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Writing Your First Adventure
Part 1 of 6



If you are ready to design your first RPG adventure, or learn how to improve the adventures you’ve already got, you’ve come to the right place. The “Adventure Builder” will cover all the bases, from hooks to background to traps and treasures.

This time out, we’ll cover the foundation you need to build a great adventure. It’s not the background, the stat blocks, or even the main villain. It’s monster selection, and figuring out the size and style of the adventure.

How Big is Your Design?

A common rule of thumb among the Wizards of the Coast design staff is that a typical group of adventurers will level up after about 13 successful encounters of the party’s encounter level (EL). That’s a great number to work from, especially if you want to design a large adventure that spans multiple levels.

In an adventure with dozens of encounters, the party will level up half-way through. Since the party will be tougher and more capable from that point on, the adventure you’ve planned for them needs too scale up as well. It’s better to scale up the second half of the adventure appropriately, but if you don’t want the PCs to level up midway through your epic you can prevent it by keeping your number of encounters small or by lowering their EL (to reduce the XP per encounter).

At the same time, just because you map an encounter doesn’t mean that it will be played. Some areas are never explored, after all, and not every encounter leads to combat (some are resolved or defeated through stealth, magic, bribery, or roleplaying). So if you do want the PCs to level up after your adventure then you’ll need more than 13 party-level encounters to provide enough options and fallbacks if the party doesn’t follow the expected path.

So, not too many encounters and not too few. As a general idea, you want to prepare about 20 to 25 encounters for your party per level of advancement. If you prefer mostly lower EL encounters, perhaps closer to 25 to 30. If you run marathon play sessions every weekend, you might want to prepare 40 to 50 encounters ahead of time, and assume the second half will be at a higher level. If you run short game sessions, you’ll want to make sure that the adventure breaks into small sections of 3 or 4 encounters with a satisfying conclusion to each.

Now you know how many encounters you should prepare. What should be in those encounters? And what mistakes should you watch out for?

Common design mistakes

There are four fairly common errors in beginning adventure design. When I worked on Dungeon magazine I saw them constantly, and the errors haven’t changed.

1) too much useless backstory
2) slow starts
3) random encounters
4) too many encounters

Each of these is easy to fix. Here’s how you do it.

Simple Backstory: Most DMs and designers hate to hear it, but much of the time lavished on history and background is wasted energy. Players never find out who dug the tomb, how the wizard was betrayed by her apprentice, or why the assassin guild changed sides and disappeared. Working on backstory doesn’t improve the gameplay experience for anyone but the bards and scholars obsessed with legends or lore. Unless it connects directly to action in the current timeframe (and the PCs have a way of learning it), skip the involved history. Save that for sourcebooks.

This is not to say cut it all. Details of which faction can be turned against another, which guard might take a bribe, or what the villain ultimately plans to do if the party doesn’t stop him are all appropriate. Make sure your backstory is recent and relevant; avoid anything that starts “Thousands of years ago…”

Start the Action Quickly: When players arrive at the game, they are looking to roll some dice. You can start the action immediately and draw the players away from pizza and other distractions by giving them what they want: a short, simple combat encounter to start off the game. Ideally, the encounter is pitched at an encounter level (EL) no more than one level above or below the party’s level.

The best of the “start in midstream” kick-offs are aimed at all the PCs when they are together, and raise questions that lead the party to the adventure hook. For instance, the party might see raiders attacking an inn where they had planned to spend the night — survivors of the attack tell the party about the black knight who leads them. Or a teleporting extraplanar threat might appear during broad daylight and accuse a cleric of breaking his vows — and threaten to sacrifice his corrupt church elders to a greater power. Where these encounters go ultimately isn’t the most important thing: they can be a little tangential to the plot, as long as they get the party thinking of the right sort of threat.

I’ll discuss this in more detail next time in “Adventure Hooks.”.

Don’t Be Random: Time is precious, so be careful how many tangents and red herrings you include in your design. In particular, random encounters might be fun, or can be useful to get a dawdling party going, or to work off that frustration players sometimes get where they just need to have their characters kill something, but they don’t usually make your adventure any better. If they are tied into the core adventure, then they shouldn’t be random at all; those clues should be built in to the design. If they aren’t tied in to the adventure core, then you are just wasting game time on an encounter that doesn’t advance the mission or the story goals for you or your players.

Trim Excess Encounters: If you create too many encounters and you don’t play every day, players forget what their mission was, or start to lose hope of making progress. They wind up grinding through so many nuisance encounters that they lose sight of the important clues, or they don’t talk to the important NPC, or they don’t search the critical room for documents — because they are too busy grinding through combats. If the encounters are just there to fill up space on a map, they might as well be random. Leave some rooms empty to speed up play.

Encounter Selection: Fitting Together a Cast

The real challenge is balancing encounters to present a variety of challenges for every member of the party. The adventure, after all, is a chance for the heroes to triumph over opposition (or fail miserably and go home).

Selecting for a Coherent Look and Feel

Story, setting, and immersion are all easier to pull off if your monsters fit a theme. That theme might be “united tribes of humanoids” or it might be “desert raiders”, but either way it cuts out many choices. Avoid the kitchen sink approach of just taking creatures that match the party level. Instead, make good use of the EL chart in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (page 49) to create encounters of small groups, pairs of monsters, and single creatures.

In particular, consider linked encounters for your cast. A guard dog or a sentry might be a much lower EL encounter from a combat perspective — but if the party fails to use a silence spell or a sneak attack to take it out quickly then it could make later encounters more difficult.

Balancing by EL and by Class

The Dungeon Master’s Guide offers direct advice on how many easy, challenging, very difficult, and overwhelming encounters a typical adventure should contain (see page 49). Hint: not many overwhelming encounters.

While this breakdown is good advice, it’s not complete. You’ll want to be sure that your 20 or 25 encounters include encounter variety by class as well as by EL. That is, make sure to include each of the following types of encounters, to give every class and every player a chance to shine.

1) Two Skill Encounters: These are creatures or obstacles that can be defeated by stealth or skill, such as guards, castle walls, cliffs, informants, or low-hp creatures that can fall to a single sneak attack.

2) Four Pure Combats: You need some no-negotiation, straight-up combats that play to the fighter classes. Think orcs, wolves, ogres, giants — or dragons. Consider tactics first here: ambushes, charge, bull-rush, something to make it more than just attack rolls and damage rolls.

3) Two Magical Challenges: Include two magical challenges that require a knock, a fireball, or whatever other strengths your arcane spellcasters have. They might be lore-based challenges, such as knowing the weaknesses of an extraplanar creature, or they might require the use of Concentration or Spellcraft to manipulate a magical object or unravel a mysterious warding.

4) One Divine Challenge: The divine caster in the party is more than just a medic, so give him or her something to do with at least one undead turning, Knowledge (Religion), or nature-knowledge encounter (if your divine caster is a druid).

5) One Puzzle or Trap: This could be as simple as finding the key to a tough lock, deciphering an ancient script, or finding a secret door with Search, but you should include traps and puzzles for your party to solve. If the party doesn’t have a rogue in it, use Knowledge skill checks as a substitute.

6) Two Roleplaying Encounters: Social skills play an important part of the game too, and bards don’t like to just sit and do their stuff in the background. Provide at least two roleplaying encounters that can be defeated by the right social skills, bribes, exchange of services, or clever conversation. Examples include a scholar with a clue that the party needs to bypass some defenses or wardings, or a devil who will ally with them against a common foe.

7) One Mook Encounter: This should be against foes of at least 2 CR less than the party, and ideally 3 or 4 less. Think kobolds, bandits, skeletons, wild animals, or any other group of many foes that play to Cleave and area-effect spells. It’s fun to see heroes cutting a swath through hordes of foes.

8) One Polder: “Polder” is a Dutch word describing land reclaimed from the sea, but here it’s a more general term. As described in detail in Dungeon 135, polders are safe havens for adventurers, places where the party can regain strength. Think Rivendell in Lord of the Rings. Your polder could be a xenophobic elven tree city, a magical rope that generates rope trick spells as a charged item, a bound archon who wards a treasure, or a dwarven merchant caravan. If the party wishes, they can heal up to full strength and level up.

9) One Bigger Fish: To keep the blood flowing, you should have one overwhelming encounter that the party can’t handle without serious risk of a total party kill. This could turn into a roleplaying bit of Diplomacy, a chase, or a stealth challenge, depending on how the party handles it — but they should see that not every encounter in every adventure should be fought.

10) Big Finish: A grand finale encounter with all the trimmings: villain, minions, and a room or terrain that provides interesting combat options.

That list of recommended encounter types covers 17 encounters out of the 20 to 25 in your adventure, but you could easily double up on any of those categories. For example, if you know that the players like intense combat you could set up the remaining encounters as pure combats. If you know that your arcane caster is itching for a magical duel — or that the rogue will always try reconnaissance first — prepare those kinds of encounters.

Tailoring an adventure to show the heroes in the best light means more fun for everyone. Making an adventure that plays to the party’s weakness might be fun for you, but will only frustrate your players. Don’t take away their spells, sneak attacks, or combat items very often — those are the tools of heroism and the key to fun. Instead, give those strong points a challenge and a chance to shine.

To further tailor an adventure, consider some special encounter types if you have, say, a mounted knight, an archer, a monk, or a paladin in the group.

1) A mounted encounter
2) A ranged attack encounter
3) A chase (see Dungeon Master’s Guide II page 57 for chase rules), either hunting or being pursued.
4) A single-combat encounter or challenge from an honorable foe
5) Another class-specific encounter, such as one that requires bardic song, barbarian tracking, or fighting a ranger’s favored enemy.

Conclusion

Adventures work if they are fun and easy to play, and give every kind of hero a chance to shine in different encounter styles. The most important part of design isn’t the details of a stat block, but the type and variety of opponents and encounters.

About the Author

Wolfgang Baur is the author of dozens of adventures, from the “Kingdom of the Ghouls” and “Gathering of Winds” in Dungeon magazine to upcoming releases from Wizards of the Coast. He offers custom-tailored adventures and professional advice to patrons of the Open Design blog.

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IN EVERY “FIRST ENCOUNTER” UNCERTAINTY IS ALWAYS THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENT OF TRUE DANGER

What I like best about what is implied in this book (hinted at but not much developed in the article) is the idea that you may have competing descriptions of various monsters. Which might very well mean that you have various (interpretive) versions of the same monster, which of course, in and of itself, implies that a monster might be this or might be that, or might even be neither or both in any given milieu or setting.

Which would be a very Game of Thrones, Martinesque version of a monster, sure enough, though if you’ve ever read the Silmarillion (or even just the Hobbit) you know that Tolkien really invented the technique of presenting competing and unclear/unreliable versions of history and myth, at least as far as modern fantasy is concerned. The larger idea, of course, stretches all the way back to the Greeks ( and beyond into prehistory and oral cultures) who had several very different and even competing versions of various prodigies and monsters depending upon the author, the source, the time period, the regional geography/telling, and the nature of the myth itself.

As a matter of fact this is something I have often done in my own game designs and in my own fictional writings going back to when I was a kid, but it is extremely gratifying to hear that the idea is possibly being explored in core material books of D&D and possibly for other RPGs as well.

Because what this means, if taken to its logical conclusion, is that even if players have access to the Monster Manual then that does not mean that they are in possession of concrete and reliable information regarding what any given monster’s true nature, behavior, or even physiology and capabilities might be.

Since I have designed and redesigned famous/standardized D&D monsters in this way since I first became a Dungeon Master back in my teens I know precisely how effective this technique can be (as well as how valuable it makes rumor and field investigation and intel-gathering as a capability of classes like Rangers, Rogues, Bards, and Wizards) in designing and developing a truly exciting game and a truly disturbing method of “encountering monsters.” (Potentially, in some ways at least, every single encounter of a monster can b a “first encounter,” even if you have already encountered the same species dozens of times before.)

When every encounter (or at least a large number of them) are built upon rumor, possibility, and analytical interpretation of conflicting reports rather than upon reliable information and hard, verifiable data then Monsters become far, far more dangerous than they ever were before.

So I am very glad to see Core-Designers possibly adopting the same position.

As a matter of fact I’ve written several essays on that very subject.

Such as these as just two examples:

Crawling Into Oblivion

The Blood of Uncanny Monsters

 

_________________________

Dungeons & Dragons is changing how it makes books

“We live in a post Game of Thrones world.”

The venerable Dungeons & Dragons franchise, the granddaddy of the modern role-playing game, is now in its 5th edition. And, to hear publisher Wizards of the Coast tell it, the sourcebooks are selling like hot cakes. More people than ever before are discovering the magic of rolling dice and telling stories with their friends, and lapsed fans are returning in droves.

For lead designer Mike Mearls, that’s created a bit of a problem. How do you keep the source material fresh for a 42-year old franchise? And, when you’re in the business of selling books, how do you make the next one more interesting than the last?

Consider a pillar of the franchise, the sourcebook known as the Monster Manual. The first, titled simply Monster Manual, was published in 1977. Since then there have been 18 iterations, some for different editions of the game with different rulesets, others with slightly different snippets of lore. But, through the decades, it’s always been roughly the same thing: An alphabetical list of monsters.

“I have this kind of personal philosophy for managing the product line,” Mearls said last month in Renton, Washington. “I don’t want to duplicate any product that’s come before. I think that if people have seen it, then it’s not really new and it’s not really exciting.”

The first Monster Manual, circa 1977.

This time around, he and his team have decided to do something a little bit different. Their next take on the Monster Manual will be called Volo’s Guide to Monsters and, for the first time, it will have a lot more character to it.

“It’s risky,” Mearls said. “In the end, it’s still a giant book full of monsters. No one would argue with that. But I just think that if that’s all the Monster Manual is, then we’re selling ourselves short. So the idea was, the kind of genesis of it, was that want to do something that’s more story oriented.”

Volo’s Guide will have a narrator — two actually. One will be Volothamp Geddarm, an over-the-top, braggadocious explorer. The other will be Elminster, the wise Sage of Shadowdale. And the two will often be at odds with one another. Their differing accounts will be scattered throughout the book, and take the shape of comments scribbled in the margin.

WIZARDS OF THE COAST WANTS THEIR SOURCEBOOKS TO BE FUN TO READ.

Put simply, the goal is to create a book that high-level players and dungeon masters will enjoy reading. The goal, in the end, is to inspire new stories at the table, not simply reinforce the lore of the Forgotten Realms and ram storylines down player’s throats.

“I have this pet phrase I use,” Mearls said. “I like to say that we’re living in a post Game of Thrones world. Fantasy has changed.

“If you look at science fiction follows, I think an arc that fantasy is following now. In the 50’s, science fiction was very iconic, and at least in movies, very much templated. You had the flying saucer, or the rocket ship, you had either the aliens who were clearly monsters — like the guy in the deep sea diving helmet wearing the gorilla coming to eat people or whatever. Or they were people in funny outfits who were very inscrutable and so much more advanced that we were, and that was your pantheon.”

Later, as science fiction entered the ‘60s and the ‘70s, it began to be entrusted with more serious themes and dealt with issues of change in modern culture as a whole.

“So you have this new wave of science fiction coming through and science fiction grows up,” Mearls said. “It became Alien — a horror movie in outer space. It becomes Soylent Green, which is kind of like this social commentary on science fiction. It’s Rollerball, right? This entire thing about what’s it really mean to have free will, and can there really be freedom in a technological society? But it’s still science fiction.”

THE FANTASY GENRE IS GROWING UP.

Mearls sees Game of Thrones as evidence of the same kind of evolution in the fantasy genre, and it’s his hope that Volo’s Guide can become a new kind of sourcebook to help bring about new kinds of stories.

So what’s inside? I’ve had an advanced digital copy for a few weeks now and I’m pretty impressed at what I’ve found.

The first third of the book is a series of deep dives on specific species of monsters. How specific? Mearls and his team lavish nearly 14 full two-column pages on beholders alone, exploring every aspect of their nature both in and out of combat.

Most of the information is great fodder for dungeon masters. How do you roleplay a beholder? How do you speak like a giant? What does their four-tier caste system contribute to goblin society? What does a gnoll chant to keep his spirits up while on the hunt? What is the lifecycle of a mind flayer?

Well, actually, I’ll let Volo himself handle that last one.

Ever wondered what a hag is most likely to drive off the used car lot, or fancied a careful examination of the kobold pantheon? It’s all in there, and something is going to light a fire in your mind and bring a richer, more memorable experience to the table.

The second third of the book might be my favorite. I’m not able to share much, but suffice it to say that with Volo’s Guide both dungeon masters and players will be able to bring new races to the table, both as player and non-player characters. That includes rules for goblins, orcs and even something called a “firbolg.”

The final third contains rules for 96 monsters that are new to fifth edition, including the Gauth and the Mindwitness.

All told, Wizards of the Coast sent over six pages to share with our readers. We’ll include the final three below.

The very last section of the book features a great add-on. It’s a nice little appendix that includes a handful of fully detailed stock NPCs. It makes the entire package a fantastic resource for dungeon masters, turning a pretty standard sourcebook into a self-contained toolkit capable of spawning dozens of different dungeons — or sparking entire campaigns — without very much prep work at all.

To create it, Mearls says his team has had to take a long hard look at Dungeons & Dragons’ oldest and most iconic creatures. Their goal was to explain them to a degree that’s never been canonically attempted before in one place.

“If you take a look at something like a mind flayer,” Mearls said, “it has that sort of ‘50s science fiction feel. It’s the creepy monster that lives under the bed and eats your brain by the end of story. But I think with a 21st century approach, you can say, ‘Well, who is the mind flayer.’ And it sounds funny, but then you start getting into it. What’s with this guy eating brains?

“Dungeons & Dragons was very much developed with this almost scientific mindset,” Mearls said. “What’s the biology of the mind flayer? But no one asked about its feelings. But when you think about, it the game tells me that mind flayer has an 18 intelligence. The highest intelligence a human can achieve, that’s their average. Literally, they walk in the room and they are the smartest being there. They are smarter than every human they’ve ever ate. So talking to us is like meeting dogs, for them. What’s that got to be like?”

Mearls says that, if the book is successful, he intends for his team to handle more of their upcoming sourcebooks in a similar way.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters will be available at your friendly local game store on Nov. 15. You can also find it on Amazon. It’s also the first Dungeons & Dragons product to have a collectible, alternate cover which you can see here Babykayak.

 

THE OLDSTERS VAD

October 17, 2016

Tim

Sean is 26 years old, and he runs a game of D&D for people in their 70’s – who just started playing. Read their story below.

(With a bonus interview with the players themselves at the end of the article.)

From left to right: Maureen the Human Fighter, Margiella the High Elf Wizard, Darrak the Dwarven Cleric, Kangaroo the Human Fighter, and Jeffro the Halfling Rogue

Tabletop Terrors: So Sean – your players seem to be a bit more “seasoned” than most—what’s the median age of your players not including you?

Sean: Well it’s a good thing I’m not included here because I would certainly bring down the age a bit, being 26. My grandma is 72, my grandpa is 71, and I’m not exactly sure how old their neighbors are (and I feel like I might lose a couple players if I ask!) but they are in their early-to-mid 60s. We also picked up my mom once she heard about the fun everyone else was having. She’s 51 so that puts our median age at about 63.

It seems like you’re having an absolute blast – what made you decide to try to get these wonderful folks to play D&D?

Honestly they were the ones that pushed for it. I was down at my grandparent’s shore house a few weeks ago relaxing and drawing some maps for another group’s campaign. My grandma asked about what I was doing, and I explained that it was for D&D. She said, “Oh we’d like to play, we love games!”

I actually tried to talk her out of it at first, thinking it would be a waste of time because there was no way that my grandparents would ever be interested in playing D&D. But they pushed the issue and invited me over for dinner, telling me to bring everything I would need for them to play.

I think if I was the one that pushed it on them rather than having them be the driving force behind playing, they never would have gotten into it.

What rules system are you using?

We’re playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition with a little homebrew here and there (mostly because when I don’t know a rule I just try to make something up that sounds fair and then stick with it rather than spend 10 minutes searching through the rulebook).

Are you running pre-made adventures, or making up your own stories? Similarly, are you using pre-generated characters, or did everyone roll their own up?

I’m running them through the 5e starter set campaign, Lost Mines of Phandelver. I may throw in some of my own sidequests here and there if I think of anything they may be interested, but for the most part we’ll probably just stick with LMoP. They’re using the pre-gen characters that come with the starter set, but only for the stats and abilities. I had them decide what their characters’ personalities were like, what drives them to go off and adventure, and what flaws their characters may have that could be problematic. I think they did a great job coming up with their backstories and I also think that by letting them decide on their backgrounds, it helped to get them more invested in the story.

Is everyone using your books and dice, or have any of the players made the leap into buying their own adventuring gear?

For now everyone is using my books and dice. I have enough dice for everyone to have their own set while we play, and I give them the starter set rulebook to use so they can look up their own spells or check on rules that they have questions about. Meanwhile I have the Player’s Handbook on my side of the screen. The plan is for us to play pretty consistently, at least for the next few months. I personally don’t mind them using my stuff for as long as they want, but I could see them wanting to get their own gear as they get more into it.

What has surprised you the most about this endeavor?

I would say I’m most surprised by my grandpa and how he has taken to the game. Out of everyone that’s playing, he is the one that I least expected to get really into his character. He’s a tough guy who has certainly done his share of manual labor, but he’s playing a sneaky, Halfling rogue named Jeffro. He’s really dived in headfirst and has even texted me to talk about his character’s backstory in between sessions.

What has been the most challenging thing that you’ve come up against while trying to play with this group? How did you overcome them?

I think at the end of the day, this group provides a lot of the same challenges that any group of first time players would provide. It’s a balance of simplifying the game in a way that they can learn the rules as they go while still not losing the depth that makes D&D so great.

Right now I think the biggest challenge I’m dealing with is just going to be getting them all on the same page. They are thinking of themselves as individuals – all of them are the heroes of their own story – and that’s not totally a bad thing because it’s helped them get into character. At some point though, they’re going to need to really work together to overcome some tougher challenges. I think they will, though. They’re all smart people, and part of learning the game is learning how your character can synergize with the rest of the group (in terms of decision-making and also in the use of abilities in combat).

The other challenge is going to be finding ways to motivate them in ways other than gold. So far their first question to NPCs asking for favors has been, “how much will you pay us?” Gold is a great motivator, especially for new players, but my hope is that the intrigue of the story starts to cause them to make decisions based off of a desire for information more than for coin. That’s not totally on them though; if I do a good job as DM, that change should happen naturally.

What has been the most rewarding thing?

The most rewarding thing for me as a DM is always just to see my players have fun. That’s true of any group, and even moreso with a group that I didn’t expect to really get into the game the way my grandparents did. I am fortunate to have a really good relationship with them, and being able to share something with them that brings me as much joy as D&D does is awesome.

In general, it’s just really cool being able to play D&D with them. Most people my age who spend time with their grandparents probably have to compromise a bit when it comes to activities. Mine have fortunately always been cooler than the stereotype of what people think of when it comes to older relatives, but this definitely makes Tuesday dinners at their house a lot more interesting.

 

Here’s the DM himself, Sean

*** BONUS: WE INTERVIEW THE PLAYERS. ***

We were able to ask a few of the players their thoughts on D&D. We posed the same three questions to all of them:

1.) What surprised you the most about playing D&D?

2.) What did you find the most challenging?

3.) What is your favorite thing about D&D?

Maureen the Human Fighter’s Answers

1. What surprised me most was even though the names are unusual, I found it easy to follow.

2. The most challenging thing was following my team when I wanted to take a different path.

3. My favorite thing is how everyone embraces their characters and fits into their roles.

Margiella the High Elf Wizard’s Answers

1. I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed the adventure. I was not sure when we first started but it challenges your thought process and makes your brain think of strategies to win.

2. The most challenging thing is deciding how to fight the enemy and what is the best weapon to use.

3. My most favorite thing about D & D is that you can play with others as a team and work together to make decisions. We played last night and had a lot of laughs on the adventure. It was obvious that some of our decisions went badly, but we all still laughed about it. This is a game that can bring together people of all ages to have a great time. My grandson is the host and in his twenties, so it is especially enjoyable for me to be able to have that time with him at this point in our lives. I can’t wait for our next game.

Jeffro the Halfling Rogue’s Answers

1. The biggest surprise to me was the intricacy of how the game plays out and how your

choices help to move the game along.

2.  The most challenging thing is as a new player it’s getting familiar with my character and what he is capable of doing.

3.  The thing I enjoy most the molding of my character to what I feel he is supposed to be like.

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DRAGON AND THIEF

The Dragon and the Thief

Do your PCs spend a lot of time in taverns drinking and gambling? Do you want to role-play the games perhaps as a change of pace or as a prelude to a cracking barroom brawl?

 

The dragon and the Thief is a perfect game for PCs to play when relaxing in their favourite tavern. They can play it among themselves or try to win coins from the locals. Unlike some gambling games, a single round of Dragon and the Thief can go on for some time, but large amounts of money are rarely won or lost as each player usually only puts down or picks up one coin at a time.

A game of Dragon and the Thief is a great way to introduce new NPCs – either normal locals, rival adventurers, thieves, rivals or even potential employers. A game of Dragon and the Thief is also the perfect backdrop for some impromptu information gathering.

How to Play

To play, Dragon and the Thief, each player needs two six‐sided dice and a game board. The game is best played with three or more players.

Game Board by Matt Morrow

Game Board by Matt Morrow

Start: Before play begins, the players must decide what denomination of coin (copper, silver, gold or platinum) to wager. All players start by placing a coin of the relevant value on the number 7.

Who Goes First: The players all roll their dice. The player with the lowest score goes first. Thereafter, play passes to the left.

Playing: Each player rolls his dice. The result determines the player’s action:

  • 2 (The Thief): The player takes all the coins except those on number seven (The Hoard).
  • 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 or 11: The player checks the number for a coin. If a coin is there, the player takes it. If there is no coin the player puts one down on that number.
  • 4: The player does nothing.
  • 7 (The Hoard): The player puts a new coin on that number.
  • 12 (The Dragon): The player takes all the coins on the board.

Play continues as long as the participants want to play; players can join or drop out at any time.

Get it Free

This is an extract from a Raging Swan Press product released as a special Christmas gift. It’s still available as a free download and contains several different printable game boards along with lists of players and in-game events designed to spice up the PCs’ gambling session. You can grab a copy at RPGNow or DriveThruRPG. Get your copy today!

 

NEW WYRDROAD

Some interesting new material on Wyrdroad. Some archaeological, some historical, some scientific, some gaming related, some entertaining.

WYRDROAD

THE MAKERS

The Makers 

THE WYRDROAD

THE WYRDROAD

By the way, I’ve mentioned this before but I have a new Facebook Gaming page up. It reflects the interests of this blog and you are welcome to go there and join and then participate and make your own posts.

Here is the Address: Wyrdroad

WYRDROAD

I have established a new Facebook Gaming Group.

I haven’t had much time to build up the membership yet because I’ve been busy but I have tried to build up some interesting content. The primary interest of the group is gaming, but like this blog it will cover history, archeology, warfare, science, technology, fantasy and science fiction, literature, pop culture, comics, etc.

You’re welcome to visit and to join. Just hit the links provided.

WYRDROAD

 

NornsOld4

CAERKARA – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

In keeping with what I said over the weekend about beginning to once again post my own Works (as per this Post) here is my entry for Design of Things to Come, though it is one day early due to later work week scheduling conflicts.

Also I have now corrected all my former entries in The Other World so that they now properly show in that category, as they should. Later I will begin reposting my Essays on Gaming and Game Design.

So here you go, the Introduction to The Caerkara, or The Expeditionary Force

 

________________________________________

 

Introduction to The Caerkara

When the Eldeven folk began to realize that monsters were being accidentally created through the use of Elturgy (Arcane Magic) they began to track down and capture many of these monsters and isolate them in various places where they could be studied and hopefully cured. However the alterations caused by exposure to (especially) high level Elturgy seemed irreversible.

Eventually the Eldevens also realized that Elturgy itself seemed to be “mutating” some of their own kind, as well as other creatures, into monsters, or the Caladeem. Many at the Court of Samarkand came to understand that some of these monsters were completely rogue and out of control and could not be held or captured, that once transformed certain monsters would have to be killed due to their new and vicious nature. The Eldevens in Samarkand formed secret teams of “monster hunters” that traveled throughout the Known World (and sometimes to places in their world beyond their explored knowledge) to capture or kill monsters. At the same time the Samareül began a project that lasted for many decades that attempted to “repair” elturgy so that it no longer created monsters. But the deterioration only seemed to increase and worsen and no means was discovered to return Elturgy to a reliably benign state of operation.

Some monster hunter teams soon discovered that monsters were disappearing right before capture. The reason was a mystery until it was discovered that these monsters were fleeing to another world, through means unknown. The Samareül put his best Sages and Elturgists upon the problem and eventually the Drüidect was discovered, which allowed travel between their world and Terra, though the means by which “the Weirding Road” operates is still a mystery.

The Samareül formed a secret and elite team of Monster Hunters to go to Terra and either recover or kill the monsters that had escaped to that world. While there agents of this team met human beings and discovered human ideas about religion as well as information about Miracles (Thaumaturgy). When this team returned home and reported on their findings the Samareül decided that these events were not coincidental at all but fated, and that Thaumaturgy, God, and religion might just be the long sought answer to either repairing or replacing the troubled nature of Elturgy.

Since then the Samareül has been carefully studying humans, their society, religion, thaumaturgy, God, and other related matters. He has sent his elite Expeditionary Team into Terra on numerous occasions. Ostensibly it is the job of this team to hunt down and capture or kill the escaped monsters from their world, but secretly this team also studies humans, religion, thaumaturgy, etc. and gather intelligence to return to the Samareül for further study and research. This secret team or Expeditionary Force is called the Caerkara. Over the course of their expeditions to Terra they have spent much time in the Byzantine Empire (where many of the odd events affecting both worlds, as well as the escaped monsters, seem to tend to congregate) and humans have become aware of their existence, though not their true nature and point of origin. They have also become uneasy allies on occasion with the Basilegate, and as a result of this interaction a relationship has developed between the Court at Constantinople and the Court at Samarkand.

JUST TO LET YOU KNOW

I will soon be returning to blogging and posting about my own game worlds and milieus, my novels (in this case regarding my fantasy/mythological, my sci-fi, and detective novels mostly), my essays on gaming, the games I have designed and written, TSS scenarios, GPADs, my start-ups that are game related, my Vadding expeditions and urban exploration, and all of my other personal creations, enterprises, and Work.

Recently I have been much too busy with both business and personal matters to post about my own creations. But things have calmed now and that’s about to change.

So from now on I will be posting at least once a week about my own creations and designs. This I will do mostly on the weekends, but if you are a follower of this blog then you will know as soon as it happens.

Have a good weekend folks.

GRAVEYARD ENCOUNTERS

10 Graveyard Encounters

A collection of graveyard encounters, adventure seeds, and half-baked thoughts…

1. The group stumbles upon a cemetery with tombstones a quarter of the standard size. Engraved on the tombstones are names like Kitty, Tiger, Max, etc. Half the grave soil has been disturbed as if something dug its way out. A meow can be heard in the distance as dozens of undead cats prowl the perimeter of their resting ground.

2. There are numerous mausoleums spread throughout the graveyard. Each one has four gargoyles leering at each of its roof corners. Anyone who crosses the shadow of any of the perched gargoyles will have the shadow come alive and attack. Once slain that gargoyle will no longer cast a shadow.

3. You encounter an elderly man who is digging up a grave. If questioned he tells you that he recently had a dream where his dead wife was calling for him to rescue her.

4. A young girl scream pierces through the cemetery. She is running frantically and crying for help. She and her partner came to the cemetery to make out when decaying arms rose up from the ground and dragged her lover beneath the surface. All that remains is a broken picnic basket, a shredded blanket, and a used sheepskin.

5. You cross paths with a half dozen gravediggers. Their cart is filled with dozens of bodies. Half of them deceased, the other half clinging to life. They tell you the other half will be dead soon enough and there is no point in waiting for the inevitable.

6. As you pass by a gravestone you hear scratching and clawing coming from the ground. The soil begins to break apart and you faintly hear mumbling asking for assistance. A few moments later a ghoulish man in victorian dress and a top hat pull himself out. He believes he is awfully late for a dinner engagement and ask your were Wilson Pub is.

7. A cemetery with a hundred gravestones and 12′ tall memorial plinth in the center. Once a living being enters the cemetery the dead begin to rise from their graves. Wave upon wave of zombies attack. Once a zombie is slain it will reanimate 1 hour later. The plinth in the center of the cemetery has the name of every person buried here. Only by crossing out their names will they stay dead.

8. You stumble upon a gravestone with a square glass in the center of it. Next to the glass are two dials. With the right combination on the dials or a successful disable trap check you are able to speak with the person who’s grave this belongs to. Their image will appear in the square glass and will gladly answer questions.

9. You enter into a graveyard and suddenly realize that the exit is no longer there. As far as the eye can see appears to be an endless rows of tombstones. You quickly realize that all gravestones bear the same name. Only by putting that soul to rest can you escape this distorted reality.

10. In a long abandoned cemetery you meet a farmer planting seeds on the burial plots. He claims that the dead are wonderful fertilizer and the crop yield has remnants of their past memories.

FORE AND AFT, PORT AND STARBOARD

Useful for a wide range of Naval Adventures and Campaigns.

June 23, 2016

Mark S. Cookman

     This is another post following our nautical theme and it includes one of my oldest tables. The table is a simple one and is honestly little more than a nautical vocabulary list, but it was the result of a hard won lesson. My hope is to help novice GM’s learn this lesson in a less painful manner than I did. Let me tell you a story.

     It is the late ’80’s and I am in college. I have a job and am a full time (15 credit hours) student of organic chemistry with a B average. For some reason, I believe that I can also have a social life and maintain this status (BTW, I could NOT.) so I also play various RPG’s. Currently, I am the GM for a game of Flashing Blades, for which I had prepared a murder mystery in a roadhouse type of adventure. Because I was an inexperienced GM, I allowed the PC’s, a group of rich and powerful French nobles, to purchase a ship and set sail away from my adventure.

     At the time though, I thought that I was in control of things. I believed that I could just adapt the adventure to occur on the boat during its trip to the New World. At the time, I didn’t want to make my players unhappy by telling them no. It was a dreadful mistake. The copious notes that I had on the roadhouse and its occupants were now basically garbage. I could salvage some names and other stuff, but that was it. I wasn’t going to say, “I’m sorry guys, but I just don’t really have anything prepared.” The group seemed excited to be on a boat, so I thought I could just go with the flow. The adventure went wrong from the very beginning because I wasn’t able to just say, “The ship will take at least a day to prepare to sail. You will need to spend the night in the inn.”

     It was truly a disaster of a gaming session. I knew less than half of what I needed to know to run a good adventure. I knew the name of the murder victims and how they were killed. I knew who (what actually because it was a shape-shifting demon) the murderer was and how the PC’s had to kill it. I did not, however, have a map of a ship (or even a good idea of what places there were on a ship), nor did I know what crew positions the murdered people filled. When the players began to ask completely reasonable questions, I couldn’t answer them at all. I had spent 3 hours earlier in the week preparing for the roadhouse adventure and yet our session fell apart because I wasn’t prepared to answer some simple questions about the setting, which was now a ship. The group was forgiving, but I had let them down. I started learning things about ships for our next session and today’s list comes from some of that research. Here are 20 Positions on a Ship Besides the Captain. Happy Gaming!

  1. Quartermaster

  2. Sailmaster

  3. Navigator

  4. Bosun

  5. Gunnery Master

  6. Carpenter

  7. Gunner

  8. Common Sailor

  9. Cook

  10. Loblolly Boy

  11. Cabin Boy

  12. Powder Monkey

  13. Shanty Man

  14. The Lookout

  15. First Mate

  16. Officer of the Watch

  17. Ship’s Pilot

  18. Coxswain

  19. Sailmaker

  20. Cartographer

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES – ALL THING

Very, very nice… from Ed

My 6-Year-Old Designed A Dungeon, And It’s Terrifying

Well met, adventurers! Today I am going to do something you have not seen me do before. Something bizarre and unexpected. I am going to gush about my kid. I had meant to write this prior to Father’s Day weekend, but things here at BardCo have become somewhat hectic, what with school letting out for the summer, sports programs beginning, and new multimedia ventures coming to fruition. Suffice to say, this is a little late, but still retains much of its potency.

There are two things you should know about me. The first is that I am a fan of the old Gygaxian dungeon crawls of yore, with its pitfalls and terrors beyond reckoning. They were punishments disguised as fun, and damn it if he didn’t accomplish both. Never have I had so much fun being rent asunder or crushed to death, or boiled alive, or having my soul torn out or… well, you get the picture.

The second thing your should know about me is that my young son has a strong desire to play D&D or Pathfinder. He can’t decide which cover art is cooler. He likes to play with the minis I have on hand, set up my terrain, draw maps on my dry erase flip mat, and tell a story. Sometimes he even asks to use my dungeon master screen for reasons that are unknown but undoubtedly sinister.

If was a few months ago that he asked me if he could “Make a dungeon” for my weekly group.  I gave a wry chuckle and found myself filled with something I believe to be a mix of pride and amusement. I gave him the go-ahead, handed him a Monster Manual and a Bestiary, a couple magic markers, and a boat load of minis, and he went about his dark work. What he created still gives me pause. It would have been an act of pure cruelty and insidious design.

And it was good.

I’ve given the map he gave me the digital upgrade, as the only remaining picture I have of it (aside from the one seared into my mind’s eye), is blurry as all-get-the-funk-out. I will detail each room of this two level horror show.

The Tomb Of Xandarr, The Cruel
 The first thing you may note about the “Tomb” is that it is a little oddly shaped. The triangles, rectangles, squares, and ovals (all shapes easily recognizable to a Kindergartener) that are connected together by a series of strangely-shaped hallways. But when you really take a look at it, a couple things become apparent.
First, the rooms aren’t the typical square rooms we’re used to in dungeons, leading someone who has no idea the whole thing was designed by a 6-year-old to believe that the entire complex was created by a madman with some issues. The rooms are chaotic, adhering to no symmetry or even consistency. There is no sense of familiarity between rooms since they vary in size and shape with each new chamber. This puts characters on the defensive, never knowing what each room might hold. Granted, this should be the normal state of mind for every character going into a dungeon.
Secondly, those hallways. If you are playing with players who get paranoid easily, these halls are nightmares. Bizarre angles and narrow passages make for an almost claustrophobic setting. Without realizing it, my wee geekling is playing a psychological game with the players, putting them through their paces and tearing away any semblance of peace.
Now, let’s get into Level 1
Section 1 – Orc Encampment: “A crooked and jagged hallway of jutting stones zigs and zags its way toward a mostly rectangular chamber. Grunts from the eastern wall signal that the room is occupied. Half a dozen burly orcs rise from a sitting position gripping cruel axes.”
The dungeon begins with a pretty straight forward fight between the characters and a band of orcs camping in the room. I say camping because that is what my son explicitly said they were doing. In my “Game Master must justify everything” brain, I reasoned the orcs were about to enter the dungeon and made camp in this empty and defensible first room to regain their strength for the path ahead.
For most characters who enter this room, this battle should be a breeze. Since I figure the average party should be about level 8 to take on the bulk of the dungeon, six orcs is a pittance. Still, with good tactics and focused fire, the orcs could still pose a problem, especially if the retreat down the hall in the north end of the room, which would bottleneck the players.
Section 2 – The Pit of Mummies: “This oval, domed, stone chamber is mostly empty. The walls are bare and there are not sconces for torches. The only thing of import seems to be a single, simple stone sarcophagus sitting in the center of the room. Small cracks run the length of the dust-covered floor like a spider web.”
Most dungeons will place their boss at the end. My 6-year-old says “To hell with conformity” and sticks that sonnova bitch in room 2! But he was not content with a simple boss fight. No. He wanted a boss fight with a trap. He wanted a boss fight in a trap! The stone sarcophagus sits in the center of a fragile circle. If a character spends more than two rounds on the surface of the circle, if two stand on it at once, or if two characters pass over it one at a time, the floor will give way into a 40-foot free fall onto a spiked floor. That’s a little rough, especially considering on top of the spikes you are also taking bludgeoning damage from the falling rocks.
But wait! There’s more!
Once the sarcophagus breaks after the fall, it reanimates the mummy lord within. This is Xandarr, and he doesn’t take kindly to being woken up. When I asked my progeny what kind of magic spells he had, he simply said, “Ones that make characters fall down so when they fall down they fall on spikes.”
That’s actually kind of evil. So, here is the scenario. If the floor collapses (because the encounter is actually entirely avoidable), any poor bastards that find themselves on the floor need to make dexterity or reflex saving throws. Anyone that screws the pooch ends up at the bottom of a 40-foot deep pit of spikes fighting a mummy lord that can put them back on those spikes with a wave of his hand.
 “Are you my mummy?”
Did I mention the second mummy down here? Oh yeah. Impaled on one of the spikes is yet another mummy. Granted, this is just your run of the mill mummy, but damn! That just ups the chances of the poor characters stuck in the pit to get a fun case of mummy rot (still sounds like an STD).
What’s more, the rest of the characters would be stuck up above, trying to find something to attach  a rope to, of which there is nothing. Melee characters would either have to traverse the rope and hope the mummy lord isn’t leveling spells at them or jump and deal with the spiky goodness. Those that choose the rope are looking at a 2-3 round commitment since the  average climb speed is 15-feet, and the pit is more than twice that.
The walls of the pit are flat and smooth (not to mention round, so no corners to shimmy up), making climbing out without assistance a virtual nightmare as far as difficulty is concerned (and failure meaning another trip to spike town).
On the plus side, the mummy lord is carrying an amulet that can make your skin as tough as stone, so hooray for loot. On the downside, the mummy lord is wearing said amulet, and would be foolish not to use it.
Evil, evil child.
 “There is nothing more precious than the laughter of a child.”
Section 3 – Trapped Hallway: “The door opens to a 25-foot long hallway. The hallway stretches off into a straight line, but there seems to be a five-foot deep, 10-foot long recess on the eastern side. Seven stone tiles make up the floor, each emitting a clicking sound when stepped upon. A stone door stands at the far end of the hall.”
My kid loves Minecraft. Moreover, he loves pressure plates and making them do things. This is a simple hallway, but a very complicated hallway at the same time. Immediately, a canny rogue is going to realize that every single inch of floor is a pressure plate. This makes the rogue’s job so much more difficult. Not to mention that recess. What is that? What even is that? Is it a trap?
Oddly enough, no. It’s just the shape of the hall. The mean part comes when an unfortunate character stands in front of the door leading out of the hall. Should they fail to disarm the trap, or if they step on the pressure plate before the door, that entire 10-foot section of wall on the eastern side of the door springs forward and crushes anyone standing there.
 “Holy broken bones, Batman!”
It’s sort of a fake-out. A trap fake out. The recess screams “look at me!” when it’s the stationary wall that is the killer aspect here. I am both proud and afraid on the kiddo.
Section 4 – Go Ahead. Touch It: “This triangular room is lit with a pair of torches on the northeastern and northwestern  walls. The torches burn with a sickly blue flame that casts the chamber in a ghostly light. A small pedestal stands at the apex of the triangle. Atop it rests a smooth violet jewel that size of a child’s fist. There is a pair of stone doors on the eastern wall.”
“What’s in this room?” I asked my son as he drew the funny triangle.
“A stone.” he replied matter-of-factly, “It’s purple. If you touch it it automatically steals your soul.” he continued, drawing a tiny stone in the room.
That’s right, the ultimate game of “I dare you to touch it.” The danger in this room is easily bypassed. Just walk on out. But that gem. That gem is likely to get someone into trouble. Let’ss face it, we all know that one player that can’t talk past a shiny red button without pressing it. Even if the button had a “Do not touch the red button” sign hanging over it, they would still have to push it, just to know what happens. Hell, more than one of us has been that character at one point or another.
“Touch not, lest ye be touched.”
The punishment for greed or curiosity is the loss of your soul. No save. Yeah, I made sure to ask him about that, but he insisted that it was automatic.
I asked, “Why?”
“Because they touched it.”
Can’t argue with that.
Section 5 – Dragonfire Pass: “This curved hallway has intricate carvings of dragons set into the stone walls. The doorways on the west and south are carved into the shape of dragon’s jaws. A strange and pungent odor fills the air here, leaving a sort of haze. The ground is wet, with a shimmering purple film seeping in between tiles and cracks.”
When I told my son about a dungeon I’d created where a bunch of kobolds lit everyone on fire with flammable liquid on the floor (such are out dinner conversations), his eyes grew wide and he couldn’t help but tell his grandmother, and anyone else who would listen. It was, I think, cool to him.
So cool, in fact, that he wanted to do something like it in his dungeon. The hall, as he told me, had dragon heads near the doors. The center of the hall marks the trigger for a burning hands spell to erupt from the dragon heads on both ends, and set the oil-soaked floor ablaze.
  “It’s a disco inferno.”
Sweet. Simple. Barbeque characters. Even if they didn’t get a soul stolen, the hall can easily become a serious pain in the ass, especially for those bringing up the rear. What’s worse is that the door at the end of the hall is locked. How good is your rogue? Picking a lock while burning to death good?
Section 6 – Treasure Room: “The door opens revealing a large rectangular room with heaps of gold coins and overflowing chests of treasure. The room is lit by torches in each corner. The flickering firelight dances upon each glinting bobble. An iron door stands against the south wall.”
Treasure! Who doesn’t love treasure? And there are piles of it here. Coins, gems, magic weapons, and armor. Everything an adventurer could want. But apparently, I have raised the kind of child that doesn’t let anything come too easily. I blame years of telling him to clean his room.
Something lives in the piles of treasure. Well, lives may not be the word. A pair of dread wraiths haul ass out of the coins like a demonically possessed Scrooge McDuck. Dread Wraiths, as I am sure you know, are not kind creatures. My son equally so. With a plethora of enemies at his disposal, he hand picked the wraiths because, of course, they looked cool.
 “Rule of cool.”
Section 7 – The False Exit: “The iron door opens to a long hallway with a simple wooden door at the end. Hanging over the door is a small sign that says ‘EXIT’. The walls of this hall are bare.”
The characters beat the bad guys, got the treasure, and managed to live. Now it is time to get out and  enjoy the spoils. Except, this isn’t an actual entrance. That wooden door leads to nothing. The hall, on the other hand, does lead somewhere, and it’s nowhere good.
The hall, according to my spawn, is like a seesaw. If more than one character heads to the door, the weight will tilt the entire floor, effectively turning the hall into a massive chute. A chute to where?
Well… Nightmareville, basically.
Room 8 – Arena With Two WHATS?!: “The chute leads to what looks like a large arena with a dirt floor. Empty seats encircle the arena, void of spectators. Two large creatures hover above the ground. They have massive, fanged mouths with a sickeningly huge, singular eye. A number of stocks jut from this monstrous floating head, each with an eye of its own.”
 “Eye see what you did there.”
 I had to ask him three times to be sure. He was sure. Not only had he taken the notion of escape from the players, he pitted them up against not one, but two beholders, or as he called it, “The monster on the front of the book.”
“No. Just no.”
The fight is pretty straightforward, or at least as straightforward as a fight with two beholders can be. All the characters need to do is defeat them and they can get out. According to my son, the door only opens when both are dead.
I don’t think everyone will be getting out of this one alive.
“Kids these days.”
There we are. Short, simple, brutal. I should be making some comment about child-like innocence, but honestly, after that… I think he might be pure evil.
The kid has a promising future as a Game Master.
Roll well, my friends,

+Ed The Bard 

UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS TO ADVENTURES, CAMPAIGNS, AND QUESTS

UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS TO ADVENTURES, CAMPAIGNS, AND QUESTS

Below are to be found descriptions and entries I have created regarding unusual ways to begin Adventures, Campaigns, and Quests for various kinds of Role Playing and Tabletop Games.

Though they could also be used as the basis and genesis of other types of games as well, for example LARPS and Alternative Reality games.

I intend to provide beginning scenarios for various types and genres of games: Contemporary, Detective, Fantasy, Historical, Horror, Science Fiction, and Wargames. To name a few.

I will make such posts on every occasion I have the free time to develop them. Also these scenarios will be different from the scenarios I have developed specifically for my own Setting and World. Those will be listed separately under the Category – The Other World

Feel free to take the names of places and characters mentioned in these scenarios (or even the basic structures of the scenarios) and alter them to fit your own gaming worlds or situations. These are, of course, merely suggestions. I describe these scenarios to give DMs and GMs far better, more original and more unique methods of starting games than, “your party meets in a tavern,” or “you all hear a rumor.”

So modify and use these beginning scenarios as you will. They are meant to stimulate original situations and your imaginations, not to dictate terms and conditions.

Tonight I will begin with Four Fantasy Scenarios for beginning adventures or campaigns: Infiltration of the Fertilands, The Secret Missionaries, The Sky From Long Ago, and The Long Road to Disaster.

 

FANTASY

 

Infiltration of the Fertilands – The Senate of Alaria has decided to clear an area of land 7 and ½ leagues north of the city-state (an area called the Losharian fertilands) to provide timber and resources for a proclaimed public works building project, and to establish a new frontier’s garrison and outpost for the city to ward off raiding attacks by local barbarians. However three separate surveying teams and their armed recon in force escorts (at least for the second and third attempts) have disappeared when sent to the location.

The Senate has decided to send an expeditionary force of 1500 men to investigate and clear the area of potential hostiles, but before they can vote on the measure or dispatch the forces the chief architect in charge of the new building program approaches your party and asks you to undertake the task of infiltrating the target area in secret, to see if you can discover the cause of the disappearance of the previous teams. You are charged with secrecy in your mission (you can discuss it with no one) and if you are successful the architect not only promises that you will be richly rewarded in pay but that the Senate will award you tax free lands on which you may establish estates and villas of your own. He also hints at the possibility of awards (Champion of the City), public acclaim, and possibly even junior seats on the Senate.

However since the mission would be kept entirely confidential he can offer you no initial assistance other than to provide you with information on how to find the Losharian fertilands.

But he does offer you two pieces of advice. First, do not drink the waters of the fertiland even if it is rainwater which falls during a storm. And secondly, watch the rivers, creeks, waterways, and marshes at all times. They may hide dangerous enemies and hidden perils.

 

The Secret Missionaries – Your party is called to the Great Temple of the Sacred Hierophants after nightfall one evening. The Church of Adaltorn, the Last Hierophant, in the city of Ramara Passea has decided upon a missionary program of expansion Eastwards. They wish to convert the rich, independent merchant cities east of the river Venwaldros, which they feel would be very open to their doctrine. However to the south of the narrow strip of unclaimed no-man’s land of the Venwaldros lies the fierce (and some say cannibalistic) barbarian tribes of the Colmar Confederacy, and to the north of the river in this unclaimed area lies the Imperial outposts of the Srechalt. All of which are hostile to both the Church and to Ramara Passea. This narrow strip of land and the thin thread of the Venwaldros which passes through it is called Reedbrake (for its high and musical reeds, which go silent when anything passes through them)) and it is the only safe passage from Ramara Passea to the East.

The church has sent scouting teams of monks and priests along the river which have either had to turn back after being attacked or were simply lost, their true fates unknown.

The church is willing to produce an indulgence in the names of each of your party (meaning you will be free from both local taxes and tithes for a period of ten years), to pay you a stipend for three years, to Bless each member of your party, and to secure you Writs of Absolute Non-Hindrance from the city fathers if you can help them find a safe passage through the Reedbrake so that their monks and priests may travel securely and unmolested from Ramara Passea to the eastern merchant cities. They will also equip your expedition and provide you with river-craft, a barbarian scout (a recent convert) familiar with the Colmar, and three warrior monks as servants and men at arms to assist you.

 

The Sky From Long Ago – The retired Sage Geirwovan (rumored to have once been the famous Wizard Taleorstir) has sent every member of your party a formal and very decorative invitation to visit his mansion six miles from the outskirts of the Ulorian borderlands.

When you accept and reach your destination you are shown to the Sage’s Tower and observatory where the ancient and bent Geirwovan greets you warmly and feeds and shelters your entire party. After a late dinner and entertainment by a very talented female bard (whom Geirwovan identifies as his personal Bard, the Lady Yurliel) you are ushered back to the Sage’s Tower where Geirwovan accompanies you to the roof. Briefly after sunset (far too soon after sunset) the entire sky is afire with stars but of very unusual constellations that you have never before seen. Some of these constellations seem to come alive, take on weird and fantastical shapes of creatures you have never seen before, and to move about and even battle one another. Stars flare and flash, changing colors or becoming briefly too bright to look upon. The moon rings like a giant gong. The tower itself seems to shake. Comets flash across the sky and explode by impacting one another. Then the entire sky goes absolutely black and a few moments after that returns to normal, as it would appear on any other cloudless and moonless night shortly after nightfall.

Geirwovan then takes you back into the tower where each of you feels weird and uncanny, as if you have just witnessed something unnatural, supernatural, and/or very spectacular and unnerving.

Geirwovan makes no comment and ignores all questions to explain and instead spreads out a series of complex maps upon an antique drafting table and begins to explain how rewarding it would be and how much you would all benefit by reaching a particular destination. One he repeatedly shows on the different maps. (The maps are also all filled with odd glyphs and scripts and indicated locales you have never heard of or seen mentioned before.)

Then Geirwovan tells you of the fabulous riches, both mundane and magical, that can be found at that destination though he will not describe the particulars nor disclose any details about what else may lay at the destination. He tells you that if you will go to that location then you will understand what he means and that you will understand what you saw in the sky. He asks only two things: 1. that when you arrive you do what is appropriate, and 2. return to him all that you find so that he may examine it and then he will keep only one article, a small silver coin of unremarkable design. You may keep all else that you find and there will also be another reward awaiting you upon completion of your expedition. If you agree then he will hand you one of the maps which he says will guide you unerringly to your destination but that you must never venture from the route it dictates for the map is untrustworthy otherwise and you may find yourselves lost in such a way that you will be unable to return. He also offers to allow you to take his bard Yurliel with you if you so wish.

 

The Long Road to Disaster – The Lord of Merchants and Commander of the Merchants at Arms have called your party to the Tent of Foreign Prizes in the Agora of Kroipos to discuss an urgent matter. They explain to you that they have recently (within the past year) opened up a new trade route to the Far South, through the desert of Samorah, that they call the Elidian Road. (Elidia being what some rumors declare to be a semi-mythical and legendary city of peculiar and unique wealth located in the Far South.)

Within the past six months no fewer than four separate and well-armed caravan trains have been ambushed and destroyed or lost. By what the Commander describes as a well-organized, large, ruthless band of experienced brigands, raiders, and thieves.

Searchers and follow up teams have only recovered small bits of debris or valueless remains from the ambushed caravans and the losses to merchants in the area have been sunstantial and heavy indeed. Armed scouting parties sent by the city have discovered nothing and have been of almost no help.

Only three survivors have escaped thus far, two from one caravan (the first attacked) and one from the second caravan. No other survivors have surfaced or are accounted for.

Both the Lord of Merchants and the Commander of Arms ask if you will entertain shadowing the next caravan to be dispatched along the Elidian Road to see if you can discover who is responsible for these raids and possibly help save the caravan from being plundered and destroyed. If not can you then follow the attackers to discover their identities and base of operations so that a military force can be dispatched to kill them all.

Neither wants you to be part of the armed military and merchant force of the caravan so that if the attackers arrive in overwhelming force you may survive and bring back invaluable Intel on the parties responsible. They only want you shadowing the caravan unless it is obvious you could actually safely protect and rescue the caravan if it is attacked. Both Merchants promise you will be richly rewarded for your efforts. Though neither will describe precisely how or in what form.

After the meeting the Commander of the Merchant at Arms leaves but the Lord of Merchants pulls your party aside in confidence and tells you that his nephew will be accompanying this caravan in order that he may be trained in commerce. As is the custom at his age. This being his Voyage of Initiation. The boy has instructions that if the caravan is attacked he is to flee to the safety of your group or if necessary you are to rescue him and flee after discovering what you can of the enemy. He promises to reward you separately for this action and he tells you that aside from his nephew and the head merchant of the caravan no one in the group will even know of your existence or that you shadow the train. So he says it is imperative that the caravan not discover your presence either. You must also never mention this side deal involving his nephew. Especially not to the Commander at Arms, who would consider such actions cowardly and dishonorable.

He also tells you that he has personally interviewed the three survivors of the previous attacks. One is now dead of unknown reasons, one is in a long sleep from which they will not awaken (coma), and one appears to be mad. But before these things happened the survivors described weird things occurring during the attacks and despite the Commander’s opinions to the contrary the Lord of Merchants is not at all convinced this is the work of brigands or caravan raiders. In fact he says that he does not believe any raiders are involved at all. But he will not elaborate on his suspicions.

He will only say that he once read a passage in a book in the Far South that said that long ago the skies were poisoned by an unknown creature so that ghosts and dead men rained upon the living.

 

Also, feel free to suggest your own ideas in the comments below, or tell me if you’d like to see Beginning Scenarios for certain types of games,  particular subject matters, or for specific gaming genres.

HIGH CRAFT – LOST LIBRARY

HIGH CRAFT

This article on Viking clothing reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to discuss for some time now. In my games and in my writings, Craft (and by that I mean High Craft), often plays a large and beneficial role in both individual matters and even in larger events.

Using boots and shoes as an example characters have both found and had created for them (by master craftsmen) footwear that is not magical but rather so well crafted that it provides real benefits, such as resistance to extreme temperatures, resistance to wear and replacement, comfort befitting improved endurance or resistance to things like trench foot or blistering, and when they concentrate upon certain tasks (such as running, hiking, climbing, jumping, or stealth) they give definite though temporary advantages.(The characters must concentrate upon the task, for instance, and declare or show evidence that they are trying hard to sneak, or paying attention to their climb – but then such boots give temporary but definite advantages).Such boots or other items and gear (weapons, clothing, tools, etc.) are not magical at all but rather of such high quality and clever construction that they give measurable advantages over other items not constructed by master craftsmen.

(Though really well constructed items of High Craft might very easily be discovered far more susceptible to being enchanted at a later date than more mundane items. That is to say items of High Craft can be far more easily enchanted or ensorceled and such magics will far more easily affix and permanently secure themselves to objects of High Craft than to less well made implements.)

 

The same could be said to apply in a larger sense to whole groups of people. Nations with master craftsmen or smiths or even entire shops, foundries, and industrial operations devoted to High Craft (and invention and innovation) can produce gear and weapons and armor and equipment that gives a particular army a real and measurable advantage over another less well equipped force. Maybe even, en masse, a very large advantage. Again, not a magical advantage but a qualitative advantage of High Craftsmanship.

Though in a Tolkienesque sense it could easily be argued that High Craft is a form of “magic.” That High Craft is precisely what much magic really is.

With me however, at least in games, I usually use Magic as something “added to” or above and beyond even the Highest of Crafts. Though in my writings and novels High Craft and Magic are sometime synonymous and interchangeable or fungible, depending upon the particular circumstances of precisely what is being discussed.

I know that some use craft as a part of their game(s) and writings and some do not, but if you do, then what are some of the ways you use High Craft as an advantage on any level?

How do you use and employ High Craft in your own creations?

 

The Vikings Used Comfortable Shoes

Osberg Ship Viking Shoe One of the original boots found in the Oseberg Burial Mound dating back to 834 AD. (Photo:skinnblogg.blogspot.no)A number of complete Viking Age shoes found in Scandinavia and England have the same characteristics. They are flexible, soft and mostly made of cattle hide, but also other kinds of leather was used.There are complete shoes found in the Oseberg ship burial mound in Norway, Hedeby trading center in Denmark, and Coppergate (York, Viking Age Jorvik, Editor’s note) in England.

All three of these discoveries show a similar construction and form typical for the Middle Ages.

The shoes found in the Oseberg ship consists of two main parts, soles and uppers, and are so-called “turn shoes”.

(Article continues)

Reconstructed Oseberg Viking Shoes

Reconstructed boots found in the Oseberg burial mound, by Bjørn Henrik Johansen. (Photo: Bjørn Henrik Johansen/ skinnblogg.blogspot.no) 

The shoemaker stitched the shoe together inside out, and then turned right side out when finished. This hides the main seam, prolongs the life and prevents moisture from leaking in.

Viking Age shoes (793 – 1066AD) were well suited for use in wintertime by using thick, felted wool socks and fur inside.

Materials and Tools

Studies of the leather shows that mainly cattle hide was used from the 9th to mid-11th century and was typically 1 – 3 millimeter thick.

(Article continues)

Coppergate Viking Shoe York

Anglo-Scandinavian Shoe found in Coppergate, York, England. (Photo: definedlearning.com via Pinterest)

A bristle or metal needle was used stitching flax, hemp, or a combination of the two. Shears or blades were used to cut the leather, and a simple awl to punch the holes.

At Coppergate twelve examples of iron shears were found.

Tanning and Color

Vegetable tan was the primary method for tanning, but also alum tans and oil tans were used in luxury leathers.

(Article continues)

Reconstructed Coppergate York Viking Shoe

Reconstructed Anglo-Scandinavian Shoe found in Coppergate, York, England by Bjørn Henrik Johansen.  (Photo: by Bjørn Henrik Johansen/ skinnblogg.blogspot.no)

Modern vegetable tans are much stiffer due to industrialization and shortening of the process and are unsuited for turn shoes.

Like today, elaborately made clothing and shoes were visible proves of high social status.

Scientists have concluded that the better-quality shoes and boots had much more color than can be seen from archaeological discoveries.

KITS GALORE – LOST LIBRARY

THE KITS AND THE KITS AND THE KITS

You know, it makes an awful lotta sense that, especially in the early stages of their career, and in a world in which such things were common, there would develop pre-designed “kits” for various professions. Just as existed for soldiers.

Of course such kits would vary by race certainly, likely by geographic region (terrain, weather patterns, availability to water and shelter, limes and outpost proximity, etc.), and perhaps even by nationality or economic strength or technological capability or even just by preferred design modes. Or by such factors as item or material availability.

And absolutely such kits would vary with experience and exposure. My gear and equipment kits and carries have changed considerably over time as I have learned what gear is likely to be needed, what is likely never to be needed, what is truly useful, as equipment designs have changed, as far better tools and multi-tools have developed. And in certain situations I know I will need certain kits and stocks, and in other situations I will need different kits and tools, though overlap almost always occurs with some items. (You will always need a lighter, always need binocs, always need a knife, etc.) And I have encouraged both my players (and those I have known in real life) to develop their own kits specific to their own experiences and professions and to develop complimentary kits so that people in a team avoid redundancy or over-burdening themselves to no real point. (If one or two guys carry a hatchet then not every team member need do so as long as they do indeed work as a team and remain cohesive. One machete a team is usually sufficient, but everyone carries water and a knife.)

But this is, if you ask me, as excellent idea (and I know previous versions of different games have toyed with similar ideas in other forms), basic starter kits for various professions (not just tool sets) followed by highly individualized and special function kits as one gains experience.

(For instance a Ranger’s Urban Kit, used while tracking an assassin in a city would be quite different from his Wilderness Kit while tracking foreign raiders involved in frontier skirmishes. Money would likely be plentiful in an urban kit to pay bribes and develop informant networks, money is practically useless on the frontier.)

So you could have all kinds of Kits, such as General Profession Kits (Combatant Starter Kits, Magic User Starter Kits), down to Class Kits (Paladin’s Kit and Barbarian’s Kit) to Special Function Kits (Urban versus Wilderness Kits) to Highly Specialized Specific Mission Kits of the very experienced Adventurer and Team Member and even all the way down to the Sole or Single Operative who might act as an Undercover Operative, an Agent, or a Spy.

Then again you could have Special Gear and Special Weapon Kits designed for very refined purposes, such as thieves tools, medical and first aid kits, field chemical kits, firestarting kits, business kits, inscribing kits, disguise kits, instrument kits, weapon kits, even kits to be used against specific opponents (tactical kits).

Kits like this (of all kinds and of different levels of complexity) would be extremely useful. Especially Emergency Kits deposited at known locales, at dead-drops, and at safe houses to be recovered as needed.

THE TOMBS OF THE WHISPERING WORMS – LOST LIBRARY

THE TOMBS OF THE WHISPERING WORMS

Not my work but I fund the idea to be very interesting… see title link for .pdf download

 

20 Things to Loot from the Wizard’s Body

20 Things to Loot from the Wizard’s Body

During the course of their adventures, our heroes are likely to slay many evil wizards (and loot their bodies).

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

Sadly, most such individuals seem to never carry anything beyond a spell component pouch, a few magic items and some loose coinage. Not only is this boring it’s also utterly lacking in verisimilitude—after all, everyone carries odds and ends in their pockets. Use the table below, to generate such items of minor interest and make looting the body of a slain wizard much more interesting!

  1. An amulet comprising a single, yellowed dragon’s tooth suspended from a leather thong. A rune for protection is carved into the tooth.
  2. A small flask of powered silver (worth 50 gp). The leather flask itself has a small strap allowing it to be carried over the shoulder.
  3. A silver dagger concealed is concealed in one of the wizard’s boots. The dagger is clearly unused—its blade is sharp and polished to a high sheen.
  4. A silver bracelet from which hang a number of charms. Each is decorated with a single rune—fire, water, air, earth, dragon, devil, demon—among them. The whole thing is worth 75 gp.
  5. A leather scroll tube crudely painted bright blue. It is stoppered with a leather bung that clips into the place. The bung has been painted red.
  6. These fine leather boots have a number of small, unobtrusive pockets hidden inside. Most of the pockets hold commonly available spell components, but two hold a single platinum coin.
  7. This plain scroll tube contains several pieces of parchment the wizard used to make observations of the stars. These comprise several complicated diagrams of various constellations and cryptic notes regarding “the wanderer.”
  8. The torn and scorched cover of “Agananzar’s Workbook” is wrapped in cloth and hidden in the wizard’s pack. Sadly nothing else of the book’s contents remains.
  9. A pouch contains a variety of small bones—probably finger bones—clearly “harvested” from a variety of different creatures. Each is in pristine condition—all the skin having been boiled away.
  10. Three empty potion vials; one is marked “invisibility” while the other two smell slightly of cinnamon.
  11. A locket holding a lock of coarse black hair. It is evident from the hair’s texture—and the slight smell of rotten eggs—the hair is not from a natural source.
  12. A dozen small semi-circular stones worn perfectly smooth. An esoteric rune—depicting various types of magic—adorns each stone.
  13. A slender belt pouch specially treated to be waterproof. Inside the pouch, the wizard stored a variety of dried herbs. Each bunch is tied together with twine.
  14. The shattered stub of a wooden stake. Black blood covers the stake’s tip. Barely visible under the blood is some kind of rune, but its meaning is impossible to determine as part of it is missing.
  15. Three quills wrapped in an ink-stained cloth and two small vials of ink—red and black—all carried in a small pouch along with several scraps of crumpled parchment.
  16. A bent iron spike, the head of a hammer and a shard of incredibly tough stone.
  17. A black velvet cloth inlaid with golden thread wrapped around a dried and perfectly preserved red rose. The rose’s thorns are yet sharp and its flower emits a particular heady scent.
  18. A small treatise depicting the various protective circles—against good, evil and so on—along with notes on how to quickly create such protective barriers. A perceptive reader skilled in spellcraft spots several of the diagrams are fatally flawed.
  19. A flask of holy water and a flask of unholy water—both clearly labelled in Elven—along with a fine painter’s brush, two owlbear feathers and one gigantic feather (perhaps from a roc or other huge bird).
  20. A small red velvet pouch. The pouch is all but empty—however a determined examination reveals a few flecks of diamond dust stuck to the pouch’s lining.

ARSOGINSERL’S APOTROEV: THE TERROR TROVE

ARSOGINSERL’S APOTROEV

So I’ve been working on some other things in my spare time while not working on my novel The Old Man for NaNoWriMo. One of those things is I have been continuing with design work upon The Perfect Dungeon (working title).

One of the ideas I had this week was for the Terror Trove. (That’s the working term – it is a sort of obverse image of the Treasure Hoard as I’ll explain in a moment.)

The Terror Trove originated as a secret mountainous cave area in the wet-desert just outside the main ancient city ruins around which the Perfect Dungeon story primarily revolves.

A man who was both a powerful Cleric and a powerful Wizard decided that he would take it upon himself to seek to discover and “hoard” every evil artefact and relic he could locate.

His original intention was to construct an “Apotroev” (a reverse treasure hoard – one that was magically and physically separated from our world and one that could never again be plundered) so powerful and so carefully hermetically sealed that the powerful items he placed there would be in effect forever cut off from and removed from the rest of the world. Thereby sealed away, never to be discovered or employed as a threat again these items were magically exiled from the world since the Cleric Wizard (named Arsoginserl, though also sometimes called Insarl the Illuminare) could find no method of destroying most of these things.

Arsoginserl’s Apotroev” worked very well for centuries after his death, but eventually, due to earthquakes and due to the fact that some of these artefacts and relics were so powerful they began to consume and absorb one another the Apotroev weakened. The evil and magic in them thus multiplied many times in power and force effectively “irradiating evil and magic out into the surrounding world” just as a shielded bunker designed to store radioactive waste might leak if damaged or overwhelmed.

Eventually this was one of the reasons that led to the demise of the original and ancient city of Pesharan.

Anyway Arsoginserl’s Apotroev will be one of the potential sandbox areas attached to the Perfect Dungeon (which is actually a campaign series) if the players want to seek to find and explore it.

However by this point, nearly a millennium after it was originally populated and sealed most of the items have been consumed by the more powerful artefacts and relics and the “survivors” are at war with each other. All of the survivors are by this time either artificially intelligent or sentient or inhabited by evil spirits, or all of the above. And all of these surviving “items” desire to escape back into the wider world. Making them incredibly cunning and dangerous and desperate. Even exposure to the still sealed Apotroev itself has powerful, malignant, and long lasting side effects upon anyone approaching it.

Also buried in the Apotroev, in a secret compartment never discovered by even the most powerful artefacts and relics trapped there, are a number of preserved relics from Arsoginserl himself, such as his robe, his mitre, his crooked staff, his Roseheart, a book of Arsoginserl’s prophecies, a book of his personally created spells (otherwise unknown), his Communion Rod, other valuables, and the Benegemm (an experimental gemstone Arsoginserl himself had created with the help of an angelic ally) with which he hoped to one day cure evil and nullify evil magic. No one knows how far Arsoginserl got in the development and perfection of the Benegemm but it was reputed to have many marvelous capabilities and properties (even if it was still unable to cure evil) by the one account that ever mentioned it. Such as soft-burying and freeing the souls of certain undead creatures. Or encouraging certain criminals to take up a monastic or religious life. Or even to become a Cleric.

The story of the Benegemm is supposedly indirectly related to the famous tale of the thief Tarand Moirloss who later converted from his life of crime and became the famous Cleric Larlfast Urlinger. Moirloss accidentally touched the Benegemm hoping to examine it for potential value and was immediately struck “dead” for seven days. Moirloss recovered in his tomb chamber and was able to dig his way around the setting stone of his tomb and escape his premature grave. Moirloss then sought out Arsoginserl who gave him the legendary Seven Penances of Supernal Peril to complete after which Moirloss converted and was renamed Larlfast Urlinger the Upright. Urlinger is the same cleric often credited with having created the “quill of the thrice inscribed god.”

Though some say that Urlinger became a wandering Cleric-Wizard like his mentor and abbot Arsoginserl, and that the quill was actually constructed by another, a Sage and Hermit named Ramonil the Righteous.

http://nanowrimo.org/forums/all-ages-coffee-house/threads/270499

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