Thursday, September 28, 2017

I Found It Weeping in the Field

What do you have now?

I found it weeping in the field

What, an abandoned baby? A whinging pup?


By the Hundred, what IS that?

I found it weeping in the field

Get it OUT of here! Alber, put it back!

It doesn't belong there

Nor does it belong here! Get it out of this house! Put it back in the field - it can starve, for all I care!

I found it weeping

I WON'T- ...Alber, what?

It got heavier

Alber, are you okay? Your eyes...

I need to keep it, Meri We need to keep it

...Why? Why must we?

It needs us It needs to grow big and strong


You know we haven't been able to have a child Now we can have a child

A child


We can

Yes Big and strong


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Moth Gatherer (monster)

"In the Westwoods, they have a tale of a kind of being called a moth gatherer. These creatures, slender and sly, lurk in the boughs and breaks of those lands, emerging in the twilight. Their several eyes are glazed and dull, but within their tall mouths at the back of their throats is a small organ that glows softly but steadily. Moths are drawn to its light. The moth gatherer plucks its prey from the air with quick, slender fingers. Most, it eats; but, the choicest moths are carefully captured and handled by the gatherer, who fixes them to fanning armatures or spines that spread from its back. The moths are held in place by a sticky-sweet substance that serves as both fixative and nourishment, secreted by the gatherer. "

"From the silk spun my the larvae of their moths, the gatherers weave gossamer tents and cocoons in which to shelter, strange large sheets and webs in the largest trees. They think little of us ground-bound earthscratchers, remaining cloaked in the canopies and leaving us to our inscrutable devices; but, against those who threaten these tallest trees which support their homes, they strike with silence and silken garrotes."

"When enough moths have been gathered and bred and succored, when the spreading spines are rampant with soft, scaly wings, it is said that the gatherer can take to the air, its light frame lifted by its captives-become-comrades. Some say the moth gatherers then fly to the moon, there to mate and bear young that drift down in the dew. Some say they fly across the sea, spawning progeny that wash back up upon our sighing shores to gather moths once more. It is of no consequence; the moth gatherer's destiny is bound up with this transformation, and it becomes a new creature from a multitude of lesser creatures."

"Let, then, your way in the world be as the moth gatherer: in places of daylight and openness, keep your presence quiet and your light hidden; but when the world is darkened and those who move within it become lost, show them a glimpse of the luminence that shines within you, and they will draw near, seeing only your light. From you they will find sustenance, and from then you will draw your might."

- From The Fivefold Discipline of Aldonis of Evandra, "The Weaver of Five Strands"

Here are some stats for moth gatherers! (5th Edition D&D - apologies to all you OSR types, haha)

Medium fey, chaotic neutral
Armor Class 16
Hit Points 24 (7d6+0)
Speed 40 ft., climb 40 ft.
STR 13 (+1)
DEX 18 (+4)
CON 10 (+0)
INT 14 (+2)
WIS 15 (+2)
CHA 11 (+0)
Skills Acrobatics +6, Animal Handling +4, Perception +4, Stealth +6
Saves Dexterity +6, Intelligence +4
Damage Resistances piercing
Damage Vulnerabilities cold, fire, thunder
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 12
Languages an uncanny buzzing and clicking
Challenge 1 (200 XP)
Canopy Climber. The moth gatherer does not need to make checks in order to successfully climb through branches, leaves, or trees, and can do so at its full climbing speed.
Canopy Camouflage. The moth gatherer has advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide in treetops or foliage.

Garrotte. Melee Weapon Attack versus Surprised creatures only: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Roll attack with advantage. Hit effects vary based on whether both dice or only one were rolled high enough to hit:
Hit (one die): 7 (1d6+4) slashing damage, and the target is Grappled until they make a DC11 Str save as an action.
Hit (both dice): 11 (2d6+4) slashing damage, and target is Grappled and Restrained (and unable to speak!) until they make a DC14 Str save as an action.While this condition persists, the moth gatherer may repeat this attack on this target as an action without making a roll to hit.

Multiattack. The moth gatherer makes two claw attacks.

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Hit: 6 (1d4+4) slashing damage.

Moth gatherers are fairly solitary, and mostly keep to themselves. If they perceive a great threat to their habitat, they may band together against it.
They are very risk-averse, and strike only in darkness with strangling garrotes that kill silently, targeting isolated foes. If confronted and outnumbered, they flee into the trees and hide, fighting with their claws only if cornered beyond hope of escape.
Moth gatherer elders have gathered enough moths to achieve flight, gliding silently through the dark.
Some say the moth gatherers gather not only moths, but also secrets - or perhaps that the moths they gather have gathered secrets of their own. If a cunning person could find means to communicate with these beings, they may have deep knowledge of they ways of the wilds, the heights and the deeps, the Mysteries, and many other things. They may serve as givers - or goals - of a quest.

Medium fey, chaotic neutral
Armor Class 18
Hit Points 28 (8d6+0)
Speed 40 ft., climb 40 ft., fly (hover) 25ft.
STR 13 (+1)
DEX 18 (+4)
CON 10 (+0)
INT 14 (+2)
WIS 15 (+2)
CHA 11 (+0)
Skills Acrobatics +7, Animal Handling +5, Perception +5, Stealth +7
Saves Dexterity +7, Intelligence +5
Damage Resistances piercing
Damage Vulnerabilities cold, fire, thunder
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 12
Languages an uncanny buzzing and clicking
Challenge 2 (450 XP)
Canopy Climber. The moth gatherer does not need to make checks in order to successfully climb through branches, leaves, or trees, and can do so at its full climbing speed.
Canopy Camouflage. The moth gatherer has advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide in treetops or foliage.

Garrotte. Melee Weapon Attack versus Surprised creatures only: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Roll attack with advantage. Hit effects vary based on whether both dice or only one were rolled high enough to hit:
Hit (one die): 7 (1d6+4) slashing damage, and the target is Grappled until they make a DC12 Str save as an action.
Hit (both dice): 11 (2d6+4) slashing damage, and target is Grappled and Restrained (and unable to speak!) until they make a DC15 Str save as an action.While this condition persists, the moth gatherer may repeat this attack on this target as an action without making a roll to hit.

Multiattack. The moth gatherer makes two claw attacks.

ClawsMelee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Hit: 6 (1d4+4) slashing damage.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Rust Below

"...Those daring (or foolish) enough to venture into the deep places of this world (or is it still this world Below?) report many strange and unbelievable things, most of which may be attributed to the fatigue of deep journeys, overactive imaginations fed by wild stories, and the uncertain cast of torchlight upon distant surfaces. One common report, however, which MAY be corroborated by fact, is that of rust below."
"Many an adventurer has returned with weapon rusted and gear eaten away, swearing that the rust crept or rushed from some piece of corroded metal found below and brought in contact with virgin equipment, spreading across its surface in mere seconds with grinding and screeching audible to the attentive ear. Iron and copper are most susceptible, with silver and gold normally avoiding this strange effect."
"Perhaps the air in deep tunnels and buried ruins is itself corrupt, or etheric currents originating from deep below flow freely through metal and accelerate the natural process of corrosion. In any case, should you find yourself unfortunate enough to venture any distance below, do not let rusted metals contact any of your possessions. You may soon find them rusted and corrupt, too."

- From the writings of Erbius the Lorekeeper, Magus of the Fifth Order

(Housekeeping note: first post in over a month, unfortunately! My apologies. I have wished to be writing, but I have been - and am - dealing with real-world "adventures" of my own - mostly the kind that involve dying of an ancient curse in some gods-forsaken dank hole in the ground. XP )

Monday, June 19, 2017


"I will tell you a secret. Sit in your cell, Disciple, and observe the night sky through your lone window. Note the brightness of the stars, and the darkness of the void beyond. Now close the window, extinguish your lamp, let no light touch you.  Behold, the darkness is not quite dark; the night sky was darker than the lightlessness you see. Subtle and dubious is the difference, but full darkness is not full darkness at all. From whence does this not-light come? I tell you, Disciple, the light you see is no worldly light; look into absolute dark, and the light you see is your own self."

- From The Fivefold Discipline of Aldonis of Evandra, "The Weaver of Five Strands"

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Death and Dying

I want to talk about what happens when player characters die in a tabletop RPG.

I am of the generation(s) that have grown up with videogames, as are many of those who play tabletop RPGs. Player death is a common occurrence in videogames; you take too much damage, you make a misstep, you are in the wrong place at the wrong time - you die.
And then you resume. Either at the start of the level, or at the last checkpoint, or (very rarely) from the very beginning of the game. But it is rare that more than ten minutes of play time is lost in a death.

Tabletop RPGs are built around some very different assumptions. One of these is the synchronicity of the worlds of the PCs - if a PC dies, he/she is also dead in the worlds of the other PCs. There is no savepoint - the shared story carries on. (Or simply ends there.) This can be a difficult paradigm to adapt to if one is used to the cheap, reversible deaths of (most) videogames.

Different players react differently to the death of their character.
Some, those who engage deeply with the rules and systematics of a game, stoically accept it, so long as the death was fair and by-the-book. They live and die by the rules they agree to play under.
Some, those who engage deeply with the plot and story-making of a game, are content or even delighted for their character to die in a meaningful way at a meaningful moment - in some great struggle or tragic betrayal, say - because of the emotional punch something like a death adds to a story.
Some, those who constantly seek more powerful abilities and items, those who play the game "to win," are devastated or even aggravated by a character death. It represents a loss of invested time, a setback that will take weeks or months or years of play to recoup.

I am not criticizing any of these reactions. I share aspects of all three of them. I merely seek to illustrate that character death is not fun for everyone.

The question then becomes why we play (or create) games that let characters die. Let's talk about that.

There are several reasons that come to mind, but I think most can simply be reduced into one principle: the specter (and even coming) of character death promotes and deepens player engagement.
1) It encourages careful play that engages with the rules.
2) It encourages verisimilitude (players don't risk their characters in situations that the characters wouldn't themselves risk).
3) It provides tension and drama (not unlike that which fuels a casino gambler).
4) It provides moments of emotional depth when a beloved character dies.

I LIKE promoting player engagement.
But I also recognize that many players have a hard time dealing with the death of a character.
So I'll tell you what I do, as a DM, to accommodate both these factors.
1) I provide risks other than death.
Death shouldn't be the only risk a character faces. Wounds, financial loss, curses, mental illness, connections... there are other ways to make a character (and by extension, a player) feel risk. Use those.
2) I make death a real risk.
Cushy systems that give players mountains of hitpoints and myriad failsafes like resurrection spells keep death in their rules to no purpose. There is no point in making character death a possibility if it is unlikely, painless, and reversible. If you're going to have character death be possible in your game, get your mileage out of it. Use it. Make it a threat. Make it painful. It's doing its job.
3) Give the player the final say.
I have a secret. It is not me that determines whether a character lives or dies. It is not even the dice. It is the player.
I currently run a hacked 5E game, wherein a dying player makes one (not three) death save (with the DC determined by the amount of leftover damage after the PC is reduced to zero hitpoints). I tell the player to come roll behind my screen, And I whisper to them that no matter what the dice say, they decide whether their character survives or not. And they roll. And they look me in the eye. And they tell me whether their character is alive or dead. (I got this idea from The Angry GM. This article. It is worth reading on this subject, if you want something longer and more in-depth. And better. XP )
This allows the kind of player whose day would be ruined by a character death to, well, not have their day ruined. But it preserves the bite of death for those who want to go by the hard-and-fast rules. And it allows story-oriented players to decide the life or death of their character based on the implications for the plot.
I have only had two players, so far, put in the position where they're holding their d20 behind my screen, about to decide whether their character lived or died.
Both players rolled a death. I asked them what happens to their character:
Both players told me their character dies.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Cavern

Can we talk about how this sounds exactly like how a megadungeon crawl should feel?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Two Questions

Beneath Ieris, the City of Spires, coils the infamous Darkweb, the prisons and dungeons of the Ieran branch of the Church of the Hundred Saints. Its interrogators have a most curious practice, which they call the Two Questions (though few know of this practice, and even fewer of its name). A recalcitrant prisoner is strapped to a table, and asked a question. A crowbar is kept handy and applied to the upper extremities of the prisoner if no answer is obtained (in order to "pry" one forth?). Once it is, the crowbar is brought down upon one of the prisoner's lower legs, and the resulting breakage examined in faith that the Father provides his insight through the wound. If the tibia is shattered, the interrogators know that the prisoner's answer was truth, while if the fibula is broken, the prisoner told a lie (or a "fib," if you will, from whence the term derives). By now it is, of course, evident why the practice is known as the Two Questions: most prisoners have only two legs - though, indeed, it is rare that more than two questions are needed for the Church's purposes. It is thought that the interrogators have grown very skilled indeed on exactly how the crowbar's force is applied and which bone breaks, though to say so to any interrogator or ecclesiast is to invite accusations of faithlessness (and perhaps worse).

- From the writings of Erbius the Lorekeeper, Magus of the Fifth Order

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cleric Ecology

See, when I think of a priest, I think of the dude in vestments down the road at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, not some screaming dude in mail with a mace in hand and holy fire burning on his brow. The Reverend Richard W. Blazejewski in town doesn't dive into dungeons, lead hunting parties against predatory dragons, banish embodied demons by use of a blessed warhammer, or call down curses upon his foes (...probably).

Yet, in games like Dungeons & Dragons, that is exactly what "clerics" do.
(At least, that is how they are portrayed. I've already wrote some on what a cleric "really is.")

Now, I could rant about this discrepancy in two ways. I could say "NO, that's not how things work, really a cleric should be like THIS" and some people might find it interesting and maybe I would have some good thoughts. OR, I could say "okay, now that's not what I think of a priest as being - so what kind of world would make priests like THAT?"

I'm going to do the second one because it sounds like more fun.

So, what weird things do I notice in clerics in traditional RPGs?

1) They're SPECIAL. They get supernatural powers and privileges from their divinity. They have been CHOSEN. Strangely enough, though, after giving their follower all these souped-up magic powers, these divines seem to care very little what the cleric actually DOES with them.
1a) So, I conclude, any divinity with a lot of clerics must have very little headroom of their own with which to decide how to exercise their power, and so must outsource that brainspace to "devoted" followers. Deities in D&D (& Friends of similar ilk) have a lot of magical might but not a very good field of view or attention span. Just as if some random human (with a LOT of power) were trying to run WORLDS and keep track of it all - and decided to share some of that power with OTHER humans who could keep an eye of areas and concerns the "divine" was unable to pay attention to with any regularity. In short, clerics teach us that deities are not so very divine (except, perhaps, in the raw magnitude of their power.)
(Some may here protest that no, actually what is happening is that the cleric prays to an all-seeing deity who then sees fit to reward the cleric's faith with a miracle, but I don't buy that explanation because 1) there would be no reason to have the cleric in the first place, and 2) a cleric's god would seem to be REALLY chill about performing massive acts of wonder in a lot of situations they don't have any stake in, in which the cleric is just pursuing personal goals and just using divine power as a resource to their own ends.)

2) They're EVERYWHERE. Clerics everywhere. Like, they're one of the four traditional core classes, right alongside "people who use magic," "people who steal stuff," and "people who kill things by hitting them." Clerics in every village, clerics in every temple. (Clerics in nearly every adventuring party, it seems.)
2a) So, I conclude, the divines must be REALLY comfortable with all these humans and elves and such running around with their power. Like, they hand out literal godly power like it were candy. You just have to spend a couple years hanging out with the right people and BAM you can do miracles, you and the fifty other people at THIS ONE TEMPLE.
2b) I also conclude the divines REALLY WANT SOMETHING DONE. Whether they want their followers healed or their enemies confounded or monsters slain, they're throwing A LOT of resources around here on the prime planes. (That, or they're just really bored and they want to see what fireworks happen when they give a ton of unreliable little turds access to sparks of the divine. I personally suspect this last option, haha.)

3) They're of ALL KINDS. Not the clerics themselves, necessarily, but they follow all kinds of gods. Gods of war and peace, love and hate, life and death, toads and eagles, greed and poverty, light and dark, goats and snakes, oaths and lies, sun and stone, bears and beetles, fire and water, knowledge and secrets. And all these clerics have legitimate clerical powers, which at least IMPLIES that they worship bona-fide deities.
3a) So, I conclude that there are a TON of deities up there, many of which disagree vehemently with the basic nature of tons of OTHER deities, granting tremendous destructive power to all kinds of followers.
3b) ...Which seems like we have an answer to our question in 2b: the gods are tooth-and-nail AT WAR with each other; sun clerics are expected to strike down underworld creatures, truth clerics are expected to expose and destroy lies (and liars), goat clerics are expected to... screw stuff and eat stuff? ANYWAY, don't think of clerics as passive repositories of power. Think of them as soldiers in a cosmic battlefield. (Better: not soldiers, LANDMINES, blowing stuff up indiscriminately and undirectedly.)

So, next time you're playing a cleric, think a bit more about what that means. Does your deity approve of your use of its power? Does it even know? Does it even CARE?
(And, GMs, ask the same questions for deities in your setting!)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Downtime (WotC Unearthed Arcana)

Earlier this month, Wizards of the Coast put out optional rules for downtime in 5th Edition (accessible here).

Overall, what I saw was encouraging.

It's good to see WotC thinking in terms of a long-form campaign, and what players are doing between adventures. Specific downtime activities I was happy to see include: rules for crafting items of all kinds (and particularly magic items or spell scrolls), rules for training language or tool proficiencies, rules for research of lore regarding foes or locations, and rules for buying and selling magic items.

It was kinda janky to see activities like criminal heists and pit fighting included among downtime activities. They seem more like mini-adventures in and of themselves, to me. The only way I can think to justify it is to say that they're presented in this compressed, abstract format so that one player doesn't take a lot of time away from the party by going out on a mini-adventure of their own while everyone waits for them to finish - which makes sense, I suppose.

The suggestion regarding "foils" (basically villains by another name?) also seemed really out-of-place, especially given that they were given spatial priority in the document. All it really ended up saying is that "yeah, sometimes opponents of the party will be up to stuff while the players are on downtime, too." (I don't think it should take three full letter-size pages to say that.)

I would've liked to see rules regarding more domain-style play, like creating and running factions or building and maintaining manors/castles/towers and their demesnes. (Perhaps that would be another Unearthed Arcana in and of itself, though - which I would be cool with.)

I'm currently running a (heavily-hacked) 5E game, and these rules are fairly lightweight and easy to bolt on without much meddling - and my campaign utilizes downtime. I think I will take advantage of these.

Overall: 3.5/5

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Session 0

Session 0 is my favorite name for that special opening game session where no actual play takes place, but rather players sit about with furrowed brows, either painstakingly building their character or looking bored while waiting for others to finish. There are occasional outpourings of excitement (players gushing details from their character's "deep backstory" or the DM spouting tidbits about their "custom setting"), but on the whole it is the least engaging session of the coming campaign.

I don't aim to change that. It is, perhaps, the way it must be. But, I DO aim to make sure Session 0 isn't a waste of time, that it gives a solid foundation necessary for a successful long-term campaign. 

Here's what I do.

0) Have the Players Read the Relevant Rules
This is labeled "0)" because it is the step BEFORE Session 0.
Players need to know the basic rules of the system you're using.
Don't make them read every little submechanic, and CERTAINLY don't ask them to read up on the various character build options - but they should know how stuff like fighting and magic work.
This will, ideally, save a LOT of time you'd otherwise spend repeatedly explaining basic rules to puzzled players trying to build their characters.
Not all your players will read the rules. This is not the end of the world. Still, ASK THEM TO.
Not all your players will remember the rules they read. This is fine. Still, REMIND THEM to try looking rules up before asking you.

1) Explain the Campaign Premise
Every campaign has a premise.
Every one.
Even if it's just "yeah, you guys are a band of pseudo-medieval fantasy types who got lost in the woods and find themselves in a strange place. It's got lotsa fairies and trolls. You need to figure out how to get back to where you came from - and I doubt the trolls are feeling helpful."
So, you need to LAY OUT what the players can generally expect from the campaign - both in terms of setting (likely allies and enemies, character options, tech level) and tone (mood, flavor), since these may be important for players to account for in step 2).
OBVIOUSLY keep any mysteries or plot twists to yourself. BUT you don't want players showing up to a police drama/horror campaign set in a remote area of Alaska with a character who reads like a gay ex-SEALS Arnold Schwarzenegger.
^ That literally HAS HAPPENED to a friend of mine - while DMing his first session :(
Sometimes, the DM has ideas for MULTIPLE campaigns they'd like to run. If this is you, don't be afraid to bring those options before the players, explain their premises, and have them decide which they'd like to play!

2) Build Characters
This follows on pretty straightforwardly from 1).
DO NOT be afraid do disallow character classes or builds, whether on mechanical or tonal grounds. (I always ban druids from my campaigns, for example - for BOTH reasons.) Character classes should fit the chosen setting. It's part of the storymaking aspect of roleplaying games - a character with no place in the setting sticks out like a sore thumb, breaks immersion, and makes it difficult for the world to interact with it.
DON'T ask for a "backstory." They are 1) time-consuming to write, 2) not fun to read, 3) always forgotten about or contradicted, and 4) not desired by many players. All you and each of your players need to know about their character is WHO THEY ARE and WHAT THEY WANT. These can be very simple things. (That being said, if some screwed-up player wants to write out a "deep backstory," shrug and let them. And then read it when they're done, and try to incorporate an element or two into the campaign, because you are a kind and caring DM and they put in all that effort and care. But DON'T YOU DARE put the idea to make one in their head in the first place.)
Now - and this is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART - an aspect of what each character "wants" must tie in with the campaign premise. That is, each character must have a reason that they are part of the campaign, and that they band together as a party to rise to the challenges they face. Characters without reason to be there just end up as a drag on the campaign - the player will always have to be justify why their character is still part of the party, given that what their character wants has no connection to the goals as a party as a whole. Characters without reason to be part of the party are POISON to a successful campaign. Make sure you establish each character's reason during Session 0. Don't approve a player's character until they have such a reason.
[Edit: I actually just read The Angry GM's article on this bit. If you want a lot more detail on specificity on what to go for in getting a party together and keeping it together, check it.]
[Edit2: most of the stuff I write is more for GMs, but here's something for players: if your GM isn't doing a good job requiring characters to have a reason to be part of the party, get it together yourself and start proposing common goals or means or motivations to your fellow players. A friend and I recently had to do this for a VERY directionless campaign that basically several odd characters dicking about independently until we realized the DM had no plans to do this for us, we had to do it ourselves.]

3) Decide on Play Schedule
Doesn't have to be set in stone for the long term - but you at least need to know when your group is meeting next. This is the best time to establish that, and explore expectations for the continuing schedule for the group.
I like to run weekly games with short sessions. Some groups may do better with longer sessions, or less frequent games. See what's best for your players.

That's it.
All in all, it should take around two hours. Perhaps one, perhaps three. (It will take more like three hours if your players don't know the rules to the game system you're using, or if you're having the players choose from among multiple campaign options.)

A Few General Tips
Be friendly and welcoming. Encourage players to make connections with each other. (Might also be helpful to encourage their CHARACTERS to be built with connections, too.)
Provide snacks, or delegate the task of bringing snacks to a player or two, even if it won't be a customary fixture of following sessions. Snacks alleviate boredom, which is something that Session 0 is especially vulnerable to.
Keep the group spatially together. Not necessarily at the same table, but definitely in the same room. (I like a room with couches more than a room with tables for Session 0, but this is just a personal preference thing, haha.)
Feel free to experiment with the ambiance by altering lighting or playing music, but it's probably just BS tomfoolery to do so. (But hey, a certain kind of player digs that effort.)

Go start that campaign.

(Reader: what does your Session 0 look like?)