Category Archives: Pathfinder and 3.5

Figurine Of Wondrous Power: Scorpion Throne

Figurine Of Wondrous Power: Scorpion Throne

ScorpionChairOwen Stephens posted this image on FB. With the Halloween theme for RPGBloggers being Things That Go Bump In The Night,[1] I decided this fit, reasonably well, and as you may have noted from my update schedule, getting any content on here lately is a triumph, so you’ll bloody well like it!

The image source, BTW, is this Russian site. I didn’t know there were Russian sites that weren’t serving porn and malware. Huh.



Scorpion Throne Figurine Of Wondrous Power

Aura: Strong Transformation CL 14 Price 78,400 gp


This figurine is actually constructed as a clever mechanical puzzle, about four inches in size. Interlocking and pivoting parts allow it to be transformed between the scorpion shape and the form shown in the picture above. (Rumors of similar figurines, which include a freight carriage, a crossbow, and a glider, cannot be confirmed.) When the command word is spoken, it becomes one of two creatures, depending on the form it was in. If it was only partially changed, the command word fails. (Reconfiguring the figurine is a standard action that provokes an AOO. Excessive force is not required!)

Form 1: Battle Scorpion
The figurine becomes a Giant Emperor Scorpion, which will obey the orders of the owner. It can be summoned thus once a day, for a period of up to one hour.
Form 2: Walking Throne
The figurine takes the form shown above, a six-legged throne capped by a long, pointing, tail. The throne can support a single small or medium-size rider carrying up to 350 pounds. It will travel at 40’/round and is extremely agile, ignoring difficult terrain, light undergrowth, and similar minor impediments to movement. It has an Acrobatics bonus of +18, which it can use to jump, pass through threatened areas, etc. It is treated as a Large Animated Object with the following exceptions:
  • Its Dexterity is 18, giving it AC 19 (Touch 13), and its Reflex save becomes +5
  • It has a stinger attack instead of a slam attack: +9 (1d8+5) and poison (Injury; save Fort DC 15; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect 1d2 Strength damage; cure 1 save.) It takes this attack on its rider’s turn.
  • As it has six legs, it has a +8 racial bonus to CMD vs. trip attacks.
The throne is treated as a mount for most purposes, including mounted combat feats if appropriate. It obeys the rider completely, and no Handle Animal or other such checks are needed. Ride checks, if required, gain a +4 bonus due to the Scorpion Throne’s construction.
The throne form can be summoned for up to 24 hours over the course of a week, divided as the owner sees fit. If killed in throne form, it cannot be resummoned until a week has passed.

Craft Wondrous Item, animate objects, summon monster VII; Cost 39,200.

[1]Originally, I’d misread a word and had begun working on a PF version of the table on p. 192 of the 1e DMG. Well, that’s 200 pages of content that will never get published, not to mention a trip to Nevada I can no longer claim as a research-related tax writeoff. Ah well.

Some Exotic Armors

New And Exotic Armors

Because a fantasy universe should not be limited to “leather, chain, plate”.

This is a selection of (I think) interesting and unusual types of armor, as might be found among different cultures and species. While some use minor magic or alchemy in their construction, they’re not considered magical, but can be enchanted as can any other armor type. (Been working on this, on and off, for a month. Posting it as-is, to post *something*, already. Heavy armors coming soon.)


Shield Cost Armor/Shield Bonus Maximum Dex Bonus Armor Check Penalty Arcane Spell Failure Chance Speed Weight
30 ft. 20 ft.
Fungal Cap, Small 7 gp +1 –1 5% 3 lbs.
Fungal Cap, Large 10 gp +2 –2 5% 5 lbs.
Gelatinous Flesh 12 gp +2 –2 10% 6 lbs.

Fungal Cap, Small: These shields are made by many underground races, especially those with little access to metal ores. By taking the caps off underground mushrooms, and coating them with an alchemical lacquer to add rigidity, a reasonable shield can be formed. On a critical hit from a melee attack, however, the shield will shatter, gaining the broken condition. It will also release a puff of choking spores, so that the attacker, if they are adjacent to the defender, must make a DC 12 Fortitude save or be nauseated for 1 round.

Fungal Cap, Large: As fungal cap, small but a large shied, and the DC for the Fortitude save is 14.

Gelatinous Flesh: By carefully slicing and drying a chunk of a gelatinous cube, a rigid sheet can be formed, which can then be placed into a frame. When an enemy misses with a bludgeoning weapon (other than natural weapons) by 5 or more points, the attack rebounds, smacking the attacker in the face for 1-3 points of damage. However, the shield can be over-dried; if the wielder is subjected to fire damage, the shield will crumble to powder and be permanently destroyed.

Light Armor

Armor Cost Armor/Shield Bonus Maximum Dex Bonus Armor Check Penalty Arcane Spell Failure Chance Speed Weight
30 ft. 20 ft.
Living Bark 5 gp +2 +4 –2 10% 5 lbs.
Crystal Silk 250 gp +1 0% 1 lbs.

Living Bark: A secret of cultures that dwell in woodlands, jungles, or swampy groves, living bark armor is made by carefully harvesting bark from trees and treating it constantly with herbs and unguents (the cost of this is not included in the price; this armor is usually kept as communal property by elves, lizardmen, and similar species, given to scouts and warriors as needed, and maintained by the people’s druids, shamans, wise ones, or the like). While somewhat bulky, it has the advantage of adding a +2 equipment bonus to Stealth checks made in the environment the bark was acquired from — this is not affected by the -2 Armor Check Penalty, so the full +2 is gained. This bonus increases to +4 if the wearer is not moving, making it ideal for setting up ambushes. Because the armor is still living, spells which damage or kill plants will affect it, as will warp wood and the like.

If living bark armor is enchanted, it no longer needs to be treated to be kept alive; this is part of the enchantment process and imposes no costs.

Crystal Silk: In areas where links to the elemental plane of earth are common (such as in deep caverns, far underground, isolated from sky and sea by a dozen miles or more), trade can occur. One such item is crystal silk, harvested from the creatures of the elemental plane of earth, and woven by skilled craftspeople into armor vests. It is phenomenally light, flexible, and strong, as well as being hard to cut or pierce, granting DR 1 against non-magical cutting or piercing weapons. Enchanted crystal silk increases this by half the enchantment bonus (minimum 1), but only against weapons with a lower bonus. (So +3 crystal silk has DR 2 against cutting or piercing weapons of +2 or less.)


Medium Armor

Armor Cost Armor/Shield Bonus Maximum Dex Bonus Armor Check Penalty Arcane Spell Failure Chance Speed Weight
30 ft. 20 ft.
Turtle Shell Breastplate
300 gp +5 +3 –3* 20% 20 ft. 15 ft. 25 lbs.
Pain Mail
125 gp +6 +3 –6** 25% 20 ft. 15 ft.
40 lbs.

*Except for Stealth checks.

**See description

Turtle Shell Breastplate: Island dwellers are the most common manufacturers of this armor, formed from the shell of a giant turtle. While bulky and odd-looking, it has a distinct advantage due to its non-metallic, one-piece, nature: The armor check penalty for Stealth checks is only -1.

Pain Mail: A creation of orcs, bugbears, gnolls, and similar races, “pain mail” is basically chainmail made from barbed wire. The design has most of the barbs sticking outwards, but enough touch the flesh of the wearer to inflict constant small wound and scratches. This has several effects. First, anyone grappled by someone wearing pain mail takes 1 point of damage every round, automatically. Second, if a pain mail wearer suffers a critical hit, they begin Bleeding at 1/round (stacks with all other Bleed effects), DC 12 Fortitude save to stop. Third, a pain mail wearer can reduce the armor check penalty to -4 by taking 1d4 damage each time they make a skill check that would be affected by such a penalty. Lastly, a wearer of pain mail gets a +2 on Intimidate checks against beings with a Wisdom of 9 or less (“Wow, he’s so tough!”) but a -2 on Intimidate checks against beings with a Wisdom of 12 or more (“What a freakin’ moron!”).

Treacherous Traits

Treacherous Traits

Four entries in one month! Continuing the Blog Carnival theme of Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot, I now look at Traits which might be useful to conniving backstabbers of various sorts. I like Traits. I introduced a concept I called “Lesser Feats” for a D20 book which sadly didn’t go to press due to the D20 implosion. Traits are pretty much the same thing. They address what I consider one of the worst aspects of feats, the one-size-fits-all mentality, when it’s patently obvious that feats vary considerably in utility. Many are nifty concepts that add unique flavor to characters, but they can’t “compete” with those that provide general benefits that affect play many times per session.

Anyway, with the focus on being sneaky, underhanded, and duplicitous, here’s an assortment of additional Traits. I am designing these with the idea that Traits need not be selected only at 1st level, as there’s a feat which allows you to pick 2 Traits later on. Thus, some of these Traits might be more useful to higher level characters, or reflect training/knowledge/etc. gained in adventuring life.

Combat Traits

Bad Medicine

You did all you could, but you just couldn’t save him…

When you make a Heal check to stabilize someone, you may instead choose to take full-round action and perform a coup de grace, doing 1d3 damage, +1 per rank in Heal. Make a Bluff check, opposed by the Heal (not Perception) checks of any witnesses, to avoid being noticed. You must have at least 1 rank in Heal, or your actions will be too obvious.

Some GMs may feel this is simply a creative trick anyone with the right skills could try. If so, this Trait instead gives you a +4 Trait bonus on the Bluff check, and increases the base damage to 2d4.

Deep Wounds

When you take them down, they don’t get back up.

Whenever your melee attacks reduce someone to fewer than 0 hit points, but do not kill them outright, they have a -3 modifier to all checks to stabilize. This applies to any Heal checks made to help them stabilize, as well.

Iocane Immunity

You have gained a resistance to certain poisons.

Pick a number of poisons equal to 1+your Constitution modifier. You have a +2 Trait bonus on all saving throws vs. those poisons, and if you fail your save, any ability damage is reduced by 1. You may take this Trait up to three times, picking additional poisons each time. If your Constitution modifier changes, adjust the number of poisons appropriately. (The GM may rule some poisons are not permitted, or that your character would not have had access to them.)

Equipment Traits

Harmless Trophy

The rusty, dull, dagger you carry is a souvenir of an ancient battle, and useless as a weapon.

You gain a +4 Trait bonus to Bluff or Disguise checks (as appropriate to the situation) to make a weapon seem as if it has the broken condition, or is otherwise harmless — for example, appearing to be securely peacebound when it is not, or has a razor edge covered with a thin strip of metal to make it appear dull.

Magic Traits

Fading Magic

You leave behind little trace of any spells you may have cast.

Magic cast by you leaves a weaker aura behind. When checking for how long an effect lingers, reduce the die roll by half your Intelligence bonus (minimum 1). If this results in a value of 0, treat it as a roll of 1, but of the next lowest strength level (so moderate becomes faint).


Once you know something about someone, you can shape your magic to suit their nature.

If you have spent at least a few minutes talking to someone, your Enchantment (Charm) and Illusion (Phantasm) spells are more effective against them. They suffer a -1 penalty to saving throws against such spells. If you know them well (At least several days acquaintance, at the GM’s discretion), this increases to -2.


You always know when someone’s watching.

You may add your Intelligence bonus to any Perception checks to notice if someone is using magical divination against you. Any spells you cast which are intended to counter or fool divination spells (such as obscure object or nondetection) are cast at +1 caster level.

Religion Traits

Plane Dealer

You have an instinctive grasp of the nature of creatures from other realms.

When dealing with Outsiders, you gain a +2 Trait bonus to Diplomacy or Sense Motive checks. This increases to +3 if they share your alignment.

Social Traits

Card Sharp

Those who gamble with you might think you have the devil’s own luck, but you are leaving nothing to chance.

You have a +4 trait bonus to Sleight of Hand checks when cheating at games of chance. This applies to any game where you can physically manipulate the components — dice, cards, playing pieces (even chessmen). It doesn’t apply to situations where you can’t do this (such as betting on a horserace). The GM will judge if you’re able to apply this trait in a given set of circumstances.

Learned Liar

It always helps to salt a lie with a little truth.

Choose a Knowledge skill. If you have four or more ranks in that skill, you gain a +2 Trait bonus on any Bluff or Disguise check that relies at least in part on that area of learning. For example, four or more ranks in Knowledge (Nobility) can give you a +2 Trait bonus on lies involving local lords, or when disguised as a member of a royal household. You can take this trait multiple times. It applies to a new area of learning each time.

Flaws In The Tale

You quickly spot inconsistencies in someone’s story.

You may use your Intelligence bonus, rather than your Wisdom bonus, when making Sense Motive checks to counter a Bluff check. This does not apply to feint attempts, but only to conversations or other situations where a keen intellect might come into play.

Shield of Fearsome Mien

Shield Of Fearsome Mien

Ah, thank you, Mr. Gygax, for the massive expansion to my vocabulary.

It is not entirely known who first crafted the shield of fearsome mien. There are references to items of this nature dating back a few hundred years, at least, but all of them tend to reference it in such a way as to imply the intended audience would be at least familiar with them, indicating the origin was much earlier. In any event, many of them have been made, as they find favor with those warriors who enjoy discomfiting their foes, which is most of them.

Aura faint necromancy; CL 5th; Weight —; Price 8,000 gp

shield of fearsome mien is always a +2 shield, though it may be a buckler, a kite shield, or any other form. Generally, the surface is smooth and featureless, with a tracing of runes and symbols along the outer edge. It is always cool to the touch, regardless of the local weather, though this provides no particular bonus against fire or heat.

The power of a shield of fearsome mien is activated when the wielder either confirms a critical or strikes a lethal blow with a melee weapon. The image of this grisly scene is then captured by the shield and continuously plays across it, from a variety of angles and distances, over and over. This continues for the next 24 hours (the ‘clock’ resets each time a critical or killing blow is struck). When the shield is ‘active’, any enemy who enters a square that the shieldbearer threatens must make a DC 15 Will save or become shaken for 1d4 rounds. (This is a mind-effecting, emotion, fear, effect.) Anyone making the save is immune to the shield’s effects for one day, unless another critical or deadly blow is struck; then such immunity is lost.Likewise, once the shaken effect expires on an individual, they cannot be affected a second time that day.

Only the person who struck the blow which empowered the shield can benefit from the shield’s magic; if it is wielded in battle by another, the ‘charge’ is lost until that wielder also makes an appropriate attack.

Craft Magic Arms And Armor, cause fear; Cost 4,000 gp

Igilvar’s Fang

Igilvar’s Fang

Aura moderate necromancy CL 8th; Weight 1 lb.; Price 12,000 gp

Igilvar’s Fang (many imitations of the original have been made, but they are called “Igilvar’s Fang” in honor of the originator), is usually a thin, long-bladed, dagger, with a hilt of ebony banded with golden wire, and a wide guard. At the pommel is a white pearl. Igilvar was an infamous cleric of dark powers, who first made this blade for an unknown comrade who accompanied him on many quests in service to his bleak master.

It is a +2 dagger, which makes it useful in and of itself, but it has another power. When used to do precision damage, if it does at least 10 points, against any creature which has a poison attack (including poison breath or gaze weapons), it will magically replicate the poison and store this enchanted venom within itself. This changes the white pearl at the pommel to blood-red, indicating that the dagger is “charged”. It will hold this charge until the user drains the dagger (a free action). This is most often done just after a successful attack with the blade, but it can be done at any time to “empty” the weapon and prepare it to absorb a different kind of poison.

The poison stored in the dagger is exactly identical to the poison extracted, including Save DCs, effects, etc. The target is affected exactly as if it had been successfully poisoned by the original poison source.

The discharged poison vaporizes instantly on contact with air; to be effective, the blade must be plunged into something. Obviously, this is usually an enemy creature, but it could be a tankard of ale or a haunch of meat. At least half the blade’s length must be submerged for the poison to work. Poisoned food or drink will remain so for 1d4+1 rounds; after that, the poison will dissolve. As creature venoms rarely evolve to be used in assassinations, detecting such a poison in food is easy, a DC 10 Perception check. Making such a check means only a trivial amount of the poison was imbibed, granting a +4 on any saves.

Igilvar’s Fang can only charge itself when used in actual combat against a non-helpless enemy. The blade will not absorb poison from a container, a dead foe, or a willing target. How does it know? A wizard did it! (OK, a cleric, technically. Bite me, pedant.)

Some 10% of Igilvar’s Fangs will not match the description above, but they will always be daggers, and always contain some gem or decoration that changes color dramatically when the weapon is “charged”.


Craft Magic Arms and Armor, Poison. Cost 6,000 gp

Designer’s Notes

The price is an approximation; I didn’t think the ability was quite worth kicking it up to the cost of a +3 weapon, but it’s better than a +2 weapon, so I split the difference.

There’s some great plot potential here. Igilvar’s Fang will hold a “charge” indefinitely. If there is some creature with unique venom around, usually paired, thematically, with a creature that can only be killed by said unique venom, then, the owner of the Fang might go on a hunt for the first creature. Alternatively, if the first creature is extinct, a rumor might exist of a rogue or assassin or the like who owned a Fang, or even the fang, and was entombed with it… and wouldn’t you know, in that rogue’s last battle, he fought the now-extinct creature and maybe, just maybe, got the venom from it before he croaked. Road trip! (With grave robbing. Actually, come to think of it, aren’t most D&D adventures basically road trips with grave robbing?)

Mallifor’s Mug Of Magnification

So… going to make an attempt to post small things regularly, instead of long articles I never quite finish. Just bits of what I call game lego — items, spells, monsters, feats, traps, etc, all the building blocks. (Plot, character, and memorable events, you have to provide yourself — I give you the toys, you play with them. That’s how it works.)

This is a Breakfast Crunch article — something I wrote while eating breakfast and getting ready for work, with all the editing, playtesting, and keen attention to detail that implies!

Mallifor’s Mug Of Magnification

Mallifor was a wizard who was slightly bonkers, a statement akin to “Rongnar Blackbraids was a dwarf who had a beard.” The son of a potter, he never quite forgot his upbringing, and is known for creating a series of magical mugs, brilliantly carved, that impart all manner of effects.

Pouring anything into a mug is a swift action, provided both the mug and what you’re pouring (usually a potion) is in your hand.

Mallifor’s Mug Of Magnification

Aura faint transmutation; CL 7th
Slot none; Price 9,000 gp; Weight 1 lbs.

Description:This mug is of red clay, covered with blue and green glazing in swirling, wave-like patterns. When a potion is poured into the mug, if it is imbibed within one round, it is treated as an empowered spell. The mug may be used up to 1d4 times per day, rolled secretly by the GM when the mug is first used on a given day. Using it an additional time produces a loud and unpleasant noise, and the potion becomes foul and undrinkable (anyone who tries is sickened for 1d4 rounds, Fort save DC 15 to negate)

Once filled, the mug may be handed off to an ally to drink from, or drunk by the owner. All the normal rules for drinking a potion, including any applicable feats, work as written when drinking from the mug.

Any potion poured in the mug cannot be spilled, so long as the owner of the mug does not wish it to be. This is true even if the mug is tossed or thrown to someone else.

If the potion in the mug is not imbibed within one round of being poured, it vanishes.

Construction Requirementscraft wondrous item, empower spell, brew potion, craft (Potter) 5 ranks. Cost: 4,500 gold.

Some variants of this use pewter mugs, silver goblets, etc. They are mechanically identical, but require a different crafting skill.

Magical Descriptions

Magical Descriptions

So, in my post on magic, or somewhere else, who can keep track of this anymore, I sure can’t, I posited that there should be good guidelines and idea pools to help DMs describe magical items in ways that made them flavorful and memorable from a fluff perspective, regardless of the mechanics. It thus then occurred to me that I could provide such a service myself.

First, let’s discuss the kinds of things a DM should think about, before delving into a catalog of mental kickstarters. The below material doesn’t contain specific mechanics, but describes mechanics conceptually, so a DM can translate them to their game system of choice with ease.

Basic Concepts

So, you’ve got a +1 sword. Now what? Please note, the below questions and guidelines can apply to all items, not just weapons and armor, though they’re less applicable to disposable one-shot items like scrolls and potions, though not wholly so.

Who Made It?: I don’t mean the name of the smith or wizard (or do I? Yes, I certainly might), but the culture. In an age before mass production, all items show some signs of cultural origin, sometimes obvious, sometimes not. If it’s made by a particular nation, it may contain the symbol of that nation, or the choices of decoration may reflect the animals, gods, plants, and so on of that nation. Remember that non-humans aren’t monocultures; while you can get away with saying “It’s forged in the elvish style”, it’s much cooler to day, “It’s forged in the style of the Grey Elves of the Western Woods, as you can tell by the use of the silver ash leaf as a decorative motif.” Except for items from lost, forgotten, etc, cultures, it should generally be an easy check on an appropriate History or Knowledge skill, or a freebie to someone with the appropriate background.

When Was It Made?: This ties slightly into the above — cultures have eras and periods, and there are usually signs of when an item was made, based on the style of art, the craftsmanship, materials used, and so on. Symbols rise and fall in prominence over time, and craftsmen learn new techniques, or forget old ones. The purity of an alloy, or the width of a hilt, can all give clues to the age of an item. Generally speaking, it is a trope that older items are more powerful. While sometimes illogical (would you rather have an ENIAC or an iPad?), it can make sense in the weird context of D&D-style games. For a sword to survive in a usable form for thousands of years in a dank dungeon, it’s probably got some potent enchantments on it. Furthermore, a newly-made +5 holy dancing vorpal flaming dragonbane sword is probably still in the hands of the person it was made for, not lost twenty levels underground. For a very powerful item to be lying around waiting for someone to claim it, it needs to have been lost so long ago most people have given up looking for it. Less powerful items, more easily replaced, are more easily abandoned when they’re still new.

What’s It Made Of?: Leaving aside explicitly magical materials, the composition of an item can be interesting. Is it made of crude, impure, metal, or highly tempered and refined steel? What kind of wood is the bow made of? Is the leather on the grip made of dragonhide or human skin or good ol’ cow? Is it made of multiple substances, perhaps woven together in an unusual way? Again, culture is likely a key here, but this is also a good chance to show how an item is unusual:”The markings and runes are all very clearly of the Dwarves of Brasshammer’s Forge, but they’re known for their work with steel and adamantine. This shield is made of crude bog-iron, or so it seems.” Alchemy, Appraisal, or any kind of military or weapons knowledge skills are used here, and identifying common materials is likely to be an easy check, but rare materials — or realizing a common material should be uncommon for an item of this type — can be moderate or hard. Scrolls can be on papyrus, on refined paper (for higher tech cultures), on rough cloth, on segmented folding metal or slats of wood, or on vellum made from all sorts of creatures.  Potion bottles might be glass, or metal, or clay, or varnished wood, or stoppered drinking horns. Ivory and bone can come from dragons, demons, liches, or sheep.

What Does It Look Like?: Well, duh, it’s a sword! (Shield, chain shirt, wand, ring). This question sort of relates back to the others, but go further. Is the ring made of twisted and interlocked braids? Does the sword have writing on the blade, and on both sides, or one side?  What does the writing say? What language is it in? Is the blade straight or scalloped? What condition is the armor in — shining and clean, or battered? Are the decorative bits, or does the item reek of pure functionality? Has it been dyed or colored in any way? Are there small details — if the grip of a wand contains a carved ivory skull, does the skull have tiny sapphires for eyes… or perhaps the skull has horns, or fangs.

How Does It Feel?: This is a good time to consider the kind of magic the item has, and how it might manifest. Is the armor unusually light or flexible? Does it seem to instantly fit the wearer? Does it itch, or radiate warmth, or is it always cold? Is the sword so well balanced it almost seems to move on its own? Does it vibrate a little when it’s held? Does the wand twitch a bit when you first grip it, seeking a target? Do you find you always nick yourself on the blade when you draw the weapon, now matter how careful you are, and does the blood sink into the very metal of the sword?

Is It A Thing Of Legend?:Most items were made for a reason. You don’t make magic swords — not even boring +1 swords — to keep them in stock in case someone comes in wanting to buy one. Perhaps a powerful ruler commissioned a dozen such blades for his elite guard, all identical, but finding one of the King’s Own Twelve is still a noteworthy achievement. This doesn’t mean every blade is fabled in song and story. Most of the time, the backstory is relatively trivial — a wand carved by a wizard for a favored apprentice, a ring made by a runesmith to be a gift to a loyal adviser, and so on. Knowing this history is often simply a fun thing, but it can be useful, especially if anyone involved, or their descendents, are still around and even marginally interested. It can open some doors… or attract some enemies.

Oddments And Oddities: Magic is a chaotic force, even under the most carefully controlled conditions. Some believe the chaos is innate; others, that the chaos represents a lack of knowledge about all the factors which might be involved. In any event, most items have some slight quirks to them. An axe forged by dwarfs might cause its wielder to curse in dwarfish, no matter what language he is trying to swear in. The wielder of a wand of fireballs might find he can’t abide any meat that is not seared to nearly the point of charcoal. Armor may clang resoundingly when it is struck, or it might bleed black oil whenever the wearer is critically hit. The design on a ring might shift to show the phases of the moon, or the gem on a magic staff becomes the birthstone of whatever wizard is holding it. A cloak woven with a pattern of roses might give off the small of roses… or it might occasionally produce, from nowhere, a few petals, which simply drop off.

The Inevitable Caveats

It’s best to have only one to three interesting aspects for any item; don’t go whole-hog, especially if the item isn’t the centerpiece of a campaign or intended to be the signature item of a character.

Descriptive and fluff text should have effectively no mechanical impact, except under extraordinary circumstances. Don’t make players suffer if their items are cool (for example, penalizing them on stealth if their items emit quiet sounds or odd smells), and, likewise, don’t let them try to turn a bit of colorful description into a way to snag an unearned bonus or modifier.

The Magic Of Magic

The Magic Of Magic

Once again, this a is reply to, and expansion of, some of the WOTC articles on 5e. Here’s the original article, and here’s my (two) original replies, and after this, we’ll get even more ways to say the same thing using slightly different words.

First off, let’s put a stake through the heart of the myth that magic items used to be “rare” or “mysterious”. Everyone had all the rulebooks and memorized them, as far back as the game existed. To the extent there was every any mystery, it was always for new players who hadn’t yet memorized the rules, and trying to reclaim that feeling is like trying to get back your virginity. Ain’t gonna happen. As for rare… two words: Monty Haul.

If you decide that you won’t build in the assumption that players will gain magic items, then, you basically break the game’s math, because they WILL gain them, in great profusion. If you scale monsters and difficulty levels on the assumption most players won’t have magic items, that’s like designing a video game on the assumption most players won’t go to hint sites or read guidebooks. It’s just not how things work, or how things EVER worked, and I’m really worried that people caught up in this nostalgia kick are apparently doing no research as to how games ACTUALLY PLAYED back in the 1970s and 1980s, and how most of the design decisions being rejected were the direct consequence of fixing actual old school play, not rose-colored fantasies of a playstyle that never was.

That said, having backstory and myth and cool minor powers attached to magic items is something any competent DM does all the time; it’s nice if this is mentioned in the rules and guidelines provided, but it’s hardly the sort of thing we’ve all been waiting on the rules to “let” us do. It’s baseline DMing, it’s what we do by instinct. Also, and this is important, it’s done for our own pleasure, as players either a)ignore such fluff, or, b)obsess insanely over it, warping the entire campaign over some off-hand bit of color, because somehow it’s got stuck in their minds that this is the key to EVERYTHING and the DM wouldn’t have put it there if they weren’t meant to pursue it at all costs.

Second reply:

Just to elaborate, here’s the reality of actual play:
DM:”You see an odd suit of armor. It is formed of battered dark iron, inset with many pieces of stone, all in tones of greys and blacks, such as smoky dark quartz and obsidian mosaics that form primitive, but intricate, patterns. There are signs that the suit has seen much battle,  as it is dented and scraped, although clearly still sturdy and wearable. The helmet for the suit is hammered into the shape of a bull’s head, and…”

Player: “Right, gorgon armor. +2, immune to petrification, yadda yadda. Page 125 in the DMG. Does anyone wear plate? Oh, and if he’s handing this out, it means we’re going to be facing medusae or basilisks or something, everyone make sure you’ve got Scrolls Of Protection From Petrification at the ready. Oh, I guess, technically, I should roll to know that… roll…. 24 on my arcane knowledge check, there, that’s done, what’s the next item we looted? It better be a +2 sword, I’ve been carrying this +1 piece of crap for three levels now. Cheapass DM!”

THAT’S the reality of play, from 1974 to 2012, and beyond, and nothing in the rules can change it.

Now, let me go on a bit…

Consider the following:

“The blade, known in lore as Restgiver, is a greatsword in form, the general style and artistry reflective of the Theatian culture which forged. The hilt is of bone, reputed to be of a lich, and carved with patterns of skulls deformed in seeming terror. The blade itself is of metal so pale as to seem almost white. Histories tell that it was forged from the fragments of blades taken from such beings as liches, death knights, and skeleton warriors, and it was tempered in both holy water and in the ectoplasm of ghosts bound to the forge where it was made. Its innate magics make it lighter, sharper, and faster than even the finest mundane blade, making it a fit prize for any warrior, but it shows its purpose when it confronts the undead, as it is designed to give them rest. When wielded against any once-living being still animated by foul magics, it is even deadlier than a normal blade of its ilk would be, and it cuts and bites into the faintest wisp of a ghost or a phantom as if they were made of solid flesh. While it has no true soul or spirit animating it, those who wield it report that they feel some sense of warmth or joy when the prospect of returning the dead to their grave is mentioned in its presence.”


“Greatsword +2 bane (undead), ghost touch”.

They’re both the same thing.

The rules exist to give you the tools to make the latter. Adding the former is up to you; the rules can’t give you that.

(Oh, and I just posted most of that back on WOTC’s boards anyway; so it goes. It’s not like anyone’s paying for this site.)

A History Of Facile Video Game Comparisons

In Convenient Chart Format

Year Edition Video Game
2000 Third
2008 Fourth
2012 Fifth


Hoard Contraction

Hoard Contraction


Assassin 3, Bard 3, Sorcerer/Wizard 3; Domain: Metal 3, Trade 2

Casting Time: 1 Standard Action

Components: V, S, M/DF

Range: Touch

Target: Up to 1000 coins per caster level up to 10,000 maximum, coins must all be in a single bag or container.

Duration: Permanent

Saving Throw: None; Spell Resistance: No

This spell, beloved of adventurers who often find themselves with a lot of small change, transmutes coins of one sort into coins of another, ‘rolling up’ their value. It will turn 10 copper pieces into a silver piece, or 50 silver pieces into five gold pieces.

The spell requires a coin of recent mintage, of the highest value desired (for example, a silver coin will allow copper to become silver, but not gold or platinum). Having multiple coins (1 each of silver, gold, and platinum) is ideal. The “target” coin must have been minted in the past year and must be a common coin in an area within 10 miles of the caster; this spell cannot be used to turn copper pieces into antique coins worth far more than their metallic value. Indeed, the coins created by this spell, while of the proper weight and purity, are generally worn, nicked, and otherwise seemingly well-used (this is by design, as a sudden flood of glistening, newly-pressed coins in the hands of disreputable wandering mercenaries is likely to raise eyebrows).

A “tax” of 1% of the total value of coins transmuted is enacted by the spell; this raw material is part of what powers the transmutation.

All coins to be transformed must be in a single container, be it a sack, chest, box, and so on, including extradimensional storage. The spell affects 1,000 base coins per caster level and begins with the cheapest coins, seeking to combine them into the highest value possible. Hence, a fifth level caster with 5500 copper pieces and 100 silver pieces would end up with 4 platinum pieces, 9 gold pieces, 500 copper pieces, and 105 silver pieces. (At fifth level, the spell will “look” only at the first 5000 coins — 5000 of the copper pieces. One percent of this, the spell’s “tax”, is 50 copper pieces, or, five silver pieces. The 4,950 copper coins become 4 platinum pieces (consuming 4000 of the copper), 9 gold pieces (consuming 900 copper), and 5 silver pieces (consuming 50 copper))

False coins (as determined by their metal content, not necessarily their mintage) are not affected by this spell, making this an interesting way to sort out shaved coins, or coins containing admixtures of base metals. The spell can work on small pieces of pure metals not necessarily minted into coins, but cannot affect any piece weighing more than an ounce.

There is a legend that a powerful trickster-mage authored a reversed version of this spell, and tricked a dragon into casting it, thus entombing the dragon under a mountain of copper pieces. This reversed spell, if it ever really existed, has been lost to common knowledge.

Design Notes

This arose from last night’s PF game, where I realized it was a shame to leave low-value coins just lying around because they were heavy and bulky and even a portable hole only holds so much, especially when you dump a petrified mammoth into it. (Don’t ask.) It occurred to me that this would be a useful spell, and so, I wrote it up. Now, any spell that deals with precious metals is an open invite for a clever player to find ways to completely crash your game world’s economy, and so, I tried to find appropriate limits that would keep it at the “handy utility” level, and not the “hyperinflation level”. Many obvious combat uses are nullified by the simple expedient of the spell rolling up, not down — otherwise, you could bring a sack of 10 platinum pieces, cast this, and shower 10,000 copper pieces down on some unsuspecting enemy. The fact it costs 1% of the total wealth imposes, well, a cost on the spell, making it at least a tiny decision to use it or just get bigger bags or more hirelings. (I might kick it up to 5% or 10%, as I think about it.) The need to have local, current, coins is there because the first exploit I thought of is creating coins whose value to historians or collectors greatly exceeds their metal value. The idea that it could be used to “filter” fake or tampered coins was a happy inspiration as I thought about exactly what the magic could and couldn’t do, and how it would react to lead slugs in the coin bag.

Thoughts on other possible loopholes which could/should be capped, or non-exploitative but clever uses, are welcome.