Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Year in Review

Well, 2013 is winding down to a close, which means it's time for every blogger to post a year's-end retrospective, because it is a great thing to do during the holiday season when you are too busy to come up with grand new ideas and your readers are too busy to read them.  I thought I'd give some time to all the RPG-related news and exciting developments that have come across in the last year.  First and foremost:

d20 Despot
Obviously the biggest piece of RPG news this year is the founding of the popular blog d20 Despot, which took the internet world by storm with its first post on April 1st (incidentally, that'll mean that I'll have to whip up some fun stuff every April Fools Day).  The blog seeks to provide interesting perspectives on various aspects of the RPG experience, and especially to freely provide open game content for GMs and players.  Wow, whoever runs the blog must be a really cool and handsome guy!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monster Monday: Krampus, the Christmas Demon

Merry Christmas, everyone!  In the spirit of the season, I have decided to stat up Krampus, the evil being of Germanic Christmas folklore who accompanies Santa and punishes bad little children by beating them with a birch switch, stuffing them in a sack, and carrying them back to his lair to eat them.  Wow, don't be naughty in Germany, kids.  Plus, I have statted up perchten, the minions of Krampus.

As an added Krampusnacht bonus, I am writing this post from Germany!

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is (C)2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monster Monday: Illhveli, the Bad Whale

Today's Monster Monday entry is the illhveli, a bloated, undead whale carcass with the nasty tendency to explode.  I've also created a new zombie variant: the bloated zombie.

source: The History Blog
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is (C)2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Playtest of Trials of the Mad Mage

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post intended to introduce new players to D&D.  Last week, I posted a short introductory dungeon called Trials of the Mad Mage.  This week, as the final part of this bizarre triptych, I will post an account of the time that I ran this adventure for a group of new players.  Did it function as I had hoped? Did it get them excited about their characters and about the game? To find out on.

I should note that the adventuring party consisted more than the four characters set out in the adventure as you see it on my blog: the fighter/ranger, the rogue, the sorcerer, and the cleric.  There were instead:

The cleric - Idissa Halga.  The cleric was played by my girlfriend, who had played in several other D&D campaigns but had never played a cleric.  She decided to go for a North African theme, and really enjoyed playing a cleric.
The rogue - Rrrrr.  A 12-year-old thief from the ice-fisher people of the north, and worshiper of the squirrel-god of thieves.  She was basically a magpie, hoarder of shiny things.
The sorceress - Angaia.  She said she pictured her character as sort of a pyromaniac, so I gave her predominantly fire spells.
The fighter/ranger - Dover Madbury.  He was open to anything and wanted to play whatever character I made for him.  He decided that his favoured enemy should be dragons without knowing that there was a dragon in this dungeon.
The ranger - Wulfric Nettlebrook.  A swashbuckling adventuresome ranger who fights the good fight against oppression and tyranny.
The bard - Bob the Bard.  He decided that he wanted to be the most painfully boring bard ever, so I gave him a selection of spells including sleep and oppressive boredom.
The barbarian - Suomi.  An elderly barbarian who could still kick ass despite her advanced age.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Trials of the Mad Mage: A Beginners' Adventure for Level 5 Characters

Okay, I'm a day late, but there was a lot to write this week:

As part two of my ongoing mission to introduce new players to D&D, I'm posting here a complete adventure of my own device, intended to introduce new (or lapsed) players to Dungeons & Dragons.  I tried to give it a very 'old school' feel, with plenty of traps, puzzles, and strange things you would only find in... well, in the lair of a mad mage.  I also tried to inject some humour in there to help more reluctant players stay engaged with the group.  I made the adventure for level 5 characters because I wanted to give the players a sense of power.  Although I am a big fan of starting off at a low power level, it can be quite discouraging for a new player to come into this incredible world of fantasy and magic, only to realize that he or she can be easily killed by a kobold with a sling.  Starting at a higher level gives players - especially spellcasters - more exciting powers to play with (hopefully without overwhelming them), and can thereby get them more invested in the game and their characters.  For the same reason, many of the combat encounters will be quite easy by the standards of regular D&D players, but I want to take into account the lack of experience of the new players, and I do not want combats to drag on.

Well, enough stalling.  Without further ado, here is the adventure: Trials of the Mad Mage!

The following text (even though it isn't yellow) is available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  (c) 2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What is D&D?

It's time to step back a bit.  This blog is generally aimed at an audience who plays or GMs table-top RPGs, but I have neglected another facet of my audience: people who are new to D&D entirely.  Since I started the blog, I've had some friends ask me about it.  What is D&D like?  How do I get started?

Now, there are several places I could send you to find out more information, but I figured, why don't I just explain it here, in my own words, for your benefit?  So I'll be doing this in three installments: this week, I will talk about D&D and table-top RPGs in general and how to get started with them; next week, I will post a starting adventure that I created recently, including everything you will need to run that adventure for some friends; and the week after, I will post an account of what happened when I ran that adventure for my girlfriend's parents and some of their family friends.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Everything is Dragons

For a while now, D&D has had a problem with its second D: dragons.  That problem, according to some of the people designing the game and some of the people playing it, was that there weren't enough of them.  Dungeons were everywhere, but dragons? Dragons were high-level monsters - a lot of adventuring parties never survived to see one, and many that did didn't survive the encounter.  The solution, of course, was more dragons.

But now D&D is suffering from a problem I like to call "everything is dragons."  Dragons are terrifying and powerful monsters; encounters with them should be rare and memorable.  Basically, they should inspire awe and fear - an encounter with a dragon should be one of the most dangerous, most tense, most memorable episodes of a campaign.  Unfortunately, the attitude toward dragons expressed by D&D over the past few decades has watered down the threat and the majesty of these iconic monsters.  There are four clear examples of this: kobolds, sorcerers, 3.5 edition's Monster Manual IV, and 4th edition's dragonborn.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monster Monday: Melusine, the Two-Tailed Shapeshifting Mermaid

Today's Monster Monday entry is the melusine, a fey creature with twin fish-tails and shimmering golden wings who takes the form of a beautiful woman in order to marry a mortal man and live the sweet life on his dime.


(And before I start, yes I know I said I would try to update every Monday, and then failed to deliver the next Monday.  But hey, you got a Halloween update instead!)
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is (C)2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween! Murder Mystery D&D Session

Happy Halloween, everybody!  If you're like me, you really want to play in a Halloween D&D game where all the players are classic monsters: a mummy, a flesh golem, a vampire, a ghost...  Man, that would be fun.  Anyways, this post isn't about that.  I was thinking about what to post for Halloween when I remembered a murder mystery session of D&D that I once ran.

I had never run a murder mystery before, but I knew that I wanted to do one.  It required a lot of preparation, and more improvisation than I had done up to that point, but it really helped me learn how to run a roleplay-based town adventure that wasn't 'on rails'.  Essentially, I created a small village and everyone who inhabited it.  I gave them names and personalities, suspicions and secrets.  I made up rumors about them and gave some of them motives for the murder.  I made sure to throw in plenty of false leads, red herrings, and unrelated secrets.  I tried to make the village feel alive, and part of that was making sure there was plenty of small-town drama.

The adventurers were told by the authorities of a nearby city that they were needed to investigate some killings performed by an unknown monster in the small village of Moulle.  When they arrived at Moulle's only tavern and inn (The Giant's Bag), they were to learn that, although belief in the 'Monster in the Woods' was widespread, there was rumor going around that these killings were being performed by a townsperson.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review: Brokedown Palace

As this blog is the primary authority on matters relating to fantasy role-playing games for literally tens of people, I thought I might branch out to touch on the literary world - inextricably linked as it is to the world of fantasy RPGs.  After all, D&D was fundamentally shaped by the novels and stories of J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance, and Fritz Leiber - among many others - and modern RPGs continue to draw heavily on contemporary and classic fantasy works.

It may come as no surprise to you that I have been known, on occasion, to read fantasy novels and stories.  As such, I am taking it upon myself to post reviews of some of these here on this blog.  And with this blog being what it is, my reviews will be made with an eye toward fantasy RPG gaming.

Brokedown Palace

The first work up for review is Brokedown Palace by Steven Brust, originally published in 1986 by Ace Books.  Some minor spoilers may follow, but I shall endeavor to restrict them, for I am vehemently anti-spoiler.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Killing Your Characters

It should go without saying that death is an important part of RPGs.  Not just the death of monsters and bad guys, but death of characters.  That isn't to say that character death should be particularly common (though in some games it is), but it should always be there, lurking in the background.  After all, the rules for death and dying don't just apply to the bad guys.  For an RPG to really feel engaging, you need the threat of death, or the players' actions aren't realistic: "Oh man, this dragon is hitting us pretty hard! If we don't kill it soon, we may all end up... going unconscious for 8 hours and then having to try again."

In this post, I'll talk about PC death from both sides of the GM screen, NPC death, and raising the dead.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Hello all! Sorry for the dearth of updates recently; I've just moved to England and have been living out of hotels for a few weeks.  Now I'm moved into a flat, but there is no internet.  Things should get up and running again by the middle of the month, though.

-your ex-pat d20 despot

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monster Monday: Basajaun, the Basque Sasquatch. Basquatch.

Today's Monster Monday entry is the basajaun - or 'Lord of the Forest' - a hairy forest man of Basque mythology that lives in forest or mountain villages tending crops and sheep.  Long ago, according to the myth, humans stole the secret of agriculture from the basajaunak (plural of basajaun).


The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is (C)2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monster Monday: Chalicothere, Prehistoric Clawed Horse-Beast

Today's Monster Monday entry is the chalicothere, a prehistoric creature related to horses and rhinos with long, powerful arms and curved claws.

source: wikipedia
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is (C)2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sandbox Campaign Part 11: Dénouement

This is part 11 of my ongoing account of the sandbox campaign I am currently running.  Updates are frequent, if irregular, and at the end of each post I talk about one or more subjects pertaining to the adventure but more broadly applicable to all campaigns.  You can find the previous parts here.

With the dreaded Blackhide dead, the party began to loot the goblin den, during which time Zel and her roc Cameo rejoined the party.  They took the flaming morningstar and rat-hide cloak off of Blackhide's corpse, and combed the rest of the dungeon for treasure.  Behind one door, they discovered a mining operation powered by slaves, whom they freed.  One of the slaves, a dwarf, turned out to by Monty's long-lost son Jonnal, whom the giant orc Grathwar had carried in a cage at his hip for years before growing bored and selling him to Blackhide.  The party also looted a passel of potions from the goblin alchemists' "laboratory," picking them out of the more unsavory and mysterious devices and concoctions therein.  The other rooms surrounding the large open chasm that was the goblins' stronghold were less rewarding - only a few hundred silver and a few thousand copper came from ransacking the various caves and cavelets where the goblins slept en masse amongst filthy hides and furs, and nothing of value was turned up in the various wolf dens or the accurately named "meat room."

Finally, however, they came to Blackhide's private chamber and found it brimming with gold and jewels and treasure.  Rikkit was particularly interested in a stout, gilded scepter ("Just the perfect size for a goblin pimp cane") that turned out to be a Rod of Wonder.

As the party left the goblin den, they encountered a hunched old man in a rough brown cloak.  "You have slain Blackhide?" he asked of them.

"Yes, we have.  He will trouble this region no more."

The old man threw back his cloak, revealing shimmering garments of red and blue, a cunning face, and a long beard of black and white.  "You have killed one of my pawns.  For that you shall pay, in time.  But for now, know this: I have my eyes on you, and where my eyes go, my servants follow."  With that, he vanished in a cloud of green smoke.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monster Monday: Glatisant, the Arthurian Questing Beast

Today's Monster Monday entry is the glatisant, a strange, chimæric beast of Arthurian legend.  Born of an incestuous union and symbolic of corrupting evil, slaying this beast is often the object of a knight errant's quest.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is (C)2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sandbox Campaign Part 10: Nemeses

This is part 10 of my ongoing account of the sandbox campaign I am currently running.  Updates are frequent, if irregular, and at the end of each post I talk about one or more subjects pertaining to the adventure but more broadly applicable to all campaigns.  You can find the previous parts here.

Monty, Sigrid, Kat, and Daphne set out into the wilderness in search of Grothmagog, or Greypeak, supposed location of the dreaded Blackhide's camp.  After a day or two of trekking, with early autumn snow falling around them and catching in the trees, they saw in the distance a mountain peak comprised mostly of sheer stone faces which rejected heavy snow accumulation.  A grey peak amongst white ones.  They headed toward it.  The trees began to shake rhythmically with tremendous footsteps, more and more snow sloughing off the branches as the source drew nearer.  Soon, they heard two voices speaking in slurred, booming words:

"Oy, Filk, 'ow much longer we gotta haul deeze little guys around for?"

"Buck up, Wallitz, it's ee-sen-shull for da war effort!" the second voice replied.

"But our back 'urtz!"

"Well dat's da price we'ze gotta pay in order not to get jumped by packs of greasy, disgusting 'umans, innit?"

Then there was a loud sniffing sound, and a third voice cut in, "Quiet, you two! I smell sommat wot I 'aven't smelt in years..."

"Wuzzat, boss?"


At that, Monty charged toward the sound of the voices and footsteps.  As he broke out into the clearing made by a dry streambed, he saw a hunch-backed, two-headed giant brandishing twin flails and with a crude wooden howdah strapped to its back from which three goblin scouts peered over the trees, surveying the land.  Two ogres marched at its side, and leading them all was a brutish, orcish-looking giant in splint mail armour.  

"Grathwar!" shouted Monty.  "You'll pay for what you did to my family!"

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sandbox Campaign Part 9: Cheating Death

This is part 9 of my ongoing account of the sandbox campaign I am currently running.  Updates are frequent, if irregular, and at the end of each post I talk about one or more subjects pertaining to the adventure but more broadly applicable to all campaigns.  You can find the previous parts here.

Armed with new intelligence on the bandit problem here in the north, including the whereabouts of the goblin chieftain Blackhide, the party decided to undertake a long journey southwards to resurrect the fallen Sir Hardrig.  But first they had to stop off in Castle Morbis again.  They met with Guard Captain Husker to inform him of their success and collect the bounty on Uli Blackeye's head and a sizable collection of bandit scalps, then retired to the Rusty Glaive for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.  In the common room of the establishment, they met a familiar sight; a mysterious cloaked stranger sat in a shadowy corner of the bar.  It was Spider, the Death-worshiping, undead-hunting ranger.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Monster Monday: Pantere, the Cat with the Sweet Breath

Today's Monster Monday entry is the pantere, a giant savannah cat that hunts by luring prey to its lair with its sweet breath.


The following text in yellow is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is (C)2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Sandbox Campaign Part 8: "This One Time at Bandit Camp..."

This is part 8 of my ongoing account of the sandbox campaign I am currently running.  Updates are frequent, if irregular, and at the end of each post I talk about one or more subjects pertaining to the adventure but more broadly applicable to all campaigns.  You can find the previous parts here.

Leaving Zel and Rikkit to rest in the bloodstained ogre cave, the rest of the party headed back to explore the underground dwarven trade road.  After following it for two days, they reached its end: a door disguised as the face of a cliff.  It opened into a trackless forest north of the Frostspines, a favourite haunt of bandits and savage tribesmen.  Chernyx returned to report their findings to Zel and Rikkit while Monty, Sigrid, Daphne, and Kat sought out Castle Drenn, Castle Morbis' sister castle, now long occupied by the barbarians.  They were soon ambushed by a sizable group of bandits and, after struggling against the bandits' nets for a few rounds, agreed to throw down their weapons and come with them.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sandbox Campaign Part 7: Kill Wighty

This is part 7 of my ongoing account of the sandbox campaign I am currently running.  Updates are frequent, if irregular, and at the end of each post I talk about one or more subjects pertaining to the adventure but more broadly applicable to all campaigns.  You can find the previous parts here.

After a 16-hour rest, the party followed the only path remaining: deeper into the tomb.  They discovered a bottomless tankard of ale in a sarcophagus and another room that was mostly destroyed by a cave in.  After passing through some rubble, they came to a large set of double doors.  Beyond them was a massive stone vault filled with dwarven sarcophagi, one wall broken out into an adjoining cavern by a collapsed pillar.  Prowling the rows of the dead were a small pack of ghoul wolves and two skeletal ogres dragging greatclubs.  At the far end of the room stood  a skeletal grizzly bear and a dwarven barrow wight adorned in ancient bronze chainmail and wrought torcs, bearing Orc-Gutter (+1 dwarven waraxe, deals additional 1d3 points of bleed damage to creatures of the orc subtype).  Beneath the ethereal blue lights that dimly illuminated the hall, he challenged the party: "I am Chief Krannax.  I was the first dwarf to walk these halls, and I will be the last."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monster Monday: Gegenes, the Six-Armed Giant

Today's Monster Monday entry is the gegenes, a six-armed giant that packs powerful punches in its many limbs, scales cliffs with ease, and throws over-sized rocks at its enemies.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is (C)2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sandbox Campaign Part 6: "This is no mine. It's a tomb"

This is part 6 of my ongoing account of the sandbox campaign I am currently running.  Updates are frequent, if irregular, and at the end of each post I talk about one or more subjects pertaining to the adventure but more broadly applicable to all campaigns.  You can find the previous parts here.

After resting up from their encounter with the flail snail, the party crossed the stone bridge over the chasm and found a chamber abutting a stone wall, featuring a door flanked by two dwarven statues.  After dispatching a trio of cave scorpions, they were able to make out a dwarfish inscription above the door that read:

Into this place let no enemy creep 
douse all lamps and into darkness leap

Monday, August 12, 2013

Monster Monday: Tikoloshe, Evil African Leprechaun

Today's Monster Monday entry is the tikoloshe, an evil water spirit from Zulu mythology.  They are somewhat like leprechauns, equipped with an array of mischief-making spell-like abilities including at-will invisibility, but where leprechauns are tricksters, tikoloshe are purely evil.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is (C)2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sandbox Campaign Part 5: Dungeon Denizens and DMPCs

This is part 5 of my ongoing account of the sandbox campaign I am currently running.  Updates are frequent, if irregular, and at the end of each post I talk about one or more subjects pertaining to the adventure but more broadly applicable to all campaigns.  You can find the previous parts here.

After checking out several villages, the party returned to Castle Morbis for some R&R.  Monty, meanwhile, had abandoned Crow Dance to his barbarian wanderings and finally reached the castle as well.  After offending the guards at the main entrance, he bluffed his way into a postern gate.  He wandered around the town, searching for his party, and ended up taking a liking to the Buxom Witch.

The rest of the party (sans Zel and Rikkit) also bummed around town, searching for a venue for Kat's bardic stylings after she rolled two natural 1s in a row on perform checks in the Rusty Glaive.  They returned to the Buxom Witch - Kat in disguise since she had punched the barkeep last time - and met up with Monty.  Soon, the barkeep offered to sell Monty a map to a treasure guarded by an orc horde.  Monty, not realizing that this was the same map that sent Sir Hardrig to his doom, and also not wanting to pay for the treasure map, punched the barkeep, threw down a smokestick, and tried but failed to steal the map.  He ended up fleeing down the street pursued by the barkeep's hired thugs, where he ran into Guy de la Rue.  Guy was a seasoned fighter who had served with Sigrid's oldest brother Ranulf and had come up in search of Sigrid with her middle brother Bjorn.  Now that that situation was resolved, he was just bumming around Castle Morbis looking for work.  He helped Monty dispatch the thugs while the rest of the party stole the map, failed to remain unnoticed, and failed to convince the barmaids that they were just rescuing the map from a fire.  The whole party fled to the dwarven smithy, where they told their side of the story to Dorninn the armourer, who promised to pass it on to the guards.  The party decided to head out to the mountains in search of the rumored underground pass while the situation in town cooled down.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sandbox Campaign Part 4: Backstories and Town Adventures

This is part 4 of my ongoing account of the sandbox campaign I am currently running.  Updates are frequent, if irregular, and at the end of each post I talk about one or more subjects pertaining to the adventure but more broadly applicable to all campaigns.  You can find the previous parts here.

In the previous session, while resting in the tower, Sigurd, Zel, Kat, Daphne, and Rikkit had a discussion of their backstories.  Sigurd, the third child of a Valsc raider who settled down with a Kaldish weaver, had run away from home seeking adventure and the chivalrous life of a knight.  Kat and Daphne, frightened of the prospect of inheriting their father's terrible and unsanitary sandwich shop, fled north to make something of themselves.  Zel, one of many illegitimate offspring of a witch and her various expendable lovers, fled her home along with her eldest brother.  They travelled in opposite directions to minimize the chance of them both getting caught.  Rikkit was cast out of his goblin clan by the terrible chieftain, Blackhide.  He fled to an isolated manor house, where the lord took pity on him and taught him to control his budding sorcerous powers.  Soon, however, Blackhide and his tribe descended on the manor and slaughtered all inside, save Rikkit who escaped with his favourite cat Bartleby.  Ever since, Rikkit has hated goblin kind and vowed to one day kill Blackhide.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sandbox Campaign Part 3: Crowns and Corpses

This is part 3 of my ongoing sandbox campaign, now meeting twice weekly when possible.  Click here for parts one and two, or to refresh yourself on the cast of characters.  

The session began as Crow Dance dragged unconscious Monty out of the castle to safety in the woods while the rest of the party stole a rest in the tower of the castle they had just cleared.  Unfortunately, their rest gave the enemy time to prepare, and they were awoken by a kobold unstealthily unbarring the downstairs door.  When most of the party had gone downstairs to deal with the furry little infiltrators, the two upstairs doors were similarly opened, revealing a kobold, a hobgoblin, and a bugbear at each door.  The fight was tough going for the party, but they pulled through and the devious enemies were defeated.  Sir Hardrig, the rescued prisoner from last session, spent the last of his lay on hands paladin ability to heal himself (just enough) and his friends.  He told them how he had grown accustomed to keeping this divine healing in reserve, for when he used it on himself in the cage his tormentors would just beat him some more.  Now it was time to move on to the main keep.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sandbox Campaign, Week 2: Assault on a Fortified Position

This is part two of my ongoing sandbox campaign, now meeting twice weekly when possible.  Click here to read the first part or refresh yourself on the cast of characters.  

The session began with the party on the run, headed north to Castle Morbis in search of a healer to remove the ghoul fever from Monty the dwarf fighter and Cameo the roc (general consensus is that a roc ghoul would be terrifying).  They traveled all night, then realized what a bad idea it was to exhaust yourself in a dangerous forest and slept in the daytime.  Upon returning to the road, they discovered a riderless warhorse, saddled and in plate barding armor, with blood on his flanks.  They calmed the horse and determined that the horse was uninjured and thus the blood must be someone else's.  In the saddle bag, they discovered a map showing a route through the forest to a big X.

Monster Monday: Giant Starfish

Today's Monster Monday is a two-fer: the giant starfish and the giant thorny starfish, two related creatures that won't fit in your average tidepool.  Use them in conjunction with the giant sea anemone for a surreal, slightly rubbery beach-party brawl!

The OGL, PFSRD-compatible monster is available after the jump.
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is (C)2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monster Monday: Lodestone Ooze

I know updates have been irregular throughout the infancy of my blog, so I am going to try to inject a little bit of regularity with a segment I'm calling: Monster Monday.  I chose monsters because you can always use more monsters, and I have an ever-growing Word doc with about 90 pages of homebrewed monster content.  All monsters will be Pathfinder-compatible and available under the d20 OGL.

Today's Monster Monday monster is the Lodestone Ooze, a dastardly slime that builds on the rules for magnetism I established in my post about magnetism spells.  This creature is a "gotcha monster" in the same vein as the rust monster or grey ooze in that it's attacks tend to damage the players' beloved equipment.

The OGL, PFSRD-compatible monster is available after the jump.
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is (C)2013 Jonah Bomgaars.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sandbox Campaign, Week 1: Zombie Bombs and Shadowy Figures

This summer, I've started running a sandbox campaign.  This is my first time doing such, as I tend to have a central plot that drives the story (Choo-chooo! All aboard the Plot Railroad!).  I am excited about the prospect of letting the characters guide the story completely, taking the main plot out of my hands but still  letting me infuse the game with mini-stories and adventure hooks.  I keep telling the players, "You can do anything you want.  Well, you can try to do anything you want."  That is quite freeing for the GM as well, because there is no plot-critical event that must happen, no NPC that must be encountered, no monster that must be slain, no player character that must survive.  Not that I ever really force that stuff in anyways, just that there is a greater air of freedom in this campaign.

I'm running the campaign about twice a week, and I figured I would post short updates here for your reading pleasure.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Keeping the Mystery in the Monster Manual

Well, I made it through finals and I got my BA in history, and tomorrow I leave on a whirlwind trip through Iceland, Scotland, and Italy, so now is as good of a time as any to squeeze in a blog update.

One of the first things I noticed about Dungeons & Dragons, while I was browsing through the books at my buddy Marc’s house way back in jr. high, was the vast array of crazy monsters.  I recognized some of them from Baldur’s Gate and some of them from mythology, but most of them I was honestly baffled by.  Beholders? Locathah? Those cheesy ice-skating dragons from Monster Manual IV? As I became more acquainted with the game, I quickly grew more appreciative of (some) of these monsters because of their history, their abilities, or the niche they fill in the game world. 

But familiarity can sap some of the mystery and marvel from the monsters themselves.  This is a problem many GMs face, even if they don't realize it.  For the most part, experienced players and GMs alike are pretty familiar with the contents of the monster manual.  Even players who are usually quite good at separating player knowledge from character knowledge can fall into the trap of recognizing a monster their characters have never encountered and immediately shifting tactics to account for what they know of the beast from the Monster Manual. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fixing the Weapons Table, Part 2: Swords, Swords, Swords!

Quick! Think of the last D&D campaign you played where no one used a sword! I'm going to guess that, except for a few of you who have been in an all-wizard campaign or a party of greatclub enthusiasts, you all just went "huh?"  Because swords are damn-near ubiquitous in campaign worlds, just as they were in real life.  There are tons of different kinds of swords, and both D&D and Pathfinder do a fairly good job of representing them.  Fairly good, but not good enough.  That's why I'm here.

Now, I won't go into how later splatbooks tend to start raiding the thesaurus for new swords to stat up just to fill pages.

Actually, yes, I will go into that...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Fleshing Out The Campaign World

As a GM, you always have to keep in mind that your players won't necessarily do what you plan on them doing - especially in a city, which lacks the GM-friendly constraints of your average dungeon.  In such cases, you will have to improvise.  It can be tricky to come up with something at the spur of the moment, but having a fully-realized and fleshed-out game world really helps out with that sort of thing.  If you have established the history and culture of your city, not only will it feel very real for your players, but it will be so real for you that you will have very little trouble improvising within it.

For example:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Magnetism Spells

I feel that magnetism is a relatively under-explored  avenue for magic, despite the existence of quite a few spells dealing specifically with the manipulation of metal.  As such,  I've written up a couple of spells dealing with magnetism.  

Lodestone, a 1st level spell, turns a small stone or metal object into a magnet.  This can have a number of mundane uses - such as creating an impromptu compass - or combat uses, like magnetizing an arrow head so it strikes just a little harder against an armoured enemy, or sticking a magnetic rock on your opponent's sword to throw off its balance.  More importantly, a low-level magnetism spell allows players a chance to mess around with magnet magic early in the game and get a feel for how to creatively use magnetism, thus setting the stage for later spells.

Lesser magnetism allows you to turn a chunk of rock or metal into a powerful magnet, or magnetize a single metal item.  As an added bonus, casting it again will reverse the polarity of the magnet.  This allows for great versatility with a single spell and opens the door for many creative uses.  Casting it on the floor will pull armoured characters to the ground, casting it on the ceiling will yank them off their feet.  Touch a guard and watch as he struggles against his own armour.  Cast it on your weapon to give it that extra momentum against enemies - but watch out or your weapon will get stuck to their breastplate.  Being pursued by enemies down a narrow cliffside path?  Cast it twice on the cliff face and watch as they are repelled into thin air.

Greater Magnetism has a longer duration and the added functionality of being a ranged, area-effect spell.  Now you can magnetize your whole party's weapons with one spell, or blast a formation of guards and watch them hilariously struggle to walk as their full plate sticks to itself.

Since there is so much possibility with these spells, I have tried to include as much detail as possible in the spell descriptions to aid players and GMs in their use.  Even so, much of the effects are likely to be context-specific, and will require GM adjudication (for instance, casting lesser magnetism on a horse's barding armour will not slow its movement speed, but may grant its rider a bonus to checks made to remain in the saddle).

The OGL, PFSRD-compatible spells are available after the jump:

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fixing the Weapons Table, Part 1: Heavy Mace, Kama, and Starknife

I have a bone or two to pick with the selection of weapons available in Pathfinder (and previous editions).  As such, I've been re-working the table of weapons a bit (okay, a lot) in order to make it more balanced, more interesting, more fun, and above all more realistic.

I'll start off today with a few minor problems.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


At times, I will be posting content on this site which will be available under the Open Game License.  Such content will be clearly indicated as such, and I will endeavor to remember to link back to this post in order to reference the license reproduced here.



My first introduction to D&D was the PC game Baldur's Gate, a truly excellent game based on 2nd Edition AD&D.  Subsequently, I played Icewind Dale, which captured my attention (and heart) by allowing me to create all six members of my adventuring party.  I spent hours creating character after character, party after party ("Ooh, I could make a party based on the Justice League!  Or the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen! or the cast of Farscape!" etc.), all with only the barest of grasps on the underlying mechanics.  I had no idea what 18/00 strength meant, why a warhammer's damage was cryptically listed as "1d4+1," or what in the world THAC0 was.  All I knew was that I needed to slay awesome monsters and acquire a spectacular array of magical items.  I needed to read every book I came across, pick up every gem I found, learn every magical weapon's backstory, and talk to every NPC.  I needed to explore every inch of that world.

Looking back on it now, I'm really surprised it took me so long to get into tabletop RPGs.

Anyways, having been exposed to it before even knowing what D&D was, 2nd edition holds a very special place in my heart/RPG-bookshelf.  Today I thought, seeing as it is relatively early in my time as a blogger (blogist? blogomancer?), that I would talk about the various editions of D&D and what experience I get out of them.  And I guess I thought correctly, because here I am doing just that!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Improved Character Sheet v1.0

Hey everyone, I've got an even better version of this character sheet now! You can check it out here.

Or here's the download link:
d20 Despot Advanced Character Sheet v3.0

But, if you prefer version 1.0, read on.
Download the PDFs here:
Advanced Character Sheet v1.0
Spellcaster and Animal Companion Sheet

Read on for more info.

Your character sheet is one of your most important tools for gameplay.  It needs to be legible, it needs to present the information you need in a logical and accessible manner, and it needs to be resistant to stains.  I can't help with the last one, but I tried my hand at creating a better character sheet than the default pathfinder one.

Here's the first page:

An Introduction

I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons in some form or another since '07 or '08 (this includes Pathfinder, which is certainly spiritually - though not legally - an edition of the world's oldest role-playing game).  I have been a dungeon master for most of that time: I first GMed in 2009, I believe.  This does not in any way make me a veteran.  There are people who have GMed for longer than I have been alive.  Heck, there are characters who have lived longer than I have.

"Why am I reading this blog, then?" you may be asking yourself, threatening to close this tab with one swift click of your mouse.  Well, in my years GMing, I have never once used a published adventure.  Never have I used a campaign setting that was not of my own devising.  No NPC I have voiced has ever read from a script that was not my own.  Not a single 5-foot square (or hex) of any dungeon I have sent my PCs into has come from another's mind.  I fancy myself a fair hand at world building and game design.  Am I saying this to brag? Yes.  Partially.  But these facts also have great import for this blog, for I offer original content!  Content which I will make public under the Open Game License.  Content intended for use with the d20 PFSRD and compatible with the world's oldest role playing game.

I will also write advice for GMs, homebrew rules options, gripe about things that need to be fixed (and actually fix them!), tell tales from my tabletop sessions, draw comics, go on and on about world building, and talk in general about the game itself.  If nothing else I will be another voice contributing to the general tabletop RPG milieu.

If any of that sounds at all helpful or interesting, bookmark this blog and check back periodically for new content.

-your friendly d20 despot