Monthly Archives: April 2011

It’s A Great Big Universe….

…and we’re all really puny.

Those lines, from the classic mid-90s Warner Bros. “Animaniacs”, nicely sum up one of the recurring themes in the games I run, and, in general, the games I enjoy playing in: The world extends far beyond the tabletop.

In a recent thread on, someone asked if people liked/disliked the idea of “adventurer’s guilds”, the concept that “adventurer” was a profession which was generally recognized in the world. The OP (Original Poster) didn’t like them; I did. By the time I joined the thread, it had turned into a tedious digression on the meaning of the word “hero”. (All threads on the Internet end in one of two ways: Either someone’s called a Nazi, or the Grammar Nazis show up.) Anyhoo, in that thread, I pontificated on my beliefs (you know, like I do in every thread on every forum everywhere), and while I’d like just C&P my post because I’m a lazy bastich, is down right now (must be a day ending in ‘y’), so, in summary:

I like worlds where the PCs are important, because they’re the PCs and the players are sitting around the table singing “Here we are now, entertain us”, but where they’re not, on a world scale, unique. They’re not the first of their kind and they won’t be the last. While they’re saving the world from the undead dragon invasion, some other group of adventurers, somewhere else, is saving the world from a mad arch-lich. This is something which goes cross-genre. If the PCs are the Avengers, it’s a much better, deeper, more believable world if there’s also the Defenders, the Teen Titans, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Justice League, and lots of duos who were too lame to get their own book but who the company thought could survive if they were in a book together. How much fun would Vampire be if the PCs were the only bloodsuckers around, if there wasn’t an entire society of glorified leeches lording it over each other like High Schoolers?

PCs need equals to interact with. They need a society of their peers, people to seek aid from, or compete with, or battle.

If the game is very narrowly focused on a single story arc, this can be less so. If the game is intended to be more episodic or support a variety of play, it’s good for the PCs — whatever they are — to fit some role in the world, or to have peers. Even in a “secret knowledge” world, ala Buffy/Call of Cthulhu, where the great masses of mankind live in blissful ignorance of the horrors which surround them, there should be organized societies like the Watchers, or gangs of self-taught vampire slayer’s like Gunn’s in “Angel”. Someone had to write all those forbidden and blasphemous tomes the PCs are reading in Cthulhu, and it’s likewise inevitable that at least a few of the mad cults you’re going to run into were stopped a decade or so earlier by some other Investigators, only one of whom is still alive and is now gibbering in a madhouse.

This is one of those areas where many people have the exact opposite reaction — to them, a world full of adventurers is an unrealistic one. Consider this, though: Which makes more sense? That the Enterprise, a ship intended for the same diplomatic and exploration missions as its sister ships is the only one which, week after week, runs into godlike aliens, seductive green space babes, and temporal rifts, or that such things are pretty much par for the course, and if, one week, the USS Enterprise manages to complete a scan of a star system without a single redshirt dying, it’s highly probable that the USS Lexington just emerged from an unexpected time warp where they’d been catapulted to feudal Japan and the captain now has a shiny new katana to hang in his ready room?

Others protest that such things make the PCs less unique. I disagree. First, the PCs are going to be unique simply by virtue of being PCs — they’re the only things in the universe not created by the GM. Second, on the world scale, there are still thousands, to tens of thousands, to millions of non-adventurers to every adventurer. This is especially true in games where character power levels inflate over time — there simply aren’t that many 20th level anythings running around, and the few there are are mostly locked in a kind of stasis, balancing each other out.

There are practical considerations, as well. A world full of Adventurer Class Individuals (ACIs) is a world where replacement PCs can show up, believably. They may even have some knowledge of what the heroes have done, since they move in the same circles.

Lastly, it’s always good to remind the players that even if they’re big fish in a small pond, they aren’t the only fish. If they grow too complacent, to sure they can get away with anything because the NPCs have no one else to turn to, let them find out that someone else was called in to deal with the orc raiders, because they were half a continent away kicking the dust in some mummy’s tomb.

The Marketplace Of The Macabre

See, there was this old Dragon article called “Bazaar of the Bizarre”, so…

Yeah. Anyway…

Magic has become too darn functional lately. By this I mean, magic items are carefully designed to provide bonuses in adventuring situations, and that’s pretty much it. You’d think that in a world where +2 Axiomatic Blades are churned out by the bucketload, there would also be a lot of interesting and unusual items… but they’re rarely seen or mentioned.

Bah, I say! Bah!

While this article was written with 4e in mind, most of the items here are relatively systemless and can be easily used in any fantasy game.

(“For use with any fantasy game” is 1970s speak for “For use with Dungeons & Dragons & Trademark Attorneys”)

These items are intended to be part of the “cash” of treasure parcels, and so have no set price. The magic in them is generally very minor, below the level of a 1st level item, so the “value” of them has more to do with their construction and materials. Thus, you can pretty much set them to any price point you wish; for those in need of flavor text hints, I’ve provided some descriptions for the various tiers.

I am hoping this will be a semi-regular feature. Some of my players might recognize these items, as I’ve tossed them in as treasure. Some are new.

It’s certainly possible that players will find ways to use these “decorative” items for more utilitarian (Meaning: Kill things and take their stuff) purposes. Lizard’s Guide To Viking Hat DMing says: “Cleverness should be rewarded…. once.” Once you let a clever idea become a rote response, it stops being a clever idea. Let them get away with a brilliant and unconventional plan when it’s brilliant and unconventional — as soon as it ceases to be so, lay the hammer down.

Ever-Fashionable Ring

This ring has a simple illusion charm on it, that allows it to appear to be a ring of any style, and set with any gem, that the wearer desires. The maximum seeming value of the ring is 100 gp/level at heroic tier, 1000 gp/level at paragon tier, and 5000 gp/level at epic tier. The illusion fades instantly if the ring is removed. It cannot take on the form of a signet ring, ring of office, or other such item, and it will leave no impression on any surface other than that of the undisguised ring.

  • Heroic Tier: A band of silver, set with a series of brightly colored semi-precious stones.
  • Paragon Tier: Twined bands of silver and gold, set with a small diamond, ruby, and emerald.
  • Heroic Tier: A ring formed from fused and interlocking gems, polished to perfect smoothness.

Eternal Scroll

Parchment costs money, damn it! An Eternal Scroll is a piece of parchment, papyrus, vellum, or paper, depending on the local tech level, which is in all ways normal, except that it can completely cleanse itself of all writing upon command. It does not hide or distort what is written upon it, and once erased, the writing cannot be recovered. Some spies do make use of it to send messages which the recipient can blank upon reading, but it’s not much more useful in that regard than just tossing it into the fire. Students of wizardry often use this item when taking lecture notes, reusing it once they’ve studied sufficiently. A common prank at institutions of magical learning is to loudly shout out commonly-used words of erasure and then run from the horde of angry students whose notes have now been consigned to oblivion.

  • Heroic Tier: A single piece of writing paper, about 8 x 12 inches.
  • Paragon Tier: A large scroll, about four feet long when unrolled.
  • Heroic Tier: A tome of many pages, each of which can be written on or erased independently.

Garments Of The Fastidious

While these items of clothing can be found in an immense variety of styles, all are, or were, the height of fashion. Any type of clothing — hats, pants, cloaks, dresses, belts, and so on — may be found enchanted in this manner. Such items will have a command word written on them in some obscure place, and possibly in a hard-to-read script. When the word is spoken, the item becomes perfectly clean, all filth, muck, and mire removed, as if by a prestidigitation cantrip.

  • Heroic Tier: An item of fine clothing, such as that which might be worn by a well-to-do merchant, or a full set of such clothing, of slightly lesser worth.
  • Paragon Tier: Several items of rich clothing, made from slightly exotic materials such as giant spider silk or wyvern scales.
  • Epic Tier: A full set of luxurious clothing, mostly made from truly rare materials such as elder dragon scale and astral thread.

Goblets Of Treachery

This is a set of four goblets, all seemingly identical. Around the base of each, in very finely carved letters in an ancient form of supernal script, is the phrase “Courage And Betrayal Are Brothers”. When any of the goblets is held and the toast “To our mutual success!” is pronounced, any poison in the goblet held by the speaker suffers a -2 penalty to its attack rolls and the speaker gains a +2 item bonus to any saves against ongoing damage from that poison, while the poison in the other goblets gains a +2 item bonus to its attack rolls and and imposes a -2 penalty to saving throws. This effect fades if not consumed within 5 minutes or if the liquid is removed from the goblets.

  • Heroic Tier: A set of well-made bronze goblets, lined with obsidian at the rim and base.
  • Paragon Tier: A set of exquisite gold goblets, with the stems carved into sinuous dragons. Emeralds are set into the dragons’ eyes.
  • Epic Tier: A set of goblets, each carved from a single diamond, with gold bands at the base and rim.

Mirror of Many Seemings

This mirror is of Eladrin make, and is typical of the many minor items of magic that they have decorating their homes and cities. It is normally a hand mirror, and, when held, will show the holder as they would appear with any desired hairstyle, makeup, tattoos, facial jewelry, headpiece, and so on. It’s a good way to “try out” a new look before committing to it. Particularly vain Eladrin — vain even by Eladrin standards — have been known to spend hours with these items, consumed by the search for perfection.

  • Heroic Tier: A mirror of fine polished glass in a silver frame.
  • Paragon Tier: A mirror of glass made from elemental earth, set in a platinum frame. The frame has small rubies set into it, as well.
  • Epic tier: A mirror of solidified astral plasm, in a frame of polished dragonbone.

Pipe Of Visions

When this pipe is smoked, the smoker can shape the smoke into distinct shapes — a cat, a woman, a sword, and so on. The shapes are wispy and smoky, of course, and do not block line of sight or provide any sort of cover. They are, however, fairly amusing. Creating a shape is a minor action.

  • Heroic Tier: A simple wooden pipe, very well carved, with a pattern of diamond flakes set so as to mimic a well-known constellation.
  • Paragon Tier: A pipe of treant wood, strengthened with gold bands which are inscribed with meaningless, but impressive seeming, mystic symbols. This pipe will allow the smoker to add tintings of basic color to the images they form, as well.
  • Epic Tier: A pipe of wood from an astral dominion. It is carven with images of gamboling fey creatures, and when the pipe is smoked, the carved images dance and cavort. It also allows the addition of colors, as above.

Tankards Of The Lazy Tavern Wench

Despite the name, these come in many forms — tankards, goblets, wineglasses, and so on. Whenever a liquid is poured into one, it will fill all of them. This does not create any new liquid; it merely distributes the liquid equally to all items of the set within 10 squares (50 feet). Thus, to fill four one-pint tankards, four pints of ale are poured into one of them, and all four fill equally. The “source” tankard needs line of effect, but not line of sight, to the “destination” tankards. These items typically come in sets of 4 to 12.

  • Heroic Tier: A set of four silver tankards, well crafted, with crystal covers. Each has a different image from the life of a local hero embossed onto the side.
  • Paragon Tier: A set of eight delicate wineglasses, made of perfectly clear and very hard crystal (Resist 10 All). The wineglasses will play delicate musical notes as they are filled.
  • Epic Tier: A set of seven shotglasses. Each is carved from the tooth of a balor, and marked with a rune symbolic of one of the seven deadly sins of the local faith.

Waking Horn

Again, this may be something other than a horn, though it is almost always a wind instrument, and a loud one at that. By speaking one phrase, followed by a time (often expressed as “One hour past sunrise” or the like, accurate clocks not being a feature of most campaign settings), the horn is set. When the time comes, it will sound furiously, creating a noise which can be heard within 10 squares with no Perception check and within 20 squares with a DC 5 Perception check. A second command must be spoken to end the noise (it will also end by itself in 5+1d6 rounds), but this command must be spoken while holding the horn. Waking Horns often also possess a small bit of teleportation magic, and will reappear at their owner’s bedside even if he has flung it out of a tower window. Sneaking such a horn into someone’s bedchamber is a common practical joke. The noise is audible to all, so Waking Horns are rarely taken by adventurers into the wilderness, unless they like wandering monsters as breakfast guests. (Drow, it is said, have used specially bred shriekers for as a substitute for this item.)

  • Heroic Tier: A simple brass horn, decently made, with small gold and silver decorations.
  • Paragon Tier: A well carved ivory hunting horn, made from a mastodon’s tusk, and strengthened with bands of platinum.
  • Epic Tier: A serpent (, made from an actual giant snake, transmuted to bronze by magic. It is covered with yuan-ti hieroglyphs that, if translated, say something like “Happy magic excitement milk of battleaxe!”

Otters And Barnakills

Still learning to juggle new job and old responsibilities, so updates here are even less regular than usual, and they’re[1] usually less regular than a ninety year old man with an all beef-and-cheese diet! Ha!

As you can see, though, the quality of the writing is unchanged.

In any event, I would like to present two new additions to Earth Delta: Another mutant animal race, the otter, and a common hazard in watery areas, such as partially submerged coastal cities: The barnakill! (Yes, I grossly overuse the “kill” pun. No, I don’t care.)


Here’s the PDF link:


And here’s the cut-and-pasted version, less clean looking, but what can you do?


Otters are amphibious mammals which were known even before the Cataclysm for their intelligence, manual dexterity, and hatred of the United Atheist League and the United Atheist Alliance. Humanoid mutant otters have formed many communities along riverbanks throughout the regions where their ancestors lived, and some of their tunnel-cities are rumored to run for miles along the shoreline, with no evidence beyond the few external watchtowers and guardposts that they maintain. In the more semi-civilized regions of the world, they are often either guardians of river trade, or well-organized predators upon it.

Otteroid Racial Traits

Average Height: 7′ to 8′

Average Weight: 250-400 lbs

Ability Scores: +2 Charisma, +2 Dexterity or Intelligence

Size: Small

Speed: 6 squares (8 squares when swimming)

Vision: Low-Light (from Night Eyes mutation)

Languages: Common, Growl (Languages are listed on page 350.)

Skills: +2 racial bonus to Acrobatics (from Perfect Balance), +2 racial bonus to Thievery (from Elongated Fingers), +4 racial bonus on Athletics checks for swimming.

Defenses: +1 racial bonus to Reflex defense (from Accelerated Reactions)

Heritage Mutations: Accelerated Reactions, Elongated Fingers, Night Eyes, Perfect Balance, Small

Other Mutations: You have 2 points to spend on beneficial heritage mutations. You may acquire a negative heritage mutation for additional points.

Belly Slide: You may move across difficult terrain which is described as slick or slippery (such as frictionless surfaces, grease pools, and patches of ice) without paying an extra movement cost per square. However, you are prone throughout this movement and remain prone until you stand normally.

Otter Traits: Otteroids may pick one of the following abilities:

Otterly Adorable: Whenever you make a Diplomacy check, you may roll twice and use either result.

Otterly Sneaky: Whenever you make a Stealth check, you may roll twice and use either result.


Barnakills are an unfortunately common hazard in coastal regions, especially those with many sunken buildings or ruins. Unlike their ancestors, they can spread to areas of drier land, so long as there is a high level of moisture in the air and occasional flooding. Sapient races that live in such regions can sometimes learn to “harvest” barnakills, or to direct their growth for defensive purposes. (Mutant dolphins have learned to do this underwater, aiding their guardian forces, or, in other words, for defensive porpoises. Hah! (You know, like the one about transporting mynahs across staid lions for immortal porpoises?)

Yeah, OK, the content. Got it.


Barnakills are an unfortunately common hazard in coastal regions, especially those with many sunken buildings or ruins. Unlike their ancestors, they can spread to areas of drier land, so long as there is a high level of moisture in the air and occasional flooding. Sapient races that live in such regions can sometimes learn to “harvest” barnakills, or to direct their growth for defensive purposes. (Mutant dolphins have learned to do this underwater, aiding their guardian forces, or, in other words, for defensive porpoises. Hah! (You know, like the one about transporting mynahs across staid lions for immortal porpoises?)

When a creature enters a patch of barnakills, they erupt, sending off larvae which clamber onto the intruder and then sink in, drawing out the elements they need to form their protective shells. If given even a few seconds, they can virtually paralyze their target. Even if someone leaves the main patch, it can be a while before all of them can be scraped off, and, while any exist, they will feed on their host and spread. This does provide the slight benefit of a hard shell, but the pain is hardly worth it.

Barnakill Level 8 Hazard
Terrain XP: 350
Detect Perception DC 16 Initiative -
HP 30 per square
AC 20; Fortitude 22
Immune Psychic, Fear, Charm, Forced Movement, Radiant, Disease, Poison, all conditions
Vulnerable 5 Fire
Triggered Actions
Attack At-Will
Trigger: A creature enters the square
Attack (No Action): Melee 1 (Triggering Creature): +11 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2d6+4 damage and immobilized (save ends). First failed save: Restrained (save ends). Aftereffect: Gain +2 AC and take ongoing 5 damage (save ends both).


[1]The hilarious bit is that I needed to edit this from “their” right after I posted it, and a lot of my new job is catching just such mistakes in other people’s writing.


…is about a third over, and I haven’t posted anything. Bugger. I didn’t realize how long it had been since my last post until I logged in to do some other things.

I blame part of it on a new job — longer hours (I’m back to full time work, whereas, I had been on a 30 hour work week since November) and a raise (my first in five years!). Even better, so far, most of my work consists of what I’ve been trying to get into, professionally, for a long time — technical writing. There will be some coding, too, but I need to learn more about their software, etc, first. Also, my wife has been more-or-less immobilized (may spend a healing surge to take a move action) due to a foot injury, which means I have more chores to ignore do. Creativity tends to come in waves, mostly, and this is sort of an ebb tide period. (I can be creative on demand — it’s how I meet deadlines — but if it’s just for me, it’s hard to force it.)

There’s a few things bubbling, though. I still want to do something sci-fi and pulpy, I’m just not sure what — system, setting, complexity. Eventually, something will spark. I know I want hexagons.