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More Curses

More Curses (Foiled Again!)

But First, A Digression

(There’s A Shock….)

It occurs to me that dying curse is a poor choice for spontaneous casters, who have very few spells known, and would be loathe to waste one of them on something they’ll use maybe once or twice in their lifetime… erm… as it were. This is irksome, because it fits, thematically, very well with most spontaneous casters, more than with the ‘academic’ types, as it’s an expression of raw magical energy unleashed in a moment of extreme trauma. So, some ideas:

  1. Just let spontaneous casters, if it fits the nature of the specific class, and the particular character’s background, get it as a freebie. It adds a nice bit of background fluff: “For whosoever slayeth a sorcerer, they shalt suffer the fury of the departing, accursed, spirit!”
  2. As 1, but it only fires if there’s 2 spell slots of the appropriate level or higher left.
  3. Let them add it to their ‘spells known’ at the cost of a trait.

OK, on to the main article…

The Main Article!

(Trumpet Fanfare)

Bestow Curse is pretty boring. Sure, the particular curses are effective, but they’re kind of… dull. So, here’s a few more options, as many as I can think of before I have to stagger off to work. This is Breakfast Crunch: Stuff I write when eating breakfast before going to my job, with all the editing, playtesting, and quality that implies.

The Curse Of Consumptive Casting: Only useful if aimed at a being that relies heavily on spells, this curse causes the victim to take damage equal to twice the spell’s level whenever they cast a spell or use a spell-like ability — 0-level spells do 1 point. This damage cannot be avoided or mitigated, and cannot be magically healed. The same damage is also taken when spells are cast from wands, rods, or scrolls.

The Curse Of Perilous Penury: No magic (or occult, or psionic, or divine, or… you get the idea) items function for the victim. Magic armor and weapons are normal masterwork items. Rings, amulets, cloaks, boots, masks, yadda yadda, are simply mundane, if well-made, items, as far as the target of this curse is concerned. They cannot use wands, scrolls, potions, or miscellaneous magic. They can cast spells, and be affected by spells, normally — with the exception of spells that grant enhancement bonuses to either the victim or any items they’re carrying. No Bull’s Strength for you! This curse can be particularly crippling to higher-level characters, as they rely on their items to be equal to the challenges they face.

The Curse Of The Spider Queen: The target is permanently affected by a web spell. It fills the space they occupy and moves with them. Any allies moving adjacent to them are also targeted (they may make a reflex save, DC equal to the save DC of the bestow curse, as usual, to avoid). (The curse doesn’t transfer to allies, just the webs.) The victim of the curse needs to make a combat maneuver/Escape Artist check to move each round, just as if they were moving through an area affected by web. Even if they make it, each square is difficult terrain. If the web is set on fire, the victim takes 2d4 damage and the web burns away, but reforms 1d4 rounds later. Due to the cursed nature of the web, no fire resistance or immunity applies to this damage… something that might be learned the hard way… heh heh heh…

Lastly, the victim cannot climb faster than 5’/round, due to the sticky mass of webs, and suffers a -4 to all Charisma-based skill checks, because, well, you chat politely with someone who is literally exuding masses of goop everywhere they go.

The Invocation Of Malevolent Mundanity: Half of the character’s levels (round up) become levels in Commoner. The victim may choose which levels are so affected. Any levels they gain before having the curse removed will also be in Commoner. Removing the curse does transform the character’s original levels back to what they were, but not any levels gained while under the influence of the curse. If this curse affects a PC, everyone else can go get Chinese food while the player recalculates. (Alternatively, teach each Commoner level as a negative level during the current session, then they can recalculate after the game.) Any Mythic Rank they may have had goes bye-bye as well.

The Insalubrious Lubrication: The victim is permanently affected by a grease spell. Every square they enter is treated as being affected by this spell, with all DCs based on the save DC for the original curse. In addition, any adjacent squares occupied by allies suffer the same effect. Enemies are just fine, thank you very much. Beyond the usual effects of grease, any time the victim takes damage, they must make an Acrobatics check (DC 10+the damage dealt) or fall prone. Climbing is virtually impossible; all climb checks suffer a -6 penalty.

The Malediction Of The Leaded Foot: The victim is permanently slowed, as per the spell. Haste will negate the effects of the curse for only one round, regardless of the spell’s normal duration.


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.

Ten-Fold Pouch

The Ever Shifting Pouch

In what may be a record since I gave up on daily updates several years ago, three entries in one month — and it’s only the ninth! Continuing the Blog Carnival theme of Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot, I present yet another magic item of utility to those whose activities are more “daggers and duplicity” than “dungeons and dragons”. Hmm. I really like that. “Daggers & Duplicity”. Might even try to use it as a project title someday. Or something. Wait, where was I?

I had an idea… it was something about a bag… look, it’s 6:10 AM and I’ve only had four hours sleep, give me a frakkin’ break here… bag… bag… right!

Bags of holding, handy haversacks, and the like are really great. But as anyone who has had to enter any government building or airport since 9/11 knows, we have a great deal of useless security theater. Also, they’re going to check your bags. Absolute monarchies overseen by paranoid tyrants with unlimited authority and no respect for human rights might not be quite as bad as the DHS, but they’re still pretty nasty, and if your “bag” is large enough to hold a few dozen mercenaries, they’re going to be just a tad suspicious.

Thus, the ten-fold pouch.

EDIT: Weight notes added.

Aura moderate conjuration; CL 9th

Slot —; Price 3000 gp (possibly more; see below); Weight see below

Unlike many similar items, such as a bag of holding, the ever-shifting pouch holds exactly as much as one would expect — typically, either a belt pouch or a small sack. Taking items out and putting them back in evinces no unusual properties or behavior.

Speaking the correct command phrase, however, reveals the true nature of the ever-shifting pouch. It is actually ten pouches, dimensionally folded together. Thus, the command word has two parts: The first activates the magic, the second determines which of the ten becomes “active”. Each one is normal in every way. If one is damaged, ripped, or torn, the others are unaffected, though at least 90% of the “active” pouch must remain in a single clump in order to access the others. If it’s torn in half or otherwise dismembered, the magic is shattered, and the other nine are dumped into the Astral Plane, which can lead to serendipitous discoveries by travelers in that strange realm.

If placed into another extradimensional space, the pouch cannot be shifted or cycled; whichever one was active at the time remains active.

Speaking the command phrase is a free action. The pouch can only shift once per round, however, and removing items from it follows normal rules for such things.

Each of the ten pouches can be of a unique design or style. Generally, the capacity of each is about 1/2 a cubic foot and up to 15lbs of material can be stored. Variations of up to 20% larger or smaller per pouch are not unknown. This adds a secondary utility to the item: Aiding in disguise. Dress as a wealthy merchant, speak the appropriate command phrase, and the pouch shifts to one made of finely tooled leather, decorated with well-made fake gems. (For real gems, add their cost to the cost of the ten-fold pouch.) Dress as a mercenary, and the pouch may be worn and stained with interesting bodily fluids. The descriptions of each of the ten should be specified by the GM or by the maker of the pouch; they are fixed at the time of creation, as ten actual pouches must be used to form the item. For those with no concern for such niceties, simply assume they’re all equally nondescript.

The weight of the pouch is equal to that of the heaviest of the set, regardless of which is active. This is perceived by the wearer and calculated into their encumbrance, but a third party inspecting the bag will notice only the weight of the visual contents.

Construction Requirements

Craft Wondrous Item, secret chest; Cost 1,250 gp (plus the cost of 10 pouches, usually 1 gp each, unless special materials or fine workmanship is involved.)

Dagger Of Silent Slaying

The RPG Blog Carnival for November has a theme of “Gunpowder, Treason, and Plots”. This is my second item inspired by the theme; the first is here.

You know how it is. You’re skulking through dark passageways to commit an assassination, and some annoying guard walks by. You try to kill him, but it takes four rounds, and meanwhile, he’s screaming his fool head off (before you cut it off, that is). This dagger removes that problem. Removing the guard is up to you.

Only those who have studied both the art of magic and the art of shivving someone in the giblets can craft one of these blades. Priests of assassin gods, actual assassins, and bards of a particularly larcenous nature are the usual makers.

Addendum: This should be considered a +1 dagger; the cost assumes the enchantment is about equal to another +1.

Dagger Of Silent Slaying

Aura faint abjuration CL 5th; Weight 1 lb.; Price 8,302 gp


This +1 dagger typically has a slim, slightly curved blade, and a hilt of ebony and jade. (However, many variations exist, and this is sometimes found as a different weapon type, though it is always a one-handed, light, melee weapon.) It makes no noise when drawn from its sheathe, when dropped, or even when struck against an object. On one occasion, this odd feature caused a target to believe the dagger was a silent image, and to laugh at how he’d seen through the wielder’s bluff, right up until the dagger slit his throat.

Anyone carrying the dagger on their person (but not in any kind of extradimensional space) gains a +2 circumstance bonus to Steath checks vs. hearing. However, the real utility of the dagger comes when it is used to inflict precision damage (such as sneak attack) on a target. The target cannot speak above a gargling whisper for 1d4 rounds, +1 round per die of precision damage. Each additional attack that deals precision damage while the target is silenced increases this by 1 round. “The more you stab, the more they shut up”, as the saying goes.

Anyone afflicted by this effect who casts a spell with a verbal component must make a caster level check at a DC of 15+Spell Level to do so. Language-dependent spells, and any spells with the [Sonic] descriptor, are ineffective: While they can be cast, they will simply not function, and the spell is lost. (Before deciding to attempt such a spell, the caster should get an automatic Knowledge (Arcana) or Spellcraft check (DC 13) as a free action if they are trained in either skill. If they succeed, they know not to waste their time. If they’re not trained in either, too bad. No free check. Any caster who doesn’t pump their relevant skills deserves to die.)

Construction Requirements: Craft Magic Arms and Armor; silence; must be able to do at least 1d6 precision damage. Cost 4,302

Gelatinous Cube, Glacial

Gelatinous Cube, Glacial

In honor of the Winter Is Coming Blog Carnival, I’ve decided to try to a)post more often (hah!), and, b)post winter/cold/ice related stuff, as my fancy is struck. No promises on either frequency or content; been there, done that. For all you guys know, this could be my last post ever. We’ll see. (Note: I wrote that first paragraph on 11/04/2012. What day was this posted?)

So, for starters, let’s take one of the classic monsters, the gelatinous cube, and try some frozen variants. This is going to be a bit of an exercise in extemporanea, wherein I will “think out loud” on the page, as I try to work out what to do with this concept. This allows you to peer into the mind of the artist. Gaze not into the abyss, yadda yadda.

So. Cold gelatinous cube. “Ice Cube”, but that’s too obvious, even for me. Hm. Here’s problem one: The thing about cold, the thing is, about cold, is that it’s cold. Frozen. Stiff. Pretty much the antithesis of “gelatinous”. Sure, you can postulate the freezing point of Cube is much lower than that of water, and we might go with that, but as I ponder it… can a non-gelatinous gelatinous cube be interesting? Hmm…

Cold. Solid cube. Ice cube. Can’t absorb things, except very slowly. Like licking a street sign. Except it’s a street sign that wants to eat you. It can absorb on contact, slowly. Warmth of bodies thaws its outer surface. You get stuck, then drawn in as your own body heat softens the cube so it can feed. Hm. What else does ice do? Shatter. Hitting it causes smaller fragments or shards to fly off. Form their own monster. Hmmm. Clear. Gelatinous cubes are already clear, but arctic thoughts. Sun. Light. Refractions. Snowblindness. Cube shimmer in the sun, blinding aura, dazzling, hard to look at.

OK, that’s enough traits to work with.

Let’s see. Let’s do an “across the ages” thing here. I’ve done it for spells. Why not for monsters?


AD&D First Edition

MOVE: 4“
% IN LAIR: Nil
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 2-8+1-4 Cold
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Paralyzation, refraction, surprise on a 1-4
SIZE: L (10’ cube)

Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

Glacial Gelatinous Cubes are found only in the frozen regions of the planet, or in dungeons which are kept magically super-cold. They are much more solid than their oozier brethren. Due to this, when they hit an adventurer and paralyze him, damage begins on the first turn following the attack, as it takes time for the stricken victim to be drawn inwards.

Glacial cubes are even harder to spot than others of their kind, as they blend perfectly with the semi-transparent ice of their home regions. If encountered in daylight, the cube may instinctively make a refractive attack instead of its normal attack, causing all within 20 feet to make a saving throw against breath weapon or be blinded for 1d4 turns. It may do this only once per day.

Glacial cubes have the same treasure types as other gelatinous cubes.

Glacial gelatinous cubes can be hit by all forms of weapons, but bladed weapons do only half damage. Blunt weapons do normal damage, but on each hit, there is a 25% chance that a shard of the cube will be knocked free. This shard makes an immediate attack as a 3HD monster on a random character within 10 feet of the cube. If the attack hits, the target takes 1d6 damage and must make a saving throw vs. paralysis or be paralyzed for 1d4 turns, during which time the embedded shard will do a further 1d6 damage per turn unless it is somehow removed. Anyone killed in this fashion will become a glacial cube within 2d6 rounds after death, having but 1/4 the hit points of a standard glacial cube, but otherwise identical.

Glacial gelatinous cubes take normal damage from fire, and cold attacks heal them for half the damage they would otherwise do. Electricity, fear, holds, paralyzation,  polymorph, and sleep based attacks have no effect on glacial gelatinous cubes.

It is rumored that white dragons of the smarter sort will sometimes (10% chance) keep glacial cubes as guardians, scattering them around their lairs to ward off intruders.


(For those who care, which is to say, no one, I am using PF instead of D&D 3.x because my monster spreadsheet has been rewritten for PF.)

Glacial Cube
Large Ooze (Cold)
Hit Dice: 6d10+48 (96 Hit Points)
Initiative: -5 Dex
Speed: 15 feet (3 squares)
Armor Class: 14(-1 Size -5 Dex+10 Natural) touch 4; flat-footed 14
Base Attack/Grapple: +4/+10
Attack: Slam +6 (1d6+1d6 cold)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Engulf, Paralysis, Refraction, Shards
Special Qualities: Transparent
Immunities: Electricity, Cold, Ooze Traits
Saves: Fort +10,Ref -3,Will -3
Abilities: Str 14, Dex 1, Con 26, Int 0, Wis 1 ,Cha 1
Environment: Any Cold
Organization: Solitary
Challenge Rating: 4
Treasure: Incidental
Alignment: Neutral

The glacial cube is a cousin of the more common underground gelatinous cube, one which has adapted itself to life under conditions of extreme cold. It is much more solid than the normal gelatinous cube, which provides it with some measure of increased defense, reflected in both its Armor Class and its Hit Points. It also has several other distinctive traits which can catch unwary adventurers by surprise. Unless noted, it is otherwise identical to the gelatinous cube.

Acid (Ex): The glacial cube’s acid does not harm metal, stone, or ice.

Engulf(Ex): The glacial cube has a solid surface, and cannot easily engulf moving prey. However, the body heat of paralyzed victims melts its outer surface, at which point, it can ingest them. As a full round action, it can engulf a single Medium or small creature which is adjacent to it and paralyzed. There is no save. Engulfed creatures are subject to the cube’s paralysis and acid, gain the pinned condition, are in danger of suffocating, and are trapped within its body until they are no longer pinned. This ability does not affect creatures with the cold subtype.

Paralysis (Ex): A glacial gelatinous cube secretes an anesthetizing slime. A target hit by a cube’s melee or engulf attack must succeed on a DC 21 Fortitude save or be paralyzed for 3d6 rounds. The cube can automatically engulf a paralyzed opponent. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Refraction (Ex): As a standard action, a glacial cube exposed to sunlight or bright light can instinctively form its internal substance into crystalline patterns that emit a blinding light. All those within a 30′ radius burst centered on the cube must make a Reflex save (DC 21) or be dazzled for 2d6 rounds. This save is Constitution based.

Shards (Ex): When the glacial cube is struck by a weapon which does crushing damage, it sends for small shards of its frozen substance. If it is critically hit by such a weapon, it produces 1d4+1 shard. Each shard makes an attack on a random creature within 10′ of the cube, at a +6 attack bonus. If it hits, it does 1d8 piercing damage, and it will do 1d6 cold and acid damage for the next 1d4+1 rounds (A DC 15 Heal check will remove the shard). Any creature killed while the shard is in place will reform in 2d6 rounds as a small glacial cube (apply the “young” template to the glacial cube)

Transparent (Ex): The glacial cube is even harder to spot than its dungeon-dwelling kin. A DC 20 Perception check is needed to notice one when in its natural habitat among ice cliffs and snowdrifts. Anyone more than 15 feet away has a 50% miss chance for aimed spells or attacks. Faerie fire, glitterdust, and similar spells render this effect moot, but invisibility purgeor the like do not, for the same reason they don’t make glass windows opaque.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition

Ah, 4e. The easiest version to design monsters for, hitting a good balance between the “finger in the wind” 1e/2e rules and the “IRS Tax Auditors Give Up” 3.x/PF rules. Well, it would be nice if there were more formal support for non-combat abilities or integration with the rules for PCs, but, you can’t have everything.

Because 4e makes it so easy to run simple monsters on the fly, the shard effect for the 4e version produces minions, which makes it tactically more interesting, in my opinion.

Glacial Cube

Level 7 Elite Brute

Large natural beast (ooze, cold)

XP 600

HP 194; Bloodied 97

AC 21; Fortitude 20; Reflex 17; Will 18

Speed 3

Immune gaze, cold; Resist 10 acid

Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1

Initiative +5

Perception +5

Tremorsense 5

A glacial cube is invisible until seen (Perception DC 25) or until it attacks. Creatures that fail to notice the glacial cube might walk into it. if this occurs, the cube attacks (+13 vs. Fortitude; Hit: Target is immobilized, save ends.)
Standard Actions
m Slam • At-Will
Attack: +12 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2d6 + 3 damage, and the target is immobilized (save ends).
M Engulf (acid, cold) • At-Will
Effect: The gelatinous cube engulfs one or two Medium or smaller targets who are immobilized and adjacent to it.; The target is grabbed and pulled into the cube’s space; the target is dazed and takes ongoing 10 acid and cold damage until it escapes the grab. A creature that escapes the grab shifts to a square of its choosing adjacent to the cube. The cube can move normally while creatures are engulfed within it.
C Refractive Burst (radiant) • Encounter
Requirements: Must be in sunlight or in bright light.
Attack: Close Burst 5 (All sighted creatures in burst.); +8 vs. Reflex
Hit: 1d10 + 7 radiant damage, and target is blinded (save ends).
Triggered Actions
Shardspawn • Recharge 4 5 6
Trigger: The cube is struck by a blunt weapon, such as a mace, club, or hammer.
Effect (Immediate Reaction): The cube creates a cubeshard within any adjacent square. This does not grant extra XP. No more than two cubeshards can exist at any one time.
Skills Stealth +10
Str 15 (+5) Dex 15 (+5) Wis 14 (+5)
Con 17 (+6) Int 2 (–1) Cha 2 (–1)
Alignment unaligned     Languages
Glacial Shard

Level 6 Minion

Small natural beast (ooze, cold)

XP 63

HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion

AC 20; Fortitude 18; Reflex 19; Will 17

Speed 6

Initiative +6

Perception +3

Glacial shards are small and easy to miss against ice and snow. If in such an environment, they have +2 to all defenses against ranged attacks originating more than 2 squares away, unless the attacker is not relying on normal vision.
Standard Actions
m Shard Slash (acid, cold) • At-Will
Attack: +11 vs. AC
Hit: 5 cold and acid damage.
M Embedding Shard (acid, cold) • Encounter
Attack: +11 vs. AC
Hit: 5 cold and acid damage, and the glacial shard is destroyed. The target takes 5 ongoing cold and acid damage (save ends). If this kills the target, it dissolves and becomes a glacial shard, which will attempt to flee the area.
Skills Stealth +11
Str 4 (+0) Dex 16 (+6) Wis 10 (+3)
Con 12 (+4) Int 1 (–2) Cha 10 (+3)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

I could add some more author’s notes here, but the fact is, I had this whole thing done EXCEPT for the shard minion, and that took me over two weeks to get around to doing (and only about an hour to do it, including fighting with Adventure Tools because it corrupted my saved monster file), and I don’t want to procrastinate any more.

And STAY Dead!

And STAY Dead!

Assassination In A World Of Magic

The RPGBloggers carnival this month is about assassins, everyone’s favorite black-cloaked n’er-do-wells. My contribution is this collection of items and rituals designed to aid in killing people (and, ideally, not getting caught), when “We can’t question him here… kill him, cut off his head, stuff it in the bag of holding, and carry it with so we can talk to him later” is a perfectly viable strategy, or when the nearly lethal wound you inflicted is instantly healed by some inconvenient cleric a second later. (Or, worse, by some warlord who just shouts at someone until their throat un-slits.)

The items, etc, here, are not so much intended for the assassin class per se, as for anyone, regardless of their class, who engages in the art of removing obstacles from other people’s paths. Assassination, in this context, differs from straight-up combat in many ways: It is usually done solo; the assassin spends time, often days or weeks, studying their victim; and  it is best if no one knows who did it.

While the game mechanics here are for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, the ideas should be readily portable to any fantasy game where magic is, if not necessarily cheap or common, both common enough and reliable enough that the rich and powerful will have access to it for protection, and those who would slay them have access to counter-measures. (In most cases, there aren’t counter-counter-measures, because that game tends to have no end.)

Oil Of Eternal Silence

There are few things worse than having your dead victim rat you out. Even when returning the dead to life is out of the question, they can still speak from beyond the grave. Many assassins carry a vial or two of this substance to use if they suspect they were seen or that their target would have a good guess who got them.

Oil Of Eternal Silence Level 5+ Rare

This oil is thin, black, and yet glistens even in darkness. When ignited, the flames make no noise.

Lvl 5: 50 gp

Lvl 15: 1,000 gp

Lvl 25: 25,000 gp


Utility Power * Consumable (Minor Action)

Effect:When this oil is poured on a corpse, and ignited, any attempt use speak with dead on the charred remains are stymied, with a penalty to the Religion check equal to the  oil’s level, plus 5 (-10 for the fifth level potion, -20 for the 15th level potion, -30 for the 25th level potion).

Spider Queen’s Caress

This item is named for the drow, fabled masters of poison, but it is uncertain if it truly originated with them or if this is mere folklore, as the mystique of such things is ruined if it turns out it was invented by some cunning kobold shaman.

The Spider Queen’s Caress Level 8+ Rare

It’s clear, tasteless, odorless, and perfectly safe for you to drink right along with your target… assuming no one is also targeting you…

Lvl 8 125 gp Lvl 23 17,000 gp
Lvl 13 650 gp Lvl 28 85,000 gp
Lvl 18 3,400 gp


Utility Power * Consumable (Minor Action)

Effect:This poison must be ingested, and can be slipped easily into a target’s drink or food with a typical sleight of hand check, if anyone’s watching. It is virtually impossible to detect, requiring a Hard Perception check at the poison’s level +5 to notice. (Magic that detects poison with no roll or chance of failure will still have a 10% chance of missing this one.)

Once ingested, spider queen’s caress gives the target vulnerability 5 (poison) and a -2 to all saves against ongoing damage or other effects from a poison of its level or lower, until the end of the second extended rest from when they consumed it. This increases to vulnerability 10 (poison) at 18th level and to vulnerability 15 (poison) at 23rd level. In addition, at 13th level, the first save made against any poison attack automatically fails (this is the first save rolled, whether the normal end of turn save or one granted by magic or healing). At 23rd level, the first two saves fail.

Since the spider queen’s caress is not directly damaging, some daring assassins will risk consuming it, if doing so lulls the suspicions of their target.

Blessingbane Weapon

Often, merely hearing that someone has been marked for death is enough to make his friends desert him, but some people have annoyingly loyal companions. This weapon quite literally cuts a victim off from support. While it was originally crafted to prevent someone who was “mostly dead” being restored if a healer happened on him at the last minute, it has also become a useful tool for those whose plans of a quiet slit throat in the night have gone awry, and they must kill their victim in the presence of witnesses.

Blessingbane Weapon Level 4+ Rare

One slice of this dagger, and the target finds that no one can aid him, not even himself.

Lvl 4 +1
840 gp Lvl 19 +4
105,000 gp
Lvl 9 +2
4,200 gp Lvl 24 +5
525,000 gp
Lvl 14 +3
21,000 gp Lvl 29 +6  2,625,000

Weapon: Light blade

Enhancement Bonus: Attack rolls and damage rolls.

Critical: +1d8 necrotic damage per plus, or +1d12 necrotic damage when making a coup de grace

Property: Any attacks you make with this weapon ignore temporary hit points, and directly reduce the target’s true hit point total.

Power (Encounter): Free action.  Use this power after you have damaged a creature with this weapon. Until the end of the encounter, any powers you use that deal ongoing damage to the creature which a save can end impose a -2 penalty to the save.

Power (Encounter): Free action. Use this power after you have damaged a creature with this weapon. Any attempt to make healing checks on the creature suffer a penalty equal to twice the weapon’s enhancement bonus. This lasts until the end of the encounter.

Power (Daily): Free action. Use this power after you have damaged a creature with this weapon. The creature cannot be the target of any beneficial power or effect with the healing keyword. He is not considered an “ally” of anyone, for any purpose, until this effect ends, meaning he will be targeted by area spells which normally do not affect allies, he is not included in any power that allows “all allies” to make an attack, and so on. Likewise, no power he has which targets “allies” will function. This effect lasts until the end of the encounter, or until the wielder of this weapon ends a turn without making an attack against the target.

Rite Of The Deceptive Tongue

While assassins often make a big show of swearing to carry their secrets to the grave, the fact is, many who have sent others to their deaths have no desire to follow after. Torture, magic, or simply a jingling bag of coins can tempt many to spill their guts.

Rite of the Deceptive Tongue

The hooded master of the guild of friendly helpers finished scribing the sign and then waved his subordinate on his way. He knew this was a risky mission, but he knew the killer would die before he revealed any secrets, whether he wanted to or not.

Level: 8

Category: Deception

Time: 10 minutes

Duration: 24 hours

Component Cost: 135 gp

Market Price: 680 gp

Key Skill: Arcana; must also be trained in Bluff to use this ritual.

When this ritual is performed, the target of the ritual, who must be willing, is given a topic or closely related set of topics that he cannot discuss honestly. He will be given a cover story or the like, and he will believe this with absolute sincerity, so that any Insight check will reveal he seems to be telling the truth. The Bluff check of the caster of this ritual, +5, is the DC for any Insight or Arcana check to determine that the target is under magical compulsion. Even if confronted with hard evidence that he’s lying, or threatened with death or torture, the subject of the ritual will either stick to his story, or will “crack” and tell a second, different, lie, but at a -5 penalty to his bluff as it will be forced and obvious.


It is not always easy to find these items; they are fundamentally illegal in most nations, as their purpose is self-evidently the antithesis of weal.  While the default is often to let the players have them if the DM thinks they should, and otherwise not, a less railroady method is possible.

A streetwise check at a hard DC of the item’s level can be made to locate a likely seller. This check is generally impossible in any village of under 500 people, unless the DM has explicitly placed someone there or the village is exceptionally corrupt and criminal — a drow town in the underdark, for example. It is at a -2 to -5 in any town or city of less than 5000, the exact penalty being based on the size of the settlement and the general tone of the place; chaotic cities in evil empires tend to have a thriving black market.

It is reasonable to assume that professional, full-time, NPC assassins who are working in their home cities, or who traveled with a target in mind from the start, will have resources appropriate to their level. If the NPC is forced, by circumstance, to hunt for such items himself (for example, he has joined the PCs as a hireling and was not able to gather all his items before they teleported half across the world), you can just assume he finds what he needs “offstage”, but it can be more fun to roll for it, as above, and then decide what the NPC does if he’s denied access to some of his favorite toys.  This also helps convey a sense of fairness and avoids the problem often seen in 4e, where there’s a giant wall between how the world works for PCs and how it works for everyone else.

Blog Carnival — Worldbuilding

Oh, boy…

Asking me to write about worldbuilding is like asking Al Gore to write about global warming:

  • It’s an open invitation to endless rants on a topic which is extremely important to me, and boring to everyone else.
  • A great deal of hot air and gaseous emissions are going to be involved.
  • What I consider to be absolute truths, other people consider to be dubious or outright lies.

Hey, this analogy really works!

Anyway, the request from the RPGBloggers carnival was to discuss the whys and wherefores of worldbuilding (gads, I love alliteration!), rather than specific details of one’s world, so this will be less about the the lineage of the Margrail family and how it caused the civil war, and more about worldbuilding in general.

Instant World! — Just add water, land, terrain, people, history, ruins, monsters, factions, gods….

One of the biggest changes in D&D 4.0, as compared to 3.x and to most older versions was the very clear attitude of “Worldbuilding, shmorldbuilding!” The DMG was heavily focused on how to make Big Cool Dramatic Set Piece Fight Scenes… giving these fights a larger context in which they were occurring, not so much. The explicit “assumed world” with its heavy handed background and pre-gen history was supposed to be all you needed; from there, all you had to do, as a DM, was shuffle the players from dungeon to dungeon, with the occasional quick stop back at The Town where you could B)uy Supplies, V)isit the Temple, R)est At The Inn, or T)rain For Next Level.

You know. This.

Wizardry Town Screen

Apparently, according to at least some folks in the know, it was determined that world building “scared” people, that it was a turn off, that what people wanted was to boot up their kitchen table and jump to the instance selection screen. Yeah. Except for one thing — if that’s really all you want from D&D, you’re better off playing a video game. If you’re going to invest the time to play in a real RPG, you’re going to want to get more out of it than you can get from an online game, and that means having more than a bunch of rides in the Dungeonland Amusement Park, however well constructed each ride may be.

As a point of comparison, let’s see what the 1e DMG had to say on the subject:

“You, as the Dungeon Master, are about to embark on a new career, that of universe maker. You will order the universe and direct the activities in each game, becoming one of the elite group of campaign referees referred to as DMs in the vernacular of AD&D. What lies ahead will require the use of all of your skill, put a strain on your imagination, bring your creativity to the fore, test your patience, and exhaust your free time. Being a DM is no matter to be taken lightly!”

Now, you see, who could back down from that kind of challenge? Only some total mealy-mouthed pencil-necked wussbag! Gary Gygax tossed the gauntlet down, and if you don’t have the balls to pick it up, you don’t deserve to be behind the DM Screen! The few, the proud, the DMs! The transition in writing style from R. Lee Ermy to Mr. Rogers marks, in my opinion, a significant decline.

However, both the hyperbolic pontifications of the 1e DMG and the pandering circumlocutions of the 4e DMG hide the real truth — worldbuilding is neither difficult nor terrifying. It is, in fact, rather easy, and infinitely more rewarding than buying someone else’s world off a shelf. (For one thing, when it’s your world, you don’t have some snot nosed brat that thinks JRR Tolkien ripped off R. A. Salvatore whining that apple trees can’t grow in Happy Elf Dale during the month of Widdlywonk due to the time in the Fourth Age Of The Second Crisis that Murglefloop the Mad cast this spell which…(insert noises of DM thwacking brat with book here)).

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What Inspires My Games

Source Of Inspiration

This article is written for the June RPG Bloggers carnival; to see other people’s replies, you can go here.

The question is “What non-game media have most inspired your games and how?”.

I’ve got a couple of cheesy answers, like “Serious drugs, dude!”, or “What doesn’t?”, but the first is a lie, as I am, sadly, a lifelong tetotaler, and the second is just lame and pointless, and what would the Internet be if it consisted mostly of lame and pointless content?

So I’m going to attempt a serious answer. I hope both my readers forgive me.

Star Wars

Star Wars came out in 1977; I discovered D&D in 1978. Someone once said “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 13.” Well, I was 12 in May of 1977, and 14 in December of 1978, so two of biggest influences of my life hit me right square in the formative years. There’s a lot of things about Star Wars that makes it an obvious inspiration, but there’s one thing, one line, in particular which I can point to, time and again, as one of the most important lines spoken in a movie, at least in terms of how it has shaped and influenced me.

“You fought in the Clone Wars?”

Why does that simple line have so much resonance, so much meaning, to me? Especially since didn’t learn what the “Clone Wars” were until decades later, until I’d turned into the cantankerous, fossilized lump of grumpiness you all know and love so well?

Because we didn’t learn what the Clone Wars were!

Because Obi-Wan didn’t turn to Luke and says, “Yes, we fought in the Clone Wars, when Palaptine created armies of clones to fight against the Secessionist forces, though we didn’t know at the time he was manipulating both sides. Those clones became the Empire’s Stormtroopers, you know.”

Because with that simple line, and the equally important refusal to explain what it meant, the movie exploded outside the boundaries of the screen. This wasn’t simply a story; this was a peek into a world, the movie screen being simply a window through which we looked onto one part of that vast infinity which lay beyond. There were other stories there — a past, a thousand worlds, a tale that began before the opening credits and would continue afterwards.

I knew I needed to do that. I knew I needed to make worlds, worlds in which stories could happen, but the world was the important thing. A world would create stories to fill it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the tools I needed.

Then D&D came along. I was drawing my first dungeon within two days of learning to play. Never mind that I didn’t have any version of the rules, I drew the map on graph paper and drew little pictures for monsters — skeletons, blobs, dragons — and wrote down their hit points, making up numbers which “seemed right”. (And I hit the hit points for a large, adult, red dragon right on the button — 88 !) Dungeons quickly gave way to cities and continents and multiverses, and I could never keep a campaign running for more than a few weeks before I decided I had a better idea for a cooler world. I’ve lost only a little of that creative ADD since then, become slightly more focused, but I still have more ideas than I will ever be able to detail — or even sketch out — in a lifetime.

Jack Kirby

It took me a while to realize that while I thought I could say a major influence was “comic books”, the truth is that Jack Kirby is at the heart of those comics which have influenced and shaped me the most. He loved teams of iconic, clearly-defined and visually distinctive heroes battling equally iconic enemies. He built worlds by the dozens, too, but fortunately for him and his readers, he lacked some of my obsessions with crop yields and how many peasants could actually fit into a city of size “X”. He painted in broad strokes, with bright colors, and didn’t shy away from “cheesy” names like “Darkseid” or “Bernadeth“. If you’ve read Earth Delta, with its thermites (heat-generating termites) and squirkills (they’re squirrels.. that kill you!), you’ll see Jack’s influence at work. Even more than names, though, was the sense of style, pacing, and most importantly, wonder. Jack loved Big Dumb Objects. Jack loved world-shattering explosions. Jack loved massive armies of exotic warriors with ludicrously shaped swords fighting in glorious battle, surrounded by “Kirby Crackle”. He stole shamelessly and lovingly from mythology, folklore, religion, and himself. He didn’t care if he was telling the same story over and over in different costuming, as long as the costumes were really cool looking — and they were!

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