Tag Archives: dungeons and dragons

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.”

And

“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.)

Boarcupines

Boarcupines

You Should Be Used To Names Like That By Now

Wow, 20 days or so since I last posted? Well, I’ve been replying to comments, I updated Grammar For Gamers, and I’ve been active on some of the 5e boards over at WOTC, telling them what they’re doing wrong. Also, exercising, which has started to take an hour a day away from important things like writing blog entries while eating an entire bag of bacon-wrapped Cheetos.

Anyway, this is a creature which has been in the back of my mind for a while, but I was, surprisingly, stuck on the name… I kept thinking “Porcuboar”, which is obviously not acceptable, and it both astounds and depresses me how long it took for the bleedingly obvious “boarcupine” to emerge.

While the kangaruins are intended to be straightforward creatures, the boarcupine is more complex, as it changes its fighting style and general function when it’s bloodied, going from a quill-tossing piece of artillery to a vicious brute.

The usual caveat: Fresh off the keyboard, not a lot of editing, yadda yadda yadda.

Boarcupine

Boarcupine (Artillery/Brute)

Level 16 Elite Artillery/Brute

Large natural beast (mammal)

XP 2,800

HP 252; Bloodied 126

AC 28; Fortitude 29; Reflex 28; Will 27

Speed 6

Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1

Initiative +13

Perception +10, low-light vision

Traits
O Prickly Defense • Aura 1
Any creature entering the aura, or starting its turn there, takes 2d6+4 damage. If doubles are rolled on this damage, the creature also takes 5 ongoing damage, save ends. If the first save fails and the target is in the aura, increase to 10 ongoing damage.
Raging Boar
When the Boarcupine is bloodied, it gains 64 temporary hit points, and its AC and Reflex defenses drop by 2. It also changes its abilities in ways noted in each affected power. Once it has been bloodied, it becomes Berserk. It does not lose this condition until the end of the encounter, even if it is healed back above Bloodied.
Standard Actions
m Gore • At-Will
Attack: Reach 2; +21 vs. AC
Hit: 3d10 + 8 damage. If the Boarcupine is Berserk, the damage increases to 4d10+10.
a Quill Toss • At-Will
Requirements: The Boarcupine must not be Berserk.
Attack: Area Burst 2 within 15 (All creatures in burst.); +20 vs. Reflex
Hit: 4d6 + 4 damage, and creature is slowed (save ends). If hit again by this power when still slowed, the condition becomes immobilized (save ends). .
M Trample • At-Will
Requirements: Must be Berserk.
Attack: +21 vs. AC; +2 bonus to attack rolls and +6 bonus to damage against prone targets.
Hit: 2d12 + 10 damage, and target is knocked prone. .
All Out Attack • At-Will
Requirements: Must not be Berserk.
Effect: The Boarcupine makes a Gore attack and a Quill Toss attack. The Quill Toss does not provoke an OA from any creature targeted by the Gore.
C Quill Burst • Recharge 4 5 6; recharge 6 if Berserk
Attack: Close Burst 3 (All creatures in burst); +21 vs. Reflex
Hit: 4d6 + 4 damage, and creature is blinded until the start of the boarcupine’s next turn.
M Tramplegore • At-Will
Requirements: Must be Berserk.
Effect: The boarcupine makes a trample and gore attack, against the same or different targets. If both attacks hit, it may shift half its speed.
Triggered Actions
Bloodied Burst • Encounter
Trigger: The boarcupine is bloodied for the first time in an encounter.
Effect (Immediate Reaction): Quill Burst immediately recharges, and the boarcupine uses it. In addition, the boarcupine become Berserk.
Skills Endurance +20, Intimidate +15
Str 24 (+15) Dex 21 (+13) Wis 15 (+10)
Con 24 (+15) Int 2 (+4) Cha 15 (+10)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

Boarcupines are massive creatures, usually 8-10 feet high at the shoulder. Their general form is that of a greatly enlarged boar, except that they are covered with a dense tangle of jagged quills, and usually have 2-6 tusks that jut in every direction.

Boarcupines are almost never seen with their own kind, except during mating season, when they will gather in the dense, temperate forests that are their homes and engage in violent battles in order to win attention from the females. After mating, the females will leave and raise their offspring away from the violent and territorial males; boarcupines are weaned within 6 months. Some groups of bloodgers will stalk pregnant females and try to capture the young within a week or two of birth; this is the only way to even partially domesticate them.

There are a number of herb and fungus mixes which can mimic particular scents which the boarcupine responds to, such as a female in heat or a male marking its territority. Races which dwell in the forests often use these to control or guide boarcupines, so they may be encountered as guards. Sometimes, female boarcupines are teamed with other creatures, sapient or otherwise, that have been scent-masked to seem to be her young.

Boarcupine Mounts: Bloodgers, and members of the Beast Legion and the Annihilation Army, sometimes manage to make mounts out of these beasts. Such creatures gain the “Mount” keyword, and the following powers:

Difficult Mount
When the boarcupine is Berserk, any rider must make an Easy Athletics or Nature check, with the DC based on the boarcupine’s level, to remain mounted. This check is a free action made at the start of the rider’s turn.

 

Painful Spur • Encounter
Requirements: Must be mounted by a rider of 16th level or higher.
Effect: As a Standard Action, the rider forces the boarcupine to perform a Quill Burst attack, even if the power has not recharged. After this, the power cannot recharge (even by Bloodied Burst) until the boarcupine has had a short rest.

(Generally, it’s best for riders to save Painful Spur until the boarcupine has been bloodied; otherwise, they lose the bonus recharge from Bloodied Burst, and, besides, Recharge 6 might as well be recharge never when you’re past bloodied — the fight will most likely only go another 2-3 rounds.)

Snakes… Why’d It Have To Be Snakes…

…because snakes are cool, that’s why! Duh! Only sharks are cooler… hm…. snakeshark! Oh, yeah, that’s going in there…

Anyway, here’s a bit more of work-in-progress for Earth Delta, namely, snakevines! I like concepts that lend themselves to easy expansion, mostly because I’m intellectually lazy, and if I get one quasi-good idea (possibly even a para-good idea, and if you get that joke, damn, you’re an old-school gamer), I will not just run with it, I will do a god-damn marathon with it. So, when I got the idea of sort of snake/plant hybrids, it occurred to me I could do all sorts of snakes and fill a lot of different niches, so a quick look at my spreadsheet of monsters showed me I still needed brutes and artillery for level 15… and that’s what you’re getting.

Wait, you ask, level 15 of what? No, you’re not asking that, since this site isn’t exactly teeming with random casual browsers, but, just in case… this is for Earth Delta, Lizard’s version of post apocalyptic mutant adventuring designed for the Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition rules, a lot like WOTC’s own Gamma World, except, a)mine doesn’t have collectible cards, and, b)rather ironically, mine is more compatible with core 4e than theirs. Go figure.

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Candles

Candles

(Now (6/23/2011) updated with Inferno Candle!)

Every so often, I just get some random idea and need to work on it. By “every so often”, I mean, “Ten or twelve times a day”, and by “work on it”, I mean “focus on it obsessively and pay attention to nothing else until… oooh, shiny!”.

Today (and by ‘today’, I mean ‘a week ago two weeks ago when I started this article’), that idea is candles. A quick check of the DDI Compendium shows the number of candle-related magic items for 4e is very low. This is somewhat odd, as they’re a sort of obvious concept (You light the candle, it does something magical), and because candles have a significant place in legend and lore as symbols of learning, knowledge, faith, hope, and so on. The wizard studying spells by the light of a lone candle which has encrusted  skull with wax, the pentacle with candles set at every point, the idiot venturing down the dark secret tunnel found behind the rotating bookcase in the hidden library, carrying a single candle ahead of her, etc. (OK, that last is more a symbol of “clueless person getting in totally over their head”, but these are also called “adventurers”, so, it’s all good.)

The other brilliant stupid idea I had was to take similar concepts, and stat them up for both 4e (which I’m running) and Pathfinder (which I’m playing in). The actual mechanics should be fairly different in detail, but the concepts should translate. I enjoy doing things this like this, because a big part of how I see the world is endless variants on the same idea repeated with different costumes. That, and I’m a masochist.

(And another note/apology… this is something which has been sitting open for a while, with my intending to add more, but I’ve been very busy with things that are creative and gaming related, just not intended, yet, for posting. I’ve decided it’s better to post a single candle two candles than to let the site linger in darkness. I have a lot of cool ideas for more, it’s just a matter of sitting down and statting them up!)

(The fact the DDI Compendium is currently (6/22/2011) borked didn’t help. Dear WOTC: If your business plan is to use DDI subscriptions as your main revenue stream, and your pathetically anemic lineup of dead tree books for the next year indicates that you are, it better be working all the time, and known bugs should not be met with “Meh, it will be fixed in the next monthly patch cycle.”)

4e Basic Rules

Candles — well, these candles, which are considered to be alchemical items — follow the following rules.

  • Lighting a candle is a minor action that does not provoke an OA. You must have some means of generating flame (a prestidigitation cantrip, tinder and flint, a lit torch, a pet fire elemental) readily available and in your hands. You must have both hands free to light a candle, unless the candle is placed on the ground or otherwise secured, in which case, you need one hand free.
  • Extinguishing an unattended candle is a minor action does not provoke an OA. Extinguishing a candle someone else is holding requires a standard action (Dexterity vs. Reflex)
  • Once a candle is extinguished, all of its effects end immediately.
  • All candles weight 0.1 lbs.
  • Unless otherwise noted, a candle burns for five minutes or until the end of the encounter.

Pathfinder Basic Rules

I’m pretty sure there’s a gazillion-odd magic candle supplements for Pathfinder. I’m not going to bother looking them up, because I’d end up spending a hundred bucks at Drive-Thru RPG, and I don’t have a hundred bucks to spend. (Sheesh, click some Amazon links, people!) Also, it would make the OGL cumbersome. So, here’s some rules just for these candles.

  • Lighting a candle is a move action which provokes an AOO. You must have some means of generating flame (a prestidigitation cantrip, tinder and flint, a lit torch, a pet fire elemental) readily available and in your hands. You must have both hands free to light a candle, unless the candle is placed on the ground or otherwise secured, in which case, you need one hand free.
  • Extinguishing an unattended candle is a swift action which does not provoke an AOO.
  • Extinguishing a candle someone else is holding can be tried as either a Disarm or Sunder Combat Maneuver, but these do not provoke AOO as usual.
  • Any force of wind strong enough to cause combat effects (including natural winds and spells such as gust of wind) will automatically extinguish a candle.
  • Candle duration is given for each candle.

Specific Candles

Candle of Clear Shadows

This candle is made of fat rendered from a master thief executed for his crimes, mixed with ectoplasmic residue. The wick comes from a noose used to hang a blind man. It has an oddly translucent appearance.

4e Game Mechanics

Alchemical Item, Level 5+

  • Level 5: 50 gp
  • Level 15: 1000 gp
  • Level 25: 25000 gp

Property (Zone): So long as the candle is lit, all invisible creatures within a Close Burst 5 zone of the candle will cast thin, wavering, shadows, giving them merely partial concealment. The candle can only affect beings of its level or lower. There must still be enough light to see the shadows (the candle fills the area with dim light, but follows normal rules for obstruction, magical darkness, etc, so some areas may still be dark even if they’re otherwise affected by the candle’s magic). The candle lasts until the end of the encounter or until it is extinguished. The candle can be moved, and the zone will move with it.

Pathfinder Game Mechanics

Aura: Faint Divination; CL: 5; Slot: None; Price: 750 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

This candle creates a magical zone in a 15 foot radius burst, centered on itself. Any invisible creatures within the zone, including those naturally invisible, are instead treated as having partial concealment. There must still be enough light to see the shadows (the candle fills the area with dim light, but follows normal rules for obstruction, magical darkness, etc, so some areas may still be dark even if they’re otherwise affected by the candle’s magic). The candle lasts until the end of the encounter or until it is extinguished. The candle can be moved, and the zone will move with it. Creatures with Spell Resistance may check against it each round they are within the candle’s effect; this is done at the start of their turn or as soon as they enter the zone.

The candle burns for 25 rounds, total. If it is snuffed out but not destroyed, it can be relit for whatever rounds were not used.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, invisibility purge; Cost: 375 gp.

Notes: Compare to a scroll of invisibility purge or a lantern of revealing. Unlike a scroll, it can be used by anyone. Also, because it can be extinguished and relit, it is more useful than a scroll, because it can be used in several encounters, if it isn’t destroyed. The spell effect is less powerful than a true invisibility purge spell, which is why there’s no Will save to resist it, but it’s also much easier to extinguish the candle than it is to dispel an Invisibility Purge. These balanced out, in my mind, to giving it the same cost as a scroll. A lantern of revealing is much more powerful, but also much more expensive.

Candle of Companion’s Light (Thief’s Candle)

This candle is made from the same components as any other in the local culture, with a mundane wick. However, when it is made, a drop of blood is required from all those whom it will affect.

4e Game Mechanics

Alchemical Item, Level 2+

  • Level 2: 25 gp
  • Level 12: 500 gp
  • Level 22: 13000 gp

Property (Zone): When ignited, the candle creates light which can only be seen by those whose blood was used in the making of the candle. (Creatures without blood, such as constructs or undead, might drop in a few skin shavings). For rather obvious reasons, these items are often made by rogue alchemists or wizards strongly linked to guilds of thieves, assassins, and other ne’er-do-wells, but the formula is often trained or sold under the rubric of “For adventuring companions battling the forces of darkness deep in the earth!”, thus sometimes avoiding legal scrutiny.  The light created is a close burst 3 around the candle at second level, increasing to a close burst 5 at 12th level and a close burst 7 at 22nd level. The candle will burn for a number of hours equal to its level, and it can be snuffed and re-ignited at will until the total time is consumed, however, each ignition burns a minimum of one hour of potential time (so a candle that burns for 5 minutes and one that burns for 50 both consume an hour of the total ‘burn time’).

Pathfinder Game Mechanics

Lesser Candle Of Companion’s Light

Aura: Faint Evocation ; CL: 4; Slot: None; Price: 300 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

When ignited, the candle creates light which can only be seen by those whose blood was used in the making of the candle. (Creatures without blood, such as constructs or undead, might drop in a few skin shavings). For rather obvious reasons, these items are often made by rogue alchemists or wizards strongly linked to guilds of thieves, assassins, and other ne’er-do-wells, but the formula is often trained or sold under the rubric of “For adventuring companions battling the forces of darkness deep in the earth!”, thus sometimes avoiding legal scrutiny. When lit, it creates a 15 foot radius zone of light, equivalent to that of a torch. It will burn for up to 4 hours, and can be snuffed and ignited at will, but each ignition consumes a minimum of one hour’s “burn time”.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, continual flame; Cost: 150 gp

Greater Candle Of Companion’s Light

Aura: Strong Evocation ; CL: 10; Slot: None; Price: 1250 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

This candle functions exactly like the Lesser Candle of Companion’s Light, except that it lasts for 12 hours and sheds light in 30 foot radius.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, continual flame; Cost: 625 gp

Notes: I based the cost of the Greater Candle on applying the metamagic ‘widen spell’, to create an effective level for a version twice as powerful. The ‘each use counts for an hour’ rule is there mostly to keep people from tracking seconds or minutes in a tedious fashion. Very few people would bother to do this, anyway, so why not formalize it and prevent a tiny amount of unnecessary bookkeeping?

Inferno Candle

To craft this candle, some small amount of fat from a red dragon (even a hatchling) must be blended in. The wick is from fibers soaked in alchemist’s fire for seven days.

Red dragons can smell these candles at a distance of 60 feet (no Perception check needed). They do not look favorably on those who carry them. During the first expansion of Caranail, one adventuring wizard happened to have one on his person when he explored the region later known as the Gibbering Wastes. He vanished, but some months later, a box containing 50 candles was delivered to his family in Corazain by an unknown benefactor.

4e Game Mechanics

Alchemical Item, Level 6+

  • Level 6: 75 gp
  • Level 11: 350 gp
  • Level 16: 1800 gp
  • Level 21: 9000 gp
  • Level 26: 45000 gp

Property: So long as this candle is lit, the character holding it, or any creature adjacent to it if it is not being held, causes any powers with the fire keyword, of the candle’s level or less, to gain the Brutal 1 property (reroll any damage dice that come up 1). In addition, such powers have their critical range increased by 1.   It will burn until the end of the encounter, or until snuffed. Once extinguished, it cannot be re-ignited. Holding this candle does not interfere with spellcasting, but it otherwise occupies a hand.

Pathfinder Game Mechanics

There are three sorts of inferno candle, the lesser, the normal, and the greater. The lesser requires the fat of any kind of red dragon; the normal requires the fat of a dragon of at least young age, and the greater requires the fat an adult dragon. Sufficiently little fat is required that those in the business of making dragonskin armor can usually scrape enough off of a decent sized piece of hide to make a little extra selling it to an alchemist.

Lesser Inferno Candle

Aura: Faint Transmutation ; CL: 5; Slot: None; Price: 1000 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

When ignited, this candle increases the damage done by all spells of 3rd level or less with the fire descriptor, such that whenever damage dice are rolled, any results of “1” are re-rolled. It affects the spells of the person holding it, or those of any adjacent creature if it is set down. It will burn for 5 rounds, and cannot be re-ignited once it is snuffed.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, Empower Spell,  ability to cast a spell with the fire descriptor of at least 3rd level; Cost: 500 gp

Inferno Candle

Aura: Moderate Transmutation ; CL: 13; Slot: None; Price: 4550 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

As per the lesser inferno candle, but affects spells of 6th level or less.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, Empower Spell,  ability to cast a spell with the fire descriptor of at least 6th level; Cost: 2275 gp

Greater Inferno Candle

Aura: Moderate Transmutation ; CL: 13; Slot: None; Price: 7650 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

As per the lesser inferno candle, but affects spells of 9th level or less.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, Empower Spell,  ability to cast a spell with the fire descriptor of at least 9th level; Cost: 3825 gp

Traps & Trapmaking

It’s A Trap!

(A Work In Progress) 

This is still being developed; there’s some editing I need to do on things like costs, damage values, and scavenging; honestly, it’s still in a semi-rough note stage. However, due to various time constraints, this site has gone too long without a meaningful update, so I felt an in-progress article was preferable to publishing nothing at all.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition is notably weak when it comes to doing things outside the formal structure of encounters or skill challenges. Virtually all game mechanics are designed to work in 5 minute blocks, except for some travel powers and a few other things. It also suffers from an attitude that anything which isn’t combat should be handwaved or made mechanic free. Also, Michael Longcor’s “Snare And Deadfall” randomly shuffled to the top on my iPod while I was taking my morning executive order. No, that’s not right. Morning constitutional. Sorry, these days, it’s hard to tell the difference. But I digress.

Anyway, the point of all that is… this article is about players making traps in 4e, as opposed to, say, the Endurance feat, which was a trap for players in 3e. Ba-dum-BUM.

Continue reading

Necromican, Level 5

The Necromican

Level 5

Necromican

Necromican

And so, at long last — and thanks to someone actually asking for it — we get to Level 5 of my walk through the dire and dread pages of the Necromican (note: Not Necronomicon), a classic late 1970s supplement for Dungeons & Dragons published by Fantasy Art Enterprises, and featuring some great gonzo art by Erol Otus, and great gonzo ideas by, I assume, both Erol Otus and Paul Reiche III. (BTW, if anyone is in contact with either of those fine gentlemen, please, point them this way, as I’d love any feedback (even “Dude, why are you wasting your time on this stuff we wrote thirty years ago?”) they might wish to offer. (You can see the first part here and the second part here.)

First, though, I need to fulfill a promise. Here is the illustration for the path of the Daemon’s Disk spell, discussed back in the prior article.

The Path of Daemon's Disk

Sucks to be "b"

Fifth Level Spells

Just in case anyone was wondering, a)No, these aren’t all the spells — just some highlights I found amusing/interesting/useful fodder for jokes, and b)They are noted in the order they appeared in the text, “alphabetizing” being the sort of thing done only in later years. You kids with your “indexes” and “layout”! You have it easy!

Opportunity Dispell(sic)

This spell, which lasts apparently indefinitely until needed (Duration: Variable), negates the next spell cast at the mage “as per his ability”,  whatever that means — presumably, it acts like a Dispel (or Dispell) Magic as if cast by the mage. There was a spell like this in Ultima Online; people habitually used extremely weak spells to wreck the wizard’s protection and then used their highest level spells once the one-shot defense was gone.

Disanimate Dead

Otherwise known as “Who needs a cleric?” Well, it only affects skeletons and zombies, and, by 9th level, which is when you’d get this spell, such lowly creatures tended to be inconsequential anyway.

Trap Neutralizer

Otherwise known as “Who needs a thief?” Except, again, you’re wasting a fifth level slot (which could hold cloudkill, fer cryin’ out loud!) , and this was in the days before cheap wands and scrolls, and it only disables the trap for a single round, making it a nice way for the wizard to race ahead with the loot and then let the trap take care of his buddies. It’s how we rolled back then.

Mental Transferrance (sic)

Swap minds with the target, apparently with no saving throw, permanently until dispelled. I wrote something like this up for D&D Third Edition, but it was ninth level and had a few hundred words of detailed rules and limits. This is fifth level and takes up about three lines of large-font courier.

Withering Kiss

This spell allows the mage to kiss someone, aging them 10 years per level. So, assuming a ninth level mage, about ninety years, enough to kill a human or make an elf get a little gray. There’s plenty of interesting fodder here, such as if the mage has to kiss the ogre right on the lips, perhaps with a little tongue, or if a quick peck on the cheek will do. I’m half surprised this spell isn’t limited to female casters, as it seems to draw from the “Girls are scary” meme that permeates an awful lot of the stuff from this era.

Deception Detection

When cast, the mage knows if the answer given to a true or false question he’s asked is true or false… er, that is, if he’s being lied to. It doesn’t tell him the correct answer, and it lends itself to all sort of verbal warfare as the DM and player duel over whether or not a question asked was “true or false”, so the players spends most of his time rephrasing the question to limit the answer to a simple binary, until the spell finally wears out. (For example, “What’s behind that door?” is not a yes/no question, so you might try “Is there a monster behind that door?”, which could then lead to whether something qualifies as a “monster”. Likewise, you could end up with “Yes, there’s a monster behind that door”, but that could mean anything from a 1 HD kobold to a 40 HD dragon. The spell doesn’t provide any knowledge, it’s supposed to be used when you’re questioning someone, and that, of course, leads to whether or not it works when the person being questioned believes they’re telling the truth but they’re wrong.)

Coming soon….ish: Sixth level spells, featuring one of Erol Otus’ best. Illustrations. EVAR.

 

 

 

 

 

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 (http://www.music.iastate.edu/antiqua/serpent.htm), 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!”