you find it useful.